Sunday, March 26, 2023

Bedazzled Book Mascots by Ellen Byron

Jenn McKinlay: Today's guest is the indefatigable Ellen Byron. Seriously, I just saw her in her role as Toastmaster at Left Coast Crime and, truly, she was a in constant motion and hilariously funny as always! Lucky for us, Ellen has a book coming out on March 28th and she's here to tell us all about it. 

Ellen Byron: I was responding to an email of questions from an interviewer when one of them stopped me cold: “What is your series’ spirit animal?” 

I’d never thought about this before. I’m a dog lover, so I have dogs in all my series. I even have a cat and bird in my Catering Hall Mysteries, which I write under the pen name “Maria DiRico.” But an animal who represents my series thematically and even visually? That never occurred to me. And I began thinking about it. 

 First, I substituted the term “series mascot” for “spirit animal,” out of respect for cultures where the latter has great meaning. Then I thought about the role of a series mascot. 

Visually and emotionally, a mascot should evoke the flavor of your series. While our late basset hound Lucy graces all the covers of my Cajun Country Mysteries, the series mascot is an alligator, which Louisianians often joke is the true state “bird,” as opposed to the brown pelican (a runner-up for series mascot). There’s something about a gator’s sly, crafty ways and general resilience that just felt right for the series. 

A real-life incident inspired my choice of peacock as the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries mascot. While lodging in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans during a visit, I heard a strange shriek coming from outside. I went to check it out and saw a peacock strolling down the street. The series’ main setting is Bon Vee, a stunning19th century mansion in the city’s Garden District. Peacocks are famed for being the Mean Girls – and Guys – of the bird world. The notion of these magnificent birds with attitude parading around a Garden District mansion appealed to me and a series mascot was born. Two, actually: Gumbo and Jambalaya. See if you can spot where the artist behind my Vintage Cookbook Mysteries placed the peacock on the cover of Wined and Died in New Orleans. 

I’ve yet to come up with a mascot for my Catering Hall Mysteries. I jokingly toyed with making that iconic New Yorker, the Pizza Rat, but decided visuals of the poor guy – who never did get to eat that slice of pizza – might be a bit off-putting. But I’ve translated my other series’ mascots into jewelry I wear to signings and conferences, leading to a fun collection of alligator and peacock necklaces and brooches. 

My series’ mascots do more than provide fun branding opportunities. The innate intelligence and attitude of these representatives from the animal and aviary kingdom inspire me as a writer. 

And maybe I’m wrong about Pizza Rat. His infamous battle to claim a slice of pizza twice his size showed him to be as determined and strong-willed as series protagonist Mia Carina. Plus, I just found a really cute Pizza Rat enamel pin. 


Pizza Rat New York Brown Rat Two Inch Enamel Pin - Etsy 

Readers, do you agree these are good mascot choices for my series? What animal do you think would make a great mascot for a series you read? 

Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a signed
copy of HERE COMES THE BODY! The first in the Catering hall mysteries.

Agatha Award-winning author Maria DiRico returns with the fourth book in the Catering Hall Mystery Series, starring Mia Carina who is coming to grips with being back in Astoria, Queens, and running her Italian-American family’s catering hall, Belle View Banquet Manor but a TV casting call is about to put murder in the spotlight . . .

The June events schedule at Belle View is busting out all over—proms, graduations, and of course, weddings. There are unexpected bookings too, including a casting call for the pilot of Dons of Ditmars Boulevard. But soon, Mia’s fears about the cheesy reality show are confirmed . . .

Belle View quickly becomes the site of a sea of wanna-be goombahs and phony girlfriends, 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. . .  

BIO: Ellen’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 will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Visit her at Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sugar Baby by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I have a sugar problem. I'm a straight up candy freak and I always have been.

In fact there's a post from way back, when I was just visiting the Jungle Reds, where I confess that I would reward myself for every paragraph written with a coconut M&M. They haven't made those in years (darn it), but you can see that sugar has long been my reward to myself and it's quite the motivator. It does not help that I come from a very long line of sugar addicts and even my Irish cousins, Joan and Catherine, admit it's a family weakness and they're retired Sisters of the Holy Rosary in Dublin. 

But I'm now a woman of a certain age (double nickels) and I've noticed that my #badbreakfastchoices aren't as fun as they used to be. Sugar doesn't process as well in my system and I get jittery and then crash (i.e. get cranky) so I decided it was time for a reboot. Also, I learned from my trainer that too much sugar dependence can lead to depression (the reason I started going to a trainer to begin with) because it's addictive and when you ingest it, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine putting you on a cycle to consume more and more and more. A nasty cycle, indeed.

Needless to say I got straight A's :(

Thankfully, when I decided I would give up refined sugar and dessert (basically, anything sugary and carb loaded - candy, muffins, donuts, pastries, cake, pie, ice cream -- you know, all my reasons to live) for the month of March, the Hub went along with it. So far, we've had one cheat and that was the key lime tart at Left Coast Crime (delicious!) but otherwise we've stayed the course. 

When I get weak, I remind myself of a few pertinent facts that make me mad and tap into my stubborn side. Frankly, this story from NPR -- 400 Years of Sweetness -- planted the seed that germinated into me giving up sugar. For those who want to listen:

But I am not here to preach to you about about giving up anything - not when I'm only 25 days into it and there are moments where I'm certain I'd give away my car for a Cadbury creme egg. LOL. 

Since I got through the ugly I'm-going-to-stab-someone phase at day 14 and am now about to reach the finish line -- 6 more days! -- I don't think I will run out and devour an entire sheet cake like I thought I would (tempting as it is) and instead will see if I can find sugar alternatives. This recipe from Way To Health Kitchen on Instagram is one I'm hoping to try soon and if it works, it may be one of my new bad breakfast choices: Sweet potato, avocado, and cacao truffles 

The recipe:

So, how about it, Reds and Readers, what have you ever given up? How did it go? And do you have any sugarless dessert recipes you'd care to share? 

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Magic of Writing by Daryl Wood Gerber

Jenn McKinlay: I've known today's guest for years. We burst onto the traditional mystery scene at the same time (we were children) and it's been a blast meeting up with her over the years to talk shop and swap stories. Her latest creation is indeed magical and here she is to tell you all about it.

Daryl Wood Gerber: Writing is hard work. We authors sit down and craft a novel that could take days, weeks, months, or years. We slave over the words, plot, and characters. We attack the rewrite with gusto. Well, I know I do. My first draft is never perfect! 

 So when is it easy? When does writing feel magical and effortless? 

 If I’m honest, starting a paranormal cozy mystery is when writing became magical for me. I was absolutely delighted to sit down and commune with the fairies that populate my stories. Oh, sure, I liked the humans, too. I adored my protagonist, Courtney Kelly, the owner of Open Your Imagination, but the fairies drew me in. I wanted to live in their world. I wanted to flit and flutter as they do. Oh, how I wish I could do a loop the loop in the air. However, even if I can’t do what they can, I can dream about their exploits when I write. Crafting their thoughts and actions brings me joy. 

One of the other delights regarding writing about a fairy garden shop owner is I get to talk about how to make the gardens and how much creativity goes into the process. What is a fairy garden? It’s like doll-housing for your garden, consisting of whimsical stories made up of plants—living or faux—and decked out with fairy figurines and structures like fairy houses or castles or huts, as well as swings and slides and whatever suits your fancy. 

To make sure I had a firm grasp on the art, I decided I needed to make fairy gardens. I used to adore doing heavy-lifting gardening, but those days have passed. My shoulders and elbows and back just won’t cooperate. Before making my first fairy garden, I did a lot of research. And then I jumped in. 

Whenever I do, I find my mood lightening. 

 Another magical thing about writing this particular series is delving into the fairy mindset. I wanted to learn their language and discover what skills they might have. They’re very good at photosynthesis, by the way. They do have ESP, if utilized properly. They can learn spells, but they can’t do wicked spells. That’s a no-no. 

Wouldn’t it be fun to have those gifts? Lastly, I decided to add fairy poetry at the beginning of each chapter. I’ve had such fun finding poetry written through the ages by Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Fyleman, and Cecily Mary Barker. 

Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “Life is the most wonderful fairytale.” That about sums it up for me. When writing this series, life is almost magical. 

What about you, Reds and Readers, what inspires magic in your life?

What’s it about? 


With a theater foundation tea and an art show planned at Violet Vickers’s estate, Courtney is hired to create charming fairy gardens for the event. It’s not so charming, however, when her best friend Meaghan’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be Violet’s latest artistic protégé. Even worse, not long after Meaghan locks horns with him, his body is found in her yard, bludgeoned with an objet d’murder.

There’s a gallery of suspects, from an unstable former flame to an arts and crafts teacher with a sketchy past. But when the cops focus on Meaghan’s business partner, who’s like a protective older brother to her, and discover he also has a secret financial motive, Courtney decides to draw her own conclusions. Fearing they’re missing the forest for the trees, and with some help from Fiona the sleuthing fairy, she hopes to make them see the light . . . 

“Plenty of suspects, gardening tips, and fairy lore combine for a sweet treat.” ~ Kirkus Reviews 


BIO: Agatha Award-winning author Daryl Wood Gerber is best known for her nationally bestselling mysteries, including the Fairy Garden Mysteries, Cookbook Nook Mysteries, and French Bistro Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she penned the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries. In addition, Daryl writes suspense novels and short stories. Fun Tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, fairy garden, and read. She has a frisky Goldendoodle who keeps her in line. And she has been known to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. 
You can learn more on her website: httsp://