WHY KEEP WRITING?

Reasons for me not to write any more:

  1. Reached retirement age long ago.
  2. I’ve never been a best-seller.
  3. If I didn’t write I’d have more time to enjoy life, family and friends.

Despite the three reasons I listed, I still have  a need to write the last Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. She’s retired now and I want to send her off into a happy future and tie up a few loose ends for her and her husband. I’ve been hanging out with them both for so long, it is hard to say, “goodbye.”

I did manage to end my Rocky Bluff P.D. series (written under the name of F. M. Meredith) with Reversal of Fortune.

In case you might wonder if I have plans for another series, the answer is probably not.

I do want to write another mystery, a young adult set in Los Angeles during World War II. Why, you might ask. Because that’s where and when I grew up. It was a different time in so many ways and I have some great memories of what went on: Air raid drills at home and at school, Block warden meetings where the kids had a great time playing in the dark while the grown up learned to roll bandages and other tasks, victory gardens, food and gas rationing, being free to go wherever I wanted all day as long as I was home in time for dinner, and telling my friends wild stories like what I said was the truth.

Not sure if it will interest anyone, but I plan to write it anyway.

Marilyn

Discoveries in the Back Yard

When my husband and I first moved to our current home, over forty years ago, we threw ourselves into the suburban backyard life. We planted flowers, veggies, added a terrace and three stone walls, and planted shrubs in lieu of a fence. Over the years we’ve moved the veggies, added shrubs, and coped with various pests. I pick up ideas from the summer garden tours and I’ve used poisonous plants as murder weapons in some of my stories. 

Some gardens are chaotic in color and placement of plants, and others are neatly arranged beds of one or two colors. Some include chickens, decorative pieces, and unusual shrubs. But most are neat and tidy. I admire neat and tidy because that’s a struggle for me.

This neat arrangement didn’t last long.

Over the years we neglected our gardens because of other demands–work, lack of energy, health. For a long time the uncontrolled mess out back bothered me enough to consider hiring a landscaper, but I never went very far with the idea. Then a few random comments from our neighbors changed my perspective. All around me are flat well-kept lawns leading up to a few shrubs by a foundation, and the occasional flowering tree. All very tidy. Our yard offers something different.

My neighbors look out upon trees, our trees, lots and lots of green, thick enough to block out most of the neighbors behind us and to entice deer and other animals. When I look out back I look into the edge of a forest, where a small path seems to lead deep into the dark recesses, the sunlight blocked by a thick canopy. The trees are ordinary but mature, the quiet is soothing, and animals scurry past me. My neighbors and I have seen a coterie of the usual and the not so usual—squirrels, rabbits, toads, mice, raccoons, skunks, voles, opossum, deer, coyote, and possibly a fox.

It took me a while to realize this is now a wildlife habitat. My unruly neglected yard has become something useful for the animal world. The National Wildlife Federation offers a sign declaring an area like ours a Certified Wildlife Habitat, if it meets certain requirements for wildlife: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. The certification process is more complicated than this simple list may make it appear, with more specific examples of each criterion. The Federation website includes a certification checklist for those interested in applying.

The certification sign is really a fundraising tool, but an effective one. As I look out over my yard, where the drought has turned the grass to something akin to straw, weeds proliferate along the edges of the shrubbery, and the ground itself has turned lumpy, I imagine the area growing up naturally, with birds bringing in seeds and animals shaping the ground, with native plants, or weeds, emerging in unexpected places. All this happens slowly, but I can sit on my terrace and enjoy the view, and enjoy the visitors scurrying through my mini forest. And not feel guilty for letting the back yard return to a more natural state.

Writing vs Knitting, Different or the Same?

Have you ever found the bag of yarn for an afghan you planned to knit/crochet during the winter months but not the instructions? That’s what it’s like to write a book. Every time you open the bag, it is full of tangled skeins of possibilities, different yarns, weights of yarn, and colors waiting to be knitted into a cohesive whole that matches a picture you’ve concocted in your head.

Add to the various yarns and colors, different sized knitting needles and crochet hooks, the use of which results in different size stitches, different thicknesses of fabric, and different lengths and widths of the finished product that enrich and add depth to the design.

So, you pull out the yarn, decide on the main colors (characters), secondary colors (second bananas), and pattern (plot). You’re knitting this one in twenty squares. You test the gauge of each yarn against the ruler, so you know how many stitches per square, ensuring they will fit together.

Your design set, you wait a day, look at it again and realize square five needs to precede square four, and what the heck were you thinking on square eleven. You move things around a bit, then start. Square one measures the right size, it follows the theme and color scheme, so you move on to square two. About square five, you unravel square two because the pattern doesn’t add to the flow. As you knit, you revise the design, unraveling on occasion, recasting, and reknitting.

When you have all your squares done, you sew them together. And though you took the utmost care with the colors, size, and pattern of each, it turns out you need a new square sixteen to fill a hole in the pattern that foreshadow the red in the last four squares. Now, you have one too many squares. And square six needs more blue, seven more green, and ten through thirteen more white, then you notice that square nine muddles the whole pattern (what the heck is all that purple). You do the fixes, add square sixteen, remove square nine, and voila, you have a gorgeous afghan.

You take it to your knitting club for review. The first reviewer asks why there is so much red, and the next why there is so much green. They shake their heads at your explanation. Steaming, you take your afghan home, hang it on the wall, and stare at it for a few days. In the end, you unravel some red, leave the green, pull out square fifteen, add a new square with a tinge of purple, and try again. Your reviewers love the changes.

You take a photo, write an ad, attach a price, and place it on Amazon. The first Amazon review reads it could have used some red in the square you removed it from at your reviewer’s request, and what about that dropped stitch you missed? You snarl. Then start square four of your newest creation, purling instead of knitting.

You unravel and start over.

Nova: A bright star….by Karen Shughart

I remember sitting on the wet tarmac in the parking lot of PetSmart. It was a cold, rainy day in April a year into the pandemic. Both my husband and I smiled when a man came walking over to us with a tiny Blue Tick beagle on a leash. I opened my arms and she walked into them, and from that moment it was true love.

We hadn’t wanted another dog, our dear Gretchen had gone over the Rainbow Bridge years before, but when we saw Nova on a no-kill shelter website where other friends had recently adopted dogs, we were smitten. The shelter staff was honest. Nova had been severely mistreated as a breeder at a puppy mill, and when she was of no more use to them, they threw her out. By the time the shelter found her, she had tick disease, ear and eye infections, had been shot multiple times with a BB gun (and had the pellets in her body to prove it) and had not been spayed. They didn’t know how long she’d live, given her health challenges. We decided that that we would love and cherish her for as long as we could.

From the beginning she must have sensed the strength of our love, and we provided her with the best medical care possible. After a few months she got a clean bill of health; her eyes sparkled and her coat was shiny . She loved her kibbles, green beans, and pumpkin, and each morning my husband shared a small piece of banana with her while he was eating his.

Nova

She learned to enjoy her daily leash walks and to not be afraid of grass, she’d never seen it before. Within weeks she was patrolling our yard in search of adventures, attempting to dig under our fence to see what was on the other side, and if truth be told, to find whatever goodies she could forage, she was a beagle after all. When we went out for an evening without her, she watched cartoons on TV and nibbled at a Kong filled with frozen green beans. She adored food puzzles and could solve them faster than we could say her name.

One of my favorite things was winter cuddling. On a cold, snowy day, we’d crawl onto the loveseat in our living room, fire blazing in the fireplace. I’d read with her head on my chest, both of us under a cozy throw; she’d fall asleep and snore softly, a paw on my shoulder. She loved being warm and when we tucked her in on a chilly night, I covered her with a soft blanket. She’d sigh and would lick my nose.

At first, we thought it was the heat, we’d had a warm summer, but this year in late August something changed.  She resisted her walks; when she went outside, she stayed on the deck instead of exploring the yard. Her high, squeaky, indignant howl(that had been suppressed by a bark collar at the puppy mill) to let us know she wanted to come back inside was replaced with her sitting in front of the door waiting patiently until we let her in. She started pacing at night, she couldn’t find a comfortable place to sleep, even with two of her beds in our room. Then we discovered several large nodules on her neck. We made an appointment with our vet, but before we could see her, Nova started having serious breathing issues.

That same night we drove to an emergency clinic, where a technician was waiting to admit her. It turns out she was riddled with cancer; the nodules were obstructing her breathing. Steroids to minimize the symptoms were one option; chemotherapy, too, but with either choice her life would be extended by only a few weeks or months.  We couldn’t bear to lose her, but neither could we bear for her to suffer. We made a choice.

At 2 a.m. that morning we gave her a snack of pureed chicken, talked and sang to her, petted and kissed her; with Lambchop, her favorite stuffed toy, and her “blankie” helping her on her journey to the Rainbow Bridge. Before she passed, she nuzzled us once more and gently fell asleep.

Guest Blogger ~ Lois Winston

Truth, Lies, and Fiction

My plots have always been influenced by real-life crimes and human-interest stories. However, with Guilty as Framed, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, the story is more than influenced by an actual crime; it incorporates that crime, one that has fascinated me for decades, into the story. This, of course, posed various challenges, especially since it involved a cold case that was rife with lies, misdirection, and botched investigations.

The crime in question was the 1990 burglary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, considered the largest art heist in history. The theft consisted of priceless masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, Degas, and others. It involved such disparate characters as a pot-smoking security guard, the Irish mob, and even the Pope. It included the unsolved murders of some of the suspects and as the years passed, the deaths of most of the persons of interest.

There were sworn statements by mob relatives and associates claiming to have seen some of the missing paintings over the years, as well as speculation that the artworks are in Saudi Arabia. And in what must be one of the oddest law enforcement press conferences on record, thirteen years after the robbery, the head of the Boston FBI announced the crime had been solved, although he presented none of the missing artworks nor announced any arrests. He then ended with a plea to the public for help in solving the case.

True crime and cozy mystery are two distinct genres. One is fiction; the other is not. But in weaving a true crime into my fiction, I wanted to hone as closely as possible to the actual events of the case. To do so, I had to take some creative liberties. I decided to focus my story around one specific incident that involved a mob associate and his wife, weaving that aspect of the actual investigation into my plot.

Even though these people have since died, I changed their names and the names of other suspects and persons of interest who I incorporated into my story. (When dealing with members of organized crime, even ones long dead, it’s best to play it safe!) I also created additional characters, thus enabling me to weave a thirty-two-year-old Boston cold case into a series that takes place in present-day New Jersey.

Guilty as Framed is the eleventh book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. In each book I’ve challenged myself to create stories unlike my previous ones. No reader wants to read a book where only the names and places (and possibly the murder weapon) differ from other books in the series. This current book was my greatest creative leap to date. I’m hoping readers find the book as enjoyable to read as I did to write.

Guilty as Framed

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11

When an elderly man shows up at the home of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, she’s drawn into the unsolved mystery of the greatest art heist in history.

Boston mob boss Cormac Murphy has recently been released from prison. He doesn’t believe Anastasia’s assertion that the man he’s looking for doesn’t live at her address and attempts to muscle his way into her home. His efforts are thwarted by Anastasia’s fiancé Zack Barnes.

A week later, a stolen SUV containing a dead body appears in Anastasia’s driveway. Anastasia believes Murphy is sending her a message. It’s only the first in a series of alarming incidents, including a mugging, a break-in, another murder, and the discovery of a cache of jewelry and an etching from the largest museum burglary in history.

But will Anastasia solve the mystery behind these shocking events before she falls victim to a couple of desperate thugs who will stop at nothing to get what they want?

Buy Links

Paperback: https://amzn.to/3QLEYU5

Hardcover: https://amzn.to/3Ans5s6

Kindle: https://amzn.to/3tLnT3d

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/guilty-as-framed

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/guilty-as-framed/id6442846272

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/guilty-as-framed-lois-winston/1141500980?ean=2940185728703

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. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.