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, July 18, 2018


Today we sit down for a chat with mystery author Mary Feliz. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’m not a natural writer. My first college essay came back with the notation, “Did you sprinkle the commas in with a pepper grinder?”

For me, writing a novel seemed like the ultimate challenge. Some people want to win the lottery. Others want to climb Mount Everest or become president. I wanted to try to write a novel that was good enough to be traditionally published. I’m not sure when that goal first seized hold of me, but it was when my children were small, my days were long, and my imagination kept me sane. I’ve often thought that knowing what you want is one of the hardest things in life, but when you know, getting what you want is relatively easy. It still requires a lot of very hard work, but the path becomes clear. Everyone’s path is different, and many may be windy and uphill, but those who stay on the path tend to get published.

How long did it take you to get published?
How long depends upon when you start counting. In 1999, I began a YA historical trilogy centered round California statehood and the early Spanish settlers. I found an agent for them, but they were never published. In 2014, I tried again with mysteries, and my first mystery was published in 2016. So, did it take me two years or seventeen? I’ll let you decide.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author. I’m published by Kensington’s Lyrical Press, which focuses on e-books but also offers print-on-demand and mass market paperbacks.

Where do you write?
Anywhere. I’m writing this in the dentist’s office while waiting for my 91-year-old mother. I’ve written in coffee shops, in cars, on airplanes, and in hospitals. My favorite spot is the guest room/office in our tiny condo at the beach on Monterey Bay in California.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by?
I prefer silence. I can tune out the noise of a crowded coffee shop if I have to, but I always travel with earplugs, just in case. I love music, but I’m unable to let it float in the background. I find it distracting.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
“None of it” and “all of it” are both true. Everything gets filtered through the lens of my real life and real events. But first it goes into a blender where it is mixed, sifted, and changed so that all the pieces fit together in an order that serves the story. Story always wins, regardless of which pieces are fictional and which are factual. None of my characters are based on real people, but all of my locations are plucked from real locales.

Describe your character-naming process.
Many of my characters come to me with names already attached. I don’t know how that happens. Frequently, they’ll all come to me with names too similar for a reader to keep straight, so I need to try different names on them until we get a proper fit. It becomes a negotiation between me and my character, but when it’s right, we know it. Some poor characters may spend most of the book being known as “dead guy”, “strange woman”, or “motorcycle dude,” before I finally discover their given name.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Orchard View, in which the first four books are set, is a fictional town that’s a mash-up of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and other Silicon Valley towns. It contains many real locations and landmarks, including the house the McDonald family lives in, which is based on the historic Griffin House at Foothill College. I try not to have anything bad happen at a real location. Although I blew up a building at Stanford University in Scheduled to Death, the building doesn’t exist and real campus security would have easily thwarted the plan if fictional students and staff had followed real university safety protocols.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
That’s a difficult one. Tess, Maggie’s best friend, has two sides to her life and personality, with completely separate wardrobes for each one. She and her husband have a happy successful marriage with a unique living situation. So, Tess might win, but some of the other characters give her a run for her money, including Paolo, who always arrives at crime scenes with a new and different piece of athletic gear strapped to the roof of his car.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Everything I do is completely normal and expected, of course. J

If you could have written any book, which one would it be? Why?
Time Magic, because it’s a great pun and a great book that entertained me endlessly as a child.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I’m not a big one for do-overs, because I see even the most dismal of experiences as a learning process. There is usually something positive to be gained. To get a do-over would mean giving up the good things along with the bad. It’s tempting, but once the bad situation is behind me, I’d hate to go through it again, in case it turned out worse than it did the first time!

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t take the time to be polite. It takes so little effort and makes life so much more enjoyable for everyone.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Assuming it can’t be a desserted island, which would be much more fun, and that it has clean water and shelter, I’d love to have writing materials, reading materials, and a dog.

What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
We called it “The Prayer Factory.” And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Today, I’m going to say A Wrinkle in Time, because I loved Meg, her mother’s lab, and the kitchen. But tomorrow, my answer might be different. There are so many varied and wonderful books, with plenty to satisfy every mood and personality.

Ocean or mountains?
I like the mountains, but I love the ocean so much that I moved to the beach.

What’s on the horizon for you?
After the sixth book in the Maggie McDonald series, in which she heads to the mountains, I’ll be working on a new series set near Monterey Bay. The McDonalds and their animals may return, but I think the poor people of Orchard View need a break from the spate of murders that have beset them since Maggie and her family came to town.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I have the best job in the world and I love it. I’m also infinitely grateful to all of my readers, especially the ones who love the books and say so to other readers! You’re the best!! Thank you!

Disorderly Conduct
Book 4 of the Maggie McDonald Mysteries

Professional organizer Maggie McDonald balances a fastidious career with friends, family, and a spunky Golden Retriever. But add a fiery murder mystery to the mix, and Maggie wonders if she’s found a mess even she can’t tidy up . . .

With a devastating wildfire spreading to Silicon Valley, Maggie preps her family for evacuation. The heat rises when firefighters discover a dead body—the husband of Maggie’s best friend Tess Olmos. Tess becomes the prime suspect in what's shaping up to become a double murder case. Determined to set the record straight, Maggie launches an investigation more dangerous than the flames approaching her home. When her own loved ones are threatened, can she catch the meticulous killer before everything falls apart?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Kathleen Kaska writes the awarding-winning Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series, the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, and the Kate Caraway Mystery Series. Today she joins us to share two of her favorite summer recipes. Learn more about Kathleen and her books at her website. 

Forty years ago, I spent a summer in Salamanca, Spain, hoping to become fluent in Spanish. I finally had to admit that I don't have a brain for languages. I can order meals, ask directions, interpret time, and utter a few sentences like, ¿Tienes un lapiz? (Do you have a pencil?) What I did learn was how to make gazpacho and sangria, both of which I enjoyed many times.

This is Alton Brown's Gazpacho recipe and I think it's one of the best.

1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Tomato juice
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.

Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.

Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1-1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil and glass of sangria.


1 bottle dry red wine. (Do not use expensive wine. The taste will be lost in the following ingredients.)
1/2 cup of brandy
1/2 cup of gin
1/2 of Cointreau or other orange liqueur
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 lemons, sliced and unpeeled
2 limes, sliced and unpeeled
1 orange, sliced and unpeeled
1 cup of cherries

Add all ingredients into a large picture filled with ice. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Run Dog Run
A Kate Caraway Animal Rights Mystery, Book One

After five years in Africa, researching the decline of elephant populations, Kate Caraway’s project comes to a screeching halt when she shoots a poacher and is forced to leave the country. Animal rights activist Kate Caraway travels to a friend’s ranch in Texas for a much-needed rest. But before she has a chance to unpack, her friend’s daughter pleads for Kate’s assistance. The young woman has become entangled in the ugly world of greyhound abuse and believes Kate is the only one with the experience and tenacity to expose the crime and find out who is responsible. On the case for only a few hours, Kate discovers a body, complicating the investigation by adding murder to the puzzle. Now, she’s in a race against time to find the killer before she becomes the next victim.

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Monday, July 16, 2018


I generally don’t watch TV commercials. I suppose that makes me an advertiser’s nightmare. Since I have so little time to watch any television, I record the shows I want to see and watch them when I have time, fast-forwarding through all those annoying spots that try to sell me everything from foot odor remedies to pricey water.

However, every so often an advertiser’s creativity wins out and captures my attention. Years ago, like many viewers around the country, I found myself hooked, waiting for the next installment of the Folger’s coffee saga. Would they or wouldn’t they?

Such is now the case with the Sherwin Williams paint chip commercials. As a designer, I’m in awe of the creative geniuses that came up with this visually spectacular campaign. They took tens of thousands of ubiquitous paint chips, the kind we pick up at any paint store when we’re trying to decide on room or house colors, and brought them to life, creating unbelievable animals and landscapes, in thirty seconds of incredibly detailed animation.

According to an article in Adweek, it took nearly 30,000 paint chips and 5,600 hours for twenty-four artists to create the African jungle spot. Watch it here and be prepared to be amazed. 

Friday, July 13, 2018


Humorous mystery author Cindy Sample has stopped by for a visit from time to time, but she’s never sat down for an interview. Today that changes. Learn more about Cindy and her books at her website.    

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I discovered Nancy Drew in the first grade and by the time I turned eight, I’d read all of the series. So I decided to use my spelling words one night and dashed off a sixteen-page Nancy Drew sequel. I received an A+ and was hooked. I knew then I wanted to be a mystery author.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It took half a century before my next mystery was completed. But technically, it took eight years to write Dying for a Date, the first book in my series, get an agent, then find a publisher.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
My first two books were released by a small publisher that closed shortly before the release of my third book. They gave me my rights back and I decided to try self-publishing which I ended up loving. I like being in control of every aspect of the publishing business, including not releasing a book until it’s ready.

Where do you write? 
I stand in front of my laptop which is perched on my kitchen counter. For some reason that works for me. Plus I convince myself that standing in place is a form of exercise. It’s also next to the pantry in case I need culinary inspiration.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I need complete silence. Music is too distracting because I tend to cha-cha around the house once the music begins.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? 
My character is a single soccer mom at the beginning of the series so she occasionally contends with a few domestic scenes that I might also have encountered. And she is a complete klutz just like I am.

Describe your process for naming your character?
I came up with the name “Laurel” when I was visiting a botanical garden and her last name of “McKay” just magically appeared.

Real settings or fictional towns?
I live in the California Gold Country, a beautiful area with historic gold mines, wineries, and apple orchards, close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I wanted to profile the town and some of my favorite places, and the town of Placerville loves the publicity.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Laurel thinks chocolate has medicinal powers.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
The Husband’s Secret or Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Both are brilliant – suspenseful but also witty.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Chocolate, chardonnay and my Kindle

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Typing card catalog cards for three hours every afternoon during college. That had to be the worst library job ever.

Ocean or mountains?
Tough call.  It’s a tie!

City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 
Complete country girl. I grew up on a farm in Illinois.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m currently two-thirds through chemotherapy (yay) so once chemo brain has dissipated I’ll be working on another Laurel McKay mystery. I’d also like to put together a book filled with brief cancer survivor essays that will be heartwarming, helpful and/or humorous. The positive stories I’ve heard from other authors and non-writers really helped me get through this onerous period, and I’d like to be able to share the positivity with others fighting the same battle.

Dying For a Deal
A Laurel McKay Mystery, Book 7

Laurel McKay Hunter is thrilled when she signs up her first client, a friend of her grandmother, for Gold County Investigations, the detective agency she and her husband have recently formed. The case involves a South Lake Tahoe timeshare scam, which is perfect for Laurel, given her financial background.

When the timeshare salesman is found dead, with her grandmother’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, Laurel adds solving the murder to her caseload.

When a second murder occurs, Laurel discovers that this case could have greater depths than the turbulent waters of Lake Tahoe. From the summit of snow-capped Heavenly Valley, a boat race across the lake, and an unexpected dumpster dive, Laurel is determined to catch the killer.

Unfortunately, the killer is willing to stop at nothing. Including eliminating Laurel!

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Thursday, July 12, 2018


Happy National Simplicity Day!

Today is a day devoted to getting back to basics. It’s in honor of Henry David Thoreau, who was born on July 12, 1817. Happy 201st birthday, Henry David!

Henry Who?

Think back to high school when you probably had to read Walden, an account of his two years living the simplest of lives in a cabin on the shores of Walden Pond outside Concord, Massachusetts. Yes, that Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau was an author, environmentalist, abolitionist, transcendentalist, and poet. Two of his closest transcendentalist friends were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott.

The transcendentalists believed that people have knowledge about themselves that “transcends” all the external forces in their lives. As such, they advocated for living a simpler life in order to get better in touch with their feelings. According to Thoreau, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

So in honor of National Simplicity Day and in memory of Henry David Thoreau, consider unplugging and stepping away from all your electronic devices today (after you finish reading this blog post, of course!) Take a walk in the woods or a stroll along the beach. Do some yoga in the park. Or simply camp out on your porch with a good book and a refreshing glass of ice tea for a few hours.

Unwind to refresh and recharge body and soul. You’ll be happy you did.

Nature was a form of religion for naturalist, essayist, and early environmentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817–62). In communing with the natural world, he wished to "live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and … learn what it had to teach." Toward that end Thoreau built a cabin in the spring of 1845 on the shores of Walden Pond — on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson — outside Concord, Massachusetts. There he observed nature, farmed, built fences, surveyed, and wrote in his journal.

One product of his two-year sojourn was this book — a great classic of American letters. Interwoven with accounts of Thoreau's daily life (he received visitors and almost daily walked into Concord) are mediations on human existence, society, government, and other topics, expressed with wisdom and beauty of style.

Walden offers abundant evidence of Thoreau's ability to begin with observations on a mundane incident or the minutiae of nature and then develop these observations into profound ruminations on the most fundamental human concerns. Credited with influencing Tolstoy, Gandhi, and other thinkers, the volume remains a masterpiece of philosophical reflection.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Catherine Mede describes herself as a mother, writer, gardener, proofreader, crafter, whip maker, yoga practitioner, walker, cycler, and a lover of life and self. Today she joins us to discuss how writing helped her cope with a really awful year.

A Year of Frustrations

If I wanted to be a negative person, I could say my life is a series of frustrations.  2016 was a classic example.  After a couple of months of rather twisted and nasty conversations, I ended my marriage.  Turns out my husband wanted to end our relationship, but didn’t want to look like “the bad guy”...

So my son and I got into the whole “just us” routine and really enjoyed the peace and tranquility of our home, when we received news we really didn’t want to hear. My stepdad, who had beaten cancer years earlier, had it back, in a more aggressive form because of the type of treatment he had initially. Only 5% of those who had that type of treatment developed this aggressive cancer. 

By May I was starting to think – why me?  Why now?  I love my poppa, he is closer to me than my own father.  He was the role model of a gentleman and husband for my son who was constantly staying at my Mum’s and Poppa’s because he liked hanging out with Poppa.

In July, Poppa lost the battle, and died.  It was a sad and hard time for our family, because we were still getting our heads around the fact that he was sick when he was taken from us.  It happened way too fast.

In August, my son’s beloved cat was killed by a car.  No fault of the driver, the silly cat took fright at a dog barking and ran straight out in front of the guy, who was quite traumatized by it.  She was such a beautiful natured cat and had chosen to live with us because she didn’t like the two dogs, three kids and four cats that lived in her own home. We only had one cat and one child, so it was peaceful at our place.

I had to dig a hole and bury her, because I couldn’t get hold of my ex.  The ground at our place is old riverbed, so it is full of rocks.  I was crying so hard because I just couldn’t get down deep enough.  The neighbors took pity on me and came to help. 

While all of this was going on, I was suffering from depression and struggling to find my feet as far as my mental health was concerned.

I could have spent most of last year focused on all the bad things that had happened in my life, but instead, I chose to focus on the good things:

                  The peace and quiet in our house after my ex left;
                the love and compassion shown to me and my son by my poppa for the few short years that we had known him
                and the happiness poppa had because my mental health was improving after I left my ex;
                the love and affection from a cat that chose to live with us rather than her owners.

And all this became fodder for a book, Finding Amy Archer.  A story about a woman who loses her husband, best friend, all the while her son is heading off to university, all in a short period of time.  It is based more on my emotional experiences, rather than on actual events, but it was rather cathartic to write this story.  I was able to express myself a lot in this character, to show how I dealt with most of the events that took place in my “year from hell.”

My only frustration these days, is finding enough time in the day to do all the fun things I want to do – like write, craft, paint...

Finding Amy Archer
Amy Morgan’s world is about to come to a crashing halt.  Her son is off to university, her husband is having an affair, and her best friend is dying.  What is a girl to do?

Amy is struggling to find her feet in her ever collapsing world. But one thing is abundantly clear, she now has the time to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
But who is Amy Morgan? What happened to her ideals and life?  Amy only knows who she was as so goes back to her family name, Archer. But what does she like? What are her passions?

Follow Amy Archer on her path of discovery, learning to love herself and finding her way in a new world without her husband, best friend or her son.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Fruit salad is a staple in our house during the summer. We often eat it for breakfast, as a midday snack, or as an after-dinner dessert or as a topping over sorbet, sherbet, ice cream or gelato. The abundance of fresh fruit this time of year means from day to day no two fruit salads will be the same. You can even combine vegetable salads and fruit salads for a refreshing lunch or dinner.

Along with the standard melons (honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon), berries (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry), stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries), tropical fruits (pineapple, banana, papaya, kiwi, oranges, tangerines, mangoes) and grapes, I like to jazz up my fruit salads with different toppings. Here are a variety of add-ons for your summer fruit salad. Some you may have added in the past but some you probably haven’t thought to try. Use them individually or in combination.

The photo above features a fruit salad of nectarines, clementines, bananas, strawberries, dried cranberries, and chocolate chips.

Chopped pistachios
Chopped walnuts
Chopped pecans
Slivered almonds
Grape nuts
Chocolate chips
Butterscotch chips
Caramel chips
Shredded coconut
Mini marshmallows
Dried cherries
Dried blueberries
Dried cranberries
Yogurt covered dried fruit
Chopped, dried apricots
Crumbled blue cheese
Crumbled feta
A drizzle of hot fudge sauce
A drizzle of caramel sauce
A drizzle of honey
A dollop of yogurt
A dollop of whipped cream
A dollop of pudding
A dollop of custard
A splash of orange juice
A splash of lime juice
A splash of wine
A splash of rum
A splash of tequila  
A splash of pineapple juice
Chopped fresh mint
Chopped fresh basil
Chopped watercress
Jello cubes
Chopped cookies
Cubes of pound cake
Cubes of brownie
Cubes of angel food cake
Pretzel pieces
Chocolate covered pretzel pieces
Chopped cucumber

Did I leave out any of your favorites?