Author Interview: Lois Winston

Last week I reviewed the delightful new Anastasia Pollack crafting mystery, Drop Dead Ornaments.

And now I’m happy to have the author, Lois Winston, as my guest for an interview.

Bio: USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston straddles two worlds. She’s an award-winning author of mystery, romance, romantic suspense, humorous women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and as Emma Carlyle. She’s also an award-winning designer of needlework and crafts projects for magazines, craft book publishers, and craft kit manufacturers. Like Anastasia, the protagonist in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, Lois worked for several years as a crafts editor. A graduate of the prestigious Tyler School of Art, she often draws on her art and design background for much of the source material in her fiction.

Interview

AF: Lucille is so awful and so original, the character I love to hate. There are many bad mothers-in-law in the world, but she’s unique. How did you come up with her?

LW: Lucille is based on my own communist mother-in-law, with whom I had the misfortune of sharing a home for six excruciatingly long years. It was either killing her or taking my revenge out in print. I chose the latter to avoid a long prison sentence.

AF: I personally believe Zack (for new readers, that’s Anastasia’s boyfriend) is really a photojournalist, but she suspects he works for one of the “alphabet agencies.” Will we ever find out? Do you have a plan for this? Or is this top secret? I’ll understand if you can’t answer.

LW: If I told you, I’d have to kill you, and that would also probably result in a long prison sentence. So I’ll stay mum on the subject.

AF: You’ve put your protagonist through quite a few adventures involving crimes in a short stretch of her life. How did you decide to time the events in the series that way?

LW: Chalk it up to poor planning on my part. Had I made Anastasia’s sons younger, I could have stretched the series out over the course of several years. But I started out with Alex and Nick as teenagers, and the first book in the series was already written when I signed a 3-book contract. I quickly realized I needed to condense the timeframe of future books to keep Anastasia’s sons at home as long as possible. So the first seven books in the series take place over the span of just under a year. That may sound like a lot of murder and mayhem in a very short period of time, but not when you consider Jessica Fletcher dealt with a murder a week!

AF: You and your critique partner, Donnell Bell, write in different genres. She does romantic suspense, and you do humorous mysteries. In what way does this affect your critiquing relationship—if it does? Is there a particular benefit to the perspective of someone whose work is different?

LW: The second book I sold, back when I was traditional published, was a romantic suspense. So critiquing r/s is not a stretch for me. As for her, my humorous mysteries provide her with some much-needed comic relief from serial killers. She’s also quite familiar with the genre from her personal reading. Our writing skills are on an equal level, and we really like each other’s work. So writing in different genres has never been an issue. We do sometimes sound like an old married couple, though, as we argue through plot points and character development, but we respect each other’s opinions. Even though our brainstorming sessions can get pretty wild, they always result in better books.

AF: This is a multi-part question. How long does it take you to finish a book? You strike me as super-organized, planning ahead. Do you outline a book or “pants” it? And do you have a series outline?

LW: It takes me anywhere from six months to a year to write a book. Life has a way of getting in the way. I wish I were as super-organized as you think I am! I’ll refer you back to the answer to your third question. I’m a total “pantser”, both for each book and the series as a whole. The most pre-planning I do is a short paragraph similar to a back cover synopsis. Then I wing it. Often I have an idea for how I want the story to unfold, only to have Anastasia refuse to cooperate. So I let her take over.

AF: I enjoy the books for the characters and stories, but I don’t do crafts. Do you find that the majority of your readers are fellow crafters? Do they tell you they do the projects included in each book? I was impressed with directions for making the melted crayon ornaments, by the way, even if I’m not going to make any.

LW: That’s a good question and one for which I don’t have an answer! I often hear from readers, but I don’t remember any of them ever mentioning having made any of the projects.

The idea for the series came about because an editor told my agent she was looking for a crafting cozy series, and my research showed that crafting cozy series always include craft projects, just as culinary mysteries always include recipes.

My background is as a designer in the consumer crafts industry, creating mainly needlecraft and fabric crafts for craft kit manufacturers, craft book publishers, and craft and women’s magazines. My agent thought I’d be the perfect person to write such a series. At the time I was writing the aforementioned romantic suspense and humorous women’s fiction (formerly known as chick lit). I’d never thought about writing a mystery series, but I gave it a try, and here we are. After publishing the first three books in the series traditionally, I turned down two additional contracts to go indie.

AF: Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t? Please fill in whatever I overlooked. And thanks for your time.

First, thank you for inviting me today, Amber. I hope that any of your readers who enjoy a good laugh while reading about murder and mayhem will check out the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Kirkus Reviews called Anastasia, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” And Publishers Weekly favorably compared her to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon character from 30 Rock in their starred review of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series.

Also, along with the seven novels currently in the series, there are also three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril. These are available either individually or bundled together in Crafty Crimes, a Trio of Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mysteries.

Readers can find me at the following locations:

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

Buy Links for Drop Dead Ornamentshttps://www.loiswinston.com/booksap10.html

Buy Links for book one in the series, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gunhttps://www.loiswinston.com/booksap1.html

Review: Drop Dead Ornaments by Lois Winston

Fast-Paced Christmas Comedy and Mystery

I flew through this book. Winston knows how to make a reader turn the page. It’s more than a puzzle to solve—I was rooting for people I cared about. Anastasia Pollack is easy to like, a good mother, a good friend, and in a healthy romantic relationship, the kind of person you’d want on your side in a difficult situation. She’s been through some tough times and keeps her head above water with humor and creativity, never wallowing. I like how she’s comfortable in herself, knowing her own strengths and weaknesses, and acting on her convictions, including her conviction that her older son’s girlfriend’s father is innocent of a crime the police think he committed.

Anastasia’s relationship with Detective Spader is one of the many gems in the story. They’re not quite friends, not quite enemies, but teetering in between, annoying each other respectfully. The dialogue between them is brilliant.

I’m impressed with how Winston has managed to take Anastasia through so many escapades in a short period of the character’s life without making her readers step back and doubt it. One way she does it is through regional color, the nature of crime and family connections in the protagonist’s part of New Jersey. The backstory is blended so smoothly that a new reader could start the series here without feeling lost, but I recommend getting to know the series from the beginning.

The ongoing sagas of Anastasia’s colorful elder relatives—her communist mother-in-law, her spendthrift, husband-hunting mother—continue, adding more laughs. But I have to say, I hope to read a book in which Anastasia and her sons are finally liberated from Lucille.

Check this blog again Sunday for an interview with the author!

Buy Links for Drop Dead Ornaments

Buy Links for book one in the series, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun

Review: Definitely Dead by Lois Winston

I often enjoy a mystery regardless of solving it myself or not, for various reasons. In this case, the pacing and the humor kept me so amused I forgot to try to solve the murder.

Talkative, a bit flaky, and quite attached to her designer shoes and handbags, Gracie Elliot is one of those characters who would drive me crazy if I had to meet her, but she’s hilarious in print. Her inner dialogue shows enough self-awareness that her flaws become funny rather than obnoxious. Her involvement in solving a crime is refreshingly up-front and intentional. She thinks the fastest way to get the murder of a client in her senior match-making service solved is to jump in and do it herself—and make her husband help. As with any amateur sleuth mystery, there’s an element of the implausible requiring suspension of disbelief, but within the context of the plot, characters and setting, Gracie’s actions and motives work, and so does her husband Blake’s more reluctant involvement. Their marriage is a delight for the reader, full of wit and affection.

That said, there’s nothing saccharine about this cozy mystery. Some cozies are just too cozy to live, and I can’t finish them. This one is tart rather than sweet. Gracie is a sharp and critical observer of her fellow humans’ appearances, personalities, mannerisms, fashion sense and home decor—which is an asset in the both the mystery and the comedy departments. As well as being an aficionado of quality handbags and shoes, she’s a former fabric designer (laid off and desperate to make a living—hence the senior dating business), and she can assess a woman’s income and lifestyle from her living room and her clothes and accessories, which makes Gracie a suitable detective for the particular crime she’s looking into. I was so amused by the parade of suspects, especially the ones with bad taste, that I didn’t care which one of them had done it.

Gracie aspires to become a romance writer, and her observations on learning the craft of writing add an extra layer of enjoyment for a writer reading the book.

For sales links click here.

 

 

Bargain Boxed Set from Ten Great Mystery Writers

sleuthing women 3-D.2

Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries is a collection of full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in the set is the first book in an established multi-book series—a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars. Titles include:

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston—Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder…

Murder Among Neighbors, a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths—and handsome detective Michael Stone.

Skeleton in a Dead Space, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery by Judy Alter—Real estate isn’t a dangerous profession until Kelly O’Connell stumbles over a skeleton and runs into serial killers and cold-blooded murderers in a home being renovated in Fort Worth. Kelly barges through life trying to keep from angering her policeman boyfriend Mike and protect her two young daughters.

In for a Penny, a Cleopatra Jones Mystery by Maggie Toussaint—Accountant Cleo faces an unwanted hazard when her golf ball lands on a dead banker. The cops think her BFF shot him, so Cleo sets out to prove them wrong. She ventures into the dating world, wrangles her teens, adopts the victim’s dog, and tries to rein in her mom…until the killer puts a target on Cleo’s back.

The Hydrogen Murder, a Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—A retired physicist returns to her hometown of Revere, Massachusetts and moves into an apartment above her friends’ funeral home. When she signs on to help the Police Department with a science-related homicide, she doesn’t realize she may have hundreds of cases ahead of her.

Retirement Can Be Murder, A Baby Boomer Mystery by Susan Santangelo—Carol Andrews dreads her husband Jim’s upcoming retirement more than a root canal without Novocain. She can’t imagine anything worse than having an at-home husband with time on his hands and nothing to fill it—until Jim is suspected of murdering his retirement coach.

Dead Air, A Talk Radio Mystery by Mary Kennedy—Psychologist Maggie Walsh moves from NY to Florida to become the host of WYME’s On the Couch with Maggie Walsh. When her guest, New Age prophet Guru Sanjay Gingii, turns up dead, her new roommate Lark becomes the prime suspect. Maggie must prove Lark innocent while dealing with a killer who needs more than just therapy.

A Dead Red Cadillac, A Dead Red Mystery by RP Dahlke—When her vintage Cadillac is found tail-fins up in a nearby lake, the police ask aero-ag pilot Lalla Bains why an elderly widowed piano teacher is found strapped in the driver’s seat. Lalla confronts suspects, informants, cross-dressers, drug-running crop dusters, and a crazy Chihuahua on her quest to find the killer.

Murder is a Family Business, an Alvarez Family Murder Mystery by Heather Haven—Just because a man cheats on his wife and makes Danny DeVito look tall, dark and handsome, is that any reason to kill him? The reluctant and quirky PI, Lee Alvarez, has her work cut out for her when the man is murdered on her watch. Of all the nerve.

Murder, Honey, a Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen—When the head chef collapses into baker Carol Sabala’s cookie dough, she is thrust into her first murder investigation. Suspects abound at Archibald’s, the swanky Santa Cruz restaurant where Carol works. The head chef cut a swath of people who wanted him dead from ex-lovers to bitter rivals to greedy relatives.

Buy Links

Kindle   Nook   Kobo   iTunes

*****

My thanks to Lois Winston for providing the guest post above. I was eager to promote this set, knowing her work and that of some of the other authors included. I can always count of members of Sisters in Crime for polished, masterful mysteries. Happy reading!

Amber Foxx

Two Reviews: Short and Sweet, Short and Scary

WinstonCrewel Intentions

Lois Winston’s Crewel Intentions is a mini-sequel to the first book in the Anastasia Pollock crafting mystery series. It’s light, tight and cozy, with the mystery neatly set up and solved in a few chapters. Anastasia is as delightful a narrator as ever, with her humor and knowledge of crafts. A fun read for anyone who enjoyed Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, and is curious about what happened to Erica next.

Many of Winston’s books are listed on this site with buy links:

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-romantic-suspense

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/short-story-singles-and-collections

LSDL Cover copy

DV Berkom’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is a chilling mystery/thriller set in the Arizona desert.

Skinwalkers, A woman kidnapped by a bad boyfriend. Clues in petroglyphs behind an abandoned gas station.

I kept wondering how Berkom could tie it up in twenty-three pages—it just kept rolling, getting more intense. But she pulls it off brilliantly. This was my first venture into the Kate Jones series, and won’t be my last. A boxed set is in my Nook and I’ll be reading it soon.

Buy links and information about Berkom’s other books can be found at http://dvberkom.com

You’ll also find some of her work on the mystery page on this site.

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery

Page-turning Comedy: Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston

WinstonGlue_Gun_book_pageCrafts editor Anastasia Pollack is at her funniest and most determined when her luck is at its worst, and she’s just been run over by the bad luck bus of life. It may be hard to imagine how hilarious a book can be when the protagonist’s husband dies and leaves her broke and in debt and with a Communist mother-in-law who moves in with her—but it just gets funnier. And though I cringed at the image I found the weird creativity of the murder itself it comical.

Early on, I figured out whodunit but this was still a nonstop page-turner. I enjoyed reading to see if I was right. Anastasia is an irresistible character. While some of the comedy—her mother’s many marriages, her parrot that quotes Shakespeare at the perfect moment—is larger than life, the protagonist feels real, and so do her teenaged sons and her relationship with them. Winston strikes exactly the right balance between believable and over-the-top. The pacing of the plot kept me asking how Anastasia was going to get out of each crisis and when and how the killer would get caught. The narrative style is so engaging, I think I could read a book without a plot by Winston and still be entertained.

For those who enjoy the truly cozy aspect of a cozy mystery, there are craft projects at the back of the book—directions how to do the projects Anastasia works on in the course of the story. There’s also a tempting sneak peek at the next book in the series, which promises to be equally amusing and well crafted.

You can find Lois Winston’s books on the mystery page, the short story page, and under her pseudonym Emma Carlyle on the romantic suspense page.

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-romantic-suspense/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/short-story-singles-and-collections/

 

 

How I Choose a Good #Indie Book

Never bought an indie book before? Try it. A lot of readers haven’t, but it’s a low-risk adventure. I’ve paid as much $14.99 for a traditionally published e-book that I didn’t like, and I just paid $8.49 for one that’s only 67 pages. (Fortunately, I like it so far.) The most I’ve ever paid for an indie e-book is $4.99 and I’ve liked almost all of them. The only way I take traditional or indie publishing into consideration as a factor in choosing a book is that I love indie prices. Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into my choice of a book, and this may explain why I’ve had such a satisfying indie reading experience. The following criteria have helped me find some great writers.

  • Have people whose opinion I respect given it good reviews? These might be people I know well on Goodreads, reviewers I follow on Booklikes, or personal friends, but they are all people who care about quality. I found Martyn V. Halm’s compelling Amsterdam Assassin Series this way. I’ve reviewed on one of the short stories in this series on this site, and all the books and singles on both Goodreads and Booklikes.
  • Is the author a member of Sisters in Crime? http://www.sistersincrime.org This has been a 100% reliable way for me to find good mystery authors. (By the way, though Sisters in Crime started as an organization to support women writing in the mystery genre, we have male members.) The organization educates its members with classes and workshops and discussion groups, and local and national chapter meetings. SinC’s “Guppies” group—short for the Great Unpublished—has many published authors who continue their membership because of the support they get and can give to new Guppies. I’ve never read a SinC member’s book that let me down. SinC members whose books I’ve reviewed on this site include J.L. Simpson, DV Berkom, Anna Castle and Diane Vallere. I’m currently half-way through SinC member Lois Winston’s hilariously inventive cozy mystery, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. Even the title made me laugh. Look for a favorable review coming soon.
  • Did the book earn a B.R.A.G. Medallion? This award for the best in indie writing isn’t a contest—it’s an ongoing process. Books submitted to the Book Readers’ Appreciation group are read and evaluated by numerous people, not just one or two judges or critics. I’ve never read a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree book that let me down. DV Berkom’s and Anna Castle’s books mentioned above earned B.R.A.G. medallions. (So did my murder-less mystery Shaman’s Blues, but of course I haven’t reviewed my own work.) If you’ve never read an indie book before and you like #mysteries and thrillers, you could start with one of these books. I think you’ll get your money’s worth—probably more.

Reviews:

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/two-reviews-the-daisy-dunlop-mysteries/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/review-designer-dirty-laundry-by-diane-vallere/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/review-murder-by-misrule-by-anna-castle/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/review-the-body-market/

To find the books not linked to reviews, Shaman’s Blues and Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun (and many more) go to

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery/