A History for My Maine Town

Hi, Barb here.

Clammed Up coverBack in the fall of 2011 when I first wrote the proposal for the Maine Clambake Mystery series, I named the fictional town where my stories took place “Busman’s Harbor.” At the time, I was committed to not over-thinking the proposal, to sticking with the ideas that danced out of my fingertips as they tip-tapped across the keyboard.

I knew at some level, without really examining it, that Busman’s Harbor was a play on the expression, “busman’s holiday,” which I thought was a good fit, because I knew my core characters would be the people in the town who worked their tails off to ensure that tourists had excellent vacations. Also, Busman’s Honeymoon is the title of Dorothy L. Sayers 1937 book, the fourth and last to include Harriet Vane, and what mystery writer wouldn’t want that association?

Some of my early readers didn’t think that the name was charming enough for a town in a cozy novel, but I grew attached to it, and neither my agent nor editor raised any objection, so Busman’s Harbor it stayed.

BoiledOverfrontcoverIn the back of my mind, I knew someday I would have to write the history of Busman’s Harbor and explain the name. That didn’t happen in the first book, because Clammed Up “wasn’t about that.” But Boiled Over, the book coming out on May 6, centers on a Founder’s Day celebration in Busman’s Harbor, so the moment of truth had come.

I started reading Maine histories even before I started writing. Of course I knew a little from my general knowledge of American history and from visiting historic spots in Maine. But my knowledge wasn’t Maine-centric or particularly coherent. As I read, I was grateful, actually, that I hadn’t grown up in Maine and learned its history in elementary school, because I could approach the task with boundless curiosity and the thrill of learning something new.

Lobster_Coast_paperback_medium-200x320One of my favorite texts was Colin Woodard’s brilliantly written The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Penguin, 2004). I loved this book and as I say in the acknowledgements of Boiled Over, Lobster Coast forms the foundation of the rather eccentric and truncated version of mid-coast Maine history that appears in Boiled Over. I add, “If this novel has piqued your interest in Maine or in history, or if you enjoy beautifully written non-fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough.”

Two other sources I loved and relied on were The Hidden History of Maine by Harry Gratwick, (The History Press, 2010) and The Boothbay Harbor Region, 1906-1960 by Harold B. Clifford, (Wheelwright, 1961).

So I had my town history. I still had to figure out how to work it into the novel. I also had to figure out who Mr. Busman was. Constructing the town history was about teasing out the facts I would use, and I worried constantly about getting it wrong. Answering the question of who Mr. Busman was required a complete flight of fancy, which felt like stepping off a cliff. And Busman’s story and the history of the town had to intersect, which was the scariest step of all. In fact, that scene was among the last ones written.

So why is the town named Busman’s Harbor? Sorry. You’ll have to read Boiled Over to find out!

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 www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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8 Responses to A History for My Maine Town

  1. Gram says:

    Looking forward to this book. I have put Colin Woodard’s book on my t-b-r list at the library. Thanks.

  2. Beth Kanell says:

    Terrific post, Barb … love it!

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Maine towns are very proud of their history … sounds as though you have a great background for Boiled Over!

    • Barb Ross says:

      Thanks, Lea. It was fun researching and writing my Maine history, but it gave me such an appreciation of the work you and Kathy Lynn do. It would have been 100x harder to set the whole story in the past and get it anywhere near right.I am in awe.

  4. Mary Anne Sullivan says:

    I have just discovered this past year that the histories of our coastal communities are so varied and fascinating. I went to Maine schools but wasn’t taught much Maine history and what I’m learning on my own is fascinating.

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