Wednesday, April 7, 2021

An Interview with Edith Maxwell by E. B. Davis

As the nineteenth century nears an end, midwife Rose Carroll can see signs of progress and change everywhere in her Amesbury community. Adding to the excitement is the annual Spring Opening, when the town’s world-famous carriage manufacturers throw open their doors to visitors from all over the globe. This year’s festivities are tainted, however, when a representative from a prominent Canadian carriage company is murdered.

Driven by her strong sense of justice, Rose is determined to track down the killer. She has only just begun her investigation when she learns that the plans for a radical new horseless carriage have gone missing. Faced with the question of whether the two crimes are connected—and a list of suspects that includes some of Amesbury’s own residents and any number of foreign visitors—Rose has to delve into a case with implications for the future, even if the motive for murder is one of mankind’s oldest . . .


The title of this book refers to the changing of the seasons from winter to spring, but it also reflects changes in most of the major characters in this series. Main character Rose, now a married woman, has taken over from her retired mentor and contemplates taking on a professional partner. Of course, she still takes time to help police with their inquiries.

The title also applies to the technological changes that occur during the 1890s. This book is set in 1890. The cities have indoor water closets, electricity, and telephones, but the advent of the automobile or horseless carriages, as they were called, would soon arrive to the masses, changing life again.


This is the seventh book in the Quaker Midwife mystery series and will be released next Tuesday, April 13. Please welcome Edith Maxwell back to WWK.      E. B. Davis


When I looked up the word “midwife” the history of the word was from middle English for “with mother.” Before doctors, was birthing up to women, such as an experienced mother?


First, let me thank you, Elaine, for these insightful interview questions. You’re the best! As for midwives, absolutely. Women have always helped other women give birth, for as long as we have records of any history.


What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?


A trained, experienced midwife facilitates the birth. She helps the laboring woman be comfortable and secure that she is in good hands and capable ones, which helps the birth progress with the least amount of fear. The midwife catches the baby, makes sure the placenta is birthed and is intact, and is primarily responsible for the health of the mother and baby.


A doula, which I was for some years, provides support to the laboring woman and her partner. She can spell the father or partner so they can take a rest or go get a bite to eat. In a medical setting, the doula might provide explanations for what is happening. In a home setting, she could make sure older children are cared for. The doula often also provides post-partum support and breastfeeding counseling. Rose pretty much filled all the roles of both midwife and doula.


Are there still midwives?

Of course! The Midwives Alliance of North America is the professional organization of independent midwives, who oversee the majority of home births. One can find certified nurse midwives practicing in free-standing birth centers and hospitals everywhere.


Rose admits to using antiquated speech substituting the word “thee” for “you.” Why does she do that? Do Quakers today still use this idiom?


Historically, “thee,” the second person singular, was used for families and those of lesser stature, as is still the case in most Romance languages. “You” was used as sign of respect for higher-ups. Because early Friends believed all were equal in God’s eyes, they refused to use the “you” form. (Men kept their hats on indoor and didn’t doff them in greeting for similar reasons.) Now, of course, the language has changed and the use of “thee” sets Quakers apart as different. Some Friend still use the “thee” forms among themselves or with their families.


Why do Quakers refer to Sunday as First Day? Wouldn’t it be Last Day, going by what the Christian Bible says of God reserving the 7th day as one of rest?


Good question – I have no idea! In general, Friends avoid the common names of the week and months because they are named for gods.


I thought Quaker men and women sat at opposite sides of the church. In A Changing Light, men and women sit together?


Men and women sat together during weekly Meeting for Worship. But for the monthly business meetings, the center divider of meetinghouses like Amesbury’s would be lowered (we still use the original windlass and crank system in the attic) so women could conduct their business separately from the men.

Rose says she’ll pray after the manner of Friends. What is the manner of Friends?


Silently. Inwardly. Holding a person or situation in God’s Light. Waiting for an answer.


Were midwives used not only to bring new life into the world but also used to help the old or ill out of this life?


Traditionally that is true. These days, not so much, but I love the idea. I suppose some hospice nurses act as death midwives.


What is the Aesthetic Style of dress Rose sought for use during her pregnancy?


It was a loose, flowing style of dress that didn’t require a corset. I’ve seen pictures featuring pleats or gathers coming from the shoulders. It turns out to be perfect for pregnancy, too.


Why must Rose wear muted colors? Do the Quakers, like the Amish, try not to call attention to themselves with bright or shiny colors and fabrics?


Quakers believed the simple styles of “plain dress” for both men and women were more modest and didn’t waste energy and money on things that didn’t matter. Rose was not obliged to wear gray or black, but flounces and bright colors were frowned upon.


What is this mullein leaf Rose uses for rouge?


Common mullein, Verbascum Thapsus, is a hairy perennial. It has been used for a number of herbal remedies, but the slightly abrasive nature of the leaves is what gave rise to the term, “Quaker rouge.”


Is Orpha a mystic or seer?


Not specifically, no. The way I have written Orpha throughout the series is as a wise old woman. She has a deep and keen intuition about life. She also knows Rose well – in fact, she was the midwife at Rose’s birth.


The murder and investigation happened during the 1891 Spring Opening in which the carriage manufacturers held a trade convention in the town of Amesbury, Rose’s hometown. When a character mentioned self-propelled carriages, there is some skepticism, and yet, Carl Benz built the first motorized car in 1885. The new industry was about to come into being. Why the naysayers?


Goodness, aren’t there always naysayers for any new invention? Benz was in Europe. Amesbury was devoted to its carriages. It took another few decades for motorcars to be widely accepted in the United States, and even longer for roads infrastructure to be developed.


I must admit, I didn’t correlate carriages with automobiles. I relate their development more to the combustion engine even though I know for a time electric motors were used. (The oil lobby is responsible, I think.) I don’t know why I didn’t put the two together. There’s that suspension stuff to deal with that must be inherent in carriage-making, but the first real auto was more of a motorized tricycle than a carriage. Did many carriage companies start making automobiles or yes, cars (I guess short for carriages!)?


They certainly did in Amesbury. It was becoming quite the center for automobile body manufacturing. The Bailey company made and sold electric cars in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Two are still owned by the family and still run! Detroit won out, of course, as the motorcar city.


Rose is in the healthcare field. Her husband is a doctor and another character, a woman, is a doctor specializing in tuberculosis. They knew what caused it but had no cure. They also knew how communicable the disease was. Were people with the disease treated like those with leprosy? Both are bacteria related.


TB sufferers weren’t shut away like those with leprosy. Many who could did travel to stay in the sanitariums that were being built in the mountains and places with clean air. It was called “taking the cure.” The sick rested, often bundled up outside, and were well fed and had clean water. It wasn’t necessarily a cure, but it did help.


Have you ever lived in Amesbury? Did you rely on old maps of the town when describing the setting?


I have lived in Amesbury for nine years now, but I’ve been visiting every Sunday to attend Amesbury Friends Meeting since 1989. After we moved here, I realized how much I adore local history and have been soaking it up ever since. I love the old aerial maps (I read they went up in hot air balloons to draw the town) and own digital copies of the 1880 and 1890 versions, so I can zoom in on street and business names. When I walk all over town, as is my habit, I’m usually plotting the next Rose Carroll mystery and imagining where she will explore.


Why do people withhold information from the police/investigators?


People like to hang onto their secrets for many reasons: a sense of guilt, real or imagined; worry about their reputation or that of their family; a lack of information about the crime; and more. Rose has a good working relationship with the police detective, and one of her roles has been to tease that information out of those who are trying hold it close.


The 1890s must have been an exciting time to live. Indoor bathrooms, telephones, electricity were in use in homes (at least in the more urban areas). And yet medicine lagged behind and refrigerators decades before their invention. There are so many corollaries to our own age in terms of technology. Did you feel those ties between the eras when writing this series?


So much change was happening in 1890 and after. All what you named, plus police procedure like fingerprinting. Medical innovations such as blood typing, which led to reliable and life-saving blood transfusions. And the motorcars.


I always feel ties to the past. The Bailey family in the books lived in my house, which was built in 1880 for the Hamilton Mill workers. This area of town didn’t get indoor plumbing (yeah – bathrooms…) until after 1920, even though the local self-dubbed Titans of Industry made it happen for their own fancy homes at the time of A Changing Light.


Technology today reflects similar lags between the elites and others. Think of those in areas where teachers and students in the last year have had to sit in parking lots with wifi access to do their work or homework. Or kids who had to share one smart device with parents trying to work from home and older siblings in Zoom classes.


Why did you decide to bring the series full circle?


Ah, such a good question. After Llewelyn Publishing decided to drop Midnight Ink, its crime fiction imprint, many of us authors were left with orphaned series. Some debut authors like the uber-talented Kellye Garret. Some previously published authors starting fabulous new series, like Susan Oleksiw. And more than one was stranded mid-series, like my Agatha-Award-winning Quaker Midwife Mysteries. I wasn’t done with Rose’s story when they cut me off after book four, Charity’s Burden.


My agent inquired various places. We finally moved the series to Beyond the Page Publishing, who agreed to pick up the series, giving me a three-book contract.


A Changing Light is the third book with BtP. The editing is excellent, and I love the covers, but they do not participate in publicizing the books. And, while readers who like this series adore it, there aren’t quite enough of them for me to justify spending a third of each year writing a new book that doesn’t bring in that much money.


So, A Changing Light finishes the series. I’m happy I could do it on my own terms, leaving Rose and my 1890 version of Amesbury in a good place. (But don’t worry, I have a new historical series brewing.)


Please help me celebrate release day with a Facebook party. Historical mystery author Nancy Herriman and I will be chatting with readers and giving away goodies from 7-9 pm EDT on April 13. I’d also love it if you join Hallie Ephron and me in a Zoom chat about A Changing Light on April 22 at 7 pm EDT. There will be door prizes! Link to register is here.


Since you are on the SinC Guppy Steering Committee and Hallie Ephron just finished teaching a SinC Guppy course for me, I hope many Guppies will participate.

Come back to WWK and visit again—when we’ll find out about that new historical series you have teased us with!

Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. She lives with her beau and maniac cat north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. She hopes you’ll find her at Edith M. Maxwell and Maddie Day Author.


  1. Edith, I'm sure it's bittersweet to have this award-winning series end, but I'm delighted you were able to end it on your own terms. Best of luck with your many future endeavors.

  2. Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Edith! And congratulations on the new book! I can't wait to read it.

  3. Welcome back, Edith. I hate to see this series end too. You have a great protagonist, an interesting setting, and twisty plots.

  4. Congratulations on your latest release.

  5. Thank you, Susan. It was time to move on!

  6. I love your midwife stories. I hope you will be able to keep them going at some point, but of course you have to make decisions that are good for you.

    You're so good with titles! So many of us struggle with them, and often never do come up with the "right" one.

  7. Thanks so much for your kind words, KM. Most of the titles were a joint effort between me and the publisher. Turning the Tide, Judge Thee Not, and Taken Too Soon were all mine, though!

  8. Oh, no! I am going to miss Rose. I am glad that you were able to bring her story full circle and end the series on your terms. I will read with a bittersweet mindset.

  9. Thanks, Kait. It is bittersweet, for sure.

  10. Edith, your books have always been a delight - so rich in emotion and history along with mystery. I'm glad you were able to end the series with Rose in a good place, and I'm glad you're on to new writing adventures. I wish you all the best and anticipate more wonderful books! I'll be pulling for you at this year's Agatha Awards.

  11. Thank you so much, Shari! Fingers crossed, although, according to today's missive, there won't be any nominee panels, which I'm sorry about.

  12. Sorry to see the series end. Hope Rose finds her way into some of your short stories.