Mistakes are Gifts

Apr 5, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Ellen Byron aka Maria DiRico

I studied improvisation with one of the form’s leading lights, Keith Johnstone, who sadly passed away only weeks ago. Keith trained us all to believe that mistakes were gifts if you embraced them. I remember one particular example of this theory from a show I was part of. Three improvisors were doing a scene. One labeled another a cow. The third improvisor didn’t hear this and named the same guy a tiger. Improvisor #1 quickly embraced the mistake and thus a “cowger” and a legendary sketch – at least in the improv community – was born.

This lesson applied to a recent mistake I made while writing my fourth Catering Hall Mystery. Towards the end of the first draft, I panicked. The book was titled Four Funerals and a Party – but I had only dropped one body. (Yup, that’s how we mystery authors talk.)

What to do, what to do??? Then it occurred to me … Mia Carina, my protagonist, works at a banquet facility. What if a family rented a space to hold a memorial for their young son’s three goldfish who’d recently gone to the fishbowl in the sky? Mom and Dad wanted to show their son and his beloved fishy pets the respect they deserved, hence the moving, solemn event.

I wrote the memorial into the draft. The beats worked so well they inspired a lovely speech from Mia’s boyfriend Shane that turned into a plot point. Problem solved! Whoo hoo!

I was so busy congratulating myself that it took a while to realize the giant mistake I’d made. Take a look at this cover…

Notice anything?

That’s right. The title isn’t Four Funerals and a Party. It’s FOUR PARTIES AND A FUNERAL. I’d sent three goldfish to watery grave for nothing.

But you know I began this story with the philosophy that mistakes are gifts? Shane’s speech led me to an ending for the book I never would have found without those poor goldfish.

Thank you, Keith, for a lesson I was able to apply far beyond an improv sketch. And here’s to “cowgers” everywhere!

Synopsis for Four Parties and a Funeral:
Agatha Award-winning author Maria DiRico returns with the fourth book in the Catering Hall Mystery Series starring Mia Carina who is coming to grips with being back in Astoria, Queens, and running her Italian-American family’s catering hall, Belle View Banquet Manor, but a TV casting call is about to put murder in the spotlight . . .The June events schedule at Belle View is busting out all over—proms, graduations, and of course, weddings. There are unexpected bookings, too, including a casting call for the pilot of Dons of Ditmars Boulevard. But soon, Mia’s fears about the cheesy reality show are confirmed . . .Belle View quickly becomes the site of a sea of wanna-be goombahs and phony girlfriends, and some of Mia’s friends insist on getting in on the action. The production company owner and his executive producer ex-wife—who’s also very minor British royalty—have assembled a motley crew that does as much infighting and backstabbing as the on-screen “talent.” Even so, it’s a shock when a dead body is found in the pool house of a local mansion rented by the show . . .Murder might boost the ratings. But Mia intends to make sure the killer gets jail time, not airtime. . .

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Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won two Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief is the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico.
Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. She serves on the national board for Mystery Writers of America, and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Visit her at Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much for a chance to share this story!


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