A Murderous Rage

Originally posted on Maine Crime Writers on February 7, 2012


 Me: Dial, Dial, Dial
Automated attendant: “Welcome to the Aetna Health Insurance Member’s line. In order to improve our service, your call may be monitored for quality control. Are you an Aetna member?”
Me: Did I not just dial the Member’s line? “Member”
AA: “How may we help you? You can say ‘Claims’ ‘Benefits’ or ‘What are my choices?’”
Me: “Claims”
AA: “What is your member id? Your social security number? Your birthdate? Your mother’s maiden name? Your eye color? Do you prefer frozen or fresh-squeezed? Pulp or no pulp? Have you heard about that new one that kinda has a little pulp?”
Me: Answer, answer, answer, answer.
AA: “We have several claims for you here.”
Me: “That’s actually why I’m calling. You seem to have stopped paying my husband’s—”
AA: “For each claim, we need the provider number and the exact date and time of the claim.”
Me: “Wait, what? The time of the claim, not the service, because how would I know–AARRGGHH!”

Me: Dial, Dial, Dial
Automated attendant: “Welcome to the Aetna Health Insurance Member’s line. In order to improve our service, your call may be monitored for qual—?”
Me: “Member”
AA: “How may we help you? You can say ‘Claims’ ‘Benefits’ or ‘What are my choices?’”
Me: “What are my choices?”
AA: “Your choices are ‘Claims’ or ‘Benefits’
Me: “I hate you.”

Welcome to Aetna Navigator: For your protection, we’ve randomly assigned you a user name you will never remember and then we’ve hidden the area of the site where you can change it! Also for your protection, we require all passwords to have two consonants, three vowels, a number between 30 and 50 and any symbol that cannot be created by your keyboard. Good luck!

Aetna Navigator: We see you’ve accessed our site! What a surprise. Now that you’re here, our Automated Attendant Ann will answer any questions.
Me: Click
Ann: No response
Me: Click
Ann: No response
Me: Click
Ann: No response
Me: “Ann, are you by any chance related to the Automated Attendant who works on the Member’s line?”

Aetna Navigator: Send a secure message to Member Services. We will reply to the e-mail address below.
Me: After 15 months, you have apparently decided my husband is no longer covered by our policy. This seems a little random to me because I am still covered by the policy, we pay on the same bill and our payments are up to date. Please advise.
Aetna Navigator: For your safety, this response to your e-mail has been encrypted. Click on this link. No, not that link, the other link! No, the other, other link. Now download the document. Enter your password again. No! Not that password. You are never going to be allowed to read this message.
Me: Grrrrrrrrrr

Me: Dial, Dial, Dial
Automated attendant: “Welcome to the Aetna Health Insurance Member’s line. In order to improve our service, your call may be monitored for qual—?”
Me: “Member”
AA: “How may we help you? You can say ‘Clai—’”
AA: “I don’t understand what you said.”
AA: “You can choose ‘Claims’ or “Benefits.”

Me: Dial, Dial, Dial
Automated attendant: “Welcome to the Aetna Health Insurance Billing line. In order to improve our service, your call may be monitored for quality control. Please listen carefully to our menu options because they have recently changed.
If you have questions about a payment, press 1.
If you have questions about an invoice, press 2.
If you like spicy food, press 3.
If you think puppies are cuter than kittens, press 4.
If you are a Starship commander, or are otherwise responsible for a Starship fleet, press 5.
If you are unhappy with your health insurance, wave your hands over you head and scream like a chicken.
Or, to speak to a customer service representative, press 7.”
Me: 7!
AA: Click, buzz, silence.

Me: Dial, Dial, Dial
Automated attendant: “Welcome to the Aetna Health Insurance Billing line. In order to improve our service, your call may be monitored for qual—”
Me: 7!
AA: “What is your member id? Your social security number? Your birthdate? Your mother’s maiden name? Your eye color? In what city were you born? Was it a difficult birth? How long was the labor? What do you think about that Kim Kardashian?”
Me: Answer, answer, answer, answer.
Human Being: “Can I help you?”
Me: “God, I hope so. I do not actually have a billing problem, but since Aetna deems it appropriate to have human beings solve billing problems, and not claims problems, let’s pretend this is a billing problem, okay?”
HB: “Okay. In order to help you, I’ll need your member Id.”
Me: “I just gave that to the computer.”
HB: “Yes, but it doesn’t come through to our system.”
Me: “That seems incredibly inefficient.”
HB: (placating tone) “If you think so.”
Me: “I am quite sure I’m not the only person who thinks so. Anyway, here it is.”
HB: “What is your question?”
Me: “You’ve stopped paying my husband’s claims.”
HB: “Yes, we need his social security number.”
Me: “He’s been a member and you’ve been paying his claims for fifteen months, and now you need his social security number?”
HB: “We don’t have his social security number.”
Me: “I don’t understand, did you lose his social security number, or never have it or what?”
HB: “I don’t know, ma’am.”
Me: “Do you know what would happen to the productivity of this country if I had the time back I have spent on this? Not to mention the people in my husband’s doctor’s office and pharmacy who now have to re-submit these claims? Not to mention your time? Our national economic problems would be solved! The stock market would soar, and—”
HB: “If you think so, ma’am.”
Me: “I am quite sure I’m not the only person who thinks so. How long will it take to reinstate him?”
HB: “The computer will be updated overnight. It will be all fixed by tomorrow morning.”
Me: “If you think so…”


Me: Dial, Dial, Dial
Automated attendant: “Welcome to the Aetna Health Insurance Billing line. In order to improve our service, your call may be monitored for qual—”

My American Family

Originally published on Maine Crime Writers, December 21, 2011

Hi Barb here. This is a post from my personal blog three years ago, which I’m repeating here today because it still very much represents how I feel.

Christmas Day this year was spent at my husband’s brother’s ex-wife’s cousin’s house, which is to say, with friends.

We are as a group united by bonds of blood, law and friendship.  We have among us people whose ancestors came on the Mayflower and people who speak today with the accents of the countries of their birth. Some of us have grandparents who thought Franklin Roosevelt was a communist, and some have grandparents who actually were communists. We are Catholics, Protestants and Jews, some of us fervent in our beliefs, some of us equally fervent in our unbelief, and every form of questioner in between.

The cousins, 1997

We range in age from eight to eighty.  We have children who came to us in every way children can come, step, adopted and biological, planned, longed for, and delightful surprise.  We have children who make us unbearably proud and children we worry about everyday.  Frequently, these are the same children.

This year we marked two deaths, four major illnesses, three surgeries, a divorce and two marriages.  On Christmas day, two couples no longer together smiled and treated each other with grace because their love for their children comes before their own pain.

This is my American family.  We are pale, ruddy, olive-skinned and brown.  We are blonde, red-headed, brown, black, white and gray-haired. There are times in the last decade when this kind of big, messy stew has felt invisible, almost impossible in the onslaught of messages from those who, for their own venal gain, would divide us, push our differences in and our common humanity out.

Yet all along, we have known it wasn’t so and gone on, frequently fractious, but never fractured.

With hope for the future.  Happy New Year to all.

Pajama Party in Boothbay Harbor

Hi. Barb here.

In Boothbay Harbor, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving every year, all the shops open at 6:00 am and have big sales and everyone shops in their pajamas.


Lots of groups wear matching pajamas

Those of you who know me may be surprised that I was there, given that I don’t like a) early, b) birds, c) sales, d) crowds and e) wearing costumes.  So it kind of sounds like hell on earth for me, amirite?

Even the dogs get into the act.

But I have to admit, it’s kind of genius. The shops, many of which will close down for the season at the end of the weekend, get one more chance to unload their merchandise. Local people get to shop for the holidays at tourist-focused stores downtown that they don’t enter from one end of the year to the next, and people do come in from out of town for one last gasp of the season. Families treat it like a happy, relaxed time together, before the craziness of the holidays truly begins, enjoying breakfast out and Bloody Marys.

Santa and the Gingerbread Man. Santa apparently doesn’t sleep in those red longjohns as we’ve been led to believe.


The stores set their own rules.  Some have progressive sales—40% off at 6:00 am, 30% at 7:00, etc.  Some give a greater discount to people wearing their pjs. Some stop their sales at 9:00 or 10:00 am and some go all day.

Your intrepid reporter

After the sales, people gather at the library for a pajama parade and later in the morning, there are bed races. Everyone’s home to rejoin their normal weekend routine by lunch.


September 11th in Italy

Originally published in Maine Crime Writers, September 12, 2011

My husband and I spent September 11, 2001 in Villalago, the tiny village in the Apennines his grandfather had emigrated from eighty years before.

We were on the second leg of a much-dreamed about family vacation, a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. On September 8, after ten days touring Florence and Venice, we’d seen our son, Robert, 20 and daughter, Kate, 17 off at the Venice airport so Kate could return home to start her senior year in high school. Always a nervous flier, Kate walked backward down the ramp through security, eyes wide, staying close to her brother, until we were out of her sight. Bill and I continued on to Rome.

On September 11, we took a train through the deep mountain passes to the city of Sulmona where we met Bill’s mother’s cousins, Louisa and Elda. The day was as crisp and clear in central Italy as it was in New York and Washington.


Louisa drove us up the narrow, twisting mountain road to Villalago. We parked below, because the village’s single street is a set of stairs. We visited the home where Bill’s grandfather grew up, two single rooms, one over the other, with a place for animals underneath.

From Villalago, we drove on to Scanno, a ski resort, and had a wonderful lunch. We returned to the car and switched on the radio just as reports starting coming in that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Louisa had worked for CNN in its earliest days and her news instincts kicked in. We flew down the mountain and arrived in Sulmona as the plane hit the Pentagon. We watched the story unfold on television, the cousins translating rapidly.

That night in Rome, a letter was slipped under our hotel room door. It was delivered to every person traveling on a U. S. passport at every hotel in the city.

Ten years later this simple form letter still brings me to tears.

Hotel Mamorata, Ravello

We continued on down to the Amalfi coast, feeling like we should be home, but knowing there was nothing we could do and with no way to return in any case. We skipped a planned visit to Pompeii. Bill said he couldn’t face a city in ruins.

The Europeans we met were universally sympathetic and supportive. They worried deeply about the reaction of President Bush, who was just eight months in office and not well known to them. They expressed the hope that Colin Powell would have a moderating influence. How naïve and optimistic that idea seems now.

The first time I met Bill’s grandfather was at his 50th wedding anniversary party. The gift from his children was a trip to Italy. “Why would I want to go there?” he asked in his Italian accent, looking out at the crowd of family and friends. “Everything good that ever happened to me, happened here. In this great country.”

This September 11, our family and friends gathered at a good-bye party for our daughter Kate. In the years since 9/11 she’s graduated from high school and college, and worked for O, the Oprah Magazine in New York, living less than a mile from Ground Zero. Still a nervous flier, she’s never let that stop her, traveling to France, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and to California and Las Vegas too many times to count. She leaves Wednesday to study for her masters degree in creative writing in London.

Paul McCartney told me never to drop names, but…

Originally posted in Maine Crime Writers, August 20, 2011

Hi. Barb here.

This post gets its title from something Vince Gill said on the NPR radio program, “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me.”  It’s such a perfect segue that now everyone in my family uses it whenever we are about to…drop a name.

My sister-in-law got me thinking about this topic.  After attending a dinner party with me she said, “You know what you should write about?  A mystery writer who murders everyone who comes up to him and says, ‘You know what you should write about?’”

I’m astonished by the number of people who approach me, a new and relatively unknown author, and say exactly that. I always brace myself a bit, particularly when the question is preceded by the disclaimer that the speaker doesn’t read a) mysteries, b) fiction or c) at all.  But then I remember (here comes the name drop) Truman Capote.

The summer between my junior and senior year in college, I waited on tables at Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square in Southamption, Long Island.  I’d been eating there since I was a child.  My grandparents and their friends had closed down the place so often Herb was considered a family friend.  Though he hired me as a favor to my grandparents, I was not without waitressing experience.  I’d already spent one summer at a resort in the Poconos (think Dirty Dancing, but all the guests are Irish Catholic) and another at the lunch counter at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia.

Herb McCarthy’s wasn’t one world.  It was multiples.  In the front of house in the evening, diners like Lee Radziwill and the Gabors (mother and sisters) ate Long Island duckling and porterhouse steaks.  On the other side of the swinging kitchen doors, all the employees from head chef to dishwasher were African-American.  Back there, Radziwill was known as “Princess Razzle-Dazzle” and the ribs and hash served as dinner for us help was better than anything ever delivered out front.  Another world consisted of the full-time, professional employees–Herb, his omnipresent second wife, two bartenders, the captain, and Vada, the only waitress who worked days all year round.  The college student waitresses and busboys were the lowest of the low.

In my waitress uniform, summer of 1974

At lunchtime, there was also the world of the bar, where many of Southampton’s year-rounders–lawyers, insurance men, merchants and bankers–gathered every weekday.  Truman Capote ate his lunch there every Monday in a corner booth.  I was his waitress all that summer.  He didn’t much like it.  He and Vada were close.  He’d even bought her new patio furniture when a storm blew hers away.  But she didn’t work Mondays in the summer, so he was stuck with me.

I wasn’t a great waitress, I admit.  I’d been trained not to hurry people through their cocktails, to wait until they’d settled in with their drinks to take their orders.  Once, when Truman lunched with John Knowles, author of A Separate Peace, the cocktails flowed so continuously I couldn’t figure out when to take their order and Capote finally yelled at Herb about my incompetence.  But over the summer, we figured out how to get along.  For years I kept an Amex carbon with his signature on it in my wallet, which I’m quite sure both the restaurant and Amex would have frowned on had they known.

Whenever Capote walked into the bar, the locals would call out “Truman!” in a way a decade later I would associate with Norm entering Cheers. And then it would start,  “You know what you should write about?”  Capote was unfailingly polite and engaged, as if the tall tales from their world were as interesting to him as the gossip from his own.  He was as tiny, high-voiced and effeminate as he appears in the video clips you’ve seen, but the bar patrons treated him as one of their own and he responded with the same courtesy.

So now, decades later, I think of Capote whenever someone approaches me with, “You know what you should write about?”  The ideas I hear are sometimes excellent, though I’ve never used one. But maybe I should. Capote never wrote the stories from Herb’s bar. He never completed another novel, publishing only portions of the unfinished Answered Prayers.

Why I Hate Halloween–and other stories

Originally published on Maine Crime Writers, October 31, 2011

Barb here. I’m afraid it’s true. I’m one of those people who hates Halloween.

Me, as a horse (back-end), fourth grade

It wasn’t always so. Though my mother didn’t sew, she was always able to execute whatever crazy costume idea I came up with. In fourth grade, my friend Virginia convinced me to go in with her on a horse costume. She was horse-crazy, and could do a perfect human imitation of a trot and a canter, so she felt strongly that she should be the front-end, whereas my talents lay — to the rear. Her mother invited my mother over to “discuss the girls’ costume,” and served tea from a silver service. My mother said at that moment she knew she’d be making the entire thing. That Halloween I learned that walking the whole neighborhood bent over is a pain. Even worse are the homeowners who don’t see that second candy bag sticking out of the back-end of the horse. Nonetheless, I had a lovely Halloween that year and for several more.

Our son, Halloween, 1982

But by the time I was a parent, I hated Halloween. For one thing, my husband worked in politics and election day being when it is, in the even-numbered years by Halloween I’d been doing what I called my “single parent imitation” for months and was strung out and exhausted. Plus we lived on a busy street where we didn’t know all our neighbors, which only bothered me one day a year—on Halloween when my children would look at me with their big eyes and expect that perfect neighborhood, trick-or-treating evening. Oh, the pressure to fulfill their little person expectations!

In 1986, I was feeling that pressure acutely late Halloween afternoon when a sister-in-law called to say that my husband’s brother, Carl, age 23, was eloping that evening. My sister-in-law thought my husband needed to call Carl to try to talk him out of it. My husband is the oldest of six, and before we all learned that nobody in the family can convince anyone else of anything, these types of requests were frequent. Carl and his girlfriend Julie had been together since high school and were living together down the Cape, so while marriage had never been discussed, it wasn’t all that surprising.

Halloween 1986

So, I said (remember all that pressure), “If this is their idea of a joke, terrific.  But Bill won’t be calling anyone when he gets home. He’s taking the kids trick-or-treating. It’s Halloween and we have little kids.” And I slammed down the phone.

I immediately felt terrible, as one does after an outburst like that. So I called another sister-in-law to check in. “Apparently Carl’s getting married,” I said. Here’s how the conversation went from there.

SiL: “Really. Who’s he marrying?”
Me: “What?”

SiL: “He broke up with Julie.”
Me: “What!”

SiL: “He’s been seeing someone new for a few weeks.”
Me: “What!

SiL: “I hear she’s South American or something.”
Me: “What!”

SiL: “And she doesn’t speak any English.”
Me: “WHAT!”

Halloween 1993

And so on. When my husband walked through the front door an hour later, bug-eyed, he immediately headed to the den to call Carl and try to persuade him to wait. I shuffled the kids around the neighborhood, thinking–Unbelievable, the lengths the universe will go to to stick me with this awful job.

My husband was ultimately unsuccessful. Carl and Eliana were married that Halloween night. I like to think of them in the Justice of the Peace’s living room, the ceremony constantly interrupted by the ringing doorbell and gangs of small trick-or-treaters.

Carl did tell me that the next day, feeling a little overwhelmed by what they’d done, he and Eliana were back at work at the old Wursthaus in Hyannis. When a customer complained that the tongue on his sandwich was sliced too thick, Carl replied, “The tongue’s too thick? The tongue is too thick? You think that’s a problem? I just married that woman over there, (dramatically pointing toward Eliana) and I don’t even know her middle name!”

Halloween 1997

That would be the end of the story, except, against odds probably too astronomical to calculate, the marriage has endured. Today is Carl and Eliana’s 25th wedding anniversary.

They’ve raised two fantastic children. They run a business together and have a beautiful home. Eliana does speak English and Carl now speaks something that sounds to me like fluent Portuguese, though I sometimes catch his Brazilian friends nudging each other and giggling while he’s holding forth.

So congratulations, Carl and Eliana. I hope you go out tonight and party hardy.

Me, I’ll be hiding in my living room with all the lights off, because, have I mentioned? I hate Halloween.

Barbara Ross: Ambitious Woman

Originally published on Maine Crime Writers, October 23, 2011

Paul Doiron here —

One of the great pleasures for me of becoming part of Maine Crime Writers was getting to know authors after having read (at best in some cases) a single book of theirs or having met them once or twice briefly at a group signing. There were also some writers whom I was altogether unfamiliar with. Barbara Ross fell into the latter category. She’d published a debut mystery set in Massachusetts for one thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m barely caught up with Maine crime canon), and in that cock-eyed way Mainers have of measuring time, she was still a newbie here, having lived a mere seven years in Boothbay Harbor. Given our relative unfamiliarity with each other, I appreciated the opportunity to interview her recently. What I learned is that not only is she a Maine writer on the rise, but she’s already lived a fascinating life that’s taught her a lot about where commercial publishing may be headed.

You had a highly successful career in technology before you wrote DEATH OF AN AMBITIOUS WOMAN. For the less tech-savvy readers among us, what specifically did you do? Can you talk a little bit about that time in your life and how working along the 128 Corridor prepared you to become a crime novelist?

I’ve worked for three start-ups and until relatively recently I was able to say all three still existed, which is pretty remarkable for start-ups.  They’ve since all been sold.  The first was a company called Information Mapping.  I answered an ad in the Globe that said, “Want to write part-time?” and was assured I would never be fulltime or have benefits. I went on to stay twelve years and run every division except finance.


From there, my friend Carol Vallone and I founded a company called WebCT which made Learning Management Systems which allow you to put courses or parts of courses online (pretty heady stuff in 1996) and are sold principally into higher education. We sold the company to our chief competitor Blackboard in 2006 for $180 million, or $154 million depending on how you count the cash and whose press release you read. In 2008 Carol again “persuaded” me to go to work for Wimba, another company in the higher ed technology space, which was sold to Blackboard in 2010.

As for how it prepared me to be a crime writer—for years I described myself as the Miss Marple of educational technology.  The industry is really a small village and I was in it so long I know where all the bodies are buried.

Was writing always something you did for yourself during your high-tech years or did it represent a deliberate shift in your focus?

I’ve been in a writers group for more than 15 years and its members are among my dearest friends. Honestly, I always felt like a writer who had stumbled into a business career, not the other way around. When I was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and there were too many Wharton people in an English class, I’d figure they were just fulfilling requirements and would transfer out. (Boy, I was a snotty undergraduate.)

Another move you made in your life was physical: coming to Maine to live in the former Seafarer Inn in Boothbay Harbor. What made you decide to make the leap?

My mother-in-law Olga Carito ran the Seafarer as a bed and breakfast for years, but she was getting older. Our younger child had gone off to college and my husband and I were rattling around in a too big house in Newton, MA. One day in the car, I turned to my husband and said, “We should buy a two family house where your mother can live downstairs in the winter and then we can buy the inn and keep it in the family.” There are days when I think these are the kinds of thoughts you should keep to yourself, but mostly it’s been great.

Whom do you consider to be your influences? Librarians especially like to talk about “read-alikes,” authors whom they consider to be similar to a new novelist. Who have you been compared with?

I think you write what you love, and for me that’s Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series and P.D. James, though I haven’t achieved anything as dark or as literary as either of them.

DEATH OF AN AMBITIOUS WOMAN is set in the fictional Massachusetts town of New Derby. Briefly, you give us your “elevator pitch” for the story and describe how you came to write it?


The elevator pitch is, “One ambitious woman investigates the death of another and learns what price she is willing to pay for success.”

I wanted to write a professional sleuth (see previous question) and I wondered what I could bring to that story.  I knew what it was like to lead and have that sense of responsibility, so I created a female police chief. I also wanted to show a successful woman who had a happy home life, because I think sometimes the message out there is that it isn’t possible to have both.

What surprises did you encounter in the publication process? 

As another tech exec friend who writes crime novels says, “Everyone in publishing goes on and on about how much it’s changing.  In the technology industry we call that ‘Thursday.’”

Has living in Maine changed your writing and how do you see it influencing your future work?

I’m working on a proposal for a series set in Maine now.  Who knows what will happen, but I’m hoping for the best because I’m kind of falling in love with the characters and the premise.

You are one of the co-editors and co-publishers of Level Best Books, which publishes an annual anthology of crime stories by New England writers. How did your involvement with that project start and what do you aim for when you put together a new anthology?

final dead calm cover

Level Best Books is magic for me. They published my first short story in Riptide, in 2004 at a time when I desperately needed someone to tell me, “There’s something here.  You’re not crazy.” In my writers group we’d egg each other on to have a Level Best submission every spring.

When the former editors, Kate Flora (who is every bit, probably more, entrepreneurial than I am—witness Level Best, New England Crime Bake, The Sisters in Crime New England Speakers Bureau, this blog, etc.), Ruth McCarty and Susan Oleksiw announced they were giving it up, the members of my writers group started talking about whether we could take it on. “Could we” became “should we” became “we must.”

I love it.  It fulfills that part of me that is a businessperson.  Our new anthology, Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm, will be released 11/11/11.

Are there stories you chose that have gone on to win prizes or are especially proud of? How does someone submit to Level Best?

In last year’s anthology, Maine’s Judy Green’s story was nominated for an Edgar®, Sheila Connolly’s story was nominated for an Agatha and Kathy Chencharik’s story won a Derringer for best flash. The awards are a tremendous amount of fun and it’s something we can offer the authors because we pay a pittance.

But the thing that I love the most about Level Best is carrying on the previous editors tradition of offering first publication to a few authors each year.  Nothing excites me more than publishing a new and talented voice.  You can find our submission guidelines at http://levelbestbooks.com/submissions

My Maine Connection

Originally posted on Maine Crime Writers, July 13, 2011

Hi.  I’m Barbara Ross, author of The Death of an Ambitious Woman, and a co-editor at Level Best Books. I’m awed to be here with this amazing group of authors. I think I may be a double newbie, the newest fiction author (my book was published just a few months after Paul Doiron’s The Poacher’s Son) and the newest to Maine.

My Maine connection begins in 1989 when my mother-in-law and a friend took a trip to Bar Harbor. Afterwards, they came gunkholing down the coast in their car, visiting every antique, gift and craft shop along the way, as one does (and especially as that pair did).

It got late, so they decided to stay over rather than try to get back to Massachusetts.  Somehow, they found their way down Route 27 to Boothbay Harbor, where, completely unplanned, they spent the night at a bed and breakfast at the head of the harbor called the Seafarer Inn.

The next morning the owners mentioned that they were selling the inn.  In that moment, my mother-in-law said,  “I’ll buy it.”

If she had ever before harbored dreams of running a bed and breakfast, she’d never breathed a word of them to those nearest and dearest.

My mother-in-law Olga and my kids on the front porch of the Seafarer. 1990

But, buy it she did.  It turned out the perfect gig for a widowed school teacher.  My mother-in-law is warm, charming, and a great cook. My husband and I were always astonished to find reserved Midwestern couples hugging and kissing her good-bye after a single night at the Seafarer, promising to send Christmas cards.

By 2005 things had changed again.  In her late seventies, it took more help for my mother-in-law to run the inn and the economics began to tip sideways. So, in a transaction so complex I took to calling it “Momitrage,” my husband I and became the owners of the Seafarer.

The view from our porch. My husband has photographed this view in every season, weather, time of day and tide. He’s a bit of a nut.

We don’t run it as an inn anymore.  I am notoriously not a morning person and can think of nothing worse than coming downstairs to find a table full of happy, chatting strangers.  I guess we could run a Bed and Get-your-own-damn-breakfast, but I doubt there’s much of a market.  It’s an oversized summer home that fits the whole family and has the best front porch in the world.  My mother-in-law’s still there from July to November, when we throw her out so we can shut the place down for the winter, because opening the heating bills causes actual, physical pain.

Fireworks seen from the porch, Windjammer Days, 2011

When she bought the Seafarer, my mother-in-law was just a few years older than I am now.  In her sixties, she learned both the art and the business of hospitality.  So whenever I am stymied, frustrated, overwhelmed or just plain panicked by the challenge of learning the art and the business of fiction-writing, I think of her, talk myself off the ceiling and get down to it.

For me, that’s the lesson of the Seafarer.

2011 Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We’re having an unseasonably warm December in New England, so even though nearly all our Christmas shopping is done, cookies are baked, and we put the decorations up a week early, it’s taken awhile to get into the swing of things. Then last night, we celebrated “Christmas Eve” with the Feast of the Seven Fishes and assembled multitudes of Caritos, and exchanged presents with Rob and Sunny, who will be in Colorado on the actual day. I think we are finally in the holiday spirit.

This has been a year of change and more change for our family.

Kate has led the way by leaving not just her job, but the country altogether. She’s now living in Kentish Town in London, studying for her Masters Degree in Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University and loving every minute of her geographic and academic adventure. Bill and I joke that by moving from Manhattan to London, Kate seems to be on a quest to live in the most expensive cities in the world. She responds to this by ignoring us, which is usually the wisest course of action.

Bill has also made big changes in his life. In February, he left his operational role at Sage Systems after eight years. Like me, he is now focused on writing, working on a political thriller among other projects. In October, I became a heroine to women with retired husbands everywhere, when I “suggested” that maybe he find somewhere to work other than our couch. (He claims he was annoying me by breathing. This is a slight exaggeration. He was annoying me by breathing in our living room during daylight hours. There’s a difference.) Anyway, he’s rented office space in a commercial building half a block from us and we are both happy and incredibly more productive.

Running counter to trend, after changing jobs and/or apartments, often multiple times, every year since college, Rob and Sunny enjoyed a year of relative stability. Sunny did accept a new job in her field in post-production sound at Tantor Media, a major producer of audio-books. Rob is still at work as a technical writer at Blackboard. Their little area of Connecticut was the absolute epicenter for the northeastern snowstorms last winter with 93 inches of snow. They also endured two week-long power outages after Hurricane Irene and our freak October snowstorm. Despite all this, they are planning to look for a house to purchase in the area in the new year.

I have stayed free all year from corporate entanglements (and of course, the curse of regular income). With my co-editor/co-publishers, we released the ninth annual Level Best Books anthology Best New England Crime Stories: 2012: Dead Calm in November. My story “In the Rip” appears in this collection. I’m putting the finishing touches on a second novel and blogging regularly with some amazing mystery writers at www.mainecrimewriters.com. All and all, my writing career has progressed this year to the point where I am now in a position to be rejected by a much better class of people than ever before.

On the Carito side of the family, John and Heather’s daughter Hilary graduated from Boston Latin in the spring and started at UMass Amherst in the fall. Today, we learned that Carl and Eliana’s son Breno became engaged to Rachel, his girlfriend of many years. On the Ross side, Rip and Ann’s daughter Julia graduated from Wellesley College in May and is now working as a research assistant in psychology at UC Davis.

Of course, not all of this year’s changes were good ones. In January we lost our cocker spaniel MacKenzie. In February, came the most devastating loss of all, my Dad. It made for a long, sad winter, but my mother has led the way by focusing on all the wonderful things she and Dad did in their lives together. Her example has been a source of great comfort for the rest of us.

We hope that 2012 brings you happiness and adventure and that we get to see you some time in the new year.

Bill & Barb