Guest Chick: Lois Winston

Ellen here, happy to welcome Lois Winston , author of the awesome Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, to her Chicks debut! A pain-in-the-you-know-what mother-in-law. A chatty parrot. One inspired by real life, one total fiction. Read on to find out which is which…

A Curmudgeon of a Mother-in-Law and a Shakespeare-Quoting Parrot

What do a nasty mother-in-law and a Shakespeare-quoting parrot have in common? They’re both characters in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Ralph, the parrot, is a lot more likeable than Lucille, the mother-in-law.


The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries came about as a result of a conversation my agent had with an editor who was looking for a crafting mystery series. At the time, in my day job I was designing needlework kits and projects for various companies and publishers. My agent thought I’d be the perfect person to write such a series.

During this time, my husband lost his job, and although he’s nothing like Anastasia’s Dead Louse of a Spouse, going from two incomes to one while having a kid in college and another in private high school sent me into a tailspin. As if that weren’t enough, I was dealing with escalating mother-in-law problems. Lots of women have in-law problems, but I dare say few can claim they have a mother-in-law like mine.

People deal with stress in many ways. Some crawl into bed and curl up in a fetal position. Some yell, slam doors, and throw things. Some resort to chocolate. Or wine. Or both. I’m a Jersey Girl. Our motto is, “Don’t get mad; get even.” However, not wanting to risk exchanging my wardrobe for an orange jumpsuit, I channeled my revenge onto the computer-written page.

The series starts with Anastasia’s husband permanently cashing in his chips in Las Vegas. Only then does she learn of his gambling addiction. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, her mother-in-law as a permanent houseguest, and a Mafia loan shark demanding fifty thousand dollars—or else. When the dead bodies begin piling up, Anastasia reluctantly steps into the role of amateur sleuth.

Admittedly, on the surface Anastasia and I are somewhat alike. We both have two sons, live in a New Jersey suburb, and have similar careers, although I’m no longer designing. With one major exception, the other characters in my series either spring completely from my imagination or borrow traits from various people I’ve known. That one exception is Anastasia’s mother-in-law Lucille Pollack.

Aside from the fact that my mother-in-law never owned a French bulldog named Manifesto, most family members agree that Lucille is pretty much the fictional spitting image of my now deceased mother-in-law. The photo shown is her as a baby.

Lois MIL

Who would have thought such a sweet looking cherub would grow up into a venom-spewing, bullying old harridan? My one regret is that she didn’t live to see herself in print, not that she ever would have lowered herself to read my books. But even if she had, her ego was so large, I doubt she would have recognized herself in Lucille.

As for Ralph, Anastasia inherited the African Grey from her great-aunt, a Shakespearean scholar and college professor. Ralph not only spouts quotes from the Bard, he manages to come up with situation-appropriate quotes.

Is this possible? Maybe. Maybe not. But the African Grey is an extremely intelligent species. Since Ralph spent decades in Great-Aunt Penelope Periwinkle’s classrooms and lecture halls, he was exposed to quite a bit of Shakespeare over the years. If any parrot could become an expert on Shakespeare, it would be Ralph. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

I don’t know how or why I came up with Ralph. I’ve never owned a parrot. Like Athena, he sprang to life fully formed one day but from my head, not Zeus’s. Call it a lucky happenstance, both for me and Zack Barnes, Anastasia’s new love interest. He and Ralph have developed quite the “bromance”. If you want to know what Lucille thinks of either of them, you’ll have to check out the series.

Authors, have you ever used actual people you’ve known as inspiration for plots or characters in your books? And readers, do you bond more with a character when you learn he or she was inspired by an actual person?


Lois 2

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?

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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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18 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Lois Winston

  1. Welcome, Lois! I have never used actual people in my books, but then again, your mother-in-law sounds much more interesting than any of the real-life people I know (unfortunately for you). I did read a book once where, once I reached the Acknowledgments section, I found out the fictional grandmother who enjoyed putting down the other characters was based on the author’s real-life grandmother. She said many of the sayings she used for that character were actual quotes spoken by her grandmother. It wasn’t exactly a loving tribute!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mark, I think readers tend to bond with characters for a host of reasons. Personally, I don’t think anyone would ever bond with Anastasia’s mother-in-law. She’s the character readers love to hate. 😉


  2. Most of my characters are amalgams of various people I have known or met over the years. I find it’s so much easier to bring them to life if I have real people to get inspiration from.

    As for the African Grey Parrot, I totally believe it! I knew one once, and he was so smart it was almost scary. And the phrases that came out of his mouth were amazing. Though my favorite talking bird will always be the myna at the Farmers Market in downtown Los Angeles that my grandmother would take me to see back in the 1960s who would say repeatedly and to my delight, “Birds can’t talk!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lois, Just bought the book—I’m looking forward to some fun holiday reading! When I was very young, I, too, once had an insufferable mother-in-law. Decades later, she is frail and lonely and we correspond on occasion via monogrammed notecards. (In fact, I am her favorite ex-daughter-in-law.)The murder victim in my very first Ladies Smythe & Westin book, Cardiac Arrest, was inspired by one of my parents’ doctors. Pegged him right down to the ruby pinky ring. #RIPDrA

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks so much, Lisa! I hope you enjoy it.

    I think the universe often eventually gets even with bullies. My mother-in-law alienated everyone in her old age, even my father-in-law who, for most of his life, looked at her through rose colored glasses. It was stunning to see him finally wise up to who she really was.


  5. I think real life inspirations flavor our characters even if we’re not conscious of it! It’s great you knew someone who gave you so much inspiration for a character readers love to hate! Thanks for visiting with us today, Lois!


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