Category : Writing


A recent Cartoon of the Day featured a “medic alert ” bracelet with the words DELETE MY BROWSER HISTORY.

Don’t you wish?

Because if the NSA or Big Sister is watching my history, there will one day be a tap on my door, badges shown, and a “Come With Us.” But that’s not the worse thing that could happen. The worst thing is that I’ll be plagued by ads related to everything I checked out online, for whatever reason.

Just this morning I Googled:

• “Murder weapons” in an attempt capture a cool image for another blog;

• A trailer for The Love Boat. A mistake, it turns out, as I was looking for the new CBS show The Inspectors.

• Porch swings. I don’t have a porch and I wouldn’t swing on one if I did. But I wanted to put one on the fictional porch in the book I’m working on and I needed some “realistic” words. I chose “Nantucket” style and distressed pine as my adjectives. Now, I know I’ll be receiving ads for porch swings for a month.

• Victorian furniture. See above. Is it a coincidence that the same red brocade two-seater I checked out for my setting now appears in my FB feed? I think not.

• An e-birthday card site. Friends, I’m only ever going to choose the FREE ones so stop hoping.

If only DELETE meant DELETE.

Why Write About Crime?

Even some of my miniatures end up as crime scenes.

Most of my friends in the mystery writers community have been asked at least once:  Why do you write about murder? Why not romance? Or biography? Or comics?

A few answers to a question in the words of others:

1) The old familiar:

Because All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

— Leo Tolstoy

2) A strange comment from Agatha Christie:

A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no awe, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.

Well, not my mother, but are we to believe that all of Christie’s work represents mothers’ fighting for their children? Hmm, does this mean that even happy families might involve crime?

3) A new one, paraphrasing Michael Connelly in his NYT review of THE WHITES by Richard Price, 2/15/15:

the crime novel [is] something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; [it is] societal reflection, documentation, and investigation

That’s as good a reason as any why I write and read crime fiction.

The Cyclone

“Write what you know” is a common theme among writers. Not bad advice, in general. But in particular, it’s difficult. The more you know, the more experience you have, the more you feel about a topic, the harder it is to put it into a few words that will satisfy you. And if you the writer aren’t satisfied, than pity the reader who has to slog through it.

Thus, only after I’ve sent dozens of my stories out to be read, I’m sending this one, the one I know best. The setting is Revere Beach in the 1950s. I’ve written a little about it in the Periodic Table Mysteries and here and there in this blog, but here is its own story. It’s not about a crime, but it is about fear. And life.

The more you know, the longer it takes to write about it.

Ducks, Cartoons, Ants

I’m thrilled to have a guest blogger today: MARGARET HAMILTON, a longtime friend, author, and recently coauthor of a collection of short stories, SIX SCATTERED STORIES. Her story THE RETURN OF MARCUS CASTEEL is featured in the July 11 issue of New Realm magazine.

Murder Along the Mississippi - Margie and Friends

from Margie:

About twenty years ago I ran across a crayon drawing on one of my mother’s hallway shelves. My best guess is that I drew it in kindergarten. The picture was of three ducks in an almost vertical pond. Each duck had a conversation bubble that read: “QUICK”. Was the drawing an intended cover of a book I planned to write?

Chapter 1: Three ducks swim in a pond.

Chapter 2: Something threatens the ducks, maybe a fox or a hunter.

Chapter 3: The ducks warn each other to quickly fly away from the impending danger.

Or maybe I meant to print “QUACK” in the bubbles. In any case, I wish I had that drawing.

Most of my third through fifth grade artistic efforts were encouraged and nurtured by Miss Mattocks, my art teacher in the St. Louis school I attended. My first big project (it might have been for extra credit) was a story with pictures, kind of like a comic strip. I cut strips of butcher paper, taped them edge-to-edge, made vertical lines to denote frames, then drew and captioned my story. As I recall, it was about ten feet long. Miss Mattocks must have liked it because she let me tape it across a wall.

Around the same time, the boy next door and I published a newspaper of original cartoons (i.e., we made them up). We drew our cartoons on both sides of a large sheet of paper, then copied our work, by hand, onto a supply of same-sized paper. Then we hit the street, selling our latest edition to parents, neighbors, and relatives. The price per edition was probably a nickel.

At some point, I wrote the play I mention on my web site. I titled it Alice in Ant Land. The characters included a girl heroine and several ants. The plot had conflict, tension, and resolution. (However, in re-reading Chapter Four of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, I think it fell short of the Heroine’s Journey.) Though Alice in Ant Land was set in present time, a few friends and I put on the play in our history class. As playwright, I assumed the role of Alice.

It was interesting and fun to think about my early attempts to draw and write fiction. Best of all, it made me recall the teachers, parents, friends, relatives, and neighbors who inspired and appreciated the budding little artists I suspect we all were.

A Stitch to Die For

A guest blog from my agent and friend, Lois Winston. You’ll see that we share a lot more than what’s discussed at business meetings.

Here’s Lois:

My mother never should have had children. However, she was of a generation where it was expected that married couples produce two, three, four, or more offspring, and she did. Unfortunately, none of us was ever wanted. My mother’s birth control would mysteriously fail every time she suspected my father of having an affair. Being an “honorable” sort (and I use that word in the loosest of terms,) my father would then end the affair—until the next time. I was a rather precocious child, and I figured all of this out myself by the time I was ten years old.

Consequently, my siblings and I grew up in a home that was nothing like what was depicted on family sitcoms of the sixties. In a time of great prosperity in this country, my father lost one job after another because of his temper and arrogance and often took his frustrations out on us. When he was working, he spent most of his money on his girlfriends. My mother was so bent on keeping him from walking out on her that we children often went to bed hungry so that she could afford to serve him steak dinners. Love wasn’t in short supply in our family; it was nonexistent.

I’m not telling you all of this to garner sympathy. My childhood made me the person I am today, and for that I have few regrets. I took the adversity of my childhood and rose above it. I also took my life experiences and channeled them into my writing.

Those of you familiar with my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series may be wondering how that could be. After all, I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, and there was nothing humorous about my upbringing. Humor has great healing power, though. Scientists have discovered a direct correlation between laughter and the release of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones of our body. The more we laugh, the better we feel. I choose to laugh, and I choose to write books that I hope will make other people laugh because whether you had an upbringing like mine or not, there’s so much crap going on in the world right now, that we all need as many feel good hormones coursing through our bodies as possible.

I’ve also discovered the cathartic power of revenge—not actual revenge that could land me in prison, but the kind I can produce on the pages of my books. Basing villainous characters on certain family members has a healing power all its own. In my novel world, unlike the real world, the bad guys always wind up paying for their crimes.

One such character is one of the murder victims in my recently released A Stitch to Die For, the fifth full-length book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. If you’ve read any of my interviews or guest blogs over the last few years, you know that Lucille, Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, closely resembles my own communist mother-in-law. However, several of the antagonists that have populated my books, both my mysteries and my romances, are drawn from people who were less than kind to me throughout my life. I’m just keeping mum about which characters and which books. You’ll have to figure those out for yourself.

A Stitch to Die For

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 5

The adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

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Bio: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction 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 @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at


I have a new favorite bookmark:

I used to think I was cheating when I used movies and television shows to illustrate topics in my writing classes. Not any more. I’ve come to accept that I need all the help I can get for teaching and studying story structure in particular.

For analysis, nothing compares to a story presented visually. The stories are short (about two hours, in one sitting, instead of the many hours, spread over days, that it takes to read a book); plot points are often emphasized by music and crafty camera work; characters change visibly, before our eyes, not needing a thousand words. We may miss the leisurely enjoyment of language, but we feel the immediacy, being hit over the head with structure.

A movie I didn’t particularly like brought me my latest thrill in its use of a device to circle back, from the end to the beginning. The movie was THEORY OF EVERYTHING, with an amazing performance by Redmayne, but somehow the writers et al. missed the fact that Stephen Hawking is a physicist. I guess they thought that wasn’t an important enough part of his life and gave it only a “by the way” in the movie.

But here’s the good moment. It’s not a spoiler in the usual sense, but it does give away this wonderful device. The details may be off since I saw it some time ago, but the idea is in tact.


Toward the beginning of the movie, when Hawking is not yet bowled over by his disease, a woman in a classroom drops a pen. Hawking bends over, picks it up, and hands it to her. No big deal.

Toward the end of the movie (he’s now famous, though you’d never guess why from the movie), a woman in a large audience drops a pen as she asks a big question, like what’s it all about, Stevie?

The camera goes to Hawking, who (with appropriate background music) straightens up in his wheelchair, stands, walks down the steps of the stage to where the pen is, picks up the pen, and hands it to the woman. He walks up the steps and returns to his chair to answer the question.

A great little package; an outstanding device, in a movie or in a novel.

The SinC Blog Hop

With this blog, I’m happy to join the Sisters in Crime September Blog hop!

Among the suggested topics: Which authors have inspired you?

My answer: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) and Eve Curie (1904-2007), two authors who may seem to have nothing in common, but have inspired me in ways none have since.

Louisa May Alcott

Little Women was the first and only book I read that wasn’t a schoolbook, until I was in college. Reading was discouraged in my home environment unless it was to ensure a good grade. I’m not even sure how I happened upon a copy.

Whatever critics or scholars have said is the theme/message/quest of Little Women, Alcott taught me that words and stories could move the reader to emotion as surely as a real-life drama.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first to dissolve into tears at Beth’s death, or to root for Jo as if she were my real-life friend. It’s strange to me now that I didn’t learn from that experience, that other books might be similarly rewarding.

Eve Curie's bio of Marie, open to a random page

Several years later, I was in college and came across a biography of Marie Curie in the science library. It was written by her younger daughter, Eve (the daughter who was not a radiation scientist, and lived to 103!). Eve’s book became the second book I read that wasn’t a schoolbook.

In Madame Curie, Eve Curie gave us her mother’s story, in words, without equations, and I found it fascinating. So what if she included only the most flattering, romantic picture of her parents and their life in the laboratory. There would be many other biographies to give a more complete picture.

This second “unrequired reading” set me on the path, finally, to seek other stories.

Louisa May Alcott and Eve Curie taught me that books could provide information, interesting stories, and valuable emotional connections.

Only a few decades later, I decided to try writing my own.

Tagging: Ann Parker to join the hop!


A few nonfiction selections

On LadyKillers recently, we were asked: What do our characters read?

My answer: Not much.

I’m what you might call a heavy reader; I’m not sure why no one in my gallery of characters is even a light reader. They confine themselves to literature that’s pertinent to their jobs or interests, almost never including fiction or reading for relaxation. For example:

• Dr. Gloria Lamerino, retired physicist, reads Physics Today, Scientific American, and the New Yorker cartoons.

• Gerry Porter, retired English teacher and miniaturist, often quotes Shakespeare, but not once in 8 books has she picked up a volume and had a quiet read. She does occasionally leaf through a miniatures or crafts magazine.

• Professor Sophie Knowles, college math teacher, reads and contributes to mathematics journals and puzzle magazines. No fiction.

Finally, with my 4th series, I might have a reader.

• Cassie Miller (debuting in 2015), postmaster in a small Massachusetts town, reads crime fiction. Though I don’t give specific titles, I do have Cassie commenting on certain plot devices, and actually trying to read crime novels or watch crime dramas before bedtime. Granted she’s quickly distracted and turns to focusing on “the case” at hand.

One reason my amateur sleuths don’t read: they’re very busy people! In general, they solve a murder case in a week or at most two weeks. That’s pretty quick, considering real cops sometimes take months, often years. Also, reading is very passive, as opposed to, say, a car chase, a shoot-out, or even a quiet stalking scene. It’s hard to make a reading scene exciting.

She stretched out on the couch, put on her reading glasses, picked up a book, found the bookmark, opened the book,  . . .

See what I mean?

I’m in no such hurry, however, and under no obligation to live an action-packed life, so here’s what I’m reading.

Literary Fiction – recently finished The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson, not as “original” IMO, as his The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

Mystery Fiction – often a cozy and a thriller going at the same time. Now: re-reading California Roll by John Vorhaus, for a book club.

Nonfiction – Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, and Carlin Flora‘s Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are

Technical – A new edition of my text for a fall class, Society and Technological Change, by Rudy Volti.

Assorted Magazines: Writers Digest, Publishers Weekly, the New Yorker (cartoons + articles), and for a Real Break, Real Simple.

My Book on TV: A True Story

A few years ago, Hallmark produced a TV movie based on Citizen Jane, a true crime book by Bay Area’s James Dalessandro. In one scene, Jane’s aunt is pictured sitting comfortably, reading. The book: my first, The Hydrogen Murder! She holds it up, the cover plain as day.

And then an intruder breaks in and murders her!

The book falls out of her hands and onto the floor, cover side up, immortalized as a part of the crime scene.

So, although my characters aren’t reading, someone is reading my characters!

Top of the Rock

I’m in New York for ThrillerFest, and looking forward to a panel with both old and new friends.

It’s only fitting that I took my first Selfie at the Top of the Rock overlooking Central Park during ThrillerFest 2013. Here it is as a placeholder for next week’s report.

Blog Hopping with Friends

Diana Orgain, the very talented author of the Maternal Instincts Mystery Series and many other stories, asked me to participate in a BLOG HOP (which is the only kind of hopping you’ll see me do these days!) The blogs are devoted to how writers go through their process of writing. I hope you enjoy our hop, and will tune in to the writers featured at the end of this blog.

Meanwhile, here are my responses to the Blog Hop questions.

What am I working on/writing? I’m working on a new series for  Berkley Prime Crime: the Post Office Mysteries. I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it’s been official for only the last week! (As one of my author friends says, it’s official when the check clears!)

The first book in the series; Death Takes Priority will be released in August 2015. My protagonist, Postmaster Cassie Miller has already taught me a thing or two about the USPS. Did you know, for example:

• The Postal Service delivers to about one hundred fifty-two million addresses nationwide.

•Almost forty million changes of address are processed each year.

• The Postal Service has zero dependence on tax dollars, relying on the sale of products and services for its operating costs.

• There are nearly forty-two thousand zip codes in the country.

• Many famous people have spent time in the Postal Service: Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Harry S Truman; entertainers Rock Hudson, Bing Crosby, and Walt Disney; aviator Charles Lindbergh; and novelist William Faulkner. Also yours truly, and, no, not when it was pony express.

If you have any interesting/fun/horror post office stories, send them along to me!

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

I try to make my characters a little quirky, but not too much. So, Sophie Knowles is obsessed with puzzles; Gerry Porter with dollhouses and her granddaughter; Gloria Lamerino with costume jewelry pins with a science motif; and Cassie Miller, the new girl on the scene, with all things postal. Not that she actually goes postal.

My mysteries are cozy, so no on-camera sex or violence, but also no crazy mothers-in-law with red wigs, and no groan-worthy puns. Not that there’s anything wrong with . . .

Why do I write what I do? I love puzzles, and cozy mysteries present the ultimate puzzle: the whodunit. But there’s more — writing a novel requires an intimate connection with the characters, and I find it hard to sustain that intensity with a really bad person! So, while I love reading Dexter-type books, I can’t write them. I do experiment with nasty protagonists through flash fiction and short stories.

How does my writing process work? Like Diana, I use every trick and procedure I can think of. When one isn’t working I move to the next. For the most part, I’m a pantser—writing by the seat of my pants. BUT at the end of every book, when I’m struggling with tying it all together, I vow to outline the next time. It hasn’t happened yet.


Next week’s Blog Hop, Monday, June 30 – Meet three awesome writers who will answer the same questions. Rita Lakin, Andrew MacRae, and Ann Parker.

Andrew MacRae is a misplaced Midwesterner who rolled downhill to California and the Bay Area twenty-five years ago. Although his studies were in theater he has worked in the high tech field for most of his adult life, doing engineering work in such fields as real-time process control, operating systems, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. One of his projects in VR was the creation of the Virtual Globe Theatre, a model of Shakespeare’s theater as it stood in 1599.

On the writing side, he has had several mystery and crime stories published recently as well as slipstream, historical stories and children’s stories. For the past dozen years he has also had some success with poetry as well, placing poems in various literary journals and picking up occasional awards.

His mystery writing tends to alternate between cozy and noir. His novel, Murder Misdirected, on the light noir side, is about a pickpocket who picks the wrong pocket one day and is now on the run from the police, the FBI and a mysterious and murderous criminal. While not himself adept at pickpocketing, he is conversant in the techniques and skills employed by those who practice that art and references them in his novel.

In his spare time he leads a monthly folk music jam, hosts a monthly open mic, presents showings of classic movies, produces concerts and staged radio shows and serves on a city historic architecture review board.

Visit Andy at

Rita Lakin spent twenty-five years in Television as a writer and a producer. Some of her credits include Dr. Kildare, Peyton Place, Mod Squad & Dynasty. She has just completed writing her memoir about those early years in Hollywood, entitled The Only Woman in the Room.

She has written seven comedy mystery novels about Gladdy Gold and her senior group of private eyes. She won Left Coast Crime LEFTY AWARD in 2009 for Getting Old is a Disaster. Her third Gladdy Gold book, Getting Old is Criminal is being produced as a TV movie in Germany.

Her many nominations and awards include Writers Guild of America, MWA Edgar, and the Avery Hopwood award from the University of Michigan.

Visit Rita  at

Ann Parker lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is a science/corporate writer by day and a crime fiction writer by night (sometimes vice versa).

Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Silver Rush historical series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver boomtown of Leadville. Books in the series  order include SILVER LIES … IRON TIES … LEADEN SKIES … and, most recently … MERCURY’S RISE.

Her series is published by Poisoned Pen Press, and the books are available in print (hardback and tradepaper), bits and bytes (i.e., ebook), and audiobook formats. Ann has a somewhat dusty personal blog at (time to pull out the dust rag!) as well as being co-administrator and member blogger of The LadyKillers authors blog:

She can be also be found on Facebook at Website: