March 30, 2011

Author’s name tells a tale

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Relationships, Women at 5:02 pm by dinaheng

Elizabeth Lowell isn’t really her name, but therein lies the tale of an author who has written more than 60 books in several genres, with 30 million copies of those books in print, along with reprints in 30 foreign languages.

It all began in 1975 when Ann Maxwell wrote her first book, “Change,” a science fiction novel. When she decided to write a non-fiction book with her husband, Evan Lowell, the couple added his initial to her name, becoming A.E. Maxwell. In 1982, Maxwell (Ann, that is), added romance novels to her repertoire, so combined her middle name with her husband’s middle name to become Elizabeth Lowell.

“To me, they’re all stories, and it’s just about shifting the emphasis,” Maxwell says. “In sci-fi, it’s otherworldly or fantasy. Mysteries are about a mystery that’s solved at the end. In romances, character-driven relationships drive the story.”

It’s no surprise that women readers love romance novels because of the relationships in the books, which always have happy endings. Male readers, on the other hand, are more likely to pick up a book written by another man with action in it. The closest men usually get to romance are bro-mance novels, says Maxwell, which have “two men solving a mystery.”

Maxwell, 66, says she started writing as a young mother, choosing the typewriter over photography because it was easier to combine with parenting. Her husband was a newspaper reporter, and supported her desire to write. Since she didn’t have access to a car during the day, the used book store she could get to on foot had a lot of sci-fi books, and with an interest in science, that’s what she would read.

The author has been writing for 40 years now, and says she likes to write popular fiction because it always ends on an upnote, be it through the relationship or the mystery.

“I don’t believe there’s a perfect happy ending for everybody,” she says, “but happiness is possible for everybody. I like writing about the possibilities in life. I’ve never found an intelligent person I need to teach despair to. I’ve found a lot who need to learn hope. I write out of the old traditions of the heroic, where it’s possible for someone to do the extraordinary, or touch the extraordinary.”

I discovered Maxwell’s work under the pen name Elizabeth Lowell, and have enjoyed her contemporary stories that combine romance and suspense the best. My particular favorites include the series about the Donovan family, who own an international gem trading empire, and the St. Kilda series about an elite security consulting firm.

“I’ve always been fascinated by what’s endured as valuable through the ages,” Maxwell explains. “Archaeology fascinates me. I’ve always been interested in lost cities, cave dwellings, the physical world and what cultures value through time, and what’s passed down through time.”

While she’s often asked how she gets ideas for her books, it’s clear that her imagination moves easily between reality and conjecture. This is a woman who can take what’s happening in the world at any given point in time, and create an intriguing tale that draws the reader into a realm not far removed from reality.

In her latest Elizabeth Lowell paperback, “Death Echo,” (Avon, $7.99) former CIA agent Emma Cross works for St. Kilda Consulting to track a yacht believed to be carrying a lethal cargo that could destroy an American city. She joins forces with MacKenzie Durand, a former special ops killer, to unravel the mystery of the deadly yacht while dealing with secret government intrigue.

The novel uses well known changes in the former Soviet Union to create a story of “what if” that’s intelligent and fun reading. The relationship between the two romantic partners is not as fully developed as it could have been, getting lost in “witty banter” between the two that becomes repetitious and annoying. But the book is a fast read for those looking for a pleasurable escape.

“Reading is an escape, and everyone should have a recess,” Maxwell says. “But it’s also more than that. Storytellers get people in touch with a larger sense of reality. It’s easy to get caught up in some of the unhappy details of life, and if you can move away from that while reading a book, you can go back to real life and not feel as weighted down. But you also bring something back from what you’ve read.”

That “something” can range from learning about a new subject to identifying with a character’s plight and becoming inspired to create changes in your own life.

Maxwell writes mostly romance novels now under the name Elizabeth Lowell. It takes her a year to write a book, and she still loves doing research for each one.

“I’ll experience the landscape, but I won’t experience what the character does,” she says. “Usually, the landscape is a character in the book, too. I’ve been to De Beers in England, and to a tourmaline mine. I’ve never robbed a bank.”

Maxwell and her husband reside much of the year in Washington state, and spend their winters in Nevada.

“I’ve been married 44 years now, and really believe the right partner can expand your possibilities,” she says,  “and if they don’t, you have the wrong partner. My next book (tentatively titled ‘Beautiful Sacrifice’) started out to be another St. Kilda book, but my mind is an unruly critter. It turned out to be more of a relationship and less of a suspense novel. Life is always unexpected.”



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