Wicked New England – Outdoor Festivals

Don’t you just love summer and all the outdoor activities? Aside from the beach,   we’re so lucky here in New England to have so many cool outdoor festivals. There really is something for everyone – jazz, seafood, cars, art, lobster, the list goes on. So Wickeds, what kind of festival will you fight the crowds and the heat to attend?

Edith: We went to the Lowell International Folk Festival last Saturday, as we do

The Seamus Egan Project playing Irish

every year. All of downtown Lowell is closed to vehicle traffic. Musical groups from all over the world fill five venues, and dancing is encouraged. International food is served hot, smelling delectable, from Filipino to Cambodian to Portuguese to Greek. And this year it wasn’t 95 degrees, but a comfortable 75. The festival is free!

Julie: Does going to outdoor theater count? I saw Romeo and Juliet on the Boston Common last week. It is Commonwealth Shakespeare’s 22nd show on the Common. Free, and runs through this weekend (Aug 6). I went with friends, my sister, and the nieces. It is a wonderful production, and I was more than happy to be part of a crowd experiencing the show.

Jessie: I don’t really attend festivals usually but I do love Illumination Night in Ocean Park, Maine. It occurs of the first Saturday of August every year and most of the houses in the community are decked out with twinkling lights. It is a magical experience to wander through the pokey little lanes peeping at all the displays and mingling with the crowds.

Liz: I love art festivals. There was one in town a few weeks back, and in addition to the lovely art, there’s always such cool jewelry! You meet such great people, and dogs are welcome so that’s even better. And this weekend, there’s another art festival right on my street, which will be so fun.

Barb: Our town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine has lots of celebrations and festivals. Windjammer Days is the last week in June, when old wooden schooners make a stately appearance in the harbor. The Claw Down in September is a lobster cooking competition and related fun activities. And the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens festival of lights called Gardens Aglow runs through the entire holiday season. We stay pretty busy here.

Windjammer Days, Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Photo by Bill Carito

Sherry: Wow, now I want to go to all of these festivals and activities! And I love the photograph, Barb! Bedford used to have an Apple Festival on the town common that was fun to attend. One year I met the town historian there and he was fascinating! I also love to go to flea markets like the one below!

Readers: Do you have a favorite festival?



The Annual Wicked Retreat

It’s that time of year again – the Wickeds are going on retreat, starting today. This year, we’re changing things up a bit and heading to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to stay at Barb’s famous former B&B. We’re planning a lot of fun, food, and drinks – and of course, work. So, Wickeds, what do you hope to accomplish this year?

Edith: I might still be polishing Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery number one, due June first. But I might start plotting (did I, a Pantser, just use the PL-word?) and writing Quaker Midwife Mystery number four, since that’s next on the schedule. Conversation with the Wickeds is high on the agenda, as always, and I hope to get a Canva tutorial from Julie and Sherry, so I can get over my graphics ineptitude. Can’t wait!

Sherry: I hope to get some plotting done too — yikes, Edith maybe the others are converting us! I will be working on book six which has a possible title of For Whom The Belle Tolls. I love our late night late night chats when we are settled down with a glass of wine. See you all soon.


Animal socks Liz brought each of us to the retreat one year! Guess whose foot is whose…

Liz: Hoping to get a bunch of words written in the second Cat Cafe Mystery, as well as a plotting session for book seven in the Pawsitively Organic Series. And some quality time with my besties…

Jessie: When I am writing I’ll be working on the second book in my new Beryl and Edwina series. Liz and I also plan to demonstrate interactive plotting/ brainstorming/ book noodling for those Wickeds who are not quite convinced about the upside of plotting ahead. I hope to convince at least one of them that premeditated crimes can be as much fun as those that are crimes of passion!

Barb: I’ll be finishing up a short story and getting it to my writers’ group. I also hope to make good progress on two synopses.

Julie: I have copy edits due next week for Theater Cop series book one, A CHRISTMAS PERIL. Pages are printed out, and I will be doing another read through and some final tweaking. I also just finished a draft of Theater Cop series book two, tentatively titled WITH A KIISS I DIE. I want to do a read through so I can get it to my first reader, Jason Allen-Forrest. I also want to talk to Edith and Liz about this juggling two series business. Plus, wine.

Readers: What do you like to accomplish when you go away from your everyday routine? Do you have a list, or prefer just chilling? And if we’re a little slow on responses to comments today, it’s because many of us are traveling north!


Happy Book Birthday Barbara Ross!

HappyYAY! The third Maine Clambake mystery is out! Happy Book Birthday Musseled Out.

Here’s a bit about the book: The busy summer tourist season is winding down in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, but Julia Snowden senses trouble simmering for the Snowden Family Clambake Company. Shifty David Thwing–the “Mussel King” of upscale seafood restaurants–is sniffing around town for a new location. But serving iffy clams turns out to be the least of his troubles. . .

When Thwing is found sleeping with the fishes beneath a local lobsterman’s boat, the police quickly finger Julia’s brother-in-law Sonny as the one who cooked up the crime. Sure, everyone knows Sonny despised the Mussel King. . .but Julia believes he’s innocent. Proving it won’t be easy, though. It seems there’s a lot more than murder on the menu, and Julia needs to act fast. . .

Wickeds, what do you love most about this series?

Julie: Barb really nails the setting in Maine, and I love that. It is such a unique part of the country, and I feel like she gives us a real taste of it. I also love the cover art. A LOT.

Sherry: They just keep getting better, Barb! I love Mussled Out — the climactic scene is so exciting I held my breath! And can’t wait for number four!

Edith: I love the characters. Julia Snowden with her conflicts about coming home. Gus and his no-nonsense approach to life. Her sister, Livvie, and their mom. The somewhat mysterious hunk of a love interest. And everybody else – deeply drawn, intriguing, everybody with some conflict. Just like real people. Can’t wait to read it, Barb!

Jessie: My great-grandparents were lobstermen and when I was a child we visited them once a month. They’ve been gone now for many years but because of the setting and the family focus,when I read these books I feel a bit like I am having a visit with them once more. Thanks, Barb!

Liz: I love this series!! I used to spend a lot of time in Maine and these books are like memories. Can’t wait to read it Barb!

Barb: Thanks all! I so appreciate your book birthday wishes, I really do. But my favorite, favorite book birthday wishes are from the little girl below. You can understand that, right?

Readers: What’s your favorite part of the series?

Wicked Wednesday — Festivals

stickyWe continue to celebrate the launch of A Sticky Situation by Jessie! In the Sugar Grove, New Hampshire, the Greene family—including Dani’s irksome Aunt Hazel—are busy preparing for the annual Maple Festival. But nothing kills the festive spirit like murder…

So Wickeds have you ever helped set up a festival? Do you have a favorite one?

Liz: I’ve never done a big festival like the Maple Festival, but last year I was part of a very cool Tea and Art Fair–an indoor wellness festival. It was fun to see the event come together and meet like-minded people. And thankfully, no one was murdered!

Julie: I have never set up a festival, but I have been part of organizing a few theater festivals in my day. There could be a cozy series on festivals alone. In fact, there probably is one! It is great to see like minds coming together for a shared purpose, as Liz said. But then there’s the egos. NEVER a dull experience.

Edith: Not festivals, but I have helped organize conferences, something Barb and Julie know quite a lot about with their experience co-chairing the New England Crime Bake. I worked on a couple of academic conferences long ago, and they included much wrangling of difficult egos. I’m excited to be on a panel at the Newburyport Literary Festival with Liz and Jessie at the end of April, with Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner) moderating. It’s a fabulous all-day festival, and this year I’ll be an author instead of an attendee. Honored.


Jessie: Every year my village holds a Fourth of July parade which culminates in activities  in the park like performances by local bands and treats for the kids. One year the Friends of the Library organization put on a soda tasting. All the sodas were from local companies and the event was such fun. Participants bought a glass as a fundraiser for the library and  used it to try samples of as many different soda flavors as they liked. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of happy kids there that day. One of my personal favorites was the Maple Cream soda by Squamscot  Beverage Company.

Sherry: I haven’t ever organized a festival but I’ve attend some memorable ones around the country as we moved from place to place. The Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville, Ohio — our daughter had just turned three and kept her fingers up her nose the entire time we were there because it was stinky. Stinky, yes, but the food was delicious — even the sauerkraut fudge. The National Book Festival in DC — I’ve been able to hear so many fabulous authors talk about their books. And though it’s small the Apple Festival in Bedford, Massachusetts is always a good time.

blueberryfestivalBarb: I’ve never organized a festival, either. But I did get to “research” a few. Boiled Over ($1.99 for the ebook this month, btw) takes place over a fictional Founder’s Day Weekend in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. It is very, very loosely based on two festivals in Boothbay Harbor–The Fisherman’s Festival and Windjammer Days. Also to research Boiled Over, my husband and I traveled to the Wild Blueberry Festival in Machias, Maine. Oh, the sacrifices I make for my art!

Readers: Do you have a favorite festival or have you ever organized one?

Wicked New England-Our Towns

Jessie: Wondering if typing whilst wearing insulated gloves is something I could actually manage?

All of the Wickeds write books set in New England. We’ve all live here or have lived here and are trying to make it back. We love this patch of the planet and I believe it shows in our work. What we wanted to chat about today was how you give your places the flavor of  New England? How do you make the setting ring true? Do you base your fictional towns on real places? Do you use any real places in your fiction?

Rocks Village Bridge

Rocks Village Bridge over the Merrimac River

Edith: My Local Foods mysteries are set in a lightly fictionalized West Newbury, the town near here where I lived when I was an organic farmer myself more than twenty years ago. I changed the name to Westbury (isn’t that creative, now?) so I could add a fictional road where Cam’s farm is, add other fictional farms and Albert’s assisted living residence, and not upset locals if a new business pops up in the town center or, say, someone gets killed in a public place. But I include some very real landmarks: the Food Mart, Mill Pond, the Rocks Village Bridge. I use the real city of Newburyport, too, and the Merrimac River.


Photograph of Amesbury Friends Meetinghouse by Edward Gerrish Mair.

For the historical series, it’s set in actual Amesbury, where I now live. I have maps from the late 1800s and have done a lot of research about what buildings were standing at that time but are no longer here, and vice versa. I love that the Friends Meetinghouse that I walk to every Sunday morning has not changed in appearance since it was built in 1855.


Liz: Around the same time I began having conversations about Pawsitively Organic with

The dogs walking the path on the Lebanon Town Green.

The dogs walking the path on the Lebanon Town Green.

our agent, I had been taking the dogs walking out on the Lebanon Town Green, which is the town next to mine. This is one of the coolest town greens in the area. It’s a mile-long loop, it’s still used in agricultural practices and it has events all the time, from fireworks on the 4th of July to farmers’ markets to concerts. It just seemed like the place where Everything Happened, and I knew immediately it would be the place around which I would set the series. It’s got that true New England feel in the sense of the picturesque setting, the big white church with the steeple, and the reality that more business is conducted here than at Town Hall. It’s absolutely perfect – so I put Stan’s house right on it. For the record, she loves it.

A real clambake on Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

A real clambake on Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Barb: Busman’s Harbor in the Maine Clambake Mysteries is a highly, highly fictionalized version of Boothbay Harbor, Maine and the Snowden Family Clambake Company is an even more highly fictionalized version of the Cabbage Island Clambakes. I like fictionalizing a real place. World-creating is the most fun part of writing fiction for me. The real part saves me untold amounts of time and stress. If I need to know things like: What time does the sun rise on a certain date in August? When is high tide? or How far is it from Busman’s Harbor to Portland?, the answer is at my finger tips. In every book, Julia also goes on a trip to a real place in Maine–Bath in Clammed Up, the blueberry fields of Down East in Boiled Over, and Round Pond and Damariscotta in Musseled Out.

Jessie: I write about two different contemporary fictional towns in New Hampshire. I think photothey feel real because of the enjoyable sorts of people who inhabit them and because of the way the seasons and the lay of the land influence the characters. Weather, distance, the rural, close-knit nature of the villages flavor both New Hampshire series. Visits to the local dump,  standing orders for Italian sandwiches at the general store and chats with neighbors at the post office are all part of real life here and my characters experience these things too.

My new series is a historical and it is set in the real town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine in 1898. Researching real hotels, events and people requires a somewhat different skill set than creating an entirely fictional town. Both ways of crafting settings are tremendously fun and I hope will be equally engrossing for the readers.

Julie: My series is based in the Berkshires, in a fictional town called Orchard. I have been to the Berkshires several times, both on vacation and to go to Tanglewood, Williamstown, and other arts related locations. But my “what does it look like” inspiration came when I was driving back from Double Edge on summer night, right after I’d signed the contract for my series. My GPS took me another way, and I went with it. All of a sudden I came upon a town, Willamsburg, MA. Not technically in the Berkshires, but a terrific setting for cozy series. The Williamsburg General Store is a great place to visit, and helped inspire the Cog & Sprocket.

One of many parties held in the courtyard I lived on at Hanscom.

One of many parties held in the courtyard I lived on at Hanscom.

Sherry: I fell in love with New England when we lived there for five years. So when I had the opportunity to write the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series I decided to set in a fictional version of Bedford, Massachusetts and on a fictional version of Hanscom Air Force Base. Both were wonderful places to live and it makes me happy to write about them. It also gives me an excellent reason to go back and visit — in the name of research.

Bedford, MA town common

Bedford, MA town common

I also think it’s interesting that even with in New England there are differences. Liz calls it a town green but in Bedford it’s the town common. Whatever they are called I miss them!

Readers, have you ever been to New England? Ever lived here? What makes a book’s setting feel real to you?

Wicked Wednesday- Knowing Your Way Around Town

We’ve been talking craft all month on Wicked Wednesdays. This week we’re chiming in about how we keep track of the towns in our series. How do you road map an imaginary place? Remember which stores are on Main Street? So Wickeds, how do you keep it all straight from book to book?

 Jessie: I use Scrivener. It very conveniently has a places category and I import all the places from the previous book into the next one as soon as I create a new file. Then I add any new places to the existing database as I go along.

Map by Phyllis Ann Whippen

Map by Phyllis Ann Whippen

Edith: So far I have used either fictionalized real towns (Ipswich in the Lauren Rousseau mysteries, West Newbury in the Local Foods mysteries) or a real town (Amesbury, in my historical mystery) in my fiction. But when I fictionalize a real place, I add made-up streets and businesses. So far I’ve been able to keep the made-up stuff in my memory, but using Scrivener’s system for a Places folder is a great idea. In my new WIP, however, I created a fictional small town, so drawing myself a map would be a good idea. On the to-do list!

Lea Wait's Wiscasset, Maine from her children's books. Learn more here.http://www.leawait.com/children.html

Lea Wait’s Wiscasset, Maine from her children’s books. Learn more here. http://www.leawait.com/children.html

Barb: My Busman’s Harbor turns out to be a pretty complicated place. It’s a town, and a harbor, two points of land that surround the harbor, a private island and a penninsula that leads from Route One, the main artery of the Maine coast down to Busman’s. As the books have developed, we’ve found out where more and more of the characters live and work. Like Jessie, I’ve kept Scrivener files of all the important places I’ve described– the houses, boats, town pier, marina, shops and hospital. Like Edith, I’ve modeled it on a real town–Boothbay Harbor, Maine. But I’ve made so many modifications and described so many fictional places, if I do get a contract for more books, I think it is time for a map. As an aside–I love, love fictional books with maps in them. Deborah Crombie’s are a particular favorite.

afbchurchSherry: Tagged for Death has two main locations. They are based on fictional versions of Bedford, Massachusetts and Hanscom Air Force Base. Even though I have a good idea  of how the town of Ellington, Massachusetts and Fitch Air Force Base look, I’ve made crude (very crude) drawings of each. I also keep extensive notes about what is where for both. It’s been a lot of fun to use two places I loved living in the series.

Liz: All of the above! I use Scrivener too, and my town, Frog Ledge, is fictional but based on a hybrid of two towns near me. I have a good picture in my mind of how it looks, but like Barb, I think I might need a map…

Julie: My town is based on two different towns. I am keeping place notes, but already feel the need for a map, which I will do before the next book is done. Things like “how long does it take to go from the shop to the lake?”  need to be consistent, and make sense. Anyone have any good map making ideas? Maybe we should create a wicked cozy map of New England?

Edith: I love the idea of a Wicked Cozy map, Julie!

Readers: Do you like maps in a work of fiction? Would you prefer to read about a real place, so you can go and trace the steps of our ficitonal protagonists, or do you prefer to read the fictional towns we and other authors make up?

Wicked Wednesday – Wicked Fun Research

It’s Wicked Wednesday again, and today we’re weighing in on a wicked fun type of research. Every now and then as we’re writing along, murdering people and getting our characters into all kinds of dangerous situations, we inevitably find ourselves describing a physical situation that is hard to imagine simply in our heads. So, Wickeds, when that happens, what do you do? Ask your spouse if you can push them (gently, of course) down the stairs? Enlist a friend to put you in a choke hold? Come on, ‘fess up! And what other kinds of fun research do you do for your stories?

Edith: All of the above. In addition, I visit chickens every chance I get and talk to people who keep them so I can get the details on farmer Cam’s rescue chickens correct.

I’ve just finished the first draft of an historical novel set in my town, with John Greenleaf BuggyWhittier as a secondary character, so I’m involved in research I can only confirm through old newspapers, property deeds, maps, and all manner of other sources. But material is everywhere. I went down to our local health center to have blood drawn, and sitting in the waiting room was a carriage from the period I’m writing about, the late 1800s. Of course I grabbed a pen and wrote a description of it. I’m a member of the Whittier Home Association and can wander through Whittier’s house, look at his desk, check out the accurately maintained herb garden, and best, talk to a dozen or two Whittier fans who know way more than I do (and one of whom will be reading a draft for me).

Liz: The good news is that I’m a klutz by nature. So when I needed to figure out how someone would land after a fall down the stairs, all I had to do was go back to the numerous times I’ve tumbled down on my own. Including one banner episode in my younger days where I not only fell down half the flight of stairs, but off the side with no banister in my parents’ basement and landed amidst my mother’s potato bin. Does that count?

Lobsterboat2Barb: Writing about coastal Maine, my research is often complicated by seasonality. I need to see blueberries picked, but it’s the dead of winter. I need to go to a clambake (yes my life is hard) but it hasn’t opened yet. For the next book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series, Musseled Out, I hitched a ride on a lobster boar with Captain Clive Farrin. You should totally do this if you are ever in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, by the way. It’s beautiful and informative and Captain Farrin and his sternman answered all my questions. Oh, how I suffer for my art.

ChairYSSherry: Oh, you poor thing, Barb! Since I’m writing a series with a garage sale theme I can indulge myself by considering going to them “work”. This week I’m visiting my mom in Florida. I headed out to run errands for her and after two right turns, there it was a yard sale sign beckoning to me with its siren song. I had to go. Sadly, for me (and happily for my husband who isn’t crazy about my habit) all of the things I liked were way too big for my suitcase. I had a lovely conversation with the man running the yard sale. His wife refinishes furniture or puts old things together in a new way — a skill I admire and lack!

clock_towers_of_waterbury_hJulie: I can get stuck in research. Right now, I am putting notes in my manuscript that say **find this out** so I don’t stop writing to find out something specific that turns into a three hour Google gorge. But two pieces of research are overarching for me right now. First, I am looking at and finding clock towers. And I am going to the Clock Museum this summer while I’m on vacation. Second, I need to figure out how to map a town. How long does it take Ruth to go to this house, or that store? What makes the journey’s different? And how does that impact the story? Again, right now I am working with a line drawing. But more details need to be sorted out. And I need to add a food element so I can do some research on that.

Jessie: I’ve ended up researching lots of different sorts of things because I write more than one series. In my first book, Live Free or Die, the main character is a volunteer sap buckets farm museumfire fighter and I was lucky enough to interview three different firefighters to help that story come alive.  I’ve interviewed sugar makers and conservation officers for my Sugar Grove series. Right now I am working on a historical series and have really enjoyed reading up on the late 1800s, visiting museums and interviewing the town historian in the place I am setting a new series.

One of my favorite ways to assemble my research thoughts is visually. So much of what I do as a writer, of course, uses words. Images feel like such a luxurious break and I like to use Pinterest to help me remember things and to imagine extravagantly.

Readers: What kind of research have you done? Was it fun or painful? Ask a Wicked a question about ours!