About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out, Fogged Inn and Iced Under. The sixth book, Stowed Away, will be published in December, 2017. You can visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com.

By the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea

by Barb, at the Jersey shore

What is it about the connection between human beings and bodies of water? Why do so many of us find a quality of peace and relaxation when staring at the ocean, or a favorite lake, that we find nowhere else? What is it about a rushing trout stream on a spring day that carries our troubles away with it? Is it because we’ve depended on the water for millennia for food, transport, cooling on hot days? Is it because our bodies are 60% water and we need it to live? Is it because we came from the oceans originally and that memory is somewhere buried deep in our primitive brains?

Our personal histories play into it, too. When I was growing up, both sets of my grandparents had places near the ocean, my mother’s parents in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and my father’s parents in Water Mill, Long Island.

My grandmother Ross would pick my brother and me up on the last day of school every year, and drive us out to the end of Long Island. We knew all the landmarks along the way, the strawberry fields, the windmills, the building shaped like a giant duck that was a market that sold, well, duck, what else? My grandmother’s father would visit her for the same two weeks, so I grew up knowing my great-grandfather well. His hobby was painting tiles and he would let my brother and I paint them, too and then we would take them to be fired. My grandparents belonged to a beach club on Flying Point Road and a part of every day was spent there. Then we’d stop at a friend’s pool on the way home, diving for pennies my grandmother threw in the deep end. Whatever we retrieved we kept to spend at the Penny Candy Store on the way home. I can still taste the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Later in the summer, my mother would deliver us for two weeks with her parents in Sea Girt. The Jersey shore was a different sort of place, more organized and built up in those days, with a boardwalk. In the mornings my grandmother did household chores while my brother and I agitated for the beach. If the day was overcast she would say, “Go out on the lawn and look up. If you see enough blue to make a Dutchman’s pants, we’ll go.” I’ve never heard the expression since, and I wonder if it is a New Jersey thing, vaguely insulting to the original settlers? My grandmother shared a rental umbrella and two lounge chairs with her friend, Rose Bigley, which would be set up by lifeguards with white zinc oxide on their noses while we waited. Rose and my grandmother would sit in the chairs and talk of grown-up things while my brother and I played in the sand and the ocean.

My parents started the tradition of renting a house for a week in Stone Harbor. It was their way of corralling a family that was spread out, of making sure the cousins grew up together. We evolved our traditions, of mini-golf and cut-throat Scrabble games, and, of course, daily trips to the beach, often two a day. For years a trip to Cape May kicked off my annual Christmas shopping. We did it for a decade and then the kids grew up, had summer jobs and the tradition ended.

When my mother died, my sister-in-law had only one request. “I want to go back to the beach.” And so we have, indoctrinating new in-laws and a new generation of grandchildren along the way.

From this experience, maybe, decades from now, when my granddaughter looks at the ocean, she’ll feel at peace. Or maybe that’s already inside her.

Readers: Do you have a location by a body of water that’s special to you?

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Good-bye, Old House

by Barb, amid the boxes

The house

We’ve sold our Somerville, MA house. It closes (madly knocking wood) on August 3. There was a whirlwind one week period in which in went on the market, opened its doors for a broker’s lunch and three open houses and went under agreement. Now the real work begins.

People keep asking how I feel. I always answer, “This isn’t the house where I brought up my kids. It isn’t as emotional to leave it.” But even as I am saying the words, my chest tightens, my voice gets hoarse and tears spring to my eyes. Being a genius about my feelings, this gives me a clue that maybe I am lying.

But why should that be so? This house was a way station of middle age, neither the work-a-day family home, nor the retirement dream house. Then I realize that any place that forms the stage for more than a decade of our lives is going to burst with memories.

This is the house where we celebrated our first Christmas with our granddaughter and the last with Bill’s mother. It is the last house either of my parents will have ever visited me in.

Viola’s first visit

It’s the house where our son brought his daughter when she was two weeks old. The place he came when he returned from California before he left to hike the bottom half of the Appalachian Trail, and the place he returned from the trail before he left for New York.

It’s the place we collected all the bits and bobs and clothes and shoes for my daughter’s wedding. The place where we celebrated her graduation with her BA and then her MFA. The place she returned to after college, after New York, and after London, bringing stuff with her each time. (Hey Kate, come and get your stuff!)

It’s the place our cocker spaniel escaped from and we spent a night looking for him in a howling storm while he slept soundly at a kind neighbor’s house before going off to animal rescue in the morning, where he was chipped and returned, dry and rested, while we…

It is probably the last house where we will ever have owned a dog.

Christmas 2014, the happy chaos of the family Yankee book swap

It’s the place I moved into as a tech executive and left as a published author. The place my husband moved into as a political consultant and left as a photographer. The place we moved into as parents and left as grandparents. The place we moved into as someone’s child and left as orphans.

That’s a lot to pack into one little house.

Bill said yesterday, “Very few of our memories are tied to real estate.” He was right, of course. They’re tied to people. They’ll come with us when we go.

Readers: Tell me a moving story. Tell me it all turned out okay in the end.

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Welcome Back, Hallie Ephron

by Barb, who as of when she’s posting this, has no idea what U.S. state (or what mental state) she will be in when it’s published.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you’ve heard of Hallie Ephron. She’s been our guest on the blog several times, and has been a teacher, mentor, and friend to each of us. Not to mention, she writes for one of our favorite blogs, the Jungle Red Writers.

Now she has a fabulous new book, You’ll Never Know, Dear. I devoured it in two greedy days. Spoiler alert, I loved it and you will, too. Please welcome Hallie back to the Wicked Cozies.

Barb: You’ll Never Know, Dear is set in the fictional town of Bonsecours, SC, a departure for you. Why did you set this story in the south?

Hallie: I imagined the book opening with two of my main characters sipping sweet tea and eating egg-salad sandwiches on a front porch hung with wisteria. The older woman is a doll maker. I knew we weren’t in New England. Or Hollywood. Or the Bronx. Or anywhere else I’ve set a story.

When I envisioned the town around them, I “saw” Beaufort, South Carolina. I’d been there a few times. Historic. Gracious. Riverfront. Perfect. Then I fictionalized it to Bonsecours because the real Beaufort has such an incredible history (it rivals nearby Savannah) and has already been immortalized by writers far more brilliant than I.

Barb: The book is about a crime in the past, the abduction of a little girl and her doll in the 1970s. The narrative takes place entirely in the present, when the doll comes back. Why did you decide on that timeline? Was it an easy decision? Did you every write any of the scenes set in the past?

Hallie: Such an interesting question. No, I never considered writing full blown flashbacks, or starting in the past which is where the story really begins (as do most!) I wanted secrets from the past to be uncovered in the present, by the reader as much as by the characters. That’s why I couldn’t let the grandmother, Miss Sorrel, narrate. She knows too much.

Barb: You’ve recently published an updated edition of your acclaimed writing book, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: The Complete Guide to Mystery, Suspense, and Crime. I’ve always wondered, does thinking through and externalizing your writing process–i.e. consciously knowing what you know, help you as a writer? Or does it make that voice from your internal editor even louder?

Hallie: Spontaneity has its limits. Then it helps if you have some idea what you’re doing. Knowing what I know is especially useful in plotting, making sure there’s an arc for the main character, making sure that something HAPPENS…every so often.

Barb: Recently, Wicked guest, Lori Rader-Day, posted here about why she writes standalones. You switched from series to standalones. Why? Have you ever wanted to go back?

Hallie: Only when I start a new novel and have to start all over with new characters, new setting, new dynamics. Once I’ve got a story up and running I never look back. I was afraid switching to standalones would be bad from a business perspective–that my publisher wouldn’t maintain my backlist. But they have, even better than my previous publisher did for the series.

Barb: What are you working on now?

Another standalone, this one set back in New England. I’m only 50 pages in and no one’s been murdered yet. But for once I know who’s the victim and who did it. Or at least I think I do.

HALLIE EPHRON is the New York Times bestselling author of suspense novels reviewers call “deliciously creepy” page turners. He new novel, You’ll Never Know, Dear, tells the story of a little girl’s disappearance and the porcelain doll that may hold the key to her fate. The Boston Globe called it “an accessible, easy read that deftly integrates the mystery genre with women’s fiction, it’s made compelling by the depth and resonance of the relationships.” In Night Night, Sleep Tight, Hallie took her experiences growing up in Beverly Hills in a family of writers and wove them into a suspense novel with echoes of a scandalous true crime. Her Never Tell a Lie was adapted for film as “And Baby Will Fall” for the Lifetime Movie Network. She is a four-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and author of Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel, an Edgar Award finalist.

Readers: Do you like standalones? Novels of the south? Suspense?

If so, this book is for you.

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Wicked Wednesday: Movies that make you love animals (even more)

Okay, I admit, most of you (especially Liz’s fans) probably already love animals, but what’s your favorite movie with an animal in a starring or major supporting role?

Jessie: I have two but they don’t seem to have a lot on common. I love Babe! Every year when I find myself out shopping during the holiday season I can hear the voice of the duck from the movie shouting in my head “Christmas is carnage!”. I also adore The March of the Penguins. After we watched it the first time my husband and I headed to the kitchen and used a grapefruit to practice passing it back and forth with our feet as if we were penguin parents sharing the safekeeping of our egg. After several tragic losses we managed it!

Julie: Real, live animals? I’ve got to admit, I avoid animal movies. When I was in 8th grade we took a class trip to NYC, and went to Radio City Musical Hall toward the end of the trip. We saw some Scottish (Welsh?) movie about a mine town, and a pony that saves people then runs back into the mine to die. I have likely misremembered the whole thing. What I don’t forget is the sobbing. My father has an Old Yeller (or was it Shane) trauma in his past, so every time the “Wonderful World of Disney” was an animal story, he changed the channel. So, I’ve got nothing.

Sherry: Jaws? Just kidding I typed “movies with animals” into a search engine and it was the first movie that popped up. I love 101 Dalmatians. When my daughter was three she watched it a lot and took to calling me mother like the puppies called their mom. Also when I’m outside and hear one dog bark, then another, then Lily, I always think of it too.

Liz: Does Kung Fu Panda count?? I love that movie! I’m afraid to watch some of the more poignant ones like A Dog’s Purpose or Marley and Me, because I know they’ll make me cry. (No, it doesn’t matter how many people are killed in a movie, as long as the dog lives.) But going back to childhood, I loved 101 Dalmatians too, but Lady and the Tramp was my favorite.

Barb: In 1989 we were camping in Maine and on a rainy day Bill and I took our two kids, ages eight and five to see a Disney Movie, Turner and Hooch. It’s a lighthearted movie about a cop, Tom Hanks, who must care for a murder victim’s dog in order to solve the crime, all while wooing the local vet (Mare Winningham). (Spoiler alert.) The dog gets shot and dies! Heroically. Bill and I are sitting there stunned, with two little kids. It was a big deal at Disney, where they believed the movie would have made a lot more money if the dog had lived. There is even the legend of a sign up at Disney studios that said, “Don’t Kill the Dog!” a reminder to their writers. But here’s the thing. I loved the movie. I love it to this day. It had a strong emotional resonance. I’m not one for “Don’t Kill the Dog.” Pets die. It engendered some really good conversation in our family.charlottes-web-548892fda6628 (1)

Edith: Wracking my brain. Movie with animal, movie with animal. Nothing, so I’ll go along with Lady and the Tramp, and March of the Penguins. Ooh, wait — Charlotte’s Web! Yeah, that would be my favorite.

Readers: Add yours!

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Wicked Wednesday: Movies that make you want to fall in love (again)

Okay, I admit this one is a little more obscure, with our “movies that make you…” theme, but what I’m looking for here are love stories. Wonderful, stories that sweep you up in the romance. Romances, historicals, and romantic comedies all count here. Go!

Jessie: I love You’ve Got Mail. There are so many great moments in that movie that I watch it at least a couple times each year. And I adore Love, Actually. It does such a great job of showing so many facets of the complex thing we all sum up with the single word, Love.

Julie: Does the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehie Pride and Prejudice count? Cause I’d put that on the top of my list. But if you want movie-movies, I really love When Harry Met Sally. Charming, funny, romantic. Sleepless in Seattle is also a favorite of mine.

Sherry: Oh, Julie, I love that version of Pride and Prejudice too! Colin Firth, be still my heart. That brings me to my choice Love Actually! I think I could have listed Love Actually in the last categories, laugh, cry, love. It hits every level of emotion. Maybe I’ll go watch it right now!

Barb: I’m a sucker for romantic comedies. Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Richard Curtis–bring them on! It’s hard to pick a favorite. I love When Harry Met Sally. I love Four Weddings and a Funeral. I watch Love, Actually every Christmas season–preferably while doing something Christmas-y like writing cards or wrapping presents. I’m also a sucker for Nick Hornby novels made into movies, no matter how much they mess with the originals, which I also love: Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and my absolute favorite, About a Boy.

Liz: I love When Harry Met Sally too, Barb! I haven’t watched Love, Actually in years – maybe I need to refresh my memory. This may sound totally cheesy, but there’s something about the Jack and Rose love story in Titanic that gets me every time. That whole right side of the tracks meets wrong side thing, I guess…

Dr-ZhivagoEdith: Dr. Zhivago. Does it get any more romantic than the Russian Steppes, Omar Sharif, and Julie Christie, with balalaika music in the background? Other than that, I’ll also vote for Sleepless in Seattle, even though I saw it a long time ago, and will bring Bridges of Madison County back in for a replay, even though I already used it in the movies-that-make-you-cry post last week.

Readers: Dish! Share your favorite romantic movies.

 

Wicked Wednesday: Movies that make you cry

Sometimes we all need to cry. When this your mood, what movie to do you seek out? Bonus points if you can name one that doesn’t lose its impact even if you watch it over and over.

Julie: An Affair to Remember, with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. I SOB when he sees the painting at the end. SOB. Kills me. I can watch it again and again. I’ve also cried at other movies, but can’t bear to rewatch. An Affair to Remember is that fine line of romantic melodrama that just works.

Jessie: I had a tough time with this question. I have never looked for a movie that gave me the opportunity to cry. It just isn’t my way of being in the world. That being said, some movies have made me cry. I can’t get through Forrest Gump without a few tears.

Bridges of MadisonCountyEdith: Bridges of Madison County. I don’t care what anybody else says, I love this movie and its hopeless romance. I cry through most of it every single time.

Sherry: I’ve cried my way through a lot of movies over the years from Disney to Love Story to classics like West Side Story. I guess I cry easily at movies!

Barb: It’s time to admit I’m a big blubberer. I’ll cry at books, plays, movies, TV shows and even commercials if you catch me in the right mood. For a good cry, I’ll go with Beaches, the female buddy movie where they don’t drive off a cliff at the end. But there’s always Terms of Endearment (sobbed through the book, too) or Steel Magnolias. For a sad time, call….

Readers. what movies make you cry? Is that a good thing or a bad thing.

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Three New Maine Clambake Books to Come! (And a Giveaway!)

by Barb, sitting in her front porch in Boothbay Harbor, Maine on the most gorgeous day

I’m thrilled to announce that Kensington has asked me to write three new Maine Clambake Mysteries after Book 6, Stowed Away, coming December 26, 2017. And, bonus for me, and I hope for you, there will also be a second Christmas-themed novella. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to tell more stories about Julia Snowden, her family and their friends and Busman’s Harbor, Maine.

In September, 2014, when I announced books four through six, I thought I knew what those books were about. You can read my descriptions here. The first two, Fogged In and Iced Under did get written, though the title of Fogged Inn changed slightly. The third book, Elvered After did not.

The original plan was to set three books during the tourist season–Clammed Up, Boiled Over, and Musseled Out–and three in the off season. But then I had the chance to write my first Christmas-themed novella, “Nogged Off,” and that made three Maine Clambake stories that took place in the fog, ice, and snow. So my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, and I decided we needed to get back to sunshine and lighthouses and clams with book six.

Kensington also felt that most people wouldn’t know what elvers are, and when they discovered they’re tiny, transparent baby eels, it wouldn’t help the book’s appeal. (Not to mention, what would be on the cover?) I, on the other hand still love the story. Did you know that the elver fishery is the second largest by revenue in Maine? That opposite of most sea animals, eels go to the salt water of the Sargasso Sea to spawn and return to the fresh water of Maine’s rivers to mature? That a Mainer with an hard-to-get elver license and a place on a river to fish can make a year’s income in nine weeks? That the elvers are sold to eel farms in Asia to become sushi and other delicacies? That elvers are worth $350 a pound and the business is transacted in cash, so people are walking around the docks with tens of thousands of dollars in cash in their pockets? Plenty of reasons to kill someone, right?

But I’ll reluctantly put the elvers aside for now to explore other aspects of life on the Maine coast. And try to answer some burning questions, for example…

  • Are Julia and Chris going to make it?
  • Will the Snowdens rebuild Windsholme, the mansion on their private island?
  • Will Julia’s mother’s extended family be in more books?
  • What’s up with Julia’s father’s family? Don’t they live in Busman’s Harbor? Are we ever going to meet them?
  • And Chris’s family. Why does he never talk about them, even when asked directly?

I know some of the answers, but not all of them, and I can’t wait to find out.

I do know what’s in the holiday novella, which is my current WIP, but I’m not telling!

Readers: Do you have any feelings about the burning questions above? Is there anything you’d like to say about what you hope happens in the Snowden family saga? Let me know and one commenter on the blog will win a Snowden Family Clambake tote bag.

There are also three chances to win a tote bag offered in my newsletter, where I announced the new contract today. If you’d like to sign up for my (very occasional) e-mails, you can do so here.

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