Wednesday, November 20, 2019

An Interview With Lois Winston

by Grace Topping

I’ve been reading USA Today and award-winning author Lois Winston’s books and following her career for years. It was a pleasure getting to learn more about Lois, her books, and her career both as a writer and an agent. 

Homemade Ho-Ho Homicide
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?

Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Lois.

You’ve written a number of books in the Anastasia Pollack series. How do you keep such a long-running series fresh?

Lois Winston
That’s a great question, Grace. Too often I’ve heard readers say they’ve given up on a series because the author just kept writing the same book over and over again.  Although each book in the series can be read as a stand-alone with the mystery resolved by the end of the book, I have an ongoing personal story arc for Anastasia, hoping readers will want to know what happens next in her life. I’ve also introduced new characters and woven their story arcs into Anastasia’s story, expanding her world. In the most recent book, Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, I brought back a character from Book #4 at the suggestion of one of my readers who really liked him and wanted to read more about him. I’m hoping other readers enjoy Tino’s return as well.

Your most recent Anastasia Pollack book, Homemade Ho-Ho Homicide, is set at Christmas time. How do you incorporate murder into a book without making it a downer for the holidays?

That’s where the humor comes in. I’ve dealt Anastasia a pretty rotten hand (just ask her!), but I’ve also instilled her with a sense of humor, which I’ve learned can help us get through even the worst of what life deals us. Remember A Christmas Story? You can either cry over the ruined turkey or head out to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

Your books are frequently laugh-out-loud funny. How do you balance the seriousness of murder with humor?

Because I no longer write dark, gritty suspense, it’s not that difficult. In cozy mysteries, the murders occur “off-camera” and are never described in lurid detail.

What is it about Anastasia that causes her to look after relatives who should be shown the door?

Anastasia may be cynical and sarcastic at times, given what has happened to her, but she’s a deeply caring person with a heart of gold and would never turn her back on someone in need. That doesn’t mean she’s a pushover, though. She believes in tough love when the situation warrants it, as is evident in the way she sometimes deals with her mother, Lucille, and Ira.

In your Anastasia Pollack series, you provide not only intriguing mysteries but also crafting projects. How do you manage to keep up with writing, blogging, promoting other writers’ books, and developing craft projects?

I’ve found a way to clone myself (but don’t tell anyone!)

You’ve seen different sides of the publishing world as an agent and a writer. How did your experience as an agent affect your career as a writer?

I know what it’s like to receive a rejection letter, and I know what it’s like to have to tell a writer the agency wasn’t interested in her baby. Publishing is a business like any other business. It’s all about profit and loss. That’s a hard concept to accept, but there are so many factors that come into play as to whether a book is accepted or rejected. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the writing. Working on the other side of the table helped me understand that.

You’ve written successfully in multiple genres (mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction). Do you have a favorite among them?

Definitely mystery. For the foreseeable future, I plan to concentrate on writing more Anastasia books. I’m not done torturing her. (Don’t tell her!)

Which do you find harder to write, fiction or nonfiction? Which do you find the most satisfying?

The voices in my head have insisted I spend my time writing fiction. I let them have their way because it’s much more fun to make things up than deal with cold facts.

In two of the nonfiction books you wrote, you share the wisdom you’ve gained during your career. Has writing and publishing changed much since you started writing? What has been the biggest change for you?

Absolutely! When I started writing, there were many more traditional New York publishers, most of which had been around for decades if not a century or more. Then suddenly companies began gobbling up each other. Or they went bankrupt. Now there are fewer places for authors to sell their books. Competition for available slots is stiff. Advances have been slashed for all but a handful of top tier authors and are now paid out over longer periods of time in multiple installments. Royalties are no longer based on retail price but on “selling price.” Try figuring out what that is from your royalty statement! And to top it all off, authors are now expected to do much of the promotional work that their publishers once did for them. 

However, authors now have another avenue available to them. Self-publishing was once frowned upon as something a “real” author would never do. That’s no longer the case. Many traditionally published authors have walked away from their publishers to publish on their own. It’s no longer the stigma it once was. Of course, the downside of that is too many people who really need to learn how to write first are publishing books that should never see the light of day. Once upon a time, we filed those early efforts under the bed to cavort for eternity with the dust bunnies while we developed our craft. That’s no longer the case with many writers dashing off not-ready-for-prime-time books and putting them up on Amazon and other sites.

As a USA Today best-selling and award-winning author, do you feel pressure each time you set out to write another book? 

Definitely. I want to continue to grow as an author and have each new book better than the previous one.

What’s next for Anastasia? Any plans for another series?

I’m in the process of formulating the plot for Anastasia’s next adventure and will start writing soon. Right now I’m in what I call “mulling-mode.” 

As for another series, I do have one. The Empty Nest Mysteries feature a husband and wife team. It’s my homage to the old Thin Man movies but with a modern twist—the wife is an amateur sleuth and her husband tags along to keep her out of trouble. There are two books in that series, Definitely Dead and Literally Dead. At some point, I’ll write a third, but right now I’m devoting all my time to Anastasia. Otherwise, I’d need to clone yet another Lois, and I don’t think my husband could handle that.

Thank you, Lois. 

Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide
Buy Links

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.

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog:


  1. Thanks for joining us today, Lois!

  2. Thank, Annette! I appreciate the invitation Grace extended and am happy to be here.

    Thanks, Margaret! It was a fun book to write. I hope readers enjoy it, especially the unexpected twist at the end.

  3. Thank you, Lois, for the interview. It was fun learning more about you and your books. Your books are perfect for when someone wants an intriguing mystery and a good laugh.

  4. Thanks for your advice to other writers.

  5. Thank you, Lois and Grace, for a fun interview. I'll look forward to reading the Empty Nest mysteries - I am such a fan of the Thin Man movies.

  6. Interesting interview. Lois has lots of experience as a writer and a great sense of humor. Thanks, Grace.

  7. It's great to hear that your experience and hard work is paying off, and that you're willing to share with everyone.

  8. Warren, I hope you found the post helpful.

    Shari, I hope you enjoy them. I had a lot of fun creating Gracie and Blake.

    Thanks, Connie! I'm so much funnier on paper than I am in real life. I haven't met a joke yet that I didn't botch!

    Thanks, KM. I've always believed in paying it forward.