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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Monday, December 6, 2021

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--AN INTERVIEW WITH CRAFTING COZY MYSTERY AUTHOR EMMIE CALDWELL (AKA MARY ELLEN HUGHES)

Today we sit down for a chat with cozy mystery author Emmie Caldwell/Mary Ellen Hughes. Learn more about her and her books at her Emmie Caldwell and Mary Ellen Hughes websites.  

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

Probably after I’d written (and published) a few short stories and realized I wanted to write longer and more deeply.

 

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?

For a long time that “dream” was more wishful thinking. I got serious about novel writing around the late 1990s. My first book, Resort to Murder (written as Mary Ellen Hughes) was published in December, 2000. 

 

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

All my books have been traditionally published. I re-issued the older ones when I received the rights back to them, so I guess that makes me a hybrid author.

 

Where do you write?

In a spare bedroom upstairs, next to a window where I can catch sight of any wildlife - and occasionally Amazon delivery vans.

 

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?

Silence is definitely golden when I write. For me, music isn’t background noise but something to pay attention to and enjoy, so it would be totally distracting.

 

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?

Plots might have bits and pieces from my life but probably 90% comes from my imagination. The same with characters. I’ve used characteristics from people I’ve known but then change physical descriptions enough to make them unrecognizable.

 

Describe your process for naming your character?

I used to sift through obituary notices for first names of elderly characters. Now I go to the Social Security Popular Names by Decade website to choose first names, then random name generator for last names. Sometimes the right name pops up immediately. Other times I might change it several times during the writing until it feels right.

 

Real settings or fictional towns?

Fictional towns, but often within reach of real ones. The Craft Corner Mysteries are in a fictional town within reach of Gettysburg, PA.

 

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?

I’m not sure how quirky it is, but the adult daughter of my main character gave up a better paying job to work at an alpaca farm (marketing, not stall-shoveling). Her favorite alpaca is Rosie, who Hayley would love to adopt.

 

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

I like to do online jigsaw puzzles. No table space required, and they can be very relaxing.

 

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Bad grammar used by someone who should know better – like a television news anchor - is like nails on a blackboard to me.

 

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

Truthfully, my worst job was a part-time one at a bookstore. I thought it would be wonderful, but most of my time was spent finding books for others and ringing them up, with no time left to browse through them myself. Frustrating!

 

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

I can’t really say. The more I read, the more my tastes and understanding of fiction evolve, so that what blew me away twenty years ago might get a different reaction now. Or I might have once dismissed a great book that I’d feel differently about now.

 

Ocean or mountains?

Both, but 75/25 mountains to ocean.

 

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?

I grew up in a small city but have been a country girl for years – with occasional city visits.

 

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m currently working on book #3 of the Craft Fair Knitter Mystery Series: Knits, Knots, and Knives, in which a murder occurs during a Civil War reenactment.

 

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?

Just that I hope anyone who reads my books enjoys them as much as I enjoyed writing them. As Mary Ellen Hughes, I’ve written eleven books (4 series) and have now written two books in my new series as Emmie Caldwell. I feel very fortunate, and I’m delighted to hear from any reader, either through my website or on Facebook.

 

Thank you so much for having me here!

 

Stitched in Crime

A Craft Fair Knitters Mystery, Book 2


When murder pierces the fabric of the close-knit Crandalsburg Craft Fair, it's up to the Ninth Street Knitters to make a killer slip their stitch.

 

The Craft Fair may have hit a few snags lately, but knitting enthusiast Lia Geiger is hopeful her quiet life will return to its usual patterns in no time. Her daughter has officially moved back home, and sure, the house is a little crowded with Hayley's take-home work from the alpaca farm, but that's a price Lia will happily pay. All seems well until Cori Littlefield, a new vendor with a gift for crochet, is found dead, sending shock waves through all of Crandalsburg.


What begins as a tragic accident turns into a snarled spool of lies that only the combined efforts of the Ninth Street Knitters can untangle. When Lia makes a connection between Cori's death and a decades-old murder, it's up to her to weave together the clues and find the truth.


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Friday, December 3, 2021

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--MYSTERY AUTHOR LAUREL PETERSON TAKES US ON A VIRTUAL TOUR OF NEW ORLEANS IN HER NEWEST BOOK

Laurel Peterson is a community college English professor who lives and works in Connecticut. She has published two mystery novels, Shadow Notes and The Fallen and several books of poetry. Learn more about Laurel and her books at her website.  

 

The Charms of New Orleans, Food and Otherwise 

One of the attractions of attending conferences is the cities in which they are held. Years ago, before Hurricane Katrina hit, I paid my second visit to New Orleans for the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference. After the requisite number of panels and readings (I always reach a point after which nothing else can be absorbed!), I headed out to explore the city, spending an afternoon in the New Orleans Museum of Art, where they had an impressive blown and pressed glass collection, including some Chilhuly, followed by a late lunch in the French Quarter. The restaurant I chose—I’ve forgotten the name—put me at a table looking out over the street, and the waiter brought me a plate of divine oysters (broiled—don’t even talk to me about raw) with some sort of creamy, garlicky sauce. Here are some of the various ways oysters are cooked in NOLA: Oyster Recipes. I imagine that restaurant is gone now, a victim of Katrina or the vagaries of the restaurant business. 

 

New Orleans’ charms (and the horrors of Katrina) lingered in my imagination, and later gave birth to the character of Kyle DuPont, a black police officer who served during Hurricane Katrina, and then came north to Connecticut because of racism and corruption in the force. In my latest novel, The Fallen, Kyle must return home after one of his officers is shot because he believes some threads from his past may be threatening his future, especially his future with Clara Montague, the psychic protagonist of the series.
 

While Kyle’s food preferences aren’t mentioned in the novel, he does have fried chicken and a Southern pecan cake (Lee Bailey's recipe here: Yum!) after church with his family, and he makes a beef stew with cumin for Clara upon his return to Connecticut, over which they discuss what he’s discovered about an old nemesis and whether he is safe now. (He’s been shot at twice, so it’s a reasonable question!) 

 

While doing my research for the novel, I got to explore virtually this wonderful city, including a little airport along Lake Ponchatrain and the Garden District where Kyle’s mother lives in the family home. As well, I looked at photos of Houma and “drove” on Google maps down to the bayou where a modern-day healer/witch shelters a young girl pregnant by a gang member who may be threatening Kyle. Her concoctions tend toward herbal teas that make Clara see purple smoke. What does that mean?!

 

Clara, of course, saves the day and Kyle, and the book wraps with them eating at my favorite local Italian restaurant, Pasquale's Restaurant, Norwalk, CT, martini in hand. Isn’t it grand to live through the characters? They get to do all the things I haven’t been able to during COVID. 

 

What ways have you found to travel and eat yummy things during the pandemic? Is there a place you’ve been longing to visit? Thanks so much for dropping by! 

 

The Fallen

A Clara Montague Mystery, Book 2

 

Clara Montague is having dreams again, the kind that should steer her away from trouble but always lead her to it. She survives a drive-by shooting that takes the life of a cop but complicates her new romantic relationship with police chief Kyle Dupont. Her conservative tony town isn’t thrilled to have an African American chief or have him dating on of their own. The deeply hidden motives behind the shooting eventually lead Kyle and Clara to New Orleans. Will Clara’s visions be enough to keep them safe from Kyle’s past? 

 

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--ROMANCE AUTHOR VICKEY WOLLAN BAKES UP AWARD-WINNING CHRISTMAS COOKIES

Vickey Wollan writes sweet and clean Christmas-themed contemporary romance. Her short stories appear in the annual fund-raising anthology series Romancing the Holidays for the First Coast Romance Writers. Learn more about Vickey and her books at her website. 

Do you have a fond memory of your holiday traditions as a child? I do. My mom would remind my sister and me that our maternal grandmother handed down this recipe and manual cookie press. It’s a metal cylinder with caps on each end and an inner snug fitting disk that pushes out the dough when one presses the handle. It seems simple and ordinary. But, when you add your decorating flair and cookie baking love, this recipe can win contests.

 

In December of 2019, as pictured, this platter of cookies won the First Coast Romance Writer’s annual holiday cookie competition. All the party attendees voted. The moistness of the cookie’s texture and level-up decorations were the prime reasons for the crowning glory.


Olga Vogel, the protagonist in A Snowflake Christmas – The Nutcracker is known for baking gingerbread men sold in the gift shop at the tree farm, Christmas Trees of Snowflake, which she recently inherited. A native of Snowflake, a fictitious, snowy, rural Montana mountain town, Olga participates in or hosts the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrations. She’s focused on her business, but two attractive men keep trying to romance her.

 

The spark of an idea came to me while driving from Grand Teton National Park traveling to Yellowstone National Park in May of 2018. The small rural towns along the way had fewer than three-hundred residents each according to signs that boasted their populations. Then I drove past their downtown. Blink, and you’d miss it. That fueled the idea for the setting for the A Snowflake Christmas series. The plot points became clearer while hiking into the snowy elevations of the mountains.

 

Snowflake Currency is an ongoing theme in the series. Bartering favors and kindness to help your neighbors through the rough winters is a theme. Seeing how the residents of this area treated tourists and each other galvanized how my characters would act toward one another.

 

Each novel in the series has a mystical element to keep the joy-of-the-season shining all year round. The legend of the nutcracker says a nutcracker given as a present will protect the home of the recipient. Olga thinks one of her nutcrackers is faulty. She gifts it at no charge to a young boy, Quinn, who cherishes it beyond words. The toy seemingly answers Quinn's questions. When the arm springs forward on its own, that means yes.

 

Butter Cookie Recipe

1 egg

2 sticks butter (1 cup creamed)

3/4 cup white granular sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon of vanilla OR other flavored extracts like peppermint, almond or walnut.

1 & 1/2 teaspoons food coloring (or more as preferred)

2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

 

Bake 5-6 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Decorate immediately after taking cookies out of the oven. Snow effect via powdered sugar can be added anytime, or not at all.

 

Using a mixer, blend ingredients in a bowl in the order that they are listed above. Add flour in small amounts, not all at once. If you add more extract or food coloring add more flour to make the dough a stiffer consistency. Use a manual or electric cookie press to make the shapes.

 

Pictured are almond-cinnamon poinsettias with a dusting of snow where almond extract made the poinsettias come to life and peppermint-chocolate trees with snow covered branches decorated with mini semi-sweet chocolate chips to create bountiful trees.   Enjoy!

 

A Snowflake Christmas: The Nutcracker

Olga Vogel, a native of small-town Snowflake, Montana, knows the value of hard work and focused determination. When she finds herself the sole inheritor of the Snowflake Christmas Tree Farm, she decides her personal life must wait while she concentrates on successfully running the business. Olga turns to her father for support and is astounded when he questions her management suitability.

 

Olga’s decision to step away from romance gets complicated when Eric Lund, a sexy single father seems determined to capture her attention. Then Grant Miller, who broke up with her to become a college football star, returns to Snowflake acting as if he wants to rekindle their relationship. Drawn to each man individually, Grant’s charisma and Erik’s giving nature, Olga struggles with decisions about her future. 

Can she run a prosperous company, and find her one true love?


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Monday, November 29, 2021

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--MYSTERY AUTHOR J.E. BARNARD HOLDS A CHRISTMAS COOKIE BOOK LAUNCH

After decades of writing for anthologies and magazines, award-winning author J.E. (Jayne) Barnard saw her first novel published at age fifty-five and has now published six novels. Her writing year is split between Calgary with her cat and Vancouver Island with a resident owl. Both creatures ignore her office hours. Learn more about Jayne and her books at her website 

The Sweetest Launch Party for my Saddest Novel

Getting a book published is a huge deal in every new author’s life, and a launch party provides a focus for that excitement. Friends show up, you read an excerpt and answer some questions, sign books and accept congratulations. 

 

I launched four books in a row like that at my great indie bookstore, Owls Nest Books in Calgary, Canada. We had decorations, snacks, and music to match some element of each book. We sold enough books each time to get onto the local bestseller list. But I was looking to change it up. To surprise the guests while still keeping to the new book’s theme.

 

Where the Ice Falls takes place from early December through to Orthodox Christmas Eve on January 6th. In it, Lacey and Dee and their two Irish setters, are spending a last Christmas with Dee’s dying mother. Together they decorate Christmas cookies amid their grieving and their murder investigation. Those cookies spread out to friends and soften up suspects.

 

So, for the launch, I made (gluten-free) Christmas cookies. I didn’t decorate them all, though. Instead, guests gathered around festive holiday tables in the bookstore with tubs of sprinkles and tubes of icing. Everyone decorated cookies while I read that scene to them, then we all talked about favourite Christmases and best friendships.

 

It was my sweetest launch not only for those sugar cookies, but for the fun shared around those tables filled with icing and sprinkles.

 

Gluten-free Sugar Cookies for decorating

 

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water or milk

1 teaspoon vanilla or peppermint extract

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon or ginger

2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour (reserving 2 Tbsp for rolling out with)

1/2 tsp xanthan gum (if your flour blend doesn’t have it)

 

Cream together butter and sugar, add egg, water/milk, and your chosen extract and blend well.

 

Mix together dry ingredients and add gradually to wet, blending thoroughly. Dough should be slightly sticky.

 

Wrap dough with wax paper and chill in fridge at least 1 hour. Keeps well in fridge for a week.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 

Let dough sit on counter 15 minutes ahead. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and assemble your cookie cutters. 

 

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick and cut out 18-24 cookies. As this dough is a bit more fragile than gluten dough, lift cookies carefully to the lined pans so they don’t break apart.

 

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on pan for at least 5 minutes (10 is better) before moving to a cooling rack.

 

When completely cool, decorate as you choose. Store in an airtight container for up to a week (although they may become a bit crumbly in a humid climate.)

 

Where the Ice Falls 

The Falls Mysteries, Book 2


Found by a psychic who wasn’t looking for him, the dead intern disrupts a ski chalet’s sale and everybody’s Christmas plans. Can ex-Mountie Lacey cope with a murder investigation and the reluctant psychic on top of her best friend’s absence, her roommate’s visiting mother, and her car getting stolen?

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

MURDER MEETS MIRTH EVENT

Murder Meets Mirth--with Prizes!
Join Lois Winston, along with humorous mystery authors Jacqueline Vick and J. Michael Orenduff, on Tuesday November 30th at 5pm PST (6pm MST, 7pm CST, and 8pm EST) for an online discussion of funny mysteries and the launch of A Scaly Tail of Murder, Jacqueline Vick's fifth Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic Mystery. There will be prizes! Special guest moderator will be Kim Taylor Blakemore, author of the bestselling historical thriller After Alice Fell. This event will be held through Crowdcast, not Zoom. Register ahead of time here.

Friday, November 26, 2021

MYSTERY AUTHOR KASSANDRA LAMB ON THE FUN AND CHALLENGES OF WRITING HOLIDAY STORIES

In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs and being partial to eating, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist—which taught her much about resilience, perseverance, and the healing power of laughter—she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. Learn more about Kassandra and her books at her website.

The Fun and Challenges of Writing Holiday Stories

I’ve always loved reading holiday stories, especially Christmas ones. They put me in the mood for that holiday. And I’ve discovered in recent years that I also love writing them. They’re a lot of fun.

 

There are, however, a few unique challenges to penning a story set at Halloween or Christmas or any other holiday.

 

But first, the fun!

 

Descriptions of settings

Descriptions become a lot more fun to write when you can dress them up with sparkly Christmas lights or spooky Halloween decor or red hearts for Valentine’s Day.

 

The first holiday novella I wrote was for my Kate Huntington mysteries. It’s set in St. Augustine, Florida, where Kate’s parents live. 

 

In real life, St. Augustine goes way overboard when it comes to Christmas. The town, its businesses and residents put up millions of tiny white lights to create a wonderland. Every palm tree and light post is swathed in garlands, lights, and ribbons. And even during the day, the decorations are spectacular, like the gazebo in the town plaza.

 

The descriptions of those decorations help readers be right there with Kate and her family as they prepare for the holidays and solve a mystery while they’re at it.

 

And as the plot is unfolding in The Legend of Sleepy Mayfair (in my second cozy series), the town’s riding stable is gradually transformed into a haunted house, with witches and giant spiders hanging from the rafters and a room full of creepy dolls. 

 

A little lighter

The holidays themselves tend to lighten things up. And in my holiday stories, which are all novellas, the stories are shorter, so I have to keep things a bit simpler. 

 

Little or no subplots, for example. But that’s okay, because the holiday itself becomes a subplot—the preparations for it, the anticipation, how the characters feel about that particular holiday.

 

The challenges

Lightness and fun aren’t all that intriguing after a while, though. Even in holiday stories, there needs to be tension, conflict, and dark moments to make for an interesting read. And especially in mysteries, there needs to be something, well, mysterious.

 

How to create those darker elements without making the story depressing? One way I found was to make the mystery about something other than murder. In An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine, it’s a missing person, a friend of Kate’s parents.

 

In my Christmas novella for my second series, about a young woman who trains service dogs for veterans, I made the murder an old one. The protagonist’s quirky neighbors in Mayfair, Florida decide to build an ice-skating rink (told you they were quirky) to attract winter tourists. And during the excavation, a thirty-year-old skeleton is uncovered.

 

The themes

The themes in holiday stories, obviously, should be related to that holiday. That is both fun and challenging. For my novella, My Funny Mayfair Valentine, the mystery revolves around a budding romance (or two).

 

The themes of my Christmas stories are related to family. In A Mayfair Christmas Carol, as Marcia and her police detective boyfriend try to solve the old murder, the back story of the town’s founding family is revealed and we learn, along with Marcia, why the muumuu-wearing octogenarian matriarch is a Scrooge.

 

Bringing it home

The endings should also be related to the holiday in some way. In The Legend of Sleepy Mayfair, I re-enacted—sort of—the ride of the Headless Horseman.

 

And in A Mayfair Christmas Carol, Marcia and her boyfriend literally bring someone home to their family on Christmas Eve.

 

I love writing holiday stories so much that I’m kind of sad right now—because I’m running out of holidays. I have one more novella planned for the dog trainer series, titled Auld Lang Mayfair. (In case you haven’t guessed, it’s set around New Year’s Day.)

 

And I’m starting a new series, of police procedurals, partly so I can write more holiday stories for that series! 

 

A Mayfair Christmas Carol

A Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mystery, Book 4)

 

When Mayfair, Florida’s newly minted Chamber of Commerce goes off the rails and decides to build an ice skating rink for a Christmas extravaganza, a decades-old skeleton is uncovered and its secrets threaten more than the town’s Christmas plans. Service dog trainer Marcia Banks is determined to help her police detective boyfriend solve the mystery—whether he wants her help or not. Can she and her Black Lab, Buddy, keep the ghost of Christmas past from destroying what is left of Mayfair’s founding family?

 

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

MYSTERY AUTHOR JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR TAKES US ON A CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE PIRATE PLUNDER AND MURDER

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a bestselling author of mysteries and historical fiction—and work that interweaves the two. Learn more about Jeannette and her books at her website

Some Yo, Ho, Ho Winter Holidays

It’s a strange holiday season out on the tip of Cape Cod. While the small town of Provincetown is bustling with visitors and celebrating its annual “Holly Folly” festival, wedding planner Sydney Riley is worried. Part of Black Sam Bellamy’s treasure has washed ashore, and far too many people are more interested in pirate gold than they are in either the festivities… or an unsolved murder from the past that’s reaching long tentacles into the present.

 

And when she literally trips over a body, she knows it’s time to do something about the situation.

 

Cape Cod is home to the only authenticated pirate wreck, the Whydah, which sank off Provincetown in a storm in 1717. The irony is that the pirate fleet shouldn’t have been anywhere near shore—it was transporting its loot from the Caribbean to safe haven in Canada—but the handsome Sam couldn’t resist a stopover to see his lady love, Maria Hallett, and paid for it with his life. I spent a lot of time researching pirates in general, and Bellamy and the Whydah in particular, as I created a fictional addition to his fleet, a ship I called the Mignonette, which a character in the story plans to locate and possibly plunder. 

 

One thing I learned is the origin of the term buccaneer, often applied to pirates. The French word boucanrefers to smoked meat slowly cured on a grate over an open fire. Hunters in the Caribbean cooked, cured, and sold this meat to pirate-ship captains, and these hunters and cooks became known as boucaniers or “barbecuers.” Once they realized the wealth of those buying their meats, however, they gave up on the cooking and started to attack their customers’ ships instead… essentially becoming pirates themselves. (I can’t help you attract pirates, but here are some tips for trying out a primitive barbecue such as boucaniers might have used!)

 

Another interesting sidelight is the surprisingly democratic nature of piracy. Everyone on board got to vote on decisions, and everyone shared equally in the plunder. Pirate ships welcomed crew of all races and even, occasionally, a woman. And Bellamy, in particular, never took a life during his career: the image of “bloodthirsty pirates” is simply inaccurate. It was very much a matter of redistribution of wealth.

 

In the meantime, back at our story, Provincetown’s beloved holiday traditions carry on despite the excitement over pirate gold: the lighting of the festive lobster-pot tree celebrating the commercial fishing fleet, the official lighting of the Pilgrim Monument, Souper Saturday to benefit the soup kitchen, and finally Holly Folly week itself, filled with concerts, a trolley tour, shopping bargains, and—um—Santas in Speedos. (Sydney has something to say about the latter curious custom, but it raises money for charities, so…)

 

A Fatal Folly is a combination of murder, merriment, and pirate treasure that’s sure to delight  readers looking for a slightly different take on the holidays!

 

A Fatal Folly

A Provincetown Mystery, Book 5

 

Winter is arriving in Provincetown, and Sydney has her hands full with events at the inn, friends in town, and the dreaded arrival of her parents for part of the holidays. Her boyfriend Ali isn’t there to be part of it; he’s been sent undercover to work in California. But while the town’s beloved events unfold—the Lighting of the Monument and the lobster pot tree, Holly Folly with its exuberant festivities—another excitement grips P’town as an enigmatic Englishman arrives, poised to raise the Mignonette, part of Black Sam Bellamy’s fleet of pirate ships that sank off the Cape Cod coast. But first he raises a more recent tragedy, a fishing-boat that disappeared five years ago, a cold case for law enforcement as the captain was found on land with a bullet in his head. His isn’t the only body complicating the holidays: Sydney literally trips over Pete, one of the assistant harbormasters, who’s been murdered and dumped on MacMillan Pier. How are all these events connected? Sydney will have to work hard to find out, before these become her last-ever holidays.

 

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