How Slippers Led to a Book, by Ellen Byron

Edith/Maddie here, celebrating April in northeast Massachusetts.

And part of that is celebrating a new Catering Hall Mystery from Maria DiRico, aka Ellen Byron!

Here’s the blurb for Four Parties and a Funeral: The June events schedule at Belle View, Mia Carina’s family’s catering hall in Astoria, are busting out all over, including a casting call for the pilot of Dons of Ditmars Boulevard. Belle View quickly becomes the site of a sea of wanna-be goombahs and phony girlfriends trying out for the cheesy reality show, and some of Mia’s friends insist on getting in on the action. The production company owner and his executive producer ex-wife—who’s also very minor British royalty—have assembled a motley crew that does as much infighting and backstabbing as the on-screen “talent.” Even so, it’s a shock when a dead body is found in the pool house of a local mansion rented by the show . . .

Murder might boost the ratings. But Mia intends to make sure the killer gets jail time, not airtime. . . 

The Slippers that Led to a Storyline

My late Italian grandmother was a gifted crocheter. But for decades, crocheting wasn’t a hobby – it was survival.

Nonna, Papa, and their baby – my mother – immigrated to America at the start of the Depression. They were desperately poor, so Nonna put her crochet talents to use. “She made little rosettes that went on top of baby hats,” shares Mom, who used to help Nonna by picking up dropped stitches. “We’d get on the bus and take them to the knitting factory under the Hellgate Bridge in Queens. She got paid $1.55 a gross.”

Eventually, the family’s economics improved. As a retiree, Nonna was finally able to crochet for pleasure. But her thrifty habits stayed with her. Unused yarn from one project got recycled into the next. Which is how I wound up with these slippers.

The slippers are fifty years old and indestructible. When I was in college, a slipper fell out of my laundry basket onto the street and by the time I retrieved it, a dozen cars had run over it. After a good washing, the slipper bounced right back to life. (Sidebar: this slipper pattern must have been native to Italian nonnas because a friend and I once discovered we had slippers crocheted in the exact same style and pattern.)

Nonna’s use of yarn scraps is also evidenced in the odd color combination of the blanket below. Notice where she ran out of one color along the edge and simply switched to another color… twice.

[Edith: In my family we would call that being Scottish – “waste not, want not!”]

But Nonna didn’t always crochet from scraps. She often worked with thin white cotton, creating works of art like these antimacassars for the arms of a sofa I found on a New York street and claimed for my apartment:

In Four Parties and a Funeral, protagonist Mia’s nonna Elisabetta crochets a variety of biliously colored, ill-fitting garments with yarn from “surprise” bags sold for cheap at her local shop, to the amusement of friends and family. As I write in the book, “The craft shop had clearly found a way to foist unsellable merchandise onto their senior clientele – shove it into plastic bags, label them a ‘surprise collection,’ and sell the bags for a dollar, offering a deal that knitters and crocheters like Elisabetta would be unable to resist.” But Elisabetta gets the last laugh when a dress she crocheted for Mia helps trap a criminal.

I treasure everything my nonna ever crocheted for me. And I honor her with the affectionately humorous storyline in Four Parties and a Funeral, as well as my pen name, “Maria DiRico” – Nonna’s maiden name.

Readers: do you have a craft item made by a relative that you cherish? Do you have a crafting hobby?

Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won two Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief is the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico. 

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 serves on the national board for Mystery Writers of America, and was the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Visit her at Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author

44 Thoughts

  1. Ellen, I love all your books. I will be picking up this one from my favorite indie bookstore, Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA, this coming week.

    We were not a crafting family. My mom did do a lot of beautiful embroidery when I a baby/very young child, but that ended sometime early on. I do still have one dress that she embroidered with my name. I probably did more crocheting/embroidery/crewel/needlepoint than any one in the family ever did. I made things for gifts so I don’t think I have anything of my own. After I ran out of people to give things to, I quit doing it. Oh, I once knit a hat and scarf. They were both so ridiculous, I gave away the knitting needles.

  2. I have several beautiful quilts my mother made – so do my sons. And I have a quilt her mother made but had left as a top, and my mom and her Stitch and Bitch group quilted it (and signed a back corner). Such treasures.

    Thanks for visiting us today, Ellen!

    1. I used to have an afghan my grandmother knitted (crocheted?). I say “used to have” not because it got destroyed, but because The Girl took it with her to college and won’t give it back. LOL

    2. Edith, sounds like you have some wonderful memory items. We have quilts from Jer’s side of the family. So meaningful. And thanks so much for hosting me!

    1. Dru, thank you so much. I still have an incredibly vivid memory of watching cars run over the slipper I dropped on Broadway Street in NOLA and then finally running out to retrieve it!

  3. I have a pillow case my grandmother made for me and that she cross stitched a pretty design on it. I’ve had it over 50 years. My favorite aunt made me a bunch of holiday magnets that are knitted like ghosts and pumpkins. I also have a door wreath that my sister made that I put out every Christmas. Me, I don’t have a crafty bone in my body.

    1. I forgot about the little knitted coasters my late mother-in-law made. Not in colors I particularly like, but I can’t bear to toss them!

  4. I have my grandmother’s collection of china tea cups, some of which she painted herself. And I have a box, tray, and mirror she did.

    I used to do counted cross-stitch, but I haven’t in years. I keep meaning to go back to it.

    1. I tried doing counted cross stitch last year because my daughter gave me one of St. Louis Cathedral in NOLA. She was so proud of herself – and didn’t realize I do needlepoint now, not cross-stitch. OMG… I got totally lost and finally gave up! I need to give it to someone else.

  5. How lovely, Ellen! I have an afghan knitted by my great-grandmother. She was a wonderful needle woman who could knit, crochet, sew and even tat. Most of the women in my family are accomplished, or at least competent, with some form of needle craft. I am an avid knitter myself, in part thanks to the way my family has valued such pursuits!

    1. Jessie, you have to wear some of your knitted items to Malice or another con so we can admire them! I envy talented knitters. My items looked nice – but nothing fit!

  6. Congratulations on the new release, Ellen! I have a sister who crochets and I have a throw blanket she made that I love! Also, my wife quilts. We have lots of cool stuff around the house that she’s made. Cheers!

  7. Our DIL knits washcloths for me to use and I really like them so much better than anything I could buy at a store. Also, my MIL learned to knit so she could make blankets in her son and daughter’s college school colors. And, when our first son was born she made tiny little mice booties for him. They have ears and whiskers and really like like mice. Of course he was such a big baby that he outgrew them practically from the time he came home from the hospital, but we have used them for hide and seek with our Grands and they love them. I made a rug once, a very small rug using a punch tool…other than that, I am much better at reading books! And, I enjoy your books and will move this one up to the top of my queue.

  8. My grandmother was one not to waste either. I have an old quilt that I would LOVE to see inside, but won’t bother the outside to do it. My grandmother said it has a worn quilt she made years before this one that she used for the batting in the quilt I have. The inside one was made in the early 1900’s and the outer quilt in the 50’s. I have many of her quilts that were either given to me direct or that I received on my mother’s passing. I also have aprons with embroidery on them, what we called dresser scarfs (runners for the dressers in the bedrooms), and the bonnets like she wore when going out in the hot sun to work in the fields to shield from the sun. I treasure them all. Another thing I hold dear is the little four poster baby doll bed my grandfather carved and made. It has a little mattress on it that my grandmother made out of the cotton they picked and topped with a little postage stamp quilt she also made. My mother made a bedspread made out of 2 inch squared put together and then cross stitched over all the seams as well as being very talented crocheter of lap throws. She also made a flower garden double bed spread that I treasure. To me, these treasures with special memories of the person that made them mean more than monetary values. I’d never consider selling them because they are priceless to me.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Kay – what a treasure trove of family heirlooms! You’re really lucky. That flower garden bed spread sounds gorgeous. You reminded me about the doll quilt I made for my daughter’s dolls. I included silk ribbon embroidery. Those will never be donated!

  9. Welcome back to the Wickeds, Ellen/Maria! Best of luck with Four Parties and a Funeral. (Great title, by the way.) I have needlepoint, crewel work, embroidery, knitted goods, and decorative tiles made by four generations all over my house.

  10. My Uncle Billy gave me a chiming clock that he had made. It was a Christmas gift. Of course, I cannot keep it too close to where I sleep, but I appreciate how it gives me an idea of what time it is when I wake up during the night. Uncle Billy has long since passed away, but the clock lives on.

    1. It’s something I adore about being a writer. Retrieving a memory from the brain vault and turning it into a storyline!

  11. Scrappy knit & crochet projects that use up odds & ends of yarn are very popular, your beautiful multicolored afghan would be called a scrapghan! When my grandson was born he got a crocheted jacket that was made for my father 100 years ago & a blanket that my aunt crocheted for my son 40 years ago. My daughter-in-law treasures these, along with the many blankets, sweaters and booties I’ve knit for him.

    I always love finding crafts in books, like Elisabetta’s garish creations & Stephanie Plum’s mother taking up knitting in recent books. I just finished Four Parties and a Funeral and loved it!

  12. I love learning the inspiration for plot points in the books I read How fun to still have the indestructible slippers that inspired the hilarious storyline in Four Parties and a Funeral.. I know my maternal grandmother quilted, crocheted, and tatted but I don’t remember her doing those things by the time I was born. My sister has a quilt she made but that is all I can think of that was passed down. Now I have to ask my cousins if they have anything Grandma made since they were older than my sister and I and already married with homes when she passed.

    My crafting has been limited to rug hooking, although I haven’t made a piece recently.

  13. I have a tablecloth that my grandmother cross stitched. It is only brought out for special occasions. Thank you so much for sharing. Happy Easter. God bless you.

    1. That tablecloth sounds beautiful. You just reminded me we have a cross-stitched tablecloth handed down from Jer’s side of the family.

  14. Glad to read this memory! I love the things she has crocheted, especially the blanket. I have some old crocheted doilies from my family but no one crocheted except me that I know of. I have a humongous almost finished afghan in colors that I would not use now. I need to pull it out and try to finish it and give it away maybe. Thanks for sharing and your book is next on the TBR list.

  15. Ellen, I love your nonna’s frugal crocheting! As far as I know my mom only ever made two quilts on her own. I have the “Navy” quilt. She worked at Navy Tailors near the base. When a sailor got promoted, they’d take off his stripes and sew on the patch for his new rank. Mama saved the old stripes and made them into a quilt. Beautiful — and unusual!

  16. My siblings and I just had a discussion about the afghans our mother made for them, but not me…I was sad for a minute, but then discovered she had made my oldest son one instead! He now shares it with his baby daughter. His Bam would be so happy!

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