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, July 29, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR HALEY WHITEHALL

Haley Whitehall has been obsessed with telling stories since the age of four. Her addiction to the Civil War era came later, but proved no less potent. She earned her B.A in history from Central Washington University. Pairing her two passions, she writes historical romance with a touch of faith. Learn more about Haley and her books at her website

It is a pleasure to be on Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers again. I write Civil War era historical romance, and often my romances are interracial. Midnight Kiss is the third book in my Moonlight Romance series set in the South during Reconstruction.

I think food and romance go together quite well. I don’t write foodie romance, but even in my historical romance food naturally plays a part. Back in the 19th century women were expected to be better cooks than they are today. After all there was no such thing as McDonald’s!

In Midnight Kiss, Matt Seever hires April to be a nanny to his two children. He has been a widower for four years. She doesn’t mind cleaning up his messy house and cooking his meals, too. What she did not realize was flapjacks could lead to them sharing more than a meal together.

Matt can’t cook. Working as an officer on the steamer the Queen Bee, he had his meals provided for him. After he quit and took a job in St. Louis, Missouri working for his brother, his supply of good meals disappeared. Fate brought him and April together. He and his children like anything she cooks–but their favorite is flapjacks.

Old Fashioned Pancakes Recipe
(makes approximately 12 pancakes)

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1-1/4 cup milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan at 350. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Midnight Kiss (Moonlight Romance, Book 3)
Unjustly accused of stealing, nanny April Windmire is turned out on the streets without pay. With no place to go and no friends, she stows away on a Mississippi River steamboat. Her hopes to hide through the journey to St. Louis are dashed when a handsome white officer finds her. But instead of turning her in, he takes her to his private quarters where she fights her growing attraction to a man she cannot have.

Matt Seever’s wife died four year ago, leaving him alone with two small mulatto children. But his job as an officer on the Queen Bee isn’t family friendly. He knows he needs a new wife, but no southern white woman will marry him. When April lands in his lap, his prayers are answered. Or are they? April’s not the trusting type and racial prejudice runs deep in post-Civil War Missouri. Just when Matt convinces April he loves her, his new family becomes a target and there’s no backing down from this fight.

Together, April and Matt must brave heinous race prejudice crimes to find an enduring love.


Monday, July 28, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER BOBBI A. CHUKRAN

Bobbi A. Chukran is the author of Lone Star Death and the "Nameless, Texas" story series. The first novella in the Lone Star Death series, Dye, Dyeing, Dead also features Aunt Jewel and the folks from Nameless and is coming in August. Read more about Bobbi and her work at her website and blog.  





Original Photos on Short Story Covers
When I launched my "Nameless, Texas" short story series, I wanted to tie them together visually. Although I write full-time now, I have been a visual artist/craft designer and still practice my creativity whenever I can. My writing uses one side of my brain and the photography/cover design uses the other. It's a good balance.

I love taking still life photos, so I decided to use some for the covers. With a (cheap) digital camera, I can take hundreds of photos and it costs nothing but time.  I then use Photoshop Elements for enhancing the photos and adding the text.

As I write the stories, I think about how they can be illustrated. My "Dewey Loudermilk & the Peckerwood Tree" cover was inspired by two healthy pecan trees that my neighbors cut down.  To remember the ancient trees, I took a series of photos, including the stump and logs that were left over. These incidents stuck in my mind, and it wasn't long before I had hatched a proper revenge story.  One of the photos ended up on the cover.

My "Aunt Jewel & the Poisoned Potlikker" cover features a colorful bowl and pitcher I use daily. I was "brewing" the story in my head while a pot of succulent collard greens simmered on my stove. I wanted it to evoke the feeling of down-home, handmade goodness. It's definitely a dish that Aunt Jewel would cook up for the annual Thanksgiving celebration. I often visualize her chopping, cooking and creating her meals on the pine butcher block countertop in my vintage kitchen.

The photo I used on my "Aunt Jewel and the Purloined Pork Loin" cover was one I took years ago at our former ranch house, right before Thanksgiving.  The pumpkin, pine table and ladderback chair evoke, for me, old-fashioned holidays, and I hope it will also evoke those feelings for my readers.

I intend to keep using my photography to spawn ideas for my stories, and my stories to spawn ideas for photos. Both of them enhance the other, and it just makes the whole process a little more fun.

Aunt Jewel and the Purloined Pork Loin
The women of Nameless, Texas are under the influence of their new favorite cooking show, The Butt Nekkid Texas Chef, and the annual Giving of Thanks community gathering may never be the same again. Things spiral out of control after Kendra Louise Harper offers to pick up some meat from a local farm for her Aunt Jewel, and turn hilarious when she and her friend, Jeffrey, end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and are snatched by two cross-dressing bank robbers.


Dewey Laudermilk and the Peckerwood Tree
When Dewey Laudermilk decides that his grandma’s old pecan tree has to come down, he won’t take no for an answer. Pretty soon, his hilarious redneck network is on hand to help with the process. Dewey's Grandma is heartbroken because she remembers when she and her husband planted that old tree, home to a family of woodpeckers (called “peckerwoods” by Mr. Laudermilk.) After a series of unfortunate accidents, and a mysterious illness, Dewey is reminded that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.


Aunt Jewel and the Poisoned Potlikker
When Kendra Louise Harper's Aunt Jewel decides to make a traditional "mess" of turnip greens to take to the annual Giving of Thanks community dinner and gathering in Nameless, Texas (population 2,354), little does she know that her special dish will become the source of widespread illness and even a death.



Friday, July 25, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR J.L. SIMPSON

Author J.L. Simpson describes herself as a diminutive English rose who was stolen away by a giant nomad and replanted in a southern land filled with gum trees and kangaroos. She quickly grasped the meaning of G’day and mate whilst steadfastly refusing all attempts to convert her to Vegemite. She loves sharing tales about unexpected twists of fate. Holding on to a steadfast belief every obstacle can be overcome, she spends her moments of solitude creating adventures where mystery and mayhem collide. Learn more about JL at her website.

A Cubist Faze

When I realized that a guest post would need to be something relevant to the blog I panicked. The days my husband doesn’t cook we eat take-out. I only go shopping for clothes with supervision because I have the worst taste in fashion, and craft is so not my thing. I failed art in high school!

However, here goes!  I love the idea of art and craft. In my youth I used to bang around in the shed with a hammer and nails building things. Thankfully no one ever asked what my things were. My mum taught me to knit when I was very young, and my first niece was the beneficiary of my efforts. I even made clothes for my own children, but I no longer have the patience or energy.

In an effort to discover my inner Leonardo Da Vinci I took up sketching and painting with my husband. My kids laugh at my pictures. I’ve been told I’m in a cubist faze. Knowing I can’t actually paint something that looks real I prefer to stick to designs, and squares are cool.

All of my siblings are brilliant at art and craft but I am the black sheep.  I’ve struggled to find a creative outlet that I can stick with long enough to master. I’m easily bored, and most things are repetitive and fiddly. However, I have finally found my niche, my thing, my creative muse. Writing. I love to make up stories. I can write about women who can do things that are beyond me or women who make my creative efforts look spectacular. I can take my stories anywhere I want and hopefully give people some escapism and a giggle along the way. I guess we all have a talent for something; it just takes some of us a while to find it.

Lost Cause
Daisy Dunlop loves a challenge, but heir hunting is supposed to be easy. She can deal with anything her new job throws at her, except the bullets, bombs, and working with P.I. Solomon Liffey. Her husband's best friend is supposed to be looking out for her, but when she uncovers Solomon’s biggest secret, he's the one who needs protection.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR KATHLEEN HEADY

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
EPIC nominee Kathleen Heady has lived in and traveled to many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. Learn more about her and her books at her website/blog.

My latest novel, Hotel Saint Clare, is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean but is partially based on my travels in Costa Rica, especially the Caribbean coast of that country. I moved to Costa Rica in the early 1990s to teach in an international school on the outskirts of San José. Less than a year later, I married another teacher at the school and we stayed in Costa Rica for another seven years. Since I lived there for so long, most of my favorite spots in Costa Rica tend to be off the beaten tourist track.

I much prefer the beaches on the Caribbean coast with its laid back Jamaican influenced culture. You don't see the highrise, luxury hotels on this coast. Things tend more toward small hotels and cabinas tucked in the rain forest, but still often only a few steps from the beach. When I first visited Puerto Viejo in 1992, there was only one telephone in the village. Now that has changed. Everyone has the latest technology, and Internet cafés are common. But you will still hear reggae music as you walk down the street, and your feet automatically slow down to a relaxed pace.

Rice and beans are traditionally served with almost every meal in Costa Rica, but on the Caribbean coast they’re cooked with coconut milk and are called by the English name, "rice and beans," rather than the Spanish "arroz y frijoles."
If you want to try making "rice and beans" at home, here is how you do it. A good friend who lives in Puerto Viejo sent me the directions, but you will have to use your own judgment and taste preference for quantities of ingredients.

There is nothing more refreshing than a cold fruit drink, and you find all varieties of them in Costa Rica, where they are known as "refrescos." They come in flavors such as blackberry, strawberry, pineapple, mango, papaya, and less well-known tropical flavors like cas, guanabana, and tamarindo. There is nothing better than ordering a refresco in a restaurant and hearing the whirring of the blender before your drink is brought to the table in a tall, cold glass.

Many people from temperate climates believe that they would miss the change of seasons while living in the tropics. I never found this to be so. There is a change of season, but it does not involve the temperature. Roughly, the rainy season lasts from May to the end of November, and the dry season from December to the beginning of May. I prefer the rainy season. It doesn't rain constantly. In fact, the mornings are usually dry. People who work outdoors start very early, at least by six a.m., to take advantage of the clear morning. This is also a good time to exercise. The rains come in the afternoon, and can be anything from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. There is truly nothing like the sound of the rain hitting the metal roofs that are so common in the tropics. And if you get wet, so what? You will dry soon.

The weather, the food and drinks are all part of life in the tropics, but the best part of living in Costa Rica is the people. Everyone you meet is friendly, open, and affectionate. You soon adjust to a hug and kiss on the cheek when you meet an acquaintance on the street, on a bus, or in someone's home. I was surprised to be hugged and kissed by students when visiting another teacher's home for a school activity, but I soon got used to it, and love the custom. As they say in Costa Rica, "Pura vida," or "pure life." This can be a greeting or simply an expression to say it all. Life is good. Enjoy it.

Hotel Saint Clare
Hotel Saint Clare is a Caribbean island paradise, a place filled with happy carefree people whose only concern is the pleasure of the tourists. But appearances can be deceiving. Greed, envy, jealousy, murder, lust… all can be found within the luxurious hotel. Nara Blake has landed a dream job at the Hotel Saint Clare, until the owner is murdered in his hospital bed, and her life changes in ways she would never have expected.


Someone wants her dead, and even with the wise counsel of the island shaman, she does not know who to trust and must rely on her instincts and her wits, as she always has.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--GUEST AUTHOR ADRIAN LILLY ON MENTAL ILLNESS

Author Adrian W. Lilly writes horror, suspense, and mystery. He’s the author of three novels and has also been published in short fiction and poetry. Learn more about him and his books at his website. 

Writing About Mental Illness Isn’t Always Writing About the ‘Bad Guys’

I’m the type of guy who doesn’t take too many things seriously. I’m a notorious practical jokester who likes to give friends and family a good scare. And when it comes to repartee...nothing is sacred.

With my writing, however, I feel very differently. Especially when it comes to portraying difficult scenarios and complex issues. In my novel Red Haze, which at its heart is a murder mystery with a paranormal twist, I tackled bullying, suicide, and revenge.

Each of these elements has real world implications for potential readers who may have been bullied, who may have a loved one who has committed suicide, or who has dealt with the anger after loss. For these reasons and many others, I delved into research to create my characters and reactions.

Did you know*:

~One in four adults—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experiences mental illness in a given year.

~One in 17—about 13.6 million—live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

~Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.

~Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46 percent live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

~Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

Many of us know someone with mental illness. Maybe you have even struggled with anxiety, depression, or another mental illness. In Red Haze, one of the main characters, Marne, suffers from depression after the suicide of her brother. I wanted to delve into the complex web of emotions and connections within herself and her family that was keeping her trapped in the past. To me, that was a way to attempt to reflect the reality of anguish. I felt a great responsibility to portray mental illness without demonizing a character who suffers from the condition.

Since Red Haze is a thriller, of course, I had to have some bad guys with their own personality disorders. But I think we are long past the days of having only one representation of mental illness—and that being a crazed killer.

Red Haze
Something sinister is happening at Grove University.

Some nights the woods on the edge of campus glow with a spectral, shimmering red haze. Marne Montgomery knows—she’s seen it. She also saw a figure in the haze. He beckoned to her and then vanished. Marne puts the incident behind her until her roommate, Sara Murdock, shows her a picture of a student. The one Marne saw in the woods. But he’s been dead for more than a year. Suddenly, Marne and Sara are tangled in a secret that threatens their college careers—and their lives. Their only hope is to find the cause of the red haze…
Before someone else dies.

Red Haze is a haunting psychological thriller that hovers between the spectral and the natural, blurring the lines between remembrance and regret, dedication and obsession, justice and revenge.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR AND BAKER CADENCE DENTON

Cadence Denton has worn many hats over the years—retail sales rat, dental assistant, fulltime mother, part-time cheer coach, and dachshund wrangler. When she’s not chasing runaway dachshunds, you can find her at her desk devising ways to make her characters suffer. Learn more about Cadence and her books at her website.

No matter the season, baked goodies have always been a staple at every gathering in my family.

Of course, Thanksgiving must have my baby sister’s traditional Golden Pecan Pie, and Christmas isn’t complete without a scrumptious Hummingbird Cake. July Fourth demands my mom’s Sock-it-to-me Cake, and Valentine’s Day is known for my daughter’s special double fudge brownies with pecan coating. However, the one catch all treat guaranteed to please everyone’s palate is my Coconut Cake with basic butter cream frosting.

I discovered the joy of baking early in life. My grandmother, an accomplished home cook, always had a lovely homemade dessert waiting at the end of every evening meal. Some of my earliest memories were standing at her side watching as she dusted her counter with flour then rolled out sugar cookies. It’s particularly poignant because, ever patient, she let me use her special cookie cutters to cut the dough. Granted, my stars may have come out shaped more like blobs, but she never complained. To her they were always perfect. My grandmother had several large, aluminum shakers filled with colorful sugar that she used to sprinkle the cookies before she popped them into her oven. To this day, if I close my eyes, I swear I can almost smell them.

She was the mother of eight, (four still at home back then) and sixteen grandchildren. Even so, she single-handedly cooked a full sit-down Sunday dinner for us all every week! Poor dear, I would have so been picking up Popeye’s Chicken or Little Caesar’s Pizza, right?

I believe cooking was my grandmother’s way of showing her love for her family. From the quality and amount of food she cooked, I’d say she really, really loved us. Was she a chef on a Julia Child level? Nope. If you were looking for fancy cream sauces and lobster you wouldn’t find it on her table, but what you would find was hot and hearty and filling.

While I’m not a slave to the stovetop, I do enjoy baking and have shared this love with my daughter. I know my grandmother would be proud that her legacy has been handed down. I only wish she and my daughter could have met.

Grandma’s Coconut Cake

Ingredients:
2/3 cup softened butter                                               
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 cups sifted flour                                                           
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt                                                                       
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/4 cups milk

Combine sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Sift the dry ingredients. Beginning with the dry mixture, add to the butter mixture alternating with milk. Beat on low speed until smooth. Pour into two prepared pans. Bake for 30–35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Cool on rack.

Simple Frosting

Ingredients:
16 oz. box confectioner’s sugar
1 stick softened unsalted butter
4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or coconut extract
2-1/2 cups flaked coconut

Mix the butter until smooth. Slowly add the sugar and flavoring. Add milk as needed. Frost each layer and sprinkle with coconut. Enjoy!

Midnight Delight
Call me Contessa. Forget my name, you couldn’t pronounce it. I’m a professional chef—actually, I’m the LeBron James of chefs. Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay even Julia Child have all been my students, and that’s just a few. I’ve probably forgotten more about the culinary arts than any chef alive has learned. I was in the thick of things when today’s conventional culinary techniques were first being developed. You ever used the three basic steps in dicing an onion? Prego. That was me. Ever heard of clarified butter? Bingo. Me again.

How can that be? I was born in Genoa, Italy in the year of our Lord 1642. That’s right. I’m an Eternal, a creature of darkness, a vampire…and I’m obsessed by what I cannot eat. Food.

Ironically, I’m the star of my very own cooking show on the Foodie Culinary Channel. My dream job! Where I get to create the recipes I adore and share them with my audience and one lucky dinner guest. Which is where my troubles began. And will end.
I was caught partaking the red jungle juice from the neck of my dinner date. I was threatened, attacked with Holy water, and finally blackmailed by my mild-mannered joke of an Associate Producer. As it turns out, she isn’t so mild-mannered. Now I have two choices: turn her into a child of darkness or risk exposure to the human world.

I’m thinking there’s a third choice. His name is Rocco Guadagnino.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--PAINTED GLASS JARS

Summertime…and the kids are outdoors, splashing in the pool, at the playground, playing sports. Except on those days when they’re stuck in the house due to summer storms and “I’m bored” becomes a common cry. Suggest they read a book during vacation, and many of you will wind up on the receiving end of a “parents are such dorks” eye roll.

Of course, you can allow them to veg out in front of the TV or computer all day, but do you really want your little darlings turning into zombies? Of course not!

So how about a crafts project?

Grab a few empty jars from the recycling bucket and have your kids repurpose them as vases or storage containers. Even though this is a painting craft, it’s one that’s far from messy, no matter how young your child, and it will keep all the kids busy and away from the TV, computer, and their smart phones for at least a few hours. The more glass jars you can scrounge up, the longer they’ll be occupied at something that stimulates their brain cells instead of numbing them.

Materials:
empty glass jars
rubbing alcohol
assorted acrylic paint colors in squirt bottles
clear acrylic sealer
glass paint markers (optional)
paint brush

1. Clean the glass jars with alcohol.
2. Squirt one paint color inside a jar. Allow paint to drip down sides. Let dry.
3. Squirt a second paint color inside the jar. Allow to drip down sides. Let dry.
4. Paint inside of jar with a third color. Allow to dry. Apply a second coat. Allow to dry.
5. Paint inside of jar with clear acrylic sealer.
6. If desired, decorate outside of jar with glass paint markers.