By J.N. Duncan
I would like to welcome Tace Baker (the pen name of author Edith Maxwell), the author of SPEAKING OF MURDER. In the nine-to-five world, she is a technical writer, mother, and transplanted, fourth-generation Californian living in an antique house north of Boston, with her beau and three cats. Let’s get right to the good stuff.
Give us a twitter style (140 character) blurb for SPEAKING OF MURDER.
Quaker linguistics prof with ear for accents tracks down suspicious chairwoman, heroin ring, to find star student’s killer.
Clearly, your background in linguistics, in video editing, and your involvement with the Society of Friends informed your choice of character and story for this novel. This is a fascinating choice for a mystery. Why the interest in using this particular topic within the genre?
I am well acquainted with the world of academia and with the field of linguistics, and I’ve been a Quaker for several decades. Being a linguistics professor informs Lauren Rousseau’s character – she’s smart, she’s lived overseas, she loves languages and dialects. She’s also a Quaker and brings that sensibility into how she proceeds when in danger. Nobody else had written about that kind of character as far as I know. And then her boyfriend’s job as a video forensics expert let me use a really cool software application that police departments employ to help solve the murder.
Without giving away too much, tell us how your heroine’s profession plays a role in the story.
Lauren is good at identifying regional accents in English and at identifying in what language a non-English accent originates. She uses that skill to track down several wrongdoers.
You write cozy mysteries too, with A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE coming out from Kensington in the spring. While both mysteries, these are very different types within the genre. Tell us about the how and why of writing two rather different story types.
SPEAKING OF MURDER is a traditional mystery. Lauren Rousseau is an amateur sleuth in a small town but the themes and the writing are a bit dark. The book touches on drug smuggling, addiction, and racism in the background of the story.
The Local Foods Mystery series is a cozy, which also means a regular person in a circumscribed town solves the mystery, and violence and sex are off the page. Cozies have a lighter tone, however, and a regular cast of slightly eccentric supporting characters who reappear in each book. In this series, organic farmer Cam Flaherty was a software engineer who took over her great-uncle’s farm north of Boston when she lost her job. The members of a Locavore Club are enthusiastically obsessed with eating local food and sign up to be regular customers, but in A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE one of them ends up arrested for a murder that takes place on the farm.
Getting one novel published is trial and tribulation enough, but you have two coming out very close together from different publishers. What kind of road did you travel to arrive at such a pleasant result?
A long road! For SPEAKING OF MURDER, after I struck out querying more than fifty agents I turned to small presses. I wanted the legitimacy that comes from being published by someone other than myself. I had a few false starts – one press accepted my book but then backed out without discussion when I suggested a few changes to the contract. I signed with another press that turned out to be fraudulent and I withdrew from that contract just in time.
Over a year after I started trying to get the book published, Barking Rain Press was considering my book at the same time I was offered the three-book contract from Kensington, which I won on the basis of a proposal I had developed with agent John Talbot. He had contacted our local Sisters in Crime chapter about working with authors on cozy mystery proposals. We worked out the Local Foods Mystery idea and Kensington snapped it up within a week. And then Barking Rain wanted SPEAKING OF MURDER. I am truly fortunate. (That’s also the reason for the pen name Tace Baker – the Kensington contract stipulated I couldn’t publish any other mystery under my own name during the term of the contract. I dug up an archaic Quaker female name and, bingo.)
If you could be shelved next to one other mystery writer in the bookstore, who would it be and why?
That’s a really tough question. I think I’d choose my friend Sheila Connolly. When I first met her she had just landed two cozy contracts with Berkley Prime Crime. Her Orchard Mysteries and Museum Mysteries are now ongoing and successful, and her third, the County Cork Mysteries set in Ireland, debuts this winter. She’s an inspiration and a success.
Pretend you’re a bookseller in a store and a customer approaches you with your book. What would you want to say to them in order to convince them that they should buy your book?
SPEAKING OF MURDER takes you into the intrigues of a small college campus and a small New England town as well as into the life and motivation of a young professor. She’s ambivalent about her romantic relationship and is a loyal friend to a troubled pal. It’s a fast-paced read with unpredictable twists and a surprising resolution. As Lauren Rousseau works out both her personal issues and the questions surrounding her student’s mysterious death while she’s out running, you’ll be right there with her.
As writers, we all have our favorites and inspirations. Give us a top three list of books that have inspired you as a mystery writer.
All of Dorothy Sayers’s books. Any of Sue Grafton’s, particularly the earlier ones. All of Katherine Hall Page’s.
If you could choose any place to write that would have inspired your writing of SPEAKING OF MURDER, where would you go?
I’d go right where I wrote it – Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ashford is a not very disguised version of Ipswich, a beautiful historic town with plenty of secrets and a cast of real-life quirky characters. An old boat shop burned down while I was writing the book, so I included a fictional version of that. Lauren runs on a version of Labor-in-Vain Road. Had to have that! The house on the salt marsh, the historic bridge, the town wharf – I plucked those from real life and then slid them into a fictional story.
This is hopefully the beginning of a successful career as a writer. What’s in store for us in the future with your stories?
I’m working on the second Local Foods Mystery now, titled ‘TIL DIRT DO US PART and am having a lot of fun with it. It is scheduled to release in April of 2014. BLUFFING IS MURDER, the sequel to SPEAKING OF MURDER is about two-thirds written. I have this pesky full-time day job that I need to hang onto for a couple more years, though, and I just don’t have time to finish it and get it out there in addition to my Local Foods work, but I plan to at some point. And I have an idea for a historical mystery set in my new town, Amesbury, with a young woman who works in the mills and solves mysteries, too. So many ideas, so little time…
Having found the success of getting published, what piece of advice would you give aspiring mystery writers to hopefully achieve the same goal?
Keep writing! Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. Write the best book you can. Find a critique group, either online or in person, and work through every scene. Polish the book, set it aside for a month, reread, repolish. Then (and only then) try to find an agent, a small press, or publish it yourself, but keep writing. Create the second book. Persistence is everything. And good luck.
Tace Baker, the pen name of author Edith Maxwell, is the author of SPEAKING OF MURDER (Barking Rain Press) featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau. Edith holds a PhD in linguistics and is a member of Amesbury Monthly Meeting of Friends. Edith also writes the Local Foods Mysteries. A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE introduces organic farmer Cam Flaherty and a Locavore Club (Kensington Publishing, May 2013). A mother and technical writer, Edith is a fourth-generation Californian but lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.
To learn more about Tace, please visit her website.