Mystery Author Barbara Ross

I’m pleased to welcome one of my fellow Sisters in Crime, Barbara Ross, author of the debut novel The Death of an Ambitious Woman. In July, Barbara became one of the editor/publishers at Level Best Books which has produced an anthology of crime stories by New England writers every fall for the last seven years. The eighth edition, titled Thin Ice, will be released in November. Barbara and her husband divide their time between Somerville, Massachusetts and Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Barbara, tell us what you were doing 25 years ago?

BARBARA: My daughter was born in 1984, so 25 years ago, I was a busy working mother with a husband, a house and two little kids. I thought of myself that way for a long time—so long in fact that when I wasn’t anymore, it took me a little while to figure out who I was. I used to say I had a perfectly balanced work and home life—too much of both!

The protagonist of my first novel, The Death of an Ambitious Woman is also a busy working mother with a husband and two kids. At the outset of the novel, Acting Police Chief Ruth Murphy finds out she’s been formally recommended for the job of permanent chief of the large, economically diverse suburban city where she lives. Then she senses something is wrong about the car accident that kills a prominent mutual fund manager (another busy, working mother), and Ruth has to choose between pursuing the murder and potentially losing the job of her dreams.

It was important to me to explore the theme of work-life balance. Not in the cartoonish, “My kid called the babysitter ‘mommy,’” sort of way we sometimes see, but to examine the accommodations everyone in a family makes to a career—any career. As Ruth investigates the victim’s life, she learns some things about her own.

Twenty-five years ago, Ruth Murphy was just starting her police career. As the book says, “Ruth thought of herself as a member of a second generation. The first generation of women, who filed the lawsuits, fought the unions and held fast through the years of litigation, had been largely too old or too long in the narrow disciplines of juvenile officer, dispatcher or meter maid to benefit from their own hard work. Ruth’s generation had reaped those rewards, but their tests had come in the station house.” Now, of course, women have been police chiefs in major cities like Washington D.C., Detroit and Boston. But there’s still a long way to go—across the country less than 1% of police chiefs are women.

The book isn’t about the changing nature of women in police work, or about working mothers and the choices families make, but both provide important background and context for the puzzle and pursuit of the killer.

Read more about Barbara on her web site. Also check out The Death of an Ambitious Woman on Amazon.

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Stacy Juba's Characters At A Crossroads Blog


  1. Congratulations on the new book, Barbara! When women are working and raising a family, it’s hard to find time for personal interests like writing. I’ve been doing lots of book promotion lately, but I haven’t written a word of fiction in over a year and a half.

    Was it hard to balance writing at that time when your children were growing up, or was writing fiction something you got into later?

  2. Hi Stacy!

    Thanks for having me. I think everyone has trouble balancing writing with “the business of writing” –querying, submitting, promoting, etc. If you figure that one out, let me know!

    I was always writing, but, especially when the kids were young or when the businesses were young, I wasn’t always writing a lot. I have a wonderful writers group that has supported me and kept my head in the game for 15 years. I also went through busy life periods when I focused on short fiction, which is part of my interest in Level Best.

    So always writing, but not always productive.


  3. Jacqueline Seewald says


    Congrats on the excellent reviews your novel has received! It sounds like a wonderful mystery, one I will enjoy reading.

    All the best,

    Jacqueline Seewald
    TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, Five Star/Gale new release

  4. Leslie Wheeler says

    I like the way you make connections between your own life and your main character’s, Barb. Although I know the book well, having been in a writers group with you since, well, the Flood, I wasn’t aware how your character’s issues stemmed from your own experience balancing work and family.
    Very interesting!

  5. Hi Leslie and Jacquie

    I really enjoyed writing this blog entry. It gave me something to chew over that I hadn’t quite thought about. I like Stacy’s theme here. Of course it goes with her mystery, but it is a useful thing for every writer to think about.


  6. That was interesting, Barb. Thanks for sharing it. When my children were young (and at home), I felt all I could manage, beyond them and the day job and all that that entailed, was writing short stories. As an empty-nester, it’s now a lot easier to write a complete novel (OK, not easy per se, but easier!), and so I have. And started a second one.


  7. I’m glad you like the theme, Barbara. It’s worked for everyone except one author who was a toddler 25 years ago, and her character was a one-year-old! Your book is definitely on my to-read list.

    I can relate to what you said about writing short stories, Edith. I recently published a picture book, and that was written because I could only focus on something short. Not that writing short stories or picture books is easy by any means, but sometimes when your brain is scattered it is less intimidating to focus on writing and fine-tuning a shorter writing project as opposed to a huge 350 page novel.

Stacy Juba