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