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Getting to Know … Ellen Byerrum

A native of Denver, Ellen Byerrum has lived in Alexandria since 1985. She is the author of a series of comic mystery novels featuring a sleuth named Lacey Smithsonian, a fashion reporter in Washington, D.C. Her most recent book is "Raiders of the Lost Corset." Her next book, "Grave Apparel" is due in July.

<b>Some of your characters live in Alexandria. What are their local haunts, and why did you chose these

locations?</b>

My main character, Lacey, lives in a building very much like Hunting Towers, in an apartment very much like mine. Lacey likes to have friends over for drinks on her balcony overlooking the Potomac. She goes to restaurants in Alexandria. Lacey never really gets tired of Old Town, and neither do I. It’s great to contrast Old Town with the hustle and bustle of Washington, where Lacey works. Local restaurants have appeared in the books, including Bread & Chocolate, Taqueria Poblano and Hard Times Chili.

<b>How do you come up with material?</b>

Material is everywhere! I find ideas in the papers and from things people say and do. And ideas beget other ideas. For instance, when I researching my second book, "Designer Knockoff," which takes place partly during World War II, I was at the Alexandria Queen Street Library looking through old newspapers. I wanted to see how the news of a woman’s disappearance would be written about in the 1940s. I learned that coverage in the Virginia newspapers of the day (sedate and on the inside pages) was vastly different from the way it would have been reported in Denver back then (screaming three-inch high headlines in red on the front page). I found reports of two women who had disappeared in Alexandria during the 1940s. There may have been more; I stumbled onto two. One was a teenage African-American girl who lived on the 600 block of South Royal, only a few blocks from where I live now. She was last seen talking to a woman near the movie theater. The other was a woman who had been depressed after hearing her son was killed in the war. I think both of these might make compelling stories.

<b>How did you get involved in Sisters in Crime, the 3,400-member support group for mystery writers?</b>

Before I’d written my first book, I heard about Sisters in Crime through friends. I attended a few of the meetings and joined. Over the years, I’ve made lots of friends there, heard some great speakers and developed new sources for material. It’s a great place to meet mystery readers and other writers. And despite the name, there are also some brothers in crime as well. I’m also a member of Mystery Writers of America, Mid-Atlantic Chapter, which meets monthly in the District. Both groups are very supportive of writers.

<b>You are a longtime resident of Hunting Towers. What has it been like to live there during construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge? </b>

You really don’t want to get me started on this, right? Let’s just say that no one would ever want the Virginia Department for the <i>Prevention</i>of Transportation as a landlord.

<b>What is your favorite movie?</b>

There are too many to name just one, but I love movies from the 1930s and 1940s, such as "His Girl Friday" and "The Palm Beach Story." Other favorites are "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" and "Moonstruck."

<b>What is the best book you read in the last year? What do you like about it?</b>

The best one I read is one I’ve read many times: "Act One" by Moss Hart. It’s just a terrific story of hope, luck, talent and overcoming the odds. A must for every playwright.

<b>What are your achievements? </b>

I’ve written five mystery novels while holding a full-time job. I’ve also written a lot of plays; several are published by Samuel French under my pen name of Eliot Byerrum.

<b>What are your interests and hobbies? </b>

Reading, and I love to go to the theatre, but sadly, I don’t have time to see very many plays anymore. I also love to walk through Old Town and down the river.

<b>What is your favorite local restaurant? </b>

Again, I can’t pick just one. Hard Times in Old Town, Taqueria Poblano and Monroe’s in Del Ray, and El Puerto on Route One are all favorites. And if there is any restaurant that makes crispy chili rellenos, let me know, OK?

<b>What is your favorite place in the community? </b>

I love the river and the waterfront, the garden at Carlyle House, Dyke Marsh, and I’m pretty fond of the library and Mischa’s Coffeehouse, where I sometimes write.

<b>What concerns do you have about the community?</b>

The facts that Alexandria is increasingly affordable only for the rich, and high-priced development is out of control. Being from a state where roads, utilities and access are planned before developments are approved, I’m appalled at more and more developments here that close off streets and arrange for only one road connecting to a major artery. And what is with all the houses that have been condemned in Old Town? One on Prince looks like it’s falling down.

<b>What are the community's hidden treasures? </b>

You’ll have to ask the Office of Archaeology, which in itself is a treasure.

<b> What are your personal goals?</b>

To have my books published in hardback.