The heroine of Ellen Meister's "The Rooftop Party" is a Shopping...

The heroine of Ellen Meister's "The Rooftop Party" is a Shopping Channel host who's also an amateur sleuth. Credit: Hy Goldberg

Jericho native and current resident Ellen Meister's seventh novel, "The Rooftop Party" (MIRA, $15.99), unfurls the further adventures of Shopping Channel host, aspiring actress and amateur sleuth Dana Barry.

As in Meister's previous novel, "Love Sold Separately," a corpse has turned up at Dana's Manhattan workplace. This time it's Dana's boss, who fell to his death at a company party, shortly after making an unwelcome pass at her. Dana has an uneasy feeling she might have been involved in his death, but those minutes are a blank in her memory. When her detective boyfriend is put on the case, things get even closer to home.

We talked to Meister via Zoom about her Long Island roots, her switch from domestic fiction to mystery, and more.

Have you lived in Jericho all your life?

Not quite. I grew up in Jericho, went away to college, lived in Forest Hills — but once I had kids, I started looking for houses on Long Island. Determined to have a fresh start, I looked everywhere but Jericho. Then my sister said, "You're being an idiot! Jericho has good schools, it's a good commute, it has the kind of house that you like." … I guess we need siblings to tell us things like that because I found the perfect house and have been in Jericho ever since, 23 years.

Your protagonist Dana Barry has a sister on Long Island who sets her straight too, right? I believe she even says "You're an idiot!"

She does. Big sister Chelsea is the more settled one, she's married and has a child. The day after the party, bewildered by all that's unfolding, Dana heads straight out to Roslyn to connect with her.

"The Rooftop Party" is the new mystery by Ellen Meister.

"The Rooftop Party" is the new mystery by Ellen Meister. Credit: MIRA

And the murder victim's widow's house is also on Long Island.

Yes, in Sands Point. And I have a trick for that — I use the real estate ads to find houses for my characters. By taking a virtual tour, I get details that add verisimilitude that would be hard to pull out of the air.

Where did the Shopping Channel setting come from?

I used to watch QVC or HSN as white noise while trying to fall asleep, and I became a little fixated on the perfection of the women hosts — always so put together and well behaved. What came to me was an idea for a character. How about really messing it up, taking a young woman who likes to sleep until three in the afternoon, drinks too much, likes to get high and have sex, not a pristine person at all, and dropping her into that environment? Still, I wasn't sure. Did I really want to set a book at a shopping channel? …

What convinced you?

One day it was almost like my muse flew in the window and said, "You will write a murder mystery set at the shopping channel." I had to obey, but I was intimidated. A murder mystery is a very specific genre with specific rules, and though I had read plenty of them, I had never deconstructed how they worked. So I started taking them apart, seeing how the pieces fit together, how the red herrings are introduced, how the suspects come into focus one after another. You have to be very sneaky to write a murder mystery.

Also, I took a day trip to Pennsylvania to tour QVC. That was very enlightening. It's a huge place, like a college campus, with warehouses full of merchandise. Probably there could never be one in Manhattan … but that's why they call it fiction.

Will there be a third Dana Barry novel?

Possibly, but just as I was deciding on a plotline, another idea hit me and I fell in love with it. My next book is called Take My Husband. It's a dark suburban comedy, a kind of "Breaking Bad" meets "I Love Lucy." And it's completely Long Island-centric, set primarily in Plainview, with scenes in Smithtown, Jones Beach and more.

Do you find Long Island has a good writing community?

It's the best! I'm lucky to have friends like Saralee Rosenberg, who writes funny women's fiction and middle grade, as well as Susan Henderson, an award-winning literary novelist. We champion and support each other. I'm also fortunate to be friends with the great Susan Isaacs, and my neighbor, Brenda Janowitz.

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