An Unexpected Accessory: And a Giveaway

by Barb, just back from a beautiful week at the Jersey shore and headed back to Maine

I love it when serendipity happens. Don’t you?

Back in July, Liz Mugavero started a Wicked Wednesday thread here on the blog titled, “What’s in your Character’s Purse?”

totebagI really liked the question, because it was one of those things I had thought about without thinking about it, you know? The question of what my main character Julia Snowden would use as a purse had come up in Clammed Up, the first book in the series. I decided Julia would throw the things she had to carry around with her in an old Snowden Family Clambake tote bag. Julia’s mother Jacqueline had run the gift shop at the clambake for many years, and it seemed natural the shop would offer such a thing.

I thought it would be fun if there was a picture of the tote bag for the blog. So I went on a site that offered custom printed bags and I designed one. Just for the photo, for the blog, mind you. I wasn’t going to order any. I didn’t even price them.

goodiebagsWhy did I know where to find such a thing, you ask? Because for my daughter’s wedding the welcome bags were little, tiny L.L. Bean-style tote bags, which felt appropriate to Maine.

But Liz hadn’t just asked what the character’s purse was, she’d asked what was IN the purse. That gave me pause. I have always been a purse minimalist. When my kids were young, I used to joke, “I am the mother who never carries tissues.” Or Bandaids. Or chapstick. Or photos of her kids.

I think this is because I am an accessories minimalist generally. I have enough trouble keeping track of the essentials, believe me. When I was in seventh grade, the first year I carried a purse to school, everyday the period after my study hall there was an announcement on the PA. “Barbara Ross, please come to the office.” And then I would realize I’d left my handbag hanging off the back of a chair in the auditorium. Every. Single. Day. My husband would tell you this behavior now extends to my reading glasses, my car keys and my phone. He would be exaggerating when he said this. But not very much.

Over the course of the series, Julia has carried some mundane things in the tote bag, like Snowden Family Clambake brochures (Clammed Up) or her mother’s mail, fetched from the post office (Iced Under). She’s also carried some mystery clues, like a copy of an old photo and an insurance report (Fogged Inn) or a priceless diamond necklace (Iced Under).

But what does Julia carry everyday? I decided she was a little less minimalist than me, and gave her “a nylon wallet, sunblock or chapstick depending on the season, a bundle of covered rubber bands to pull back her hair if she’s on a boat or around food prep, and her smartphone, which works pretty well in Maine, except where it doesn’t.” Not a lot of stuff really. I can also imagine a paperback book and a toothbrush and toothpaste in a plastic holder, a hairbrush, business cards, pens and a small notebook.

toteandeggnogAfter I designed that tote bag for the blog, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I decided to order some for real to use for contests and such.

So that’s what I’m offering, dear readers. If you comment on this blog post before noon on September 1, you’ll be entered in a contest to win your very own Snowden Family Clambake tote, along with an Advanced Reader Copy of Eggnog Murder, the collection of three holiday novellas by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and me to be published October 25th.

Good luck!

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I

by Barb–sad because we’re leaving Key West in three days (or maybe perplexed is a better word. Why are we returning to the frozen north?)

Barbara RossI’ve wanted to write about how I feel about being an author of cozy mysteries for awhile, but it’s always been a complicated and evolving issue. So I’ve decided to split the topic up into three blog posts that I’ll put up during my next several turns here at Wicked Cozys.

The Beginning

I didn’t start out to write a cozy. I started out to write a mystery. All my life I had read widely in the mystery field, without really differentiating by sub-genre. I cut my teeth on those amateur sleuths Nancy Drew and Miss Marple, who despite her maiden state, is the grandmother of all of us authors of amateur sleuths. I read Dick Francis and Ross Thomas and John D. MacDonald and Dennis Lehane and Dorothy L. Sayers and Janet Evanovich. Admittedly, it was a simpler time. I found most of my books through recommendations from friends and relatives, as well as friendly independent bookstore clerks and librarians. Megabookstores and online retailers hadn’t yet created such a strong need for subcategory labeling to help you find a book you would like.

I knew I wanted to write a series. I loved the books of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. I loved watching characters change over time, and returning to find out what was going on in their lives. I was particularly taken with Rendell’s Kingsmarkham, it’s strong sense of place and how it evolved from a sleepy market village to a sprawling suburb with a highway on-ramp and a diverse population. Even Christie’s St. Mary Mead evolved, sprouting a housing development after the second World War. To me, it was all magic.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontMy first mystery, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, had a professional sleuth as its protagonist, a female police chief, but it was also very much a village mystery. Which was one of the many reasons it was so hard to sell, though it was eventually published by Five Star/Cengage.

We’ve told many times on the blog how our agent, John Talbot, approached Sheila Connolly, who was then President of Sisters in Crime New England, to see if any members had an interest in writing a spec proposal for a cozy mystery series. I was very interested. Because of my love of series, I knew I wanted a multi-book contract, something Five Star didn’t offer. I wrote to Sheila behind the scenes and asked her if she thought I could do it. She pointed out that my first book had a lot of cozy elements. With her encouragement, I called John. We batted some ideas around, and chose “clambake.”

JohnTalbotIn that first call, John said, “You know what cozies are, right? Amateur sleuth, small town, ya-da, ya-da.” I’m not sure John actually said “ya-da, ya-da,” but he definitely ya-da, ya-da-ed the definition of a cozy. I assured him that I did and set to work writing the proposal.

During that period, I read a lot of books that were actually defined as “cozy mysteries.” I read books by our own Sheila Connolly, and by Leslie Meier and Kaitlyn Dunnett/(Kathy Lynn Emerson). I read John Talbot’s most successful cozy author, Cleo Coyle and Kensington’s most successful cozy author, Joanne Fluke. I was inspired by all of them. I also read several frankly terrible cozies. I won’t name any names, but ones I couldn’t finish. Ones that made me dread going to bed because I would have to open them.

CLAMMED_UPI was undaunted. What area of literature doesn’t have some absolutely awful books in it? None is the answer. And, as I’ve learned over and over, my absolutely awful book is your favorite and vice versa, because the role of personal taste is huge. Besides, though I had tried to keep a professional distance from my proposal, I was falling in love with my characters and my setting. I really wanted to write these stories.

John sold the series to Kensington, and I started writing Clammed Up in earnest. I still hadn’t processed what it meant to be the author of a cozy novel, but now I was paying attention–and starting to panic. It’s interesting that neither of the things I was panicking about affected the story I was writing.

To wit:

  1. If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
  2. The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)

So the rest of the posts in this series will be a description of my journey with the two personal challenges above, how I evolved, and how I feel about these issues today.

You can now read Part II here and Part III here.

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.

meetinghousesnow

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 – Proposal Writing, the First Three Chapters

By Sherry, who’s hoping it’s warmer today than when I set up the post!

This month we’ve decided to all chime in on the process of writing proposals for book series. Mystery series are often sold this way, in fact all of us have sold series in this manner, some of us more than once. The format for doing this is fairly standardized in the publishing industry and each Wednesday this month we will dive into one aspect of the process. This week we are talking about writing the first three chapters for your proposal. Wickeds, did you agonize or did the chapters pour out of you? Give us your best tip!

Tagged for Death mech.inddSherry: Some of you might know this story. When I had the opportunity to write the proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series my agent said: I want it as soon as possible. Four days later I sent him the proposal. Fortunately, I had Liz, Edith and Barb’s proposals to work off of. The whole thing just poured out of me — it’s never happened before or since. But my best tip is to end the third chapter on a suspenseful note that will want to make the editor read the rest.

A Tine To Live A Tine To Die PB COVEREdith: I had written a very early version of A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die eighteen years earlier in between farming seasons. For the proposal (and the book), I knew I had to rewrite the content, but I was able to keep the fictional world I had set up all those years ago. Protagonist Cam Flaherty, former software engineer. Small rural town. Antique saltbox farmhouse. And death by pitchfork in the hoop house. So I had a head start, and it wasn’t that hard for me to craft the first three chapters. The last chapter of the proposal ends right after my farmer discovers the body. So the tip about that might be: make sure you hook your reader, who you hope will be your publisher, with great storytelling and, if not a body, then something that will really grab them.

For my Country Store Mysteries proposal (Flipped for Murder out in November, under pen name Maddie Day!), I had to story-innset up the entire world, the protagonist, the supporting characters. But since the series is set in southern Indiana, a part of the universe I love, and because I had a vision for the near-Southern language and way of life, I had a lot of fun with those first chapters. Totally agree with Sherry, though – you have to start with a good hook, and make sure your last paragraph has one, too. The end of the proposal chapters shows a local police officer telling Robbie and her date about the murder of a local official Robbie had had conflict with – and that the victim had one of Robbie’s signature cheesey biscuits stuffed in her mouth.

Liz: Thanks to the counsel of Avery Aames/Daryl Wood Gerber, I had a good fouKneading to Diendation to use when putting my proposal together. And the idea for the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, which my agent and I both loved, was exciting to me – so the first three chapters were a lot of fun to write. The one thing I struggled with was how much set-up I needed to do versus just jumping right into the story of the murder. I wanted to set the stage for the town and characters enough that readers immediately felt familiar with them, but didn’t want to kill it with a lot of backstory. It ended up that my victim was found at the end of the second chapter, and when I ended the third it was setting up Stan’s situation of being a suspect.

THE MAINE CLAMBAKE MYSTERY SERIESBarb: Great timing on this question as someone recently asked to see my proposal so I read it again. I was surprised how closely the first three chapters in the proposal were to those that were eventually published in Clammed Up. I remember that I had a lot of fun with these chapters. My agent had emphasized that it was a spec proposal and though he thought clambakes were a subject that should interest publishers, it was by no means guaranteed. So my thought about the first three chapters was–have fun, don’t overthink, don’t get too attached. It’s a fun way to write. The set-up, a wedding, was intended to quell my panic about supplying recipes for a series. A clambake is the same meal over and over and over. I thought if the Snowden Family Clambake Company was the setting for special events, other kinds of food might be served. In the series, I’ve solved this problem in a completely different way, so the wedding was unnecessary, but I’m glad that’s where the series started. Eventually another publisher, who ultimately passed, asked me for three more chapters. Those didn’t end up in the book in the same spot.

Jessie: There’s a lot of business to accomplish in the first three chapters. Introduction of main and a few supporting characters, the inciting incident and the voice of the novel all need to be present and correct. It can be a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, the story is so fresh and the enthusiasm should be so high that it should be a pleasurable challenge. Which brings me to my best tip: if the first three chapters don’t have you chomping at the bit to tell the story then you should ask yourself if you are telling the right tale.  I don’t mean to say that the first draft of these pages should be the most perfect thing you have ever written. I do think, at this stage, your enthusiasm is a strong guidance system and if you don’t have it something is wrong and you should listen. Whether that means tweaking some details, weaving n new story threads or scrapping the whole thing and starting over, it would be wise to set off on a journey you really wish to take. Now is the very best time to do so.

Julie: My first three chapters story is a little different. A year and a half ago I was given the opportunity to audition to write this series. I was given an outline of the characters, and a fairly robust storyline. My job was to show my editor that I could write the series, but also that I could write the series that she had created. So I needed to figure out how to make the story mine, and hers, at the same time. I also needed to figure a way into the story. The series was sold, I just needed to sell my skills as a writer, and a storyteller. Ironically, and interestingly, those first three chapters got me the gig, but I didn’t end up using them in the final product. So my advice, make sure the first three chapters are written really well. If you want someone to give you a contract, they need to trust that you have the craft under control.

Edith again: I love the timing of this post. I am writing the first chapter of the second Country Store mystery this week. Today! And all these comments are helping me.

Readers: What do you want to see in the first three chapters of a mystery? If you’ve written your own first three, what were your joys and challenges doing so?

Wicked Wednesday: What Do You Read When You’re Writing?

stack of booksThe discussion is age-old. Some writers say they can’t read, or can’t read in their genre, when they’re writing. Others say, “If I had to give up reading in order to write, I’d give up writing.”

Wickeds, do you read when you’re writing? If not, why not? If so, what do you read? Is your reading restrained in any way?  Does it make a difference whether you’re writing a first draft or doing a polish? When do you read for research?

Inquiring minds want to know.

TanaFrenchLiz: Love this topic! I find reading depends more on my overall mood than what I’m actually working on. Since most of what I read is mystery/crime, it varies between cozies, thrillers and other types of crime. That said, I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I would like…but that’s really the only limitation I have when it comes to reading. I can read any fiction, any time. I read for research as the need arises, or as the mood strikes. Sometimes I veer off into the world of business books, but I quickly return to my beloved mysteries.

Right now, I’m catching up on my cozies – recent releases from my fellow Wickeds and a Natural Remedies Mystery I’m blurbing. Next up – the new Tana French book. Can’t wait!

AndGrantYouPeace-final-4Edith: I find I have such little time for reading, if I didn’t read while I am writing, I’d never read. I certainly read for research both while I’m creating and while I’m polishing: Whittier’s biography, or the history of Brown County, Indiana, for example. But I also read cozy mysteries, New England-based police procedurals, suspense novels. They don’t seem to interfere with my writing or revision process, other than making me look more closely at my own work to make sure it’s as clear, lyrical, and deeply drawn as I can make it.

Right now, in final revisions on one book and starting revisions on another, I’m fittingly sitting in Maine reading Kate Flora’s new (Portland, Maine based) Joe Burgess mystery, And Grant You Peace.

longmireJulie: I try to read while I am writing. BUT I find that the ability to just read, and not dissect, is gone while I am writing. For example, I am reading the Longmire books in preparation for Crime Bake. Craig Johnson is the Guest of Honor, and I am going to interview him at lunch during the conference. First paragraph, my “oh he writes in first person. Wonder how this works in a long series…” kicks in. It is hard to turn the writer off.

Edith: Agree with you on the dissection habit, Julie. It’s given me no patience for poorly written books. There isn’t enough time in the universe to read a book I see glaring writing errors in – point of view hops, too much telling not showing, and so on.

Jessie: I used to only read non-fiction when I was working on first drafts. I was really concerned about unintentionally matching the tone of what I was reading in my own work. As time has passed my confidence in my own voice has gotten stronger and I no longer worry about what I read. Like Edith, I read a lot of books for research and I do tend to read those voraciously whilst creating a first draft.

At any given time I am in the midst of several books. I get a little panicky if I don’t have at least a few books waiting in the wings. As a matter of fact, I bought a house next door to a public library partially influenced by that concern. Currently, I am part-way through a Swedish crime novel, a book about the relationship between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle and a book on the history of the tarot.

truthbetoldBarb: If I couldn’t read while I’m writing, it would be a close and agonizing call, but I would probably give up writing. Reading, after all, was my first love. Being a professional writer does crowd your reading time. There are books for research and books for blurbs. If you’re moderating a panel or conducting an interview at a conference, as Julie is, you’ve got a lot of books to read. Somehow or another it all piles up. But to be my best and happiest self, I have to read books I love, books that I wish I could have written. Kate Flora (I love the Joe Burgess novels, too) has a tradition where she allows herself to read anything she wants between Christmas and New Years. I’ve taken this tradition and expanded it (I’m a slow reader) to anything I want between the New England Crime Bake (Veteran’s Weekend) and New Years. It’s the ultimate luxury. Up this year will be Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Craig Johnson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and (fittingly) Kate Flora.

IMG_1012Sherry: Of course I read when I write. I read lots of thrillers and mysteries. The only thing I try to stay away from is any book that has a similar theme to mine. I agree with the other Wickeds that reading good books makes me a better writer and makes me work harder. Right after I read an early copy of Clammed Up I had the opportunity to write the proposal for the garage sale series. I loved Barb’s character Gus and I think he influenced my character, Angelo. The good news is when I told Barb, she was surprised and didn’t think I’d copied Gus. Angelo is quirky in his own way.

Readers: What’s your take? If you’re a writer, do you read while you’re writing? If you create other kinds of art, can you absorb art by others while you’re creating?

Maine Clambake Series Renewed!

by Barb, in Somerville, MA, where it’s indisputably fall

We Wicked Cozies have a tradition of announcing good news here on the blog. Julie Hennrikus announced her new Clock Shop Mystery series.  And more recently, both Edith Maxwell and Liz Mugavero shared happy news with our readers.

CLAMMED_UPNow it’s my turn.

I’m thrilled to announce that my Maine Clambake Mystery series has been extended for books 4, 5 & 6. I’m excited about this because I have so many more stories to tell about the Snowden family, Morrow Island and Busman’s Harbor, Maine.

The planned books take place in late fall, winter and early spring–or as we call them in Maine, in winter, winter and more winter. The resort town of Busman’s Harbor is very different in the off season.

The books are tentatively titled Fogged In, Iced Under and Elvered After.

Boiled Over front coverIn Fogged In, the body of a stranger appears in the walk-in refrigerator of Gus’s restaurant. And we all know how Gus feels about strangers in his restaurant, much less dead ones. When the body yields no ID, Julia must help the police uncover the man’s identity and the mysterious reason for his visit to Maine.

In Iced Under, Julia investigates her maternal ancestry and the disappearance of her mother’s cousin Hugh, who left Morrow Island on the eve of his twenty-first birthday and disappeared. She discovers some dark truths about her mother’s family that lead her to a modern-day case of murder.

MusseledOutFrontcoverIn Elvered After, a man is murdered in one of the Victorian bedrooms of the Snuggles Inn. He’s a Maine state official in town to regulate the local catch of elvers, the tiny, translucent baby eels that bring Maine fishermen as much as $2600 a pound and are sold to Asian farms to be raised for sushi. With high stakes, a short season, a limited number of highly-prized licenses and finite fishing grounds, the elver fishery provides plenty of suspects and reasons for murder. (I’m sure the publisher won’t let me keep the title because no one knows what elvers are, but it’s kind of perfect, isn’t it?)

I’m working on Fogged In now, and can’t wait to find out what happens!

It’s hard to believe how much has happened since the first book in the series, Clammed Up, was published a year ago this month. Thank you for a wonderful year to friends, family, and Maine Clambake Mystery fans. I’ve been so honored by the reception these stories have found and hope you will enjoy the new books.

Maine Clambake Mysteries

Cover Story

by Barbara Ross

I’ve gotten such great feedback on the covers for my Maine Clambake Mystery series I thought some you might be interested in how these covers come about.

Clammed Up

CLAMMED_UPI signed the contract for three Maine Clambake Mysteries in March of 2012. The first book Clammed Up was due December 1, 2012. In August 2012, I got an e-mail from my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio.

Hi, Barbara!
Quick request.
Can you email me by next Monday any/all cover ideas you might have for the first mystery?
Thanks!
Best,
John

And I e-mailed back–

Hi John

The central image in the book is the empty Gilded Age mansion that belonged to the protagonist’s ancestors. It sits on a hill on the Maine island where the clambakes are held and is described as four stories high with dormers, made of stone with a slate roof. Size-wise I sort of modeled it on Edith Wharton’s The Mount.

The victim, the best man at a wedding, is found hanging from its elaborate staircase.

All that being said, people who know better than I say the best way to market all things Maine is with “lighthouses and lobsters.”

I’ve developed some Pinterest boards your people may find helpful as they work.
http://pinterest.com/barbaraannross/maine-harbor-scenes/
http://pinterest.com/barbaraannross/food-images-for-maine-clambake-mysteries/

So happy to be asked for ideas!

As you can see, they went the “lighthouses and lobsters” route. That in itself is a bit of a story. Paul Doiron is both the author of the absolutely fabulous Mike Bowditch mysteries about a Maine Game Warden (and if you haven’t read them you should) and the former editor of Down East Magazine. He once said, rather cynically, “You can do focus group after focus group, but no one wants to see anything of Maine but lobsters and lighthouses.” He meant rather despairingly, I think, that no one cares about the poverty or the vast North Woods or the cities or lakes or mountains. But when I, a new author with a new series a no reputation, was asked for cover input, all I could think was, perhaps even more cynically, “Why would I swim against that tide?”

When I got the cover for Clammed Up, I was a little taken aback. Why were there crabs and bread at a Maine clambake? Which shows what I know, because the book went on to be a B&N in-store Mass Market paperback best-seller for five weeks. I get constant compliments about the cover.

Boiled Over

Boiled Over front coverI handed in Clammed Up on December 1, 2012 and started in on Boiled Over, due September 1, 2013. The request for cover ideas came in April. here’s what I wrote.

Hi John
If Clammed Up was a book about the island, Boiled Over is a book about the town. Therefore, I’d love it if the cover of Boiled Over could include an iconic Maine harbor town.
I’ve created a Pinterest board I hope can provide some inspiration. http://pinterest.com/barbaraannross/maine-habor-towns/ (Note: Though I’ve included photos from every season, Boiled Over takes place at the height of the summer season.)
Also, I don’t know if you’ll have the same illustrator, but I also think it would be cool to have something that was a bit of a motif from cover to cover.  The lobster boat on the cover of Clammed Up is a possibility. Or, the platter with the lobster, corn and clams from the bottom left corner of the Clammed Up cover.
As always, you guys are the experts. Thanks so much for asking.

And got this reply.

Thanks for sending!

What kind of food plays into this book?
I’m not sure if Sales is going to want to carry the food theme over. If they do, my worry is having the cover of book two looking identical to book one.  Even though the titles are different, trust me, readers sometimes get confused.
So, are there any desserts featured in this new book? Types of fruit? Different types of seafood?  Clams? Any sort of summer drink (lemonade?) or cocktail?
Best, John
P.S.  Yes, it will be the same illustrator.

To which I thought–argh, argh, argh–because I didn’t have the recipes nailed down yet. But I did know there was a picnic at the beginning of the book, so I wrote back

Still working on the food for Boiled Over, but there definitely is a picnic, overlooking the harbor, so perfect for the harbor town scene (and fireworks–just saying–I know this is sounding overly complex). Deviled eggs, which I think this illustrator would be great at. The other foods are lobster salad and potato salad which don’t seem particularly pretty and blueberry pie which does. It’s blueberry season and they feature prominently in the book.

eggpeepsAs you can see from the cover, I got exactly what I wanted. I think you can even see the influence of the Pinterest board. The little deviled egg chicks were a surprise, but everyone remarks on them. Boiled Over was also a B&N in-store mmpb bestseller, so by now I was really feeling in good hands.

Musseled Out

MusseledOutFrontcoverI handed in Boiled Over, and started work on Musseled Out. The request for cover input again came in April, which makes sense because Musseled Out will be published a year after Boiled Over.

I was ready by this point. Here’s what I wrote.

Thanks so much for asking me about cover thoughts for Musseled Out, Book 3 in the Maine Clambake Mystery series.

Musseled Out takes place in the fall. For an image, I am picturing one or two empty adirondack chairs on a beach or dock, looking across a body of water to the hills on the other side which are decked out in a riot of fall foliage colors. It would be great if we could have a lobster boat floating in the water as we have had on the last two covers, as that is part of the story.

I have put together a Pinterest board with cover ideas/inspirations. http://www.pinterest.com/barbaraannross/maine-scenes-for-musseled-out/

For food, this book includes a bowl of mussels (of course). The lobster recipes are scampi and also hot lobster dip. The dessert is pumpkin whoopie pies (state snack of Maine). Other appropriate food would include apples, apple pie, squash, pumpkin and a baguette.

Let me know if you need anything else. Will it be the same artist? I get such great feedback on the covers so far.

This time, as you can see, I got everything I dreamed of.  You can strongly see the influence of the Pinterest board.

I finally asked John about the identity of my cover artist. He’s never credited in the books, but I wanted to put him in the acknowledgments of Musseled Out. He is Ben Perini, a fabulous fine artist/illustrator whose portfolio is worth looking at here. I wrote him a fan letter through his website, but so far haven’t heard back.

So thanks to all of you who hung in during this rather long post. What do you think of the covers? Do covers in general influence your decision to buy?