Interview with Ellen Byron & Maria DiRico
It’s a double good time when I get to interview two great authors rolled into one! Yes, I’m talking about Ellen Byron, author of Cajun Country Mysteries and who is also Maria DiRico, author of the Catering Hall Mystery series. No matter which series you read and enjoy (and frankly, you should be reading “both”), her style, attitude and sense of humor shows through on every level!
Below is the interview, giving you insights to both her series and some personal tidbits on her background. As Jackie Gleason used to say: AND AWAY WE GO!
When did you actually decide to become a writer and was it your intention to roll out an entire series?
I sort of fell into it. Right out of college, I pursued an acting career. I joined Actors Equity and then hit a dry spell. I couldn’t do non-union theatre anymore and Holly Hunter was getting all the union roles I was up for. (We’re the same size and have a similar brunette look – and she’s a better actress, lol.) I wrote a play and sent it to a theatre hoping I’d get an audition for their company. I didn’t, but they did a reading of the play, and that launched me on a writing career.
What is the first book you ever had published and what year?
PLANTATION SHUDDERS, the first book in my Cajun Country Mystery series, was also my debut. It launched in 2015. Prior to that, I won a 2013 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers. The book I submitted for that didn’t sell, but Malice introduced me to the mystery community, and I haven’t looked back since.
Your Cajun Country Mystery Series is so authentic — what made you decide on a series based on that setting?
I’m a Tulane University alum. I fell in love with New Orleans during my days as a student. When my parents came to visit, we’d explore Cajun Country and I fell in love with that region too. Before I ever wrote my series, I set a couple of plays there. Then in the late 1990s, my husband and I went down to Louisiana for Jazz Fest and we tacked on time to explore Cajun Country and the River Parishes like I did with my parents. We spent a night at Madewood Plantation, and that inspired the idea of having my protagonist’s family turn their historical home into a B&B.
Is there a new Cajun Country mystery in the works?
Yes! CAJUN KISS OF DEATH, the seventh book in the series, will debut in August 2021.
I understand you’ve worked on TV sitcoms. Can you tell us which ones you’ve worked on or a story you’d like to share?
I’ve worked on a few hits and a ton of non-hits. The shows you’d know would be WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, STILL STANDING, and the animated series FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. Along with my TV writing partner, I’ve also written pilots for all the networks and several cable outlets. I know writers who have horror stories about some of the stars they’ve worked with, but I’ve been lucky. Every actor I dealt was very nice and extremely professional.
You’ve also started A Catering Hall Mystery Series under the name Maria DiRico. What inspired you to start this series taking place in New York?
It’s inspired by my real family. My mother was born in Italy. She came to the U.S. when she was three and over the decades, her large extended family settled in Queens. Cousins by marriage ran a couple of catering halls in the borough – the Astoria Manor and Grand Bay Marina, where my husband and I had our East Coast reception. A catering hall seemed like such a great setting for a cozy series that I was surprised not to find one already being published. I love writing the series because it’s so personal to me. Mia, my protagonist, lives in my real-life nonna’s house. My aunt and uncle and their kids lived upstairs and Nonna lived downstairs. That’s the set-up in my series, only Mia lives upstairs. She traverses the streets I traversed when I took the subway from Manhattan to visit the family. Mia even buys baked goods at the real bakery we frequented, La Guli Pasticceria. Just writing that makes me long for one of their cannoli’s!
Is there another Catering Hall mystery in the works?
Two more! LONG ISLAND ICED TINA launches February 23rd. There’s a funny subplot that was inspired by a real conversation I overheard between my mother and nonna that my mom swears she doesn’t remember. And IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE MURDER debuts in the fall. It’s Christmas-themed, so you can bet there are a lot of over-the-top decoration descriptions.
Is it hard to switch gears when writing for both series at the same time since the settings and characters are so different?
The tones of the series are different, so not on that score. But I did make a big mistake—I gave both of my characters names that start with “M” for some reason. Don’t ask me why. Now I have to double-check to make sure I’m not using the wrong “M” name. I’m embarrassed to say that I did miss one. You’ll find a Maggie instead of Mia in HERE COMES THE BODY – on the first page!!
Is there anything you’d like to add for our readers?
I just signed on to do a new series for Berkley Prime Crime—The Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. It’s set in New Orleans and I’m super excited about it. Here’s the synopsis of the series:
THE VINTAGE COOKBOOK MYSTERIES: In this new humorous mystery series from Agatha Award-winning author Ellen Byron, twenty-eight-year-old Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid YouTube 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 career dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff running the spectacular Garden District home of bon vivant Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet, one of NOLA’s most legendary restauranteurs. The mansion, built in 1866, has recently been opened to the public as an historical site. Ricki gets to turn her avocation – collecting vintage cookbooks – into a vocation by launching the home’s gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Kitchen Store and Gift Shop, where she’ll sell the cookbooks along with unique kitchenware, much of it also vintage or antique. In her free time, she’ll hunt for the birth parents she never knew. When murder bedevils the site, Ricki will also find herself in the unexpected role of amateur sleuth, putting to use the observational skills she’s developed ferreting out hidden treasures.
Will Miss Vee’s Vintage Kitchen Store and Gift Shop be a recipe for success… or, given some of the Crescent City’s nefarious denizens, disaster?
Check out my book reviews on Ellen AND Maria’s mystery series on this site (under the Books/Mystery category) and watch Wonder Women Sixty for future reviews from this stellar author as well as plenty of others!
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