Barbara's latest book, Iced Under, debuts TODAY- it's Book 5 in the series.
I've read books in this series, and they're fun and worthwhile. The novels concern the adventures of a family in Maine who run a clambake business, and discover deaths in the course of the unfolding events. Barbara knows her subject, as she's a Maine writer who lives and writes on the coast of that great state.
She's one of the bloggers at the Maine Crime Writers, and with a group of writers of New England-based Cozy mysteries at Wicked Cozy Authors. She's also a member of Sisters in Crime, my favorite mystery writer organization.
Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.
A. Hi Dale. Thanks for having me. Iced Under is the 5th book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series, and when I started it, I wanted to answer some questions I’d been leading up to throughout the series to date. How did my protagonist Julia Snowden’s mother’s family make their fortune, and how did they lose it? And what happened to Julia’s mother’s cousin Hugh, who disappeared off their island in the 1970s—an event I had referenced way back in Clammed Up, the first book in the series. I also wanted to give the poor residents of Busman’s Harbor, Maine a break, and have the murder take place elsewhere.
I knew the Snowdens had been in the frozen water trade and I had done a lot of research about it. What I didn’t know was whodunit and why.
Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A. Iced Under is a book about family—what brings us together, and what blows us apart. And why it’s important to work our way through the hard times.
Q. Who are your influences and what is it about their work that attracts you?
A. I love long relationships. Nothing makes me happier than to read a mystery and find out there are a dozen more in the series waiting for me to explore. So I love Ruth Rendell’s Wexford novels, P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Kate Atkinson, Paul Doiron, Craig Johnson, William Kent Krueger. I could go on and on. (And just have.)
I also love authors who treat their characters with kindness and generosity. Alexander McCall Smith and Fannie Flagg come to mind.
Finally, I love short stories—Alice Munro first and always, but many others.
Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A. The kinds of mysteries I write, called Cozy mysteries, are intended as escape. I get enough fan e-mails from people who are sitting at a parent’s bedside, or undergoing their own health crisis, balancing a stressful job with a full home life—really all manner of dark and difficult passages—to understand that. And, as Lee Child says, “No one has finished a book they didn’t enjoy since college.”
But by the same token, I once heard Dennis Lehane say there are a hundred hours of police procedurals on television every week. You’re never going to find a plot twist that hasn’t been done. So if you’re going to spend months or years writing a book, make sure it’s “about something.” I firmly agree with that, and I don’t think a book being “about something” interferes with the entertainment value in any way.
Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. I would say, “Find your tribe.” Find the people like you and the writers like you. Join several writers’ organizations, including at least one in your genre and one in your geography. This will sustain you as you learn to write, and will later turn into the network that teaches you how to find readers. You can go it alone, but it’s like trying to get sober alone. Many have tried and only a tiny fraction have succeeded. The odds are already stacked against you. Why make it harder?
Q. What's the next step in your writing world?
A. Stowed Away, the 6th book in the Maine Clambake Mystery series is due March 1. I have a lot of work to do between now and then.
Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
A. Zsa Zsa Gabor once called me a “blonde bumshell.”
Thank you, Barbara. Enjoy your time in Key West!
Readers, look for her work at: www.maineclambakemysteries.com