If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews

10/07 M.E. Browning, Shadow Ridge

10/14 Alexia Gordon

10/21 Adam Meyer

10/28 Barbara Ross, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door

October Guest Bloggers

10/03 Kathleen Kalb

10/17 S. Lee Manning

10/31 Sharon Dean

WWK Weekend Bloggers

10/10 Jennifer J. Chow

10/24 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

An Interview With Ellen Byerrum

by Grace Topping

A few years ago, Ellen Byerrum graciously accepted the invitation of my book group to attend our meeting and discuss Killer Hair, the first book in her Crime of Fashion Mysteries series. Between her book and her fun personality, she won us over as devoted fans. How can anyone resist a writer who is so imaginative as to use a black dress as a murder weapon? Since that meeting, we have enjoyed all the books in her series and this month will be discussing her latest book, The Woman in the Dollhouse. Sadly, since she left Northern Virginia area for Colorado, she won’t be joining us, but she did agree to an interview to bring us up to date on what’s been happening with her. 

Welcome, Ellen, to Writers Who Kill.

The Crime of Fashion series falls into the cozy category of mysteries. Recently you went a little darker writing a thriller, The Woman in the Dollhouse. Why the move to thrillerdom? What inspired this book?

Ellen Byerrum
While I can understand why people think my books are soft because of the original light-hearted covers, I’ve never considered my writing to be cozy. The term chicklit is more apt. However, chicklit became a dirty word over the years and that’s too bad. My Crime of Fashion mysteries are a bit more hard-edged and more satirical than your typical cozies. I’ve heard from readers who didn’t care for the books because they didn’t meet their expectations of “coziness.” I’ve always considered them funny traditional mysteries with a serious subtext. As an interesting aside, my last traditional publishing editor told me that as far as publishers were concerned, all mysteries were either thrillers or cozies, so that doesn’t leave a lot of room for variation!

With my thriller, The Woman in the Dollhouse, I had been pondering the story of Tennyson Claxton for a long time (years) and finally had a chance to write it. It started with the image of an amazing dollhouse full of vintage doll furniture that my aunt and uncle found hidden in the crawlspace of their new home. Who left it and why? I knew it would inspire me one day. While the image was there, the story was so much more. I tossed around a couple of questions: First, what would it be like to wake up rich? Not merely rich, but stinking rich, rolling-in-it-rich, do-whatever-you-want-with-it-rich, and with no memory of that life? Another question: Is it ethical to wipe out traumatic memories with a new drug, when memories are the things that shape us and help make us who we are? And just for fun, I made my heroine the granddaughter of a former U.S. Senator who heads a strange corporation, C&B Corp., which stands for Checks and Balances. It was lovely to work with new characters and take them from Middleburg, Virginia, to Georgetown, D.C., and Camden, Maine. Some of my favorite places.

A number of cozy mystery writers have begun writing darker. Why do you think that’s happening?

Because we have so many stories and so many more characters we want to write about. Plus, I think the cozy label puts many writers in a box where they are not taken seriously. Everyone wants to show they’ve got the chops to write a different story, a darker story, or a more complex story. Things change and we all deserve the chance to move forward and continue to work on and improve our storytelling skills. Also, it could be something in the air. Life may seem darker these days.

Now that you have a foot in two different camps of mystery writing, do you find one camp calling to you more than the other?

Often when I’m working on one book, another project calls to me and seems more interesting and/or fun than the one in front of me. And I can’t switch randomly between books. I need to concentrate on one project at a time. But there certainly is room for more than one.

Lifetime Movie Network adapted two of your books, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover into movies made for TV. What was that experience like? Any hope that we’ll see another movie based on your books—perhaps by Hallmark Movies and Mysteries?

Nothing is in the wind right now, although I will say a couple of producers have expressed interest in more of the movies. Never say never. Luckily, I’ve held on to the rights to the series.

You had a walk-on role, or I should say, “pedestrian walking across the street” role in Killer Hair the movie. How was it appearing in a movie based on your work?

It was quite a kick, especially because it took place in front of the White House. Because of my red hair, people—or at least my family and friends—can always spot me. We ran through it a couple of times even though it’s only a couple of seconds long. Of course, most viewers will be watching the stars, Maggie Lawson and Victor Webster, who play Lacey Smithsonian and Vic Donovan.

Are the movies still available for viewing?

Sadly, no. At least not that I can tell. For a while LMN would show them occasionally in the middle of the night, but not recently. It’s unfortunate because readers still ask me about them. They’ve been available from Amazon and iTunes in the past.

The first book in the Crime of Fashion series, Killer Hair, was published in 2003. In the intervening years, you’ve written nine more books in that series as well as other books. What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in publishing since you first introduced Lacey Smithsonian? How has it affected you as a writer?

So many things have changed, it’s hard to pinpoint the largest one. Obviously the rise in independent or self-publishing has had an effect on traditional publishing, and writers can see the possibilities of going it on their own. With traditional publishing, I felt the biggest advantage was in making my books widely available in bookstores. But bookstores have declined tremendously, even though it appears that independents are on the rise again. Things changed drastically for me when Borders Books closed. Borders always stocked my latest book in healthy numbers, and included all my backlist. Because there was competition, so did Barnes & Noble.  When Borders closed, Barnes & Noble stopped carrying so many copies—and it was farewell to the backlist. By the time my last Penguin book was published, I found only two or three copies available in any given Barnes & Noble. 

I started wondering whether traditional publishing was still in the cards for me. In addition, a writer also needs her editor to look out for her interests and promote her work within the publishing company. I had five editors during my tenure. My first one was terrific. She offered precise insights and taught me so much, but she left after the first book. My next three editors left Penguin in rapid succession. I was “orphaned” over and over. Now, editors are interested in the writers they bring in and less interested in the ones they inherit. By the time I was on number five, well, I’m not sure she remembered my name, let alone my books.

You recently decided to take control of your writing career. Can you tell us about that?

After nine books with Penguin, I turned down the next contract they offered, and started publishing under my own imprint, Lethal Black Dress Press. I also requested, and received back, my rights to all the previous books. (It’s not quite as easy as it sounds.) I am currently in the process—with my husband Bob Williams—of re-editing and republishing my backlist, with new covers and book design. 

Now that you’ve taken control, what was the biggest challenge you faced? 

A huge challenge is having time to properly republish all the books, with Bob’s help. He was an editor in his previous life. Why hard? Because I want it done now, and it takes significant time away from my other writing. I have to fit all these projects in around each other. And believe me, I am a mono-tasker—doing one thing at a time and trying to do it the best I can, and finishing it. We take great care with updating and fixing editing mistakes that were made in the copyediting and proofing stages, as well as fixing things that never were corrected in the galleys. And sometimes technology has outpaced the books. Remember the Palm Pilot? Usually all it takes is a tweak.

I am terrifically lucky that Bob is multi-talented and we work together so well. Not only does he edit, copyedit, and proofread the books, he designs the new covers, which I adore. He also designs the interior of the books, which is far more complex than you might think. Never fear, I am involved in all the design decisions, e.g., “What about large initial caps on every chapter?”

You used a pseudonym, Eliot Byerrum, in your work as a playwright. Are you still writing plays? Are they available for production?

Yes, and I am grateful that Eliot has more productions than Ellen ever had. When I started writing plays, I conducted my own very scientific (ha!) research into whether more men or women had plays produced. I took a blue highlighter and a pink highlighter to the New York Times and New York Magazine, marking playwrights with male names and female names. Imagine my surprise that on Broadway, it was ten to one, male to female, blue to pink. (At the time, Marsha Norman had a hit on Broadway.) Off Broadway it was more like seven to three, and it was only Off-Off Broadway that it became more equitable, and that seemed to be because there were female playwrights performing their own one-woman shows, and possibly backing them financially. Hence, for the theatre world I became Eliot Byerrum. It levels the playing field.

I hadn’t written plays for years because I was too busy writing my books and working at my job; however, I am in the midst of writing a new play, entitled Father Jeremy’s Christmas Jubilee. Don’t know if or when it will see daylight, but I hope to have the draft finished this year.

Two of my earlier plays are published by Samuel French, which licenses the plays for productions. They are A Christmas Cactus and Gumshoe Rendezvous.

I understand that your book The Children Didn’t See Anything was based on an experience you and your brother had as children. What was that experience, and what motivated you to write about it?

Writing The Children Didn’t See Anything, a middle grade mystery novella, was a palate cleanser for me between big books, and it was remarkably refreshing to come up with this new voice, written in first person. And I did base it on something that happened when I was 10 and my brother was 11. We saw a dead woman at my grandparents’ country club. (I saw her first!) My grandmother was in another room playing bridge. Back to the woman on the sofa: I thought the dark-haired lady was merely sleeping.  I remember her clearly because she was wearing a pink suit and a pink hat, and she was slumped on a round pink sofa. Her head was to one side and her eyes were closed. 

A few days later, we attended the woman’s funeral and I heard my grandmother tell someone “thank goodness the children didn’t see anything!” Obviously, we did, and this was a story waiting to be written. I came up with a set of precocious twins, Evangeline and Raphael. Evangeline is the smarter one.

The poor pink-clad woman on the sofa was just the starting point.

You are known for your love of vintage clothing. What influenced this love? Did you have a trunk of old clothes and patterns like the one Aunt Mimi left Lacey Smithsonian?

I don’t know where my love of vintage clothing came from, except the movies and all the beautiful clothes you see on smart and sassy women. Sadly, I don’t have a trunk like Aunt Mimi’s, but I’m flattered that a lot of people think I do. My first vintage purchase was my wedding gown. It is from the late 1930s, ivory crepe with sprays of pearls, bugle beads, and rhinestones. From that point on, I really appreciated the clothes, the quality, and the uniqueness of them and began to collect them.

Was it your love of vintage clothing that inspired vintage-clothes-wearing Lacey? Or was it the other way around?

It just seemed like a natural to have Lacey love the same clothes. And through research for her, I have found out much more about vintage.

You started as a journalist, earned a private investigator’s license, moved into playwriting, and then began writing mysteries. And now you’ve published Recipes for Disasterrecipes Felicity Pickles would make—if she weren’t a fictional character in the Crime of Fashion Mysteries. Is there anything that you haven’t done that you would like to do?

I may have a few tricks up my sleeve. Bob and I have been busy working on a project that I hesitate to mention just yet. However, I’ll say that it is related to the Crime of Fashion mysteries and I should have an announcement out in a matter of weeks. I’m pretty excited about it.

In recent years you moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Colorado. Do you find location has any bearing on your creativity?

Oh yes. I find that I have to block out distractions to concentrate on writing. I miss Virginia every single day.

I understand that you volunteer with Learning Ally. Can you tell us about that?

Learning Ally is non-profit organization that helps students with print disabilities, including blindness, visual impairment and dyslexia, by providing audio books through schools. I became involved because a friend of mine encouraged us to try it. We met in theatre years ago when he was an actor and I was writing plays. Bob and I both decided to try it, volunteering an afternoon every week. So far, we've been reading chapters in textbooks, not novels. It's been a great way to learn about what goes into an audio book, not simply the reading, but the software that's used, the quality checking that has to be completed after the books are read, and the editing that follows. Audio books involve a lot more than having a good reading voice. At a recent meeting, a couple of the kids in the program discussed how helpful the books have been in their education, which was fun and enlightening.

Now that you’ve gone to the darker side of mystery writing, will we be seeing any more cozies from you? If so, what’s next for Lacey? Or have you found a home in thrillerdom?

I do plan on writing more of my traditional mysteries with Lacey Smithsonian. In fact, the eleventh book in the series, The Masque of the Red Dress, should be available for pre-order very soon.  I also plan to write a book about Lacey’s Great Aunt Mimi, set when she was a young woman in Washington, D.C., during World War II. After that, I’d really like to write a sequel to The Woman in the Dollhouse. And that’s just for a start.

Thank you, Ellen.

The Woman in the Dollhouse

If you lost your memories, would you lose your soul? “In my memories, my eyes are always green." After a devastating accident, a young woman finds herself recovering in a memory research facility near Washington, D.C., in this new psychological suspense thriller. Her eyes are brown, not green as she remembers; her memories are broken.” She struggles to recover her memory and identity. The crash, her recent past, years of her life? It's mostly blank, She begins to remember being not one, but two very different women. Which one is real? Is she Tennyson or Marissa? Or neither one? If she can’t trust her mind, her doctor, or her own eyes, who can she trust? To save her sanity, she begins writing a secret journal between the lines of a forgotten copy of Homer's Odyssey. To save her life, she begins her own harrowing odyssey into the secrets of her past and present.

Ellen’s books and plays are available from online booksellers, traditional bookstores, and her web page: www.ellenbyerrum.com.


Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Ellen, for joining us at Writers Who Kill. It was a pleasure catching up with you.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

A fascinating profile of your books and career. I look forward to exploring your books.

Warren Bull said...

Life is neer as simple as A to B. It's much more interesting.

Ellen Byerrum said...

Thanks so much for having me here today. Thanks, Grace, I am delighted to be here.

June Shaw said...

Ellen, so interesting to read about your many, varied interests and successes. I need to read your latest work.

Ellen Byerrum said...

Thank you, Margaret. I hope you enjoy the books. Warren, you are so right. Life is interesting and we can always laugh at it later. June, I appreciate the comments. Good thing we can fit in a variety of experiences.

carla said...

I'm impressed with the scope of her work--esp plays and novels. Great interview.

Bob Williams said...

Hi, great interview! Could you give us an idea of your writing process and what a typical writing day is like for you?

Ellen Byerrum said...

That's so nice to say, Carla. I find one form of writing leads to the next. Working with dialog and dramatic arcs has been invaluable for the Crime of Fashion mysteries. Playwriting helps develop voice.

Ellen Byerrum said...

Hi, Bob. I wish I had a more typical writing day. But when I'm in writer's mode, I like to get business out of the way in the morning, after aqua aerobics. (Couldn't write without exercise.) I tend to write in the afternoons and into the evenings, if necessary. Last year I found that going to various libraries really helped me focus. In fact, I discovered so many great libraries and neighborhoods, I continue to visit and write there. Perhaps I should conduct a coffee shop writing tour next.

Ellen Byerrum said...

I'm off to my volunteer gig at Learning Ally now, but I'll be back later and am happy to answer any questions or comments you may have. Cheers.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Excellent interview! Thanks for sharing and best of luck, Ellen :)

Ellen Byerrum said...

Thank you, Joanne. Best to you as well.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for a great interview. I find it fascinating to hear how writers work, especially how some manage to incorporate the elements of different types of writing into whatever they are working on.

Ellen Byerrum said...

I appreciate that, KM. I also enjoy hearing how writers work, then I generally assume they are more organized and productive than I could ever be. Ha. I think that any writing experience can help strengthen your other writing. For me, being a reporter in D.C. and a playwright were the best possible training for novels. As a reporter, you're always listening for the great quote, listening to how people speak and express themselves, and shaping a story quickly while working on deadline. As a playwright, you concentrate on characters and dialog, rising action, and climaxes. I am grateful for those experiences.

Teresa Inge said...

Great article, Ellen! I've read your series over the years and love Lacey Smithsonian. I've always identified your books based on the original covers but I like the new cover changes. They look great! Good luck with the new books too!

Ellen Byerrum said...

I'm so glad you appreciate the cover changes, Teresa. And I appreciate the support for Lacey! Thanks so much.

Maggie King said...

Thank you, Ellen. I always remember you speaking at SinC Central VA in your black vintage dress.

This is incredible timing, as today I posted about edgy cozies on my blog. There are lots of us who go a bit darker.