Kathy: It's Mardi Gras season in the fourth Cajun Country Mystery. Do you celebrate Mardi Gras? Have you ever spent it in New Orleans?
EB: I love Mardi Gras. I don’t usually celebrate it in Los Angeles, but in 2019 I think I’m going to have a party that’s also a belated launch for this book. I did get to experience three Mardi Gras celebrations when I was a student at Tulane. (I was a transfer, so I missed freshman year.) It’s an amazing experience. A close friend was a debutante junior year, and in NOLA the debs come out via Mardi Gras balls. Since my friend was anointed Queen of Proteus and a maid in the court of Rex, so I got to go to both those balls.
Kathy: What is your favorite aspect of this holiday?
EB: It’s just so wonderfully joyous. In NOLA – and I think pretty much all of Louisiana – it’s actually a holiday, so you get Monday and Fat Tuesday off from work or school. The energy is infectious and the parades are fantastic. I have a bag of throw beads I saved from college and at Christmas, I use them as extra ornamentation on our Christmas tree. As I hang them, I remember how much fun it was to catch them from the krewe members tossing beads and doubloons from the floats.
Kathy: It's possible that the current murders in MARDI GRAS MURDER are related to the Orphan Train. How did you learn about the Orphan Train and what made you decide to add it to your mystery?
EB: It such a case of serendipity. A neighbor was doing genealogy research regarding a Jewish relative who might have been transported to Louisiana via the Orphan Train. She bought the book, From Cradle to Grave: Journey of the Louisiana Orphan Train Riders, and the one day said, “I know your series takes place in Louisiana. I thought you’d like this book.” I had no idea that there was an orphan train that rain specifically to Louisiana – and an Orphan Train museum in Opelousas, where I’ve been, no less – and was fascinated. That book was such a gift – it inspired a large part of the MARDI GRAS MURDER plot.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
EB: I never intended to write cozies. I’d never even heard of the genre before my first manuscript, YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO THINK OR TOO DEAD (formerly REALITY CHECKED) won a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic grant from the Malice Domestic convention. (I didn’t even know mystery conventions existed. I found the grant through a website search.) By the time I was fifteen, I’d read almost everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, so I gravitated more toward cozy and traditional mysteries without even knowing it. When I began writing mysteries, I found it impossible to write sex scenes. I’m terrible at them! Between that and the fact I hate reading graphic violence, I found myself writing a cozy series.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
EB: I just wrote a stand-alone that’s a combination of traditional and suspense. I don’t know if this counts, but I’m a TV writer by trade. I mostly write comedy – Wings, Just Shoot Me, Fairly Odd Parents. I transitioned from writing plays to TV for financial reasons. I’m also a freelance entertainment journalist.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
EB: The Cajun Country Mysteries revolve around Magnolia Marie “Maggie” Crozat, a thirty-two-year-old artist who left New York and returned to her hometown of Pelican, Louisiana – town motto, “Yes, We Peli-CAN!” – after a serious relationship fell apart. She’s trying to find her way as an artist as she helps out at her father’s family’s plantation-turned-B&B. She’s also working as a tour guide at a plantation her mother’s family once owned and is now an historical site. The series is laced with real Cajun traditions and includes recipes, as well a Lagniappe chapter where I share about some of the real people and place that inspired the fictional ones. Oh, and there are murders!
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
EB: Of course, I love my protagonist Maggie, who’s a bit of a fish out of water in Pelican, even though her family’s roots go back hundreds of years. But I’m also super fond of her grand-mere, Charlotte Crozat. Charlotte gives off the appearance of being a southern grand dame, but it’s tongue in cheek on her party. She funny, wise, and quite fond of Sazeracs. My readers adore her, bless them.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
EB: I fell in love with south Louisiana when I attended Tulane. My parents would come visit and we’d rent a car and meander through Cajun Country. I later introduced my husband to the area and did more meanderings. I dream of living in NOLA someday.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
EB: A publisher – Crooked Lane Books – bought it!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
EB: Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Agatha Christie, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
EB: “The Sins of My Father,” a non-fiction book about a man whose father was a Mob hit man.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
EB: Reading, of course! I also love needlepointing. I’ve made ornaments, framed wall hangings, pillows, and more. I’ve had to cut back because finishing is so expensive, but I adore doing it. I also love dancing. DanceBod, the dance program in A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING, was inspired by Dance It Out, a real dance fitness program I do at my local gym.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
EB: Sliced turkey, Babybel cheese, eggs, and wine.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
EB: I’m contracted for books 5 and 6 in my series, and I hope I get to do even more. Book five, tentatively titled FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL, comes out in 2019, revolves around the first annual Cajun Country Live! music festival and a local girl who won an American Idol-type show and returns to town as a total diva. #6 will involve Halloween. AND I’ll have a new series coming out in 2020 from Kensington: The Catering Hall Mysteries. It’s about a mob family trying to go straight and run a catering hall in Queens, New York. I grew up there, and cousins ran a couple of catering halls. They weren’t mobbed up! As far as I know…
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
EB: I love the satisfaction of knowing a book I wrote not only made people laugh, it also made them tear up a little. I also adore being part of the mystery community, which is phenomenally accepting and supportive. And I love getting to know readers, virtually and in person. They are such fantastic, smart, caring people. Bless each and every one of them.
Ellen Byron authors the Cajun Country Mystery series. A Cajun Christmas Killing and Body on the Bayou both won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery and were nominated for Agatha awards in the category of Best Contemporary Novel. Plantation Shudders, was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Mardi Gras Murder was deemed “a winner” by Publishers Weekly. 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.