featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

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Monday, October 31, 2016


Ann Everett is an award winning and Amazon bestselling author. She lives on a small lake in Texas where she writes, bakes, and fights her addiction to Diet Dr. Peppers. Learn more about Ann and her books at her website.

Those Crazy Texas Names!

If you’re a writer, do you ever get reviews that make you laugh? I do. Here’s an excerpt from one I received.

“As a born and raised and lived in Texas all my life, I know no one that goes by silly nicknames as pattycake and sweetiepie.” (Should be Pattiecake and Sugarpie, not sweetiepie)

Anyway, why did that make me laugh? Because as the author, I know the history behind those character names. They belong to my sister and me. That’s what our grandchildren call us… and pretty much everyone else. So, said reviewer may not know any Texans with silly nicknames, but I sure do!

Here are some examples: Buttcut, Booger Red, Possum, Slime, Bardol, Slick, Rabbit, Pork Chop, Sweet Pea, and Lightning. Three of those belong to females!

The only reason I can think of that would cause a native to be uninformed of the rich history of ridiculous Lone Star monikers is that she is a “city girl!”

In my Tizzy/Ridge Trilogy, which is set in the actual town of Brownsboro, Texas, I use many genuine crazy names.

When I wrote the first book, I wanted to include family members. I figured with names like Pattiecake and Sugarpie we should be bakers or strippers! Since we both love to cook, it was pretty much a no-brainer. Plus, if we danced on a pole, we might throw our backs out! So, we became owners of Sweet Thangs Bakery, and because it’s fiction, I made us younger with bigger boobs!

Many scenes take place in the bakery, and the owners are full of advice, just as my sister and I are in real life.

Today, just in time for Thanksgiving, I’m posting a delicious recipe from my cookbook, Sweet Thangs: Southern Sweets from Two Sassy Sisters…and silly or not, Pattiecake and Sugarpie really exist!

Wham-Bam-Yam Pound Cake and Glaze

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups baked, mashed yams (sweet potatoes)*
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons bourbon (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease two loaf pans or a 10 inch tube pan with butter. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar at high speed for 3 minutes or until thick and light color. Add oil, melted butter, and vanilla, beating at low speed until combined. Add the potatoes, beating until combined and stopping to scrape down sides of bowl.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

In another small bowl, whisk together the bourbon and buttermilk.

Set the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, combining after each addition.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out fairly clean.

Transfer pans to wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack and remove from pans, and allow to cool completely.

* We used 3 medium size yams. We pierced them with a knife and placed on a baking sheet and baked for about an hour or until soft in a 375 degree oven. Canned yams may also be used in place of fresh. Just drain the juice and mash.


1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
3 Tablespoons bourbon
3/4 cup toasted pecans

Place sugar, butter, and syrup in a saucepan over low heat and stir until melted. Bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in pecans, bourbon, and vanilla. Spoon glaze over warm cake.

Sweet Thangs
In Ann Everett’s Tizzy/Ridge Romance Trilogy, fictional characters Pattiecake McAlister and Sugarpie Monroe cook up delicious confections at Sweet Thangs Bakery. These recipes are from the kitchens of real life sisters, Pattie Ball and Carol Mayfield.

Inside this book, they share more than 130 homemade recipes, including luscious cakes, yummy cookies, sweet salads, delectable pies, scrumptious candy, and delightful drinks, perfect for special occasions or gift giving.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016


Award-winning author Laurel O’Donnell finds precious time every day to escape into the medieval world and bring her characters to life in her writing. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Halloween has always been a special time of year for me and my family. We love to create our own decorations. Over the years, this has morphed into elaborate decorations for my front yard.

My daughter, husband and I made a crypt. It gets really windy in Illinois and the first crypt we made was smashed when the wind actually lifted the roof off the sides of the crypt, shifted it and crashed it back onto itself, destroying it. We rebuilt it, sturdier and heavier. But we always wonder if another windstorm is going to tear it apart.

In this picture, you can see the crypt in the background. These two pillars in the front are our most recent addition to our graveyard. We built a fence made out of PVC piping and four wooden pillars made of plywood.

When we start decorating the front yard, the crypt goes out first because it’s really heavy and it takes three people to move it. The roof is unattached. We move the sides out first, swinging them back and forth to maneuver them into place. Then, we lift the roof on and attach twenty-five pound weights to each of the corners. I also tie the roof to the sides inside the crypt.

In this picture, we have pounded three stakes into the ground to help the posts resist the wind. We don’t want the posts falling over. You can also see the gates that we’ve begun to put up.

In this picture, the posts and the fence are up and we’ve begun to set up the tombstones. We made all of our own tombstones. They are plywood cut out and painted black. Then we added the words in gray and lightly brushed the wood with gray paint to give the tombstones a weathered look. You can also see that we’ve begun to set up lighting for the graveyard.

The finished graveyard is shown at the top of this post. We made the pillars, the fence, the crypt, and the tombstones. See the ghost in the crypt? We’ve named her Jane. I even made Jane by gluing pieces of cheesecloth onto a Styrofoam head and wire arms. Over time, she became very old and ragged, the perfect ghost! We purchased all of the skeletons to add finishing touches to our graveyard.

See the gate of the fence? It stays padlocked and closed until Halloween when we open it to let the dead wander free!

It takes three-and-half hours to set all of this up. But it’s a lot of fun! My biggest thrill is to see the cars slow down to look at the graveyard as they pass by.

Speaking of ghosts, I have a new boxed set of my Lost Souls series out, including Episodes 1 - 4. Just in time for Halloween! Specially priced at 99 cents for the month of October. 

Lost Souls Boxed Set
Souls who refuse to pass into the afterlife become wandering spirits, trapped between the world of the living and the dead. These are the Lost Souls. Some of these Lost Souls have banded together, uniting to fight against an evil endangering both their existence and the safety of the human world they once inhabited. This evil has taken shape in unholy creatures called the Changed, beings who were once Lost Souls but who are now dark, dangerous and disturbed monsters. The Changed feed on the energy of the Lost Souls, growing stronger with each Lost Soul they drain. The ultimate goal of the Changed is to harness enough energy to return to the land of the living by possessing the body of a human. The mission of the Lost Souls is to stop them.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Cozy mystery and romance author Kelle Z. Riley is also a global traveler, Ph.D. chemist and safety/martial arts expert. Today she sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about Kelle and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’ve always loved stories because they can take you to magical places. Also, I’ve always loved the way words sound when formed into just the right sentence. They can invoke powerful images and even more powerful emotions.

Somewhere during a lifetime of reading, I discovered I was also telling myself stories. That’s when I started being a writer. I just didn’t realize it was what I wanted to do until after I’d completed graduate school and started work as a chemist.

For some, like me, it can take a long time to find you passion.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I began writing for publication in about 1999. One of the first things I did was to write a fan letter to Susan Elizabeth Phillips, asking for advice. She pointed me to the Romance Writers’ of America organization and a local chapter. Once I started meeting regularly with other writers, my productivity soared and my craft improved.

In 2005 three wonderful things happened: First, I was nominated for the Golden Heart award for unpublished writers. (I was one of the top finalists out of over twelve hundred entries—proving that my mother wasn’t the only one who thought I was a good writer.) Second, I sold my romantic suspense manuscript—Dangerous Affairs—to a boutique publisher. And third, I signed with the agency of my dreams.

Like all stories, there were obstacles between me and my dream. While I received compliments on my work, none of the compliments turned into a contract. So much of the business involves being in the right place, at the right time, with the right manuscript. Because my work often straddled the lines between subgenres, it was ultimately difficult for the publishers to find the right slot for it.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
At present, I’m a hybrid author. My first book was published by a traditional—albeit small—publishing house. While I still dream of being offered an amazing contract by a big publisher, my agent and I have decided that, for now, my work has its best chance for visibility as an indie author.

One of my favorite comments came from a traditional publisher who loved the work, but was concerned that readers would be turned off because the main character was a scientist. I have to wonder—given the popularity of the CSI franchise, Bones and The Big Bang Theory—if the publisher wasn’t underestimating the intelligence of mystery readers everywhere. But only time will tell.

Where do you write?
I have a home office where I do most of my writing. I’ve been using the same closet-sized computer armoire since I first started writing. These days, it sits in a large office across from the desk where I do my “day job” as a Product Manager for a chemical company specializing in industrial water treatment.

It can be hard to go back into the office after 8 hours on the day job. Switching from the chemist career to the writer career takes discipline and dedication. In the end, my love for writing (usually) outweighs my desire to watch TV or engage in other distractions.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
When I’m writing, I have to fully immerse myself in the world of my characters. Insofar as possible, I try to step into their skin and see the world from their eyes. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration.

Because of my process, I oscillate between needing silence and using music to block out the sounds around me. When I do reach for music, I have a specific soundtrack of “new age” and instrumental music to write by. I can’t listen to music with words, or I’ll be tempted to sing along.

I often say I can only live in one fictional world at a time. So when I write the first drafts, I usually don’t read anyone else’s work. For that matter I also try to avoid TV or movies that would drag me into a fictional world of someone else’s creation. Once the draft is finished I binge read and catch up on my recorded TV shows to refill my writing well.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
What a great question. The emotions of my characters are always drawn from real life. The big issues—facing your fears, falling in love, losing a family member, starting a career, searching for meaning and connecting with others are things everyone struggles with. That’s why books and stories that focus on these emotions resonate with readers.

But as for specifics, in The Cupcake Caper I was able to draw heavily from real life. My character—like me—has a Ph.D. in chemistry and works for a company focusing in water treatment. Because of this, I wanted to be especially careful to make sure that the science in the book was solid. Granted, I took a few liberties (I didn’t actually poison anyone during the course of my research). My goal with the plot of the story was twofold: (1) I wanted to create an entertaining story that anyone could read and enjoy. (2) I wanted my science friends to be able to “suspend disbelief.” In other words, I didn’t want an error in plotting to pull them out of the story.

One thing I really enjoyed in creating the book was being able to take bits and pieces from professional colleagues over the years and weave them into the characters that populate The Cupcake Caper. I hope my colleagues will take that as the compliment it is intended to be.

Describe your process for naming your character?
I don’t have a process for naming the characters. Usually names just come to me out of the blue—often with a rudimentary plot attached.

In one case, however, I solicited help from my Facebook friends. I offered to name a character after the person who suggested the best name for the dog in the series. I receives so many good suggestions that I had to write in a litter of puppies!

And that is how one of my favorite characters—Norah Kingston—got her name.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional! I like being able to control the businesses in a town. Most of my fictional towns are amalgamations of real places where I’ve lived and often, the “real” town is nearby the fictional one.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Ah, that takes me back to the character of Norah Kingston. She’s fond of piercings and goth style clothing. Not that that’s particularly quirky in and of itself, but coupled with her attitude—part shy-sweet-girl, part take-no-prisoners rebel—it sets her apart from everyone else in the conservative environment where she works. Keep an eye on her—she’s always stirring up some new mischief for my heroine Bree to deal with.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
If only I had a quirky side. . . .  I suppose it is my habit of turning everything into a song. I swear, if I could rewrite my life as a musical, I’d do it.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I think I would like to have written Strong Poison and its sequels (originally by Dorothy Sayers). I always liked the series because it wove mystery with romance (and a bit of royalty thrown in). Also, her protagonist loved using the scientific method to solve crimes! (Of course, I would imagine re-writing it to adjust the pacing for modern readers.)

Given that, I suppose it isn’t surprising to see I have a sleuth who uses the scientific method and a romance thread running through my series as well. Maybe I’m not as unique as I thought!

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I’d stared on my creative path sooner. I’ve always been goal oriented and driven, and there are times when that equates to being way too hard on myself. I often catch myself putting off joy and fun today in order to attain some goal tomorrow. Writing is wonderful because it allows me to set goals that are in tune with my creative self, which helps me enjoy the moment.

For too many years, I tried to fit myself into a series of corporate goals that didn’t resonate with me. Now I’m at a wonderful place in life. My writing career is taking off and my science career has morphed into a wonderful blend of logical and creative tasks. The two fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Or clues in an intricate plot. I just wish I’d gotten to this place sooner.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Excuses. I hate hearing anyone (especially me) make excuses for not doing their best. At events, I meet a lot of people who say they’d like to write a book. . . but. . . the excuses begin. We all find time to do the things that matter to us. I can respect someone who takes baby steps toward their dreams. It may take years to write the book, learn to sing, find time for the cooking class. . .but as long as you’re taking steps to get there, rather than thinking of reasons why you can’t do it, I can respect that.

Oh, and I really hate the high-pitched whine of fluorescent lighting. What do you mean you can’t hear it? It’s driving me crazy. . .

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Food, water and shelter. (If you’re stranded, it’s time to get practical.)

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I had a couple of summer jobs working in a plant that produced fiberglass insulation. The people I worked with were wonderful and the jobs paid well. But they were physically demanding and exhausting. Worst of all, I was constantly around the spun glass fibers (without the pink glue that holds them together). I have classic Celtic coloring and skin—pale, sensitive and with freckles. Working around the fiberglass was torture. I itched from morning till night. Years later, I discovered the experience sensitized me to the fiberglass. Now when I’m exposed, I break out in a rash.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Sorry, there is no way I can pick only one. I do have a list of books that are my literary equivalent of “comfort food” but even that list is too long to share here.

Ocean or mountains?
Hmm. I’ve been asked this before, and honestly, my answer changes depending on my mood. For today, let’s say. . . I live in the mountains but I love to vacation at the ocean. Given my fair skin and tendency to sunburn, I’m better off under the shade in the mountains that baking at the beach.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City. Definitely. I used to enjoy camping and “getting away from it all” but I wouldn’t want to live in an isolated area or far from friends. I guess that means my profile on “FarmersOnlyDotCom” probably wouldn’t generate much interest.

What’s on the horizon for you?
For the next few weeks, I’ll be busy launching The Cupcake Caper. After that, it will be time to get book two of the series (still untitled) ready for release. I’m working my way through the first draft of book three of the series (also untitled). I don’t yet have a plot for book four, but during a recent business trip a couple of people made it onto my naughty list, and I’m slotting them in for victims and killers in upcoming books.

In addition to the Undercover Cat series, I have a second—more traditional—mystery series in the works. So there’s no shortage of work for me.

I invite you to join my mailing list and follow me on Facebook (find links at Kelle’s website), where I make announcements about new releases, upcoming projects, contests and more.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
First, I have free samples for everyone reading this blog! Click here for your free excerpt of The Cupcake Caper: Cupcake Sample

Second: my husband “Baker” Tom and I will be producing a video series in which he bakes the recipes in my books and gives you some secrets to baking the perfect treats. (His family owned the bakery in my hometown—so he knows what he’s doing!) Keep an eye out for them—or join my newsletter and Facebook page to be the first to know..

Now, I have a confession to make. My biggest fears are:
1. Disappointing my readers.
2. Not finding my readers in the first place.

Part of the joy of storytelling is having someone to tell the story to. That’s why I LOVE hearing from readers. If you like my free sample, I hope you’ll want to read the rest of the story. And I hope you’ll share it with family and friends.

The Cupcake Caper
Book One in the Undercover Cat series

Science is about solving puzzles. Why should solving a murder be any different?

Dr. Bree Watson (aka Gabriella Catherine Mayfield-Watson) is comfortable solving chemistry problems. She isn’t comfortable finding her boss dead and being a suspect in his poisoning. Now she’s juggling:
~ A sexy marketing manager—who may, or may not—be a contract killer.
~ A handsome lead detective whose interest goes beyond the case.
~ The dead man’s cranky cat.
~ A goose-chasing dog in hot water with an animal rights group.
~ The search for the perfect cupcake recipe.
~ And, of course, someone who wants her out of the picture.

And she thought getting a Ph.D. was hard.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Machu Picchu taken from Huayna Picchu
Romance author Virginia Kelly has been a finalist in many prestigious writing competitions. She writes about dangerous heroes (sexy, gorgeous ones, of course!) and the adventurous women willing to take a chance on them. A native of Peru, she works as academic librarian. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

Hiking Adventures: From Incas to Mountain Goats

Travel is my passion. When I travel, I like to hike. I’ve hiked in Arizona, Virginia, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state, the Scottish Highlands and many other places. I live along the northern Gulf of Mexico, so my “at home” hikes are what I have to refer to as “easy” as far as elevation gains (none at all). But, given an opportunity, I’m up for an adventure—sometimes foolishly.

First up: the hike up Huayna Picchu. That’s the little hill (ha!) that appears behind Peru’s Machu Picchu in all the iconic pictures. Huayna Picchu, at 8,920 feet above sea level, is 1,183 feet higher than Machu Picchu. Ouch. We set off, my youngest and I. He was eighteen; I wasn’t. It took him 35 minutes (he was trying to beat the record; I wasn’t). It took me an hour and a half. By the way, the top of Huayna Picchu is not flat. It’s this chaotic mess of slanted boulders, all threatening to make a person slide off into nothingness. Scary. Why did I do it? Because I have a slight touch of why “the bear went over the mountain.” I still don’t know how long that trail is, but one website said this is a “moderate” hike. For an Inca. I’m not (even though I’m half Peruvian).
Moosehead Lake, Maine
Next came an ill-fated hike near Moosehead Lake in Maine. The brochure said Burnt Jacket Mountain would be an “easy” two-mile round trip hike. I believe the two-mile part—maybe. Easy? For a mountain goat (none in Maine). Anyway, the mile ascent had an elevation gain of 550 feet. That sounds easy, compared to Huayna Picchu, right? Especially when the trailhead is at only 1,030 feet above sea level. It didn’t take long for me to (breathlessly) reach the top. Trees had grown around the large boulders so taking pictures required climbing atop said large boulders in order to see the lake. I took my pictures and stepped down. I’m a flat-lander. I totally forgot I was on a boulder and did a face plant. I caught myself with my right hand (scraped), my camera dangled between boulders (mercifully unbroken), and my glasses were bent (they’d gouged a cut into the bridge of my nose). Ouch. A little more to the left or right and I could have been knocked unconscious to be eaten by a bear (many in Maine). I don’t hike alone any more.
Glacier National Park
Recently I traveled to Montana to visit Glacier National Park with the son who raced up Huayna Picchu. I made a fatal mistake: I didn’t carefully read about the trail *he* wanted to take to Trout Lake. Off we went, me following this (still, of course) much younger son. He kept saying, “It’s just over the next rise.” He said this several times until I lost count of how many rises we’d climbed. Finally, we reached the sign that gave us a little information. We’d come 2.3 miles. It was another 1.5 to the lake my son wanted to fish. It was late, we might not get back before dark, so, back down we came. I know it’s easier to climb up than to come down, but the last mile of that descent had me talking to myself. First it was, “Ouch, ouch, ouch,” with each step, as my left knee complained. Then I graduated to talking to myself. In Spanish. Finally I reverted to “ouch” again. Until my son heard me mumbling. Then I just went for it with a full-throated “ouch” all the way to the bottom. There I read the trail sign. We’d started at Lake McDonald, at 3,153 feet above sea level, and climbed 2,500 feet. Ouch!!! About the mountain goats. There are some at Glacier National Park. None on that trail, but we saw them elsewhere. My son gave me a congratulatory hug for having survived that hike. I was so tired I couldn’t pat myself on my back ;-)

I don’t regret the misadventures because they’ve provided me with unforgettable memories. Have you ever challenged yourself to try something, wondered what you were thinking, then found satisfaction in the effort? I certainly have.

Take a Chance on Me
She has a target on her back...only he can save her

An injury robbed Delta Force Operator Bobby Alvarez's memories of the mission that left a brother-in-arms dead. He blames himself, and until his memory returns, he won’t stop questioning his abilities. On leave, he’s forced to use the skills and sixth sense that failed to keep his team safe.

Melanie Mackenzie overheard a powerful U.S. senator admit to murder, and now he’s set her up to take the fall. With overwhelming evidence against her for murder and treason, she’s on the run from the senator's hitmen and the FBI. There’s no one she can trust, and even the stranger she meets on the beach seems more threat than salvation—until the hitmen find her.

Working together to clear her name, Bobby and Mel race to stay ahead of the killers, but the simmering desire between them may be danger in disguise. Because Bobby’s keeping a secret that could end any chance at happiness…and lead them both into a death trap.

Secrets, murder, treason, and fiery passion. Who can you trust?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Knitting fail
Ann Myers writes the Santa Fe Café Mysteries featuring café chef and reluctant amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. When not writing, Ann enjoys cooking, crafts, and reading other authors’ cozy mysteries. Learn more about Ann and her books at her website.

Failures and Frustrations

Failures and frustrations…oh, where to start? I’ll confess first to crafting flops. There have been a lot. The cardboard sculptures that went straight to recycling. Sewing, particularly pants. A glass bead workshop I fled because of my totally reasonable fear of giant shooting flames. Metalsmithing went slightly better, but only as far as soldering with a crème brûlée torch. Then there’s knitting.

Those of you who knit probably think it’s as easy as devouring pie. Not for me. Friends and family have tried to teach me. I’ve watched videos and envied people who can knit in waiting rooms or on planes. How do they do it? I’ll probably never catch on. Even my dear, sweet grandmother lost hope. “You’re good at other things,” she told me.  

Which leads to other things: career failures. To better understand, let’s label me: I’m an introvert with an active imagination regarding murder. So, living in Florida in the boom years, I decided to sell real estate. Why not, I thought. I love looking at houses! I didn’t think about how I’d find clients, or about meeting people (potential murderers) in empty buildings. I had two listings: a beetle-chewed shack and a ’60s ranch home with a pool owned by a man who claimed to run an international spy agency. He also claimed the pool required expert care. That was true. It turned green, he changed agents, and I sold the shack and quit real estate.

You’d think I’d learn. No, I turned to insurance sales. With my expect-the-worst tendencies, I’m a big fan of insurance. However, insurance required cold calling. I dreaded this probably exponentially more than the average person dreads cold calling. And when I got appointments, they were on the other side of the state, across the vast Ocala Forest (a forest notorious for serial killings). I did meet lovely people and listened to a lot of books on tape. Predictably—in retrospect—insurance was another failure, and I moved on to grant writing and editing.

So, what did I learn? I guess I can’t change my nature. I’ll never be good at mingling, cold calling, or verbal persuasion. But I’ll always love books and solitary work, and what better way to channel my criminal suspicions than mystery writing? With crafts, I’m afraid I haven’t changed my ways. A friend and I are currently taking blacksmithing classes. Yes, more scary flames and a craft that’s a lot harder than it looks on YouTube videos. But we’re going to keep trying because that’s the fun part—and because bending steel seems a whole lot easier than knitting!

Feliz Navidead
Holly, jolly, and downright deadly—the third Santa Fe Café mystery unwraps surprises both naughty and nice…

It’s the most picturesque time of the year in Santa Fe, and Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Café hopes the twinkling lights and tasty holiday treats will charm her visiting mom. Rita is also planning fun activities, such as watching her teenage daughter, Celia, perform in an outdoor Christmas play. What she doesn’t plan for is murder.

Rita discovers a dead actor during the premier performance but vows to keep clear of the case. Sleuthing would upset her mom. Besides, there’s already a prime suspect, caught red-handed in his bloodied Santa suit. However, when the accused Santa’s wife begs for assistance—and points out that Celia and other performers could be in danger—Rita can’t say no. With the help of her elderly boss, Flori, and her coterie of rogue knitters, Rita strives to salvage her mother’s vacation, unmask a murderer, and stop this festive season from turning even more fatal.

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Monday, October 24, 2016


Pickled Onion and Tomato Salad

2 small or one large red onion
1 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T sugar
3 teaspoons Italian seasoning sea salt
1-1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
3 T sour cream

In a glass bowl whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt are dissolved.

Thinly slice onions and place in vinegar to soak. Let sit at room temperature at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Slice tomatoes in half and add to bowl, stirring to coat. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator.

An hour before serving, remove 1 T vinegar and place in small bowl. Drain remaining vinegar. Add sour cream to small bowl and whisk until mixture is smooth. Fold into onions and tomatoes. Return to refrigerator to chill before serving.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Indian pandal (marriage canopy)
Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series, set in South India, and the Chief Joe Silva/Mellingham series, set in a coastal New England town. Her stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website. 

One of the pleasures of setting stories in India is thinking about the artwork and the crafts. I have always enjoyed handwork, and India has some of the finest examples of this in terms of fabric and embroidery. A common item is the pandal (shown above), or marriage canopy under which the ceremony is conducted. The canopy is decorated with various images in crewel stitching, and one piece can be both hand-stitched and machine stitched. My example is from Rajasthan.
Sozni (satin) stitching
My grandmother gave me a small scarf, really a shoulder scarf, to be worn under a jacket. This is pure Kashmiri wool with a pattern embroidered on one side. This kind of stitching is called sozni, or satin stitch. My grandmother gave me this when I was in college, and I've carried it with me over the years. I have rarely worn it because I recognized when I received it that it was already an antique. It's now probably 140 years old. This stitch is most often found on shawls today sold throughout India and for export.

At one time royal families would commission an entire dress or outfit to be covered in this stitch. The project could take years, and an artisan often made only one in his lifetime. I read years ago that the British were so disturbed that these artisans ended up blind from the close work that they prohibited the making of these outfits. I've seen them on display during textile exhibits in museums, and the stitches are tiny and the patterns intricate, covering every inch of fabric.
Dorukha style stitching 
I treasure another item passed down to me from my grandmother. This Kashmiri shawl is embroidered in the dorukha style, which means the embroidered pattern is double sided. The same pattern appears on both sides in the same or different colored threads. One side is done in red and pink, and the reverse is done in blue. This work is done by hand; it is not woven into the fabric. Embroidering something like this can take a year, and covering an entire shawl in this style can take three years and cost the same as a car. Not many artisans remain who are willing and able to do the work, and few can find younger people to train. This is a dying art, unfortunately.
Test of a true pashmina shawl
One of my first discoveries in India was about pashmina wool. Today I see ads for pashmina wool shawls, but I know they're fake, though even the sellers may not know that. When I wanted to buy a light shawl in Delhi, the seller brought out several but he said I should buy a real pashmina shawl while I had the chance. Did I know how to identify a real pashmina shawl? I did not. So he showed me. A real pashmina shawl will slide through a wedding ring, and the one he offered me did just that. I bought it. It's the only plain shawl I own, but I treasure it. It's as light as a summer breeze.

Anita Ray, the Indian-American photographer in my mystery series, wears cotton dupattas, or long stoles that go with the salwar khameez sets that she wears. She can drape them over her head on a sunny day to block out the sun, or over her shoulders in a cool evening breeze.

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?