It’s the end of the summer and Prodigal Daughter Maggie Crozat has returned home to her family’s plantation-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Louisiana. The Crozats have an inn full of guests for the local food festival–elderly honeymooners, the Cajun Cuties, a mysterious stranger from Texas, a couple of hipster lovebirds, and a trio of Georgia frat boys. But when the elderly couple keels over dead within minutes of each other–one from very unnatural causes– Maggie and the others suddenly become suspects in a murder.
With the help of Bo Durant, the town’s handsome new detective, Maggie must investigate to clear her name while holding the family business together at the same time. And the deeper she digs, the more she wonders: are all of the guests really there for a vacation or do they have ulterior motives? Decades-old secrets and stunning revelations abound in Ellen Byron’s charming cozy debut.
Q: Your first novel, Plantation Shudders, has earned rave reviews and was Library Journal’s debut of the month! Can you tell us what the book is about?
A: Sure! Maggie Crozat, a feisty artist in her early thirties, has left New York and moved back to her hometown, eccentric Pelican, Louisiana – town motto, “Yes, We Peli-CAN!” She takes a job as a tour guide at Doucet Plantation, which belonged to her mother’s ancestors and was donated to the state. Maggie also works at Crozat Plantation, her father’s ancestral home, which the family now operates as a B&B. But the business is in peril after an obnoxious eightysomething couple staying there on their honeymoon – yes, their honeymoon – mysteriously drops dead within minutes of each other. The Pelican Chief of Police carries a longstanding grudge against the Crozats, and Maggie can’t trust the sexy new detective in town because he happens to be the Chief’s cousin. So Maggie is forced to become an amateur sleuth, aided by her accordion-playing best friend Gaynell, her cross-dressing pal JJ, and her cocktail-loving Grandmere. Oh, and she’s still trying to get her art career going. She’s a busy gal!
Q: You’ve written for hit TV shows like Wings and Just Shoot Me. Are there any lessons or techniques that translate from screen to page? What are the big differences?
A: TV is a business and as a writer, you are part of that business. Your job is to please the show runner, the studio, the network, and eventually the audience. You have to produce on tight deadlines and be prepared for your script to be totally rewritten – for better and sometimes for worse – by a roomful of writers. My books are mine – until the publisher weighs in, of course. But my novel writing benefits from my TV experience, because thanks to TV (and also my playwriting background), I know how to meet a deadline, structure a story, and write dialogue.
Q: You spent your college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University, but now you live in L.A. Did you travel back to Louisiana to refresh your memory?
A: I used to travel there every couple of years, but then I had my daughter, so that changed everything. I haven’t been back since Katrina, but I’ve planned a trip this year over the Christmas holiday. I want to experience the levee bonfires, a Christmas Eve tradition; legend has it that the bonfires light the way up the Mississippi River for Papa Noel. We’ll visit New Orleans (and take our daughter, now 15, on a tour of Tulane!), then spend a few days with my friend Gaynell Bourgeois Moore, who inspired so much in Plantation Shudders (you can read about her in the “Lagniappe” chapter of the book, or in recent blogs on my website, ellenbyron.com). Then it’s off to St. Martinville, a favorite Cajun town of mine, and we end our trip with a night in Lafayette, the capital of Cajun Country. I. Can’t. WAIT!! And I’ll share my adventures through my blog and newsletter.
Q: You’re already working on your second book in the series. Will Maggie and Bo change throughout? Where will you allow your characters to evolve, and what will you keep constant?
A: As a mystery series fan myself, if I find an author I like, I read all of their books and become totally invested in the growth of the characters and their relationships. I want to keep my characters true to themselves, but I want their relationships and circumstances to evolve. I’m keeping this vague because I don’t want to give anything away.
Q: Do you have a favorite Cajun recipe that you fix at home?
A: The great irony of my series is that I don’t consider myself a cook. But Ninette Doucet Crozat, Maggie’s mother, is. And how can I write about Louisiana without including some examples of the state’s incredible cuisine? My favorite dish is jambalaya, and to be honest, I make it the easiest way possible. I buy a good jambalaya rice mix (I’ll either grab a Zatarain’s at the grocery store or order specialty mixes from cajungrocer.com) and throw in a cup or two of chicken and/or shrimp. Easy peasy! BTW, I created a tongue-in-cheek brochure titled “The Laissez Girl’s Guide to Easy Cajun Entertaining.” It was inspired by the fact that even though I’m not the Cajun cooking pro that people assume I am, I know how to make myself look like an expert, wink, wink. And hey, how about this? I’ll send a copy of the brochure to the first five people who comment on this blog, along with a bookmark and recipe postcard.
Q: Writing can be very solitary. How do you balance the need for solitude with the need to get out and be with people?
A: With a day job! I currently have a full-time gig on an animated series. But prior to this position, I wasn’t on staff for a few years. I have a writing partner for TV, so we wrote cable and network pilots together during this period. But when we weren’t working on a project and I was writing books on my own, I broke up the solitude with volunteer work at my daughter’s school and evening walks with neighborhood friends. I’m an extravert, not an introvert, so I need social contact.
About The Author
Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. She attributes this obsession to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. Her debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, launches on August 11th. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning, Graceland. She is also the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. She’s the proud mom of a fifteen year-old daughter and two very spoiled rescue dogs.