We periodically like to introduce our readers to other mystery writers whom they might find interesting. (Because as we all know, there is no such thing as too many books to read, especially in these strange times when distraction is a very good thing.) Today, we bring you a crime writers interview with Lois Winston.
She has a very interesting background and she writes the Anastasia Pollock series. They’re kind of cozies, but not… I’ll let her explain below.
But first a short introduction:
USA Today 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.
Kass Lamb (on behalf of the whole mp gang): Lois, what two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?
Lois Winston: I started out wanting to be an astronaut but quickly learned that NASA wasn’t interested in vertically challenged candidates prone to motion sickness. So I went to art school. Obvious segue, right? After graduation I worked as a layout artist until my first son was born, then began freelancing. A chance encounter in a needlework shop led to my next career as a crafts designer and editor. I’ve drawn on many of those experiences for my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.
In the late nineties, never having had any previous desire to do so, I sat down one day and wrote a book. After my first book sold in 2005, the agency that represented me invited me to join them as a junior agent. I also continued to design and write, juggling three careers for about a dozen years.
A few years ago, the agency closed after the death of my agent. At the same time, my designing career was drawing to an end due to changes in the industry. So now I’m a retired designer, a retired agent, and a full-time author.
Kass: Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you, rather than say romance or science fiction?
Lois: I started out writing romance, moving into mystery after a chance conversation my agent had with an editor who was looking for a cozy series featuring a crafter. Mystery writing was never something I had considered previously, but with my background as a crafts designer, my agent thought I’d be the ideal person to write such a series. I agreed to try my hand at writing one and quickly realized I’d found my true literary calling. That was seventeen years ago, and although several of my romance manuscripts sold after I began writing my first mystery, I’ve never had any desire to go back to writing romance.
Kass: What type, i.e. subgenre, of mysteries do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you as a writer? Do you also prefer it as a reader?
Lois: When the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries were first published, the publisher promoted them as cozies. I think of them more as humorous amateur sleuth mysteries because I don’t conform strictly to some of the more traditional cozy tropes. For one thing, my books take place in and around New York City, not a small, fictional town somewhere in Middle America. My plots are also often inspired by actual events and will include issues that you might not normally find in more traditional cozies.
Finally, certain characters sometimes use more colorful language if the situation calls for it. After all, I’m a Jersey girl writing about a Jersey girl dealing with the Mafia. Those made men don’t go around saying, “gosh darn” and “golly gee whiz.” However, since I know certain words bothers some readers, I’ve tried to tamp down the impulse to write truly realistic dialogue for some of my characters. 😉
As far as reading, I’m a very eclectic reader. Until recently, I had been reading quite a bit of historical fiction and historical mystery, but I have no desire to write either. I’ll leave those genres to writers who love to immerse themselves in dusty tomes as they research the past. I’m allergic to dust!
Ever since Covid-19 hit, though, I’ve found myself drifting more toward reading and watching anything that will make me laugh. That’s why I love writing my mysteries. Despite the murder and mayhem, I’m offering readers books that will induce chuckles and chortles. And who doesn’t need more of those right now? My rallying cry has become, Release the Endorphins!
Kass: I’m glad you mentioned the “colorful language.” I was a little taken aback when I first encountered it in Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. But as you say, that is how those characters would talk.
So tell us more about your writing career and your stories.
Lois: I sold my first book in 2005 and have now published eleven mysteries and five mystery novellas, two romances, three romantic suspense novels, two chick lit novels, one nonfiction book of writing advice from my experiences as an agent, one middle grade book, and several short stories. I’ve also edited two cookbooks with contributions from other authors and had a critical essay published in an anthology. I started out traditionally published, then became a hybrid author when I received the rights back to some of my previously published books.
My main concentration these days is writing the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. In some ways Anastasia is my alter-ego. We share many of the same life experiences, including both having been saddled with a nasty communist mother-in-law. Luckily, though, my husband is still very much alive. I also don’t own a Shakespeare-quoting parrot (but how cool would that be?) And I don’t make a habit of tripping over dead bodies, but if I ever do, I’ll leave the investigating to the professionals.
Kass: What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?
Lois: Luckily, this occurred several years prior to 9/11. I was writing Lost in Manhattan, a romantic suspense that involved an IRA bomb-making terrorist. I had an idea for a scene but didn’t know whether it was possible. So I began hunting around on the Internet. My research brought me to The Anarchist’s Cookbook. I emailed the author, introduced myself as an author and explained the scenario I wanted to write. I asked him if it was possible. Within an hour, he not only wrote back, he sent me diagrams for making the actual bomb! Nowadays I’d probably have Homeland Security breaking down my door and hauling me off to prison. Cozy mysteries are definitely far safer to write.
Kass: In your latest story, what was your favorite (or hardest to write) scene?
Lois: The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries open shortly after Anastasia’s husband has dropped dead at a casino in Las Vegas, leaving her with debt that rivals the GNP of many a Third World nation. (The wife really is always the last to know!) In order to keep from winding up living out of a cardboard box on a street corner, Anastasia rents out the apartment above her garage, formerly her home studio. Her renter is photojournalist Zachary Barnes, in need of a quieter work environment outside the city. Over the course of the series, Anastasia and Zack develop a relationship.
In the books prior to my new release, A Sew Deadly Cruise, I had divulged little about Zack’s background. In this book I decided to delve into his backstory, which results in some very emotional scenes between him and Anastasia. These scenes were difficult to write because I had to create the proper balance between the emotion the characters needed to display and the overall humorous tone of the series.
Kass: In this new release, what changed the most from the first draft to the last?
Lois: In A Sew Deadly Cruise, the ninth and latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, I had an idea for how I wanted the murders to occur. Since my earlier experience researching bomb-making, my critique partner Donnell Ann Bell, along with a retired law enforcement officer, joined forces to create CrimeSceneWriters. Various experts answer authors’ research questions (and keep people like me from winding up in prison for asking the wrong person the wrong questions!)
When I posted to ask if my idea would work, I quickly learned I’d be creating some insurmountable obstacles for myself. I scratched my idea and reworked the plot. This turned out to have the added advantage of making for a more exciting twist in the book, which I probably never would have thought of had I been able to use my original idea.
Kass: Okay, now I am totally intrigued! But I’m not going to ask what that new twist is, because I think I know what you will say. Read the book! Which I fully intend to do.
Here are the deets, folks! And then scroll on down for my review of the first book in Lois’s series.
A Sew Deadly Cruise, An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 9
Life is looking up for magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack. Newly engaged, she and photojournalist fiancé Zack Barnes are on a winter cruise with her family, compliments of a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law. Son Alex’s girlfriend and her father have also joined them. Shortly after boarding the ship, Anastasia is approached by a man with an unusual interest in her engagement ring.
When she tells Zack of her encounter, he suggests the man might be a jewel thief scouting for his next mark. But before Anastasia can point the man out to Zack, the would-be thief approaches him, revealing his true motivation. Long-buried secrets now threaten the well-being of everyone Anastasia holds dear.
And that’s before the first dead body turns up. (Craft projects included.)
And you can connect with Lois and Anastasia on her website, through their newsletter, on Anastasia’s Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, or on Bookbub, Pinterest, Twitter or Goodreads.
My review of the first book in this series is below, but first a reminder:
This is the last week to enter our October Contest! It ends Saturday, 10/17/20. Click HERE to check it out.
Review of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun
I love feisty female characters, and Anastasia Pollock is definitely one of those—a Jersey girl who suddenly finds herself widowed by a husband who had a secret. The repercussions of his hidden gambling doesn’t leave her time to grieve. She must pull herself together and find a way to keep the Mafia off her back and a roof over the heads of her family—a family that includes two teenage sons, a Communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, Anastasia’s own well-meaning but not always helpful mother, and the mothers’ dog and cat, respectively, who do not like each other. Oh, and solve a murder before the police decide to arrest her for it.
Needless to say, this book is a romp. It had me laughing out loud several times. (The parrot is a total hoot!)
It’s only real drawback was what the author calls “more colorful language.” Granted, neither teenage boys nor the Mafia are likely to “keep it clean” all the time. Personally, I’m not offended by the language, but it did bring me up short because I wasn’t expecting it in what looked like cover-wise and read like, up to that point, a cozy mystery.
So be forewarned, this is a great story, if you don’t mind a little extra “salt” in the cozy stew. I give it a solid 4 fingerprints!
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Lois WinstonOctober 13, 2020 at 8:50 am
Thanks so much for inviting me to Misterio Press today, Kassandra!
Kassandra LambOctober 13, 2020 at 12:37 pm
You’re very welcome, Lois. We’re delighted to have you!
Shannon EspositoOctober 13, 2020 at 10:02 am
Great interview, ladies! Lois, your series sounds like it has a fun cast of characters and tons of adventure! Just what is called for during these weird times. Also, interesting connection to crime scene writers. I don’t know a serious crime fiction writer who can put together a plot without their advice. Best of luck on the new release!
Lois WinstonOctober 13, 2020 at 11:04 am
Thank you, Shannon! I hope you’ll find time to get to know Anastasia and her family.
Vinnie HansenOctober 13, 2020 at 12:03 pm
Glad to see you here, Lois!
Lois WinstonOctober 13, 2020 at 12:36 pm
Thanks, Vinnie! Nice to be asked.
K.B. OwenOctober 14, 2020 at 9:33 am
Wow, Lois, you’re quite the Renaissance woman! Multiple careers and interests, juggled all at once…growing organically from one thing to the next…highly cool. Your series sounds so intriguing. I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR list.
I love how flexible mystery subgenres can be, though it does make promo for them a challenge, right? My mysteries, like yours, have cozy elements, though one series tends to be more on the academic side rather than strictly cozy (e.g. Gaudy Night-ish) and the other series has sort of a soft-boiled PI slant. Both are historical. As a former 19th century lit professor, I adore dusty tomes. *wink* Though in the age of digital archives, they aren’t so dusty anymore.
Isn’t it wonderful when you find your niche and everything comes together? Sue Grafton spoke at a Malice Domestic convention a number of years ago and described having published other mysteries before she hit upon her Kinsey Millhone series. Starting on that path and seeing how it was all coming together, she called it her “Come to Jesus Moment.” May we all have one of those, LOL!
Best wishes for a successful launch and continuation of your series, Lois!
Lois WinstonOctober 14, 2020 at 10:13 am
Thank you, K.B.! I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Anastasia. And best of luck with your own series.