Characters Who Get Older--Or Not, by Lois Winston

When I began writing my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, I failed to take the passage of time into account. Back then, I hadn’t yet sold the series. I wasn’t thinking long term when I gave Anastasia two teenage sons. Once I signed a contract for the first three books, I realized I’d boxed myself into a tight corner. I should have made Nick and Alex four and six, not fourteen and sixteen. I’d opened Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, in January and set Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book, in May and June. If I continued to devote several months to each story, Anastasia would be an empty nester in no time at all. I didn’t want that to happen.

In Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie hasn’t aged over the course of twenty-five novels, each written approximately a year apart. The reader is really never quite sure how much time has passed between books, but it’s certainly not a year. Stephanie’s adventures definitely haven’t spanned twenty-five years; it’s more like twenty-five months.

The way those books are written Stephanie’s life doesn’t have to conform to a realistic timeline, but I didn’t feel such a loose framework would work for my stories. For one thing, I wanted a romance to develop between Anastasia and Zachary Barnes, the photojournalist (or is he a spy?) who rents the apartment above her garage. However, since Anastasia is recently widowed in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, I needed this relationship to progress slowly, which is why I had drawn out the timeline of the first two books in the series.

I also wanted Anastasia to deal with the financial realities of being a suddenly impoverished single parent at a time when Alex is about to get his driver’s license and is getting ready to apply to colleges. Whittling down Anastasia’s debt with various moonlighting jobs would take time. I also wanted her much-married mother to continue to remarry.

I finally decided to condense my timeline as much as possible, beginning with Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in the series, but still maintain a realistic passage of time. This book opens the beginning of July and spans seven weeks. Decoupage Can Be Deadly employs an even shorter timeframe, taking place over two weeks the end of September and beginning of October. A Stitch to Die For spans ten days at the end of October. A Scrapbook of Murder opens less than three weeks later and takes place over two weeks. Finally, Drop Dead Ornaments, the latest book in the series, begins later the day A Scrapbook of Murder ends and unfolds over the course of two-and-a-half weeks in early December.

In-between I’ve shoehorned in three mini-mystery novellas (Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril), each only a few days long. Much has transpired in Anastasia’s life over the course of not quite a year, but I think I’ve solved my problem, at least for the time being. And I still have six months before Alex graduates from high school.

A lot can happen in six months when you’re a reluctant amateur sleuth.

Drop Dead Ornaments
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 7

Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?

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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 a former literary agent and 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.

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog:


Lois Winston said…
Thanks so much for hosting me today, Marilyn!
You are welcome! I love the post because it is something I didn't pay enough attention to either.
Very interesting insights! Most of my three (going-on-four) Safe Harbor Medical Mysteries take place over just a few weeks, but I have to give my hero (Dr. Eric Darcy) at least a few months to recover between them! And I had to start with him in his mid-thirties to account for his medical training and experience.

This issue didn't seem like a problem at first while I was writing the original 17 Safe Harbor Medical Romance series, of which the mystery series is a spinoff. Each book had a different hero and heroine falling in love, etc. However, as I went along, the babies born or adopted early on grew older, and I had to track them. I ended up with a long file about ages, dates, etc. In the mysteries, Eric is now meeting some of those kids--one "baby" is now starting school. Argh! It almost makes me wish I were better with spreadsheets!
P.A. De Voe said…
This is something I hadn't really come to terms with yet in my new series. I only have the first book published and the second coming out around February 2019. As a new series, I have no idea how many books will finally be in it. I suppose this is a good time to consider whether I should go conservative (that is, with only a short time between between books) or not. Before reading your post, I was thinking of months between books, but I am definitely going to reconsider. Thanks for the thought provoking post.
Lois Winston said…
Thank you, Jacqueline and P.A. for stopping by. I'm glad you both found the post helpful.
Neil Plakcy said…
I had to think about this when writing a dog detective! A large dog like a golden retriever has a relatively short life span, so I can’t age my humans very quickly. At least I have no human kids to keep track of!
Lois Winston said…
Neil, all dogs have short life spans when compared to humans. That must really compound character aging for you!
Jackie Houchin said…
I've read Drop Dead Ornaments as well. I loved the protagonist...her spunk, courage, smarts, and even her fears... but I have to say, the two seniors in the story were not appealing to me. Oh well, maybe because I'm of that age as well. HAHA
Lois Winston said…
Jackie, Mama and Lucille are the two characters readers love to hate. I've had some readers beg me to kill them off, but many more readers love their antics. Mama springs entirely from my imagination, but Lucille is based on my own communist mother-in-law. Her exploits are fictitious, but her personality is a mirror image of the real woman. Writing about Lucille is cheaper than therapy! ;-)

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