Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

An Interview with Author Ellen Byron by E. B. Davis

A fantastic new cozy mystery series with a vintage flair from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.

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 Ricki 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?

Ellen Byron’s first book in the new Vintage Cookbook mystery, Bayou Book Thief, was released on June 7th. Many of the elements of her Cajun Country mystery series permeate this new series—mainly, the environment and culture of Louisiana. Set in New Orleans, the city spice seeps through the pages to readers’ senses. It’s a lot to consume on the page. I wonder how overwhelming a visit to the city would be.


Main character Ricki James is only twenty-eight, but she carries a lot of baggage, from her birth to her marriage to her former boss. She’s trying to overcome the past and restart her life. When a body is shipped to her new store inside the Bon Vee mansion, she’s also determined to find out whodunit to save her store and nonprofit’s viability with the help of her work colleagues and neighbors.


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


What is an Irish Channel and how can it be a neighborhood? LOL, it’s not an actual channel. It’s the nickname for a section of the city that borders the Mississippi. The origin of the name is murky. It was a working-class neighborhood where a lot of Irish settled after immigrating to the city, but many other ethnicities lived there as well. My feeling is the “channel” part of the nickname comes from the neighborhood being long and narrow. But that’s just a supposition on my part.


Although born in New Orleans, Ricki is relocating from L.A. Why did she decide to move back? She lived there the first seven years of her life and it remained the home of her heart. She always dreamed of moving back one day. Ironically, difficult events – her husband’s death; a job loss – have finally offered the chance for a reset of her life and the move of her dreams.


How did Ricki meet Zellah, who told Ricki about the Bon Vee’s management wanting a culinary themed gift shop? The backstory is super simple. Ricki popped into Zellah’s family’s shop, the Peli Deli and the two gals hit it off. Ricki mentioned how her plan was to open a shop where she’d sell vintage cookbooks and kitchenware and Zellah told her she knew the perfect location for it. Zellah connected her with Lyla, the executive director of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, who loved the idea. This brings us to the book’s opening, where Ricki has to pitch the idea to Eugenia Felice, president of the nonprofit’s board and niece of the late restauranteur and Bon Vee homeowner, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet.


Why does Ricki collect vintage cookbooks when she doesn’t cook? She’s inspired by me! Despite the fact all my books have recipes, I’m not a cook. But I love old cookbooks and began collecting them. They tell us so much about the culinary habits of the past. I find them fascinating.


Tell readers a bit about Bon Vee’s history. Who was the original French wine merchant who started Charbonnet and how did Genevieve (Aunt Vee) reclaim it? Jean-Louis Charbonnet came to New Orleans in the mid-1800s and had great success importing wine from France. He built Bon Vee, the grandest mansion in New Orleans’ Garden District, in 1867. But in 1873 – this is real – there was a national depression. He lost everything, including his home, and returned to France. He always planned to return to New Orleans but died in France. In fact in WINED AND DIED IN NEW ORLEANS, the second Vintage Cookbook, we learn he left a valuable stash of Madeira wine hidden in the house.


What is a gris gris bag? Why would Bon Vee’s executive director, Lyla, believe in such things? A gris gris bag is a small Voodoo-inspired bag that continues charms and herbs for luck, love, fortune. They’re very much part of the New Orleans culture, which is why Lyla embraces them.


You have lived in both cities. How long does it take to transition from the dry desert air of L. A. to New Orleans’ humidity? I grew up in New York, which has its own brutal humidity. For some reason, though, my tolerance of it is high. But my husband and daughter struggle with the transition. My husband grew up in St. Louis and thought he escaped the humidity when he moved to Los Angeles. He had no idea he’d marry someone besotted with New Orleans!


Mardi Gras is a big deal in New Orleans. Do families compete against each other to garner crowns and scepters? Mardi Gras courts are chosen by the individual krewes that sponsor the balls and parades. They keep their selection processes close to the vest. If there’s any campaigning, it’s done very discreetly. Krewe court queens and maids are mostly chosen from that year’s debutantes. Court kings are generally pillars of the community.


Bon Vee has two peacocks, Gumbo and Jambalaya, who stroll the grounds. Are they smart? Do they chase people? They certainly think they’re smart! They have major attitude and woe to anyone they decide they don’t like because they will chase them incessantly. You do not want to get on their bad side.


Ricki’s nickname is short for Miracle. Why did her adoptive mother name her that? Ricki was a preemie and Josepha, her adoptive mother who was her nurse in the hospital NICU unit, considered Ricki’s survival a miracle, hence the name.


Was Charity Hospital real? Absolutely. It was a public hospital that suffered severe damage from Hurricane Katrina. It’s been derelict ever since, with redevelopment plans constantly falling through. Hopefully the latest plan, which will feature Tulane University – my alma mater, #RollWave! – as the main tenant will come to fruition.


Cookie works at Bon Vee as an educational coordinator. At age thirty-one, why did she “retire” from being a children’s librarian? She became burned out. Although she’s doing some of the same stuff at Bon Vee because encouraging kids’ love of reading will always be incredibly important to her, she has the freedom to come up with non-book ideas like cooking and arts classes for kids.


Australians don’t tip? They didn’t when I was there in the late 1980s! And the annoyed tour guide who brings this up in my book would have dated 1980s references. Basically, when I toured Australia and New Zealand with an improv comedy group, we were told that the people we’d normally tip – waitstaff, tour guides, etc. -  got decent salaries so it wasn’t necessary. But we Americans couldn’t break ourselves of the habit, so the waitstaffs and tour guides loved us, lol.


When Ricki’s air conditioning breaks, she buys a “swamp cooler.” What is that? How does it work? They’re also known as “evaporative coolers” and they cool the air “through the evaporation of water.” Don’t ask me to get more technical than this! I had a hard enough time understanding how it worked for the book!


When a body of a former tour guide turns up in a trunk of books, why does Ricki decide to investigate? She feels she’s somehow responsible. First, she booted the man from her store when she caught him shoplifting books. Then his body shows up in a trunk of donated books. She can’t help but feel she’s a link to his murder and since Bon Vee has only recently opened and is struggling to stay afloat, she’s motivated to do whatever she can to solve the crime so the scandal doesn’t destroy the place, along with her shop. Since the NOPD is overwhelmed – which is very real - Ricki doesn’t trust they’ll make the murder a top priority, so she takes it upon herself to move the investigation along.


Detective Nina Rodriguez wants Ricki to call her by her first name rather than “ma’am.” And yet, she isn’t always friendly. Is she a frenemy to Ricki? I think you could say that about the early stages of their relationship. But Nina develops a grudging respect for Ricki, although she does get a perverse pleasure from pushing Ricki’s buttons simply because she finds it amusing to watch her spin out. I can’t see Nina and Ricki becoming besties, but I can see Nina getting incorporated into the Bon Vee group, if a bit warily, at least on her part.


Is gator sausage a real thing? Have you eaten gator? If so, what does it taste like? Reptile??? I can’t go there. It is a real thing! I’ve only eaten gator once and it was by accident. My husband got a fried seafood platter and it included gator. I snagged something off his plate that tasted like tough chicken but it wasn’t – it was gator!


Who was Leah Chase? Were many of the most famous chefs in NOLA women? Leah Chase was called the Queen of Creole Cuisine. Her restaurant Dooky Chase, named after her musician husband, was also a center for the civil rights movement. New Orleans generated three legendary women restauranteurs: Ruth Fertel of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; Ella Brennan, who inspired Genevieve Charbonnet in my Vintage Cookbook series; and Leah Chase. Leah was the only one of the three who was also a chef.


Is a banh mi the same thing as a po’boy? No. A banh mi is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich. Because of the similarity in climates between Louisiana and Vietnam, many Vietnamese immigrated to the state after the war in their country. Current Vietnamese chefs and restauranteurs sometimes put a Cajun or Creole spin on their banh mi, like making them with crawfish. A po’boy is more like a hero or submarine sandwich, but the most true-to-form only use French bread from the local Leidenheimer Baking Company.


What is the connection between Ricki and her landlady Kitty? Kitty is friends with Ricki’s adoptive mother Josepha. They were both nurses. Kitty still is –she’s a hospice nurse. Josepha retired.


Why are NOLA word pronunciations so weird? I honestly don’t know but I love it. It’s part of the city’s unique quirky charm.


What are all these “second lines?” They began as the line of people who followed behind a brass band, the “first line,” in parades organized by the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs (SAPCs) found in New Orleans’ Black communities - usually for funerals. Over the decades, the second line has become a thing of its own. Even out-of-towners can hire people to organize them for events. There was one at Bouchercon 2016 when it took place in New Orleans. People often carry decorated umbrellas and wave white handkerchiefs. My theory about the umbrellas is that they began as a way to ward of the hot NOLA sun, but I did actually read that the handkerchiefs originated at funerals as a way to wave away bad spirits or the angel of death.


What does Creole bread pudding soufflĂ© taste like? Delicious!! It’s much lighter than your usual bread pudding. The top is mixed with meringue. The waiter taps the souffle to break it open and pours warm whiskey cream into it.


Why does Ricki suffer from catastrophic thinking? Because I did for years – and still do, to some extent – and gave the trait to Ricki. Sorry, Ricki!


Is there still a streetcar named Desire? Sadly, no. It was discontinued in 1948.


What does the term “food porn” mean? It’s slang for social media images of food. You know, like when people post pictures of their amazing meals.


Will Ricki ever learn to like football? If she’s anything like me, no!


What’s next for Ricki? In Wined and Died in New Orleans, it’s hurricane season in New Orleans, which makes Ricki very nervous. Meanwhile, repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder, Jean-Louis Charbonnet. Ricki’s thrilled when her post about the discovery of the wine goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant Charbonnet family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale. When a Charbonnet ends up dead, Ricki has to help solve a murder, untangle family secrets, and grow her business, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee.


Kait said...

Hi, Ellen! Welcome to Writers Who Kill. I cannot wait to read your latest. It's such a fun premise, and you are so good at bringing NOLA to life. It will be like a mini-vacation.

As for gator - it is wonderful if properly prepared. Sort of sweet chicken. Sorry the bit you snagged was tough!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congrats, Ellen! I ate an alligator hot dog, once, at Dat Dog, with disastrous results. To each her own.

Korina Moss said...

Looks like another great series from Ellen Byron.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Love your writing and know your way with NOLA will make it special.

Molly MacRae said...

I'm so happy to see this new series - love the premise and the promise of lots of fun to come. Thanks for stopping by WWK, Ellen!

KM Rockwood said...

I predict that this will be fun to read! Museums, books, kitchenware--all set in an old New Orleans house and surroundings. Looking forward to it.

Ellen Byron/Maria DiRico said...

Thanks so much for a wonderful review!!

Ellen Byron/Maria DiRico said...

I'm really enjoying your comments, too. I just can't respond to them myself. But I really appreciate the support! xoxo