Thursday, March 29, 2012

If You Say Sew with Guest Blogger: Lois Winston

Welcome cozy mystery author
Lois Winston to the Book Boost!

She's here to discuss how her mystery series was crafted and here's what she had to say...

March is known for many things. Tradition says it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb because it starts off in winter and ends in the spring. Smack in the middle of the month we all don green and become Irish for a day. March is also Women’s History Month and National Noodle Month. (Did you even know there was a National Noodle Month? I have to admit, I didn’t!) Also, thanks to some clock tinkering, March now heralds the start of daylight savings time.

However, March is also National Craft Month, and that has special meaning for me. I’ve spent much of my adult life working in the consumer crafts industry as a designer for craft kit manufacturers, crafts and needlework magazines, and women’s magazines. I still design, but now I also write The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, a humorous amateur sleuth series with a protagonist who’s the crafts editor at a woman’s magazine.

The marriage seemed destined from the start.

I’m a quintessential right-brainer. All my life I’ve created “stuff,” working in just about every art and craft medium but feeling most at home with a needle in my hand. My earliest memory of needlecraft involved my Betsy Wetsy doll and my grandmother’s sofa.

I was no more than four years old. Grandma was mending something, and I decided I wanted to hem Betsy’s dress. After much pleading and profuse promises that I wouldn’t stick myself with the needle, grandma acquiesced. She threaded a needle for me, and I settled onto an ottoman in front of the sofa -- where I proceeded to stitch Betsy’s dress to the sofa cushion!

Needless to say, grandma was not very happy. However, I’m thrilled to report I didn’t stick myself with the needle.

Along with crafts, I’ve had a lifelong passion for crime solving. I grew up with the pride of knowing my grandfather spent his life as a much decorated detective, working his way up to captain of the Essex County police force in Newark, NJ. During his long career, grandpa was responsible for the apprehension of many a well-known gangster.

Had I been born later, I may have decided on a career in criminal justice, but instead, I went to art school.

Fast forward more years than I’m willing to admit. I’ve published two books, a romantic suspense and a women’s fiction. One day my agent is speaking with an editor. The editor mentions she’d like to find a mystery series with a crafting theme. My agent contacts me, figuring I’m the perfect person to write such a series, given my background. Up until then, I’d never thought about writing a mystery. I rarely even read mysteries because I had a habit of figure out whodunit too early on most of the time. I figured it was due to the genes I’d inherited from my grandfather.

However, I took up the challenge and wrote Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Unfortunately, the editor who made the initial request didn’t buy the series because she wound up leaving publishing while I was in the process of writing the book. A few years later, the book did sell to another publisher and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death By Killer Mop Doll is the second book in the series. There will be at least three more books to come.

I often wonder what my grandparents would say about the course my life has taken.

A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for joining us today, Lois. I think your grandparents would have been very proud of you. You've found a way to combine the two things you love creating most--your crafts and your writing. If you can make joy in your life (and a little money too) by doing what you love then I think that's what every parent and grandparent would want most for you. Glad you're here. Please tell us more about your latest.


Overdue bills and constant mother vs. mother-in-law battles at home are bad enough. But crafts editor Anastasia Pollack's stress level is maxed out when she and her fellow American Woman editors get roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show.

Before the glue is dry on Anastasia's mop dolls, morning TV turns crime drama when the studio is trashed and the producer is murdered. Former co-hosts Vince and Monica—sleazy D-list celebrities—stand out among a lengthy lineup of suspects, all furious over the show's new format. And Anastasia has no clue her snooping has landed her directly in the killer's unforgiving spotlight.


Upstairs, the front door slammed with enough force to register a five on the Richter scale. Dust dislodged from the exposed basement rafters and drifted down like polluted snow, settling over the basket of clean laundry I’d been folding. The ensuing shouting, barking, and yowling drowned out my muttered curse of choice and yanked my attention away from the now Dalmatian-spotted white wash.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” squawked Ralph, the Shakespeare-spouting African Grey parrot I’d inherited when Great-aunt Penelope Periwinkle died two years ago. “Henry the Fifth. Act Three, Scene One.” He spread his wings and took flight up the basement stairs to check out the action. I raced after him, eager to prevent World War Three from erupting in my living room.

“Muzzle that abominable creature, or I’ll have the pound haul him away,” shrieked Mama. “He’s traumatizing Catherine the Great.”

“So shove some Prozac down her throat,” said my mother-in-law Lucille. “What the hell are you doing back here? And don’t you ever bother to knock? Just barge right in like you own the place.”

“I have more right to be here than you. This is my daughter’s house, you…you pinko squatter.”

As I hurried through the kitchen, I glanced at the calendar tacked next to the telephone. Mama wasn’t due back from her Caribbean cruise for another three days. Damn it. I needed those three days to steel myself for the inevitable explosive reaction that occurred whenever Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe, my mother and the former social secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution, locked horns with Lucille Pollack, my mother-in-law and current president of the Daughters of the October Revolution. I’d been swindled out of seventy-two hours.

By the time I entered the living room, Mama’s and Lucille’s voices had reached glass-shattering decibel range.

“Crazy communist!” yelled Mama. She stood in the middle of the room, cradling Catherine the Great, her corpulent white Persian with an attitude befitting her namesake.

Manifesto, my mother-in-law’s runt of a French bulldog, stood inches from Mama’s Ferrigamos, his bark having switched to growl mode as he glared up at his nemesis. With a hiss and a yowl, Catherine the Great leaped from Mama’s arms. Showing his true cowardly colors, Mephisto, as we always called him behind his back and often to his snout, scampered to safety behind my mother-in-law’s ample girth.

Lucille barreled across the room, waving her cane at Mama. “Reactionary fascist!”

“How dare you threaten me!” Mama defended herself with a French manicured backhand that would have done Chris Everett proud. The cane flew from Lucille’s grasp and landed inches from Mephisto’s nose. Demon dog yelped and dove between Lucille’s orange polyester clad legs.

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Unknown said...

Lois, your teaser about common ground between Betsy Wetsy and a grandpa led me down a compeltely different mental path :-) Anyway, very glad you didn't bleed all over your grandma's ottoman, and also very glad you stumbled upon mystery writing. I took a similar-but-different path, and it's such fun! Thanks for the insights into your craftsmanship.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sheila! I wonder what that different mental path was.

Marian Allen said...

Wonderful post, Lois! I agree, your grandparents would be very proud of you, and of their contributions to literature.


No, wait, that's a Mickey Spillaine.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Marian. And because I wouldn't dare glom from Mickey, next up is REVENGE OF THE CRAFTY CORPSE, due out next January.