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, June 30, 2016


Author Sydney Lawrence has dabbled in many things in her life, from painting to raising cows. She is a fan of old movies and Britcoms. An avid reader, Sydney often finishes more than a novel a week. She wishes she could write equally fast. Learn more about her and her books at her Goodreads author page.

Failure—it’s not a word anyone likes to hear, least of all me. I prefer soaring success! Who doesn’t? Yet, along my path as a writer, I’ve encountered rejection. I think it just goes along with the work. Don’t believe me? Even Stephen King and the wildly successful J.K. Rowling have tasted the stings of rejection. I have to remind myself that this business is not for the thin skinned.

My latest bitter taste of failure came in the form of an Amazon Kindle Scout campaign. If you haven’t heard of the program, it is a mix of choosing novels to publish by popularity and then a deciding word from the Amazon Kindle Scout editors. A book’s campaign is under way for thirty days in which members can vote on your novel.

Let me stop here and say this is a brutal undertaking! It sounds simple enough at first but to keep a book campaign at the top of the popularity on the site actually takes a very well developed social media following combined with round-the-clock marketing. Worse yet, even if you do manage to keep the book hot and trending, meaning it’s popular with voters, Amazon’s editors still have the final say. Some books that lit up the charts were ultimately not published.

I began my campaign for a Christian romance novel called Date with a Billionaire.  I worked and pushed but it slipped in popularity. I waited anxiously to find out the results of the campaign from the editors. When I received my “Thanks but no thanks” email confirming my book hadn’t been chosen, I was deflated. Does this mean I think the Amazon Kindle Scout program is a bad idea? No, not at all. I think it gives authors and readers a chance to see unique books that might otherwise not be published. It was also a valuable learning experience for me in marketing. Those brutal 30 days were a trial by fire.

For me though, one of the best takeaways of the failure was freedom. Up to then, I’d only written romance novels. If I’d actually won the campaign, I’m sure I would have felt compelled to write a similar book. That’s what readers would expect, right? However, failure granted me another option. Why not try something different? So, I did. I wrote the short novel The Girl Within, a dark first person, psychological thriller. I loved the change of pace. I don’t like to ‘fail’ any more than the next person, but sometimes the lessons from a stumble outweigh our successes.

As it turns out, Date with a Billionaire, is doing okay, too. Readers like it and that’s always the ultimate success in my little world.

The Girl Within
Elizabeth Lyons steps into a nightmare when she returns home to find her husband and young son missing. Nothing is as it seems in this dark, psychological thriller.
Will Elizabeth unravel the tangled mystery or succumb to her worst impulses?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


C. T. Collier grew up in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York and today lives on one of the prettiest of the lakes in a town similar to her fictional setting, Tompkins Falls. Her career in high tech and higher education afforded many opportunities to study the intrigue featured in her mystery series, The Penningtons Investigate. Learn more about C.T. and her books at her website. 

Because my new mystery series, The Penningtons Investigate, features a luxury-loving Brit, Kyle Pennington, who owns an estate on the north coast of Cornwall, I made a trip to Cornwall and the south west of England before I started writing the series. I found plenty of romantic places to walk and dine and enjoy a picnic, along with the perfect venue and menu for Kyle’s wedding.
However, my time in Cornwall also convinced me that Kyle would not leave his homeland for any length of time, no matter whom he married. How ironic that he fell in love with a penny-pinching college professor, Lyssa, who lived in a sweet little frame house in a tree-lined neighborhood in Tompkins Falls, NY. Kyle’s only consolation is she’s on a three-year contract, not a tenure track. Just enough time for them to solve six tricky mysteries!

Knowing more about the seasons, the gardens, the villages, the pubs, and the coastal paths of Cornwall sensitized me to the difficulties Kyle might have with the rhythms and seasonal changes during his time in the Finger Lakes and helped me better understand how he might respond to a storm or a local custom or a turn of phrase.

For example, the long transition from winter to spring in the Finger Lakes is mainly gray, punctuated with the occasional sighting of a crocus or a robin. In contrast, March and April in Cornwall are bursting with camellias and rhododendrons, and gardens are readying their grounds for an influx of visitors.

Cornish pubs are markedly different from American pubs. In Cornwall’s pubs, the locals bring the whole family, dogs included, for a meal. The fare may be a huge plate of fresh-caught fish, potato, and vegetable. On the weekend afternoons, a local band may entertain patrons with no cover charge and no requirement that children be kept under close supervision. Kids entertain themselves outdoors while adults sip a pint and sing along.
On a fine weekend in Cornwall, walking is popular and public paths are abundant along the rocky coast, beside rivers, through woods filled with wildlife and flora, and from town to town, or pub to pub.
One area that poses less difficulty for Kyle is his emotional response to the little house Lyssa loves, where they make their home in the Finger Lakes, for the south west of England has no shortage of charming small homes, each with its own quirks and workarounds.
As an author with a protagonist from away, travel to the character’s homeland allowed me to add dimension through emotional response, visual awareness, and regional experiences. Although writing a more authentic protagonist required travel to Kyle’s Cornish stomping grounds, it was no hardship. I fell in love with Cornwall and the south west of England, and it’s just a matter of time before I visit again.

The Penningtons Investigate, Book One

It’s Monday of spring break when Professor Lyssa Pennington’s backyard garden project unearths a loaded revolver. With no record of violence at their address and no related cold case, the Tompkins Falls police have no interest. But the Penningtons and a friend with the State Police believe there’s a body somewhere. Whose? Where? And who pulled the trigger?

The Penningtons’ canvass of their quiet neighborhood turns up disturbing secrets about the family that lived in their house for decades and another ill-fated family a few doors away. Lyssa follows the money story and finds twenty million dollars, a neighbor who’s not what he seems, and a long-buried rivalry. Kyle goes after homicide data in six states and finds a body. Their next surprise is a murderer who will go to any length to conceal the crime.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016


In 2008, cozy mystery, paranormal romance, and inspirational writer Joanne took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. She began by publishing articles and book reviews in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. Learn more about Joanne and her books at her website. 

Dealing with my Achilles Tendon

I limped into my doctor’s office and described the muscle spasms in my right calf that had morphed into excruciating ankle pain. While speaking, my mind raced through possible remedies: physiotherapy (my preferred choice) or anti-inflammatory medication (I would grit my teeth and endure the nausea and upset stomach).

“You’re having problems with your Achilles tendon,” he said after inspecting my calf and ankle. “A boot will do the trick.”

“Excuse me?”

“An Air Cast Boot,” he said while writing out a prescription. “You can pick one up at the Home Health Care Center across the street. Wear the boot for four to six weeks and your tendon will be back to normal.”

“What if I just rest and take it easy for a week? Maybe take some Tylenol 3...or something stronger?”

“Do you want to limp for the rest of your life?”

A bit extreme, I thought, but I was in no position to argue. At the Center, I listened as the sales associate explained the boot’s benefits. Wearing it would slowly and safely restore strength in my tendon while keeping the foot and ankle at a constant angle. She also showed me how to inflate and deflate the boot, but my mind was elsewhere.

There was no way I could drive, take the stairs, or walk on uneven terrain wearing that boot. And while I could remove it for showering and sleeping, I would have to wear the boot for at least ten hours a day.
After two days of complaining about my “new” restrictions, I decided to focus on my blessings and emerging positives:

I started with a shift in perspective. In 2004, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and had to undergo ten months of grueling treatments. In comparison, wearing an Air Cast Boot for six weeks would be a cakewalk.

The injury was a minor sprain and not one that would require a hard cast and months of physiotherapy.

My extended health benefits covered 80 percent of the boot’s cost.

I was grateful for the elevator in my condo building and the well-maintained grounds that enabled me to walk freely and confidently.

Whenever I ventured outside, I had renewed appreciation for ramps, elevators, automatic doors, and main level entrances.

Wearing a boot slowed me down and made me more mindful of each action taken. If it wasn’t necessary or pleasant, I let it go.

After meeting with a foot specialist, I learned that improper footwear may have contributed to my Achilles tendon problem. I retired my heeled shoes and invested in Clarkes, Trotters, and Etonic running shoes. Whenever I wear my new shoes, I know that my feet and ankles are comfortable and well-supported.


A Season for Killing Blondes

Hours before the opening of her career counseling practice, Gilda Greco discovers the dead body of golden girl Carrie Ann Godfrey, neatly arranged in the dumpster outside her office. Gilda’s life and budding career are stalled as Detective Carlo Fantin, her former high school crush, conducts the investigation.

When three more dead blondes turn up all brutally strangled and deposited near Gilda’s favorite haunts, she is pegged as a prime suspect for the murders. Frustrated by Carlo’s chilly detective persona and the mean girl antics of Carrie Ann’s meddling relatives, Gilda decides to launch her own investigation. She discovers a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga instructor in need of anger management training, a lecherous photographer, and fourteen ex-boyfriends.

As the puzzle pieces fall into place, shocking revelations emerge, forcing Gilda to confront the envy and deceit she has long overlooked.

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Monday, June 27, 2016


The author with Carol Sabala's m#argarita
A reading addict since childhood, Vinnie Hansen is now the author of the Carol Sabala mysteries. The seventh installment in the series, Black Beans & Venom, was a finalist for the Claymore Award. She’s also written many published short stories including Novel Solution in the anthology, Fish or Cut Bait, and Bad Connection, the 2015 winner of the Golden Donut Award. Learn more about Vinnie and her books at her website. And keep reading for a chance to win one of three copies of Squeezed & Juiced Vinnie is giving away.

When I started writing my Carol Sabala mystery series, I was married to Mr. Wrong. I’d made Carol Sabala, my protagonist, a baker in an upscale restaurant, modeled on the place where my husband worked as a sous chef.

My husband was a treasure trove of inside information. Until we got divorced.

What might have been a stumbling block proved to be a step up. My protagonist, like myself, was feeling constricted in the cozy genre. I personally like to read grittier mysteries. Plus, in a small town setting like my Santa Cruz, I faced the Jessica Fletcher problem. How many bodies could an amateur sleuth credibly stumble upon? My series also jumps through time, and I wanted Carol Sabala to grow and change. She gradually morphed into a P.I., while still retaining her bread-and-butter job as a baker.

Having Carol keep her restaurant job not only seemed realistic, but also allowed the established food titles to continue to make sense. While I am neither a sous chef nor a professional baker, I still offer one recipe in each book. Here’s the menu and the connection:

Murder, Honey, Book 1 (now available in the boxed set Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries): Lebkuchen because the victim collapses into Carol’s pan of lebkuchen dough.

One Tough Cookie, Book 2: Crinkles. By the second book, I already realized I needed help with recipes. This one came from a member of my reading group. She often baked them for us until she passed away at ninety-three.

Squeezed & Juiced, Book 4: Margaritas. The old people in the story are “squeezed” and the victim is killed with a deadly injection. Juiced? So I give you the secret to my new husband’s very best margaritas just in time for summer. Recipe below.

Death with Dessert, Book 5: Flan. Carol goes on a manhunt into Mexico. This recipe for traditional Mexican flan I coerced from a Mexican-American colleague.

Art, Wine & Bullets, Book 6: Wine & Cheese Pairings. Fitting for a book set during Open Studios. A professional “culinarian” provided these pairings. Before sampling them all, I’d never even tried a Shiraz or Malbec wine. Writing mysteries leads to amazing experiences . . . .

Black, Beans & Venom, Book 7: Black Beans. Carol Sabala’s last adventure takes her to Cuba. Cuban food is wholesome and healthy, but on the bland side due to the lack of spices (a result of the embargo). But a Puerto Rican friend shared his Mama’s recipe, the tastiest black beans I’ve ever eaten.

Now, you may have noticed Book 3 is not listed. This is not an oversight. Rotten Dates, the third Carol Sabala mystery, will be the last one re-released from misterio press in late 2016. In the book, the “dates” are deadly ones with an evil man. For the recipe, I am looking for a delicious, non-deadly use of dates. Any offerings?

Carol Sabala’s Margaritas
The secret is the freshly squeezed juice!

Put lots of ice cubes in a container for mixing.

Coat the rims of the two glasses with lime juice and dip in salt (ground sea salt preferred). Fill the glasses with additional ice cubes.

Combine in the container:
3 oz. of Hornitos Tequila Sauza (or an upper shelf Tequila of your choice)
3 oz. of Controy (This is Mexican orange liquor that I’ve never found in the United States. A good Triple Sec is a fair substitute, but may give your margarita a slight orange tint.)
1 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice

Stir and pour over the ice in the glasses.

Squeezed and Juiced
Her first real P.I. case, an ailing mother, and a stalled relationship.

As Carol Sabala attempts to juggle the components of her life, they all threaten to crash. Training to be a private eye, Carol wrangles a job to investigate a woman’s will. The more Carol probes the retirement home where the woman died, the more she grasps how easily one could kill an elderly person in such a facility. It is, after all, an expected last address. With Carol’s mother intent on moving to the same retirement home, the stakes are high. Will Carol prevent this facility from being her mother’s final address? Can she keep all the pieces of her life in the air as she enters a world of drug addicts and murder?

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Want a chance to win a copy of Squeezed & Juiced? Vinnie is doing a Goodreads giveaway of three copies. Click here to enter.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Next week we celebrate Independence Day. This Patriotic Topiary first appeared on the blog in May of 2010 as the inaugural post. Since then we've had many followers join us, and being that this is one of my favorite craft projects from the blog (because it was the first), I thought it was time for a repeat performance. 

One of the great thing about this design is that it requires no sewing. I love using it as a centerpiece during 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Labor Day BBQ's, but if you don't care for the red, white, and blue color scheme, you can swap out the colors to match any room in your house. 

Patriotic Topiary
metal, wood, or ceramic container or clay pot, approx. 6” x 6” x 6”
15” long 5/8” wooden dowel
6” white Styrofoam® ball
1 yd. 1” wide blue print ribbon
3” x 45” piece blue gingham
scraps of red, white, and blue fabric
floral foam, enough to fit inside container
straight pins
green excelsior
hot glue gun and glue sticks
tacky glue

Note: Use hot glue for all gluing except where tacky glue is indicated.  Model shown made with red glitter metal container purchased from crafts store.

1.  Insert dowel halfway into Styrofoam® ball.  Remove dowel.  Dispense glue into hole in ball.  Reinsert dowel.

2. Glue floral foam inside container.  Insert dowel into center of floral foam.  Remove dowel.  Dispense glue into hole in floral foam.  Reinsert dowel.

3.  Apply a thin coat of tacky glue to dowel.  Wrap ribbon around dowel to cover.

4.  Tear fabric into 1-1/2” x 6” strips.  Place two strips wrong sides together and tie a knot at center.

5.  Insert a straight pin into knot.  Dip pin in tacky glue and quickly insert into Styrofoam® ball.  Repeat until ball is completely covered.

6.  Glue excelsor over floral foam inside container.

7.  Tie blue gingham strip around container.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Karen McCullough is the author of a dozen published mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy novels and novellas. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Daphne, Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications. Learn more about Karen and her books at her website and blog.

My Failure: Setting Realistic Career Goals (or I’m Still Not a Bestseller!)

Thirty years ago when I started writing in a serious way, intending to sell my ramblings, I was young enough and naïve enough to think that if I worked hard and strived to get better at the writing that in five to ten years I could sell a novel or three or six to a major publisher and see it become a bestseller.

In fact, I did sell the sixth complete novel I’d written to Avalon Books in 1989. And I sold three more to them before my editor left and the new editor wasn’t as happy with my writing. But I was ready to take on longer, deeper books than Avalon would publish, so I didn’t feel it was a setback so much as a new opportunity.

I’d planned to write a few more romantic suspense novels and was pretty sure that I’d be able to sell them to a New York publisher. After a while I’d make it to some bestseller list and I’d be set. At the time that was my main goal.

If I’d only known much sooner how foolish that was. Too many things are out of my control and too much luck is involved at every step. Your editor/agent doesn’t connect with the latest thing you’ve written.  As already mentioned, editors change, and they don’t all have the same taste. Publishers consolidate; they kill lines; they even go out of business. The things you like to write go out of fashion and publishers won’t buy it any more. I’ve had all of those things happen to me.

That’s my failure, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sometimes sting.  I’ve had books published. I’ve gotten good reviews. I’ve won a fair number of awards and contests. But I’ve never gotten a five-figure advance for a book, and I’ve never made it to any best-seller list.

So, I’ve come to realize that the only thing I can really control is my own work.  Now my goals are centered on things that I can actually make happen. How many pages I’ll try to write in the next period of time; how many submissions I’ll send out; the schedule for releasing my backlist; and doing promo for my books.

Wired for Murder
Most of the time, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center. Because she’s a good listener and even better at solving problems, her boss assigns her to handle a lot of the day to day issues that arise during the shows, exhibits, and conferences being held there.  When Heather becomes an unwilling audience to murder and later finds the body, she’s willing to let the police take care of it. But she soon learns more than she wanted to know about the victim and all the people who really didn’t like him very much.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


A lane in Kovalam, India
Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian-American photographer living in her aunt's tourist hotel in South India. She also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva. Her stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and various anthologies. Learn more about Susan and her writing at her website. 

Setting Versus Place

A successful novel comprises a number of elements—character, plot, and setting are the most obvious. In some mysteries, the setting can be more generic than specific, such as a small town without any distinctive geographical or historical features. But setting can be much more than a location for the narrative.

Cara Black sets her series in Paris, and the reader looks forward to exploring one of the arrondissements in each book. Louise Penny sets her series in a small village in Quebec, Canada, and its environs. Sara Paretsky gives us Chicago’s South Side. In each of these series, and many more, the setting becomes a character, enriching the novel with detail and depth.

In any novel that includes setting as more than a generic place, we learn about history, economic climate, the people and their social world, even the way a place smells and looks and feels. This is the ideal for setting in fiction.

The Anita Ray mysteries are set in South India. Since most of my readers never expect to travel there, I try to include details about this world. Anita Ray lives in Hotel Delite, her aunt’s tourist hotel, located in the beach resort of Kovalam. In the evening she strolls along the beach Promenade, past the open-air restaurants with their tables of fresh fish awaiting customers and the smells of Indian curries cooking. She chases a suspect down a dirt lane lined with colorful saris and cloth purses. She takes a narrow path to the edge of the resort area, where the residents live and the old irrigation canals are thick with weeds.

The city of Trivandrum is nearby, and Anita rides the bus or takes an autorickshaw, a three-wheeled vehicle with more noise than power. The resort might grow with a new hotel and more shops, but the real change is happening in the city. When I lived there in 1976, in a flat that was considered to be in the middle of the city, I walked to a bus stop located across the road from a lumberyard. Huge teak tree trunks were piled in the yard. Just past the yard were narrow lanes with one-storied buildings, where advocates (or lawyers) had their offices. Across the street, next to the bus stop, was the courthouse. The lumberyard is gone, the street has sidewalks, and the courthouse was abandoned for almost thirty years. It’s now being refurbished and reopened.

To make sure Anita Ray’s activities make sense, I travel around the city, exploring neighborhoods, checking out restaurants, and searching for quiet lanes where my characters carry out their criminal deeds.

No novel can give a true or full picture of the culture of a foreign country. But I strive to bring the flavor of India (its colors, smells, tastes, and people) into the story, to keep the setting vivid.

When Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery

In the glorious beauty of a tropical night, a young woman abandons her daughter in the Hotel Delite compound and flees into the darkness. In the morning Anita Ray recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, but before she can track her down, the police arrive at the hotel looking for her. She is the main suspect in the stabbing death of her husband. This seems impossible to Anita, but so does the discovery that Nisha and her husband were involved with unscrupulous moneylenders from their family's village.

Anita is ready to let the police do their work as she prepares for a one-woman photography show in a prestigious gallery, but fate conspires against her. An accident wrecks her schedule as well as her car. She sets up her camera for one last shot, but it fails to work. When she inspects the camera she finds a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else's memory card inside.

Whether she likes it or not, Anita is drawn into the frantic search for a young mother and the murky world of moneylenders and debts of honor, a hidden corner of life in South India.

When Krishna Calls asks how far will a woman go for love and family? Anita Ray thinks she knows how Nisha would answer, but before it is all over Anita must also answer that question. How far will she go to protect her family and her home?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Award-winning mystery author Judy Alter also writes fictional biographies of women of the American West, including Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall (first Wild West Show roping cowgirl), and Etta Place, the Sundance Kid’s girlfriend. In The Gilded Cage she’s turned her attention to late nineteenth century Chicago to tell the story of the lives of high society couple Potter and Cissy Palmer, who hold differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website and blog.

Patience in the Midst of Disarray
My youngest son invited us for the weekend and then called the day before to cancel. It seems they were remodeling but were promised it would be through by Thursday. I don’t think he understands remodeling—take the promise and add two weeks.

At my house, we’re also remodeling a guesthouse, creating a three-room apartment for me. My youngest daughter and her family will live in the main house, just yards away.

Remodeling is like writing—it teaches you patience. We started this process—oh, maybe around Thanksgiving. Work on the site began last week. Tells you something about nothing happens in a hurry, doesn’t it?

My contractor is an old friend who has been keeping my household running for over twenty years. He knows about old structures (my house was built in 1922), and he knows me—an essential combination. When we first started talking about this project, one son-in-law said, “Of course, you’ll put it out for bid.” Of course I wouldn’t. To me, a long-established working relationship built on trust is invaluable.

Lewis, the contractor, decreed we needed an architect, and thereby hung our first delay. Then it was financing—I’ve been dealing with the same bank almost all my adult life, so that was no problem. But it took time. Then came the work permit from the city—Lewis is not one of those contractors who will go ahead without a permit. Since we’d had experience in the family of proceeding without a permit and the consequences, I was all for that. But that took the most time of all. Over the next months, Lewis and his brother/partner made at least four, maybe five, trips to City Hall. Always a new reason we didn’t pass.

Finally, we had the permit. I wanted to celebrate with a ceremonial posting of the permit on the front door next to the roofing permit. Didn’t happen—Lewis has to keep the permit on him at all times, and so we just sort of slid into construction. The day after he picked up the permit, eleven men were working on various jobs in the back—digging a trench for gas and electric lines, tearing out what needed to go, early stages of framing, and doing I-don’t-know-what to the plumbing. The plumber’s trucks are here a lot.

That was last week and is pretty much where we stand now. They tell me it will be two months, so I’ll add a month to that. There is an emotional component to all this—now that I’m really committed, am I sure I want to leave this house I’ve loved for twenty-some years? Am I perhaps making a huge mistake? And the financial commitment—can I really handle it? My accountant is guiding me through this process, but it’s still scary to take out a good-sized home improvement loan at my age. There’s also the experience of living with my world in disarray—trenches in the backyard, a huge pile of scrap in the driveway, my car gone to my daughter’s house.

I’m trying to write about this in my blog from time to time, figuring it may be part of a memoir or a helpful guide of steps involved for others who want to renovate—or maybe explore downsizing in your seventies. I’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.

The Gilded Cage
Born to society and a life of privilege, Bertha Honoré married Potter Palmer, a wealthy entrepreneur who called her Cissy. Neither dreamed the direction the other’s life would take. He built the Palmer House Hotel, still famed today, and became one of the major robber barons of the city, giving generously to causes of which he approved. She put philanthropy into words, going into shanty neighborhoods, inviting factory girls to her home, working at Jane Addams’ settlement Hull House, supporting women’s causes.

It was a time of tremendous change and conflict in Chicago as the city struggled to put its swamp-water beginnings behind it and become a leading urban center. A time of the Great Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Riots, and the triumph of the Columbian Exposition. Potter and Cissy handled these events in diverse ways. Fascinating characters people these pages along with Potter and Cissy—Carter Harrison, frequent mayor of the city; Harry Collins, determined to be a loser; Henry Honoré, torn between loyalties to the South and North; Daniel Burnham, architect of the new Chicago—and many others. The Gilded Cage is a fictional exploration of the lives of these people and of the Gilded Age in Chicago history.

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Monday, June 20, 2016


Cathy Perkins started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams. Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories. Learn more about Cathy and her books at her website. 

From Tapas to seafood with fabulous stops for jamon (cured ham) and chorizo (sausage), Spain is a delightful culinary adventure. You’ve undoubtedly tasted gazpacho and paella but when chef Alex Montoya and vintner Sofia Pincelli make magic with Malbec grapes, Alex envisioned a hearty Spanish Ragout.

Ragout is a wonderful cold weather dish, so for the summer, Alex recommended one of the many tapas served at his restaurant. Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Potato Tortilla) is always a favorite with his customers, working equally well for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack—along with a glass of your favorite wine. For dinner or tapas, I pair this dish with a cabernet sauvignon. Novelty Hill makes a lovely medium-bodied red with soft, fruity flavors.  

Alex is a secondary character in So About the Money, the first in the Holly Price/So About…series. Alex may have been a bit volatile in that story. His fiery temper clashed with Holly’s saner approach to life. He simply needed the right woman to help him become the adult he’s capable of being.

A bit of nagging from his character led me to write his story—Malbec Mayhem. With all the fabulous wineries located in eastern Washington, choosing a rising star vintner to challenge him seemed a natural fit. Alex and Sofia understand the importance of family—including the joys and challenges associated with running a family business. They simply have to figure out a way to make their hot-blooded nature work for them.

Tortilla Espanola

1 cups vegetable oil for frying (Plain olive oil is much better than canola. A great extra-virgin olive oil isn’t required)
1-3/4 lb. (about 5 medium) low- to medium-starch potatoes (Yukon Gold, rather than a russet) peeled
12 to 14 oz. onions (2 to 3 medium), diced
5 medium cloves garlic, very coarsely chopped (optional)
6 large eggs
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel the potatoes and onion and slice them very thin. A mandolin works best, but you can use the slicing blade of a food processor, or slice them by hand. If the potatoes are on the large side, first cut them in a half lengthwise so the slices will be in half-moons.

Heat oil in an 8- to 10-inch skillet, ideally nonstick, over medium-high until very hot, about 3 minutes. When the oil is very hot (a potato slice will sizzle vigorously around the edges without browning), gently slip the potatoes into the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon. Add potatoes and onions (and garlic if using) in even layers and reduce heat to medium-low.

Cook for 10 - 15 minutes, flipping and nudging potatoes around to ensure they cook evenly. Potatoes are done when they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. They should not get brown or fall apart in flipping (unless you like your tortillas with softer, more broken-up potatoes, as some do).

Transfer potatoes and onion to a colander/sieve set over a bowl and drain them.* Season potatoes and onion with salt and pepper and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. (Seriously, drain the potatoes in the sieve. Most of the oil is removed by doing that. If you don’t have a sieve, use a lot of paper towels in a shallow bowl to absorb the excess oil.)

Drain the oil from the skillet*, reserve at least 1 Tbs., and wipe out the pan with a paper towel so it's clean. Scrape out any stuck-on bits, if necessary.

In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs with about 1/4 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in drained potatoes and onions. If you have 10 minutes, definitely let them soak together for that long; it makes a difference in how well the final tortilla stays together. If you’re in a rush, it’s not going to ruin the dish if you skip that step.

Add 1 tablespoon of the drained cooking oil* (back to the skillet over medium-high heat. Let the pan and oil get very hot (important so the eggs don't stick), and then pour potato mixture into the skillet. Flatten the potatoes with a spatula until they’re mostly even. Cook for 1 minute and then lower the heat to medium-low.

Cook, moving and shaking the skillet and nudging the egg around (so it runs underneath) for a minute before letting the tortilla cook undisturbed until the eggs are completely set at the edges, halfway set in the center, and the tortilla easily slips around in the pan when you give it a shake, 8 to 10 minutes.

Loosen the tortilla with a spatula then slide it onto a large dinner plate. (Use a flat, rimless plate that's at least as wide as the skillet.) With your hands in potholders, invert the skillet over the plate, take a deep breath, and flip it back into the skillet. Once the tortilla is back in the pan, tuck the edges in and under (to neaten the sides).

Return the skillet to the stove and cook tortilla to your desired doneness, another 2 to 3 minutes if you like an ever-so-slightly loose center; 4 to 5 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean) for full doneness.

Transfer the tortilla to a serving platter and let cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or slightly cool. Cut into wedges or small squares, sticking a toothpick in each square if serving as an appetizer. Add a dusting of smoked paprika and/or squiggle of aioli or mayo if desired.

* Save the rest of the cooking oil in the refrigerator for future tortillas, or eggs, or potatoes, or anything you want to cook with a faint onion infusion flavor. (Think about the $20 bottle of infused oil you saw at the specialty shop!)

Malbec Mayhem
Successful restaurateur Alex Montoya’s charmed life has hit a snag. His trusted business partner turned out to be not exactly trustworthy, and Alex could be facing jail time over some of his partner’s shady financial deals. As if that weren’t bad enough, creditors are calling in loans he didn’t know he had and he’s desperate to prove his innocence before all his businesses are repossessed.

After a career-building stint in Napa Valley, Sofia Pincelli has returned home to eastern Washington to take over the family’s winery. Running the family business, however, means dealing with her ailing father’s continued micro-management—and his disapproval of Alex. Her father’s condemnation of Alex’s rumored involvement in his business partner’s schemes runs so deep, it threatens Alex and Sofia’s blossoming romance…along with the Pincelli family’s signature red wine. Sofia needs Alex’s crop of Malbec grapes to show her father she has what it takes to make award-winning wine—and save the reputation and finances of the Pincelli winery.

When the Malbec grapes go missing, Alex and Sofia must join forces to find the fruit before it spoils—or risk destroying both of their businesses and their hearts.


Like her sleuth, Susan Cory is an architect practicing out of a turreted office. Like Iris, she has a brown belt in karate. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her architect husband and her bossy mutt, not a Basset hound. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website. 

Why Architects Make Great Amateur Sleuths—and Crafty Killers

The mystery world is littered with sleuths who are cops, P.I.s, countless lawyers, bookstore owners, caterers, ministers—practitioners of every profession but my own, architecture. Aren't we problem-solvers? Don't we find ourselves deeply enmeshed in other people's lives? Don't we passionately defend our beliefs? Clearly the architecture world has been ignored as a mystery setting, and architects have been neglected as sleuths and, yes, murderers.

In my graduate program alone at Harvard's GSD, I found a setting ripe for murder. Egos were flying, and critics would reduce sleep-deprived students to tears and screaming matches at final juries. Later, out in the real world, a tiny handful of architects would claim all the plum commissions, as a single architect each year would be awarded the Pritzker Prize, ratcheting them to Starchitect status.

Several years ago, I decided to remedy this oversight by writing the Iris Reid Mystery series. Iris designs houses in Cambridge, MA, while her loyal Basset hound, Sheba, sleeps nearby inside the fireplace hearth. Iris spends her days hunched over a drafting table in her turreted home office, or butting heads with sexist contractors at construction sites. She spends her nights with the sexy neighborhood chef. Her loyal friend, Ellie, has her back.

I started writing the first book, Conundrum, in my head while attending my own 20th GSD reunion, reconnecting with backstabbing, competitive classmates. (In fairness, there were plenty of nice, normal fellow students, but they aren't as much fun to write about as the prima donnas.) In this book, Iris also returns to her 20th Architecture School reunion, only to discover the body of her former GSD boyfriend at a neo-Modernist house she's designed. That did not happen to me.

In the second book, Facade, Iris agrees to teach a design studio at GSD. A charismatic Dutch starchitect, also teaching that semester, lures Iris into his world. When a local schoolgirl goes missing after visiting the man's office, Iris is his only alibi. But can she actually vouch for his innocence?

Façade, Book 2 in the Iris Reid series

Smart and gutsy architect, Iris Reid, is plunged into the dark world surrounding a missing Cambridge schoolgirl. One of the girl's last visits was to Xander DeWitt, Harvard's handsome guest starchitect, who denies that they ever met. Only Iris can provide an alibi that will allow DeWitt to keep his perfect life. But can she actually vouch for his innocence?

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