featuring guest mystery authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Bestselling, Australian author Heather Boyd spends her days (and spare hours of the night) conjuring up new ways to get her characters into mischief. She writes sizzling Regency historical romances, publishing over twenty novels and shorter works. Learn more about Heather at her website. Today she sits down with us for an interview.

Tell us about yourself.
Greetings. I’m Heather Boyd, a regency historical romance author, indie published, and sole female in a testosterone fueled household. (Even the cat is male.) I love old books, old furniture and houses and research -- Regency era, of course.

Do you have any phobias?
Spiders and snakes, which is stupid considering I live in Australia where you can’t step out your front door without being attacked by one. Just kidding. They wait until the second step.

Which mythological creature are you most like?
I wasn’t sure what to say for this but my eldest son just shouted out, “Dragon.” I’m concerned. No one disagreed with him.

What is the story of your first kiss?
Married twenty-two years, two kids, and I’ve never been kissed. OK, I can see you’re not buying that one. I also think writing sizzling Regency romance might have also been a bit of a giveaway that I’m not that innocent. OK, here we go…. Back in the mists of time I adored this amazing boy, and I fell head over heels. We were only ten but I just knew he was the oneso, dear reader, I ended up married to him. True story.

What inspires you to write?
The better question would be what doesn’t. I’m very lucky so far. Story ideas are plentiful (and equally distracting.) I had a new one over the weekend, actually, when I should have been taking a writing break. That’s sort of how it goes for me. I stop working and a new idea springs up. Since I’ve already got several stories on the go now, it’s going into the “when I have time” folder.

I’ve got a story to tell youThe Marquess of Taverham married young and fast with his eye firmly on his bride’s dowry as the means to repair the family fortunes for the next generation. Too late he discovered his new wife wasn’t going to make achieving all of his dreams that easy. What happens when the bride comes back in Keepsake, Book 5 in the Distinguished Rogues series?

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Maia Chance writes historical mysteries that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She’s the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series. Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, will be released in November. Learn more about Maia and her books at her website. 

The Craftiest of Them All

“Never wash your hair with anything you'd hesitate to eat or drink.”—Miss Piggy

I am so excited to be guest-posting here, and one of the reasons is the craft element of Lois’s wonderful books and blog.

Ophelia Flax, the heroine in my first mystery release, Snow White Red-Handed, is a Victorian-era variety actress who knows her way around a theatrical case. And since the story revolves around the fairy tale Snow White, beauty is a constant motif. In researching this book, I got to indulge my fascination with bygone beauty practices, and I’d like to share some you can make—craftily, if you will—today. (Yes, your kitchen will look traumatized. But in a FUN way.)

Most lip salves from the nineteenth century included spermaceti, which comes from a sperm whale’s head (yep: Moby Dick lip balm). But I did find one recipe that you could make at home, if your Chap-Stick gets lost. This is from Florence Hartley’s 1872 The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette:

“A dessert spoonful of salad oil in a saucer, hold it over a candle, and drop melted wax over it till the oil is thinly covered, when they are incorporated, pour it into boxes.”

Mm-kay. Seems like it could work. Just remember to let the flaming wax/oil cool before anointing yourself.

We STILL haven’t cured the Common Pimple. Sigh.

In 1899’s The Woman Beautiful: A Practical Treatise, Ella Adelia Fletcher warns that “a too-vivid imagination, the reading of unhealthful books, anything that encourages unnatural flushing or excitement, —all these things may cause pimples.”

Just to clarify, pimples are NOT caused by the mercury, hydrochloric acid, and Borax that are included in Fletcher’s pimple ointment recipes; pimples are caused by unwholesome books. Guess I’m due for a breakout.

Lola Montez, a famous courtesan and actress, wrote The Arts of Beauty in 1858. It’s probably my very favorite nineteenth century beauty manual. It even has hints for gentlemen, including advising them to smack their lips while eating! Montez includes this complexion-wash receipt you can try at home:

“…the most remarkable wash for the face which I have ever known, and which is said to have been known to the beauties of the court of Charles II. . . . take a small piece of the gum benzoin and boil it in spirits of wine till it becomes a rich tincture. . . . it will render the skin clear and brilliant. It is also an excellent remedy for spots, freckles, pimples, and eruptions.”

Now, before you say this can’t be whipped up at home: you CAN buy chunks of gum benzoin on Etsy! It’s a fragrant resin from trees. Benzoin reportedly makes your lips nice and rosy, too.

Mrs. Ellet’s recipe for whitening the nails includes “diluted sulphuric acid” and “tincture of myrrh”, ingredients that may alarm and/or mystify beauty-seekers nowadays. (The New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy by Mrs. E.F. Ellet, 1872.)

But what about that passage in Madame Bovary, in which Emma spends “fourteen francs in one month on lemons with which to bleach her fingernails”? Do-able, right?

Not advisable: Mrs. Ellet, provides this concoction for strengthening and thickening the hair: “Skim the fat from the top of calves’ feet while boiling; mix with a teaspoon of rum, shake together. Apply night and morning.”

All together now: Ewwwwwwww.

Advisable: According to Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History (2006), it has long been thought that rosemary is beneficial for the scalp and for hair growth. Here’s what to do:

Bring 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary in 4 cups of water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. When it’s cool, remove the sprigs and use it as your final hair rinse.


What’s fascinating is that the creepy chemicals and toxins we complain about in our beauty potions nowadays are nothing new. The American or European lady on the mid-to-late nineteenth century had a prettiness arsenal that was just as noxious, and in the case of mercury, arsenic, and lead, arguably worse. The major difference was that women mixed up their own concoctions with ingredients purchased at an apothecary’s shop and borrowed from the kitchen pantry.

So much for that tired old cliché about women’s beauty being all about cunning and deception. It’s craftiness, people.

Snow White Red-Handed, a Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery
Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…

1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.

To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out…

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014


When I was in my pre-teens, a neighbor died of breast cancer. It was my first introduction to the disease. My mother told me the neighbor had gotten breast cancer when a wooden hanger fell from a shelf in the closet and hit her in the breast.

Twenty years ago a friend stopped using antiperspirant because she’d read that it causes cancer.

Last week I read a newspaper article about a study that was done on the relationship between underwire bras and cancer. Conclusion: there is none.

Breast cancer myths still exist.

So because it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m here today to debunk some of the more prevalent myths and old wives tales you may have heard from relatives or read about in the Internet. News flash! Not everything on the Internet is true!

1. You will NOT get cancer from drinking coffee or any other form of caffeine.

2. Trauma to the breast does NOT cause cancer.

3. Antiperspirants do NOT cause cancer.

4. Having an abortion does NOT cause cancer.

5. Wearing an underwire bra does NOT cause cancer.

6. Hair dye and relaxers do NOT cause cancer. 

Now do yourself and your loved ones a favor and make your annual mammogram appointment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


After a long career in radio and TV, Sheila York began writing novels combining her love of history, mysteries, and the movies. Set in post-war Hollywood, her series features screenwriter/amateur sleuth Lauren Atwill (and her lover, private detective Peter Winslow) chasing killers in the Great Golden Age of Film. You can read or listen to more about Lauren and No Broken Hearts at her website. 

Getting Crafty with the Code
Hollywood was different in the 1940s. Not less greedy, venal, or cutthroat underneath, but it had a near-flawless veneer of sophistication, class, and glamour, created and maintained by a symbiotic relationship between studio publicity teams and mainstream magazine and newspaper publishing. The surface was illusion. But it was gorgeous.

Onscreen, it was every bit as hard to get beneath the surface. The magic we recall so fondly from the Great Golden Age of Film was crafted under censorship. Strict censorship. Hollywood studios adopted the rules known as the Production Code in reaction to local censor boards, religious groups, and individual citizens who found films of the silent era and the early 1930s too sexual and violent, a threat to family life, and a bad influence on youth. The Code governed the morals of American movies throughout the Golden Age.

“No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it.” This is the first tenet of the Code. I’m not kidding. And neither were the Code administrators. Your movie’s shooting script and the film’s final cut had to be approved by the Production Code office or there was no movie.

When she’s not catching killers, my heroine Lauren writes film scripts, and I remain in awe of how screenwriters (and directors) managed to still present adult themes, even if it had to be subtle. 

In a subplot in No Broken Hearts, Lauren is assigned to turn a scandalous novel into a film. So, let me give you a quick taste of crafting under the Code, with just three of the many restrictions Lauren has to work with (or around.)

1. Crime cannot pay. Lawbreakers must be punished. Crime and criminals can never be appealing. And you can never “teach methods of crime.” In the original script for the classic Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray warned Barbara Stanwyck, the schemer with whom he’s plotting murder, to “put some gloves on” before handling the insurance contract they need her husband to sign. The Code considered that to be advice to criminals and in the film, he says only, “Be careful.”

2. Sex. Adultery cannot be excused or justified. “Low forms” of relationships cannot be presented as acceptable. And even between married couples, “[L]ustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures” are all forbidden because they might arouse “dangerous emotions on the part of the immature, the young or the criminal classes.”

3. Drinking. Booze is forbidden unless essential to the plot, and then only in moderation. This led to films like The Big Clock and To Have and Have Not having a lot of action in bars where hardly anyone actually drinks!

When you watch a film from the Golden Age, think about how the screenwriters, performers and directors cleverly made implicit what they were forbidden to make explicit.

Here are five of my favorites for you to get started:

The Big Clock (1948) – The bar scenes and how they handle the mistress role.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – Sexual trouble between the middle-aged married couple; a good girl falls for a married man and gets him(!)

The Lady Eve (1941) – Wow, that stateroom scene is steamy! Yet Stanwyck’s on a lounge while Fonda’s sitting on the floor the whole time.

Notorious (1946) – The drinking, the illicit sex. Note how Grant and Bergman manage to hold a kiss without breaking the Code in that balcony scene.

To Have and Have Not (44) – How they handle the Bacall role (a lady who has been living, shall we say, by her wits); also the lack of actual drinking. 

Personally, after trying to write a script without running afoul of the Code, I’d probably be looking for a drink. And I’d actually drink it.

They had some prodigious drinkers in the 1940s, and a good host/hostess was judged by the bar. Guests might want their booze straight – bourbon, Scotch, blended whiskeys and rye – or they might want a cocktail – a Manhattan, Gimlet, Singapore Sling, Jack Rose, Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins or its cousin, the Gin Fizz. 

But we don’t stock bars like we used to.

So, when we were creating a signature cocktail for the launch party for No Broken Hearts, I wanted one that was simple, wouldn’t require the purchase of exotic liqueurs, and would come out right every time.

The Broken Heart
2 parts gin
1 part grenadine
1 part vermouth rosso
1 part pomegranate juice
1/4 to 1/2 part Campari, to taste (It’s a Broken Heart. You need at least a hint of bitterness at the end.)

Place ingredients in a shaker with a good handful of ice cubes. Shake gently just till the cold begins to hurt the hand at the bottom of the shaker (a bartender’s trick for knowing when a drink’s properly chilled). Strain into martini glasses. Garnish with a half strawberry, its core cut out to form a broken heart. [If you don’t have a shaker, stir ingredients with the cubes in a tall glass or small pitcher till well chilled.]

Just like a real broken heart, this one packs a wallop, so don’t mix up a batch if anybody’s going to drive. Stay home and watch a Golden Age film!

No Broken Hearts
Once a promising talent, screenwriter Lauren Atwill is now relegated to doctoring other writers’ work, anonymously. Finally she gets her shot at remaking her career, bringing a scandalous novel to the screen, a sensational tale of betrayal, corruption, and a vicious killing. Then fiction turns into real life. Lauren finds a beautiful young actress brutally murdered and her leading man stained with blood. Then she discovers just how far the studio and even the police will go to cover up the killing and protect a star.
If she won’t lie, her career is over. And maybe her life.

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Monday, October 20, 2014


Sock Snowman

Materials: white adult athletic sock, child’s patterned sock, 1/2” pompom, five 5/8” black buttons, orange fabric marker, 1 yd. twine, fiberfill, needle and white thread, jewelry glue and fabric glue or glue gun.

1. Stuff the white sock with fiberfill. Run a gathering stitch around end of cuff, pulling tightly to secure.
2. Tie thread around sock in two places to divide the snowman into three sections.

3. Cut six 9” pieces of twine. Knot one end. Braid twine. Knot end.

4. Using fabric glue or glue gun, glue twine arms centered to back of snowman between top and middle section.

5. Cut patterned sock 4”-6” from edge of cuff (depending on how long a hat you want.) Turn inside out. Run a gathering stitch around cut edge and secure. Turn right side out. Using fabric glue or glue gun, glue pompom over gathered end. Place sock on gathered end of snowman.

6. Using jewelry glue or glue gun, glue two button eyes below hat and three vertically down middle section of snowman.

7. Draw carrot nose with orange fabric marker. 

Friday, October 17, 2014


Connie Archer is the national bestselling author of three Soup Lover’s Mysteries with a fourth due out in March. Learn more about Connie and her books at her website. Today Connie joins us to talk about one of her favorite holidays. 

Halloween has to be one of my favorite holidays . . . there’s something about the season, the cooler air, the pumpkins, the red and gold of the trees and the macabre decorations of witches, skeletons, cobwebs and headstones that delights me. Horror films, ghost stories, trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides are just some of the things that mark this season. Costume stores have cropped up everywhere. In fact, in my neighborhood there’s one that’s open all year, just in case you have the urge to don some crazy gear for no good reason at all!

Hallowe’en, a contraction of Hallows Even or All Hallows Eve, is closely related to the Celtic Samhain (pronounced Sow-in). The Celts of the British Isles and Northern Europe celebrated this Druidic festival for thousands of years when the sun reached the fifteenth degree of Scorpio. It was the end of one year and the beginning of the next. In our century, this position of the sun actually occurs on November 7th.

At this time, those spirits must be comforted with offerings of food and drink to ensure the tribe and their livestock survived the winter. Wearing costumes of animal heads and skins, the people of the tribe attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. At a deeper level, these rites were observed in order to make contact with the spirits of the departed who were considered sources of guidance rather than sources of dread. Druid priests built bonfires and the community gathered to burn crops as sacrifices to their deities. At the end of the celebration, they re-lit the fire of their hearths from the sacred bonfire in the belief that this would protect them during the coming winter.

Carved Turnip

Mass immigration from the British Isles and Europe during the 19th century popularized the rituals we now know today. Immigrants brought their varied All Hallows Eve customs and a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. In Ireland and Scotland, the turnip had traditionally been carved during Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the pumpkin, which was larger, softer and much easier to carve.

The American tradition of trick-or-treating most likely dates back to early All Souls Day rites in England during which poor citizens would beg for food and be given “soul cakes” in return for a promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. The soul cakes to the poor replaced the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. This practice, “going a-souling” was eventually done by children who would visit houses in the neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

Samhain was a time for divination, and apples were often used to tell the future. An unmarried girl would peel an apple in one long strip and cast the peel over her shoulder. The peel was believed to reveal the initial of her future husband. Another practice involved cutting an apple into nine pieces while sitting before a mirror in a room lit by only one candle. Turning away from the mirror, the individual would eat eight pieces of the apple, ask a question and throw the ninth piece over his or her shoulder. The mirror would then display an image responding to the question.

But what is it about this date – October 31st? The eve of November 1? Or the time period when the sun reaches the fifteenth degree of Scorpio? It’s not the shortest day of the year; it’s not actually a time of harvest, yet so many cultures throughout the centuries acknowledge this night and day as significant.

In Poland, people are told to pray out loud as they walk through the forests so the souls of the dead might find comfort. In 19th century rural England, families gathered to burn straw on a pitchfork while kneeling in a circle to pray for the souls of the dead until the flames went out. In Spain, special pastries known as the “bones of the holy” are put on the graves of the churchyard. In Finland, visitors to cemeteries on All Hallows Eve light votive candles, referred to as the sea of light. Totenfest or Totensonntag is celebrated in some Protestant churches on this day. Kalan Gwav, also known as Allantide, is a pagan Cornish festival traditionally celebrated on this night. The Mexican Day of the Dead is marked by gathering to pray for the dead and bringing favorite foods of the departed to their graves. On the Isle of Man, Hop-tu-Naa, a Celtic festival, is observed. And in Scandinavian countries, a Norse ceremony called Alfablót involves sacrificing to the elves, meaning nature spirits or spirits of dead ancestors.  
Could it be that the Druids were right? That among the stars are doorways to other dimensions including the land of the spirits? That on a certain night the veil between this world and the other thins, allowing spirits to warm themselves at the hearths of the living, and for those who are prepared, to make the journey safely to the other side?

Samhain or Halloween will be upon us soon. This is a time to complete the old and prepare for the new in our lives. Consider the last twelve months. If there are matters unresolved, now is the time to complete them and begin to look forward to the new year.

And don’t forget your pets. Here’s a Samhain ritual designed to honor the spirits of both wild and domestic animals: [http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/samhainoctober31/ht/Animals_Samhain.htm]

Happy Halloween!

A Roux of Revenge
Snowflake, Vermont, is known for its skiing in winter—and its soup all year round, thanks to Lucky Jamieson’s By the Spoonful. Autumn brings golden leaves, pumpkin rice soup, the annual Harvest Festival…and murder.

Lucky’s soup shop is busier than usual this October, with groups of itinerant travelers in town to work the Harvest Festival. One newcomer seems to take a particular interest in Lucky’s young waitress Janie, spying on her from across the street. Is the stranger stalking Janie?

After an unidentified man is found murdered in a van by the side of the road, simmering suspicions about the travelers are brought to a boil. But when Janie is put in harm’s way, Lucky must join forces with the travelers to turn up the heat on a killer…

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Thursday, October 16, 2014


Richard Brawer writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction. When not writing, he spends his time exploring local history. Today he stops by to tell us a little about silk manufacturing and Silk Legacy, a novel set in the tumultuous era of the American silk trade. Read more about Richard and his books at his website. 

The silk industry in the United States began when John Ryle immigrated from Macclesfield, Cheshire, England in the 1840s and brought the plans for a silk mill with him. He constructed his mill in Paterson, NJ because the Passaic River provided the vast amount of water needed to process silk, and the river’s great waterfall provided the energy to run the mill. By 1900 there were three hundred mills in Paterson processing the fabric of shimmering beauty to adorn the bodies and homes of America’s rich.

How was silk manufactured?  
Silk-worms make their cocoons by extruding two, five-one-thousandth inch thick filaments from holes in their heads in unbroken lengths that can stretch up to three thousand feet. The worms stick the filaments together with a gummy secretion. The secretion dries so hard it can scratch polished steel.

When the cocoons reaches the mill the raw silk skeins (cocoon) are washed in big vats for up to five hours to remove the gummy stuff and separate the two filaments. Then the skeins are rung out and hung up to dry. After the skeins are washed and dried, the filaments are wound onto octagonal reels called swifts. From the swift the yarn is rewound a second time on a spool.

The spools from the winding room are then stacked on pegged racks where the yarn is doubled and twisted. For filling yarn, the horizontal yarn in a fabric, two or more yarns are doubled (combined) then given two or three twists to the inch. For warp yarn, the vertical yarn, that has to be stronger than the filling yarn, depending on the end use, the yarn is given up to twelve twists to the inch, then doubled and twisted again. The more twists, the stronger the yarn becomes. This twisting process is call “throwing.”

 The yarn is then put back on skeins and dyed. After dyeing the yarn is put back on spools, then put on bobbins for filling yarn and metal, cylindrical beams for warp yarns and sent to the weaving mills. Narrow beams, three to four inches wide, are for weaving ribbons. The 36” - 48” wide beams go to broad silk weavers.

Note: The silk worm gave the scientist the idea how to make synthetic fibers―nylon, polyester, rayon. A chemical solution is extruded through a spinneret, a piece of equipment with tiny holes that turns the solution into threads. Think creating your own spaghetti only with much smaller holes. (Remember how silk worms pushed the raw silk through holes in their heads.)  The yarn immediately goes into a vat with a hardening solution.

One thing the silk worm cannot do is make different sized yarns. However, by adjusting the size of the holes in the spinneret, synthetic yarn can be created in various thicknesses. The thickness of a yarn is called a denier. The thicker the yarn the higher the denier number.

Silk yarn being a natural fiber is yarn-dyed, dyed after the yarn is formed. This can create skeins with slightly varied dye lots thath can be a problem for weavers. Synthetic yarn can be solution dyed. That means the dye is mixed into the chemical solution that is used to create the yarn. Solution dying greatly reduces the chances of varying dye lots.

Also, synthetic yarn can be made bright or dull depending on the composition of the solution. For example, Rayon was originally called synthetic silk and was shiny. Today because of tinkering with the solution, Rayon is more like cotton because, like cotton, it is made from a cellulose solution. However, unlike cotton, it can still be made bright and shimmery like silk.
Silk Legacy 
In early twentieth century Paterson, New Jersey, dashing twenty-nine-year-old Abraham Bressler charms naïve nineteen-year-old Sarah Singer into marriage by making her believe he feels the same way she does about the new calling of a modern woman.  He then turns around and gives her little more respect than he would a servant, demanding she stay home to care for “his” house and “his” children.

Feeling betrayed Sarah defies him and joins women's groups, actively participating in rallies for woman suffrage, child welfare and reproductive freedom.  For a while she succeeds in treading delicately between the demands of her husband and her desire to be an independent woman.  Her balancing act falters when a strike shuts down Paterson’s 300 silk mills.  With many friends working in the mills, Sarah is forced to choose sides in the battle between her Capitalist husband and his Socialist brother, a union leader who happens to be her best friend’s husband.

Jealousy, infidelity, arrogance, greed—the characters’ titanic struggles will catapult you into the heights of their euphoria and the depths of their despair.  Who will triumph and who will be humbled is not certain until the last page.