“I love murdering people,” says Donna Walo Clancy in her Boston accent, letting out a slight giggle, twirling her ponytail with her left hand, wearing an apron. She is taking a break from her shift at the snack bar at the Wellfleet Drive-In, standing outside in the blazing sun.
Clancy is talking about murder mysteries, which she authors and prints herself and sells during the summer on Saturdays and Sundays at the Wellfleet Flea Market, held in the lot at the drive-in during the day. Clancy is standing in front of a small folding table she has set up just outside the snack bar, close enough that she can keep an eye on it while serving food and drinks. On the table are 12 of the books she has written.
Some of the titles: Death by Chowder, a murder mystery set on the Cape; Dad’s Final Gift, a holiday-themed mystery; and Until Jam Do Us Part, one in a series about a string of murders that occur in a jelly shop.
A synopsis of Death by Chowder from Clancy herself: “It’s a fictional town in Cape Cod. It’s got two main characters, Jay Hallett and Roland Knowles, who’s a ghost. He takes care of the lighthouse on Anchor Point. There’s a massive treasure hunt going on, because Roland was killed back in 1910 when he found pirate treasure. He buried it and he still won’t tell anybody where it is.”
Clancy’s favorite character she’s ever written is Gladys Twiddle, “who dyes her hair to match the brightly colored flowers she’s growing in her garden.”
All of Clancy’s books are family friendly. “There’s no blood and guts; there’s no sex or drugs,” she explains. “These are all cozy mysteries.” They’re available for purchase, one for $10, or two for $18.
Clancy grew up in Rockland. She served 21 years in the military. Afterwards, she found herself — and she doesn’t know how, she says — divorced with three children, living in Wellfleet. “Happily divorced, mind you,” she says.
She wrote her first story in the third grade in 1968. “I got an A on it,” she says, adding that she really got into writing when, as a child, she started reading Nancy Drew. “I just love Nancy Drew.”
As Clancy is talking, her friend Al Chisholm — who operates a berry company out of Plymouth and sells his products at the flea market, mostly jams and sauces, one of them called “Al’s Wiener Whacking Sauce,” which is a jalapeño and pepper relish — comes up and tells Clancy that she has to tell the reporter about how she used to “dance at the greasy pole.”
“You’re so bad,” Clancy says to him. “Don’t be telling my secrets.”
“I come with a roll of ones every day to this place,” Chisholm says.
There used to be, Clancy explains, a pole right outside the snack bar and she and her friends used to joke about her pole dancing and “earning tips.”
Chisholm and Clancy, as it happens, have collaborated on Chisholm’s cookbook, Al’s Backwoods Berries. Chisholm supplied Clancy with his recipes and she organized them and came up with a throughline for the book.
Chisholm began his company 10 years ago after his wife died, which was around the same time he lost his job in the 2008 financial crash. His brother owned a bottling company and he suggested that Chisholm start making jams and jellies.
“I said, ‘Who the hell eats jams and jellies?’ I don’t even like fruit,” Chisholm says. “But now I sell 30,000 jars a year.”
“When I had my labels made, they told me that if I came down here to the Wellfleet Flea Market and I did well here, I could swing it,” he says. “If you can make it at the Wellfleet Flea Market, you can make it anywhere.”