Guest Post: Ellen Byron

Welcome back long-time Mysteristas friend Elle Byron with the latest in her Cajun Country mysteries combining family, holidays and murder, A Cajun Christmas Killing!


My mother is Italian and my dad was Jewish. This ethnic combination resulted in spending a lot of my childhood at family functions. Barely a month went by when someone wasn’t celebrating something – anniversaries, birthday parties, bridal showers, baby showers, bar mitzvahs, and especially weddings. The Italian side was especially party-prolific, since two cousins by marriage ran the Astoria Manor catering hall in Queens.

Every big bash revolved around a large dance floor filled with adults dancing. And as a kid, I remember thinking – these old people look ridiculous. There was nothing more embarrassing than watching a sea of seniors do some current dance move like the Hustle or the Bump. (Note: said seniors were probably fifteen or twenty years younger than I am now.)

This attitude lingered through my twenties. I worked for Martha Stewart when she was launching her catering company (sidebar: you’ll find pix of me in the first edition of Entertaining), and she did a lot of weddings back then. Even though those crowds were WASP-ier and more reserved than my ethnic clans, I had the same judgy reaction. Dancing was for the young, not the old. Yeah, friends got married and I danced at their weddings, but I resented the elders tying up valuable space on the dance floor.

Now, you need to know that I love dancing. LOVE it. When I was nine, my ballet teacher told my mother I had “great potential.” Sadly, I also had a short attention span and so I quit not long after this and never went en pointe, something I’ll regret to my dying day. While I never became a prima ballerina, I pretty much spent every weekend of my twenties at one New York club or another. But as I got older and my clubbing faded, so did my dance opportunities. They basically disappeared. Then I became a mom. During our daughter’s thirteenth year, we got invited to a handful of her friends’ bat mitzvahs. And guess who totally embarrassed her teenager by burning up the dance floor? That’s right – me.

Those events left me with a hunger to bust a move on a more regular basis. When a new gym opened in my neighborhood, there was a format called Dance it Out on the schedule.  The copy said the classes offered a variety of dance styles within a fifty minute session.  I tried one class and was hooked. I love the format so much that it inspired an exercise studio called DanceBod in A Cajun Christmas Killing, my new Cajun Country Mystery. And I’ve learned a lot of new steps that I can’t wait to try out at a party. Because there will be future weddings, as well as anniversary parties and other celebrations.  And I get the pull of that party dance floor now. So, to all my older relatives who got an eye roll from me at family functions, I apologize. I hope you feel vindicated knowing umpteen years later, I have become you and will be embarrassing future generations of children at family events each time I Whip, Nae Nae, or Drop it Low.


Ellen Byron’s novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was a Library Journal Debut Mystery of the Month, and nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards.  Book two in the series, Body on the Bayou, was recently released to enthusiastic reviews. TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots; she’s written over 200 national magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland.


Guest Post: Jennifer Kincheloe

Welcome Jennifer Kincheloe, author of the Anna Blanc mystery series!

Noodles and Nefarious Purposes

Woman in the Camphor TrunkI write the Anna Blanc mystery series set in 1900s Los Angeles. It follows the adventures of a police matron-detective with the LAPD. RT Book reviews calls it “I Love Lucy meets Agatha Christie,” a description I adore. The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, the newest book, takes place in LA’s Chinatown—in my opinion, the most colorful place in history and a very sexy setting for a murder mystery.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, LA zoned most of its vice into Chinatown. It’s where everyone of any race went to debauch. Tongs (Chinese gangs) ruled and warred constantly. Hatchet men, their assassins, shamelessly murdered in broad daylight. Every other establishment was an opium den, illegal gambling joint, or brothel. Ninety-five percent of Chinatown residents were male, because of discriminatory immigration policies. The women were mostly trafficked in for nefarious purposes. Can you imagine thousands of sexually frustrated men crammed into fifteen blocks of city? Tell me that’s not a powder keg.

Amidst this morass, a community of hardworking, decent, Chinese American men were just trying to get by. They founded theaters, temples, schools, a newspaper, medicine shops, an opera house, a Chamber of Commerce, legendary chop suey joints. (All the cops in the Chinatown squad ate there.) The traditional Chinese New Year celebration was the most vibrant festival in Los Angeles. Adventurous tourists visited Chinatown, until the tong wars really got hot.

This juxtaposition of high culture and underbelly is the back-drop for The Woman in the Camphor Trunk. The two storylines come straight out of Chinatown history—one from New York, another from Los Angeles.

Here’s the teaser. I hope you love it!

Los Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former sweetheart, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna.

Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fueling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger.

Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family’s sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.


Jennifer Kincheloe is the author of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc and The Woman in the Camphor TrunkThe Secret Life of Anna Blanc is the winner of the Colorado Gold Award for mystery and the Mystery and Mayhem Award for historical mystery. The novel was also a finalist for the Macavity Sue Feder Historical Mystery award, Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Award, and Colorado Authors’ League Award for genre fiction. Formerly, Dr. Kincheloe was the principal of a health consulting firm and a member of the research faculty for the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. She currently does research on the jails in Denver, Colorado.



Twitter: @jenkincheloe


#NotMe, but I Stand With The Family of Women

Women have found their voice, and damn it’s loud. And solid. And proud. And it brooks no doubt or slander or thrown tomatoes. We’re finally standing strong and solid with arms bound and spirits raised. We’re finished with all forms of subjugation to men.

It took us awhile.

In my mind the very first brave woman was Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas vetting for the Supreme Court. She took backlash and whiplash and everything else, but she held fast and honorable to her values.

And no one listened. Not even women.

While other questionable male entitlement came out over time, I don’t remember other women standing up. As far as I know Monica Lewinsky never said a thing.

But then we saw the sheer number of women accusing Bill Cosby—and oh man, did that hurt. Really? Bill Cosby? America’s favorite dad? My heart still cries with that one. But I’ve come to terms with what I wish to be true versus what is likely true.

Today we’re hearing women’s voices, from politics to entertainment to business. Some people wonder if all of them are credible. Some people, even women, think it’s all just some silliness they need to get over.

#NotMe. #NotEverAgain.


It’s all better with friends.




A Study in Recipes

***3 no 7, you are the winner of the Andrea Kane giveaway! Please email to claim your book!***

A recipe is never just a recipe. There’s usually a story behind it, probably because food plays such an integral role in society, especially with families.

I grew up baking sugar cookies my grandma, cooking green chili with my dad, and fostering a love of experimenting in the kitchen.

Now that I have a daughter, I want to pass on my passion for cooking—or at the very least eating—with her.

And it’s super exciting! My baby girl is at the stage where she gets to start trying what we are eating! That means at Thanksgiving, she can taste mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy. She’ll probably frown and give us her best gag-face because that’s how she handles new flavors and textures, but still, it will be amazing to witness.

In parting, I thought I would share one specific story and recipe that is important to me called Second Date Cookies.

When I was in high school, my mom gave me the advice to bake cookies for the boy I liked. Now, as an adolescent trying to survive high school, I found this an embarrassing and decidedly uncool endeavor that I would NEVER do. Fast-forward a few years to when I met my husband. I was smitten from our first date. So much so that, lo-and-behold, for our second date, I heeded my mom’s advice.

That’s right, I made cookies for him. Oatmeal with chocolate and butterscotch chips. Of course, I played it off like I just happened to have baked them the night before and thought he might enjoy them (pretty sure he saw right through that; he’s a smart guy). I guess the cookies worked, because we’ve been happily married eight years ❤

What recipes do you make that have stories behind them?

Second Date Cookies, loosely based on the Quaker Oat’s Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (but no raisins because raisins are 1. gross and 2. pretty much the worst form a grape can take):

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 and 1/2 cup flower (note, at altitude you’ll want to add a little extra)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 3 cups Quaker Oats (I prefer old fashioned)
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet morsels)
  • 3/4 cup butterscotch chips

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes (usually a few minutes longer if you’re at altitude) until the tops are golden brown. Share with a loved one and enjoy!

All You Have to Do Is Look

It’s early November, which means it’s that time again – time for the New England Crime Bake ! The Sisters in Crime New England chapter’s annual regional mystery conference for writers and readers – co-sponsored by Mystery Writers of America’s New England chapter! – is a delightful experience. The conference moved to a new location this year, from Dedham to Woburn, Massachusetts (and a larger hotel conference space).

This year’s of Guest of Honor was the delightful Lisa Gardner, who shared all sorts of interesting thoughts on writing and publishing. Her most recent book, Look for Me, was released in February, 2018 (there’s another coming  soon!), and features Detective D.D. Warren racing “against the clock to either save a young girl’s life…or bring her to justice.”

Crime Bake is a smaller conference, allowing approximately 250 participants, and the focus is on writing and publishing (although there’s always plenty of room for readers). One of the special opportunities is the chance to meet and mingle and practice pitching with agents and editors. If you wish, you can submit a manuscript for critique, share your first page with an editor for feedback, receiving pitching practice with an agent, or actually pitch!  The authors, agents, and editors who attend the conference are usually approachable, helpful, and encouraging. The casual atmosphere encourages people to mingle, meet in the bar/restaurant with a favorite author or agent, and make new friends.

In many ways, Crime Bake conference attendees become a family. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms,  and repeat attendees are greeted with hugs or gleeful shouts.  Group bloggers have an often rare opportunity to gather together IN PERSON, attendees mingle with fellow writers they may have only “met” online in Guppies groups, and repeat attendees sometimes have the experience of being called out on their procrastination (there’s nothing like having a successful author ask, “weren’t you almost done with that project LAST year at this time?!?”). The authors are humble and grateful and supportive, and there is an air of celebration throughout the weekend. We acknowledge first-time novelists, award-winners and nominees, and the selected authors of the Level Best Books annual anthology.

One of my favorite parts of the conference is running into other writers who are excited to share that they’ve found an agent, been offered a contract for a book, or simply completed a draft of their project. Crime Bake represents a community of people who share similar hopes and dreams, take turns supporting and encouraging, and commiserate together over set-backs. It is a very special family.

Interview: Vicki Batman

Welcome Vicki Batman, author of the Hattie Cooks mysteries!

TemporarilyInsane_w10205_300 cover 19What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I actually love driving around with Handsome. He takes the wheel and we explore different places nearby or we drive to Colorado for a week. I like the winding roads, looking for animals and interesting sites. Eating whenever and whatever. Just relaxing with him.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I love handbags and have a bunch. Every Monday, I feature mine or someone else’s on my blog, Handbags, Books…Whatever. I say “rats” a lot. And hamburgers are my favorite food.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I first blurted to Handsome that I wanted to write like Dick Francis. Then along came Janet E and I found my funny.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I do, particularly classical guitar. No words to mess with my head. AND I love this kind of music.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

I think dark chocolate covered caramels. Dark for the mystery and caramels for the ooey gooey trouble my heroine gets into.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Temporarily Insane is a second in the Hattie Cooks mystery series. I liked the characters so much I had to keep writing.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

People are not what they seem.

Tell us about your main character.

Hattie Cooks has lost her dream job working as a buyer for a department store chain (yes, like me). Thanks to a friend, she takes temporary jobs until the right buying job comes along, which is going to be tough as she lives in a small town; however, she has been offered a job in New York City. But will she leave her family and the man who makes her heart go thumpa-thumpa, Detective Allan Wellborn? Trouble always seems to come her way at the various employment places. She has a domineering mom, full of “lectures,” an engineer dad, a younger sister, a best friend, extended family, and a snarky roomie.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

This question always stumps me. I really have nothing. 😞

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Dick Francis, Janet E, Mary Stewart, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, and P. D. James.

What’s next for you?

I’ve roughed two new romantic comedy short stories as I write a ton of those as well as the romantic comedy mysteries. And I’m working on Temporarily Out of Luck, book three.


Award-winning and Amazon best-selling author, Vicki Batman, has sold many romantic comedy works to magazines, several publishers, and most recently, two romantic comedy mysteries to The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and several writing groups. An avid Jazzerciser. Handbag lover. Mahjong player. Yoga practitioner. Movie fan. Book devourer. Chocoholic. Best Mom ever. And adores Handsome Hubby. Most days begin with her hands set to the keyboard and thinking “What if??”


Author Central:
Plotting Princesses:
Sisterhood of Suspense:

It’s a Family Affair.

If it wasn’t for the support of my daughter and son-in-law, and if it wasn’t for the understanding, patience and encouragement of my grandchildren, I wouldn’t be able to participate in the mystery community.

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this while I work on my acknowledgements for the DEADLY SOLUTION, which I think has a longer word count than the first chapter. At first, I thought: who am I going to acknowledge? I wrote it. I researched it. Where is everyone when I’m pounding on the keyboard day and night.

Indulging me, that’s where they are. And there is loving support from all over the mystery community for new writers. I’m sure there is an element of competition; I’m neither young nor naïve. But I don’t see it with the writers I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

So in this season of giving thanks, I am thankful for my genetically-related family, who put up with me and read for me, for my Alaskan family, those friends I’ve come to know in the past three decades, you know who you are, even the legal community who provides so much fodder for drama and comedy, and the editors and the beta readers and the publishers and all those agents and publishers that rejected my work but took the time to tell me why.

And my high school English teacher who told me I should write. She could have just been trying to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t talk to the guy sitting behind me, but I took her seriously.

Thanks to you all.

Mysteristas, what about you — who pushed, pulled, and/or supported you in this crazy adventure?