LUCY BURDETTE: I love love love Barbara Ross's Maine Clambake mystery series. Her characters feel so real, and the setting is interesting and unique. As she was preparing to launch her fourth book, Fogged Inn, I persuaded her to visit us here. And we not only get her smart blog post, we get her husband Bill's fabulous photographs.
Barbara Ross: Thank you so much to the Jungle Reds for having me. I had dinner with two of the Reds in Key West this week, (Hi Lucy! Hi Hallie!), but sadly now my husband and I are making the long drive back to New England.
The latest book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series, Fogged Inn, was released last week. I love writing this series about the Maine coast and the complexities of life and society in Busman’s Harbor, a small Maine town dependent on lobstering and the tourist dollars it can generate in its short summer season. And I love writing about my protagonist, Julia Snowden, a young woman who returns to town to save her family’s failing clambake business from bankruptcy.
As I’ve written the Maine Clambake series, I’ve thought a lot about the question of class and the complexity that topic all across American life. I suspect like a lot of authors, I find it to be a minefield.
For one thing, there’s the general role of class in American life, which is often contradictory and hard to understand. It has to do with money, or perhaps more broadly with resources, but not exclusively, and also with outlook, aspiration, opportunity, and peers (who are, in some cases, resources).
Julia Snowden is the product of a marriage between a summer person mother, whose family owns a mansion on a private island, and a dad who as a teen delivered groceries to the island on his skiff. By the time Julia’s parents marry, there isn’t much economic difference between their families. Julia’s mother’s family fortune is long gone. Though they’ve hung onto the island, the mansion is empty and in disrepair. Julia’s grandfather on her father’s side is a successful lobsterman.
But, as Julia says in Clammed Up, the first book in the series. “A town person marrying a summer person was still rare, but had been even rarer when my parents married thirty-two years ago. Especially a marriage between a high-school educated boy and a girl from a family that owned an island. As a result I’ve always felt a little apart. Neither a local nor a summer person, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I went to elementary school and junior high in the harbor, but always knew I’d go away for high school. It wasn’t a financial thing. During my childhood there was still good money to be made from lobstering, fishing and construction. I was separated by a mother From Away, and my parents’ expectations for me.”
In some ways, the complexities of Julia’s family echo those of any resort town. As she explains in, Boiled Over, “Oh geez, the socio-dynamics of a resort town. The natives look down on the seasonal homeowners, who look down on the monthly house-renters, who look down on the weekly hotel-stayers, who look down the weekenders, who look down on the day-tripping tourists, who look down on the natives, in an endless cycle of misunderstanding.”
As I write the characters that populate my Maine town, the locales, the summer people, the retirees, and the tourists, I want to give them all their due—to recognize their struggles, honor their perspectives and not judge their choices (or in some cases, lack of choice). I find the best way is to be specific—to write about specific people, with specific histories, in a specific place. The road to stereotypes is paved with generic characters and settings, and I find myself attracted to stories that recognize the complexities and contradictions of real lives.
Readers, how to you react to the social structures occupied by the characters in books you read? Writers how do you negotiate the minefield of class in America in the characters you create?
Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries, Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out and Fogged Inn. Clammed Up was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and was a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara blogs with a wonderful group of Maine mystery authors at Maine Crime Writers and with a group of writers of New England-based cozy mysteries at Wicked Cozy Authors.