featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--BANANA BREAD WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS AND WALNUTS

This is one of my morning favorites, especially when I’m running late (always!) and have skipped breakfast (most mornings!) Lucky for me, Cloris always has something waiting in the break room. This banana bread is even better if you pop a slice in the microwave for 20 seconds or so to warm the bread and slightly melt the chocolate. – Anastasia

Chocolate Chip Walnut 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
3 cups all-purpose flour
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, and flour in that order. Fold in chocolate chips an walnuts.

Divide batter between the two loaf pans. Bake 50 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, February 27, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--PHOTOGRAPHY AS A HOBBY OR CAREER WITH GUEST ISABELLA FOREMAN

I minored in photography in college, way back before digital, and learned to develop my own film and print my own photos. Photography has come a long way since then and it’s easier than ever. Today’s guest is Isabella Foreman who is here to talk about photography. A content writer by profession, she enjoys writing on a myriad of subjects, including weddings, travel, photography, photo Editing, career improvement, and cooking. She spends her off-work time with family and traveling to explore new places. She presently works for SmartPHOTOeditors as a freelancer.

Why You Should Invest More Time and Money in Your Photography
Photography can be a profession, an art, a hobby or a serious craft when one adds photo editing to the equation. All of these branches of photography as a career require investments. You need a camera, a tripod, lenses and bags to carry the gear with you. But, the investing doesn’t stop there. If you want to develop as a photographer and be able to take pro shots, the entire process will require you to invest more time and money.

If you have ever wondered why you should invest more in your photography, we are here to provide you with some answers. Here are three of them.

It is considered one the most interesting careers
As long as you are committed to the cause, the fact that you got your knowledge through a university, short course, workshop, online course, or through a mentor is not a big deal. Though getting a degree in photography might make it easier for you to start off your career, it is not necessarily the rule.

A career in photography is considered to be among the most interesting ones. When you invest money into it, not only will you be able to get your hands on the latest gear, but you will be able to learn from the recognized experts in the field. What makes this career different than others is that it also significantly leans on artistic talent and creativity. Sparking those always feels incredible.
You will meet a lot of new people and visit amazing places
The social aspect of this career is also important, in terms of meeting new clientele and learning from your college. When you invest money into going to workshops, you will have the opportunity to get feedback from dozens of skilled photographers on what you have to do in order to improve your work. Identifying the grow points for yourself as a photographer is quite difficult. If you are strictly focused on photography and don’t want to be bothered with editing, you might meet people whose photo editing services you can use for some of your shots.

Partnering up with colleagues is also something that follows up when you invest in your photography. Should you decide to learn how to shoot nature and architectural wonders, you will attend workshops around the globe, where you will practice your travel photography skills. As a photographer, you will have the chance to travel around the world.

There will always be a job
There will always be birthdays, weddings and other ceremonies that will require a photographer. By investing time and money, you will have much more experience, thus making your portfolio much better looking and increasing your chances of getting a job.

Furthermore, thanks to the Internet, photographers can sell their photos online via stock photo websites that specialize in this kind of thing. But in order to get your photos to stand out from the other photos on those websites, you will need to know how to make incredibly good shots.

This is something that comes from experience, the will to learn, and time. If you decide to go this way, you should know that post processing helps a lot and can turn an ugly duck of a photo into a beautiful swan. So, if you are not skilled as an editor, you can always consider buying photo editing services.

As you can see, the reasons for investing more time and money in your photography are very compelling. You will learn new skills, get your hands on top-notch gear, make money from either stock photo websites or contracts you sign, etc. As you rise to the top, you will get more experience, gather more contacts, and many doors will open for you, thus providing you with great opportunities for further advancement as a professional photographer.

Friday, February 24, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUDREY AUTHOR?

This blog has been around for nearly seven years. That’s over 1900 blog posts and counting, many of them from guest authors who have stopped by to tell our readers about their lives and their books. Many of you have discovered new authors from reading these guest posts, and we know our guest authors greatly appreciate your support.

Which is why we’re mystified when a guest fails to show up. Luckily this has happened very infrequently over the life of the blog, but when it does, we scramble to fill the slot. Sometimes we have enough time to do so; other times we don't. You, our loyal blog readers, have come to expect a new post each weekday, and we don’t like to disappoint you.

Authors who request a guest slot at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers are asked to send their post at least a week in advance. Two weeks prior to their scheduled date they receive a reminder. Another reminder goes out a week later if we haven’t heard from them.

Such was the case with today’s scheduled guest. What happened to her? Was she taken ill? Was she involved in an accident? Did she, heaven forbid, die suddenly? Or perhaps she lives in an area of the country that's been devastated by storms and floods over the last few weeks. She may be without power or have computer problems. Did she lose her home? Was she evacuated due to a pending flood or landslide? We have no idea since our emails have gone unanswered.

In today’s publishing climate where authors receive so little support from their publishers, our guest authors love the free publicity Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers offers them. So we can only assume the worst about today’s AWOL guest and wish her the best, no matter the circumstances. Hopefully, she'll get in touch with us when she can, and we'll reschedule her guest post.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

#TRAVEL TO VENICE, ITALY WITH GUEST AUTHOR JOANIE MacNEIL

One of the many ships that cruised by our hotel
via the 
Canale di San Marco
Australian romance author, Joanie MacNeil, writes short contemporary romances: a blend of sweet, sexy, heart-warming stories about new love and second chances.  One of her favorite pastimes is travelling with her own romantic hero. Learn more about Joanie and her books at her website.

Venice, Italy, October 2013
I had been to Venice before, very briefly, visiting the usual tourist attractions: a glass-blowing demonstration at the Murano Glass Factory where the beautiful, intricate designs of the softly coloured chandeliers were like nothing I’d ever seen before. Other attractions: St. Mark’s Square and the magnificent Basilica di San Marco; the Doges’ Palace and Bridge of Sighs; also to be enjoyed, a gondola ride complete with serenade along the Grand Canal and into the hidden waterways that wind through the city. Across the water, the conversation and laughter of the gondoliers echoed in the narrow passages, adding to the atmosphere.

This time, we arrived in Venice via a coach tour from Zagreb through Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and the Dalmatian coast. In Venice we did all those touristy things again as part of the coach tour. Our accommodation for two nights was in a monastery converted to a hotel, on the opposite side of the Great Basin to St. Mark’s Square.

The Basin is the body of water where the Grand Canal and Canale della Giudecca flow into Canale di San Marco. On stepping out of the hotel on the first morning, we were mesmerized by the sight of an enormous cruise ship making its way down the Canale della Giudecca. For a moment, the ship appeared to be coming straight at us before following the slight curve in the canal, through the Great Basin and out to sea. Little did we know that watching these ships come and go would become a bit addictive. The stateliness of the modern cruise ships against the grandeur of the ancient Venetian architecture was a sight to behold.

Once we’d left the tour, we transferred to another hotel about a 10-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square, a good choice as our room overlooked the sparkling aqua-blue waters of the Great Basin. This hotel had its own private dock at the back door, which made for a very easy transfer via water taxi. We spent a week in Venice, and each time we walked from our hotel to the busy tourist area, and back again at the end of the day, we battled through the constant crowds over the many small bridges spanning the canals.

I had been to the Rialto Bridge on my previous visit, and wanted to take my husband there. On our daily explorations, we wandered around the narrow streets, taking in the sights and sounds, getting side-tracked and finding interesting eateries and shops, and along the way discovering lovely little courtyards tucked away in quiet areas. We did find the bridge, worth the walk through the narrow crowded maze.
A peaceful place to sit and dream in Venice, Italy 
On the last day, we had time to spare before the water taxi took us to our cruise ship. We wandered in the opposite direction away from the tourist areas and found ourselves in a quiet residential area surrounding a lovely big park, lots of tall trees, and beautiful homes. A pleasant place to sit and relax away from the tourist hubbub. The naval training college, off limits to all but naval personnel, is located beyond the residential area at the end of the island.

One of the highlights of our stay was watching the cruise ships glide past our hotel window, four within 90 minutes on one occasion, on their way out to sea. We would lean out of the window and reach out, feeling that we could almost touch them. An amazing sight. One day as we sat by the water having lunch, we were thrilled to see the ship we were to board next day glide past us on its way to the dock. Probably the fact that the upcoming cruise was my first added to the excitement.

The major waterways of Venice are so cluttered with water taxis, barges, and a range of other craft in between, some such tiny boats. To see the cruise ships amongst much smaller craft dotting and criss-crossing across the basin is a remarkable, if not a breath-holding sight.

We were due to leave Venice at 1.00am, and made the effort to be on deck so that we could see the city by night. I anticipated lots of pretty lights showcasing the pathways and the intrigue of the city itself, but instead, there were few lights, and Venice on the whole was in darkness.

As we waved our goodbyes to Venice, we looked forward to our cruise around the Mediterranean and the new places we’d visit.

Desperate and Dateless
Neither Zoe O’Malley nor Liam Reynolds consider themselves desperate or dateless, but fate intervenes when each independently receives a ticket to the Desperate and Dateless Ball and their lives become irretrievably entangled. Can they live by their golden rule—never mix business with pleasure?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MEET AUTHOR JUNE SHAW'S DYSLEXIC SLEUTH


Mystery author June Shaw lives along a lazy bayou in south Louisiana. She became a young widow with five children, completed a college degree, and started teaching junior high students. Then her deferred dream of becoming a writer took hold. Learn more about June and her books at her website. 

One Twin Sister

Frustration? Mental health issues? Did someone decide they would create a special place for people like me to air out my problems?

My name is Sunny Taylor, not to be confused with my twin Eve Vaughn who looks exactly like me—five foot ten-and-a half without shoes. Eve wears them high. I tend toward lower ones, and mine aren’t so showy. Neither are the clothes I wear or my makeup. Both of us also have red wavy hair and sky blue eyes. We look exactly alike, except she was born with a mole on top of her right breast, and I have a fleck of gold in my eye that looks brighter when I’m happy. Our common love interest, Dave Price, told me about the gold fleck that nobody else seemed to notice. I’ll tell you more about Dave after awhile.

Our mother came up with our names—Sunny for the weather when I come out to greet the world six minutes after my sister Eve, short for Evening, the time of day we were born.

My frustrating years arrived early during my first years of school when I couldn’t keep up with others in reading and getting numbers straight. By the time I reached fourth grade, my teacher gave us the wonderful revelation that I wasn’t stupid. I was dyslexic. The order of words and numbers was more difficult for me than for most others because of my dyslexia. Teachers created special tests for me that made studies not quite so difficult. In the halls, though, I heard two teachers grumbling about needing to do more work for me. Knowing a name for my problem did not stop my peers from saying I was slow.

My favorite teacher who discovered my problem told my family about people with brilliant minds who’d been dyslexic—Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo di Vinci, to name a few. Probably nobody made them special tests or teased them. In the case of twins, normally both have the problem. Disappointment hit me when we discovered my twin did not.

If having that health issue made me feel less intelligent, the one that struck when I was eight almost slaughtered me. My mother and Eve had gone shopping, and I remained home to shoot hoops with Crystal, our teenage sister, in our driveway. Since we live in south Louisiana next to a bayou, swampland separated our house from any others, so nobody else saw when somebody drove past and shot her. I dropped to my knees, calling her name, urging her to wake up. Once I saw the blood and knew she was dead, throbs started in my throat and continued. Sobs struggled to come out, but I realized even then that if I started crying, I would never ever stop.

Instead of letting tears come, I felt thrums emerging. Songs would be better while I waited for help near Crystal. I only knew “Happy Birthday” and some Christmas carols. Hums rolled around in my mouth and came out as “Silent Night.” That may not have made Crystal feel better, but it helped calm me.

That singing or humming Christmas tunes when I was afraid stayed with me. I couldn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. I’ve struggled with that problem for years. With all my counseling, it’s finally gotten better, but not totally.

Now I’m divorced. So is my twin Eve. A major frustration for me is that we care about the same man, only she isn’t aware of my feelings. He’s told me he cares for me. She’s told me she’s certain he’s her soul mate.

Do I hurt her? She’s my sister. My only sister.

A Fatal Romance
In a small town in south Louisiana, the divorced sisters attempt to build their remodeling and repair business when their newest customer drowns beside a seating area they created.  He didn’t just fall in, his wife pushed him, the sister with the eye for detail decides after the wife falls at his funeral, and his ashes fly, some of them landing in this twin’s pocket. Out to prove it and return the ashes, the twins rush ahead and wind up twisted with another death and with threats and as murder suspects. Their mother and her cadre of friends at the retirement home offer advice about murder and romance while the twins rush to find the real killer before their similar looks drop down to one.

Buy Links

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR MARY VINE COOKS UP BURRITOS

Mary Vine is a contemporary romance author who has also published an historical novella and a romantic mystery. She also owns a publishing company and besides self-publishing some of her own works, she’s published two children’s books by author Velma Parker. Learn more about Mary and her books at her website. 

As an author, I have learned that meals in a story can be the setting for conversation that moves the story along, whether it is at a restaurant or a home cooked meal. I think many of us as readers want to know what the characters are cooking and/or eating.

In my twenties and thirties I loved cooking and having friends over for dinner. Weekly, I used to bake whole wheat bread and slice it up for my family’s toast and sandwiches. Nearly every other day, I’d bake some kind of dessert for my skinny self, but shared with others. Since then, the demands of a job and the dream of being a writer would keep me from having any spare thoughts, or energy, for making anything but ordinary meals.  I believed those days of putting a recipe together with joy had vanished some time ago, along with my fabulous metabolism.

With years comes wisdom, I’ve heard, not to mention a freezer and a little more money to stock the shelves. Isn’t it funny how you can put something in the appliance and forget about it the very next week? After you go shopping again, the desired meal-to-be will be buried by other items you have to have and other things you have to remember. So, as the years passed, my main cooking goal was to simply look inside the freezer with new eyes, month by month, and save myself money by eating the contents for lunch or dinner. This is a tricky task despite the fact that to be able to empty a few shelves brings about a feeling of great accomplishment.

Now, years later, I’m in love again. What happened, you say? I retired from my day job. The satisfying return to the kitchen didn’t happen all at once, it took a few months, but I found that just under the surface of my subconscious lied an ability only needing to be stirred up again. Newfound sparks of renewed energy brought it forward.

The desire has come back with other benefits, too. I used to rarely veer off a recipe, not wishing to waste ingredients if my attempt at change failed. Now after I look into the freezer, I might grab a portion of meat, cook it in the crockpot and use the leftovers to invent some new dish, or have several choices of potato recipes as a side dish. I believe a great accomplishment as well.

I still have the desire to eat lots of sweets, but with the years I’ve also learned the bounds of my metabolism and how to work with it, of course some days are better than others. I’ve heard eating vegetarian meals can help, so I give you one my heroine Maya presented to a neighbor in my first published book, Maya’s Gold.

In Maya’s Gold, Maya filled a casserole dish with burritos and took them over to her neighbor, Alice. This is the recipe I was thinking about when I wrote this section of the story.

Maya Valentine’s Burrito Recipe
Makes 12 burritos.

(Burritos, Old El Paso Sun Country Mexican Cookbook)
12 8-inch flour tortillas
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 16-ounce cans Old El Paso Refried Beans
1 large tomato, chopped
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 medium avocado, seeded, peeled, and cut in 12 wedges
Old El Paso Taco Sauce


Wrap stack of tortillas tightly in foil; heat in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Cook onion in hot oil until tender but not brown. Add refried beans; cook and stir till heated through.

Spoon about 1/3 cup bean mixture onto each tortilla near one edge. Top with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado wedge. Fold edge nearest filling up and over filling just until mixture is covered. Fold in two sides, envelope fashion, then roll up. Arrange on baking sheet; bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until heated through.

Pass around the taco sauce.

Maya’s Gold
All famous mystery author Stanton Black wanted was to leave the flashbulbs of Hollywood behind. Hiding out in the wilds of northeast Oregon seemed like the perfect way to get over an attempt on his life while researching his work.

Special education teacher, Maya Valentine was no tour guide. After the death of her parents, Maya has come home for the summer only to have an ailing friend talk her into escorting Stanton around the area. As a pattern of crime around her leads to mystery, her relationship with Stanton turns to thoughts of romance. A romance too impossible to consider.

Buy Links

Monday, February 20, 2017

THE FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS OF #POTTERY WITH GUEST AUTHOR GILIAN BAKER

Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger and ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. See what she’s up to on her website. 

“Sometimes I think throwing pottery is just as frustrating as running an online business,” admits my protagonist, Jade Blackwell. And she’s not wrong. She and I are both online entrepreneurs, so we know firsthand of the frustrations of which we speak. Though I haven’t thrown pottery for many years, it was once my creative passion. And, since there are so many ways for it to all go wrong, it makes perfect fodder for Favorites, Failures and Frustrations.

I loved playing in the mud as a kid. I loved getting my hands dirty while growing organic vegetable as an adult. So why not, I thought, try a pottery class? It started out as just a weekly class, but soon grew into an obsession. For the next seven years, I spent every free moment in a dusty pottery studio and loved it. I still use many of the items I created back then, as do the friends and family with whom I shared them. Even though I’m now too busy writing cozy mysteries to throw pots, I still enjoy the ones I literally created with my bare hands years ago.

That was the “favorites” part. Now, on to the failures. There were many. I would study pictures in pottery magazines thinking, “Heck, I can make that.” This was around the time I learned that nothing ever turns out like the picture. The times when a friend or family member requested a certain item made was when I experienced the biggest failures. I’d want it to be so perfect. The harder I tried, the worse it got. I better understand that concept now—the more “work” you make of something, the harder it’s going to be. When I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of creating, I ended up with something lovely. When I didn’t, well, I didn’t. During my time as a potter, I learned the best way to do anything was to let go of how the final product turned out and just enjoy the process.

Frustrations can easily overshadow the pleasure found in the pottery studio. One reason for this is the many steps required to finish a single piece.

The clay must be thrown, dried, trimmed, glazed and fired, and at any point in the process, it can be wrecked. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? But oh, when you create something beautiful, you forget all about the frustrations and can’t wait to do it all over again. Throwing pottery is a great metaphor for life. If you are as malleable as the clay, you can learn patience and mindfulness. If you don’t…you probably won’t stick with it for long.

Though I started this post with a quote from Jade Blackwell, it’s from the second book in the series, scheduled to be released in May. So technically, Jade isn’t a potter yet, but it fit so perfectly with the topic, I decided to use it anyway.  In the first book, Blogging is Murder, Jade doesn’t have time for anything other than blogging and investigating the murder her friend is suspected of. But during that first case, she remembers there’s more to life than work and is determined to have more fun. In Book Two, she takes up pottery…until another crime needs to be solved.

Blogging is Murder
A Jade Blackwell Mystery

Though she was certainly born with all the traits of a world-class private detective, blogger Jade Blackwell believed she would do nothing more than solve the murders in her latest favorite cozy mystery book.

Set in mountainous southeastern Wyoming, Jade Blackwell lives in a log home in the quaint village of Aspen Falls with her husband Christian and daughter Penelope (Ellie). She left her life as a tenured college English professor at the University of Wyoming four years ago, sick of the bureaucracy, mounds of essays to grade and apathetic students. She turns to blogging and ghostwriting as her new career.

Jade’s promising career as a blogger halts abruptly when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. When the hacker is found dead in her home, Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer, Gabriel Langdon, to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she feels living in the Rocky Mountain hamlet she calls home.

Friday, February 17, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JENNIFER LEEPER

Today literary, mystery, suspense, and thriller author Jennifer Leeper sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about Jennifer and her books at her website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
In high school and college, I had written poetry and short stories, but it wasn’t until after college, in my early to mid-20s when I decided to delve into novel writing.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It wasn’t until my 30s that my first short story was published, followed by a novella and novel, so it was a long time coming!

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m indie published across the board and I love to support indie presses.

Where do you write?
My ideal writing setting is a coffee shop with the perfect level of white noise, however, I usually wind up writing at my kitchen island or laying on my bed.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
In the beginning, I listened to mostly alternative and some contemporary folk/rockabilly music, but eventually I found this distracted me too much so now silence is golden, unless of course we’re talking about the “coffee shop” noise I mentioned above.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I’ve only based on of my characters on someone I know. Most of my characters are developed in my imagination and subconsciously they could be rooted in friends or family, however, at face value they are constructs of how I imagine them to think, act, look and feel.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Either a name pops into my head in a moment of inspiration or I do an online search for unique names and when I’m doing such searches I consider the personalities and backgrounds of my characters to help me match them to the right names.

Real settings or fictional towns?
The southwestern mystery I’m currently working on is a hybrid setting – a mix of real and fiction. Generally, I alternate between real and fictional towns in both my short and longer fiction writing.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
One of my short story characters is a shoe hoarder.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Where do I begin? I can (and have) eaten the same thing (think Chipotle) every day for months at a time.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Because a writer that can humanize a dog who teaches me something new about myself and the world I live in, is my hero in fiction and in real life.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I would have continued on in geology instead of following a boy to a different city/university and earning a journalism degree.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who post too much personal information on social media. I’m a mystery writer. The lives of others should hold some mystery even though it’s possible share everything with everyone these days.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A great book, my laptop and plenty of gummi bears – I live on them when I write. Sugar and creativity seem to go together.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I worked as a mall housekeeper in college. Women’s bathrooms are horrible! 

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
That’s tough. I could list a hundred books, but the one that comes to mind is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Ocean or mountains?
MOUNTAINS. There is no debating with me here. My dream permanent place of residence is Leadville, Colorado – living and writing at 10,000 feet-plus.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City girl unless I’m living in the mountains or on the high plains of Eastern Colorado/Western Kansas.

What’s on the horizon for you?
Other than Border Run and Other Stories being released this month, I’m working on a southwestern mystery/suspense novel that I hope to finish in the next few months.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
Readers can get a free 4-chapter preview of Border Run and Other Stories at BarkingRain Press.

Over at my Twitter feed, I run a Twitter blog called One Question, where I ask authors one question about their writing and post their Q&As, along with anything they want me to promote over at @JenLeeper1.

Border Run and Other Stories
This collection of 14 stories dives headfirst into self-exploration through varying degrees of loss, from two sisters, one widowed, once divorced, who must find their way off a mountain South Korea at night as well as out of the darkness of their relationship with one another, to a boy who has lost his abuela and takes her final request to carefully distribute her house-sized hoard of shoes more seriously than the rest of his family.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LIESE SHERWOOD-FABRE

Awarding-winning author Liese Sherwood-Fabre knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years—in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. She's the author of The Life and Times of Sherlock HolmesLearn more about Liese and her books at her website.

Big Persian Slippers to Fill

When I came across a call for submissions of alternate universe Sherlock Holmes tales for an upcoming anthology, I found the challenge intriguing, but knew it required extra attention. Taking on the task of including an iconic fictional character in a new work involves special care. The stakes are even higher when he is quite well known and a good many people believe he truly lived.

A recent survey in Britain found 20% of respondents identified Sherlock Holmes as an actual, historical figure. And had they been asked, in all likelihood, they would have described him as a rather stuffy, humorless middle-aged man who wore a deerstalker hat and had an even older, pot-bellied friend—far from the detective who appeared in the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, or even the more recent manifestations of the man as a “high-functioning sociopath.”

When he first appeared in A Study in Scarlet, he might have been eccentric (who keeps tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper?), but was only in his twenties and wore a top hat and frock coat. The man’s ability to apply logic and science in solving mysteries, however, lay at the heart of his popularity.

Moving forward with this project, then, meant keeping true to the spirit of the original Holmes, but in a very different sort of world. For the alternate universe, I fell back on a particular fascination of mine: vampires. This would not be my first venture into this world (you can find a free download of my short story “Debate with a Vampire” on my website), but the first involving a known literary figure. Immediately, I saw this world as suiting Sherlock. I’ve never viewed the vampire lifestyle as necessarily evil, but certainly melancholy. A life without sunshine would depress me—and I figured it would intensify Sherlock’s own despondency. In this universe, then, Sherlock might be a vampire, but not a happy one.

The one thing guaranteed to pull him out of a gloomy attitude was a puzzle or mystery to solve. Never interested in the commonplace problem, he was attracted to the case that stumped others. Given vampires’ immortality and powers of rejuvenation, the murder of one would provide the out-of-the-ordinary crime that would appeal to him.

Finally, I added some variations on well-known Sherlockian traits, but with a twist. Vampire Sherlock keeps rats instead of bees.

The resulting short story “The Case of the Tainted Blood” in the anthology Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures provides the twists needed to create the alternate universe, but still provides a recognizable detective ready to solve the improbable, but nevertheless possible, murder of a vampire.

Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures
Welcome back to Baker Street! Holmes and Watson are here to greet you once more spinning amazing tales of murder, mayhem, and mystery with a supernatural twist. This time the great detective and his stalwart companion will venture into alternate universes, histories, and futures to solve puzzling cases of the paranormal far beyond the bounds of imagination.

An Old West town plagued by a legendary beast, a dystopian future where black snow falls on Baker Street, a cyborg Holmes engaged in a psychological game with an ancient enemy, a world-weary Holmes and Watson who must choose between vampiric immortality and oblivion, and a classic noir with dames to kill for are just a few of the strange adventures that await you in Curious Incidents.

Grab your deerstalker and hold on tight! The game is afoot!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

STAYING SAFE ONLINE WITH GUEST AUTHOR MICKI BROWNING

Award-winning debut mystery author Micki Browning is an FBI National Academy graduate who worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. Learn more about Micki at her website. Today Micki stops by with information to help keep us all safe online.

Cyber Safety and Social Media

Few of us get through a single day without electronically transmitting personal information. Think about it.  ATM transactions, emails, Internet searches and purchases, downloads, delivery text alerts—all these transactions send account information across cyberspace. We voluntarily assume risk in exchange for convenience, but with the advent of social media, the amount of personal information we share has increased exponentially. Fortunately, a few extra steps can go a long way to safeguard your privacy and mitigate your risk of becoming a victim of cyber-crime.

Cyber-crime is defined as any illegal activity conducted by means of a computer or the Internet. It’s a huge topic and too broad for a blog post. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on one aspect: social media platforms.

The major risk with social media lies not in the amount of personal information you share, but rather the type. Let’s take a look at your posts. Does Facebook remind your friends of your birthday? Sure, it’s nice to see all the birthday wishes roll in, but birthdates are a critical component of identity theft. Coupled with your hometown, or place of birth, and you’ve provided a trifecta of critical information that can be used against you.

Vacations are exciting! We love to share our travels, but do you announce them prior to embarking? Daily updates confirm you’re still away from home. Burglars use social media, too.

Less obvious reveals abound as well. A person wanting to scam you may use the ploy of a shared interest as a way to build trust, or to track your activities. Even your favorite books, artists, and restaurants provide information that can be harvested by the unscrupulous to exploit you. That forgotten classmate from the high school you attended? He dropped out—from a school three states away and has no idea who you really are, but wants to be your “friend” and rekindle your relationship—for his benefit, not yours.

Why does this happen?
The Internet imparts a sense of anonymity that is absent from face-to-face encounters. People rely on body language signals to help them determine who to trust—and more importantly—who to avoid. It’s easy to discount danger when a person isn’t within striking range, and the Internet fosters a false sense of security. But ask someone who’s been the victim of identity theft or who’s had malicious software infect her computer how disruptive an anonymous crook can be.

What can you do?
Each platform takes steps to enhance your privacy and cyber protection, but it’s up to you to ensure you are using them. Review their policies. Go to the site’s help page for instructions. Be proactive. Systematically click on each link and confirm that the settings you want are the ones you have.

Review the passwords to all your accounts. Passwords should be distinct for each account and include a capitalization, a character and a number. Experts recommend changing passwords every six months. Make it a resolution you keep—twice—every year.

Validate and verify your contacts. Friends, followers and contacts often have access to your email. Scams are rampant. Nigerian princes aren’t so altruistic that they want to share their fortunes with you. Malware is often hidden in email attachments or is activated through a link embedded in the body of the message. If you have any questions about the sender, don’t click on either.

Several social media sites now offer retail opportunities, which means that not only are you sharing your personal data, but your financial info as well. Only provide financial information when you initiate the contact.

It all sounds so dire. My point is not to be paranoid about personal privacy, but informed. “Friends” is a slippery term. It implies someone who is close and cares about you and your activities—someone who looks out for you. On social media, sharing your information with someone only requires a click of a button. Cyber-crimes are often crimes of opportunity. Don’t allow yourself to be an easy target.

Adrift
Marine scientist Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after life in the Arctic, but when a ghost-hunting documentary leader vanishes during a midnight dive, she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue.  Determined to debunk paranormal explanations and salvage her reputation, Mer launches her own investigation. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.