Friday, June 30, 2017

Guest author Edith Maxwell: Keeping A Series Fresh... And A Giveaway!

I write more than one mystery series. Mulch Ado About Murder, my fifth Local Foods Mystery, came out a month ago, and I’ll send a signed hardcover to one commenter here today! Here’s the cover text:

It’s been a hot, dry spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. As organic farmer Cam Flaherty waits for much-needed rain, storm clouds of mystery begin to gather. Once again, it’s time to put away her sun hat and put on her sleuthing cap when a fellow farmer is found dead in a vat of hydroponic slurry—clutching a set of rosary beads. Showers may be scarce this spring, but there’s no shortage of suspects, including the dead woman’s embittered ex-husband, the Other Man whose affair ruined their marriage, and Cam’s own visiting mother. Lucky for Cam, her nerdy academic father turns out to have a knack for sleuthing. Will he and Cam be able to clear Mom’s name before the killer strikes again?

Keeping A Series Fresh

The Local Foods Mysteries are cozy, with a small-town protagonist, a crew of series regulars who pop up again in book after book, and a setting readers grow to know and love. Of course every book includes a new murder victim or two, a new method of killing, new suspects, and a new villain. But one of the core elements of cozies is that familiar small town setting, even if the small town is a village within a big city, and those familiar characters.

So how do I keep my stories from getting boring after five books, or myself—and my readers—from getting bored?

Certainly those new aspects I mentioned help. I love researching unusual ways to knock people off—fictionally, of course. Lucy Zahray, a Texan pharmacologist, gives talks on readily available poisons at mystery conferences, and I’ve picked up several from her, including the method in Mulched. Yes, if the NSA is listening in, I’m definitely on the watch list.

Coming up with a fresh crew of suspects is always fun. Who might have reason to kill a new-to-town hydroponic farmer, for example? All but one will be a red herring, and I hope I keep you strung along until very close to the end.

So far I haven’t taken my protagonist out of town, but that’s another trick authors use in long-running series. She has occasion to go to Maine, California, or Italy for a book, and sure enough, becomes embroiled in a murder case there, too. Nobody wants their town to turn into Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, because everybody dies there!

Another thing I do is send a supporting character away for a book. We don’t need all of them in every episode. My farmer’s youngest volunteer went off on a spring break service project in Murder Most Fowl, book four, for example.

Most important is to keep my protagonist growing, changing, learning. I especially don’t want her to stagnate and be the same in every book.

Readers: What’s your favorite mystery series, cozy or otherwise? Which authors do long series best, and which have bombed at it?

Edith Maxwell
Agatha-nominated mystery author
2017 double Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies and journals, and she serves as President of Sisters in Crime New England.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens (and wastes time as a Facebook addict) north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and at


WordsPoeticallyWorth said...

Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

Liane Spicer said...

Welcome to Novel Spaces, Edith!

I have several fave mystery series:
--the Michael Connolly series where the main character is the very flawed Hieronymus Bosch
--an old Arthur Upfield series set in Australia where the MC is the half-Aboriginal police inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte
--the Tony Hillerman books that contain Native American elements
--Elizabeth Peters' very feminist Victorian mystery series starring Amelia Peabody; these are utterly delicious historicals set in London and Egypt where the main characters are archaeologists and the murders are gruesome.

I'm sure I can think of several others that totally captured my imagination! I read freely across the genres but I suspect mystery is my favourite of all.

Carol Mitchell said...

I'm not currently hooked on a mystery series but I do love mysteries. I loved your ideas for keeping a series fresh. I've changed location, switched out supporting characters, and had new ones make cameo appearances. I look forward to reading your mysteries.

Liz Boeger said...

I'm always looking for good advice on this topic-thank you! I have many favorite series and am discovering more each day, but I'll list two of my early favorites here:
1-Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper quilting series
2-The Cat Who series

Oh, and I am reading your, Flipped For Murder right now and enjoying it too.

Maggie King said...

My long time favorites are Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. For cozies, Gillian Roberts and Susan Witt Albert. All have kept fresh series. Gillian ended hers and, while sad, I won a copy of the closing title by correctly guessing how the series ended.

Unknown said...

I'm a great lover of Agatha Christie & Miss Marple. Thanks for sharing this, and what a great way to find out about poisons. I recently got help from a Chemist PHD when I was looking for a gas to test in a fume cupboard, with disastrous consequences. I"m always nervous about bringing in subjects I know very little about. Good luck with your books

authorlindathorne said...

I enjoyed your post. In my series my character will move to a new state every year, but then that will probably stop when she moves to where I live now, Nashville, TN. My protagonist's husband also isn't needed for my current work in progress, so I left him at the home my protagonist moved from to sell their house for the two of them. They'll connect again toward the end of the book and then be together throughout the next one. Writing a series has its challenges, but it's also an adventure.