Norma Huss's Blog
July 26, 2015
I know you write in more than one category. Do you have a preference of one over the others?
I started out writing romantic suspense, but I really found my voice when I switched over to writing humorous first-person novels—initially in chick lit, then in amateur sleuth mysteries. I’m not a funny person by nature. I either forget or mess up the punch line of any joke I’ve ever tried to tell, but I discovered I have a talent for writing funny. Of course, humor is very subjective, so not everyone “gets” my sense of humor, but that’s true of most things in life, isn’t it? Some people “get” you; others don’t.
What inspired you to begin your writing career?
As cliché as it sounds, it was a dream. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but one night I experienced a very vivid one that stayed with me. Every night for over a week the dream continued, unfolding like the chapters of a book. I finally decided I needed to write down the story, mostly to get it out of my system. When I had finished, I realized I wanted to keep writing. By the way, that initial story, after years of revisions, became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the second book I sold.
Characters and plots—are any of yours based on real people or real situations? Does reality ever spark a creative leap?
Most of my plots are born from actual events I’ve read about in the newspaper or watched on the news. I’m a total news junkie. A Stitch to Die For, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, incorporates several news stories that have appeared over the past year—swatting incidents that are occurring across the country and a couple of court cases where children died from salt poisoning.
In addition, some of my characters have been based on people I’ve known. Lucille, Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, is based on my own communist mother-in-law. The woman put me through years of hell. I’m now getting even. Lucille has become the character readers love to hate.
Now let’s talk about your new book, A Stitch To Die For. I love the cover for your new Anastasia Pollack mystery. Will you reveal a bit of a teaser? Or more?
Thanks! I’m really thrilled with the cover, too!
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.
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.
Two weeks ago my mother, Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe, took her sixth trip down the aisle to become Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe Tuttnauer. The groom’s daughter was a no-show. At the time of the ceremony her body was being fished out of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Lambertville, New Jersey.
Ira Pollack, my stepbrother-in-law and the groom’s son-in-law, had just finished a toast to Mama and Lawrence Tuttnauer when two men in dark suits entered the backyard catering tent and headed straight toward him. Given all my dealings with the police over the last few months, I easily made them for detectives, a suspicion confirmed when I spotted them flashing their badges. Ira nodded and followed them out of the tent.
I followed Ira.
He and the two men made their way to the patio at the back of his house. I stopped at the entrance to the tent. The men stood with their backs to me, Ira facing me. From my vantage point I couldn’t hear their words over the conversations and music going on behind me, but I saw the color drain from Ira’s face. He shook his head violently and yelled, “No!” loud enough for me to hear.
I raced across the lawn as fast as I could in three-inch heels. Once at the patio, I placed my hand on Ira’s arm. In a voice that trembled as much as his body, he said, “Cynthia. They found her floating in the canal.”
I gasped, then led Ira over to one of the patio lounge chairs. He collapsed onto the cushion and buried his head in his hands as he choked out huge sobs.
I turned to the detectives, waiting for more of an explanation, but both ignored Ira’s grief to fixate on the party across the lawn. “What’s going on here?” one of them asked.
“A wedding,” I said.
“Ira’s father-in-law married my mother.”
Both detectives knit their brows together and glared at Ira. “Your wife doesn’t show for her father’s wedding, and you’re not worried?” asked the older and taller of the two men.
Ira tried speaking between sobs. His mouth opened and closed several times, but no words came out. I answered for him. “Cynthia didn’t approve of her father marrying my mother.”
“And you are?” asked the second detective, whipping out a notepad and pencil.
“Anastasia Pollack. I’m also Ira’s stepsister-in-law.”
Both detectives repeated the twin eyebrow knit, but neither said anything. Also, up to this point I had no idea how Cynthia had died, so I asked, “What happened to Cynthia?”
“The medical examiner will have to determine cause of death,” said the older detective. “We’re waiting on an autopsy.”
“Do you suspect foul play?”
“Why would you suggest that?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I can’t imagine how Cynthia would land in the canal on her own. She isn’t…wasn’t the canal-strolling type.” Dirt and extremely expensive designer duds don’t mix.
“What type was she?” asked the younger detective.
Cynthia the Trophy Wife was more the spend-all-day-spending-Ira’s-money type. I thought for a moment, not wanting to say anything that might be misconstrued. If Cynthia hadn’t died of natural causes, Ira would wind up at the top of the suspect list. “I only met her once,” I said, “but I’d describe her as someone more interested in indoor activities than communing with nature.”
The spouse is always the prime suspect, but Ira was no killer. The man didn’t even have the backbone to discipline his bratty kids. If Cynthia had met with foul play, my money was on the pool boy she’d run off with weeks earlier. “Ira, you have to tell the detectives what happened with Cynthia.”
(Other books in the series include Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, Death by Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly, and three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril.)
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 her website and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog. Follow everyone on Tsu, on Pinterest, and on Twitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter here.
July 22, 2015
There’s nothing better than a summer picnic, along with a few summer games. It’s time to look in my “many years ago” file. I found a picture from a Sunday School picnic with children dressed to enjoy a lot of fun.
Umm, really? The year was 1908. The children gathered at the church, then marched to the picnic grounds, accompanied by a band. A decorated wagon carried those too young to walk. The activities included a program with drills, music, and addresses by prominent speakers. Finally, a free supper wrapped up the event. But not before the accompanying photo was taken.
Where were the children’s games, the splashing in water, Where
were the races? I remember those— three-legged race, wheelbarrow race, all number of ways to give the little ones a fun time. And, don’t forget the gunny sack race. (Gotta be dressed just right for that one.)
Speaking of being dressed just right, and races as well—how about a goat race? Twenty-five years ago, that was on the summer picnic agenda. And of course, the goat had to be dressed for the occasion. (Don’t know if this was the winner, the loser, or just the most photogenic.)
Do you remember school picnics in your past? Maybe there are some in your present and future. (Or, do they still have them?)
July 19, 2015
Suzanne Adair has presented the reading public with another excellent historic mystery adventure. This book is Michael Stoddard’s story. He’s a British officer in America at the time of our Revolution. The earlier books in this series tell the stories of Americans during that time, and a few of the characters appear in all of the books. They, and this one as well, show the conflicting loyalties of people in our past, including the English Michael. Besides that, there’s the main story of a missing young boy and how Michael and his second in command worked toward finding the boy while also following their commanding officer’s orders. I won’t say more, don’t want to ruin the story for anyone.
Highly recommended to lovers of history, and mystery. This book satisfies on every level! It’s a mystery with great characters, solid history, suspense, and emotion. It’s historical fiction with revealing attitudes and war-time danger. It’s a character study with “real” fictional people who had a past and will have a future. It’s romantic suspense with anticipation. And finally, it’s emotion transferred from words on paper (or, in my case, on Kindle) to the reader.
I’ll send you to Suzanne’s Amazon page where all her books are listed (mysteries of our Revolution in the Southern states) and Suzanne’s website and blog. Her blog hosts guest authors with a wide variety of books, often including giveaways. (Always interesting.)
July 16, 2015
Every day when I sit at my computer, I see a clipping I cut out years ago. It’s a picture of a dog and a cat. In these days of viral videos showing animals of all kinds playing with each other, this one typifies the usual belief of dogs and cats as wary enemies. The dog’s head seen from the rear tips ever so slightly toward the cat. The cat gingerly passes the dog while watching for any wayward movements. It’s an illustration from a book for writers, The Pocket Muse. It illustrates the sentence, “Most good stories are about trouble,” and includes a list of troubles.
When I look at that page, even more than trouble, I think, suspense, suspicion, what if…
Today I’m paying special attention to that illustration, since I’m deep into a final edit of a mystery, I know my reader must have that same sense—that something will surely happen, but not in a good way. Will the reader be slightly disoriented, possibly leery of questionable actions, even fearful of what might happen to a character on the next page? Will the reader turn the next page?
Ah, that is the eternal question.
So, even after my manuscript has undergone peer review with a critique group, a full professional edit, and a perusal by a beta reader, I’m going over it again. I’ve noted articles in the recent Writers’ Digest issue on revision, I’m checking my pages for violations of the 24 problems explained in Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. (Okay, that one is my Bible.) And, especially, I want to make sure each chapter, each scene, each page entices the reader to eagerly turn the page.
And, if I’m successful, my reader will have a mystery that provides exactly what the reader wants—a good book—a story that satisfies and possibly educates in some small way.
July 12, 2015
US Womens Golf Leaders
Our local news is all about the US Women’s Open golf tournament at the Lancaster Country Club—just a hop, skip, and jump away from my home. I really should honor that by profiling a golfing mystery that I’ve read. Except—I haven’t read any golfing mysteries. So, what’s my next best idea? Hmmm.
Golf, an ancient game, originated in Scotland, right? And—I do have a book in my favorites file called, ta, da…What Happens In Scotland. No golf anywhere. Not even a mystery. An historic romance, almost a bodice ripper. So not what I usually like. But, I read this book with great pleasure.
Here is my five star review of What Happens In Scotland: “I absolutely had to get this book after I read a page or two. What’s not to pull a reader in? Lady Georgette finding herself, a respectable young widow, in bed with a stranger. Although this is historic romance, there is definitely an air of mystery. Who is the bounder? How did the lady find herself in the situation, where were her clothes, and why was there broken glass all over the floor?
You’ve got to admit, with a beginning like that, where can the story go? I tell you, it improves! Not only is the action rollicking and filled with peril, the unexpected twists and turns keeps a reader up until the wee hours. I finished this in record time, and wished it had been longer.
Okay, my review doesn’t tell you much. I’ll include the official blurb.
Jennifer McQuiston’s debut historical romance, What Happens in Scotland, is a lively, romantic adventure about a wedding that neither the bride or the groom remembers.
Lady Georgette Thorold has always been wary of marriage, so when she wakes up next to an attractive Scotsman with a wedding ring on her finger, it’s easy to understand why she panics and flees. Convinced that Georgette is a thief, her maybe husband, James McKenzie, searches for her. As both try to recall what happened that fateful night, they begin to realize that their attraction and desire for each other is undeniable. But is it enough?
There are hidden caves and midnight horse rides, if I remember correctly, but nary a golf club in sight.
July 9, 2015
Rear Admiral Cockburn
The War of 1812 did not start in earnest for those on Chesapeake Bay until 1813. Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn was given the task: ruin coastal trade, destroy supplies of grain and livestock, and terrorize the population in general. In late April he reached Kent County, Maryland. His force consisted of one 74 (a gun ship), three frigates, two brigs, two schooners, and a number of tenders and barges. The British raided Howell Point and bombarded the land throwing shot as far as a mile from shore. At one farm they robbed a smokehouse, henhouse and sheep pen, and killed cattle. The militia arrived in time to prevent the enemy from carrying off the cattle and to fire at the retreating boats.
The British continued up the bay, lsying waste by plundering Frenchtown, and raiding and burning Havre de Grace.
Cockburn next turned to Georgetown, but he was frustrated by the intricacy of the Sassafrass River. He kidnapped a local resident to act as his pilot and sent word that if the residents didn’t resist, Georgetown would be spared and provisions they took paid for. However the militia, 400 strong, opened fire. When the British advanced, the militia abandoned the fight and melted away. The British torched thirteen dwellings and outbuildings, cobbler’s shop, tavern, a granary and storehouse. However, some homes were saved. (Local legend has it that the British spared several homes due to the actions of Miss Kitty Knight, a local lady of esteem, who stood up to the British when they were about to burn the home of one of her elderly neighbors. The Kitty Knight house still stands.)
Kitty Knight House today
As Cockburn and his forces returned to the Chesapeake the news of burning and looting had its effects. Resistance had died. The Brits paid for supplies and returned the pilot to his home. However, they came back in August with a different intent.
This is another blog of my “History of The War of 1812 on Chesapeake Bay” series. Since my next mystery will take place during a reenactment of that war, I’ve discovered many interesting facts I like to share, also, a few facts I thought I knew that weren’t exactly true.
July 4, 2015
I’m not here—I wrote this last week. (Hey, a gal has to take time off once in a while.) Actually, other than a few days over the 4th of July, oh, and family visiting the end of July, I’ll be at Camp NaNoWriMo. (That’s a fictional camp, quite proper for one who writes fiction.) I hope to finish writing a short story (that may become a novella if I don’t watch out). I call it Hidden Body, and my big plans are to include it in a book of short stories called—ta da— Hidden Body and Other Short Stories. I even made up a cover. This may not be the cover I eventually use. But, would you buy a book that looked like that? Let’s say, would you download a free book that looked like that? (I hope to make it free.)
My second project for the month is to complete editing Forgotten Body.
July 1, 2015
I’m busy at Camp NaNo. Picture me sitting around the campfire with my tent buddies, snarfing down S’Mores. Okay, not really. That short story is waiting, as well as editing the new mystery. I’ll let you know how I’m doing next week. (Just started yesterday.)
Okay, maybe two.
Oh, heck. Can’t leave just one!
June 28, 2015
I loved the TV show—now long gone. It ran from 2002 through 2009. The books with original stories by Lee Goldberg kept on going after the Monk show ran its course. Then Lee Goldberg stopped writing them after quite a few, and Hy Conrad took over. I may have just read the final book of the series, since Mr. Conrad’s fourth book, Mr. Monk and The New Lieutenant, is his last one. He hopes someone else will continue, but when that one was published this year (2015) no one had yet stepped up.
So, here are my reviews of two of my favorite books—Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg, and Mr. Monk and The New Lieutenant by Hy Conrad.
My five-star review of the first was short: “I was a big fan of the Monk TV series, and I’m a big fan of Lee Goldberg’s Monk mystery series. This book is a neat combination of Monk, his phobias, and up-to-the-minute current events! And you can just guess Monk’s thoughts about that dog with those irregular markings.”
I’ve just finished reading the second book, and it deserves five stars as well. “Mr. Monk does not like Captain Stottlemeyer’s new lieutenant. He’s new, for one thing. (Of course, the feeling is mutual.) However, he and Natalie try their best. They now have their own detective agency with little business. Natalie takes on a divorce case (without Mr. Monk’s knowledge, and definitely against his approval). Then there’s the murder case that wasn’t—until Monk declared at a man’s funeral that he had been murdered. Now they are trying to save the Captain with the same symptoms while tracking down a missing client. Monk convinces Randy Disher to return. With all this going on, it isn’t only Monk’s OCD that confuses everyone. This time Stottlemeyer’s life depends on Monk’s success.”
Both authors worked on the Monk TV show. Lee Goldberg contributed to some shows and worked on different series as well. Hy Conrad was with the Monk show the whole time. Both authors give the reader the authentic “Monk” voice. Goldberg tends to give him more problems with his multiple phobias and personality disorders. Conrad, writing the stories as Monk begins to improve (slightly) still shows them, but they are possibly a bit more muted. (One reader’s opinion here.) Both authors present a humorous as well as nicely convoluted suspenseful story.
I do hope this isn’t the last Monk story.
June 24, 2015
Say you want to have a party. Impromptu. Decide on a venue. Give it a name (Blanc Plate sounds nice.) Send out e-mails.
Your invitees know what to expect. Bring your own meal. Wear white clothing. After all, they may have been one of the 100 who joined the celebration in 2012, or one of the increasing numbers from 2013 & 2014.
This event actually happened a week or so ago in my home town. It’s based on a similar, secretive banquet on the bridges of Paris called Diner en Blanc. However, invitations to the local even are available to anyone who asks. (Of course, you have to know whom to ask. I found out about it the next day from the newspaper.) When the 1,000 (free) tickets were snatched up, 200 more were added.
Yep, that’s right. Over a thousand people descended on the baseball field with exactly 29 hours of warning. And—they all wore white. Two young women even donned white wigs. The newspaper has many more photos on line. There’s also a one-minute video of the event.
Umm. Let’s see. Next year this time. Maybe a month before the end of June. Yes, they do have the name of the organizer in the paper. What do you think? Should I?