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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE WITH A TWIST

Where is it written that green bean casserole can only be served for Thanksgiving and Christmas? It’s a great side dish for any cold winter night. This take on the traditional recipe is for all the fungus-adverse out there—not a mushroom in sight. Serve with meatloaf and mashed potatoes for a real comfort food dinner.

Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:
1 lb. frozen green beans, thawed and drained
2 T. butter
2 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4-cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2-cup sour cream
1 T. sugar
1/2-teaspoon salt
4 oz. (1/2 can) fried onion pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place green beans in 9” x 13” glass baking dish.

Over medium heat sauté onions in butter until translucent. Stir in flour.

Gradually add milk and bring to boil. Add cheese, sour cream, sugar, and salt. Cook until cheese melts and mixture thickens.

Pour cheese mixture over green beans. Sprinkle fried onion pieces over top. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Monday, January 15, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--COLOR OF THE YEAR

Every year I do a post on the Color of the Year. The Color of the Year is a forecast of global color trends provided by the Pantone Color Institute, a consulting service that advises global companies in their efforts to develop products and create brand identity by leveraging the power, psychology, and emotional impact of color.

Color can inspire and influence. It can convey deep messages and various meanings—both subliminal and overt.

This year the Institute has chosen Ultra Violet as the Color of the Year. Purple has been a symbolic color throughout history. It’s associated with everything from royalty to Western pop culture. Think Prince. But the color has also been associated with non-conformity and mindfulness practices. Meditation spaces, for example, often suffuse the room with purple-toned lighting to aid their practitioners.

On their website Pantone states, “Complex and contemplative, Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now. The vast and limitless night sky is symbolic of what is possible and continues to inspire the desire to pursue a world beyond our own.”

Throughout the year we should see more Ultra Violet in decorating trends, clothing, appliances, and automobiles as manufacturers release new lines. Maybe consumers won’t be swapping out their stainless steel refrigerators for purple ones, but we’ll probably see Ultra Violet featured in small appliances such as Keurig coffee makers and Kitchen Aid mixers. I also have no doubt we’ll see the color cropping up in linens, accent pillows, and wallpaper.

Everything has been about gray in decorating the last few years, but there are many shades of gray—from charcoal to blue-grays to green-grays and many more. We should probably see an abundance of violet grays in the near future.

In choosing Ultra Violet as the Color of the Year, Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute stated, “The Pantone Color of the Year has come to mean so much more than ‘what’s trending’ in the world of design; it’s truly a reflection of what’s needed in our world today.”

Perhaps she’s suggesting we all need more calm in our lives? I could certainly use more calm in my life. I’m now seriously considering investing in a few gallons of latex and painting my walls Ultra Violet.

Friday, January 12, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR V.M. BURNS

Mystery and cozy mystery author V.M. Burns sits down for an interview today. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I always read a lot. When I was younger, if a book or movie didn’t end the way I though it should, I would imagine a new ending. Eventually, I started to question why there wasn’t a book or movie about X. At some point, it dawned on me that perhaps, I could write that book.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I finished my first book in 2007. However, my debut novel, The Plot is Murder wasn’t published until November 2017. That wasn’t the first book I wrote, but it was the first book I sold.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I am traditionally published.

Where do you write?
I have turned a spare bedroom into an office. I do most of my writing there. However, I usually keep a notebook (or an old envelope) and pen handy and will often write longhand if I find I have unexpected free time.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I like to listen to music when I write. My favorite type of music is jazz. However, I find that I get more writing done when I listen to classical (baroque) music. So, I often alternate between the two.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Most of what I write is purely fiction. However, I do get ideas from events in real life. For instance, my protagonist’s dream in The Plot is Murder is to own a mystery bookstore and to write British historical cozy mysteries. That also happens to be my dream. My protagonist has two poodles, and I have two poodles. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

The British historical cozy that my protagonist is writing takes place in 1938. There are a number of events that are mentioned in the books that are pulled from historical incidents at the start of World War II.

Describe your process for naming your character?
In the British Historical cozy sections, I often surf the Internet for names that were common in 1938 in the United Kingdom. For the contemporary portions of my book, I do a character sketch and then try different names on to see what fits.

Real settings or fictional towns?
The Mystery Bookshop Mystery series takes place in the fictional town of North Harbor, Michigan. North Harbor is based on the real town of Benton Harbor, Michigan, which is located in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline where I used to live.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Irma, one of the seniors who assists Samantha and her grandmother Nana Jo in solving mysteries, swears like a sailor.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I’m a planner in practically every area of my life, except writing. In general I always have a plan, a backup plan, and a backup to my backup plan. When it comes to writing, I am a pantser. I find that if I spend time plotting a book, then I don’t want to write it. I’m trying to change this, but so far, I have not been successful.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
The Murder of Roger Akroyd by Agatha Christie has to be one of my favorite books. I was thoroughly surprised by the ending and the clever way the clues were presented.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I think if I could do anything over, I would have gotten my Bachelor’s degree in English or Creative Writing. For two years I majored in Electrical Engineering because I believed I needed that degree to get a decent job. Needless to say, I was miserable for two years. Once I changed my major (to Political Science/Urban Studies), life was better. I enjoyed Political Science and Urban Studies, but I wish I had more of a solid background in English.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve is being micromanaged.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Books, chocolate and coffee. Did I mention chocolate? Lots of chocolate.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
A job where I was micromanaged (see above under biggest pet peeves). My philosophy is to hire the most qualified candidates, give them six months to learn the job, then leave them alone and let them do their job.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. A book that was written over two hundred years ago, but can still capture your attention and emotions is a work of art.

Ocean or mountains?
I’m going to say ocean. Even though I can’t swim, I enjoy looking at the water. Plus, I never realized I had a problem with heights until I moved to Tennessee.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I am a city girl through and through. I find, all that open space and quiet of the country unnerving.

What’s on the horizon for you?
In addition to writing more books in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series, I have two other series that will publish this year. The first book in the RJ Franklin Mystery series will release July 1st and the first book in the Dog Club Mystery series will release in August.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
Readers can find more information about upcoming releases by checking out my website at vmburns.com or on my Facebook page

The Plot is Murder, Book One of the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series

Samantha Washington has dreamed of owning her own mystery bookstore for as long as she can remember. And as she prepares for the store’s grand opening, she’s also realizing another dream—penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. Each book in the series will feature a contemporary mystery which Samantha, along with her grandmother, Nana Jo and her friends must solve. In addition, there is a story-within-a-story, set in England, featuring the Marsh family. Readers will have a chance to solve two mysteries in each book.

Buy Links

Thursday, January 11, 2018

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS WITH GUEST AMATEUR SLEUTH LINDSEY McKAY

Multi-award-winning Southern mystery author Maggie Toussaint’s has published eighteen novels as well as several short stories and novellas. Today one of her amateur sleuths stops by to talk about her fears and frustrations. Learn more about Maggie and her books at her website. 

Lindsey’s Fears and Frustrations
A Character Essay by Amateur Sleuth Lindsey McKay

I’d sworn never to go home again unless it was Christmas, and yet on this hot and humid day I was headed to the Georgia coast. Only a full-blooded emergency could’ve pried me out of Atlanta, but the middle of the night call from Aunt Fay changed my mind. My father wrecked his car and landed in jail.

It was in that moment I knew I’d been lying to myself about my so-called independence and not needing anyone in the family. I was bound by my heritage to Danville. The family newspaper was a legacy, and only I could save it.

That’s not to say I didn’t try to weasel out of the obligation. I suggested the new editor my father hired over the winter. He’s gone, Aunt Fay said. I suggested Dad’s assistant, Ellen. Don’t be ridiculous, she said. When I suggested Aunt Fay, Uncle Henry, or Cousin Janey could do it, she told me in no uncertain terms that it was my duty to come home and run the paper.

According to my aunt, newspapering runs in my veins, and here I thought it was O-positive blood. She lectured me for another five minutes about my duty to the family and chastised me for letting everyone down by running off and leaving my father to fend for himself.

She wore me down. Or at least that’s what I told my dog Bailey for the last 291 miles. Soon I’d see the landmarks of a place that held awful memories for me, the place where I learned my brother was lost at sea and never coming home. The place where every night I dreamed of drowning like my brother.

My biggest fear is that I’ll get stuck here and I’ll end up dead just like my brother. Pride drew me home, but courage would have to get me through the coming ordeal.

Lindsey & Ike Mysteries, The Complete 3-Novella Series

In this three-novella series, an amateur sleuth and her dog return home to a town of secrets … and murder.

Really, Truly Dead
Lindsey McKay has no intention of being Sheriff Ike Harper’s girlfriend when she returns home with her dog to bail out the family newspaper, but Ike has his eye on her. The murder of a local judge proves to be a boon for the newspaper, but the bad news hits when her father’s arrested for the crime. Will saving her father’s life cost Lindsey hers?

Turtle Tribbles
The Turtle Girl, a college intern named Selma Crowley, begs newspaper editor Lindsey McKay to write about the theft of turtle eggs from their nests. Lindsey agrees but asks for more proof. Selma disappears and is soon found dead. Lindsey blames herself because she demanded concrete proof, so she noses into Sheriff Ike Harper’s investigation. Can she discover the truth before time runs out?

Dead Men Tell No Tales
Newspaper editor Lindsey McKay’s small town is rocked when a suspicious hunting accident proves to be premeditated murder. Sheriff Ike Harper vows to get his man and keep Lindsey safe. Only, the more Lindsey and Ike dig, the more questions they uncover. People aren’t what they seem. If only a dead man could tell tales.

Buy Links

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

GUEST AUTHOR STACI TROILO ON HOW A MEDICAL LAB ERROR LED TO A SUSPENSE SERIES

Staci Troilo loves getting lost in sci-fi battles, fantasy realms, horror worlds, suspenseful intrigues, and romantic entanglements, both in her reading and her writing. Learn more about her and her books at her website. stacitroilo.com

Bad Agents and Erroneous Lab Results Make for Great Fiction
I have to say, I’m a bit late for this birthday bash. December is the month three of my novels celebrate their publication anniversaries. All three—Type and Cross, Out and About, and Pride and Fall—comprise the Cathedral Lake series. While I missed the official celebration dates, I’m still in a festive mood about the novels, and I thought I’d share how they came to be.

Once upon a time, I had an agent who was shopping my first romance novel around New York. I assumed I was supposed to continue working on the series, so I dove into book two before book one was purchased. Halfway through, my agent chastised me and told me I should be writing in a different genre, because the romance genre was glutted and hard to sell.

Why, then, did she offer to represent me to begin with?

I couldn’t figure it out, but I dove into my idea file to look for something in a different genre. Turned out, though, almost all my story concepts were for the romance genre. Various sub-genres, but still, they were all romances.

All but one.

A few years earlier, my husband had blood work done. It was nothing serious, just routine. But when he got his lab report, he was puzzled about his blood type. Both of his parents were O+, so he just assumed he would be, too. But he wasn’t. So he talked to his parents about it. He wanted to be sure he knew his parents’ correct blood types, in case there was ever a medical emergency.

Turns out, he was right about the types—his parents were both O+.

Turns out he was wrong to ask his parents about it—his father freaked out.

I, by nature, am a curious person. And I avoid conflict like the plague when I can. When this all hit the fan, I did what came naturally to me. I researched how blood types are determined.

It’s a fascinating subject. Each person, despite having one “type” (or Rh factor) stated, actually has two determinates—one from the mother and one from the father. So anyone with a positive blood type could actually have one positive antigen and one negative antigen. Because there’s even one positive, that person will state their blood type as positive. But that negative antigen is still there, and it can be passed on to offspring. That means that two blood type positive parents could actually have one positive and one negative antigen each, and both the mother and the father could pass on the negative, not the positive, antigen, resulting in a child with two negative antigens. In other words, a child with a negative blood type.

I was thrilled that I’d discovered the mystery behind my husband’s blood type. I wanted to calm everyone’s anxieties. Turns out, I didn’t need to. The blood lab contacted my husband and reported their error. I don’t know what made them review their results—but it was good that they did. The family relaxed, secure in the knowledge that all was as it should be.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Not only was the Rh factor information fascinating, the A, B, O research was compelling, too. I mulled things over for a while, and the seeds of a medical drama sprouted and grew into the Kellers, a dysfunctional family who lives in Cathedral Lake, a fictional town in Western Pennsylvania. They are deliciously complex, and the pages of their stories pretty much wrote themselves.

I was halfway through the first novel in that series when my agent told me mainstream fiction—which is what she categorized the series as—were the hardest novels to sell.

That made two series she didn’t want to promote. And she offered next to no guidance in what I should do next.

Left to my own devices, I did what I think any frustrated new author would do. I fired her and signed both series—the romance and the mainstream—with a smaller publisher. It was a relief to find a company who was as excited about my work as I was. And the Cathedral Lake series was quickly finished and is now a completed trilogy.

It might be a belated celebration, but I’m still commemorating the novels’ birthdays. Type and Cross details one family’s journey from devastation to redemption, Out and About chronicles the merits and miseries of freedoms denied and gained, and Pride and Fall is a story of healing and personal growth.

Without a little serendipity and a lot of luck, the Cathedral Lake series might never have come to fruition.

Type and Cross, Book 1 of the Cathedral Lake Series
Blood defines family. Blood reveals betrayal.

Dr. Royce Keller is no stranger to blood. As Chief of Emergency Medicine at Oakland Regional Hospital, it’s his job, his calling. To Royce, it is the very essence of life—what ties his family, his career, and his world together. Until he learns everything he believes is wrong.

Vanessa Keller has a secret she has kept hidden for almost two decades. It’s her burden, her cross to bear. To Vanessa, the truth is a choice—something best forgotten for the greater good of her family and their future. Until the day it comes back to haunt her. 

A tale of family dysfunction, betrayal, heroism, and loss, Type and Cross is the story of one family’s journey from devastation to redemption.

Buy Links

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--APPLE CRANBERRY MUFFINS WITH PECAN STREUSEL

I made these apple cranberry muffins topped with a pecan streusel for a Christmas brunch, but you you don't need a holiday to enjoy them.

Apple Cranberry Muffins with Pecan Streusel

Ingredients:
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lg. Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans
2 T. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 12-ct. muffin tin.

Soak cranberries in water to rehydrate.

In small bowl mix together applesauce, oil, and egg.

Reserve 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. In large bowl whisk together remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

Fold wet mixture into dry mixture. Drain cranberries. Fold cranberries and diced apples into batter. Divide evenly between muffin cups.

In food processor pulse together remaining sugar, pecans, and butter until crumbly. Spoon evenly over batter.


Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes before removing.

Monday, January 8, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--WHAT'S YOUR TYPE (FONT)?

When I was in art school, I took typography courses. Merriam-Webster defines typography as “the style, arrangement, or appearance of typeset matter.” Typography is an art form that uses letters rather than images to convey a message. In class we learned how to choose the perfect font to best partner with our designs to enhance them. Marie Miguel, our guest today, talks about the psychology behind font choices in today’s digital world.

What Your Choice of Font Says About Your Personality (and How This Influences How Others Perceive You)

Aside from a few people with fairly specialized interests, the art of calligraphy is more often admired than practiced these days. Graphology – the study of handwriting – is still used forensically to determine things like whether or not a particular person wrote something or other by hand and what their state of mind might have been, but the idea that a person's psyche can be analyzed through how they shape their P's and Q's has pretty much been debunked with anyone who knows anything about psychology.

In modern times, though, what used to be called penmanship has been replaced by the ability to write in paragraphs, ‘nt abrvt wrds’ unnecessarily, and generally FORMAT AN EMAIL as if your age is in the double-figure range. Part of this means the font you choose, which may seem trivial while you're actually composing a message but can indeed influence the amount of interest and credence you can expect from editors, customer service reps, potential employers and even your mom.

Times New Roman
If you would like nothing less than to stand out from the crowd, use TNR. It's traditional, but also not the easiest to read nor the most stylish – regardless of whether “style” means either something more minimalistic or ornate to you. Using this font basically says to the world that you either don't know how to change the word processor's default, or you just don't care enough to do so, or you're over sixty.

Comic Sans
Used exclusively for children's birthday party invitations. Ignored in all other contexts. Can you imagine an unsolicited manuscript in this font ever being read? There's a first time for everything, but we're not holding our breath.

Arial
Reading a message written in this font gives the idea that the writer probably loves Notepad++, writes in block letters rather than cursive and compiles lists alphabetically. With Arial, the message is the meaning, with no added flair or color.

Cambria
Not as bare-bones simple as Arial yet not as pointlessly ornate as some serif fonts, Cambria has character while still remaining readable and classy. It may be nothing special, but it's rarely the wrong choice, which is probably why it's the default font in Microsoft Word.

Helvetica
In many ways, this font is a suitable go-to option unless you want to express some special kind of emotion. It's clean, cool and easy to read without looking quite as sparse as something like Courier or Arial. While the “best” font will always be a matter of opinion, using Helvetica suggests that you are serious without being stodgy.

Rockwell
Occasionally, a writer really wants to make a point. One of the ways of doing so is to use a lesser known font, forcing the reader to slow down a little and reset their mental preconceptions. While Rockwell isn't all that suited for everyday use, a message in this font takes a little longer to read and will stand out from those written in more easily recognized styles.