Category : crime

Why a Parrot?

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for the answer to that question!

My guest today is bestselling author LOIS WINSTON. Among other credits, she’s the brains & marketing brawn behind 2 boxed sets that I’m happy to be part of: SLEUTHING WOMEN, 10 first in series mysteries, and SLEUTHING WOMEN II, 10 mystery novellas.

WELCOME, LOIS!

Book 6 in Lois Winston's Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries

“Why a Duck?” is a famous Marx Brothers routine from their 1929 movie Cocoanuts. Some readers who have read my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries have wondered, why a parrot, especially a Shakespeare-quoting one. To them I answer, “Why not?”

I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. I want my readers to laugh while trying to figure out whodunit. For that reason I have populated my books with a variety of comical characters. For instance, Anastasia’s mother and mother-in-law both live with her. Her mother is a former social secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She claims to descend from Russian nobility. Her mother-in-law is a card-carrying communist and leader of the Daughters of the October Revolution. The two women are forced to share a bedroom. Conflicts abound.

But why stop with human absurdist humor? Why not toss in a few furry and feathered housemates? So Anastasia’s mother-in-law comes with Manifesto, the dog (named for the communist treatise), and her mother has a cat named Catherine the Great. The two animals get along as well as their human mistresses.

Did I stop there? Of course not! Overseeing the constant household shenanigans is Ralph, an African Grey parrot with an uncanny knack for squawking situation-appropriate quotes from the Bard. Ralph popped into my head one day as I was fleshing out Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series. I had recently seen a news story about a parrot with a huge vocabulary. The bird basically could carry on conversations with his owner. Why Shakespeare? Again, why not? You have to admit, it’s totally absurd, and that’s what I was going for.

I developed the Anastasia Pollack Mysteries after September 11th. I had previously written dark romantic suspense, but I no longer wanted to write dark. There was enough dark in the real world. I needed an escape from reality, and I figured others probably did as well. With everything going on in the world today, I still need that escape. If you do, too, I have just the prescription for you—Anastasia and her zany household.

Scrapbook of Murder

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

Buy Links:

Kindle http://amzn.to/2ffIMgy

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/scrapbook-of-murder

iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/scrapbook-of-murder/id1286758416?mt=11

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/scrapbook-of-murder-lois-winston/1127145157?ean=2940158851896

Paperback http://amzn.to/2y2Omhl

LOIS WINSTON

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.

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter at https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

New Release!

Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas was released on September 5.


Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas is a collection of ten mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten different authors. Each novella is a tie-in to an established multi-book series—a total of nearly 700 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, cozy, and female P.I. mysteries.

Here’s a list of the novellas, in order of appearance:

Frosted, A Moreno & Hart Novella by Allison Brennan & Laura Griffin—Three years ago LAPD Detective Scarlet Moreno and rookie cop Krista Hart were nearly killed during a botched sting operation. Now, they’re best friends and partners in the Orange County private investigation firm of Moreno & Hart. But their routine assignments are anything but safe.

Crewel Intentions, An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Novella by Lois Winston—Craft editor Anastasia Pollack receives a desperate call for help from former fashion editor Erica Milano, now in Witness Protection. Erica is being stalked and is afraid to notify the authorities. She once saved Anastasia’s life. Will Anastasia be able to return the favor before the stalker strikes?

No Quarter, A Cleopatra Jones Novella by Maggie Toussaint—Amnesia, the doctor says when accountant Cleopatra Jones wakes in a distant hospital. Hours later most of her memory returns. Detective Jack Martinez visits Cleo’s nearby wealthy client, only she’s dead and broke. To Cleo’s horror, she’s a murder suspect. Will she totally recover her memory before the killer returns?

What the Widow Knew, A Kali-O’Brien Novella by Jonnie Jacobs—Attorney Kali O’Brien takes on the case of a young woman accused of murdering her much older, very rich husband. As evidence mounts and other possible suspects are eliminated, Kali’s doubts about her client’s innocence grow. Meanwhile, Kali is also grappling with her feelings for longtime boyfriend Detective Bryce Keating.

The Magnesium Murder, A Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—While freelance embalmer Anastasia Brent prepares the body of a young bride-to-be, she learns the girl’s mother suspects foul play. Once again Anastasia is pressed into service as a sleuth, following a trail of clues in search of a murderer and justice.

Honeymoons Can Be Murder, A Lee Alvarez Novella by Heather Haven— When PI Lee Alvarez goes on her honeymoon with bridegroom, Gurn Hanson, they find a dead woman practically on their doorstep. Kauai breezes may be soft, but there are gale force winds of accusation against Gurn. Will Lee find the real killer before her new hubby gets sent to a Hawaiian hoosegow?

Smoked Meat, A Carol Sabala Novella by Vinnie Hansen—Baker and wannabe sleuth Carol Sabala visits her mother for a family Christmas get-together. It’s murder, in more ways than one.

A Deadly Fundraiser, A Talk Radio Novella by Mary Kennedy—When radio talk show host Dr. Maggie Walsh and her pals start digging up clues in a scavenger hunt at a glitzy fundraiser, the game suddenly turns deadly. Will Maggie and her team be able to crack the case and solve the crime?

The Color of Fear, A Kelly O’Connell Novella by Judy Alter—Kelly receives a written kidnap threat targeting her infant daughter, Gracie. Kelly’s assistant Keisha narrates as Kelly and her family plot their precautions, but as time passes and the threat still looms, fear takes a toll on the family…and on Keisha.

Papa’s Ghost, A Gladdy Gold Mystery Novella by Rita Lakin—Gladdy and her girls accept an assignment iat a famous resort in Key West, thinking it will combine business with pleasure. Once they arrive, Gladdy suspects something is strange. Not only is their client an unexpected shock, but so is the case of murder they are expected to solve. Can they succeed when a whole city is against them?

Too Cute to Live

Sewing scene; marker for scale

Here’s a new scene in one of my miniatures corners, inspired by a friend who gave me carpet that she made from cotton thread, and another who gave me sewing equipment. I’m trying to decide whether to turn it into a (mini, of course) crime scene. It’s a thing with me.

One time I found a lovely Vermont country house in half-inch-scale in a local miniatures store. It was so cute—freshly painted, beautifully finished wood floors, a charming porch—I almost didn’t buy it. Too pretty. What could I do with it except place equally adorable tiny furniture in the rooms?

“How come it’s on sale?” I asked the clerk.

“There’s a defect,” she admitted, pointing to a window on the first floor. Sure enough, one pane in a multi-pane window, made of plastic, was split open.

My spirits lifted. “Great,” I said. “That’s where they broke in.”

The clerk gave me a sideways look, but I was happy. I had my crime scene.

In my mind I was already placing small pieces of glass (plastic) on the floor under the window, tipping over the darling living room chairs, smashing the dainty lamp, breaking one leg of the miniature coffee table.

It’s not just miniatures. There’s something about crafts and murder that have a natural connection. Whether it’s knitting needles or utility knives, scissors or toxic paints and resins, our crafts tables are a storehouse of offensive and defensive weapons.

Although most miniaturists I know have elegantly furnished Victorian or Tudor dollhouses or Cape Cod cottages, they sometimes stray from The Cute with risqué scenes. In fact, every miniature show I’ve been to has a few brothels, strategically mounted higher than kids’ eye level. But other than the fascinating CSI thread a few years ago, there aren’t enough miniature crime scenes to enjoy.

One of my heroines in this regard is Frances Glessner Lee, the Chicago heiress who built meticulous miniature crime scenes (even knitting tiny stockings for the background) and used them to teach criminal investigation procedure to cops. It’s worth a look at her “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.”

My most elaborate dollhouse is a mortuary, fashioned after the building where my Periodic Table Series protagonist lives. Gloria tiptoes past mourners on her way to her kitchen and trips over a trocar when she goes down to do her laundry next to the embalming room in the basement. It wasn’t easy to fashion an embalming table out of foil, but I had to DIY, since no miniatures stores seemed to have any in stock.

A Tip for the Miniaturists Among Us

Just to prove I’m not always turning cute into deadly, here’s a bloodless tip to accent your dollhouse or roombox kitchen or living room: lay bell pepper seeds, enough to cover a quarter, on a paper towel and let them dry. Then place the seeds in an old contact lens/bowl, or a similar “found object,” and you have chips ready for munching (by a very small person).

It’s a project fit for family viewing. No crime scene tape needed.

Doing a Nickel

Where nickels and dimes are spent.

It’s nothing new, but here I am again, confessing that in the ’70s, I did a nickel at a women’s prison in Massachusetts. (If you’re not a TV crime drama junkie like me, you may not know that “a nickel” means a 5-year sentence.)

I did the whole nickel, no parole. My accomplices served with me.

For 5 years, two other Sisters and I traveled from Boston to the outskirts of Massachusetts once a week, to bring college to selected inmates. Our crime, you might say, was the desire to teach—anyone, anywhere, anything.

Sister AC, a crackerjack English professor worked with the women to produce a newsletter. Sister JM, an art teacher, lugged supplies through the gray halls and led a drawing workshop. I taught math for GED prep.

Our students were mostly young women and mostly serving time for  prostitution and/or drugs. They were in a medium-security prison, usually with sentences of a dime or less. Their stories are for another time. This is about their jailers.

Some days were scarier than others—not because of the inmates, but because of the administrators. I can still picture the female warden who ran the place. Her wardrobe was less colorful than the prisoners’ uniforms; her manner more dour. She did everything she could to discourage us and to let us know we were Nothing But a Nuisance to her and her guards. They had to bother inspecting our bags, unlocking the gates, unlocking the classroom, ushering the students to the room. And then reverse the process 3 hours later.

I remember one day, let’s say it was a Tuesday. We arrived as usual, after about an hour’s drive, ready to be searched, growled at, grudgingly admitted.

“Nuh-uh,” the guard said. “No classes today.”

“Why not?”

He gave us a duh gesture. “Today’s a holiday. It’s the 4th of July.”

Of course we knew that, but figured our students probably wouldn’t be with the free people, sitting by the Charles River watching fireworks while the Boston Pops belted out the 1812 Overture.

“The students are here, right?” Sister AC, the senior member asked.

“Yeah, they’re here.”

“And it’s Tuesday,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Class day,” Sister JM said, hoisting her art supplies onto the inspection table.

“You people are a nuisance,” the guard said.

We smiled and went to work.

We learned a lot during our nickel. Enough to convince us to go straight.

Best of 2016

In case you missed this on the LadyKillers Blog. It’s the time for “Best Ofs”.

My favorite book of 2016 came to me by way of a swag bag shared by Ann Parker.
She knew I was mad about Malcolm Mackay’s trilogy THE SUDDEN ARRIVAL OF VIOLENCE, HOW A GUNMAN SAYS GOODBYE, AND THE NECESSARY DEATH OF LEWIS WINTER. If you love a good hit man story, as I do, these books are for you.

So I was ready for Mackay’s newest offering, THE NIGHT THE RICH MEN BURNED. Here’s how the Prologue opens:

He ended up unconscious and broken on the floor of a warehouse, penniless and alone. He was two weeks in hospital, unemployable thereafter, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that, for a few weeks beforehand, he had money. Not just a little money, but enough to show off with, and that was the impression that stuck.

I look for three things when rating a book: character, story, and writing. Mackay is a 10 on all counts. In the first lines (above) you know this character: You know what he values, and what he will do to get it. You have arrived in the middle of a story: the man is unconscious, penniless, and alone. And you have great writing: not a wasted word (also not a gerund or an -ly adverb!).

I’m in a few book clubs, one of which is a mystery reading group at a library. We begin each meeting by rating the book, from 10

I’m almost always amazed at ratings.
“I’d give this an 8 or a 9,” Edna might say.
“But the story was weak and there were 3 subplots that weren’t wrapped up.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Edna will say with a shrug. “But I liked the woman.”

or

“I’d give this story an 8 or a 9,” Ralph might say.
“But the writing was terrible. It could have been written by a third grader.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Ralph will say. “But the story was good.”

and so on.

Apparently, I’m the fussy one, demanding all three criteria are met. I’m curious about you and your rating policies. What does it take for you to give a book a 10? a 1?

Classic Thrills

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to include a short piece on classic crime stories in the MWA NorCal newsletter. Here it is, reproduced with my permission.

You always remember your firsts.

The first time words on a page brought me to tears was when Beth March died in “Little Women.” The first time words frightened me to death occurred when an arrogant, drunken Fortunato was lured into the vault in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Imagine my thrill when I realized how much more excitement and suspense awaited me in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Next I read “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the dark guilt of a murderer is his undoing: I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! (Poe was not one to stint on exclamation points!) “The Pit and the Pendulum” gave me the most meticulous description of a torture chamber: Any death but that of the pit! And surely no character descriptions in literature can match those in “The Man of the Crowd,” the art of following a stranger who captures your fancy.

Still, “The Cask of Amontillado” remains my favorite: I plastered it up. Surely one of the most chilling lines in crime fiction.

A place to curl up with a good thriller

•  Care to share your reading “firsts?”

HALLOWEEN Preview

Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn, rooftop installation at the Met

Few words say “scary” like “Psycho,” the hallmark of suspenseful movies. And few American artists have been as inspirational as Edward Hopper.

Last summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue paid tribute to the movie and the artist with its rooftop installation.

Here’s another view, that’s more revealing of the structure of the “barn”:

I sat on a bench on the rooftop for the better part of an hour. The weather was perfect for a non-sun-worshipper like me: overcast, chilly. In all that time, as crowds came and went, I saw few people approach the structure closer than about 10 feet.  No one ran her hand along the railing, or closely examined the shingles, or checked the flaking paint, though the only written warning was not to climb the steps. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but at one point, when a little girl approached the steps, her (presumably) mother pulled her back in a protective gesture, covering the girl’s eyes.

And no one peered in the windows. I wonder why?

Trending: Zombies!

Never let it be said that The Real Me missed a trend. My guest today is bestselling, zombie-loving CHRISTINE VERSTRAETE. Here she is.

Why oh Why Zombies?

By Christine Verstraete

Thanks Camille for inviting me to your blog. I promise not to scare you or your readers too much. Heh-heh.

This is another stop on the release blog tour for Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.

I can hear Camille asking, why zombies? (You can add a bunch more why’s to that, too!)

My answer: Why not?

Actually, I found myself glued to The Walking Dead TV series like a lot of other people, which one day led to a kind of epiphany: I started looking at the Lizzie Borden records and autopsy photos and realized what other reason could Lizzie Borden have for killing her father and stepmother? The photos give another more sinister reason if you look at it from a horror and supernatural viewpoint.

Of course, writing about a real-life murder can be tricky. The crime was horrific, but with the passage of time, it’s also become history. We’re distanced enough from the actual event that it has become a part of our culture. Who doesn’t remember that sick little rope-skipping rhyme, Lizzie Borden took an axe…?

And since no one really knows much about Lizzie as a person other than the modern-day film and fiction portrayals, it leaves her personality open to interpretation. Spoiled spinster? Greedy? Abused? Jealous and angry? Who really knows?

Obviously there were some problems in that family. There were rumors of Lizzie stealing. The doors in the house were all locked, even inside. Were they locked against someone on the outside—or someone on the inside?

In Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, the enemies are both within and without. Lizzie has to put aside her own disgust, shock and utter disbelief at her own actions and what she’s encountered. But even as she goes on trial and faces the gallows, she is determined to see this horror through to the end. She has to protect her sister, and her hometown, from the terrors that have been unleashed, even if it means uncovering her own father’s secrets.

The Lizzie we read about at the inquest who’s unsure, confused and kind of lackadaisical (likely due to the drugs she was given) becomes a strong, confident woman determined to fight these monsters—and win.

In real life, Lizzie chose to remain in her hometown after the trial, which takes some strength of character in and of itself. How many of us could stay somewhere where every move we made was watched and talked about? Despite being snubbed, shunned and judged by society even after the trial, she is determined to live life on her terms. Or was she thumbing her nose at everyone? Again, who knows?

I have my own reasons as to why she stayed. Having talked to people overseas who had lived in the same home and the same town for generation after generation, it’s easy to see why Lizzie would have stayed. As she says in the book, “I was born here. I intend to die here.”

Lizzie supposedly had gone to Europe like other young women of her time. A theater fan, she traveled to see stage plays. But despite that, and finally having the money to do anything and live wherever she wanted, she chose to stay in Fall River, Massachusetts. Stubbornness? Again, maybe. But roots can grow deep and can be even harder to pull up.

Maybe with all that happened to her, both in real life, and in my fictional, zombie-infested world, Lizzie felt she deserved to live out her life and settle down in the only place she felt comfortable in. The one place she would always call home.

** What do you think? Why do you think she stayed? Please comment (and leave an email to enter the giveaway!)

About the Book:

Every family has its secrets…
One hot August morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden picked up an axe and murdered her father and stepmother. Newspapers claim she did it for the oldest of reasons: family conflicts, jealousy and greed. But what if her parents were already dead? What if Lizzie slaughtered them because they’d become zombies?
Thrust into a horrific world where the walking dead are part of a shocking conspiracy to infect not only Fall River, Massachusetts, but also the world beyond, Lizzie battles to protect her sister, Emma, and her hometown from nightmarish ghouls and the evil forces controlling them.

** Follow the blog tour and be sure to get your copy of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter in print and Kindle Sept. 13!

Add it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31553183-lizzie-borden-zombie-hunter

** Go to Christine’s blog, http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com and enter the rafflecopter giveaway to possibly win 1 of 10 Kindle copies of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.
Email is required for entry. Contest ends 9/14.**

Think you know Lizzie Borden? Read on! The blog tour schedule is:

Mon. Sept 5 - GirlZombieAuthors – Introduction – A Little About Lizzie

Tues. Sept. 6 - Jaime Johnesee blog – 12 Questions for Lizzie Borden

Weds. Sept. 7 - Jean Rabe’s blog – Lizzie Borden… Dog Lover?

Thurs. Sept. 8AF Stewart blog interview

Fri. Sept.  9Haunt Jaunts blog – More Lizzie

Sat. Sept. 10Stephen D. Sullivan blog – Lizzie Films

Sun. Sept. 11GirlZombieAuthors recap; Camille Minichino blog – Why oh why zombies?

Mon. Sept. 12Horror Maiden’s Book Reviews

Tues. Sept. 13 - RELEASE DAY!

Zombies and Toys Review!

Join the FB Release Party – prizes, guest authors, zombie fun! (See info posted on my Facebook page and website.)

Weds. Sept. 14Chapter Break Book Blog – Lizzie as a Zombie Hunter

To give the book a boost: Share a review. And come back to the GirlZombieAuthors blog or the author website for info on another blog tour starting Sept. 26 with Bewitching Book Tours.

End note from The Real Me: If you’re not a believer by the end of Christine’s tour, you’re even more stubborn than I am.

Where am I?

Only a few weeks ago,  I was in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s no secret that I’m more of a street-tree person than a cactus person, but I have to say that the people of Phoenix were welcoming and friendly to the hundreds of mystery writers and readers who landed there for a conference. So, thanks to the organizers and attendees of CACTUS CAPER.

My panel topic was “The Making of a Cozy Murder: What defines a cozy?” moderated by the legendary blogger and mystery fan, DRU ANN LOVE (If that isn’t a great name for a fan . . .)

On a panel with Ritter Ames, Carolyn Greene, Donna Andrews, and Dru Ann Love

We discussed the tropes of cozies, such as the don’t-kill-a-pet rule (no such limitation on little old ladies) and, as Donna Andrews observed, the “Keep it clean” admonition.

One of the more interesting questions Dru Ann addressed to the authors: “Would you make a good amateur sleuth?”

I’d never thought about that before, but (slam to head) I realized my answer had to be NO!

My main shortcoming, besides my current inability to give chase, is that I have a notoriously bad sense of direction. Make that: no sense of direction. I am orientationally challenged. I’m not just referring to getting lost on the freeways, but getting lost in a restaurant.

For example, say I’ve been to the restroom, clearly marked by a large sign. Say I want to get back to my table, where my friends are chatting, expecting me to return. Uh-oh. An embarrassing moment, more so even than if I’d gone into the men’s room by mistake. Unless the restaurant is smaller than my own kitchen, I’m lost.

I try to orient myself by standing at the threshold into the dining area. I try to locate the sign-in desk. Where did we go from there? Can I see the table I left? Many times, I end up seeing my server (I am good at remembering faces, at least). I make an excuse for needing help to my table.

I’ve had this disability all my life, therefore there’s more of a chance now that I’ve remembered to drop bread crumbs on the way to my target—I try to notice that I’m taking a right at the large fake palm, so I should take a left to get back. ETC.

Bottom line: don’t be surprised if I abandon you on our next date. And never, never ask me for directions.

The best of . . .

Don’t you love all the year-end lists? Some of them?

I’m falling into the “BEST OF” trap and reprinting an answer to “Best book read in 2015.”

I heard a talk by Margaret Atwood a few years ago. During Q/A, someone in the audience asked her, If you could take just one book with you to a desert island  . . .

Atwood’s answer: I’d take the longest one, of course.

I could borrow her answer for this blog topic, but that would be cheating. Except that, in a way, my favorite was one of the longest ones, taken together: THE GLASGOW TRILOGY by Malcolm Mackay.

The books have everything I love in crime fiction: a hit man protagonist, writing that you want read over and over, and a story that grabs you and won’t let go until the end, when you sit back and say wow, or some other brilliant comment.

Calum MacLean, 29, is a lot like Dexter, except he’s a hit man instead of a serial killer. Each is engaging, lives by a code, and is smarter than everyone around him.

Here’s a sample that I gave my writing class. I could have chosen any two pages. The pages are full of emotional elements, subtext, and suspense. See if you don’t run out (or in) and grab these up.

CLICK TO VIEW LARGER AND READ