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.

Holiday Blog Hop Starting December 11th

Holiday Blog Hop

Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Friday, January 29, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR BETH CAUDILL

Although Beth Caudill grew up in West Virginia, she currently resides in North Carolina with her husband, two sons and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who makes an excellent lap warmer. Blending the analytical and creative sides of her brain, she delights in creating fantasy worlds for others. Catch her online most days, except when NCIS and Once Upon a Time air. Read more about her at her website. 

Creating Something Positive When Your Muse Deserts You
Author Nightmare – The Blank Screen of Doom

Writing a story is always an adventure. No matter how many books you’ve created, the process is full of wonder and frustration. Interesting things happen when the process no longer works.

I needed to take some time off last year after publishing Enchantress’ Destiny, the second novella in my Paranormals of Arilase series.  I was homeschooling both my sons and the oldest, who had started high school, was not adjusting well. We made it through summer, and he started a new private school with small classrooms.

My youngest is still at home and while he started middle school, I do have time to write.  I thought I’d be able to make good progress in the fall. Except my writing went nowhere.  My usual process wasn’t working, I couldn’t get a handle on my characters, and words didn’t magically appear on the page.

I can’t express how frustrating it was for me to know I finally had the time to write, but the stories that had always been in my life weren’t there when I sat down at the computer. I’d get glimpses of scenes while driving or in the shower, but when I was at the computer there was nothing. Just a black well of emptiness.

I needed to try something new. But staring at Character and Plot Worksheets gave me hives. Line upon line of information to fill out.  As a pantster, my muse shuts down every time I look at them.  (You can search on “Character Worksheet” and find tons of examples, anywhere from 3 pages to 20+ pages of information.) 

That’s why I’d developed my digital story bible.  I could fill in a limited amount of information and add to it as I wrote.  But now I needed to do something non-digital.  Something tactile to help my creative muse along.

In college I had to write notes, even when professors provided copies of lectures, in order to remember things. A recent study also discovered that students have a better understanding of material when they hand write their notes versus using a laptop.

I needed to create my own paper version of my digital process. Something fun to design yet still provides the information for my story. An area for brainstorming, characters, plot, world building, and research.  Pages for notes and sections for maps and character sketches.
Here is an example of one of the plot pages from the Mystery Writer’s Mini Story Bible for Bedside and Travel.

When I started, I thought it would be ten to fifteen pages. In reality, I ended up with fifty plus pages to capture everything necessary for one story. 

While I write mostly fantasy, I have friends who create science fiction, historical, and urban fantasy stories. We all need to collect similar information; only specific details may differ. With feedback from my friends Judy Teel and Sky Purington, I put together a collection of six print mini story bibles for writers to store their initial story ideas.

Best of all, I’ve been able to make progress on writing again.  I’m hard at work on the third novella in my Paranormals of Arilase series.

The Mystery Writer’s Mini Story Bible for Bedside and Travel
Imagine. Discover. Write.

The Mystery Writer’s Mini Story Bible for Bedside and Travel is your first stop along the path to writing. You set the pace for exploring the imaginary worlds and conflicts within your stories.

Each book section includes an area for you to brainstorm words associated with your idea, detail pages for up to five characters including picture and attire frames, diagram and notes for cataloging your plot points including the murder layout, space to sketch settings and scenes, lines for recording your research and more.

Keep your story details in one convenient journal that easily travels or resides next to your bed. Ideas come at all hours of the day, don’t lose your thoughts because you couldn’t find paper.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

#TRAVEL TO SUMATRA WITH GUEST AUTHOR NANCY RAVEN SMITH

Nancy Raven Smith is an award-winning screenwriting who novelized one of her scripts. To her surprise, she discovered a passion for writing mysteries. Learn more about her and her writing at her website. 

Hi, Anastasia. Thank you for inviting me to Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers on Travel Day. I’m delighted to talk about Sumatra, but I should start with an admission. I’ve never had the pleasure of going there.

What I have done is research it with serious interest. I think one of the truly fun aspects of writing is studying an area thoroughly enough so that you can actually feel the location. Of course an actual visit would be even better.

My interest in Sumatra started when I wrote a screenplay about identity theft several years ago. At that time Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar were known as the Golden Triangle and were famous as an early area for credit card counterfeiting. Since then, there’s been an explosion of credit card counterfeiters found anywhere in the world. But my fascination with Indonesia never stopped, and I used it as the location for Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra.

Sumatra is the third largest of the 13,677 islands that make up Indonesia and the sixth largest in the world. It’s similar in size, shape, and population to California and full of wild beauty. The capital, Medan, is found on the northeastern side of the island.

The length of the western side of the island is lined from one end to the other with ninety-three volcanoes, which drop steeply into the Indian Ocean. The Sumatran name for this area is Burkit Barisan, which means Parade of Mountains. According to one source, fifteen of the volcanoes are active.

You may have heard of the latest eruptions of Sumatra’s 8,070-foot Mount Sinabung. It’s a stratovolcano, as was Krakatoa and Mount Saint Helens, and has been spewing gas and ash clouds as well as lava for the last two years with no sign of stopping. It’s located approximately twenty-five miles North of Lake Toba, which is a super volcano like Yellowstone.

When you include all the islands of Indonesia, there are on average ten major volcano eruptions per year. The infamous Krakatoa is located off the southern tip of Sumatra on a separate island. Sumatra and its surrounding smaller islands are the western most point of the “Ring of Fire,” the area which surrounds the Pacific Ocean in an upside-down horseshoe shape and is known for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The entire western United States coastline is included in the “Ring of Fire.”

The Eastern side of Sumatra parallels the Strait of Malacca, which separates it from Malaysia and Singapore. Rainforests, marsh and shallow rivers cover a third of the entire island and dominate the topography on this side. 

As arresting as the topography is, I think it’s the flora and fauna that intrigue me the most. There are over 35,000 known plant species in Indonesia. It’s home of the infamous corpse plant which smells like putrefaction, and Rafflesia which produces the world’s largest bloom. Hibiscus, jasmine, bougainvillea, lotus, and frangipani are common. Sumatra’s rainforest trees grow over sixty meters tall.
"Leuser-orangs 09N8683" by Nomo michael hoefner / http://www.zwo5.de - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leuser-orangs_09N8683.jpg#/media/File:Leuser-orangs_09N8683.jpg
And there are unique animals – 176 different mammals, including Sumatran tigers,rhinoceros, and elephants, both smaller physically than their cousins elsewhere, but just as fierce. Other animals include sun bears, clouded leopards, large tapirs, and goat antelope.

One of the special animals that interest me is the orangutan. They exist only in Sumatra and neighboring Borneo. Sadly there are only about a thousand left in the Sumatran jungle. As the Orangutan’s habitat decreases, so do their numbers. In an effort to protect them, the Sumatran government has established a rehabilitation center in the Northern part of the island near Burkit Lawang. There they are studied and tourists visit to see them in the wild.

Orangutans are peaceful animals. The mother raises her young until they reach about thirteen years old. The lessons she carefully teaches them include how to make sturdy nests high in the trees and how to use ‘tools’ made from sticks and other natural materials. The name orangutan means man of the forest. That’s very appropriate since they have 98% of the same DNA as humans. So even the use of tools is not surprising. 

Reptiles, insects, and aquatic life are just as varied as the mammals. Luckily the fierce Komodo dragons live a fair distance away on a different island. The rare and colorful bird species number 523 including Birds of Paradise, Black Ibis, Sunbirds, pheasants, owls, nightjars, parrots, hornbills, cuckoos, hawks. The bird population alone fills volumes of books.

The people of the island are as diversified as everything else. Although there are a large number of ethnicities, more than eighty-six percent of the population is Muslim. Christians are the next largest group at a distant second, followed by Buddhists and Hindus. 

I couldn’t resist setting a story in such an exotic place. Going on a photo-shooting safari in Sumatra would be fabulous. But as of now Sumatra is a bit off the beaten tourist path, unlike its northern neighbor Thailand. Tours are only beginning to be offered. Bird watching is one of the major attractions.
Another interesting thing I learned is about the boogey man. It’s a name used everywhere to scare small children. The expression came from Indonesia where, in the past, Buganese gypsy pirates traveled in ships with black sails on the monsoon winds every year. They pillaged and plundered the inhabitants living on other islands and were greatly feared. Buganese was shortened to Bugi, hence the bugi men. Some historians debate this origin of ‘boogey men,’ but no one has any other historical context to offer. 

Unfortunately, like many other emerging countries, Sumatra has a large low-income population. There is a war going on between the need for its people to support themselves and the need to save the unique environment. Major export items such as palm oil, oil, rubber, coffee, gas, tea, mining, and tobacco all contribute daily to the loss of rainforest. There are over a hundred-fifty state wildlife reserves, but poachers, farmers, and foreign exploitation continue to destroy with impunity the very things that would attract the tourist dollar in the future to this wonderful location.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our mini tour and I’ve piqued your interest in Sumatra.

Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra
A fall from grace costs Lexi a position at a top New York financial institution. She ends up in a job at a small private bank in Beverly Hills. But that’s okay, she still gets to work in her favorite field – catching white collar crooks. At least that’s what she tells herself.

But when Karista, the daughter of one of the bank's principal investors, runs into danger while traveling in Indonesia, Lexi's job comes to depend on her ability to save her. Even worse, Lexi will have to babysit Steve, her boss' well-meaning but spoiled son, while going undercover to reach the heiress.

Lexi’s cushy tropical assignment soon spirals into chaos as she has to outrun fashion-forward Batak natives, outwit an arrogant FBI agent, help Steve find his stolen Air Yeezy sneakers, and figure out why her ardent former lover and debonair gentleman thief, Andre, is staying at the same resort.

Lexi will have to be very good or very lucky to survive it all.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

WHEN LOTS OF SALT IS GOOD FOR YOU

Recent medical reports have worrisome news about the amount of salt we ingest. The recommended daily intake of sodium for adults is 2,300 milligrams. Most Americans eat considerably more than that every day. Excessive salt raises blood pressure and can lead to heart disease and many other illnesses.

However, I recently came across some great uses for salt that won’t adversely affect your health. In fact, salt is very good for your health when used in these ways because you reduce your exposure to toxic household chemicals when you substitute salt for many of your cleaning products. Here are just a few you might want to try.

1. The next time your apple pie or lasagna spills over while baking in the oven, pour a handful of salt on the spill. It will bake into a much easier to clean crust after it’s cooled.

2. Make a paste of salt with some baking soda and dish liquid. It works great for cleaning appliances, sinks, and tubs.

3. A combination of salt and dish liquid will remove coffee and tea stains from cups. Or if you have coffee residue inside a glass coffee pot, combine salt and ice cubes. Swirl vigorously around in the pot, then rinse.

4. Mix equal parts salt, flour, and vinegar into a paste to clean brass and copper. Allow the paste to sit for an hour, then use a clean cloth to remove the mixture and buff the metal.

5. Got rust? Make a paste of salt and cream of tartar with a small amount of water. Apply to the rust stain. Allow to dry, then brush off and buff with a soft cloth.

6. To prevent stinky kitchen drains, pour a mixture of salt and hot water down the drain. It will not only act as a deodorizer, it will keep grease from building up.

7. Ever spill red wine on yourself or your tablecloth? Blot up the excess liquid, then cover the stain with salt. Soak the item in cold water for half an hour, then launder.

8. For perspiration stains, add 4 T. of salt to a quart of hot water. Sponge on the garment until the stain disappears.

9. Remove gunk from the bottom of your iron by running a hot iron over salt sprinkled on a piece of paper.

10. Clean and deodorize the inside of your refrigerator with a mixture of salt and club soda.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--IN CELEBRATION OF NATIONAL CHOCOLATE CAKE DAY

Tomorrow is National Chocolate Cake Day. To celebrate, I’m featuring a yummy brownie recipe, compliments of author Susan Lohrer. The recipe first appeared in Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing. Now some may argue that brownies are not technically cake but a category all its own, but I chose to feature this particular chocolate recipe from the cookbook because Susan is also the author of a Valentine romance, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.

Grandma’s Homemade Brownies

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/4 cup cool water
1/2 cup (or more) chopped nuts, raisins, or dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place all ingredients in bowl in order given and beat on low speed until just mixed. Pour batter into prepared 9” x13” pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in brownies comes out clean.

Note: For a lower-calorie version, you can substitute applesauce for half the cooking oil, but I suggest simply cutting the brownies into tiny portions.

Wooing Cupid
Welcome to Cupid's Hollow, where fantasy and reality collide.

In this first book in the Wooing the Gods holiday romance series a meddling retired deity shoots the wrong kind of arrow from Cupid's bow and turns Valentine Arciere's world on its head...

Valentine doesn't approve of big business, especially when a huge corporation is taking over her beloved hometown. So when a billionaire businessman comes along and tries to get her to sell out her sports shop, she digs in her heels and refuses his offer. But the other shop owners have sold out, and her refusal to compromise her values is preventing a huge business deal and causing financial hardship for everyone in town. She almost gives in...until she learns she's a goddess and her soul is attached to the deed to her property.

Vittorio Fulminare, king of the Roman gods, is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants is the land occupied by Valentine's store. But he's not the only one trying to get her to sell, he's just the only honest one. Now, under the influence of Cupid's magic, he'll do anything to win Valentine's trust and help her keep her soul.

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

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Monday, January 25, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--TEACUP KEY COZY

Are you someone who’s always misplacing your keys? Do you search high and low, wasting precious time, whenever you need to leave the house? The easiest way not to misplace your keys is to have a designated place to keep them. And here’s a stylish way to do just that.

First, you'll need a decorative teacup with matching saucer. If you don't have one, you can find them at flea markets and secondhand shops. Since most people use coffee mugs these days, teacups are easy to find at these places. Purchase one that fits with the decor or color scheme of your home.

Once you have your teacup, all you need to do is turn it upside down. It’s as simple as that—with one minor step: glue the bottom of the saucer to the bottom of the teacup. Make sure you purchase ceramic glue or an all-purpose glue that will work on ceramics and china. You can find such glue at your local hardware or craft store.

Place the teacup tea cozy on a table near your front door, and get in the habit of dropping your keys on it the moment you step inside your house. You’ll be amazed at how much time you’ll save every week by not having to hunt for your keys every time you go out!

Friday, January 22, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JK WINN

J.K. Winn is a published novelist, playwright, and poet. Learn more about her and her books at her website.  

The Scent of Suspense

There are many different avenues for structuring a thriller, but I chose of design my suspense novel, Out of the Shadow, around the olfactory sense. We all know the sense of smell is powerful and at the same time, often unconscious. Because of that, it's not unusual to experience a memory triggered by a forgotten odor. Our sense of smell is potent enough to determine whom we are attracted to, or repelled by, and acts as one of the most important deciding factors in choosing a mate. Even when it's outside of our awareness, it influences many of the choices we make and what we do with our lives.

With that in mind, I decided to use a whiff of cologne as the precipitating incident that sets my heroine Becca on the trail of the perpetrator. A single sniff causes her to experience thoughts and feelings which send her on a downward spiral, making her aware, even though she has only fragmented memory, that a traumatic event took place earlier in her life, and the person responsible for that crime is also behind her recent rape and her husband's murder. It soon becomes clear that her only hope of solving the current crimes and protecting herself from this faceless menace is to follow the olfactory thread back to the time and place in her life where it originated.

I'm hoping you'll find this concept intriguing enough to want to follow Becca's quest to discover this criminal's identify before he can do any more damage. And, if you enjoy this read, I hope you will also check out the soon-to-be-released sequel, Night of the Shadow, Book Two in the Shadow Series, this spring.

Out of the Shadow
Two women. One goal. To uncover the truth no matter the cost.

A survivor of rape and her husband's murder, all Becca Rosen wants to do is move on with her life, but how can she when she's being stalked by a psychopath with an attitude---and an agenda. The police are no help because they're convinced, with her history of mental illness, Becca has faked the rape to get away with murder. On top of that, Becca has begun to have flashbacks of childhood abuse, possibly at the hands of the rapist. Not knowing where to turn, and feeling like she might go crazy again, Becca hires psychologist Sarah Abrams.

Three men come into Becca's life around the same time. While each of these men has his charms, Becca can't be certain whether one of them is the perpetrator. Or could it be someone else? Together Becca and Sarah start on a course of hypnotherapy to discover the abuser's identity. Will their work reveal the real killer before it's too late, or will Becca fall prey once again to this demented criminal?


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Thursday, January 21, 2016

#TRAVEL TO SOUTH AFRICA WITH GUEST AUTHOR BRENDA HAMMOND


Brenda Hammond has been happily traveling since her earliest teenage years. Her latest novel for a romantic story imbued with South African sun, culture and adventure. Learn more about Brenda and her books at her website. 

What a pleasure to be here and to share something of my love for Cape Town, a city I was fortunate enough to call home for almost a decade and a half. These days I live in Canada, but every two years or so, I get the chance to go back and visit old haunts. On the flight I make sure to book a window seat so I can look out the plane window when we come in to land in South Africa’s mother city. I thrill to the sight of the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, majestic Table Mountain as it stands, the rugged rocky altar at the foot of Africa… and I’m not the only one. Just last week I read this airport approach is judged one of the most spectacular in the world.

However, by air is in fact my second favorite way of encountering the city. My first, most favorite is one I’ve experienced only a handful of times in my life. That is, like Alexa my heroine in Sailing for Trouble, to arrive by sea.

Many years ago I left Cape Town harbor on my original voyage to Southampton, England to take up a place at the Royal Ballet School. Still, it’s not the leaving but rather the arriving some time later that I remember, maybe because the latter occurred during the fresh light of early morning. So I recreated this moment in my story. One ex-South African reader responded by writing that the description brought tears to her eyes. Read it for yourself, included in the free first chapter on my website.

Whichever way you arrive—plane, train, ship or car—one thing is for certain: you’ll be blown away by the beauty of your surroundings. Let your eyes soak up the sights of nature’s magnificence: soaring mountains, flowering shrubs, tall pine trees and more. Enjoy viewing gracious and quaint buildings, historic areas such as the Bo-Kaap that are brimming with colour and character. Coffee shops, bars, restaurants… all guaranteed to bring you the experience the French call ‘dépaysment’ i.e. the delight of feeling yourself far from the daily drag, wafted away to a different country. 

Recently a friend wrote that she’d been wondering why living in Cape Town always made her feel as if she was on vacation. The answer? Because of the beaches. Ah yes indeed. Choose Clifton for continental (as in Mediterranean) sands and glamourous surroundings. But be warned, on the Atlantic side of the Peninsula the water is quite icy. So, if you prefer warmer waves and sands stretching as far as your eye can see, head for Muizenberg on the Eastern shores, St. James for a protected pool in the rocks, or Fish Hoek or Boulders where you can also be entertained by penguins (for free!) You are, in fact, spoilt for choice, as you will be if you decide to venture north into the Boland wine estate country. South African wines are excellent—and cheap—so treat yourself.

The exchange rate makes a stay in the Cape pretty affordable, but as always, do your research. You’ll enjoy eating out and I can recommend fish fresh out of the ocean at one of the Harbour House restaurants (Victoria and Albert Waterfront, or Kalk Bay Harbour). When I visited this time last year, the great Barbara Kingsolver was doing exactly that!

Sailing for Trouble
A mysterious legacy. A long lost half-brother. An unknown saboteur out to stop her. And every clue unraveled leads to more danger… and romance.

Driven by a longing for family and fired up to discover whether her late father's legacy of a strong box really does contain clues to his left-behind treasure, Alexa Lloyd sets sail for South Africa.

Subject to a series of life-threatening 'accidents', she's soon caught in a web of deceit and treachery. The brother she seeks may want her dead. The uncle she trusts may have designs on the treasure. The guy she's falling for may not be what he seems. But she's strong, resourceful, and absolutely determined to succeed in her double quest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

SECRET #SHOPPING WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR KELLY McCLYMER

Why would anyone who hates shopping become a secret shopper? For author Kelly McClymer it’s all in the name of research for a mystery series about a secret shopper who stumbles over dead bodies while sleuthing out bargains. Learn more about Kelly and her books at her website. 

Is that a Secret Shopper in Line for Coffee Ahead of You?

When I got the idea for a set of mysteries around a mystery shopper mom (the Secret Shopper Mom Mystery series that begins with Shop and Let Die), I knew I needed to do research because…well, because I hate to shop.

That probably sounds heretical to true shoppers, I know. But my least favorite time of year was back-to-school shopping. My mom was, and still is, a bargain-hunting maniac. I was much too young to appreciate how much she saved by marching her four daughters around every sale within a 20-mile radius.

So, knowing I needed to do a *lot* of research, I went the computer and typed in “mystery shopping.” I signed up for a few companies, and started getting job offers. And -surprise, surprise, I found I liked this kind of shopping. Well, I liked that:

--Your mystery shop visit is meant to be only long enough to let you gather your information.
 
--You have a check sheet of items to make notes on, so you’re always focused.
 
--You have a script, so you always know what to say to the salesperson who asks you if she can help. (My non-mystery-shopper response had always been, “I’m just looking” even if I am in the store to buy something specific.)
 
 --I usually bought something I wanted, and then got a small shopper fee on top, so it was like getting a discount for what I had to do anyway.

Because I was in exactly the same situation as my main character Molly Harbison (a mom of young children trying to make a little extra household money around school events, snow days, and sick days), I only took small jobs. Grocery stores. Coffee shops. Fast food. Banks. Jewelry stores. Malls. Restaurants.

But I had joined shopper forums to learn more about the business, and I read enviously of people who shopped cruises, airlines, and fancy hotels.

I never got to do the highend shops. But Molly, my character, will. If she can keep her husband’s disapproval and her tendency to stumble over crimes while mystery shopping, at bay.

I still am not fond of shopping, although, I do enjoy going to Camden, Maine and window shopping during the holidays...see picture. One thing that has changed for me is that I understand all the hoops and hurdles that employees must leap over and through. I am much more patient and understanding when someone tries to upset me (They have to! it’s in their script!) 

However, I also now know when they don’t do something they are supposed to (meet your eyes when you get in line; let you know they see you and will wait on you soon.)

It isn’t my job to make note of their lapses, but I sometimes check out the other people in line with me and wonder if any of them are making notes for their mystery shop report.

I would tell you how to tell a mystery shopper from a regular shopper…but that would break the mystery shopper code!

Have you ever tried mystery shopping?

Shop and Let Die
Molly Harbison hates being asked “What do you do?” more than cleaning the ring around the bathtub or digging Cheerios and raisins out of the car’s back seat. She’s tried on every possibility from a flip Domestic Goddess to a simple declarative Mom. She jumps at the chance to make some extra money as a secret shopper. But when she’s assigned to shop an online dating site…things get tricky. For one, she realizes her husband doesn’t exactly meet her checklist of “must haves” for the perfect man, not at all like her dating site Mr. Perfect. For another, the FBI wants her to actually keep her date with Mr. Perfect, who just may be the perfect serial killer.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR JULIA BUCKLEY AND LILAH'S BREAKFAST FRITTATA

Julia Buckley is the author of the Undercover Dish mysteries and the Writer's Apprentice mysteries. Her twenty-seven years (and counting) of teaching high school English provide endless ideas for characters in her books. In her nearly non-existent spare time she enjoys watching Netflix series, playing Words with Friends, reading good mysteries, photography, and singing along with the radio. Learn more about Julia and her books at her website and the Mysterious Musings blog.

How Lilah Drake was Born

I am very excited to have published The Big Chili this past October. I’m even more excited by the reviews, and I’m hoping I’ll get to continue the story of Lilah Drake for a while.

Initially I had written a book about Hungarian food--my Dad is Hungarian, and I grew up eating all sorts of Hungarian delicacies made by my grandmother. As a child, I routinely ate things like Kocsonyas (kah-chawn-yah), which was a dish of pigs’ knuckles preserved in aspic. As an adult, I enjoyed reading culinary mysteries and thought that I could write a good one, so I wrote my tale, set in a Hungarian restaurant in Chicago (alas, something that does not exist), and started querying agents. While I got bites from three agencies, they all said my Hungarian mystery wasn’t cozy enough.

One agent—who became my agent—said she liked my writing, but would I consider writing something different? And she suggested the idea of a character who is a brilliant chef, but who sells her covered dishes anonymously to people who want to claim the credit for her creations.

I said yes, I thought I could do this, and that was how The Big Chili and The Undercover Dish mysteries came to be. The first book is filled with food that Lilah makes for friends, neighbors, and parishioners, and in the back are a few recipes for readers to try.

At one point in the story, Lilah makes a breakfast frittata for her landlord Britt, a wealthy sophisticate who owns an art gallery but isn’t particularly good in the kitchen. Lilah whips up the batter for Britt the night before one of her elegant brunches, and Britt is able to make something delicious for her clients.
Digby 
Lilah’s daily companion is her chocolate Labrador, Mick. I came to like Mick so much in the writing of the stories that when our elderly Beagle passed away last year and the house was empty and sad, I eventually thought about getting my own Mick-like dog. My sons wanted to get a shelter pup, so we settled on a Lab mix that we named Digby. He has a lot in common with the wonderful Mick, who has a very special talent that I won’t reveal here. 

Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for Lilah’s breakfast frittata. We’re big fans of feta cheese in my family, but you can probably substitute the cheese of your choice.

Lilah’s Breakfast Frittata
Variation Four: Frittata with red peppers, onions and potatoes

1 large onion
6-8 small red potatoes (about 12 ounces), diced
2 red peppers, diced
dash of pepper
dash of thyme
8 eggs
4 ounces crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 400°

In a frying pan, sauté chopped onion, chopped potato, and chopped red peppers.  Add thyme and pepper to taste.  Mix until vegetables are desired consistency.

Add the eggs to the pan and mix in vegetables; pour into greased baking pan and sprinkle feta over the top of the mixture.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until the eggs are completely set, look golden brown, and pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let the frittata cool.  Then slice and serve with any of these elegant options:

Sliced fruit
Crusty bread
Green salad
Baked, oiled pita chips

Friends and family will ask for this delicious option again and again, and the magic of it is that it makes a good breakfast, lunch or dinner!

The Big Chili
An Undercover Dish Mystery

First in a delicious new mystery series filled with casseroles, confidences, and killers...

Lilah Drake’s Covered Dish business discreetly provides the residents of Pine Haven, Illinois with delicious, fresh-cooked meals they can claim they cooked themselves. But when one of her clandestine concoctions is used to poison a local woman, Lilah finds herself in a pot-lCoad of trouble…

After dreaming for years of owning her own catering company, Lilah has made a start into the food world through her Covered Dish business, covertly cooking for her neighbors who don’t have the time or skill to do so themselves, and allowing them to claim her culinary creations as their own. While her clientele is strong, their continued happiness depends on no one finding out who’s really behind the apron.

So when someone drops dead at a church Bingo night moments after eating chili that Lilah made for a client, the anonymous chef finds herself getting stirred into a cauldron of secrets, lies, and murder—and going toe to toe with a very determined and very attractive detective. To keep her clients coming back and her business under wraps, Lilah will have to chop down the list of suspects fast, because this spicy killer has acquired a taste for homicide…

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Monday, January 18, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR LEA WAIT

Today we’re happy to have back Maine author Lea Wait who writes the Mainely Needlepoint Mysteries and the Shadows Antique Print Mysteries, as well as nineteenth century Maine-set historical novels for young people. Learn more about Lea and her books at her website.

American School Girl Samplers

“Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that – one stitch taken patiently and the pattern will come out all right, like embroidery.”-- Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) from The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table

A number of readers of my Mainely Needlepoint mystery series have asked me about the quotations I put at the beginning of each chapter. Some, like the one above, are from books printed in the nineteenth century or before, but most are moral verses embroidered by American girls as young as six on samplers stitched in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Samplers made during this period usually included several alphabets (in different stitches,) and numbers, a verse, a (usually floral) border, and perhaps a scene, or a family tree. They were works of art often preserved by the young woman or by her parents. Although most girls were taught sewing and embroidery skills by their families, the larger, more elaborate samplers seen today in museums and private collections were often designed by skilled teachers and taught to girls as part of their education in private schools in the mid-Atlantic and New England states. Populations in other areas were sparse at that time, and girls living there didn’t have the luxury of time to create what were really works of art.

Samplers from states outside Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington.D.C., Maryland, Delaware and the New England states are today especially valued by collectors because far fewer of them have survived.

Verses found on samplers may be from hymns, from songs of the period, from poems, or from religious texts. Primers, whose reading exercises were often moral lessons, were also a source of verses for many girls. And because of the high mortality rates of the period, verses about death were common.

For example:
           
“Beauty and virtue, when they do meet,
With a good education make a lady complete.”  (1774 sampler)

Or:             
“This work in hand my friends may have
When I am dead and in my grave
And which when’er you chance to see
May kind remembrance picture me
While on this glowing canvas stands
The Labour of my youthful hands.” (1752 sampler)

Perfect epilogues for a mystery series!

(If you’re interested in more information about the history of schoolgirl samplers and needlepoint, Lea has compiled a bibliography of sources. There’s a link to it on the home page of her website.)

Thread and Gone
When a priceless antique is stolen, murder unravels the peaceful seaside town of Haven Harbor, Maine. . .

Angie Curtis and her fellow Mainely Needlepointers know how to enjoy their holidays. But nothing grabs their attention like tying up loose threads. So when Mary Clough drops in on the group's Fourth of July supper with a question about an antique needlepoint she's discovered in her family attic, Angie and her ravelers are happy to look into the matter.

Angie's best guess is that the mystery piece may have been stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots, famous not just for losing her head, but also for her needlepointing. If Angie's right, the piece would be extremely valuable. For safekeeping, Angie turns the piece over to her family lawyer, who places it in a safe in her office. But when the lawyer is found dead with the safe open and ransacked, the real mystery begins. . .

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