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, November 28, 2013


Sandra de Helen is the author of mysteries, short stories, poetry, and plays and claims to have a cat who can type. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.  

I'm happy to announce the publication of The Illustrious Client, the second book in my Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson mystery series. My protagonist and her narrator are female versions of A. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. The series is set in the current day in Portland, Oregon -- where I also live. In fact, it was the similarity of Portland's weather to London’s that gave me the idea for this series. I'd been daydreaming about who my detective would be in my first mystery novel. Who but the best in the world? Only modern day and female.

The first book --The Hounding -- is descended from Doyle's The Hounding of the Baskervilles. In my book, the victim is an actual descendant of the original Baskervilles. If you're a Sherlock fan, you'll find some similarities to the original stories, but you don't have to be a Sherlock fan to enjoy my books.

The Illustrious Client is a twenty-year old French pop star smitten with an older, richer player. Her parents hire Shirley to try to pry Oceane Charles away from Zaro Sadozai because they fear she has fallen under Zaro's sway. They think Oceane's career, and maybe even her life, are at risk. Shirley and Mary fly to France to meet with the parents, then almost immediately have to fly back to Portland to meet with Oceane, who is on Zaro's super yacht at the Portland waterfront.

The books are populated with diverse characters, including gay, lesbian, and people of color. In the second book, Mary discovers her latent lesbianism. Shirley remains asexual, intellectual, and not terribly social.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Removing Deodorant Stains

Over the course of your lifetime, how many shirts have you tossed due to unsightly underarm deodorant stains? Too many, right? Next time, before you discard that top, try this trick:

Sponge some white vinegar on the stain. Leave for thirty minutes. Then, using a detergent with bleach alternative, wash the blouse in water as hot as is safe for the fabric. 

Monday, November 25, 2013


Who doesn’t like donuts? Today we’re joined by retired journalist and award-winning mystery author Gerrie Ferris Finger who gives us a peek at her latest Moriah Dru/Richard Lake mystery and shares a recipe for sugar donuts. Learn more about Gerrie and her books at her website and blog.

In this scene from The Devil Laughed the precocious horror -- as Judge Portia Devon calls Evangeline Broussard -- and her Uncle Baron Bonnet have invited Moriah Dru and Lieutenant Richard Lake to their home near Cape Fear for breakfast.

Evangeline’s mother Candice and two other boaters disappeared after their sailboat went down in Lake Lanier four years ago. Candice’s husband Johnny was found dead at their last known marina. Evangeline believes her mother is alive and insists that Dru fine her. It was Dru who spotted the sailboat’s stern protruding from the lake. The stern had been exposed because the lake was low due to a lingering drought. Dru -- a child finder not an all-purpose PI -- is not fond of Evangeline, but feels invested in finding the missing boaters because it was she who found the sailboat.

Evangeline skipped past a staircase. At the back of the house an enormous pantry included a flight of steps leading to servants’ quarters upstairs. An Hispanic woman stood at the door. She smiled at Evangeline like she had a knife hidden in her apron.

“That’s Soledad,” Evangeline said, tossing her hand toward the woman.

“Morning Soledad,” Lake and I said.

Her face broadened into a beautiful grin. “Mornin’.”

In the kitchen, we met Benny, the cook. He was a large black man with a face so round and eyes so wide he couldn’t scowl if his life depended on it. “I got your message, Miss E. We’re all set for a meal fit for a hungry policeman.”

Not me? Am I chopped liver?

Evangeline grabbed Benny’s hand with both of hers and held it to her cheek, the first endearing gesture I’d seen. “Did you make sugar donuts, Benny?”

He beamed down at her. “I sho did, Miss Evangeline.”

She swung hands with him as they walked over to a platter covered with chef’s cloth. He picked up the cloth and she started to take a donut.

Soledad spoke from behind us. “Miss E, your guests come first, and you must wash your hands.”

Evangeline turned, flames threatened to leap from her black eyes.

Soledad smiled at Lake. “The table is set on the verandah.” She looked at Evangeline, “Your hands, Miss.”

“My hands are perfectly clean,” Evangeline said and stalked to the kitchen door, dashed out, and held the door for us to step onto the covered verandah.
It was a gracious setting, the stairs going down to a lovely garden featuring oleander and crape myrtle. Gardenias, planted around the balustrade, provided the scent. On my left, I spotted a pond with a water fountain. I walked to the rail and smelled the clean air of water and wind. Then I saw a tee box. I laughed. “Evangeline, who plays golf?”

“We all do,” she said. “That’s my practice tee for getting over the water.”

“What’s the carry? A hundred yards?”

“One-twenty. My success rate is one in three, but it used to be one in ten.”

“Progress,” I said.

We settled at the table, and Benny and Soledad brought out silver plated dishes of egg casserole, bacon and sausage, a heaping plate of fat biscuits, gravy, cheese grits and, of course, the donuts.

“I love donuts,” Evangeline declared, picking two off the Spode plate. They were so fresh, her fingers imprinted them.

I love donuts, too, and they love me so much they stick around, lazing on my hips and thighs. I didn’t feel like running a marathon today to shed the donuts, but I did take a biscuit and butter. Eggs I can do without, but the cheese grits were too tempting. Okay, a half marathon today. Lake, of course, was filling his plate like a lumberjack who’d gone without food for three days.

An old Springer spaniel wobbled up the steps. “That’s Dixie,” Evangeline said. “She’s named after the song.” She rocked her shoulders back and forth and sang, “Wish I was in Dixie, Away, Away . . .”

Baron said, “We’re at the breakfast table, E.”

Lake looked up from his plate. “Dixie. Written by a Yankee. Most folks don’t know that.”

Evangeline bristled. “Daniel Emmett didn’t write that song. His minstrel show performed it. The lyrics were written by an African-American woman named Evelyn Snowden to her father because she missed her home in Dixie. Some idiots see it as racist, but it is a part of everyone’s Southern heritage.” To emphasize, she shoved half a donut in her mouth.

I piped in. “My schoolbooks said the word Dixie devolved from the man who drew the north and south borders called the Mason-Dixon Line.”

Swallowing, she looked at me like I had the brains of a rabbit. “Then it would be Dixon, or Mason, or Mason-Dixon.”

“You make a point,” Lake said with his mouth full.

Evangeline said with utmost authority, sugar-coated lips be damned, “The word is about money.”

And so The Devil Laughed is about money . . . and wine . . . and is as evil as the devil can make it.

Cape Fear Sugar Donuts

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
8 cups vegetable oil

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Whisk together 1 cup sugar, buttermilk, butter, and eggs in another bowl, then add to flour and stir until a dough forms (dough will be sticky).

Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently 8 times. Flour dough and a rolling pin, then roll out dough into a 12-inch round (about 1/2 inch thick). Cut out as many doughnuts as possible with floured 3-inch doughnut cutter and transfer to lightly floured baking sheets. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut more doughnuts in same manner.

Heat oil in a 5-quart heavy pot until thermometer registers 375°F. Working in batches of 3, slide doughnuts into oil and fry. Once each doughnut floats to surface, turn over and fry 50 seconds, then turn again and fry 50 seconds more. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Cool slightly and dredge in remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar.

The Devil Laughed
In this Moriah Dru, Richard Lake mystery series entry, Dru discovers the stern of a boat protruding from a deep-water cove. It's the sailboat Scuppernong, missing nearly four years. Two couples -- Laurant and Janet, and Johnny and Candice -- partied on the boat the night they and the sailboat disappeared. Johnny's body was discovered with his head bashed in at the marina. The other three and the boat disappeared without a trace. Investigators find no bodies and theories abound. Popular among them is adulterers Laurant and Candice skipped to Rio, a country they visited. In a reverse of her child finder role, Dru is hired to find Candice by thirteen-year-old Evangeline, a precocious girl who has unshakeable faith that her mother is alive.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013


E. Ayers is a multi-published, bestselling author of contemporary romance and contemporary and historical western romance. She’s also a crafter and joins us today to share a bit about one of her latest books and directions for making Christmas Kissing Ballls. Learn more about E. and her books at her website. 

Thanks so much for inviting me. I am part of the Exquisite Quills A Holiday Anthology, A Collection of Winter Holiday Tales by Exquisite Quills Authors and Friends. I know, what a mouthful!

The Exquisite Quills are a group of authors who have known each other for years. We've traveled down the publishing road helping and supporting each other. Recently, we started the Exquisite Quills Yahoo loop for readers and writers. We share info on the industry and announce releases and blog postings. We've also created the Exquisite Blog to share with our readers everything from “first kiss” excerpts to author interviews. We write everything from sweet to hot sexy romances, but we keep the blog and the loop friendly for all readers, no matter what heat level they prefer.

For fun, this international group of writers decided to extend our friendship in the form of a free holiday anthology as our holiday gift to our readers and everyone else.

I wrote the story The Kissing Ball for the anthology and then discovered that many people had never heard of such a thing. So I hope to enlighten everyone and give a glimpse at something that is more than just a Christmas decoration. For those who aren't as crafty, kissing balls are available on the web or from your local florist. But they’re so easy to make and can be used in a variety of ways.

Over the years, I've heard them called Victorian Balls, New Years Balls, Wedding Balls, Williamsburg Balls, etc. I've seen them hung, and I've seen them pushed onto painted dowels and "planted" in flowerpots. I've also seen them carried by flower girls at weddings. So there are endless possibilities for these balls. Since we're not going to be covering them in live flowers for this post, I'll stick to the basic instructions.

The traditional Christmas Ball or Kissing Ball is usually made with small pinecones and nuts with a touch of mistletoe. But it can be made of almost anything for any time of the year. I've seen them done with seashells, flowers, greenery, empty cotton boles, or any other material you desire. You start with a Styrofoam ball available at any craft store. The average is usually made with a six-inch ball, but you could use a smaller one or a much larger one for a dramatic effect.

In my story, my heroine is making hers with a bag of mixed nuts, pinecones, and red ribbon bows. She uses an artificial spring of mistletoe. A glue gun, florist pins, and wire will make almost any sort of ball you desire. A can of clear coat will help to keep your nut and pinecone ball looking good for years to come. (Just hide it from the mice!)

The easiest way to keep a hanging ball stable and hanging, is to use a long piece of wire folded in half and pushed through the ball to the bottom. For a six-inch diameter ball, use about 18 inches of wire folded in half, push it down until it comes out the other side. You can poke a hole through the ball with something skinny such as a coat hanger or even a cake tester if you are using a narrow gage wire. Make certain that the wire will have the strength to hold the ball. It will get heavy.

Put the wire through the hole and extend the cut edges so that you leave only a small loop at the top. Bend the wires so they extend in opposite directions, then poke the tips into the ball. A little glue over the wire ends will hold them in place. They will be covered with glued decorations, which will also help stabilize the wires and keep them from pulling out.

If you intend to "plant" the ball in a flowerpot, there's no need for the wire loop just mark the spot for the dowel by pressing the dowel into the ball enough to make an indentation. You will push the dowel several inches into the ball after you’re finished decorating it. Remember these balls can be quite heavy when you're finished so you want a sturdy piece of dowel, probably about the thickness of your forefinger or at least 3/8 of an inch. The dowel can be painted green or stained brown.

Using a combination of small pinecones and nuts, cover the ball so that the Styrofoam no longer shows. It's a fun puzzle to put together. Don't forget to leave a tiny bit of space around that wire loop or where the dowel goes. It doesn't take much space just enough to access the wire with a length of ribbon for hanging. It's up to you how you arrange the pinecones and nuts. You can line the pinecones up to create a design or mix everything. I prefer to mix everything. Most craft stores carry bags of mixed small pinecones, or you can gather them from the yard or off trees. Simply glue them into place leaving space between each one so you can add the nuts. Once the pinecones are in place, add some glue to the ball, then wedge the nuts between the cones. When you are done, you can add simple narrow satin bows attached to pins to cover any tiny barren spots, thus hiding the foam below.

I like adding bits of greenery. This time of year, the craft stores usually have artificial/silk bits of boxwood or holly with berries, and other such things. You want to keep the thickness of the ball fairly uniform so that it retains its shape. The extra touch of color and change in texture adds depth and character to the ball. Don't forget the sprig of mistletoe for a Kissing Ball! And who doesn't want a little holiday luck?

These balls also make wonderful gifts and can be customized to match any d├ęcor. For those of you in warm climates, you might want to make the balls of silk flowers or bits of things native to your area. Use your imagination and have fun.

The Kissing Ball is available in the Exquisite Quills Holiday Anthology which is free through Smashwords.

NOTE: Flower ball and seashell ball by Petals By Xavi http://petalsbyxavi.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/feature-friday-kissing-balls/
Pinecone Ball by Judy Stephenson http://www.etsy.com/listing/88514905/pine-cone-kissing-ball

Thursday, November 21, 2013


It's always exciting to be able to announce the arrival of a new Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. Author Lois Winston (she who writes those books featuring yours truly) is here today to talk about the latest trouble she's gotten me into. Of course I'm biased, but I think it's the best one yet.

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Visit her at www.loiswinston.com.--Anastasia 

There’s a trend in historical fiction to incorporate real people—both famous and infamous—into plots. Sometimes these characters are secondary to the story; other times they play an integral role in the narrative. The first book I ever came across to do this was E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. Great book! Great musical! I highly recommend both.

In contemporary fiction most authors shy away from using real people for fear of lawsuits, limiting references to such things as making comparisons about a character’s resemblance to a celebrity. It’s a great way to create a visual image without sticking a paragraph of boring head-to-toe description into a scene. In the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series I’ve described Zack Barnes, Anastasia’s love interest, as “a guy who looks like Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney, Patrick Dempsey, and Antonio Bandares all contributed to his gene pool.” I don’t think I have to worry about receiving letters from any of their attorneys.

However, because Anastasia is a crafts editor for a women’s magazine, I’m always on the lookout for new trends, both in crafts and in pop culture in general, to incorporate into my novels—in other words, the kind of things you’d find featured in the magazines for sale at the supermarket checkout. Sometimes I hit pay dirt.

Such was the case when I learned of the recent fad of Vajazzling. Here was something not only crafty but both fashion and beauty-related. It ticked off three of the monthly features showcased at the magazine where Anastasia works. Although, note that I chose to showcase the craft of decoupage and not Vajazzling in the title. Decoupage is also the craft that I’ve included for projects in the book. Want to know why? Read the first chapter over at my website.
Decoupage Can Be Deadly
Anastasia and her fellow American Woman editors are steaming mad when minutes before the opening of a consumer show, they discover half their booth usurped by Bling!, their publisher’s newest magazine. CEO Alfred Gruenwald is sporting new arm candy—rapper-turned-entrepreneur and Bling! executive editor, the first-name-only Philomena. During the consumer show, Gruenwald’s wife serves Philomena with an alienation of affection lawsuit, but Philomena doesn’t live long enough to make an appearance in court. She’s found dead days later, stuffed in the shipping case that held Anastasia’s decoupage crafts. When Gruenwald makes cash-strapped Anastasia an offer she can’t refuse, she wonders, does he really want to find Philomena’s killer or is he harboring a hidden agenda?

Decoupage Can Be Deadly is now available in both print and as an ebook. Print copies can be purchased through Amazon or ordered from any bookseller. Ebooks are available from the following vendors:


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


When Young Adult author Brenda Maxfield isn’t teaching, she’s holed up writing in her lake cabin and write, often with a batch of popcorn and dark chocolate nearby. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog. Today Brenda stops by to tell us of a harrowing holiday experience that happened years ago and how she brought the memories of that experience into her latest Christmas release.
Over the Mountain Pass

Before living in the tropics, my home was in Central Washington State.  When Thanksgiving and Christmas came around, it was cold — often below zero cold. To celebrate both holidays, my new husband and I would load up our VW Beetle and head over the Cascade Mountains toward the coast where our parents lived.

We’d chuck our tire chains — now illegal — into the trunk and pray the ice and snow wouldn’t be bad enough to have to use them.

One particularly blustery night before Thanksgiving, our prayers were not answered. When passing over the mountains, we hit a white wall of snow, fog, and sleet. We slid to the side of the road to put on the chains. In the middle of the job, our flashlight went dim and we finished chaining up in the dark.

Wet and miserable, we climbed back into the car and started the motor. We crawled from the shoulder back onto the road when we heard a deafening metal clunk. The car jerked to a stop, throwing us against our seatbelts.

Cell phones didn’t exist during those years. We were stuck.

Fortunately, tow trucks troll mountain passes for unlucky travelers like us. One stopped and we found out the chains were wrapped and tangled around the axle. Could our rescuer fix it? No, but he could tow us to the nearest wide spot in the road to find a motel.

We quickly switched to Plan B: Spend the night in the mountains and pass most of Thanksgiving at a car garage the next morning.

We did finally make it to the coast. Thanksgiving dinner was over, the throng of relatives had thinned, and the dishes had been washed. However, leftovers were in the oven and had never tasted so good.

In my new YA short story Seeking Christmas, Courtney carts her little brother from the Washington Coast to Idaho. She travels some of the same roads we used to travel. She worries about the road conditions just like we did. But her greater worry is meeting up with the father who deserted both her and her brother years previously.

How could such a meeting possibly go well? And would she even have the guts to follow through with it?

I hope you’ll grab a copy of Seeking Christmas and enjoy this holiday story of forgiveness and redemption.

Seeking Christmas (an Ocean Mist short story Two):
The Christmas season has eighteen-year-old Courtney crossing the state line with her little brother Dennis to rendezvous with the man who deserted them years ago. Courtney remembers him only as the tall man who ran away. Dennis doesn’t remember him at all.

Courtney is furious, but Denny is curious. Will their meeting result in a happy Christmas memory or another miserable disappointment? 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


photo by Scott Feldstein
Ali Brandon, aka Diane A.S. Stuckart, is the national bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series and the critically acclaimed Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series. Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances soon be re-released as ebooks. Learn more about Ali/Diane at her Ali Brandon website and her Diane Stuckart website.   

Paws of Death
Dante left out one circle of hell while documenting the official nine in his classic Inferno. Forget Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, and so on. The most terrifying one of all is actually Circle Number Ten:  Junior High P.E. class.

 I spent a couple of years in Ten. It’s a harrowing place to be, loud and hot and smelly, filled with mean girls and rotten boys. I was one of the doomed souls always hiding in the corner of the gym during dodge ball. I also was last to be chosen for the kickball team, was stuck off to the side anytime we played volleyball, and never did manage to do a single pull up. Obviously, I had no aptitude for athletics, and past performance predicted I’d never be one to enjoy physical sports.

How, then, did I manage to reach red belt rank in Taekwondo after waiting until my early forties to take up the sport?

And, given my “advanced” age, why in the heck did I even try in the first place?
The short answer to that last question is that a friend and her daughter signed up for a family martial arts class. They invited me along for moral support. I was looking for a new exercise regimen (I’d recently given up on the local gym…too many mean girls, again!) and so I figured that would be a fun way to get in shape. After all, I’d always secretly been a major Bruce Lee fan.

The longer answer is that, despite my early failure as an athlete, I had decided around the time I reached thirty that I really needed to revisit the world of physical fitness. And while no particular sport had quite “taken” to that point, I realized I liked the idea of being able to defend myself in a not-always-friendly world. Several years earlier when I’d temporarily decided to be a jogger, I also happened to own both a Doberman pinscher and a German shepherd. With those two dogs by my side as I ran, I’d felt invincible no matter how dark or lonely my jogging path was. Nobody was going to mess with me and my hell hounds!

But time had passed and my only remaining dog now was the shepherd, who was getting on in years. I figured my best bet was to recreate that feeling of power and competence on a more personal basis. And so I joined my friend for that first lesson, and stuck with it long after she and her child had lost interest.

I was involved in martial arts for a good three years, starting out in American karate and moving on to Taekwondo, with a brief foray into Aikido. While not a brilliant student (see above for Circle Number Ten reference), I was determined. I moved up the ranks at a respectable pace, though each belt test was an exercise in major stage fright that required a Zen-like attitude to get through.

The best classes were sparring nights, when we put on our protective gear and paired up to fight with our fellow students. Unfortunately, there were rarely more than one or two other women in the class with me, meaning my opponents usually were men. Big, young men with lots of muscles! And while punches and kicks above the shoulders were technically forbidden for anyone under the rank of black belt, I still got hit in the head enough times to know that my next physical challenge was not going to be boxing!

But despite the bruises and sprained necks and broken toes I collected, I was in the best shape of my life. My confidence in my physical abilities was higher than it ever had been, and I was having a great time. And when my sensei shut down his studio while I was still training for my brown belt, I was bereft.

But what does any of this have to do with my new Black Cat Bookshop mystery, Words with Fiends?

In the previous installment, A Novel Way to Die, my bookstore owner protagonist, Darla Pettistone, comes close to falling victim to a killer. The fear and helplessness she felt in that situation—particularly when she saw her beloved cat, Hamlet, put himself in jeopardy on her behalf—spurs her to take action. And so, in Words with Fiends, she heads off to martial arts class to learn a bit of self-defense. I won’t tell you what happens then, but you can guess that Darla and Hamlet once again stumble across another unseemly murder.

So what about me? After my sensei called it quits, I did, too. I moved on to yoga and even earned my 200-hour teaching certification. More recently, I took up belly dancing, but a torn Achilles tendon and heel spur recently made it impossible to dance. So I am back to the gym again. This time around, the girls aren’t quite as mean…or maybe I’m just a bit tougher now.

And what’s up next for me and Darla? Don’t tell anyone, but in the fourth Black Cat Bookshop mystery due out in fall of 2014, Darla and Hamlet head down to Fort Lauderdale for vacation. She pretty well sticks to the beach…but, just for fun, I may have to give surfing a try.

Words with Fiends
Lately, Hamlet hasn’t been chasing customers or being his obnoxious self—something Darla surprisingly misses. Concerned, she hires a cat whisperer to probe Hamlet’s feline psyche and then decides to get out of her own funk by taking up karate to learn how to defend herself in case the need arises again.

But when Darla finds her sensei dead at the dojo, it seems that even a master can be felled by foul play. Darla decides to investigate the matter herself, and the promise of a mystery snaps Hamlet out of his bad mood. After all, Darla may be the sleuth, but Hamlet’s got a black belt in detection…

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Monday, November 18, 2013


photo by Kimberly Vardeman
Kathleen Kaska writes both the Sydney Lockhart Hotel Mystery series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series. Her Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock trivia books were finalists for the 2013 EPIC Award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida), has been nominated for the George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history. Learn more about Kathleen and her books at her website and blog.

Today Kathleen joins us to talk about food in mysteries and offers a recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

Opportunity for Disaster: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

In my Sydney Lockhart Hotel Mystery Series, I like to put my characters in the most unlikely situations to see what will happen. My protagonist, Sydney Lockhart, is a reporter cum PI, so the situations she encounters are expectantly unusual and odd. In fact, she thrives on pushing the envelope. Her sidekick and pain-in-the-butt cousin, Ruth, on the other hand, thrives on her luxurious lifestyle of fashion, self-indulgence, and newfound wealth. She likes it that way and expects others to accommodate her every whim. So, when she ends up kidnapped by a crazy Cajun and is forced to change out of her Chanel suit into an oil worker’s duds, or is forced to wear a flea-bitten garment from a secondhand store in order to pass herself off as a vamp, a good laugh ensues. 

In my next mystery, Murder at the Driskill (available early 2014), we (Sydney and I) decide to put Ruth in the kitchen, but not just any kitchen. In order to help solve a murder at the hotel, Ruth needs to go undercover in the hotel’s restaurant as a prep chef. The trouble is, Ruth’s prowess in food prep is limited to arranging vanilla wafers on a platter. In order to prepare for her assignment, Ruth purchases three cookbooks, one of which is entitled Cooking While Wearing Your Mink.

Food has always played a part in my mysteries, but throwing Ruth into the culinary world got me thinking about specific dishes that were popular in the 1950s, the decade in which my stories are set. Although I grew up in the fifties, our family meals were not prepared with the help of Betty Crocker. With a big garden in the background, a dad who butchered and cured his own meats, and a mom who just knew how to cook, fad dishes did not often find their way onto our table, except for one: the venerable pineapple upside-down cake. So, with the oddity of baking a cake upside down in a skillet on the stovetop, I figured this dish, with Ruth’s personal interpretation, was bound to add that element of humor and provide her the opportunity to turn the kitchen on its ear. Stay tuned for Murder at the Driskill, to find out if Ruth pulls off her deception or creates a disaster in the haute restaurant in the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas.

In the meantime, you can find out what a hangover does to Ruth’s appetite in my latest mystery, Murder at the Galvez.

The pineapple upside-down cake has been around since the turn of the twentieth century, and in a more primitive fashion, the Middle Ages. Most recipes call for baking the cake in an oven, but I prefer the stovetop method because that’s how my mother made it. So, here goes:

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake


20 oz can of sliced pineapples
small jar of maraschino cherries
1 stick (1/2 cup of butter)
1 packed cup of brown sugar

1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt
2 medium-sized eggs
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Have the cake mix ready before you begin. Combine dry ingredients in mixing a bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs; add milk and butter.  Mix well into dry ingredients. Set aside.

Prepare topping in the skillet by melting butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Stir until evenly spread. Line the bottom of the skillet with one layer of pineapple slices. Add ½ cherry in the hole of each slice. Pour cake mixture over topping.

Cover and cook over low heat until done (approximately 35 minutes or when cake pulls away from the side of the skillet). Uncover, lower heat, and let set for 5 minutes.

Place a round platter or large plate over the pan and invert. Do this over the sink in case some hot butter seeps out. Serve plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 8 slices.

Murder at the Galvez
Another hotel; another murder; another family crisis; another attempt on reporter Sydney Lockhart’s life. When she discovers that the unsolved murder of her grandfather eighteen years earlier is linked to a string of killings in Galveston, Texas, Sydney finds herself smack dab in the middle of Murder at the Galvez.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013


Medieval re-enactors spinning and weaving
(photo by 
Peter van der Sluijs)
The most interesting fact about Jill Hughey is that she can sing really, really high. As in opera-singer high. But she only does that when she is not writing, working part time as a business administrator, running her two teenaged sons around, and enjoying the support of her wonderful husband. Her ideal afternoon is spent sitting on her front porch with an iced coffee as she moves the characters in her head into her laptop. Learn more about Jill and her books at her blog.

From Growing to Sewing in VAIN

I write historical romances set in the 830s in what is now France. When I wrote the first one, Unbidden, I included a line of dialogue from a character whom, at the time, I had no plan of giving his own book. Theo said, “I have my heart set on a woman who can sew. I would save a fortune.” He is joking, but in book three of my Evolution Series, his wish comes true when he reluctantly falls in love with his tailor’s daughter.

I originally envisioned Lily as a simple seamstress but she developed into a very creative woman, what we would now consider a designer, and she and Theo first begin to fall in love as she sews and embroiders a beautiful red tunic for him.

Researching the fabrics and tools Lily would have had available was fascinating. In Europe they mainly had flax for linen, and wool. After harvesting and cleaning the raw materials, they used plants to make dyes if they wanted a colored cloth. I learned, for example, that dogwood bark makes blue and sorrel root makes green. The flax or wool fibers would be cleaned with a vinegar and water bath, then soaked in a hot tea of dye before being dried and spun. A spindle was used for spinning, and the yarn they made was woven into cloth using small, simple looms.

Out of all the tasks I researched, I feel I have the least understanding of weaving. Lily weaves out of necessity, both to get cloth to sell as it is and to have material for sewing. Obviously there are not many medieval era wooden looms left in the world, so I looked at pictures and videos of re-enactors and subsistence societies for my idea of her loom being a large rectangular frame that leans on a wall. The loom itself became an important symbol to her, having been handed down from her late mother. She is heartbroken when her father sells it with their shop, then elated when Theo helps her to get it back.

Sewing was done with needles we would consider rustic. Thorn and bone were the most common materials available to the peasant class, much as they had been since cavemen walked the earth. Wealthier women might have brass or bronze needles that they kept carefully secured in a needle case. 

Most households performed all these tasks themselves, from growing to sewing. They could not afford to buy cloth, much less premade clothing. If they were lucky, they might have extra raw fibers or woven cloth to sell at a market. Needless to say, wardrobes were not large or ornate, though an aristocrat like Theo would be the exception. He, in particular, loves to wear interesting, fashionable clothes, hence his comment about needing a wife who sews.

And so I gave him Lily, by far the most creative woman I’ve written. Her passion for clothing became much more integral to the story and to her personality than I ever expected. Sewing is her livelihood but also her escape. The activity and creativity take her away from her troubles, and sharing her talent with Theo, in the form of a beautiful red tunic, is the foundation on which their love for each other is built.

Lily had her life planned, neat and tidy as thread on a spindle, until her mother died and her father snipped at the seams of her future by abandoning Lily in their shop. A nobleman unexpectedly gives her hope when he brings fabric for a special garment. Lily survives on his first payment, and immerses herself in sewing and embroidering an incomparable tunic for him, as her tidy plan continues to unravel.

Theophilus, Lord of Ribeauville, takes his responsibility to his townspeople seriously and, therefore, does not dally with local women. Desire wars with duty when Lily glances up at him while adjusting the hem on his Easter tunic. As her deteriorating circumstances push them together, Theo and Lily learn that the path to his heart just might be through his wardrobe, though the exquisite outfit she creates is the only part of her that fits in his precarious aristocratic world.

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