Let's Talk with Lois Winston
Craft, Crime, Title, or Setting? Which Comes First?
A budding writer recently asked me, “How do you start writing a mystery?” My answer was, “It depends.” Writing is not a one-size-fits-all act, and it’s a bit more complex than choosing the chicken or the egg. There is no right or wrong way to write a novel. Every author has her own process, and most writers spend years developing and perfecting that process. That includes how we start.
I write the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, a crafting-themed humorous amateur sleuth series. Because my sleuth is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine, unlike many other craft-themed mysteries, I don’t limit myself to one craft throughout the series. Just as my sleuth features different crafts in each issue of the magazine where she works, I feature a different craft in each book. I chose this direction when I began the series years ago because I didn’t want to compete with all the other well-established craft and needlecraft mysteries already on the market.
Like many cozy and amateur sleuth mysteries, especially humorous ones, mine employ “cute” titles. Sometimes the craft featured in each book is specifically mentioned in the title, as in Decoupage Can Be Deadly. Other times, it’s inferred, as in A Stitch to Die For. And sometimes a craft is neither mentioned nor implied, but the title still refers to crafting, as in Revenge of the Crafty Corpse.
But which comes first, the title, the craft, the crime, or the setting? For me, it varies from book to book. The idea for the title of the first book in the series, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, came before anything else. Aside from knowing my sleuth would be a crafts editor, I knew nothing about her or how she stumbled into sleuthing.
Because I’m a multi-tasker, while I was mulling over my soon-to-be-written series, I was also engrossed in my day job of crafts designer. But maybe not as engrossed as I should have been because my glue gun slipped and badly burned my finger. Although painful, it led to a Eureka! moment. While icing my throbbing digit, my mind churned. What if someone was killed with a glue gun? Was it even possible? Of course, the murder weapon would have to belong to my crafts editor, thus making her the prime suspect and forcing her to become an amateur sleuth to find the real killer and clear her name. The next thing I knew, my second-degree burn had resulted in the creation of both characters and a plot for my long-running series (twelve books and counting.)
With some books, I start out knowing the craft I want to use, and the plot evolves from there. In Death by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, I had decided I wanted the killer to leave a mop doll at the scene of each crime.
As a crafts editor, Anastasia is not confined to working in a shop. This avoids Cabot Cove Syndrome and enables me to set my books in varied locales. For my latest book, I wanted to write a story that took Anastasia out of New Jersey. My husband and I moved from a New York City commuter town to a suburb of Nashville two years ago. Ever since, readers have asked when Anastasia would move to Tennessee. Although I have no plans for my diehard Jersey girl sleuth to move south, I decided to send her and Zack to Tennessee wine country for a few days.
Once I established the setting, I remembered having seen some lovely collages of antique wine labels when my husband and I were in Napa a few years ago. Anastasia and Zack stay at a Bed & Breakfast connected to a winery. Their guest cottage has a framed wine label collage hanging on the wall. And voila! I had my craft.
I also like to incorporate crimes beyond murder in my books. There are many reasons why people commit murder, and often secondary crimes are committed to cover up the main crime. Several other crimes occur in this latest book. That’s when the title popped into my head—A Crafty Collage of Crime.
As for crimes, each of my books is inspired by real-life crimes or human-interest stories. Sometimes, l decide on a crime, then build the plot around it. That was the case with Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, the eighth book in the series, which was inspired by a murder in a nearby town.
Craft, crime, title, or setting. Which comes first? I never know until the idea pops into my head.
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Posted in Let's Talk, with Lois Winston • Tags: Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, Lois Winston | 42 Comments