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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Novella Update

Barb, suffering away in lovely Key West. (Okay, not really.)

In August I announced that I was writing a Christmas novella for Kensington. At the time, I brimmed with optimism. Since my short stories are always too long, and my novels always too short, I thought the novella might be my natural home in the fiction world. In my blog post, I said I would check back in.

Since the novella is done and due on Friday, I thought this might be the time.

First things first, a cover reveal.

Eggnog Murder Comp

What do you think? I really like it. It fits with Leslie Meier‘s covers, and also quite nicely with the previous Christmas collections Kensington has published featuring Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie. I am thrilled to be included, along with Leslie and Lee Hollis. I love the little skull floating in the eggnog cup.

I enjoyed working on the story very much. Before I wrote it, I read a bunch of Christmas crime novellas. They seemed to fall into two groups. Some authors used the structure of the traditional longer mystery–a victim, a pool of people with means, opportunity, and motive, and a sleuth who interviews them all and looks for clues to solve the crime. Other authors went a different route using more of a short story-like structure to write not so much a whodunnit?, but a whattheheckisgoingonhere? I went with the latter.

The most fun about the novella was that it was the first time in a long time that I wrote a book in the season in which it took place. This holiday season was crazy warm in in the east, even in Maine, and my story takes place in New York City and Busman’s Harbor during a more traditional early winter. So I couldn’t run outside to soak up the atmospherics, but I could run down the road to do research. Need a reminder of what L.L. Bean’s holiday decorations look like? No problem.

matchingpajamas21I loved incorporating the holiday traditions of my little town in Maine into the novella. For example, the Boothbay Harbor Pajama Party, when everyone gets up at six a.m. and Christmas shops in their pjs. (No kidding. I’ve written more about it here.) I incorporated other holiday traditions l’ve loved, including my cookie baking day and a festival of trees. Boothbay Harbor has one of these, but for the novella I borrowed liberally from the one Vida Antolin-Jenkins used to take me to on the naval base in Newport, RI when we were young mothers. Highly fictionalized, of course.

The length, 25,000+ words, a hundred or so pages, was, indeed, a natural one for me.

You’ll have to wait until next fall to tell me what you think, but I’m happy to be turning this tale in on Friday.

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?