Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | August 20, 2010

Event recap: Books on Broad hosts Ellen Crosby, author of The Viognier Vendetta

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Books on Broad

When I first moved to Richmond I didn’t go to the Library of Virginia because of the one-way streets, the touch-me-not concrete and glass edifice, my inability to parallel park, and a belief that only real smarties went there.  It took me five years to realize the LVA isn’t just for intellectuals who can maneuver a Suburban into a space that would chafe a Beetle.

Author Ellen Crosby and readers

I’d been to the LVA , but it wasn’t until The Virginia Shop introduced Books on Broad that I felt it was my library, too.  Books on Broad is a monthly book club that hosts authors who read, discuss, and sign their books, but more importantly, they interact with the readers.  At the last event, another reader told me she went to book events in Atlanta where she met the author across the signing table, might get a hello while the author scribbled his name, and then he was on to the next person in line, but at Books on Broad, Ellen Crosby, author of The Wine Country Mystery series, was the first person to greet her when she came in the door.

That atmosphere is a natural by-product of the booksellers’ personalities. Whether introducing people, ringing up purchases, pouring wine, recommending a new author, or steering people toward food and good recipes, the booksellers seem to be at home, hostesses of a party of fiends.  They recognize you from event to event and brighten when you walk in the door.

The sugar cookies

At the last Books on Broad, people mingled in The Virginia Shop, eating Virginia-shaped sugar cookies made by bookseller Evelyn, browsing books by local authors, sampling cheese spreads and fruits, enjoying Virginia wine, and chatting.

I won’t call it a cocktail party, because I usually equate cocktail parties with stiff conversations and sipping wine too frequently to fill awkward pauses.  Books on Broad is like walking into a friend’s home.  Conversations are natural, even for this introvert, and I leave with a list of must-reads, because these people are, after all, there for a book I love or will love soon.

And, joy of my world, the Library of Virginia offers free parking in their deck, which can be accessed from both one-way streets, and the underground deck keeps my newly signed book dry, even during downpours like on the 12th.

The Viognier Vendetta by Ellen Crosby

Ellen charmed me from the beginning when she walked to the podium with a notebook covered in multicolored hearts and an ever-present smile, a smile that looked genuine, not an accessory of the polished professional author.

She also gained points by quoting Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts” when talking about her own first drafts, which she claims are so bad she wouldn’t let her cat read.

Ellen explained she began the Wine Country Mystery series because of a friend.  At the time, she lived in London, and when her friend visited from Reston, Virginia, he brought a bottle of Virginia wine.  During a trip back to the U.S., Ellen visited Virginia wineries and raved to her agent, who suggested she’d found her next book.

When Ellen’s family moved back to the States, she frequented Swedenburg Estate Vineyard in Middleburg, Virginia, because it was close enough to get there and back in time to meet the school bus, but serendipity brought her to owner Juanita Swedenburg, who advised Ellen on her first novels.

When it was apparent Simon and Schuster wanted more mysteries in the series, the vintner heroine Lucie Montgomery planted new vines.  Viognier is one of those vines come to fruition. The Viognier Vendetta, Ellen’s fifth book in the series, begins with two disappearances: a silver wine cooler and a billionaire philanthropist’s aid, whose clothes are found neatly folded in a rowboat floating on the Potomac River.   Each has a history.  The wine cooler was looted from the White House before British soldiers burned it in the War of 1812.  The woman was Lucie’s close friend from college.

Ellen tries to keep her novels realistic, which I’m grateful for because I’ve grown wary of the amateur detective narrator.  Ellen says Lucie isn’t smarter than the police and she doesn’t have more resources, so Ellen consults former homicide detectives to figure out how Lucie locates clues she’ll use to solve the crimes.

The title dilemma

Remember how I feared the LVA was full of brains who’d see me and know I didn’t belong to the club?  Imagine how I felt when I showed up for this event and couldn’t even pronounce the book’s title.  But I didn’t need to worry.  Ellen gave a lesson in pronunciation (VEE-own-YAY) and printed it on bookmarks she handed out at the event, but she says she’s also happy if you call it The Vendetta Book or The New Lucie Montgomery Book.

Ellen’s editor said a character had to pronounce the wine, but despite the phonetic help, the paperback will come out under a new title.  If you want a copy of The Viognier Vendetta before the name change, head to The Virginia Shop at the Library of Virginia.  It’s much more accessible than you think, I promise.

Interested in meeting Ellen? She can be spotted across Virginia in the coming month.

Saturday, August 21, 1 p.m. Barrel Oak Winery, Delaplane, VA (Barrel Oak is home to Rick Tagg, winemaker and advisor for The Viognier Vendetta)

Friday, August 27, 5p.m. River City Cellars, Richmond, VA (Books sold by Fountain)

Wednesday, September 22, 6p.m. Fall for the Book Festival, Vienna, VA

Wednesday, September 29, 7p.m. Presse Bookstore, Washington, D.C.

The next Books on Broad is Thursday, September 9, 5:30-7:30pm. Jan Neuharth reads and signs The Kill. I’ll see you there!


  1. Love the article. I was there and totally agree with your Event Recap!

    • Thanks, Ellen. It’s easy to rave about the event. I hope to see you September 9.

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