Edith/Maddie, north of Boston and glad the weather has broken a little.
NEWS FLASH: Laurie Pinnell is Ellen’s lucky winner! Check your email, Laurie, and congratulations.
I’m so excited to welcome my dear friend Ellen Byron back to the blog. Cajun Kiss of Death, her seventh Cajun Country Mystery came out last week. I just finished my copy and loved it as much as the first six.
In Pelican, Louisiana, Valentine’s Day has a way of warming the heart, despite the February chill. But the air at Crozat Plantation B&B turns decidedly frigid when celebrity chef Phillippe Chanson checks in. And when the arrogant Phillippe–in town to open his newest Cajun-themed restaurant–perishes, Maggie Crozat’s dear friend JJ lands in very cold water.
Did JJ, proprietor of Junie’s Oyster Bar and Dance Hall, murder Phillippe because he feared the competition? Might Maggie’s mother, Ninette, have bumped off the chef for stealing one of her cherished recipes? Or was the culprit a local seafood vendor, miffed because Phillippe was somehow able to sell oysters for a remarkably reasonable price, despite an oyster shortage?
Maggie receives a series of anonymous gifts that begin as charming but grow increasingly disturbing. Does Maggie have an admirer–or a stalker? And are these mysterious gifts somehow related to Phillippe’s murder? Blood may be thicker than water, but this case is thicker than gumbo. And solving it will determine whether Maggie gets hearts and roses–or hearse and lilies–this Valentine’s Day.
The Real Gaynell Bourgeois
Readers often ask authors if their characters are inspired by real people. There’s someone in my life who inspired me so much I named a character after her.
I first met the real Gaynell Bourgeois Moore when she was the tour guide at Ashland-Belle Helene, a derelict plantation on Louisiana’s River Road. (The manor house has since been restored by the Shell Oil Company, but it is not open to the public.) I was taken by Gaynell’s charm and vivacity, and we struck up a friendship unaffected by the decades of difference in our ages. But life eventually intervened and after a few years, we drifted apart.
Cut to 1997. On a visit to New Orleans, my husband and I took a day trip up the River Road. We stopped at the Houmas House Plantation gift shop, and I mentioned to the sales associate I’d lost touch with a friend who once worked at Ashland. “Do you happen to know a Gaynell Bourgeois?” I asked. “Know her?” the woman said. “She works here!” She pulled out a walkie talkie – remember, this was the late 90s – and moments later, Gaynell came bounding down a flight of stairs holding up the hoop skirt of her tour guide costume. Our rekindled friendship has been going strong ever since.
In addition to being a general delight, Gaynell is extraordinary on many levels. A proud Cajun woman, she’s a self-taught artist, musician, and writer who uses these talents to chronicle her life and the Cajun culture she grew up with. I’m the lucky owner of her CDs, memoir, and a brick from Ashland-Belle Helene she decorated with a lovely painting of the grand home. I bought the brick when we first met, and it’s traveled with me from New Orleans to New York to Los Angeles.
You’ll find hints of Gaynell all over the place in my Cajun Country Mystery series— in the culture, the warmth of the characters, the atmosphere. You’ll even find hints of her in the food. She shared her own Gumbo recipe with me for the Agatha Award-winning Mardi Gras Murder.
Back to that character I named after her. When I began the series, I told Gaynell I wanted to honor her in this way. I said, “You can either be the eightysomething grand-mere or the nineteen-year-old musician.” Without missing a beat, Gaynell responded, “Oh, I’ll be the nineteen-year-old.”
So she is.
Readers: is there someone in your life who might inspire a fictional character? Comment to be entered to win a copy of Cajun Kiss of Death, the seventh book in the award-winning Cajun Country Mystery series.
Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. She writes the Catering Hall Mystery series, under the name Maria DiRico, and will debut the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries (as Ellen) in June 2022 . 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 link: Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author