Behind the Words with author Maria DiRico
Welcome Maria, we’re excited to have you on Reader’s Entertainment. First, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
“Maria DiRico” is a pen name, an homage to my late nonna. It was her maiden name. My birth name is Ellen Seideman, but I took my late dad’s middle name, “Byron,” as my surname when I got of college and began to pursue an acting career. That didn’t last long! I kept the name but segued into writing, first as playwright and magazine freelancer, then as a sitcom writer for shows like WINGS and JUST SHOOT ME. (I also write the Agatha Award-winning Cajun Country Mystery series as Ellen Byron.)
Where you’re from, where you live? Is writing your full-time job?
I’m from New York – hence a series set in Queens, my family borough! – but moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to pursue my TV writing career. I’m married and we have a twenty-year-old daughter, as well as a rescue furbaby. I love dogs. And yes, I write full-time. Lucky me!
How long have you been writing?
Since I was a kid, but I’ve been writing full-time since the mid-1980s. I’m pretty proud of being able to support myself as a writer for that long, although there have been some lean years.
Give readers a look at a typical writing day.
Pre-pandemic, I generally went to the gym in the morning to take a cardio dance or Zumba class. Now, I make breakfast and a big cup of green jasmine tea – love tea, hate coffee! – then sit down at the computer. I go through email and do a little social media. When I’m working on a draft, I set a goal of 1500 to 2K words a day. I work off of a pretty detailed outline, so I follow that, allowing for all the wonderful surprises that sometimes pop up – including the occasional new character! There are lots of breaks to procrastinate with Facebook or the news, but my writing day isn’t done until I hit my word goal. These days, I often go for a sunset power walk around 8 p.m. We live in the Valley side of the Hollywood Hills and the sunset views over the Valley are lovely.
Tell us about your latest release? Where the idea came from? Perhaps some fun moments, or not so fun moments?
In HERE COMES THE BODY, Mia Carina moves back home to Astoria, Queens, NY to help her father Ravello, a mobster, run a catering hall he received as payment for a gambling debt as a legitimate business. It’s is the first book in my Catering Hall Mystery series, and it was totally inspired by my real life. My mother was born in Italy. Most of her extended family wound up in the Queens borough of New York City. Two cousins-by-marriage ran catering halls in Queens, so I spent years going to weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and even funeral luncheons at these facilities. I thought, what a perfect setting for a cozy mystery series. Characters and settings are inspired by real people and places from my life. In fact, Belle View Banquet Manor is based on the venue where my husband and I had our East Coast reception, and it was run by Cousin Pauly.
Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book? Perhaps a juicy bit of back-story, or something only you know about a character.
Pizzazz, the parakeet in the series, is named after my friend’s bird but inspired by a parakeet that belonged to my Zia and Zio – who lived in the home where my protagonist lives. Their bird was named Tweety Bird. He was adorable. They’d let him out of his cage, and he’d hang out with us. I used to have a photo of him perched on the head of the Virgin Mary statue my Zia kept in her bedroom, but I can’t find it, which kills me.
If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?
I’d be Mia, my protagonist, because then I’d get to re-visit all the wonderful locations I grew up with. And go to my favorite bakery, La Guli, in Astoria!
All writers are readers. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Agatha Christie, of course. I’ve also read all of Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear’s books. I like to read outside my genre. I think it makes me a better writer.
Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
I love to needlepoint and I’m pretty dang good at it. ?
Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!
White wine and pizza!
What is the one question you never get ask at interviews, but wish you did? Ask and answer it.
What’s it like to write for popular sitcoms? Hard but fun and rewarding. The hours are long and it can be extremely stressful, but you get to work with some of the funniest people on the planet.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Maria!
Here’s a look at Maria’s latest release HERE COMES THE BODY….
After her philandering husband’s boat went down, newly single Mia Carina went back to Astoria, the bustling Queens neighborhood of her youth. Living with her nonna and her oversized cat, Doorstop, she’s got a whole new life—including some amateur sleuthing . . .
Mia is starting work at Belle View, her father’s catering hall, a popular spot for weddings, office parties, and more—despite the planes that occasionally roar overhead on their way to LaGuardia and rattle the crystal chandelier. Soon she’s planning a bachelor party for a less-than-gentlemanly groom. But it goes awry when the gigantic cake is wheeled in and a deadly surprise is revealed . . .
Since some of her family’s associates are on the shady side, the NYPD wastes no time in casting suspicion on Mia’s father. Now, Mia’s going to have to use all her street smarts to keep him out of Rikers Island . . .
Italian recipes included!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Her Catering Hall Mystery series, written as Maria DiRico, launched with Here Comes the Body and was inspired by her real life. She’s an award-winning playwright and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS, but she considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. A native New Yorker who attended New Orleans’ Tulane University, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and rescue furbaby. Sign up for her newsletter at https://www.ellenbyron.com/