Populating My Cozy Town and a #giveaway

by Barb, still in Key West

At the end of the blog, I’ve included instructions for how to enter a giveaway for one of 15 Advance Readers Copies of Muddled Through, Maine Clambake Mystery #10, which releases on June 28, 2022. Scroll down for that information.

A year ago I blogged about how I worked with an artist to create a map of Busman’s Harbor, the town in Midcoast Maine where my Maine Clambake Mysteries take place. A later blog post explained how the artist and I came up with the buildings on the map.

Today I’m writing about how I populated my little town.

The major characters in the Maine Clambake Mysteries go back to the original series proposal. Julia Snowden, her mother Jacqueline, sister Livvie, brother-in-law Sonny, and niece Page were there from the start. As was Julia’s middle-school crush Chris Durand, and the newest member of the Busman’s Harbor Police Force, Jamie Dawes. Restaurant proprietor Gus Farnham was also in the original proposal.

State police detectives Lieutenant Jerry Binder and Sergeant Tom Flynn appear in the first book Clammed Up, and are in the series ever after (except for a couple of the novellas). This is not in the least surprising, since in Maine only the Portland and Bangor police departments are large enough to have detectives. The rest of the municipalities (including at least one fictional one) rely on the state police to investigate major crimes. Faulty research on my part led them to have inflated titles and once they existed out in the universe there was no way to demote them. Also, I wrote at least three books before I realized I had created the detecting team of Tom and Jerry.

The Snugg sisters, Fee and Vee, who run the B&B across the street from Julia’s mother’s house, appear in Clammed Up and almost every book since, as well as most of the novellas. The Snowden Family Clambake’s silent investor, Quentin Tupper, also makes his first appearance in Clammed Up. He’s only in residence in the summer, so he appears in the books that take place then. Captain George, who pilots the boat that takes the tourists out to Morrow Island for the Snowden Family Clambake, also appears in the books that take place during the summer.

On Main Street

Since Clammed Up, the town of Busman’s Harbor has grown and grown. I’ve added shops to Main Street as I’ve need them to tell the stories. Gordon’s Jewelry and its proprietor Mr. Gordon first appear in the Christmas novella, “Nogged Off.” He plays a central role in the fifth book in the series, Iced Under, when he tells Julia the value of the black diamond necklace her mother has received in the mail. He returns again in the sixth book, Stowed Away, and in the novella “Scared Off.” He must have a first name, but he’s an older gentleman and Julia always calls him “Mr.” His wife, Alicia, has sadly suffered from worsening dementia through the series.

Al Gleason runs Gleason’s Hardware, a family business so old there’s a post in front of it where customers once tied up their horses. Gleason’s is a pivotal location in Clammed Up, but we don’t meet Al until the novella “Scared Off.” He turns up again in the novella “Perked Up,” that I just turned in. It will be published in Irish Coffee Murder in the spring of 2023. Barry Walker of Walker Frames and Art Supplies is a major character in the fourth book in the series, Fogged Inn. He also reappears in “Scared Off.” To this cast of Main Street characters, I’ve added a new one in Muddled Through. Zoey Butterfield is the owner of Lupine Design, a pottery studio and retail shop at the far end of the commercial part of Main Street. Livvie works there in the off-season. Zoey reappears in “Perked Up.”

The Townspeople

Mark Hayman works in the Town Enforcement Office and has access to records about everyone’s property, who owns it, where the tax bill goes. He helps Julia out the seventh book, Steamed Open and again in Muddled Through. Floradale Thayer runs the historical society. She helps Julia understand her mother’s family history in Iced Under, and also in Sealed Off. She appears again in “Perked Up.” Chief Beaupre is the Chief of Police in Busman’s Harbor. You’d think he’d be more important, what with all the murders, but since Binder and Flynn rush in and take over, and Julia gets all her info from Jamie Dawes, the chief isn’t as much of a presence. He doesn’t even get a name until Steamed Open. Bud Barbour has a boat repair shop and we often find him whiling away his late afternoons at Gus’s restaurant. He plays a big role in Boiled Over, a smaller one in Musseled Out, and comes back in Muddled Through. Clarice Kemp is the town gossip. In Clammed Up she works as the receptionist at Lighthouse Inn, a Busman’s Harbor crossroads. I really had high hopes for her as a character, but she doesn’t appear again until “Scared Off.” By that time she’s retired and is applying her considerable skills and strong personality to the annual auction for the Star of the Sea Catholic Church. Sonny’s father, Bard Ramsey, a lobsterman, a major character in Musseled Out, appears again in Fogged Inn and in Sealed Off.

The Pets

I never intended to have a cat in the series. Then I went to the real Cabbage Island Clambake and saw what an unbelievably cushy life a cat has on an island with no cars or natural predators and where mountains of seafood are served everyday. Le Roi, the Maine Coon cat belongs to the island caretakers in Clammed Up. Then he moves in with Julia, but spends his summers on Morrow Island with Livvie’s family. Finally, he takes up permanent residence in Julia’s mother’s house, the perfect place, since he gets to see Julia every day when she works in the clambake office there. Fee Snugg’s dog, Mackie, is one of a long line of Scottish terriers that Fee loves more than people. It takes a special dog to live in a B&B, where strangers are constantly coming and going, but Mackie handles it with aplomb. Bud Barbour’s dog, Morgan, a black lab, is a youngster, but so well-behaved Gus allows him to doze in the restaurant while he and Bud jawbone.

In or Out?

I’m fine with telling characters, “You’re not in this book.” I dislike series that bring everyone we’ve ever met forward into each new book. I’ve given some up because of this. But it’s nice, now that I’m writing book eleven, to know I have characters I can call upon to play roles, large or small, and I don’t have to make everyone up from scratch.

Readers: How do you feel about secondary and tertiary characters in series? Do you like to see them reappear or would you as soon forget them when the book is done?

The Giveaway

If you can’t wait until June 28th to find out what happens next to Julia and the gang, you can enter to win one of 15 Advance Reader Copies of Muddled Through by clicking the link below and filling out the form. The giveaway ends on March 18th and entries will be accepted from any country.

Enter the giveaway here.

Thanks so much for entering and good luck!

48 Thoughts

  1. Love how you set up the characters that we enjoy seeing on the page. Secondary characters plays important roles so I do like to see them now and again.

  2. Great blog! Yes, I like to see characters come in and out of a series. A series is like visiting with old friends and living in a community-familiar, comfortable, soothing. They also ground you in your space. They are reminders of why you are there, and they make the next book a yearning. Occasionally there is an issue with one but so it is in life.

  3. That’s a great refresher, Barb! I agree on not putting every person in every book. Like you, I try to repurpose someone who might have had a lesser role in one book for a bigger one in a later story.

    1. I love it when my favorite authors do that. This person has been in the background. Now we’re going to find out what makes them tick.

  4. Oh, the recurring characters become old friends in a series, I love reading about them! That’s the fun part of living in a small town, you really get to know your neighbors and townspeople. I have your map and it’s good to be able to use it as reference when reading your books.

  5. Barb,

    Can’t wait to see what’s going on with the next book!

    I like the secondary characters in a book assuming they play a role in the story, whether the actual mystery or just the more personal subplots. It may not be important to keep them all around in every book but I know that I hate when a favorite secondary character that I love doesn’t show up or has a drastically reduced role in a book.

    It’s a hard balancing act I’m sure.

    1. It is a hard balancing act, and I have occasionally gotten complaining emails or reviews about a missing character, especially for the last book, which takes place on the next peninsula up from Busman’s Harbor.

  6. Thanks for sharing how you populated the town, Barb. The map is over the top and makes the town come alive in the minds of readers. I love it when writers include evidence boards and town maps!

      1. I made evidence boards for my work in progress, and if you have an interest, you can view the high-resolution images on my website. Use the search field at the top of the home page and enter “evidence boards.” These were designed to help the writer, but could be updated for readers.

  7. Secondary characters make a book realistic to me. Like all towns, there are some folks you see quite often if not daily while others you only see occasionally. It fun when one of the smaller characters makes an appearance so we can see which way life has gone for them. It’s like welcoming an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.

    Keeping track of characters in a book is like doing a town genealogical tree backwards. Where you trace a family tree backwards usually from the present back to the descendants, you are doing the town tree from the past working to the present time. I’m sure if you didn’t that it would be very easy to make mistakes like having three Toms or a store located in the exact spot as another store was 3 books back – especially in such a long and successful series. Too funny about the Tom and Jerry thing, but I’ve found similar name combinations several times in real life too.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  8. You’ve created quite a cast, Barb. I love to see characters reappear. But I’m with you – not every book has to feature every character we’ve ever met.

  9. I enjoy secondary characters in books as they give depth and reality to the story. Like you, don’t want the entire team in every book, but I always enjoy meeting up with them again when they reappear.

  10. I love the secondary characters in series, but don’t need to hear from all of them every book, just like I don’t hear from everyone I know daily or even weekly. Having them in and out as needed is much more like life as we know it. It is fun to see them reappear, just like meeting an old friend!

  11. There are some characters I like to see in each book, even if it is a cameo. The ones you’ve mentioned as part of the original proposal are the ones I would think of from your series. The others, I enjoy seeing pop up when they have something to contribute, but they don’t need to be in every book.

    Whether I want to see them show up again? It completely depends on how much I like them when they show up. Although after about book 4, I figure we probably won’t see them again. So any time they show up is a bonus.

  12. Hi, I like to see characters reappear, I love book series because I like to find out what happened to the main characters , especially if they have a family of their own , I love to read of them growing up .

    1. I agree. I love it when series move forward in time. Like Miss Marple after the war when they’re building a subdivision in St. Mary Mead. (Horros!)

  13. This is great, Barb. I love getting to know characters and places, and catching up with them in other books. I agree that they don’t all have to show up in every book, but it’s nice to know they’re there in case you’re stuck. Not that I know anything about that!

  14. Yes, I like to see characters come in and out of books,.especially in a series. Gives a cozy feel to the series.

  15. Definitely enjoy recurring characters, especially in a book series. They are like old friends to me that I enjoy hearing from! So excited to read this next book! Love the map!! Thanks for the chance!

  16. Oh, how I love your characters in the Main Clambake series!!!! I love them all, and rally like it when you have them reappear. I am so looking forward to reading MUDDLED THROUGH!!!!! Can’t wait!!!!

  17. I definitely like to see characters reappear, but I agree that it is not a good thing to have everyone reappear in every book. Even if I’ve gotten to know a character, too many of them in one book confuses me. And I really appreciate it when the characters do not have similar names. That confuses me in books just like it does in real life. Now, wait, was that Michelle or Marlene who said that? 🙂 However, I love Tom and Jerry!

    1. I agree that to many characters are confusing, particularly when they are all re-introduced in the first chapter. Tom and Jerry was entirely inadvertent, but now that I’ve realized, it tickles me.

  18. I love characters that come back in books. It’s fun and can put a twist in the story.
    I LOVE my map. It’s so neat!!!

  19. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I love to have the characters reappear. They become my friends when I read a book.

  20. I agree that having every character in each book is confusing and can really bog down the story. I like seeing the secondary characters pop in from time to time. I have to admit I never really thought about the Tom and Jerry names until your blog. I am really looking forward to reading the new book. I always want to visit Maine after reading one of your books.

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