Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Community on the Shore: a guest blog by Wendy Sand Eckel

 
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We host lots of old pros here at Jungle Reds, but there's a special pleasure in helping to introduce a debut author.  Wendy Sand Eckel has a background in criminology and psychotherapy, but unlike many first-timers, she wasn't driven to recreate her own work in fiction, Instead, MURDER AT BARCLAY MEADOWS was inspired by a place, the uniquely rural and watery communities of Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's there her heroine, Rosalie Hart, retreats to put her life back together after her marriage of twenty-plus years collapses. Are there bodies? Of course there are, and a suspicious sheriff, and a rugged man who knows his way around a farm, and a gaggle of friends dying to poke their noses into murder... but above all, there's the beautiful, tide-driven Eastern Shore...





One day in Miss Havers fourth grade class, I decided I was going to live in the State of Maryland when I grew up. We were studying the fifty states and their capitals and I had become enamored with Marylands state flag. It was the coolest flag Id ever seen.

At the time, I lived in New Philadelphia, Ohio, population 14,000. It was a nice enough town, with a football team that was referred to as the Fighting Quakers.No one seemed to get the irony. But growing up I felt as if I had been squeezed into shoes that were too small. So on that fateful day in fourth grade, I hatched a plan to bust out of there first chance I got.

I didnt make it to Maryland until I was twenty-four. I started out in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where I learned to drive like a beltway bandit and developed a loathing for tourists. But once my children were born, it was time to find a quieter place to settle.

The only way to get to the Eastern Shore of Maryland from the west is to traverse the terrifying and sometimes paralyzing, Chesapeake Bay Bridge. At 4.3 miles long and a maximum clearance of 186 feet, driving over it is an experience that can trigger shallow breathing and light headedness in even the hardiest of drivers.

Once you touch down on the Eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay you have entered the land of pleasant living.The terrain is pancake flat and prone to flooding due to the matrix of rivers and inlets plunging into the shoreline.

During his tenure as Marylands governor, William Donald Schaefer made it his mission to build a major highway through the Eastern Shore all the way to the Atlantic. He termed it, reach the beach.Unfortunately he was overheard referring to that part of his state as the shit house side of Maryland.To this day you can still find pickup trucks sporting bumper stickers expressing pride for being from such a place.

But the Eastern Shore isnt to be passed over. It is rich with culture, history, and its own unique flavor of quirkiness. Acres of smart growth legislation have kept most of the towns small, the farms big, and the big box stores quarantined to strips along the highway.

I lived there for eight interesting years and may retire there if I have my way. I lived in Kent County, located about 20 miles north of Route 50, the highway that slices through the middle of the shore.The county seat has a population of 4,000. It has remained that size for hundreds of years.

In Kent County its not unusual to find watermen in their rubber waders at the mini stop stocking up on a case or two of beer at four in the morning before they go out on the water to hunt for blue crab, giant rockfish, or bushels of oysters. One town in particular has a shoes optional policy. It isnt written in law, its just one of those things that everyone knows.

The land is rich, the people kind and friendly, doors are never locked, and street signs are superfluous. I nestled in when I arrived and soaked it up. But the residents of Kent County are proud people and are often suspicious of newcomers like me. Rightly so because most dont stay. New arrivals often try to modernize and improvethe small towns. But inevitably they slow their pace, speak with the slightest hint of a twang, and forget where they put their house keys.

I guess it shouldnt surprise me that I found myself back in a small town. Although small enough, Kent County felt different from the home of the fighting Quakers. On the Eastern Shore the land is lush and the culture flavorful. People are tanned and weathered from life on the water, both for work and pleasure. One feels connected with the soil. Relationships tight. Families close by. Moods become tidal. Both feet are planted solidly on the ground.

I had to leave. And one day I will return. But for now, I can write about this unique and magical place that I love and at least on some level, feel as if I am once again immersed in that community.

MURDER AT BARCLAY MEADOW:  Rosalie Hart's world has been upended. After her husband's affair, she exiles herself to her late aunt's decaying farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore. When she finds a body floating in the marsh grasses of Barclay Meadow, she feels a responsibility to find out the truth about the girl's "accidental" death.

Friends from her creative writing class, local farmer Tyler Wells, who is assisting in the restoration of Barclay Meadow, and an interest in baking spurred by her aunt's yellowed recipes help Rosalie start to come alive again. But as she zeroes in on what really happened to the dead girl, she begins getting ominous threats...

You can find out more about Wendy, and Murder at Barclay Meadow, at her website. You can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter as @WendySandEckel, and hear her talking about books and writing on YouTube.

22 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Congratulations, Wendy . . . "Murder at Barclay Meadow" and its setting in a place with its "own unique flavor of quirkiness" sounds like an intriguing book to add to my to-be-read pile.

Ramona said...

Hi Wendy. I'm on the other side of the bay, in Delaware, but I belong to the Eastern Shore Writers Association, which does good work for Delmarva writers. You've picked a rich and beautiful setting, with or without actual fighting Quakers! And yes, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is beyond terrifying.

Delaware has a Kent County too, but I realize I have no idea why. Who was Kent? Off to research, and buy your book! It sounds terrific. Best of luck with it.

Reine said...

I love the setting and Rosalie Hart! Looking forward to reading your book!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome Wendy! The setting sounds perfect for a mystery. We used to drive past this area every year on the way to Hatteras NC, but you've made it come to life! I'm wondering whether you went back to the area while writing the book, or whether it came from your memories?

Kristopher said...

Wendy's book has been on my list of titles to read since I first heard about it. Of course, being a Maryland citizen for all by 7 years of my life, this should come as no surprise. Love my local authors.

I completely agree with you about the state flag, Wendy. Isn't it just gorgeous? So unique amongst a sea of sameness.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Wendy! I fell in love with Maryland after doing a signing at Mystery Loves Company in Oxford. Such a lovely place — both town and bookstore. I look forward to reading your book!

Mary Sutton said...

"Shoes optional." Sounds like my kind of place. I'll have to visit some day, but without my daughter. She already has a bridge phobia (and we live in Pittsburgh!), so I wouldn't want to traumatize her. =)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

The fighting Quakers. LOVE that. (I was in a restaurant once, and heard one person in the booth behind me say to the other: "And not just Quakers! Seminoles!" That has haunted me ever since.)

I;ve never been to the Eastern shore…hmmm. Maybe I could go via your book! SO great to "meet " you today!

Denise Ann said...

I love this setting -- there is such an incredible mix of personalities in the small towns of Maryland's Eastern Shore -- and the physical beauty! I love that the main character gets support from her writing group!!

Susan said...

Wendy, your book sounds great -- will definitely add it to my list. I love that you started with a place and developed the rest of it from there.

I'm from Ohio, too, so I have grown up always knowing of "the fighting Quakers," and I, too, love the irony.

But Hank, that quote you repeated made me literally laugh out loud. Guffaw, really. Wouldn't you love to know what that was about!?!?!

Hallie Ephron said...

Loved reading this - and I so agree, one of the benefits not being a writer is you get to revisit the favorite places of your past. Beyond Baltimore I've never spent time in Maryland. Adding the Eastern Shore to my "list." It's probably a great place to bird, and I'm a birder.

Julia said...

Denise Ann, the writer's group was what snagged me at first! I love the idea of a woman working on reinventing herself by trying out writing - and it rings very true to life, since so many of us do take up writing well after we've put our hands to other trades, or to raising a family.

Also, I'm always a sucker for a mystery with bit of romance in it. Always.

Kristopher said...

Hank and Hallie - you have never signed at Mystery Loves Company? That seems a surprise. You really should, just for the excuse to visit the Eastern Shore. Do it on a weekend, and I'll come too.

Wendy Eckel said...

Thanks for your comments! The Eastern Shore is a great place to bird and I will check out Mystery Loves Company. Just for the record, New Philadelphia is a pretty cool town too. But sometimes you have to search for the place where you 'fit.' And I sure found it.

Deborah Crombie said...

Wendy, Mystery Loves Company is a wonderful bookstore, and Kathy Harig, the owner, is a great supporter of mystery authors. I signed there on tour last year, and spent a few lovely days being toured around the Eastern Shore by my friend Marcia Talley (who lives in Annapolis.) Such beautiful country. Your book sounds terrific and I will look forward to it.

Kathy Reel said...

Wendy, I am thrilled to discover you here at the beginning of this series! It is going to be a series, right? I hope so. The setting already has me hooked. I'm not from Maryland and have never lived there, but when my husband was stationed at the Pentagon, we loved spending time in Maryland on several trips. Going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was amazing!

And, speaking of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, sometime in the last few years, I've seen a piece about it on television concerning driving services for hire that will drive people across the bridge and back later because some people are that terrified of driving on that particular bridge. I remember one customer who had to cross the bridge for work, and she absolutely could not bring herself to drive across it, so she was a regular customer of the service that was featured. She would park her car on the side of the bridge where she lived, take the car service across and back later that day. I can't remember if the car service took her to work or what she did once the bridge was crossed. Maybe she got a bus or a taxi. The guy who had the carrying business was just a regular Joe with a knack for seeing a need.

I am so looking forward to reading about the eastern shore of Maryland and Rosalie. Thanks for sharing yourself and your book with us today, Wendy. Oh, and I, too, love the name The Fighting Quakers.

Jim Collins said...

Maryland twice this week! At least I have an excuse for not having read Wendy's book years ago ;-). I remember going to see the horses at Assateague. Will definitely look for this one!

Jim in Durham (formerly in Rockville)

Lisa Alber said...

Welcome, Wendy! I love series that are set in unique, atmospheric locations. Plus, what's better than going to the places we love for writing research? :-) Do you go back often?

Looking forward to reading this!

Pat D said...

Wendy,this story sounds great. We lived in N.E. Ohio for about 18 years. Don't you love school team names. Some town in Texas has the Fighting Farmers. Here in Houston we have the Lamar Indians. Any Texan will tell you that Mirabeau B. Lamar was an Indian hater, so the school team name has always cracked me up. I'm not familiar with your area of Maryland but it sounds beautiful. I look forward to reading all about it in your book.

Wendy Eckel said...

I got paired up on a golf course in New Jersey today with a guy from Coshocton, OH. We played them in football. They were the angry Indians. Yes, the Eastern Shore is stunning and I go as often as I can. My youngest returned and is living there now which gives me the best excuse to revisit. I've heard of the car service for the Bay Bridge. The best way to cross is to focus on the beauty, not the tractor trailer behind you! And yes, this is a series. I just got the cover art for the second book and am in the final stages of editing. Thanks for all of your wonderful comments!

Stacy Sand said...

Having grown up in the same household as Wendy, I have had the pleasure of reading a few of Wendy's books. As a member of a mystery book discussion group at White Birch Books in North Conway, NH, I read at least a mystery each month, and we are always looking for new mystery series to get hooked on. We are reading Wendy's book for September and getting to discuss it with her on Sept. 10th. I'm so hoping the rest of our group enjoys it as much as I do. Come join us and visit another beautiful area of the world.

Gail said...

Lovely post. I'm a Maryland girl, currently living in rural NY near Ithaca. My family is from the Shore, near Salisbury". I am looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the sweet post!