Guest Chick: Barbara Ross

We’re delighted to have author Barbara Ross visiting with us today! She pens the popular, Agatha-nominated Maine Clambake mystery series. And her latest novel, Steamed Open, releases next week — just in time for Christmas! 

Hi Chicks! I’m so happy to be here, especially since I know (and read!) so many of you.

I write a series of cozy, culinary mysteries about a family that runs an authentic clambake on an island off the coast of Maine. I often joke about how incredibly difficult the research is. For example, at least once a year I visit the real Cabbage Island Clambake with family and friends where I ask a lot of nosy questions.

Of course, I have to explore other Maine industries and attractions, as well. I can only kill so many people on my tiny island. Here I am with fellow Maine author Lea Wait touring the oyster farms in the Damariscotta River—and sampling the goods—with wine pairings. (Oh, woe is me.)

Some authors do tons of research before they start writing. I prefer to do just enough to confirm the premise of my mystery will work, and then to fill in as I write. I try, as much as possible, to incorporate storylines that let me research things I am curious about—and to avoid things I find deadly boring. For example having burned a hole in the abandoned mansion on the island where my fictional family runs its clambakes, I have been forced—forced, I tell you—to spend many happy hours learning about late nineteenth century residential architecture, the evolution of shingle style and studying the floor plans of enormous summer homes. Such a burden.

For Steamed Open, the seventh Maine Clambake Mystery, I needed to understand the rights of waterfront property owners in Maine. I knew from living here and reading the newspaper it was a much-litigated arena, but try as I might, I couldn’t really understand it.

Luckily, I found a resources that spelled it all out, complicated as it is, in layperson’s terms, the recently updated Public Shoreline in Maine, a Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law.

Because of our jagged coast and many islands, Maine has more ocean coastline than any other state, even including Florida and California. One of the reasons ocean access is so frequently litigated here is because only twelve percent of the 5400 mile coastline is publicly owned.

Another reason is that unlike many states where private ownership extends to the high tide mark, in Maine, private ownership extends to the low tide mark. The original rights were conferred by the Colonial Ordinances of 1640, back when Maine was a colony of Massachusetts. (And if you think being a colony is tough, try being a colony of a colony.) Evidently, back in England, the government wanted to encourage the colonists to build wharves, (think about how early this was) and thought giving rights to the low tide mark was the way to do it.

There have always been, to the present day, exceptions. Private beachfront can be used by others for “fishing, fowling and navigation.” These rights, however, have mostly been interpreted strictly by the courts over the centuries. Fishing can include clamming, which was my primary interest, but fowling means only bird hunting, not bird-watching, and navigation definitely doesn’t mean you can pull up on someone’s beach in your boat and have a picnic. Basically, if your activity has to do with feeding your family it’s permitted, but even then you can’t walk over the owner’s upland holdings (land above the high tide mark) to reach the intertidal zone.

Once I understood who owned what, and who could do what (as much a non-lawyer could understand anyway) I was ready to get started on my book. Then I got to ask the fun question—what if an heir closed off a beach the public had used unimpeded for decades, for clamming, fishing and recreation? Who would that make angry enough to kill?

About the book:

It’s summertime in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy—or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake’s supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick’s decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?
Beachcombers, lighthouse buffs, and clammers are outraged after Frick puts up a gate in front of his newly inherited mansion. When Julia urges him to reconsider, she’s the last to see him alive—except the person who stabs him in the neck with a clam rake. As she pores through a long list of suspects, Julia meets disgruntled employees, rival heirs, and a pair of tourists determined to visit every lighthouse in America. They all have secrets, and Julia will have to work fast to expose the guilty party—or see this season’s clam harvest dry up for good.

About the author:

 Barbara Ross is the author of seven Maine Clambake Mysteries. The latest, Steamed Open, will be released December 18, 2018. Barbara’s novellas featuring Julia Snowden are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murderand Yule Log Murder. Barbara’s books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novelas well as the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara blogs with the Maine Crime Writers and the Wicked Cozy Authors. Visit her website at

Readers, have you ever been to a clambake or do you have a favorite seafood? What kind of food would you most enjoy being able to sample and “research” extensively? Share in the comments.

26 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Barbara Ross

  1. Oh Barb, how ever can you cope with such boring research trips?? I mean, clam bakes and needing to explore gorgeous old houses. You poor thing!
    I do understand how someone could become mad enough to kill if the right-of-way was suddenly closed off, especially if it meant they could no longer support their family. It reminds me of the right-of-way for birders and such in England. Midsomer Murders is full of this!
    I love this series, Barb. I have always wanted to live on an island, as I find the ocean so very peaceful. Of course, the whole murder thing might squelch the peaceful feeling!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m always fascinated by how you weave so much interesting information into your books while making it part of your plot! Not only am I entertained by your stories, I feel like I’m being educated too. Congrats on your upcoming release!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great post, Barb! Thanks for hanging out with us today. I’d love to help you with your research sometime at a clambake or lobstah dinner! And congrats on the new book!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I truly understand your terrible burden, Barb – only with lobsters! I have to say, I found your discussion of water rights fascinating. Here in CT it’s only to the high tide mark – I can only imagine how crazy disputes get using the low tide mark.
    Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. It will be extra special with the new little one.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I have never been a seafood person, even before I stopped eating meat. My cats tell me it’s good though, so to each their own, I guess. And I must say, you certainly look like you’re having a good time doing “research,” at least with the clambake part. I can only imagine how tedious it was to interpret all of those high and low tide laws!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Barb, I love your series AND this storyline! We recently had a lawsuit in CA that was exactly this case. In CA, the whole coast is basically deemed public. Happy to say that the jerk billionaire trying to restrict access lost in court. (David Geffen is another billionaire offender on this score.)

    When I was a kid, friends of my parents moved their business to right outside Bar Harbor and they bought a house on the island, one of those amazing turn-of-the-century Shingle Cottages. Balance Rock was in their backyard, as was the coast. They were slowly restoring it and I remember being amazed that the house had an actual ballroom. SO cool!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was thinking of that same case, Ellen. Don’t be messin’ with surfers’ access to the waves, dude!

      And, Barb, if the law means that an activity having to do with feeding your family is permitted, the lawyer in me says that includes hosting a picnic, lol.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Wow, Barb, as a 4-state New England girl (I’m including those childhood Maine summers, lol), I never had a clue about the tide marks. Thanks for sharing your great post with us. What fun research! Love the Maine Clambake Mysteries, of course.


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