If you haven’t already…
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 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.
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One of my pet peeves, is people who tell you that you can succeed at anything you set your mind to if you only work hard enough. Really? If that were true, I, and many of my fellow authors, would have permanent slots on the New York Times Bestseller List. We don’t. And it’s not from lack of hard work.
The trouble with such advice is it doesn’t factor in outside forces beyond our control that often work against us. If, through hard work, we all succeeded in fulfilling our dreams, we’d all be super-successful, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out the way we wish it would.
However, there’s another piece of advice I’ve come to embrace: sometimes you need to pivot and think outside the box.
My publishing career has been filled with outside forces working against me. After ten years of writing, in 2005 I sold my first two books, a quasi-romance that was more chick lit than romance and a romantic suspense.
However, two years before that, my agent told me an editor she knew was looking for mysteries featuring crafters. Who better to write a crafting mystery, she thought, than me, her client who was also a designer in the crafts industry?
I came up with Anastasia Pollack, the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. The series begins with Anastasia returning to her office one night and discovering the fashion editor’s body hot glued to her office chair. Since Anastasia’s glue gun is the murder weapon, she becomes the prime suspect.
I fleshed out the plot, gave Anastasia two teenage sons, and added a host of zany characters: a communist mother-in-law, a self-proclaimed Russian princess mother, Anastasia’s dead husband’s loan shark, and a photojournalist who may or may not be a spy. I also included a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, a haughty Persian cat, and a French bulldog with attitude. A few months later I sent the manuscript to my agent. Her assessment? “You’re funnier than Author X.” Off the manuscript went to Editor A.
Editor A also thought I was funnier than Author X. Sounds like a sale in the making, right? However, before Editor A could convince her editorial board to buy the book, she accepted a job with another publishing house where she wasn’t buying cozy mysteries. Sadly, no one else at Editor A’s previous publishing house thought I was as funny as Author X.
My agent continued to send the manuscript out. Editors B, C, D, E, and F didn’t think I was as funny as Author X. Meanwhile, the two aforementioned books sold, and I was on my way to publishing bliss—until a force beyond my control changed everything. A new CEO ran the publishing company into bankruptcy and left me and hundreds of other authors orphaned and owed thousands of dollars in royalties.
So my agent dusted off the crafting mystery and sent it off to Editor G. She thought I was as funny as Author X and wanted to buy the book—until another outside force reared its ugly head. Before the contract was drawn up, the publishing company was sold. The new company cut the cozy mystery line. Meanwhile another publisher stopped publishing cozy mysteries, and a third cut back on their cozy line.
My stalwart agent refused to give up and sent the manuscript to Editors H, I, and J, but none of them thought I was as funny as Author X. Finally, she sent the manuscript to Editor K who loved the book and offered a 3-book contract.
Life was good! The series launched in January 2011 to rave reviews, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and it was nominated for two Book of the Year awards. After two years, the publisher offered two new contracts, one for more Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and one for a second mystery series I had dubbed The Empty Nest Mysteries.
But another outside force lurked around the corner. The publisher demanded onerous changes to the existing agency-negotiated contract. After much soul-searching and with the encouragement of my agent, I made the difficult decision to walk. A few smaller publishers showed interest in picking up the series, but they either didn’t offer advances, also had onerous contracts, or both.
That’s when I made a major pivot and decided to enter the world of indie publishing. After working so hard and so long for my traditional publishing contracts, I worried I was making a huge mistake. What I discovered is that readers don’t care how books are published, whether by large presses, small presses, or independently. They’re only interested in one thing—well-written books that tell a great story.
That was seven years ago. A Sew Deadly Cruise, which released October 1st, is the ninth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. I’m already planning the tenth. Indie publishing isn’t for everyone, but for me, it represented the right decision at the right time, especially since a few years later, the publisher I left folded their mystery line and orphaned all their authors.
Have outside forces ever impacted your career in such a way that you were forced to make a major change?
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 9
Life is looking up for magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack. Newly engaged, she and photojournalist fiancé Zack Barnes are on a winter cruise with her family, compliments of a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law. Son Alex’s girlfriend and her father have also joined them. Shortly after boarding the ship, Anastasia is approached by a man with an unusual interest in her engagement ring. When she tells Zack of her encounter, he suggests the man might be a jewel thief scouting for his next mark. But before Anastasia can point the man out to Zack, the would-be thief approaches him, revealing his true motivation. Long-buried secrets now threaten the well-being of everyone Anastasia holds dear. And that’s before the first dead body turns up.
Craft projects included.
It’s Day 3 of your social distancing—are you
bored yet? Here’s a nifty little poll to pique
your interest and while away a minute or two:
Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about what the holidays have meant to her in the past and today.
Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest. Kathleen’s newest book in the series, Dressed to Kill, was released in the UK on August 1, 2019 and in the US on November 1, 2019.
Thanksgiving is upon us once more and Christmas is waiting impatiently in the wings. This will be my 83rd holiday season and I find myself reflecting on holidays past and comparing them with those we celebrate today.
Things have changed. Personally, our holidays have gotten smaller, meaning fewer people. That is, of course, to be expected. Children grow up and establish their own family traditions, grandmothers and grandfathers are no longer with us, others move out of easy traveling distance so this year there will only be 5 of us around the Thanksgiving table and hopefully 7 around the Christmas tree. Time was when Thanksgiving meant a gathering of 20 – 30. One year, when I think we only had 16, we also had 9 dogs. That was an interesting year. I think that was the year we stopped up the garbage disposal and had several of the guys on the roof, trying to unstop it.
Christmas, when my 5 kids were little, meant midnight Mass, then the morning was free to focus on the presents Santa had left. They were always the good ones. Bikes, skates, wagons, a Chatty Cathy doll, good stuff. The ones Mom and Dad gave ran to books, underwear, slippers and brownie or cub scout socks with maybe a Barbie or a GI Joe. But they were star studded mornings that have left me with a lot of wonderful memories. In the afternoon the grandparents arrived, and we did it all over then sat down to a huge dinner.
It seems now the day isn’t a success unless you have enough stuff under the tree that it takes two days to open it all.
The years have brought other kinds of changes besides the ones at my house. It seems that Thanksgiving is now almost a forgotten holiday. It’s just a jumping off point for the start of Christmas shopping. Stores are even open Thanksgiving Day, so you won’t miss a bargain and Friday is a mad house. The stores have all been decorated for Christmas since before Halloween. Personally, the only purchase I make the day after Thanksgiving is poinsettias for a dollar at Home Depot. I go early and get home before the crowds overwhelm me. Most of my shopping will be done online. When my kids were little, online meant something you dried your clothes on.
Change can be good, though. I can still remember the pile of dishes at the end of the day. No dishwasher then, only me and whoever I could corral into helping me. Mostly my mother and mother-in-law. I give thanks every year for the dishwasher. I no longer have a double oven but during the years we had huge crowds it did double duty. Now we have gas barbeques that can grill the turkey and other things and they are a blessing indeed. But my favorite new thing is the cell phone. Used to be, if you were apart for the holidays, a card had to suffice. Not now. Thanksgiving Day and Christmas day the phones will be out and the camera’s on. We will share everything across the country except the turkey.
One last thing. Thanksgiving and Christmas are special days of joy and love, family and friends, giving and being thankful for the many blessings we have. That will never change.
For our family, neither will the number of dogs that will celebrate with us. Only 4 for Thanksgiving, but probably 6 for Christmas. I know it doesn’t come out even, but don’t worry. The person left over with no dog will get the cat.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that the turkey turned out perfect. Christmas, here we come.
Before I forget. Books are the perfect Christmas present. So if you have someone who likes dogs, small towns and a great puzzle to solve, please consider the Mary McGill canine mysteries. You just might find one of the dogs who will be around my Christmas tree lurking in the pages.
This is a fun post, reminding me of some of my favorite girl detectives and giving me leads on some I haven’t tried…yet 😉
Top Ten Tuesday (TTT) brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week’s prompt is “Ten Books To Read If You Like This Super Popular Book/Author.” I’m going back to my roots this week at Hidden Staircase – that’s right, Nancy Drew. Girl detectives. Female sleuths. Women solving mysteries. However you like to phrase it, she’s a leading lady with brains, spunk, and a sense of justice.
In the spirit of keeping things fresh, I will do my best to list books that don’t frequently appear in my TTT lists.
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The CIA in the Post-9/11 World
Liveright Publishing, July 2019
Here is an eye-opening, compelling inside narrative of our premiere intelligence agency during one of the most upsetting periods in the life of our nation. Remember that the Central Intelligence Agency was not very old when Al-Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and literally shocked the American public to its core. In intelligence and political circles especially, the question arose: is there a plan to protect us against a second attack?
None of the law enforcement and counter-intelligence operations in our government could answer that question with any assurance and the political organizations of the nation were peopled with a lot of very nervous individuals.
Written in the third person, by a former executive in the CIA and at the White House, and also at one time an executive at the FBI, the author has a deep experience with the changing mores and culture of the intelligence world pre- and post-9/11 world. He draws on his knowledge of the important players at all levels from the Oval Office to some of the regular workers at Langley, striving to make sense of ever-increasing flows of information.
The Central Intelligence Agency was never planned as a keeper of prisoners. It had no jails and it had no protocols to deal with high or low value prisoners who had been members of the CIA’s principal target, Al-Qaeda. Author Philip Mudd follows the torturous path of interrogation techniques through the Department of Justice, the politicians and the operators, agents and analysts of the agency, the creation of black site jails and much of the rising and falling tension and shifting attitudes throughout the nation.
From it’s very first incident to the final conclusion this is a riveting exploration of the secret and the prosaic world of intelligence gathering.
William Morrow, October 2018
A powerful, engaging crime novel of unusual breadth and perception: the story is a kind of road novel, involving a savvy canny New Orleans mob facilitator named Frank Guidry and an ordinary Oklahoma housewife and mother of extraordinary grit and talent.
Charlotte, mother of two small girls, is married to a husband who seems stuck in a bottle of booze and she’s frustrated with her work limitations and life in general.
It’s November 1963, and readers may remember what happened in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The assassination of President Kennedy sends Guidry to Dallas to retrieve an unused get-away-car he assumes was parked there to be used by an assassin. Real life interfered with mob plans and Guidry is expected to clean up loose ends. He divines that he is a loose end to the New Orleans mob and takes a runner.
In Oklahoma, one more drunken episode with her husband and a putdown by the local newspaper editor is the final insult and Charlotte packs up her children and departs for the west coast.
Weather and fate bring these two adults together down the road and new adventures ensue as Charlotte and Frank meet and grow ever closer. The time period is the weeks immediately after the Kennedy assassination and Charlotte still plans to make it to Los Angeles with her daughters. Of course, other forces are at play, other characters have different plans. Carefully and thoughtfully with excellent attention to pace and environment, the author carries readers along and steadily draws us into his unique world.
This is an excellent crime novel in every aspect. NOVEMBER ROAD is not a bang-bang-shoot-up with ever increasing time-sensitive tension. The tension, and there is plenty, lies in the author’s attention to important detail and the smooth artistry of his narration as well as the thoughtful and understandable conclusions.