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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Romantic Gestures — What Does Your Protagonist Think?

we-love-our-readersfebruary-giveaway-1

We are having a “We Love Our Readers” giveaway every Wednesday in February. Leave a comment for a chance to win no later than midnight the Thursday after the post. This week one reader has a chance to win a book from Liz and Edith.

Last week we talked about romance in cozies and this week we focus on how it impacts our protagonist. Is your protagonist a romantic? Is there someone special in her life who is? Has your protagonist created a romantic moment or has the love in her life? Was it a big thing or a little thing? How did it impact them?

Edith: What great questions! How our protagonists react to things like romance is just as called-to-justiceimportant as what she carries in her handbag and what’s in her fridge. I will focus on my midwife Rose Carroll. I built the romance into book one. Despite being a practical independent midwife, she’s a romantic, too, but she’s conflicted about committing to David Dodge because of a painful (highly abusive, actually) experience when she was a teenager. There’s a very romantic scene in Called to Justice (out April 8!) where David takes her in his buggy out to the wide Merrimack River on a full moon night. (“The full moon splashed a silver path from the distant bank across to ours.”) You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.

custombakedmurderLiz: Stan Connor came to Frog Ledge with a token boyfriend. She’d totally forgotten what it was like to really feel in love or even romance. In fact, she snickered at all the sappy love stories or songs when she heard them and chalked it up to unrealistic people who would eventually find their bubble burst. Then she met Jake McGee. Once she’d lost the loser boyfriend, it took them a couple of books to get things right, but Stan has now turned into one of those people who sighs over love songs, delights in sappy movies, and generally thinks her life is better because of Jake.

Sherry: Sarah has had a rocky romantic life since she is A good Day to BuyCoverrecently divorced in the first book Tagged for Death. In the third book, All Murders Final!, she does go on one romantic date with Seth Anderson to the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. And Sarah does like to be wooed. It was fun to go to the Wayside Inn with the Wickeds in December after our Books and Bagels event in Sudbury. The pictures below are from the Wayside Inn. The one on the left is the tavern.

IcedunderfrontcoverBarb: My amateur sleuth, Julia Snowden, is the product of a great romance–the marriage of a lonely girl who spent her summers on a private island and a local boy who delivered groceries in his skiff. Julia thinks her mother is the romantic and she is the pragmatist. I’m not so sure. Certainly Julia fell into the arms of Chris Durand when he appeared on her family’s tour boat to clear up some misunderstandings and confess his interest in her.

Jessie: There is at least a touch of romance in each of my series. That being said, none of my protagonists are romantics. They are all independent women with a lot WhispersBeyond_Fixgoing on in their lives whether or not they have a romantic partner. None of them are looking for romance; in fact, Gwen Fifield from Live Free or Die and Dani Greene from the Sugar Grove series are more interested in dodging matchmaking efforts by their friends and families.

Julie: Ruth Clagan is recently divorced in Clock Shop Mystery series, so she isn’t looking for romance. That said, Ben the handsome barber from next door is a dish, so there’s that. Her feelings for Ben throw her off a bit. She takes it slow, and finds it hard to trust. But did I mention that he’s handsome? Think Robert Redford in the early 70’s. That handsome. More chimeimportantly, he’s a good guy. That makes all the difference for her.

Readers: Do you have a favorite romantic moment from a book?

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Island Time

by Barb, suffering the indignities of a WIP that isn’t jelling.

Hi All. I’m still in Key West. The weather has been uncommonly good this year and we’ve been enjoying our time. But the work in progress on my desk takes place on a different island, in a different climate, at a different time of year.

Stowed Away, the sixth Maine Clambake Mystery, brings the Snowden Family saga full cycle. It’s spring again, and Julia and her relatives are preparing Morrow Island for the tourist season. When I started Clammed Up, I knew about the Cabbage Island Clambake, but I had never been there. Over a long, snowy winter, while I waited for the real clambake to open, I consciously created my own island. I wanted my island to be different, in part to meet some story needs, and in part to distinguish it from any comparison to the real island because of the entirely fictional events that would take place there.

I carefully considered how many acres it would be, how high it would be (since the abandoned mansion Windsholme sat at it’s highest spot), and how far out to sea it was. There are 4400 islands along the Maine coast, so I had plenty of bases for comparison. I studied websites and Google images, judging the terrain.

clapboard-islandThen, years after that work was done and committed to Morrow Island lore, a friend sent me a link about an island for sale, Clapboard Island West, 22 acres with a 9087 square foot home, lots of out buildings, including a tea house and a guest house, and a little beach. For a cool $4.5 million it can be yours. (Be sure to negotiate, it’s been on a the market for awhile.)

Or, you can do what I do, and ogle the photos, descriptions, and the two videos available about the historic house and island.

Of course, there are differences between Clapboard and Morrow Island. The biggest is geographic. Clapboard Island is off Falmouth, Maine in Casco Bay. My fictional island is about an hour and a half farther north. Clapboard Island is slightly larger than Morrow Island and not as high. Morrow Island gets its fresh water and electricity from mid-May to Columbus Day in great conduits that come from the town. Clapboard Island has an interesting aquifer and a solar plant for power. But really, if I’d moved Clapboard Island to where I needed it, and built a pavilion for dining, a kitchen, and a gift shop, it would have done fine.

Sometimes I really wonder why I spend so much time making this stuff up.

Readers: Have you ever imagined a place and then found an incarnation that was real or nearly so? For those who’ve read the Maine Clambake Mysteries–what do you think? Does Clapboard Island match your mental image or is it markedly different?

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Writing Novellas–Introducing Eggnog Murder

by Barb, slipping into a holiday mood early this year

Eggnog Murder CompToday is release day for Eggnog Murder in hardcover, ebook and audiobook. The large print edition is coming in early December. Eggnog Murder is getting some great reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly!

The book is a collection of three holiday novellas set in Maine. The other stories are by well-known cozy authors Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis. So, while yes, my story is about Julia Snowden, and it does take place chronologically between Fogged Inn and Iced Under; it’s a novella, not a novel.

What is a novella? Kensington defines them as between 25,000 and 35,000 words, or one third to half the length of a typical cozy. I thought it might be fun today to ask the authors what writing a novella was like and how they approached the task.

leslie-meierLeslie Meier is the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty Lucy Stone mysteries and has also written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is currently at work on the next Lucy Stone mystery. Readers can visit her website at www.LeslieMeier.com. Leslie’s novella is titled “Eggnog Murder.”

Leslie: Because I tend to write short, I enjoy writing novellas. They’re more satisfying than a short story, because you can do more with character development and plot, and because they’re shorter than novels, you can move things along at a brisk pace. You can pack a lot into a novella, and you don’t have to muck about with all those descriptions of people and settings. In fact, it’s almost as if you can leave out the stuff that most readers just skip anyway!

I don’t really have any advice for writing a novella, but I can tell you what I do. I always outline my books, and for a novel I build my outline with 20 chapters. For a novella, the outline is for 10 chapters. That said, I can’t say that they actually take much less time to write, because the shorter work needs to be tighter and often needs some heavy revision. So if I have any advice, it’s to take time to revise and polish up that novella and make every word work.

The Copp AuthorsLee Hollis is the pen name for a brother and sister writing team. Rick Copp is a veteran film and television writer/producer and also the author of two other mystery novel series. He lives in Palm Springs, California. Holly Simason is an award-winning food and cocktails columnist living in North Carolina. You may visit their website at www.LeeHollisMysteries.com. Lee’s story is titled, “Death by Eggnog.”

Holly (one half of the team behind author Lee Hollis): Writing a novella for Eggnog Murder was great fun in my opinion. First of all we were so excited to be asked to contribute a story to Eggnog Murder with Leslie Meier and Barbara Ross that I’m not even sure that I knew what we were writing for a couple of days!

We love using the holidays in our books so this was already a great beginning for us. We basically used the same process writing the novella as we do writing our Hayley Powell Food and Cocktail Mystery series except this time we were given the murder weapon “eggnog” so we checked that off our list.

Rick is always thinking ahead and when he knows what the title will be he already has an idea forming in his head about how the story will go. Then my favorite part is when we decide who will be murdered and who the murderer will be. Rick has the best imagination and comes up with great murder plots. I, on the other hand, am so food and cocktail obsessed that as soon as we have our plot I start scouring my recipes because we like the recipes to go along with our storyline or the season that it is set in.

I found that writing a novella was a bit easier than writing novel length because it was just a shorter version of the stories we all ready write. I have a tendency to go on and on when I write so writing a novella helped me choose my words more carefully and try to come to the point a bit quicker then usual.

This was a wonderful opportunity for us and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we can do another holiday novella with these two authors again very soon. Hey, Easter is right around the corner and I love chocolate and have some wonderful chocolate recipes.

barbhead4Barbara Ross: My story is titled, “Nogged Off.” I was excited about writing a novella because my novels are always too short and my short stories are always too long. I realized right away that I needed to think about structure. Was I going with a traditional mystery novel structure, with a victim, a pool of suspects and an investigation, or was I going more with a short story structure–a setup and a twist? I decided on short story structure because I thought it would be more fun.

Because it was the holidays, I wanted to tale to be a little lighter and wackier than my Clambake mysteries tend to be, but nonetheless to include a murder and its consequences. I don’t outline, but I had a great starting point, a fabulous eggnog story someone had told me years ago. (More on this in a future blog post.) I started writing and hoped the length would be right. In the end it was and I really loved writing a novella.

Readers: How about you? Do you like novellas and the prospect of sampling multiple authors in one collection, or do you prefer to stick to novels?

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How Do Writers Really Feel about Reader Reviews?

by Barb, back in Massachusetts, consumed by a book deadline and an upcoming wedding

FoggedInnfrontcoveryellowThe fourth book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series came out recently, so it’s given me plenty of opportunity to think about reader reviews.

Of course, there is no one way writers feel about reviews. All the Wickeds keep track of traditional media and blog reviews (and are grateful for them), but when it comes to reader reviews, we are all over the map. One of us never looks at Goodreads or Amazon, one of us checks obsessively, constantly looking for new reviews, and the rest fall on a spectrum in between.

To check for new reviews on Amazon, if the number of reviews shown for any book listed on your author page ticks upward, click on the number, then click on See all xx customer reviews, then scroll down and flip the Sort by choice to Most recent.

Yes, you are right, I have just outed myself as the one who “checks obsessively.”

amazon-logo_blackI think the main reason I check so frequently is because my business background taught me to hunger for constant and frequently updated data, and that is something us lay people just don’t get in the publishing biz. Apple can probably tell you within half an hour every iPhone that’s been sold, what the configuration and price was, and who sold it to whom. Publishers claim they can only reconcile book sales after six months, and can only inform authors about it six months after that. I admit it. It makes me crazy.

So I look for data anywhere I can find it, and reviews, especially number and frequency of reviews being added on Amazon and Goodreads, seem as good a proxy as any.

goodreadslogoThis means I read them all. The good ones are gratifying, of course. The less good ones are interesting, too. In every book I try something different, not to be perverse, and not because I am at all bored with the traditional/cozy form, but to avoid repetition and because I believe the tale I’m telling demands it.

For example with Fogged Inn, the book starts with the discovery of the body. The book moves forward in time from there, but Julia goes back to the night before the murder in conversations with people and in her personal reflections throughout the book. So not true flashbacks, but kind of. There are a lot of suspects, because each suspect is really a couple, that multiples the suspect pool by two. Finally, without spoilers, the resolution of the mystery is not a traditional one for an amateur sleuth.

Some readers react well to one or more these elements and say so in their reviews, and some don’t like one or more. Some people hate one or more. I am fascinated with the reactions.

The reviews that are the hardest to read are the ones that point out a spot in a book I know is weak. “Oh, man, ya caught me,” or “Darn, I didn’t paper that over as well as I thought,” is usually my reaction.

And some reviews are just really terrible. People hate the writing style or the protagonist or the story. Just hate it.

People who have never put anything out to the public to be judged often wonder how writers, or people working in any part of the arts or entertainment fields, deal with those “just hate it,” reviews.

Luckily, the “hate it” reviews are usually mixed in with several “loved it” reviews. Sometimes, the book is the wrong genre or in some other way a bad fit for the reader. As Sherry’s daughter says, “You can have the sweetest peach, but if the person you offer it to doesn’t like peaches…”

lbblogoEditing the Level Best Books series taught me how huge a role personal taste plays in people’s reactions to fiction. Us four editors, aside from being of two different genders, were probably demographically indistinguishable from one another from a pollster’s perspective. Yet, there were stories some of us loved and others hated. There were stories people argued passionately for that other people didn’t care about at all. And when we sent our little book out into the world, we were always surprised by which stories were recognized by awards or nominations and which were specifically mentioned in reviews. Honestly, most of the time I guessed wrong about what our standouts would be.

With novels,  it’s really all about the math. The number of reviews is probably a decent proxy for how well a book has sold, and the averages may tell you something about the quality, but the individual bad reviews don’t mean that much. In fact, the more popular a book is, the more likely people outside it’s core audience are to try it. So a book selling tons will usually have a lower Goodreads or Amazon average rating than a book selling only to its niche readers and no farther.

I know as a consumer of movies, when I look at Rotten Tomatoes, I look at average ratings for critics and for fans (and ponder it a bit if one is wildly different from the other in either direction) and base my decision to watch on those averages, not on the individual reviews.

One thing typical reader reviewers (as opposed to book bloggers and others who also leave reviews on Amazon, etc.) may not know is that when you follow reviews as closely as I do, you get to know who some frequent reviewers are, and you’re watching them just as they’re watching you. One man who has left glowing reviews for all the Maine Clambake Mysteries and even went to the Cabbage Island Clambake was disappointed with Fogged Inn. I feel badly about that and hope he stays around for the next book. Another reviewer has trashed every one of my books on Goodreads and vows every time not to read another one. I always think, “Good, don’t,” (despite everything I just said about averages and number of reviews). And yet she returns again and again.

I described these reviewers to a non-writer friend, and he found it creepy and stalkerish, both their interest in me and my knowledge of and interest in them. But I find it fun, and a part of my world. And I’m grateful to have them. Really.

Old Friends

by Barb, who is packing to go north, and sighing a lot

FoggedInnfrontcoveryellowIt’s release day for the fourth Maine Clambake Mystery, Fogged Inn! It’s the first of three books that take us through the off season in Busman’s Harbor, when the Snowden Family Clambake is closed and the tourists have gone home. Busman’s Harbor is a quieter, cozier place. Having made the (braver) decision at the end of Musseled Out to stay in town rather than return to her life in New York, Julia Snowden and her boyfriend Chris Durand are trying to make a go of running a dinner restaurant, sharing space with her friend and landlord Gus who serves up breakfast and lunch.

“Jule-YA! There’s a dead guy in the walk-in.”

The story begins when Gus finds the body of a stranger in his walk-in refrigerator. But who is the dead man? Is he connected to any of the diners who were in the restaurant the night before? Or to the car accident that trapped them there for hours?

When I wrote the first draft of Fogged Inn, I thought it was about coming home, since each of the retirees in the restaurant on that fateful night had returned to Maine to live. But, as so often happens to me, as I got to the end of the first draft, I discovered it wasn’t about that at all. It was about Old Friends.

Once I figured that out, I remembered the commencement address given by actor and writer Mike O’Malley at my daughter’s graduation from the University of New Hampshire in 2006. I admit I went into the event rolling my eyes. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush had already been announced as the joint speakers for 2007, and it didn’t help that my daughter explained who O’Malley was by referencing his show on Nickelodeon. (Of course, now that I know who he is, he’s everywhere.)

It turned out, as it so often does, that my low expectations were dramatically wrongheaded. O’Malley’s speech was heartfelt, wise, and resonated all the more because he had sat where those graduates were sitting. The relevant portion of the speech is this:

“Try as often as you can to give tribute to your friends, to stay in contact, to be at their momentous occasions. Drive across the country and go into debt to go to their weddings, fly across the country and be with them when their parents pass away. You cannot make any new old friends.”

(The whole address is worth a read at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:IanManka/Mike_O%27Malley

Then, this fall, long after the book had been turned in, my husband and I lost two old friends in a matter of months and the theme of the book became even more personal and meaningful. At their wakes, I saw people I have known and cared about for years, but whom I rarely see. My generation is not like my children’s. We didn’t have social media to keep us up on what was going on in each others’ lives. We didn’t have e-mail, and long distance calls were expensive and reserved for emergencies. We lost touch more than we should have.

At the second wake, an old friend said, “Why haven’t we seen each other in forty years?” The truth is we had kids, we got more responsibility in our careers, some of us moved to the suburbs, our lives were busy and crazy and satisfying. But there is absolutely nothing like those old friendships, where you can pick up where you left off as if no time has gone by.

At the end of the book I name some of those old friends of my youth. But as the months have gone along since I turned it in, I’ve realized there were even more who should have been listed.

I hope you enjoy Fogged Inn.

A Recipe from Fogged Inn

by Barb, in Key West, where it’s a frigid seventy degrees. Brrrrrr.

FoggedInnfrontcoveryellowHi all. I’m started to get excited about the launch of Fogged Inn, the fourth book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series which is coming on February 23rd.

Fogged Inn takes place in the off-season, when the Snowden Family Clambake is closed. To fill the long winter months, my protagonist Julia Snowden and her boyfriend Chris Durand have taken on the task of running a restaurant in their friend Gus’s place. Gus serves breakfast and lunch, as he has for fifty years. Julia and Chris take over for dinner, or as Gus calls it, “suppah.”

Julia and Chris are walking a fine line with the restaurant, which they call, “Gus’s Too.” They want it to be a casual neighborhood gathering place, but since it is the only eat-in restaurant open on the peninsula during the off-season, they also want it to be a place where a couple can have a “date night.” To attract a regular winter clientele, Julia and Chris know they have to keep the restaurant affordable, but to be a date night destination, they have to offer up something a little special. Plus, the meals have to be prepared and served with a skeleton staff–it’s only Julia and Chris as they find their way in the beginning. The food has to be creative to keep Chris’s interest, but not so creative that they lose their core customers. Finally, Gus is adamant that they not serve anything on his menu, which rules out burgers and dogs, lobster and clam rolls.

My husband, Bill, who develops the Maine Clambake recipes, and I had a lot of fun trying out recipes to suit Gus’s Too’s limited and ever-changing menu. (They offer only three entries, a chicken, a beef and an fish, along with three appetizers and two deserts every night.) There seemed to be constraints piled upon constraints. But happily, Bill threaded the needle and came up with some great ones.

Today I offer you–

Gus’s Too Date Night Stuffed Chicken Breast with Lemon-Tarragon Sauce

Adapted for home use, of course.

Ingredients

FoggedinnchickenChicken
4–6 ounces pancetta, cut into ¼-inch cubes
8 chicken cutlets pounded ¼-inch thick, 1/8-inch thick at the edges
1–2 cups baby spinach leaves
4–6 ounces Fontina cheese, cut into 1/8-inch cubes
2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup flour
3 eggs

Sauce
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth, warmed
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon tarragon, chopped

Instructions

Fry the pancetta over medium heat until browned.

Lay each cutlet flat on a board. Put a small handful of spinach leaves and 1 Tablespoon each of pancetta and Fontina cubes in the center. Roll the cutlet into a packet, folding the sides into the center and pinching to seal.

Put cutlets in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to complete sealing process.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan in a bowl and put half on a plate. Put flour on another plate, and lightly beat eggs with a fork in a separate bowl.

Remove chicken from the refrigerator. Roll each packet first in flour, being sure to shake off excess, then in egg, and finally in bread crumbs. Place on a wire rack set on a sheet pan.

Cook chicken for 40–45 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 165 degrees.

Foggedinnchicken2In the last twenty minutes or so of cooking time, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. After it stops foaming, add flour and whisk together constantly for about 3 minutes.

Begin adding broth slowly, whisking together, and continue to slowly add broth, whisking all the while.

Cook on medium-low heat until sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add lemon juice and chopped tarragon and cook for 1 minute more.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 4

If you try it, I hope you enjoy!