|Cathy Maxwell: Goddess in Progress|
In her latest release, The Wedding Wager, which hit the shelves last month, Cathy Maxwell once again took her readers on a fantastic ride into Regency romance. Featuring a strong-willed heroine who defies tradition, the book draws on the history of the period to tell story about equal partnership rather than domination in the name of love.
For Maxwell, The Wedding Wager caps a successful year that included release of the USA Today and New York Times (extended) bestselling novel The Marriage Contract and a novella, "A Man Who Can Dance," in the anthology In Praise of Younger Men. Appropriately, all three stories celebrate the goddess-heroine -- in Maxwell's words, "a woman aware of her own power. " In a conversation with Crescent Blues, Maxwell discusses the meaning of "goddesshood," and her own professionals and personal journeys.
Crescent Blues: You say that the goddess has re-emerged in modern life. What do you mean by that?
Cathy Maxwell: To me, a goddess is a woman aware of her own power. We live in a patriarchal society and yet, in the past, women yielded great power. I come from a long line of pioneers. My ancestresses came over on the Mayflower, crossed the prairies, and built schools, farms and businesses alongside their husbands. They were strong women.
Then came what I've heard historians refer to as the "Cult of Domesticity." Women were placed on a shelf, like a possession. It was sign of prestige if the woman didn't work. She may have had rights but she had very little voice, even as educational advances were taking place. Then, during my lifetime, I've watched as we've attempted to take back what we'd lost.
Our method was to reach for what the men had. And I believe we had to go through that phase. There were -- and are -- injustices. There were wrongs to right. However, now I sense we are developing an understanding of what true power is. We are not men. We bring different things to the table -- our intuition, our sensitivity, our strength and intelligence…so many things. We are equal and yet different and in that difference is our power. And to me, that is what the goddess movement is about. It's a celebration and acceptance of those differences.
Crescent Blues: It wouldn't be hard to describe your career as a journey from domesticity to feminine power. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got started on the road?
Cathy Maxwell: I have an adventurous spirit. I'm from Kansas, and still consider myself a Kansan, but I did want to see the world. I wanted travel. I wanted to know things, to experience them first hand. In many ways, I am a voyeur about life. I'm perfectly happy just being present. It used to embarrass me. Now I understand it was the writer in me logging experiences to be used later. As for the diversity in my careers, well, life takes us down winding roads.
Back in high school, I really wanted to go into the Navy, but my mother assured me I wasn't that kind of girl. I had no clue what she was talking about but figured she must be right (no rebel here). I went to college (Washburn University of Topeka, Ks.) graduated, got a job broadcasting news and sports from a satellite post of a Wichita, Ks., station. Rising on the second year, I was asked to interview for the main station and I took stock of my life. I could see my career in broadcasting: after Wichita there would Omaha, then St. Joe and maybe K.C before I'd be old and washed up at 30.
One night, I made a list of the ten things I wanted to do with my life (yes, writing a book was one of them) and decided I really wanted to go into the Navy. I called the recruiter the next day and have no regrets. I made the right decision. (By the way, Mother was right. I would have been far too naïve to take advantage of the opportunities straight out of high school. I'd been very sheltered. But after college…!)
I've traveled a portion of the world that is off the beaten track, met fascinating people, and got to play a bit part in history. I reveled in the experience. One of the hardest decisions was the one I made to get out. However, Max and I had a baby on the way and it would have been tough to fit her in a sea bag. After the Navy, I followed my husband until I decided to write. By the way, I did accomplish all the items on the list I wrote years ago.
Crescent Blues: Would you compare your courtship with your hubby with that of a perfect romance story?
Cathy Maxwell: Max is perfect. He's funny and bold and brave and wise. But do I write about him? No. My characters come from my imagination. However, there are qualities -- a sense of humor, honesty, kindness -- that I (and most women) admire in a man, and Max has all three. (He also looked great in Navy dress whites.) Currently, besides his day job, he's a member of a local improv troupe. He's the oldest in the company by about twenty years. He started acting eight years ago and I love the fact he continues to stretch himself. I look forward to growing old with him.
Crescent Blues: What impact has your writing had with your children? Has it brought you closer to your children?
Cathy Maxwell: Absolutely my writing has brought me closer to my oldest daughter, although as a family, we're pretty honest with each other. Still, through my books, I can tell her things she'd not hear if we sat at a table and talked. My youngest daughter is too young for my books…but someday. My son is almost hopeless. He doesn't enjoy reading. But he is a romantic and even has moments of gallantry, so perhaps something has rubbed off.
Crescent Blues: You've stated that you wish each of your children has lives full of happy endings. What do you say to those who say that you should teach them reality and life's hard knocks?
Cathy Maxwell: Happiness comes from a generous spirit. It's impossible to be in love and be selfish. Love doesn't protect my children from life's challenges, but it does enable them to rise above those trials and to believe in the goodness of Man. And I believe there is room in romance novels, as in any book, for reality. I don't think what we write excludes the truths of life. I've read some remarkable, insightful books in the romance genre that took on serious issues. The writers didn't flinch, and I gained as a reader.
Crescent Blues: How do you typically relax or get rejuvenated?
Cathy Maxwell: I have down time now that I have horses. I took up riding about a year and a half ago when my youngest developed the passion. I love being away from the computer and the messy house and out in the open air. I own two horses. Champagne and Wishes (Honey) is a Chincoteague pony we purchased for my daughter. It was out of my joy in her -- and she is a delight, she used to be in a petting zoo -- that I started riding. Last fall, we added Almond Delite (Regal), a buckskin horse whom I am mad about. He's wise, "been there, done that," and is a forgiving teacher. The challenge of learning to ride has added zest to my life and to my writing. This month, Regal and I will be in our first show. It will be held at the Tinkerbell Equestrian Center. Can't you picture me getting my riding butt kicked by a nine-year-old? I'm looking forward to it. Life is grand!
Crescent Blues: Who or what inspired you to write romance?
Cathy Maxwell: Fierce Eden (by Jennifer Blake) opened me to what a romance novel could be. I loved the depth, the passion, the history, the adventure. That book captured my imagination. I'd just had my second child and was mired in the blues. That book helped pull me from an abyss. The characters were wonderfully complex and nothing like the stereotype. It was one of the first books I shared with my oldest daughter when she started reading romances. Over the years, I've owned three copies of it. When I met Jennifer Blake for the first time, I could barely speak (unusual for me!) I was absolutely overcome by emotion.
Crescent Blues: Did your ancestry play a part in choosing to do Regencies?
Cathy Maxwell: My family roots can be traced back to the Mayflower and the Revolutionary War. We were Puritans and soldiers and backwoods folks and pioneers. Like many families that have been in this country that long, my ancestry is a mixed bag and I don't feel any single strong ethnic pull. My immediate family has been multi-cultural for several generations: English, German, Native American, African-American, Scot, and one cousin who is half Asian. We've got it all -- except for Irish.
Of course, everyone assumes because we are a passel of redheads that we must be Irish. Not that I didn't milk the red hair on St. Patrick's Day in my single days. I once had an I.R.A. poet sing to me in Kelly's Irish Times, a D.C. bar. Max is three-quarters Irish and one-quarter Scot, and I tease him that he has given the kids an ethnic identity (and more red hair).
My ancestry may not influence my writing, but my understanding that beneath the skin we all want the same things does. My historical influences come from a biography series I read in third grade (they were the blue books with the silhouette illustrations; they are still on the shelf today), the great sweeping historicals of the past century, and Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen leaves me cold but Heyer I adore. The heroine in my current manuscript is named Deborah after Deborah Grantham of Faro's Daughter, my fave Heyer book.
Crescent Blues: Your debut novel All Things Beautiful garnered a nomination for Best First Book by Romance Writers of America (RWA), Best First Historical by Romantic Times and tied for first place for Best Read of 1994 by the Reader's Voice. What do you think made All Things Beautiful such a special first book?
Cathy Maxwell: I felt vindicated. It was suggested several times that I change the heroine and I stuck to my vision of the book. I also knew how lucky I was it worked out. I knew, even back then, that I was in this business for the long haul. Sometimes things work to your advantage and other times they don't. I've been in theater, I've broadcast the news, and I understand that, especially when you are dealing in a creative endeavor, there will be days you eat the bear and days the bear eats you. I prefer the days I do the eating.
Crescent Blues: Do you visit the U.K for creative sustenance? How often?
Cathy Maxwell: I wish I could go every year! I do get over there every two to three years. One of the perks.
Crescent Blues: Do you think romance novels will take on a more significant role given the events on September 11?
Cathy Maxwell: No. I wish they could. Wouldn't we all like to return to September 10th? What we bickered about seems so trivial now. I believe there are some evils, some horrific events for which there is no balm but justice.
Cathy Maxwell: I'll take the motives and the reactions and do that. The world has changed but what drives humans hasn't.
Crescent Blues: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Cathy Maxwell: Of course, I'm a feminist.
Crescent Blues: What views would you like to change of romance and the women who write romances?
Cathy Maxwell: But I'm not a "view changer" unless it is through the testimony of my life and success.
Crescent Blues: Do you have any lingering fears that carried through your writing career? On the other side, were there any myths that you blew up once your writing got underway?
Cathy Maxwell: My one fear is of not delivering the best I have to give. As a reader, I am frustrated when a favorite writer doesn't produce the work I know she is capable of either because she is past her prime or has lost interest. I have a pact with myself that when I don't have anything more to say, I'll stop. I don't want to become an "industry" or a bore. As for myths being "blown up" -- I had no expectations. I wrote because I was crazy enough to believe I had something to say. Deep inside, the story wouldn't let me go. Every day, I invent my own reality.
Crescent Blues: Any plans to venture into other romance sub-genres?