Tag Archive for: Lois Winston

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.

Anastasia is Back, and This Time the Crime is Real!

 

By Lois Winston

Most mystery writers and readers are fascinated by true crimes. Even if our reading doesn’t branch out beyond cozy mysteries, many of us watch everything from Murder, She Wrote reruns to each iteration of the Law & Order franchise. Some of us have even become hooked on true crime podcasts. 

 

Me? I’m a news junkie. All my books have been inspired in some way by actual events, or human-interest stories. Inspired is the key word, though. For instance, in A Stitch to Die for, the fifth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, I wove in a thread about Munchausen by Proxy Disorder after reading about several high-profile cases.

 

However, I’ve never incorporated an actual crime into one of my plots—until now. For Guilty as Framed, the eleventh book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, I’ve centered the plot around a yet unsolved crime that took place in 1990. 

 

For years I’ve been fascinated with the burglary at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It’s still considered the largest art heist in history, and to this day, not only haven’t the perpetrators been caught, but none of the artworks have ever been recovered. Worst of all, many of the suspects have since died.

 

But how do you incorporate a true crime cold case into a cozy mystery, especially when that crime might one day be solved, no matter how the likelihood diminishes with each passing year? I certainly couldn’t have my sleuth find the paintings or unmask the actual perpetrators. I don’t write alternate-reality fiction. In addition, the crime was committed in Boston, and my amateur sleuth resides in New Jersey. Besides, Anastasia is in her mid-forties. She would have been an adolescent at the time of the theft.

 

This was the puzzle I set for myself. Like my sleuth, I can be extremely stubborn when I set my mind to something. I may fail at a task, but I rarely give up and walk away. It helps that I’m a pantser and not a plotter. So I started out by reading everything I could get my hands on about the theft, watched a few documentaries, then just started writing, allowing my brain free rein. After writing myself into a few corners, backtracking, and beginning again…and again…and again, I came up with a story that uses various events from the actual crime, making them plausible within the pages of my story. Of course, I had to take authorial liberties along the way, but hey, I’m writing fiction. I can do that. 

 

I invented several characters for the purpose of advancing my plot. I’ve also changed the names of suspects and their relatives, whether they’re still alive or not, to protect the innocent, the not-so-innocent, and yours truly. But in the end, I stayed true to the major events of the crime but found a way to involve my sleuth.

 

It’s just too bad that Anastasia couldn’t solve the mystery of what happened to all those missing artworks. There’s still a huge reward outstanding for any information leading to their recovery, and anyone who knows anything about Anastasia knows she could really use the money.

 

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?

 

Guilty as Framed is currently available for pre-order and will be released September 6th. Find links here.

 

~*~

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.

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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LOIS WINSTON INTERVIEWS SUSPENSE AUTHOR DONNELL ANN BELL

Last week I sat down for a long-distance chat with my critique partner and fellow Stiletto Gang blogger Donnell Ann Bell. Today we get together again, but this time it’s my turn to grill—uhm…interview her.

I want to start off by reciprocating the compliments Donnell gave me. I’m very lucky to have her as my critique partner. She makes me a better writer in so many ways but mostly because she makes comments and asks questions that force me to think about my stories in ways that might not ever occur to me otherwise.

 

But Donnell and I are more than critique partners; we’re friends. Are we two peas in a pod? Hardly! We often disagree—on many topics—but our friendship and working relationship transcend any differing opinions we may have. When we disagree, we agree to disagree and move on. These days, that’s a rare quality between people and one I treasure in her.

 

So here are some things about suspense author Donnell Ann Bell you may not know.

 

Lois: Donnell, one of the things I love about your books is the amount of research you put into writing them. You never info dump, but you make sure that your plots, events, and characters are accurate and believable. You have a vast network of experts you call upon for everything from medical issues to government agencies to cybersecurity and beyond. How did you come to meet all these professionals?

 

Donnell: I pay them – huge bucks!  Actually, it’s how I’m wired, Lois. I know how I learn. Some people can read vast amounts of information and retain it. I’m an auditory, tactile learner—something I learned late in life and not in my formative years, which would have been so helpful. I don’t do as well in online workshops, especially if the lecturer is imparting complicated, technical material. But if I listen to it, I do better. Generally, I request a phone call or a Zoom session. Most of my experts are entirely generous and one question often leads to another.  

 

LoisYou’ve had a varied career, including working as a court stenographer and a volunteer victim’s advocate. What other jobs have you held, and would you ever consider creating a protagonist who works in one of those fields?

 

Donnell: I actually thought about creating a court reporter protagonist – wrote a few chapters. Then realism set in. If you’re a court reporter employed in the court system, you work 40 hours in the courtroom and 20-plus hours transcribing (at least in my day before real-time court transcription). As I wrote, my plot fell apart:  I can see it now, my court reporter is trying to solve a murder, but then she’s held in contempt of court for not getting her depositions done.

 

My previous jobs were administrative in nature. I’ve worked in human resources for a semiconductor plant (processing NSA security clearance applications for our employees), commercial real estate, structural engineering, oil and gas companies, and my favorite, which led me to writing fiction after an injury ended my court reporting days, I went to a weekly newspaper. Later I was considered so good at my job that I was hired as the editor for a parenting magazine. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, it ALWAYS opens a window. Just be sure to stick your head out and LOOK! Life experience is invaluable. It’s all material.

 

Lois: Writing is a business where authors need to develop a thick skin to survive. We’ve always been brutally honest with each other when it comes to what’s working and what’s not working in a story. After many years, we’re still critique partners and still friends. Would you like to explain to our readers the secret to our successful working relationship?

 

Donnell: I think we both are open-minded individuals, and we’re not about to let ego interfere with our ability to create the best book possible. Critique partners do each other no favors by not pointing out problems.  On the opposite side of criticism, however, critique partners should be quick to praise when something is working. I think we both do that.

 

Lois: Of course, I’ve read all your books. Thinking back, I believe they’re all set in either Colorado or New Mexico, two places you’ve lived. Other than changing planes in Denver once years ago, I’ve never been to either state. Have you considered setting a book elsewhere, or will you continue with the places you’re most familiar?

Donnell:  Maybe. I have a book currently collecting dust somewhere. The unpublished manuscript won first place in RWA’s Haunted Hearts Contest for Gothic Romance Writers and was a finalist for RWA’s Dual on the Delta Contest eons ago. I called it The Memory Maker. Back to the experience I mentioned above, I worked for a structural engineering company, and I got to tour a school in Colorado Springs called The Lowell School. [picture] I took that wonderful experience and wrote a story around it, except the school became Marcum School, and I create a fictitious city called Sherwood, New York.

 

Lois: You once thought about writing a cozy mystery series. Are you still considering doing so one day, or are you firmly entrenched in suspense for now? Any other genres or subgenres you’d like to write?

 

Donnell: I never say never. My long-ago critique group said I have a good first-person voice. First person, as you know, requires discipline. I remember once you went into Zack’s POV and I had to say, “Lois, you’re writing first person.” 😊

Lois: Yeah, I remember that. I think I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee the morning I wrote that scene. Moving on…The second book in your Cold Case Suspense Series will release in a few weeks. If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Lieutenant Pope, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian DiPietro, Special Agent Allison Shannon, Special Agent Devon Taylor, and ATF agent Seth Walker?

 

Donnell:  Ooooh. No fair. This is so tough! Okay, dang. Tyler Perry (I thought was fabulous in James Patterson’s movie-version Alex Cross), Kevin Costner (as I’ve already done so in Black Pearl), Daniela Ruah (who plays Kinsey on NCIS, Los Angeles would be perfect as Allison Shannon), and, wow, for Devon . . . Richard Madden ( Ikaris in Eternals.)  

 

Lois: I’m excited about the book you have coming out in May 2022. Would you like to tell our readers about it?

 

Donnell:  The published title is called Until Dead: A Cold Case Suspense. Two years after the Black Pearl Killer’s apprehension, the taskforce that solved the case reunites to solve an equally challenging case. An assistant U.S. attorney is targeted by a deadly, multi-skilled assassin who calls himself The Tradesman. 


Lois: Do you have plans for a third Cold Case book?

 

Donnell: In the works. I’m currently talking to those experts we discussed above. A retired FBI agent and a forensic psychiatrist have given me the go-ahead that my plot can work. Now it’s all about the storytelling.

 

Lois: Thank you so much for joining us today, Donnell. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Donnell and her books, check out her website.

 

Thank you, Lois! (Now enough slacking. Where’s your next chapter?)


Until Dead

A Cold Case Suspense, Book 2

This killer won’t stop …until she’s dead


When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope’s own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope’s former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.


As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA’s aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.

FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments knowing he’s being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn’t know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades’ old cold case.


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Interview with Stiletto Gang Member Lois Winston

 When Stiletto Gang Blog
members suggested interviewing fellow blog members, it only made sense for me
to partner with author
Lois Winston. After all, as
critique partners, we know where 

Author Lois Winston

the bodies are buried (so to speak).  I feel fortunate to have Lois as a
critique partner. She has an outstanding brain, is well read, and knows the
publishing industry. Do I take everything she suggests? Absolutely not, and vice
versa. But the fact that we brainstorm, mull over plots, word choice, grammar,
goal, motivation, and conflict is worth all the gold in Fort Knox.  (All right, maybe not ALL the gold).

With that, let’s get to know author
Lois Winston better.

 Donnell:  Lois, you recently moved to Tennessee from
New Jersey to be closer to family.  How
many months has it been and how has the New Jersey girl transitioned to living
in the South?  What is your favorite
thing so far about Tennessee? And what do you miss most about New Jersey?


 Lois: We’ve been here since
the end of June but in our new home since the middle of July. It’s been a
difficult transition for me. Up until now I had lived my entire life in either
metro New York City or metro Philadelphia—and I don’t mean Philadelphia,
Mississippi! Moving during a pandemic has made the transition even more
difficult. However, I do like the milder winters.

 What I miss most about
New Jersey is no longer being within a short train ride into Manhattan. I’m
going through massive theater and museum withdrawal, and it isn’t pretty! Just
ask my husband!


Manhattan skyline


Donnell:  The beauty of writing the Anastasia Pollack
series is that you can visit New Jersey any time you wish. How many books have
you written now surrounding Westfield and the state of New Jersey?


 Lois: Getting back to New
Jersey isn’t that easy. It requires me to either hop on a plane or drive
thirteen hours, which I can’t do in one day. Would you believe there are no
trains that go from Nashville to New York?


No trains, so a plane will have to do…

Both my Anastasia
Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, of which there are currently ten novels and
three novellas, and my two Empty Nest Mysteries are set in Westfield. In
addition, Westfield is part of the setting for Moms in Black, the first
Mom Squad Caper; my contemporary romance, Finding Hope; and my middle
school novel, The Magic Paintbrush. My other books have been set in two
other New Jersey towns, New York, and Philadelphia.

Donnell:  Reviewers have compared your protagonist
Anastasia Pollack to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Did you have that in
mind when you started writing the series? Do you feel your protagonist after 10
books and 3 novellas has formed an identity of her own? How many more books do
you plan for this series?

 Lois: I didn’t consciously
have the Stephanie Plum books in mind when I wrote the first Anastasia book,
but I’ve always enjoyed Evanovich’s humor. Kirkus Reviews called Anastasia
“North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum,” and I think that’s true.
Stephanie doesn’t have to worry about anyone but herself. Anastasia is a more
realistic character. She’s juggling widowhood while raising two teenagers and
dealing with the debt her husband left her. She’s also permanently stuck with
her communist mother-in-law. Stephanie works in a profession that has her
dealing with criminals daily. Anastasia is the crafts editor at a women’s
magazine. Murder and mayhem aren’t part of her job description, yet circumstances
beyond her control force her into becoming a reluctant amateur sleuth.

As for how many more
books I’ll write in the series, I’ll keep writing about Anastasia as long as
she’ll let me.

Donnell: As a graphic artist and
former craft editor, you and your protagonist are closely related. At the back
of your books, you always have craft projects and ideas for readers. Do you
find that an advantage of writing this series? Do you have an avid “craft”
following?

Lois: When I was asked to
write the series, it was understood that craft projects would be included, just
as recipes are included in culinary mysteries. The difference, though, is that
I’m limited in the type of projects I can feature. I can’t include patterns,
only written directions or tips, due to the limitations of size in a printed
book and the fact that there would be no way for someone reading an ebook to
print or download a pattern.

 Back when I was a
full-time designer, I had a sizable following. This was before the Internet
really took off, but I still hear from crafters from time to time. In 1996 I
designed a 3-D cross stitched Nativity set that was featured in Women’s
World
. I still receive emails from a few crafters each year, usually
because they want to stitch another set and have lost the patterns.

Donnell:  At one time, you wrote romantic suspense, do
you think you’ll ever write another romantic suspense?

Lois: I’ve learned never to
say never, but it won’t happen anytime soon. My romantic suspense novels were
quite dark. With everything going on in the world, I’d rather write humorous
cozy mysteries. We all need to laugh more these days.

Donnell:  Speaking of romance, you have one in your
Anastasia Pollack series. After being widowed from the louse of a spouse,
Anastasia has found happiness with photojournalist Zack Barnes. In a recent
book Anastasia and Zack became engaged. Have readers commented on their
engagement—are they excited about their upcoming nuptials? Any hints at whether
this will be a long engagement or a sudden elopement?

Lois: I’ve heard from many
readers who want to know when Anastasia and Zack will marry. Zack proposed in Handmade
Ho-Ho Homicide
, the eight book in the series. I didn’t want the wedding to
occur in the next book, and it didn’t work for the plot I wanted to write for
the last book. I’m currently working on the eleventh book in the series, and
I’m thinking this might be the book that will include a wedding. We’ll see…

Donnell:  One thing, I don’t think readers and writers
know about you is that you’re a former literary agent and are extremely generous
with your industry colleagues, published and unpublished alike. I have
benefitted firsthand by knowing you for so many years. If you were the Dear
Abby of Publishing, what advice would you give to published authors? Then, turn
this, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?


Lois: The best writing advice
I ever received was from the owner of the agency that represented me and
employed me for ten years. He said that every scene in a book and all dialogue
needs to do one of two things—either advance the plot or tell the reader
something he or she needs to know about the point of view character at that
moment
. If it doesn’t, it’s filler and should be cut. This advice applies
to both published and unpublished writers.

As for aspiring
authors, my best advice is to remember that the road to publication is a
marathon, not a sprint. Take the time to learn your craft and grow a thick skin
to deal with the inevitable rejections you’ll receive along the way. Very few
authors have ever sold their first attempt immediately after completion—if
ever. There are thousands of first manuscripts cavorting with the dust bunnies
under beds throughout the world. Those who have been lucky enough to sell their
first book usually did so only after many revisions over several years.

Donnell: Thanks, Lois! To say
I’m grateful for your friendship is putting it mildly. Thank you for always
picking up the phone.

Lois: Ditto, Donnell!

Want to learn more about prolific author Lois Winston? Check out her website at: 

http://www.loiswinston.com

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 Story Behind the Story, Part 2

Original Paperback Cover

By Lois Winston 

I began my writing career penning romance and romantic suspense before I segued into mystery. These early novels hold a special place in my heart because two of them were my first published books. They also represented the beginning of what would become a trademark of sorts for my books, whether romance or mystery, and that is my use of actual events as source material for my plots. I thought I’d devote some of my monthly spots on The Stiletto Gang this year telling you how some real-life events influenced my writing.

 

Back in October, I wrote a blog post about how an acquaintance’s not-so-perfect marriage led to my writing career and played a role in the development of Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, my first novel and second published book. The plot of that book was also influenced by a news story unfolding at the time in a Philadelphia suburb not far from where I lived.

 

On April 29, 1997, Stephanie Rabinowitz, a twenty-nine-year-old wife, part-time attorney, and mother of a one-year-old, was found strangled in her bathtub. Her husband Craig at first claimed someone had broken into their home and murdered Stephanie.

 

The police weren’t buying it. They discovered Craig had massive debts, had cheated friends out of nearly a quarter million dollars, that his career as a latex glove salesman was bogus, and that he was racking up more than two thousand dollars a week at Delilah’s Den, a “gentleman’s club.” He also frequented prostitutes and bought $8500 worth of furniture for one of the Delilah’s Den dancers.

 

Although Stephanie earned only about $33,000 a year for her part-time legal work, the couple had $300,000 worth of mortgages on their home, which was valued at only $230,000 and credit card debt of $100,000.

 

Craig had also taken out a $1.8 million dollar life insurance policy on his wife. Confronted with the staggering evidence against him, Craig Rabinowitz pleaded guilty the day his trial was set to begin.

Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception is not about the Rabinowitz case. In some ways, Karl Pollack, Anastasia’s deceased husband in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, has more in common with Craig Rabinowitz than does Phillip Wadsworth, the deceased husband in Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception. However, the Rabinowitz case did get me thinking about…well, love, lies, and deception. But mostly lies and deception, and I ran with it, incorporating some aspects of the case as well as what I knew of the systemic Philadelphia political corruption of the time.

I’m currently writing the eleventh book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, and for the first time in one of my novels, I’m incorporating an actual unsolved crime that has fascinated me for more than thirty years. Stay tuned.

~*~

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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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Sign on a Bookstore Window

By Lois Winston 

No matter where you fall along the political spectrum, you have to admit it’s been a divisive few years. Couple that with a pandemic and various conflicts going on across the globe, and it’s a wonder we all don’t crawl into bed, pull blankets over our heads, and refuse to come out. And we’re adults. Think about how our children must feel. 

 

If you have a young child on your holiday shopping list, you might want to consider purchasing a copy of The Magic Paintbrush as a gift. Without being preachy, The Magic Paintbrush addresses the issue of differences, in this case, a kingdom that’s all pink at war with a kingdom that’s all blue for longer than anyone can remember—so long that no one even knows what started the feud. It takes two children from another land to point out to the rulers of both kingdoms how we’re really all the same inside and the benefits of everyone getting along.

 

Now if only people in the real world would do likewise….

 

I originally wrote this story for my own grandchildren, but the reception I received convinced me I should send it out in the world for others to enjoy—and learn from—because the lesson taught is one the world really needs right now.

 

Happy holidays!

The Magic Paintbrush

When nine-year-old Jack and his seven-year-old sister Zoe are snowed in for days with nothing to do, their complaints land them in every guy’s worst nightmare—the kingdom of Vermilion, a land where everything is totally pink! At first Jack is mistaken for a spy from the neighboring kingdom of Cobalt, but Zoe convinces Queen Fuchsia that they’re from New Jersey and arrived by magic.

 

Queen Fuchsia needs a king, but all the available princes in Vermilion are either too short, too fat, too old, or too stupid. Jack and Zoe suggest she looks for a king in Cobalt, but Vermilion and Cobalt have been at war since long before anyone can remember. 

 

Jack and Zoe decide Vermilion and Cobalt need a Kitchen Table Mediation to settle their differences. So they set out on an adventure to bring peace to the warring kingdoms—and maybe along the way they just might find a king for the queen.

 

The Magic Paintbrush is suitable for children eight years of age and up to read on their own. Younger children will enjoy the story if it’s read to them. You can read an excerpt here

 

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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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No One Ever Promised Life Would Be Fair

By Lois Winston

I graduated college (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, if you believe my kids) with a degree in graphic design and illustration and went to work as an art director at a small ad agency. Big title. Tiny paycheck. I was the one and only artist on staff, so I really didn’t direct anyone.

 

One day I was complaining about the unfairness of something to our office manager, and she said, “Lois, no one ever promised life would be fair.”

 

That conversation took place so long ago that I don’t even remember the names of all my coworkers, but her words have stuck with me. Over the years I’ve had some hard times while others around me have had great success. I have a relative who I’ve often said could step in caca and have it turn into gold. Some people have that kind of luck. Me? Well, let’s just say I’ve never won more than $7 on a lottery ticket. Get the picture?

 

I’m constantly reminded of that coworker’s words when I look down the long and winding road of my life as a published author. No one ever promised life would be fair. The outside world (those millions and millions of people who know nothing about publishing) thinks every published author is pulling in the kind of big bucks that James Patterson, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling make. Friends and relatives expect you to give them free books because after all, you’re a published author and can afford it. (I can hear the laughter coming from all the published authors reading this blog post.)

 

The hard truth is that most published authors can’t afford to quit their day jobs. And that includes many authors I know who have hit the NY Times bestseller list. Factoring in the hours most of us devote to crafting each novel, then promoting it, we’d make more money per hour asking, “Do you want fries with that?” 

 

So why do we do it?

 

We write because we can’t not write. (Pardon the double-negative.) Yes, it’s hard work, often filled with disappointment: You can’t sell what you consider your break-out book. Your last royalty check was less than three figures. Your publisher drops you. Your foray into indie publishing has resulted in sales that might sustain your Starbucks habit—if you’re lucky. 

 

And still, we continue to write. Because you we can’t not write.

 

No one ever said life would be fair–or easy, but the struggle makes us stronger. And better. We keep writing. Keep honing our craft. Maybe someday luck will be on our side, and we’ll reap the rewards of all that hard work. One thing is for certain, though, if we give up, we’ll never succeed.


As a gift to my readers, for a limited time the 2-ebook set of Christmas-themed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, featuring Drop Dead Ornaments and Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, is available for only .99 cents. Click here for Buy Links.

~*~

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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