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?
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.