Writing the Familiar

Edith MaxwellEdith Maxwell‘s Speaking of Murder, a mystery featuring Linguistics professor and Quaker Lauren Rousseau, is in search of an agent. Edith is a software technical writer, mother, world traveler, and PhD in Linguistics. She currently resides in Ipswich, Massachusetts, but is originally a 4th-generation Californian. She has two grown sons, and lives in an antique house with her beau, four cats, and several fine specimens of garden statuary. She hopes you’ll stop by her blog and website, Speaking of Mystery, at http://edithmaxwell.blogspot.com , and visit her author page at www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor . She’s on Twitter as @edithmaxwell.

Write what you know? Okay. I can do that.

In “Obake for Lance” (in Riptide by Level Best Books, 2004) I write about an academic living in Japan. Oh, yeah – I lived in Japan and taught English for a couple of years.

In “Reduction in Force” (in Thin Ice by Level Best Books, 2010) the story involves revenge after layoff at a software company. Oh, yeah – my position at a software company was eliminated in 2009.

In Speaking of Murder, my full-length mystery, the protagonist is a Quaker Linguistics professor with a boyfriend who works in video forensics. Lauren Rousseau worked for the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, and taught English in Japan before getting her PhD and a tenured position at a college in Massachusetts. She lives in the small historic town of Ipswich. Her sister Jackie is a software engineer and a master gardener. Her friend Elise (the protagonist in “Obake for Lance”) had also lived in Japan.

Oh, yeah – I’m a Quaker. I have a PhD in Linguistics. I have lived in Mali and Burkina Faso. I write user manuals about video editing software. I have been an organic farmer. And I live in Ipswich.

The fun part is extracting what I know and writing fiction with it. My fiction is not a memoir, not an autobiography. Bits of my experience show up not only in  Lauren, the protagonist, but also in other characters. Zac Agnant, the video-editing boyfriend. Jackie, the gardener. Elise, the friend Lauren speaks Japanese with. The small-town characters and places typical of Ipswich.

Thin IceI have only heard of one other mystery author with a Quaker protagonist. Irene Allen wrote the Elizabeth Elliot series. Elliot was the Clerk of Cambridge Meeting, which is the closest you get to being a minister in the Society of Friends, and the mysteries were heavily centered in that faith community. In my reading experience beyond Allen’s books, cozy or traditional mysteries don’t refer to religion or spirituality much. Sure, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson is an Episcopal priest. Tony Hillerman featured Hopi and Navajo characters with spiritual practices. There is a series about Brother Cadfael in the Middle Ages. But usually protagonists don’t even go to church on Sundays, or if they do, nobody talks about it.

Lauren Rousseau is a Quaker. Her faith flavors how she approaches life, but it isn’t a major part of the book. It’s merely a part of who she is. She takes a moment for silent prayer when she is under stress or sees someone in distress. She takes a moment for silent prayer before meals. In a couple of scenes she attends Meeting for Worship on Sunday morning. She also drinks wine, swears on occasion, and has a romantic relationship. A normal modern Quaker, in other words.

One hears that agents and publishers want a new twist on your basic traditional mystery. I have just finished revising Speaking of Murder, so it’s about to get its test out in the wicked world of publishing. Sounds new to me.