Hi. Barb here.

I’d forgotten how much I love beginnings. That time in novel writing when all things are possible. That time to noodle and doodle. To read and think and ponder and pause.

The synopsis for book 2 in the Maine Clambake Mystery series is due Tuesday.

I’ve had a marvelous month.

My story takes place on Founder’s Day in my fictional mid-coast town. So I’ve been reading lots of Maine history to make up one for my town. Maine history is absolutely, totally amazing. I think my town committee will have a huge argument about who the founder is. So many competing claims among Native Americans, the British and the Massachusetts colony. Over and over again. In some ways, I’m glad to be the last author on this blog to the Maine party, because I didn’t learn all this in school. It’s all new and fresh.

One of my characters is a tour guide. Yesterday I had lunch with two friends in the tourist industry to get the low down. What do tour guides call that inevitable person on every tour who is always late and always lost? As they wait at the cruise ships for the tourists to board the motor coaches (never buses) what do the guides call the one coach that seems to attract the lame, the halt, the extreme elderly? (The Lourdes Tour).

One of my characters owns an RV park. In an RV park do the long-termers look down on the seasonal renters who look down on the monthlies and the weeklies who look down on the weekenders and finally the over-nighters? Is there jockeying for spots? Would someone kill for a view of the lake? So much fun to find out.

Here’s what some of my notes say:

Things I want to be sure to include

Time: July 20-31, starts on Founders Day

Theme: Insiderness/outsiderness. Inclusion, exclusion and community

Romance: Frustrated. It’s the height of the season. Everyone is working their a** off. How will my characters find time to get together?

Recipes: Summer food. Lobster salad? Blueberry pie? Something with corn? Something from Livvie’s garden.

Mom: Explore Julia’s mom’s outsiderness

The town: Since this is the book about the town, showcase the town and continue to develop the people in it. Do something with Gus and Fiona and Viola Snuggs. Do something with the banker and the town gossip from the first book, or let them go? The police chief?

Maine-y-ness:. I don’t want a generic small town. I want a coastal town in Maine.

Hmm–not much to go on. No character interviews. No plot points. No act structure.

I don’t write much at this stage, because I think it’s the things I remember that are important, not the things I forget. The images and scenes and story lines that return to my mind over and over, seeking my attention are the ones that are important.

But I also don’t write much down because it’s such a wonderful time that I know will soon be over. It’s the time when the (very vague) novel in my head is the best it will ever be. It’s a platonic ideal of a novel and once I put pen to paper, I’ll start to make decisions. Sure, I can change my mind. I will a hundred times on big things and small before I hand the book in. But when I do that, it will represent a changed decision, footprints in the snowing turning in their tracks and stomping back, taking another fork. Not a pure, virginal meadow white with untrodden snow.

Once I have words on a screen all possibility of perfection will be gone. I’ll only be able to go as far as my premise and this particular story and set of characters and my meager talent can take me. It will not be all books and all themes, it will just be this book, due September 1.


About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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9 Responses to Beginnings

  1. True — when those words are on the page, all hope of perfection is gone. On the other hand, since we can’t read your mind (not yet, anyway Barb!) we need those scribbles on the paper, however imperfect, to have a story in the first place. Something is better than a perfect zip!

  2. Wonderful post, Barb! And good luck with getting the synopsis written and in (and have a fabulous vacation…).

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Sounds like a great premise! Don’t forget to include the town historian, who knows everything about the place. Even if he (or she) doesn’t. Every town has one.

  4. Barb Ross says:

    Oh–that’s a good idea, Lea.

    At this stage at least, I can’t wait to see what happens.

  5. Ah, having just finished a book, I envy you this stage! There’s nothing like a first draft–a veritable field of un-trodden snow, to build upon your photo. Enjoy! I love the theme you’re dealing with.

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