1--What is the title of your latest release?
BAYOU BOOK THIEF: A Vintage Cookbook Mystery
2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?
Young widow Ricki James-Diaz starts a new life in New Orleans, where she opens a shop selling vintage cookbooks and kitchenware in a Garden District mansion-turned-house museum and is thrust into sleuthing when a sticky-fingered coworker is found murdered with a vintage kitchen item from Ricki’s own shop.
3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?
I’ve been madly in love with New Orleans ever since I transferred to Tulane University in the middle of my sophomore year. I love all south Louisiana. That’s why I set my Cajun Country Mystery series in… three guesses where.
I even transferred my NOLA love to our daughter. She just graduated from Loyola University, Tulane’s next-door neighbor.
4--Would you hang out with your heroine in real life?
Absolutely. We share a love of New Orleans and of vintage cookbooks. In fact, her passion for them was inspired by my own. I have at least a hundred, some dating back to the 1800s. Plus, I now live in Los Angeles, and she grew up here, so we can commiserate about the traffic!
5--What are three words that describe your hero?
Self-deprecating, enthusiastic, impulsive
6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?
That it’s really hard to be funny after you’ve had to evacuate from a hurricane. I was visiting my daughter and doing research for the second book in my series when Ida came bearing down on New Orleans. We endured a traumatic thirteen-hour drive to Houston, then she had to come home for three weeks. It was only supposed to be for two weeks, but we’d left her car in a friend’s driveway and the day before my kid was going to fly back there to retrieve it, my friend called and said, “Don’t come. There’s a hurricane heading toward Houston.” New Orleans was in such bad shape after Ida that I felt guilty writing a light mystery set there. It took me weeks to get back on track.
7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?
I write a 25-35 page “fluid outline.” I call it fluid because I always find new things when I go to draft. It’s not written on stone like the Ten Commandments! I fix any problems I stumble across as I write. But when it comes to that first draft, my motto is one from The Year of Janie’s Diary, a book I loved as a tween: “Forward ever, backward never.” I’ve actually come to think of my outline as my first draft, BTW.
8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?
Don’t make me choose! Okay, fine. Fresh pasta. I could eat it all day, every day. My mother is Italian – she was born there and came to America when she was little – and growing up, I was surrounded by Italian family and the amazing food that came with that. The homemade pasta and lasagna and manicotti and – I could go on and on! But sadly, given the carbs in pasta and my inability to eat a normal portion of it, I’m afraid I’ve had to move it to the “indulgence” category.
9--Describe your writing space/office!
In one word - a wreck. I’ve been sharing it with my husband since the pandemic kicked off. He’s now back at the office three days a week, but all his stuff isn’t! Have you ever heard of C.H.A.O.S.? It’s not just the evil organization on the old TV sitcom Get Smart. It also stands for Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. That’s our entire house. But especially our mutual office. The only part that’s not a mess is our dog’s bed. He’s the neatest person in the family. (If you’re wondering, he’s a 15.5 year-old chi mix rescue and the non-human love of my life.)
10--Who is an author you admire?
I’m going to go old school here and say Charles Dickens. His books are a master class in storytelling. They have everything: humor, pathos, mystery, twists, cliffhangers. I tell any writer struggling with structure, read Great Expectations, David Copperfield, or Oliver Twist. Each book is a study in how to craft a page-turner.
11--Is there a book that changed your life?
Wuthering Heights. When I was a moody, depressed fourteen-year-old on vacation in Vermont with my family, we wandered into a used bookstore called the Haunted Bookshop in an old Victorian mansion and a man with only one arm sold me a 1940 edition of the book. I still have it. Not only did the book change my life with its dark romance and passionate, noirish tale - although in hindsight, Heathcliff is a horrible human being! - I developed a lifelong obsession with the Bronte sisters. #1 on my bucket list is to visit the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, England someday and walk the moors Charlotte, Emily, and Ann once walked.
BTW, can you tell I went through a period where all I did was read 19th century British novels?
12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)
Even though the characters in my Cajun Country Mystery series occasionally travel to New Orleans, I dreamed of writing a series actually set in the Big Easy as an excuse to write off endless visits there. Kidding! A little. Seriously, though, it’s my favorite city and constantly inspires me. So when I got “the call” that Berkley wanted to publish the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries, I literally jumped up and down and screamed! I am beyond grateful to everyone there for allowing my dream to come true.
13--What’s your favorite genre to read?
14--What’s your favorite movie?
Fellini’s Amarcord. As I mentioned, my mother is Italian, so that movie feels very personal to me.
15--What is your favorite season?
I’m from New York but I’ve lived in Los Angeles for thirty years. I moved here to write for television. Natives here insist SoCal has seasons, but IMHO, what they call seasons are poor excuses for real ones. In New York, there was no time of year more magical than the transition from winter to spring. The bright new green leaves, the soft, warm air… I would literally get spring fever and feel slightly faint on a beautiful day in late April or early May.
16--How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
By aging backwards. I wish!
17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?
Succession as a TV show. And the 2020 movie version of Emma. It’s funny, gorgeous, and way sexier than the recent season of Bridgerton. Uh oh! Now Bridgertoniacs are going to descend on me. (I made that word up. I’m very proud of myself.)
18--What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
Can I pick two? Very different ones? They would be Italian and sushi.
19--What do you do when you have free time?
I needlepoint. Of course I picked the most expensive hobby possible. But I love it. Stitching relaxes me. It’s like meditation. Expensive meditation!
20--What can readers expect from you next?
WINED AND DIED IN NEW ORLEANS, my second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, will release on December 7, 2022. FOUR PARTIES AND A FUNERAL, my 4th Catering Hall Mystery (which I write under the pen name “Maria DiRico” – my late nonna’s maiden name) will release in March 2023. They were both great fun to write!
A Vintage Cookbook Mystery # 1
Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki’s teen mother disappeared from the hospital.
Ricki’s dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet, the city’s legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation – collecting vintage cookbooks – into a vocation by launching the museum’s gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.
The skills Ricky has developed ferreting out hidden vintage treasures come in handy for investigations. But both her business and Bon Vee could wind up as deadstock when Ricki’s past as curator of a billionaire’s first edition collection comes back to haunt her.
Will Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware be a success … or a recipe for disaster?
Mystery Amateur Sleuth | Mystery Culinary | Mystery Cozy [Berkley, On Sale: June 7, 2022, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593437612 / eISBN: 9780593437612]
Ellen Byron is the Agatha and Lefty Award-winning author of the Cajun Country Mysteries. MARDI GRAS MURDER won the Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING and BODY ON THE BAYOU won Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. PLANTATION SHUDDERS was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards and made the USA Today Bestseller list. FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL is her newest release. In 2020, she'll debut her first Catering Hall Mystery, HERE COMES THE BODY, under the pseudonym, Maria DiRico, which happens to be her late Italian grandmother's maiden name.
Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents. She’s written over 200 national magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. She also worked as a cater-waiter for the legendary Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Ellen lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and rescue dog. She still misses her hometown - and still drives like a New York cabbie.
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