Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Barbara Ross Interview by E. B. Davis

From the number of times I’ve interviewed Barbara Ross, you know I like her Maine Clambake mystery series. Her fourth in the series, Fogged Inn, gained an Agatha Nomination this year in the Best Contemporary Novel category. What I didn’t know? Barb’s first novel, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, was published by Five Star in 2010. Which explains why her first novel in this series, Clammed Up (2013), was nominated in the Best Contemporary Agatha category and not in the Best First category. (I’m slow on the uptake at times!) The fifth book, Iced Under, was released in December.

In Iced Under, Barbara reveals more of the Morrow family history, including how the family made its money. Since they own Morrow Island, a private island where the family’s old mansion, Windsholme, stands, albeit dilapidated, they made a fortune. The money and the industry are gone—all but history now, except that Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, barely knows of her family or history, necessitating Julia to research the family when a family heirloom arrives in the mail. This book answers many readers’ questions, almost like ending an arc, and I wondered if this was the last book in the series.

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

Was there purpose in setting the book during the most brutal of winter months—or since Fogged Inn was set in autumn, was this just the natural continuation of the series’ seasons?

Hi Elaine. Thanks so much to Writers Who Kill for having me back. Since I write about life in a resort town, I wanted to show both the tourist season and the off-season. It’s two different worlds. The first three books take place when the Snowden Family Clambake business is open, the next two, Fogged Inn and Iced Under, along with the novella “Nogged Off” in the collection Eggnog Murder, take place when it is closed. One huge advantage to the off-season—Julia has a lot more time for solving mysteries.

What is the connection between a black diamond and the family business? Why is the necklace called the Black Widow?

The Morrow family made their fortune harvesting and shipping ice. Black ice is the best quality, frozen quickly with few or no air bubbles, so it’s clear and melts more slowly. Black diamonds are also called black ice, and the Black Widow has a large black diamond as its center stone.

The Morrow family got rich in the frozen water business, harvesting Maine ice for world consumption. How big of an industry was ice and what was the time period of this industry?

The ice industry started early in the early 1800s with ice harvested from ponds in Massachusetts being shipped to southern cities like Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans, to European colonies in the West Indies, and even to India. Late in the 19th century the business changed. Northeastern cities were exploding in population and needed massive amounts of ice for food preservation and drinks. New York City alone consumed four million pounds of ice a day. By that time ice harvesting was concentrated on big rivers like the Kennebec and the Hudson. By World War I, the business was over. Modern refrigeration and ice-making appeared. Fortunes were made and lost in a hundred years.

When the Black Widow is mailed to Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, Julia finds out the stamp was “precanceled.” Why would any unused stamp be “precanceled” and what significance does it have in tracking the package?

I had to figure out how to hide where the package was sent from in the short run, but then it had to be discoverable by Julia later. My research about how to send an untraceable package took me to some pretty scary places on the dark web, where people trade hints about how to ship things paid for in Bitcoins. In the end, I settled for the sender making slight modifications to the mailing label you get when you pay to mail a package at that kiosk in your local post office. The sticker it gives you is called a “pre-canceled stamp,” meaning it isn’t run through the cancelling machine at the processing facility.

Since the Black Widow was conservatively estimated at a worth of two million dollars, Julia asks a lawyer about how the laws of inheritance work. What does he tell her, and did you go to an attorney to pose Julia’s question?

I did. Since the origins and ownership of the Black Widow are murky, Julia’s mother’s lawyer urges them to settle with the relatives rather than tying the asset up in years of litigation. Though Julia’s mother might ultimately win, it would be costly. And she might not.

You’ve taken a few outside-the-norm chances in your last two books. In Fogged Inn, the ending is quite unusual for an amateur sleuth story. In Iced Under, you started the book with a mystery, but it wasn’t criminal. You introduce the murder about halfway through. It’s obvious because Fogged Inn was nominated for an Agatha that breaking the norms don’t deter readers’ interest. Would you take these chances if you were an unpublished author trying to sell your first novel? Is your success an enabling creative factor?

Louise Penny has said, “I’m trying to make every book slightly different. The challenge and danger of writing a series is writing the same book over and over again.” I’ve been changing things up both to keep the reader from getting bored and to challenge myself. For a writer with a first pub, I would say, “It depends.” If I were trying to be traditionally published in an established market, like cozies, I would prove in the first book that I understood the genre and the audience, and save the experimentation for later in the series. For example, it’s pretty common for authors of long-running series to change locale in a book or two—have the sleuth solve a murder while on vacation or visiting family. But it’s important to establish the series setting first.
When Julia arrives in Boston to see lost relatives, they are gathered for Hugh’s funeral.  When Hugh’s cause of death is determined to be murder, Julia researches Paolo, Hugh’s hospice nurse. She has good reason to be suspicious doesn’t she?

I think she does. But it’s a conundrum, because as a hospice nurse he is often with people when they die. The particular circumstances of Paolo’s patients’ deaths, which seem to only happen when he is alone with the patient and everyone in the family has already said their good-byes, make Julia suspicious.

Why did Hugh Morrow, lost for decades, assume a new identity?

In the simplest terms, he didn’t want to be found. He was cutting ties with his parents. Everyone else from his old life was collateral damage.

Marguerite turned toward me. “Julia, you’ll stay for the reception?”

“Of course, she’ll stay,” Vivian said. “She wants to see what Hugh left her mother.”

Marguerite glared at her daughter. “Vivian that’s beneath you.”

I didn’t think it was.

Barbara Ross, Iced Under, Kindle Loc. 1281

Why is Vivian such a stupid materialistic woman?

I don’t think of her that way, exactly. She is like a type of woman I’ve known, deeply romantic, but more in love with falling in love than with any person. Lots of marriages, but none of them last. She’s devoted her entire life to looking for the right man, and as a result hasn’t any skills for supporting herself. This makes her greedy and insecure. Taken together, the romanticism, insecurity, and greed are a potently negative combination.

Julia’s and Chris’s relationship has survived much stress. Why does Julia still doubt Chris?

It’s really all about Julia, isn’t it? Chris says one doofy thing in Iced Under. (Readers seem divided about how doofy it really is.) Julia’s the over-thinker in the relationship. Chris goes with the flow. She’s not going to accept Chris’s love until she believes in her core she deserves it. It’s that simple. It’s up to her now.

I still want to know more about Julia’s mysterious friend, Quentin Tupper. But it does seem as if you’ve brought much of your story full circle. Was this the last book in the series or is there more to come? If so, what?

The sixth book in the series, Stowed Away, is coming in December 2017. In it we learn a lot more about Quentin.

On a hot summer night sitting out on a porch catching breezes, would you be more likely to drink white sangria or a 7 & 7?

Easy one. I LOVE white sangria.
Thanks for the interview, Barbara. Good luck at Malice!

Iced Under Jacket Blurb
The snow is deep in Maine’s Busman’s Harbor and the mighty rivers are covered in ice. Snowden Family Clambake Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother, Jacqueline, are hunkered down for the winter when a mysterious package arrives—heating up February with an unexpected case of murder . . .

Inside the mystery package is an enormous black diamond necklace that once belonged to Julia’s great-grandmother and disappeared in the 1920s. Who could have sent it—and why? Julia’s search for clues takes her on a perilous journey through her mother’s troubled family history, from a squabble over the family fortune in “frozen water” to the recent unexplained death of Jacqueline’s long-lost cousin Hugh—who’d been missing and presumed drowned for more than forty years. To protect her mother’s inheritance, Julia must fend off a small army of feuding relatives, solve the mystery surrounding Hugh’s demise, and get back home before the next blizzard buries them all . . .


  1. Thank you for highlighting this delightful series. Old lost fortunes, family feuds, stubbornly ignorant relatives, a disputed will--all with the added feature of an isolated mansion on an island.

    Certainly these have the makings of a wonderful series.

  2. This book was particularly good because it answered so many questions about the family. Questions that were summoned from the previous books that had readers wondering. To me, that shows a well-planned arc. Every few books, those questions must be answered because, not only will readers forget them, but it satisfies.

    Thanks for the interview, Barb.

  3. Hi Barb, I've given your books to my friends who live in Maine and they praise them to the skies. There's so much to like in your series.
    Best wishes at Malice! Looking forward to seeing you and congratulating you in person.
    We can toast with sangria - I love it, too!

  4. Welcome back. It is always interesting to read about your work.

  5. Thanks so much for having me!

    I love doing E.B.'s interviews because they always make me think.

    Shari, we are totally on for that sangria.

  6. Barb, I enjoy your Clambake Mysteries and look forward to reading your latest.

  7. Congratulations, Barb, on your latest release. Your books always make me want to plan a vacation to Maine. You are doing a lot for Maine tourism.

  8. Thanks for sharing the detailed review about Barbara Ross. It is so informative and you made it more convenient to understand what this novel is all about .