Behind the Book: Wined and Died in New Orleans

Welcome to “Behind the Book,” our fun new Chicks on the Case feature! Join us as we Chicks share the real stories behind our stories. Inspiration, motivation, frustration, jubilation–you’ll find them all right here… 

Hi, Ellen here, pulling back the curtain on my new Vintage Cookbook Mystery.

The main plot of Wined and Died in New Orleans is twofold: 1) a valuable cache of 19th century wine is discovered hidden under Bon Vee Culinary House Museum; and 2) a hurricane may or may not hit New Orleans.

The first plot idea was the serendipitous result of some heavy-duty procrastination. While surfing the internet, a story popped up that fascinated me. While remodeling a home in upstate New York, a couple happened upon bottles of whiskey dating back to the 1920s hidden in secret compartments under and on the side of the house. It turned out the home’s builder was crotchety old bootlegger. Since Bon Vee Culinary House Museum (where my protagonist Ricki runs her gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop) dates back to the 19th century, I sparked to the idea of a similar discovery at Bon Vee, changing the beverage to wine only because I drink that and not whiskey. Research and an email exchange with sommelier and mystery author Nadine Nettman proved this storyline was feasible, so I ran with it. Just for fun, I’ve also been following the guys’ renovation of their home on Facebook and on Instagram at @bootleggerbungalow.

As to the hurricane threatening New Orleans in the book, it was inspired by my real life. I attended Tulane University, where hurricanes watches were a part of daily life. While I learned how to masking-tape our dorm window and put a mattress in front of it, no hurricane actually showed up to wreak havoc on the city. My daughter, who just graduated from NOLA’s Loyola University, wasn’t so lucky. She endured Hurricane Zeta, which plunged her apartment into an uncomfortably cold darkness that I can attest to because my husband Jer and I happened to show up the next day on a visit. I was also visiting when dire warnings sounded about incoming Hurricane Ida. We evacuated, a journey I wrote about for Mystery Scene magazine and a February 7th blog post at Wicked Authors. The latter experience left me traumatized and struggling to write as I watched the damage threatening to overwhelm to my favorite city. But both New Orleans and I survived, with me channeling aspects of the experience into this book.

I want to share one last insight into the goings-on in Wined and Died in New Orleans. I create what I call a fluid outline for every book. While these outlines can run thirty or more single space pages, broken down by chapters, I describe them as fluid because chapter breaks change, new characters suddenly make themselves known – I see outlines as a road map, not the final destination.

Anyhoo, as I was breaking the story for this book and creating an outline, I reached a point where I realized I needed a car chase. Mind you, I write cozies, not action adventure. I have written scenes like that in my prior career as a TV and screenwriter – but never in a book. But I thought of the movie Knives Out. I’d been to a Writers Guild screening of the movie where writer/director Rian Johnson talked about how he consciously added action to what was essentially a cozy mystery film. (And yes, he actually used the term “cozy” in the post-screening Q&A. Love him!) Inspired by this, I tackled the scene in my book.

It’s short. But it involves a tattooed Florida man, my protagonist and her best friend driving for their lives, police helicopters overhead, and more. At one point as I was writing, I said to Jer, “I feel like I’m writing a screenplay disguised as a novel.” He gave me a sly smile and said, “It’ll make it easier to adapt when you sell the film rights.”

Rian Johnson… any chance you’re reading this blog? post??!

So there you have it, readers. My first “Behind the Book!” Feel free to run a comment or question by me!

WINED AND DIED IN NEW ORLEANS SYNOPSIS: The second in a fantastic new cozy mystery series with a vintage flair from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.

It’s hurricane season in New Orleans and vintage cookbook fan Ricki James-Diaz is trying to shelve her weather-related fears and focus on her business, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop, housed in the magnificent Bon Vee Culinary House Museum.
Repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder, Jean-Louis Charbonnet. Ricki, who’s been struggling to attract more customers to Miss Vee’s, is thrilled when her post about the discovery of this long-buried treasure goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant Charbonnet family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale.
When a dead body turns up in Bon Vee’s cheery fall decorations, the NOPD zeroes in on Eugenia Charbonnet Felice as the prime suspect, figuring that as head of the Charbonnet family, she has the most to gain. Ricki is determined to uncover the real culprit, but she can’t help noticing that Eugenia is acting strangely. Ricki wonders what kind of secret her mentor has bottled up, and fears what might happen if she uncorks it.
In the second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, Ricki has to help solve a murder, untangle family secrets, and grow her business, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee. 


30 thoughts on “Behind the Book: Wined and Died in New Orleans

  1. Love these stories-behind-your-story, El! It’s true, there’s always something behind the curtain in our books. Sometimes it’s just a question of *which* (or how many) details to include for us writers, ha.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Congratulations on the book, Ellen. I too have a talent for heavy-duty procrastination, but I’ve never discovered hidden whiskey in the house. I am at the moment in Southwest Florida and can see the wreckage from Hurricane Ian. No going to erased or possibly toxic beaches!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ellen, I thought of you Saturday when I made a stop at “The Ripped Bodice” book store. It is such a fun store. Then went two doors down for coffee and delicious pastry. Made for a lovely morning.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great Look at Behind The Scenes of A Wonderful Book!!! Loved The Exciting Car Chase when I read the book & appreciate your thoughts about including it. A Movie would be Fabulous!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s