Thursday, September 5, 2013

CLAMMED UP? Barbara Ross is anything but!

YESTERDAYS WINNER! Joan Emerson, earliest riser with the right answers! Email me (Hallie "at" HallieEphron dot com) to select your prize...

 HALLIE EPHRON: So a week ago I was sitting on the porch of a little cottage on Peaks Island in Maine reading Barbara Ross's new novel, CLAMMED UP, her first Maine Clambake Mystery. I felt like I was IN the book which is set on a Maine Island with a clambake catered wedding. My daughter had a fabulous clambake wedding on Peaks four years ago.

Of course my daughter is the furthest thing from a Bridezilla, still the issues that seem so huge before a wedding resonated. But in CLAMMED UP, when the best man was discovered ... let's just say "indisposed," I happily settled into the realms of fiction.

So what I want to know, Barbara is to what extent you're drawing from your own experience when it comes to writing Maine islands, clambakes, and Bridezillas?

BARBARA ROSS: Actually, like a good writer, I was drawing on someone else’s history. Maine writer Lea Wait had mentioned casually to me that one of her daughters had her wedding reception on a private island that did a real Maine clambake. So when my agent asked me what I thought about a clambake for a series, the wheels began to turn.

I’m sure Lea’s daughter was the furthest thing from a Bridezilla, too. And I have to say, the poor bride in my book is provoked. Interestingly, Lea’s latest mystery novel has a wedding in it, too—SHADOWS OF A CAPE COD WEDDING.

HALLIE: The food, the scenery, the short, glorious summer -- it makes Maine a great place to be in August. What are its advantages of Maine as the setting for a mystery novel?

BARBARA: There is something about Maine and mysteries, isn’t there?
And mystery writers—from Mary Roberts Rinehart to today’s Sarah Graves, Paul Doiron, and all my peeps over at Maine Crime Writers. And that’s just crime fiction. Stephen King, Richard Russo….

I think it’s the variation—the sea, the mountains, the lakes, the woods, the wealthy in their summer mansions, the rural poverty. There’s pretty much not a theme you can think of you couldn’t play out in Maine.

HALLIE: Your main character is delightful. Julia is trying to rescue her family's business (that's a REAL clambake under way in the photograph below), her family island, and herself from insolvency and the questionable decisions of her brother-in-law Sonny.  

Did you know how much trouble she was going to get into when you started writing?

BARBARA: I knew Sonny was the antagonist and would give Julia a run for her money. By the time she arrives back in Maine, she’s a dyed in the wool New Yorker, used to change everyday. Sonny’s a traditionalist, conservative in the non-political sense (though probably in the political sense as well). She has all these new ideas to save the clambake business, and he hates them.

I always start by leaving a body in some difficult place and then writing the story to figure out how it got there and who would have had motive to put it there. So in that sense, I had no idea how much trouble Julia would get into.

HALLIE: Setting a mystery on a tiny island is just the kind of thing Agatha Christie would... in fact, DID do in And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians). Did you have that in your mind as you were writing and what are the challenges and opportunities that the island setting brings with it?

BARBARA: Well, of course Agatha was a genius at what she did. But let me tell you, the real challenge would be writing a second mystery set on that island. How many people can you kill off on a little Maine island?

Some things appeared to be huge advantages for a mystery—no cell phones, no internet, the geographic isolation. But as much as I gained from these features, they also presented challenges. It was like, “Man, I’ve got to get everybody out to the %^&* island again. Where’d I leave the #$%^ boat?”


Tell us what you're working on, and when can we expect the next Maine Clambake Mystery?

BARBARA: On September 1, I handed in Book 2 in the Maine Clambake Mystery series. Boiled Over will be published in May 2014.

And I’m working on the next anthology from Level Best Books, Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold, which will be released in November. I’m really excited about it. And, if I can say, so I love my story in the collection, “Bread Baby.”

HALLIE: Thanks, Barbara! Do you have any favorite island memories to share? Any weddings where you'd happily have committed murder? Share!

Extra points to anyone who knows why a "real" clambake include a hard boiled egg

Barbara will be giving one lucky commenter a signed copy of CLAMMED UP.


  1. (I left a comment here an hour ago! Where'd it go?)

    So excited that Barb's book is finally out!

    I have friends who love Peak's and go every year but I've never been, and I've never partaken in a clambake, either. I foresee an excursion next summer.

    My Maine island story: 30 years ago with a boyfriend. Sending a postcard to Russy Gott to schedule a ride over to Gott's Island. Pumping water in the kitchen. Gazing out at the rocks and water from the door-free outhouse. Sipping bourbon at sunset watching ospreys dive. Books and hikes and all the time in world. Heaven.

  2. Can't wait to read this, Barb!

    Yes, what is it about Maine? I just watched an old Doris Day movie, It Happened to Jane, about a woman running a family lobster business. She took on a railroad magnate for...some movie reason I can't recall, but they all ended up singing about it. (There's no singing in your book, is there?) The setting was light and delightful, but your comment about the variety and abundance of theme possibilities--you made a good choice, clearly.

  3. Edith: fortunately there's running water on Peaks... and LOBSTERS! There's a shack at the end of the boat dock where they haul them right up out of the ocean.

    The island in Barbara's book seems idyllic!

    Ramona, yes there is 'something' about Maine. Scenes from the movie CAROUSEL are filmed in Boothbay Harbor.

  4. I lost a comment, too. Oh, well. Good luck, Barbara. Sounds good!

  5. Sorry, my fault about lost comments... I posted the blog without a title and that screwed everything up. So reposted and lost 5 wonderful comments. Sob.

  6. Reposting my earlier comment:
    No island stories to share, I fear . . . no Maine clambakes [unfortunately] either, although I do know the “why” for the egg . . . . Barbara, the book sounds . . . well, delicious and it’s going on my to-be-read mountain . . . .

  7. Eggs were traditionally used like a thermometer. When the eggs were cooked, everything was done.

  8. Egg -- protein for non-seafood eaters? What else do we cook by boiling? Add carrots?

    Years ago, on Peaks Island, when a walk around the island was my idea of fun, I was challenged by my friend's boyfriend (later husband, later ex) to swim out to a small island.


    I got out there (COLD WATER), but needed a rowboat to get me back to shore.

    And then there was the time we turned off all the clocks and lived on our own sense of time.

  9. I have been to one clambake in my life - I may have been 9. I still remember it as very good. Dee

  10. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, Reds. I'm really excited about this book.

  11. I have to say..although I LOVE CLAMMED UP and I adore you, Barb ross..I don't really love real clambakes.

    (I know, boo hiss.)

    Everything seems gritty and sandy and too hot or too cold and and and..anyway. chacun a son gout.

    But Barb your book is delish!

    And that's fascinating about the egg! Really?

  12. I'd love to win! Looking forward to reading this one!

  13. Never been to Maine. Never been to a clambake. Sigh.

    But that's why we read books, right? And I expect that after I read Barbara's, I'll want to go to Maine for a clambake just as much as I want to go to Lucy's Key West.

    Edith: "Books and hikes and all the time in the world." Truly heaven.

  14. Clambakes are an exotic East Coast thing to me. That photo of a real clambake got me more curious than ever about them...Guess I'll have to read CLAMMED UP! Poor me...:-)

    Yeah, I wanted to kill my date at my sister's wedding! My date was an old friend from college. I should have gone stag. He was such a horn-dog and stoner, and I'd forgotten that about him. Not with me, but with every waitress and single woman in the place. What was funny as students had turned slimy.

  15. I’ve been to plenty of clambakes and I spend a fair amount of time in Maine, I’ve just never managed to do the two together. Fifty years ago I spent summers with extended family in Hull, Mass, where us kids would dig clams early in the day and the grownups would steam them to go with our dinner every night. This was way back before the digging ban and boy were they yummy. Your book sounds wonderful, I will have to add it to my TBR pile.

  16. If I could write a book anywhere lobsters are in abundance, I'd be in heaven.

    Good luck with the book, Barbara.

  17. POINTS to RobinPS on the egg! Yup! It told them when everthing else was "done"...

    I've been to one truly traditional clambake - pit in the back yard, lined with rocks and coals, throw in wet seaweed and all the food packed up in seawater soaked canvas, cover it, and leave it to smoke. The taste was INCREDIBLE. FABULOUS. Unlike anything I've had or since.

  18. Denise Ann - Love your story about Peaks! The water is still icy, even in late August. Turn your toes blue. And there is a strong current just off shore between the beach and that island you must have swum to.

  19. I'm so glad so many of you love Maine! I was born and brought up here but lived in exile in Massachusetts for 20+ years. We're retired and back in Maine.

    I met my husband on Long Isalnd, the next island to Peaks. It ws a blind date with my co-worker's cousin. My friend had a cottage right on the beach (it looked out to Peaks) and she said we'd have fun for the weekend. Her cousin and her fiance met us at the ferry. My husband says "she had a sleeping bag under one arm and a six-pack under the other and I knew she was the girl for me!" That was 40 years ago. True story, we knew that day that we'd be getting married. A year later, we did.

    My niece got married on a private island (in the middle of Boothbay Harbor, if you know the area.) We had to go out by boat and some of the groomsmen kayaked out and drifted quite a bit out of the way and had to be towed to the island in time for the wedding.

    I have this book on my TBR list. I have a feeling I may recognize some locals. Best of luck with this book, Barb.

  20. I've never been to a clambake but I'd go to one if the weather was guaranteed to be warm but not TOO warm, and sunny; oh,and not humid!

    On a couple of occasions I've passed through Maine on the way to Canada but have never actually visited Maine. I think I need to read Barb's book to experience Maine AND a clambake!

  21. You're all welcome to come to Maine. We could have a Jungle Reds lobsterbake - without sand. Clams are just one part of the lobsterbake. Clams, corn, potato, sausage, chowder, and blueberry cake for dessert. :-)

  22. Putting this on my TBR list - didn't realize how much reading I enjoyed took place in Maine. As for how many people you can kill off on a small island -- if it's anything like Cabot Cove (Murder, She Wrote) you can kill off quite a few!

  23. Marianne--That's the place! Cabbage Island Clambakes in Boothbay Harbor. I totally recommend it! Fortunately, they like my book.

    Deb--Your books make me want to be in England. I am such a crazy fan of the maps in your books, that when I met Attica Locke (whose book The Cutting Season is great, btw) I was all about the map in her book which is the same artist.

    Rhys--I know, the sacrifices I make for art! For the second book, I was forced to go to a blueberry festival.

    Hank--all the more for us!

    Grandma--yes--what is it about Maine and books? So many great authors. Down East Magazine calculated Cabot Cove had a murder rate that exceeded Honduras, the murder capital of the world.

  24. Barb, you know I love the way you write! My first taste of your terrific style was your short story, House Calls, in Blood Moon: Best New England Crime Stories. I've been a huge fan ever since.

    An egg? Really Barb? Is that a downeast thing? I'm 10th generation Salem/Marblehead/Ipswich Massachusetts. Never heard of an egg in a clam bake.

    We just dig a sand pit the night before, drink beer and have a bonfire. Next day we spread the coals and drink more beer. Line with seaweed, and layer in the lobsters and clams. Cover. Cook. Wait. Eat. Drink more beer. When the tide is right we walk home.


  25. Yes, Reine--the beer is very important!

    And thanks for the shout-out for House Calls!

  26. It is so cool to read everyone's thoughts about Maine, clambakes and especially Peaks Island, where I lived year-round for many years. I've been on the mainland for the past five, but still spend a lot of time on the island.

    For me, this is an especially timely column (and Barb's book has a timely release date) because I will be officiating at a wedding on Peaks this very weekend. (Lawyers in Maine can conduct weddings, and every now and then I agree to lead special friends through their I dos.)

    The wedding is on the dock at TEIA (the boat club at Evergreen Landing) Saturday afternoon. The rehearsal dinner on Friday evening is at the Fifth Maine and it is a lobster bake.

    So, all you Peaks fans, can you picture it? Coolish breeze off the water, salt perfuming the air, love all around.

    Barb, congratulations on launching your new series. I cannot wait to dig in.

  27. My comment was lost too--huge congrats Barb--can't wait to read this book!

    I've spent a little time in Maine, as my sister and mother in law live in Cape Elizabeth. but the most striking visits were as a chaperone for our church youth group in Orland, ME. We helped build houses--the poverty was stunning. Not sure what you could do with that for a cozy mystery though...

  28. Hooray Barb! I'm very much looking forward to reading Clammed Up. It's high on my TBR list.

    Hallie, your post today is so fun for me. I love hearing everyone's thoughts about Maine, clambakes, and especially Peaks Island, where I lived year-round for many years. (If you want to hear island stories that will make you laugh and cry, find me at Crime Bake . . .)

    We moved to the mainland about five years ago but still spend a lot of time with our friends on Peaks, and this very weekend I will be at a wedding there that includes a lobster bake.

    The rehearsal dinner is the lobster bake part, at The Fifth Maine tomorrow evening. The wedding itself will take place late afternoon on Saturday, on the dock at TEIA (the boat club at Evergreen Landing).

    The groom grew up in Portland and Peaks. The bride is from Minnesota, and such a good sport.

    Can all you Peaks Island-loving commenters picture it? A slight fall chill in the salty breeze. The sun turning Casco Bay a dozen shades of gold. And, most special of all, love in the air.

    Thanks for a swell post, Hallie, and Barb, big congratulations to you.

    Brenda B.

  29. Sorry for the double post. I suffered computer woes today.

  30. Maine is my idea of heaven--but not in the winter, thank you!

  31. Brenda--sounds perfect. I hope for wonderful weather for the happy couple.

    Lucy--I haven't veered away from how hard it can be for the locals to live in a resort town. And though I haven't explored grinding poverty I don't rule it out. In the second book we go off to a camp where the blueberry rakers live. However, book 2 hasn't yet been read/accepted by my editor!