Tag Archive for: women sleuths

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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Hello? Is anyone out there?

With a blogging rotation that assigns me the fourth Wednesday of every month, I’m always stuck blogging the day before Thanksgiving. Hello? Is anybody out there? Probably not. I imagine you’re all either busy prepping in the kitchen or spending the day traveling over the river and through the woods or in the air on the way to grandma’s (or some other relative’s) house.

Not me. Our older son and his family have established their own Thanksgiving tradition on the other side of the country, and our younger son and his family rotate every year between spending Thanksgiving with us and his wife’s family in upstate New York. It’s the New York contingent’s turn this year.

My husband and I are hosting another couple without family in the area, and the four of us have decided to split the cost of a catered meal from one of the local supermarkets. No stress, no slaving in the kitchen, and enough leftovers for at least one additional meal for both couples. My kind of Thanksgiving.

Many people will tell you that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. For me, over the course of my life most Thanksgivings have been anything but Norman Rockwell pleasant. Thanks to my father, Thanksgiving tensions ran high when I was a child. To say he was disliked (and rightfully so) by other members of the family, would be an understatement.

When I married, my mother-in-law insisted on hosting Thanksgiving every year, forcing us to suffer through undercooked turkey and raw piecrust. It’s a wonder no one ever got food poisoning. One year we accepted an invitation from friends. I figured at some point our ptomaine-free luck was going to run out because her cooking was growing worse with each passing year.

My mother-in-law hit the roof and refused to speak to us for months. No great punishment, as far as I was concerned. That may sound harsh until you realize she’s the inspiration behind my sleuth’s communist mother-in-law in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Lucille Pollack is the character my readers love to hate.

Once my mother-in-law passed on to the great communist commune in the sky, I began hosting Thanksgiving. We had some very enjoyable ones with other family members and friends, and for the first time in my life, I began to look forward to Thanksgiving. But then we moved from New Jersey to Tennessee a year and a half ago, and the only family nearby are the ones currently enjoying Thanksgiving in the snows of upstate New York.

 

But on the bright side, Christmas is right around the corner. As an early holiday gift, if you are reading this post, I’m giving away one audiobook (US or UK residents only) of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. To enter, post a comment about one of your own memorable (or not so memorable) Thanksgiving experiences.

~*~

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.

No Fur or Feather Babies

By Lois Winston

When I was asked to write a cozy mystery series, I knew I should include a pet. Cozy readers love books with pets, especially dogs or cats. Sometimes the pet is even an integral part of helping to solve the mystery. I also have many friends who write cozy mysteries, and most of them are pet owners.

I’m the outlier. I don’t have a fur baby. Instead, I have allergies. Allergies to just about all pets. At least the kind you can pet, cuddle, and play with. Tropical fish would probably be safe, but I consider those pretty things to watch swimming around rather than pets. If it has fur or feathers, I need to steer clear, and chances are, I’d probably also have issues with amphibians and reptiles. I’m even allergic to certain people—or at least to some of the grooming products they use.

I used to have pets. When I was a teenager, we had a dog. I walked around sneezing and coughing and suffering with horrible sinus headaches for several years until I left for college. Once I had my own apartment, I tried kittens. What was I thinking? The headaches, sneezing, and coughing returned with a vengeance.

When my kids were young, we got them a pair of gerbils. Even though I stayed far away from the cage, I still suffered.

So, unfortunately, I remain petless. My protagonist in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries is far from petless, though. Not only does Anastasia’s household include her mother-in-law’s French bulldog Mephisto and occasionally Catherine the Great, her mother’s Persian cat, but Anastasia has also inherited her great-aunt Penelope Periwinkle’s African Grey parrot.

However, Ralph is no ordinary parrot. Having spent most of his life in Great-aunt Penelope’s classroom, listening to lectures on the works of William Shakespeare, Ralph possesses a unique talent. He has the uncanny ability to squawk situation-appropriate quotes from the Bard of Avon.

Is this even possible? Some African Greys do have huge vocabularies, but even though I’ve read up on the species, I’m no parrot expert. It doesn’t matter, though. I write fiction, humorous fiction. If readers can suspend their disbelief enough to accept a protagonist who stumbles across more murders than the average cop in an entire law enforcement career, why not a Shakespeare-quoting parrot?

Ralph is also very protective of his adoptive family. I hope you’ll check out how he proves his worth in Guilty as Framed, the 11th book in my humorous Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.

~*~

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.

Twenty-seven Years Later, Twenty Novels & Now an Audiobook

By Lois Winston

I’ve had a busy September. Guilty as Framed, the 11th book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, officially released on September 6th. My virtual promo tour for the book began before the release date and will extend into next month, but beginning October 1st, I plan to start writing the next book in the series. I’ve given Anastasia enough of a break from murder and mayhem. Now all I need is a plot, but hey, it’s only September 28th. I’ve got three days to figure this out!

And now Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is an audiobook with the other books in the series to follow.

Guilty as Framed marks my twentieth published novel since my first book debuted in April of 2006. I’ve also published five novellas, a middle-grade book, a nonfiction book, and several short stories during that period. But that’s not the entire story. I began writing back in 1995. It took me nearly ten years to the day I first set fingers to keyboard to sell a book.

My first attempt at writing a novel was the result of a weird dream I had one night while on a business trip. Weird because I normally don’t remember my dreams and weirder still because it didn’t involve anyone I knew. Or even me! And the dream continued to grow every night for a few weeks, unfolding like the chapters in a book.

Eventually, I decided to commit the dream to paper, and by the time I’d finished, I’d written 50,000 words of a highly emotional romance that spanned thirty-five years. I gave it to a friend to read, and she was in tears by the time she’d finished it. From her reaction and encouragement, I thought I’d penned The Great American Novel and began the search for a literary agent.

However, I quickly learned I’d written The Great American Drivel. But I’d enjoyed the process of writing so much that I wasn’t discouraged. I set out to learn what I’d done wrong and how to do it right. I read books, joined writing organizations, and attended workshops and conferences. Eventually, I signed with an agent and sold my first book, Talk Gertie to Me, a humorous tale of a mother, a daughter, and a buttinsky imaginary friend. The second book I sold was the novel formerly known as The Great American Drivel. In the ten years since I’d first written it, I’d revised it into Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a 90,000-word romantic suspense that spanned a few months instead of thirty-five years.

Then, encouraged by my agent, who loved the humorous voice I’d employed in Talk Gertie to Me, I began writing a humorous amateur sleuth mystery series, giving birth to Anastasia Pollack, my reluctant amateur sleuth.

Looking back over the last twenty-seven years, I’m amazed at what I’ve accomplished. There have been major stumbling blocks and roadblocks along the way, some of my own making and some completely beyond my control. But with encouragement from fellow writers who have become lifelong friends, my late agent, and my own stubbornness, I persisted and persevered. One of those dear writing friends used to add a quote from Galaxy Quest to the bottom of all her emails: Never give up! Never surrender! I’m glad I didn’t.

~*~

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

How to Keep a Longstanding Cozy Mystery Series Fresh

By Lois Winston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty as Framed

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11

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

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

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

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

Buy Links

Amazon

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Apple Books

Nook

~*~

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

Do You Wordle?

By Lois Winston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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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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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