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.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

AUTHOR ALEC PECHE ON THE ORIGINS OF HER FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST MYSTERY SERIES

Alec Peche is the author of twelve books split between two mystery series, her Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist series and her Damian Greene series. Today she joins us to discuss the origins of the former. Learn more about Alec and her books at her website

The Origins of Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist
When I set out to write my first mystery story, I didn't know enough about law enforcement to feel comfortable with writing a cop as my main character. I was unaware of the cozy category of mystery novels. If I had heard of that sub-genre, I might have gone a different direction with my character.

Jill Quint, MD lives in the Central Valley of California growing the Muscat grape and producing Moscato wine. She resigned from working in a Crime Lab, tired of the endless paperwork and court testimony to pursue her second passion of being a vintner. Along the way, cases began to be referred to her for an autopsy for a second opinion on the cause of death. Now she gets referrals several times a year across the United States and Internationally. She has three friends who join her on cases bringing their own skills. Jo is an accountant and always looks for the money motive. Marie is a social media maven and does the background checks on the victim and suspects. Angela is the photographer and interviewer, able to ease secrets out of anyone. Marie, Jo, and Angela are based loosely on friends in real life.

In a previous life, I worked in a health care setting, and when we sat down to discuss the quality of care a patient received, there would occasionally be a pathologist in the room. I also have a friend with a niece who is a forensic pathologist and has worked in New Orleans and NYC. I was fortunate enough to have her tour me through the Coroner's office. Plus, I'll admit I loved CSI: Miami.

So now my character has a way to get involved in cases. Through the nine books, she's grown her reputation and along the way studied and obtained a PI license. Some homicide cases begin with Dr. Quint receiving a phone call by a family member to request that second opinion. In a few cases, Jill and her team have been on the scene when a murder is committed.

On the vineyard side, Dr. Quint has released 2-3 vintages, while perfecting organic insecticide and herbicides in her lab on her property that doubles to do analytical work for her cases. She explored opening a tasting room but is holding off on that at the moment. Her latest case takes her to Sicily, which has a hot and dry climate similar to California's Central Valley. While in Catania, she evaluated planting the Nero d'Avola grape. Jill likes the sweetness of Moscato wine, yet the Nero d'Avola grape makes a dry red wine. Fortunately, during the Sicilian case, she sampled lots of wine made from that grape and feels she can make her own Nero d'Avola wine.

Jill Quint has a partner – Nathan Conroy. He's a wine label maker, a job that I thought I'd invented. Dummy me saw an article in the WSJ regarding a woman who was a wine label maker. So I guess the profession exists for real. Jill has a dog, Trixie, while Nathan has a cat named Arthur. In my mind, Jill is in her mid-forties, and I don't know if she and Nathan will ever marry – it hasn't popped into a book yet!

Sicilian Murder
Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist, Book 9
Jill's been called to do an autopsy in Sicily, Italy. The man is an American CEO of a herbal product company and was found dead in a Mount Etna crater. The Italian authorities labeled his death as 'unnatural' but did not perform an autopsy as they assumed his death was due to a fall. Dr. Quint proves that it's not, and the search begins for the motive for his murder. Was it personal, or was it due to a product his company makes?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

WORLD EMOJI DAY

And now for something a little different…

Did you know today is World Emoji Day? Imagine, an entire day devoted to those tiny illustrations that seem so omnipresent in our lives these days! Then again, why not? For the simple reason that they are so omnipresent.

Emojis are great for quick text and email replies. Frankly, I wish more people would use them rather than not replying at all. How much time does it take to tap on a “thumbs up” or a “happy face” and hit Send? Common courtesy goes a long way, but unfortunately, common courtesy is a dying art. (Is there an emoji for a grumpy blogger?)

But then, there are the people who send an email or text with a long stream of emojis requiring a modern day version of the Rosetta Stone to decipher the message. I doubt I’m alone in head scratching, given that more than nine hundred million emojis are sent each day on Facebook Messenger without any text at all.

While doing researching for this post, I came across some interesting emoji facts. For instance, did you know that only 7% of people who use the peach emoji actually do so to indicate a peach? You probably did, but naïve waif that I am, I certainly didn’t! Should I be surprised there are so many dirty minds on social media? Probably not!

There are now a total of 2,823 emojis.157 were approved in 2018. Approved by whom? Who knew there was some sort of official council that rules on whether or not an emoji can become an emoji? Again, not I.

There are even emoji awards. The best new emoji in 2018 was the Exploding Head. 
Emoji of the Year went to Thinking Face.
The most anticipated emoji was the Lacross Stick and Ball. Were there really that many people around the world waiting with baited breath for a Lacross Stick and Ball emoji? Apparently so.

And of course, let’s not forget the Emoji Movie. You know you've really made it when there's an entire movie devoted to you and your iconic pals--not to mention Patrick Stewart portraying the Poop emoji. Now I have to wonder if Emoji Movie 2 will feature the Pile of Poop as Macbeth. 

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--TURKEY LASAGNA

Yes, it’s July, but I really had a craving for lasagna the other night, probably because it was one of those infrequent summer days that feels more like late October than mid-July. This recipe doesn’t take hours to make or bake because it uses lasagna noodles that you don’t first cook. And it’s made with turkey ground meat, turkey sausage, and lots of veggies. So it’s lower in calories and good for you.

Turkey Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients:
2 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 asparagus spears
1/2 pound turkey sausage
1 pound lean ground turkey
1/2 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
1 (25 ounce) can canned spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup water
1 T. Italian seasoning
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
4 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a Dutch oven sauté sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic, and asparagus in oil over medium heat until onion becomes transparent and meat is well browned. Stir in spinach, tomatoes, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, and water. Season with Italian seasoning. Heat through, stirring occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, 2 cups mozzarella, and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Spray 9” x 13” baking dish with cooking spray.

Pour 1 cup of sauce in bottom of pan, spreading evenly. Top with three sheets of noodles. Sheets will expand to edge of pan during baking.

Layer remaining ingredients as follows: 1 cup of sauce,  1/3 of the cheese mixture, 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella, 3 sheets lasagna. End with remaining sauce, ricotta and mozzarella, sprinkling remaining Parmesan cheese over mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 5 minutes. Let lasagna rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, July 15, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--MYSTERY AUTHOR MABRY HALL ON INSPIRATION VIA ANTIQUE JEWELRY AND PINTEREST BOARDS

A needlepoint Santa embellished with the author's favorite Victorian
aquamarine earrings.
Mabry Hall created Annalee Wyatt, 18 Karat Cold Mysteries' bling-bedecked sleuth, out of her love of antique jewelry. She gets a vicarious pleasure when Annalee buys, sells, and sometimes wears the beautiful pieces of jewelry she would love to have for herself. However, she's quite happy to leave the murders to her fictional creation and lives a quiet life in Louisiana, not far from the imaginary town of Berryville and Annalee's Goat Hill Farm. Learn more about her and her books at her website

My 18 Karat Cold Mystery series revolves around a heroine who makes her living with antique jewelry, one of my passions. Annalee Wyatt lives in an historic family home in north Louisiana, has a good-looking neighbor who annoys and intrigues her, and discovers she has an affinity for murder. While she doesn’t commit any herself, somehow each death involves a piece of jewelry that pulls her into the action.  

I wish I could share my process of designing and creating jewelry, but I’d be lying. I have no such skills, but I do appreciate the talent that produced the antique jewelry I love so much. On my first guest blog here in 2016, I discussed how that love for antique jewelry led to the creation of my 18 Karat Cold Mystery series. Today I’ll share how my Pinterest boards influence my plots.

I was slow to come to the world of Pinterest, and among the first boards I created was one for needlepoint stitches. I’ve been stitching since college, and used to design my own canvases. I now rely on painted ones, but I put my own stamp on them with the stitches and threads I choose. Pinterest search results can lead you in directions you never planned, and in my case, searches for medieval stitchery began to turn up medieval jewelry, which led to Georgian and Victorian jewelry, then Art Nouveau, then on and on until I would look at the clock and realize life was happening without me. 

I created a general board for antique jewelry, which inspired me to create separate boards for each of my books. For example, the second book, A Regrettable Reunion, revolves around a brooch made of demantoid garnets, which most people have never heard of. Its Pinterest board shows multiple examples of intricate Victorian and Edwardian jewelry made with the unique green stones, including the salamander pin that’s a key clue in the mystery.

Each 18 Karat board gives a view of both the specific pieces that are mentioned in the books plus a broad array of similar items. While searching for demantoids, I began to see many pictures of Art Deco and Art Nouveau jewelry. I was inspired to add a subplot about the estate of an early Texas oil baron, and so the board is full of incredibly beautiful, intricate pieces from the early 1900s. You’ll see things by Tiffany, for example, that are far more complex and colorful than the items you find in the store today. In general, jewelry from that era is highly focused on naturalism, with many pieces depicting plants or animals— and lots of insects! There are bumblebees, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and even wasps made from precious jewels and colorful enamel.

The patterns and colors in these styles inspire me and feed my creativity. I’d love to take some serious jewelry making classes, but there are only a few places in the country that teach the techniques I’d like to learn. Another consideration is that the raw materials are quite a bit more expensive than needlepoint thread or even the laptop I use for writing. I think I’m better off with my Pinterest boards and the occasional purchase of jewelry, unfortunately not of Tiffany’s quality.

You can check out my Pinterest boards here

A Rumor of Riches
An 18 Karat Cold Mystery, Book 3

Annalee Wyatt is looking forward to a quiet, solitary week in the woods. Just her, a couple of friendly dogs, and a well-stocked wine cellar. What could possibly go wrong?

The offer to stay in a cozy 1850s cabin sounds perfect, even if winter in Louisiana means there won’t be a blanket of snow. All Annalee needs to do in return is make an appraisal of a deceased artist’s jewelry and antiques. 

As an added bonus, she’ll have some strategic time away from the easy-going boyfriend who’s gotten too complacent about their relationship.

From the minute of her arrival, though, the historic house has more in store for her than antique jewelry and Cabernet. As it reveals its secrets, beginning with a never-ending supply of gold coins, the remote property becomes a magnet for a cast of characters ranging from pretty darn charming to obnoxiously oddball. She views all with her usual suspicion, which kicks into overdrive when she realizes each wants something he believes is hidden at the old homestead.

 Who can she trust when one of her visitors turns up dead? Thank goodness for the two stalwart hounds and her old friend Tennie. A benevolent spirit from the past is just welcome lagniappe.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AN INTERVIEW WITH AMATEUR SLEUTH AVA LOGAN

Today we sit down for a chat with Ava Logan from author Lynn Chandler Willis’ Ava Logan Mysteries.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
A whole lot less complicated! I’m a business owner and a single mother to a teenager, a pre-teen, and a toddler, so I’m always on the go. I’m the publisher of the town newspaper, so I’m also an observer of all the activities that make small towns such a great place to live.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I love deeply. I’m passionate about honoring and safeguarding those I care about.

What do you like least about yourself?
I stayed in a bad marriage longer than I should have.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you? Hmmm…there are so many! Attend a snake-handling church service, interrupt a baptism, nearly freeze to death while doing a feature story on rabbit hunting with beagles, ride a 4-wheeler to poached ginseng sites. Shall I continue?

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Probably about my relationship with Sheriff Grayson Ridge. She wants it to be happily-ever-after and, yes, he’s the love of my life, but there are problems.

What is your greatest fear?
Failing my kids. You can take away the business, all the relationships, even take me out of my beloved mountains but none of it means anything without my kids. 

What makes you happy?
My kids, Grayson Ridge, the mountains, the river, making someone happy with the way a story turns out.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I didn’t leave an abusive marriage sooner. My husband was killed in the line of duty and I didn’t grief for him—I grieved for my kids, but not him. I carry a lot of guilt about not feeling mournful. Does that make sense? I need a therapist!

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Ed Stinger and Elder Jeremiah Carson. Ed Stinger is just a creep. He has no respect for personal space! And Jeremiah…he’s a good man, I suppose. We’re both protective of Doretha and he views me as a threat to his closeness to her. 

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Nola, my office manager! The thought of not having to work and being financially stable is enticing.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
She spends a lot of time at a nearby river walking her dog, Finn. Imagine that! Like with me, the river is her sanctuary and her think-tank. Check her out at her website. lynnchandlerwillis.com.

What's next for you?
We’re kicking around some ideas involving the local high school and the consequences of actions. It’s still in the idea stage, but we’ll see.

Tell Me You Love Me
An Ava Logan Mystery, Book 3

When long-buried human remains are found at an old deserted mill in Jackson Creek, North Carolina, newspaper publisher Ava Logan uncovers more than a cold case. With a bullet still lodged in the skull, the only certainty is the victim died a violent death.   As Sheriff Grayson Ridge and an anthropologist work to identify the remains, Ava sets out to discover where love, betrayal, and family ties entwine.

Determined to uncover the identity of the victim, Ava unwittingly sets off a chain reaction of consequences no one in Jackson Creek is prepared for. Decades-old secrets surface and threaten to destroy those closest to her. Exposing family truths will compromise the ones she loves – not exposing them will jeopardize her relationship with Sheriff Grayson Ridge.

What will Ava do for love? How far will a murderer go to bury the truth? How long will they all live the lies?

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

AUTHOR DEBBIE DE LOUISE ON RESEARCHING MURDER IN A LIGHTHOUSE

Debbie De Louise is a reference librarian at a public library. Her novels include four books in her Cobble Cove mystery series, a romantic comedy novella, a paranormal romance, and two standalone mysteries. Learn more about Debbie and her books at her website/blog

Shedding Light on a 20-year-old Mystery
When I first came up with the idea of writing a novel about a murder at a lighthouse, I knew I would need to do some research about lighthouses. As I wrote the book, I discovered a unique way to add in this research that readers will understand once they finish the story. I included numerous facts about lighthouses and maritime lore and asked my publisher to feature photos and drawings to illustrate each point.

Take this short quiz to see how much you know about lighthouses. Answers are included below. No peeking or Googling allowed. These are only a few of the facts featured in Sea Scope.

1. What was the first lighthouse built in the United States?
2. What is the term for the study of lighthouses?
3. What date do we celebrate Lighthouse Day?
4. Which lighthouse was the first built in New York State and was visited by a slave ship and a pirate?
5. Which lighthouse was manned by a female lighthouse keeper?

Answers
1. The first lighthouse built in America was Boston Lighthouse in 1716 on Little Brewster Island. It was destroyed during the American Revolutionary War and rebuilt in 1783.
2. The study of lighthouses is known as “Pharology,” named after the famed lighthouse of Alexandria. Pharos of Alexandria, the first known lighthouse, was built in Egypt between 300 and 250 BC and stood 450 feet high.
3. For the bicentennial of the United States Lighthouse Service in 1989, the U. S. Lighthouse Society petitioned Congress to declare National Lighthouse Day on August 7—the date in 1789 that the Ninth Act of the First Congress, establishing federal control of lighthouses, was passed and signed by President George Washington. The measure was signed by President Ronald Reagan as Public Law on November 5, 1988 but only for that day in 1989. A similar declaration was won in 2013, but efforts to add the day to the official national calendar have not succeeded.
4. The Montauk Point Lighthouse on Long Island was the first built in New York State and was visited by both the slave ship “Amistad” and a pirate.
5. Robbins Reef, also known as Kate’s Light, is named after the wife of a keeper who, after his death, tended the light from 1886 to 1919 and daily rowed her children to school in Staten Island.

Sea Scope
Sarah Collins needs an escape. Mourning her brother’s death and the impending breakup of her marriage, she returns to her childhood home in South Carolina, where her family operated an inn.

Sarah hasn’t been back to Sea Scope for twenty years; not since she and her brother Glen discovered a body by the nearby lighthouse. She never understood why her parents left Sea Scope so suddenly, or the reasons behind her father's suicide.

After Sarah returns to the inn, she faces long-buried memories, text messages and strange clues. Something is not right in Sea Scope. Reunited with people from her past, she tries to figure out what's going on in her childhood home.

When past and present collide, Sarah must face truths about her family, and what happened that summer day by the lighthouse. But will she survive to tell the tale?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

AUTHOR KATHLEEN KASKA ON MELDING FACT WITH FICTION

Archer City
Kathleen Kaska is the author two awarding-winning mystery series: the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series. The Kate Caraway Animal-Rights series is her latest. Kathleen is also a writer and marketing director for Cave Art Press. Learn more about Kathleen and her books at her website. 

Importance of Setting: Melding Fact with Fiction
A Two Horse Town is the first mystery I wrote with a fictional town as its setting.
A spinoff of the idiom “one-horse town,” which means a small, backward, lonely place, I substituted “two” in the title to signify that things aren’t always what they seem; there are two ways of looking at them.

The story is set in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Southwest Montana, since mustangs residing there are the focus; but there was no small town in the area to use as a model. So I envisioned what I wanted such a town to look like: dusty and old, a few diehard businesses around a town square, and gravel parking lots with pickup trucks. I wanted a grocery/hardware store, a greasy spoon café, an antique shop with a faded “out-of-business” sign in the window, a pawn shop, a law office, a town hall, and a jail. And a doublewide portable for the sheriff’s office to foreshadow things to come.

Though I didn’t go into great detail describing each place—that would’ve taken pages and bored the pants off readers—I needed visual-aid references for subtleties. Alas, Archer City, Texas, a tiny, dusty county-seat about fifty miles south of Oklahoma, provided most of what I was looking for. I visited Archer City many years ago before cell phones had cameras. When I started writing Two Horse, I dug out some photos taken with my digital camera back then and used the Internet to see how the town now looked after all those years. It hadn’t changed much.
Archer City Jail
Another reason for Archer City is that I feel for it. It’s home to one of my favorite writers, Larry McMurtry. He used his hometown as the setting for his book (later a movie), The Last Picture Show, another title that reflects the theme of a story. The Royal Theatre, featured in the film, is now a center for the performing arts. The Archer City jail, built in 1910, is a three-story structure made of sandstone. The top floor has a gallows, and the first prisoner held there was arrested for stealing a horse. Murn’s Café serves home-style, southern cooking, and the Spur Hotel (1928) is still in operation.

If you’ve read A Two Horse Town, cruise to Archer City. Let me know if you see a resemblance between it and Two Horse, Montana. 

By the way, the Spur Hotel is on the list for one of my future Sydney Lockhart, murder-in-a-hotel mysteries.

A Two Horse Town
Animal-rights activists, Kate Caraway, travels to Montana to help 82-year-old Ida Springfield save her herd of wild mustangs. After tumbling down a mountain, finding a body, and getting warned off by the mayor, Kate understands why her husband fears for her safety and begs her to come home. But Kate can't leave without saving the mustangs and helping Ida stand up to the town bigwigs. To do that, she has to find out who killed Ida's estranged son and why town officials believe her great-grandson committed the crime.

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