Tag Archive for: crafting mysteries

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.

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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Toilet Paper Origami and Absolutely No Wastepaper Baskets Allowed!

My Curated Bookcases

By Lois Winston 

Last month I blogged about how my husband and I were getting ready to move from New Jersey to Nashville to be closer to family. We’ve since taken another step toward that goal—our home for the last twenty-three years is now on the market.

 

In the course of my married life I’ve lived in four different houses. However, the last time we moved HGTV wasn’t part of the American consciousness. No flippers, renovators, or stagers brainwashed the public about the necessity of open-concept, tray ceilings, and hardscaped yards with outdoor kitchens. Hardwood floors aren’t enough. They have to be wide-planked hardwood. And of course, the cardinal sin these days is the dreaded popcorn ceiling. Buyers have been conditioned to take one look and immediately do an about-face, as if a popcorn ceiling is in the same category as termites and radon.

 

We’ve always lived in older homes. We love the charm of Victorian and Craftsman architecture. The oldest house we’ve lived in was built in 1891, the youngest in 1939. Our current house is a 1935 Craftsman Bungalow. It isn’t open-concept with twelve-foot ceilings. It doesn’t have a Carrera marble waterfall island in the kitchen.

 

There are forty-four photos online along with floor plans and room sizes. Any interested buyer has the ability to see the house from top to bottom and inside out from the comfort of their own home before deciding whether they want to see it in person. No one looking for a new home with an open concept plan, spa bathrooms, and huge walk-in closets would even consider an in person trip to our house. Or so you would think. Yet by some of the feedback we’ve received, that’s exactly what is happening. I would imagine the realtors are not happy with having their time wasted in this manner.

 

Nor am I happy, because each time a tour is scheduled, I have to race through my house, hiding wastepaper baskets, toiletries, bathroom floormats, and dishtowels. I have to make sure there are full rolls of toilet paper in each bathroom dispenser and that the top sheet is folded into a point a la upscale hotels. Nothing can be left on kitchen and bathroom countertops. No shampoo bottles and soap in the showers.

 

All of this and more was on orders of the house stager hired by the realtor. She walked through our home before it went on the market and handed us a homework list. Then she returned to make sure we had complied. Now, I’m all in favor of making my house as presentable as possible to secure a sale. A cluttered house doesn’t show well, but I don’t like clutter. So my house was not in need of lots of work prior to going on the market. 

 

Not according to the stager, though. She insisted I buy lemons to float in a clear pitcher of water to be put on the picnic table on the deck. She insisted the flowers I had planned to place on the dining room and kitchen tables were only white and in clear vases. She even insisted I curate my bookcases, getting rid of ninety percent of my books. I’m an author. I have a lot of bookcases throughout my house, and they hold a lot of books, most of which are now squirreled away in cartons hidden in the back of closets—along with the wastepaper baskets. (It’s spring allergy season. Do you know what a pain it is to dig through the back of a closet for a wastepaper basket every time you need to discard a tissue?)

 

I’m wondering if buyers are that gullible. Will they not make an offer on a house because there are too many books in the bookcases? Or because I forgot to fold the toilet paper into a point for one showing? Time will tell. Meanwhile, I now have all sorts of plots rolling around in my head for future mysteries. Want to guess the identity of the victim in many of those plots? So maybe all that work is worth it, whether it increases the price someone is willing to pay for our house or not. At least I now have ideas for future books.

~*~

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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