Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Truth About Fashion Bites

by Ellen Byerrum

Thank you, Stiletto Gang, for inviting me here today!

For those of you who may not know, I write the Crime of Fashion mystery series featuring Lacey Smithsonian, a fashion reporter who solves crimes with fashion clues, and also comments on the daily fashion contretemps of Our Nation’s Capital. I am thrilled that readers have stayed with me through the latest in the series, Death on Heels, which is the eighth book.

But today I want to talk about the Fashion Bites, which are included in my books, as well as snippets of Lacey’s newspaper columns, and why they are there. The truth is they were not my idea. But this is how it happened. In my original manuscript, I had included a paragraph or two of Lacey’s articles, just to give a flavor of her writing. I thought a little taste of her fashion sensibility would suffice. And that’s when it happened.

 My first editor said, “You know what would really be fun?” (I have learned to be skeptical when someone, anyone—particularly an editor—suggests to a writer that something would be really fun. Fun = a lot of extra work. For the writer, not the editor.) “I think it would be fun to include the actual columns in the books,” she said, and she proposed that said fashion columns (which turned into Lacey Smithsonian’s “Fashion Bites”) should do three things: advance the story, be humorous, and actually offer real fashion advice. My editor said, “That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

It IS too much to ask, I said!
Fashion truly BITES! I bled!
It is not fun! I pled and pled.
I will not write them in my head,
I will not write them in my bed,
I will not write those Bites, I said!

I won’t, I won’t! I’ll cry, I’ll crawl
I will not write them on the wall,  
I will not write them in a shawl,
I will not write them playing ball,
I will not write them in the fall.
They are not fun to write at all.

I lost, of course, as writers will.
They are a sweet and bitter pill.
I slay my victims with my quill,
Dispatch my villains with a thrill,
And spill their blood in dishabille.
But Fashion Bites? I cannot kill.

My Fashion Bites: I love them and I hate them.

In agreeing to write the Fashion Bites, I gave myself a conundrum, eerily like Lacey Smithsonian’s own. She gets no respect on the fashion beat at her paper because she writes about fashion, and because of the Fashion Bites and my books’ allusions to fashion, I also get no respect, from some people. They do not believe my books are serious, and that there is subtext and social commentary and nuances of character. But I am also a playwright, therefore there is always subtext. Even in the Fashion Bites.

Some mystery readers have even informed me, to my face, no less, “I’m never going to read you! I don’t like fashion, I don’t care about clothes, and I wouldn’t open a fashion mystery if you paid me.”

And before I can say, “My, those are lovely sweatpants you’re wearing. . .” they’ve high-stepped away on their orthopedic athletic shoes. Before I can explain that my books are not about supermodels and catwalks, they are simply about the stories we tell with the clothes we wear.

On the other hand, there are other readers, who tell me the Fashion Bites are their favorite parts of the books.  Really, but what about the cool mystery and the gruesome murder? But no, they would like to see more Bites.

So far, I have written 37 of Lacey’s Fashion Bites for my books and included a few other snippets from her “Crime of Fashion” columns. I try to make them funny, and useful, and they usually advance the plot. They are written in first person, from Lacey’s point of view, and ultimately, they work to give more insight to her character and her voice. They’re hard to write, but I have learned to live with them, because they’re part of Lacey, and part of my Crimes of Fashion series. And some people seem to love them.

I’d love to know what you think.


Ellen Byerrum writes the popular Crime of Fashion mysteries, set in bustling Washington, D.C., The City That Fashion Forgot. While researching fashion, Byerrum has collected her own assortment of 1940s styles, but laments her lack of closet space. She has been a D.C. news reporter in Washington, a playwright, and even though she has moved to Colorado, she holds a Virginia P.I. registration.She is currently at work on the ninth book in the Crime of Fashion series. Visit her web site at

In Death on Heels, Lacey Smithsonian is forced out of her comfort zone and into the Wild West when her ex-boyfriend is accused of murdering three women, all found barefoot on lonely country roads. Lacey travels back to Sagebrush, Colorado, where she cut her teeth as a reporter. Caught between two men, with a vicious killer on her trail, Death on Heels is a whole new—and potentially fatal—frontier for this fashion reporter. 

ENTER TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF DEATH ON HEELS!!!  Ellen Byerrum has generously agreed to give away one autographed copy of her latest Crime of Fashion Mystery. Just leave a comment with your first name and email address on Ellen's guest post by midnight tonight.  The winner will be randomly drawn from all entries, and we'll announce the lucky Stiletto reader once we've made contact.  Happy commenting and good luck!!!


  1. Well snippets of the columns sounds like real fun for the reader at least!
    (if the comp is international.. Im in Australia).

  2. I have always loved your books and always share them with my sister and daughter. I do like the Fashion Bites....what's not to like about them? We all need to look our best and maybe they'll help someone! Keep on writing as we enjoy them so much......Margaret

  3. I love this series and I'm not a "fashionista", far from it. The "Fashion Bits" enhance the story.

  4. Hi Ellen! I love your books and the Fashion Bites, and all I have to say is those readers are tremendously shortsighted. They'll never learn anything new if they're not willing to explore, and that's just sad for them, because they're missing out. I'm looking forward to the new book!

  5. Ellen, it's so much fun having you back at Stiletto! And thanks for doing the giveaway. It's the perfect way to celebrate Leap Day. ;-)

  6. Fashion in a fun way? -- I'm in!! Who knows, you could inspire a change from slacks and storytelling t-shirt . . .;-)

  7. i've never read the other books (i'm sorry to say)... but i LOVE fashion (and even though much of what's "now" isn't meant for my demographic, i still manage to adapt it to me, and me to it!!), and would love to read this one!

  8. I need all the fashion help I can get. I also love to read books...of any kind, but especially romantic mysteries

  9. Thanks for stopping by, Ellen! I wish you and/or Lacey could stop by my closet every day and pick out something for me to wear. Sigh. Maggie

  10. Hello, everyone. I'm so sorry I'm late. It has to do with the time change, a killer headache and an inexplicable bloody nose, sorry if it's TMI. Thank you all for comments. Charmaine, Mrs. Hutto, and Pam I'm so glad that the Fashion Bites sound like fun and enhance the story. I do try.

    Tammy, I'm so glad you're looking forward to this book. And it is fun to be back with such great people, Susan.

  11. I didn't want to be too verbose, so I'm answering again. Mary, I love fashion and I think we all can see things in what people wear, whether they're making a statement of conformity or rebellion. I hope Death on Heels is up your alley, Yellow Rose. It has the most amount of romance in any of my books so far. And Maggie, you always look gorgeous. If it helps, I'd like a little help from Lacey too. And while I have some cool vintage clothes, I'd really like to borrow from her wardrobe. Cheers!

  12. Okay, I need to win so I can read the fashion bites and give my honest opinion! Seriously, I think the idea makes perfect sense. We see information on coffee making and growing in Cleo Coyle's Coffeeshop Murder series, we get info about cheese in Avery Aames Cheeseshop mysteries so why wouldn't there be fashion tips in your books? Seems like people ought to enjoy seeing things from the main characters perspective. Of course I love fashion, so what's not to like? I have always learned something from each series I have read, and I enjoy learning new things.

    I loved your Dr. Suess tribute by the way. . .

  13. Thanks, Maureen. Once I got started with the rhyming it was hard to stop. You make a good point about the mysteries with a bit added information. Notice I'm not calling it content!

  14. I think you're all ready for Dr. Seuss's birthday on Friday! Great poem.

  15. That's right, Susan. Dr. Seuss's birthday and my own Bob's birthday as well.

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  17. I really enjoyed the new book! It was fun to take a break from DC and get a taste of Lacey's past.

    As for your question, I already mentioned on LiveJournal that I enjoy the Fashion Bites for the insights into Lacey and her work. I wouldn't call them my favorite parts of the books, nor would I ask for more, but I do think they add to the books and I would miss them if they vanished. I'm still sorry Fashion Bites are such a pain in the neck to write. It makes me feel a wee bit sadistic when I enjoy them.

    irielle at mac dot com

  18. Hey Beth, I have to say I like them in theory and when they are finished, but they are the dickens to write in Lacey's voice. I'm glad they add to the books and agree we don't need more! Thanks.

  19. I like the fashion bites. I also like the commentary on fashion and what they express about a person. And, I like the term "helmet head". I hadn't thought of it, but it is funny.


  20. I would love to read DEATH ON HEELS thank you. Such a fun post.


  21. I enjoy the Fashion Bites immensely. It's a plus to your books that are great mysteries. I am an armchair fashion person. Even though I don't actually do much with it, I love reading about it. Thanks for adding Fashion Bites to your mysteries.

  22. The support you all have given for the Fashion Bites has infused me with new appreciation for them, and for you. I thought the helmet head had disappeared but Callista Gingrich appears to be a real fan.

  23. While I am new to this series, I am enjoying reading and learning abot all the characters.
    Lots of happy hours ahead for all with this latest book.

  24. This is a new author and series for me and would love to win and read this book. I love to read and always looking for new books to check out. I love fashion and try to keep up with most of the trends. I can't always buy a lot, but I like to buy purses and shoes.
    Thanks for the giveaway.

  25. Keep the fashion bites coming, they are funny, entertaining and dead on accurate. They truly show the personality of Smithsonian. I look forward to them in each book you write. Thanks, david

  26. Having lived in the DC area for over 25 years I can heartily agree with the idea that DC is the city that fashion forgot. It drives me crazy that I can't find winter shoes in colors other that brown and black. When I do find shoes (in my size) in other colors I snatch them up and wear them until they fall apart. As for your Fashion Bites, I often find them relatable and amusing. I zipped through Death on Heels and look forward to the next one. Keep the Bites coming!