It’s All in the Genes

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 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.

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On the cover of Scrapbook of Murder, the latest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, the title is superimposed over a photograph from the 1930’s of a man standing beside a child on a pony. I believe the child is either my mother or my aunt. The man is my grandfather, Benjamin Schaffer. He spent his entire career with the Essex County Police Department, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, working his way up to captain. I was in kindergarten when he died, but I still have vivid memories of him. In my eyes and to many others, he was larger than life.

My grandfather was responsible for the arrest of quite a few gangsters during a career that spanned nearly forty years. Ever hear of Arthur Flegenheimer? You might know him more as the prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz. Grandpa was the first officer on the scene the night he was gunned down in a Newark restaurant in 1935. I’ve tried to find out if he was also one of the officers assigned to stand watch over Schultz and question him as he lay dying in his hospital bed, but apparently back then news accounts didn’t mention officers’ names.

When I moved back to New Jersey in 1998, I wanted to research my grandfather’s career. I thought I might like to write a book about him, or at least use some of his cases in my own books. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Essex County Courthouse had flooded in the 1980’s, and all the archived records from the prosecutor’s office, where he worked, had been destroyed. Of course this was well before the Internet and digitized records. I was crushed. By this point anyone with in-depth knowledge of my grandfather’s career had passed away.

The only information my own Internet search turned up was a short blurb from the March 7, 1957 Independent Press mentioning that my grandfather was scheduled to speak on “Famous Murders in Essex County” at a meeting of the Republican Club that evening.

I started out my career writing romance, but when my agent suggested I try writing a crafting mystery, I found my true writing voice in the sub-genre of humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. I base all the plots in my books on actual events I’ve read about or witnessed, giving them a fictional twist. I often wonder what my grandfather would have thought of his first-born grandchild becoming a writer of murder mysteries. I hope he’s smiling down on me from Heaven.

In July of 2015 I visited Buried Under Books and wrote about a real-life mystery that had occurred in the town where I live. <; Nearly two and a half years later, that mystery is still unsolved. I’m convinced my grandfather would have had the case wrapped up ages ago. After all, what’s a house-stalker compared to Mafia gangsters?

Since Grandpa is no longer around to solve crimes, I’ve assigned the task to Anastasia as a subplot in Scrapbook of Murder, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, but since I don’t want The Watcher setting his sights on me, in Scrapbook of Murder I dub him The Sentinel. And in another instance of art imitating life, the event that leads Anastasia to solve the mystery is one from my own past.

Scrapbook of Murder
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

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