Saturday, September 17, 2016

Guest Post: Ellen Byron

Please welcome Ellen Byron, fellow member of Sisters in Crime/LA, to Type M. Her first book, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for gobs of awards. Her second book, Body on the Bayou, just came out. Here she tells us what led her down a murderous path. Take it away, Ellen...


by Ellen Byron
I’ve worked with a lot of strong personalities in my television writing career. Actors, directors, executives, other writers. Most have been hilarious and wonderful. Three drove me to fantasies of murder.

The first was a fellow writer on a popular sitcom that will remain nameless. He was arrogant, yet threatened by other writers’ talent – especially women writers, because he also happened to be sexist. He talked about his co-workers behind their backs, and in a business where perception is everything, his badmouthing cost people jobs. I wanted to KILL him. Being a relatively sane person, that was out of the question. So instead, I took a mystery writing class so I could kill him off on paper.

I signed up for a UCLA Writers’ Extension class taught by the inimitable Jerrilyn Farmer, and decided to write a mystery that took place during a sitcom production season. (Hmm, wonder where I got that idea?) The victim was the writer I despised, of course. I wrote a chapter, read it in class, and awaited acclaim. Instead, I got a tepid response. Then the other students shared their work. I was the only professional writer in the class – and my work was the least interesting. I wanted to hear a second chapter of everyone’s book but my own.

I didn’t try writing a mystery again for twelve years.

And that’s where the other two awful co-workers come in.

I returned to TV and worked on a variety of sitcoms with great writing staffs. Then I landed on a show where two of the guys at the top were, in different ways, the unpleasant equal of Despised Writer #1. Both were dismissive, cold, superior, and judgmental. If I told you my fantasies of their demise, you’d consider having me committed. There was only one way to rid myself of the vitriol I felt toward them…try writing another mystery.

This time I created a completely different world from television. My protagonist was a school psychologist at L.A.’s ritziest private school. And I didn’t make my bosses the murder victims. I made them repugnant suspects. That manuscript didn’t sell, but it did win a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished authors and eventually landed me a book agent.

My third mystery, Plantation Shudders, is a one-eighty from both previous mystery attempts. It’s a cozy set in a charming fictional Louisiana village, and even comes with recipes. But vestiges of the Hollywood writers I wanted to kill can be found in the quirky Southern characters who inhabit my Cajun Country Mystery series. Despised Writers #1, 2, and 3 would never recognize themselves, but I got great pleasure from poisoning them with my pen.

I’ve expanded my murderous literary reach to rid friends of people who’ve wronged them. Need a personal enemy killed or arrested? Let me fire up my computer. While many of my life experiences have found their way into my plays and screenplays, writing mysteries fulfills me in a different and devious way. It’s reassuring to know that if I ever experience a horrible co-worker or boss again, or if anyone I care about has someone evil in the life, I am quite capable of murder. At least on the page.

Ellen's debut novel, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. The second book in her Cajun Country Mystery Series, Body on the Bayou, offers “everything a cozy reader could want,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots; she’s written over 200 national magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland.


Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Great post Ellen! I knew about your TV work but I had no idea it was the inspiration for writing mysteries.

Sybil Johnson said...

Ellen is at Bouchercon so I'm posting her comments for her.

From Ellen: "Thanks, Judy!"

Charlotte Hinger said...

Ellen--a great post. There's nothing like our fellow man for murderous inspiration.

Donis Casey said...

I've already read Body on the Bayou, actually. It was very good!

Ellen Byron said...

Thanks Charlotte and Donis! Forgive my delay in responding. But a) - I agree, Charlotte, and b)so glad you read and like the book, Donis!