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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Today I’m featuring a recipe for Rhubarb Meringue Cake from one of the authors showcased in Bake, Love, Write: 105Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing.

Barbara Phinney is a multi-published USA Today bestselling author who retired from the military to raise her two children and soon turned her creativity toward writing historical and contemporary romance under her own name and mystery and science fiction under her Georgina Lee pen name. Read more about Barbara and her books at her website. 

Rhubarb Meringue Cake

1-1/4 cups all–purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup shortening
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped rhubarb*
5 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

*Only use the fleshy red stems. Some rhubarb is sold with the leaves still on. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous.

Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, milk, shortening, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Beat on low mixer speed, scraping bowl constantly, for 30 seconds. Beat again at high speed for three minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.

Pour batter into a 9-10” cake pan. Do not use an 8” pan as the addition of rhubarb will make it overflow. Spread the rhubarb on top of the batter. Do not mix. Bake for 45 minutes or until knife comes out clean from the center. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add remaining sugar. Beat until soft peaks form. Add cream of tartar and remaining vanilla extract. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue on top of cake.

Brown meringue in 400 degree F oven until peaks and edges are brown. Cool before serving. Meringue can weep after a day or two, but it still tastes good!

Hard Target
Military policewoman, Sgt. Dawna Atkinson, is trained to keep her South American embassy safe, but when a bomb is detonated out front one morning, her home unit sends her old instructor, Tay Hastings, to assist with the investigation.

Tay is the one person who can ruin all she's worked so hard for. He's also her one weakness, thanks to a night of shared indiscretion that still haunts her dreams.

Tay wants to tell her how he fought to take the blame for that night, and how she makes him feel, but circumstances prevent that. As the investigation heats up, they find that it's one thing to guard the embassy, but another, much harder thing to guard their own hearts.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Santa Fe, New Mexico
Vanessa A. Ryan is an actress, author, and artist whose paintings and sculptures are collected worldwide. At one point, she performed standup comedy, so her writing often reflects her love of humor, even for serious subjects. Learn more about Vanessa and her books at her website. 

Navajo silver and turquoise bolo
photo by Markus Barlocher 
The Art World Of Santa Fe

The Santa Fe art scene means different things to people. For some, it's all about American Indian art. Their weavings, pottery, paintings and jewelry. In August, people flock to Santa Fe for Indian Market week, an outdoor celebration displaying contemporary, traditional and antique Indian art. The city also has a similar art week for Spanish art, held in July. In addition to these two cultural events, many art galleries in the city deal exclusively in Indian or Spanish art year round.

Santa Fe is also known for contemporary art galleries that exhibit work of artists who are not working in the Native American or Spanish traditions. In the early twentieth century, many artists from other states came to New Mexico because of its scenery and simplistic way of life. They formed art colonies, which led to Santa Fe and Taos attracting tourists who wanted to buy their art. Who hasn't heard of one of the most famous of these artists, Georgia O'Keefe?

Today, the city has a contemporary art scene that rivals New York and Los Angeles.
Navajo Blankets
photo by Matthew A. Lynn
Because Santa Fe occupies a small geographic area, it's easy for people to visit a multitude of art galleries in a short amount of time. While there are shopping areas outside the downtown districts, you won't find art galleries there, since most of the tourist trade is closer to the center of town.

As you can imagine, galleries pay a premium to be in these downtown areas. Because of that, they tend to exhibit world-renown artists rather than the local artists. However, the local artists who can afford the high rents often operate galleries exclusively for their own work. But regardless of whatever art market people are interested in, it's the quaint streets and enchanting landscape of Santa Fe that attracts them.

A Palette For Murder (A Lana Davis Mystery)

Lana Davis arrives in New Mexico from Los Angeles, planning to look up a former boyfriend and take in some sightseeing. But this all-expense-paid trip is not a vacation. She's here to find Antonio Chavez, last seen in Santa Fe. He's the missing beneficiary of a large life insurance policy her company issued. The heat is on because a disgruntled heir insists he should receive the proceeds instead. However bogus his claim is, the public relations nightmare he causes for her company is real. If Lana doesn't find Antonio, her job is on the line.

Lana's search for Antonio brings her into the inner circle of a powerful art gallery in Santa Fe, owned by the daughter of a wealthy family. Although Lana's knowledge of art is limited to the one art history class she took in college, she soon discovers, when art and greed collide, the result is deadly. But her knack for finding dead bodies makes the police nervous. And finding herself a target for murder is more than she signed up for. 

Friday, April 17, 2015


Award-winning author Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock traditional mystery series. The fourth in the series, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, was released this month. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website and her two blog, Terry Shames Books and Subject to Change.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
First of all, thanks so much, Lois, not just for having me as your guest, but for all that you do for other writers. It seems like you never stop thinking of ways to celebrate authors.

Now to your thoughtful questions:

It must have been before I started college that I realized I wanted to write novels, because I remember my freshman English teacher telling me that if I wanted to write books, I should major in something other than English Literature so I could have some experiences to write about. I ended up majoring in Political Science. I can’t tell you whether he was right or wrong. All I know is I love politics and am glad I have a strong background in the American political system. I doubt it helped me with my writing, but it’s possible English lit wouldn’t have either.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It took a long time. One of my fellow writers said that the average number of books someone writes before they get published is seven. I’m not sure where that number came from, but if that’s the case, I’m the poster child for that. My first effort was a science fiction book and screenplay (imagine that!) basically for fun back in the ‘80s. I never tried to sell either one, because by the time they were written, I felt like I had learned a tremendous amount and moved on.

Then I wrote a mystery and quickly got an agent who couldn’t sell it. I kept getting very encouraging rejections—that is to say, no one said, “Please don’t ever write another book. You’re terrible at it.” But also no one gave me a contract. I repeated this process several times until the early ‘90s. Then for about 10 years I did a lot of parenting and although I kept writing, didn’t work to get published. Finally in 2005 I decided it was time to either get serious or quit. Happily, I didn’t quit and finally realized the dream.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m traditionally published by a small publisher, Seventh Street Books. I love the books they publish. I think the acquiring editor has fine taste in mysteries. I have also written a couple of books that I may end up going the indie route on. At present they are not being shopped. We’ll see.

Where do you write?
Anywhere. I’m writing this sitting in my husband’s easy chair because he’s away. I have a perfectly good office and I often write there. But honestly, I can write anywhere—in cafes, in bed, at the beach…

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I don’t really write to music, but not because I need quiet. It’s just that I never think of it. If there’s music playing, I don’t care. It doesn’t inspire me or distract me, unless it’s a song a really love and then I might stop to listen to it. I would have trouble writing to the Beethoven or Bruch violin concertos because the music is so visceral to me that I would have to stop and experience it.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Often my plots and characters begin with something or someone from real life, and it’s hard to say where the real life moment ends and the fantasy begins. I’m very lucky to have been brought up with an extended family that told stories. The only problem was I realized as I got older that some of the stories were quite suspect. Maybe that’s where I got my storytelling genes from. When I need a character, one from real life often crops up. But that doesn’t mean the character is actually that person; it just means the real person has a trait that seems to fit a character I need for the story.

However, sometimes people think they recognize a character, and that’s not who I had in mind at all. At times that can be really funny. In my first Craddock novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, my sister gleefully said that she knew whom I had in mind for one of the characters. I had to break the news to her that I had never even considered the similarity between the two.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Names were always a problem for me with characters until I started the Samuel Craddock series. For some reason every character in the stories arrives in my head complete with a name. Even if the name is made up, it fits the character. I don’t know how this happens, but I’m very grateful for it.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Oh, fictional! I like to be able to move places around at will within a town, and move the town around a bit geographically to serve the story. But that doesn’t mean the town of Jarrett Creek isn’t grounded in reality, as are some of the places in the town. The real town that Jarrett Creek is based on, smack dab in the middle of central Texas, has a café very much like Town Café, and has a railroad track and a state highway running through town. It also has a real lake with a dam road and a Dairy Queen and a cemetery north of town. And it also has an art gallery/studio where the owners give art lessons. And it has the very football stadium described in The Last Death of Jack Harbin. But alas, the Two Dog Bar is a figment of my imagination—although I’m convinced it could show up there next time I visit.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
I don’t know if it’s a quirk that Samuel likes modern art. He gained an appreciation of it from his wife Jeanne. He’s a little snobbish about art, too. He doesn’t like what he thinks of as the 3 C’s—cactus, cows and countryside. He also doesn’t like horses, although in the latest book, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, he gains an appreciation for them.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I think I’d have to ask one of my friends that, and I’m afraid to, because I might not like the answer. One little quirk I have is that I’ll talk to anybody. I’ll strike up conversations anywhere. I don’t push it. If someone seems uninterested, I shut up fast. But I have had some amazing conversations with people standing in line or sitting by myself in a café. I basically like people—maybe that’s quirky for a writer!

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Too many to count. I was talking about Cloud Atlas last night with someone. I think it’s brilliant. I would like to have written it, but that means I would have to have the kind of mind David Mitchell has. I think my head would explode, so I have to leave it to him. Thank goodness he writers books, because that means I get to read them.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I could go back and take writing more seriously early on. For some reason, I thought writing mysteries should be easy and that “good enough” should be good enough to get published. Now I know that you have to write the best book you can write—every time.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
You know that the word “pet” in that sentence is only two letters away from “petty.” I have some real doozies. I don’t even know what would be my biggest one. They are almost all language peeves, and unfortunately, I think some of them are now settled into the standard way people talk. I can’t stand it when someone starts a sentence with the word, “myself.” I think it sounds ignorant. Dates me, doesn’t it? Even worse, I can’t stand the way so many younger people have adopted the affection of ending a sentence as if it’s a question. Instead of saying, “We thought we could get there in three hours,” they say, “We thought we could get there in three hours?” As if somehow the listener is not going to grasp what is being said. It makes people sound anxious and unsure of themselves. There are others: “Besides myself” instead of “beside myself,” “often” said with the “t” sounded. “A WAYS to go instead of a way to go.” (Terry Gross does this for heaven’s sake!)

Lois, look what you started with that question. Sorry. Soapbox is put away now.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A boat, drinking water and a rod and reel. Yeah, I know, I’m too practical. Where’s the magic in that?

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I’ve had jobs that I suppose some people would think are awful, but I’m always open to new experiences and usually find something to enjoy. I was a maid in Yellowstone Park one summer—could be a bad job, but I’ve always had a lot of energy, so it was highly entertaining. Worked as a waitress a few times to get myself through college—loved it. Worked in an office for a guy no one could stand. I laughed at him, teased him unmercifully, and he straightened right up. Maybe it’s the writer in me, always finding something interesting in the process.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Best in terms of what? Literary value? Value to my life? Value to the world? It’s impossible to pinpoint. It depends on the age I was when I read things. I’ve read One Hundred Years of Solitude four times, so it probably is right up there. But I have also read Jane Austen’s books numerous times. I don’t care how often I read Pride and Prejudice, something new and wonderful always strikes me. The above-mentioned Cloud Atlas. In terms of my craft in mystery writing, I’d have to say Judgment in Stone by Ruth Rendell made a huge impression because it taught me that rules could be broken and a book could still be great. Character was everything in that book.

Ocean or mountains?
Ocean. I love the mountains, and happily living in California I can have both within a very short drive.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Twenty years ago my family lived near Florence, Italy for 18 months. We lived in the country, but could easily reach the city. It was bliss. I had always had the fantasy of going back and living in the city itself. So one year we rented an apartment in the city for a few weeks and I realized that being in the country worked better for me, as long as I could visit the city as often as I liked.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m working on Craddock Book 5, which is due May 1. And I’m also working on a thriller. Much harder book to write because the plot is intricate. In a thriller villains are very different from the ones in traditional mysteries. In traditional mysteries they usually commit crimes because they are trapped one way or another. (Yes, I realize there are exceptions, but I think that describes many “normal” criminals). But in a thriller, a villain is larger than life. He or she is someone who has a big vision that s/he wants to achieve and will stop at nothing to get. For me that means getting to know how someone like that thinks, which is harder than just imagining someone who is desperate.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’m deeply grateful for my readers. I have been surprised and gratified by the number of people who write to me to tell me how much Samuel Craddock means to them. The fact that they have to find my email address (and in one case my actual address to write a real letter) and then compose an email and send it off blows me away. Never expected that. I feel a real sense of responsibility to readers to write a good book. I don’t want to disappoint!

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge
In the course of their developing friendship, Samuel Craddock has learned to accept that his neighbor Jenny Sandstone’s personal life is strictly secret. But when her dying mother tells Craddock that Jenny is in danger, he is confronted with a dilemma. He wants to respect Jenny's privacy, but he is haunted by the urgency in the dying woman's voice.

When Jenny is the victim of a suspicious car accident, Craddock has no choice but to get involved. He demands that she tell him what he needs to know to protect her and to solve the mysteries surrounding the strange events that began taking place as soon as Jenny’s mother passed away.

Forced to confront the past, Jenny plunges into a downward spiral of rage and despair. She is drinking heavily and seems bent on self-destruction. Craddock must tread lightly as he tries to find out who is behind the threats to her. But only by getting to the bottom of the secrets buried in Jenny’s past can he hope to save her both from herself and from whoever is out to harm her. 

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Thursday, April 16, 2015


Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme, CT
Ann Blair Kloman is the author of three mysteries and is currently at work on her fourth book. Learn more about Ann and her books at her website

The Mystery of Old Lyme, Connecticut

I’ve been reading murder mysteries since my teens, planning on writing my own novels. But, raising four rambunctious children and welcoming ten equally wild grandchildren seemed to force continuing postponements, until my husband and I retired in 1994, moving east to Lyme, Connecticut.

I volunteered at our local art establishment, the Lyme Art Association, located in Old Lyme, just a few miles south of our new home, and became fascinated with the artists and their techniques. There are an amazing number of artists of all genres living in the area, some poor and others definitely nowhere close to starving, And I finally had time to construct my first mystery, located in the fictional town of Elmore Harbor, Maine, clearly modeled after the town where we spent some of every summer, Tenants Harbor. It was published in 2005.

My second featured a series character from the first who traveled from Maine to Wyoming, Stockholm, and Bermuda, places I had visited and enjoyed. When I started my third book, I naturally considered Old Lyme as a possible murder scene. So not set one in the Lyme Art Association?

Old Lyme is a relatively tiny village, of some 7,600 residents, enlarged each summer by vacationers. Created in 1665 when its settlers split off from Saybrook, across the Connecticut River, it features shorelines along that river and Long Island Sound and many examples of fine architecture. Its flourishing art colony includes not only the Art Association, but also the adjacent Florence Griswold Museum and the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts (now apart of the University of New Haven.) The towns of Old Lyme and Lyme (five miles up the river) are also known as the place Lyme disease was first detected in 1975.

Here I arranged for a local artist to be nastily stabbed in the eye with a paintbrush and had my protagonist just miss her own demise at an old house above the Sound where I spent many mornings with a writing group.

Many moldering old mansions cling to the shore of Long Island Sound . The one where I set a murder is also reputedly haunted. It is a huge shingled warren of rooms full of Dickensian atmosphere, and home to an eclectic jumble of valuable antiques.  A circular dumbwaiter rises from the old basement kitchen to the second level pantry off the dining room. The house is structurally bizarre but solid. It survived the Hurricane of Thirty-Eight, and, despite heavy damage from other storms along the northeastern coast, still reigns intact on a hill above the shore. One’s first sight on arriving, after winding up the long drive, is eerie. The shingles have darkened with age and there’s a conical eighteen thousand gallon water tank rising over one corner of the roof like a giant witch’s hat.

And it was in that water tank where I tried to dispatch my heroine!

A Diamond to Die For
Do painters often resort to murder?

This question is posed in A Diamond to Die For, Ann Blair A woman, a hand, a diamond? Mystery! At least for Isobel Van Dursan, the peripatetic "hit-woman" who continuously finds herself embroiled in murders, by both her own hand and others. A diamond ring is the focus of this new novel which carries the reader from Newport, RI, to Bainbridge Island, WA, and Old Lyme, CT, before returning to Isobel’s home base of Elmore Harbor, Maine.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Every year the people of the Pantone Color Institute decide on the Color of the Year. Unless you went to art school or work as a decorator or designer, you’ve probably never heard of Pantone or the Color Institute, but it’s the leading authority and provider of professional color standards for design industries and manufacturers around the world. At the Pantone Color Institute they study how color influences us, and they forecast trends, providing companies with information to help them determine which colors to use in their products. The Institute’s findings and choice of colors are responsible for everything from fashion to home décor, to industrial design and packaging, and more.

The 2014 Color of the Year was Radiant Orchid. We talked about Radiant Orchid last year on the blog. This year’s Color of the Year is Marsala, a creamy wine hue that’s about as far removed from Radiant Orchid as possible, as well as the last few years of color choices, which leaned toward bright tropical colors such as Emerald (2013), Tangerine Tango (2012), Honeysuckle (2011), Turquoise (2010), Mimosa (2009), and Blue Iris (2008).  

In contrast, Marsala is a deep, rich, earthy, dramatic and sophisticated color that will not only lend itself equally to fashion and home décor but will pair compatibly with a wide variety of other colors, including neutrals, taupes, grays, yellows, browns, greens, and blues.

Marsala is already being seen in everything from nail polish to makeup to clothing. You’ll soon see it popping up in furnishings and home décor. Will we see it in automobiles? Unlike Radiant Orchid, it's certainly a possibility. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Today we’re featuring a recipe for Creamy Frozen Fruit Salad, courtesy of author Ruby Merritt. You’ll find this recipe and many more wonderful desserts in Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Loveand Writing.

Ruby Merritt is a teacher and an author who writes stories because they won’t leave her alone until she does. Her debut novel and first book in her Spirited Heart series, Ella’s Choice, takes place in 1870s Wyoming. Learn more about Ruby and her writing at her website.

Creamy Frozen Fruit Salad

2 cups of sour cream
2 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 banana, sliced
8 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup sliced maraschino cherries

Mix all together and freeze in individual desserts cups. Thaw 5 minutes before serving.

Ella’s Choice

When Ella Hastings is captured by the Blackfeet Indians at age nine, then adopted by the Lakota Indians, she is thrust into a new way of life and transformed into Little Brave, adopted daughter of their revered and peaceful chief, Grey Owl. Ten years later the white man returns. Their soldiers storm her tribe’s village and bring reminders of a world she’d almost forgotten. Suddenly, she is confronted by the question: To which world does she now belong? Her only hope in discovering who she really is lies with the enigmatic army scout, Beech Richoux.

Son of a French trapper and Lakota mother, Beech Richoux was raised in a white man’s world after his mother’s death.  Acting as an army scout to raise money for his horse ranch, he’s unaware of the Army’s true intent to annihilate his mother’s people until it’s too late. And the white woman he finds living among the Lakota only adds to his desperation to save his people. Now the narrow path he has created to balance himself between these two worlds is tipped by the mysterious white woman known to the Lakota as Little Brave.

Can two people robbed of their own childhood learn to live together in such differing worlds? Can Little Brave and Beech forge a new path into a life where they both are finally set free?

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Monday, April 13, 2015


Margaret Grace is the pen name of Camille Minichino, a lifelong miniaturist and the author of three other mystery series: the Periodic Table Mysteries, the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (as Ada Madison) and the Post Office Mysteries (as Jean Flowers).  Learn more about her and her books at her website.  

Crafts with Gerry and Maddie

Geraldine Porter and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, love making dollhouses and miniatures together.

In their newest adventure, Manhattan in Miniature, released last week by Margaret Grace, the two travel to New York City to help with a miniatures fair at a hotel near Grand Central Station. One of Maddie's favorite demonstrations is a DIY miniature chair made from the cages of champagne bottles, perfect for a patio or an ice cream shop.

Here's her instruction sheet!

• 2 "cages" from champagne bottles (As you see from the designs in the photos, the cages need not be from the same winery!)
• pliers
• wire cutters (optional)
• cork (optional)


Step 1. Disassembly.
Remove the bottom wire from each cage: Either use pliers to untwist the ends or use wire cutters to snip out the twisted section. Slide the wire through the loops at the ends of the "legs." Put the loose wire aside.
* You now already have a stool! But let's get a little fancier. We'll call this the seat and legs of the chair and move on to construct the back.

Step 2. The chair back.
Take the second cage, also minus its bottom wire, and bend two of the legs straight down, the other two across each other. (If you dislodge the cap from the legs, don't worry, it can be snapped back later, or glued in place.)

Step 3. Attaching chair back to seat.
Twist legs of the second cage around bottom legs of the first cage.

Step 4. Finishing touches.
Straighten any crooked sections. Turn bottom loops out to form a "feet" and adjust legs so that all feet touch the floor.
You're done. Have a seat!

(1) Take the bottom wire extracted from Step 1. Twist the wire into any shape you like (Make it smoother than I've done here!), and attach the ends of the wire to the legs of the stool in the same way as Step 3 above. The result: a typical soda fountain chair with a fancy wire back.

(2) Make a cushion from scrap fabric and add to the seat of the chair.

(3) Make a table using a cork as a base. The top can be a piece of glass or any other rigid material that can be supported by the cork. Or simply use the cork as is. Most corks are too tall for the scale of their cages, and will probably need to be trimmed down.

I hope you have a good time furnishing a soda fountain or café. Each of the eight miniature mysteries by Margaret Grace has tips at the end for other fun projects. 

Manhattan in Miniature
Perhaps Manhattan, like Christmas, is best seen through the eyes of a child. Gerry Porter provides both magical experiences for granddaughter Maddie when a SuperKrafts manager takes them to New York City for a huge crafts fair. They get to work on both making miniatures and solving crimes, the detecting duo’s favorite pastimes. All this, plus Rockefeller Center and Radio City, too! But a crafty murderer wants to make sure they don’t make it safely home again to California….