|2015 Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado|
|Juliana with Denise Chavez in Las Cruces, New Mexico|
|Abranita Quintana Jacobs 1860's|
|2015 Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado|
|Juliana with Denise Chavez in Las Cruces, New Mexico|
|Abranita Quintana Jacobs 1860's|
By Lois Winston
Many authors mention in their bios that they always wanted to be a writer. Not me. I wanted to be an astronaut. Thanks to a right brain that quakes at the sight of anything requiring math skills, not to mention a body prone to motion sickness, that dream never came true.
My urge to write came as a result of a dream I had while on a business trip. Eventually, that dream became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a story about secrets and revenge and the steps some people will go to in order to protect the former and achieve the latter.
I’ve always been fascinated by both secrets and revenge. Who among us doesn’t have secrets? Who among us hasn’t harbored revenge fantasies? Is it possible to get through junior high school without a hefty dose of both? I doubt it.
Years ago, I knew a woman who went to great lengths to project the ideal marriage. She constantly bragged about how much her husband loved her and what a perfect marriage they had. Then I learned the secrets behind the lies. She was carrying on an affair that he discovered by tapping his own phone. Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Marriage were anything but. Although Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception isn’t about that marriage, it got me thinking about public persona versus private reality.
I’m also fascinated by the way the “common” folk act around celebrities. In Six Degrees of Separation, the playwright John Guare called it “star f****ing,” that annoying, name-dropping habit of those who need to brag about their connection to someone famous, no matter how tenuous the link: They once shared a plane with George Clooney, or they went to the same high school as Brad Pitt, or they played tennis with Pierce Brosnan’s third cousin’s wife’s uncle’s accountant. Of course, they fail to mention that George was sitting in First Class while they were stuck in Coach or Brad graduated a decade after they attended the school. And let’s just forget about Pierce and the accountant. That’s really taking six degrees of separation a bit too far. However, for many people being able to show some connection between themselves and a celebrity makes them more important, if only in their own eyes.
So there I was on this business trip, and I suppose I was subconsciously thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Marriage when I had this dream. Normally, I don’t remember my dreams, but I remembered this one. And what was even spookier was that each night for the next couple of weeks I dreamed another “chapter” of the dream. Eventually, I was dreaming up chapters during the day as well as at night. Finally, I decided that to get the story out of my head, I should write it down. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m the proud author of a 50,000-word romance that spanned 35 years.
Talk about clueless!
Of course, I didn’t know I was clueless. I thought I’d just written the greatest romance of all time. But when I pushed my baby out of the nest into the world of publishing, she flew right back with her beak stuffed full of rejection letters.
However, I wasn’t about to be deterred by rejection letters or lack of knowledge. Undaunted, I handed over my VISA card to a friendly salesperson at Barnes & Noble and walked out with an armload of how-to-write-a-novel books. Between the books, joining some writing organizations, and attending writing conferences, I eventually got a clue, and nearly ten years to the day I had that dream, I had my first publishing contract.
I never forgot about my first clueless effort, though. I liked the characters I’d created, even if the story needed major surgery. I didn’t think Emma and Logan deserved to spend eternity under the bed with nobody but the dust bunnies and me ever getting to know them. I went back and rewrote that first book, and it became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception.
In the book, Logan Crawford is initially attracted to Emma Wadsworth because she doesn’t care who he is. At first, he’s not even sure she recognizes him, and he can’t imagine how that’s possible. After all, he was recently named Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. Everyone recognizes Logan Crawford, whether he wants them to or not. He’s used to a fawning public, but Emma doesn’t fawn. And that makes her both intriguing and irresistible in Logan’s eyes.
However, Emma’s the one with all the secrets. And she’s also the target of someone’s revenge. Make that two someones. In the blink of an eye, she goes from being Philadelphia’s most beloved citizen to the city’s most notorious criminal. Think scandal. Think long buried secrets. Think murder.
There are many paths to publication. Some people are lucky enough to find the straightest, most direct route. For most of us, it takes years of honing our craft before we’re offered the golden ticket, but it’s worth the journey. This month marks the release of Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series and my nineteenth published novel.
USA Today and Amazon 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.
What's next for you, Sarah?
Four Cuts Too Many, which features me, came out May 25, 2021. Five Belles Too Many, the tale of a New York sponsored television show wanting to throw a perfect Southern wedding by having a competition in Wheaton, Alabama will be out in June 2022. Look for Mother-Maybelle and George to be two of the finalists while I'm going to be Mother's chaperone.
Today, for a treat, I'm chatting with cozy mystery author and fellow Stiletto Gang member, Lois Winston.
TKT: Lois, I just finished your novel Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, and I gotta know this. What came first, the characters or the glue gun idea? And how does that relate to your process of building a novel? Do you kill someone with a craft idea first and build the plot around that or do you focus on the characters first? Or some other way?
LW: In this instance, it was the glue gun. I had been asked to write a craft-themed cozy mystery series. In my day job I worked as a crafts and needlework designer for kit manufacturers, craft book publishers, and craft and women’s magazines. I’m a bit of a klutz and burned my finger while using my glue gun. If you’ve ever burned yourself with a glue gun, you know it really, really hurts. The title for the first book in the series popped into my head while I was applying ice to my finger.
I then began to wonder if you could kill someone with a glue gun. Once I figured out how it could happen, I began building the characters around the murder.
For my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I made Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine because I didn’t want a series that just featured one specific craft. There were already many needlework and craft-specific cozies being published. I didn’t want my series to compete with other established series. By making Anastasia a crafts editor, I could feature a different craft in each book of the series. I usually choose a craft, figure out a catchy title, then build the story from there.
TKT: Do you have the same wry sense of humor as Anastasia? Share any other characteristics? Did your mother-in-law read this and does she hate you?
LW: Anastasia definitely has my sense of humor, but I’m only funny on paper. I’m the person who thinks of the perfect comeback hours after the fact. And I can’t tell a joke to save my life. I never remember the punchline!
As for my mother-in-law, she passed away several years before the series debuted, but she was a card-carrying commie, and I did base Anastasia’s mother-in-law on her. My sister-in-law thinks Anastasia is a riot, but some of my husband’s other relatives haven’t spoken to me in years. I can’t imagine why.
TKT: Lol! I can’t imagine why either! And I can't tell jokes either, but in my case, the only thing I can remember is the punch line. . . .
Your knowledge of crafts certainly came legitimately, but your expertise seems to include fashion and furniture. The whole name-brand thing is alien territory for me, but how did you gain this info? Life? Research? I could say the same for baked goods…
LW: I spent years working trade and consumer shows. You pick up a lot of product knowledge when you’re interacting with buyers, salespeople, and marketers. Plus, as a designer, it was important that I stayed abreast of trends in the marketplace. As for the baked goods, watching baking shows is my guilty pleasure.
TKT: Well I gotta say, I wanted to sample some of those tasties in the book! Anastasia and crew are great fodder for the sequels, and I suspect a building romance will arc over the series. How do you string out romantic suspense over several novels when your readers are panting for resolution?
LW: In cozy mysteries, there’s a specific mystery in each book, and it’s resolved by the end of the book. There are no plot cliffhangers, only character cliffhangers. For instance, after 10 books, readers still don’t know whether Zack is merely a photojournalist or, as Anastasia suspects, a member of a government alphabet agency.
As for the budding romance, it develops over time. However, after ten books, only a little more than a year has passed in Anastasia’s life. That keeps the development of the romance more realistic.
I’ve also written each book in the series in such a way that a reader can pick up any book in the series and quickly get caught up with the characters’ story arcs.
TKT: You are scarily prolific! I count six books that came out in 2014 alone! Are you an alien? How did you do that and what made you decide to write some of them under the pen name of Emma Carlyle?
LW: LOL! I definitely didn’t write six books in a year. It takes me about nine months to write a book. In 2014 I went indie after walking away from my publisher due to a contract dispute over more books in the series and a second series they wanted. By that point, I had the rights back to my earlier books from a different publisher and had some romances and romantic suspense books that had never sold. My agent suggested taking a pen name to indie publish those books.
After a short period of time, I realized I shouldn’t have published those books as Emma Carlyle because it was difficult trying to build a readership for the Emma Carlyle books. I eventually republished them as “by Lois Winston writing as Emma Carlyle”. That way, people would find the Emma Carlyle books when they searched my name.
TKT: Anything else you would like to share?
LW: Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, released October 4th.
Stitch, Bake, Die!
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10
With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Back Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.
The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.
Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?
Crafting tips included.
Lois Winston, a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author of mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, middle-grade, and nonfiction, sold her first book to a NY publishing house in 2005. Currently she writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, featuring widowed magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, along with a supporting cast of characters that include Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, her self-proclaimed Russian princess mother, and Ralph, the Shakespeare-quoting parrot. Learn more at www.loiswinston.com.
Thanks so much, Lois!
T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her. More at TKThorne.com
Some things are simply never out of date, right? Thank goodness. Here are a few classics I hold dear.
Classic Clothes. I welcome autumn for the pleasure of pulling a smart, tried-and-true blazer out of the closet. And I'm always up for any chance to wear a little black dress; in this pic, it’s for my nephew’s lovely outdoor wedding.
Classic Books. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles are time-honored novels that I read as a teen and that influenced me as a writer.
Modern classics I revere are John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Ian McEwan's Atonement, and anything by P.G. Wodehouse who has more than once rescued me from blue days with his ineffable comic genius.
Classical Music. The music of Bach and Mozart has enriched my life for decades, and because I play the violin my favorites works of theirs are any that feature that instrument.
A modern musical classic I adore is Leonard Bernstein’s exuberant and heartbreaking West Side Story. Violinist Joshua Bell shines in any genre, from Bach to Bernstein. Listen to him play the West Side Story Suite. It's twenty minutes of perfection.
Movies. I’ve watched Casablanca at least a dozen times and the story
never fails to thrill me and move me.
So does the 1951 version of A Christmas
Carol starring Alastair Sim. My favorite bit in that fine old film is the small
role of Scrooge’s cockney housekeeper played with endearing spunk by Kathleen
Harrison. (She's in the middle of the photo below.)
Classic Cars. As a young woman, I considered the Jaguar XK-E the epitome of elegance. That British sports car, manufactured between 1961 and 1975, is still widely admired as a true classic.
I never did get an “E-Type” but my husband and I recently bought a 2003 Miata and I love driving it on a sunny day with the top down. My pal Ann drives a 2000 model. That’s us in the photo with our Miatas (Ann on the left in purple, me on the right).
I don’t know if our Miatas are technically “classics” but I figure she and I – two “old broads” – pretty much are!
What I’ve Learned about Death Services
by Saralyn Richard
When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher who moonlighted as a mortician. I don’t remember much about the course curriculum, but I have vivid memories of his stories about dead bodies, sitting up while he worked on them. Mr. M., as I’ll call him, thrived on telling grotesque tales and watching our reactions.
Aside from those stories, I can’t remember the topic of funerals coming up much. No one likes to talk about caskets or embalming fluid over lunch or on a date. In the few instances where I’ve been responsible for arranging funerals, I’ve worked with experienced people whose calm, tact, and caring attitude helped block out the grief, and I’ve never asked too many questions.
Fast forward to the past several years, when I’ve been writing mysteries. Mysteries often have dead bodies. Dead bodies require death services. To get the details right, I began interviewing morticians, and I learned a lot.
Here are a few salient facts:
1. People who work in death services are
people just like you and me. They have the same hopes and fears and dreads, the
same olfactory sensibilities, the same tastes and distastes. They generally
don’t engage in discussions about them, though. If you complain about a bad day
at the office, they might sympathize, but they won’t tell you about theirs.
When death is your business, and you’re around dead bodies every day, you become immune to the drama and/or horror that others may associate with corpses. You might even share inside jokes with colleagues, like, “Want to have a couple of cool ones from the fridge?” This kind of levity is never expressed in front of outsiders, though.
There’s a tiny bit of guilt when business is good, like when we have a pandemic. Some of the joy of a robust end-of-year bottom line is mitigated by the fact that the income was derived from people’s hardships, sorrows, or tragedies.
James J. Terry Funeral Home in Downington, PA, where Lee Walasavage has graciously answered my questions.
My upcoming release, BAD BLOOD SISTERS, centers around a woman who’s grown up in this business.
Quinn McFarland has grown up around dead bodies…
Quinn’s always joked about death, but this summer, death stops being funny. For one thing, her brother finally undergoes transplant surgery. For another, Quinn’s estranged BFF, her “blood” sister, is brought into the family mortuary, bludgeoned to death.
Quinn’s haunted by the past, her friendship gone awry, and the blood oath she’s sworn to keep secret. The police consider her a person of interest, and someone threatens her not to talk. Quinn is the only one who knows enough to bring the killer to justice, but what she’s buried puts her in extreme danger.
Bad Blood Sisters will be released March 9, 2022. My other mysteries, Murder in the One Percent, A Palette for Love and Murder, and A Murder of Principal can be found here. Sign up for my monthly newsletter with special offers, news, surveys, and more at http://saralynrichard.com.
by Paula Gail Benson
About a month ago, I began noodling with an idea for a novel. I started writing in a notebook, with a cover that had the phrase: “Wherever life takes you--trust your journey.” Following that advice, I started generally with entries about what I would like to write. I had a strong idea for a protagonist and gradually figured out the people who surrounded her.
On the fourth entry, I heard my protagonist’s first words: “I am a relic.” And then, her best friend’s response.
I continued on the journey and finally had a chronology for the opening scenes of the novel, which I sketched out in another notebook, then began examining the timeline more closely in the notebook containing all the other entries.
Finally, I managed to name the central characters. While I still hadn’t written out the opening scenes, I found myself developing one where the protagonist is talking with her best friend about a choice she made and action she took. The best friend disagrees with her decision and is worried about how it will play out.
As the two characters talk, the scene becomes lengthy. It provides a perspective about the relationship between the two friends. Because they indulge in mojitos, the protagonist stays over at her friend’s house. She’s roused once in the middle of the night and can’t figure out why.
The next day, the protagonist and her friend are called to come to the friend’s workplace, where a homicide victim has been found. The victim is connected to the action the protagonist took and her friend found problematic. After giving statements to the police, the protagonist and her friend begin to investigate how the victim might have been killed.
I’ve progressed through several scenes without going back to write the beginning. The other day I made some discoveries about the characters that I wasn’t expecting.
As I contemplated what I’d learned, I wrote: Amazing where the writing journey takes you. I had been wondering how the scenes with such long conversations would evolve and was surprised by what I discovered. Sometimes, when you’re wondering if the winding road is worth traveling, you find the trip astonishing. All it required was to keep plodding forward with a general goal in mind, flexible enough so any unexpected shift didn’t bump you from the trail.
I remain concerned that my scenes are more talk than action, but I know I can fix that. Maybe for now, I just need to hear my characters tell me what they know.
Abigail Drake’s The Reformed Panster’s Guide to Plotting. Abigail, author of seventeen novels, presenter of writing workshops, and facilitator for Ramona DeFelice Long’s continuing Sprint Club on Facebook, wrote this book after being asked to deliver a seminar on the topic in West Virginia. Released October 7, 2021, and 86 pages in length, it is an excellent discussion about how to plan a work of fiction, chapter-by-chapter. At the end, an appendix outlines the overall process. Drake’s book works for building a novel as well as for analyzing how to revise a novel.
I have to admit, it’s great to “plod” forward with a terrifically supportive guidebook, which describes Drake’s book. I recommend that you try both.