Interview: Mystery Author of Fashion: Ellen Byerrum

I was first “introduced” to author Ellen Byerrum, a year or so ago, via Lifetime Television On Demand. There I was on a lazy weekend (not sure if it was a lazy Saturday or the lazier Sunday), looking for a movie to watch, when I read the description of a movie, entitled Hostile Takeover, starring actress Maggie Lawson, as an amateur sleuth and fashion writer named Lacey Smithsonian. My interest was immediately peaked and I settled back to watch the movie. I must admit not only did I thoroughly enjoy the movie; I searched the menu to see if another one was available and was super excited to find the movie, Killer Hair.

Unable to find another movie, I decided to do a little research. I found out that both movies are based on books by author Ellen Byerrum. To make a long story short, with a little diligence and perseverance, Ellen and I are now great friends (okay, she tolerates me on Facebook).

Ellen Byerrum is a Washington, D.C., news reporter, novelist and playwright. She also holds a Virginia private investigator’s registration (pretty awesome). The first question, I asked Ellen, once we “met”, was if any of her other books would be made into movies. She was not sure but, she is hopeful that eventually Lifetime will consider doing so and I am crossing my fingers, also.

Byerrum’s mysteries star a savvy, stylish sleuth named Lacey Smithsonian, a reluctant fashion reporter in Washington D.C., “The City Fashion Forgot” (though, I must mention that I follow some pretty awesome D.C. fashion bloggers).

Lacey, who has a love for vintage clothes and killer heels, would rather be working “hard news,” but writes a column, “Crimes of Fashion.” However, her nose for nuance, eye for a great story, and talent for getting into trouble make her just the right reporter for the Crimes of Fashion beat. Whether in an upscale hair salon or at a fashion show, if a murder has been committed Lacey Smithsonian will follow the fashionable clues to catch a killer.

1. Killer Hair (2003)
2. Designer Knockoff (2004)
3. Hostile Makeover (2005)
4. Raiders of the Lost Corset (2006)
5. Grave Apparel (2007)
6. Armed and Glamorous (2008)
7. Shot Through Velvet (2011)
8. Death on Heels (2012)
Read a preview of the first chapter of “Death on Heels”

1.What drew you to mystery/crime fiction (as opposed to another genre)?

Basically I believe every good story is a mystery, whether it’s called a mystery or not. But if there is no mystery, I don’t care. If we’re not asking who these people are and what’s going to happen, and why it’s happening, then I’m not terribly interested. I also care a great deal about where the mystery is happening. A great mystery gives you insight into a place, a city a town, which in the best books becomes a character.

I want a real conclusion. I don’t care about quiet desperation: I want it be loud and dramatic and solved. It may not be terribly sophisticated, but in my books—as opposed to reality—I want the good guys to win in the end.

2.Tell us a little about Lacey Smithsonian.

Lacey is a fashion reporter in Washington, D.C., the City that Fashion Forgot, who wants more respect than she gets. She has a particular talent her friends call EFP, ExtraFashionary Perception, she reads clues in clothing, and it helps her solves murders. Every outfit tells a story. But mostly, she’s like other women just trying to make her way in a difficult world.

3. What type of research do you do to bring credibility to the fashion aspect of the stories? For the crime aspect?

Because a specific fashion can live and die before a book comes out, I have to be careful to create more of a fashion world for the series, and rely a lot on Lacey’s vintage fashions. I have a lot of reference books and my own collection of 40s fashion. For the crimes, I have a few sources I rely on. And for every book I interview people for background.

4. Which book was the most difficult to write? Why?

They are all difficult to write and the funny thing is every time I think it will get easier, it doesn’t. However, some stand out in the agony category: DESIGNER KNOCKOFF was difficult because it is the soul of the series. It explains Lacey’s love of vintage clothing and how her Great aunt Mimi has influenced her style and character. In addition, DK involves mysteries in two different time periods with the disappearance of a Capital Hill intern and the present and the disappearance of a young woman during the 1940s. And GRAVE APPAREL was very difficult to write because there are children involved, and when children are in peril, you cannot veer from their story.

5. If Lacey had the opportunity to meet any one in the fashion world (designer, photographer, stylist), dead or alive, who would it be? Why?

What a question! She’d like to meet Gloria Adams, the young designer who went missing during World War II, because she was so talented and so full of ambition and talent. Also Claire McCardell, who brought sportswear into limelight during the War, and Adrian, the costume designer.

Who would you like to meet?

I’d like to meet Isaac Mizrahi because he seems so real, and fun. The designers behind Badgley Mischka, Mark Badgely and James Mischka, because their clothes are always tasteful and have a 1940s vibe. Among the dead, I’d love to meet Adrian, the designer who made incredible suits and designed for the movies, notably, The Women, and I’d like to meet Edith Head. And I’d throw in Charles Frederick Worth of the House of Worth.

6. What is the worse “fashion crime” that women commit?

The biggest fashion crime? Not caring about your appearance or what you wear. I’d much rather see someone in a blue Mohawk and tattoos than see someone shuffling around in gray sweatpants, no makeup and uncombed hair. That former is at least colorful and making a statement. We all tell stories with our clothing and people make judgments before we even say hello. Our clothes should take some thought.

To learn more about Ellen Byerrum, her books, and upcoming book tours:

Visit Ellen’s website
Visit Ellen’s Blog
Ellen on Twitter

I would like to thank Ellen (once again) for taking the time out of busy schedule. I am also delighted that she found my questions fun (I try).

Update: This was previously published as a page. I am currently making changes (behind the scenes to the blog). As part of the process, I am converting some pages to posts. I believe this change will better help build exposure for the women, I feature as Queens in Heels (visit page for more details).

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