Today we welcome Maeve Maddox.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Maeve Maddox: I used to be something of a traveler. In my twenties, I sailed to England on a cargo ship and stayed for seven years, teaching in a private girls’ school and completing an English degree at the University of London. I’ve visited Canada, Mexico, Sicily, and France. Nowadays, I’m more sedentary. My non-writing pleasures include time spent with family and friends, gardening, throwing a ball for my border collie, reading, and watching TV. I’m especially fond of old movies from the 1930s and 1940s. I adore TCM.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Maeve Maddox: I write both fiction and nonfiction. My articles appear on AmericanEnglishDoctor.com/ (teaching tips), MaeveMaddox.com/ (language and writing-related), and ArkansasWriters.com/ (writing and publishing news). I also write about K-12 education at the online magazine Bellaonline.com/. My nonfiction books include A Joan for All Seasons, a film guide to six movies about Joan of Arc; 100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid, a barebones style guide for students and bloggers; Word Rage, a collection of essays about popular usage that people argue about, and So You Want to Write, a collection of essays about the writing craft.
My most recently published novel is a cozy mystery, The Fabergé Flute. It’s based loosely on my experiences in London and as an amateur flutist.
If my books have any message, it’s that basic literacy is not rocket science and that anyone who has had eight or more years of formal education shouldn’t be saying things like, “Me and my brother attended college” or spelling definite as definate.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Maeve Maddox: More than one, which is probably not the most efficient way to go about it because I keep hopping from one to the other. I began a new fiction project this summer, working title The Eternal Witness. The main character is a New Testament scholar who becomes involved with a search for ancient manuscripts. The title refers to another character who was born in the first century and is still alive in the twenty-first. My current non-fiction project is a spelling guide called 7 Steps to Spelling Success.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Maeve Maddox: I’ve reached a difficult place in the current novel. The first few chapters went fairly quickly, but now I’ve got my character landing in Turkey with the archeological team. As I have never been to Turkey, my fear of getting the setting wrong is interfering with the story-telling.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Maeve Maddox: It depends upon the type of project. I have a PhD in comparative literature, so an extensive personal library provides me with most of my fact-checking sources for language-related articles and books. For my current novel, I’m relying on standard historical texts and the works of Bart D. Ehrman and Elaine Pagels. I’ve also enlisted the help of a professor at the University of Arkansas, whose academic background corresponds with that of my main character. He has kindly agreed to look over my draft and flag anything that’s implausible or inaccurate in regard to biblical scholarship. I do refer to Wikipedia and travel blogs for dates and photos on the fly, but when it comes to double-checking facts, I trust only reputable printed and digital sources.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Maeve Maddox: My reading tastes are eclectic. I love the English and American classics and re-read favorites like Middlemarch and Huckleberry Finn from time to time. I’ve been a Shakespeare buff ever since my ninth-grade English teacher introduced me to Julius Caesar. During my seven years in London, I saw performances of at least 30 of the 36 plays in the canon. I’m a binge-reader of mysteries. When I find a series I enjoy—like the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton or the Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis—I read them all, preferably in order of publication. And I don’t scorn the literary qualities of the best television and motion picture adaptations. David Suchet’s Poirot and Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes are two outstanding series that I can watch over and over.
Nearly every author whose work I read inspires me one way or another. If the writing is excellent, I’m inspired to learn from it. If the writing is sloppy, I’m inspired to do better and perhaps publish an article or book that addresses the aspects of the writing that make it less than successful.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Maeve Maddox: My mother read to me, so I developed a love of reading that morphed early into the desire to write stories. I got my first rejection letter at the age of ten. As for anyone encouraging me to write, no. In fact, a couple of people who might have been expected to encourage me did their best to discourage me. Happily, I now have two staunch supporters and encouragers in my son Adam and daughter-in-law Amanda. It’s thanks to Amanda’s urging that I finally published The Fabergé Flute.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Maeve Maddox: With non-fiction, as in my articles and books about English usage, I think it’s an ability to explain academic subjects in simple language. I was not a particularly good student in high school. Although I was an avid reader and wrote for the school paper, I didn’t come to understand grammar until much later. For that reason, I can anticipate the sort of trouble readers might have with the standard definitions and examples they were exposed to in school. My teaching motto (borrowed from Romalda Spalding) is, “No teaching has taken place unless and until the pupil learns.” I write for adults who were not well taught at the appropriate time, but who still want to learn and help their children learn.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Maeve Maddox: I write every weekday, beginning at about 7 or 8 a.m. and knocking off at about 4 p.m., with lunch and dog breaks. Until recently, I had a paid gig writing seven posts a week for a language blog. I’m not a fast writer, so the job ruled my life. Since I stopped, I’m able to spread my writing time over different projects.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Maeve Maddox: Well, if I’m still around, I hope to have published all the language guides I’m working on. The writer in me is inseparable from the teacher. Decade by decade, I have seen the effective teaching of reading and usage decline in the public schools. Year by year, literature is pushed out of the curriculum in favor of mere “informational writing.” Our schools are becoming temples to technology. Parents who want their children to become fluent readers, writers, and empathetic, compassionate thinkers will have to supplement the English curriculum at home. Five years from now, I’d like to be seen as a writer whose easy-to-follow guides offer non-specialists the information they need to protect their children from inadequate reading and writing instruction in school.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Maeve Maddox: Read. Read voraciously, and not just the writings of your contemporaries. If you want to write mysteries, read all the mysteries you can. If you want to write science fiction, ditto. But read in other genres as well. Read the great nineteenth- and twenty-first century novelists and essayists—Dickens, Eliot, Twain, Melville, Orwell, Atwood. Read what writers have written about writing—Stephen King, Elizabeth George, John Gardner. Read about your most important tool—the English language. As a writer, you are free to take all the liberties with the language you like—once you have mastered the standard forms. Before Picasso started painting the weird stuff, he was able to paint realistic portraits. Read to furnish your mind and to learn how to write.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Maeve Maddox: It would be to recommend one of my books to someone because they found it useful or entertaining.
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Maeve Maddox: From The Fabergé Flute
The front porch was in darkness. Mother’s Halloween rule forbade the use of any lights that could be seen from the street. To ensure that a light couldn’t be switched on accidentally, she always unscrewed the porch and hall bulbs.
Sallie unlocked the front door and groped her way along the darkened hallway. “Damn!” Pain exploded in her big toe. She had kicked the solid lead doorstop in the shape of a sleeping cat that usually stood outside the back door. Mother always brought Kitty in at Halloween so that no trick-or-treaters could steal or damage it. As if anyone could lift it!
As she rubbed her throbbing toe, Sallie felt the day’s frustrations wash over her. The desire to chuck everything for a week and go to London gripped her more strongly than it had in the armory. A whole week away from DeSoto Springs and Huysman and high school students and her mother. She might even meet someone interesting. Someone like Rockford who would like her for herself.
Light gleamed in the doorway of the room Momma called her “den.” Sallie looked in. Momma was asleep in her chair, lighted faintly by the 1960s seashell TV lamp. Thursday was beauty shop day. A bouffant halo of bluish-white hair framed her face. Her mouth sagged open and her breath came in little snorts. Sallie’s feelings of rebellion dissipated in a surge of affection. She couldn’t afford a trip to Dallas, let alone London. Besides, how could she think of leaving Momma to celebrate Thanksgiving alone? She fished the IOFA flyer from her back pocket and dropped it into the wastebasket by the door. Another time maybe. She flipped on the overhead light. The snoring stopped and her mother stirred.
“Time for bed, Momma,” Sallie said gently.
Her mother’s pale blue eyes opened and looked up at her. Her gaze traveled from Sallie’s head to her feet and back again. A frown creased her papery forehead.
“Did you go out dressed like that?”
Sallie sucked air as if she’d been punched. She retrieved the convention flyer from the wastebasket.
“Yes, Mother,” she said. “I did. And by the way, I’m going to London for Thanksgiving.”
The Fabergé Flute