The adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.
Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.
We asked Lois to tell us a bit about the new novel and her process.
This is your fifth Anastasia Pollack mystery, not counting the mini-mysteries that have been published. I know you have a background in crafting – where do you get your ideas for the mystery? Do you draw on real life? What was the inspiration for A Stitch to Die For?
I once had an editor reject a book because she found the plot totally unbelievable. When my agent sent me the rejection letter, I laughed out loud because I had used a national news event as the basis for the plot. I guess the editor never bothered to watch the news or read a newspaper.
I’ve always found that truth is stranger than fiction, and both local and national news are a treasure trove of material just sitting there for authors to mine. In A Stitch to Die For I’ve incorporated two recent items from the news into the plot—the rash of swatting incidents occurring across the country and several court cases involving salt poisoning.
You seem to have a gift for coming up with fun names for your characters but also ones that have a secondary meaning or aspect to them. What goes into naming your characters?
I’m not someone who can use a placeholder name and keep writing until I find the perfect name for a character. I really need to find that name first for the character to come to life on the page for me. Like many authors, I use a baby naming book and online sites, but I also employ more unusual methods, especially for my antagonists. Their names might be anagrams or a slight twist on the name of a school bully or a smarmy ex-boss. It’s quite cathartic.
Your books are full of humor. Is that something you have developed and use techniques for or does it come naturally in your writing? Any tips for authors who are trying to interject humor into their books?
Humor isn’t something that can be forced. I’m also not sure it can be learned. Either you’re funny or you’re not. I’m not a funny person in real life. I can’t tell a joke without forgetting the punch line or messing it up. However, when I tried writing chick lit back in the late 90’s, I discovered (much to my surprise and amazement) that I could write funny. Humor is very subjective, though, and not everyone will get any author’s particular brand of humor. As much as people love the humor in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, there are those people who don’t find them funny at all. You’re never going to please everyone. That’s the first lesson every writer needs to learn in this business in order to survive.
The Examiner’s series of five articles profiling you is something I don’t see in other newspapers and is great exposure. See Lois Winston – More How did that come about?
Pure happenstance. Syndee Barwick, a fellow member of Liberty States Fiction Writers had taken a job with the Examiner and asked me if she could interview me. Of course, I said yes. I was expecting one short article. I had no idea it would turn into a five-part series. I was thrilled!
I know you make personal appearances. Other thoughts on marketing for today’s authors? Especially for those with first or second novels who are newer to that aspect of this business?
Try to think outside the box. Unless you have huge publisher marketing support behind you, you’ll probably be disappointed in bookstore signings and talks. I’ve been to more than my share where I stood around for two hours with people walking out of their way to avoid eye contact. I think they’re afraid that if they start chatting with you, they’ll be forced to buy your book.
So instead of traditional venues like bookstores and libraries, look into non-traditional places such as women’s groups, service organizations, and street fairs. Play on a theme or character from your book. For instance, if your amateur sleuth works in a nail salon, ask your local nail salon to host a book event.
If you do decide on a bookstore signing or speaking to a library group, don’t go it alone. Invite other authors to take part. A group of three or four authors will tend to draw a larger crowd than one author no one has ever heard of.
Anastasia has her own blog at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. How did that come about?
Social media had taken off by the time I sold the series, and I knew I had to get involved in promoting my book via social media. I am an avowed hater of Facebook, and although I have a Twitter account (@anasleuth), I’m not convinced Twitter helps authors sell books.
So I turned to blogging. But so many authors already had well-established writing-themed blogs. I didn’t think it made sense to add one more to an already crowded field. So taking my own advice, I started thinking outside the box.
I didn’t want to preach to the choir by featuring posts that only appealed to fellow authors. I wanted a blog that would draw in people beyond my writing world to attract new readers for my books. Since Anastasia is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine, I thought, why not make the blog an online version of that magazine? So Mondays through Thursdays I feature articles about crafts, recipes, decorating, health, finance, beauty, fashion, and travel—the types of articles you’d find in a typical women’s magazine. On Fridays I feature Book Club Friday where I invite other authors to talk about their books. Guest authors are also welcome on the other days as long as they can tie their post into one of the above themes.
You have written mini-books (novellettes) and short stories that involve Anastasia. I’m curious as to whether these are planned or the stories simply weren’t complicated enough for a novel – or if these are to keep these stories in front of your readers while you are writing the longer novels?
They were planned as short books to keep the series active and whet readers’ appetites while I write the longer books.
I know Anastasia changes and her family dynamics change over the course of the books. Do you have a overall story arc for Anastasia that will carry through the novels? And does that also apply to the short stories and mini-books?
When readers tire of Anastasia, it will be time to retire the series. I hope that isn’t for a long time because I enjoy writing about her and her dysfunctional family. I could always have her win the lottery and settle down on some tropical island with Zack. Now, whether or not he comes clean about his possible alphabet agency affiliation at that point is still up in the air.
How do you keep track of all the details in the earlier books so that you don’t have contradictions? I know writers who have series have lots of different methods for this.
I keep a database where I list the characters for each book and their physical attributes. I also keep a calendar for each book, jotting down what happens on each day as the story unfolds in order to keep my timeline accurate. In addition, I don’t delete the files for the previous books from my computer. That way I can do a quick search whenever I need to double-check something from a previous story.
Any final words of wisdom for our readers/writers on how to have and maintain a successful writing career writing mystery novels?
Success means something different to each of us. Some people feel successful only if they’re making a boatload of money from their books, others if they’ve made a bestseller list or won a significant book award. Still others consider themselves successful just from having published a book or a series. You have to decide what’s important for you in your writing career and work toward that goal. You can’t measure yourself against any other writer. If you do, you’ll never be happy with what you’ve achieved.
Lois – Thanks so much for stopping by. More about Lois:
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction 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 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. Visit Lois/Emma at www.loiswinston.com Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Tsu at www.tsu.co/loiswinston, on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/anasleuth, and onTwitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at https://www.MyAuthorBiz.com/ENewsletter.php?acct=LW2467152513