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 18, 2019

AUTHOR INSPIRATION FROM ELIZABETH ZELVIN

Expulsion of the Jews from Spain
Elizabeth Zelvin is the editor of Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology (crimes against women, tales of retribution and healing); she's also author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries and the Mendoza Family Saga, a series of Jewish historical novels and short mysteries. She's been nominated three times each for the Derringer and Agatha Awards for Best Short Story. Today she joins us to discuss where she gets her ideas. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
On one level, I get my ideas from the same place as every other writer: from what I know, what I Google, and the voices in my head. On another, I'm still astonished that since I've been writing mysteries, I've never heard another author say, “I write because I have something to say.” (I was pleased to hear Bradley Cooper tell Lady Gaga that's why she should be writing songs in the new version of A Star Is Born. Yes!) The first Bruce Kohler novel started with a title. I was running a treatment program for homeless alcoholics on the Bowery, and I kept saying, “Someday I’m going to write a mystery and call it Death Will Get You Sober.” I wanted to write about the transformational power of recovery from alcoholism—not just a drunk getting sober, but deep emotional growth—and make it funny. And I did, though not till I quit my day job.

I come from an intellectual New York Jewish family for whom Judaism was bagels and lox and the occasional Seder, and that was it. I never had the slightest interest in writing about it. So imagine my surprise when a young Jewish sailor, Diego, came knocking on the inside of my head in the middle of the night, saying, “Let me out!” I didn't want to get out of bed, but he insisted I tell his story. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, on the same day Columbus set sail, and Diego sailed with them. That's all I knew, so that's how I learned to do research, a skill set I'd avoided all my life. I also became much more knowledgeable about Judaism, especially its social justice agenda, tikkun olam—repairing the world—and passionate about cultural relativism. I didn't get there by “ripping it from the headlines,” but it sure is relevant.

The first short story was a mystery, with Admiral Columbus as the kindly father figure and detective. But I wanted to write more, so I turned to history for my ideas. And history is dark.

I found myself writing not only about the horrors inflicted on the Jews by both Spain and Portugal, but also about the genocide of the Taino in the Caribbean. Diego's sister Rachel was born to accompany Diego on the second voyage because I needed a female character. Becoming a protagonist, perhaps my most beloved character, was her own idea. She sprang to life and stole the show. These days she's solving mysteries in the Sultan's harem in Istanbul in the 1520s and going home to her delightful family at night. The ideas come from the constraints of history, the setting, and the backstory I've set up for the fictional Mendozas in previous work. The fun comes from not having to stick to the biases of the 21st century.  

And so we get to my new anthology, Me Too Short Stories. In thirty-five years in my "other hat" as a therapist, I have heard many, many stories. I used certain things I know to craft a short story, “Never Again”: that parental child molestation may start when the child is a toddler, and that obese women, who may have eating disorders and/or be survivors of sexual trauma, suffer overwhelming shame. As I considered where I might place this story for publication, I realized that not only was it too dark for the traditional mystery markets, including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, but the noir e-zines wouldn't want it because it gave abused children and fat women a voice. Feminist journals? But it was crime fiction. Dark literary looking for something different? That editor doesn't like a happy ending, ie writer can't empower women characters. This story needed a home that didn't exist. I had to create one. And that's my biggest idea so far.

Me Too Short Stories, An Anthology
What do women want? A voice. To be heard. Respect. To be believed. Justice. To be both safe and free. The women in these stories have daughters, sisters, friends. The minister worries about her parishioners. The banshee worries about the Hippocratic Oath. The microbiologist worries about her obligation to the dead. They will use any means to protect themselves and those they love: a childish jingle, a skillet full of cornbread, a candle, their own quick wits. We cannot ignore their voices.



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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CRANBERRY BANANA ZUCCHINI BREAD

Last week I offered a recipe for Apricot Applesauce Zucchini Bread. Today I’ve altered the recipe, substituting bananas for the applesauce, cranberries for the apricots, and walnuts for the pecans.

Cranberry Banana Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1/2  teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (from about 2 medium/large bananas)
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini, laid loosely in cup and not packed (don’t wring out)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 1 4” x 8” loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.

Soak cranberries in a bowl of water. Set aside.

To a large bowl, add the first six ingredients, whisking to combine.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to bowl, stirring to combine. 

Drain cranberries. Stir together the bananas, zucchini, cranberries, and pecans. Stir to combine with other ingredients.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Back 1 hr. or until top spring back.

Allow to cool before slicing and serving serving.

Monday, September 16, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GRAFFITI COMES OF AGE

Street Art
Graffiti dates back to ancient times, prior to written language. The word “graffiti” is derived from the Italian “graffito”, which means “a scratch.” Graffiti can be found etched into the stones of walls and monuments in ancient Greek and Roman cities. The Alexamenos graffito, graffiti purported to be the earliest known image of Christ, was carved into the wall of a room outside Rome sometime around 200 AD. In the 9th century Viking mercenaries scratched graffiti into stone at the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

Graffiti Tags
Modern graffiti, the kind we associate with spray cans and gangs, first sprang up in the early 1960s in Philadelphia and quickly spread to New York City, covering subway trains, inside and out with what were known as “tags”. Tagging quickly became competitive with the graffiti artists trying to outdo each other with multi-colored, stylized tags, moving from subway cars to buildings, bridges, and even rock formations.

Banksy's Girl with Balloon
However, in the 1970’s graffiti began transforming from gang tags to street art when it became part of the hip-hop subculture, beginning in The Bronx. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were instrumental in bringing graffiti mainstream and moving it from the streets into art galleries. Today the elusive Bansky is carrying on what they started. Nowadays, instead of painting over graffiti, many major cities are commissioning artists to decorate the sides of buildings.

The old form of graffiti never truly died, though. It’s alive and well inside public restroom stalls were you often find crude commentary scratched into the paint of the metal doors. Normally these messages are of the “For a good time call…” variety but not always. The other day I found myself in need of a visit to the ladies’ restroom in Penn Station, Newark. This is what I saw in the stall I stepped into.

"Learn Proper Grammar" bathroom stall graffiti

(And yes, this is the first time I’ve ever whipped out my phone to snap a picture in a public restroom, but can you blame me?)

Friday, September 13, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--INTERVIEW WITH ROMANTIC SUSPENSE AUTHOR MICHELLE FERNANDEZ

Today we sit down for a chat with romantic suspense author Michelle Fernandez. Learn more about Michelle and her books at her website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’ve always wanted to write ever since I got my first diary from my aunt when I was seven. I wrote in it as if I was writing a story about my life and now as an adult, I’ve got a world of people dying to get out of my head and introduce themselves.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I am a person that has always struggled with self-confidence. Growing up, I’ve had people judge me for the wrong reasons, put me down and there was a point in my life I believed I could never be anything…until I met my husband. We met at work and immediately became office Best Buddies. He encouraged me, told me I can do and be anything if I truly believe in myself and ignore all the negativity.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Indie-published

Where do you write?
I write on my dining table, in bed or on the couch.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Silence is Golden! I don’t like music or any background noise.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
My characters are bits and pieces of people I surround myself with. As for the plot…my mind is a crazy circus (my husband says) and I plot ideas from everything I interact with. My heroines are a part of me or maybe an alter-ego that I wish I could be. As for my heroes, my husband is a big part of them.

Describe your process for naming your character?
When naming my main characters, I make an inspiration board of their face and their characteristics. Then I start to throw names and see what sticks. And there are other characters that I will use my friends and family’s names (store clerk, little girl across the hall, receptionist) only because I know I can and they love to see their names in my book.

Real settings or fictional towns?
In my debut novel, it takes place in a real setting. However, there will be fictional places within the setting. For example, in the City of San Francisco, there is a pub that is fictional, The Tipsy Turtle or in the Bahamas there is a fictional club, The Atlas.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Chloe Channing, rambles and blurts out words when she’s nervous, like “Jimminy Christmas” when she was startled.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I can fall asleep very quickly, less than two minutes. Give me a pillow, a comfy couch, when I’m a passenger in a car, there is no doubt I will go to sleep. My husband says that I fall asleep in mid-sentence.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I could do high school again. I was so naïve, made friends and enemies. I had a blast just being a kid.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
A dirty kitchen and bathroom! Yuck!

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A flint stone, a machete/large knife and a pot  

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
A receptionist at a textile warehouse. My boss was a meanie!

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
This is a hard one to answer…I guess the only way I can answer this, what book tugged at my heart strings? It was the duet, Consolation and Continuation by Corrine Michaels. I’ve read many books, emotional ones and that duet made me cry.

Ocean or mountains?
I love the ocean and the beach scene

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I grew up near a city and love it (sometimes). But I would like to be a country girl

What’s on the horizon for you?
My debut novel, Till I found You releases September 3rd and I am currently working on book 2, Till I Tempt You in this series and my projected date of release for Book 2 is Spring 2020. Then there is Book 3, Till I Claim You (Fall 2020) and Book 4, Till I Return to You (Winter 2020), then the final I Found You (early 2021). Then I have plans to work on another series that I’ve planted seeds throughout this series.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I hope that my books give readers the ‘feels’; pulls at their heart strings, makes them laugh and angry at my characters all the same time, because if it does, I’ve done my job. And when the reader has finally read the HEA, I’d like them to drop me a note via FB, IG or my email and let me know their thoughts…and if they truly liked it, a review on GR and Amazon is greatly appreciated.

I was recently announced the finalist for the 2019 Best Blurb Contest in The Emerald City / Greatly Seattle RWA. It’s such an honor and an exciting place to be even if I don’t win the grand prize. Just this accomplishment alone proves a new author like me is capable of anything. All they need to do is just believe in themselves, see the vision and go after it. If I can do this, so can anyone else.

Till I Found You
The Broken Hero Series, Book 1
 
Julian “Booker” Cruz, former Navy SEAL, joined an elite security ops agency with one goal in mind: to forget his past. With the overload of work, there’s no time for romance, nor does he want it. His rule—don’t mix business with pleasure. Until one assignment puts that rule to the test. Chloe Channing is not to discover his undercover role as her protective detail from an unknown psychopath. But as their days pass together in tropical paradise, it becomes difficult to keep his desire from compromising everything. Including her safety.

All Chloe wants is to remember, but so much of her memory was lost after her assailant left her unconscious. On a summer trip with friends at her family’s estate in the Bahamas, she yearns for the quiet respite from a previous heartbreak and her tortured nightmares. She never expects a man like Julian to help her find emotional peace and physical healing. But as she falls deeper, her flashbacks slowly come together, and they include glimpses of one handsome, mysterious, yet all-too-familiar face: Julian’s.

Is Chloe’s mind playing tricks on her again… or has she met this man before?

Even if Julian could let go and risk it all, could he ever forgive himself enough to fall in love again?

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

GUEST AUTHOR KAREN CHRISTINO RECREATES 1926 NEW YORK CITY IN HER NEW MYSTERY SERIES FEATURING FAMOUS AMERICAN ASTROLOGER EVANGELINE ADAMS

Karen Christino recreates New York City in 1926 in her first novel, The Precious Pachyderm: An Evangeline Adams Mystery. Karen has also written horoscopes for Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire magazines, and seven books about astrology. To learn more about Karen and her books visit her website.

History for a Mystery
I easily lose myself in historical research, as it transports me back to a lost time. I had read many histories of the 1920s to write my biography of the famous American Astrologer Evangeline Adams. But when I decided to write a mystery novel about her, I knew I had to bring the period to life in a more vibrant way.


I’d already read too many mysteries set in the ‘20s featuring stereotypical mobsters and molls. Others made little attempt to capture the period. How might I bring real people to life while conveying to the reader the texture and feel of this long-ago time? My many office day jobs suggested I center the book round the astrologer’s office and her assistants. I expected I’d need to read more books, but I soon learned that my best sources were elsewhere.

My first real job had been working for an old film production company. They’d held onto their vintage switchboard for decades, and I was taught how to use it. I worked it into the plot since it would’ve been a key component of office communications – phones didn’t even have dials in 1926, the time I’d chosen to set my story.


I may have also been in the last generation to learn typing on a manual machine. Typewriters looked very different 100 years ago, but when I learned to type in high school, their operation, with carbon paper and few remedies for errors, was essentially the same. And I also remembered my brother’s retro-style candlestick phone, which had always been difficult for me to use – requiring two hands! But that was helpful, too.

As luck would have it, I discovered that my current job’s building had been built in 1927 – with many period fixtures of the time remaining. We’ve probably all gone through a revolving door – which I’m still never totally comfortable with. And the occasionally problematic elevator service would offer me an opportunity to ride the vintage freight elevator. I’d always been curious about it, but I now had an excuse to engage the operator and observe the mechanics.

I began to realize how many remnants of the past were still with us. Evangeline Adams’ offices adjoined the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City. When I visited, an archivist took me to a suite that was similar to hers. There’s nothing like seeing a space first-hand, and the turn-of-the-century building had 12-foot ceilings with high and wide windows all around – like nothing I’d ever seen before.

And Central Park – where I knew Adams often walked her Pekinese dogs – was just a few blocks away. While contemporary autos and buses whizzed by, I could see that the Park itself and many of the nearby buildings were virtually the same when Evangeline had settled there over 100 years before.

My research eventually turned online for books, magazines and old films from the time. But my personal experiences had been the most helpful in convincing me that yes, we could reclaim the past!

The Precious Pachyderm
An Evangeline Adams Mystery, Book 1

Manhattan, 1926. A wealthy businessman found dead. A priceless elephant figurine gone missing. And famous astrologer Evangeline Adams is a primary suspect. To save their jobs, Adams’ assistants Mary Adler and Clara Cosentino investigate the astrologer’s classy clients, oddball employees and offbeat associates to help discover who really committed the crime. And Evangeline solves her first case with the help of astrology in this funny, fast-paced whodunit.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--APRICOT APPLESAUCE ZUCCHINI BREAD

I recently took a two-week vacation and came home to find my garden overrun with ginormous zucchini. So I cranked up the air-conditioning, and in the middle of a summer heat wave I spent the afternoon baking loaves of zucchini bread. Here’s one of the recipes. Check back next week for another.

Apricot Applesauce Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1/2  teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini, laid loosely in cup and not packed (don’t wring out)
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 1 4” x 8” loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.

Soak chopped apricots in a bowl of water. Set aside.

To a large bowl, add the first six ingredients, whisking to combine.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to bowl, stirring to combine. 

Drain apricots. Stir together the applesauce, zucchini, apricots, and walnuts. Stir to combine with other ingredients.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Back 1 hr. or until top spring back.

Allow to cool before slicing and serving serving.