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.

Friday, May 27, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR SALLY CARPENTER

Sally Carpenter is a definite Renaissance woman. She’s worked as an actress, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for Paramount Pictures and is currently employed at a community newspaper. Learn more about Sally and her books at her website/blog.

Making beautiful music with theatre organs

You’re seated in a red velvet-covered chair, waiting for the movie to start. A hole opens in the stage floor and from the basement rises a platform holding an organ and the seated organist who begins to play. Forget the movie—I could listen to the music all day.

An organ in an old art deco theater in Los Angeles plays an important role in my new cozy mystery, The Quirky Quiz Show Caper. We see the organ on the very first page. If only my book came with an audio track, you could hear it as well.

Theatre organs were developed in the early 20th century to provide music for silent films. Like church organs, these instruments had pipes but differed in several ways, particularly the horseshoe-shaped console providing the organist easy access to a larger number of stops. Theatre organs were also equipped with a multitude of “special effects”—whistles, cymbals, chimes, gongs, woodblock, etc.—to provide realistic sounds for the films. These organs were often ornate with gold leaf or velvet trim or even rhinestones.

As synchronized audio tracks became common in movies, the organs were still used for live music between films. But by the 1930s, these instruments fell out of favor, possibly due to the cost of maintenance and the organist’s salary. Many theatre organs were sold, dismantled or moved to other venues such as skating rinks, sports arenas, museums and private homes.

Only about 40 theatre organs in America are still in their original installation site. Many of these have had extensive refurbishing, due to deterioration, wear and water/smoke damage over the years. Some of these old instruments have been retrofitted with new digital/electronic devices to improve and expand the sound quality and variety.

Two theater organs that I’ve seen/heard are in the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Ohio, and the Embassy Theatre in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Both theaters had weekend classic film matinees with live music before and after the show. I remember the organ in the Embassy rising to the stage as the organist began playing, which I thought was pretty cool.

The largest pipe organ west of the Mississippi is in the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, Calif., just north of Los Angeles. I visited the museum on a group tour. J.B. Nethercutt founded Merle Norman cosmetics and used his fortune to collect antique cars and other trinkets. He built the museum to house his treasures for the public to view.

The building is drab on the outside, but inside contains a stupendous exhibit of restored classic cars in a glamorous setting. The fourth floor houses the Music Room, with a variety of old-time music boxes, some six feet tall, and the Wurlitzer organ. The largest pipe in the organ is 40 feet long! The pipes are visible behind a glass wall.

The Wurlitzer had been fitted with a computer system that could play back a recorded piece of music. During my tour, the organist touched a button and the instrument played a short concert he had performed earlier.

While at the museum, I purchased a CD of Christmas music played on the Wurlitzer. It’s one of my favorite holiday albums.

Have you seen/heard an authentic theatre organ? If so, where and when?

The Quirky Quiz Show Caper
Former teen idol Sandy Fairfax is a guest panelist on a TV game show—and the first category is murder! When his kid brother, Warren, is framed for killing a college student, Sandy makes it his duty to track down the thug before the police move in. After all, Sandy did play a detective once on a hit TV show. Sandy will get right on the case—right after he visits his kids; fights with his ex; woos his hoped-to-be girlfriend, Cinnamon; and convinces his parents he should be the special entertainment at a black tie gala designed to raise funds for his father’s faltering orchestra. All this while he and his biggest fan attempt to “Raise The Stakes” on a rigged quiz show where––wonder of wonders––the murder victim had recently been a contestant. Sandy’s ready to pull out some of his long blond hair as the game points and the suspects pile up.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS--GUEST AUTHOR SHANNON MUIR

Photo by Almonroth
Shannon Muir writes New Pulp and genre fiction with an emphasis on action/adventure, crime, and mystery. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

On Failure

I tried very hard to become a computer programmer. With the change and growth in media, I wanted to be able to program in order to build not only my own sites, but my own mobile applications and more. Because I grew up in a tech savvy household - my father worked with computers for the Navy and later with a community college - the concepts didn't intimidate me.

I'd also worked testing web sites from the perspective of what experience would be like for users and making sure there were no issues, and did basic coding for my personal web sites. With those elements, I believed I had a firm foundation to make the next steps. Even though I got a rocky start, ultimately I ended up getting an "A" in four courses I took through a reputable university Extension program, so I moved on to an intermediate class and applied for the related certificate, but quickly found the work too complicated. My instructor even contacted the head of the program to refund my money (though not at my request); personally I'm a believer in trying and failing.

I went several years until I found an opportunity to take those same credits I earned and use them as elective credit for a General Business Certificate with a Marketing emphasis, focusing on courses that deal with Digital Marketing. Two classes are left and right now I have a 3.96 GPA. What I'm learning will better help me market myself as a writer in the long run. I think the takeaway from all this is look at every "failure" and see where it can become something that comes to "fruition" instead.

Ghost of the Airwaves 
From Pro Se Productions’ Single Shot line comes a tale of mystery and murder set against the backdrop of the Golden Age of Radio! Through this stand alone digital single short story, Author Shannon Muir introduces the world to Ghost of the Airwaves! 

Ghost of the Airwaves is the suspenseful tale of radio actress Abigail Hanson, whose husband died under mysterious circumstances. Everyone believes the culprit is caught until a mysterious typed letter from "Ghost of the Airwaves" comes through her mail slot. Abigail becomes determined to find out who killed her husband and uses her own observant eye to help coax the police along. But, as she delves deeper into the mystery, Abigail may learn she should have stayed behind the microphone…to stay alive! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A SEARS KIT HOUSE SLEUTH

The Yates model Sears kit house
Heather Weidner has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. Her short stories appear in Virginia is for Mysteries and Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II. Learn more about her and her writing at her website/blog. 

Secret Lives and Private Eyes

Between 1908 and 1940, homeowners could shop and purchase houses through the Sears and Roebuck catalog. The parts, including hardware and varnishes, arrived by railroad and were ready for assembly on the owner’s lot.

All materials arrived precut and fitted with instructions. Some homeowners hired contractors, while others assembled their own homes. The boards, molding, and pipes usually had markings still visible in many of the homes today. It was a great marketing plan by Sears to sell the home to buyers who would also need furnishings, household items, and lawn gear offered by their stores.

By 1937, according to the Sears Archives, home sales had reached $3.5 million. There were over 447 home models to choose from, and in 1923, Sears added barns to its offerings. During its run, Sears sold over 70,000 of these ready-to-be-assembled homes.

Private investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald in Secret Lives and Private Eyes, lives in a Sears Catalog home. While there are several of these houses in Hopewell, Virginia in the Crescent Hills neighborhood, I took the liberty of moving one to Chesterfield County for my character’s residence.

Delanie lives in the Yates model, which according to original advertising, “was a mellow house, pleasantly flavored with English-cottage characteristics.” Its first floor has four rooms and a bath. It also has a second floor with three bedrooms and a bath. The bungalow is quirky and quaint and matches her style. This model was marketed as a complete home on the first floor level. Buyers could finish the second floor at their leisure. In 1938, the Yates model originally cost between $1,812 and $2,058.

When my husband and I first moved to Central Virginia, we toured nearby Hopewell. I fell in love with the catalog homes that have lasted well over seventy years. It was the perfect residence for my spunky sleuth.

References

Secret Lives and Private Eyes
Business has been slow for PI, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose life was purportedly cut short in a fiery car crash still be alive? And as if sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed strip club owner, hires Delanie to uncover information on the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out the connection between the two cases before another murder – probably her own – takes place.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR JO-ANN CARSON AND CRUSTLESS SALMON QUICHE

Jo-Ann Carson has lived most of her life on islands surrounded by snow covered mountains, lush rain forests and pristine beaches off the west coast of Canada. Growing up, she dreamed of traveling the world like James Bond, searching for relics like Indiana Jones, and finding true love, so it's no surprise that in her Mata Hari Series she combines elements of adventure, danger and steamy romance. In her Vancouver Blues Series she slides into the realm of Urban Noir and explores the dark side of the city. Learn more about Jo-Ann and her books at her website and her Lovin’ Danger blog.

This is another recipe I picked up on the Haida Gwaii and shared with Smokey at the Scuttlebutt café (in my book). It’s quick, easy and a real crowd pleaser. It also works with other kinds of fish and rice flour.

The Scuttlebutt’s Crustless Salmon Quiche
Yield 6 large servings.

1 can of salmon (or the equivalent amount fresh)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
5 eggs
2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups parmesan cheese grated
1/4 cups chopped green onion (but can be replace by any kind of onion you have on hand)

Drain salmon, reserving liquid. Set both aside.

In a blender, mix salmon liquid, flour, salt, eggs and milk until smooth.

Pour mixture into a ten inch pie plate. Sprinkle salmon, cheeses and onion over top. Press down lightly with a fork to dampen the egg mixture.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes (400 F) or just until the quiche is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let stand for 5 min. before slicing.

Ain’t Misbehavin’, Vancouver Blues Suspense Series, Book 2
A naked alderman, a haunted trattoria and a love that can not be denied.

When the manager of the Black Cat Blues Bar, singer Maggy Malone, witnesses a murder in her favorite trattoria, her life is upended. Known as the Naked Alderman, the victim is a controversial politician who wants Vancouver to be known as the greenest city in the world. He’s also the lover of Maggy’s best friend.  Despite his noble ideals, his head ends up in the pasta.

The last thing Maggy wants to do is chase another murderer. She’s worked hard to keep the Black Cat afloat and sort out her life, which is complicated by two, hot men, and acts of sabotage at her dock community on Granville Island.

But when the body count rises, Maggy decides to catch the killer.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS--GUEST AUTHOR MARNI GRAFF

Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England, and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. She also co-authored Writing in a Changing World and writes crime book reviews. Learn more about Marni and her books at her website/blog. Marni joins us today to talk about one of her favorite things--stained glass. 

As a writer, I play the “what if?” game when devising action or plot points for my two mystery series. So when my husband and I tired of the crowded, hectic, traffic-laden environment that our lovely Long Island had become, we played the same game. What if we changed the way we ran our lives completely? What if we left LI for the nature-filled riverside property we’d bought for a vacation home “down the road?” Maybe we were ready to go down that road sooner than later.

Moving to coastal North Carolina meant building our own home, something I’d never done before. We rented a cottage nearby, excitedly moving from firming up our plans to hiring a builder while we cleared our land on the Intracoastal Waterway site. One thing we knew from early on: we wanted a stained glass window set into the wall of what would be the living room-library area that opened into the rest of the main floor.

Despite having different decorating styles, mine vintage and Edwardian, Doc’s more Art Deco veering toward Modern, we both adore vintage stained glass, and had been collecting pieces for the new house as we went through the run-up to actually breaking ground. We had a double French painted-on-glass beauty from our current home for our bedroom. We found two windows that would be hung by chains in our master bathroom windows and set about restoring their frames as the house framing commenced. One is from a local church, a large cathedral arch in hues of gold with WELCOME picked out across it in large black letters. At night we turn on the light over our tub, and that window, which faces our driveway, greets our company. But that tall ceiling, soaring to fifteen feet in height in the main room, could handle a much larger piece than we’d come across--yet.

One Sunday we were riding around the small town of Chocowinity, a Tuscarora Indian name for “fish of many waters,” about an hour from our land. A friend had told us about an antique shop that was only open on the weekends. The owners visited the UK yearly and brought back a container of vintage furniture and doors, with the occasional piece of stained glass. It sounded right up our alley.

I saw her the moment we parked. The main window was filled with a large piece of Art Nouveau stained glass. Its center held a hand-painted medallion, a woman’s head with the flowing tresses of the era draped in grape vines. The four corners had Nouveau flowers in jeweled colors of cranberry, blue and green. It took my breath away, as did the price tag once we checked inside.

The owner was lovely and we ended up buying an 1880s English armoire and blanket chest that day. I kept returning to the window and drooling. We’d learned she was from Scotland, and yes, we were spot on. She was from the Art Nouveau period, 1890-1910, and Gerald said he was told she was from a Scottish estate that had been built in 1898. By now we were on a first name basis with Gerald and on subsequent visits, bought a vintage drafting table from the 1940s whose top Gerald had inlaid with marble. It doubles as our kitchen island and pastry roll-out station. But I kept eyeing The Scottish Lady, as we called her.

A few months later our anniversary was approaching, and as Doc and I were discussing how we wanted to celebrate, he turned to me. “How would you feel about asking Gerald if we could put The Scottish Lady on layaway and pay her off?”
 
Building a house takes a while. So did paying off The Scottish Lady, but the two coincided enough that when the builder had scaffolding in place for the beams that stretch across our room and hold the house up, we were able to set The Scottish Lady right into the end wall of the house. She’s fronted on the outside by a plain glass window for protection.

At the golden hours before sunset, sunlight streams through those colors and is reflected on the walls and the books in my library. We’ve lived in The Briary now for thirteen years and The Scottish Lady is still one of my favorite things.

The Scarlet Wench
In the third Nora Tierney Mystery, The Scarlet Wench, American writer Nora awaits the arrival of a traveling theatre troupe, who will stage Noel Coward’s farce, Blithe Spirit at Ramsey Lodge. Her son now six months old, Nora must juggle parenting with helping her friend Simon Ramsey at the lodge. She’s also hoping to further her relationship with the only guest not in the cast: DI Declan Barnes, ostensibly there for a hiking trip. When a series of pranks and accidents escalate to murder, Nora realizes her child is in jeopardy and is determined to help Declan unmask a killer.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LAUREL S. PETERSON

Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and she has two poetry chapbooks. Shadow Notes is her first mystery.  Learn more about Laurel and her book at her website. 

Stalking the Nouveau Riche, Without Getting Run over by an SUV

The night my husband and I moved into our Connecticut home, we went out for dinner in the neighboring, wealthier town. While we were waiting for our meals to arrive, he looked around, then back at me, shocked. “All the women are blonde,” he said to the one brunette in the room. This, obviously, offers itself up for satire. It’s been done before by other writers (the film version of The Stepford Wives was filmed not too far from here), but every time an SUV driven by a harassed woman on her way to pick up her toddlers from daycare nearly sideswipes me during rush hour, the impulse arrives again.

The main character in my novel Shadow Notes, Clara Montague, inherited her father’s landscape architecture business and some money from her mother’s side. Her father is dead, but her mother still lives in a nameless Fairfield County town. I’ll let you guess which one (and there are several options!)  Clara hasn’t been home in fifteen years, and the place has changed a bit. It’s even more crowded now with people attempting to prove that their money is just as good as that guy’s down the street.

While figuring out how to portray my character, I had to study the ways people asserted their privilege and power, which meant I had to hang out where they did, at least some of the time. There is definitely a craft to stalking these nouveau riche. It’s important to be in certain places at certain times of the day, or you might just miss them, as if they are shy scorpions under a rock. If you are brave and wish to see how the other half lives, I offer the five following suggestions:

1. First, head for Whole Foods on a Saturday morning. Wield your cart as if it’s a loaded gurney in an ER while talking loudly on your cell phone. Buy the cosmetic item that claims the most (untested) health benefits, a large latte, a loaf of French bread, three organically grown Fuji apples, a pound of quinoa, gluten-free muffin mix, three yoga magazines, and a six-tier custom cake you ordered last week for your child’s two-month birthday party. Get in the checkout line for five items or less, and glare at the woman behind you holding a single bottle of LeBleu, Ultra Pure Bottled Water. In the parking lot, back out without looking behind you, and don’t worry about that small thumping sound.

2. If that option seems too complex, then get in line at Starbucks around 11 AM, when the moms are a little crazy after a morning with their under-threes. Better yet, get in line at the non-Starbucks that brews coffee one pure, leisurely filtered cup at a time, and watch the kids shriek as they chase each other between the chairs.   

3. Become a blonde. Brunettes stick out like a pair of Levi’s in Bergdorf’s.

4. Lurk in the boutiques on Greenwich Avenue. Pretend you can afford a Gucci baseball hat costing $300, and try to avoid getting tossed out by the security guard.

5.  Find a fitness oasis and work out every day for two hours, followed by a steam, shower and massage. Eat no more than three lettuce leaves for lunch, preferably ground up into a smoothie, then complain about how full you are to everyone within hearing distance.

Most of all, always, always have a look on your face of bored indifference: been there, done that. This seems to be the mark of true sophistication, but neither Clara nor I want to go there, as life offers up so many charming, surprising delights. Finally, these are rules for women. Stalking men requires golf clubs or a squash racquet, and access to rooms filled with cigar smoke. If you want to see more antics of the rich, I look forward to meeting you in the pages of Shadow Notes! Happy Hunting.

Shadow Notes
Clara Montague didn’t even want to come home. Her mother, Constance Montague, never liked her—or listened to her—but now they have to get along or they will both end up in jail or dead.

Clara always suspected she and Constance share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara is twenty, she dreams her beloved father dies of a heart attack, and Constance claims she is being hysterical. Then he dies.

Furious and betrayed, Clara leaves for fifteen years to tour the world, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she can’t ignore it, no matter how she feels. Shortly after Clara returns home, Constance’s therapist Hugh Woodward is murdered and Constance is jailed for the crime.

Since her mother refuses to tell her anything, Clara enlists the aid of brother and sister Andrew and Mary Ellen Winters, Constance’s enemies, to dig out Constance’s secrets. First, however, she must determine whether the Winters, wealthy socialites with political ambitions, are lying and what their motivations are for helping her. In addition, why does the mere fifteen-year age difference between Clara and her mother make them nervous? 

Starting to explore Constance’s past, Clara discovers a closet full of books on trauma and gets a midnight visit from a hooded intruder wielding a knife, who tries to scare her off her investigation. But her dreams become more demanding and there’s a second murder.  Realizing she can’t run back to Paris as she wishes, she works with the town’s sexy new police chief to find the truth about Hugh’s murder and its connection to her mother’s past.  Only in finding the connection will she be able to figure out how those secrets have shaped both Constance’s life and her own. Only in finding the connection will they finally be able to heal their relationship.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

#TRAVEL TO #ENGLAND WITH GUEST AUTHOR COURTNEY J. HALL

The Author at Shakespeare's Birthplace
Courtney J. Hall lives with her husband and a stolen cat in a fixer-upper in suburban Philadelphia. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I don’t belong where I am. I live in the United States, in suburban Philadelphia, and have since the day I was born – but something out there, something elusive, has always been tugging at me. Beckoning me. Trying to get me to follow it, find it, whatever it was. And I finally figured it out.

 It was England.

I’ve always been an Anglophile, with a love of the history and an attachment to the Union Jack even before it became a ubiquitous home décor trend. I’ve always been partial to tea, tiny pastries, and gothic architecture. But I thought that was just my taste. Just things I liked. It wasn’t until my husband and I finally ventured across the pond and I stepped off the plane at Heathrow that I knew.

My body might live in the States, but my heart and soul belonged to England.

It felt like coming home after a long trip. My instincts came roaring out. I knew how to ride the Tube, where to get on and where to get off. I recognized street names, buildings and places I’d never seen before, not even on TV. Getting off the train in Stratford-upon-Avon, I somehow managed to walk directly into the village. My husband swore it was because I looked at maps, but I don’t. At least nothing more recent than the 1572 Braun & Hogenberg map, which wouldn’t be all that helpful to me in 2016. I just knew. It was in my head, in my heart. In my bones. I’d come home.

The Author at Tower Bridge
It was, hands down, the best week of my life. Better than any spring break or senior week. Better than any Caribbean vacation. Better than my honeymoon (but don’t tell my husband). I saw thousand-year-old palaces and the tombs of history’s greatest kings and queens. I walked in Anne Boleyn’s footsteps and saw portraits painted by Holbein. I ate lots of delicious food and talked to some wonderful people. And every new experience reiterated that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I loved it. Getting back on the plane at the end of the week was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

People ask me why I don’t just move there. While I’d love to, there are still a few important things holding me here. But if anything ever happened to change that, I’d swim there. Just try and stop me. It’s my home – I just don’t live there.

Yet, anyway…

Some Rise By Sin
Cade Badgley has just returned from an overseas diplomatic mission when he learns that his father is dying. Cade has no interest in filling his father’s shoes, but the inheritance laws of sixteenth-century England leave him no choice: he is the new Earl of Easton, with a hundred souls dependent on him, a rundown estate, and no money in his coffers. A friendly neighbor offers to help, but at a cost: Cade must escort the neighbor’s daughter Samara to London and help her find a husband. 

Samara, a tempestuous artist, would rather sketch Mary Tudor’s courtiers than woo them. But her beauty, birth, and fortune soon make her the most sought-after young woman in London. As Cade watches her fall under the spell of a man he has every reason to distrust, he must balance his obligations to Easton against the demands of his heart and the echoes of a scandal that drove him away from his family twelve years before. 

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