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, May 22, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR ELIZABETH JOHN

Elizabeth John writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Her debut novel, Judging Joey, recently released. Learn more about Elizabeth at her website

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

I’m going to date myself, but many years ago I had seen an article on Candlelight Ecstasy Romances. My mom cheered me on by saying, “You’ve been reading those kinds of books for years. You could write those, too.” At that time I had recently married, moved to a different state, and had started a new job, so I took that article with me and kept it folded in my nightstand. Every so often I would pull it out, and one day, I just started writing. You see, I had a degree in Economics and worked in investment banking, so the whole idea was foreign to me. I wrote for enjoyment until I was pregnant with my son and worked part-time. Then I saw another full color spread on Romance Writers and this organization called Romance Writers of America. I had no idea such a group existed. The phone number of the local chapter president was in the article, and she was encouraging people to join the group. I couldn’t believe an actual famous author would give out her phone number! I was nervous but determine. This was a chance of a lifetime for me, so I called. She was pleasant and easy to talk to. I joined my local chapter right away. Those were fascinating times. I met some of my best friends because of that article.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?

Everyone’s journey is different and some take longer than others. Like mine. I left the banking industry after my second child. Really, it left me because there was a bank merger and my department moved out of state. By then, I was a board member of my local chapter. My first manuscript won an award. Editors requested my work. I was on my way! Or so I thought.

My husband and I bought a house that took forever to be built, so we moved out of state again and in with my parents. Eight people using one bathroom. Need I say more? I threw myself into my writing. It was therapeutic. I sold my first essay to the newspaper, and then another. I had to make some money, so I started writing and selling articles for small magazines. When we moved to our new house, I wrote a weekly ‘Spotlight’ article with a local paper, and through networking with my writer’s group, I connected with an editor of a large newspaper. For a few years, I became a freelance correspondent, and I wrote what the editor assigned. I landed a job working part-time with my state as a ceremonial resolutions writer. I really loved that job. Unfortunately, the commute was a challenge for a mom with small children. It took me a while to realize even though I was making some money as a writer, I wasn’t writing what I desired--fiction. So I regrouped.

I had always thought of being a teacher too and hoped its flexible schedule would enable me to be there for my family and write books. I couldn’t write for a few years while I went for another degree at night and worked as a teacher during the day. Then several years later, I threw myself back into the fiction world. I went to conferences, got on the board of my local chapter again and have been writing ever since. My first full-length novel was recently released. Sweet!

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?

I’m traditionally published with Soul Mate Publishing.

Where do you write?

All over the place. I have carved out a spot for myself in the basement. Right now, the basement looks like we’re hoarders, and I find it a challenge to work with clutter. Organizing my office is on a very long ‘To Do’ list. I get up an hour early each morning to write before I have to leave for my day job, so I write at the kitchen table at that time while my coffee’s brewing. Presently, I’m on a much needed vacation and am writing this on the deck of our hotel in beautiful, sunny Florida while my husband is doing laps in the pool. I have learned to write anywhere. That’s one habit I picked up as a freelance correspondent. Many phone interviews were conducted with toddlers crawling around my feet.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?

I prefer silence. However, that’s not always possible. Sometimes I put in my earbuds and listen to Karen Carpenter music on Pandora. I also have a collection of yoga and nature sounds types of music.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?

My stories are about normal people living normal lives who are faced with something out of the ordinary. In my book, Judging Joey, Madeline has to deal with working alongside the man who broke her heart in high school. So my plots start with, ‘What if…?’ As a writer, I’m always observing others. Characters in my books are purely fictional, but they may say something I’ve heard someone say or do something I’ve seen someone do. I take bits of my observations and form them into my characters. I think most writers do that.

Describe your process for naming your character?

The first names of my main characters always pop into my head. I can’t explain it. They tell me their names and show me what they look like. Secondary character names are different. I’m conscious of ethnicity, geographic locations, age, and things like that. I have books on baby names and a writer’s book on character names to help. Once I come up with a name, taking care that I haven’t used too many names that start with the same initial, I search the Internet for any infamous connections.

Real settings or fictional towns?

I’ve written both, but now I’m steering toward fictional. There’s usually a villain in my books, and I think it’s just easier to stick to fictional locations. Of course, in my mind, these fictitious towns are based on a real town somewhere that I’ve been.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?

In Judging Joey, Madeline quotes her uncle’s expressions. For example, he says, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I think it’s so endearing and shows how much she cares for him.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

That’s an interesting question. Give me a minute to think about that. Okay, I have a few, but here’s one. When I read a print book, I always use a bookmark, and when I hold my place, the bookmark has to be right side up. Never upside down. Is that quirky?

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I think it’s a story that people continue to love throughout the generations.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?

Ah, I think everything happens for a reason, so no do-overs. That being said, I wish I had believed in myself more and kept writing novels and not gotten distracted from my goals. However, this was my journey, and I’m finally in a position in which I have a steady income and a day job I enjoy. I raised two incredible children who are now wonderful adults, and I am free to pursue writing fiction.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I don’t like waste, so it bugs me when people leave the lights, TV, and radios on when no one is in the room. Let’s conserve energy. Every day is Earth Day!

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?

Do people count? Then it would have to be my family. Next would be my two dogs and unlimited paper and writing implements. How else can I record all my stories?

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

That would have to be a paper route in the old days when kids delivered the newspapers. The boy who had the coveted route split it up and gifted me with one of the less desirable pieces. I was twelve, na├»ve, and grateful for the opportunity to make some money. He got the money and I got the tips. Sometimes people were unfriendly, and if I got a nickel for a whole week’s work, I was happy. It took me a long time to figure out that the boy was getting paid from the newspaper for the work I did. But that’s how it was, and if you were lucky enough to get one of the pieces, you kept it or transferred it to your little brother.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

Pick only one? I can’t do it. I loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett, because of her characterization, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, for her plotting, and The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. That book was a pure gem of a find. She had won a Rita at the last RWA conference. I immediately recognized the cover background and knew I already had one of her books. Turns out, I had two. Talk about cover branding. Anyway, I didn’t have any expectations, but when I was drawn into her world, I didn’t want to leave. It was a beautifully written book.

Ocean or mountains?

I’m all about the beach, sand, shells, and crashing waves.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?

I love to live in the suburbs, but be near a city. Museums, shows, great restaurants, these are places I love to visit. I worked in Manhattan for years and miss the hustle and bustle sometimes. On the flip side, I enjoy quiet, so I need to be able to escape the crowds and find peace.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Right now, I’m working on a romantic suspense novel that involves three sisters who own a family wedding dress shop. Each sister will have her own story and the three books are connected but can stand alone.
  
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?

My contemporary romances tend to have a bit of mystery or suspense, and I think that’s what makes them different. Judging Joey is a sweet, contemporary romance with a bit of a mystery. I think readers are looking for sweet romances and they’re becoming harder to find. The book I’m working on now is a sweet romantic suspense. It’s not going to be too gritty. I’d like to call my books Sweet and Cozy Romantic Suspense. My dream is to be on the beach one day and see people around me in their chairs or on their towels reading my book. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Judging Joey
Madeline White must return to her hometown to help her uncle, her only family. She gets a job teaching and sees the man who broke her heart back in high school. Then she discovers he’s the school’s Safety Officer and his nephew is her student! Madeline’s determined to clear the air with him and hopes they can be civil to one another. When she builds up the courage for a painful reunion, she is shocked that he doesn’t remember her.

Officer Joey O’Neill is committed to his job, so after the beautiful redhead accuses him of the contrary, he takes offense. When Madeline informs him they’ve met before, he insists she’s mistaken. Although his family wants him to settle down and judges his carefree bachelorhood lifestyle, it doesn’t mean he forgets the people in his life. Past or present.

Like years before, people begin to whisper about her when things go missing in the school. Joey starts to wonder if what they say is true. As the past comes back to haunt Madeline, she struggles with a secret that jeopardizes her job and hopes she can trust Joey. Has he finally outgrown being a wise-cracking jock?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--#ISRAEL AND #JORDAN WITH GUEST AUTHOR BARBARA PHINNEY

Author Barbara Phinney returns today to tell us about her recent trip to Israel and Jordan. Learn more about Barbara and her books at her website. 

Hi, it's Barbara Phinney here. Thank you, Lois, for hosting me, especially when I get to blog about traveling. I had originally planned to 'speak' about Bolivia, because my book, Hard Target, is set there, and I have visited the country twice. Perhaps Lois will host me again, so I might share my experiences with you.

But today's blog will feature another exciting place. I recently visited Israel and Jordan, and those two wonderful countries still linger in my mind. And when I talk about it, the most frequently asked question is, "Did you feel safe?"

Very much so, I'm happy to say. Both are incredibly safe countries, despite the doom and gloom of our news broadcasters. In fact, you couldn't walk into our hotels in Jordan without going through airport styled security! But, to be honest, I was with a large tour group and the most dangerous thing my husband and I did was walk down to the Old City wall the evening we first arrived in Jerusalem. Which, by the way, was spectacular, even at night. I recommend a tour of Israel to everyone. You may not go to church, or your faith may be far different than mine, but one thing no one can deny is that the countries of Jordan and Israel have influenced history for thousands of years, and they continue to do so to this day. While every tour highlights Holy Sites, we also visited a diamond factory, a UN observation post, a Dead Sea resort, Petra, the Holocaust Museum and even a kibbutz. Not to mention seeing a bit of interesting wildlife. Why, at the kibbutz one night, we heard hyenas!

So, while I have no novel set in the Holy Land, yet, I do have a writer's mind. You can be sure that something of what I've seen and visited will come bubbling to the surface in one or two of my future novels. And like my gracious hostess, I'm a blogger, too and thus 'journaled' about my trip. So if you're interested, you can find my experience (a little something for later reference, if you will) here.

I encourage everyone to travel. The world is diverse and interesting, and like many places, the Holy Land is steeped in history. My hope for you is that wherever you go, you'll take along a good book (I suggest one of the books to the right of this blog) and enjoy yourself. Bon Voyage!

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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

#DECORATING WITH JEANIE--GUEST AUTHOR CHRISTINA TETREAULT

Christina Tetreault began writing at the age of ten on her grandmother's manual typewriter and never stopped. Currently, she’s the author of two romance series, The Sherbrookes of Newport and Love on The North Shore. Learn more about Christina and her books at her website. 

Much as there are trends in fashion, which change from year to year and from decade to decade, there are also trends in interior decorating. Some trends are timeless while there are others that everyone would like to forget. For example, I love walking into a stately home built around the turn of the 20th century with its dark hard wood and built in window seats. However, I still cringe every time I think of my grandmother’s bathroom with its blue and pink tile, pink toilet, pink tub and pink sink. Sometimes I wonder how my poor grandfather lived with it for all those years.

So let’s take a look at some of the trends from the past. In the 1940’s old hand-me-down furniture was common and kitchens were functional, complete with stark white appliances. The 1950’s ushered in rugs with patterns and floral wallpaper. I think I visited plenty of houses stuck in this decade when I was house hunting a few years ago.

The 1960’s were a time of rebellion for many, and interiors were often decorated in brightly mismatched colors. Wall-to-wall carpet became the norm in the 1970’s. Some people even put it in their bathrooms, if you can believe that.  During the 1970’s people started to care less about style and more about comfort. Of course that did not last as the 1980’s ushered in a period of material success and people wanted their homes to at least look like they spent a fortune decorating them. We’ve all been in a few of these homes.

Thankfully, styles again changed, and the 1990’s paved the way for the interiors we tend to see today. Interiors, which are more influenced by comfort and function then looking like you spent a million dollars. Of course, even today they vary greatly from home to home and country to country, often reflecting the personality of the people who live there.

Illustrated throughout this post are just a few of the different interiors I found while doing some research for my book Redeeming The Billionaire, which features an interior designer as my heroine.  These images are courtesy of Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, Sira Anamwong and digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Redeeming The Billionaire
Billionaire Trent Sherbrooke works hard and plays harder. He’s never once cared what the media or society says about him, until now.  In order to make it into the United States Senate Trent needs to clean up his reputation and Addison Raimono is just the woman to help him. But soon what he assumed would be a relationship to salvage his reputation turns into so much more. But can a relationship started on a lie ever survive?



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--AUTHOR MOLLY MacRAE'S RHUBARB SOURDOUGH BREAD PUDDING

Pretty soon it will be time to start harvesting rhubarb or purchasing it at your local farmers market or supermarket. Molly MacRae, who writes the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, contributed a recipe for Rhubarb Sourdough Bread Pudding in Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing. Today she shares the recipe here. Learn more about Molly and her books at her website

Rhubarb Sourdough Bread Pudding

12 ounces sourdough bread ripped into 1/2”-1” pieces
1-1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoon butter
5 eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
4 cups rhubarb*, chopped
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

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.

Spread bread on a cookie sheet and lightly toast. Place in a greased 3 qt. casserole dish.

Melt butter with milk. Pour over bread in casserole.

Mix together eggs, sugar, salt, and zest. Stir in rhubarb and ginger. Stir rhubarb and egg mixture into bread mixture. Top with sugar and pecans.

Bake for 55-60 minutes until set.

Knot the Usual Suspects
In the latest from the bestselling author of Plagued by Quilt, Kath Rutledge yarn bombs Blue Plum, Tennessee—and gets tangled up in the mystery of a bumped-off bagpiper.



It’s time for Handmade Blue Plum, an annual arts and crafts fair, and Kath and her knitting group TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Fiber) plan to kick off the festivities with a yarn bombing. But they’re not the only ones needling Blue Plum. Bagpiper and former resident Hugh McPhee had just returned after a long absence, yet his reception is anything but cozy. The morning after his arrival, he’s found dead in full piper’s regalia.



Although shaken, Kath and her knitting group go forward with their yarn installation—only to hit a deadly snag. Now, with the help of Geneva, the ghost who haunts her shop, Kath and TGIF need to unravel the mystery before someone else gets kilt!

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Bake, Love, Write:
105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing
What do most authors have in common, no matter what genre they write? They love desserts. Sweets sustain them through pending deadlines and take the sting out of crushing rejection letters and nasty reviews. They also often celebrate their successes—selling a book, winning a writing award, making a bestseller list, or receiving a fabulous review—with decadent indulgences. And when authors chat with each other, they often talk about their writing and their lives. Recipes. Writing. Relationships. In this cookbook 105 authors not only share their favorite recipes for fabulous cakes, pies, cookies, candy, and more, they also share the best advice they’ve ever received on love and writing.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR BARBARA PHINNEY

Today’s craft blog is a bit of a stretch, but it’s a fun post and author Barbara Phinney did find her inspiration while attending a craft fair, so we’re going with it. Learn more about Barbara and her books at her website. 

Years ago, I ran into a friend of mine at a craft fair. Like me, she was serving in the military, but she belonged to a Society of Creative Anachronism. At their display, she wore a beautiful green velvet dress in a 16th century style, complete with stunning jewels. She'd saved her money to sew her gown and buy those wonderful pieces of bling she wore. She was also an attractive Native Canadian woman and when she knelt to speak to my toddler daughter, with her black hair flowing down her shoulders, my daughter thought she was a magical princess.

I knew then I had to write a story filled with fabulous gowns and medieval societies. Later that summer, our family visited my husband’s family. So, the story forming in my mind suddenly became a comedy of wacky family frolics. With those beautiful gowns of course.

 So All For A Good Cause was born.

It came together as beautifully as the gowns my friend had created. There would even be a fairy tale wedding featured, for what is a romance about lovely clothing without a stunning wedding?

Fast forward twenty years to my daughter’s lovely summer nuptials. And her dress resembled the one my heroine wore in my story! I loved it the second we laid eyes on it. And perhaps by unconscious design, the fun we had before the wedding reflected All For A Good Cause.

Thankfully, my daughter didn’t faint. Oops! I’m telling you too much about All For A Good Cause! No more, except that it’s a fun romp through medieval societies, fabulous gowns and meddling families.

I hope you’ll check it out.

All for a Good Cause
With the 'fun' back in fundraiser and relatives firmly entrenched where they think they should be (in her personal life), Janet Jemseg struggles to stay sane at a local charity function run by her old Society for Creative Anachronism.

She's been roped in to help, by blackmail and everything that family think they can get away with.

Enter hunky philanthropist, Devin Kidder, uncle to the disabled child for whom they're raising money, and Janet is ready to jump ship. She's had her fill of charming men.

Suddenly, he's suggesting the unthinkable -- a 'wedding' to stir up interest. A wedding to him.

Her quiet summer just went south. But it's all for a good cause, they say.


Friday, May 15, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR E.F. WATKINS

E.F. Watkins writes paranormal suspense and mystery. Dark Music, the first book in her Quinn Matthews Haunting Mystery series, received the David G. Sasher Award, and Hex, Death & Rock’n’Roll was a Mystery finalist for the 2014 Next Generation EBook Awards. Learn more about E.F. and her books a her website. 

Ever had a killer crush?

It's something we've probably all experienced at least once -- a major case of unrequited infatuation. The subject might be someone we actually know who is "just not that into" us or a celebrity we may never even meet.

My first crush, starting when I was about twelve, was on a TV star who shall remain nameless. In those days, before the Internet or even the VCR, I could only find out the latest gossip about him by reading “fan magazines” (more innocent than the tabloids of today), and if I ever missed an episode of his weekly series or guest appearance on a “variety” show, I was devastated. The one time I actually met him in person, at an event in New York, I could not make any coherent words come out of my mouth. I don't know if the typical fourteen-year-old girl would react quite as dramatically these days, or would be more jaded, but you never know. Not a parent myself, I haven’t observed any cases of “Bieber fever’” at close range.

Some people, including adults, take their obsessions with celebrities much further. Groupies follow rock bands around, often in hopes of ending up as a girlfriend or wife of one of the members. Fans of both sexes stalk TV or movie stars during their daily lives, trespassing on their property or even breaking into their homes. These stalkers sometimes believe that, if given the chance, they can make the object of their affections love them back, and they blame the star's handlers for standing in the way. Now and then a celebrity is injured or even killed by someone with that kind of psychotic obsession.

Maybe because I still remember the hunger with which I devoured those fan magazines and celebrity gossip columns for any mention of my first crush, and counted the minutes until he appeared on the TV screen each week, this phenomenon always has intrigued me. I ended up making killer crushes the underlying theme for my second Quinn Matthews Haunting Mystery, Hex, Death & Rock'n'Roll.

Hex, Death & Rock’n’Roll
Through a series of coincidences, journalist and fledgling psychic Quinn ends up helping a rock band that has been told it's "under a curse." The lead singer, Alan, has become the focus of a number of stalkers--whether motivated by love or hate, they're all potentially dangerous. Any of them might be behind several nasty “accidents” that have plagued the band, the latest one killing a cameraman. Is it really possible that the band’s enemy is using a shadowy entity to attack them? Can Quinn use her novice-level psychic skills to stop the killer before he, or she, strikes again? Or will the toxic fan mistake Quinn for Alan’s new girlfriend and decide to stop her, instead?

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

#FASHION WITH TESSA--GUEST AUTHOR ALICIA DEAN

Award-winning author Alicia Dean began wrote her first romance, featuring an Elvis Presley look-alike hero, at the age of eleven. She still has the tattered, pencil-written manuscript. Today she joins us to talk about the fashions of the 1920s. Learn more about Alicia and her books at her website. 

Fashion in the 1920’s – Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Clothing in the 1920s, especially for women, brought about one of the most drastic fashion changes in history. With the new era of independence and freedom and change, women shucked the uncomfortable bindings of corsets and long dresses. Hemlines began to rise, and the restrictive clothing began to loosen. Dancing and going out on the town was a big part of socializing in the 1920s and to accommodate that way of life, women began to wear loose-fitting dresses with lower waist lines, which was especially comfortable for the popular dance of the time, The Charleston.
The cloche hat was quite popular.

In the Martini Club 4 series, all of our heroines, although from England, adopted the flapper wardrobe after arriving in New York City, with the exception of Meggie, from Kathy L Wheeler’s, Reckless. Meggie is a singer, who prefers the body hugging style of dress. But after all, what else should a sexy, siren songstress wear?

Men’s fashions changed quite a bit as well. Less often did you see the stuffy, buttoned-up look and drab-colored suits. Men adopted more colorful, rather unusual looks, much of it patterned after the style of popular athletes.
In Ruined, my hero, Vince, wears a newsboy cap and suspenders. I modeled him after Robert Redford and these are photos I used as inspiration:
Although I’m not much of a clotheshorse, I do love the gorgeous, fun dresses from the 1920s. (I’m satisfied to knock around in jeans. Or even sweat pants. But my very favorite go-to outfit is my comfy pajamas.) My heroine, Eliza, had an opportunity to attend elegant affairs in the story, which gave me the opportunity to dress her in all kinds of awesome outfits.

What about you? What do you think of the styles of the 1920s? Would you like it if we went back to wearing the flapper dresses, beads, and funky hats?

 
Ruined: Martini Club 4 Series—The 1920’s

She vowed she’d be no man’s doxy, but fate had other plans... 

After the Earl of Goodwin attempts to force himself on her, housemaid Eliza Gilbert flees England for New York, hoping to build a better life. But the land of opportunity proves as harsh as the London docks, and she finds herself in a situation more dreadful than the one she escaped. 

When Vince Taggart’s childhood friend disappears, he heads to New York in search of her and meets Eliza, a woman with a less than honorable reputation. Inexplicably captivated, Vince can’t force himself to stay away, especially when he learns Eliza may be the key to finding his missing friend. 



Ruined is one of the books in the Martini Club series, four themed novellas written by four different authors. All are currently on sale for 99 cents. Check out the other books in the series here.