Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Interview with Janel Gradowski

by Pamela James

MM: Janel give us the backstory on your writing career?
I decided that I would like to be a writer when I was in the fifth grade, after my classmates asked our teacher to read my story about a talking car to them a second time. I was hooked! It wasn’t until 10-years ago that I decided to actively pursue those dreams. I began my career by designing and writing beadwork patterns, which were published in major beadwork magazines.

After a few years of success in that realm of publishing I decided to try my hand at my first writing love: fiction. I began writing flash fiction stories and was delighted when some of them found their way into anthologies and even online magazines. Eventually I accomplished one of my bucket list items, writing a culinary mystery. “Pies & Peril” was published in July of 2014 as the first book in my Culinary Competition Mystery Series.

MM: Tell us about your latest book/s?
“Fudge Brownies & Murder” was released on December 17. It is the fourth book in my series. The main character, Amy, is trying to help her best friend through the last month of a difficult pregnancy. While she’s helping make meals and calm frazzled nerves, Amy is also trying to solve the murder of a restauranteur.

MM: What is your writing schedule and where is your favorite place to write?
I get up at 6 a.m. with my teens during the school year. After they leave for school I check my email and social media as I drink my coffee. I usually begin writing mid-morning then try to continue writing, for the most part, through the afternoon. One of the beautiful things about writing is the flexibility, so on busier days I fit writing time in around errands.

My usual writing spot is a recliner in the living room, where I get to watch geese and deer in the field across the road. If I want more privacy, I have a rolltop desk in my bedroom which I can use.

MM: Do you ever reread any favorite books?
I do reread non-fiction books. I have a huge collection of cookbooks. Some of those are like old friends to me. It’s comforting to sit down and read them. Also, self-help books are often on my reread agenda because sometimes they have so much information that I feel like I need to go over it all again to absorb everything.

MM: If you were going to sit down with five authors that you admire. Who would they be and what would you ask them?
The authors would be: Diane Mott Davidson, Joanna Carl, Barbara O’Neal, Judi Hendricks and Erica Bauermeister. They all write culinary fiction in some form, either mysteries or women’s fiction novels. I would ask them where they get the inspiration for the food they mention in their books and about their writing process. I am fascinated by how other writers write – do they outline, do months of research beforehand, etc.

MM: Now for a few get to know you questions. What is your favorite movies/s? What is your favorite meal, dessert, songs, place to vacation, favorite shows to binge watch and favorite person who always had faith in you?
Movie: Frida, about the life of artist Frida Kahlo, starring Selma Hayak.
Meal: A shrimp ceviche tostada with a grapefruit Jarritos soda pop from my favorite food truck, Tony’s Tacos.
Dessert: A tie between cheesecake and tiramisu.
Songs: I’ve been listening to Damien Rice, Hozier and Adele a lot lately.
Places to Vacation: I love the mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Shows to Binge Watch: Eat St., Super Soul Sunday, Destination Truth, any cooking show starring Nigella Lawson or Rachel Khoo.
Favorite People: My husband and children have stuck by me and been understanding throughout all of the ups and downs and sometimes craziness of my publishing career.

MM: Tell us about where you live and be our tour guide on why you love your life?
I live in a rural, agricultural area in central Michigan. The nearest town has two stoplights and the high school mascot is an ear of corn, because the school was built on a former corn field. While I love visiting bustling, larger cities, I adore living in a small town.

MM: What would you like to say to your readers?
I adore my readers! When someone takes the time to post on my Facebook wall or send me an email I can’t help but smile. It’s like getting a warm, virtual hug.

MM: Do you have any hobbies or a collection of anything?
I do several crafts - beading, knitting and crocheting, although I don’t have a lot of time to do those now. Every night I turn off my computer and wind down by reading. My house and ereaders are full of books, so that would be my biggest collection.

MM: What would your protag tell us about you?
Amy would say that I should take the time to cook more, because my life can get crazy and cooking is her favorite way to calm down.

MM: Break down how you write your books. Does it start with plot, character, setting or a situation?
I always begin with an idea for the murder victim. I write notes and scene ideas on index cards. As I begin to fill in the story I come up with a culinary competition and decide on the characters, old and new, who will star in that book.

MM: They say it takes a village to write and publish a book. Who is in your village?
My husband and kids, who put up with a messy house and lots of take-out meals when I’m on deadline. My publisher, Gemma Halliday, who is such a wonderful, kind person to work with and for. And my friends who are also writers. Even though most of them live too far away to meet in person, there’s nothing like daily check-ins with someone who knows exactly what I’m going through to keep me going.

MM: How do you stay focused on your book?
Noise-canceling earbuds and Amazon Prime streaming music. While I can write while in the thick of family stuff, squeezing in a paragraph or two here and there. When I really want to get some serious writing in I turn on music.

MM: Okay what are your favorite conventions, writing retreats, bookstore, conferences?
I’ve been going to the Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor, Michigan for years, as a spectator. It is all about books, so you can find everything from authors, to small presses and artists who handcraft books.

MM: What makes you laugh and do you have a favorite artist, comedian and if your books were going to be a made for television movie. Who would you want to play your protag?
My Golden Retriever, Cooper, makes me laugh every day. No matter how bad of a mood I’m in, his antics make me smile.

I think Megan Hilty would be the perfect actress to play Amy in a television movie.

MM: Lastly, give us a favorite quote? Also a quote by your protag and share with us how, when and where we might buy your book?
My favorite quote is: It’s never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot

A quote from Amy from Fudge Brownies & Murder: "I guess she has a big personality, to match her big hair."

Fudge Brownies & Murder, the 4th book in the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, was released on December 17th. It is available at Amazon and many other online book retailers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Interview with Frances Brody

MM: Frances, give us the back story on how and when you became an author?

I started by telling stories. I’d walk home from school with a friend and spin some tale that would last till the parting of our ways at the corner shop. In my twenties, I wrote stories that were published in magazines and broadcast on BBC Radio. I then wrote radio and theatre plays and scripts for television. My first novel was based on stories told to me by my mother.

MM: Tell us about what you are currently writing and what has been released?

I’m editing the eighth Kate Shackleton novel, Death at the Seaside. My setting is Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Whitby is where Bram Stoker has Count Dracula land in the Russian ship Demeter in the shape of a black dog. Dracula doesn’t appear in my story. But if he did, Kate Shackleton and her trusty assistants, Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden, would deal with him.
My latest release in the US is Kate Shackleton #5, Murder on a Summer’s Day. In the UK, it’s #7, A Death in the Dales. The US publisher will bring out #6, Death of an Avid Reader, later this year. By 2017 publication dates on both sides of the pond will coincide.

MM: They say it takes a village to write a book. Who is in your village and is there anyone you have added to your village in the past year that has been a huge help to you?

The first villager was my mother, Julia. Stories of her childhood, and being orphaned at age eleven, led me into saga writing. Sisters on Bread Street  and Sixpence in Her Shoe have been re-published in the UK this year and will be followed by Halfpenny Dreams in July. I’m happy that Julia saw the first book and I’m so sorry that she’s not here to enjoy the success of subsequent books.

My village teems with the usual suspects. I could gush Oscar-like about  family and friends, my agents and the super teams at the publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Joining my village in the past year are Whitby people who told me stories and anecdotes that helped me bring to life Death at the Seaside.

MM: On another note spring is here please tell us what you are looking forward to this spring and summer?

I hope to spend a few days by the sea, which I love to do. In Britain, we’re never more than eighty miles from the sea. I’ll go back to Whitby as a visitor, setting my notebook aside. Coming soon is the Crime Writers’ Association annual conference. This year it will be held in Norwich, a cathedral city I have never visited. I look forward to exploring, and catching up with my fellow crime writers.

MM: How has 2016 been treating you? Would like to announce any upcoming events, workshops or conventions that you will be attending this year?

The last three years, I’ve been at Malice Domestic, which I’ve greatly enjoyed. This year, I’m staying closer to home. I’ll be at Newcastle Noir at the end of April, in the good company of Ann Cleeves and lots of other brilliant writers. In May, at Bristol CrimeFest, I’m moderating a panel on historical writing. The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival in  Harrogate should be good fun - I’m on the “cozy crime” panel, chaired by Catriona McPherson. After that, it will be the St Hilda’s, Oxford, Annual Crime & Mystery Weekend.

MM: Do you have a favorite local bookstore?

Several great independent bookshops spring to mind but a particular favorite is the Little Ripon Bookshop in North Yorkshire which is family run.

MM: After a busy writing day. How do you relax?

Sorry to be boring. I cook a meal. But tomorrow evening, I’m going swimming!

MM: What authors books changed your life?

In my twenties, I read John dos Passos’s USA trilogy and was knocked out by the scope, radicalism, technique and compassion. George Eliot’s Middlemarch made me understand the intricacies of social change and why personal choices matter so much. Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest books appealed to me because, like Martha Quest, I started my working life as a shorthand-typist. Lessing then brought together so many aspects of a modern woman’s life in The Golden Notebook. Alice Walker’s writing leaves powerful images in my brain.

MM: Do you enjoy history, research and tell us about your favorite period in history?

Yes I enjoy research and particularly oral history. So many experiences of so-called “ordinary people” are in danger of being lost. I like to know how people lived and worked in earlier decades.

My favorite period when at university was the time around the English Civil Wars 1640-1660. We studied pamphlets produced by Levellers and Diggers, radical visionaries who dreamed of turning the world upside down so that it would be a fairer place for those who had nothing.

MM: What do your readers need to know about you and your books?

I’m never sure how to begin. I tell myself, you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

MM: Leave us with some writing words of wisdom.

My words of wisdom come from a Nineteenth Century French Hurdy-Gurdy Player with Dancing Children who performed on the streets of London. His wife taught him to embroider the children’s clothing. What he says about his embroidery strikes me as apt for a person who finds it hard to squeeze in writing time.

I do it at night, when we get home. The evenings are long and I do a little, and at the end of the week it becomes much.”
London Labour and the London Poor, Vol III, Henry Mayhew

Good wishes


Monday, April 25, 2016

Review: Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody

Kate Shackleton's friend is getting married and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle - only her father has been missing for years.  So she begs Kate to find him since she had luck in the past finding missing soldiers after the war.  Kate does so and finds secrets that do not bode well.

I really enjoyed the setting and details of this book.  The Mill town is described well and each chapter begins with a piece of information about weaving textiles that I found a nice bonus.

Kate is likeable and I look forward to more of her adventures


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: Tea is for Terror by Gayle Wigglesworth

Claire Gulliver heads an 'untour' to England & Wales where first time overseas travelers are encouraged to do their own thing at the stops along the way. She was supposed to be co-sponsoring it with her friend Lucy who is an experienced traveler, but Lucy had an unexpected accident right before the trip. Many problems and misdaventures occur during the trip because sinister people have hidden plans.

I really enjoyed this book, partly because I loved the detailed descriptions of the places they visit. Also, I did like Claire and the concept very much. The mystery itself was a bit predictable but enjoyable all the same.


Monday, April 18, 2016

An Interview with Laurie Cass

MM: Laurie, tell us why and how you became an author?

Why did I become an author? Hmm. Well, I suppose it’s because I always felt compelled to write. Which I know isn’t much of an answer, but it’s kind of like trying to answer the question of why I like chocolate. I just do!

The how of becoming an author is a story that starts with a personal vow to get published and, 13 years later, after 6.3 unpublished manuscripts and more failed query letters than I like to remember, ends with the 2010 publication of MURDER AT THE PTA, written under the name Laura Alden.

MM: Give us the backstory on your life?

It’s pretty boring, to tell the truth. I grew up in rural southwest Michigan, graduated from college with a degree in geology, and went to work in the surveying and civil engineering field. After a number of years in management, I felt the need to move on and took a job with fewer responsibilities. A month later, I was dead bored. I desperately needed something to wake up my brain; and as a lifelong reader, I figured what could be better than writing?

I started reading a lot of books on writing and happened across a particular sentence: “What’s it going to be, reasons or results?” That’s when I started writing seriously. I’ve since shifted my day job to the public sector, but my days always start and end with writing.

I also love skiing of all kinds, have recently taken up rowing a single scull, enjoy messing around with photography, and wish I had more time to spend at the piano.

MM: Tell us about your writing schedule?

Most mornings, I get in 20-30 minutes of writing time before heading into the day job, and I try to get in that much writing time during lunch. (I’ve found that taking my lap top and writing in the car where I can’t get a wifi signal provides wonderfully undistracted writing time.)

In evenings, I head up to the attic after dinner and write on the treadmill desk my husband built for me. It’s not exactly exercise, since typing when I’m walking any faster than a slow crawl is problematic, but I figure it has to be better than sitting down.

MM: What would your characters tell us about you?

That I don’t give them enough page space!

MM: Let's talk about your bookmobile series?

Not so very long ago, I was searching for an idea for a new mystery series. This can be a very hard thing to do because there are so many wonderful series out there. Almost everything you can think of has already been done. Other than knowing that my editor had a yen to see my intrepid cat, Eddie, prominently featured in the book, I had no ideas whatsoever. Well, that and I wanted to set the series in Michigan, where I live. Eddie. Michigan. Huh. I needed a leeetle bit more than that.

So there I was, trying to think. There was no way I’d be able to make a fictional Eddie be anything but what he is, a completely loveable dork of a cat. Okay. So write a series featuring Eddie doing…what? Eddie in a china shop? Perish the thought. Eddie in a hospital? Not going to happen. Eddie in a newspaper office? Maybe, but…nah.

Sadly, I have no clear recollection of how the idea sparked into my brain. I do know that it blossomed during an email conversation with mystery writer Krista Davis. (Krista claims not to remember this, but I’m not making this up.) At some point I jokingly said something along the lines of “I could do a series about a cat in a library that’s somehow different than other libraries…hey, how about a cat in a bookmobile!”

Almost immediately, I knew I had something. Say the word “bookmobile” and it’s hard not to smile at the images you’ve summoned. Bookmobiles are personal and cheerful and … hopeful. Books, happy faces, more books, and a little bit of Eddie. Bingo! I had my idea!

MM: If you could sit down for a meal with five authors (dead or alive), and ask them anything at all with wit and wisdom. What meal would it be? What would you ask them and who would the five authors be?

The meal would be at my house, so we would wouldn’t have to worry about hogging a restaurant table for hours and hours. My husband and I would probably make something simple like jambalaya and a salad, because I wouldn’t want to have to fuss too  much. The five I’d invite? Laurie R. King, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Dr. Seuss,  Rachel Carson. I’m not sure I’d have any specific questions; I’d just like to hear their stories.

MM: What  are some of your favorite books that you like to reread?

For whatever reason, young adult books are often my comfort rereads. Cynthia Voight’s JACKAROO is one of my favorites, along with Nancy Bond’s A STRING IN THE HARP and Elizabeth Pope’s PERILOUS GARD. But I also am a huge fan of Laurie R. King and happily reread all of her books. Oh, and Dick Francis. Lots of Dick Francis.

MM: What are you looking forward to in 2016?

The fifth bookmobile cat book, CAT WITH A CLUE, will be released in August, and a book I’ve co-written with Lorraine Bartlett, DEAD, BATH, AND BEYOND will be released in December. Other than that, I hope to make good use of my season skiing pass this winter and come summer, to spend a fair amount of time in the hammock, reading.

MM: Do you ever binge watch movies or television series?

When I was recovering from some icky oral surgery a few years ago, I watched every single season of “The West Wing” in about three months. Since then, I’ve tried to avoid binge watching, but Season 6 of “The Good Wife” is about to arrive in my mailbox so…

MM: What would you like to say to your readers?

To each and every one, I’d like to say thank you!

MM: When I say...people, place, thing what comes to mind?

I go all alert because I know I’m about to be quizzed!

MM: Tell us about where you live? Be our tour guide.

I live where the bookmobile cat mysteries are set, in northwest lower Michigan, a region filled with clear blue lakes and forested hills. My husband and I have the great good fortune to live on a beautiful inland lake in a house that he designed and we hope to never, ever have to move again. This place suits us like none other and I am grateful every day for what we have.

MM: Now for some fun questions. What is your favorite song, movie, place to vacation, hobby, way to distress, favorite color, favorite person/people and someone you would like to meet because you respect and admire them?

Favorite song? I have a classical music background and my favorite piece of music is probably either Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Ballet or Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. My favorite movie is The Sting, and my favorite place to vacation is the dock in front of my house. My favorite hobbies are skiing and gardening, and I de-stress by getting outside and exercising or by crawling into bed and reading. Depends on the weather. My favorite kind of people are those who are comfortable in their own skins, and if I ever had the chance to meet someone I deeply admire I’d probably end up edging away, hugely embarrassed because I made such an idiot of myself.

MM: Lastly leave us with some sage words of writing wisdom?

Rats, I was hoping you’d have some for me! All I can really recommend is to keep at it. If you want to write, write, and don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t. You can. And you will. If you want to badly enough. 

Bio:  Laurie Cass grew up in Michigan and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in the 80’s with a (mostly unused) Bachelor of Science degree in geology. Currently, Laurie and her husband share their house with two cats; the inestimable Eddie and the adorably cute Sinii. When Laurie isn’t writing, she’s working at her day job, reading, yanking weeds out of her garden, or doing some variety of skiing. You can find Laurie on Facebook and at her website

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blog: Computer issues by Pamela James

I have three computers and none of them would work. I mean the screen would go blank. I would be in the middle of composing an email, a blog, writing a review, reply to an email it doesn't matter it would shut completely down and off. For emails it would last maybe five to ten minutes. For interviews go down in fifteen minutes, playing a game not even two minutes.
The list goes on but Frank thinks he might have the acer fixed. The other two not so much at least not yet...
So if I have not answered your facebook message, email, sent your interview or posted your review now you know why and now because of all the starts, stops and madness I do not know where I have left off.
I kept deleting a lot an Frank also had to delete things again tonight.
Bear with me and my friends know they can send me a text.
I was writing interview inquiries down in my notebook by my computer, and the same with sending the interview questions, receiving the interviews but I couldn't even send inquires, or interviews etc...
I couldn't reply to Terri's questions or emails.
Hopefully this will be a start to organizing my world. LOL
Anyway bear with and resend me messages etc...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An Interview with Steven Saylor

Interview With Steven Saylor:
By Pamela James

MM: Steven tell us about the genres you write?

SS: I write historical whodunits. My “Roma Sub Rosa” series features Gordianus the Finder, sleuth of ancient Rome. Most recently, a trio of prequels has taken readers back to Gordianus’s younger days; those books are mystery-driven, but also feature romance, high adventure, daring heists, and international intrigue.

MM: Tell us about your writing schedule?

SS: The best thing about being a writer is sleeping late and setting my own schedule. My books begin with a months-long research phase, which is all about reading, taking notes, and tracking down obscure sources. Once I start the actual writing, I’m good for a six-hour day; after a certain point, the writing gets sloppy, so I have an excuse to knock off early. The only time I work long hours is when I’m designing the maps for my books. It’s so long between maps, I have to relearn Adobe Photoshop every time out, and I get totally lost in the joy of creating the graphics, like being a caffeine-crazed student again.

MM: Your favorite place to write ?

SS: I’m a swimmer, and I love nothing better than going to my favorite pool in the summer (nearby Clarke Swim Center in Walnut Creek, California), swimming a mile, then relaxing for a couple of hours in the shade while writing on my laptop. I feel like a Hollywood star writing his memoirs.

MM: Give us the backstory on your writing career?

SS: I loved books as a child and I always wanted to be an author, from the very first time I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I also loved the ancient world, from all the movies that were big when I was kid, like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and all those Italian gladiator movies with Steve Reeves. When I went to college, I majored in history, which felt terribly self-indulgent, I enjoyed it so. After doing this and that (newspaper and magazine writing, reviewing, etc.), in my late twenties my love of crime fiction and my love of history combined when I read Cicero’s oration for Sextus Roscius, accused of parricide, and saw the potential for a mystery novel. After Roman Blood came out in 1991, the publisher invited me to write a sequel, and the “Roma Sub Rosa” series was born.

MM: Do you ever reread your favorite books?

SS: I used to do this when I was younger, but it’s been a long time since I reread a favorite book. The last instance was Lord of the Rings for the third time, long before the movies came out. I was more impressed than ever by the poignance and majesty of Tolkien’s achievement.

MM: Is there an author or writer who had influence on your chosen career?

SS: Tolkien. But I didn’t become a fantasy writer, precisely because it seemed to me that Tolkien had reached the pinnacle, and I didn’t care to be a copycat. But the world-building I’ve done over the course of the 15 volumes of novels and short stories in the “Roma Sub Rosa” series is very much influenced by Tolkien; it’s just that I don’t have to make up the back-story, it’s there in the ancient sources.

I should also name Mary Renault, whose novels about ancient Greece were hugely popular when I was young and set a standard for historical fiction. She also presented the sexuality of the ancient world in a true light, making it clear that sex and love between men was an essential part of the culture, and that was a great comfort to a gay boy growing up in Texas in the 1970s.
Steven signing Roman Blood Houston 1992
MM: What comes first: the plot, setting, characters or a conflicting situation?

SS: I’d say a combination of setting and conflict. For example, my first novel, Roman Blood, was inspired by Cicero’s first big murder case, defending a man accused of murdering his father. That drew me into researching everything that was going on in Rome in 80 B.C., and then, to explore the mystery, I created Gordianus the Finder. Subsequent novels have always been built around some real event. The ancient sources never fail to give me juicy material and larger-than-life characters, whether it’s Cleopatra or a corrupt politician or a radical conspirator plotting the downfall of the Roman Republic.

MM: Breakdown how you write your books?

SS: First, the germ: the historical event in which I see the inspiration for a novel. Then the research, where I get to play detective, uncovering all sorts of clues and connections. Then the actual writing, which works off all the notes I’ve made regarding the historical details, the character traits, and the crucial plot points. I always discover new connections and motives during the writing; it’s as if I’m on a therapist’s couch, uncovering subconscious links. Once I finish the novel, I let it lie for a while and then do a complete read-through, which usually entails only minimal rewrite. Then the book goes off to my editor.

MM: What comes next in 2016 and tell us about your latest books?

SS: My latest is Wrath of the Furies, which takes place in 88 B.C. Young Gordianus is lured to the city of Ephesus, even as the conquering King Mithridates is plotting to kill every Roman in Asia Minor—every man, woman, and child—in a single day. It’s turned out to be the timeliest novel I’ve ever written, dealing as it does with history’s first massive ethnic cleansing, and with tens of thousands of desperate refugees (Romans) streaming out of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). History repeats.

Next I’ll return to the older Gordianus, with a novel I’ve long been plotting, set against a huge event: the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. There’s another murder that took place at the very same time, and that’s where the mystery lies.

MM: If you were going to sit down with five authors (dead or alive) what would you ask them?

SS: Tolstoy: Did you ever fall in love with another man, as I suspect? Lawrence Durrell: Did you commit incest with your daughter Sappho, as some people think? E.M. Forster: Can we hang out? Homer: Did you create both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and were you really blind? Sophocles: How did you come to write the world’s first murder mystery, Oedipus the King?

MM: Are there any TV shows that you binge watch?

SS: I’m a huge fan of crime dramas from the UK, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. Many can now be seen via a new service called MHz Choice, which I very much hope succeeds. I’d say the original Scandinavian series The Bridge is about the most brilliant thing ever on TV, both seasons one and two, and now there’s a third season.

MM: Be our tour guide and tell us about where you live?

SS: I live mostly in Berkeley, California, a college town with great food and amazing cultural resources, from the renowned local theater to the UC Berkeley libraries. There are also miles of running trails up in the hills. My husband Rick and I also have a condo in Austin, Texas, where we met long ago when I was a history major at UT. I loved the summer swimming holes and the slacker lifestyle so much that I’ve never been able to give them up, and that draws me back several times a year. Another town with great food and liberal culture.

MM: Do you have favorite conventions or conferences that you endorse?

SS: I’ll give a shout-out to Left Coast Crime, which takes place in the western half of the US every year. I’ve also had a great time at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, and at Saints & Sinners, a GLBT conference in New Orleans. I’ve also attended many an academic conference over the years, mostly as a guest speaker to a room full of Classics scholars or history teachers, who love the ancient world as much as I do. They really get what I do.

MM: What ways do you have to eliminate stress?

SS: Running, swimming, working out with weights. That’s when I do some of my best thinking, when I’m hardly aware that I’m thinking.

MM: Do you have a favorite place to vacation?

SS: London! All the allure of foreign travel, and they speak English, so I can take full advantage of all the great theater and other cultural riches. I love that town.

MM: What would your characters tell us about you?

SS: All my books are an act of autobiography done with mirrors, dealing with my own preoccupations and stumbling blocks; all the characters in the books, good and bad, come from my own psyche, and Gordianus is very much my alter ego, an idealized moral version of myself. I think this sort of thing is true of almost every writer.

MM: When you're not writing what do you like to read?

SS: I am greatly saddened by the death of Ruth Rendell, because that means there is only one more of her books for me to read, published posthumously. We had dinner in London once, and she’s long been a favorite of mine. I also read a great deal of ancient literature, purely for pleasure, such as the novels written by the ancient Greeks themselves, of which only five survive intact.

MM: Lastly, leave us with what you want your readers to take away with them about your books? What would you like to say to your readers?

SS: Be skeptical of sources—that was one of the most fundamental principles I learned from my history profs, and it has served me well in every aspect of life. Always look for the subversive reading of the accepted text, as Gordianus does when he confronts a mystery. He never takes things at face value; there’s always more going on than meets the eye. The overarching theme is there in the name of the series, “Roma Sub Rosa”—a secret history of Rome, or a history of Rome’s secrets, as seen through the eyes of Gordianus.

Can you leave us with a favorite writing quote?

SS: My favorite, because it makes me laugh—and because it totally demystifies the process—is from Gore Vidal: “First coffee, then a bowel movement. Then the Muse joins me.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Interview with Lois Winston

MM: Lois, give us the backstory on your writing career?

Unlike many authors, I didn’t grow up wanting to write books. Illustrating them, maybe. I went to art school and have a degree in graphic design and illustration. After a brief stint working in advertising, I began designing needlework and crafts for magazines, book publishers, and kit manufacturers.

One day about 20 years ago, a story popped into my head, and much like the song that becomes an earworm, this story wouldn’t go away. I finally decided to write it down. The next thing I knew, I’d written a 50,000 word manuscript. That book, after 10 years and many revisions, became the romantic suspense Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, my second published novel.

Eventually, I segued from romance and romantic suspense into humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, publishing the first of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series in 2011. There are currently five full-length novels in the series, which include Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, Death by Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly, and the recently released A Stitch to Die For, as well as three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril. I’ve also started a second amateur sleuth series, the Empty Nest Mysteries. Definitely Dead is the first book in the series. I’m currently working on the second.

MM: What comes first person, plot, place or idea?

Usually idea. Then I decide on characters to fit the idea and formulate a plot. Place is always a given because I prefer to set my stories in real locations that I know very well. So most of my stories are set in either the NY metro area or the Philadelphia metro area.

MM: Is there a mentor or other people you would like to thank for their help?

I had a critique partner for several years who really pushed me to be the best writer I could be. I owe a lot to her, both for her editorial skills and her friendship. Sadly, she died suddenly, shortly after my second book was released. Sadder still, we never actually met. She had lived overseas for years. She was about to move back to the States when she died. We were looking forward to being able to meet in person finally. She was a huge believer in Anastasia and would have been thrilled when I sold the series.

MM: What are you looking forward to in 2016?

World peace? Writing more books and having more readers discover my work would also be nice.

MM: Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a writing schedule?

I have a dedicated office where I do the bulk of my writing, but since I have a laptop, I can write anywhere. I need silence, though. I’ve never understood how some people can write in a noisy coffee shop. I’d find all that noise far too distracting.

MM: You write a hobby mystery series. Do you have a hobby?

Not any more. I don’t have time for hobbies. My life revolves around my writing and my family. I do occasionally drag my husband to the theater. I love Broadway musicals, and living close to New York City means I can indulge my passion—when we can afford tickets.

MM: If you could sit down with five authors to a wonderful meal. What would the meal be? Who would you invite and what would you want to know from them?

Do they all have to be alive? Agatha Christie, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain (minus his stinky cigar!), and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Pretty eclectic, right? And I’d just sit back and soak it all in. Although, I would try to wheedle out of Agatha where she disappeared to and why for those 11 days back in 1926.

As for the meal, I’d choose some of my favorites: lobster, asparagus, twice-baked potatoes, and crème brûlee for dessert. And wine, of course.
MM: Do you ever binge watch movies, or television series? If so, which ones?

Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Everything else I watch on a weekly basis, usually a day or two after it airs so I can fast-forward through the commercials.

MM: What is your favorite dessert, song, movie, place to vacation and season?

Crème brûlee, “Rhapsody in Blue”, Shakespeare in Love, anywhere my grandchildren are currently living, and autumn.

MM: Be our tour guide and tell us about where you live?

I live in what’s called a “bridge and tunnel” community of New York City. I’m on the New Jersey side, about 18 miles from Lower Manhattan. Most people who have never been to New Jersey have a negative opinion of the state, but I love living here. Within little more than half an hour I can be in Manhattan, up in the mountains, or down the shore, depending on the direction I travel. My town is often used for the backdrop of television shows and movies because of it’s quaint downtown and many Victorian homes.

MM: What would you like to say to your readers?

Word-of-mouth is so very important for a book’s success. If you’ve enjoyed one of my books (or any other authors’ books, for that matter,) please tell your friends and family. Also posting honest, thoughtful reviews online is always appreciated.

MM: What would you like to say to your friends?

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

MM: Lastly, what would your characters tell us about you? Leave us with a quote that is strictly invented by you or your character?

Anastasia Pollack: “Lois Winston? What does that woman have against me? I was living a typical middleclass suburban life with a loving husband, two fabulous kids, and a great job until she came along and mucked it all up. Now I’m a widow who’s got debt up the wazoo, and I’m permanently saddled with my communist mother-in-law and her devil incarnate dog. And if that weren’t enough, Winston keeps writing me into situations where I’m constantly stumbling over dead bodies! What did I ever do to her?”

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 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. Visit Lois/Emma at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, Follow everyone on Tsu at, on Pinterest at, and onTwitter at Sign up for her newsletter at

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