Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

Pushing the Envelope and Thinking Outside the Box
By Lois Winston

October 4th will see the release of Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, which is currently available for pre-order. At a recent mystery conference, I took part in a panel discussion on cozy mystery tropes. All genres have their tropes, and some authors are extremely careful to conform to the tropes of their specific genre. But then there are those of us who like to push the envelope and think outside the box.

Cozy mystery tropes are comforting. When a reader picks up a cozy mystery, she knows what to expect. She’s not going to be confronted with the darkness of a suspense or thriller. No one is going to harm a child or a pet. She’s going to be able to escape for a few hours into the lives of the amateur sleuth and her supporting cast of characters, and in the end, the sleuth will have been instrumental in solving the crime. HEA (happily ever after) endings are not just for romances. They’re also alive and well in cozy mysteries.

That said, though, do all cozy mysteries have to take place in a small town or village? Does the setting have to be in a rural area, mostly in the South or Midwest? Does the sleuth have to own or inherit a craft shop, a bakery, a B&B, or a bookstore? Although these tropes are abundant in cozy mysteries, more and more authors are breaking free from the usual and giving their cozies an unusual spin. Authors are branching out into new territory. The amateur sleuth is now a chiropractor, a college professor, or even a witch. Series are being set in small, medium, and large metropolitan cities. Romantic subplots (something Dame Agatha would shudder at!) are becoming more and more common with some series even continuing after the sleuth marries.

Years ago, when I was asked to write a cozy mystery series with a crafting sleuth, I decided I wanted my series to stand out from all the other crafting cozies on the market. My sleuth would not own a craft shop or be someone who sold her crafts at fairs. She wouldn’t be part of a quilting bee or knitting circle. And my series would not feature only one craft. I made Anastasia the crafts editor of a women’s magazine, and I decided to feature a different craft in each book.

I also set my series in a suburban town, a short commute from New York City. This gave me the opportunity to set some of my stories in the city and some in the suburbs. In the last book, A Sew Deadly Cruise, I sent Anastasia on a cruising vacation that turned out to be anything but relaxing. After all, there is one trope that every cozy writer, no matter how much she pushes the envelope or thinks outside the box, must conform to—she must devise a crime her amateur sleuth needs to solve.

Are you a reader who’s most comfortable with tried-and-true tropes? Or are you willing to branch out to read about amateur sleuths who don’t always conform to the norm?

Stitch, Bake, Die!
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10

With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.

The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.

Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?

Crafting tips included.

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