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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Thursday, September 29, 2011


Terri Lynn Main is a soon-to-be retired teacher at Reedley College who lives in Reedley, California with her five cats. For 40 years she’s written everything from radio commercials to novels and recently opened an online learning space called Education Wants to be Free. Visit Terri at the Dark Side of the Moon website

Terri is offering both a hard copy and an e-book version of Dark Side of the Moon to two of our readers who post a comment to the blog this week. -- AP

When Genres Collide: Writing the Science-Fiction Mystery
Mystery novels throughout the years have been set in different time periods ranging from Twelfth Century monasteries to Victorian England to World War II. This is common practice and few people think much about a gumshoe amateur or professional solving a crime at some point in the past whether 1930’s Chicago or Ancient Egypt. However, when you set a mystery in the future, the game changes.
No one ponders over the genre of a Brother Cadfael mystery, for instance. They don’t wonder if it should be classified with historical fiction or maybe Catholic fiction. They recognize the mystery elements immediately, and Ellis Peters goes on the same shelf as Agatha Christie.
Such is not the case when the setting for the mystery set in the future. For instance, let’s take my novel Dark Side of the Moon (Muse It Up Publishing, 2011).  Here are two blurbs for the story, both accurate, but one causes more questions than the other.
After the death of her mother, History Professor Carolyn Masters takes a job at a new university hoping to leave her past behind her. However, the murder of a colleague brings her face to face with her own demons as she tries to find his killer.
After the death of her mother, History Professor Carolyn Masters takes a job at a new university on the moon hoping to leave her past behind her. However, the murder of a colleague brings her face to face with her own demons as she tries to find his killer.
Just three words and now, a cozy mystery becomes – what? A science fiction story? In a world that likes to carefully put everything in simple well-defined boxes, what do you do when you start combining genres? I’m not sure I have all the answers, but here are a few observations.
Decide on a Dominant Genre
Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov  set the standard, in my opinion, for the science fiction mystery. In his story, a murder occurs and Elijah Bailey, seasoned cop, must team up with Daneel Olivaw, an android to solve the case. Even though we have political intrigue about a division of humanity between the denizens of Earth who stay in their underground cities and those who generations ago left for the stars, the story remains one of a couple of cops trying to solve a mystery.
Now, by his third Elijah Bailey/Daneel Olivaw novel, Robots of Dawn, Asimov’s focus shifts and is much more on the science-fiction elements than on the mystery. In this case, it becomes a sci-fi story with a mystery as the trigger for the action. It is also an excellent novel which lays the groundwork for his Hugo Award Winning Foundation series, which is pure science fiction.
I chose with my novel to emphasize the mystery over the science fiction elements. What always makes my day is when someone says when reading the story they almost forget it is set on the moon until something happens to remind them. That was what I intended. So, first, decide whether it’s a mystery that happens to include sci-fi elements or a science fiction story that includes a mystery.
Research, Research, Research
You wouldn’t sit down and write a mystery that takes place in a Roman Villa at the time of Christ without studying everything you could find about the history of that time, it’s customs, architecture, food, wardrobe, etc. Yet, many think that writing stories about the future can be an act of pure imagination without doing any research.
Such is not the case. Science fiction readers, and even if you emphasize the mystery, you will get sci-fi fans as well, are tough on any type of scientific blunder you make. You can get away with more imaginative science placed further in the future, though. This is because science changes and what seemed settled today may be overturned by new discoveries tomorrow. I just read a story about scientists who this week accelerated some neutrino particles past the speed of light. If that holds up, it changes everything and overturns much of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and opens up the possibility of two science fiction standby’s time travel and FTL (Faster than Light) travel – at least at the subatomic level. But with near future (100 years or less) science fiction, be sure your future technology is firmly rooted in scientific principles as we know them.
World Building
Even with historical fiction, you have something relatively familiar to begin with: the college campus, the small town, the monastery, the urban neighborhood.  You only partially create the world of your story. Most of it is based on models already known to you or based on your research of olden days.
However, when you are speculating about the future, you have no such firm foundation.  That new world may even work on a different physical basis than the one you are familiar with. My novel is set on the moon, which means every so often having only 1/6 the gravity of Earth becomes an issue. One essential clue in the novel depends on that fact.
World building goes beyond all the things you do when creating a setting for your story. You have to consider social mores which may change over time, new art, new clothing, new architecture. However, don’t get carried away. In 200 years everything isn’t going to change. People still live in colonial mansions and a resident of Boston 2011 would be able to communicate easily with one from 1811, at least in terms of language. So you need to balance the familiar with the exotic to give your reader solid ground on which to stand when entering this new world.
I don’t know that I’ve mastered all of these. I suspect I will continue to struggle with them through several more novels. I do hope they have given you a bit of insight into the process of writing when genres collide.
Thanks for joining us today, Terri. Readers, if you’d like a chance to win either an e-copy or a physical copy of Dark Side of the Moon, post a comment. Mention which format you’d like, and don’t forget to check back on Sunday to see if you’re one of the lucky winners. -- AP

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Kathleen Ernst is the author of fourteen historical novels for young readers and the Chloe Ellefson mysteries (Midnight Ink.)  The second Chloe book, The Heirloom Murders, will be released on September 1st.  She invites you to visit her blog, www.sitesandstories.wordpress.com, to follow her meanderings through the intersection of history and fiction.  See her website, www.kathleenernst.com, for more information about her books. Today Kathleen is here to talk about road trips, and she's also giving away a copy of one of her books. Read on to learn more. -- AP

Hitting the Road

If asked to name a guilty pleasure, I wouldn’t name smoking, drinking, or ice cream—even though Wisconsin, where I live, has fantastic ice cream.  My vice?  Road trips.  (I do at least drive a hybrid car.)

Since I earn my living as a writer, I travel to bookstores, libraries, schools, and conferences on a regular basis.  And since most of my work is either historical fiction or fiction that somehow pertains to the past, I add research trips to the mix.  You get the picture.  

Over the years I’ve learned that there are two kinds of road-trippers.

Some people simply want to get from Point A to Point B, as quickly as possible.  Me, I’m a meanderer.  I love to take back roads, poking around new areas.  I always try to schedule extra time into any road trip so I can pull over if something catches my eye.

I’m a sucker for those historical markers that lots of states sprinkle along their back roads.  I also love little community museums—the kind that don’t get a lot of attention, but exist due to the loving care of dedicated volunteers.

Meandering also means I have permission to stop for the unexpected encounter.  Once my husband and I stumbled over a strawberry feast being sponsored by a local historical society.  Inside a magnificent old building, an elderly woman played WWI-era tunes on an upright piano while guests gobbled shortcake.  More recently we chatted with the man painting the mural below, his small town’s tribute to all veterans.

This kind of travel is fun.  It also provides constant fodder for my novelist brain.  The protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries is curator at an historic site.  She loves exploring as much as I do.  Each book in the series will feature some new museum or site or historic theme.  I get to do the travel and research that makes that possible.  Am I lucky, or what?
How about you?  Are you a meanderer, or a straight-line traveler?  What’s been your favorite back roads discovery?

I’m grateful to Anastasia for allowing me to celebrate publication of The Heirloom Murders:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery by guest-posting here.  And I’m grateful to readers!  I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you.  Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing for a free book.  The winner can choose any of my seventeen titles.  The Heirloom Murders, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!  To learn more, please visit my website,www.kathleenernst.com.

Thanks for joining us today, Kathleen. You've given me the urge to ramble. Now if gas prices would only come back down... Readers, would you like a copy of one of Kathleen's books? Post a comment to enter the drawing. -- AP

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


How safe is your wooden cutting board? Chances are, no matter how well you think you’ve washed it, it’s harboring bacteria. Health editor Janice Kerr is here today to give you a tip for making sure you and your family stay healthy. -- AP

Bacteria loves to flourish in the deep knife cuts of a wooden cutting board, and because wood is porous, it’s very difficult to clean. You can’t put it in the dishwasher the way you would a plastic cutting board.

What you can do is soak your wooden cutting boards in a bleach solution. Use one tablespoon of bleach for every gallon of water. Soak the cutting board for two minutes. Then wash it with hot, soapy water.

And don’t forget about wooden spoons and wooden bowls. Just because you don’t cut on them, it doesn’t mean bacteria isn’t growing with those porous surfaces. When you soak your cutting boards, do the same to your wooden spoons and bowls.

Okay, readers, how many of you will be soaking your wooden cutting boards tonight? I know I will. 
Post a comment to enter the drawing to win a book from Friday's guest author. -- AP

Monday, September 26, 2011


Latkes are traditional Jewish potato pancakes, usually served with sour cream or applesauce. Today, Cloris gives us her version with a twist, given that the zucchini is still coming in fast and furiously. If your harvest is over, this is a great recipe for some of that shredded zucchini you froze. You did freeze all that extra zucchini, didn't you? -- AP

serves 4

4 medium or 1 large unpeeled zucchini
1 onion
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil

Coarsely grate the zucchini and onion into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, blending well.

Fry by tablespoons in hot oiled skillet, turning once when golden brown. Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Serve with applesauce, sour cream, or tomato sauce. If using tomato sauce, top with grated parmesan cheese.

Another winner from Cloris, right readers? Who will be trying this yummy recipe? Post a comment to enter the drawing to win a book from Friday's guest author. -- AP

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween, but I do like to decorate for autumn. Today’s quick and easy no-sew craft is a fabric pumpkin that would look great on a shelf or just about anywhere else. And you don’t have to worry about it rotting! -- AP


5” Styrofoam ball
scraps of orange, gold, and brown print fabrics
1 yd. DMC green Memory Thread
3” cinnamon stick
9” length 3/8” diameter dowel
X-acto knife
tacky glue

1. Using the X-acto knife, carve out the top and bottom of the Styrofoam ball, flattening it into more of a pumpkin shape.

2. Sharpen one end of the dowel into a point. You can use an electric pencil sharpener for this. Use the dowel to press creases into the Styrofoam to create the sections of a pumpkin.

3. Cut 2-1/2” x 8” pieces of fabric. Trim to form points at short ends.

4. Using the dowel, press the fabric into the creases to cover the sections. Alternate the various fabric colors.

5. Cut the Memory Thread into two 18” pieces. Wind the pieces around the dowel to curl.

6. Poke a hole in the top of the pumpkin. Fill the hole with tacky glue. Insert one end of each piece of Memory Thread and the cinnamon stick.


Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Warren Bull for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of  Murder Manhattan Style to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is Ellie. Ellie, please email your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com to receive your book. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Author Lois Winston and a mop doll at the Midnight Ink booth at Bouchercon
Last weekend Lois Winston, the author who writes the books about me, attended Bouchercon, the huge mystery book convention. At the Midnight Ink booth, she signed and gave away  advance reading copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series which will be released in Jan. Lois came home with a few extra copies, and she's giving two of them away. If you'd like to enter the drawing for an ARC of Death By Killer Mop Doll, all you have to do is sign up for her author newsletter by sending an email to: LoisWinstonAuthorNewsletter-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or add yourself as a follower to this blog by clicking on the Join This Site button (under Followers) on the sidebar to the right. Then send Lois an email at lois@loiswinston.com to let her know that you've signed up for one or the other. -- Anastasia

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Mystery author Warren Bull is our Book Club Friday guest today. Warren is an award-winning author of more than twenty published short stories as well as memoirs, essays, one novel, and a short story collection. Visit him at his website and his blog where he posts every Friday.

Warren has offered a copy of
Murder Manhattan Style to one lucky reader who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP

Through the Knothole

When my brother, Dennis, was two years old, he was certain that his dreams came through a knothole in a board in the ceiling over his bed.  When I talk about writing to groups or sign books in a bookstore, inevitably someone asks where my ideas for stories come from.  I wish I had a magic knothole, but I don’t.

In my short story collection Murder Manhattan Style (Ninth Month Publishing, 2010)  I had fifteen different ideas. Some of them must have worked.

In describing Murder Manhattan Style New York Times bestselling author Nancy Pickard, wrote, “Warren Bull is a short story master, and this collection shows him at his best…” Derringer Award winner and author of Memory of a Murder, Earl Staggs wrote, “Highly recommended morsels for when you want to spice up your reading diet with variety.”

I wrote the opening story for an anthology contest sponsored by The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave.  The requirements were that stories had to take place in or around Manhattan, Kansas and be based on local history.

For me the most exciting time in Manhattan, Kansas was during the days of “Bleeding Kansas” when pro-slavery border ruffians and anti-slavery Jayhawkers battled over whether the Kansas Territory would enter the union as a free state or a slave state.  I had done some research about the time period already but it took quite a bit more for me to get the social mores, technology and family dynamics the story required correct.

It took me nearly as long to write the first line as it took to write the rest of the story. Having an idea for a story is like having an idea about cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for fifteen.  There’s a lot of work required before anything tangible gets accomplished. Fortunately, I was one of the winners and the story was published. That was my first writing award and my first young adult story.

There’s no reason to limit a good idea to one story. Another first for me was when two members of that Manhattan Kansas family then stepped forward to tell me stories of their own.  My protagonist became a secondary character, which he readily accepted. I could build on the research I had already accomplished so I had less heavy lifting to do.  Also I knew the family wouldn’t shut up until I gave each character a turn.  

One year The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave honored native son Damon Runyon of “Guys and Dolls” fame.  Just for fun I wrote an ad in the style of Damon Runyon, touting the conclave.  The director, Marolyn Caldwell, asked me to write a background mystery for a faux crime scene set up for the conclave. I imagined what would happen if a young man from Manhattan, Kansas ran into the sort of characters that populate a Damon Runyon story.  I knew somebody would get bamboozled — but who?  

I read a newspaper article stating that Valentine’s Day was a busy time for private detectives.  Apparently spouses and lovers hire private investigators to check out their partners’ faithfulness.  That sounded like the basis of a fun story.   To round out the set of stories, I wrote a love story in the style of Damon Runyon, featuring my wife. You can tell she’s a forgiving soul. We’re still married.

My friend and mentor, Bob Isles, now deceased, wrote a series of short stories about a private detective who is a returning World War II vet.  With his permission I borrowed the setting from his stories to introduce a new character.  It was hoot fitting my characters into another writer’s mental universe. I ended up with my favorite short story to read aloud.  Again, characters from the first story had more to say and I let them say it so they would leave me alone.  I ended up with one very dark and one very funny story.  

The next set of stories returned again to Manhattan, Kansas, this time in the present. The first story was set during a Manhattan Mystery Conclave and included characters you might have heard of, including me.  One story theme, and title too, came to me while listening to a forensic lab director at a Sisters in Crime meeting. I thought, “I could write a story about that.” And I did. Another story idea came from listening to an evening news story about a carjacking in which it was feared that a child might have been in the car that was stolen. I thought “Yes, but what if…and then if…” The story twisted and turned on its own in a most entertaining way.

At the end of the book I included three more stories that don’t happen in either Manhattan because as an author I did not want to leave them out. One was heavily influenced by my work as a psychologist and my respect for my clients. Another story was substantially altered from the original by my experience as a cancer patient.  

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Warren. Readers, if you’d like a chance to read the stories in Murder Manhattan Style, post a comment. One lucky person will win a copy of the book. -- AP

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today we welcome back Anne Van with another tale of her travels in Japan. -- AP

The Bustling Steets of Shibuya

I’ve traveled around enough to not be shy about asking locals for advice. Sometimes with my limited vocabulary, I’ve had to fill in missing words with hand signs and the occasional sketch. But I’m pretty good at getting my message across. I enjoy finding spots that are a bit off the beaten path. Whether a hidden church or temple, or a restaurant that features unusual cuisine, I’ve found some amazing places by asking the locals to divulge their favorite spots.

But a word of cautionthis strategy has risks. You may be led to places you’d rather not know existed and encouraged to eat things that probably shouldn’t enter your digestive system. Most of the time I don’t regret following a local’s advice, but here’s an example of a time I wished I’d been a bit more discriminating.

On a sticky summer night in Tokyo, I should have known better than to brag to a Japanese local that I was an adventurous eater. The Japanese eat more unusual things than raw fish.

But then the cute guy with a big smile said in broken English, “I know a place with interesting food close by.” 

Visions of exotic foods filled my head and I said, ”Great! Where is it?”
In hindsight, I probably should have been more leery of the word “interesting.”

By now I’d learned that to get anywhere in Tokyo you needed a local to point the way. He eagerly drew me a map. “Here,” he said as he handed me the directions. “You are going to have an enjoyable meal.”

With those words of encouragement I headed off to find my dinner. Following the map the guy drew for me; I walked down the twists and turns of the streets in downtown Shibuya, until I came to a tiny hole-in-the-wall. The front of the restaurant, only the size of a storage shed, looked like it could hold barely twenty people.

There was something charming about the brick clad facade with a large green door. Overhead hung a beat up wooden sign with a green grasshopper sitting proudly on a large leaf. The aroma of roasted meat tickled my nostrils as I opened the door. I sat down at a large bar similar to one you’d find at a sushi restaurant, and breathed deeply. I was starving and the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen almost made me drool.

One of the chefs came over and asked me for my order. With my limited Japanese, I said, “Can I have the house special?”

The man next to me raised his eyebrows, and said in broken English, “You like very much.”

I watched as my fellow diners enjoyed large plates of noodles with an unusual shaped garnish that seemed to be moving. Had the summer heat finally gotten to me? My dinner companions seemed unfazed as they slurped up their noodles enjoying every bite.  The chef worked feverishly behind the counter arranging a group of small brown pod like objects on top of a mound of noodles.

He presented my dinner with a big flourish and said, “Itadakimasu, dig in!”  

My mouth dropped open when I looked down at the “house special”. The wonderful roasted aroma I had been salivating over all night was roasted beetles!  

 Moral of the story: be wary of locals advice. You may end up with a beetle in your mouth.  

If you’d like to know more about my adventures in Japan, you can read my story Going Underground, in The Best Women’s Travel Writing of 2011. You can also find  more travel stories on my blog, annevan1111.blogspot.com.

Hmm…I don’t think Cloris will be featuring any beetle soup recipes any time soon. I also don’t think I could have been as brave as you, Anne. What about you, readers? Would you eat beetles? Post a comment to be entered into a drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday author. -- AP

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Decorating editor Jeanie Sims is here today with a great tip for keeping cut flowers lasting longer. -- AP

Anastasia, nothing brightens up a room more than a vase of fresh flowers, but they don’t last very long, do they? So here a few handy hints for keeping the blooms fresh for a few more days.

1. Make sure you use a clean vase.

2. Use tepid water, not cold, to fill the vase.

3. Add flower preservative. This often comes with store-bought flowers, but if yours didn’t, you can make your own. Add a drop of bleach and a 1/2 cup of clear, non-diet soda for each quart of water.

4. Strip away any leaves that would be submerged in the water.

5. Holding each stem under water as you work, cut the stems at 45 degree angles and place immediately in vase.

6. Don’t overcrowd the flowers in the vase.

7. Place the vase in bright light but not in direct sunlight.

8. Keep vase away from radiators, heating vents, or air-conditioning.

9. Re-cut stems and replace water frequently.

Thanks, Jeanie! I just love fresh flowers, don't you, readers? -- AP

Monday, September 19, 2011


Zucchini is the garden crop that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving. Usually until the first frost. Today Cloris has a zucchini bread recipe that’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Spread with butter or cream cheese for breakfast, serve with a salad for lunch, or in place of a starch at dinner -- AP

(makes 2 loaves)

3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried dried apricots, chopped

Beat eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla together. Blend in zucchini. Mix remaining dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture, mixing well. Fold in nuts and apricots.

Grease two loaf pans. Divide batter between two pans. Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees.

Thanks, Cloris! Yet another way to fool the kids into eating their veggies.  -- AP

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Many people switch out their kitchen and bath towels for various holidays and the changing seasons. It’s a simple way to decorate your home, but it can become very costly. Think about it: winter, spring, summer, autumn, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas…Do you really want to spend $5-$10 or more on an appliqu├ęd kitchen towel for drying dishes or your hands? Add the cost of potholders, placemats, napkins, guest towels, etc. and you’ve got a major expense. Even if unlike me, you don’t have bill collectors camped on your lawn, given the economy, how many people really have that kind of disposable income anymore?

Still, how can you not pine for those cute items whenever you pass them in the store? Here’s a simple solution: make your own. The kitchen towels in the photo cost $1 each. Yes, I said $1 each. I bought them at the dollar store and decorated them myself with scraps left over from other projects. Each towel took me less than 15 minutes to make. Here’s how I did it:


Materials (for each towel):
1 kitchen towel
small amount of no-sew fusible adhesive
small amount of print fabric
a few assorted leaves from your trees

1. Pre-wash the fabric and towel to remove sizing.

2. Use the leaves as a template and trace around them onto the paper side of the fusible adhesive. (If you don’t have leaves to use, print out some images from clip art and trace them onto the paper.

3. Following manufacturer’s directions, apply fusible adhesive to wrong side of fabric.

4. Cut out leaves.

5. Arrange leaves face up on towel. Fuse to towel following manufacturer’s directions.

Buy towels in a variety of colors and make sets for various seasons and holidays -- hearts for Valentine’s Day, pumpkins for Halloween, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day. You can find just about any shape on the Internet if you do a search of “coloring pages” + whatever image you want.

And here’s a bonus: If you need a quick hostess gift, make a towel to line a basket and add a jar or two of jam or some fresh baked muffins (Cloris has lots of recipes she’s posted on the blog. Just do a “muffin” search.)


Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Anne K. Albert for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering an e-copy of  FRANK, INCENSE AND MURIEL to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is Nancy Hinchliff. Nancy, please email your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I’ll forward the information to Anne, and she’ll mail the book to you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Our Book Club Friday guest today is award-winning mystery author Anne K. Albert. Anne has taught high school art, sold display advertising for a small town weekly newspaper, and worked for a national brand water company, but now writes full time. Author of the Muriel Reeves Mysteries series, she also writes the romantic suspense Piedmont Island Trilogy series. Read more at her website. Anne is offering an e-copy of her latest release, Frank, Incense and Muriel, to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP

I’m excited to be at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers today, and especially glad to share a little of the process I used to pen Frank, Incense and Muriel, first book of the Muriel Reeves Mysteries.

Many authors plot their stories. They know the beginning, middle and end before they put a single word to paper.

Writing for me is more akin to being a fly on the wall.

I sit at the computer, place my fingers on the keyboard, and focus on my characters. Like magic, I zoom to their location and time. I’m there. With them. I see, hear, feel, taste and smell everything they do.

I have no idea what will happen from one sentence to the next. I experience the story at the same moment it unfolds for my characters. I also get a vivid image of their surroundings. I notice everything from steely gray clouds off in the horizon to the knick-knacks on their living room shelves. Often, it’s these little details that bring a story to life for an author.

That’s what happened when I wrote Frank, Incense and Muriel.

In the first scene, I joined Muriel in her kitchen. She’s upset because her sexy high school nemesis, now an even sexier private investigator, has asked her to help find a missing woman. Muriel wants an out. She wants him out of her life before her relatives arrive for the Christmas holidays.

I’m pretty confident she’ll cave. So confident in fact, I take a moment to look around her kitchen. I spot an assortment of magnets on the fridge. One, however, stands out from all the rest. Printed in white lettering on a black 3” square with rounded corners is a single sentence.

“Remember, as far as anyone knows we’re a nice normal family.”

I realized that quote sums up Muriel and her relationship with her family. She has struggled her entire life to fit in, but it’s difficult for a gullible intellectual to feel like she belongs in a clan of thrill-seeking eccentrics.

Muriel’s aunt is a strong, multi-married (and divorced) woman in her sixties. Val changes her mind as often as her hair color, but her heart is as big as the massive drooling mutt she rescued from the animal shelter.

Muriel’s uncle is a conspiracy theory aficionado, constantly in search of hidden listening devices and cameras and determined to stay under the radar.

Her brothers and cousins strive to surpass each other in a parade of extreme-sport activities that includes water rafting in the Himalayas, trekking across the frozen Antarctica wasteland to spelunking in a Central America cave inhabited by a colony of vampire bats.

The Reeves family tradition is to gather round the fireplace on Christmas Eve, but forget the mistletoe and caroling. There is only one gift on everyone’s wish list. Whether 18 or 98, they’ll just about kill to win the coveted D-DAY (Death Defying Act of the Year) Award. Everyone that is, except Muriel.

“Remember, as far as anyone knows we’re a nice normal family.”

I shudder to think what direction this comedic, cozy mystery might have taken if I had missed that fridge magnet!

Frank, Incense and Muriel is recipient of the 2011 Holt Medallion Award of Merit.

Night Owl Reviews gave it 5 stars and a Top Pick Award. “If you’re looking for a story with a little bit of humor, a whole lot of suspense and plenty of insanity, then you’ve found the perfect story.”

Happy reading!

Thanks so much for being our guest today, Anne. Readers, don’t you just love the title of Anne’s latest mystery? Post a comment to enter to win a free e-book edition of Frank, Incense and Muriel. Check back Sunday evening to see if you're the lucky winner. -- AP

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Author Lois Winston, who writes those books about yours truly (check out the sidebar to the right), is heading off to St. Louis to take part in the Bouchercon mystery convention where she’ll be talking all about ME! So travel editor Serena Brower thought today might be a good time to give you a bit of trivia about St. Louis. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! Of course, everyone knows St. Louis is in Missouri, which is known as the “Show Me State.” Ever wonder where that expression came from? It heralds back to 1899 when Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said, “I’m from Missouri, and you’ve got to show me.” The saying stuck and became the state motto.

Here are some more facts and trivia specific to St. Louis:

For those of you looking for a vacation that doesn’t break the bank, St. Louis offers more free visitor attractions than any other U.S. city besides Washington, DC. These include the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis zoo, the St. Louis Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Grant’s Farm, Cahookia Mounds, and more.

St. Louis is known as both “The Gateway to the West” and “The Home of the Blues.”

The first successful parachute jump made from a moving plane happened in St. Louis in 1912.

Both ice tea and the ice cream cone were invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

St. Louis University is the oldest university west of the Mississippi River.

Thanks, Serena! I do hope that Lois doesn’t avail herself of all that free touristy stuff while she’s there, though. She’s supposed to be promoting me. ;-) 
Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free e-book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


We all hate to waste, but some things really do need to be tossed after their expiration date, especially medicines. Health editor Janice Kerr is here today to give you a lesson is safe disposal of medicines. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! Too many people flush unused pills down the toilet or pour liquids down the drain. This is not good. The meds get into our waterways and then into our drinking water. Tossing them out in the trash is no better. Animals and even children can find them and accidentally ingest them.

Many pharmacies and some police stations now have drop-offs for unused medications. They mail your discarded meds to special facilities where they’re disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way. So check with your local pharmacy or police.

If you don’t have a drop-off center in your community, here’s a safe way to dispose of the medicines yourself. Before throwing them in the trash, mix the pills in with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and seal the mixture in a heavy duty plastic bag. Seal that plastic bag in another heavy duty plastic bag.

Thanks, Janice! So many of us used to think we were doing the right thing by flushing unused pills down the toilet. Now we know not to.  Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free e-book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, September 12, 2011


Cloris has a bumper crop of cucumbers this year. Here’s her recipe for cucumber salad, great as a side dish with any number of dinner entrees. Or add to a greens salad, along with cherry tomatoes and slivered almonds. -- AP

Serves 4-6
2 lg. cucumbers, sliced thin
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
2 tablespoons dried, minced onion

Place sliced cucumbers in a bowl. Bring vinegar, water, and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in dill and onion. Pour over cucumbers, stirring to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving.

I can personally vouch for this being the best cucumber salad I’ve ever tasted. Try it, and you’ll see. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free e-book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP