The members of the Ruskin family of Moosetookalook, Maine are almost as important to the Liss MacCrimmon novels as Liss herself. Dan Ruskin is introduced in Kilt Dead as a love interest for Liss. They grew up together, but Liss has been away for ten years. In the interim, Dan spent four years at the University of Maine (in Orono, Maine), then returned home to join his father's company, Ruskin Construction, which already employed his older brother, Sam. As a hobby, Dan is a custom woodworker, making hand-crafted furniture, clocks, decorative boxes, and other items. Gradually, this turns into a business and by the sixth book in the series, he's ready to open a showroom and retail store to sell the things he makes.
The inspiration for Dan's woodworking was my husband, who has turned it into one of his two retirement businesses (the other is our Christmas tree farm). In Sandy's case, he gradually got away from making all sorts of things and narrowed his products down to two, both of which my fictional woodworker also makes. Sandy specializes in jigsaw puzzle tables and in "magic" wands. Below are some of the items that inspired Dan's woodworking creations in the Liss MacCrimmon books.
And here's where the "magic" happens:
But what about the rest of the Ruskin family? I've mentioned Dan's brother. Sam is a little older, married to a woman named June (okay, yes, I took the name from Leave it to Beaver) and has a daughter named Samantha, who will have a bigger part to play in the 7th book in the series, due out in 2013. They have a dog named Papelbon, named after the former Red Sox closer.
Dan and Sam also have a sister. Mary Ruskin Winchester gives birth to her first child, Jason, in Kilt Dead and later has a daughter named Katie, who is two months old in Bagpipes, Brides and Homicides. On my character sheets she has a husband named Bob, but I don't think he's ever been mentioned in the books.
The patriarch of the Ruskin family is Joe Ruskin, father of Sam, Mary, and Dan. We learn quite a bit more about him in Scotched but he's in every book, at least briefly. Joe worked at The Spruces, Moosetookalook's turn-of-the-nineteenth-century hotel, as a young man and had long dreamed of restoring it to its former glory as a luxury hotel in the old grand hotel/destination resort tradition. After making a success of his own business, Ruskin Construction, he bought the place and began renovations. They are still going on during the first two books in the series. The hotel reopens between Scone Cold Dead and A Wee Christmas Homicide and thereafter hosts various events that take place in The Corpse Wore Tartan, Scotched, and the forthcoming Bagpipes, Brides and Homicides.
Below is one of my inspirations for The Spruces. These are shots of the Bethel Inn in Bethel, Maine where my husband and I spent Christmas one year.
Now, of course, The Spruces isn't just like the Bethel Inn. It is a combination of several places I've been to or seen pictures of. For those of you thinking that The Spruces must be The Balsams in New Hampshire . . . you're wrong. I actually got the idea for the name from The Pines, a hotel in the Catskills, near the town where I grew up. As for the architecture, floorplan and furnishings, here are my primary inspirations. First, the Poland Spring House in Poland Spring, Maine. Alas, it is no longer with us, but it had a wonderful history.
Another hotel I've stayed in is still very much a going concern. This is the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
The rationale behind renovating and reopening such a hotel came from hearing about another hotel in New Hampshire, the Mountain View House. While it was being spruced up, there were all sorts of details online about costs and materials. Great fodder for my fictional renovations. It has since opened and seems to be doing just fine. Here's how that hotel looked in its first heyday.
For some of the wonderful interior details, however, my research took me to a place I have not been, although I've certainly heard of it, The Stanley in Estes Park, Colorado. Below are pictures I have in my files that show two of the prominent features at my fictional The Spruces, the staircase from the lobby to the mezzanine and the check-in desk. I believe both photos were taken at The Stanley.