Tag Archive for: cozy 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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A Good Use for a Dead Darling – Catriona McPherson

Sparkle Abbey’s guest – Catriona McPherson

 

I was at a two-and-a-half hour Zoom meeting earlier today (the UK Society of Authors’ AGM) and in the montage of the year’s highlights there was a wee tiny clip of another Scottish writer, Damien Barr, talking about how he no longer minds cutting stuff out of his drafts, now he’s published, because he can always return to the cut subject in blogs.

How, how, did that never occur to me in the course of writing thirty novels and mourning the stuff that ended up in the bin?

So, Stiletto Gang, here goes: you are the captive audience for my first resurrected-darlings blog post. Hope that’s okay.

SCOT IN A TRAP (Last Ditch Motel Book 5) is set in the present day but it concerns a time almost twenty years ago when Lexy Campbell was a school and then a university student, falling in (and out) of love for the first time. I wrote her first date, her first [billowing curtains] and the party at which her romance hit the skids. Inevitably, in the over-written first draft, I catalogued everything she wore. (I say “inevitably” because, if anyone can write about twenty years ago and not get there by visualising the fashion,  I never want to go shopping with them.)

In the first draft, however, I made a rookie mistake. I cast my mind back. When I was at school, we were in the height of  New-Romanticism. We crimped our hair, sewed brocade on shoulders and tied scarves round our legs. (Why did we tie scarves round our legs? We had necks.) By  the time I got to university, I was dressing like Bruce Springsteen: sawn-off checked shirt, tight jeans, work boots. I stole my dad’s old cardigans. He didn’t mind: he had moved on to fleeces because it was modern times.

The trouble with mining these memories for Lexy’s look is that she’s twenty years younger than me. Oops.

So, in the second draft, she had ironed hair and wore low-rise boot-cut jeans, hanky tops, and rocked many a barely-there sandal – remember those bloody things? Like a slice of toast with a single piece of string glued to it?

She also wore the ubiquitous gap-year chic of a dress and trousers. I still remember the first time I ever saw someone in a dress and trousers. It was one of my students at the University of Leeds – literally just back from her gap year. Note, I don’t mean a salwar kameez; lots of Pakistani diaspora women wore them throughout my childhood in Edinburgh and, in Leeds, men wore them too. But a western dress over wide-leg jeans? Mind blowing. That was the first time I ever felt old. I genuinely thought she’d been in a rush that morning and got mixed up about what she meant to wear. Like the time I put my skirt on the ironing board, left the iron to heat up, grabbed some toast, brushed my teeth, put my coat on and went to work.

Once I’d got used to the idea, I embraced the dress and trousers trend enthusiastically. And Lexy looked fantastic in the second draft, wearing hers. She was slightly under-dressed in the third draft and, by the time I’d got to page-proof stage, I wasn’t relying on clothes to ground the story in its time at all, which freed up her fashion choices to play a role in the plot. (No spoilers.) It was fun while it lasted, though.

Have you got happy memories of the fashions of yore? Anything you swore you’d never wear and ended up loving? Anything you still swear you won’t be caught dead in if it comes back? I’m not sure I could go round by flares for a third time, but you never know . . .

 

SCOT IN A TRAP

A mysterious object the size of a suitcase, all wrapped in bacon and smelling of syrup, can mean only one thing: Thanksgiving at the Last Ditch Motel. This year the motel residents are in extra-celebratory mood as the holiday brings a new arrival to the group – a bouncing baby girl.

But as one life enters the Ditch, another leaves it. Menzies Lassiter has only just checked in. When resident counsellor Lexy Campbell tries to deliver his breakfast the next day, she finds him checked out. Permanently.  Shocking enough if he were stranger, but Lexy recognises that face. Menzies was her first love until he broke her heart many years ago.

What’s he doing at the Last Ditch? What’s he doing dead? And how can Lexy escape the fact that she alone had the means, the opportunity – and certainly the motive – to kill him?

 

Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes: preposterous 1930s detective stories, set in the old country and featuring an aristocratic sleuth; modern comedies set in the Last Ditch Motel in fictional (yeah, sure) California; and, darker than both of those (which is not difficult), a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers.

Her books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She has just introduced a fresh character in IN PLACE OF FEAR, which finally marries her love of historicals with her own working-class roots, but right now, she’s writing the sixth book in what was supposed to be the Last Ditch trilogy.

Catriona is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.  www.catrionamcpherson.com

Lessons From Live Theatre

I had the privilege of going to see a fun new play called “The Shark is Broken,” written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon. The play details the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the filming of the 1975 blockbuster movie, Jaws. The play was short (90-minutes) and anything but sweet, but overall a funny, very enjoyable show for any die-hard fan. There were only three actors on stage and a pretty basic set, serving as a great reminder of how to nail a story, be it a play, a movie, or a book.

  1. Character is key! Plot is important in any story, but to grab the reader, the author must have a great set of characters. From the second the first actor entered the stage during the play, I had no doubt he was playing Richard Dreyfuss, based on mannerisms alone. Each character should possess distinct traits that make it easy not only easy to identify, but to create and add conflict to a play or a book. A rollercoaster of emotion keeps a story fun, and nothing is better than the tension felt between opposing characters.
  2. Action Needs Reaction! “The Shark is Broken” took place entirely on a small set, without any big action scenes. But it kept my attention because of the dynamics created by the characters. The myth
    surrounding the filming of Jaws is all about the tension between the actors on set. The verbal tug-of-war between Richard Dreyfuss (played by Liam Murray Scott) and Robert Shaw (played by real-life son, Ian Shaw), had the viewer fully engaged from start to finish. There was no shark needed to heighten the tension on set between these two!
  3. Real Life Inspiration! It’s been so long since I’ve been to a city (Toronto, in my case) to see a play, I’d almost forgotten how much fun it can be to leave home. From the train ride to the pre-dinner grub, nothing beats character building than going out and watching people in action. For me it was the restaurant staff, the sports fans roaming about (The Toronto Maple Leafs had just won a hockey game in over-time), and even the people passing me on the sidewalk. Everyone is unique, just like each character in a story. Subtle details like the scent of someone’s perfume, the slow-gait of a two lovers holding hands, even the feel of the wind tunnel created from nearby skyscrapers. All these details matter. Don’t even get me started on snippets of conversations overheard at nearby tables or close-by theatre goers… There’s always something to see, hear, smell, or feel.

Where do you find inspiration? Any other Jaws fans out there?

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.

Writing as Catharsis

Who would think this cute baby would grow up to be the inspiration
for the woman who makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm?

By Lois Winston 

During an interview recently, the interviewer told me she loves Anastasia Pollack, my reluctant amateur sleuth, but the character she really, really loves is Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law. “You write the best antagonists!” she said, then asked me where I came up with the idea of giving my protagonist a communist mother-in-law.

 

This is a conversation I’ve had many times since Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, debuted in 2011. Lucille Pollack is the character my readers love to hate. Is it because so many of my readers have mother-in-law issues? Perhaps. 


Or maybe it’s because Lucille is such an over-the-top unbelievable character. I’m sure many readers think so, but here’s a little secret: Unlike all my other characters, Lucille didn’t spring from my imagination. The woman who makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is based almost entirely on my own communist mother-in-law.

 

Yes, you read that correctly. My mother-in-law was a card-carrying commie. Beyond that, though, she was nasty, really nasty, especially if you dared to have an opinion that differed from hers. This was a woman who always knew everything, an expert on every subject. And she was always right—according to her. No one else’s opinions mattered because everyone else was always wrong. You didn’t have conversations with my mother-in-law; you were subjected to lectures—on every subject under the sun. She wasn’t perfect, though. She did fail at things, but when she did, it was always someone or something else’s fault. Never hers.

 

A couple I knew and whom my father-in-law had befriended, once called me the day after they had dinner with my in-laws. They wanted to know how I put up with “that woman.” This was a pattern throughout the years I knew my mother-in-law. Friends never lasted long because she was so insufferable.

 

Even my father-in-law, who had always seen his wife through rose-colored glasses, eventually woke up to her true nature. When he needed her most, she was too selfish and self-centered to be bothered.

 

The thing about antagonistic people, though, is that although they’re insufferable in real life, they make for great antagonists on the page. My mother-in-law grew increasingly nastier the older she got. However, instead of letting her get to me, I brought her doppelganger to life in the form of Anastasia’s mother-in-law Lucille Pollack. Whether it’s a matter of “don’t get mad, get even” or turning lemons into lemonade, all those years of putting up with my mother-in-law paid off in the end when I created the characters my readers love to hate. 

 

My one regret? My mother-in-law didn’t live to see my literary revenge, but it wouldn’t have mattered. She was too highbrow to waste her time reading fiction and certainly wouldn’t have read anything written by her stupid (her word) daughter-in-law. Twenty novels, five novellas, and a children’s book later, revenge is sweet.


Meanwhile, Anastasia’s mother-in-law Lucille winds up wreaking havoc yet again in Guilty as Framed, the 11th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, now available for preorder.

~*~

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 where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

So You Want to Write a Book

By Sparkle Abbey

Part 1: Where to Start

All of the wonderful authors in this group have written books. Some have written many books, but we all started somewhere. 

Is there a book in you? If you believe there is, you’re not alone. 

There’s a statistic floating around the internet from a USA Today survey that took place almost twenty years ago that says 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them. We can only assume that percentage is closer to 90% now with many people taking stock of their life goals. Maybe more than 90%.

The first question is: Just because you want to write a book, should you? And the answer is: Maybe.

Writing definitely stretches your creativity and enhances your life. It also can impact the lives of other people. Which is a great reason to write that book!

However, here’s the reality — while anyone can write a book, not everyone will. Why is that? Mostly it’s because writing is hard. And writing, well, is even harder. In the words of Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” 

But though it is hard to write well, the truth is that writing is like a muscle. The more you exercise, the stronger you become. The more you write, the more you learn and the stronger your writing becomes. For many, setting aside the time to do that work is the hardest part.

For all of you who have said you’d like to write a book, but don’t really know where to start, we want to help you get moving. No more just thinking about it, we want to help you take action. In the next few months, we’re going to talk about the steps you need to take to write a book. So, let’s get started! 

You’re ready to put in the work.  Where do you begin?

Well, first you need to have something to say. Are you passionate about a story idea that you’d love to read, but no one has written? Do you have a message or belief you’d like to share with others? What idea is constantly on your mind? What is your story worth telling?


Here’s your homework. Pull out a notebook and jot down ideas. Right now, all ideas are good ideas. Don’t overthink it. While you’re recording your thoughts also think about what type of

book you’re going to write. Fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir, cookbook. 

If you’d like, please feel free to share in the comments what you might want to write a book about. And if you have questions, feel free to ask. 

Next month we’ll talk about what happens once you’ve settled on your idea!

Sparkle Abbey’s latest story (written in first person) is a short but fun one. If you’ve not yet
checked out PROJECT DOGWAY, this is a great time to do that. 

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.) 

They love to hear from readers and can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the SparkleAbbey.com website

My Tweaking Obsession

By Lois Winston


No, that title does not have a typo. I’m neither obsessed with Twitter nor with twerking. However, I am a compulsive tweaker.

 

Every author has her own process for writing a novel. The two most talked about are whether you’re a pantser or a plotter. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They sit down at their computers and start typing. Maybe they have an idea for the beginning of a novel or a main character. They may know how they want to start a book and how it will end. But they fly by the seat of their pants between “Once upon a time” and “The End.”

 

Plotters painstakingly outline their books. Some write copious synopses. Others use an outlining method that spells out what will happen in each chapter or even in each scene in the book.

 

When it comes to the actual writing of the book, some authors write numerous drafts before they’re satisfied with the end result. Sometimes the finished product bears little resemblance to the first draft, especially if you’re a pantser but rarely if you’re a plotter. 

 

I have a friend who’s a New York Times bestselling author. Between the typos, grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, not to mention the run-on sentences that would make even William Faulkner cringe, if you read her first drafts, you’d think she never made it past third grade. She doesn’t worry about any of it. Her process is to get her thoughts down on paper, to keep typing, unfiltered words flying onto the page without fear of sabotage by her inner editor.

 

With each subsequent draft, she concentrates on refining a different aspect of her work. The final version she turns into her editor, more often than not, lands her on that coveted NYT list.

 

Then there’s me…uhm, I. (You’ll understand that grammatical correction momentarily.) I’m an obsessive tweaker. I will spend half an hour staring at a blinking cursor, searching for the exact word or phrase. I’m incapable of moving on to the next sentence, let alone the next scene, until I’m happy with the results. But if that weren’t enough, I constantly go back and reread what I’ve written previously and continue to tweak. In other words, I edit as I write. I can’t help it. 

 

Then my critique partner reads what I’ve written, offers some suggestions, and I go back and tweak some more. The end result being that by the time I type The End, I’ve really only written one draft, one thoroughly edited first draft, but a first draft, nonetheless. Of course, the book will then go through beta reads and proofreading that will result in additional tweaking because there’s always a missed typo or some other finetuning that’s needed. Essentially, though, from the first word on the page to the last, I’ve written only one complete draft. That’s my process—and my compulsion. I wouldn’t know any other way.


What’s yours?

 

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 Bake 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.

 

~*~

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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Whose Story Is It?

 by Sparkle Abbey

At our most recent Sisters in Crime meeting the discussion topic was “Point of View.” An easy technique for some writers, a more difficult one for others. 

Whether using first-person point of view as we do in our books, or third person which is very common in fiction writing, the choice of point of view is an important choice that a writer makes when beginning to tell a story. It will impact every other choice you make along the way. 

First person point of view is narrated by a character in the story. In our case, Caro or Mel, depending on the book. So you never get the story from anyone else’s perspective. First person sounds like this, “I don’t normally break into people’s homes, but today I was making an exception.” 

Second person, puts the reader into the story as a character. This isn’t one we’ve used very much. It sounds like this, “You went to work that morning and first thing, you decide you need more coffee.” 

Third person limited only lets the reader know what one character at a time thinks and sees. This one is pretty common and can be a very effective way to add suspense to a story. It sounds like this, “He had played this same game before and had anticipated this time out it would be something of a let down.” That’s from the brilliant Mary Higgins Clark’s “You Belong to Me.” Certainly a master of suspense writing!

With third person omniscient point of view anything can be revealed about anyone. It’s often used at the beginning of a story and then the writer shifts to other POVs to move the reader closer. Many times it reads like this, “Little did they know that…” It’s the wide shot and can be an intriguing method to get a readers attention. 

In our opinion, the bottom line is that the very best point of view is the one that goes unnoticed. It’s a matter of  – whose story is it? Who can best tell the story in such a way that we don’t even think about it. We’re just along for the ride!

So readers, do you notice point of view when you read? And do you have a preference for a particular POV? 

Sparkle Abbey’s latest story (written in first person) is a short but fun one. If you’ve not yet checked out PROJECT DOGWAY, this is a great time to do that. 

Sparkle Abbey is actually two
people, 
Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter,
who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are
friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit
murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.) 

They love to hear from
readers and can be found on 
FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social
media sites. 
Also, if you want to
make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the 
SparkleAbbey.com website

The Story Behind the Story – Part 3


By Lois Winston

The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries take place in Westfield, NJ, the town where I lived for twenty-three years until my recent relocation to Tennessee. Westfield is famous for being the home of cartoonist Charles Addams of The Addams Family fame, as well as the infamous John List, who murdered his entire family in 1971, then disappeared. The hunt for List made international headlines, but it took eighteen years and an episode of America’s Most Wanted before he was finally apprehended.

 

In 2014 Westfield once again made headlines when both the national and international press descended on a stately, historic street a few blocks from where I lived. The mystery that drew this unwanted attention centered around a Dutch Colonial built in 1905. The house had recently sold for 1.35 million dollars.

 

However, shortly after the new owners took possession of the house, they received a very disturbing anonymous letter from someone who called himself The Watcher. Subsequent letters followed, threatening the new owners’ children. The Watcher knew the children’ nicknames and mentioned having seen their young daughter painting at an easel, asking, “Is she the artist in the family?” Fearful for their safety, the family never moved into the house, although they continued to make extensive renovations to the property. 

 

Since the family received that first letter, they’ve sued the former owners, claiming they knew of The Watcher prior to the sale of the house. The former owners counter sued. Home disclosure laws vary from state to state. In NJ, even if the former owners had previously received letters from The Watcher, they wouldn’t have had to disclose that information.

 

The new owners tried to sell the house several times, each time reducing the price, but the home’s notoriety kept buyers away. They tried to have the house demolished but failed to get zoning approval to divide the property into two lots to build two smaller houses to recoup their losses. 

 

In a bizarre twist, at one point the husband admitted to sending nasty anonymous letters to some of the neighbors.

 

In 2016 the house became the inspiration behind a Lifetime movie and toppled the Jersey Devil from the top New Jersey’s creepiest horror myths. 

 

Extensive investigations over the years have failed to unmask the identity of The Watcher. Suspects have included the schizophrenic son of a neighbor as well as the owners of the house. 

 

In 2018 the family sold the rights to their story to Netflix in a 7-figure deal after a bidding war that included Universal, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Amazon, and Fox. This gives credence to those who believe that the family concocted the entire story, and there never was a Watcher.

 

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej of “Unsolved” profiled the Watcher House in the first episode of their fifth season. You can watch it here.

 

The Watcher House eventually sold in 2019 at a $400,000 loss.

 

With this real-life mystery unfolding in my own backyard, how could I not incorporate it into one of my books? In a subplot in Scrapbook of Murder, the sixth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, The Watcher becomes The Sentinel, and his first letter arrives shortly after food editor Cloris McWerther and her husband sell their house. Although the police haven’t been able to solve the mystery of The Watch after eight years, Anastasia solves the mystery of The Sentinel.

 

Scrapbook of Murder

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

 

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

 

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

 

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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.

 

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The Art of Letter Writing

 

Kathleen Kaska

 

When was the last time you wrote a letter or received one?

With texting, tweeting, emailing, and Facebook messaging available as
popular (and expedient) forms of communication, people rarely write letters
nowadays. Why bother, you might ask? I just order the book, Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship: The
Correspondence of E. B. White and Edmund Ware Smith
.
When I saw E. B. White
on the cover, I ordered it immediately. I love his writing. I didn’t pay
attention to the subtitle, so I was surprised to see that it was a collection
of letters between two friends. I haven’t read the book yet; I’m savoring it
for a vacation when I don’t have to focus on a bazillion other things. But it
got me thinking.

I’m fortunate to have a friend who still prefers to communicate this
old-fashioned way. We met several years ago when I interviewed her for a book I
was writing about her father. Although she uses email, she does so mainly for
business. She and I chat on the phone, but we also write letters to one
another. I have kept every letter she has written me, as well as copies of those
I’ve written to her.

Beyond my correspondence with my letter-writing friend, I write a Christmas
letter to my family, though not every year. I write letters to my young great-niece
and nephews, since they live in Texas and I’m in Washington State. I don’t want
them to forget about me.

I think the reason letter writing is rare is that it takes time and effort.
Getting started is especially hard. I could begin with a comment on the
weather, how I’m feeling, or what I’ve been up to, but those topics seem humdrum.
What helps me get past “Dear Stephanie,” is a reminder to start with a quirky
thought that’s been brewing in my brain—something like why
I choose to have two
olives with my martini on one night and three on another. After that first
paragraph is written, I’m off and running with three or four pages pounded out
in a few minutes.

Electronic communication fosters little forethought as to what to say, or
how to say it. “I have a question; here it is.” Or, “I have some information
you need; read this quickly.” I also find that if I send an email with too many
questions, most of them go unanswered. Sadly no one seems to read lengthy
emails. I even had a publisher who consistently ignored most of what I asked. I
soon learned to ask just one question per email.

Letter writing, on the other hand, takes thought, creativity, and
consideration for the recipients of the letters. You don’t want to bore them to
death with mundane information. You want to make them laugh and understand
what’s really going on in your head and your life.

I look back on the first letters I wrote to my friend; most contained
questions about her father’s activities. But after my book was published The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story University Press of Florida, 2012) we began
communicating on a more personal level, and a true friendship developed. I
enjoy reading her letters, being able to hold them, stick them in my purse, and
reread them. I know she’s put time and effort into her letters to me—and that
makes me feel special. I hope she feels the same way when she receives one of
mine.

I’m not sure what I will eventually do with all our correspondence, but I’m
glad to have it. My friend lives across the country, so I rarely see her. Our
letters keep us close. 

Do you know of other similar books that are collections of letters? 

Kathleen Kaska is the author of The
Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book
(Rowman & Littlefield Publishing
Group). She is the founder of The Dogs in the Nighttime: Holmes Society of Anacortes,
Washington, a scion of The Baker Street Irregulars. Kathleen writes the
awarding-winning Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Kate Caraway Mystery
Series. Her passion for birds led to the publication The
Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story
.
Kathleen’s collection of blog posts, Do You Have a Catharsis Handy?
Five-Minute Writing Tips
 won the Chanticleer International
Book Award in the non-fiction Instruction and Insights category.

 

Go to her website and sign up for her newsletter. Look for
her bi-monthly blog: “Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town” because
sometimes you just have to laugh.

 

http://www.kathleenkaska.com

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