Today I’m hosting Lois Winston who writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Other books in the series includes Death By Killer Mop Doll, Crewel Intentions, and the recently released Revenge of the Crafty Corpse. Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning crafts and needlework designer and an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. She’s also the author of Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected.
Lois started out wanting to be an astronaut. Severe motion sickness killed that career path, so she went to art school. Eighteen years ago she was bitten by the writing bug. After ten years, countless rejections, and much perseverance, she sold her first novel.
About Lois . . .
If you have 2 hours free time tonight, what would you rather do? Why?
What I’d like to do is share a romantic dinner, complete with bubbly and crème brûlée, with my husband. What I’d probably wind up doing is try to make a dent in my to-do list. Why? The first because I’d like to, the second because I have to.
What kind of books do you love to read? Why?
I’m a very eclectic reader. It really depends on my mood. My favorite genres are amateur sleuth mysteries and romantic comedy when I need a good laugh, women’s fiction when I need a book that will tug at my emotions, and historical fiction when I’m in the mood to learn something along with enjoying a good read.
What type of music do you enjoy relaxing to?
I love just about anything by George Gershwin and Cole Porter. I love classic jazz and classic rock ‘n roll, and I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals. I also love listening to Andrea Bocelli. When that man sings, my insides melt!
What is your stress buster?
Treating myself to a facial and/or a massage.
What is your favorite food? What food do you seek when you’re sad, sort of a comfort food?
Coffee! (Is that a food? All I know is I can’t live without it.) For comfort food, bring on the chocolate! And the crème brûlée, the Napoleans, the pretzels (especially chocolate covered ones)...heck, just bring me desserts!
Describe yourself in one word.
Impatient. (When God was handing out patience, I was too impatient to stand in line.)
If a fairy grants you one wish and one wish only, what would it be? Why?
To have unlimited wishes. That way I don’t have to choose just one wish. (Pretty sneaky, huh?)
What’s your biggest regret in life?
Not growing a backbone sooner.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
That’s classified. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
What makes you happy/sad/disappointed/frustrated/hopeful/angry? (Pick one)
I’m frustrated by all the politicians who put their own interests ahead of the good of the country. We elected them to represent us. They seem to forget that as soon as they arrive in Washington.
What are your wildest dreams/fantasies/kinks/quirks?
To win Powerball or make the New York Times bestseller list. I’d be happy with either, but both would be even better.
How would readers find out more about you?
Visit my websites, http://www.loiswinston.com and http://www.emmacarlyle.com and Anastasia’s Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Your writing . . .
When did you write your first book? How long did it take you to write it?
I began writing my first novel in 1995. It took me about three months. When I finished I had a 50,000 word romance that spanned 35 years. Obviously, I had a lot to learn!
Did you encounter any obstacles in writing? What are they? How did you overcome them?
When I began, I didn’t have a clue as to how to write a publishable novel (Hence, the 50K manuscript that spanned 35 years!) I knew how to construct grammatically correct sentences and paragraphs, how to structure my thoughts, how to punctuate them properly – all those things you learn in English class in high school – but that was about it. The last piece of fiction I had written was a very short story back in Freshman Comp in college. I had a story in my head and put it down on paper. After I received a boatload of rejection letters, I set out to learn how to write a novel. I joined several writing organizations, took classes and workshops, attended conferences, and joined a critique group.
How did you feel when you receive your first contract? What did you do? Any celebratory dinner, dance, event, etc. to commemorate the occasion?
Stunned! I’d been trying for so long to get published that when it finally happened, I just sat there in disbelief. I thought about doing a Snoopy dance, but I’m such a klutz that I’d probably fall and break a leg, so I Snoopy danced in spirit only.
Any writing peeves, things you wish you could improve on, things you do with exceptional talent?
I wish I could write faster. It takes me about nine months to write a novel, but I’m juggling three jobs – that of a published author, a literary agent, and a designer. It would be nice to be making enough money from my writing that all I had to do was write.
What kind of books do you love/hate to write? Why?
I love to write books with strong female protagonists, whether I’m writing mystery or romance. I don’t want to read or write stories with shrinking violets or damsels in distress who need to be saved by a hero who sweeps in at the last minute.
What do you think about editing?
Editing is crucial. In my work at the agency I see far too many submissions that suffer from overwriting, filler, and way too much back-story. I’ve given workshops about this and after much prodding from people who have taken my workshops in the past, I wrote Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected. Most of those reasons revolve around a lack of editing. Authors need to learn to self-edit their work.
Where and when do you write? Tell us about your favorite work place and time. Any special reason?
Because I have a desktop computer, I’m limited to writing at my desk in my office. When the time comes to replace my current computer, I’ll probably get a laptop. It would be nice not to be chained to one location when I write. I’ll never be one of those authors who heads for the coffee shop, though. I need total quiet while I’m writing. I don’t even listen to music while I’m working on my novels.
I usually spend my mornings on business and errands and write in the afternoon.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story? How do you go on from there? Maybe you can give us an example with one of your books.
Since I’m writing a series, my main characters are already established. Each book involves Anastasia taking on additional work to help whittle down her massive debt. Once I decide on a venue, I figure out a way to insert a murder. However, the actual writing doesn’t begin until I come up with a great opening line. I’m a true believer in authors needing to grab readers and draw them into their books with a killer (not necessarily literal!) opening sentence.
What books can you recommend to aspiring writers to improve on style, character development, plot, structure, dialogue, etc?
Well, of course, I’d recommend my own Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected. I also think writers would do well to study Debra Dixon’s Goals, Motivations, and Conflict, Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
What is your must-have book for writing?
It’s so important to know the basics of writing before you begin to write. Too many writers believe grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation aren’t important, that an editor will correct all of that. Not true. If you don’t know the basics, no editor is going to be interested in your work. For that reason, I recommend all writers have a good grammar/punctuation book (I recommend ReWrite Right! by Jan Venolia and Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner. Both are very easy to read and understand.) I also keep a Thesaurus and dictionary handy.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
If you have a passion to write, keep writing, no matter how many rejection letters you’ve received. Some of the most successful authors spent years where you are right now. Very few writers have instant success. However, if you’re writing because you think it’s a quick way to make a lot of money, think again. I know NY Times bestselling authors who can’t afford to quit their day jobs.
Your books . . .
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, romantic comedies, humorous women’s fiction, and romantic suspense. I prefer to write books that make people laugh. There’s too much going on in the world to scare us. I’d rather give people a break from reality. Laughter releases endorphins, and endorphins make us feel happy.
Among those that you’ve written, which is your favorite book and why?
Wow, this is a hard question to answer. I have a particular attachment to Talk Gertie To Me, the first book I sold. It’s the story of a small town mom, a daughter who’s gone off to the big city, and the daughter’s snarky childhood imaginary friend who reappears after one very devastating day.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you jot them down in a notebook, in case you forgot?
I get the majority of my ideas in the shower or while lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. In both cases it makes it very difficult to jot down the ideas, but it’s easier in bed. I keep paper and a pen on my nightstand. I’ve been known to jot notes on the steamed up shower stall!
Which book is the closest to your heart? Why?
I’m very attached to my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. Of all my characters, Anastasia is the most like me, and I’ve put many of my own experiences into those books (although unlike Anastasia, I don’t stumble over dead bodies – at least I haven’t so far and hope to keep it that way.)
Which of your books feature your family/friends, etc? What characters are modeled after them? Why?
Writing can be a very cathartic experience. Creating Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law was a way for me to deal with my own difficult relationship with my mother-in-law. Although I’ve taken artistic liberties in creating Lucille, much of the source material comes directly from my own experiences with my mother-in-law. And yes, she was that difficult and nasty a woman! My husband and his sister will vouch for that.
Which of your heroes/heroines is most similar to you? Why?
As I mentioned above, that would be Anastasia. Like Anastasia, I have a background in art, and I worked for several years as a crafts editor, not for a magazine but for two craft book publishers. I also raised two sons and had the misfortune of living under the same roof with my mother-in-law for six long years. Luckily, my husband is very much alive and nothing like Anastasia’s dead louse of a spouse. Also, I never had a menagerie of pets living under my roof thanks to allergies.
Who is your strongest/sexiest/most lovable/hottest hero/heroine? Why?
In the hero department, that would be Luke Bennett, the hero of Hooking Mr. Right, one of my Emma Carlyle romantic comedies. Luke has been dubbed New York’s most eligible bachelor, the man who puts the “man” in Manhattan, but he’s a bit headstrong, often acting before he thinks. When he and Thea Chandler, his new next-door neighbor meet, it takes the intervention of Cupid, Luke’s matchmaking alley cat not only to bring Luke to his senses but to knock some sense into him.
My strongest heroine is definitely Anastasia. I’ve dumped a ton of problems on that poor woman, and somehow she manages to stay sane while digging her way out of massive debt, dealing with a dysfunctional family, developing a relationship with her mysterious tenant, and figuring out whodunit.
Have you ever wanted to write your book in one direction but your characters are moving it in another direction? What did you do in such a situation?
I’ve learned it’s useless to argue with my characters. They always wind up being right.
Tell us more about your latest release, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, published by Midnight Ink.
Revenge of the Crafty Corpse is the third book of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. In this installment Anastasia is still trying to deal with the aftermath of her dead husband’s deceit. Because she has more bills than you can shake a crochet hook at, she takes on a second job teaching craft classes at her mother-in-law’s assisted living center. It seems like a harmless way to supplement her meager income. But when Lyndella Wegner—a 98-year-old know-it-all with a penchant for ruffles and lace—turns up dead, Anastasia’s cantankerous mother-in-law becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Upon discovering that Lyndella’s scandalous craft projects—and her scandalous behavior—made her plenty of enemies, Anastasia sets out to find the real killer before her mother-in-law ends up behind bars.
Any new projects, work in progress?
I’m currently working on the fourth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. I also have plans to publish more Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mysteries. These are 10,000 word short stories available only as ebooks. The first book, Crewel Intentions, came out the end of November and featured Anastasia meeting back up with a character from the first book in the series.
Visit Lois at http://www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at http://www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.