Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Interview With Mystery Author Lois Winston

Hello Readers- today we're checking out mystery Author Lois Winston, who writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, which, according to Kirkus Reviews, is “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum."

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. 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.

And she has a new book out today: Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide

Let's find out more...

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide is the eighth full-length novel in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. (There are also three novellas.) The premise of the series began with the first book, which opens with my protagonist learning that her recently deceased husband had hidden a serious gambling addiction from her. As a result, she’s suddenly thrust from a comfortable middle-class existence into visions of having to move her family into a cardboard box on a street corner, all the while fending off bill collectors, some of whom break kneecaps when they’re not paid on time.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. I begin each book with the germ of an idea—a character, a conversation, a situation, a title, even a great opening line. Then I begin writing and see where the story takes me. I usually figure out early on who my victim or victims will be and who my killer is, but that can change as the story progresses. Sometimes a different character presents as having a better motivation for murder. I never outline. I find that if I know too much about the story ahead of time, I become bored with the actual writing of it.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. Since I write a cozy mystery series, the main theme is how my amateur sleuth keeps finding herself in the middle of murder investigations and how she’s forced to figure out whodunit before the killer strikes again. It’s the same theme of all cozy mystery/amateur sleuth novels, which always feature a non-law enforcement protagonist involved in more murder cases than most local cops see in a lifetime on the force.

However, my books are about more than a character solving a murder. The underlying arc of the series centers round family and coping with the unexpected and unwanted. Anastasia is a member of the sandwich generation. Living under her small suburban roof are her two teenage sons, her semi-invalid communist mother-in-law, and in-between husbands, her much-married mother. Anastasia has two choices: she can give up, or she can persevere. She perseveres—with a sense of humor and a Jersey Girl attitude that helps her get through all that life has dumped on her.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. My goal is twofold: I want to give my readers a mystery that will keep them guessing and a story that will keep them laughing. With everything that’s going on in the world, we all need to laugh more to see us through the tough times. Anastasia understands that as much as I do.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. Characters who come alive on the page and a story that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages well beyond bedtime.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and other review sites have compared Anastasia to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. High praise, indeed! I love the Stephanie Plum books, and I enjoyed 30 Rock. But I think the one major difference between my series and the others is that I take a deeper emotional dive into my characters’ lives.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. I think it depends on the story you’re telling. Fiction can also be educational. I’ve read books centered round subjects I had little or no knowledge of prior to reading the books. However, even when books are mostly for entertainment, they can serve a deeper purpose. I’ve had readers write to tell me that my books offered them a much-needed escape from coping with illness, divorce, or the death of a loved one.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. I have lots of goals, but the older I get, the more I realize—unfortunately—that I’ll never achieve most of them. That old adage about being able to accomplish whatever you set your mind to if you just work hard enough is a pile of poppycock. You only have control over what you do, not the myriad of outside factors that impact your goals. Too much in life is entirely out of our control.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I tend to revise as I write. I start each writing day by reading what I wrote the day before and making changes before I start a new scene. I’m my harshest critic. When I finish a book, I walk away with a sense of accomplishment. I’m happy it’s finally finished, but I’m not tired of it. I can’t be. I’m writing a series. I have to return to those characters and pick up where we left off with the next book.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A. I work with two editors whose opinions I value immensely. One is primarily a content editor, the other a line/copy editor.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. It would depend on the person and the help requested. I’ve had total strangers tell me they have an idea that’s sure to be a bestseller, and if I write the book for them, they’ll split the royalties with me. Really? Not gonna happen! On the other end of the spectrum I’ve helped several friends polish their proposals, and they went on to sell their books.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. My books would definitely translate well into movies or TV series. I’ve had some interest over the years, but unfortunately, to date nothing has come from any of them. Since my novels rely heavily on dialogue and action, rather than long descriptive passages and pages of internalization, I don’t think they’d have to be tweaked much to move from the page to the screen.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. Anastasia’s next adventure.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. I hate peanut butter!

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. I’d love for your readers to sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Bookbub and my other social media sites (listed below.)

Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 8

Two and a half weeks ago magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack arrived home to find Ira Pollack, her half-brother-in-law, had blinged out her home with enough Christmas lights to rival Rockefeller Center. Now he’s crammed her small yard with enormous cavorting inflatable characters. She and photojournalist boyfriend and possible spy Zack Barnes pack up the unwanted lawn decorations to return to Ira. They arrive to find his yard the scene of an over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. His neighbors are not happy with the animatronics, laser light show, and blaring music creating traffic jams on their normally quiet street. One of them expresses his displeasure with his fists before running off.

In the excitement, the deflated lawn ornaments are never returned to Ira. The next morning Anastasia once again heads to his house before work to drop them off. When she arrives, she discovers Ira’s attacker dead in Santa’s sleigh. Ira becomes the prime suspect in the man’s murder and begs Anastasia to help clear his name. But Anastasia has promised her sons she’ll keep her nose out of police business. What’s a reluctant amateur sleuth to do?

Buy Links
Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VG2QZXV/ref=as_li_ss_tl?keywords=Handmade+Ho-Ho+Homicide&qid=1563673299&s=gateway&sr=8-1&linkCode=sl1&tag=loiswins-20&linkId=cbd92af3c45b1134cb5408cc8450e3b4&language=en_US

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/handmade-ho-ho-homicide

Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/handmade-ho-ho-homicide-lois-winston/1132607263?ean=2940163093748

iTunes https://books.apple.com/us/book/handmade-ho-ho-homicide/id1473711082

Website: www.loiswinston.com
Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Writers Talk About Money

Must be something in the air- or the blogosphere. Recently, several writers took to the Internet to talk about money. One person bravely tells how she cluelessly blew a third of a million dollars, and others tell how to watch out for and cope with the trap of a sudden windfall from publishers or skyrocketing sales.
Makes for some very interesting reading and comparison between them all.

First was Heather.

Vincent Zandri is a sharp cookie, but even he had some difficulty after he got a big book contract.

Chuck Wendig weighs in.

And Dean Wesley Smith has some great advice.

So I'll be well prepared when the big contract comes my way. Let's hope it's soon, so I can test my strength of character coping with outstanding success and money...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

John Radosta and Bob Dylan

Today we're talking with John Radosta, co-author of  Bob Dylan in Performance: Song, Stage and Screen, a lovely new book that describes what the title says.

(use the code LEX30AUTH19 for a 30% discount!)

Q. So how did this book come to be? Please tell us a bit about the origin. What attracted you to this coffee-table book project?

A. It was both thirty years in the making, and very sudden. When I was a student at Boston University, my obsession with Dylan was contagious, and my new roommate Keith, who had barely heard of him before, caught the bug. He went on to become an academic in California and published several articles on Dylan, one of which he presented at a conference here.

I met him for dinner that night, and he told me he’d been offered the chance to write a book, which he’d accepted. Except, he said, he’d never written anything that long, and so he asked me to join him. I told him my crime novels were entirely different from academic writing, but he said a book is a book, and we high-fived over it. Two years to the week later, the book was out.

Q. What's it like to collaborate on a project like this? How did the work flow?

A. So often I’ve read about collaborators having strict routines, and we often see the image of one person at a keyboard with the other hovering and pacing barking out words. For us, on opposite coasts, it was much more like swapping riffs on ideas we each wanted to pursue, suggesting songs or references the other was unfamiliar with. Keith approached the work from a performative point of view, which is his area of study. Meanwhile, as an English teacher, I was interested in the literary allusions and history, so we brought complementary skills to the project.

One thing we never seemed to have trouble with was voice. I think, because we both studied at BU, and with many of the same professors, especially Christopher Ricks, we already had very similar voices, so our final versions sounded the same. Many times I read I line and couldn’t remember who had said it.

Q. Any other books like this you'd recommend?
A. There are so many unbelievably good books about Dylan, but my two favorites are Dylan’s Visions of Sin, by Christopher Ricks (you can read as much bias into that choice as you want!), and Invisible Republic by Greil Marcus. The first one looks at Dylan’s lyrics through a very specific lens, and yet enlarges his impact to encompass a host of interpretations. Marcus’s book also starts with a narrow view—looking at the songs Dylan and the Band recorded in Woodstock, NY that later became The Basement Tapes—and uses it to explore “that weird old America” of rural traditions and ancient ballads that is being erased from our consciousness. Both are fascinating, and highly readable.

Q. Do you remember the first time you recognized a Dylan song?

A. This is a story I tell in the book. I was a teen listening to techno-pop like the Thompson Twins and Duran Duran. When the video for “We Are the World” played on MTV, I asked my dad who that scruffy old guy with the screechy voice was. He pulled out his mono copy of Highway 61, Revisited, and before the end of side one, I was hooked.

Q. What do you feel is his main contribution? Why do you feel his songs are important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. There’s a song on Tempest, his last (I hope it’s not his last) album of originals, called “Tin Angel.” It’s a murder ballad that shares a set-up with the folk tune “Blackjack Davey,” in which a man comes home to find his wife has run-off with another man, and he rides out to find her. But it turns violent, and all three are dead in the end. Along the way, Dylan mixes in imagery and allusions to the wild west, ancient Greece, and James M. Cain. The mixture highlights the absolute timelessness of the experience, and, through digital downloads, carries it across 3000 years in six minutes. Last time I saw him, his drummer did the solo from “Wipeout!” in the middle of a song from his his recent Modern Times album, and it was like getting the whole history of rock and roll in one tune.

I think Dylan’s extraordinary gift to us is that if we take the time to listen to him, he teaches us how to listen to ourselves, how to use art to filter out the bad and learn what is worth keeping. He renews himself each time he sets out to perform, and by taking part in it, we can, too.

What we would love to have readers take away from this book is that Dylan is not just some hoary old joke of a folkie, but the personification of the jester Don McLean named him, the sole commentator who has the king’s permission to tell us the truth no one else is willing to tell us, and entertain us at the same time. That’s no mean feat.

Q. What makes a good and/or lasting and/or meaningful song?

A. There are lots of great songs that come and go, songs that were perfect for that moment, but when the moment passed, so did the tune. And there are plenty of lousy songs that just worm through your ear. So much depends on who you are when you hear a song, and if you’re ready for its message, whether that message is a call for social justice, or just to get up and dance. But what I’ve noticed in studying Dylan is that the songs that stand the test of time, whether they’re his folk anthems or they’re covers of Sinatra tunes, are the ones that speak to a universal need like love, or and show craftsmanship. Sure, he could write “I and I in a quarter hour, but honestly, almost no one knows that song anymore. But “Blowin’ in the Wind” speaks to the hope we need today, and “The Night We Called it a Day” (check out the video - classic film noir!) became a standard because the wordplay isn’t just clever, it touches on the complicated emotions we’ve all experienced, and gives us not just hope but a map to find our way out.

Q. Have you checked any of Dylan's influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Dylan led me directly to Woody Guthrie, both his songs and his mind-bending prose, and then to the huge, bizarre, Anthology of American Folk Music collected by Harry Smith. They opened a door to another place and time that otherwise I never would have been able to visit, and their “hard-lipped” songs, as Dylan calls them, present a kaleidoscope of imagery, wry humor, terror and mindfulness you’d never think existed right next to you. Dylan’s also a scholar of the most obscure blues musicians, and that’s a whole other journey I’m looking forward to taking.

Q. What does Dylan say about his songwriting process?

A. He doesn’t like to say much, beyond some cryptic references to a “mathematical” progression to his songs, and his explanation that he got into songwriting because the songs he needed to sing hadn’t been written already. If they had, he said, he’d never have become a writer.

There’s a great story about Dylan and Leonard Cohen talking about writing in the early 1980s. Cohen confessed that it had taken him years to write “Hallelujah.” He asked Dylan how long it had taken to write “I and I,” one of the few good songs of that period, and one of Cohen’s favorite Dylan tunes. The answer was “about 15 minutes.”

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Does he have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. My favorite chapter, the one that I knew at the outset I wanted to have in the book, is about Dylan’s connection to the rhapsode or bard, the ancient practitioners of the oral tradition who kept a society’s history, beliefs, and culture in poetic form. These storytellers transmitted the wisdom of the past to the new generations, and at the same time could weave a whole new tale from the formulaic verses of old songs in the service to new events. All those texts, from the Bible to epic poems like The Odyssey and Beowulf, to the massively long ballads of the fifteenth century present their teaching through story.

Dylan does the same thing, often echoing the very words and tunes of the ancients to refract to our ears those old nuggets in ways that allow us to hear, remember, and act upon them. He never accepted that he was “the voice of a generation,” but I firmly believe he is the voice of our culture, and that it was this super-historical quality to his words, music and delivery that earned him the Nobel Prize.

Q. We know he changes the lyrics radically in performance. Like to comment on this

A. One of the keenest pleasures of seeing Dylan in performance (48 times and counting!) is that you are always likely to hear at least one wholly re-imaged version of a song. People who want to
see what they imagine him to have been like 50 or 60 years ago don’t want anything different from what he originally recorded, but his artistic process means he has to always be changing, chasing his muse. Over the years, I’ve heard “Tangled Up in Blue” in about ten completely divergent ways. He’s changed the point of view, the music, even the story, and yet, it is still undeniably the same song. That intrigues me: how far can you stretch a song and have it remain true to itself?

Q. Some might say he did his best back in the sixties, and hasn't had much of note since. Comment? Was Rolling Thunder Revue the high point?
A. In the sixties, while I was busy being born, Dylan was busy redefining what rock music could do. Once he left his mark on folk by making it cool to write new songs, he moved on to the complicated imagery that defines Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde—great stuff. Then he took the Band on a raucous tour of the UK, basically inventing what would become the modern stadium rock show. But after a sharp turn and as slow trip through Americana, he produced what many think is his best album Blood on the Tracks.

And though it was controversial among his fans (what point in his career wasn’t?) some of his best music came during the late ’70s during his evangelical period. Ok, so the ’80s produced one, maybe
two great songs on some worse-than-mediocre albums, but then as the world was quaking with the arrival of Y2K, he put out a series of albums, from 1997’s Time Out of Mind to 2012’s Tempest that showcase his artistic, historical, musical range. And that’s not even counting the American Songbook albums. For those on this site who are more interested in crime fiction, go listen to Tempest.

It’s an aural noir, full of fire, brimstone, and murder ballads. As for the Rolling Thunder Revue, alas, I was too young for that, too. But the new boxed set does reveal an utterly astounding energy I’ve rarely heard at a Dylan show, though my first, in 1986 with Tom Petty, still ranks as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Q. Did things change in performance after the accident?

A. Ah, the accident. The reason why Dylan and the Band were in Woodstock in ’69. Most definitely things had changed. After two grueling years in which he produced the trio of albums that made his name as a rock icon in the 1960s—Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61, Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde—after he toured England twice, including the “gone electric” tour that led to the cries of “Judas!” after his secret marriage not to Joan Baez but Sara Lowndes, he had some sort of crash that has never been fully explained. He left the stage for 8 years, but produced these beautiful, introspective, mainly acoustic albums that ushered in the the 1970s “singer-songwriter mellow rock. Songs like “The Man in Me” that you know from The Big Lebowski, and “Lay, Lady, Lay.”

It was the musical style that would define AM radio at the time, and once again, it was Dylan pioneering the trail.

Q. Opinion- who's his best team-up person in performance?
What are his favorite covers of his songs from other performers?

A. I think there’s no contest about a team up person: Dylan and Joan Baez were most definitely the King and Queen. I’d give just about anything to see them together in person. Despite all the off-stage drama, as Baez says in Scorsese’s new film about Rolling Thunder, when they’re on stage together, everything is forgiven.

As for his favorite cover, I can say only this: one of the best songs he put out in his post-accident period was the haunting acoustic “All Along the Watchtower.” After Jimi Hendrix recorded it, Dylan never performed it acoustic again. It’s one of his most-performed tunes, and these days he’s basically covering the cover of his own song.

Q. Tell us a fun fact from the book.

A. I got my first photo credit for the cover. The lack of focus is a deliberate artistic choice. Really.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. Just that we truly believe that Dylan’s worth listening to not in spite of his voice, but because of it. He once said, “I can sing as good as Caruso,” and of course it came off as a joke, but he really uses it deliberately, and if you listen, you’ll hear him bending words and phrases so they release meanings you would never get from just reading the lyrics or by hearing Adele or Peter, Paul and Mary crooning them.

I’d also like to say that it is extraordinarily generous of you to give other authors this space to talk about their work, and on behalf of Keith and myself, I want to say thank you for your support. Cheers!


Web page: Facebook page “Bob Dylan in Performance: Song, Stage, and Screen”

Where to buy:  (use the code LEX30AUTH19 for a

30% discount!)


John Radosta, a novelist and author of many short stories, teaches English and creative writing at Milton High School. A long time Dylan observer and veteran of nearly 50 Bob Dylan concerts, he is the co-author of the recently released Bob Dylan in Performance: Song, Stage and Screen, an in depth look at Dylan the performer and the link of his performances to the historical bardic role, to American popular song tradition, and to rock music culture.

Mystery Writers at Natick Farmer's Market

We had a special invite from the Natick Farmer's Market to our local chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, to come set up tables and sell books. So a few of us gathered and enjoyed a fine day of meeting people to sell locally-grown organic fiction.

Thanks go out to the market folk who made us welcome, and to Tilia, who put this opportunity together for us.
My thanks to Scott Hambley, for help in unpacking and setting up, and to Steve Rogers, who helped take down and repack (and is a great Booth Bunny). Our group is so supportive!

Lots of support for great stuff made locally. There was music, food, all manner of items for sale.

Here's Tilia Klebenov-Jacobs
To see an interview with Tilia, click here

Connie Johnson Hambley
To see an interview with Connie, click here 

Since Connie was going for the "Best Booth" setup, had to try and match her display...

Hans and Judy Copek

Jason Walcutt and Joan Sawyer
To see an interview with debut author Jason, click here 

 Sarah Smith with Connie

Any market eager to expand their offerings and get more people attending are welcome to request a special appearance by area writers. We're happy to take part and bring in more customers!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Hot Crime Signing

We had a great day at the Hot Crimes in the Summertime big author signing at the New England Mobile Book Fair.
Despite it being a wicked hot August afternoon, we had a good crowd of book buyers! All the authors were selling. Guess everyone still needs beach reads.

Alex (from work) was one of the first ones in. But while he was buying other books, someone bought my last copy of Shadow of the Wendigo, so he has to wait for his...

Steve and Robin, power book buyers and great supporters of the bookstore!

BJ Magnani, doctor and authoress

And with her publisher, Eddie Vincent of Encircle Publications

Great crowd for a hot afternoon

Mo Walsh, our local chapter president of the Mystery Writers of America (our sponsors), who arranged the event for us. A big thank you from all of us!

Me getting my advance signed copy of Murder at First Pitch, Nicole Asselin's debut novel!
Two years ago, Nicole took my class (and copious notes) when I taught mystery writing at the Cape Cod Writer's Conference. Guess I imparted some kind of useful advice!

And I managed to get a shot where everyone looks stoned.

My newest (and youngest) fan, Ori, who decided to go for the scariest story.
Photo courtesy of his dad

Now here's trouble! BJ with superstars Hank Phillippi Ryan and Linda Barnes, who came by to show their support, though they weren't signing, and Elizabeth Elo.

And yet more trouble
L to R: JM Taylor, JJ Shelley, Nicole, and Judy Copek

Author David Shiang, who wasn't part of the event, but who came by anyway.

More troublemakers...

Every year, Hans Copek creates posters with cover images of the recent books by local members of the Mystery Writers of America, and also does it for the local Sisters in Crime chapter.
 So of course we made the authors come up and point to their book, but first we had to have a group shot with Tom Lyons (center, seated), the store owner, who's a terrific supporter of our local mystery community.

And the chapter supplied refreshments, to further entice shoppers. Thanks to all for a great day!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sherman's Book Signing

Had a great Saturday in Portland, Maine, first going to my book signing at Sherman's Bookstore on Exchange Street, down in the Old Port section.

They were ready for me, with a fun sign. Didn't know I was beguiling!

Got all set up and ready to make new fans.

It's a great bookstore, with so much to choose from.

And a friendly staff

Sold some books, said hi to my friends Rhonda and Clay, who dropped by for support, and enjoyed greeting people who came to browse.

Then it was across town to Letterpress Books, to drop off more copies, since they're selling well there. Sold another on the spot!

And a lovely lunch on the water at DeMillo's. Superb dining with terrific views! Make it a stop when you're up that way.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

I'm Featured on a Blog, and Portland Book Signing Saturday

As a member of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, I love the support and encouragement given by the organization members. We have a strong, vibrant, community of mystery writers, and the Sisters group provides so many opportunities for career advancement, with workshops, speaking engagements, and fun get-togethers.

And promotion... today they feature... me!
Here's a Q&A with Kathryn Gandek-Tighe about my new book, the sixth Zack Taylor mystery, A Darkened Room, coming out later this month.

And to prime the pump for the new release, I'll be signing books at Sherman's in Portland, Maine, this Saturday, August 3rd, from 11-12. They're down on 49 Exchange Street, so come to this beautiful city, do some shopping and sightseeing, buy some books, and check out my mystery series- set in Portland!