Whither Windsholme? and a #giveaway

by Barb, first post from Key West for 2020

Hi All. A winner of the giveaway has been chosen and notified. Thank you for the comments.

The eighth Maine Clambake mystery, Sealed Off, was released in New Year’s Eve. The Wickeds thought you might be a little tied up with the holidays, so Sherry, Edith/Maddie, and I held off announcing our new releases until this week. One lucky commenter on the blog will win a brand new copy!

Sealed Off cover

There’s a major subplot in the book about a diary found in a sealed off room in Windsholme, the abandoned mansion on the island where my fictional Snowden family runs their authentic Maine Clambakes.

Recently, Sherry Harris asked me if I knew from the first book, Clammed Up, that Windsholme would become a central character in the series.

The answer is –100% no. I don’t remember now why I put a decrepit mansion on the island in that first book, though you’ll find echoes of the theme of abandoned spaces in many of my earlier books and stories. Even the first book in my new series, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, includes a community for active adults 55+ built on the grounds of an old estate.

The influences for these places are many.

In Clammed Up, the playhouse on the island, a replica of Windsholme, plays a large part in the story. My grandparents had a summer house in Water Mill, Long Island that was in a little enclave on the edge of an large estate. The playhouse that had originally belonged to the estate was our nearest neighbor. When I was a child a friend of my grandparents’ owned it and used it as her summer home. The playhouse is long gone, sadly, renovated beyond recognition, and finally knocked down to make way for a more expensive property. You can get a look at the original mansion here–all $18 million dollars of it. It looks very similar to the way it looked when I was a kid. Can you imagine the impact that place had on the imagination of a suburban child? Windsholme looks nothing like this mansion, but the idea of the playhouse was definitely an influence.

There are other abandoned and demolished mansions in my childhood. I told the story of two of them in this blog post.

(Spoiler alert.) I didn’t intend to burn down the mansion on Morrow Island. It was already crumbling, but I got to a point in the plot in Clammed Up where I realized I had no choice.

So now I had even more of a wreck sullying my tourist attraction, or “dining experience” as the Snowdens call it. The logical thing was to tear it down, though even demolition, carting the materials off the island, and paying to dispose of them was beyond the family’s means in the first three books when the business was teetering on the edge of foreclosure. I really didn’t want to knock Windsholme down, and I heard from some fans who didn’t want me to either.

So, I had written myself into a corner, which is something, perversely, I like to do. What to do? First, I had to figure out how to get the Snowdens, who run a modest family business, the money to fix up the mansion. (Iced Under) Then I had to come up with a rationale to fix it up. (Stowed Away) Then I had to get an architect and a plan in place. (Steamed Open) Finally, in Sealed Off, the work has begun.

Windsholme has never been more than subplot in any of the books, at most. But I have had the opportunity along the way to write about the family history and why the mansion is unlived in. (Mostly in Iced Under and Sealed Off.)

I’m working on book 9 now. It takes place largely on the next peninsula up from Busman’s Harbor, among the oyster farms on the Damariscotta River, so Windsholme and Morrow Island are not really a part of it. After that, who knows? Will there be more books? Will the renovation ever get finished? We’ll all find out if and when I write myself out of the holes I’ve most recently dug for myself.

Readers: Is there a place that lives in your memory and informs your imagination? Tell us about it in the comments below or just say “hi” to be entered to win a copy of Sealed Off.

106 Thoughts

  1. Fabulous book! Finished reading it over the weekend, so don’t put me in the drawing. Love old houses, especially those that have had intermittent construction adding to the spread. A classmate lived in one that was the mansion of a considerable estate. Just moving from one part of the house to another was an adventure, with skinny passagesways, strange doors, and short stairs. The house still shows up in my dreams.

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  2. I love old, decrepit or abandoned structures. And yes, I do keep the real ones from my childhood living on in my own fiction. The Krolls’ farmhouse in the early Zoe Chambers mysteries was inspired by my grandparent’s house where I spent much of my youth. And Zoe’s current fixer-upper is based on another abandoned house on a neighboring farm.

    Congratulations on the new release, Barb!

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  3. Always good to have a decrepit mansion around, just in case! Our family friends lived in a turn of the last century house. It had gables, a sloping porch and huge urns with geraniums. Loved visiting them! Looking forward to the new book!

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  4. Thanks for filling in the story of Windsholme, Barb. Southern Indiana lives on in my memory – and in the Country Store Mysteries. I was so happy living there in grad school. Exploring Brown County, helping my friends renovate the decrepit general store they bought, eating the delicious food they produced after it reopened – all of that was the seed for my series I set in that area.

    I finished Sealed Off a couple of days ago, and I think it’s your best yet!

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  5. I don’t know that they inform my imagination but I remember both of my grandmother’s houses from when I was a kid. They both lived in Newton, MA. One was a two family home and we would visit a few times a year. When I was about 8, I stayed with one of them for a week in the summer. It was fun because the other family had two kids and the daughter was one of my first crushes.

    The other grandmother had a house that when we visited was always packed with toys of all sorts for the grandkids to play with. And when we stayed with her one day when my parents went off to a wedding, the rather large kitchen turned “The Great Kids Baking Cookies with Grandma Adventure”.

    Congrats on the new book Barb, hoping to win a copy but if not, I’ll be getting to reading it in some fashion as soon as I can.

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  6. I can’t say that there is any one place, more objects or experiences inform my imagination.

    Love this series – can’t wait to read!

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  7. Well when I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs, up the street was a small section of woods that the neighborhood kids would ride their bicycles on the trails. There was also a large rope swing and to top it off, there were small iron gated burial plots placed here and there throughout the woods. The small headstones dated back to the early 1900 I believe. I think there had been a hospital nearby back in that time and some patients were buried in these woods? But you know how rumors take off! This mystery still pops up in my head once in awhile.

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  8. I’ve read all this series and looking forward to this new one and a few more 😉.I don’t have any place that speaks to my crazy mind.

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  9. Congratulations on the latest book, Barb! I agree with Annette. Having a decrepit old house around is always a plus.

    It isn’t decrepit, but it is old, and it hasn’t influenced me yet, but on my honeymoon I visited Casa Loma in Toronto, pretty much the epitome of extravagance back in the day (the first elevator in Toroto – because his wife was in a wheelchair – it’s own telephone board, and gold fixtures in the bathrooms among other things). It would be a fun place to set a mystery.

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    1. One of my favorite places to visit in Toronto. There was a quilt show there one of the times that added even more to the ambience of the place.

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  10. My grandparents house still remains in my memory and I see it instead of the more modern home that is in its place even now. Houses that are really homes, cozy and warm, are my very favorites. Congrats on the new book!

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  11. Would have to say that one of the places that stay in my memory would be Fort Ord, California. As an Army brat, we were thrilled to be on stabilized assignment. The fort was huge and completely contained with 2 elementary schools and a junior high as well as 6 movie houses, bowling alley and olympic indoor swimming pool. From our first drive onto base, it seemed magically with the entrance road named Giggling Road complete with the center yellow line painted in a continuous “s” fashion. Fond memories of taking Chaffee (our dog named after another fort) out to the vacant land to chase the ground squirrels to achieving the challenge swim to grant approval to go to the deep end of the water. Being on stabilized assignment meant we sit while all the others came and went. That being the case I was called “mom” in junior high because the newbies could find out from me all the ins and outs of the base, teachers, and activities. So many memories and now it’s so hard to fathom that it’s all gone. Yep, they closed the base and sold everything to civilians. So Fort Ord only lives on in my memories.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Sealed Off”. Definitely on my TBR list. Love the cover. It reminds me of our trip up the coast of Maine. Hubby had never seen the ocean and we loved the lighthouses along the way.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  12. I remember going to my aunt’s house out in the country. The house wasn’t decrepit but it was old and the floors creaked. I remember my aunt had tons of Readers Digest Condensed Books. I was in heaven — I would read the whole time I was there.

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  13. I love the series & the Snowden family members…thanks for sharing your talent with all of us!

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  14. I too am fascinated by Gilded Age mansions. Until about 10 years ago, I lived in Bethlehem, NH, once home to 30 hotels (almost all gone) and an array of eclectic summer cottages. Those wonderful houses are sprinkled throughout New Hampshire (a professor even wrote a book about them, full of pictures). The librarian in Bethlehem was born in the 1920s and she was full of stories about the hotel era. In that time, people took long, luxurious vacations, another tidbit that triggered my imagination.

    Oh, how I want to go back in a time machine, to spend a long summer in one of those enchanting cottages! Instead, they show up in my books quite often, including the 2nd book in the Apron Shop Series, where Iris finds trunks full of gorgeous vintage clothing at Shorehaven.

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      1. LOL, Barbara! That’s the beauty of fiction, we can avoid laundry and dishes and other unpleasant chores.

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  15. It wasn’t really decrepit but when I was a kid there was a stone gatehouse from a mansion that had burned down years before. It was different from all of the other houses around and the front door was under a dark porch.we’d dare each other to trick or treat there.

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  16. Hi. I loved where I was born and raised. Elkins park , Pa. An old ice house half down , creek , Frog rock by the creek where I read my Nancy Drew’s, Haply Hollister’s books and others . Woods, books and my dogs is where all my happy memories are .

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    1. I am more successful in life because of books. My kindergarten teacher took a special needs child and somehow taught her to read on her free time . I was misdiagnosed Aphasic and mentally disabled until
      16 . If it was not for her , my laspe in education ( regular school at 17 onward) , I would not have been as successful . Susie’s nose in a book ( notes my parents received all the time) pay off.

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  17. Congratulations on the new release! I loved it so much. And thank you for answering my question — what a fascinating story. I’m now wondering if I do have things from my childhood playing out. I know that I have them from my twenties.

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    1. That’s so interesting! A lot of Sarah’s animus is that search for a meaningful path that usually comes in your twenties–in her case delayed by an early marriage and her husband’s military career.

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  18. We stayed in a cabin on a cliff above the ocean this past summer near Pemaquid Point. No internet. Star-filled night skies. Bird watching with morning coffee. Loud rain on a thin roof. It was mostly comforting but at times deeply frightening to feel so isolated.
    (I picked up my first book written by you — Musseled Out — on a boat trip out to Cabbage Island.)

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  19. Interesting to learn the history of this subplot. Until now, I would have said you had planned this out all along because it has followed such a logical progression.

    This new book is wonderful. And, obviously, I don’t need another copy.

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  20. I love this series and would love to win the latest addition.

    I don’t have any particular decrepit old houses in my past, but I do have the attics of two old buildings in my mind. In both cases, the main buildings were in good repair, but nobody bothered about the attics. In my role as a volunteer, I was in charge of finding any way to making a little extra money for the institutions housed in the buildings. In one case (in downtown Boston), there were a lot of passages and dark corners. Found a very old printing press there. I was on the lookout for any “treasures”. It was hot and dirty work, but oh, so much fun!

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  21. My grandma’s house always had such warm memories. I loved visiting. Wonderful smells would be coming from her kitchen. It was so much fun exploring her vegetable and flower gardens. She was such a great conversationalist too.

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  22. Oh, I love the cover! There are two places that fire my imagination. One is Lambert Castle in the Garret Mountains of New Jersey. Although Wikipedia tells me there was a museum in operation in the castle, when I was a child running around and through it, I don’t remember anything but dead leaves and spiders. It was a place to fire a child’s imagination. The second place is in the woods on my property in the crown of Maine. Our property is hilly and there is a granite faced cliff with all different levels and some small caves. I’ll often take my laptop and write tucked on the outcroppings.

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  23. I love that a small detail in the beginning of the series has evolved in to a major plot point. What fun!
    I always loved my grandparents’ farm where we grew up. So many old buildings and own space, the grove in back. I spent a lot of time looking for treasure and the setting inspired a short horror film I wrote for fun.

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  24. Nubble Light in Maine is a yearly pilgrimage for me. I am currently working on my first Cozy and there will DEFINITELY be a lighthouse in it! Great job on the series. You are an inspiration. 😁

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  25. Everytime I go to Galena, I get a new story idea. Time for another trip. By the way, I told my sister about the series and she’s hooked now, too.

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  26. I’ve enjoyed reading about Windsholme throughout the series. During my childhood I lived in a town graced with many old, restored, homes just like it. It’ll be great fun to see how the renovation work progresses in “Sealed Off.”

    My grandparents’ livestock and grain barn stands out in my memory because of all the haystacks, grain storage, and dark corners where my cousin and I could play hide-and-seek with each other – until my grandfather caught a large rattlesnake in the corn bin. Scared us right outta there! The thirty year old structure was softly weathered and I would have loved to collect some of the siding when it was torn down.

    “Sealed Off” is next in the TBR pile. Yes, I’d like to win a copy so that I can give it away on NBR. 🙂
    Happy Launch!

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  27. I hope you continue the mansion storyline. It’s so much fun to read about. I can’t to read Sealed Off. Growing up my dad took a wall down and found a stairway to the upstairs. It was sealed off. He sealed off a small enclosed porch between the kitchen and bedroom. It would be a great closet if someone knew it was there. Congratulations on your book!

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  28. Hi Barbara. I enjoy your series. I use to go through a beautiful cemetery when I was a kid that was nice and never got bothered there and this was in East Oakland in California. I also remember a nice cabin our dad took us to for one summer vacation and there was no electronics back then and it was wonderful. I would love a chance for a copy of one of your books. Thank you!

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  29. Windsholme is like a character in the books. I like the progression and changes. I grew up in farm country so not too many mansions around, except for one old place we were all sure was haunted. I imagine if I could find it again today after all those years would see it was just an abandoned property behind gates. Our haunted story felt better, though!

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  30. I’ve enjoyed reading your books and learning about Windsholme. I’ve visited The Biltmore and still think about what it would be like to live there.
    cecilialyoung at gmail dot com

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  31. Excited to see the new release. Congratulations, Barbara, on another great addition to “A Maine Clambake Mystery!” I would absolutely love to win a copy! Thank you for the opportunity.

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  32. The place that lives in my memory is my playhouse that my dad built for me when I was three. He built houses for a living so it was a really nice playhouse. It has sliding windows on three walls. The wall with the front door has a small window up high on each side of the door. The door is a full sized door with a lock, which was important for keeping younger brothers out! Oh yeah, it is 8 feet square inside, has a shingle roof and at one time had the cutest shutters with heart shapes cut out in them. I used to play tastee freeze at the sliding windows. Lol! Then when we bought our house, my playhouse was moved over here for my boys to play in. Of course it got a masculine overhaul, the shutters got baseball bat cutouts and it got put up on poles about 6 feet off the ground with a deck added on to the front and stairs coming up the side. Still terrific looking and everytime I go in there I remember my pink shutters and Easybake oven. Such a great memory my dad made for me!
    Congrats on the new release and I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

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  33. I remember when I first saw This Old House and realized old houses were remodeled. Up until then I had mostly experienced a big, older house on my grandparents’ farm, and it could have used some updates. I haven’t read any of this series, but this detail makes me want to try it!
    browninggloria(at)hotmail(dot)com

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    1. I remember that first season of This Old House with Bob Vila vividly. My husband I bought a Victorian in need of renovation in Boston the same year. I’m sure it had an influence.

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  34. When I was a kid my friend’s grandparents had a playhouse next to a pond on their property. We had lots of fun playing in there – I think there was even a stove! I drive by now and again – the little house is gone, but the pond is still there – a sweet reminder of simpler times! Absolutely love this series! Just finished Fogged Inn – my favorite so far!

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    1. We had friends who had a cabin on a pond with a playhouse when I was a teenager. It had four bunks and was the perfect place for naps and sleepovers. It definitely informs the bunkroom part of the playhouse on Morrow Island.

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