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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

JUDY BAKER'S HERB GARDEN

Judy Baker writes historical western romances and as Anna Sugg, writes contemporary/paranormal/fantasy stories Learn more about Judy/Anna and her books at her website. 

Now that fall is here – almost, September 22, 2017 and time for me to harvest my herbs, I thought I would share with you all the herbs that I’ve been growing throughout the season.

I decided to make a mixture for use during the fall, winter, and spring months. I’m excited. I took all my herbs that I grew in my herb box and flower garden: basil, red peppers, lemon balm, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. I also grew chives, dill, Anaheim peppers, and Jalapeno peppers. By the way, I also grow lavender, spicy bell peppers, and pumpkins.


I cut and dried my herbs, then combined a mixture and put them in an air-tight jar. I labeled the jars (decided to give them as Christmas gifts to my family) and gave one to my husband who does a lot of grilling and smoking. He sautéed a spoonful of the herb mixture in butter, then coated the meat. It was delicious.



It seems that once fall arrives, it’s the holidays (my hubby is looking forward to using his herb mixture on his Thanksgiving turkey). My favorite holiday is Christmas, so of course, my newly released novel is a Christmas story. Who doesn’t love Christmas stories? You’ll be introducted to Santa’s brother in a fun romantic Christmas in the fictitous western town of Karibou, Wyoming

Karibou Magic
An old veterinarian brings Christmas magic back into her life with his special reindeer. Will his handsome son shatter that belief? 

Christmas is magic. At least that’s what Eva Mars Bowman thought until that tragic night. Running from her past, she accepts a job with an old veterinarian in a small town in Wyoming. With Doc’s help and his magical reindeer, she has a reason to believe in Christmas magic once again.

Her newly found Christmas magic shatters. Doc’s estranged son, Trebek Nickolas, returns with plans to change all that his father has built, including getting rid of the reindeer.

Compared to his father, Trebek is coldhearted and wants nothing to do with Christmas. Can she convince him that forgiving and loving will bring back the Christmas magic he knew as a child? Will Christmas magic be stripped away from her life again, forever?

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--OATMEAL BANANA BREAD

Ever start baking only to discover you were out of an essential ingredient? That’s what happened to me the other day. I had four over-ripe bananas and decided to whip up a couple of loafs of banana bread. I’d mashed the bananas and added the wet ingredients and sugar. I reached for my canister of flour and discovered I was a cup short. The recipe calls for three cups of flour. I only had two. No problem. I was sure I had another bag of flour in the pantry. Except I didn’t. What to do?

I substituted a cup of rolled oats for the third cup of flour. In any baking recipe you can substitute up to 1/3 of the flour for oats as long as it’s not the quick-cooking kind.

Turns out the banana bread came out even better than it usually does and with the addition of oats, it was healthier.

Oatmeal Banana Bread
(makes 2 loaves)

Ingredients:
4 very ripe bananas
2/3-cup melted butter
2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.

Mash the bananas with a fork until completely smooth. Stir in melted butter.

Mix in baking soda and salt, sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla, flour, and oats in that order. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Divide batter between the two loaf pans. Bake 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. 

Cool completely on wire rack. Remove from pans.

Hint: Serve one and freeze one for another time. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR PAMELA AARES SHARES HER PHOTOGRAPHY


Filmmaker turned bestselling romance writer, Pamela Aares is the author of the Tavonesi Series. Pamela writes sensual, intriguing romance with just the right touch of mystery and suspense in captivating novels that explore the deep power of love. Learn more about Pamela and her books at her website. 

We've all heard stories about how encounters in nature can change lives. In Until Loves Finds You, my latest release in the Tavonesi series, Evan Forbes finds himself more than a fish out of water. He's spent most of his life indoors in front of a computer monitor, developing computer codes, founding wildly successful companies (that have made him a billionaire three times over), and inventing devices that put communication in the hands of 9 out of 10 people on the planet. But communicating with another person? Nearly impossible. He knows the language of technology but the language of the heart is foreign territory.

When Evan meets heiress Coco Tavonesi on a garden tour, the spirited young nature photographer not only opens his eyes to the awe of nature, she blazes a path straight into his heart.

When Coco invites Evan on a photo shoot in the California High Sierra Mountains, he discovers territory in his heart he'd never known before.


Nature photographers take us to places we might never otherwise be able to experience. Great nature photographers capture not only the beauty of a place but the soul, too. I wanted to share a photo of the wild place where Evan has his first taste of overnight camping under the stars—and his first taste of love!

And not just photographers but painters capture the souls of places as well. Here's one of my favorites by Bierstadt:


Before I began writing romance, I spent decades working to improve the lives of wild animals, mostly ocean animals, but also the animals that live in the wilderness areas of America. I wrote, produced and directed films for PBS. But I discovered that story—love stories in particular—were a more powerful way to share not only the healing power of nature but also the healing power of love.

Forests, oceans, rivers, even regional parks and city parks, provide avenues to awe and portals to joy. In these places our souls are opened to something larger than us, to a power that supports and sustains us. For brief periods of time we can leave behind the hustle, the bustle, and the tech, and remember our playful selves.

I wanted to share the words of a couple of writers who have tasted the wondrous power of nature and how the beauty of nature can open us to worlds inside us we may have never imagined:

"As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest,
or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream,
the great door, that does not look like a door, opens."
~ Stephan Graham

"As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees."  ~ Valerie Andrews

"Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." ~ John Muir, Our National Parks

But back to Until Love Finds You!

From his first encounter with Coco, our hero Evan has hidden his identity and posed as an everyday computer fix-it guy. Evan wants to be seen as a man, not as a wealthy billionaire who has changed the way the world communicates. And our heiress heroine Coco has betrayal issues that run deep in her soul. As pressures mount and a hacker steals Coco's nature photos—blocking her from being able to pursue her dream of creating a soul-touching masterpiece—to help her, Evan must risk revealing not only his identity but also his heart.

Have you ever had an experience in nature that opened your heart? I'd love to hear about it!

P.S. While we're at it, here's one of my photos of the mountain meadow that inspired the lead-in to Evan and Coco's love scene (and yes, that's my mom in the photo, admiring the Alpine wildflowers 😀)



Until Love Finds You
Reclusive tech billionaire Evan Forbes finds himself lost and lonely in the secretive world he's cloaked around himself. He may have changed the way the world communicates with his innovative, high-tech businesses, but the language of the heart has brought nothing but pain. 

When Evan meets the vivacious heiress Coco Tavonesi on a garden tour, she fires a spark of desire he can't resist. Pretending to be an ordinary computer geek, he conceals his true identity and accepts the thirty-dollar an hour job she offers, tracking down a hacker who's stolen her prized nature photographs. After years of hiding his famous name and his own incredible wealth behind a disguise, has he met the woman worth revealing himself to? Can he risk his heart?

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#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON ON QUILLING

Summer Island by Paryse Martin
Quilling—which is also known as paper rolling, paper-scrolling, or paper filigree—is an inexpensive craft that anyone can learn in a very short amount of time. The basic quilling technique involves rolling a strip of paper into a coil, pinching the coil into shapes, and gluing them together. The paper strips can also be looped, curled, and twisted into various shapes. Nowadays quilling is mostly used to create jewelry and decorate greeting cards and invitations, but it can also be used to embellish boxes, pictures, or just about anything.

Detail from an 18th century quilled cabinet
Quilling is thought to go back as far as ancient Egypt. French and Italian nuns during the Renaissance decorated book covers and religious items with quilling. Well-to-do European women in the 18th century took up quilling as a leisure pastime. Back then quilling decorated everything from cabinets to cribbage boards to ladies’ purses.

Detail of Summer Island with quilling filling a bell jar
In the 1980’s quilling was very popular among crafters in the United States, but I haven’t seen much in the way of quilling in quite some time. That is, until my recent trip to Canada where I saw the most unique piece of quilled artwork I’ve ever come across. It’s called The Summer Island and was created by artist Paryse Martin in 2005.

Detail of base of Summer Island, covered entirely in quilling 

What do you think?

Friday, September 15, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR KELLI A. WILKINS

Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published nineteen romance novels in various sub-genres, 100+ short stories, and five nonfiction books. Today she shares a look at the making of her latest contemporary romance. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog

Readers are always curious about how books “happen” ‒ how do they start out as a random idea and become an actual book filled with great characters, drama, and sizzling love scenes? The answer varies, and each novel comes to me in a different way.

So how did Trust with Hearts come about? Is the sexy and sultry Curtis based on a particular country music celebrity? Here’s the scoop…

The idea for Trust with Hearts came to me before a country music concert. I was sitting in the front row before the show started, when all of a sudden the whole plot and all the characters jumped into my head. Naturally, I started scribbling down notes (on the back of an envelope, of all things!) before the house lights went down.

Although inspired by real-life, the character of Curtis isn’t based on that one particular country music superstar – rather, he’s a blend of three or four cowboy-hat-wearing singer/songwriters. Elements of the “inspirational” singer are there, but I used my imagination to fill in background details and invented whatever else I needed to make the story work.

Trust with Hearts is a bit different from my other romances in that it has a more “traditional” romance novel feel – but still contains plenty of heat. Although Sherrie and Curtis are attracted to each other, they’re total strangers and are hesitant about getting involved in a relationship. They’ve both been unlucky in love, and aren’t sure if giving their hearts away is even worth the time or trouble.

The book gives them the whole summer to get to know each other. Readers peek into their troubled pasts and follow along as Curtis and Sherrie heal their hearts, love, and learn to trust again.

The subplot of the book – Sherrie’s devotion to save Kitty Corner – was crucial because I wanted to give her a purpose, something to build her self-esteem. Sherrie’s cat adoption project lets her help unfortunate cats that need rescuing and good homes. It parallels how Dave takes Sherrie in (aka “rescues” her) and gives her a second chance at a new life.

And, on a more personal note, giving Sherrie the “job” of helping cats allowed me to make a social/personal statement. I’m a cat person, and I’ve written three cat care books. I always advocate adopting pets (of all kinds) from shelters and giving them a real home. (Would you want to live out the rest of your life in a wire cage?)

Back on topic: Knowing how I often write sequels, a reader asked if there will be another book following up Trust with Hearts. Will Dave get his own story?

I do have an idea for a sequel in mind. What if Curtis’s cousin Jen suddenly had to move in with Dave? Hmm… I already have a plot brewing in the back of my mind, so if readers would like to see a follow-up story, let me know!

And here’s a little-known fact: Once upon a time, Trust with Hearts had an entirely different ending. Curtis and Sherrie were driving back to Dave’s house when they got into a car accident. The Ventura was demolished, Sherrie was thrown clear, but she had to go back into the burning car and rescue Curtis.

I opted to delete the “car wreck” chapter after several people told me it felt too “tacked on” and was depressing. This version of the story has a new epilogue, and readers can see that Sherrie and Curtis are certainly living happily-ever-after.

Trust With Hearts
After a bitter breakup, Sherrie Parker seeks refuge at her cousin Dave’s house in rural West Virginia. Early one morning, she runs into Dave’s other houseguest, a singer named Curtis Taylor. The last thing Sherrie wants is to share living quarters with a country music crooner – even if he is sexy, in a cowboy sort of way.

Thrown together by circumstances, Sherrie and Curtis get off to a rocky start, but soon discover they have more in common than they ever imagined. Unable to fight their growing attraction, they give in to their desires and start a sizzling summer romance.

Everything is perfect between them until Sherrie discovers that Curtis is keeping secrets from her – and his biggest secret of all will change everything. Can their newfound love survive, or will destiny keep them apart forever?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

ANASTASIA IS BACK!

Lois Winston, the author who is always getting me into trouble, has done it again. Scrapbook of Murder, the sixth book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, is currently available for pre-order, and as usual, thanks to Lois, I’m up to my eyeballs in murder and mayhem.

Lois often gets her plot ideas from news stories she reads. Scrapbook of Murder is no exception. It was inspired by two recent headline-making events, a sex scandal at a prestigious New Hampshire prep school and a real-life ongoing mystery taking place in the town where the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries are set. She even blogged about it shortly after the story broke nationally. You can read about it here.

To whet your appetite, you can read the first chapter of Scrapbook of Murder here

Scrapbook of Murder will release on Oct. 2nd and be available in both print and as an ebook. In celebration of my latest caper, I’ve created a one-of-a-kind fabric and button-craft photo album that Lois is giving away only through her newsletter and readers of this blog. If you’d like a chance to win, sign up for the newsletter, then send an email to her at lois@loiswinston.com. No need to send your mailing address. If you win, she'll email you for it. The winner will be chosen by random drawing on release day, Oct. 2nd.

Scrapbook of Murder
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

Pre-order at Amazon and Kobo
On sale everywhere Oct. 2nd.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

HEALTHY LIVING WITH GUEST AUTHOR LINDA O'CONNOR

Linda O’Connor started writing a few years ago when she needed a creative outlet other than subtly rearranging the displays at the local home dĂ©cor store. It turns out she loves writing romantic comedies and has a few more stories to tell. When not writing, she’s a physician at an Urgent Care Clinic (well, even when she is writing she’s a physician, and it shows up in her stories :D ). Learn more about Linda and her books at her website. 

Laugh every day. Love every minute.

Perfectly Honest is book 1 in the Perfectly Series – 6 fun romantic comedies! Perfectly Honest features Dr. Sam O’Brien a.k.a. “Dr. Eye Candy”. He’s an ophthalmologist (an eye physician and surgeon), so I thought I’d bust a few myths about eyes!

1. Sitting too close to the television or computer screen will damage your vision.
Not true. Your eyes may feel more tired, but you can fix that by giving them a rest. Nothing harmful to your vision.

2. Reading in the dark will weaken your eyesight.
Another myth. It may be harder to see, but it won’t weaken your eyes.

3. Children don’t need an eye exam until they start school.
False. Children can have eye problems such as near-sightedness or far-sightedness, crossed eyes (strabismus) where the eyes don’t line up with each other or look in the same direction, or lazy eyes (amblyopia) where one eye doesn’t see as well as the other. These need treatment as early as possible so that a child doesn’t end up with lifelong vision problems.

At birth to 3 months, the red reflex should be checked, alignment noted at 6-12 months, and visual acuity measured with an eye chart at 3-5 years. But don't wait if you have a concern. As a side note, sitting close to the TV isn’t harmful, but it may be a sign that a child needs glasses.

4. Eyeglasses can be used as safety glasses.
No, big no. You tend to turn your head as a reflex to an object flying toward you, and eyeglasses don’t protect the sides. Wear proper eye protection with home repairs, yard work, and sports. High risks are baseball, basketball, boxing, and racquet sports (tiny ball the size of the eye). In baseball, ice hockey, and lacrosse, a helmet with a polycarbonate facemask should be worn. In the USA, fishing was the number one cause of sport-related eye injury. All those flying hooks! And safety first when you’re celebrating the win—cover the top of the champagne bottle with a towel so the cork doesn’t fly into an eye.

5. I can wet my contact lenses with a bit of saliva.
Nope, not sterile. Don’t do it.

6. Water is clean enough to store contact lenses in a pinch.
Not true. Contact lenses should not be rinsed or stored in water. You should remove lenses before going swimming or getting into a hot tub, too.

7. Costume lenses are dangerous.
Yes! Contact lenses are medical devices that need to be measured for a proper fit to avoid (potentially irreversible) damage to the cornea. Costume lenses that cover the whole eye don’t allow enough oxygen to the tissues—big problem.

8. What’s the most common cause of vision loss in the world?
Near and far-sightedness. Donate your old glasses to be re-used in countries where eyeglasses aren’t affordable.

Be active and have fun—but protect your eyes!

Perfectly Honest
You never know where your words will take you …

When Mikaela Finn agreed to be Sam’s ‘fiancĂ©e’ for a weekend, she probably should have told him that she’s a doctor. Sam O’Brien, a.k.a. “Dr. Eye Candy”, is trying to shed his playboy reputation and convince a small town hospital that he’s ready to settle down.  But when his “fiancĂ©e” helps deliver a baby in the middle of the meet and greet, it’s a bit of a shock. If he’d known the whole truth, he might have done things a little differently because somehow his “fiancĂ©e” ends up stealing his job and his heart. Not exactly the change he wanted. Lies and deceit – it’s a match made in heaven!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR TERRY SHAMES BAKES FRUIT CAKE

Terry Shames writes the award-winning Samuel Craddock series. The fifth in the series, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake won the 2017 RT Reviews Critics Award for Best Contemporary Mystery. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website and blog, and be sure to check out the fabulous giveaway contest on Terry's Facebook author page.

Loretta Singletary is an ongoing character in my Samuel Craddock series. She is a consummate baker who is always bringing baked goods to her friends.

In my next book, A Reckoning in the Back Country, she goes away to visit relatives for Thanksgiving. This is a scene after her return:

“I brought something for you from my sister-in-law.” Loretta pulls out a cloth-wrapped bundle and unwraps it. It’s a dark, heavy fruitcake cake full of nuts, the only kind worth eating, as far as I’m concerned. “Isn’t that a beauty? My sister-in-law makes a good fruitcake. Better than any I ever tried to make.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

She snorts. “It is. And she won’t tell me the secret ingredient.”

I reach out to pinch off a piece and she slaps my hand away. “It will be ready to eat at Christmas. You’re supposed to pour brandy over it once a week until then.”

“How much brandy?”

She cocks her head at me. “What do you mean ‘how much’?” Until it doesn’t absorb anymore.” At the look on my face she says, “Never mind, I’ll keep it at my house and do it myself and then I’ll bring it to you. But you have to pay for the brandy.”

“I’ll pay for enough for my cake and yours, too.”

From A Reckoning in the Back Country, A Samuel Craddock mystery coming January 9, 2018

What kind of fruitcake has Loretta brought back home with her? The kind my grandmother used to make! Dark and evil-looking, full of nuts and candied fruit. I loved it and I still love it (maybe one of two people in the entire world who like fruitcake). When I hear those mean jokes about fruitcake every year, I turn a deaf ear.

The surprise here, for those who know Loretta, is that she laces it with brandy. She’s not much of a drinker. But fruitcake demands brandy. When I was a child, my grandmother kept the fruitcakes she made in a pantry. It was a great treat to me as a child to watch her pull out the cakes, unwrap them, and pour brandy over them. Such a mysterious process.

It puzzled me years ago when I first went looking for a good fruitcake recipe and couldn’t find one that included that mysterious last step. So I improvised.

Here’s a recipe I’ve used. Its original author (who claimed it was the best ever) has faded into oblivion, but I’ve made enough changes in it to call it my own:

Unimaginably Great Fruit Cake (makes 2 cakes 12” x 4” x 3”)
Note: Make this about a month before you plan to use it:

Ingredients
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dark raisins
4 boxes glaceed cherries, left whole
1 cup dried pineapple, chopped
8 oz chopped, glaceed fruit rinds
1 lb glaceed dessert apricots,* diced or dried figs
1 cup blanched almonds, sliced
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (original recipe calls for Brazil nuts)
3 cups flour (I use a gluten-free flour and it works great)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp powdered nutmeg
1/2 tsp powdered cloves
1/2 lb butter, cut into small pieces
1-1/2 cup dark brown sugar OR 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup molasses—don’t use blackstrap; it’s too strong)
8 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup brandy

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour loaf pans.

Toss the fruits and nuts with one cup of the flour. Sift remaining flour with salt and spices

Beat butter until light and creamy. Beat in the sugar. Add in the eggs alternately with the sifted flour mixture. Add vanilla and ½ c of the brandy. Fold this into the fruits and nuts.

Spread into the prepared cake pans and cover with oiled foil. Bake in 300 degree oven for 1 ¼ hours. Remove foil and continue cooking for another 1 ¼ hours until the center comes out clean. (Test after 2 total hours)

Cool the cakes in pans for 15 minutes. Unmold onto a wire cooling rack. Pour ½ c brandy over very slowly so it will absorb. Wrap tightly in cheesecloth and foil and store in a cool place or in refrigerator.

Once a week take off the foil and add more brandy.

*I think of the apricots as the “secret” ingredient Loretta was referring to. But figs are good, too.

A Reckoning in the Back Country (coming January, 2018)
When Lewis Wilkins, a physician with a vacation home in Jarrett Creek, is attacked and killed by vicious dogs, and several pet dogs disappear, Police Chief Samuel Craddock suspects that a dog fighting ring is operating in his territory. He has to tread carefully in his investigation, as the lives of lawmen who meddle in dog fighting are at risk.

Digging deeper, Craddock discovers that the public face Wilkins presented was at odds with his private actions. A terrible mistake led to his disgrace as a physician, and far from being a stranger, he is acquainted with a number of county residents who play fast and loose with gambling laws.

Craddock’s focus on the investigation is complicated by a new woman in his life, as well as his accidental acquisition of a puppy. 


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ebook  

Monday, September 11, 2017

ON THIS DAY SIXTEEN YEARS AGO...


Today we pause to remember and honor those who lost their lives sixteen years ago and pray for an end to terrorism here in the U.S. and abroad.

Friday, September 8, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JUDY ALTER

Mystery and historical fiction author Judy Alter has been a frequent guest at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, but she’s never sat down to do an interview with us before today. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’d written articles for years, but when I was working on a Ph.D. (and trained to document and do anything but give in to imagination), I realized I wanted to write novels.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I have been traditionally published, published with a small press, and am now an indie author.

Where do you write?
I write at the desk in my cottage. Can’t write anywhere else, except for children’s homes when I’m visiting. Can’t write in coffee shops, libraries, etc.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Prefer silence. If I’m working on the novel-in-progress, I want quiet. If I’m doing publishing chores, etc., I may have TV on.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
My historical fiction has always been based on the life of one specific person. My daughter called my first mystery “highly autobiographical,” but the more I’ve written the more I’ve gotten away from incidents from my life and news clips, gone from real life to imagined lives.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Naming a character is really hit and miss. Sometimes I consult lists of ethnic names but I often just go with how it sounds to my ear. I have learned the hard way not to begin many names with the same alphabet letter or use names that sound alike. My biggest problem with a series is forgetting the name of a character and changing it from book to book.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Settings for my mysteries are drawn from real life—with the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, the setting is an historic neighborhood close to where I live; the Blue Plate CafĂ© is a small-town cafĂ© I visited frequently while staying with friends in East Texas. I find real settings help me with details that make my fictional setting real to readers.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Quirkiest character- Pigface from the current novel wins. Here’s how Susan describes him: “The man glared at her, beady eyes blazing out of a puffy, pale face beneath a balding head with the remaining hair pulled back into a sparse ponytail.” He lives up to his nickname throughout the book—and gives pigs an unfair reputation.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
My quirkiest quirk – my daughter says it’s keeping my cottage too warm, not using the a/c enough in the summer. I say, living in Texas where food is heavily spiced and peppers are plentiful, it is that I don’t like spicy food or peppers in any shape or form.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
There are several books I wish I’d written. One is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. Another is Elithe Hamilton Kirkland’s Love is a Wild Assault, which a book critic friend assured me is not a very good book. But that was when I was a new writer, and I admired the use of history. I should go back and read it again. These days, I wish I wrote serious and complex mysteries like those of Deborah Crombie.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I’m not sure, because I’m fairly happy with the life I have and ecstatic about my children and grandchildren. But sometimes I wish I had trained as a chef when I was young and strong enough. Then I read some chef-written memoirs and realize what a hard life it is.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
My pet peeve is grammatical mistakes. I am particularly undone by the misuse of “lay” and “lie.”
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
I’d have chardonnay, chocolate, and lots of mysteries to read. Could I sneak tall, dark and handsome on there, too?

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
The worst job I ever had was writing advertising copy for a company that made DIY leather kits, and I fully realize that if that’s the worst, I’ve been darn lucky.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
After a lifetime of good books, I won’t go there. Can’t begin to think of only one candidate.
Ocean or mountains?
Choice between ocean or mountains is hard. I’m not really a water person—boating, swimming, etc. don’t hold much appeal. But some of the happiest moments of my life were spent sitting on a sand dune staring at Lake Michigan (okay, not an ocean but as one of my daughters discovered to her amazement, you still can’t see the other shore). I’m also not much for rugged mountains, but I love the gentle mountains like the Smokies.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City girl, raised in Chicago, lived in Fort Worth over 50 years. A country get-away sounds great, but I’d need company—and chocolate, chardonnay and books. And I’d get restless after a while.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m 79 years old, so I don’t know how far away the horizon is. My eleven-year-old grandson for some reason asked me recently what my last book would be about and when I was going to write it. Thanks, Jacob! I told him I’m not thinking in those terms. I plan to keep writing my three series, so right now I’m working on a Blue Plate CafĂ© mystery, tentatively titled Murder at the Bus Depot. After that I’ll go back to Kelly O’Connell in Fort Worth. And I’m not talking about it much, because it’s liable to be years before I get it done, but another cookbook is creeping into my computer. I’ve done three other food books, one a cookbook/memoir. This is tentatively titled Gourmet on a Hot Plate and is about cooking in a tiny house in a tiny kitchen.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I started writing short stories at the age of ten, sent one to Seventeen Magazine when I was in high school, and it came right back. I majored in English in college because I liked to read, and I thought some man would marry me and take care of me. A career never occurred to me, but none of that worked out very well. I kept going to graduate school, and I kept reading. Then I got serious about writing and somewhere along the way I fell into publishing. Published my first novel in 1984—and it still sells today. I was editor at TCU Press, a small academic press, for ten years and director for twenty. My two worlds—writing and publishing—went together like the proverbial hand and glove, and I loved my life. Now, in retirement and living semi-alone (my youngest daughter and family are yards away in the main house, but I am in the cottage), I am still writing, still loving it. I am neither rich nor famous, but that’s not why I write. I write to know that people read my stories and like them. It’s been a great life, and I wouldn’t trade.

Pigface and the Perfect Dog
An Oak Grove Mystery, Book 2

Susan Hogan thinks she’s about to meet her maker when she confronts a rifle-carrying man, who looks like a pig, in a grocery store. Jake investigates the body of a young college student, shot in the back and found in an empty pasture. Aunt Jenny showers love on the new puppy a young man from the grocery gave her, but she has to get rid of that heavy collar.

Susan is associate professor of English at Oak Grove (Texas) University; her partner, Jake, is Chief of Campus Security. Aunt Jenny, the maiden lady who raised Jenny, came to Oak Grove to help Susan, who was accused of murdering a coed in The Perfect Coed, first book in the series. How much help Jenny was is debatable, but she made a fast friend in Judge John Jackson and stayed in Oak Grove.

Trouble in Oak Grove begins with the open-carry protestors in the store and leads to a shooting, breaking and entering, threats and an attempted kidnapping, a clandestine trip to the woods late at night. Will Susan Hogan land in trouble…or the hospital…again? Will Susan and Jake survive this as a couple? Susan is still prickly but she learns some lessons about life, love, and herself in this second Oak Grove Mystery

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