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?

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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 where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Guest Blogger ~ Eileen Curley Hammond

I was in the middle of writing the seventh book in my Merry March cozy mystery series, and to be honest, I was struggling. Then, editor Cass Kim sent a Twitter request for the annual charity short story anthology, Autumn Nights: Nine Stories to Nibble at your Nape.

Even though I love writing daily micro-stories on Twitter, my total experience with slightly longer shorts was holiday ones for our local Sisters in Crime chapter (Buckeye Crime Writers). Luckily, Cass had been following my writing, so I was accepted into the Anthology.

The required elements were to include a bat(s), autumn themes, and be spooky. I’m a pantser and cozy mystery writer, so it should come as no shock that what emerged on the page was a cozy mystery that happens to have a bat as one of the main characters.

You would think that short stories would be easier to write. After all, the word count for the project was less than 8,000, and cozy mystery novels are usually 60,000 plus. But remember, you still need a beginning, a middle, and an end that make sense. Plus, it’s confusing to the reader to have too many characters in a short space, so your potential for red herrings is limited.

I love a challenge, and this was a fun one. It was also good to know that profits from this book will benefit The Trevor Project, which is dedicated to providing crisis support and safe spaces for young LBTQ+ individuals.

The Autumn Nights Anthology is available as both an e-book and paperback. Here is a teaser about my story in the Anthology:

An Unexpected Talent: Miranda had a bad day that she thought couldn’t get a lot worse. And that was before she stumbled over the dead body. Now she’s in the middle of a Halloween murderer hunt, and failing to uncover the perpetrator will mean the end of the world.

I’m pleased with where the story ended up and was very happy with the beta readers and editor, who made it even sharper. Writing the short story also allowed me to experiment more with humor, which I’m actively trying to incorporate into my novels as a break in the suspense. And the even better news is that a hiatus reenergized me, and I am now close to finishing my seventh book, which should be released in November. You can find all of my Merry March cozy mysteries here.

Eileen Curley Hammond retired from a successful marketing career in the insurance industry and now writes the Merry March cozy mystery series. When not pondering all that bats contribute to this world, she is hard at work on book seven of the series. To learn more about her and to sign up for her newsletter, check out her website:

Guest Blogger ~ Peggy Rothschild


Until our home burned down during the Thomas Fire in 2017, I had focused on writing both traditional and coming-of-age mysteries. Sometime during the aftermath of the fire, my agent suggested I try writing a cozy. Having never written one, I wasn’t sure if I could, but decided I might as well try. I read dozens of books to study the genre (and made a list of “acceptable” oaths along the way!).

The next important piece of the puzzle came when I watched a friend compete at an agility trial. I met handlers and their dogs and had a wonderful day—all the while scribbling away in my notebook. Once the idea for a mystery began to take shape, I contacted my agent. I told her I’d been reading to better familiarize myself with the genre and had an idea for a story but was worried there were already a lot of cozies featuring dogs. Her answer: You can never have too many dogs! So I began to write.

It was a lot of fun. Diving into the cozy genre was just what I needed—something light, but still involved, featuring interesting characters, and someone hiding a motive for murder. And, as an added bonus: The research was fascinating. Those middle-of-the-night periods where I pondered “what happens next?” still occurred, but the various directions the story beckoned were exciting to grapple with.

A DEADLY BONE TO PICK straddles the line between cozy and traditional mystery and features two wonderful dogs, Harlow and Noodle—as well as my heroine, Molly Madison. Molly’s dog, Harlow, was easy to “cast” and is based on the dog my husband had when we first met. A sunny, smart, lovable golden retriever, she greeted (almost) everyone with enthusiasm. Casting Noodle took a bit more research. I wanted the story to feature a dog who wasn’t necessarily easy but was smart and had a terrific tracking nose. After much research, I landed on a Saint Berdoodle. They combine the amazing noses of poodles and Saint Bernards and—in Noodle’s case—added in a prodigious drool factor. Weighing in at 180 pounds, training him becomes a necessity for Molly soon after they meet.

When writing Molly, I wanted her to have law enforcement experience so she would be a credible protagonist who understands how an investigation works. I gave her a slightly murky past because life isn’t always simple and straightforward. And I gave her a sense of humor because that’s what helps people handle the twists and turns life can hand out.

Here’s a brief blurb about the story from Penguin Random House:


When Molly Madison, dog-wrangler extraordinaire, stumbles upon a murder in her new hometown, she must track down a killer to save the day.

Ex-police officer and former P.I. Molly Madison is starting over. After the death of her husband, she and her golden retriever, Harlow, move cross-country to California. But as charming and peaceful as the beachside town seems, she soon learns its tranquil tides hold dark secrets.

On her first day in the new house, a large, slobbering Saint Berdoodle wanders in. Molly winds up taking on the responsibility of training Noodle since his owner is too busy to do the job. On one of their daily beachside walks, Noodle digs up a severed hand. Once Molly alerts the police and they run a background check on her, an incident from her past makes her an immediate suspect—after all, Noddle’s testimony to clear her name won’t hold much water in court.

To prove her innocence, Molly must rely on instincts keener than a canine’s to sniff out the real killer. But when Molly’s life is put in danger, will her two very loyal pups be able to rescue her?

A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild: 9780593437087 | Books A Deadly Bone to Pick: 9780593437087: Rothschild, Peggy: Books

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Peggy Rothschild and her husband now live in the beach community of Los Osos—where there are enough trails to keep her out of trouble for years. Peggy’s coming-of-age mystery/adventure, PUNISHMENT SUMMER, was published by Evernight Teen in 2015 and her short stories have been included in The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks and Half-Truths, and Avenging Angelenos anthologies. She also illustrated the children’s book Angie’s Great Big Beautiful Life: Tales of a Rescue Cat.
Peggy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the SLONight Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Her newly released mystery, A DEADLY BONE TO PICK, is the first book in the Molly Madison Dog Wrangler series. Book two, PLAYING DEAD, will be out in February 2023.

You can connect with her at:


To Prologue or Not to Prologue (#2) by Karen Shughart

I promise this isn’t a duplication of Paty Jager’s blog from last Monday. Paty and I frequently seem to be on the same page when choosing topics for our monthly blogs, and when I read her title, I was terrified that my extremely rough draft had somehow made it’s way into scheduling instead of her very well-written and polished one. Fortunately, my fears were allayed when I saw her name as the author. Whew! And while our titles are the same, we’ve written from our own points of view.

Each of the books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mysteries has an historical backstory that’s related to the crime and provides clues to why the murder was committed. In book one, Murder in the Museum, the prologue introduced a character whose journal, written in 1845, was discovered at an archeological dig in Toronto, Canada. The prologue in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, ties the crime to a battle that occurred in Lighthouse Cove, NY during the War of 1812.

My creative juices really started flowing in book two, and I played around with writing two prologues: the first as described above; the other to introduce the setting, the month of May. You’ll have to read the book to learn why that’s important. My dilemma was which to keep and which to discard. I realized I was emotionally attached to both, so decided to get my publisher’s advice-few books are written with two prologues. Her quick response: “go for it,” and I did.

I’m heading down the home stretch with book three, Murder at Freedom Hill. Yet again, I’ve written two prologues: the first, the historical backstory – it takes place in 1859 in Lighthouse Cove during the abolition movement, when fleeing slaves boarded a schooner to transport them across Lake Ontario to Canada. The second is set in November, the month when the harvest is over, and the chill and frost of winter lurk just around the corner.  

What I love about writing this series is that I don’t have to follow all the rules. It doesn’t mean I am undisciplined; I certainly know how to craft a story from beginning to end, but I enjoy taking liberties with commonly accepted writing practices when it makes sense.

It’s up to us mystery writers to decide how our stories will be written. Some begin with the murder; others lead up to it, it can go either way. It’s the same for prologues. Sometimes a book needs no prologue, but at other times a prologue can set the scene and enhance the plot. And at times, two prologues are even better.

Guest Blogger ~ Cherie Claire

A SCANCy series takes on Covid: Ghost Fever by Cherie Claire

            The last thing I wanted to rehash in my mystery writing was the virus that stole two years of my life. Of course, I’m exaggerating. I’m still here and am grateful my immediate family and friends are healthy and well. But write about Covid? Wasn’t high on my list.

            And yet, I had visited an outfitter in a rural area of the Florida Panhandle, just outside Pensacola, and it birthed an idea. Here was a place to zip line, kayak and relax in cabins on a piney woods property with an old schoolhouse from the 1920s and a creepy cemetery — yes, a cemetery! And it got better. Inside my cabin was a book about a rash of UFO sighting in the area in the 1970s. Nearby is a state park named for Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who searched for the Fountain of Youth.

My imagination took off.

            The seventh book in my Viola Valentine paranormal mystery series combines all those elements, but adds time travel as well. What other pandemic had Americans been subjected to — the Spanish Influenza of 1918! That’s in the story as well.

            Ghost Fever may take place in 2021 amid the Covid scare but there’s a lot of adventure to enjoy.

The series features my main character, Viola Valentine of New Orleans. After a hurricane upends her life, Viola separates from a loveless marriage and becomes a travel writer, her dream profession. But the storm also blew open a psychic door. Now she sees ghosts who have died by water and mysteries to solve everywhere she goes.

            She’s what I call a SCANC. But it’s not what you think. SCANC stands for Specific Communication with Apparitions, Non-Entities and the Comatose. And Viola has seen all three!

The key word here is “specific.” Viola repressed her psychic abilities when she was young, tired of being chastised as having a vivid imagination when ghosts would appear. Children of the Paranormal TV show had yet to air so poor Vi had no support system, either. When my mystery series opens, Viola realizes that the trauma of the hurricane opened that door back up, but this time, the ghosts Vi sees are strictly related to water.

Along the way, that husband she tried to distance herself from won’t let her go. When I first started writing the series, I envisioned him a goofy distraction at best. He ended up stealing my heart and has become a colorful fun character throughout the series. He has some supernatural talents as well.

Do they get back together? You’ll have to read to find out.

Ghost Fever is the latest book in the Viola Valentine series, but the fun begins with A Ghost of a Chance, when Viola first discovers her ghostly talent. That ebook is free to download at all online bookstores. I also routinely give away copies of other books in the series through my newsletter. You can sign up and enter the contests at

Hopefully, Viola won’t have to experience another hurricane or pandemic, although being a New Orleans native she’s bound to see another storm or two. Vi has visited numerous Deep South locations and I’ll be sending my travel writing character to Southern destinations in future books, although an Alaska cruise is floating through my mind these days. Pun intended.

Regardless, there will be more Viola Valentine ghost stories to come.

Ghost Fever

The ghosts of the past never stop haunting.

Viola takes a job at her old summer camp in the Florida Panhandle, hoping for a peaceful place to work after months in Covid lockdown. But old traumas from her time at Camp Secret Spring resurface and Viola’s dream of a quiet getaway quickly turns into a nightmare.

Her best friend disappeared that summer, never to be found. Was it the camp’s mysterious water that Ponce de León searched for? Or can her friend’s vanishing be chalked up to the UFO sightings over the years? And just who were the Utopians who lived there before, many of whom died in the pandemic of 1918?

Book Seven in Cherie Claire’s Viola Valentine mystery series.

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Cherie Claire is the award-winning author of a mystery series and several Louisiana romances. New this year is Ghost Fever, part of a paranormal mystery series featuring New Orleans travel writer and ghost sleuth Viola Valentine. A native of New Orleans, Cherie now lives in Georgia where she works as a travel writer, but returns to her home state of Louisiana often. Visit her website at and follow her on social media.


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Twitter: @Claire_Cherie,