Friday, August 12, 2016
An Interview with Ellen Byron
MM: Ellen, give us the backstory on your writing career?
I graduated from Tulane University with the always-useful degree in Theatre. (Sarcasm!) I acted for a few years, and then started writing plays. My first, GRACELAND, won awards and was published. I began writing freelance magazine articles to support myself, and gradually writing supplanted acting. In 1990, I moved from my beloved New York City to L.A. to see if I could transition into writing for television, which I’m proud to say that I did. Since then I’ve written on shows like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME and STILL STANDING. I’ve also written pilots for most of the major networks.
MM: Where is your favorite place to write your books?
I’m not someone who who can write in coffee houses or unique places. I sit at the computer in my office and pound away.
MM: Are you the seat of your pants (punster) plotter? Would you rather outline or is there another way you plot your books?
I call myself a plotser. I need to lay out a blueprint for where my story is going, and that can turn into a 25 – 30 page outline. But the minute I start writing, things begin moving around. It’s like looking at amoeba on a slide under a microscope, where nothing seems to stay in place. I tend to have a lot of little brainstorms when I’m working on a book and I have to write them down or they go away. And I find my overall story structure stays the same, so the bones of the outline are useful, and it’s also useful as a repository for my random thoughts.
MM: Are you a member of a writer's group or is there a village, mentor, or many others you would like to tell us about and want to give a shout out of thanks?
Two groups: GoWrite, made up of Mindy Schneider, Kathy McCullough,
Kate Shein, and Terri Wagener. This is where I first began writing mysteries and nothing would exist without them. And then there are the wonderful ladies who invited me to join their multi-author blog, chicksonthecase.com. They would be Lisa Q. Mathews, Kellye Garrett, and Marla Cooper. I love that I get to mix it up with both mystery and non-mystery authors. And both Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and SoCal Mystery Writers of America have been a godsend.
MM: What would your characters tell us about you?
That I love them, and sometimes forget that I made them up. I feel like they’re real and I can go visit them. Which means I also forget that I made up Pelican, Louisiana!
MM: Now for lighter questions. What is your favorite meal, shows to binge watch, place to vacation, music, movies and snack or dessert?
Meal: anything Italian. Or sushi
Place to vacation: Bantam Lake, Connecticut. My family had a cottage there for years. We had to sell it after my dad passed away.
Music: I have the taste of a fifteen year-old girl, so Top Forty dance music. Right now I love “Cake by the Ocean,” by DNCE. But I also have both Bollywood and Cajun/Zydeco playlists.
Shows: I don’t have time to binge-watch, I’m always writing! I’m mourning the loss of my two favorite shows, Mad Men and Downton Abbey, but looking forward to the return of Silicon Valley and Veep.
Movies: All-time faves: The Producers, Flirting with Disaster, Amarcord, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and The Haunting.
Dessert: pretty much anything! I do live for See’s Candy, though.
MM: Tell us about where you live and why you love your home?
I live in Studio City, California. I’m a rain lover, so my residency in dry SoCal is purely for business. I dream of moving back East someday. But I do love our house. It’s a classic California mid-century ranch and we’ve tried to respect its style. My neighborhood is cool because it’s in the Valley side of the Hollywood Hills. Great hiking! And my neighbors include a certain Mr. George Clooney. He of course lives in the fancier section of our neighborhood. I’ve seen him on his motorcycle and neighbors have reported George-Amal sightings at local restaurants. We used to have a basset hound and when I read that George and Amal recently adopted one, I was going to drop our late Lucy’s snood in their mailbox!
MM: 2016 what can we expect from you this year?
Exciting things!! A mass market paperback edition of PLANTATION SHUDDERS launches in early August, and… drumroll, please… book two in my Cajun Country Mysteries series, BODY ON THE BAYOU, launches on September 13th.
MM: Personally and professionally what are you looking forward to person/s, place or thing?
I’m looking forward to the Malice Domestic Convention, which I just adore. They gave me my start by endowing me with a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. And this year I’m nominated for a Best First Novel, which is an absolute dream come true. And I’m very much looking forward to Bouchercon 2016… in New Orleans! I’ll take any excuse I can get to visit my favorite city.
MM: Tell us about your website?
My website was designed by Catherine Respess of Red Mare Designs, and I love it. She is the loveliest, easiest person to work with. We worked to give it the flavor of Louisiana, with images of oak trees and the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. I blog about all kinds of local color, from plantation visits to New Orleans’ artists. And I send out a bi-monthly newsletter that you can sign up for on my website. It usually includes a recipe and a section I call “Your Louisiana Library,” where I write about some of my favorite Louisiana non-fiction and travel books.
MM: What are your writing pet peeves?
Hah! I just shared a couple of those on a listserv. Right now, one is when people use “it’s” incorrectly, instead of “its.” Another is spelling never mind as one word. Ignore that Nirvana cover. It’s – as in “it is” – two words.
MM: Do you know who your villain is at the beginning of your book?
Yes. I always give myself permission to change that, but so far I never have.
MM: What do you collect? Before writing books did you have a hobby?
I have a large collection of Roseville Pottery, although I haven’t added to it in years. Not enough disposable income. Now I collect vintage cookbooks. Not that I’m a great cook (despite the recipes in my books). I’m just fascinated by how tastes and cooking instructions have changed over the years. I also do needlepoint, and dream of one day writing a mystery series that involves the craft.
MM: Leave us with some sage words of writing wisdom? Also leave us with a quote by one of your characters?
Writing is hard, but it should also be fun and fulfilling. If it’s not, take a break and do something else. Let yourself be driven back to the pad or computer because you simply must get out what is inside you.
I’ll leave you with a quote from BODY ON THE BAYOU, the second book in my series. You will be the first readers to ever see these words. A little back story: my protagonist is Maggie Crozat. She’s an artist who lives and also works at her family’s Louisiana plantation-turned-B&B. She’s found a litter of puppies and one of kittens abandoned in the woods, and she and her family are caring for them. Her friends want to adopt them, but Maggie is being resistant. Her grandmere – “Gran’ “- tells her the following…
Gran’ sighed and shook her head. “Oh, my darling girl. Someday you will have children. And your life will revolve around them to the point where you have only vague memories of what it was like before they entered the world. And then you will have to let them go. You won’t know what to do with yourself at first. But eventually you’ll find the life you had before, or even a better one, if such a thing is possible. And your children will always be part of that, in some way. You will not lose them.” She put her arms on Maggie’s shoulders and looked straight into her granddaughter’s eyes. “But you must let your babies go, chere. Let them go.”
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