Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Maine Clambake Author Barbara Ross

The busy summer tourist season is winding down in Busman's Harbor, Maine, but Julia Snowden senses trouble simmering for the Snowden Family Clambake Company. Shifty David Thwing--the "Mussel King" of upscale seafood restaurants--is sniffing around town for a new location. But serving iffy clams turns out to be the least of his troubles. . .

When Thwing is found sleeping with the fishes beneath a local lobsterman's boat,
 the police quickly finger Julia's brother-in-law Sonny as the one who cooked up the crime.
Sure, everyone knows Sonny despised the Mussel King. . .but Julia believes he's innocent.
 Proving it won't be easy, though. It seems there's a lot more than murder on the menu, and Julia needs to act fast. . .

Barbara Ross’s Musseled Out entertains, but her plot homes in on contemporary issues of drug smuggling and U.S. fishing and prescription drug policies. Until my sister, who has Rheumatoid Arthritis, went on Medicare, I was unaware of the drug issues facing the elderly. Medicare won’t pay for some effective and convenient drugs, which health insurance companies cover for younger people. Barbara’s plot touches this topic, striking a chord in me. Musseled Out is an entertaining read and a wonderful cozy mystery, but it is also much more.

Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK!                                                                                   E. B. Davis      

The plot follows the trials of Maine’s lobsterman. How do you know so much about their territorial rights, fighting amongst themselves, and the general industry? Are these commonplace in Maine?

Lobster wars (also called gear wars in their less nuclear state because the warring sides interfere with each others’ buoys, lines and traps) do happen in Maine, but they are rare. I first became aware of them when I read Linda Greenlaw’s book, The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island. She’s the real female fishing boat captain in The Perfect Storm, and she also wrote the bestseller The Hungry Ocean. She took time off from captaining to run a small lobster boat out of Isle le Haut, an island in Maine with a year-round population of seventy. During the year she covers in the book, there were territorial tensions and some lobstermen, including Linda, wanted a lobster war. But others were wary, because there’s always a quid pro quo. I also read The Lobster Gangs of Maine, which is a little dated, but is considered a seminal work of anthropology.

With seafood supply declining for various reasons, those who make a living from the sea must find alternate sources of income. Employing their boats and skills added to Maine’s proximity to Canada, introduces the smuggling solution, which isn’t new. Unlike past smuggled decadent substances, prescription drugs have become hot contraband in demand by the elderly. Have there been arrests in Maine due to the smuggling of prescription drugs disfavored by Medicare, commonly abused drugs, and foreign drugs, which are unapproved by the FDA?

Most of the drug smuggling in Maine of late has been prescription narcotics. There has been an epidemic of opiate addiction in Maine, just as in other parts of the country. And, the elderly and other people in lots of border states do travel to Canada to fill prescriptions. It’s a federal crime, but my understanding is federal agents look the other way if you bring in no more than three months supply for personal use. Maine passed a law specifically allowing its citizens to legally obtain prescriptions from Canada and three other countries by mail, but it was recently struck down in federal court. No matter what, bringing in larger quantities of prescription drugs, not intended specifically for you, is dangerous and illegal.

You’ve set the book in autumn, which seems fitting because there are many culminations that occur, a harvest of Julia’s year back home. Was this happenstance, or did you plan the two to coincide?

I always knew the first three books in the series would take place at the beginning of the clambake season (Clammed Up), at its peak (Boiled Over), and at the end (Musseled Out). During most of the time I was working on Musseled Out, I didn’t know if there would be more books, and also I’m not a huge fan of story arcs that go on and on forever, so I did tie up a bunch of plotlines. Happily, I can report that there will be three more books, at least. I’m working on the fourth one, Fogged Inn, right now.

All writers conjure unique names for reader identification. But really, Barb, David Thwing—the Mussel King? Is Thwing a real name?

It is. Unique names are one of the techniques I use to help busy readers keep characters straight. I had a guy who worked for me whose last name is Thill. I wanted something like that, but not that, so I did some research.

Your first book in the series, Clammed Up, epitomized your characters. The same holds true in this book. Sonny and Julia’s mom, Jacquie, aren’t forthcoming about accounting for their time. Is everyone in Maine, tight-lipped, self-contained, and singular?

I suppose Mainers, or Mainiacs, as they are also called, have as many personality types as anywhere else. But, there’s no question that keeping yourself to yourself, not butting in, living and letting live are all thought of as traits common in northern New Englanders. They’re not cold per se, they just don’t see the point in moaning about their problems or spending time in a lot of chit chat.

Sonny is one of my favorite characters because he is so stubborn. He frustrates Julia. But then, she is also stubborn. They share enough traits that they should get along. Do “likes” often butt heads?

Oh, how interesting. I see Sonny as conservative with a small “c,” interested in preserving what is. Julia, with her venture capital background, is more interested in shaking things up, changing things out. But you’re right, when they both dig in their heels, conflict is inevitable. The funny part is, the clambake requires both points of view. It needs to honor tradition, and give customers what they are looking for today. So Julia’s and Sonny’s views balance each other and work together to make the business successful. If only they could appreciate that.

Chris Durand, Julia’s boyfriend, doesn’t have as definitive a moral compass as Julia. But he has a good heart. Will this be enough to bridge their differences?    

Julia and Chris have a lot of gaps to fill. Gaps in education, earning potential, lifestyles. But by the same token, each appreciates the other’s qualities. (Contrast that with Sonny and Julia in the previous question.) I honestly don’t know what is going to happen.

I knew a Maine Coon Cat named Matt (Dillon), a big boy like most of the breed. Le Roi is a wonderful character and reminds me of Matt. Is he based on any Maine Coon in your life?

Le Roi is based on two cats I owned. Roo who was my family’s cat growing up, and Flash whom I adopted while I was in college in order to end a breakup/makeup cycle with a highly allergic boyfriend. Le Roi’s Maine Coon traits are grafted on, I’m afraid, but there are real cats at the heart of his character.

Do all sisters chafe?

Livvie and Julia do fine when they interact with each other as adults. Livvie’s the only one who calls Julia on her BS, and we all need someone in our lives who’s willing to do that. But when they fall back into viewing each other through the prism of the roles they had as kids, the obedient one, the rebel, etc., they get themselves into trouble.

Quentin, blue eyed, suntanned, smart, good values and gut-instincts, moneyed and forks it over in the Snowden’s favor—why doesn’t Julia take a shine to him?

Quentin’s enough older and so much wealthier than Julia that it’s hard to imagine a romantic relationship of anything near equals. It’s not out of the question. It’s just not the first place you’d go. Plus, Sonny muddied the waters at the beginning by telling Julia that Quentin is gay. Julia and Quentin are getting to be closer friends, and despite that fact that he feels free to give opinions about her work life and love life, he’s told her next to nothing about himself or his past relationships. So again, an unequal pairing, not conducive to romance. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing, which Julia clearly isn’t.)

Julia doesn’t seem like a procrastinator, but when it comes to decision-making, she doesn’t do well. Her decisions are made by default, hedging all the angles. Will she get better at decision-making or continue waffling?

Since I’m not a fan of dithering, I hope she gets her groove back. She does have a tendency to overthink, but it’s at its worst in Musseled, due to the enormous impact on her life of the decisions she has to make in the book.

In the end, Livvie must grapple with discord in her composed life when her husband, Sonny, and his family, make bad choices. Is this the first time Livvie has doubted Sonny?

Livvie and Sonny married so young, they’ve practically grown up together. They know each other so well, it’s hard for one of them to deceive the other. So when Livvie suspects Sonny is lying to her, and he persists in doing it even after she’s called him on it, it’s definitely a game-changer in their relationship.

Julia’s life seems to be coming together, but I wonder, can a former investment analyst find happiness waiting tables?

I wonder, too. Whatever she chooses, it’s not going to be easy.

What is next for Julia and her family? 

The next three books take us through Busman’s Harbor in the off season. It’s a very different place during the long Maine winter. Over the course of the books, we’ll get to know Julia’s friend Jamie Dawes better, find out how Julia’s mother’s family made and lost their fortune and learn something about Julia’s years away at boarding school. At least, that’s the plan. And of course, there will be bodies.

I’m a Pennsylvania gal and have to side with those who think Whoopie Pies are of Pennsylvania origin. No marshmallow fluff in the filling of our Whoopies! From what I gather, the Pennsylvania Amish took the confections to Maine. Although pumpkin Whoopie Pies with cream cheese filling sound good, do you contend that they are as good as chocolate?

I’m a Pennsylvania girl, too. Three years in Wallingford outside Philadelphia, followed by junior high and high school in Kingston, which is a suburb of Wilkes-Barre. So, I too, think Whoopie pies are recognizably Pennsylvania Dutch. But I don’t mouth that around in Maine where they are the official state snack. I went with pumpkin and cream cheese because Musseled Out is a fall book, but I would never denigrate the original.

What prompted you to write a blog about the myths publicists foist on writers? (which gave relief to bloggers like me!)

Oh my goodness, did that cause a fuss. (You can read the blog here at Maine Crime Writers, I wrote it because I thought some of the advice aspiring and about-to-be published authors commonly get is terrible. Now that I have a little experience under my belt, I wanted to give my perspective. I’ve gotten very good help and advice on my journey, as well as very bad, and I wanted to pay it forward.


Jim Jackson said...

Barb – congratulations on signing a second three-book deal for the Maine Clambake Mysteries. In an environment where publishers are wary of any future contracts this is marvelous.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

Ditto for Jim's comments above. It is interesting to read an interview that addresses the inner working of a writer dealing with series as well as single book issues. Thanks for coming to WWK.

Barb Ross said...

Thanks, Jim and Warren. It's great to be here.

Gloria Alden said...

Barb, I ditto Jim and Warren's comments and I'm looking forward to reading your latest Clambake mystery, because I so loved the first two.

Barb Ross said...

Thank you, Gloria!

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the interview, Barb. Congratulations on the new deal with Kensington, and keep those books coming! If you have any ideas for getting rid of pesky beach guests, please let me know. It would be wonderful to have a solution on hand this summer. I don't have a handy Maine Coon Cat laying around the house, but I could probably get a jellyfish or two. Would that work?

Barb Ross said...

I think it might, E. B!

And thanks so much for the interview.

KM Rockwood said...

Great interview! Thanks for giving us so much information. And it's great to hear that, although you have a good handle on the new books in the series, you seem to be open to letting them go where they must as they develop.

I love your sense of humor!