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?

Launch Parties — To Party or Not to Party

By Sherry —  I’m happy it’s warmer than last week!

Launch Parties. I wasn’t sure if I should throw one or not. I googled Launch Parties and panic set in. I saw discussions about bartenders, DJs, swag, decorations, themes. That was not for me.

Tagged for Death mech.inddFor a extroverted person I have this introverted part of me around promoting Tagged for Death. Standing up on my own, talking about my book scared the heck out of me. But that’s when I saw Ray Daniel’s post on Facebook talking about his launch party for Terminated. He had Hank Phillippi Ryan interview him. I thought that was a brilliant idea and something that would work well for me. Friends who attended Ray’s launch said it was fabulous.





I asked friend, author, and independent editor Barb Goffman if she would interview me for the launch. Barb is also a journalist, funny, and enthusiastic. She said yes and a weight fell off my shoulders. I could do this. The next step was figuring out the venue. Have it at home? Rent a community center? Or have it at a bookstore? I sought the advice of friends. Some of their answers surprised me: make sure there’s lots of parking, bonus points for free parking, don’t make me drive through rush hour (Washington DC traffic can be a nightmare). Do you want this to be a marketing event or a celebration with family and friends? If you have it at your house or a community center who will handle book sales?

IMG_2400It was a lot to ponder. Fortunately for me my friend Mary Titone pushed me and called venues for me. Barnes and Noble at Fair Lakes Promenade in Fairfax, Virginia said they’d love to host my launch. Having it there fulfilled the lots of free parking and who would sell books suggestion. We set it up for 1:00 pm on a Sunday which avoided rush hour. Having it at the bookstore allowed for both a celebration and a marketing event.



The staff at Barnes and Noble couldn’t have been nicer. Store manager Sarah Emmett arranged for Mary and I to meet with Ann, who’s in charge of the cafe, and John their events guru. Ann provided samples of baked goods and made sure I stayed within my budget. The day of the launch she even made sure we had our own private “butler” Alex to serve. John and Sarah made lots of great suggestions and showed us the space where the party would be. They all seemed so happy about the event and I couldn’t have worked with a nicer team.

IMG_2461The night before the big day my friend Jill Ribler sent me a picture she’d found on Pinterest. An author had taken her own book and had people attending the launch sign it instead of having a guest book. It was a great idea which I incorporated into the launch. Two friends and fellow writers, Susan O’Brien and Robin Templeton, volunteered to take pictures.

The launch itself was perfect. I choked up a bit during the thank you’s when I mentioned my husband and daughter. Barb Goffman was funny and asked great questions. Having her by my side kept me calm (well, calmer). I didn’t do a reading — it’s another thing I’m not crazy about doing.

I was delighted to have people from so many aspects of my life present. Friends we’d met at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts — Tagged for Death is set in a fictional version of the base and the small town of Bedford, Massachusetts, Chessie Chapter Sisters in Crime members, even one friend from the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, one Wicked Cozy Author, along with friends and neighbors. It surpassed the celebration I hoped for.

Thanks to all of you for making my launch party such a special day!

Book launchCrowd


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: Recipes with Maple Syrup

To celebrate Drizzled with Death by Jessie Crockett we are sharing recipes that call for or need to be topped with maple syrup!

Original File Name: 4126-Driscole-Pancakes-032.tif

(Picture from http://www.babble.com. Missing the yogurt, obviously!)

Edith: Cool, I’m first, so I can claim pancakes! Or at least my version of them. To me, since about 1971, pancakes are whole wheat. Preferably with either bananas and walnuts in them, or in recent decades, with a handful of hand-picked (for a while also home-grown) blueberries, either fresh or frozen, added to each. Top with a dollop of plain yogurt and the best maple syrup you can afford, and you have a Sunday morning breakfast that will sustain you for a good while. The core of the recipe comes from the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. I now can’t abide white pancakes!

Whole Wheat-Blueberry Pancakes

Mix 2 c whole wheat flour, 1 T baking powder, 1 T brown sugar, 1 tsp salt in a mixing bowl. Make an indent in the middle and add three eggs, then stir with a fork. Add 1/4 c vegetable oil and 2 c milk (can be non-fat). Mix with same fork or a mixer until blended. Spoon batter into a nice medium-hot skillet with a little oil in it. Add a handful of blueberries, fresh or frozen, to the middle of each pancake as soon as you have spooned it into the pan. Cook until the bubbles pop, turn, cook some more — come on, you know how to cook pancakes — and eat with yogurt and great maple syrup.

Sherry: I have had Edith’s pancakes and they are amazing! But I also love my mom’s buttermilk pancakes. They are easy to make and easier to eat! 2 eggs beaten, 2 cups buttermilk, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Combine beaten eggs and buttermilk. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Cook and drizzled with lots of hot maple syrup.

Last weekend while visiting the Boston area we stopped in the bar at the Commons at Hanscom Air Force Base. I ran into Gina Pacheco who shared this inspired use of maple syrup. She wets the rim of a beer glass with maple syrup, dips it in cinnamon and sugar, and then fills the glass with her favorite pumpkin ale! I can’t wait to try this!

Liz: Since going wheat and gluten-free, my house has gotten creative with breakfast. After a lot of experimentation and sampling, the best gluten-free French toast goes like this:
Either make your own bread (which is time consuming and messy) or find a healthy alternative. I’m lucky enough to live near a great natural store that makes their own gluten-free bread that’s perfect for French toast. Thanks, Nature’s Grocer! Then you combine one large egg, 1/4 cup of vanilla-flavored almond milk, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 2 tablespoons butter (I use Earth Balance vegan, soy free butter). Dip the bread in the mixture and coat both sides, place in skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, making sure both sides are golden. Douse with your favorite maple syrup and enjoy!

Julie: While maple syrup is amazing for breakfast, it also works well when roasting butternut squash. Preheat oven to 400. Cut the squash in half, take out the seeds and guts. Fill up the cavity with butter and maple syrup, sprinkle some nutmeg and roast for about an hour. Really delish, and makes a lot.

While we are talking maple syrup, can I just say that using the real thing matters? I use grade B for cooking, and only have the real thing in the house. More expensive, but a little goes a long way, and it makes such a difference.

Barb: While researching my second Maine Clambake Mystery, Boiled Over, I was looking for camp-style recipes for authentic Mi’kmaq dishes. One of the recipes is for Baked Camp Beans.

Here’s a bit of dialogue from the book.

“My God, these are delicious. They taste a something like New England baked beans.”

“And who do you think invented those?” Phil smiled at me. “All the tribes in Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick cooked beans mixed with maple syrup and bear fat in clay pots buried with hot coals.”

I loved that! In the Americas our cuisine is such a happy melding of heritages. The melting pot literally is a pot.

Jessie:  All these ideas sounds delicious! Maple syrup is a great substitute for honey. I recommend it in a sort of teriyaki glaze. I mix together soy sauce, some sweet rice wine, maple syrup, ginger and garlic. I pour it over chicken pieces and let it marinate for a couple of hours then grill or broil it.

Readers: What’s your favorite maple syrup recipe? And have you bought Jessie’s book yet?

The Air Force Made Me Do It

Sherry Harris
from Northern Virginia

Being an Air Force spouse had a lot to do with how I ended up writing. Having a regular career is difficult when you are moving all of the time. Climbing a corporate ladder is next to impossible.

080508-F-0672W-005We were stationed in Dayton, Ohio at Wright-Patterson AFB when I spotted a short story contest in the local newspaper. I thought why not and started writing.  I realized right away the story was bigger than the parameters of the contest. And I set off on my writing journey moving it with me from Dayton, to Monterey, to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Northern Virginia, Bedford, Massachusetts and back to Northern Virginia.

During that time I worked on the craft of writing by attending conferences. At one I met fellow Air Force wife and author Sara Rosett, whose protagonist is a military spouse. I  joined critique groups and wrote and wrote and revised. It eventually led to my current series. Tagged for Death features Sarah Winston, a former Air Force spouse, and is set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts and the very real Hanscom Air Force Base. I’m excited to use a part of my life that I loved so much in my novels.

I decided to ask two other military spouses how the military influenced their writing careers. I met Kim Stokely when our kids were in the same first grade class while we were stationed at Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California. I met Gwen Hernandez recently. She taught a class on Scrivener offered through the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I read her bio and found out she was an Air Force wife and also lived near me in Northern Virginia.

KimstokelyKim: Newly married to a naval officer, I found myself alone 275 days of our first year stationed in Virginia Beach, VA. I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in dramatic communication as a way to keep my sanity. My advisor warned me at my graduation that I needed to find ways to be creative even as I moved around and started a family. He suggested I try writing as an outlet. I got the idea for Woman of Flames, soon to be released on Amazon.com, from a play woman-of-flames7cI performed while working toward my degree. I jotted down notes for the story for over a decade before I finally had the time to research my subject and time period. It took another year to write the first draft. Our various duty stations gave me ample opportunity to see the country and I’ve used several of our homes as settings for my novels including Monterey, CA; Saratoga Springs, NY and Omaha, NE. Although I’m working on a fantasy trilogy now, I’m still using my different memories to inspire my settings.

scrivenerfdcoverGwen: I didn’t start writing because my husband is in the military—though his income stability didn’t hurt—but it’s the perfect job for someone who’s always on the move. Assuming you can actually get paid for your writing, there’s no more worrying about lack of career advancement or finding employment in each new city. I can take my work anywhere in the world and set my own hours. Definitely a plus when it comes to reducing the stresses of relocating and caring for my family.

gwenhernandezAnd since I write romantic suspense—often featuring military, or former military, heroes and heroines—it’s nice to have a built-in resource at home. If my husband doesn’t know something, one of the many friends we’ve made over the years probably does, or can help me find an expert. Plus, having lived in and visited so many parts of the world, I don’t always have to set my books where I currently live to be able to write credibly about an area.

It’s not easy earning a living as a writer, but if it’s something you love to do, I can’t imagine a better career for a military spouse.

How has your life influenced your career choice?

Home Is Where Your Stuff Is

By Sherry Harris

Davenport, Iowa

Davenport, Iowa

As you read this I will be flying to Davenport, Iowa to attend my fortieth high school reunion (as you may have guessed from my youthful appearance I graduated when I was five). I haven’t been back to Davenport in fifteen years and the concept of home is complicated for me. As many a military spouse will tell you—and some even have a plaque with the saying—home is where your stuff is. And my stuff has been in a lot of places! My concept of home is even more complex because my entire family moved away from Iowa years ago.

IMG_2952When I moved to New England it felt like home. I have no idea why, I’d never been there and certainly never wanted to move there. The things I heard before moving included: people are cold, the weather is horrible, don’t make eye contact with other drivers. The last one really puzzled me, who was driving people or piranhas?


Bedford_Town_CommonBut I fell in love with New England and found the first two things I’d heard weren’t true—an Iowa girl knows friendly and bad weather. Eventually I managed to learn to avoid eye contact with other drivers. So when I was offered a chance to write a proposal for a book I set it in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts right outside the gates of the very real Hanscom Air Force Base.

In my first novel, Tagged for Death, Sarah Winston moves to New England with her husband who is in the Air Force. Through Sarah I get to share what I find magical about the area. Fortunately, unlike Sarah, our assignment at Hanscom was a lot less exciting!

The view from our house on Hanscom AFB

The view from our house on Hanscom AFB

Have you made a new place home? Has your concept of home changed since your childhood?