She designed kits for cross-stitch projects, such as samplers; for cloth dolls, for every kind of needlework except knitting and crocheting. A design for an afghan inspired by early American samplers won an award.
It was after a meeting of the trade group that she began to dream, literally, of romance writing.
"I was at a conference of the Society of Craft Designers (now the Craft and Hobby Association), and I dreamed a chapter every night, a romantic story that just started unfolding," she recalls.
Convinced that she had a book in her, she wrote a 50,000-word manuscript that spanned 35 years. "It was unpublishable, although I didn't know it at the time," she says.
Working on writing
The experience taught her that she needed to work on her writing, so she plunged into workshops and networking with other romance writers, many of whom she has helped, as well.
She learned techniques such as point of view. But her dialogue, snappy and witty, comes from herself, her friends agree.
"I guess it didn't surprise me that's the genre she likes because of her sense of humor," says long-time friend Ruth Vogel, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan.
"She has a very dry wit, a funny, quirky sense of humor," says Charity Scordato of Edison, a lawyer who has published 15 romances, including a paranormal series, under the pen name Caridad Pineiro.
Of all her characters, Winston says the one most like her is Gertie, the caustic, critical but warm and witty alter ego of heroine Nori Stedworth, a girl from Ten Commandments, Iowa, transplanted to New York. Nori, channeling Gertie, becomes the host of a hit radio show.
Unlike many romances, Winston's work is very plot driven, with deft twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. In "Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception," the tension rises as her heroine, newly widowed socialite Emma Wadsworth, is framed for the murder of her evil husband, as she meets and falls in love with a Trump-like real estate developer (with much better hair, of course). The action takes place in the tony Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia and includes a romantic winter weekend in deserted Cape May.
She consulted with a city police officer to make sure the legal and criminal details were right.
Of course, there are the obligatory sex scenes, which Winston, grandmother to Jack, 3, and Zoe, 1, said she's not crazy about writing. But what would a romance novel be without them?
And, of course, there are the inevitable questions about the reactions of her family members to the steamy couplings. At least, she says dryly, "that's what they ask me at my husband's holiday parties."
Son Scott, an animator who built her Web site, confesses those scenes are the reason he hasn't read the books from start to finish.
"I think her writing romance was more shocking than the fact she wrote a book. I don't want to put my mom and the subject matter in the same frame," he says.
Nonetheless, he adds, he's immensely proud of her and attests to her work ethic.
On a visit to her son Christopher and his family in the Bay Area, she and her husband drove six hours north to attend a wedding, Scott recalls. "She stopped at every single Borders and Barnes and Noble to sign stock (books). I've gone to book signings where they didn't promote her and two people were in the audience, and she will sit there and convince those two people to buy it," he says.
Like most family and friends, Rob, her husband of 35 years, didn't know what she was doing until she was well into the project.
"I was surprised because it was covert at first," he says. "She wanted to be sure she was going to be successful. When she found her first agent, and she knew this was not going to be a hobby, that's when she shared with me what she was doing."
Now he's her biggest fan. One of the couple's castles in the sky is that Winston will become successful enough to buy a place in Manhattan -- Sutton Place or Park Avenue -- where they can indulge their passion for theater.
What does he think of his wife's second act as a middle-aged writer of sexy romance novels.
He doesn't exactly answer the question.
"She's a young woman! She's got a lot of life left; we both do!" he exclaims with a touch of indignation.
He might not be a hero in a novel, but if that's not romantic, what is?
Favorite books: The "Stephanie Plum" series by Janet Evanovich; suspense novels by Sandra Brown; the romance novels of Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Last Broadway show seen: "110 in the Shade"
Favorite musicals: "Wicked," "The Producers," "Ragtime"
Fantasy careers: Astronaut, only she has motion sickness; or a Broadway star, only she can't sing or dance
"I dreamed a chapter every night, a romantic story that just started unfolding."
-- Lois Winston
Published June 24, 2007