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, May 23, 2018

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY “PAPERBACK WRITER”

On this day in 1966 the Beatles released “Paperback Writer”. As the protagonist of a paperback series, I know that my author, Lois Winston, has a special attachment to this song. Lois wrote for ten years before she sold her first book, Talk Gertie to Me, a humorous novel about a crafty Iowa mother, her rebellious daughter, and the daughter’s imaginary friend.

Throughout those ten years, Lois received plenty of positive feedback, won writing contests, and landed an agent, but she was never offered a book contract. She’d receive rejection letters that praised her writing, her story, and her characters but would end with, “but ultimately I didn’t fall in love with the book, and for that reason, I must pass on it.”  How frustrating, right? Her agent never asked any of these editors to marry her book, just publish it! 

But finally, after a decade-long gestation period, Lois’s dream of becoming a paperback writer finally came true when she was offered a publishing contract for Talk Gertie to Me. The book received some glowing reviews, including one from Booklist, which stated, “Winston’s small-town-girl-makes-good romance shouldn’t be missed.”

I, for one, am incredibly grateful Lois never gave up. Five years after the release of Talk Gertie to Me, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries hit bookstore shelves. Without Gertie, there never would have been an Anastasia.

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 Connie 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.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--AUTHOR KATHY OTTEN BAKES CIVIL WAR GINGERBREAD

Kathy Otten is the author of multiple historical romance novels, novellas, and short stories as well as contemporary romance and historical fiction. Today she joins us to discuss cooking during the Civil War. Learn more about Kathy and her books at her website.

While researching my new Civil War novel, I discovered that gingerbread was a particular favorite of soldiers during the war. Families sent the treat in care packages to their loved ones along with socks, which marching soldiers always needed. It was also considered nutritious and easy to digest, which is why it was considered good hospital food.

Maybe the nutrition was in the molasses. I only wonder about this because my mother, when she was a little girl back in the 30’s, was given sulfur and molasses every spring by her grandparents.

In my story, the nuns helped my heroine make gingerbread for the wounded in the hospital. In digging through old recipes, I thought I’d give it a try. The photos I’d seen from that time period showed the gingerbread having been baked in a loaf pan and cut into slices. When I made mine, I poured the batter into a traditional square pan.

And of course the recipe I followed had been revised like many recipes were in the late 1800’s. Women such as Fanny M. Farmer and Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln, eliminated such vague measurements such as “a good size piece,” “middlin,’” and “large cup,” standardizing measurements and including specific cooking instructions. Until then, cookbooks were uncommon and recipes were handed down from generation to generation.

My great-great-grandfather was a baker, and he had a notebook that was passed down on my mother’s side of the family. They were his notes and recipes so phrases like, “add enough milk to bake good,” make recreating his recipes nearly impossible.

So I dug through the Internet and one of my go-to books, Food on the Frontier, Minnesota Cooking from 1850 to 1900, by Marjorie Kreidberg. The recipe I found inside, A “Very Good” Gingerbread was from Anna Ramsey’s Book of Recipes, 1865.

However, this recipe called for 2 cups of molasses, and I didn’t have enough, so I found a second recipe used by Josephine Peffer, a twelve-year-old girl who won a blue ribbon for her gingerbread at the 1860 Wisconsin State Fair.

Civil War Gingerbread

Ingredients:
1 cup Molasses
1 T. ground ginger
1/4 lb. butter, softened
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk (which I made by using regular milk and adding 2 tablespoons vinegar and letting it sit for a few minutes—an old trick my mother taught me)
2 eggs
2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square pan and dust lightly with flour. Beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add eggs and beat well. Add the buttermilk and molasses and blend.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, ginger, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes. Stick a toothpick into the center of the gingerbread. If it comes out clean, the gingerbread is done. Cool the pan and cut into 9 pieces.

It is really rather good and has no sugar added.  I’d recommend trying it, and I understand why that little girl from long ago won her blue ribbon.

A Place in Your Heart
Gracie McBride isn’t looking for love; she’s looking for respect. But in this man’s world of Civil War medicine, Gracie is expected to maintain her place changing beds and writing letters. Her biggest nemesis is the ward surgeon, Doctor Charles Ellard, who seems determined to woo her with arrogant kisses and terrible jokes.

Charles is an excellent surgeon. He assumed he would be well received by an army at war. He was not. Friendless and alone, he struggles to hide the panic attacks that plague him, while the only person who understands him is a feisty Irish nurse clearly resolved to keep him at a distance.

But, Charles is sent to the battlefield, and Gracie is left with a wounded soldier, a box of toys, and a mystery which can only be solved by the one man she wishes could love her, both as a woman and a nurse.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--INTERVIEW WITH CRAFTER CONNIE STEDWORTH

Today we sit down for a chat with crafter Connie Stedworth from author Lois Winston’s Talk Gertie to Me.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
Boring. I know most characters who are interviewed on this blog complain about their authors, but Lois Winston did me a huge favor. She forced me out of my same old/same old existence and gave me an exciting life.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
My creativity. I can create just about anything with a few basic craft supplies.

What do you like least about yourself?
That it took me until menopause to become more than just a housewife and mother.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
She had me create the most bizarre craft imaginable, then had me demonstrate it on Mel Gibson on Late Night with David Letterman (before Dave retired.)

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I don’t. I appreciate all she’s done for me. However, my daughter and her imaginary friend have both had quite a few rather vocal arguments with Lois.

What is your greatest fear?
Divorce. I love my husband, but lately we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on much of anything, and I feel we’re drifting too far apart to come back together.

What makes you happy?
Being able to express myself artistically and creatively.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I wish I’d had the courage to break out of my shell and spread my wings earlier. I could have had so many more opportunities if I'd only taken a few chances.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
My husband Earnest. I love the man, but he's so…well, Earnest. It’s the twenty-first century, but the man is still stuck back in the 1950’s.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
My daughter Nori. I admire her courage in leaving Ten Commandments, Iowa and moving to New York City. (Although, I’ll admit I was opposed to it at first.)

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Lois Winston is the creator of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and the Empty Nest Mysteries, as well as award-winning romance, romantic suspense, and chick lit. You can find her website at www.loiswinston.com.

What's next for you?
Lois wrote a novella sequel to Talk Gertie to Me, and this time she’s got us involved in solving a murder. Can you imagine? You can read all about it in Elementary, My Dear Gertie. Beyond that, I don’t know. She’s pretty wrapped up with Anastasia the last few years, but someday she might give Anastasia a little vacation from sleuthing and write another book about my family and me. I’d really like to become a grandmother at some point in the not-too-distant future. (That's a hint, Lois!)

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--INTERVIEW WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR JAMES M. JACKSON'S P.I. SEAMUS McCREE

Today we’re joined by Seamus McCree from mystery author James M. Jackson’s Seamus McCree series. Learn more about James and his books at his website

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
In a word, boring. I was working for an outfit called Criminal Investigations Group (CIG). It’s a nonprofit that assists local police departments with expertise they don’t have. After I’d quit my Wall Street job, where I was the top-ranked bank stock analyst (yawn), the head of CIG talked me into creating a financial crimes group for them. This wasn’t long after 9/11 when the FBI transferred much of their white-collar crime resources to battling terrorism, and local departments were struggling.

I convinced a lot of good people to help CIG develop a crackerjack team of computer geeks and forensic accountants who can track money wherever it goes. When that became routine, I asked CIG to allow me to work directly with police on some assignments.

Be careful what you ask for.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
If I say I’m going to do something, I will.

What do you like least about yourself?
I can be a tad stubborn.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
He made me submit my recipe for homemade pizza with applesauce topping for a cookbook he and bunch of his friends put together. It’s called KP Authors Cook Their Books, and it’s free on Kindle if you’re interested.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Well, we sure as heck didn’t agree on that recipe idea. We don’t argue a lot. I’m a very good listener, so I can let him vent, and when I want something I’m so subtle he usually thinks it was his idea! After I’ve mastered something, I get bored with it. That’s when I hack his dreams and plant ideas, like “let Seamus work directly with the police” or most recently, “let Seamus bring someone to his remote camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to protect them.” He lets me do it, but it doesn’t always go the way I anticipated.

What is your greatest fear?
He’ll stop caring about what happens to me and my family. Then we’re goners.

What makes you happy?
My family has always made me happy. Even when my son, Paddy, infuriates me, I’m proud as punch about everything he has accomplished. And now that I have a granddaughter—well, I was born to be Grampa Seamus.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
It’s back-story I’d like to change. I was (okay, am) a driven man. During the time I worked on Wall Street, I didn’t spend enough time with my family. When rough times come to a couple they need to draw on their emotional bank accounts to get through. Problem was, when our challenges came, I had already overdrawn my account. It would have been better for Paddy to grow up with two parents in the house.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
That’s easy. The Happy Reaper and not just because he’s an extremely competent assassin. He exhibits qualities that I admire. I’m all about my word being my bond; his business card promotes his “Results Guaranteed.” Plus, he could have killed me, and I don’t like owing anyone anything.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
My granddaughter, Megan. Even though I say I wouldn’t want to be a kid these days, I’m a late baby boomer. My generation has screwed up its chance to change the world in a positive way. I have hope the kids can do it. She’s curious and smart, and she loves to read. I have the feeling she’s going to be a “take charge” kind of woman.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
He splits his time between the remote woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but I think they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. His blog is on his website, https://jamesmjackson.com. There, you can sign up for his newsletter, check his social network links, and find out more about him and me. If you want to chat with me directly, I have my own email address: SeamusMcCreee@jamesmjackson.com and I’d love to hear from you.

What's next for you?
I was shocked to learn my Uncle Mike was murdered. He named me his executor, which meant I needed to return to my native Boston. Problem is, the legacy he left me to take care of consisted of more than tangible assets, and he left no clear instructions.

Empty Promises
A Seamus McCree Novel, book 5

Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.

His client is to testify in a Chicago money laundering trial. He’s paranoid that with a price on his head, if the police know where he’s staying, the information will leak. Seamus promised his business partner and lover, Abigail Hancock, that he’d keep the witness safe at the McCree family camp located deep in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s woods.

Abigail is furious at his incompetence and their relationship flounders. Even his often-helpful son, Paddy, must put family safety ahead of helping his father. Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back Abigail. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING?

Like so many others, my phone constantly rings with calls from Name Withheld, Unknown Caller, 800 Service, and various towns around the country where I don’t know anyone. Thanks to Caller ID, in my opinion one of the greatest inventions ever, I never answer any call unless I recognize the name or the number of the caller. So all of these robocalls either go directly to voicemail.

Many leave recorded messages, either from live individuals or computer generated voices, trying to sell me a new roof, replacement windows, house siding, basement waterproofing, cemetery plots, or insurance. Any day now I expect to start receiving automated sales calls similar to the email spam I get for enhancing both my male and female body parts. (I guess they’re covering all bases.) It’s only a matter of time.

I’ve also received messages from callers with thick accents who, in broken English, threaten me with imminent arrest if I don’t pay the back taxes I owe to the IRS. The sheriff is already on the way unless I pay up NOW. Not only don’t I owe the IRS anything, I’m smart enough to know the IRS will never make a phone call like this. Unfortunately too many people have fallen for this scam. More have fallen for the phone scam where the caller claims to be holding a family member for ransom.

In 1969 we put men on the moon. Here it is nearly fifty years later, and no one can seem to put a stop to these lowlifes who disrupt our lives and scam innocent people out of thousands of dollars.

The other day I received a call that claimed to be from Apple. A computer-generated voice told me that my Apple devices were in jeopardy. I had to immediately “press 1” to learn how to avoid losing all my files and the use of my devices. But take a look at the display on my phone. I guess this scammer believes in truth in advertising.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

WINEMAKING WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR ANNE LOUISE BANNON

Fermenting Grapes on their Way to Becoming Wine
Anne Louise Bannon is an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age fifteen. She now writes the 1920’s Freddie and Kathy Mysteries, the Operation Quickline series, and the Old Los Angeles series, set in1870. Learn more about her and her books at her website and her wine education blog, OddBallGrape.com, which she runs with her husband. 

Nineteenth Century Winemaking
When Maddie Wilcox, the main character in my latest novel, Death of the Zanjero, first started coming to life, I had to figure out who she was and why she’d be there in the dramatic scene where the sluice gate is opened and the Zanjero’s dead body comes floating to the surface.

Just so you know, the Zanjero (pronounced zahn-hair-roe) was the Water Overseer in the city of Los Angeles from it’s founding in 1781 to as late as 1911. During that time, the city’s vineyards and farms were irrigated by a series of ditches, or zanjas (zahn-hah) that had been dug from the Los Angeles River. And there were lots of vineyards. California’s wine industry actually began in Los Angeles in the 1820s (take that, Napa).

Which I found insanely cool, since my husband makes wine at home. So, I had picked a time for my story – the year is 1870, when the city was just starting to civilize. And making Maddie a winemaker was a pretty easy choice. First, that was a lot of what was going on in the pueblo at the time. Second, I’d been looking for a chance to create a character in the wine biz, since my husband and I are so passionate about it. Then there was the added bonus that the research for that part of the story would be a lead-pipe cinch. Winemaking is an ancient practice. Plus, my husband had a recipe for angelica, the version of sherry wine made at the time.

Um. Not quite.

True, wine has always been made pretty much the same way since antiquity. You pick grapes, you crush them, you add yeast and let it happen, then, either press them, or pour the new wine off of the skins into barrels (by the 19th century) and let it age. And wine is still made this way nowadays, albeit with more mechanization and better sanitation and chemistry.

Back in the 19th century, however, things were a little different. For one thing, all that trellising you associate with grape vines today? Nope. They did what’s called head-pruning. They planted each vine in its own little space, but let it grow without supports. You occasionally see it today, where the vines all look like little bushes.

The other thing that surprised me was that they didn’t bottle wine during the 1870s. At least, not in Los Angeles. You filled your own pot or whatever from the winemaker’s barrel, and presumably kept it from getting too much oxygen that way.

Now, they did stomp on grapes in big vats to crush them before fermenting them. But they didn’t press the grapes after they were fermenting like we do now. They poured off what’s called the free-run juice into the aging barrels. The fermented fruit that was left behind was pressed, then juice was distilled into brandy, which was then added back to the wine being used to make angelica. This helped stabilize the wine so it didn’t go bad.

Granted, some of this we already knew, like the head-pruning thing, and how to make angelica. We’d gotten the recipe from Deborah Hall of Gypsy Canyon, who researched it when she’d found a whole bunch of neglected vines from probably the 1890s on her property. Watch the video.

But the actual process of winemaking, believe it or not, was pretty tough to find. Everybody at the time knew how to make wine, so why write it down? A librarian at the Wine Industry Archives at California State Polytechnic, Pomona, had to dig up the actual process for me. And it was from the tourist literature.

So, the research turned out not to be so easy, but it was fun. And being a winemaker made it perfectly logical for Maddie to be watching as the Zanjero’s men opened the sluice gate to the zanja feeding her vineyards.

Death of the Zanjero
Old Los Angeles series, Book 1

In Los Angeles in 1870, life was cheap and water could cost you everything. When the body of the Zanjero, or water overseer, Bert Rivers, floats up out of the irrigation ditch, or zanja, winemaker and healing woman Maddie Wilcox finds herself defending the town's most notorious madam. To save the one person she knows is innocent (at least, of the murder), she must find out who killed Mr. Rivers, a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she's done. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CROSS STITCHED PATRIOTIC PATCHWORK FLAG

Memorial Day is two weeks away, plenty of time to whip up this cute patriotic patchwork flag to celebration the day. 

Materials:
3" x 4" white or ecru perforated paper
floss as indicated in Color Key plus black for backstitching
#24 tapestry needle
2" pinback
jewelry glue
scissors

1. Using three strands floss, cross stitch the design centered on the perforated paper following the chart.

2. Backstitch with one strand black floss.

3. Trim perforated paper to one hole from edge of stitching.

4. Glue pin to back of stitching.

5. Wear with pride!