LIFE IN THE CRAFTS LANE
By Lois Winston
Years ago, when my agent suggested 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; and even spent several years as a craft book editor for two publishers.
But 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 craft covered. She’d even mentioned me in A Murderous Yarn when a customer asks for one of my designs. (How cool is that?)
Other writers were already penning mysteries about the rest of the needle arts and soft crafts. Same with 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 the crafting mysteries being published. They all featured women (or the occasional man) who owned or worked in a craft shop or sold their handmade crafts in shops or at craft fairs. No one had written about an amateur sleuth who was a crafts editor. In addition, no one had written a series featuring different crafts in each book. 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 third-rate 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 be rooting for the killer to make her his next victim!
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, which can be problematic in a novel, especially for readers who prefer reading on e-readers.
At first, I chose crafts where I didn’t need to include charts, patterns, or diagrams. But this became limiting as I wrote more books in the series and wanted to feature crafts that need charts, patterns, or diagrams. I solved the problem by deciding to include crafting tips instead of projects in those books.
In Stitch, Bake, Die! Anastasia and food editor Cloris McWerther are the guest speakers and judges at a crafting and baking conference and competition. Anastasia is tasked with teaching a series of workshops on counted cross stitch. Since it would be next to impossible to feature anything but the most basic counted cross stitch project at the end of the book, I instead offer my readers lots of counted cross stitch tips.
The above quote so completely explains this amateur sleuth I actually had to laugh out loud when I read it. The people in Anastasia’s life are so much fun to read, laced with wicked humor and oh so much drama (insert comedic eye roll here). The drama extends to the participants of the Stitch and Bake conference featured in this story. Judging this group of manipulative over-competitive former professional women should be difficult enough for Anastasia and Cloris without the addition of dead bodies and sniping intrigue.
Unfortunately, the backbiting harridans’ lack of empathy for their dead colleagues implicates them all. Throw in the not so grieving husband, the suspiciously behaving doctor, and the chateau employees who seem to know just a little too much about everything. There are too many suspects to narrow it down. It is a good thing that Anastasia plans on leaving this investigation in the capable hands of the police. Like that could happen, good intentions and all.
The story is filled with twisty plot points, fun to really dislike suspects, a touch of thrilling action, and so many great craft and baking tips expertly woven into the story. Lois Winston always delivers and this book is a wonderful addition to the series.
I received an advance review copy for free through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours, and I am leaving this review voluntarily
If you are new to the series take a moment to catch up with a couple of the books at the links below.
Spotlight – Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide by Lois Winston.
Guest Post: The Never-ending Mystery by Lois Winston
With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.
Marlene Beckwith, wife of the multi-millionaire pharmaceutical magnate and country club owner, is both the chapter president and conference chairperson. The only thing greater than her ego is her sense of entitlement. She hates to lose at anything and fully expects to win both the needlework and baking competitions.
When Anastasia and Cloris arrive at the conference, they discover cash bribes in their registration packets. The Society members, few of whom are fans of Marlene, stick up for the accused and instead suggest that Marlene orchestrated the bribes to eliminate her stiffest competition.
The next morning when Marlene is found dead, Anastasia questions whether she really died peacefully in her sleep. After Marlene’s husband immediately has her cremated, Anastasia once again finds herself back in reluctant amateur sleuth mode.
With the help of Cloris, Marlene’s personal assistant Rhetta, and a laptop someone will stop at nothing to find, Anastasia soon unravels evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and too many possible suspects. And that’s before she not only stumbles over the body of yet another member of the Stitch and Bake Society but also finds Rhetta unconscious.
Can Anastasia piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?
Crafting tips included.
USA Today and Amazon 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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Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
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