Please welcome Ellen Byron, author of Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Any day that it’s raining. Sadly, being that I live in bone-dry Los Angeles right now, those days are few and far between. So my other favorite day would be one where I get to sit in my backyard sharing a chaise longue with my rescue dogs as I sip a glass of chardonnay and alternate between needlepointing and reading a mystery. Oh, and occasionally paying attention to my husband and child. Luckily, my daughter’s a teenager and is totally over us except when she needs a ride, so that frees up a lot of time. Even so, this day usually happens only once a year – on Mothers’ Day. (Or is it Mother’s Day? I’m never sure.)
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I do now! In an effort to “brand” myself in way that complements my series, I’ve taken to wearing purple, green, and gold a lot. My series is set in Louisiana, and those are the colors of Mardi Gras. The good thing is that in “Color Me Beautiful” parlance – remember that, anyone? – I’m a “Fiery Autumn,” so I gravitated to those colors anyway.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, and improv genius Keith Johnstone. Keith wrote the classic improv text, Impro, and created a form of performance improvisation called TheatreSports. I did it for years, and often worked with Keith. I learned as much about writing from Keith’s improv theories and games as I did from any writing class I ever took.
Do you listen to music when you write?
For me, music is what I dance to. And since I can’t dance and write, nope!
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with pecans and a slight peppery kick.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I developed a fascination with Cajun Country when I was a student at Tulane University in New Orleans. I visited the area many times after college; I’d rent a car and just roam around exploring. I’ve used the region as a setting for plays, and created Cajun characters as well. Combining my love of mysteries with my passion for Acadiana was just a very natural fit.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I’m not someone who thinks “theme” before I write, but I often look back at what I’ve written and find them. I guess the most common theme in my work would be, how do you fit in when you feel like you don’t really fit in? How do you learn to trust that who you are is good enough? I was the oldest of three in my family, and the only girl, and I had to develop a strong sense of responsibility early on. Through most of my childhood, I had plenty of friends, but truly felt more comfortable with adults than my peers. I carried this feeling of not fitting in with me for a very long time, and it still pops up now and then. I’ll be having a grand old time at a mystery conference and then I’ll suddenly start thinking, “I don’t really belong here and everyone knows that.” Insecurity is a very persistent demon.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
See above!! Magnolia “Maggie” Crozat is an ambitious, artistic soul who always felt like an outsider – someone who rebelled against the accepted mores and lifestyle of the sleepy southern village where she grew up, Pelican, Louisiana. She loves her hometown and its inhabitants, and wants to fit in and be accepted – but for who she is, not who she thinks they want her to be. She’s smart, insecure, passionate, self-effacing, and has a sense of humor about herself. She’s also got a major crush on the hot new detective in town.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Sandra Bullock, Georgia O’Keefe, and Tina Fey!
If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, Tina Fey, Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare, and all three Bronte Sisters (they’re a family, so I’m going to count them as one!). I’d also love to invite F. Scott Fitzgerald but sadly, I know he’d get drunk and boorish. Sidebar: when I was a kid, my parents decided to move from Queens (the NY borough) to a suburb with a better school system. I went with them to see a house in Great Neck on Long Island, and we were told that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald once lived in it. I was only eight, but I never forgot that. Flash forward to a couple of months ago: I get these Curbed.com House of the Day emails and one arrived touting a house once lived in by the Fitzgeralds – and it was that house! It was exactly how I remembered it on the outside. Gave me goosebumps.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the second book in my Cajun Country mystery series, Crawdeaddy. Fingers crossed that it’s as much fun to read as it is to write!
Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. Ellen’s debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was chosen as Debut Mystery of the Month by the Library Journal. Her TV credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. Having set her first mystery series in a fabulous location that she “must visit to research,” she looks forward to pulling this off with future series.