Guest Chick: Lois Winston

The Chicks are so happy and excited to welcome USA Today and Amazon bestselling author Lois Winston!
Today the author of her popular Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series (book #10 is now out!) talks about that great mystery of life: how (and if!) to combine romance and mystery in a cozy. Take it away, Lois!

Romancing the Mystery

I once read that Agatha Christie didn’t believe in mixing romance and mystery, even though, along with her mysteries, she wrote a handful of romances under a pen name. Unfortunately, as much as I’ve searched, I haven’t been able to find her exact quote on the subject. So, you’ll have to take my word for it.

I mention this only because much has changed in cozy and amateur sleuth mysteries since Dame Agatha’s day. Many authors now dip their cozy characters’ toes into the dating pool, while some even plunge them headlong into romantic rapids. Still others now dare to leave the bedroom door open a crack. This may have something to do with many mystery authors having gotten their start writing romance. I’m one of them.

Once upon a time I wrote books with HEAs (that’s romance shorthand for happily-ever-after), where the hero and heroine always wound up either married or at least planning to wed by the end of the book. These days you’ll find my laptop planted firmly in the mystery world, thanks to a reluctant amateur sleuth named Anastasia Pollack.

Once Anastasia took over my life, I stopped writing romance—sort of. (Keep reading for an explanation.) Anastasia is a very demanding protagonist. Since the first of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries debuted in 2011, I’ve written ten novels and three novellas featuring her. I’m currently working on the eleventh book in the series. It’s no exaggeration that Anastasia has taken over my life.

When I made the move from romance to mystery, I found I had to switch up my writing style. Romances are character driven. The stories center around the hero and heroine. Mysteries are plot driven. They don’t have heroes and heroines. They have protagonists, whether amateur or professional sleuths, and those protagonists may or may not have a love interest.

Even if there is a love interest, in the traditional cozy the love story plays second or third fiddle to the mystery. Sometimes the love interest is mostly off-camera, only referred to occasionally by the protagonist. A mystery is first and foremost all about the sleuth finding out whodunit. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the characters aren’t fully developed in mysteries. No one wants to read about cardboard characters, no matter what genre. Increasingly, though, authors are weaving more of their sleuth’s family life and relationships into their stories. For me, this makes for both a more satisfying writing experience as well as a richer reading experience when I pick up a mystery by another author.

When Anastasia’s husband permanently cashed in his chips at a roulette table in Las Vegas, her comfortable middle-class life crapped out. Suddenly, she found herself juggling two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her dead husband’s loan shark. Add to that a difficult mother and an even more difficult mother-in-law sharing a bedroom in her home, her mother-in-law’s dog, her mother’s cat, and a Shakespeare-quoting parrot. Toss them all into one small suburban ranch house, and you’ve got chaos galore. And that’s before Anastasia has the misfortune of finding what will turn out to be the first of many dead bodies!

Did I mention I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries?

However, I’m not a traditionalist. I wanted to mesh my romance roots with my newfound love of mystery writing. If I was going to write a multi-book series featuring the same characters, I needed to give Anastasia a character arc over the course of the series. I wanted her to deal with internal, as well as external, conflicts and experience emotional growth as the series progressed. That’s where her dysfunctional family and their assorted baggage come in.

But right from the start Anastasia began to rebel and refused to go along with what I wrote. I needed to dangle a carrot in front of her.

What better way to do this than to turn to my romance roots? Enter Zachary Barnes. I introduced him in the first book when Anastasia rents out the apartment above her garage to him. He claims he’s a photojournalist. But is he? Anastasia suspects his photography is cover for a more covert occupation. Zack also looks like he sprang from the same primordial soup as Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney, and Antonio Banderas. She isn’t sure what Zack sees in her, but chemistry doesn’t seem to care.

Are you a reader firmly planted in the traditional camp a la the mysteries of Agatha Christie, or do you enjoy the newer trend of sprinkling romance among the dead bodies?

Stitch, Bake, Die!

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10

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.

The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects. Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?

Crafting tips included.

~*~

Bio: 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.

34 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Lois Winston

  1. Welcome, Lois! I enjoy romance in mysteries. I also enjoy mysteries without romance. The only thing I don’t particularly care for are love triangles that drag on throughout a series. But I think a good romance can add to the story and a series no matter what Dame Agatha says!

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  2. Thanks for breaking down your mix of mystery and romance, Lois! I like the traditional mystery, but enjoy an occasional touch of romance, especially stories sprinkled with clever humor. Congratulations on your latest book!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for your interesting post, Lois. I haven’t read you yet, but I’ll be sure to give one of your books a try. I grew up in North Jersey, and I also write a crime series with a heavy dose of (non-traditional) romance. I hadn’t really thought about mysteries being plot-driven, because I always considered my stories character-driven, in the sense that if you had two different detectives, each would come up with her own way to approach the mystery. The romance aspects of my books stem from the unfulfilled needs of the main character and almost always serve to complicate the mystery.

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    1. Thanks, Tom. I hope you’ll give the series a try and like it. The reason that mysteries are considered plot driven is because a mystery, first and foremost, is about solving a crime. It centers around external goals, motivations, and conflicts of the protagonist as he or she seeks to solve the crime. A romance centers around the internal goals, motivations, and conflicts of the hero and heroine.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Lois! *waves madly* Thanks for visiting us at Chicks today.

    I don’t mind romance in the mysteries I read, but I can’t imagine writing any. I don’t have a romantic bone in my body! Even the will they-won’t they-triangles don’t bother me, but I’ve always wondered why Stephanie Plum was so stupid not to choose Ranger because, duh …RANGER!

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  5. Lois, thanks for providing a role model for a mystery/romance mashup. I do the same with my microbial mystery series at https://drmayamaguire.com/. I love the suspense of the mystery model, which fits well with diseases from animals being my ‘criminals.’ But through the planned alphabetical series, my characters and readers also need the joy of warm friendships and love. I aim for Happy for Now or HFN for each novel ending, along with a spooky foreshadowing of the mystery in the next book. My first novel has themes in common with the Oscar-nominated film “The Power of the Dog” and has a HFN ending like the movie. We need the hope of human connection in contrast to the intriguing threats in our lives and reading.

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  6. I can enjoy romance in a mystery. However, I HATE triangles that last more than about two books. Three max. And there are times the romance takes over the mystery, and that’s no good. I recently read a book where the main character fell into cliches every time the guy she was interested in was in the same room. It was too much as well.

    I like romance as a sub-plot as long as the author doesn’t over do it, is what I’m trying to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark, I agree. As mystery authors we have to keep in mind readers are picking up our books because they want to read a good mystery. The romance adds realism to the characters but should never overshadow the mystery. If it does, you’re writing romance with a mystery plot, not a mystery with a romance.

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  7. Thanks so much for stopping by today, Lois! And great post. I like a little romance with my mysteries. It gives a bit of a break from the sleuthing and offers insight into the characters. But not TOO much.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think one reason I loved Dorothy L. Sayer’s mysteries so much as a teenager (and still do now), is because in her later books, she brought in a love interest for Lord Peter, in the form of the fabulous Harriet Vane. So, yes, I do like a bit of romance in my mysteries–though it’s certainly not necessary.

    Thanks for visiting the Chicks today, Lois! And you likely don’t remember this, but yours was the very first book I won as a giveaway way back around 2012 when I was writing my first Sally Solari mystery. So thanks for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Lois, thanks for the great post and for being our guest today on Chicks! My Ladies Smythe & Westin Mysteries pubbed with Carina/Harlequin, even though romance for both of my sleuths plays second fiddle to the crimesolving. I am ok either with or without romance in mysteries–really, it depends on the characters. Some of them I’m not sure I would want to accompany them on that journey!

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    1. Hi Lisa! Yes, there are some great mystery characters that do better without any romance in their lives. Or maybe we do better not thinking about them in a romantic relationship!

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  10. Count me in with romance for my mystery solvers.
    I’m not published, am even still trying to catch an agent’s interest, but I have written a manuscript that teeters very closely (if not actually tipping over) the mystery with strong romantic elements line vs. the romance with a mystery plot. I’m sure everybody LOVED writing their book–I sure loved writing mine. And, definitely, the romance was a big part of the fun. It feels to me like anything that fun to write should give at least some niche of readers pleasure to read. Maybe I’ll get a chance to find out someday.
    I am grateful for this blog post. You made my day, if not my week or even my month. Thanks all. And to those writers sprinkling romance into your mystery plots–please never, never, stop.

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  11. Welcome, Lois! What a great post!

    I do like a bit of romance in my mysteries, whether reading or writing. I especially love it if the romantic interest is a flesh-and-blood character rather than someone who just seems to be an accessory for the protagonist.

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    1. So glad you enjoy Zack, Becky! He does enjoy his wine, doesn’t he? I live vicariously through Zack and Anastasia’s love of wine. I get a headache if I drink more than one glass.

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