SARAH CORTEZ – Award-Winning Author and Law Enforcement Veteran

ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson

Sarah’s latest crime fiction thriller is The Carlucci Betrayal.

Here is a glimpse into Sarah’s award-winning career:

Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in journals, such as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, The Midwest Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, her debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in many contests, such as the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and the PEN Southwest Poetry Awards Latino Book Awards, Border Region Librarians Association Award, Press Women of Texas Editing Award. She has been both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate; she is a law enforcement veteran of 28 years. Her memoir entitled Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays brings the reader into the patrol car as it reveals America’s most dangerous profession.

The Carlucci Betrayal takes readers deep into the Mississippi Delta during Prohibition to witness the founding of a criminal empire, and not since The Godfather has a Mafia family captivated readers the way the Carlucci brothers do in Robert Wilkins’ and Sarah Cortez’s rollicking novel of love, lust, and naked ambition.

Michael Bracken  – Anthony Award-nominated editor of The Eyes of Texas

 Genres in Which I Write: I write in more than one genre, and I love seeing how the interaction of skill and intention translates and doesn’t translate across genres.

I began as a literary fiction writer, then to poetry, then to memoir. At this point, I think I’ve been published in almost all popular and literary genres and subgenres. I love all kinds of writing and edit all genres.

Writing Process: In terms of my writing process, I don’t have much leeway to choose a particular set of locations or circumstances to write. As a full-time professional writer/editor, I write when and where I can. I always seem to have deadlines breathing down my neck, whether for writing or editing. I am also an editor for a large international Catholic online journal of the arts. Those deadlines keep me very busy. www.catholicartstoday

First Publication: My first book came out within less than three years of beginning to write poetry. I now have 14 books—all traditionally published. For quite a few years, I had one or two books published per year. I have been very fortunate to work with publishers who really believed in my book projects.

Characters: In the popular genre of crime fiction, there are usually two strong-willed characters: the criminal and the sleuth. They must be fairly evenly matched in order to have a drawn-out conflict that is sufficiently interesting for a reader to read the entire novel.

The process of creating a 3-D character, particularly a main character is involved and mysterious. Tomes have been written about it. Curiously enough, it is the one critically important step that most fiction writers, particularly beginning fiction writers, don’t spend enough time doing. All the hours of research, imagining, taking notes, thinking through personality and choices, and personal history of the character pay off. Yet, most fiction writers either skip this step or do it quickly—a fatal mistake to both plot and the possibility of writing a book that readers enjoy.

Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex: Due to police work and my corporate career before policing, most of my life has been spent working with men. I do not find it a particular challenge to write from a male’s POV. In fact, most of my literary and popular fiction is written in a male’s POV.

Do You Base Characters on Real People? As a freelance editor who has been privileged to work with many writers, I think that basing a fictional character on a real person is an absolute no-no. Fiction that does this results in erratic character motivation and is often boring. Characters must be free to act according to the psychological and emotional dimensions based on the imagined history and personality that the writer has given them. So, you can see from this line of thought that I never base my characters on real people and certainly never on myself.

How To Raise the Stakes for Characters? Especially in popular fiction, but also to a lesser degree in literary fiction, the author’s “job” is to apply stress on the main character. These stresses of circumstance create conflict, and conflict creates plot. The way the stress is applied to each character will be different since each character has a different personality and history.

Does a Protagonist Ever Disappoint You? As an author, I am not thinking about my reactions to characters in a book. I am always thinking, however, about what the scene needs to be of interest to a reader. Sometimes a protagonist needs to fail, whether that failure is of his choice or imposed on him. If the writer is writing a protagonist that changes throughout the book, the protagonist will make mistakes. Some characters, like James Bond, do not change over the course of a book. But even this type of character does experience failure of action and choices.

vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York

What Kind of Research Do You Do? I research what I need to research. Sometimes that involves an entire era with its cultural artifacts of music, dance, clothes, attitudes, disasters, politics, etc. Sometimes research is very specifically related to a particular scene. For instance, in The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to find out how a young male below the age of military service would get to Europe in 1938 to volunteer to fight against Hitler. Since 1938 was before the U.S. declared war, I had to see which avenues were open to this young man. This only affected a couple of sentences in a phone conversation between two main characters, but it had to be historically accurate.

Also, for The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to research Mississippi law regarding homicide and manslaughter in the late 1920s for a courtroom scene and for the lawyer’s arguments to be accurately based on the law.

A Writer You Admire: I greatly admire Megan Abbott, a wonderful noir writer. She successfully combines what’s best about crime fiction with exquisitely styled prose. She is so successful because so few writers write with her precision and energy in such gorgeous prose. My favorite title of hers is Bury Me Deep.

Advice for New Writers: I’ll pass along some wise advice from a professional saxophone musician: don’t choose anything but your horn. In other words, writing demands a serious commitment to practice and learning. When the others meet their friends to go bowling or drink at the bars, you must be reading, learning, revising, drafting, studying, etc. If you’re going to be a good (highly skilled) writer, then writing isn’t a hobby. It is your job.

Anything Else You’d Like to Mention: Getting to work on The Carlucci Betrayal was tremendously hard work and also tremendous fun! I’ve always wanted to write Mafia-era fiction. This gave me an opportunity to research plus create three-dimensional characters that acted according to a different era’s pressures in a society that was both more constricted and more free-wheeling than today’s.

I also relished my research into Mafia fashion. Not only for the men but for the women. Holsters, spare magazines, stilettos, razors, cigarette lighters, etc. Types and calibers of guns. Several PWSA members helped me out with these questions. For me, becoming conversant with places of concealment, fashions for men and women, mobsters on different coasts, and what they wore—fascinating! It was a delicious peek into the psychology and practicality of why the mobsters and their ladies wore what they wore.

Readers can contact me at: cortez.sarah@gmail.com or at carluccibetrayal@gmail.com

Our website,  carluccibetrayal.com – Search Results | Facebook, also has a “Contact Me” button.

Phone: 713-331-9342

I am available for virtual book readings and presentations on Mafia Fashion.

Follow us on Facebook at   The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Sarah, great post, your Advice to New Writers should be the Pre-amble to any book about writing. I am totally intrigued with The Carlucci’s Betrayal and will add it to my reading list.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Sorry I’m late to the party, Sarah, but what an interesting post. Very impressed by your accomplishments and inspired! Especially awed by your writing in so many genres. Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Ana Manwaring

    What concept–Mafia Fashion! Thanks so much for your interview. Thank you too, George!

    Reply
  4. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John Bluck, for your positive comment. I appreciate it!
    Sarah

    Reply
  5. sarah cortez

    Hello, Michael,
    It is good to remember how you gentlemen (and ladies) of the listserve helped me with research.

    We all need to stay strong . . . you are so right.
    Bless you,
    Sarah

    Reply
  6. sarah cortez

    Oh, Holli,
    I’ve thought of you during the years since Gabe and I attended you and your husband’s opening in NOLA. Email me sometime and let me know how and what you’re doing these days!!

    Reply
  7. sarah cortez

    Oh, Marilyn,
    It always makes me happy to see your name! I have an entire “Marilyn Meredith” section in my bookcases.

    I hope to make it to another conference soon.

    Reply
  8. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John, for your comment. You’ve always been so great to me.
    Sarah

    Reply
  9. Lynn Hesse

    I found another author’s work with law enforcement experience I want to read. Thanks, Lynn

    Reply
  10. John Schembra

    Great post Sarah. Interesting to
    Learn other author’s writing process, and how they plan/organize their characters and plots. Best of luck with your new book!

    Reply
  11. Darlene Record

    Congratulations on your new book. Just purchased it and look forward to reading it. Really enjoy your work.
    Thanks for your helpful advice on writing.
    Darlene Record

    Reply
  12. John G. Bluck

    I like your comments about building strong characters. I look forward to reading your books!

    Reply
  13. Marilyn Meredith

    Great post, Sarah, with so many valuable tips. I was so glad to see at the recent PSWA conference and catch up with you some. Hope you’ll come again soon.

    Reply
  14. Holli Castillo

    Sarah, loved learning about your writing process. I find it more difficult to write from the male perspective so I envy your ability to do it so easily. I also find the idea of mafia fashion fascinating. Your thorough research is evident in your work as it always rings authentic.

    Reply
  15. Michael A. Black

    Hi, Sarah. Great advice about writing and the dedication to learning one’s craft. I loved the saxophone allusion. Your new one sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out. I remember when you were researching the holsters and such. Good luck and stay strong.

    Reply

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Best Selling Author Lois Winston’s Story

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston

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.

Up until fairly recently, I juggled three careers, one of which gave me the idea for my long-running Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Until retiring last year, I worked for decades as a designer and editor in the consumer crafts industry, primarily designing needlework for kit manufacturers and magazine and craft book publishers. However, I have been known to wield a nasty glue gun from time to time and have the scars to prove it! But it’s been well worth the pain, given the accompanying inspiration it’s provided. (see below)

I began my writing career in the romance genre. My first published book, Talk Gertie To Me, which was more humorous women’s fiction than romance, was published in 2006. Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a romantic suspense, came out in 2007. By then, I had decided to take my writing in a different direction with a mystery series. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun was the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. I sold the series at the end of 2009, and the first book was released in January 2011.

But I said I juggled three careers, didn’t I? After selling my first book, the agency which represented me invited me to join them as an associate, which made me, for a time, an author, an agent, and a designer. With the changes that have occurred in publishing the last few years, coupled with the death of two of our agents and the retirement of one, the agency owner decided it was time to close shop after nearly fifty years in business. So now I’m back to one career. Truthfully, it’s the one I love most because it enables me to live 24/7 within my imagination.

The idea for the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries came about thanks to a conversation my agent had with an editor. The editor was looking for a crafting mystery series. My agent figured, with my background, I was the perfect person for the project. I hadn’t read any crafting mysteries at that point, and when I began researching them, I discovered that most featured amateur sleuths were shop owners. I wanted to come up with something different and tapped into my own industry experiences as a crafts editor, making Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine.

The idea for the first book came about from a combination of events. My husband had recently lost his job, and although he’s nothing like Anastasia’s husband (thank goodness!), it sent me into a tailspin of worry regarding money. Although I juggled three careers at the time, none of them provided me with a steady income. On top of that, I was having mother-in-law problems. Finally, when I first started contemplating the series, The Sopranos was still on HBO. I’m a Jersey girl. How could I not set a mystery in my home state and involve the Mafia in some way?

All of these elements, along with just having sustained a painful burn from my hot glue gun, came together to form the basis for both the first book and the overall series: When Anastasia Pollack’s gambling-addicted husband permanently cashes in his chips in Las Vegas, her life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her nasty, cane-wielding communist mother-in-law—not to mention a loan shark demanding fifty thousand dollars.

Given the premise for the series, I knew it had to be humorous. I’ve always been drawn to quirky characters. They make me laugh. I think we all need more laughter in our lives, especially with everything going on right now! Releasing those endorphins is the only thing sustaining many of us these days.

In crafting quirky characters, I usually take traits from various people I know, exaggerate them, and blend them together to create unique characters. Let’s face it, most people aren’t as quirky or funny in real life as they are on the printed page. The exception is Lucille, Anastasia’s mother-in-law. With a few minor differences, Lucille’s personality (along with her communist leanings) mirrors that of my now deceased mother-in-law. Hence, the mother-in-law problems I mentioned above—and the reason why some of my husband’s relatives no longer speak to me!

 There are now nine full-length novels and three novellas in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, which have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and an Amazon #1 Bestseller. The latest book is A Sew Deadly Cruise, released October 1st.

Come for the laughs, stay for the mystery!

A Sew Deadly CruiseAn Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 9

Life is looking up for magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack. Newly engaged, she and photojournalist fiancé Zack Barnes are on a winter cruise with her family, compliments of a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law. Son Alex’s girlfriend and her father have also joined them. Shortly after boarding the ship, Anastasia is approached by a man with an unusual interest in her engagement ring. When she tells Zack of her encounter, he suggests the man might be a jewel thief scouting for his next mark. But before Anastasia can point the man out to Zack, the would-be thief approaches him, revealing his true motivation. Long-buried secrets now threaten the well-being of everyone Anastasia holds dear. And that’s before the first dead body turns up.

 

 

Craft projects included.

Buy Links

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3fwHR7X

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-sew-deadly-cruise

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-sew-deadly-cruise-lois-winston/1137427499?ean=2940162697930

Apple iBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/a-sew-deadly-cruise/id1526052822

Social Media Links

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Wow, Lois, you certainly have a wide variety of experience to draw upon. Jumping into the mystery genre from romance sounds interesting, too. Good luck with your newest one.

    Reply
  2. Nancy Quatrano

    I am hopeless as a crafter, but I do love to laugh! Thank you, Lois, for lots of laughter and a series of great entertainment! And thank you, George Cramer, for a fun blog post!

    Reply
  3. Lois Winston

    Thanks, Thonie! I hope you and your sister will enjoy getting to know Anastasia and the gang.

    Reply
  4. Thonie Hevron

    This sounds like a really fun series. I’ve got a sister who’s a dedicated crafter. Two birds with one stone: my next book series and a Christmas gift for sis!

    Reply
  5. Lois Winston

    Thanks for having me on your blog today, George!

    Reply

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