Haunting with Ellen Byron, plus #Giveaway

Edith/Maddie here, thrilled to share a release date earlier this week with my buddy Ellen Byron, who has a new Cajun Country mystery out – set at Halloween! She’s giving away a copy of Murder in the Bayou Boneyard to one lucky commenter, too. I just finished reading it, and you’re going to love this story.

Ellen: Louisiana proudly bills itself as the most haunted state in America. Whether or not you believe this, it’s certainly a state rife with unique customs surrounding death and the afterlife, as I learned when I took the Creole Mourning Tour at St. Joseph Plantation. St. Joseph was so happy with the post I wrote about the experience, they added it to their website.

Even the dolls went into mourning

The St. Joseph tour inspired me to write MURDER IN THE BAYOU BONEYARD, my new Cajun Country Mystery. It also motivated me to do something I’d never done in all of my many visits to New Orleans: take a ghost tour. Three of them, actually, through a company called Haunted History Tours. (https://hauntedhistorytours.com/) One focused on the French Quarter, another on the Garden District, and the third was a treat to myself: a Haunted Pub Crawl.

As we wandered the old brick sidewalks of the city, I picked up some fascinating facts…

  • According to one of my guides, New Orleans is a city “Built on dead people. They’re right under your feet.” Here he is, illustrating that creepy fact…
  • Some houses have an upside-down keyhole to confuse the spirits and chase them away. I don’t know if this house is one of them, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit…
  • In past centuries, there was always the chance that a patient pronounced dead was actually in a coma, hence bells were installed in some of the city’s famous cemetery crypts in case of a misdiagnosis. In a few crypts that unfortunately lacked bells, researchers have found fingernail scratches on the interior walls. The thought of what prompted that desperate clawing still makes me shudder.

I learned other, less disturbing facts. You know how funeral second-line participants often wave handkerchiefs as they march? Originally this was seen as a way to confuse and chase off the spirits, much like the upside keyhole. (Confusing the spirits plays a role in a lot of Louisiana superstitions.) And if a ghost walks through a wall, it means the wall wasn’t there when said ghost was alive.

I packed all my tours into one day. By the time night fell and I linked up with the Haunted Pub Crawl, I was ready for a drink. A stiff one. But after an hour listening to sordid tales of vampirism, ax murders, and opium dens, I opted for a palate cleanser of jambalaya and a Pimm’s Cup at a bar with a less sordid history – the Napoleon House, which earned its name when the then-mayor of New Orleans offered his residence to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile.

[Edith: I ate there when I was in New Orleans!]

I got so much from these tours, all banked for future writing projects. And I look forward to further ghostly adventures in the Crescent City.

But I think I’ll stay out of the cemeteries. Or at the very least, wear a bell around my neck.

Readers: what are some superstitions you find interesting? Are there any you follow? Who’s not afraid to walk under a ladder? Comment to be entered in a US-only giveaway for a copy of Murder in the Bayou Boneyard.

Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Her new Catering Hall Mystery series, written as Maria DiRico, launched with Here Comes the Body, and was inspired by her real life. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.

Newsletter: https://www.ellenbyron.com/




91 Thoughts

  1. My father would comb his hair & what’s in the comb, put in a bag & tie up so birds wouldnt make a nest of it.

  2. I love this series and would love to win this latest book! When I am reading a book I can never stop on chapters 7 or 13~ Also when I see 11:17 on a clock or scoreboard it’s good luck because my birthday is 11/17!

  3. Edith, thank you so much for hosting me. Had a great time chatting at Mystery Lovers Bookshop. And congratulations on the launch of TAKEN TOO SOON. Your Quaker Midwife Series is stunning.

  4. Congratulations on Murder in the Bayou Boneyard! The tours sound fantastic, but Ellen, all three in one day – you deserved a stiff drink!

    My mother was the superstitious one in our family. No birds in the house (death) no shoes (new or old) on the table (death). Now, I’m not sure who would put worn shoes on a table, but I snatch boxes of new shoes off the table immediately. No sense in taking chances. Why aren’t there any long life superstitions? Hum.

    1. Thanks so much, Kait! And now I want to write book that includes all these superstitions. Although I would think shoes on the table is as much a health hazard as anything. Maybe death from catching an illness from whatever was on the bottom of the shoe???

  5. Congratulations on the release of “Murder in the Bayou Boneyard”! Love the cover and can’t wait for the opportunity to read this one. Most definitely on my TBR list.

    What a cool experience of going on the ghost tours in New Orleans. That would be something I would enjoy. To me it’s always fun to learn our past generations handled situations – even death.

    As a kid growing up we learned all the standard superstitions like not walking under a ladder, stepping on a crack would break your mother’s back, and if you forget something don’t go back in through the same door. As an adult, I don’t consider me superstitious, However, being a cook I find myself still tossing salt over my shoulder if I spill some.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  6. Congratulations, Ellen! Looking forward to reading the new book.

    My mother-in-law always says that you should always leave a place through the same door through which you entered. Her family was Swedish, so perhaps it’s a superstition that originated in Sweden.

    1. Hi, Amy with the great last name, and thank you. Another specific superstition! I have a whole b-story in FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL inspired by their Death Cleaning tradition.

  7. Congratulations on the new book. There’s something about New Orleans that makes me feel this low level of evil or maybe it’s all the ghosts is swirling around my ankles. I still love the place, but it has a different feel that any other city I’ve ever visited.

  8. Congratulations, Ellen! Great event at Mystery Lovers this week.

    The only superstition I really follow is no laundry on New Year’s Day because you’ll wash someone out of your family (from my dad’s mom), but my husband says it’s only an excuse not to do laundry. LOL

  9. Ellen, your books were the first cozy mysteries I ever read. I am a fan!

    Your day of ghost tours sounds a bit over the top, but all in the name of research, so your drink was well earned. I’m sure that your story is much enriched from all you gleaned that day.

    As for superstitions, my grandmother had several. The only one that really stuck is to never put a hat on the bed. I have no idea what the consequences may be. I am sure that I have my own little superstitions, like athletes who always eat a particular meal before a game, but I do admit to snatching hats off of beds when I see them!

    Congratulations on your new book which is on my TBR list. I look forward to reading it soon.

    1. Judy, wow!! You have made my day. Thank you SO much. I don’t have to worry about his superstition because I hate hats of all kinds. You will never see me in so much as a baseball cap!

  10. What a great series – can’t wait to read this one!

    Not really superstitious, I do walk under ladders and was married on the 13th, which puts our anniversary sometimes on a Friday!

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  11. I shudder when a Friday falls on the 13th and am surprised when nothing terrible happens to me that day!

  12. Hi Ellen! Congrats on the new book! I’m not superstitious, but I find all those rituals and spirit confusing stuff to be fascinating….except the dead people not really being dead thing. That’s just horrifying.*shudder*

  13. I love your New Orleans stories! I’m not a very superstitious person, but I don’t walk under ladders either. That just makes good sense. Congrats on your latest!

  14. Ellen, nice to meet you and good luck with this new book! My maternal grandmother was extremely superstitious and passed many of her thoughts on to her twelve children including my mother. My husband laughs at the fact that I won’t sing before breakfast or discuss my dreams before eating breakfast. As I think about it, maybe my grandparents just wanted a quiet breakfast table. 😉 In our family we always throw salt over our left shoulder if we spill some, although I do this next to the sink to be neat about it. As for New Year’s Day, in our family the superstition was that everything you do on that day you will repeat daily or at least often in the following year. So, no one cleaned house and tried hard not to argue on New Year’s Day. Like Liz said above in the comments, it is a good belief and helps us get out of work on New Year’s Day and for me…have more reading time. 😉

  15. Congrats on the new release, Ellen! My family visited New Orleans for the first time last summer. What an amazing place. We stayed in the Garden District and took the street cars everywhere.
    I’m a fan of IndyCar racing and one superstition I follow is that I never say the leader of the race has it won until the checkered flag falls. Too many drivers have had too many things go wrong at the very end of a race for me to consider any race in the bag until it’s officially over. No lead is safe!

    1. Oh, good one, J.C. Where did you stay in the GD? We stayed in the Best Western Plus on St. Charles on our last trip and it was great. We may be going back over Halloween and their prices are too high right now, though.

    1. Julie, due to my years in theatre, I’m exactly the same way. It’s funny the looks you get from people who don’t know the tradition and think you’re actually wishing BAD luck on them!

  16. What a wonderful setting for your book! My family and I always pick our feet up when we drive over train tracks for “good luck”. Everyone in the car has to do it (apart from the right foot of the driver lol). I have no idea the origin of this but we’ve done it for so long it’s second nature.

    1. That’s so interesting. I have an irrational fear of driving over train tracks. I’m always in a panic that I’ll be crossing and hear that warning sound and the gate will suddenly shut while I’m on the track. Brrr….

      And thanks so much! I love writing about Cajun Country. One of my favorite places in the world.

  17. I think superstitions are fascinating! I find my own tend to be a bit more personal than cultural. I have to stand at the door and wave goodbye to my husband or kids whenever they leave the house. Even if they don’t see me I feel compelled to take every chance to send them on their way with all my good wishes. I also never want to speak about car accidents whilst in a vehicle. It feels like inviting trouble somehow!

    1. OMG, Jessie, I totally get this. Whenever our daughter leaves our company, I have to tell her “be safe” or “be careful.” I never labeled it a superstition but it is because I’m afraid if I don’t say it, something bad will happen.

      1. My mother-in-law always said, “Drive safely” when we left her house. Now my husband always say it to each other. It reminds how much we mean to each other.

  18. Congratulations on the new book Ellen. I shudder whenever a bird flies into a window. My grandmother said that foretold a death coming. She wasn’t referring to the bird either. I certainly hope I win this book. I really want to read it.

  19. I love this series! I also think it’s funny that we’ve been on some of the same tours and drunk at the same bars (too bad it wasn’t together, but maybe some time in the future our paths will cross).

    Best wishes for this book!

    1. LOL, that is funny! I’m so glad you love the series. My three fave Quarter bars are Napoleon House, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (which was a local hangout when I was in school and now you can’t get near), and Patrick’s Bar Vin. I pray it survives the current crisis.

  20. I love all the standard and non-standard superstitions, but am not a big believer. Some just make sense: no shoes on the table because of dirt, no hat on bed so you don’t accidentally sit on it, not walk under a ladder so you don’t knock someone off or get something dropped on you. However, I don’t stop reading a book on a chapter ending in “0” or stop lots of other things on a “0” count because I want to do “one more” to keep things rolling. I also carry an odd, square coin from Curaçao as a good luck charm. I have no idea where it came from or how long I’ve had it. It just seems to have always been with me.

    Congrats on the new book! I love ghost stories.

    1. Ginny, there’s no ghost in the book but there is a mysterious creature known as a rougarou. And thank you for explaining the realism behind some of the superstitions!

  21. Of course, there are some of these superstitions that are about being wise. Like not walking under a ladder. It may not be bad luck, but it isn’t the smartest things to do since it is easier for something to fall on you if you walk under the ladder.

    This book is fabulous! Be sure to get a copy.

  22. What an interesting post and great photos. I have always wanted to visit New Orleans and/or take a ghost walk. Love the location for your books! My grandmother was very superstitious. Growing up we were always warned about black cats, walking under ladder, salt over the shoulder, knock three times. Of course I don’t believe but I am cautious because, you know, that’s what Grandma would want and what does it hurt to throw a little salt over your shoulder? 😉

  23. Great pictures! Obviously, I love to walk around with my phone out all the time. I got some great shots the night we met for dinner!

  24. I’m not particularily superstitious but I do find the history behind the legends fascinating. I’m especially interested in the voodoo practices and all the history New Orleans has to offer.

  25. My mom died eight years ago and I STILL avoid stepping on cracks (and lines so I don’t break her spine…). I also have a whole ritual I do to get airplanes (when I’m inside them) off the ground and back onto it safely. Don’t have to worry about that one for a while!

    1. Edith, I’ve never told anyone this – even my husband! – but I always very subtly cross myself as a plane takes off. ALWAYS. You’ll have to share your ritual with me. I need to fly on Xanax!

      1. I enact (quietly, in my seat) the four principles of Aikido: weight underside, relax completely, maintain one-point, extend your ki. I do it over and over until we are safely in the air, and reverse for landing. I’m responsible for the whole damn plane! It’s worked for forty years, so…

  26. My Gram Smith always told me “never split a pole.” Once when I was little we were walking along and I started to go on the other side of a utility pole and she jerked me over to her side! I miss her so much!

  27. We stayed at the Wyndham on St. Charles Street. We enjoyed it there. Have fun next month!

  28. My neighbor does this and now I tend to do it also. Always come back into the house the same way you left the house. If you left by the front door, return by the front door, otherwise it’s bad luck.

    Love this series and New Orleans, can’t wait to read the new addition to the series.

  29. It was so interesting to read everyone’s comments about the different superstitions. I learned a few new ones today.

    When a black cat crosses your path (road while driving) draw an X on the windshield to avoid bad luck.

  30. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we would go to NOLA every Memorial Day. Started out with just us two and by the 5th year there were 12 of us. So many old places not there anymore. Now we go every year in October or Thanksgiving with some good friend from San Antonio, Texas. Not this year though. Anyway, we have done just about everything there at least once or twice including the cemeteries and the voodoo queen, we have not done a haunted tour. So that will be something we can do on the next trip. Sounds like fun.
    When I was 22 and teaching my first year in South Texas, all of the Spanish students would come and touch my hair. I was a huerita (blonde) and it was good luck to touch blond hair and ward off the evil eye.

  31. I have always heard of when a black cat crosses your path you are supposed to spit, but I didn’t know that you are supposed to spit to the opposite way he is going. I have always heard that Friday the 13 is an unlucky day, but I don’t see it that way, my birthday falls on the 13 day of the month so sometimes my b-day falls on the 13th and I surely don’t consider it bad luck for sure. I love the sound of your book, and I love, love the book cover. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us, I enjoyed reading it . Have a Great weekend and stay safe. God Bless you.

  32. When I say something will happen or not happen, I knock on wood or my head so I don’t jinx myself. I have no idea where this started. Stay safe and well.

  33. This was a wonderful, informative, and fun post!! I love the upside-down keyholes and the bells info. Thank God for the bells! I didn’t realize New Orleans was actually built on the dead either. Now that’s spooky and a Rougarou in your book is scary! Congratulations on your new book and I absolutely adore your covers!! I just heard about the washing clothes on New Years that Liz mentioned above before I had done it for years. Nothing bad happened and I’m not superstitious really, but on New Year’s day, we always have greens, blackeyed peas, and cornbread for luck. It couldn’t hurt! I adopted a dog from our local Humane Society on Friday the 13th and he is the best dog I have ever owned! He’s a beautiful black German Shepherd mix and 2-3 years old, that I named Bear. No one ever wants to adopt a black or older dog… Their loss my gain! I love that you wrote for the TV show Wings! My husband and I watched every episode!! Did you write any about Roy Biggins? Thanks for the wonderful giveaway!! Sharon.

    1. Thank you so much, Sharon! And bravo for adopting a black dog. I know they’re harder to place. When you write a sitcom, you write for all the characters. So yes, we wrote for Roy (David Schramm.) One of my favorite episodes my TV writing partner and I wrote was where Roy had a romance with TV talk show hostess Mary Pat Lee, a character we created. David and the actress who played her, Caroline Aaron (now one of the stars of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, along with Wings’ Tony Shaloub) were close friends in real life, so we all had a blast. Sadly, David passed away recently. He’ll be missed.

      1. I loved that episode!! I heard of his passing awhile back, very sad… Amazing where some of the cast have wound up. I loved them all. Thanks so very much for the FYI!!

  34. I don’t walk under ladders because it doesn’t seem safe, not because of superstition. One thing that is religious to many but superstitious to me is the Jewish belief in not naming a child after a living person (I am Jewish but not practicing). When my daughter-in-law was pregnant & shared the selected baby names with me & her mother (also a Judith), the selected girl’s name was Judith so I told her why the baby would be named after her mom & not me, Judy said “I’ll take it!” Since the baby was a boy, there was no problem!

    1. Judith, my mom is not Jewish, but my dad was, so they wanted to follow the same tradition. The name he brought up for the relative he wanted me named after was Edna. My mother refused to name me Edna, so the settled on using the first initial. Hence, I am Ellen!

      1. I didn’t know that tradition – but hope to soon, as my daughter-in-law is Jewish (and I am fervently awaiting announcement of a grandchild…).

    1. Thank you SO very much Edith Maxwell and Ellen Byron! I am beyond thrilled to be the winner!!
      Sharon Braswell

  35. Don’t subscribe to any superstitions that I am aware of but I would only go under a ladder if there were no way around and would probably check that it was properly secured top and bottom.

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