From Ellen Byron‘s Cajun Country cozies, you might think she’s a Louisiana country girl. In truth, Ellen is based in LA – Los Angeles, not Louisiana – but her time at Tulane in New Orleans gave her the background for the series – and her considerable chops as a playwright and television writer are what make her fun and fast mysteries such great reads. As Ellen prepares for the launch of her fifth Cajun Country cozy and also a new Catering Hall series, she took a break to chat.
How does a book start for you?
It starts with a kernel of a story idea. I was just at the California Crime Writers Conference and Tess Gerritsen did a work shop on finding your “What If?” For example, with MARDI GRAS MURDER, a neighbor who knows about my Cajun Country Mystery series was doing family research and came across a book about the orphaned and abandoned babies and children brought to Cajun Country from the New York Foundling Hospital between the 1850s and 1929. My “what if” was, what if someone in Pelican, the town where my series is set, doesn’t want anyone to know they’re descended from one of those foundlings?
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
Ninette, the mother of my protagonist, Maggie Crozat, surprised me in FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL, which releases on September 10th. She’s feistier than she’s ever been before. She’s a sweet, well-mannered woman, so it was great fun when she revealed a scrappy side.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL is set in Pelican, like all my Cajun Country Mysteries. The town is hosting their first music festival and the headliner is a local girl made good. She won an American Idol type of singing contest. But she’s a diva who still carries a grudge against Maggie’s best friend, Gaynell. The story was inspired by the legendary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which I’ve attended about half a dozen times. I wanted to incorporate this fabulous festival in one of my books, so I had Maggie’s Grand-mere come up with a way for Pelican to capitalize on the New Orleans event by hosting their own festival prior to it, luring music lovers on their way to the Crescent City shindig.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got a draft of the sixth Cajun Country Mystery out to beta readers. It revolves around Halloween and it was a blast writing to many of the Louisiana traditions and superstitions tied to that holiday. In March, I’m debuting a new series, The Catering Hall Mysteries, which I’m writing for Kensington under the name Maria DiRico – my nonna’s maiden name. So look for HERE COMES THE BODY next spring.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
What was it like to win the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel? AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I can only imagine! Congratulations, Ellen!
Mardi Gras Murder, Ellen Byron’s fourth Cajun Country Mystery, won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel. The series has also won multiple Best Humorous Mystery Lefty awards from Left Coast Crime. Writing as Maria DiRico, she’ll debut a second series, The Catering Hall Mysteries, in 2020. TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents. Her plays, published by Dramatists Play Service, have been performed throughout the world.