Christmas, Garbage Trucks, and Giveaway from Guest Ellen Byron

Edith here, blinking and trying to figure out how it got to be November already.

But I’m not blinking at Ellen Byron, writing as Maria DiRico, producing another fabulous and hilarious Catering Hall mystery! One lucky commenter will win a copy of It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Murder. Here’s the blurb.

Astoria, Queens, is decorated within an inch of its life for the Christmas season, and Mia Carina is juggling her job at the Belle View catering hall with a case of murder . . .

 Mia’s busy with a full schedule of events at the family business—among them an over-the-top Nativity-themed first birthday party and a Sweet Sixteen for a teen drama queen. But her personal life is even more challenging. Her estranged mother has returned—and her lifelong friend Jamie has discovered a shocking secret about his past. He’s so angry that he starts hanging out with Lorenzo, who claims to be his long-lost brother—even after it becomes clear that Lorenzo’s story is as fake as a plastic Christmas tree.

Then a body turns up among the elves in a Santa’s-workshop lawn display, and amateur sleuth Mia has a buffet of suspects to choose from. Amid the holiday celebrations, she intends to find out who’s the guilty party . . .

 Italian recipes included!


I’m guessing that right now you’re scratching your heads and going, “Christmas and what now?” Allow me to explain.

My uncle, Henry DiVirgilio, was a New York City “sanitation engineer.” Translation: a garbageman. He worked in the Bronx, although he and his family lived in an Astoria, Queens two-family home remarkably similar to the one portrayed on the cover of my new Catering Hall Mystery, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder.

My nonna lived downstairs, Uncle Henry, Zia Rose and their four children lived upstairs. (My family also lived in Queens, but we moved to a suburb called Scarsdale when I was ten.) Our families had a reliable system of alternating where we celebrated Christmas every year, but one fact was immutable: if it snowed, any celebration, no matter who was hosting, was in peril. Why? Because they strapped snowplows onto the New York City dump trucks and Uncle Henry was called into duty for snow removal.

There’s nothing more beautiful than a white Christmas —unless it’s sabotaging your holiday. The gifts that couldn’t be opened. The bowls of homemade pasta and meatballs and sausage that wouldn’t be eaten. (Although if it was a year we were hosting, we had a sad but filling repast devoid of the Queens family.)

Ellen holds the red lantern
Ellen in the red shirt, next to her Nonna, with Uncle Henry at front left in the light shirt. Next to him is Patty, Ellen’s youngest cousin (not actually a clone, but acorns falling and all that).

I have vivid memories of conflicted feelings when flakes began falling on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. “Yes, it’s going to be a white Christmas!” “No, if it snows too much, Christmas is cancelled!” (Postponed but still, when you’re a kid, it makes a difference.) We’d hold a collective breath waiting to hear if Uncle Henry had been drafted into the army of garbage truck-snowplows. Luckily, my uncle only got called to serve a few times.

I live in Los Angeles now, so I don’t have to worry about snowstorms up-ending our holidays. But I miss those family Christmases. I even miss the suspense of not knowing if the celebration might take place. But most of all, I miss Uncle Henry, who passed away ten years ago. New York lost a treasure when he died – a man with a great sense of humor who adopted strays he found on his route (one of whom is immortalized in my series as terrier mutt Hero) and who helped keep the city streets safe and clean – even if it meant Christmas sometimes came on December 26th or even later for the Seidemans (my birth name) and the DiVirgilios.

Readers, share a holiday memory in the comments to be entered to win a copy of It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder.

BIO: 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. She blogs with Chicks on the Case, is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Please visit her at

73 Thoughts

  1. We used to alternate driving and taking the train from Boston to Cleveland for Christmas. It was a driving year. We ran into a blizzard in Pennsylvania, and ended spending Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas stuck in a strip motel in Erie, PA. I cut a one-inch Christmas tree from some wrapping paper and stuck it to the mirror. We had cold canned baked beans for Christmas dinner. The car wouldn’t start the next morning. Things got hairier as the time went on, but we made the most of it and eventually got to Cleveland for a short Christmas celebration. We never drove there for Christmas again. Makes a great war story.

    Ellen, I would absolutely love to win your book. You are one of my favorite authors.

      1. Feel free, Ellen.  There’s a lot more to the story including having to find a pair of winter boots and walking to pick up the now-revived car from the repair place, and the ride in the police car from the convenience store where the car died.  It was certainly an adventure.

  2. Only one time we missed Christmas due to a snow storm. Don’t enter me as I’m reading the book right now.

  3. Growing up in Toronto, I don’t remember a big Christmas snowstorm. Yes, we usually had a White Christmas but not even enough snow to make snowballs or build a snowman.

    As immigrants, my mom embraced the Christmas tradition of me leaving a glass of milk and plate of cookies for Santa. One year, I woke up and saw the milk and cookies were gone. There was a “Thank You” note from Santa, as well as a bunch of new presents under the Christmas tree.
    I said “Gee, Santa’s handwriting looks a lot like yours, Mom”.

    ELLEN: You already know I enjoyed reading your book last month, so don’t include me in the draw.

  4. I remember one year in MA it snowed a lot on Christmas Eve but that didn’t stop my dad from digging his car out and driving to his Uncle Bill’s to dig him out to bring him to our house for Christmas dinner. It was a yearly tradition until he got too old and sick. He always brought a box of peanut butter cups for the 5 of us to share and we looked forward to getting it every year. I would love to win a copy of your new book and thank you for the chance!! pgenest57 at aol dot com

  5. What great family memories and sharing the house. We only had one grandparent, so having her spend every Christmas Eve night at our house was wonderful. Looking forward to the new release!

  6. I love this post so much! One set of grandparents lived a few towns away (San Marino) and we usually gathered at their house on Christmas Eve (southern CA, so never a white Christmas), including with aunts and uncles and cousins if they were visiting from up north. My grandfather could do magic tricks. That evening he would write down one special wish from each grandchild on a small piece of tissue paper and then make it vanish up the chimney above the fire!

  7. Much like Ellen Byron’s Christmas factoring on work, so di my family’s. My father worked swing shift for a period of time. If Dad was on afternoons or nights we were okay to celebrate but if he was on days, we were required to wait until he came home. It was torture seeing all those packages sitting under the tree just waiting to be opened. Then came the smell of all the wonderful food cooking away. My mouth just waters thinking of my Mother’s wonderful cooking. Thanks for your wonderful review and the fantastic giveaway. My fingers are crossed.

  8. Those Christmases sound so warm and homey! We didn’t live near extended family, so it was just my parents, my sister, brother and me. Lots of presents and a big meal. As we grew older and moved away, we’d still gather at mom and dad’s for lots of laughter and remembering our childhoods. Sadly, after mum passed, then dad, all those holiday get togethers ended – but now my children and grandchildren travel from away to visit!

    1. So glad you get a visit from your children and grandchildren. We live on the opposite coast, so no family nearby. It makes me sad my daughter will never experience the holidays I did.

  9. Congratulations on the new book, Ellen! I love the connection to your family through this series! Thanks for sharing the photos and stories!

  10. In 2004 our family moved from Flushing, New York to Minnesota. I promised my children that Minnesota always has more snow than New York. I was so wrong that year. New York City was hit with a blizzard and Minnesota had a “brown” Christmas. We still miss New York, especially Queens, and I would love to win your book to have it take me home, even for a short while.

    1. Our family almost had to move from NY to MN! But my parents had just bought our house six months earlier, so my dad changed jobs instead. But Georgina, what an irony! Hmm… I wonder if that was one of the Christmases where my uncle had to snow plow.

  11. We were a polyglot family. Italian, French, and German and traditions collided. The French side was easy – if we were at my great-grandparents Christmas meant a Yule log and presents went home with us to be opened on Jan 6. it also meant traveling to midnight mass in a horse drawn sleigh. It’s snowy in upstate New York! All we got on Christmas morning were some oranges in our shoes. If we were in New Jersey – well, Christmas meant the Feast of Five Fishes on Christmas Eve and because the German tradition is Santa brings the tree and the presents, Dad would drop us off at the host’s house to go home to set up the tree and place the gifts for when we returned home. He usually managed to make it back just in time for dinner. Mom always hosted Christmas dinner because she could never offer to host Christmas eve. It was all magical.

    Congratulations on the new book – I love the cover!

  12. Ellen, what a great story about your uncle and your family celebrations! I adore stories like that, so here is mine. I love your books, Ellen! Your characters are so human.

    My grandfather was not young when I was a child, but our small town had a volunteer fire department and he had been fighting fires with them since he arrived there from Russia at about age 19. The fire siren would go off and so would Poppi, no matter what. We celebrated every Passover at Poppi and Grandma’s house and if there was a fire, we could be sitting down for a very long seder at an ungodly hour. He was still going out to fight fires until they took his car keys away at about age 80 because poor eyesight made it dangerous for him to be on the road.

    1. Judy, thank you, and what a GREAT story. Poppi sounds like a wonderful man. And those seders can be long! My dad was Jewish. I only went to one seder with him and his side of the family – a small gathering – but I loved it.

  13. Wow! Reading about your family Christmases seems so much like you were describing my own Italian family growing up. My grandmother had 19 children, so I had an abundance of cousins nearby. Most lived near us….Uncles and aunts lived across the street, around the corner or in the next block…always together, always alternating Holiday feasts…When I took my wife to our first family gathering, she commented that it sounded like everybody was arguing…ha! I told her this was just normal conversation…everyone has a strong opinion, and they want you to know it 🙂 … All good! The only major difference is that we had no snow…because Christmas is in the summer in Chile. I am sure to love your new book, and try your new Italian delicacies. There is nothing like ‘la famiglia’…though we are now scattered all around the world, we still keep in touch, though I have lost count on how many children each relative has had. Thank you for sharing your cozy mysteries with us. I am sure it will be an emotional ride to read It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Murder! Can’t wait!

    1. Nineteen children!! I think everyone reading this nearly passed out, lol! Your wife’s comment made me laugh!!!!!!!! It’s SO true. That’s what every family gathering sounded like in our family. My husband, who’s from the Midwest, once said that a conversation with my family was like playing a wind instrument. You had to control your breathing because if you stopped for air, the convo rolled right over you!

  14. My favorite Christmas memory is of my Dad always arriving very early so he could go down the hall saying “Hohoho Santa’s been here!” and waking up our daughter to go see what was under the tree. It was a tradition that we all loved – including his granddaughter. When she had just turned a teenager, she actually woke up very early to get dressed and fixed up (you know teenagers when it comes to having their photos taken) and then crawled back into bed just so Pappaw could “wake her up” Christmas morning like he always did. I cherish these memories since both my parents and our daughter are together now having Christmas in heaven. <

    One of the funniest Christmas memories was the year my brother, who was 5 years older than me, ransacked the house trying to find his presents. On Christmas morning, the mystery got the best of him and he had to ask where they had managed to hide them. Mom chuckled and said since he never seemed to be able to get his dirty clothes in the hamper, that they had hid them behind the hamper because they knew he would never find them there.

    Thank you for the fabulous chance to win a copy of “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Murder”. Love the cover and can’t wait for the opportunity to read this wonderful sounding book. Then again, there’s no doubt it will be a great read because I love your books!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. OMG, these are such great stories! I teared up reading about your dad and daughter, and lol’d at the brilliance of hiding the presents in the laundry hamper!!

  15. I remember a huge snow storm that hit on Christmas Eve one year when I was little. I was so worried that santa wouldn’t make it to our house that Christmas. Of course, santa did make it! My siblings and I spent that Christmas day building snowmen and forts in the snow!

    Congratulations on the book! Love the book cover.

    Thank you for the chance!

  16. My mom’s annual reading to us on the couch on Christmas Eve of The Night Before Christmas.

    1. So sweet. My daughter and I wrote a cute, silly version of the story that she illustrated when she was about eight. I put it out every year. And if she’s not interested, I read it to myself!

  17. My favorite Christmas memory is the year my son was born, 6 months old by then. Every Christmas card we sent included an invitation to stop by on the way to family celebrations, with the family invited to stay for dinner. About 50 people stopped by to see us, with a small gift under the tree for each one, while my husband barbecued the turkey in the Weber grill out in the garage. People walked out through the snow to see how the turkey was doing. My brother-in-law & sister-in-law showed up late so we held dinner, when they were served they wanted to know if we’d used liquid smoke to get that flavor in the turkey & everyone started to laugh!

  18. When I was 3 or 4 my parents were going to take me to see a big Christmas light display about an hour away. The road we usually took was closed so ended up on a detour in the middle of nowhere. Mom’s trying to read the map to direct dad back to a main road. After being lost an extra hour we finally made it to see the lights. Then we stopped at this restaurant that had the best malts. My first time going there but not my last!

  19. First of all I want to congratulate you on your new book which I would love to win.
    I don’t have a story for Christmas but Thanksgiving is part of the holidays, right? We had just moved from St. Louis County to Franklin County that summer. We were supposed to go to my grandpa’s house for a family Thanksgiving in St. Louis County. Well guess what! It snowed a bunch the night before. We had a gravel and mostly dirt driveway to go up to get to the gravel road that took us to the state highway. Well the snow was pretty deep and all we had was our Chevrolet Vega. The car was spinning it’s wheels trying to get up the hill to take us to that gravel road and all of a sudden we ended off the road, next to the woods in a snow bank! We weren’t going anywhere. We trudged back to the farmhouse. My mom called my grandpa and told him what happened and that we wouldn’t be there. All we had to fix for dinner was frozen pizza so that was our Thanksgiving dinner. It was definitely memorable.

    1. First of all, thank you!! Wow, what an adventure. Laurie, I think I’ve told you before that my husband is from St. Louis. i love that city!

      1. Yes Ellen, you have. If you ever get back there to visit I’d love to meet somewhere for coffee or whatever.

  20. Good Morning, Congratulations on your new release! I love the title of your book and it sounds like a great read. My favorite memories of Christmas’s when I was very young and growing up at home was , around the first week of December my mom would ask all 6 of us kids to draw our foot on a piece of paper, she would tell us that she was going to go talk to Santa. Well every Christmas we would all have a new outfit from head to toes and toys and stockings all filled up. On Christmas morning we would knock on our parents bedroom door and tell them that Santa had already come to our house and they would tell us to go ahead and look and get our gifts from Santa. Such beautiful memories that I will forever cherish. Have a great week and stay safe.

    1. Alicia, what a wonderful tradition! I used to do articles for Redbook magazine where I shared unique traditions submitted by readers. I would have so totally included this.

  21. My grandfather owned a farm in Connecticut and since we all lived close, the uncles would take all the cousins out Christmas tree hunting. They would leave us in a familiar clearing with a large rock surrounded by smaller rocks (think table and chairs). They would build a small fire and we would roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire while the adults went and cut trees. When they showed up with the trees it was time to go home. I think of that memory often and feel sorry that my children and grandchildren lived in coastal California and then central Phoenix and they only got to hunt the tree lots.

    1. Cynthia, what a fantastic memory! Where in CT? My parents owned a cottage on Bantam Lake for 36 years. I feel a special affinity for the state.

  22. I am breaking in here to say that these are some of the best comments I’ve ever read. These stories are fantastic!! I hope you all know how rich and inspiring your memories are. It’s going to take a lot of strength on my part not to “borrow” some of them for plots!! But don’t worry. I won’t.

  23. As a California native, rain means Christmas to me. I dream of a wet Christmas. Except, of course, when I’m actually driving home for Christmas. Then I don’t want the rain since it’s makes the drive more…interesting sometimes.

    If you haven’t read this book yet, get it. It’s so much fun!

    1. Mark, thanks so much! And thanks for the great review! I wish it would rain here at Christmas. At least it would feel like holiday weather.

  24. I love hearing your stories about your family that have inspired the Catering Hally Mysteries Ellen. Your uncle sounds like he was a wonderful man. It has been fun to read through the comments and hear about everyone’s holiday memories. My mom just loved celebrating every holiday and made it as much fun for our family as possible. Maybe not as over the top as the decorations in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder but you get the drift. Our family always celebrated with my maternal grandmother who usually enjoyed all the hullabaloo of 4 noisy children. One year each of us received a toy drum and were happily banging away when Grandma asked who in the world gave us all drums. My mom smiled guiltily and said that she was the one who had gifted us all with drums. The look of amazement on Grandma’s face was priceless. That is just one of many happy holiday memories that I have. I am so blessed to have so many happy memories because the holidays can be bleak, sad, and lonely for so many people.

  25. Love Ellen’s books. I’m really going to miss the Cajun Country series. My Dad always loved Christmas and he would decorate the house and fix a special dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We would always get together with the neighbors on Christmas Eve and always had a great time.

    1. Dianne, thank you! I hope to do a spinoff featuring Grand-mere. Shh! Don’t tell. And it sounds like you have a wonderful bank of memories.

  26. My parents and I (age 10) once spent Christmas in CO, because I wanted to see snow for my Christmas present. We had no idea how to travel on ice and snow and ended up sliding sideways into town along Main St. with all the people on the sidewalks and outside the doors to stores watching us. That was a memorable Christmas for me with LOTS of snow. Please do not enter me in the contest. I ordered your book and have it on my TBR pile.

  27. In 1998 we moved from rural Manitoba back to a town in Ontario. Our children were accustomed to getting a real Christmas tree in -40° C weather. A week before Christmas in ’98 we made sure the kids(13, 11 and 6) were dressed warm for our”trek” to get the tree. We went out the front door and locked, my husband had a saw and started to cut down an evergreen in front of our living room window. The kids just stood there staring, thinking that we had lost our minds. It was hilarious, who knows what the neighbours were thinking. It was the fastest and warmest trip ever to get a tree!!!

  28. Love the cover, title, excerpt, review and backstory. Love books like this. Would love to read & review this book and the author’s other books in print format.
    What made you come up with such a wonderful title?
    Please enter me
    Hope I Win

    1. Thanks, Crystal! I probably went through about 50 titles from both myself and friends to get to this one. We just kept brainstorming.

  29. My sister’s birthday is December 24th. For many years, instead of feeling sorry that her special day got swallowed up by the major holiday, I was always jealous that she got gifts a day before the rest of us. One year I made such a fuss, over a Barbie hair salon, that my mother gave me my own. She had already bought it for the next morning.
    Now I realize how badly I behaved and try to make sure I remember my sister’s birthday as separate and do something special for her. What a difference a couple of decades makes.

    1. Oh Laura, how sweet you made it up to your sister. It’s hard having a bday on top of a holiday. Mine is January 12, so at least there’s a break of a few weeks. Our daughter is 2/15. I did NOT want her born on Valentine’s Day so I was praying that didn’t happen.

  30. When I was little we always spent Christmas Eve with my mother’s mother’s extended family in Maplewood, New Jersey and then Christmas Day with my father’s parents, uncle, aunt and cousin in my grandparent’s Manhattan apartment. I do remember one Christmas, I don’t remember if it was Christmas Eve or at the end of a long Christmas Day, when I was nine, my father driving us home in a terrible wind-driven snow storm. When we pulled into our driveway and dad said, “Never again.” That summer we moved to a suburb of Philadelphia and from then the family came to us for Christmas. So I completely understand your mixed feelings about a white Christmas.

    1. As a native NYer, I want to know more about your grandparents’ Manhattan apartment! I’m sure it was super cool. My dad was an only child, so we never had to toggle back and forth. Plus, his family was Jewish – different holidays!

  31. Growing up, my brother and I were lucky. We always got to celebrate with 3 grandparents at the holidays.

  32. I love the cover of your new book. I remember when I was a teenager, my Mom would work at the mall on Christmas Eve. She would always have to close the store. I would take her to work that day as well as come and get her. We would go through a McDonald’s drive thru so we could have something to eat before Christmas Eve service. We would meet up with some of our family at church. We would go back to my aunt’s house with that part of the family to spend some time with them. We would leave there and go to another aunt and uncle’s house for a while. Christmas morning, we would open up our gifts just the two of us. We would go to my aunt and uncle’s home for a family dinner. It was wonderful to be with a lot of my aunts and uncles and cousins. Things are so different now that my aunts and uncles are gone. My Mom is in a nursing home. This will be a year of transition for my husband and I as we decide what we are going to do. Thank you for allowing me to share some Christmas memories with you.

    1. Debbie, what touching, beautiful memories. It sounds like you and your mom had lovely holidays together. I’m sure you and your husband will have a lovely holiday as well.

  33. My mother was a nurse and worked the 3-11 shift. She almost always had to work Christmas Eve so she could get Christmas Day off. Well, one night I woke up early, like midnight, just after she and my dad finished putting the gifts under the tree. Of course I had to wake my siblings. From then on, long after we all knew about Santa, we opened presents at midnight on Christmas Eve.

  34. When I was a kid, back in the 60s, my grandmother worked at Saks in NYC and we used to go to the Christmas party they’d throw every year for employees kids. Afterwards you went through a line and got to pick out a toy. I only really remember the last year we went when they wouldn’t let me have a paint by number set because I was a girl.

  35. When my kids were little my parents came Christmas eve afternoon and ended up taking my youngest some ,age,6 with them to shop. It started to snow and didn’t quit for 24 hours. We had 3 feet of snow ,travel even local was discouraged. We spent Christmas Day separated food at one house mine, it was a wierd day .

  36. I think it was our first Christmas in New Jersey, which would make me 8, and we children got up at the crack of dawn and were VERY quiet so as not to wake our parents. I was in second grade and could read cursive, so I distributed the gifts. My second brother was Joseph Kevin, so I gave him the big box marked Joe (which turned out to be for our father). And, yes, we were in a LOT of trouble when our parents awoke.

Comments are closed.