Guest Post: Lois Winston, Author of Stitch, Bake, Die!
Liz: Tell us a little about your current project/release.
Lois: Stitch, Bake, Die! is the 10th book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. It’s a semi-locked room mystery. Anastasia and food editor Cloris McWerther are presenting a series of workshops at a local conference but are forced to spend the night after an ice storm shuts down the roads. One of the conference attendees is found to have died in her sleep the previous night, but Anastasia begins to suspect foul play.
Liz: Mystery series can run from three to dozens of books. How can an author keep it fresh-characters, storylines, setting, etc.?
Lois: Throughout my series, I’ve introduced new characters who make occasional return appearances in other books. These include Anastasia’s previously unknown half-brother-in-law, her son’s girlfriend and her father, and an ex-member of special forces who was working as the bodyguard for her company’s CEO. Each of these characters has become a major secondary character in some subsequent books, but they don’t necessarily appear in every book after they’ve been introduced.
I’ve also given Anastasia a career where she’s not confined to a small town, a shop, or a library as you often find in cozy mysteries. As the crafts editor at a women’s magazine, her sleuthing has occurred at her office (Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun), on a morning TV show (Death by Killer Mop Doll), a consumer show at a convention center (Decoupage Can Be Deadly), a local holiday crafts fair (Drop Dead Ornaments), and in Stitch, Bake, Die!, at a conference. Because her husband left her with massive debt, she also occasionally moonlights to earn extra income. In Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, she’s teaching arts and crafts at a facility for seniors. In A Stitch to Die For, Scrapbook of Murder, and Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, her sleuthing takes place in her own neighborhood. And in A Sew Deadly Cruise, she’s on a family cruise, a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law.
As for storylines, most of my plots are influenced by real-life crimes and news stories. I’m a total news junkie and keep a binder of articles that I refer to for plot ideas. Anyone who follows the news will agree that life is often stranger than fiction, and there’s a motherlode of ideas that can be mined from current events.
Liz: You have a supporting cast that can be described as eccentric. When you first decided to write these out-there characters, how did you find a balance between the humor and the human?
Lois: My most eccentric character is Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law. I didn’t have to go far to find inspiration for her. My own mother-in-law was a card-carrying commie with a personality not much different from her fictional counterpart. Having had the misfortune of living with my mother-in-law for six very long years, I drew from plenty of personal experience, but I was striving to create a character, not a caricature. That’s where the balance comes in. I needed Anastasia to accept the terrible hand she’d been dealt but rise above the situation. She accomplishes this with her sense of humor. I’ve found that if you’ve got a sense of humor, you can get through just about anything life throws at you.
Liz: You write across several genres. If you had to choose only one to write in for the rest of your career, which would it be and why?
Lois: I’d continue writing humorous cozy mysteries. I think readers are looking for escape and a break from the real world. I know I am. I no longer have any desire to write romantic suspense. I rarely read suspense anymore and have given up reading thrillers. As for romance, I’ll always be invested in the happily-ever-after, but now the romance is folded into my mysteries and as such, is a more realistic representation of romantic relationships. At least I think so.
Liz: Describe your writing process in terms of your favorite craft or hobby.
Lois: Hmm. Tough question. I think a better comparison would be to compare writing to designing counted cross stitch, which I did for many years. You have a framework in which the design must fit. That framework is established by the company producing the kit or the publisher including the design in a book or magazine. Is the finished design supposed to be 5” x 5” or 8” x 10”? Does it have to fit on a pre-finished item or into a certain size frame? Does the entire chart have to fit on a certain size page? Are you limited in the number of colors you can use? Is the design meant for beginners or advanced stitchers?
In a book, the framework is the market, genre, and word count. Are you writing for kids, teens, or adults? Mystery, romance, historical fiction, sci-fi? A 75,000-100,000-word novel or a 40,000-word novella? Your story needs to conform to the dictates of the age group, genre, and defined length.
The characters and the plot are the equivalent of the elements in the design. Have you been tasked with creating a sampler or a landscape? A simple design or a complex one? Will your design be part of a series, such as a book of floral designs, or a singular piece that doesn’t have to relate to or be compatible with any other designs? In the same way, is your book part of a series, or is it a standalone? Are there overall character and story arcs that span the series?
And finally, when you’ve finished designing, have you created a cohesive image with compatible colors and design elements that tie everything together? When you’ve finished your book, have your characters exhibited growth, and have you created a satisfying conclusion to your story?
Liz: If your Anastasia Pollack series became a television series, who would you like to see in the roles of the main characters and key supporting cast?
Lois: I’d love to see Tina Fey play Anastasia, and Hugh Jackman would make for a great Zachary Barnes. I see Ellen Burstyn as Anastasia’s mother Flora, but Ellen Burstyn of twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the character I picture most as Anastasia’s mother-in-law Lucille is Nancy Marchand. She played Tony Soprano’s mother Olivia, but she passed away in 2000. Same for Lucille’s sidekick Harriet. Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls would have been perfect in the role. I haven’t given much thought to casting of the other characters, but if any producer is interested in optioning the series, I’m happy to give my input.
Liz: When you are not writing, what do you do for fun?
Lois: I used to go to Broadway shows, but we recently moved from New Jersey to Middle Tennessee. My half-hour train ride into the city now requires a two-day drive or a plane ticket. With a new house and Covid not yet in the rearview mirror, I haven’t had the time or desire to find a new fun pastime yet. Ask me again a year from now when, hopefully, life is back to normal.
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 New Jersey chapter of the Stitch and Bake 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 meet 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.
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