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.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LINDA CARROLL-BRADD

Historical romance author Linda Carroll-Bradd has widespread interests ranging from baking and crocheting to watching dog agility matches and reading thrillers by Swedish authors. Today she joins us to talk about a holiday story that almost went awry. Learn more about her and her books at her blog

Holiday Story Almost Gone Awry
I love writing romances set in the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition to the simpler lifestyle with fewer possessions and people needing to work together to put food on the table and clothes on back, new innovations happened every day. American society was an unobstructed melting pot during those decades. People from so many different countries comprised the citizens of towns of all sizes. (As has been traced by family genealogists, my ancestors on both paternal and maternal side arrived from Scandinavian and Ireland in the early 1800s. But I like to include some creature comforts so my stories usually occur after the Civil War.) The majority of the historical romances I write are set in small towns and usually one of the characters is first or second generation from a European country. I then delve into the ethnic customs of that country so I can include an interesting tidbit.

In A Vow for Christmas, my most recent novella, set in 1872 Gunnison City, Colorado, the only requirements were that the story takes place at Christmas time and that the heroine be a spinster mail-order bride. I made her of Scottish descent and researched foods, wedding customs, literature, songs, the plaid associated with her last name, etc. To build on the fish-out-of-water trope, I wrote her as introducing foods to the hero sheep rancher, like neeps (turnips), mince and tatties (seasoned beef and potatoes), and clootie dumpling (steamed pudding).

More than halfway through writing my story (with a looming preorder deadline), the plot approached preparations for the Christmas holiday. So I switched gears and went into research mode. Only to discover (to my great embarrassment) that the Scots hadn’t celebrated what they called Christ’s Mass since 1647. In Oliver Cromwell’s rule, Parliament in the United Kingdom had placed a ban against the celebration. Although the ban lasted only 15 years in Britain, the Scots maintained it until the late 1950s. Yikes!

Thankfully, I’ve been a writer long enough not to waste time in too long of a panic, and I pivoted. Instead of her bringing her holiday traditions to the family, she turned to the widower and his two small children. They share their traditions, and she finally learns about what she had always felt left out of while growing up around other children who celebrated the holiday. A save! Definitely I learned the lesson of making sure to do research on the critical elements before writing. Still, I’m very pleased with how the story turned out. I hope readers agree.

A Vow for Christmas 
Spinster Mail-Order Brides, Book 7

Vika Carmichael hopes a mail-order marriage to a Colorado rancher with small children will provide much-needed security. What she yearns for is a love match. But her new husband Chad seems set in his ways, including his devotion to his late wife. Will this family of three embrace her, or has she made the worse choice possible?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

FAMILY TRADITIONS WITH SUSPENSE AUTHOR DONNELL ANN BELL

When Donnell Ann Bell isn’t playing games (or reading a book) she’s hard at work on book two of her recently released Cold Case Suspense series. She began her writing career at the Colorado Springs Business Journal and Pikes Peak Parent Newsmagazine before turning to fiction. An award-winning author, including a two-time Golden Heart finalist, her books have been Amazon digital bestsellers. Black Pearl is her latest release. Learn more about Donnell and her books at her website

Family Traditions Come In All Kinds
When Lois invited me to blog about family holiday traditions, I almost passed. I come from a middle-class family where both parents worked full time, my dad traveled as part of his job, and the holidays often ran together between the hustle and bustle of preparation and the harried return of the workweek.

As I sat back and thought about what I could possibly share, I did recall something (not a holiday tradition necessarily), my recollections are more like every day of the week activities. We may have been an on-the-go, schedule-heavy family, but upon entering our house, you could count on three things: love, laughter, and somewhere on the premises, one or all of us were playing a game.

Whether it was chess, Scrabble, Twister, Volleyball, Monopoly, Clue, every card game on the planet, puzzles, charades, the list goes on, a competition was brewing. And what was really amazing was our love of games went from a family-sharing event to a friend-sharing event. Our house was constantly filled with people who just dropped by to see what was shakin’ at the Barnes’ house.

I can honestly say I don’t remember being bored. I also don’t remember a whole lot of privacy either.

But as I contemplate further, I realize game playing might in fact BE a family tradition. When I married and had kids of my own, guess what came naturally? You could count on love, laughter, and somewhere in the house a competition was brewing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Black Pearl
A Cold Case Suspense

A cold case heats up when a 9-1-1 call puts police at a Denver murder scene pointing investigators to the abduction of a Colorado teenager fourteen years before. The connection? A calling card—a single black pearl—is found on the newest victim. Is the murder a copycat? Or has a twisted serial killer, thought dead or in prison, returned to kill again?

The hunt for a multi-state killer is on and brings together an unexpected team: a Denver Major Crimes police lieutenant; an FBI special agent who investigated the previous murders, a rookie FBI agent with a specialty in psychology; and the only living victim of the Black Pearl Killer is now a cop.

For Special Agent Brian DiPietro, the case is an opportunity to find answers. For Officer Allison Shannon, the case will force her to face down the town that blamed her for surviving when another did not. And for both DiPietro and Shannon, it’s a chance to find closure to questions that have tormented them both for years.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY ON A WEDNESDAY--EIGHT COWBOY-LOVING ROMANCE AUTHORS

Today for Book Club Friday we’re featuring an anthology of cowboy romances. We sat down with the six contributing authors to ask why they write western romances. Here’s what they had to say on the subject:

I write western romance because I've always had a fascination with cowboys. I married one. I just don't think there's a man who works harder or loves harder than a cowboy.

I grew up with two amazing young men who spent their summers on ranches working as cowboys and ridging the trails. Their stories inspired me to write about men like them. And who doesn't adore a good love story? I believe that we need more happily-ever-afters in a world filled with angst and drama.

My love for cowboys—and horses—defies logic. The only claim my parents had to the cowboy life was that my father briefly rented a boat slip three or four spaces down from Roy Rogers' yacht. But I became infatuated with cowboys because a) they had horses and b) they saved the world time and again. When I got older, and met real cowboys working on a Texas dude ranch, I realized that they were just as solid and dependable as the fictional cowboys I used to cherish, and writing their love stories became another facet of a lifelong passion.

My dad was a cowboy who worked as a ranch foreman. I often had a secret crush on his summer hired help as a young girl. Love a man in jeans! He taught me the importance of honesty, respecting others, lived by the good book, played harmonica with my mother on piano and was strong as an ox. I consider myself lucky to be a part of a cowboy’s life.

I was born loving horses, a ranch kid trapped in a city girl’s body. It took me twelve years to convince my parents I needed a horse of my own. I developed a lifelong love of rodeo when I married my own hot cowboy. The Bronc Rider and I traveled throughout the Northwest while I ran barrels and my cowboy rode bucking horses. I began writing to put a realistic view of rodeo and ranching into western romance. 

Cowboy bred, born and will die! Grew up with my parents running a dude string in Colorado (summers) and Arizona (winters). My mom was a city kid who always loved horses. My dad was the real deal--he broke horses the old-fashioned way--by bucking them out--when I was a baby. He roped calves like a pro, and had aspirations that way, but a growing family prohibited life on the road. He taught me to ride when I was three years old and break (gentle) my first horse when I was eleven. Later, he worked on cattle ranches and instilled his love of ranching in me. 

A Cowboy Under the Mistletoe
Christmas has always been a time for romance and love. Join six amazing and bestselling authors of western romance as they weave the sexiest cowboys into the holiday season. 

What are you wishing for this Christmas? How about a Cowboy!

Stories in the anthology include:

“A Cowboy for Christmas” by Susan Fisher Davis 
When Reid decides he needs to do one last thing to honor his best friend, will Lucy, his best friend’s widow, understand or say goodbye to the cowboy she got for Christmas.

“The Cowboy’s Christmas Hand” by Leslie Garcia 
Ty Olivares grew up cherished and surrounded by luxury--and lies she didn’t discover until her ex inherited the ranch that should have been hers. 

“Tempting the Cowboy” by Melissa Keir  
Johnson and Debra must trust in their love and rely on each other, because when temptation comes calling, only the strong will survive.

“A Different Kind of Gift” by Debbie Desmarteau 
Will a chance meeting between a forlorn cowboy and a woman who gave up her dreams a long time ago lead to love or just another set of broken hearts?

“Saving a Cowboy’s Christmas” by Stephanie Berget 
Gina’s been a lot of things but rebound girl isn’t the next on her list… even for a cowboy that’s always been out of her league.

“Noah’s Christmas Faith” by D'Ann Lindun 
Faith Cortland has to protect her teenage sisters left in her care, so she refuses to let any man get close. Will Noah Carpenter be able to break down her defenses and show her she can trust him?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CAJUN THANKSGIVING TURKEY WITH AUTHOR JODI RATH

Moving into her second decade working in education, Jodi Rath has decided to begin a life of crime in The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series. Her passion for both mysteries and education led her to combine the two to create her business MYS ED, where she splits her time between working as an adjunct for Ohio teachers, educational writing, marketing consultant work with authors, and creating mischief in her fictional writing. She currently resides in a small, cozy village in Ohio with her husband and her eight cats. Learn more about Jodi and her books at her website. 

Biting Off More than we can Chew on the Holiday, Best Laid Plans, and Other Idioms
I’ll be the first to admit that I like to do those cute memes about happy holidays on social media. For the most part, my holidays are happy, too (she says tongue in cheek). I tend to do that—bite off more than I can chew on the holidays, that is.

The commercials all show happy Norman Rockwell picturesque families, and then we look at social media and see those family pictures of the whole gang gathered around the dinner table with big smiles on their faces. The truth is, many families have issues and prove to be dysfunctional. Don’t leave me quite yet—those of you that do live this life! This is not a bleak blog by any means!

My family is a dysfunctional family. So much so that I relate to Melvin Updale’s quote in the movie As Good As It Gets: “Some of us have great stores, pretty stories that take place at lakes, with boats, and friends, and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that is their story; good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you’re pissed that so many others had it good.” I’m not thatcynical though. I love to make people happy and see people happy. This is where the blog turns around—promise!

Writing The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series has been excellent therapy for me. My protagonist Jolie Tucker is based on a lot of things I’ve been through with my biological father and my family. I lighten the mood in the series to add a lot of comedy for entertainment purposes. What I’ve been able to figure out is that, yes, there are a lot of issues with my past, my mom has issues, my grandma has issues, my bio dad was a huge letdown, and of course, I have issues. BUT I am happy. 

I’ve learned so much from the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with family turmoil. As an adult, I’ve learned about boundaries and when to walk away from disastrous relationships. Most importantly, I’ve been able to realize that as much as my grandma and mom can drive me up a wall, they are at the same time my rocks. Both are strong-minded, independent women who know how to take care of themselves. And while I may not always see eye to eye with them (and vice versa), I would do anything for them as they would for me. They have been the ones to be present in my life through everything. 

One of the things I wrote for my protagonist, Jolie, to say in my upcoming Thanksgiving holiday book, Turkey Basted to Death, is “Why can family push your buttons so easily? Because they installed them!” I believe this to be true for all of us. But here’s the thing, there is nothing else in this world like the connection of family, and family comes in so many different forms. Those people and/or pets that are there for us, they are the ones that can drive us batty, but they are the ones we love unconditionally—warts and all.

So, from me—and my family (both literal and the Leavensport family from the Cast Iron Skillet Mysteries) Happy Holidays! Remember, along with giving an eye roll as needed during your holiday family gatherings, also give hugs!

Dutch Cast Iron Cajun Turkey Recipe

Ingredients:

6 to 8-pound turkey, patted dry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Cajun Spice Mix (see below)
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (or more) olive or vegetable oil

Note: If you’d like your turkey to have a crisp coat, heat oil in a large cast iron skillet. When hot, place the turkey in the skillet for 30 seconds, moving it around before placing in Dutch Cast Iron Pot.

 

Set a rack inside a large heavy Dutch Cast Iron Pot. Season turkey lightly inside and out with salt and pepper, then with spice mix, massaging it into the skin. Transfer turkey, breast side down, to prepared pan and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.

Remove turkey from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°. Mix celery, pepper, and onion in a medium bowl. Fill turkey cavity with vegetable mixture, scattering any remaining vegetables over bottom of roasting pan. Brush turkey with oil.

Roast turkey, basting occasionally, for 1 hour. Using paper towels, flip turkey. Roast, basting occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh registers 165°, 1–1 1/2 hours longer. Transfer to platter. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Cajun Spice Mix

Ingredients

5 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder

Stir together. 

Note: You can make the spice mix up to one month ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Turkey Basted to Death
A Cast Iron Skillet Mystery

Welcome to Leavensport, Ohio where DEATH takes a delicious turn!

Thanksgiving is here, and Jolie Tucker has had quite the year! She is ready to sit back and relax with family and friends. But this is Leavensport, OH—so get ready for intense therapy sessions, dysfunctional family holiday gatherings, uninvited guests, and an inner-city teen advocate found DEAD—stabbed in the ear with the turkey baster! 

Monday, November 18, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--HANDCRAFTED BIRDHOUSES

Because I’m a crafter, I’ve always enjoyed making holiday gifts for family and friends. However, I realize not everyone has the time, or perhaps the skill or confidence, to attempt making gifts. For those of you who appreciate handmade items, consider doing your holiday shopping at a craft fair. This time of year there are many craft fairs in various towns across the country. You can find a wide variety of items from jewelry to pottery to woodwork turned bowls and carvings to hand-knit and woven items to framed photographs and paintings and so much more. Many craft fairs will also feature handmade soaps, oils, jams, and other beauty and food products.

I love strolling through craft fairs, and I especially love when I come across a booth with unique items. Such was the case recently when I discovered these birdhouses. They’re crafted by artisan Walt Cottingham in Zirconia, NC. These birdhouses even feature little doors that open for cleaning. 

If you have a birder on your holiday list this year, you might want to consider one. Unlike many decorative birdhouses, Walt’s are totally functional works of art. Not only will your birder friend or relative love such a thoughtful gift, so will the birds.

You can contact Walt at wcottjr@yahoo.com.

Friday, November 15, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--F.M. MEREDITH ON THE INSPIRATION FOR HER CHARACTERS

Marilyn Meredith, who writes the RBPD mystery series as F.M. Meredith, is the author of more than forty published books. She once lived in a small beach town much like Rocky Bluff, and has many relatives and friends in law enforcement. Learn more about Marilyn and her books at her website and blog.

What Inspired the Character(s)
In the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series, there are multiple characters who have been in the series since or near the beginning. I’m going to write about the inspiration for a few of them, plus a couple of new ones.

I wrote the first book in this series when my son-in-law became a cop and came to my house every morning after his shift for a cup of coffee. He always shared what had gone on the night before, including tidbits about his co-workers. Of course a lot of what I heard spilled over into my books and the characters who inhabited them.

Detective Doug Milligan has been one of the main characters since the beginning. He was inspired by the police officers I knew at the time—young, married, and with children. Because these men were neighbors and I was friends with their wives, I had some insight into how what was going on in the families affected the job, and what they experienced on the job affected their families. Of course a lot of this became part of other characters.

Officer Gordon Butler has become the favorite of many of my readers. He’s had a rough time of it, both as a police officer and in his private life. He was inspired by one of the local cops who knew all the laws, operated by the book, worked hard, but bad and often humorous things happened to him.

Abel Navarro begins as an officer and becomes a sergeant as time goes on. From Mexican descent, he and some of his family members are loosely based on one of my sons-in-law. No my son-in-law is not a cop, but the dynamics of his large family has provided a lot of inspiration for ongoing characters. 

One of the newer characters is the police chief of the Rocky Bluff P.D., Chandra Taylor. She’s African American and tough. No, I don’t know any female police chief’s, but I have a friend who I see in my mind’s eye when I write about Chief Taylor. My friend once worked in prison as the assistant to the warden. Taylor is like my friend, shaped by the adversities in her life, but intelligent and capable, able to handle most anything--except romance.

Another new character is the daughter of the Rocky Bluff mayor. Kayla Duvall is a teenager who didn’t know her father until her mother, dying of cancer, sent her to live with him. I borrowed her looks from a darling boy who attends our church and who has an African American mom and Anglo dad. Like Kayla, he has blond curly hair.

For many years, I’ve been a member of the Public Safety Writers Association that is made up of many law enforcement officers. Of course I’ve made friends with many of them and some of them have also inspired characters in this series.

Bones in the Attic 
In a small town like Rocky Bluff, personal and professional often overlap, so Detective Doug Milligan is not surprised when his daughter Beth is the one who informs him a body has been discovered.

What is surprising is that the body is in a long-abandoned home that Beth and other students are turning into a haunted house as a fund raiser. The city granted permission for the project as long as it was limited to the downstairs for safety reasons. But one student, Mike Patterson, couldn't resist the temptation to look in the attic.

Detective Milligan stepped carefully a trunk and peered inside. Only a musty unpleasant smell emanated from the contents, not the noxious decomposition odor he'd expected. The skeleton crammed inside was still clothed in the remnants of what may have been pajamas.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

ROMANCE AUTHOR LAVADA DEE OFFERS AN ANTHOLOGY OF SEASONAL SHORT LOVE STORIES

In our continuing series featuring holiday books, we welcome Lavada Dee today, author of The Season of Love: Stories of Living and Loving. Learn more about Lavada and her books at her website. lavadadee.com

I have always been an avid reader, and can’t imagine being without a book. With the holiday rush fast approaching, I find I have less time to read. When I’m reading a full-length novel, and can’t get my nose out of it, I can easily burn dinner, among other things. I’ve found at especially busy times an anthology is better for me. 

 They say to write what you read, so I was inspired to write a collection of short stories. Since I’m especially busy at Christmas time, I set the stories around the holiday season. Life can be stressful during the holidays, and when relationships are in peril, the season can be brutal. These stories feature couples re-finding themselves and restoring love to their lives. The collection is designed so that you can start and finish a story in one sitting. Some of the stories are also available on their own at most online retailers. 

The Season of Love

Bahama Christmas
It has been two years since Maddie’s fiancĂ©’s death, and it’s Christmas, the time of family and couples. She is tired of feeling like the fifth wheel. Solution, a cruise. Santa Claus or maybe the Christmas Angel has a gift in store for her.

A Divorce For Christmas 
Unable to get pregnant, Lori Harper is taking getting there to a new level. With How-To books in hand, she has become a woman with a mission. With ‘things’ down to the clinical, Brad is feeling anything but amorous. In fact he has had enough of the command performances and wants out.

The Age of Love
Ariana doesn’t know how she let it happen, but she’s fallen in love with Joel, who is eight years younger than she is. The relationship is complicated by the fact that Joel’s mother is Ariana’s best friend. Joel presses for marriage, but Ariana can’t bring herself to come out with their relationship. The only solution Ariana see’s is breaking off with Joel. He isn’t giving up on them and sets about bringing their relationship out in the open.

No Perfect Marriage
When Kade gets a call in the middle night from his wife, saying their teenage son is in jail, he knows he needs to take a position. The marriage is over, so they need to make it official. But first they need to get Josh home, and to do this they need to present a united family image to the judge. Is the house big enough for both of them, and can they live together until after the holidays?

Spontaneous Love
Leah and Dean Coogan feel that their marriage is in trouble but can’t seem to stop the downward spiral. Leah’s solution is to make everything perfect for Dean. The perfect house, perfect meals, perfect everything. The harder she works, the more Dean feels left out. She doesn’t hear him when he tries to explain that he wants her to do things with him, not for him. 

Thank you for the opportunity to blog on your site today, Anastasia. Wishing you and all your readers happy reading now and throughout the holidays. 

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