Friday, December 14, 2018

My Little (Southern) (New England) Town by Barbara Ross and Debra H. Goldstein

It’s axiomatic that settings in cozy mysteries are a part of the subgenre’s appeal. In the ideal cozy series, the reader mentally moves into the series setting. People who don’t read cozies often think the towns are generic, but actually, a setting for a cozy has to specific. Even if the town is fictional, it needs to feel like it could exist for the magic to work.

Debra H. Goldstein and Barbara Ross both recently released mystery novels. Debra’s One Taste Too Many, the debut in her Sarah Blair Mystery series, takes place in Wheaton, Alabama. Barbara Ross’s Steamed Open, the seventh in her Maine Clambake Mystery series, takes place in Busman’s Harbor, Maine.

Recently, Debra and Barb got together to talk about the differences between their small southern and New England towns.

Barb: First off, Debra, congratulations on your series debut. So exciting!

Before we dive in, tell the readers something about Wheaton, Alabama. Is it a real town? Is it near
a bigger metropolitan area?

Debra: Thank you!  Except for the bridge and river walk I stole from Wetumpka, Alabama, Wheaton
is a composite Southern town. A center square houses its Alabama crystalline white marble public
buildings, including city hall, the library, and the fire and police departments. Standing in the square, one can turn in three directions to find where most of Wheaton’s five thousand residents reside. While married, Sarah and Bill lived in a big home on Main Street, with his mother in the carriage house behind them. The streets in the fourth direction contain businesses, including the law firm where Sarah works and the strip center with the restaurant where her twin is employed. There is a big city fight going on as to whether Main Street should be rezoned as an entertainment district.

For contrast and excitement, I located Wheaton about fifteen minutes from Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama. Birmingham has more than two hundred thousand people and has become a foodie destination

How about Busman’s Harbor? Does it being a tourist town have any impact on your series?

Barb: Busman’s Harbor, Maine is also fictional, though it has a lot in common with Boothbay Harbor, Maine where my husband and I owned a house for many years. As the name indicates, the town is on the water and the primary occupations are lobstering and tourism. The populations swells to over 20,000 in the summer, but is only a little over 2,000 in the off-season. Midcoast Maine is beyond the more populated southern part of the state, but it’s still a lot more populated than other parts of Maine

Being a tourist town has a huge impact on the Maine Clambake Mysteries. My protagonist, Julia Snowden, runs a tourist business, an authentic Maine clambake. One of the really fun things about writing the series is the effect the seasons have on the stories. One thing my town has that I imagine yours doesn’t is big snowstorms. There’s one at the climax of the fifth book, Iced Under.

Does being Alabama-based have any significant effect on your series?

Debra: As you noted, we don’t get many snowstorms. Every few years, though, we have an ice storm that completely closes everything and, unfortunately, we have a tornado alley. Other than the weather, being Alabama based influences my character portrayal. My protagonist, Sarah Blair, speaks slower and softer than, for example, a New Yorker. Many residents, like her mother, are colorful story tellers; all of them take religion, politics, friendship, loyalty, and their animals very seriously; and, none, except the Sarah we meet in One Taste Too Many, have a problem looking anyone straight in the eye and saying, “Bless your heart” before delivering an expression of sympathy or an insult. 

Do your characters reflect your region of the country?

Barb: I’m laughing because the main regional trait all my characters have in common is that they don’t feel the need to chat when they run into one another in the grocery store, and they don’t butt into (or even comment on) each other’s business, which is occasionally handy when I don’t want Julia to get information too quickly. My Main-i-est character is Gus, the proprietor of a restaurant and Julia’s landlord. Gus only serves people who he knows, no tourists. He is based on a real person who really did that. Julia’s mother comes from a wealthy summer family, which is another kind of Mainer.

What about the food in your series? Is it regional?

Debra: For dishes prepared by Chefs Emily, Marcus, or Jane, I incorporate a lot of farm to table fresh ingredients, but there are some recipes that must be breaded and fried. Sarah, being allergic to her kitchen, uses as many pre-prepped short-cut foods and methods as she can find.

Barb: The other difference to my mind is the food. In addition to the clambake, the recipes in my books focus on seasonal, local ingredients, so lots of fish, chowder and wild Maine blueberries.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Barbara Ross is the author of seven Maine Clambake Mysteries. The latest, Steamed Open, was released December 18, 2018. Barbara’s novellas featuring Julia Snowden are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murder and Yule Log Murder. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Visit her website at

Steamed Open by Barbara Ross

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?

Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of One Taste Too Many, the first of Kensington’s new Sarah
Blair cozy mystery series. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Find out more about Debra at

One Taste Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein

Sarah knew starting over would be messy. But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah, her cat, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and Emily wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!



  1. Thank you, Kay. Barbara and I have enjoyed doing a few posts together because of the similarities (cozies, fun characters) and contrasts (location, type of food) our books have. Appreciate your comment.

  2. I loved being able to eavesdrop on your conversation and learn about your settings! What fun! Thanks, Barb and Debra!