Friday, August 31, 2012

Artsy Fartsy Friday - Life in the Crafts Lane with Lois Winston

Today I'm delighted to welcome award-winning author, designer, and literary agent Lois Winston, who writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, among other things. Who knew crafts could be so dangerous? ~ Sheila

When my agent suggested to me several years ago that I try my hand at writing a crafting mystery, it seemed like a perfect fit. Here I was, a crafts designer by profession. I wouldn’t even have to do any research. I could draw on plenty of my own experiences in the industry. I’ve worked consumer and trade shows; designed for magazines, book publishers, and kit manufacturers; even spent several years as an editor of craft books for two different publishers.

The big question was: What sort of crafting mystery should I write? Although I’ve done just about every craft imaginable, my specialty is needlework, primarily counted cross stitch. However, I knew Monica Ferris already had that crafting branch covered. She’d even mentioned me in A Murderous Yarn. (How cool is that?)

Other writers were already penning mysteries about the rest of the needle arts and soft crafts. Same with the hard crafts. I didn’t want my books to be derivative of another author’s work, so what could I do that hadn’t already been done?

Inspiration struck when I realized the common thread that linked all of the crafting mysteries being published. They all featured women (or the occasional man) who owned or worked in crafts shops or sold their own handmade crafts. No one had written about an amateur sleuth who was a crafts editor. In addition, no one had written about general crafts. Every series I came across was craft-specific -- stained glass, crochet, scrapbooking, miniatures, knitting, quilting, etc.

So now I had a unique profession for my amateur sleuth, but I still didn’t know who she was or what her back-story would be. Then one day I burned my finger (for the gazillionth time!) while using a hot glue gun. As I iced my injury and cursed my glue gun for assaulting me, a title popped into my head -- Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun.

After a bit more pondering, I came up with Anastasia Pollack, the crafts editor at what she fondly refers to as a “second-rate general women’s magazine sold at supermarket check-out lines.” And of course, I gave her a personal life filled with conflicts and crazy relatives just because I could. Besides, who wants to read about a protagonist with a perfect life? We’d all want to kill her, and I couldn’t exactly see any editor buying a series where readers were rooting for the amateur sleuth protagonist to become the next dead body.

I faced a bigger challenge in coming up with craft projects to incorporate into my book. I’m used to writing directions, but I’m also used to relying on charts, patterns, and diagrams. I can’t simple say, “Cast on 42 stitches. Work in stockinette stitch for 3-inches.” That works great for knitting but wasn’t going to work for me. However, graphics add expense to a book’s production costs, and as an author trying to break into a new genre, I didn’t want to give a potential editor an excuse for rejecting my series.

Writing directions is a lot like writing a mystery. As an author, I have to know whodunit from the beginning, but I want to surprise my readers at the climax of the story. Did I leave enough clues to keep them guessing or too many that they figured out whodunit by chapter three?

When writing directions, I have to make sure that each step makes sense to the crafter. Even if it makes perfect sense to me, it might not to someone else. Can the crafter move easily from Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3? Are my directions concise and easy to follow or confusing and frustrating? Simple enough to understand or overly complex and complicated?

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun eventually sold and became the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The book featured a variety of craft projects for weddings and the 4th of July.

Needless to say, I’ve been living an unending Sally Field moment ever since. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed Anastasia “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” The book has been nominated for a Book of the Year Award by ForeWords Reviews and two Readers Choice Awards from the Salt Lake City Library System and Canyonland Press.

This past January Death By Killer Mop Doll was released to glowing reviews. That book features projects for making -- wait for it -- mop dolls (duh!) Revenge of the Crafty Corpse will be out in January 2013 and feature yo-yo crafts (no, not the Duncan plastic variety, fabric yo-yo’s.) There will be at least two more books to follow. I’m currently working on the fourth book in the series, tentatively titled Decoupage Can Be Deadly. Want to guess which craft I feature in that book?

Lois Winston is an award-winning, critically acclaimed author and designer as well as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Visit her at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog. Lois also writes romance and chick lit as Emma Carlyle. Visit her at



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  1. What a perfect way to write a writing craft instructions, step by step, to get to the solution. Clever and fun.
    Gayle Bartos-Pool

  2. I'm so happy to hear number four is almost done. And am eager to know what is brewing in your brain for number five.

  3. You make figuring out your protagonist's job and the decision to write about general crafts sound easy, Lois! I'm curious about the time span between concept and publication. :)
    I find figuring out a unique angle the most difficult part. There are So Many cozy mysteries!

  4. Lois, thanks again for being here! Really looking forward to Bouchercon!

  5. Kathleen, #4 is going to end with another cliff-hanger that leads into #5. Maybe in an earlier life I wrote The Perils of Pauline. ;-)

    Cathy, it took six years from concept to sale. The first editor who wanted to buy the series left the publishing house, and no other editor there was interested. Then we thought we had a sale with another publisher, but they decided to fold their mystery line. At about the same time another publisher folded their cozy line and the remaining cozy pubs cut back on the number of titles they were publishing each year. So there were a lot of orphaned cozy writers and not many books being published for a few years. it wasn't until cozies began picking up again that we were able to sell the series.

    Sheila, I can't wait for B'con!

  6. Oh, I'm so excited now, Lois. I didn't realize you would be at Bouchercon! I loved Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun and am glad there are more out and coming! I'm also a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and chick-lit mysteries themselves. Looking all the time for more of those (and working on my own). Glad you stuck with it and found your publisher for the crafting mysteries.