In Clammed Up, A Maine Clambake Mystery, Barbara Ross combines traditional and cozy genres in this first-in-series novel. Any cozy reader will find the cover, pictured left, irresistible. Barbara’s courageous main character, Julia Snowden, returns to her coastal Maine hometown to save the family business. The Snowdens serve up old-fashion clambakes on their private island to tourists. The business flounders after her father’s death, a cold economy, and debt payments to the bank. But her experience in the world of Manhattan venture capital doesn’t prepare her for all of the problems she encounters to put the business back in the black.
Please welcome Barbara Ross to WWK. E. B. Davis
1. Three years ago, Five Star published your traditional mystery, Death of an Ambitious Woman. What compelled you to write the clambake series and change publishers?
Thanks so much for having me.
Five Star is a wonderful publisher focused on hardcover sales to libraries, and I truly do recommend them to authors out there. But they only contract for one book at a time and only when a manuscript is complete. I knew for my next book I wanted to have the assurance of a series contract.
The word “clambake” came from my agent, John Talbot. My husband and I have a summer
house in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and I’d wanted to use the Maine setting for a long time. I remembered my Maine-based, mystery-writing friend, Lea Wait, told me her daughter had her wedding reception on a private island where a family ran clambakes, and I was off and running.
2. In real life, as in Clammed Up, Julia and her sister are very different people even though they were raised in the same environment by the same parents. What do you think accounts for the vast differences among siblings?
What a great question! This is exactly what I wanted to explore with those characters. I find it fascinating how people who grow up in the same environment can be so different. And in adulthood, those differences can be reflected in income and wealth, education, political views, child-raising and life philosophies, the whole of life.
All parents will tell you their children came into the world with a personality already present. And as a result, we parent each child differently—pushing the shy child forward and holding the impulsive child back. And younger children may come into a family with increasing financial security, or a family sliding increasingly toward dysfunction, so the family experience of siblings is different. The truth is, I don’t think we really know what causes those differences, but I find it so interesting.
3. There’s a whole lot of backstory of interest to readers in Clammed Up, such as how past generations of the Snowden family amassed a fortune only to lose it. Have you planned Julia’s character arc and the storyline of the series?
Yes, I have planned the arc out, or at least thought it out for the first three books of the series. But then you start writing and things change, though I think the major arc will turn out more or less as I planned.
4. You’ve created wonderful secondary characters, begging to lend themselves to future plots. Were
Well, you nailed it. Gus is very much based on a real person, now deceased. And his restaurant, though I changed the location to my fictional town, was very much as I describe it. Despite the fact that he was running a public accommodation, his policy was, “No strangers.” You had to know someone he knew to get in.
5. Julia finds that she can come home again. Do you think that’s true in real life?
Another great question. I’ve never tried it in my real life. Julia does come home, but she’s a different person, and the people around her have evolved, too. So part of coming home is discovering it’s different than the place you left.
6. Time is a character in your story—over which Julia has no control. How does she cope with uncontrollable factors?
Time and the weather, right? None of us control them, and in coastal Maine, with its short tourist season, they are very much on everyone’s mind. Julia is a doer and a problem-solver, so she focuses on the things she thinks she can control—like keeping her family’s business open. Turns out, she can’t actually, totally control that, either.
7. Food is a business objective in your story, and yet, those savory dinners bring a coziness factor that readers crave. Were your recipes from the family vault?
My husband is the cook in the family and he develops and tests all the recipes. One recipe in Clammed Up, the blueberry grunt that’s served at the Snowden Family Clambake, is actually from mystery writer Kate Flora’s family vault. She grew up picking blueberries in Maine for summer money and the recipe is her mother’s. The next book, Boiled Over, does contain some of my family recipes.
8. Various themes course through your book. Which one dominates and will be one you continue throughout the series?
Julia is thirty years old when Clammed Up opens and I think the series is about truly becoming a grown-up. She’s led an outwardly sophisticated life working for a venture capital firm in New York, but during the time she spends in Busman’s Harbor, she’ll face all the real grown-up decisions about how to live, who to love and who and what to be loyal to.
9. How involved does your agent, John Talbot, or your publisher, Kensington Publishing Corporation, become in the revision and editing process for the final manuscript?
I recommend both John Talbot and Kensington to any author. They are a joy to work with. And Kensington is meticulous about copy-editing, as well as great with covers, jacket copy, all those things. But the truth is, I always feel I better be prepared to see anything I send to them on the printed page. Ultimately, the responsibility is mine, and it’s my name on the book.
10. Many of your short stories have been published in anthologies by New England writers. Do you enjoy writing shorts, and will you continue?
I love writing shorts and plan to continue. Shorts are such a great place to experiment—with form, characters, narration, tone. Things I might not be brave enough yet to do in long form. Also, in shorts I’m willing to tackle subjects and characters I wouldn’t want to live with for a year.
11. Have you developed the next book? If so, can you give us the book jacket copy?
The next book is Boiled Over, coming May 6, 2014 and now available for pre-order on Amazon.
It’s Founder’s Weekend, the peak of summer in Busman’s Harbor, Maine and Julia Snowden hopes to make a killer impression serving perfectly cooked lobster to the hungry tourist hordes. But then a charred foot tumbles out of the clambake fire, and Cabe Stone, the Snowden Family Clambake Company’s newest employee flees the scene. The whole town’s ready to find the young man guilty, but Julia has her own reasons to believe in Cabe. So despite the high season’s relentless demands on her time—from running her business to pursuing her new romance with sexy, but mysterious Chris Durand—Julia must fight the state police and the townspeople to catch a killer and prove Cabe’s innocence.
12. My coast in N.C. provides a different beach than your Maine coast. What is it about your New England coast that draws you to it?
For me, it’s the rocky coastline and the flinty, independent people. Do I crave huge sand beaches and warmer water sometimes? Yes, totally. That’s what travel is for. Maine is home.
For more information about Barbara’s writing, please cruise over to her website at: http://maineclambakemysteries.com/