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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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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Cover Reveal–Stowed Away

It’s time for the cover reveal for Maine Clambake Mystery#6, Stowed Away!

The book is already up for pre-order on Amazon here.

I’m very excited about this cover which incorporates many of my suggestions, including the lobster holding the engagement ring. Here’s the Pinterest board I linked to when my editor asked for cover ideas. It’s spring again in Busman’s Harbor as you can tell from the strawberries and asparagus.

Here’s the description from the back cover.

it’s June in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and Julia Snowden and her family are working hard to get their authentic Maine clambake business ready for summer. Preparations must be put on hold, however, when a mysterious yacht drops anchor in the harbor—and delivers an unexpected dose of murder . . .
 
When Julia’s old prep school rival Wyatt Jayne invites her to dinner on board her billionaire fiancé’s decked-out yacht, Julia arrives to find a sumptuous table set for two—and the yachtsman dead in his chair. Suspicion quickly falls on Wyatt, and Julia’s quest to dredge up the truth leads her into the murky private world of a mega-rich recluse who may not have been all that he seemed . . .

Readers: What do you think? Do you like the cover? Would you pick up the book?

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A Tour of the Key West Cemetery

by Barb, back in New England, where the cold and gray have me pining for Key West

The cemetery in Key West is a spot most tourists visit. It’s best known for its above-ground graves, like in New Orleans, and the light-hearted epitaphs of some its inhabitants, including the tombstones that say, “I told you I was sick,” “I’m just resting my eyes,” “If you’re reading this, you desperately need a hobby,” “I always wanted a little plot of land in Key West,” and “Devoted fan of singer Julio Iglesais.”

The cemetery was founded in 1847, after the previous burial grounds were washed away in a hurricane, though some of the graves, brought there from the earlier cemeteries, are older. Containing approximately 100,000 graves, more than three times the living population of Key West, the still-active cemetery is the only game in town, the final resting place for people of all religions, races, occupations and classes.

In addition to the regular walking tours, three times a year, the Historic Florida Keys Foundation offers a “Cemetery Stroll,” as a fundraiser. Living interpreters, often with a connection to the dead, tell the stories of some of the people buried there. Bill and I took one of those tours in March. There are so many interesting people buried in the cemetery, you can take these tours multiple times.

Here are just a few of the fascinating people whose stories we heard on our tour..

Sandy Cornish

Sandy Cornish was born a slave in 1793. In 1839, he was able to buy his freedom for $3000. His emancipation papers were burned in a fire that swept through the wooden buildings of the city of Port Leon in the Florida panhandle where he lived and worked. Unable to prove his status as a free man, when slave traders tried to take him to the market in New Orleans, he gathered a crowd in a square in Port Leon and publicly maimed himself, cutting his Achilles tendon, stabbing himself in the hip with a knife, and cutting off a finger. Worthless as a slave, he and his wife Lillah, whose freedom they had also purchased, moved to Key West. They founded a farm and orchard on the land where our rented house now stands and prospered, becoming one of the wealthiest couples in the city. Sandy Cornish founded the Cornish Chapel of the AME Methodist Church. The church houses a thriving congregation today.

The exact location of Sandy Cornish’s grave in the Key West Cemetery has been lost to history, so a memorial was recently erected. The story of Cornish’s life was told by well-known local singer Wilhelmina Lopez-Martin, who sang the intro and the outro.

William Curry

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William Curry arrived in Key West penniless from Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas in 1837. He died as Florida’s first millionaire. He had many enterprises, but made the bulk of his fortune wrecking, salvaging goods from ships that wrecked in the treacherous waters of the Keys. This is how many early Key West fortunes were made. You can tour and even stay in The Curry Mansion, which is a Bed and Breakfast today.

On the Cemetery Stroll, William Curry’s story was told by Clinton Curry, a distant relative who still lives in Key West.

The Watlington Family Plot

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Captain Francis Watlington and his wife Emeline raised their nine daughters in the house that is now the Oldest House Museum in Key West. Though Key West stayed with the Union in the Civil War, Captain Watlington joined the Confederate Navy. After the war, he lived principally in New York City, though he returned to Key West in his final years to be nursed by his youngest daughter, Lily, who had similarly cared for her mother and two of her sisters. She died in 1936. Earl Johnson was the last descendant to live in the house until his death in 1972, meaning the house was continuously lived in by one family for around a hundred and forty years.

The Watlington family’s story was told by Karl Reutling, a docent and historian at the Oldest House.

The Adderlys

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George and Olivia Adderly immigrated separately from the Bahamas in 1890 and married soon after. They purchased land on Vaca Key which is now part of the City of Marathon. They built their home out of tabby, a kind of concrete made by burning shells to extract the lime. Incredibly the home still stands today, despite hurricanes and the punishing tropical climate, and you can tour it. The Adderlys attracted a Bahamanian community around them that thrived on sponge-fishing. When Henry Flagler built his railroad to Key West and needed a right of way over the Adderly land, George Adderly, a literate, but otherwise unadvantaged black man, went toe-to-toe with the richest and most powerful man in Florida, and demanded a station stop at Vaca Key in return. Flagler acquiesced.  The stop meant the men of the little settlement could more easily move their sponges to market in Key West, while the women made money selling garden produce and baked goods to rail workers and travelers at the stop.

The Adderly’s stories were told by Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez and Phyllis LeConte.

Rosa and Mary Navarro

One of the most photographed graves in the Key West Cemetery are the mother and child angels at the graves of Mary and Rosa Navarro, which have recently been beautifully restored. The inscription on Mary Navarro’s statue says, “To the sacred memory of a brokenhearted mother.” The Navarros made their money in cigar-making and at the turn of the twentieth century, their interests took them to Manhattan. Rosa Navarro died in a fall from their apartment window when she was nine. Though her mother lived four years longer, she never recovered, following her daughter in death in 1907.

The Navarro’s story was told by Ron Wampler, and Diane Silvia, Executive Director of the Historic Florida Keys Foundation which is responsible for the restoration.

The stories in the Key West Cemetery, of fortunes made and lost in wrecking, farming, sponging, and cigar-making, of lives of triumph and tragedy, are the stories of the history of Key West. Even the tongue-in-cheek inscriptions I quoted at the top are a part of the irreverent atmosphere of the island. I’ve included just a few of the fascinating lives we learned about on the tour.

Readers: Do you ever walk in or visit cemeteries? What have you seen and learned?

[All photos in this post are by Bill Carito. If you like them and want to see more, you can friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bcarito and follow him on Instagram at billcarito and bill.carito.colorphotos.]

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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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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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