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.

Monday, April 30, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--ANOTHER CRAFTY HEROINE

Before I was even a flicker of an idea in author Lois Winston’s mind, she wrote an award-winning book about another crafty heroine. But Lois plopped doll-maker Emma Wadsworth into the middle of an edgy romantic suspense. It was the first books she ever wrote, the second book she sold. And I have to say, as much as I complain about the dead bodies Lois constantly throws in my path, she did far worse to poor Emma.

Emma’s story grew out of an actual murder that took place in Philadelphia in the 1990’s. As far as anyone knew, Stephanie and Craig Rabinowitz were the perfect couple. Successful professionals, they lived the good life on Philadelphia’s Main Line with their baby daughter Haley—until the day Craig found Stephanie dead from an apparent drowning in their bathtub.

But Stephanie’s death wasn’t the result of a terrible accident. She was murdered. The case rocked, then shocked, the City of Brotherly Love when the killer’s identity was revealed. It turned out Craig Rabinowitz had a secret life, one that turned deadly.

As far as anyone knew, Emma Wadsworth was a renowned doll designer born into one of Philadelphia’s prominent families. But Emma, too, had a secret life, and like Craig, her carefully kept secrets eventually begin to unravel, and she’s accused of murder.

However, Emma is the heroine of a romantic suspense novel. By definition a romance has to have a happily-ever-after, and Lois does give one to Emma—after she puts her through a heck of a lot of grief.

Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception
Life has delivered one sucker punch after another to Emma Wadsworth. As a matter of fact, you could say the poor little rich girl is the ultimate poster child for Money Can’t Buy Happiness — even if she is no longer a child.

Billionaire real estate stud Logan Crawford is as famous for his less-than-platinum reputation as he is his business empire. In thirty-eight years he’s never fallen in love, and that’s just fine with him—until he meets Emma.

But Emma’s not buying into Logan’s seductive ways. Well, maybe just a little, but she’s definitely going into the affair with her eyes wide open. She’s no fool. At least not any more. Her deceased husband saw to that. Besides, she knows Logan will catch the first jet out of Philadelphia once he learns her secrets.

Except things don’t go exactly as Emma has predicted, and when Philadelphia’s most beloved citizen become the city’s most notorious criminal, she needs to do a lot more than clear her name if she wants to save her budding romance with the billionaire hunk someone is willing to kill for.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

AN INTERVIEW WITH AMATEUR SLEUTH SAMANTHA WASHINGTON

Today we sit down for a chat with Samantha Washington, bookseller and amateur sleuth protagonist of V.M. Burns’ Market Street Mysteries Bookstore series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I was a high school English teacher. I went to work every day and I enjoyed teaching, well mostly. I had a steady income. My classes were mostly the same with very little variation, but I was safe. Some might have called it boring, but it was familiar and as comfortable as an old bathrobe. I had my secret dreams of running a bookstore and writing British historic cozy mysteries, but few people knew about those. My life wasn’t exciting, but I didn’t have people trying to kill me. When my husband died and I quit my job to open the bookstore, I felt scared. I was in unfamiliar territory and alone. Now, I’m living my dream of running a mystery bookstore and writing, but I feel vulnerable. The vulnerability is not just because I keep finding dead bodies and catching murderers, but my dreams are now exposed for the world to see and judge.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
Even though I may be afraid to try new things and put myself in dangerous situations, I am able to overcome those fears and do what needs to be done. I think it’s what I admire most about the British in World War II, the time period for the British cozy mysteries I write. Even though the United States didn’t enter the war until later, Britain didn’t wait until they had the support of the allies before they took action.

What do you like least about yourself?
I wish I were daring, like my Nana Jo. I don’t think she is afraid of anything. She is confident and embraces life with both hands. She and her friends say it comes with age. I hope when I’m her age, I can possess a fraction of her spunk and zeal.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
The strangest and scariest thing that’s happened to me was when Nana Jo and I were almost shot for setting off the metal detectors at the local police station in The Read Herring Hunt. If it weren’t for my sister Jenna, who happens to be an attorney, coming to the police station, we could have died.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
We often argue. My author constantly pushes me into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I prefer to stay in my comfortable, familiar and safe world, surrounded by books. Yet, in each book, she continues to push me to do more things that cause me to stretch outside of my comfort zone. For example, in The Read Herring Hunt, she puts my life in danger while exploring the House of David. If she hadn’t pushed me into exploring a new relationship, I would have been home and safe.

What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is that I won’t be able to put the clues together and someone I love will suffer. In The Read Herring Hunt my assistant, Dawson Alexander, is arrested for murdering his ex-girlfriend. The police are confident they’ve got their murderer and aren’t looking for anyone else. Nana Jo and the girls from the retirement village are great at using their extensive social network to find information. However, it’s up to me to put the information together and figure out whodunit. If I fail, someone I care about could pay for a crime he didn’t commit.

What makes you happy?
I love reading and writing mysteries. Spending time at my bookstore, Market Street Mysteries, helping people find new authors is one of the things I enjoy. Nana Jo is the only member of my family who reads mysteries, but having my family around me also makes me happy. I love when my nephews Christopher and Zaq come to help out at the bookstore. I also enjoy when the Sleuthing Seniors and other book clubs meet at the bookstore and enjoy Dawson’s baked goods and talk and read mysteries.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
If I could rewrite a part of my story, I would have taken a chance and quit my job sooner, while my husband Leon was alive. My husband’s death was the trigger that started me on this journey. We had often talked about opening a mystery bookstore some day. When Leon died, I realized life is too short not to take a chance. So I sold our house, quit my job and opened the mystery bookstore we’d always dreamed about. It’s bitter sweet to have the bookstore without Leon. So, if I could rewrite anything, I would not have been afraid to take chances. I would have opened the bookstore and started writing my British historic cozies sooner rather than later.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
My mom, Grace Hamilton, is the one character who bugs me. Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom. However, after just a few days in her presence, I am no longer, the confident, independent woman who can quell an entire classroom of teenagers with one look. Instead, I become the insecure, teen who never felt like she measured up. Every Sunday, I spend time with my mom. We go to church and then go to lunch and a movie or shopping. However, invariably I end up going home questioning my life choices, my wardrobe or even my makeup.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
If I could change places with any character in the book, I would love to spend a day in Lady Elizabeth Marsh’s shoes. Lady Elizabeth is the character I created in the Story within a story. She is married to Lord William Marsh and aunt to Ladies Penelope and Daphne Marsh. Lady Elizabeth is intelligent, confident and shrewd. She rules Wickfield Lodge in a time when women did not have a lot of power. Yet, she gains the respect of her friends, family, servants, and even Scotland Yard.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
V.M. Burns and I have a lot in common. We are both from the Midwestern United States, although, she currently lives in Eastern Tennessee. We are both very fond of dogs, especially poodles and both have two. We both secretly dream of owning a mystery bookstore and writing British historic cozy mysteries. In that regard, I’m further along than she is. She has two other mystery series that will release in 2018, but hasn’t yet quit her job and opened a mystery bookstore. You can read about her other mysteries on her website.

What's next for you?
Nana Jo and I are planning a trip to England. It’ll be a great opportunity for me to do some research. I’m hoping it will be very low key with no dead bodies and no international incidents. However, given our track record, anything’s possible.

Read Herring Hunt
Market Street Mysteries Bookstore is thriving thanks to owner and aspiring mystery writer, Samantha Washington. The local college football team is also thriving. MISU is undefeated thanks to Sam’s tenant, baker and local football hero, Dawson Alexander. When his ex-girlfriend, Melody Hardwick is found murdered, Dawson is arrested. Samantha’s sister, and lawyer, Jenna Rutherford, agrees to represent Dawson. But it’s up to Sam, her grandmother, Nana Jo, and the girls from the retirement village to use their connections to find the real murderer. At jeopardy is more than just a winning season, a football scholarship, and Dawson’s freedom. Failure to catch the real killer could cost another life.

Writing helps Samantha sort through the information she and the girls uncover, so she starts the second book in her British historic cozy mystery series. In the English countryside in November of 1938, Edward the VIII has abdicated from the throne to marry American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Germany has rearmed and is threatening Poland. Britain is on edge and the world is on the brink of war. Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, attempts to help England avoid war and secure prominent positions for her and Edward by negotiating a diplomatic solution. In the age old British tradition, she invites prominent diplomats to a country shooting party. However, last minute plumbing issues at Fort Belvedere force her to move the diplomats to Wickfield Lodge, home of Lord William and Lady Elizabeth Marsh. When Wallis’ maid, Rebecca Minot is found murdered wearing the duchess’s clothes, the Marsh’s must determine not only, who the intended victim was, but must catch a cunning murderer and avoid a catastrophe that could send not only England but the entire world into another war.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

AN INTERVIEW WITH KASS BATEMAN FROM DENISE JADEN'S LIVING OUT LOUD SERIES

Today we’re joined by Kass Bateman, heroine of Denise Jaden’s Living Out Loud series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
God, it was so much easier. I could do what I wanted, keep people in check just by looking at them the right way. Now that she’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, it’s like everyone can see right through my barriers, see how many ways they can crack my shell with a tiny nick in the right place.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I like the way I can level people with a glare. I’ve gotten past that thing where I feel the need to look away.

What do you like least about yourself?
I’m abrasive. I hate that I can’t seem to just act normal once in a while. No matter what comes out of my mouth, even if I’m in a good mood, it sounds biting and harsher than I mean it to.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
She sent me on tour with Eli’s band, like I’m some kind of damn groupie. I told her we wouldn’t get along, and I, again, was right.

Oh, and she sent me into a burning building, but that’s another story…

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that. Yes, we argue. Pretty much nonstop. It’s usually about her pushing me at Eli, but honestly, it could be about anything, because I hate people telling me what to do. (Surprise, surprise, right?)

What is your greatest fear?
I don’t like to talk about my fears, but OK, if I had to pick one it would be staying by myself. I’ve just never done it. Because Dad’s sick, he’s always home with me, and even though it seems like I can handle pretty much anything, staying on my own is one thing I haven’t gotten my head around yet.

What makes you happy?
Not to contradict myself, but probably Eli. Talking to him. Saying things that are real.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I wouldn’t have been so fast to jump into bed with Eli. I don’t know, things got weird after that, and I figure if we had had a natural progression in our relationship, like most people, it probably would have been better for both of us.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
This one’s easy: Steve, the drummer from Eli’s band. He’s cocky and annoying as hell. He thinks he can tell everyone what to do, including me.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
I’d trade places with my sister Hope. She’s so damn cryptic, and I’d love to come out on the other side knowing all of her secrets.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Don’t know, don’t care.

ETA: Thanks, Kass. I always know I can count on you ;).
You can find me at denisejaden.com

What's next for you?
I hear Ms. Jaden has lots of fun things in my future. After the burning building and the road trip with Eli’s band, I’m going to be out on my own for the first time. I’m also going to get more involved with Eli’s music and some photography. There’s a bunch of annoying and painful stuff on the horizon for me, and lucky you, you can be a fly on the wall for it if you want to…

Outcast
She’s not crazy.

Kass Bateman may be a lot of things, but she swears she's not crazy—even when she wakes up strapped to a wheelchair in a psychiatric hospital and can't remember how she got there. 

When Kass's family members go missing one by one, she enlists the smartest guy she knows to help find them. Unfortunately for her, underneath his brains and indifference are some dark secrets and a whole lot of distracting sexy.

Can Kass keep her head together long enough to rescue her family members from their captors—the truly dangerous and crazy ones?

Gritty, steamy, and rife with secrecy, Outcast is the first book in a new upper YA/NA crossover series for fans of Gayle Forman and Rainbow Rowell.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

STEEL MILL HEIRESS ON THE RUN--AN INTERVIEW WITH ANN EVERETT'S BLAZE BLEDSOE

Blaze Bledsoe aka Wren Montgomery is the main character in Chirp by author Ann Everett. Today she sits down with us for an interview.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
It was great. Each day I worked at Over The Rainbow Funeral Home and then spent my leisure time alone without any interruptions. Then she released Rance Keller from prison, and he turned my world upside down!

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
That’s a hard question. Because I have Asperger’s syndrome, I say what is on my mind, and that’s a blessing and a curse.

What do you like least about yourself?
I can’t determine sarcasm. I’m learning with the help of my friends, but it’s something I struggle with.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
She had me clean up after Rance brought an overnight guest home. She dressed me in a homemade Hazmat suit and I looked ridiculous.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
No, I don’t argue with her. I’m not good at that. I know she has my best interest at heart.

What is your greatest fear?
That my evil stepmother will find me before I turn twenty-one and have me committed to an institution. I’ve managed to hide for three years. I just hope my luck doesn’t run out.

What makes you happy?
My dog, Muttly…and later in my story….Rance.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I wouldn’t rewrite anything. My author gave me friends, a dog, and man to love…who loves me back. We had a rough road getting to that point, but in the end, I got my happily ever after.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Before I fell in love with Rance, he bugged me the most. I’d never met anyone like him. He still bugs me sometimes.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
I’d trade places with Hanna or Tiffany, both my best friends. They’re smart, outgoing, and beautiful.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
She’s also a little bit quirky. Maybe that’s why we got along so well! Here are ten things to help you know her better:

~She’s married to her high school sweetheart.
~She loves shopping at thrift stores.
~She doesn’t remember her first kiss.
~She hates talking on the telephone.
~A really sharp pencil makes her happy.
~She secretly wants to get a tattoo.
~She’s thankful wrinkles aren’t painful.
~She thinks everyone should own a pair of cowboy boots.
~She sucks at math.

You can find Ann’s blog on her website.  

What's next for you?
I’m not sure. Ann thinks about me a lot, but she’s just finished another book set in Bluebird, Texas and has one more planned. She gave Tiffany a small role in the second book, and she’ll have a major role in the third one. I know from reviews most readers like my character, so maybe Ann will give Rance and me some page time in a future story. However, things are going so well for us, I’m not sure anyone would want to read about our boring life!

Chirp
A woman hiding from her future…
Heiress to the largest steel company in America, twenty-year-old, socially awkward Blaze Bledsoe hides out at Dessie Bishop’s farm. For the last three years, Blaze has eluded one investigator after another, but just when she thinks she’s safe, a PI closes in. Her luck is about to run out in more ways than one.

A man running from his past
Rance Keller, a tough, hard-living ex-con, fresh out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit, arrives to claim the house his grandmother left him. Finding a strange girl living there, his plans for a solitary life take a turn. Her lack of modesty, no filter, and word of the day fetish baffles him, but those big green eyes and sweet mouth have him losing sleep.

Welcome to Bluebird, Texas
Where two damaged people with secrets, discover trust can lead to passion.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--AUTHOR JUDY ALTER ON LEFTOVERS

We’re always happy to have author Judy Alter stop by for a visit. Judy writes three different mystery series as well as historical fiction based on the lives of women in the nineteenth century American West. Today she’s here to talk about leftovers. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website

Leftovers—Save Them or Pitch Them?

My mother was a child of the Depression, and consequently she saved things all her life—bits of string, small pieces of aluminum foil, and leftovers. Oh my, did she save leftovers. When we had to clean out her fridge, my brother and I were astounded at the tiny jars of unidentifiable stuff on the back of shelves—some of it growing mold.

Once I had my own kitchen and family of four kids, Mom thought I was wasteful. She’d ask me what to do with a small dab of leftovers and, before I could answer, she’d say sarcastically, “I know, pitch it.” Truth was, that a small dab of something did little good when you’re feeding six or seven (unless you throw it in the soup pot).

Nowadays, living alone, I try to be more frugal. Recently, a chunk of boneless chicken breast stared at me when I opened the fridge, challenging me to use it. So I invented a quick way of doing chicken stroganoff. Here’s my rough approximation of how I made what I thought was enough for one and turned out to be two meals.

Make a cup of beef bouillon or use a cup of refrigerated broth. Pre-cook some pasta,, about a cup of whatever you have on hand. I used rigatoni because that’s what I had. Rinse it with cold water so it doesn’t stick and swish a little butter into it. Set it aside.

Sauté a generous cup of cubed chicken in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Dump in baby green peas to taste—or omit. When chicken is heated and beginning to brown, stir in one T. flour. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the broth in about two batches, waiting until it thickens enough to make a sauce. Add pasta. At the last minute, dump in a T. of sour cream. Stir and serve.

Your instinct may be to use chicken broth, but trust me, the beef gives it a more robust flavor. I liked this so much I ate it three nights in a row. Hope Mom was watching and smiling.

Murder at the Bus Stop
A Blue Plate Café Mystery

Dallas developer Silas Fletcher sees endless real estate opportunities in Wheeler, Texas if only he can “grow” the town. Blue Plate Café owner Kate Chambers likes her hometown just the way it is, thank you very much, without big box and chain stores. When Fletcher tries to capitalize on a thirty-year-old unsolved murder, Kate knows she must fight for her town, and she uses historic preservation of the old bus depot as one of her weapons. A suspicious death and a new murder make her also fight for her own life.


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Monday, April 23, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--SCHERENSCHNITTE, THE ART OF ORNAMENTAL PAPER CUTTING

Antique Scherenschnitte design from 1763
When I first started designing crafts, I met a woman named Betty Christy who designed Scherenschnitte (pronounced shair-en-shnit-the). Below is one of her books. The word is German and means “scissor cuts.” Scherenschnitte is the art of creating paper-cutting designs.
One of Betty's books
You may be familiar with black silhouette cutouts. Prior to the advent of photography, people who couldn’t afford to have their portraits painted would often sit for a silhouette cutout to present to a loved one. Framed silhouettes are often found hanging on the walls of historical homes. Today street fairs and bazaars will often have a vendor snipping out black paper silhouettes. For a few dollars you can have one created of yourself, your children, or even your dog.

Traditional Scherenschnitte can also be far more complex than simple silhouettes and often employs rotating symmetry. Common themes were nature, folklore, and biblical stories. It was a popular art form in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century and was brought to America in the 18th century by Swiss and German immigrants, many of whom settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, now considered Pennsylvania Dutch country. (The Pennsylvania Dutch weren’t from The Netherlands. “Dutch” is a corruption of “Deutshe”, which is German for “German.”)

However, the art of ornamental paper cutting has been around since the invention of paper and can be found in most cultures in one form or another. Examples can be found in China as early as the fourth century A.D. The Chinese called the art form Jianzhi, the Japanese called it Mon-kiri and the Poles called their craft Wycinanki.
Paper cutting design by Hans Christian AndersenSource: Odense City Museums
One famous paper cutter was Hans Christian Andersen. He often cut designs while telling his stories to his audience, displaying the finished artwork at the end of his tale. He’d often present his cuttings to friends as gifts. You can see some of his work at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum.  

Betty Christy is no longer with us, but every time I see a paper cut design or silhouette, I think of her.

Friday, April 20, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AN INTERVIEW WITH WEREWOLF LORI GRENVILLE

Today we’re joined by Lori Grenville from author P.J. MacLayne’s paranormal Free Wolves series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
Helping rescue unhappy female shifters from packs was just an ordinary day for me. But I can't believe she got me involved with saving the life of an alpha. Alphas and I don't get along. They despise what I stand for. So to think that she got me to put up my life as security for an alpha is craziness.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
That I stand up for the ones that can't stand up for themselves, give hope to those that have lost all hope. Sounds saintly, doesn't it? But I'm no saint, and sometimes I resort to less than legal tactics to get the job done.

What do you like least about yourself?
I don’t like being short and having to look up at everyone. I mean, hanging out with these big male wolf shifters can give me a literal pain in the neck.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
When she had me crawling into the bed of the most powerful alpha in all of North America, that was pretty weird. Of course, it was strictly business, and I made that clear to him from the get-go. Not that he was interested in me. Not as a bed partner, anyway. Still, it was a risky move on her part because it could have gone badly.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Yep. She tried to talk me into having romantic feelings for the wrong guy. I set her straight, of course. Not that I have time to have romantic feelings for any guy.

What is your greatest fear?
That my undercover status will be blown in the middle of a job. If that were to happen, I wouldn’t be the only one getting hurt.

What makes you happy?
Besides the obvious of completing a rescue? Going for a run in wolf form in an old forest. I’d have to dodge shrubs and young trees as I darted from one patch of sunshine to another. I could stop and drink water from a clear stream whenever I got thirsty.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
The bit about my mother. I still want to locate her. If I could rewrite that part, I’d find her among either the Jaeger or Destin pack females. It would make for a happy ending. Or happier, maybe.           

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Elder Jaeger. He’s no alpha. How the heck does he keep one of his betas from challenging him for pack leadership? He’s got to have some dirt on them and I wish I knew what it was. It might enable me to do some manipulation of my own. For the betterment of the pack, of course.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Interesting question. Obvious answer would be Counselor Carlson, but I don’t think I could live with all the restrictions his position puts on him. What kind of life is it if you are surrounded by bodyguards all the time? I’ll say Elex Destin instead. He may have had a rough start in life, but he’s found what he loves to do and he’s good at it. And he won’t allow himself to be pressured to be something he isn’t.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Born and raised among the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, P.J. MacLayne still finds inspiration for her books in that landscape. She is a computer geek by day and a writer by night who currently lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. When she's not in front of a computer screen, she might be found exploring the back roads of the nearby national forests and parks. In addition to the Free Wolves’ stories, she is also the author of the Oak Grove series. Read more about her and her books at her blog.

And a Giveaway! In celebration of the release of Wolves' Gambit, one or more lucky people will win an e-book version of Wolves' Pawn, the first book of the series. You can enter here.  

What's next for you?
It's time for me to go into hiding for a while. Sit back, relax, recharge, wait for things to settle down. At least until I get chosen for another mission.

Wolves' Gambit
Wolf-shifter Lori Grenville was rescued from near-slavery and a brutal pack leader by the Free Wolves. To pay back the favor, she's dedicated her life to helping others in the same situation, leading shifters to safety and a new start, risking her life in the process. She's faced down alphas and has no qualms in undermining pack structure.

Now she's challenged with the task of restoring an alpha to his rightful place. If she gets it right, she can stop a war from ripping apart two packs and spreading across an entire state. If she fails, she'll be among the first to die.

There's still the option of walking away and letting the Jaeger and Destin packs destroy each other. That means she'll fail in her original mission of rescuing the daughter of the Jaeger alpha before the girl is forced into marriage for political gain.

Lori hasn't failed in a mission yet. This one may be the exception.

Although Wolves' Gambit is the third book in the Free Wolves series, each book can be read as a standalone.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

CONFESSIONS OF A CITY GIRL WITH A BLACK THUMB--THE ONCE AND FUTURE ZUCCHINI

I’m a city girl exiled to the suburbs. I’m much more comfortable in a concrete environment with mass transit than the land of malls and minivans. Maybe that’s the reason I have two black thumbs. With few exceptions, plants see me coming and commit suicide rather than suffer a prolonged death at my hands.

Heaven knows, I’ve tried to develop a green thumb, but I swear there’s a conspiracy in the Garden State. Whatever I don’t kill, the squirrels devour. Along the squirrel grapevine the word is out; my address is passed from varmint to varmint. They hold conventions in my driveway and feast on whatever I dare to plant, leaving my neighbors’ gardens full of flowers and produce but mine bare.

One morning I looked out my kitchen window to find a squirrel perched on my gas grill, a green tomato between his thieving paws. I went outside to shoo the little bugger away and check my two tomato plants that the day before had been loaded with green tomatoes. Every single tomato had been yanked from the vine, chomped a few times, then discarded in the dirt.

But every year hope sprang eternal, and I headed to the garden center for the makings of a vegetable garden. Finally, after years of gardening frustration I discovered the one plant that both defied my black thumbs and the squirrels—zucchini. The first time I planted zucchini, I made the mistake of planting three, figuring that if the garden gods were smiling down on me, one plant might survive. All three not only survived but thrived. And that’s a heck of a lot of zucchini.

The strange thing about zucchini is its rate of growth. In the morning it’s the size of your pinkie finger, and by evening it’s big enough to feed your teenager’s football team. There are only so many ways you can disguise a zucchini and fool your family into believing they’re eating something other than those green things taking over the backyard. So that first year I wound up giving away a lot of zucchini.

The garden gods continued to smile down on me until a few years ago when all of a sudden they turned their backs on me. I was used to picking zucchini out of my backyard, not the produce aisle of the supermarket. A fluke, I decided. Wouldn’t happen next year. But it did. And the year after that. For the past three summers I’ve harvested next to nothing--one or two zucchini at most. Which makes for very expensive zucchini when you add up everything I spend at the garden center to grow those plants. I decided to give up.

Then this past fall the one remaining tree on my property that hadn’t succumbed to old age, blight, or Super Storm Sandy, departed for that great arboretum in the sky. While at the garden center, searching for an inexpensive replacement, the horticulturist asked, “How’s your zucchini this year?”

He nearly brought me to tears. I missed my zucchini—the one plant that used to thrive in spite of me. He told me to cheer up. The bees were back.

Bees? Well, it turns out the reason I hadn’t grown any zucchini the last three years was that the honeybees had flown the coop. My zucchini wasn’t being pollinated. The horticulturist said the honeybees were coming back, and I should definitely plant some zucchini this spring and dust off all my zucchini recipes.

So if spring ever arrives in New Jersey this year, I’ll give zucchini one more try, but I’m hedging my bets. Along with sending up prayers to the garden gods, I’m offering some to the honeybee gods as well. We’ll see if come harvest time, my prayers are answered.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MEET P.I. SKYLAR DRAKE

Catalina Island in the 1950s
Today we sit down with private investigator Skylar Drake from Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger’s Skylar Drake Murder Mystery Series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
My life? I didn’t have much of a life after I lost my wife Claire, and Ellie, my beautiful three-year-old girl. They died in a house fire three years ago when I was undercover for LAPD. The circumstances were suspicious, and I started a lawsuit against the LAPD that got me fired. My dream is to open my own gym and find out who was behind the fire that killed my family. But you know, when I’m desperate to pay my bills, I work as a stuntman for Prestigious Studios. I still take on one of their gigs when money is low.  The work is fun. I get to meet many stars. Most (not all) are just plain folks with a special talent trying to live their lives.

Before these writers came along and threw a couple wrenches into my life, I was having nightmares from my time in Korea. Even with the distraction of interesting cases, I still wake up in a cold sweat— but only once in a while.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
About the time Lynn and Zeilinger wrote their first story for me I inherited a detective agency from my late wife’s brother. He’s going to be out of the picture for three to five years.

The LAPD taught me how to be a pretty good investigator, so I got together with my partner Casey Dolan. Our clients are happy in the end, some are saddened, but the mystery is always solved. I must say that my detective agency, D&D Investigations has brought in interesting cases. I’ve doubled the amount of cases and money since I took over the agency.

What do you like least about yourself?
I don't trust anyone except my partner Dolan and Lory Carrington, my secretary. Even good people need to prove themselves to me. It embarrasses me when they prove they can be trusted and I’ve treated them badly.

What is the strangest thing your authors have had you do or had happen to you?
Everyone seems to want me to date again, but I have trouble leaving the memory of Claire and Ellie behind me. Along with that, women whose first names end in "y" are unlucky for me.

These authors keep naming the interesting women in my stories with first names that end in "y.”  Take Mary Black in my latest case, Slick Deal. This lady is the spitting image of Ava Gardner.  But they’ve written her so I can’t get too close. She’s a sweet girl and a stunning beauty. I’ll have to find a way around the authors’ plot ideas.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
You should see the outlines these two make. It's horrific the way they have me fighting and getting beat up. I'd be exhausted to say the least. I don't always have to fight to get my point across. So I argue with them and try to get them to add more "reasonable" characters. They usually listen to me but only after the first edit.

What is your greatest fear?
Other than the outline? I'd say there are two things that I worry about in all four books:  One, that the bad guys gets away with the crime, leaving dead people in their path. It's never happened because I make sure the authors listen to me. And second, I miss not being in love, and worry love won't be in the stars for me... because of these word jockeys.

What makes you happy?
Memories of my wife and daughter and solving the unsolvable. And it's great to prove the "experts" wrong. I'm happy when my partner and I see eye-to-eye. Dolan and I go way back to our days at the LAPD, and since 1955 when I took over this business, we've worked well together, always have.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I would definitely change the names of the Femme Fatale's and not make their names end in "y". Many times I have to bite my lip, turn and walk away. Hey, it's not easy. Why you ask?  This may sound corny, but I'd like to fall in love again.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
In the first book, Slivers of Glass, I met FBI Agent Olivia Jahns. A gorgeous, smart and sexy women whose name doesn't end in "y". She keeps an eye on me and my partner. You’d think a lady like her could think outside the box once in awhile. Since she can't seem to do that, she could listen to me, but what woman ever does?

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Softy Moreno, a big time gangster in LA, He’s a really cool cat. I don't agree with his methods for getting things done. He's been my nemesis for four books now. I admire his charm with the ladies and his fortitude. When he makes a promise he never fails to follow through, good or bad. In Desert Ice he actually promised to get the person responsible for the violence that everyone blamed on him. And he did exactly that. Too bad the writers don’t let people like him tell their side of the story often enough.

Tell us a little something about your authors. Where can readers find their website/blog?

It amazed me how they make each book happen. They don't believe in just researching the mid-1950s. They have to experience each location before they put pen to paper. So they took me with them to rural Santa Rosa, California, pre-statehood Hawaii, gang-infested Las Vegas, and the sleepy town of Avalon, on Catalina Island. It's been a joy to travel with them and it's exciting to guess what they have planned for me. They each have a thing they call a website:

What's next for you?
I enjoy staying close to LA, where my office has easy access to the film and TV studios. Traveling by rail or flying out of the area is time consuming and expensive. So I hope for the next one they'll let me stay in L.A. or Hollywood. There's plenty of excitement in both cities, but with these two authors... one never knows.

Slick Deal
On the eve of the New Year, 1956, oil tycoon, Oliver Wright dies suspiciously at a swanky Hollywood New Years Eve party. Some think it was suicide. His death is soon followed by threats against the rest of his family.

Private Investigator Skylar Drake and his partner Casey Dolan are hired by an L.A. gangster to protect the family and solve Oliver’s mysterious death. Clues lead them to Avalon, on Santa Catalina Island, a Hollywood movie star playground. A high profile scandal, mysterious women, treason and more deaths complicate matters, putting Drake and his partner in danger.

Twenty-three miles may not seem far away but false identity and corruption on this island could squash their efforts to answer the question—How in the world can a dead man commit suicide?