Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I'm Hosting Lois Winston “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.”

Hi All, I'm hosting Lois Winston today, who writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack.

Lois writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, and non-fiction 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 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. Visit Lois/Emma here and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter.

Look out below: Lois took the time to answer questions about her writing, her muse, and Lois!

Do you outline your books or wing it?  Describe your process.

I write a barebones paragraph that gives an indication of Point A and Point B. How I get from one to the other is the winging it part. However, before I begin writing, I need to come up with a first sentence that will hook readers. Until I come up with that first sentence, I stare at a blinking cursor.

 How do you decide on setting?

All of my books are set in places familiar to me. I don’t want to have to invent a town, then try to remember from chapter to chapter or book to book where everything is located. I also find that readers love books that take place in locations they know.

 Has your muse always known what genre you would write and be published in?

 Definitely not. I started out writing very emotional romantic suspense. Then I tried my hand at chick lit and romantic comedy. One day my agent was speaking with an editor who was looking for a crafting mystery series. My agent felt with my background (I’ve worked for years as a designer in the consumer crafts industry,) I’d be the perfect person to write such a series. Prior to that, I’d never given mystery writing a thought. But the rest, as they say, is history. 

What is your favorite part of writing? 

Having people tell me how much they’ve enjoyed one of my books. 

What is your least favorite part of writing? 

The writing! Writing is hard work. There are days when I’ll struggle to write a single page I’m satisfied with, but I can’t imagine not writing. 

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of editing.  How about you? 

I edit as I write. I have to be happy with a scene or chapter before I can progress to the next scene or chapter.  

How much research was involved in writing your book?  How did you go about it?

Each book differs. I get many of my plot ideas from my own experiences, others from news stories. I keep a loose-leaf binder of newspaper clippings that I read through whenever I’m stuck for an idea. Depending on the plot I come up with, I might have to do further research. This can involve reading more on the subject, speaking with experts, or traveling to a particular location.  

What’s the strangest thing you have ever done in the name of research? 

In Lost in Manhattan, one of my romantic suspense novels written under my Emma Carlyle pen name, I corresponded with the author of The Anarchist’s Cookbook because I needed to know if the type of bomb I wanted in the story was feasible. Luckily, this was prior to 9/11, or I’d probably be answering the questions for this interview from a prison cell! 

What inspired your latest release? 

Two years ago my publisher came up with the idea of releasing e-book novelettes in-between the full-length books in their authors’ series. I believe I was the only author who followed through, writing Crewel Intentions. When I decided to leave the publishing house, I hadn’t yet signed the contract for Crewel Intentions, so I published it myself, branding the book as an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mystery. The response from readers was so overwhelmingly positive that I wrote a second novelette, Mosaic Mayhem. Patchwork Peril, my latest release, is the third novelette in the series.  

After rescuing her elderly neighbor Rosalie’s quilts from a rainstorm, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack discovers Rosalie unconscious at the bottom of her basement stairs. Rosalie’s estranged niece Jane flies east to care for her during her recovery, but Rosalie suspects Jane’s motives are less than altruistic, going so far as to accuse Jane of trying to kill her. Is Rosalie’s paranoia a result of her head injury, or is there something more to her accusations? And can Anastasia uncover the truth before it’s too late? 

Because many readers kept asking when the novelettes would be in print, I recently bundled the three together into a trade paperback: Crafty Crimes, a Trio of Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mysteries.

Can you tell us about your road to publication? 

It was the original long and winding road. For nearly ten years I received rejection letters that praised my writing but passed on my books for all sorts of non-writing quality reasons. I had the worst luck; I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. On several occasions I was on the verge of getting an offer when either the editor left the publishing house or the line folded.  

E-books, print, or both?  Any preferences?  Why? 

Both but moving more and more toward being totally e-book. I never thought I’d enjoy reading e-books, but because I can make the type larger, I don’t have nearly as much eyestrain as when I read print books. 

How much of you is in the books you write?  In what ways? 

Anastasia and I have a lot in common. Like her, I’m a suburban working mom who raised two sons. We both went to art school. I worked as an editor for two craft book publishers and designed for many magazines. Her communist mother-in-law is based on my communist mother-in-law. However, my husband is still very much alive and not a closet gambler. I’ve also never discovered a dead body in my office and hope I never will! 

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life? 

I never considered writing a novel. I hadn’t even written any fiction since Freshman Comp in college. Then one day a story popped into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally decided to write it down to get it out of my system. The next thing I knew, I’d written a 50,000-word romance that spanned thirty-five years. I had no idea how unpublishable such a book was, but I learned fast! However, I realized that I enjoyed writing. So I set about learning how to write right. Along the way I’d sometimes haul out that unpublishable book and tinker with it because I loved the characters too much to exile them to a life cavorting with the dust bunnies under my bed. Several years and countless rewrites later the book morphed into an 85,000-word romantic suspense that takes place over a few months. That book, Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, became the second book I sold. 

Do you have a view in your writing space?  What does your space look like? 

My desk is situated in front of a window that looks out into my front yard. A few feet from the edge of the house there’s a mock plum tree with a birdhouse. Every year a couple of wrens move in to start a family. I have no idea if it’s the same mama and papa wren each year, but it’s fascinating to watch them care for their babies, especially when they’re teaching them how to fly. And it’s certainly more interesting than staring at that blinking cursor! 

Tell us about your hero or heroine.  Give us one of his/her strengths and one of his/her weaknesses. 

In the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, Anastasia is a typical suburban working mom with a husband, two teenage sons, and a job she loves as the crafts editor at a women’s magazine—until her husband drops dead at a roulette table in Las Vegas. She thought he was at a sales meeting in Harrisburg, PA. That’s when she learns he loved Lady Luck a lot more than he loved her. She’s left with a mountain of debt, a loan shark demanding $50,000, and her semi-invalid communist mother-in-law as a permanent houseguest.  

Anastasia is forced to move her studio to her dingy basement and rent out the apartment above her garage to photojournalist Zack Barnes, who may or may not also be a spy. He denies it; she doesn’t buy his denial. And Zack looks like his DNA cavorted in the same gene pool as that of George Clooney, Pierce Brosnan, and Antonio Banderas. Talk about temptation!

Each book in the series finds Anastasia looking for ways to earn extra money to pay down her inherited debt. Unfortunately, dead bodies keep getting in her way. And when she’s not dealing with dead bodies, she’s fighting her growing attraction to the guy living above her garage. 

As for strengths and weaknesses, I think Anastasia’s main strength is being able to face adversity and find a way to overcome it. Her weakness is the inability to say no to anyone who needs help. The poor woman doesn’t have a moment to herself and too often finds her generous nature getting her into dire situations.

Zack is a problem solver, but he also might be the world’s best liar.  

You’re having a party.  What character from your book do you hope attends?  Why?  What character do you hope doesn’t attend?  Why? 

I’d certainly love to have Anastasia and Zack at my party, although wherever Anastasia goes, murder follows. So maybe I need to rethink that. I definitely wouldn’t want Anastasia’s mother-in-law Lucille showing up. Lucille is the character readers love to hate. 

What do you read?  Do you read different genres when you’re writing versus not writing? 

I’m a very eclectic reader. It really depends on my mood. I love books that make me laugh—romantic comedies, humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, chick lit—basically, the genres I write, but I also enjoy historical novels like those of Ariana Franklin.  

What’s your favorite film of all times? 

Shakespeare in Love   

Favorite book? 

City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin 

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? 

I wish I could sing. Unfortunately, I’ve got a tin ear and can’t carry a tune to save my life. Years ago when I was singing along to the radio in the car, my two-year-old covered his ears and said, “Mommy, please don’t sing. You’re hurting my ears.” 

What might we be surprised to know about you? 

I wanted to be an astronaut. Unfortunately, NASA wasn’t interested in someone vertically challenged and prone to motion sickness. 

What music “soothes your soul”?  

My go-to piece of music when I’m stressed, upset, sad, angry or experiencing any type of negative emotion is George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The moment I hear those opening clarinet notes, it’s like a huge psychic calming breath. 

Do you listen to music as you write?
I generally prefer to write in silence. When I have music playing, I tend to concentrate too much on the music and not enough on my writing. The music becomes a distraction. 

Lois's latest release is Patchwork Peril



  1. Oh, I laughed out loud at your 2-year old hurting his ears comment. Probably because I can hear your voice saying this. Love Anastasia Pollack. What a great sleuth she is. For research, I'd say the time I wanted to find out if my heroine could make it up the stairs tied up. My daughter insisted we try it. I panicked at the idea, I didn't want her to fall and break her neck. She's way more athletic than me and did it in nothing flat. I made my heroine in between me (a klutz) and my daughter a natural and heroine survived :)

  2. Thanks, Donnell! I'm glad you decided to have your heroine survive. Dead heroines are such a downer! ;-)

  3. I enjoyed the interview, Diana and Lois. I also enjoy the Anastasia Pollack series because of the "entertaining" characters. I like that Zach is a mystery man; he keeps me wondering. Thanks for the info on City of Shadows, I'm going to check that one out.

  4. Thanks, Kathleen. Zack keeps me guessing, too. ;-D

    City of Shadows is a fabulous historical suspense novel that takes place in Berlin between the two world wars. It kept me guessing right up to the end--something that rarely happens.

    Ariana Franklin also wrote a marvelous historical mystery series that takes place during the time of Henry II. The Mistress of the Art of Death series features a medieval Temperance Brennan.

  5. Such a great interview!!! Loved it. That's so cool that you wanted to be an astronaut. Gosh, I think now I want to be. Well, I did watch "Gravity" not too long ago, so maybe not. Oh, and you can always get voice lessons. What most people don't know about me is that I trained for half my life with my voice. But I'm still terrified of singing in public. Go figure.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Lani! I really don't think voice lessons would help me. I think the voice coach would give up trying!

  7. Waving hello to Diana and Lois!

    My hubby used to say that I was allowed to sing if I was in the closet with a pillow stuff in my mouth. As a child I sang and into my teens, but then I lost hearing in one ear. End of my singing career. :-)

    The strangest thing for research? Old photos. I was taught how to look at photos for clues which included colors in bk &wt and sepia photos. Strange skill. But it's been a great help while researching USA western history of the 1800's.

  8. E., that's fascinating about the photos. You should write a guest blog about that. Hint! Hint!