To Build a House

by Barb, in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where the beautiful weekend weather has turned cold and gray

colonialrevivalmaineI turned in the manuscript for Iced Under, the fifth Maine Clambake Mystery, in May. When I first proposed, and Kensington bought, books 4-6, I pictured all three books taking place during the off-season in my coastal resort town. But then I had a chance to write a holiday novella for the collection Eggnog Murder, and that meant I had written three off-season stories. I didn’t know how my readers would feel after reading them, but I was ready for sunshine and clambakes and trips to Morrow Island. I suggested to my editor that we ditch my proposed book six and he agreed. (Though I still love the premise, so in my mind, I’m not ditching it. I’m saving it for another time.) So that has left me footloose and fancy-free for the next book. Or should I say, screw-loose and plot-free?

historicmainehomesOne thing I know will happen in the next book is that renovations on Windsholme, the empty and damaged mansion on Morrow Island, will begin. The mansion’s been a part of the island landscape from the first scene in the first book, Clammed Up. And in Iced Under, we learn more about Julia’s mother’s family–like who built the mansion and when. But now that I’m renovating, I need to know a lot more about the house itself. We know it was built in 1880, but is it Queen Anne, or Shingle Style or New American Colonial?

(For the mansion that appears on my bookmarks and website banner, I told the artist to use the inspiration of Edith Wharton’s house in the Berkshires, The Mount. That turns out to be a little too recent for Windsholme.)


homesdowneastI make sure the research I do for the clambake books is about subjects that interest me, but I have hit the jackpot with this book. I have always loved houses. When I played with my Barbies, I was more interested in the “set ups”–the apartments we created in the bookshelves and toy boxes, than in the melodramatic plotlines that inevitably resulted from having too few Ken dolls to go around.

lostbarharborI have to work not to over-describe the houses my characters live in and visit. “Is the protagonist an architect?” a member of my critique group once inquired, way too politely, after my narrator had gone on and on and on about some building or another.

But for now, I am happily surrounded by house porn, researching away. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be on the front porch with a big book on my lap.

Readers: Do you love houses, or could you care less? Do you envy me with all these big books full of houses on my lap, or is that your idea of bor-ing?

32 Thoughts

  1. I love to go on Zillow, etc. and see the pictures of the houses for sale and taking the inside tour.

  2. Since I met Hugh – who renovates old houses for a living – I’ve gotten a LOT more interested in houses and their history, and that led to my interest in local history, too. I now happily know about sill beams, summer beams, gunstock posts, mortise and tenon, and so much more. Have fun with it!

  3. I’m with you. Houses say so much more about us than just a container for our lives. I live in an historic working class neighborhood that has become a character in the books I’m writing (very much unpublished). We’ve been renovating for 25 years! Prior to building codes, when indoor plumbing became available bathrooms were stuck in the spaces between houses and storefronts were tacked onto the front. It Is hard not to yammer on about the coolness of plaster, the lean of the shed, the…uh oh. Thanks for the post!

    1. When we’re in Massachusetts, we live in an historic working class neighborhood, too. I love imagining the lives that have gone on there.

  4. First, this cracked me up: than in the melodramatic plotlines that inevitably resulted from having too few Ken dolls to go around. Talk about taking me back to my youth. And second, I can’t get enough houses. I love watching House Hunters, and going on home tours. Have fun!

  5. Barb, as you well know, I have lived through the New England house renovation phase. I love old houses, and loved to go see what other people were doing/had done to renovate houses of a similar period. Still enjoy watching “This Old House”! One of the best things about renovations of old houses are the finds in the walls – newspapers, toys, etc. There are also, of course, the “yuck” finds – debris, rodent habitats, dead and desiccated birds. So have a great time deciding on your island house and fixing it up. (Going to salvage yards to find appropriate replacement materials is also a great deal of fun. Wish I had had more money when I was doing it back then – I’m still mourning some of the finds I had to leave behind.)

  6. So interesting, Barb – although I have to say I’ve had my fill of renovations with my own house… but will look forward to reading about fictional ones for a beautiful home on the ocean!

  7. I always like to know who lived there and how, especially older house that still have the original stuff inside. I love those houses that have dumbwaiters. Can you imagine playing hide and seek in them?

    1. I created a Boston townhouse with a basement kitchen for Iced Under. Alas, no dumbwaiter. At one point, as two characters pass each other on the stairs, clearing the dining room table, one says to the other, “I think we are the dumb waiters.

  8. I like watching the house shows, including the ones that they buy to fix up. The differences between the before and after are interesing. Then there are the houses you can’t afford. The houses on the beach, the mansions. I have seen some dream houses while looking at real estate online. I wonder though how the heating is for houses with big rooms, tall ceiling, those built a long time ago. I am writing a book about a beach house in The Hamptons. The house has rooms added on to it as the generations grow. It’s a family celebration that starts on Memorial Day and ends New Year’s Day. The family pops in through out the season. One thing I enjoyed was creating a multigenerational family tree. That was Cool!

    My mom and I used to go to antique shops. A house built in the 1800s was interesting to walk into the rooms and imagine how the family lived. My grandmother lived in a barn that had been converted to 6 apartments. The house was converted into several apratments and they still had the servants staircase available. The wide staircase for the family was the staircase used by the renters. The house was owned by athe richest family in the city. My father remembers seeing the carriages line up for the Christmas parties. The hallway with the grand staircase was never heated. Fireplaces with their beautiful scroll work were the source of heat.

    One book I read was about a Christmas scene set in the 1800s with a prominent family of that era. A lonely woman was transported back then to find love. The description of the party, the house , the guests was fascinating. I forget the title.

    I have dreamed of many houses that don’t exist, where I am quite happy. . One house was built on a hill. Every floor was the first floor. Another was in an area that had wooded paths. The design was open and I remember waking up in the bed that had a view of the outside. Another probably was based on Dark Shadows. It was a Gothic, spooky mansion that had hidden stairwells and rooms in a cupola that had been locked for years.

    My mother and I would wonder about the lives going on in the houses we passed. Then there are the shows… Dallas, Dynasty, The Haves and Have Nots. I just discovered the Haves and Have Nots with John Schneider as the “JR”.

    I guess I will have to say, I like houses, looking, writing, dreaming.

    1. Frances, these houses sound fascinating, particularly the converted barn and main house. I, too, love oogling house I could never afford, which is why I’ll be on the Boothbay house and garden tour in July. I spent many summers in the Hamptons (Water Mill) so I hope to read your book one day.

      1. Thanks Barbara. I looked up pictures of The Hamptons, Water Mill being one of them. I wanted something that was like a village. The villagers consider the family one of them. Not sure if that exists, but we will try. The locals are invited to a BBQ to start the season. It’s kind of like the Ewings wealth and the Walton’s down to earth attitude. The family is 6 generations. The first generation is a Scottish immigrant who came to the US when he was a teenager.

  9. I admit to being a and HGTV-aholic. And I love old houses. The one Joe and I live in on Cape Cod was built in 1897, and the one we had in Connecticut was built in 1789 and had 8 fireplaces, none of which worked. Have fun with your research, Barb, and I know the book will be great!

  10. Hooray, the internet is back (it’s a bit iffy in Ireland). When I was young, for various reasons we always rented houses, most often for 2-3 years. My mother used to take me to look a available houses, so I’ve always been fascinated. Since my husband and I married, we’ve had a 1920s California bungalow and two Victorians. Thank goodness we’re hands-on so we can do most of the repair work ourselves. We make our own lives difficult by insisting that any “improvements” be correct for the period, which which explains why we’ve hand-made our own storm windows. The current cottage is the newest yet–maybe 1950s, but in Irish time, not US time. It keeps asking for Art Deco furniture.

    1. My daughter has lived in a ton of different houses growing up as a military brat. She knows way more about good layouts and which streets not to live on than I ever did!

  11. Houses are a bit more interesting to me than cars, but only a little.

    I think I just like to live in a fictional world too much.

    1. I’m with you — a fictional world is sooooooo much more fun than the real one. I can’t wait to see what happens to Windsholme!

  12. Right now we’re house hunting, so I spend a LOT of time on Zillow and We’re in a Craftsman style bungalow that was built in 1912. A grand lady that needs a lot more than cosmetic work. It’s hard when you fall for a Money Pit!
    And you are so right about the sets being more interesting than the Ken/Barbie dramas!

  13. Love the house weave into your stories. Makes them unique in that you capture the essence of the locale in which your mystery tale unfolds. Added plus let’s the reader imagine someday they’ll visit your area and stay in just such a house, sip a cuppa and dive into one of your enchanting mysteries.

Comments are closed.