About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out, Fogged Inn and Iced Under. Her holiday novella featuring amateur sleuth Julia Snowden was published along with novellas by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murder from Kensington Books in October 2016. You can visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com.

Why I’ll Stop Reading a Long-Running Mystery Series

NEWS flash: Ginny JC is the winner of Wendy Tyson’s audio book. Ginny, please check your email!

by Barb, traveling back to Key West after a lovely wedding in Vermont

As I explained on Maine Crime Writers on Thursday, as soon as I turn in my current book, it will be time to write a new proposal for books seven through nine of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. This got me thinking about the positive reasons why I stay with a long-running mystery series. I wrote my answers here.

In my post today, I’m looking at the opposite side of the question. What causes me to drift away from a series? I don’t mean read one book and decide,”This isn’t for me.” I mean to either consciously or unconsciously stop reading new books in a mystery series I’ve previously been invested in.

Here’s what I came up with.

(1) I don’t care what happens to anyone. There are a lot of discussions, most of them not fruitful in my opinion, about whether main characters have to be “likeable.” For me, the answer is no. I don’t have to like them, but a do have to care what happens to them, because the entire point of reading a book is to find out what happens to them. There may be some standalone thrillers with plots so compelling you’ll read them in spite of the cardboard characters, but that isn’t possible for a series.

While this might seem like a reason not to start reading a series in the first place, I have often started series with interesting characters only to have them turn into people I wouldn’t want to share a cab with, much less get stuck on a desert island with. Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta series became this for me. I wasn’t put off by the blood and gore, or the marital infidelity per se, or even the crazy politics. But a main character making terrible life decisions, sitting in judgey-judgment on all the other characters, who are also making terrible life decisions… It was too much. I let it go.

(2) The series story doesn’t move forward. There’s a lot of talk about whether protagonists in crime series need a character arc. Whether they need to somehow be different at the end of a book than they are at the beginning. Whether they need to grow over a series. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher famously doesn’t.

I find I don’t care so much if the character changes, but I need the story to move forward. I need the character to choose the good guy or the bad boy, to make peace with her mother or decide she never will. I need the hints about that thing that happened in the past to be revealed if not resolved. I’m really patient. Milk it for as many books as you think you can, but I need it to happen.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series was this for me. I loved the humor and I loved the portrait of life in the Burg. But it all became a little rote–sassy dialog, car crash, fail to make choice between two men, crash funeral with grandma, car cash, car cash. She made a lot of money off of me. I took this series for a long ride, but eventually I gave up.

(3) Every single character from every single book moves forward with the series. I like the introduction of interesting new series characters, especially if they have a personal or professional connection to the main character. But I don’t need every character I’ve ever met, many of whom I can’t remember, to be involved in each new investigation.

I stopped reading Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series for this reason. When there got to be dozens of characters, all introduced in the first chapter of the next new book, I gave up.

(4) There are too many books, too frequently. Okay, I know this is idiosyncratic to me and that the only viable business model for a lot of self-published series right now involves frequent releases. It may be because I read slowly, or I have reading I have to do for my writing, or I have so many favorite series, but if an author writes so much that I get way far behind, I’ll give up.

Readers, what makes you stop reading new books mystery series?

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Opening Lines

Here’s our Opening Lines–mysterious presence edition. Readers: Add your opening lines.

ghost

Photo by Bill Carito

Barb: I shivered in the eighty degree heat.

Edith: As if the slick of the rain and the blue lights triggering my PTSD weren’t bad enough, when the apparition showed up, too, I had no choice but to scream.

Julie: I walked into the bikers’ bar, and ordered a Shirley Temple. “Extra cherries,” I snarled.

Jessie: The cops who investigated my wife’s death said they couldn’t prove it but they knew I’d gotten away with murder. With the way Pauline still dogged my every step, the truth was, I hadn’t gotten away with anything.

Liz: It had to be the heat shimmering off the pavement. I wasn’t ready to share the alley with a ghost, so I refused to acknowledge the face hovering over me.

Sherry: He sat with his arms crossed guarding his beach bike like he thought he was a tough guy. I couldn’t wait to test how tough he really was.

Readers: Add yours in the comments!

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Island Time

by Barb, suffering the indignities of a WIP that isn’t jelling.

Hi All. I’m still in Key West. The weather has been uncommonly good this year and we’ve been enjoying our time. But the work in progress on my desk takes place on a different island, in a different climate, at a different time of year.

Stowed Away, the sixth Maine Clambake Mystery, brings the Snowden Family saga full cycle. It’s spring again, and Julia and her relatives are preparing Morrow Island for the tourist season. When I started Clammed Up, I knew about the Cabbage Island Clambake, but I had never been there. Over a long, snowy winter, while I waited for the real clambake to open, I consciously created my own island. I wanted my island to be different, in part to meet some story needs, and in part to distinguish it from any comparison to the real island because of the entirely fictional events that would take place there.

I carefully considered how many acres it would be, how high it would be (since the abandoned mansion Windsholme sat at it’s highest spot), and how far out to sea it was. There are 4400 islands along the Maine coast, so I had plenty of bases for comparison. I studied websites and Google images, judging the terrain.

clapboard-islandThen, years after that work was done and committed to Morrow Island lore, a friend sent me a link about an island for sale, Clapboard Island West, 22 acres with a 9087 square foot home, lots of out buildings, including a tea house and a guest house, and a little beach. For a cool $4.5 million it can be yours. (Be sure to negotiate, it’s been on a the market for awhile.)

Or, you can do what I do, and ogle the photos, descriptions, and the two videos available about the historic house and island.

Of course, there are differences between Clapboard and Morrow Island. The biggest is geographic. Clapboard Island is off Falmouth, Maine in Casco Bay. My fictional island is about an hour and a half farther north. Clapboard Island is slightly larger than Morrow Island and not as high. Morrow Island gets its fresh water and electricity from mid-May to Columbus Day in great conduits that come from the town. Clapboard Island has an interesting aquifer and a solar plant for power. But really, if I’d moved Clapboard Island to where I needed it, and built a pavilion for dining, a kitchen, and a gift shop, it would have done fine.

Sometimes I really wonder why I spend so much time making this stuff up.

Readers: Have you ever imagined a place and then found an incarnation that was real or nearly so? For those who’ve read the Maine Clambake Mysteries–what do you think? Does Clapboard Island match your mental image or is it markedly different?

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Crime Solving Couples by Carol Perry

by Barb, suffering the 75 degree temps in Key West

Please welcome Friend of the Wickeds (FOW), Carol Perry, author of the Witch City Mystery series from Kensington. Today is release day for her latest, Murder Go Round! Congratulations, Carol –and take it away!

Carol Perry, Gulfport

Thanks for sharing my special book birthday for Murder Go Round! It’s the fourth book in the Witch City Mystery series where all the action takes place in Salem, Massachusetts—the magical city of my birth. (Born there on Halloween eve, as a matter of fact.) In this one, my crime solving couple, Lee Barrett and Pete Mondello, along with Lee’s Aunt Ibby and O’Ryan the cat, get involved with murder (of course,) involving an old carousel horse, a silver Russian samovar and the late Tsar Nicolas II.

Quite serendipitously, I received an invitation to serve on a panel of mystery writers at the upcoming MWA Sleuthfest next month in Boca Raton, Florida. The assigned topic: “Crime Solving Couples.” I immediately began thinking, remembering, reminiscing about all those wonderful detecting duos I’ve enjoyed over the years in books, TV, movies, and yes, even radio.

murder-go-roundAt first, the couples that came to mind were the married, or at least romantically involved, men and women who worked—sometimes in beautiful harmony, sometimes from opposite starting points– to bring the baddies to justice. Think Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles; Richard and Frances Lockridge’s Pam and Jerry North; Sidney Sheldon’s Jonathan and Jennifer Hart; and more recently, Kathy Reichs’ Dr. Temperance (Bones) Brennen and Seeley Booth; Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt; Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro.

I began asking friends and family, fellow writers, strangers I met in line at Barnes & Noble—“Who’s your favorite crime solving couple?” Everybody has one—usually more than one—most often, a lot more than one! I found myself saying “Oh, yeah. That one! Me too. Loved it!” The list grew. Carolyn Hart’s Annie and Max Darling, Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford: Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy and Dan Sullivan; Margaret Maron’s Judge Deborah Knott and Deputy Dwight Bryant. The titles kept on coming. Some of the stories take place in the past, some in the present, a few in the future. It seems that there’s no end to the possibilities we writers have in creating couples who solve crimes.

My heroine, Lee happens to be a scryer. (She sees images, often unwelcome ones, in reflective surfaces.) Pete, the man in her life, is a straight-arrow, just-the-facts-ma’am police detective who isn’t comfortable with things paranormal. Throw in her cat, O’Ryan, who used to be a witch’s “familiar” and poor Pete is surrounded by high strangeness. So Pete and Lee approach problems–like murder–from different angles. (Liz’s Stan and Jake seem to work that way too, as do Barb’s Chris and Julia.)

Not all of the couples who fit into this category are of the one man, one woman variety. Think of Holmes and Watson, Batman and Robin, Cagney and Lacey, Carolyn Haines’ Sarah Booth Delaney and Tinkie Richmond, Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury and Melrose Plant– and I’m so looking forward to Jessie’s Beryl and Edwina series!

The more I’ve thought about this, the more possibilities for mystery plots have suggested themselves. Some men and women solve crimes together, but never quite reach “couple” status, even though there’s sexual tension throughout the adventures. Think Scully and Mulder in “The X Files,” Maddie and David in “Moonlighting”

What a rich field of ideas for writers! Couples can combine their varied methods of mystery-solving as Pete and Lee do in Murder Go Round. In the Bones stories, Temperance approaches the problem from a scientific angle while Booth sticks to legal procedure. Combining two personalities for crime solving offers a neat kind of a BOGO for writers. Maron’s Judge Deborah must try not to get involved with Deputy Dwight’s investigations which might wind up in her courtroom. We get to double the tension of the story as each of the pair has his/her own “moments of danger.” Banter between the two, whether loving, scary or amusing, helps to advance the plot and develop the characters.

Wickeds, fellow writers and readers, who are your favorite crime solving couples? I’m envisioning a mile high pile of sleuthing duo books to add to my TBR collection.

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Ma’s Ginger Snaps from Iced Under

by Barb, barefoot and just out of the pool in Key West (don’t hate me), but writing this post for my friends up north

IcedunderfrontcoverIced Under, the newest Maine Clambake Mystery, takes place in the dead of a Maine winter. In the book, Julia Snowden’s mother, Jacqueline, bakes these cookies with her granddaughter Page to keep her entertained on a snowy day. In reality, these are cookies my grandmother made.

From the book–

When my cousins get together, one memory we all share is my grandmother’s ginger snaps. It was a joy to find them in your mailbox at camp, or on a bluesy day in your college dorm. They always came in a coffee can, lined on the inside with wax paper and taped shut. The cookies provided instant comfort and could be hoarded or shared, depending on your mood.

gingersnapsIngredients

1½ sticks butter, melted
2 cups granulated white sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg, beaten lightly
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon each cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt

Instructions

Mix the melted butter, 1 cup of the sugar, and the molasses. (Put aside the remaining cup of sugar.) When the mixture is cool, fold in the lightly beaten egg. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and mace. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix thoroughly with a mixer or food processor.

Dough will form itself into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and put into refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Shape cold dough into balls using a small melon baller. Roll the balls in sugar to coat completely. Place the balls at least 2 inches apart on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, to allow for expansion.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Enjoy!

Readers: Do you have a favorite recipe for an inclement day? Tell us what it is!

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The Frozen Water Trade

by Barb somewhere between Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina as you read this

IcedunderfrontcoverThe fifth Maine Clambake Mystery, Iced Under, debuted this week. In it, I try to fill in some of the blanks in Julia’s mother’s family history.

Pieces of Jacqueline Snowden’s story have been told in each of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. From the previous books, we know she lost her mother young, that she inherited Morrow Island, and that her once-wealthy ancestors build Windsholme, the abandoned mansion on the island. What I’ve never told is how her family made their money and how they lost it.

I’ve known for a while that the Morrows made their money in the frozen-water trade. The idea that New Englanders, in the early part of the nineteenth century, shipped ice halfway around the world has long fascinated to me. In researching the story of the ice trade, I found not one, but two amazing stories.

frederic_tudor-facingright_pre1864

Frederic Tudor

Frederic Tudor was the originator of the ice trade. As early as 1805 he had the idea that ice cut from ponds in Massachusetts could be shipped to the West Indies for the enjoyment of the colonists there. Literally everyone he knew in Boston thought this was crazy. In the years that followed he experimented with different types of insulation (sawdust turned out to be best) and set about getting exclusive contracts to sell the ice in tropical cities. It took much time, the purchase of ships had to be financed, ice houses had to be built at his destinations. The War of 1812 set back the calendar. He went to debtors prison twice for debts accrued pursuing the venture. However, by 1826 Tudor was at last making a fortune, harvesting ice from Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and sending it to Cuba, Haiti, New Orleans, Savannah, and Calcutta. Henry David Thoreau awoke one morning to see sixty men and teams of horses cutting ice on Walden Pond. Though he hated the intrusion, Thoreau was taken with the idea that water he had bathed in would end up in India. The frozen water trade was a genius business because ships often came to Boston with coffee and other goods from around the world and left empty, with granite boulders used a ballast. New England had no cash crop and little in the way of natural resources. The ice was free, except for the labor, and it came every year.

the-ice-kingTudor’s family life was somehow even more colorful than his business. At fifty, he married for the first time, a woman thirty years his junior and went on to have six children. We know as much as we do about his business because all his diaries reside at the library at Harvard Business School. After he died at the age of eighty-one, his wife went through the diaries, editorializing. The theme of her complaints was that he was “relentless.” Tudor’s sister had an affair with Joseph Bonaparte, ex-King of Spain, when both lived in New Jersey (because, of course…). His niece was the mother of the Irish Nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell. One of his descendants was one of my favorite New England author/illustrators, Tasha Tudor.

frozen-waterI borrowed a good deal of Frederic Tudor’s history for Jacqueline’s ancestor Frederic Morrow. Two excellent books about Frederic Tudor are The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle, by Carl Seaburg and Stanley Patterson (Massachusetts Historical Society and Mystic Seaport, 2003), and The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story, by Gavin Weightman (Hyperion, 2003).

The end of the ice trade is as interesting as the beginning and brings us another fascinating character, Charlie Morse of Bath, Maine. By the time Charlie got into the ice business in 1897, it was no longer necessary to ship ice to exotic places. Rural people and immigrants had poured into America’s cities and ice was need to preserve food and cool off from hard, physical work. New York City alone consumed four million pounds of ice a day.

charlie-morseCharlie Morse had rights to cut ice along the Kennebec River in Maine. He had the Tammany connections in New York City to shut out his competitors, leaving their ships unloaded in New York harbor. But he took it too far, jacking up the price so high one summer, the press declared it a war on the poor, and eventually Charlie went to prison. He was a rogue and a speculator, just like Frederic Tudor, and he, too, was called “The Ice King.” He also had a colorful and crazy personal life.

I appropriated some of Charlie’s deeds for Jacqueline’s ancestor William Morrow. If you want to learn more, I recommend Bath, Maine’s Charlie Morse: Ice King & Wall Street Scoundrel, by Philip H. Woods (The History Press, 2011).

The ice trade was eventually done in by modern refrigeration. The age of the Ice Kings had ended, and though great fortunes were made and lost, it had lasted less than one hundred years.

I love stuff like that–those moments in time that seem so important with empires built like they’ll last forever–and then, “poof” they are gone. The stories I wrote about Jacqueline’s ancestors are ultimately fiction, but they are rooted in history. Unfortunately, because it’s a small part of Iced Under, I could barely scratch the surface of this fascinating business and the larger-than-life characters behind it. I hope the book inspires some readers to learn more.

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Welcome Back, D.E. Ireland

gravecoverpromo Welcome back to our writing pals, D. E. Ireland. This time we’re here to celebrate Get Me to the Grave on Time, the third book in their series featuring Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as amateur sleuths.As you can imagine, they had to do plenty of research for this mystery built around a series of Edwardian weddings.

Meanwhile, our month of being Thankful for Our Readers continues with D. E. giving away an ebook of their book to one lucky commenter below.

Take it away, D.E.!

EDWARDIAN WEDDING TRADITIONS

While posting personal news on Facebook has replaced announcements in the newspapers, it was different in the Edwardian era. A proper lady expected to see her name in print only three times during her life: a birth announcement, an article detailing her marriage, and a death notice. Anything else was considered to be in bad taste. But as we learn in D.E. Ireland’s latest Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins mystery, Get Me to the Grave On Time, murder at a wedding is even worse.

The D.E. Ireland team did extensive research on wedding customs in England and learned some surprising things about how nuptials differed a century ago. One example is the breach of promise common law tort, which allowed jilted brides to bring suit against their erstwhile grooms. Breach of promise lawsuits reached their height in the 19th century when about 100 men were sued annually by their former fiancées. Known as the “Bride’s Revenge’, breach of promise suits not only humiliated the man, but helped the bride recover any monies already spent on wedding preparations. Working or middle class women, who may have given up employment right before the aborted wedding, used the lawsuit to recover lost wages.

Bringing a breach of promise suit fell out of favor in Britain and the U.S. in the 1930s. This coincided with the rise of the diamond engagement ring. Although brides had long received engagement rings, many of them in the past did not contain diamonds. However starting in the 1930s, brides began to expect an expensive diamond ring. Unlike today, the bride often kept this ring if her fiancé decided to call off the engagement. A diamond engagement ring thus became a jeweled version of the breach of promise law.

For those couples who did tie the knot, they may have paid heed to this little poem about choosing which day to marry.

Marry on Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Thursday for crosses,
Friday for losses, and
Saturday for no luck at all.

In Edwardian times, canonical hours dictated weddings should take place between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Otherwise, a special license needed to be obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury; it cost 30₤. The couple also published ‘banns’ in their local parish over the course of three weeks to let everyone know they were soon to be wed. This was required so as to inform anyone who might wish to lodge an objection against the upcoming marriage. June was the most popular month for weddings, with April, September and October coming in afterward. May was considered unlucky. And a bride would never ‘marry in Lent, you’ll live to repent.’

A church wedding was usually followed by a breakfast held either at the bride’s home or at a restaurant. The bride’s family could also hire a caterer to provide breakfast, afternoon refreshments, or supper. Depending on the bridal budget, a wedding breakfast menu might include salmon or a lobster salad, lamb cutlets or beef croquettes, crème pots and truffles, sandwiches and pastries, plus champagne. One traditional wedding fruitcake recipe called for forty eggs, three and a half pounds of butter, four pounds of brown sugar, one pound of almonds, three pounds each of orange and lemon peel, five pounds of flour, and a bottle of brandy!

After the breakfast, the cake would be sliced, placed in white boxes, and tied with ribbon. If the family could not afford the cost of 25₤ for the cake, cutting, and boxing – for an extra 5₤, the couple’s initials were stamped on the front – the cake was baked at home, presumably by the bride’s mother and/or sisters.

An Edwardian wedding dress

An Edwardian wedding dress

Since Eliza is a fashionista, she’s eager to see what each bride wears at the four weddings in the book. After Queen Victoria began the tradition of wearing white for her wedding, English brides quickly followed suit. Tulle veils flowed from a wreath of orange blossoms, which symbolized purity; roses, lilies or other seasonal flowers made up the bouquet. The bride’s attendants numbered from half a dozen to only one, depending on the couple’s social status. All brides, even today, have heard the first part of this saying – ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ – but in Edwardian England, they added ‘a lucky sixpence in your shoe.’ And Eliza makes sure her cousin Jack’s fiancée Sybil has this sixpence, since it symbolizes future wealth.

Brides wore their wedding dress at formal occasions for six months after the ceremony. Edwardian wedding gowns never displayed a bare neck or décolletage, and short or elbow length sleeves required gloves to cover the arms. The left glove included a removable ‘ring finger’ to allow the groom to place the wedding ring on his bride’s hand. Widows never wore white, but instead donned wedding gowns in muted colors such as pale blue, mauve, lavender. Widows also wore hats rather than veils. The twice widowed Duchess of Carbrey, who is the first bride to walk down the aisle in Get Me to the Grave On Time, is decked out in her Scottish family’s tartan colors.

Eliza as a bridesmaid

Eliza as a bridesmaid

Brides prepared for their married life by purchasing an elaborate trousseau which included furs, fans, parasols, hand-sewn French lingerie, gowns, gloves, an evening wrap, driving cloak, and much more. Since Eliza is acting as bridesmaid at two of the weddings in the book, she’s excited to be wearing new bridal clothes of her own. Of course, her suitor Freddy Eynsford Hill won’t be happy until he sees Eliza in an actual wedding gown. However, Eliza is determined to remain single, at least for the foreseeable future. And in this latest book, she and Higgins find they’re in agreement on one thing. The best part of weddings is that delicious cake.

 

 

deirelandteapartyphotoD.E. Ireland is the pseudonym of long time friends and award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. In 2013 they decided to collaborate on a unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which inspired the classic musical My Fair Lady. At work on Book Four of their Agatha nominated series, they also pursue separate writing careers. Currently both of them write cozy mysteries for Kensington under their respective new pen names: Sharon Farrow and Meg Macy. Sharon’s Berry Basket series debuted in October 2016, and Meg’s Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear series will be released in May 2017. The two Michigan authors have patient husbands, brilliant daughters, and share a love of tea, books, and history. Follow D.E. Ireland on Facebook, Twitter, and on their website: www.deireland.com

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