About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of six Maine Clambake Mysteries: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out, Fogged Inn, Iced Under and Stowed Away. You can visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com.

Wicked Wednesday–the Best Concert

Continuing with our March theme, “the best,” Wickeds tell us about your best concert or other live music event. Give us the who, the where, and the why.

Liz: I’m so predictable in this area – Stevie Nicks and the Goo Goo Dolls, both of whom I’ve seen numerous times! I have to say the show I’ll always remember is when I used to live in New Hampshire and the Goos played at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. It’s a really cool, smaller venue and the band came outside after and met everyone who waited around for them (of course I was one of them!) It will always be one of my favorite nights.

Edith:  This, of course, dates me, but in August 1966 my sisters and I each took a friend to see the Beatles in Dodger Stadium. Our sainted father drove us and then sat in the car EmmyLouand read for the duration. But frankly, the concert was so long ago and there was so much screaming going on, I barely remember it. A couple of years ago I heard the great Emmy Lou Harris in Portsmouth, NH. I’ve loved her for years, and she’s going strong, five years older than I am. She played every song on her guitar. She did some energetic performing with the back-up band. She still has that beautiful, haunting voice and lyrics, and is putting out new records. It was the show of a lifetime for me.

Barb: Edith, I’m laughing because a friend of mine saw Emmy Lou Harris so many times, we used to tease him that her security people must have his photo as a known stalker. Liz, I would love to see Stevie Nicks!

Jessie: I saw Rod Stewart play in Old Orchard not long after I got my driver’s license. I went with a friend from school and had an amazing time. It is one of my many cherished memories of Old Orchard! Every time I hear his distinctive voice come over the radio I think of that evening!

Sherry: Two of my favorite concerts were at Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio. It’s an outdoor amphitheater that seats about 4,000 people. We were stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during the mid-nineties. The Boston Pops were there and it was the second year that Keith Lockhart was their conductor. His energy — he jumped up and down the entire time — the lovely summer evening, and having my sweet mother-in-law with us made it a very special evening. We also saw Kathy Mattea there. She has a beautiful voice and her song Where’ve You Been makes me cry every time I hear it. I also love her album Good News.

Edith: I love Kathy Mattea, Sherry!

Barb: My best concert memory is at Tanglewood, on the lawn with my parents, Bill, my kids, friends, assorted sister and brother-in-laws and the kid’s cousins. It poured beforehand, but the skies cleared just in time and the stars came out. I have no idea what we heard. It was about family, friends, great food and wine.

Julie: Edith, so jealous you saw the Beatles! Wow. My absolute favorite band to see in concert is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I first saw them on December 15, 1990 (and again on the 16th) at the (now gone) Boston Garden. I’ve probably seen them a dozen times (maybe more) over the years. My favorite time seeing them was when they played Fenway Park. Honestly, my favorite band in one of my favorite places on earth? What’s not to love?

Readers: What is your best concert memory–tell us who, where and why.

Kensington Cozies on Sale in March at Barnes and Noble

From March 3 to April 8, Barnes & Noble and Kensington have teamed up to offer a special  promotion–Buy 3 Kensington cozy mysteries and get 1 free!

You can scroll down this page to see the covers of all the offered books. http://sites.kensingtonbooks.com/kensingtoncozies/BN/

But wait, there’s more!

Everyone who buys a Kensington cozy mystery from the B&N in-store display between 3/6/18 – 4/8/17 and registers their purchase at http://sites.kensingtonbooks.com/kensingtoncozies/BN/ will automatically be entered for a chance to win:

  • 1 Grand Prize: Two copies of a new cozy mystery each month for an entire year so you can share the book with a friend.
  • 5 Runners-Up: One surprise cozy mystery ARC.

Note: The same sale is going on at B&N online, though purchases there do not make you eligible for the contest. Here’s the link for the sale. https://www2.barnesandnoble.com/b/select-mystery-novels-buy-3-get-the-4th-free/_/N-2q0o

But wait, there’s even more!

There’s a special end-of-the-aisle display featuring 30 Kensington cozies at every B&N. Wickeds Sherry Harris, Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell), and Barbara Ross all have their latest mysteries on the shelf, along with lots of other great books, including mysteries by Friends of the Wickeds, Carol Perry and Lea Wait.

We thought it would be fun for some of the Wickeds to get their photos taken with this special display or with their displayed book.

Sherry: Here I am at my local Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, Virginia! It’s always a thrill to see my books in a bookstore. My husband took the pictures and we only got a few strange looks from the many customers in the store.

Edith: I found the Wickeds’ books (and New England friend of the Wickeds Lea Waits’s, too) top and center at the Barnes & Noble in Peabody, Massachusetts, and convinced a fan browsing the mystery shelves to take my (goofy expression) picture.


Here’s Friend of the Wickeds Carol Perry with the display. Carol has three books on the endcap: Grave Errors, It Takes a Coven, and Caught Dead Handed.

Barb: There’s only one B&N in Maine, in Augusta, not in Portland where I was last week. Now I’m back in Key West and there are no B&Ns anywhere on the Keys, so I’m posing below in our backyard with Stowed Away, which is on the display.

We’d also like to give a shout out to our friend, Lea Wait. As Edith said, her book Twisted Threads is on the display. Lea was going to participate in this post with us, but her husband is ill. Anyway, you should buy her book, because it’s terrific. In fact, you should buy 3 and get 1 free!

Readers: Tell us if you spied this end cap in your local B&N, and where it is. We’d love to see a pic of you with the array, too!

Hit Lit

by Barb, winding down her days in Key West

I’m reading a fascinating book called Hit Lit by Edgar-award winner James W. Hall, the author of fourteen mystery novels featuring Thorn, an off-the-grid loner in Key Largo. Hall teaches writing and literature at Florida International University and he was one of Sherry Harris’s first writing teachers. Knowing that, I went to hear him speak at the Key West Library last year.

His latest book is a thriller with a female protagonist and is published by Thomas and Mercer, the Amazon imprint. I found both of these choices interesting–the female protagonist and the publisher. But I found the premise of his book Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers even more intriguing. Over years of teaching popular fiction, Hall and his students investigated what elements made a book a mega-bestseller. They took the books apart and put them together again, looking for commonalities and differences.

In Hit Lit, Hall examines twelve of them. None of these books are ordinary bestsellers. Most have sold tens of millions of copies. They are

  • Gone with the Wind, 1936, Margaret Mitchell
  • Peyton Place, 1956, Grace Metlalious
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960, Harper Lee
  • The Valley of the Dolls, 1966, Jacqueline Susann
  • The Godfather, 1969, Mario Puzo
  • The Exorcist, 1971, William Peter Blatty
  • Jaws, 1974, Peter Benchley
  • The Dead Zone, 1979, Stephen King
  • The Hunt for Red October, 1984, Tom Clancy
  • The Firm, 1991 John Grisham
  • The Bridges of Madison County, 1992, Robert James Waller
  • The Da Vinci Code, 2003, Dan Brown

So already the list is interesting, right? Because some of these giant bestsellers are still with us, whereas others I would guess are rarely read. Despite the inclusion of The Da Vinci Code, Hit Lit, which was published in 2012, focuses on bestsellers of the 20th century, which is perhaps why there is no mention of J.K Rowling. Or maybe Hall didn’t think it would be interesting to have his students analyze books they probably already knew well. In fact, there’s no fantasy on the list at all, though The Dead Zone is about pre-cognition and The Exorcist is about satanic possession.

Hall finds twelve features that all these books have. I won’t go through them all, just a few that I found the most interesting.

  • The “protagonists share a high level of emotional intensity that results in gutsy and surprising deeds. These actions may not always take the form of swashbuckling heroics, but rest assured, not one of these heroes or heroines sits idly on the sidelines pondering or strikes endless matches to watch them burn while stewing about the great issues of the universe…Our heroes and heroines act. They act decisively.”

This isn’t much of a revelation and indeed it’s one of the early observations of the book. Almost a gimmee. I’ve thought about this a lot in the context of cozy mysteries. I have noticed in my own writing and in others that once the protagonist commits to the hunt, the book comes alive. Her relentless forward motion drives the same in the book. When I critique manuscripts for unpublished writers the most common issue I see is an amateur would-be sleuth wandering through her day, “observing” things that will later become clues, but not driving the action of the story. These manuscripts are always flat.

The idea of relentless forward motion goes along with Hall’s twin observation about emotional intensity. The protagonists in these books believe in something intensely and are willing to fight for it. We may not agree with Scarlett’s romantic notions of antebellum plantation life, but we get the idea of home and why that’s worth fighting for.

  • These books tell a human story set against a sweeping backdrop. The story itself may be on a small scale–an immigrant family making it in the new world, a young girl coming of age in a small southern town, a top Harvard Law grad starting his first job. But while the story is small, the canvas is big–organized crime, racial upheaval, the “greed is good” ethos of the 1980s.

I thought this was a fascinating observation. It reminded me of a more recent bestseller, Gone Girl. The book is inextricably anchored in the aftermath of the recent recession. Both lead characters are journalists, and junk journalists at that. The dislocation of the move from print media to digital, accelerated and exacerbated by the recession, results in both losing their jobs at the same time Amy’s parents lose their money and hers. Since both main characters are journalists, they knew how to manipulate the media, as it goes through its own changes. Small story. Huge backdrop.

  • The Golden country. The idea of a beautiful home, a beautiful time and an inevitable exile. Tara before the war. Michael Corleone in Sicily. Scout’s innocent summer days with Gem and Dill.

The Eden story is never far away, and all of these books include an element of it. I wondered how, in more recent books, where the action must start right away, authors painted this picture. As Hall tells us, in The Firm, Grisham begins with the protagonist Mitch McDeere’s wife returning to their law school student apartment. He tells her of his great (too great, as it turns out) job offer. They eat Chinese food and drink white wine. This all happens in a few paragraphs. The call back in the book to this Eden is a single sentence, when Mitch says to his wife, “I think we were happier in the two-room student apartment in Cambridge.” It’s brief, but it is there.

In cozies the Eden is our communities before the murder, which may play out in chapters or a half a scene. The murder upends that and the hero must find the snake and chase him out. Though we know things will never quite be the same.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed Hit Lit and may have more things to say on it another time. It’s written in a highly accessible style and packed with examples. At times, Hall really has to strain to prove all twelve books have all twelve elements, but I forgave that because I was buying what he was selling.

Readers: What do you think? Do mega-bestsellers have common elements? Remember it’s not about whether you liked the books, it’s about why they sold.

Wicked Wednesday–The Best Trip

One thing the Wickeds have in common–we love to travel. Planes, trains, airplanes, and ships. I know it’s like choosing your favorite child, but give it up Wickeds–best trip evah. Give us a description that will make us drool with envy.

And there it is....General Sherman Tree himself. One giant tree.

Edith: I have traveled extensively, and have lived abroad in some pretty unusual places (can you say Ougadougou?). But if I have to pick one best trip, it would be taking my sons, 18 and 21 at the time, to Sequoia National National Park where I grew up camping every summer with my parents and siblings. The air is clear and pungent with evergreens. The giant Sequoias are majestic and drop dead gorgeous. The trails we used to hike on, the snow-melt creek we swam in, the night sky alit with zillions of stars in their constellations – I got to share it all with my children. And they loved it.

Liz: Barb, visiting you in Key West is right up there! But I have to go with London. It’s such a cool place, and I felt really at home there. Over the course of two visits last year, I did a Jack the Ripper tour – which was awesomely creepy! – and ate amazing Indian food, visited a boat-turned-bookstore parked in a channel and manned by a sweet dog, spent a lot of time in Neal’s Yarde at bookstores and organic shops, and took the tube everywhere. It’s nice to visit with a local, too, so you get to do different things. I really loved it.

Sherry: It’s so hard to choose, but I have to agree with Liz about London. We went a few years ago and it was a dream vacation. London was everything I hoped for and more. I almost wept when I was in Westminster Abbey. So much history! We also spent a fun day in Paris.

Jessie: I agree with Sherry! It is really tough to choose! I cannot decide between a trip IIMG_0007 took to Iceland in 2016 for the Iceland Noir conference or the visit I had with my son in Scotland and England last spring. I loved Iceland for the wind and the terrain and the lilt
of the language. I adored wandering through the streets and tow paths of Oxford, the alleys of London and Edinburgh, the twisting roads of Thame and the shoreline of St. Andrews..

Our window

Barb: I asked this question but it was almost impossible to decide. My husband, daughter and I had a wonderful trip down memory lane discussing which one to choose. I’m going with our 2014 trip to Paris. A friend of ours does an apartment swap every summer and couldn’t use the last two and a half weeks, so Bill and I took it. The apartment was a beautiful, huge place with views of the Musee D’Orsay and the Seine. Everyone said August would be awful, but the weather was perfect and Parisians have system of rotating vacations so every neighborhood has an open boulangerie, patisserie and grocery. We spent long days wandering through the city, and tracking down offbeat attractions. We loved it!

JAH Camel Ride 3-23-2010 11-23-30 AMJulie: I love to travel, both in the US and abroad. I’ve taken a couple of river cruises which were wonderful, but I have to say that my 2010 adventure is my favorite memory. I had always dreamed of going to Egypt, and I finally got a chance with a group of folks from Harvard. We had an Egyptologist traveling with us, and had regular lectures. There aren’t many folks who you can climb into a tomb with, and happily sit for forty-five minutes while the details of the space arJAH at the Great Pyramid 3-21-2010 1-55-35 AM 3-21-2010 1-55-35 AMe explained in great detail. One of the highlights was a three day cruise down the Nile. One of the best prep books I read was Barbara Mertz’s Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt. As Elizabeth Peters, her Amelia Peabody series is one of my favorites, and I thought about them while I was there. I’ve had other wonderful trips, but Egypt was a dream come true.

Readers: Tell us about your best trip–where did you go and why was it the best?

Welcome Back, Carol Perry

Hi all. I’m overjoyed to welcome back Friend of the Blog Carol Perry. The sixth book in Carol’s Witch City Mystery series has just come out and she has some thoughts about setting–and wardrobe. Take it away, Carol.

Carol will give away a copy of It Takes a Coven to one lucky commenter below.

Release of a new book is always exciting—and the thrill never gets old! It Takes a Coven is Book # 6 in my Witch City Mystery series for Kensington. Thank you, dear Wickeds, for inviting me here today. The story this time involves a brand new kind of a witch hunt in Salem. With witches dropping dead before they even come out of the proverbial broom closet, and thousands of crows darkening the skies, Lee Barrett’s best friend River fears she might have somehow unleashed a terrible curse on the old city. Aided by a talkative crow named Poe and her clairvoyant cat, O’Ryan, Lee sets out to investigate, and finds that casting light on the wicked truth can be one killer commitment!

Carol Perry, Gulfport

Those of us who write cozy mystery series learn with the very first book that the setting of our stories almost becomes one of the characters! Whether the action takes place in Barb’s Busman’s Harbor, Maine, Liz’s Frog Ledge, Connecticut, Cheryl Hollon’s St. Petersburg, Florida, my Salem Massachusetts or Lillian Jackson Braun’s Pickax, Moose County (400 miles north of everywhere,) readers quickly become familiar with each venue . They’ll walk with the people we’ve invented to populate our city/town/island/ along our selection of streets/trails/alleys. They’ll visualize the food in our variety of restaurants/kitchens/food trucks and consider the beverages in the coffee shops/bars/ soda fountains we choose for them.

They’ll know the names of our protagonist’s favorite shops, how she’s furnished her house/apartment/cottage, and just where the library/movie theater/art gallery/school is located. Hopefully, after a while, our readers will see our fictional locale the way we do.

Those of us who have set our stories in real places have the freedom to insert buildings/parks/rivers where there actually aren’t any, while those who’ve invented make-believe places are free to pop real buildings/parks/rivers into the manuscript any way they like. One of the joys of writing fiction is the freedom to move people, places and things around in time and space however we choose! In the Witch City books I use real streets and real places like the Hawthorne Hotel, the Salem Willows, Dube’s, Gulu-Gulu, Crow Haven—however, there is no WICH-TV, (But shouldn’t there be?) There is no Trumbulls Department Store either. (It’s based on Brown’s of Gloucester where I was ad manager long ago.)

Of course we get to dress our characters too. (Lee Barrett likes vintage jewelry, designer handbags and all the shoes and boots she can afford.) That got me thinking about a recent invitation to speak about writing to local women’s club later this month. It’s their annual Book Luncheon and everyone is asked to come as a favorite book character. Should I borrow Jesse’s hat and go as Beryl? Don apron, cap and black bag and be Edith’s wonderful Rose Carroll? Get a giant magnifying glass and be Nancy Drew? I think I’ve decided on Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone’s trademark black turtleneck and jeans. Easy. I won’t have to buy or borrow anything!

Readers: How important is the setting of the book to you? Writers: Please tell us about your selection of settings. Or just say hi for a chance to win a copy of It Takes a Coven.

When A Character Puts Her Foot Down

Hi. Barb here. Please welcome my friend Leslie Wheeler to the blog. Leslie and I were in a writers group together for more than twenty years and were co-editors at Level Best Books for six years. I was lucky enough to see her latest book Rattlesnake Hill take shape and it’s terrific.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s November in the Berkshires, a dreary time of dwindling light when the tourists have fled along with the last gasp of fall foliage. So when a stranger shows up in the sleepy hilltown of New Nottingham and starts asking questions, the locals don’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon.

Bostonian Kathryn Stinson is on a deeply personal quest to solve a family mystery: the identity of a nameless beauty in an old photograph an ancestor brought with him to California over a century ago. But, as Kathryn quickly discovers, the hills possess a host of dark secrets – both ancient and new – that can only be revealed at the price of danger and even death.

Take it away, Leslie!

I remember the moment vividly. I’m standing in my mother’s sunny, Southern California kitchen, while a scene in the novel I’m writing plays out in my mind. Coincidentally, the scene takes place in another kitchen, where Miranda Lewis, the main character in my first mystery novel, Murder at Plimoth Plantation, reveals her feelings for a male character in the second series book. She goes to him and starts kissing him as he stands at the sink. Or rather, that’s what she’s supposed to do. Instead, she puts her foot down and refuses! I mean, the nerve!

“I’m the boss lady,” I say, “so you’ll do what I tell you.”

“No way,” she fires back, “You gave me a perfectly fine love interest with Nate Barnes, and I’m sticking with him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Earl Barker’s a great guy—handsome, sexy, and a marvelous storyteller.”

“Yeah, what more do you want?” Earl chimes in from the sink, where he’s still waiting to be kissed.

“I want Nate,” Miranda says stubbornly.

“You mean all those times we were together, and you seemed to be falling for me, it was just an act?” Earl demands, his face turning red under his tan.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lead you on. She made me do it.” Miranda points an accusing finger at me.

Now they’re both glaring at me. “Hey, guys, calm down,” I say. “There must be a way we can work things out.”

“And what about Nate?” Miranda flares. “Did you even bother to ask him how he feels about the situation?”

Uh-oh. Miranda has no sooner spoken his name than Nate strides into the kitchen, and I’ve got another angry character on my hands. “She most certainly did not,” Nate declares. “After giving me a few paltry scenes in the beginning, I get kicked to the curb for this, this . . . hillbilly.” He scowls at Earl.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to call him that,” I say. “That line belongs to another character.”

“Another character,” Miranda repeats slowly. Her expression turns thoughtful, then she has a lightbulb moment. “That’s it!” She beams.

“What?” the rest of us ask.

“It’s another character’s story. C’mon, Nate,” Miranda says, linking arms with him. “We’re outta here.”

Earl watches them go, dumbfounded. “If they’re bailing, where does that leave me?”

“Oh, you’re still in the book,” I assure him, “But like Miranda said, it will be another character’s story.”


“Well, I’m not sure yet . . .Who would you like it to be?”

He considers this a moment. “Young, hot, and drop-dead gorgeous.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I say, though that’s not quite the character who’s beginning to take shape in my mind.

“When you’ve got her, let me know and I’ll be back for the re-writes.” Earl turns to go, but almost immediately stops. “One more thing. If this book was going to be the second book in your Living History Mystery Series, and now it’s not, what happens to that series?”

“Oh, there’ll be other books. I promised Miranda and Nate there would be be at least two more.”

“And the book I’m in?”

I hesitate. “Well, I was kind of thinking it would be a standalone.”

His furious look makes me sorry I made him such a hot-tempered dude. “No! You either give me the three-book series you’re giving them, or the deal’s off.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I repeat.

“You damn well better!” He storms from the kitchen.

After a few moments of blessed silence, my mother, who’s been sitting patiently at her sunny, Southern California kitchen table all along, says, “If you’ve finished arguing with those people, can we have lunch?”

And that is how Murder at New Nottingham, which was supposed to be the second book in my Living History Mystery Series, featuring Miranda Lewis, became Rattlesnake Hill, the first book in a new series of Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, featuring Kathryn Stinson.

Readers: Has anyone else had a similar experience with their characters? If so, I would love to know how you handled it.

An award-winning author of American history books and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written three living history mysteries: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. Her short stories have appeared in such anthologies as Day of the Dark, Stories of Eclipse, and Level Best Books’ New England Crime Stories series, where she was formerly an editor. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she is Speakers Bureau Coordinator for the New England Chapter. Leslie divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond

Cover Reveal and a Timeline Problem

by Barb, who’s enjoying a relaxing time in Key West with fellow Wicked Sherry Harris and her husband Bob

First of all–a cover reveal. Here is the artwork for Yule Log Murder, the holiday novella collection I’m in with Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis coming out October 30, 2018. I really like the cover, especially the effect with skeleton in the yule log cake.

If anything my name is even harder to read than on the first anthology cover, which Amazon, depending on the view, says was written by “Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis” or by “Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and another author.” (Note: There are fewer letters in Barbara Ross than in “another author.” It might as well say, “and another less famous author.”)

I joke, I joke. I really do like the cover.

When Kensington asked me to write the first holiday novella, “Nogged Off,” in Eggnog Murder, I was thrilled. Fortuitously, I had planned a gap between Fogged Inn, which takes place the week after Thanksgiving, and Iced Under, which takes place in February. “Nogged Off,” slid right in, putting Christmas between November and February, as it so often is.

With “Logged On,” my story in Yule Log Murder, I wasn’t so lucky. It will come out after Stowed Away, which takes place in June, and before Steamed Open, which takes place in August. I think I’m even going to slide another book, Maine Clambake #8, in after that, which means Yule Log Murder will be published before Steamed Open and Maine Clambake #8, but will take place after the events in those books.

I THINK I have avoided major spoilers. I hope that dedicated Maine Clambake readers will get a tiny, tantalizing glimpse into the future. Of course, a lot of the readers of these novella collections aren’t my regular readers. They are fans of Leslie Meier or Lee Hollis or fans of Christmas-based stories, or of novellas. So they won’t be bothered by the timeline issues. And a lot of my regular readers won’t read the novella, so they’ll be fine, too.

My biggest challenge is how to position the story in places that give lists of series books in order. I characterized Eggnog Murder as Maine Clambake 4.5, which it truly was. But should I position Yule Log Murder as Maine Clambake 6.5 or 8.5? And do I have to wait until 7 and 8 come out for 8.5 to make any sense?

For those of you who are dedicated series readers, do you have “feelings” about this? Should I address the timeline in the readers’ letter that comes at the end of the novella? (It’s sort of like the Acknowledgments in the books.) How should I position the story?

I loved writing this story. I like working in the novella length and Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday. I hope you enjoy it, too. Whatever order you read it it.