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.

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every year various companies produce limited edition pink products where a percentage of the profit goes to breast cancer research. Here are a few offerings from this year’s campaign:

Ford Motor Company: 100% of the net profits from their Warriors in Pink scarf is donated to various breast cancer charities.

Kohl's: all the net profits from Kohl's Cares TeK Gear collection go toward the fight against breast cancer.

Vince Camuto flats: 80% of each purchase goes to breast cancer research and education institutions.

OPI Pink of Hearts nail polish set in Mod About You and The Power of Pink: overall donation of $25,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Alex & Ani bangle: 20% of the purchase price goes to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.

Coabella tank top and boy shorts: 20% of the net proceeds goes to the Breast Cancer Research Center.

Vera Wang Truly Pink Eau de Parfum: 15% of the proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Clinique lipstick in Power of Pink with pouch: $3 per sale to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Sephora Collection: $2 from the sale of each The Beauty of Giving Back Face Palette is given to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Judy Alter is the author of three mystery series: the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, the Blue Plate Café Mysteries, and the new Oak Grove Mysteries, beginning with The Perfect Coed, a mystery set on a university campus. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of Texas Christian University. The author of many books for both children and adults, primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries. Learn more about Judy at her website and blog.

Green Noodles for Non-cooks

If writing is my vocation, cooking is my avocation. On weekends I love to relax by spending most of the day in the kitchen and entertaining in the evening. Sometimes I make really elaborate meals, other times, old family favorites. Given this background, though, it’s strange that in three mystery series, I created one cook. Kate Chambers runs a down-home café during the day and delights in both fixing and dining on upscale meals in the evening. But Kelly O’Connell of the series by her name and Susan Hogan, of the Oak Grove Mysteries, represented by the newly published The Perfect Coed, are non-cooks. The men in their lives are the cooks.

Kelly used to feed her kids take-out pizza and frozen dinners until Mike Shandy came along. He has Kelly’s girls eating grilled squash and eggplant and loving it. Kelly begins slowly learning to cook, and Chicken Tetrazzini is one of her triumphs. Susan Hogan usually gets relegated to making the salad while Jake Phillips grills steaks or makes Chicken Piccata and other treats. Susan’s Aunt Jenny also outdoes her with pot roast, roast chicken, and meatloaf—good, old-fashioned Sunday dinners.

I have a recipe that both Kelly and Susan could make for their men that would blow away the meat-and-potatoes idea and yet taste like a gourmet meal. Remember Sam I am of the Dr. Seuss book who refused to eat green eggs and ham? How about green noodles? This was a family favorite in my house when the kids were growing up, and I still serve it often. The recipe has a history.

 My former sister-in-law, Barbara, claimed she invented it one night when my brother was coming for dinner, and she had no money for groceries. She used what she had on hand, melting butter in the skillet, adding cooked spaghetti and lots of lemon juice. I “improved” on the idea by using spinach noodles and adding scallions and mushrooms. Now I also add chopped artichoke hearts and sometimes a frozen “ice cube” of homemade pesto or a healthy squirt of anchovy paste or capers.

Green Noodles

1 16-0z. pkg. spinach egg noodles
1 stick butter (start with less if you’re really fat conscious)—if you want more sauce, add a little olive oil
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself)
4 scallions, chopped
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
Optional: 1 ice-cube size piece of pesto, thawed—or, 1 Tbsp. capers, drained—or, a tsp of anchovy paste
Juice of one lemon (more to taste)
Grated fresh Parmesan

Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. (My oldest daughter, weight-conscious in high school, used to insist that was too much butter, and it may be.) Sauté the mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add noodles, artichoke hearts, pesto, capers or anchovy if using, and toss to coat. Simmer until thoroughly heated through. Top with Parmesan.

Serve immediately and pass the Parmesan. Then share the recipe with all the cooks you know.

The Perfect Coed, an Oak Grove Mystery
Susan Hogan is smart, pretty—and prickly. There was no other word for it. She is prickly with Jake Phillips and her Aunt Jenny, the two people who love her most in the world. And she is prickly and impatient with some of her academic colleagues and the petty jealousies in the English department at Oak Grove University. When a coed’s body is found in her car and she is suspected of murder, Susan gets even more defensive.
But when someone begins to stalk and threaten her—trying to run her down, killing the plants on her deck, causing a moped wreck that breaks her ankle—prickly mixes with fear. Susan decides she has to find the killer to save her reputation—and her life. What she suspects she’s found on a quiet campus in Texas is so bizarre Jake doesn’t believe her. Until she’s almost killed. The death of one coed unravels a tale of greed, lust, and obsession.

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