Tag Archive for: Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries

On Birthdays and Bucket Lists

By Lois Winston

Have you ever noticed the older we get, the swifter the years go by? I can remember walking home from school and bemoaning the fact that summer vacation was still six weeks away. Six weeks seemed like an eternity to eight-year-old me. Now six weeks often flies by at warp speed.

I bring this up because my birthday month is approaching, and I’m wondering how I ever got this old. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I gave birth to my first son? I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Yet now he’s the father of three, the oldest of whom is in his first year of college.

Who knows where the time goes?

Judy Collins once asked that question in a song. I’m asking it a lot lately. Back in the sixties the Boomer Generation suggested no one should trust anyone over thirty. Now we’re confronted by the derisive insult of “OK, Boomer” by the generations that have followed behind us. To paraphrase a quote from another songwriter of my generation, the times they are a-changin’.

Once upon a time birthdays were something we looked forward to—parties, gifts, cake and ice cream! Yea! So many of those birthdays connoted milestones we looked forward to—Sweet Sixteens, getting a driver’s license, voting, ordering that first legal glass of wine. Wishes were often fulfilled on birthdays, the one other day of the year besides Christmas or Hanukkah when you might receive that new bicycle or pair of skates.

Now at this point in our lives, if we want something, we buy it for ourselves. Most of us have too much stuff already. When we moved nearly two years ago, we got rid of those things we hadn’t used in decades. Why on earth did I keep a soup tureen I received for Christmas more than thirty years ago but never used? Does anyone ever use soup tureens? And I haven’t a clue as to the last time I used the fondue pot we received as a wedding gift. 1980-something? Those items and much more wound up at the donation center. Hopefully, someone will put that soup tureen and fondue pot to good use.

Bucket Lists are now more important than soup tureens and fondue pots. Whittling down the Bucket List had taken priority prior to the pandemic. Now we’re once again thinking about venturing out into the world. I still haven’t gotten to Scandinavia or Great Britain, and I really would love to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in China.

What about you? What’s on your Bucket List?

In celebration of my birthday, I’m giving away several promo codes for a free download of the audiobook version of Death by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Post a comment for a chance to win.

 

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

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They Can’t All Be Red Herrings, Right?

By Lois Winston

I’m currently writing my 12th Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. This one is tentatively titled A Crafty Collage of Crime. As some of you may remember, I moved from New Jersey to Tennessee a year and a half ago. Since then, many people have asked if Anastasia will eventually make the move south. My answer is an emphatic, “No!” Anastasia is a diehard Jersey Girl and will remain firmly planted in the Garden State.

However, I have decided that in this book, Anastasia and Zack will take a trip to Middle Tennessee wine country. Yes, there are wineries in Tennessee. Who knew? Certainly not me until I moved here, but it turns out that there were quite a few wineries in the area before Prohibition, and after Prohibition ended, the wine industry slowly began to revitalize. It’s now once again thriving.

Anastasia and Zack find themselves in Tennessee because Zack has accepted an assignment to photograph the local wineries for a spread in a national wine publication. Anastasia travels to Tennessee with him. Of course, she immediately discovers a dead body. (Doesn’t she always?)

Now, here’s my dilemma: I have a basic plot and characters fleshed out, but I have so many potential suspects, that I’m finding it difficult to choose which will be the killer. Any one of them would work. I’m thinking I may have to write the book several ways, with a different killer for each version, before I settle on the real killer. That’s a lot of extra work. So I’m hoping that as I continue to work on chapters, the killer will eventually reveal himself to me.

If you’re a reader, have you ever read a mystery where you thought one of the other characters should have been the killer? If you’re an author, do you always know right away who your killer will be, or does the killer sometimes change as you write the book?

Death by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is now available as an audiobook through Audible, iTunes, and Amazon. If you’d like a chance to win a promo code for a free download, post a comment.

~*~

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

How to Keep a Longstanding Cozy Mystery Series Fresh

By Lois Winston

Have you ever fallen in love with a series only to discover that the author stopped writing it? Some writers get tired of writing about the same characters and move on to writing other books. Others fall victim to the fickleness of the publishing industry. Authors are dropped if their sales don’t continue to increase or increase enough, others because the editor who championed the series changes jobs or is laid off. Lines folds. Publishing houses merge or goes bankrupt. The reasons are myriad.

Those of us who have walked away from traditional publishing to “go indie” no longer have to worry about holding our breaths, waiting to hear if our current contract will be extended or a new one offered. We’re free to keep alive the characters we love for as long as we want to write about them. The challenge that confronts us is how to keep a longstanding series from getting stale.

Guilty as Framed, my eleventh Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, will release in less than two weeks on September 6th. Keeping a series fresh after that many books (plus three novellas), is a challenge. After all, there are only so many ways the victim can die, especially in a cozy mystery where you need to keep the gruesome stuff off the page. There are also just so many ways an amateur sleuth can insert herself into a crime without readers becoming incapable of suspending disbelief.

To keep my series fresh, I decided early on that I’d periodically introduce new characters into Anastasia’s world. I began in Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Book 3, where I introduced Ira Pollack, Anastasia’s deceased husband’s previously unknown half-brother, and his brood of spoiled kids. Also, in that book readers first meet Lawrence Tuttnauer, Anastasia’s future stepfather. In the following book, Decoupage Can Be Deadly, I introduced ex-Special Forces, IT expert, and bodyguard Tino Martinelli. All three men have had recurring roles in subsequent books.

In Drop Dead Ornaments, Book 7, I gave Anastasia’s son Alex a girlfriend. She and her father also play pivotal roles in Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide and A Sew Deadly Cruise, books 8 and 9.

Not every character makes an appearance in every book, though. Sometimes only a passing reference is made to them, sometimes not even that. Other times they once again become major secondary characters in the story. It depends on the book. But these additional characters I’ve created throughout the series enable me to come up with interesting character arcs and fresh plots.

I also didn’t want my series to succumb to Cabot Cove Syndrome, something the writers of Murder She Wrotebegan to become aware of as the popular series continued. Given the size of the town and the rate of murders, eventually Jessica Fletcher would wind up the only citizen left in the tiny hamlet. So the writers wisely decided to send Jessica off on various adventures. Of course, the dead bodies kept piling up no matter where Jessica went, but at least the murders were no longer all occurring in Cabot Cove.

I’ve done the same with Anastasia. Some of the books in the series center around her workplace, others around her home. In Death by Killer Mop Doll, Book 2, the setting is a television studio in New York City. A Sew Deadly Cruise is a “locked room” mystery with the murders taking place when Anastasia and her family are on vacation. Stitch, Bake, Die! is another “locked room” mystery, taking place at a conference center during a storm.

In Guilty as Framed, the story once again centers around Anastasia’s home, but in this book, the plot involves an actual unsolved crime that took place in Boston in 1990. Not only do I need to keep my stories fresh for my readers, I need to challenge myself with each new book. As much as I enjoy spending time with my characters, I need a creative challenge to keep from falling into the same old/same old abyss.

Guilty as Framed was quite the challenge! Not only does the plot center around a thirty-two-year-old cold case, but the crime occurred more than 250 miles from where Anastasia lives, and most of the persons of interest and suspects have long since died, from either natural or unnatural causes.

Mysteries provide a challenge to the reader to figure out whodunit before the end of the book. Guilty as Framed proved a huge challenge to me as the writer. I hope readers find it as satisfying to read as I did to write.

Guilty as Framed

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11

When an elderly man shows up at the home of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, she’s drawn into the unsolved mystery of the greatest art heist in history.

Boston mob boss Cormac Murphy has recently been released from prison. He doesn’t believe Anastasia’s assertion that the man he’s looking for doesn’t live at her address and attempts to muscle his way into her home. His efforts are thwarted by Anastasia’s fiancé Zack Barnes.

A week later, a stolen SUV containing a dead body appears in Anastasia’s driveway. Anastasia believes Murphy is sending her a message. It’s only the first in a series of alarming incidents, including a mugging, a break-in, another murder, and the discovery of a cache of jewelry and an etching from the largest museum burglary in history.

But will Anastasia solve the mystery behind these shocking events before she falls victim to a couple of desperate thugs who will stop at nothing to get what they want?

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~*~

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Do You Wordle?

By Lois Winston

A few years ago, I got hooked on crossword puzzles. I attribute this addiction to my dear friend Janice. She passed away in 2019 after an eight-month battle with Stage 4 cancer. I spent much of that time taking her to doctor appointments and chemo treatments and visiting with her during several hospitalizations. Janice always carried around crossword puzzles. As a retired R.N., she knew the importance of keeping her mind sharp, and she did so by exercising her brain in two ways: She was a voracious reader of mysteries and romances and a diehard crossword puzzle fan.

Having sat with her during hours of chemo, I know how difficult it is to concentrate on a book during these sessions, given the constant chatter from fifteen other chemo patients, their accompanying friends or family members, the nursing staff, and a TV always blaring in the background. So Janice passed the time working crossword puzzles when she tired of conversation.

I worked my first crossword puzzle after returning from her memorial service. It had been an extremely emotional day, especially since, as her oldest friend, I was one of the speakers. Perhaps she was somehow sending me a subliminal message from Heaven that day. She had always believed in angels, ghosts, and premonitions. I’ve always pooh-poohed the supernatural. Was this her way of telling me she was right, and I was wrong? Maybe. Because ever since that day, I’ve worked the online crossword puzzle in my daily newspaper as a way of honoring her memory and our lifelong friendship.

A few months ago, that newspaper purchased Wordle. I’d heard about Wordle, but I’m not someone who spends time playing games on my phone or computer. I have books to write, and contrary to my reluctant amateur sleuth’s hopes, I have no intention of refraining from dumping dead bodies at her feet.

I also have a staggering number of unread books piling up on my bookshelves and in my Kindle. I’ll need to live well past the century mark before I get to them all. And yet, I keep buying more books! Then there’s life in general, including family responsibilities, and of course, the need to sleep at least several hours a night.

Yet, there it was—Wordle, the word game taking the world by storm. Wordle beckoned like a Siren. Of course, I got hooked. I even learned a secret for helping solve the puzzle in the allotted six attempts: always begin with “adieu.” The word contains all but one of the five vowels. My next word will always include a word using the green letters from “adieu,” plus an “o.”

My mornings now begin with a cup of coffee, the daily crossword puzzle, and the daily Wordle. How about you? Do you start your day with a word puzzle, work one while taking a break, or reward yourself with one at the end of the day?

~*~

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Her latest book in the series is Guilty as Framed, currently available for pre-order. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Fun chat with Author Lois Winston and T. K. Thorne

 

Today, for a treat, I’m chatting with cozy mystery author and fellow Stiletto Gang member, Lois Winston.  

 

TKT:  Lois, I just finished your novel Assault with a  Deadly Glue Gun, and I gotta
know this. What came first, the characters or the glue gun idea? 
And how does that relate to your process of
building a novel?  Do you kill someone
with a craft idea first and build the plot around that or do you focus on the characters
first? Or some other way?

LW: In this
instance, it was the glue gun. I had been asked to write a craft-themed cozy
mystery series. In my day job I worked as a crafts and needlework designer for
kit manufacturers, craft book publishers, and craft and women’s magazines. I’m
a bit of a klutz and burned my finger while using my glue gun. If you’ve ever
burned yourself with a glue gun, you know it really, really hurts. The title
for the first book in the series popped into my head while I was applying ice
to my finger.

 

I then began to
wonder if you could kill someone with a glue gun. Once I figured out how it
could happen, I began building the characters around the murder.

 

For my
Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I made Anastasia the crafts editor at a
women’s magazine because I didn’t want a series that just featured one specific
craft. There were already many needlework and craft-specific cozies being
published. I didn’t want my series to compete with other established series. By
making Anastasia a crafts editor, I could feature a different craft in each
book of the series. I usually choose a craft, figure out a catchy title, then
build the story from there.

 

TKT: Do you
have the same wry sense of humor as Anastasia? Share any other characteristics?
Did your mother-in-law read this and does she hate you?

 

LW: Anastasia
definitely has my sense of humor, but I’m only funny on paper. I’m the person
who thinks of the perfect comeback hours after the fact. And I can’t tell a
joke to save my life. I never remember the punchline!

 

As for my
mother-in-law, she passed away several years before the series debuted, but she
was a card-carrying commie, and I did base Anastasia’s mother-in-law on her. My
sister-in-law thinks Anastasia is a riot, but some of my husband’s other
relatives haven’t spoken to me in years. I can’t imagine why.

 

TKT: Lol!  I can’t imagine why either!  And I can’t tell jokes either, but in my case, the only thing I can remember is the punch line. . . .

 

Your knowledge of crafts certainly came
legitimately, but your expertise seems to include fashion and furniture.  The whole name-brand thing is alien territory
for me, but how did you gain this info? 
Life? Research?  I could say the
same for baked goods…

 

LW: I spent
years working trade and consumer shows. You pick up a lot of product knowledge
when you’re interacting with buyers, salespeople, and marketers. Plus, as a
designer, it was important that I stayed abreast of trends in the marketplace.
As for the baked goods, watching baking shows is my guilty pleasure.

 

TKT: Well I
gotta say, I wanted to sample some of those tasties in the book!  Anastasia and crew are great fodder for the
sequels, and I suspect a building romance will arc over the series. How do you
string out romantic suspense over several novels when your readers are panting
for resolution?

 

LW: In cozy
mysteries, there’s a specific mystery in each book, and it’s resolved by the
end of the book. There are no plot cliffhangers, only character cliffhangers.
For instance, after 10 books, readers still don’t know whether Zack is merely a
photojournalist or, as Anastasia suspects, a member of a government alphabet
agency.

 

As for the
budding romance, it develops over time. However, after ten books, only a little
more than a year has passed in Anastasia’s life. That keeps the development of
the romance more realistic.

 

I’ve also
written each book in the series in such a way that a reader can pick up any
book in the series and quickly get caught up with the characters’ story arcs.

 

TKT: You are
scarily prolific! I count six books that came out in 2014 alone!  Are you an alien?  How did you do that and what made you decide
to write some of them under the pen name of
Emma Carlyle?

 

LW: LOL! I definitely didn’t write six books in a year. It
takes me about nine months to write a book. In 2014 I went indie after walking
away from my publisher due to a contract dispute over more books in the series
and a second series they wanted. By that point, I had the rights back to my
earlier books from a different publisher and had some romances and romantic
suspense books that had never sold. My agent suggested taking a pen name to
indie publish those books.

 

After a short period of time, I realized I shouldn’t have
published those books as Emma Carlyle because it was difficult trying to build
a readership for the Emma Carlyle books. I eventually republished them as “by
Lois Winston writing as Emma Carlyle”. That way, people would find the Emma
Carlyle books when they searched my name.

 

TKT: Anything else you would like to share?

 

LW: Stitch,
Bake, Die!
, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series,
released October 4th.

 

 

 

Stitch, Bake, Die!

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10

 

With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a
Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not
be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life.
So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and
judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the
Stitch and Back Society, a national organization of retired professional women.
At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been
roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place
on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.

 

The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to
find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but
sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with
murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the
Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an
opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.

 

Can she piece together the various clues before she
becomes the killer’s next target?

 

Crafting tips included.

 

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Bio:

Lois Winston, a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author of
mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, middle-grade, and nonfiction,
sold her first book to a NY publishing house in 2005. Currently she writes the
critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, featuring widowed
magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, along
with a supporting cast of characters that include Anastasia’s communist
mother-in-law, her self-proclaimed Russian princess mother, and Ralph, the
Shakespeare-quoting parrot. Learn more at
www.loiswinston.com

 

Thanks so much, Lois!

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com