featuring guest 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.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

#TRAVEL TO THE TEXAS SMALL TOWN THAT INSPIRED AUTHOR TERRY SHAMES

Bestselling, award-winning author Terry Shames writes the bestselling Samuel Craddock series and was named one of the top five Texas mystery writers of 2015. Today she stops by to tell us about the Texas town that inspired the setting for her series. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website.  

My Texas

I grew up in Texas in what seems like a very different world from the Texas I see in the news these days. In my golden memory people laughed more, were more tolerant, more laid back….

That’s memory for you. Not always reliable. But that’s the Texas I celebrate in my books. In particular, I focus on a small town based on where my grandparents lived when I was a child. I loved visiting them there. To me, who lived in a town on the Gulf Coast, where rows of houses surrounded a town center and without a farm in sight, the farming community was exotic. I liked seeing cows and chickens, goats and pigs; loved the smell of freshly turned earth on farms.

If you’ve never been in a feed store, entering one is like stepping into another world of smells and sights that you don’t see in a suburb. If you don’t fish or hunt on a regular basis, a sporting goods store in the middle of town that sells bait and wading boots and rifles and ammunition is a curiosity. In this small town there was no movie theater or big grocery store or department store. But there was an ice cream shop with wooden floors and a ceiling fan, a dry goods store that carried goods that seemed from another century, and a dance hall/ bar on the outskirts of town. There were no motels. You couldn’t get city radio stations, and TV was limited. The only place to eat out was one seedy café and a Dairy Queen. Is it any wonder that I remember this as a peaceful time?

The town has grown up. There are now antique stores, two motels, an art gallery, several places to eat out, and even a small museum that chronicles when Harvey Girls worked on the railroad that went through town. The high school now has modern tennis courts. You can get cell phone coverage, and Internet service, and any TV or radio station within a hundred miles. There’s a big grocery store and contemporary houses, and a small block of newly constructed two-story offices.

And yet, the core that I remember is still there. When I visit and go into one of the cafes to eat, the farmers still wear overhauls or jeans; hats and boots. The inhabitants are friendly (although with that hint of suspicion that always seems to underlie their interactions with outsiders.) There is still a scent in the air of rich soil and lush vegetation, oh yes, and barbecue. You still see people barbecuing in brick pits or in cookers made out of huge oil drums. The water still tastes of the strong iron component in the soil that leeches into the water. On really hot days you still get the bitter scent of creosote from discarded railroad ties from the tie plant that has been gone for decades.

Going back to visit, I get a chance to rejuvenate my sense of place for the Samuel Craddock series. It’s invigorating to go where he goes, see the people he sees, the houses he passes, the lake, the Dairy Queen, and everything in between. But I also have to have Samuel change with the times. He now has a cell phone, and computer, and he uses modern forensic practices. He’s even learning how to text! Balancing the two is true in fiction as much as it is in real life.

An Unsettled Crime for Samuel Craddock: A Samuel Craddock Mystery
When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

GUEST AUTHOR JACQUELINE DIAMOND ON #SURROGACY

USA Today bestselling author Jacqueline Diamond is known for her mysteries, romantic comedies, medical romances and Regency romances—102 titles as of 2017. A former Associated Press reporter, Jackie received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. She currently writes the Safe Harbor Medical Mysteries and is reissuing her classic romantic comedies. Learn more about Jacqueline and her books at her website. 

Choosing a Surrogate Mom: Friend or No?
When 29-year-old Cress learned she couldn’t conceive or carry a baby, she was thrilled by her best friend Tanya’s offer to serve as the surrogate. Her husband, Wes, was delighted by the chance to save money.

Although many parents choose commercial surrogates, and most such women are at least partly motivated by an altruistic desire to help complete a family, the cost can rise into the tens of thousands of dollars. And that’s in addition to medical expenses.

Cress’s obstetrician, Dr. Eric Darcy of Safe Harbor Medical Center, agreed to the arrangement as long as all parties signed a legal agreement protecting their rights. In California, where they all lived, surrogacy is well established medically and legally.

Cress and Tanya believed the experience would bring them closer. Instead, it had the opposite effect after someone murdered Cress’s husband. As the circle of suspects widened and evidence indicated Wes had been cheating on his wife—possibly with the surrogate—the pair began fighting about the future custody of the unborn baby, which had been conceived with Tanya’s own egg.

These women’s situation is fictional, but the issues are real. Often there’s a happy outcome when a friend or relative carries a baby, but complicated issues can arise. While these rarely involve murder or infidelity, unanticipated emotions and tensions can change a relationship.

The surrogacy process requires a long commitment by the birth mother, and is physically invasive. A volunteer, who has not undergone the rigorous screening of a commercial surrogate, may underestimate the impact on her.

Regardless of whether the surrogate is a friend or a stranger, medical professionals advise against using the surrogate’s own eggs. If the intended mother can’t provide viable eggs, these can be obtained from a separate donor—at a cost, of course. But this reduces the risk of the surrogate feeling as if she’s giving up her own child.

Also, everyone involved needs to consider how they’ll interact after the baby is born. What role will the friend/surrogate play? Are there expectations of greater closeness with the new baby’s family or will there be a power struggle?

In The Case of the Surly Surrogate, Cress and Tanya must sort out their issues under the glare of the media and mounting concern that whoever killed Wes may target one or both of them. Their obstetrician, Eric Darcy, proves a major source of support as he stands by them and risks his life to help catch the murderer—just as the baby makes her entrance into the world.

The Case of the Surly Surrogate
After Dr. Eric Darcy discovers the body of a patient’s husband, he lands in the midst of a murder investigation. Was the photographer killed because he was cheating on his wife, or was he using his photos in a blackmail plot? And how did he antagonize the surrogate mother about to give birth to his baby? The puzzle pieces snap together in a fast-paced climax that could cost Eric his life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--LEMON APRICOT YOGURT LOAF

The other day I had a lemon that was nearly past its prime and a container of yogurt about to expire. I thought about making lemon poppy seed muffins, but I was all out of poppy seeds. However, I had recently bought some dried apricots. This is what I came up with:

Lemon Apricot Yogurt Loaf

Ingredients:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
juice of one lemon
1 cup diced dry apricots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-1/2” x 4-1/2” loaf pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Take about 1 tablespoon of mixture and toss in apricots. Set dry ingredients and coated apricots aside.

Beat sugar and oil together for about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs until creamy. Add yogurt, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and continue beating until blended.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, beating together on medium speed until blended. Fold in apricots.

Pour into pan and bake 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place on wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes, then remove from pan to cool the rest of the way.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--WINDOW STREAMERS

Window treatments have come a long way from grandma’s heavy velvet drapes. Today many people opt out of any form of window covering if they don’t need them for privacy. However, sometimes a little something is just what a window needs.

This whimsical window treatment is made from jute twine and a few yards of 1” wide cotton print ribbon. It requires absolutely no crafting skills other than being able to use a pair of scissors and tie a knot.

First, head over to your local craft or fabric store to buy the ribbon in colors that go with the color scheme in your room. Mix and match patterns. A yard of ribbon will make three streamers. You’ll want to space them about 2” apart. So you’ll need to measure your window(s) ahead of time to figure out how many yards of ribbon you’ll need. For example: a window that is 24” wide will have twelve streamers, which equals four yards of ribbon. If you want your streamers longer or spaced closer together, adjust the amount of ribbon you purchase accordingly.

While you’re at the store, grab a ball of 2mm or 3mm jute twine. If you don’t have any thumbtacks, grab a pack of them, too.

Once home, measure the window width to determine how much twine you’ll need to cut. Add a few inches for knotting the ends of the twine and for a slight dip. You don’t want the twine taut against the window. Determining the length of the twine works best if you have an extra pair of hands or two to hold the twine while you step back and decide how much of a dip you’d like. Keep in mind the ribbons will hand down about 6”.

Cut the twine and knot each end. Place the cut twine on a flat surface.

Cut 12” lengths of ribbon. Decide on color/pattern placement, then knot each ribbon to the twine using a larks head knot (see diagram at left).

Using thumbtacks, attach the end of each piece of twine to the inside edge of the window.

Tip: You can also use this technique to decorate a covered patio by tying the twine between the pillars of the patio roof.

Friday, April 21, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR KELLI A. WILKINS

Award-winning author Kelli A. Wilkins writes romance in a variety of genres, including historical, contemporary, paranormal and more. She’s published more than 100 short stories, nineteen romance novels, and five nonfiction books. Today she sits down for an interview with us. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’ve always known I was a writer, and began writing short stories in high school and college. After college, I took a commercial writing class for “fun” and I learned a lot about the art of creating interesting characters and telling a great story. After being encouraged to submit my work, I decided to pursue writing seriously. Currently, I divide my time between writing novels, novellas, and short stories.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
My first romance short story was accepted a week after I submitted it. That was pretty quick! After writing short romances for a while, I branched out into novels. My romance novel career started in 2005 when three of my books won the Amber Quill Press “Amber Heat” writing contest.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m a hybrid. I started out with Amber Quill Press, and from there I’ve had three novels published with Medallion Press. When Amber Quill folded, I began re-releasing my romances on my own on Amazon, B&N, and other platforms.

Where do you write?
I write anywhere I can. When the weather is nice, I like to write outside in my back yard. In the winter, I generally write in a comfy chair in the living room.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
When I’m writing and proofreading I play quiet New Age or instrumental music in the background. (I find silence is too oppressive.) When I’m typing up a manuscript and/or making edits, I listen to all kinds of music: rock, pop, or whatever I’m in the mood for. My musical tastes are very diverse.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Bits and pieces of my characters come from people I know or people I observe. However, no one character is 100% anyone from real life. I was asked about this a lot when I wrote my wrestling romance, A Deceptive Match. Everyone wanted to know which wrestler the hero Vinnie was based on. He’s a composite of a lot of different wrestlers (and other people) all rolled into one.

As far as plots go, 99% of them are just things I make up. I have a vivid imagination and my day-to-day life is not as exciting as the worlds I create for my characters.

Describe your process for naming your characters.
Sometimes this is a hard process for me. When characters “introduce” themselves to me (aka “show up” in my head), I usually learn about them and their problem/situation before I’ll get a name. Usually, I’ll get a first initial or a first name only, and then have to discover more about the character before I get his or her whole name and back-story. Lies, Love & Redemption is one example. Before I wrote a word, I had the whole opening sequence in my head. I knew Sam and Cassie’s first names, and a bit about their backgrounds, but that was it. Sometimes my characters are a mystery to me until I get to know them better—even though I’m the one creating them!

Real settings or fictional towns?
I set my stories in fictional towns that are loosely based on real places. When I’m writing, I change up the details to make them my own. I can add buildings or rearrange the layout of a town to suit the story. The town of Holloway in Lies, Love & Redemption was my invention, but it was typical of a small prairie town of that time period.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Hmm… many of my characters have quirks, but I can’t decide which one is the quirkiest. Some of my characters talk to themselves, only eat (or don’t eat) certain foods, or have little personal rituals they perform.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Writing-wise, it’s probably the fact that I write all of my books in longhand, using paper and pen. After the rough draft is done, I type up the manuscript and edit/revise it as I go. On a personal level, I tend to talk to myself and my cats!

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who are nasty and/or obnoxious to other people for no reason.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Books to read, music to listen to, and my husband.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years… dishwasher, gas station attendant, I worked in several bakeries and offices…. but the shortest time I ever stayed at a place was a vet’s office. I didn’t mind the work and I liked helping the animals, but the people who ran the place were nasty. I stayed for two days. Sometimes the job isn’t the issue, the people are!

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
I read a lot of books in all genres (mystery, suspense, horror, romance, detective, New Age, nonfiction…) so it’s hard to pick just one. Like my musical tastes, my reading list is very diverse and covers everything from A to Z. Currently I’m reading a lot of John Sandford and Preston & Child books. I buy books at garage sales, flea markets, and library book sales—so I never know what I’ll be reading next.

Ocean or mountains?
Mountains. Definitely. Which is funny because my husband loves the ocean.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I’m more of a country girl. I was raised in a small town and I understand small-town life, but sometimes that can be too small. I like being near cities and other places with lots of fun things to do, but I wouldn’t want to live in a big city. I can deal with the hustle and bustle of city life, but it’s nice to retreat to a quiet place.

What’s on the horizon for you?
Currently, I’m revising a new historical romance novel (as yet untitled) and I’m re-editing three more of my romances previously published with Amber Quill. After that, I have ideas in the works for a few other romances (another historical, a paranormal, and a gay contemporary).

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I welcome questions and feedback from readers. I enjoy learning which characters and books they love the best. Readers can find my social media links at my website and blog (see links above.)

Lies, Love & Redemption
Shot and left for dead, Sam Hixton stumbles into a general store on the Nebraska prairie and collapses into the arms of Cassie Wilcox.

Cassie’s world is turned upside down when the handsome stranger drops into her life. Sam is another complication she doesn’t need: her business is dying and her trouble with the townspeople is escalating. Yet she’s determined to keep the store open — no matter what the cost.

As Sam recovers from his injuries, he hides the truth about his identity and convinces Cassie to let him work in the store. He’s attracted to her and admires her independent nature but quickly realizes Cassie’s in way over her head. They fight their growing attraction, and Cassie questions whether she can trust her fragile heart to a mysterious stranger. Will he accept her once he knows about her troubled past?

Cassie resists Sam’s advances and represses her feelings until one fateful night when they give in to their fiery passion. Together, they work out a plan to save the store but find their efforts are thwarted—and their lives endangered—by the locals.

Sam’s secret returns to haunt him and pulls him away just when Cassie needs him the most. Will he regain her trust when she learns the truth?

Cassie has everything invested in the store—can she save it and find true love with Sam before it’s too late?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

VISIT THE CENTRAL COAST OF CALIFORNIA WITH AUTHOR CHERIE O'BOYLE

Morro Rock
Cherie O’Boyle, Professor Emerita of Psychology at California State University, San Marcos, is an avid Border collie enthusiast who lives in Northern California. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

Places, Real and Imagined

The Estela Nogales Mystery series is set in one of the most beautiful parts of California, the central coast near Morro Rock. Deadly Disguise, the fourth book in the series, is now released, so I thought it would be fun to take a short road trip through the settings, both real and imagined, that provide the background for this award-winning series.

We’ll begin our journey at the intersection of Arroyo Loco Rd and Highway 41, connecting the charming and real towns of Morro Bay and Atascadero. This intersection and the village of Arroyo Loco are purely imaginary, but it is easy to picture the old roadhouse there by the corner, and remember the rusty ice chest where we found the body in Iced Tee. The lot where Will’s house burned down in Fire at Will’s is just out of sight up the hill.

Heading east, we wind through the Coast Range and into Atascadero, site of the all-too-real maximum-security prison for the criminally insane. Arroyo Loco’s residents often wonder if their village has been visited by a former inmate. The twisting oak-shaded residential streets where I always get lost, and where Estela once found a bloody knife embedded in a front door, are east of the downtown area.  

 A ten-minute drive north brings us into the quaint town of Paso Robles. Here, we wander alongside the dry riverbed where Estela and her friends searched for Nina in Missing Mom. The riverbed is real; its homeless denizens must either be hiding, or are imaginary. Nearby, we can stop for a juicy cheeseburger at the real Cowgirl Cafe. If we’ve timed our visit right, we might even be able to watch the classic cars cruising Paso Robles’ central plaza, and catch a glimpse of Detective Muñoz’s meticulously restored Camaro.  

Highway 46, crossing the countryside from Paso Robles west to Highway 1, is one of most scenic drives in the state. On a clear spring day, you can see across miles of rolling green hills frosted with lupine and mustard flowers to the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. Breath-taking.

South of the tiny town of Cayucos, you’ll find the scruffy and unofficial dog beach where Estela loves to walk and think through the mysteries that confront her. Keep your eyes open, and you may see Shiner, the real Border collie, romping with his friends and running through the surf.

The town of Morro Bay is already popular with tourists, and needs no introduction.   We can walk around the base of Morro Rock, the remnant of an ancient volcano, and look upward for real nesting peregrine falcons. The nearby embarcadero, and especially the Bayside Cafe are worth a stop, if only to imagine Estela and her detective friend Muñoz enjoying the view and working out the most recent puzzle.

Inez’s combination sheep ranch and dog day-care business is imaginary, although you can picture the green hills south of Morro Bay dotted with white Merino sheep. Continuing south, you’ll pass the real state Men’s Colony prison, and if you know just where to look, you might see Helen’s car parked in the lot.

I’m going to leave you at the entrance to the California state university campus where Estela is employed in the counseling center, and where rumors of an active shooter in the library are about to send the campus into chaos in Deadly Disguise.

I hope you enjoyed this imaginary road trip, and that someday you get to experience the real adventure. If you already love the central coast, please share your memories and favorites places in the comments below.

Deadly Disguise
...bodies falling...Estela Nogales is caught in the middle when the perfect murder sets off chaos during final exams week. Together with Detective Muñoz, Estela must use her acute powers of observation to help identify the killer. One calamity after another disrupts the investigation, and Estela is pursued at every turn by the mysterious figure in the hat, even home to Arroyo Loco where a fresh set of crises are unleashed.

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(For a brief introduction to Arroyo Loco, Estela Nogales, and her neighbors, please download the free short story, Back for Seconds? available on most ebook outlets.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A VISIT TO PINEY BLUFFS, TN WITH TRIXIE STILLETTO'S P.I. ALLY CALHOUN

A southern girl, Trixie Stilletto traveled north when she found the love of her life, and they enjoyed more than 20 years together working as journalists. Now she's back home in Tennessee writing stories that range from short, hot romances with a kiss of humor to southern-flavored mysteries. Today Trixie lives seven miles from the neighborhood where she grew up with three adored pets and a host of characters waiting for her to tell their stories. Learn more about Trixie and her books at her website. 

An Interview with Ally Calhoun from Trixie Stilletto’s Tempest

When I first got the idea for Ally and Tempest. I did a short interview with her to learn what motivated her to pack up and leave her Boston home for a place in Tennessee she’d never seen or visited. This is the result.

You left a thriving business and life in Boston to come to Piney Bluffs, Tenn. Why?
“Weather is a big draw. Can anyone say nor’easters? My husband always talked about his childhood here, and he said he wanted to have a place in the mountains. After he passed, I found he still owned the family land and property. It seemed only fitting when I needed a change after his death, to come and take a look. I’d never been here – we were so busy getting and keeping the Agency going ….”

Sorry for your loss. He was very young …
“Yes. It wasn’t a good thing. I wish we’d never taken on that job, but there are no do-overs.”

That last job. Can you talk about it?
“I don’t want to. That wasn’t what I agreed to when you said we have to do this.”

But you uprooted your life, sold the PI business you loved and created with him. All to move down to Tennessee, a place you’d never visited, never wanted to, because of how that last job ended. Don’t you think you need to talk about it?
“Now isn’t a good time.”

Ok. I’ll let it go. But you know you’re going to have to address it at some point. What are you going to do now that you’re here? This place is a mess.
 “Only one thing came to my mind the day I first saw it. Wow. Not in a good way. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to be able to stay here.”

I can imagine. This property has belonged to the Calhoun family for two hundred years. The first settlers to come across the mountain settled here.
“Yes. I discovered that. Along with several unopened letters from the Tennessee historical society requesting that Mike either restore it or sign it over to them.”

Is that your current plan? To restore it and open it as an historical site?
“Uh, no. I just want to make it safe enough I don’t think the fire department and building inspector are going to come in and make me move.”

Who’s doing the work?
“Right now, me. I spend a lot of time Googling things. I’m a pretty quick study. That’s a good thing.”

That’s a surprise. I figured someone with your background, would hire everything done.  Contractors, subs and designers. Have you done renovations before? I believe you had a maintenance-free condo in Boston.
“Never. Being a private investigator is mostly about research. I also think it will be helpful in my new career.”

That’s right.  Your plan is to be a writer. What are you writing? Is anything published?
“Nothing published. Just polishing my first story. It’s a thriller. I’ve always been good with my hands, too. Lots of time when I was deployed, things would break or just not work like they were supposed to. I learned to adapt and overcome.”

Isn’t it one thing to jury-rig a piece of equipment for a relatively short op in the desert where you have a team to help you vs. trying to rehab a house that’s falling down around your ears?
“Maybe. But it doesn’t feel right hiring out this stuff. Mike would have fixed it himself.”

You’re not Mike. Besides, isn’t this more a money thing?
“Have you been talking to my accountant?”

More he’s been talking to me. How can you be broke? I thought your PI business was doing well?
“I did, too. Mike handled all that ….”

Tempest
Widowed ex-private eye Allison Calhoun has left behind the career of heart and her native Boston for the sleepy Tennessee town of Piney Bluffs. All she wants to do is heal and write the great American novel. Only Piney Bluffs is a hotbed of decades-long secrets and lies, all seething just under the surface of the humid summer.

Enter C.J. Lanahan. Once the best friend of Ally's husband and always a thorn in her side, journalist C.J. pushes all of Ally's buttons and not all in a good way. On top of that, his newspaper and editorials seem to be stirring up a hornets nest folks 'round here want left alone. When C.J. is a murder suspect and then almost kills, himself, things go from hot to deadly quicker than a heat-driven storm in this Tennessee valley.

Can Ally and C.J. live long enough to expose the truth, or will the long-held secrets stay buried forever?

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