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 19, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--EXTRA CREAMY MAC AND CHEESE

Extra Creamy Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is a staple at Anastasia’s house. What kid doesn’t like mac and cheese? Plus, it’s not only easy to make, it’s easy on the budget. And as we all know, thanks to Dead Louse of a Spouse, Anastasia needs to keep an eagle eye on her budget.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups dry pasta (elbow macaroni, shells, fusilli, penne, cavatelli, rotini, gemelli, etc.)
salt
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup shredded havarti
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 T. chopped parsley

Optional: 1 cup cooked and cubed chicken or ham, cooked and crumbled bacon, or cooked ground beef, chicken, or turkey.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 2-qut. casserole dish

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add sprinkling of salt and pasta. Cook pasta to al dente according to time on package.

While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a skillet or pot large enough to hold all ingredients after cooking. Add flour, whisking over medium heat 1-2 minutes until lightly browned.

Add milk and whisk to remove lumps. Cook over medium-high heat until sauce thickens and begins to bubble.

Whisk in cheese until smooth and melted.

When pasta has finished cooking, drain and add to sauce. Fold in optional meat.

Pour into casserole. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parsley. Bake 20-25 minutes until mac and cheese is browned and bubbly.

Monday, February 18, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--YARN BOMBING REDUX

Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about yarn bombing, non-permanent street art installations created by knitters and crocheters. It’s been seven years since I came across any yarn bombing. So imagine my surprise the other day when I discovered a yarn bombed metal pole while out walking!

Is yarn bombing art or vandalism? Depends on whom you ask. But seeing this rainbow-covered pole on a gloomy winter day when a snowstorm is on the way certainly put a smile on my face.

Friday, February 15, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON ON MEETING READERS' EXPECTATIONS


Meeting Readers’ Expectations—Or Not
In a few weeks I’ll be celebrating the thirteenth anniversary of the release of Talk Gertie To Me, the first novel I ever sold. Shortly after the book came out someone posted a review on Amazon that she titled “Talk Disappointing To Me.” Why? I hadn’t met her expectations as a reader. “Contemporary Romance” was printed on the spine of the book. The back cover copy emphasized the romance that takes place between one of the main characters and what is actually a secondary character in the book. The reader expected a book that fell squarely into the romance genre. What she got was women’s fiction with a chick lit edge to it. She was disappointed, and although I was unhappy to see a negative review of my baby, I understood her disappointment.
The original cover
from the book's release in 2006

In a romance the two main characters are the hero and heroine. In Talk Gertie To Me the two main characters are a mother and daughter. There is romance in the book. Actually, there are two romances, one that involves the mother and the other that involves the daughter, but the romances are subplots. The main story is about the relationship between the mother and daughter. It’s a comical tale of the tug-of-war that ensues when a daughter severs the apron strings and her mother is faced with empty nest syndrome.

So why was Talk Gertie To Me being sold as a romance? I can’t answer that. Authors, especially first time authors, have no control over the business decisions made by their publishers. Given that at the time my publisher also had a chick lit line, chick lit was the genre du jour, and they even featured a quote on the cover from another chick lit author, it never made any sense to me to market my book as a contemporary romance. I was totally shocked by their decision. Whether it hurt sales of the book, I’ll never know. The majority of reviews the book has received are positive, but there were other readers whose expectations I didn’t meet. They wanted more Nori and Mac, less of Connie and her adventures in New York. However, most did like other aspects of the book. Even the author of “Talk Disappointing To Me” gave the book 3 out of 5 stars.

Three-and-a-half years and a romantic suspense later, I sold Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. I wrote the book as a humorous amateur sleuth mystery, not a cozy mystery, because the Mafia loan shark in the book uses language appropriate to a Mafia loan shark. My editor didn’t ask me to refrain from using colorful language or employ euphemisms. So imagine my surprise when a year later I saw the book previewed on their website, not in the Amateur Sleuth category but in the Cozy Mystery category! It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say.

When I asked my editor why the book was listed as a cozy, she replied that cozies sell better. The problem, though, is that cozy readers have certain expectations, and one of them is that they won’t find any foul language in cozy books. So once again, I received some negative reviews, this time concerning a character’s limited use of words generally not uttered in polite company.

There are now seven Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery novels and three novellas with an eighth novel in the works. I’ve always been of the mind that a word is just a word; it’s the meaning that’s important. But not everyone feels that way, and as an author I don’t want to alienate a segment of my readership. So I eventually decided to bow to the pressure placed on me by some of my readers and now employ euphemisms. I learned a long time ago that in life it’s best to choose your battles, and this was one that wasn’t worth fighting.

Talk Gertie To Me
Two years ago Nori Stedworth fled the conservative mentality of both her parents and Ten Commandments, Iowa, for Manhattan. She loves her new life -- until one devastating afternoon that culminates with the arrival of her mother. Mom is suffering from middle-age meltdown. Her only identity is as a wife and mother, but her husband is a workaholic, and her daughter is halfway across the country. Grandchildren would give her life new purpose. If only Nori would come to her senses and marry town mortician and most eligible bachelor Eugene Draymore.

To that end, Mom sets off to bring Nori home. But when she meets Nori’s neighbor, her plans take an unexpected twist, and she’s thrust headfirst into a career as the next Martha Stewart. Suddenly, she’s a somebody in her own right and reconsiders returning to her old life.

As a coping mechanism, Nori resurrects Gertie, her adolescent imaginary friend. A laptop mix-up lands her musings in the hands of Mackenzie Randolph, a talk-radio station manager on deadline to boost sagging ratings or lose his job. He knows he’s found the answer to his prayers when he reads Nori’s make-believe correspondence.

And maybe he’s found much more.

Meanwhile Dad, with Eugene in tow, comes in search of his AWOL wife. Tempers flare when Mom refuses to return home. However, when she and Dad hear Nori on the radio, they unite to “save” her from the corruption of both Mac and Manhattan.

And that’s when things really get interesting.

Buy Links

Thursday, February 14, 2019

IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES...THE WORST OF TIMES FOR AUTHOR KELLI A. WILKINS' TORTURED HERO

Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 100 short stories, 19 romance novels, 5 nonfiction books, and an online writing course. Her romances span many genres and heat levels, and she’s also been known to scare readers with her horror stories.

Today, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Lord Sebestyen Adrik, the hero from Kelli’s Gothic historical romance, Redemption from a Dark Past, shares a few of his best and worst experiences. Learn more about Kelli and her books on her website and blog.

A Tortured Hero Speaks…
My author, Kelli A. Wilkins, has encouraged me to talk about a few of my personal best and worst moments in Redemption from a Dark Past. There were plenty, but I’ve chosen the most memorable ones to share today.

The “worst” moment for me occurred before the book even started, and it set the stage for everything that was to come. Lady Alzabeta Adrik and I didn’t have a happy or a romantic marriage. (I discovered that she was being unfaithful with one of my close friends, and she never really loved me.) We quarreled often, and during one of those infamous arguments, she died. I was accused of her murder.

Needless to say, my reputation (and my life in general) was ruined by the accusation. To compensate—and to punish myself—I withdrew from the world and lived with the guilt of what I had done for years. It was a very lonely, miserable time in my life. I was at my lowest point and had thought about giving up entirely.

But then a “best” moment happened. Katarina came to my castle and agreed to be my companion. She was a ray of sunshine in my gloomy existence. I have to give her credit for being persistent. When we first met, I was grouchy, difficult to talk to, moody, and not very good company to such a lovely young lady. But over the course of the book, she captured my heart and I learned to love and trust again.

Of course, Kelli had to add a few other “worst” or “troubling” events in the book. One of the “worst” moments for me happened toward the end of the story, when Katarina was taken from the castle by my sworn enemy. She was nearly killed—but not for something she had done. No. This fiend wanted to kill her to punish me and make me suffer.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but Katarina suffered greatly just by being associated with me. My reputation as a madman, murderer, and worse was known throughout the kingdom. It was disheartening to know that people hated her and judged her for being my companion. At one point, I told her that she should leave because she would be better off without me.

But Katarina refused to leave and stayed loyal to me throughout the book. When I realized that she didn’t care what people thought about me or her, I was thrilled. Those scenes were some of the best for me. She took me out of my dark despair and helped me heal.

So when I’m asked what the “best” thing about our story is, I have to say: “That I found the true love of my life in Katarina.” Yes, we had to go through some trials and troubles, but in the end she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. We overcame the “worst” together.

Kelli did a great job of creating a moody, Gothic atmosphere and blending mystery and suspense with our romance.

Redemption from a Dark Past
Lord Sebestyen Adrik has an unsavory reputation as a madman, murderer… and worse. Lonely and searching for love, he seeks the companionship of local young women, hoping one of them will ease his torment and bring him the happiness he longs for. Katarina is his last chance—but will she fear him like all the others? Or is she the one who can lift his curse?

Desperate to avoid a forced marriage, Katarina agrees to become Lord Adrik’s latest companion, despite the rumors she has heard about him. She discovers the “Dark Lord’s” secret past and realizes he’s not the monster everyone thinks he is.

As their love blossoms, she renews his passion for life—yet they cannot escape the ghosts of the past.

When a meeting of the nobility goes horribly wrong, Sebestyen’s world unravels, and his enemies plot to destroy him. As all seems lost, a mysterious stranger arrives at the castle. Sebestyen must decide if he is a friend or a foe…and if he can find redemption in his love for Katarina, or lose her and everything else that he holds dear.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

AUTHOR J.A. KAZIMER ON THE BEST AND WORST OF FAIRYTALE HAPPILY EVER AFTERS

We’re continuing with our new Best of/Worst of feature today with author J.A. Kazimer. When she isn't looking for a place to hide the bodies, she devotes her time to playing with a pup named Killer. Other hobbies include murdering houseplants. She spent a few years stalking people while working as a private investigator before transitioning to the moniker of WRITER and penning over 15 titles. Learn more about her and her books at her website

Top 3 Best/Worst of Fairytale Happily Ever Afters

So excited to do a Best/Worst of post, especially on something so near and dear to my heart – Fairytales. Thanks for the opportunity!

Happily ever after is what fairytales, and hopefully life, are all about. But some fairytales leave me questioning just how lucky these princesses or in some cases, princes might be.

Best of:
3. Cinderella—Prince Charming is worth a busted heel or two, for the size of his…palace.

2. The Frog Prince—The princess is willing to get her hands, or in her case, her lips a little dirty in order to find her happily ever after. So what if he smells like pond water? She’s my kind of girl.

1. The Ugly Duckling—Chances are, you’ve dreamed about heading back to your high school reunion, dressed to kill, and showing all those ducks just how swan-like you’ve become. I know I have.

Honorable mention:
Rapunzel—What woman has time to style hair that long every morning?

Worst of:
3. Little Red Riding Hood—While she very well might’ve lived happily ever after, how does one un-see dear old granny half-digested by a wolf? Let alone ever venture outside again?

2. Rumpelstiltskin—He just wants a child of his own. And really, does the deceitful miller’s daughter genuinely deserve her babe after making such a promise? Child Protective Services should, at the very least, be checking in to make sure she hasn’t pledged away any of her other offspring.

1. The Princess and the Pea—Talk about terrible mothers-in-law. I don’t care how great the prince is. He’s not worth spending the night tossing and turning because his mother has trust issues. Add in the fact, he only marries the princess because she has sensitive skin. Awkward once he finds out she isn’t really royalty but uses a really good moisturizer. 

Honorable mentions: 
The Little Mermaid—She opts to give up her life under the sea to live with the prince who isn’t smart enough not to fall into the ocean in the first place.

Snow White—She ends up living happily ever after with a basic stranger who kisses random women in comas. I have a sneaking suspicion he either winds up in jail or she learns how to bake poisoned apple pies from the Evil Queen.

What are some of the best or worst fairytale romances you’ve read?

CUFFED: A Detective Goldie Locks Mystery
Detective Goldie Locks isn’t looking for just the right bed. Or any bed for that matter. 

She’s on the hunt for a killer. 

When she discovers the fingerprints of a once-upon-a-time lover, a man who jumped over a candlestick and out a window to leave her facing some serious trespassing trouble alone, at a crime scene, she vows to see him in handcuffs. 

Jack B. Nimble has other ideas. 

He threatens her adoptive family if Goldie doesn’t help him clear his villainous name, much to the chagrin of her current boyfriend and quite possibly the next mayor, Beau White, the fairest man in all the land. 

Trying to prove his innocence turns out to be harder than she expected, especially when Jack refuses to aid in his defense, and instead, starts a campaign to ‘win’ her back. Goldie might be a blond, but she’s far from dumb enough to fall for his charms a second time. 

Or so she tells herself every time his lips meet hers.

The deeper she plows into the rabbit hole and Jack’s soul, the more she learns about his motives for returning to the city—Destroying her perfectly crafted life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CHERRY VALENTINE CUPCAKES

Valentine’s Day is two days away. Why not surprise your sweetie with some yummy sweet cherry cupcakes?

Valentine Cupcakes
Yield: 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:
Cupcakes:
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup maraschino cherry juice
1/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Frosting:
3 T. flour
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 T. maraschino cherry juice
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
red and white sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with cupcake liners.

Reserve cherry juice, then finely chop the cherries. Drain chopped cherries by placing in a bowl lined with paper towels.

In a small bowl stir together cherry juice, milk, and vanilla extract.

In a second bowl sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In stand mixer beat egg whites into stiff peaks.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed in stand mixer. Add cherry juice/milk/vanilla mixture and continue beating until well blended. Mix in flour mixture. Fold in chopped cherries and chocolate chips, then fold in beaten egg whites.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling each about 3/4 full.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched in center. Remove from muffin pans to cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.

To make frosting, blend together flour and milk, adding milk to flour slowly. Beat out any lumps. 

Pour into saucepan and cook on low heat, stirring continually, until thick. Set aside to cool.

When flour/milk mixture is cool, add vanilla and cherry juice.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add flour/milk mixture, beating on high until frosting is fluffy.

Ice cupcakes. Decorate with red and white sprinkles.

Monday, February 11, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON'S FAVORITE #VALENTINE CROSS STITCH DESIGN

Those of you who follow this blog know that I spring from the imagination of author Lois Winston, who has had a long career as a designer in the crafts industry. (Is it any wonder she made me a crafts editor? Write what you know, right?)

Anyway with Valentine’s Day coming up, I asked Lois to stop by to share with us one of her favorite Valentine’s Day designs. This heart and floral piece appeared in The Cross Stitcher magazine fifteen years ago.