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

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


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!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An Interview with Ellen Byron by E. B. Davis

“…I’ll have to keep my nosing around on the down low. And I will be nosing around.
Gerard Damboise practically begged me to with his last dying breath.”
“A normal grandmother would say, ‘No nosing around, for heaven’s sake! Stay out of this.’”
Maggie smiled affectionately at Gran. “But you’re far from normal.”
“And proud of it,” Gran’ said with a wink.
Ellen Byron, Mardi Gras Murder, Kindle Loc. 852

It’s Mardi Gras season on the bayou, which means parades, pageantry, and gumbo galore. But when a flood upends life in the tiny town of Pelican, Louisiana—and deposits a body of a stranger behind the Crozat Plantation B&B—the celebration takes a decidedly dark turn. The citizens of Pelican are ready to Laissez les bon temps rouler—but there’s beaucoup bad blood on hand this Mardi Gras.

Maggie Crozat is determined to give the stranger a name and find out why he was murdered. The post-flood recovery has delayed the opening of a controversial exhibit about the little-known Louisiana Orphan Train. And when a judge for the Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen pageant is shot, Maggie’s convinced the murder is connected to the body on the bayou. Does someone covet the pageant queen crown enough to kill for it? Could the deaths be related to the Orphan Train, which delivered its last charges to Louisiana in 1929? The leads are thin on this Fat Tuesday—and until the killer is unmasked, no one in Pelican is safe.

Mardi Gras Murder is the fourth book in Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country mystery series. Even though I’ve interviewed Ellen throughout this series, I have questions. So many, I feel sorry giving her this interview. I don’t know much about Cajun Country, having never traveled there. I’m not familiar with its customs or environment. That ignorance doesn’t prevent me from enjoying this series. In fact, I’m getting an education, which I like when I read fiction. Those real elements that I know nothing about are just as intriguing as the mystery.

So, if you’re like me and are clueless about Cajun Country or Mardi Gras, I hope this interview provides insight and whets your appetite for the series.

Please welcome Ellen Byron back to WWK.  E.B. Davis

A flood revealing an unknown body preceded the book’s start. I know during notable hurricanes flooding is a problem, but how often do the bayous flood? Is Pelican located on the Mississippi? While Crozat Plantation B&B is located across the River Road from the Mississippi River and its levees, my fictional village of Pelican is about half a mile inland. In 2016, 20” of rainfall caused catastrophic flooding in a number of parishes. But it wasn’t the Mississippi that caused the flooding, it was about ten rivers in south Louisiana, eight of which reached record levels. I had several friends in the Baton Rouge area whose homes were badly flooded and almost totally destroyed. It was this flood that inspired the flood in Mardi Gras Murder.

What does Mardi Gras mean? What was the original celebration about? The literal translation of Mardi Gras is “Fat Tuesday.” It’s the last day and night before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, so it’s kind of like a last hurrah of eating, drinking, and general merriment before the period of penance and self-sacrifice that precedes Easter. But in Louisiana – and particularly New Orleans - Mardi Gras can be the whole celebratory season that begins on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany and lasts through Fat Tuesday. Actually, the parties for the debutantes who make up the Krewe courts like Rex begin even earlier – prior to Christmas.

What is the Shelter at Home program? Doesn’t the area have FEMA flood insurance? (Yep, even though it does only cover $250,000 in damages.) Many homeowners didn’t have flood insurance, so FEMA helped them with recovery. Because so many people were displaced by the flood and couldn’t find alternative housing, the FEMA Shelter at Home program, administered by the state, to offer basic repairs like workable utilities and bathrooms so that people could at least inhabit part of their homes until they were fully renovated.

Does Pelican’s celebration of Mardi Gras occur during the same time as it is celebrated in New Orleans, which is when? Is there a reason for the time? Does New Orleans also have the Courir de Mardi Gras (runners in costume going door to door begging for gumbo ingredients?) New Orleans doesn’t have Courir de Mardi Gras, which is a particularly Cajun tradition. Pelican’s carnival celebrations don’t last the same number of weeks as New Orleans’ do, but there’s only one official Fat Tuesday on the calendar, and it’s the same all over the world. 

I’m still trying to get my head around, “You not only go to Mardi Gras, you are a Mardi Gras.” (Kindle Loc. 136) Could you explain that in more detail, like you celebrate your birthday and you are the birthday? What? I know! This was a quirky Cajun thing I discovered during my research and just had to use.

Tug, Maggie’s dad, is competing in the gumbo contest. Does he cook anything else? Or is this a male trophy thing? Are there inherited gumbo bowls? What are the bowls made of? Are they cookware or serving ware? Do they really retain the flavor/aroma of seasonings? It’s not a bowl, it’s a big cast iron pot. You’re not supposed to wash cast iron cookware with soap and water. Ideally, you wipe it clean and even occasionally re-season it with oil. And these pots do get handed down in a family. I take it to extremes by having Tug keep his pot in the family safe, but people do get very attached to them. An interesting aspect of Cajun Country is men are proud cooks, and not just of one dish. Many guys have a repertoire of traditional Cajun dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee. And like in my book, some of these recipes have been passed down through generations.

Grandmère, Maggie’s grandmother who Maggie rooms with, actually asks if she needs to make herself scarce so Bo, Maggie’s boyfriend, and she can have intimate time. I can’t imagine my grandmother asking this or condoning this (even though my oldest aunt was “premature”). How old is Gran, how come she’s so progressive, and how has she recognized that Maggie is an adult? Grandmère is 83, but a young 83. Her lineage may make her Louisiana aristocracy, but she’s very progressive and quite sophisticated. Her granddaughter is a thirty-two-year-old woman who lived with a boyfriend in New York for years. Now Maggie’s basically roommates with her grandmother until she and Bo marry and move into their own apartment over the spa the family is building. Gran is inspired by my own mother, who couldn’t be more progressive!

Due to a case of walking pneumonia, Gran must stand down as judge of the Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Queen Contest. She elects Maggie to take her place. Why do these contests persist when they are so antiquated? Louisiana has more festivals than days in the year and I’d guess that almost all of them – except the music festivals – have some kind of queen. I’m madly in love with the crowns they get to wear. For a sampling of them, look at this article: https://www.nola.com/festivals/index.ssf/2016/06/crowning_glory_louisiana_festi.html
I think the majority of local citizens wouldn’t see the pageants as antiquated – they’d see them as a proud local tradition.

Ninette, Maggie’s mother, makes homemade pralines. Have you ever made them? Are they hard to make (boiling to the right temperature and all)? OMG, pralines are so hard to make! I had no idea and ending up cursing myself for having to include a recipe for them in the fifth book of my series, which will come out in 2019. I put in a disclaimer explaining that in one single batch, you might end up with three different consistencies, all of which will be delicious. But I gave up trying to come up with a sweet potato praline recipe. I burned through a lot of ingredients before finally admitting defeat.

I never heard of orphan trains. But, through your book, I learned there were actually several going to different parts of the country. Could you explain them and how they got started? The most famous orphan train is one that took orphaned, homeless, and abandoned babies and kids from crowded East Coast cities to families in the rural Midwest. They were a precursor to our modern foster care system, which began in the 1920s. I had no idea there was a specific orphan train to Louisiana until a friend gave me a book called, From Cradle to Grave: Journey of the Louisiana Orphan Train Riders. The book is fascinating, documenting the lives of the kids who wound up being relocated from the New York Foundling Hospital to Louisiana, often ending up in French-speaking Cajun homes where they didn’t even speak the same language as their new family. Many of the kids adapted and thrived while some didn’t. There’s a museum dedicated to the train in Opelousas, Louisiana – aptly named, the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum. I hope to go one day.

The other contest judges seem to have prechosen the Queen without giving the other contestants a chance, which Maggie dislikes. Why do they all favor the one girl? With her poise, talent, and family pedigree, she’s the safe choice – or is she?

I liked Mo, the black (or is she a Creole?) at-home cosmetics salesperson. The historical society doesn’t reference any Pelican black history at which Mo expresses dismay. Mo says to Maggie, “A little advice, my new friend. Never get in a pissing match with a skunk.” (Kindle Loc. 356) What does this say about Gerard, the object of the advice? He’s a jerk!

Jayden is a young black veteran helping with the flood cleanup. Are people prejudiced because of his color or because he is a newcomer? I think people would say it’s the latter because they wouldn’t want to admit it’s the former.

Both Cajun and Zydeco music is played. What’s the difference? Even though both genres use similar instruments, the Cajun sound leans a bit more toward traditional or country – just a bit, with the ballads. Zydeco is imbued with an African Creole/rhythm and blues sound. And it’s a little more rock ‘n roll. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, especially with the younger bands that have emerged.

In the Durand home, which Maggie’s cousin Lia and her husband are renovating, they find a secret room, which people used to shut away unfavorable relatives. It’s inconceivable that people were treated like this, but were conventions so rigid that “undesirables” were erased from view?  This story beat was inspired by a show I watched on HGTV that explored mysteries of old houses. A couple discovered a hidden room in their turn-of-the-century home. Research showed that these secret rooms were used to house family members who suffered from mental or physical infirmities the family wished to hide from the public. The house in the TV show was either in the Midwest or New England, so it looks like this was something done throughout the country at some point in time years ago.

What is “selective mutism?” It’s an anxiety disorder where a child has the ability to speak but can’t or chooses not to for emotional reasons. Sometimes the mutism is directed toward specific people. I.e., a child won’t speak to adults but will to their peers, or vice versa. I’ve known two kids who had this condition. At least one grew out of it. I’ve lost touch with the other.

Were Mardi Gras masks used to hide people’s identities so they could misbehave without consequence? That’s one very common theory!

What is Pimm’s Cup? It’s my favorite New Orleans cocktail. One of NOLA’s oldest establishments, Napoleon House, is famous for them. A Pimm’s Cup is made with Pimm’s #1, a British liquor, lemonade, and Sprite or 7-Up. It’s a bit like a Mojito, another favorite of mine. Very refreshing.

What is brown sugar butter? It’s a recipe I invented, inspired by the butter served at one of the Houmas House Plantation restaurants. Theirs is made with cane sugar syrup, mine with brown sugar. You’ll find a recipe for it in Mardi Gras Murder.

What/who is Trombone Shorty? Trombone Shorty is the stage name of musician Troy Andrews. In addition to being an amazing and entertaining musician, he’s famous for establishing The Trombone Shorty Foundation, whose mission is to "to preserve and perpetuate the unique musical culture of New Orleans by passing down its traditions to future generations of musicians."

What is a Holiday Brandy Pain Perdu? A tasty NOLA-style French toast recipe I came up with!

What is the holy trinity of Cajun cooking? Onions, celery, and green pepper.

What is a café brulot? It’s the signature after-dinner drink at Arnaud’s, a legendary New Orleans restaurant. It’s made with coffee, lemon and orange peels, spices, brandy, different liqueurs, among other things. The liquor is set on fire and poured over coffee. I despise coffee in all forms, so I’ve never had one. But I have had more than one Pimm’s Cup, wink wink.

I won’t ask what a Banana Bon Temps cocktail is. It doesn’t sound good! But is it? This is a dessert-y cocktail I invented. It’s actually tasty – almost like egg nog. But you have to be careful not to make it too sweet.

What is a krewe? Krewes are the organizations that put on the Mardi Gras parades and balls. In New Orleans, they also choose the debutantes who will be the Queen of a particular krewe, as well as her court. Krewe dues pay for the events and can be in the thousands of dollars. Some krewes are single-gender. They used to be strictly men-only but now a few are co-ed or even all-female, like the Krewe of Muses.

Your last chapter is titled, Epilogue. Is this in homage to Sue Grafton, who always had an epilogue as her last chapter? No. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know she did that, although I’ve read many of her books. I can’t really explain why I title a last chapter an epilogue. There’s just something different about it. I even write it a bit differently, although again, I can’t explain how. I guess you could say it’s a bit of a mystery!


Jim Jackson said...

Hey Ellen, congrats on your latest. Best of success to you and it.

Gloria Alden said...

Ellen, I've read several of your books and enjoyed them. I'll have to order the latest ones now.

Shari Randall said...

Note to self - do not read Ellen's books while on a diet - just reading this I'm craving pralines and gumbo!

KM Rockwood said...

I love engrossing books that teach me about times and places with which I'm not familiar. I have a friend who is Cajun, although she now lives up north. I've been fascinated with some of the stories she's told me.

Can't help but love the basset hound!

Tina said...

Love Cajun food! I grew up watching Justin Wilson on PBS (he of the simultaneous suspenders and belt) and loved his recipes, loved his voice. What a great sounding series!

Grace Topping said...

Ellen, your series sounds like a lot of fun and I look forward to reading it.

Ellen Byron said...

I can't believe this! Somehow I missed this post! I'm mortified.

Thanks everyone for the kind comments and great interview!