Ellen Byerrum has always been drawn to the profession of writing, as a reporter, a playwright, a media professional, and a mystery writer. She earned her journalism degree at a major public university, which has since scuttled its once-prestigious School of Journalism and folded the mighty journalism program into a mere “Department of Communications.” (Journalists everywhere were saddened.) Luckily, she’d built a successful career as a working journalist before her degree in this rapidly changing profession could be used against her.
Ellen has worked at a number of reporting jobs, beginning her career at small newspapers in small towns in the West — including one particular town she has fictionalized as “Sagebrush, Colorado.” Later she found her way into the Big Leagues of journalism: Washington, D.C., a city rich in history, culture, political drama, and crimes of fashion. Our Nation’s Capital is a fertile source of inspiration for her Crime of Fashion Mystery series.
In researching her mystery novels, she’s earned her private investigator’s registration in Virginia, interviewed innumerable fascinating sources, and toured such varied scenes as a velvet factory in its last days, abandoned cowboy campsites in backwoods Colorado, and the immense costume collections behind the scenes at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. She also researches and collects vintage clothing, like Lacey Smithsonian, the heroine of her Crime of Fashion Mysteries.
However, Ellen notes ruefully, the fictional Lacey seems to have more clothes and a larger closet. (And of course Lacey has her Aunt Mimi’s magical bottomless trunk, filled with fabulous vintage clothes, fabrics, patterns and fashion memorabilia.)
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
Writing is difficult. It takes discipline, talent, and perseverance.
How has this helped you as a writer?
If you’re not willing to put in the work, you’re unlikely to succeed.
Mac or PC?
A PC desktop and a laptop
Do you use Word or Scrivener?
I use Word. The world is complicated enough. Scrivener looks overly complicated, but you never know. I might need to learn it one day.
Do you write or take notes with an iPad or tablet?
I don’t have an iPad and my Android tablet is annoying. I think notes come more easily to me via pen and paper. But that might have something to do with the fact I was a reporter for many years.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Does procrastination count? When the story isn’t coming easily, I tend to take showers or long walks. Something to get the thoughts flowing.
Do you start by writing or researching first?
Writing always starts by mulling over the storyline and characters in my head. Researching comes first, but it’s organic. It usually involves something I’m interested in that sparks an idea or character. For instance, I took a private investigation course knowing I would sometime write about it, but I didn’t know exactly how it would develop. I toured the last velvet factory in Virginia, knowing there was a story there that I would discover later. That tour resulted in Shot Through Velvet. My research always continues during the writing.
Favorite spot to write in the winter?
It’s nice to write in front of the fireplace, which I am doing right now.
Favorite spot to write in the summer?
I used to love writing with pen and paper at the swimming pool where we lived in Virginia. I had a lovely view of the Potomac River. I could swim and feel productive in between laps.
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Ellen Byerrum photographs © Joe Henson
Copyright © 2015 by Diane Morasco
Review first appeared in Blogcritics.