Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Lois Winston

As promised yesterday, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Lois Winston is visiting my blog today to answer my interview questions and ones asked by my blog readers. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Above is the cover photo for her January 8th release from Midnight Ink, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun.

When Anastasia Pollack's husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle-class life craps out. She's left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her hateful, cane-wielding Communist mother-in-law. Not to mention stunned disbelief over her late husband's secret gambling addiction, and the loan shark who's demanding fifty thousand dollars.

Anastasia's job as crafts editor for a magazine proves no respite when she discovers a dead body glued to her office chair. The victim, fashion editor Marlys Vandenburg, collected enemies and ex-lovers like Jimmy Choos on her ruthless climb to editor-in-chief. But when evidence surfaces of an illicit affair between Marlys and Anastasia's husband, Anastasia becomes the number one suspect.

Boy does that sound like a juicy plot! See what Lois Winston has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in comments.

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

Some kids know from the moment they pick up their first #2 pencil that they want to be a writer. That wasn’t the case with me. The idea never occurred to me. Then, one night while on a business trip, I had a very vivid dream. This in itself was strange because I generally don’t remember my dreams. But not only did I remember this one, on successive nights the dream reoccurred, unfolding like the chapters of a book. I started writing it down. When I finished, I had a 50,000 word novel that spanned 35 years -- totally unpublishable, but that didn’t deter me. By that point I’d been bitten by the writing bug. Nearly sixteen years later, I’m still writing.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I keep a database where I jot down physical characteristics and personality traits for each character. I also like to find photos that match the way I imagine my characters look. In my books I often use celebrities as reference points in describing my characters because it’s easier for readers to form an image in their minds that way. For instance, in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I describe Anastasia’s mother as bearing a striking resemblance to actress Ellen Burstyn. That way, even if the reader isn’t familiar with the celebrity mentioned, a quick Google search will pull up photos. Beyond that, I give my characters free rein to develop as they want to within the parameters of the story.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I’m a “pantser” who has been forced to become a “plotter.” Having already published several books, I can now submit on proposal (three chapters and a synopsis.) So I don’t waste months working on a book only to find there’s no interest in it. However, writing proposals means I now need to outline my stories. Editors need to know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts, along with your plot arc before they’ll make a commitment.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

I believe both are important. No one wants to read about cardboard characters or stale plots. However, in a mystery, plot is paramount. Still, I want my characters to come alive on the page, be both interesting and believable to the reader, and never TSTL (too stupid to live).

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Very few writers sell the first book they write. Or if they do, it’s after countless rejections and many revisions, often taking years. Patience is key, but when God was handing out patience, I was too impatient to wait in line. So for me, the biggest challenge has been learning to be patient. And it doesn’t end after that first sale. I made the decision to leave my first publisher. It was the right decision, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time in the industry. As a result, it took two and a half years after the release of my second book for me to sell my third book. Did I mention I don’t do “patience” well?

What keeps me motivated? The voices in my head are constantly threatening to beat me up if I don’t keep writing about them.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

This varies by day and week. I juggle three separate careers. Besides writing, I’m also a designer and an associate of the literary agency that represents me. Some days are divided between all three, some days between two of the three, and some days are spent on only one. It all depends on which deadlines are the most pressing.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Don’t give up! This is a tough business. Even NY Times bestselling authors deal with rejection. If you can’t handle rejection and criticism, you’ll never survive. If you can channel the rejection and criticism to spur you to improve your writing, you have a good chance of achieving your goal of getting published.

However, if you want to get published because you think it’s a quick way to fame and fortune, go buy some lottery tickets instead. The general public only hears about the 6 and 7 figure deals scored by celebrities and a select few bestselling authors. The truth is that for every 6 and 7 figure deal, there are thousands that are low 4 figures. The average advance for a first time fiction sale these days is $5,000 or less. Most are much less. And subsequent advances aren’t that much higher. I know bestselling authors who can’t afford to quit their day jobs.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

Well, you can easily find out my favorite TV show and food on my website, so no secret there. And in previous guest blogs over the years, I’ve divulged that motion sickness sidelined my career as an astronaut before it ever got off the ground. However, I don’t think I’ve ever told an interviewer that I used to play the violin -- very badly. Hence, the “used to.”

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m hard at work on the third book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. Look for Book 2 in January 2012 and Book 3 in January 2013. Beyond that, I have some book proposals my agent is shopping around.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

First, I want to thank you, Beth, for inviting me to be a guest at your blog today.

Your readers can learn more about me and find the first chapter of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun at my website. In addition, Anastasia and her fellow editors blog at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, where you’ll find crafts projects, recipes, guest authors and more.

Throughout the month of January, I’m doing a blog tour and book giveaway in celebration of the release of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun. You can find the schedule at both my website and at Anastasia’s blog. Everyone who posts a comment to any of the blogs over the course of the month will be entered into a drawing to receive one of 5 copies of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun. (If your email isn’t included in your comment, please email me privately at lois@loiswinston.com to let me know you’ve entered so I have a way of getting in touch with the winners.) In addition, I’ll also be giving away an assortment of crafts books on selected blogs, so look for those as well.

Thanks, Lois!


jeff7salter said...

Okay, I think I finally caught you, Lois. Assuming you're still 'here' on this blog and not already elsewhere.
Anyway, I really enjoyed that story about how/when you 'became' a writer.
Mine is the opposite. I've been captivated by books since early childhood and always wanted to BE in a book (uh, figureatively). Started writing stories and poems at a very early age. Spent most of my adult life writing poetry ... along with tons of writing at my job.
I'm published in non-fiction, but that (apparently) means less than nothing to agents / publishers / editors in the fiction world.
That said, it was not until I retired from my library job that I started writing novel manuscripts. Talk about a late arrival to the game!
Six completed ms. in 4.5 years.

Alicia Fe said...

I can't wait to read this book as it sounds fun....

Alan Orloff said...

Nice interview, ladies! I always enjoy reading about how other writers get the job done. Looking forward to meeting Anastasia!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Hi, Lois, Hi, Beth, if Lois Winston won't tell it like it is, I don't know who will. Love that the voices in your head threatened to beat you up if you didn't write about them. Kudos to those voices because they gave us a great author.

Cannot wait to read Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. Crafty people amaze me, especially ones who glue characters to chair. Now who would have thunk up that one!

Nice blog, ladies!

Lois Winston said...

Jeff, you've caught up with me. Many people don't get serious about writing until they retire. You're not alone.

As for agents/publishers/editors not being interested in novels by non-fiction authors, I don't think that's true. However, unless you're a celebrity, it probably won't help you. It's the writing that has to snag the publishing professional.

The biggest problem that I see is non-fiction authors and journalists are trained to write in a way that is totally opposite to how a novel should be written. In non-fiction, the writer "tells" the reader the information presented in the book or news item. In fiction, a writer must "show" the story through narrative action and dialogue. It's that "telling" thing that sinks most non-fiction writers trying to break into fiction.

Lois Winston said...

Alicia, thanks for stopping by!

Alan, I do believe Anastasia is looking forward to meeting you, too!

Donnell, you make me blush!

Beth Groundwater said...

Jeff, Alicia, Alan, and Donnell,
Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to the discussion. And Lois, thanks for letting me interview you. This is going to be a fun day here in Beth's blog land!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for inviting me, Beth!

Carol N Wong said...

You know what? I giggle everytime I read the title of this book. I love the imagination that went into this book.

I also think that it is a wonderful way to keep tabs on your characters, physical distinctions and having a picture for them if nifty!


Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Carol! I love it when I hear that I make people giggle. If you do read the book, please let me know if you continued to giggle past the title.

Kari Wainwright said...

I was lucky enough to win some crafts books--now I'm hoping to be lucky one more time and win a copy of Lois's mystery novel.

As for playing the violin -- it's an easy instrument to play badly. I played it in the school orchestra through high school and even though I was not of the caliber to make playing the violin a career, it did contribute to my continuing love of music. Not a bad thing.

gkw9000 [at] gmail.com

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Carol and Kari, for chiming in. Kari, now I know one more thing about you! :)

Lois Winston said...

Hi Kari! Are you one of those lucky people who has won the lottery multiple times?

As for the violin, I think my junior high school orchestra must have been desperate for another body to fill the strings section. By the time I got to high school, I had to choose between art or music. Art won, hands down.

Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

Please enter me in the book drawing.

Michelle Mach said...

This totally seems like a book I should read as a freelancer working for craft magazines!

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Carol-Lynn and Michelle,
Thanks for visiting! And Michelle, I agree with you. Lois's book is a great fit for your interests!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Carol-Lynn!

Michelle, I wonder if we've worked for the same magazines. Hope you enjoy the book if you do read it.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Lois,
Here's a comment from the blog notice that I put on Facebook:

"Cheryl Harding Smith would like to add Lois Winston to my friend list when ever she gets on facebook."

So would I! ;-)

skkorman said...

Please include me in your giveaway!

skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

Lois Winston said...

Hi Beth! Sorry but that's not going to happen. I'm a one woman campaign against Facebook. Trust me, you don't want to get me started on that topic. Please tell Cheryl Harding Smith that I'd love to meet her via my blog -- http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com -- or she can contact me through my website.

Lois Winston said...

Consider yourself entered, skkorman! Thanks for stopping by.

janimar said...

This book sounds like a fun read.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, janimar!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I was sold as soon as I read about the body glued to the chair. Lois, I'm looking forward to a good read. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun sounds like a winner.

Excellent interview, Beth.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for stopping by, skkorman, janimar, and Patricia, and for the compliment on the interview, Patricia! And yes, Lois's book does indeed sound like a very fun read.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Patricia! I hope you enjoy it.

Norma Huss said...

Hello Lois and Beth,

Love the cover, love the idea of a body glued to the floor with a glue gun! (And I'd love to win a book, but I have to say, if I don't win it, I'll probably buy it - that is if I make it to the bookstore before it's sold out - and with the snow, it may take me a while to get there.)

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Norma!

pennyt said...

Great interview - and I love your choice of a weapon!! Can't wait to read the book. Please enter my name in the drawing. Thanks.

pennyt at hotmail dot com

Lois Winston said...

You're entered, pennyt. Thanks for stopping by!

Lois Winston said...

Beth, thank you so much for inviting me guest at your blog!

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Norma and pennyt,
Thanks so much for your comments and for entering Lois's great contest.

I loved having you! Let's make a date for your next book release. :)

Kaye said...

This sounds like such a fun read. You're so right about cardboard characters- no one wants to read about them.


Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kaye!