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.

Friday, December 14, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR KATH BOYD MARSH

Today we sit down for a chat with author Kath Boyd Marsh, who writes Middle Grade fantasy, always with a mystery to solve and always with a dragon. Learn more about Kath and her books at her website and blog, which has been taken over by Fox Hound Rufus, his brother Hank, Nikki Cat, and assorted other felines.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Wanted? There’s a choice? Hmmm. I wrote all through childhood beginning at seven years old with a picture book about my little sister called The PB. “Published” by my grandfather when he stapled together the lined notebook paper. I guess the road to getting traditionally published started with paid essays that I wrote as therapy when my only child was getting ready to go to college. It was a good thing I wrote them while she was still making me crazier as a high schooler, because I laid on her bed at home and cried for the first two weeks she was at Vanderbilt. That was not comedy time.

And I do love comedy. Those essays were funny, as were the short stories for a children’s magazine after that. But it took a very unfunny long time to find a publisher who wanted any of my novels. And she did turn down the first one I submitted. The long trail from notebook paper picture book to books actually for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and even on the shelves in my county library, was nearly 27 years.

I am stubborn. It is my strongest virtue. So I kept hounding traditional editors and publishers until I found a traditional publisher! A dream come true.

Where do you write?
Right now I’ve moved out to the side deck where all I hear are birds and the wind in the trees. Which brings me to the silence is golden thing. It is. I need all my brain cells firing to write, so other people’s noise is no good for me. And with one important exception, I cannot write to music with lyrics. Toby Keith. Sigh. I can bounce in my seat and type happily to Toby.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Well since my books are about dragons and wizards and Barfaromi, you’d think my books are not drawn from real life. But they sort of are. I’m very big into injustice.  When I was in school, social organizations came to sign up kids. Two organizations came one day to my fifth grade class, and one was the one I had been in the state we had just moved from. I got in that line to join the new higher level. But the girl in front of me was told she couldn’t join because she was the wrong religion. I got out of line.

Describe your process for naming your character?
While I am very much into being honorable, I do cheat on naming. My parents did an extensive genealogy on our family. So I go back and appropriate ancestors’ names.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional with a taste of real places I’ve been. Did I mention I’ve lived in seven states and one foreign country?

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Would it be a quirk that good-hearted Great and Mighty Wizard Moire Ain can’t seem to get the words right to her spells? She’s honestly earned the Bumblespells Wizard title.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
What makes you think I’m quirky? Who told?

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? 
Clowns of God. It’s touched me like no other book.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
Just one? Yipes! Maybe we should move on.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Lying. I cannot bear a liar.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
 Ice and two other authors so we could talk and create forever.

Ocean or mountains?
Both. But I love trees so much, I think mountains edge it out.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
In between.

What’s on the horizon for you?
We are moving from the gorgeous Kentucky Blue Grass to Pennsylvania to stalk our only child, the Lehigh University professor. No. Not downsizing like normal folk. We’re buying 22 acres so First Husband, aka Prince Consort, and the dogs can run and play all day while I write. Did I mention I’m optimistic?

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
In addition to this sequel to The Lazy Dragon and the Bumblespells Wizard, the third of my short ebooks releases Dec. 1Bubbles and Smush: Dragon Rescue. The ebook series is based on a minor comic character from The Lazy Dragon, and his eccentric cousin. These are so much fun to write. Very expensive, though. $.99 each. Yipes!

Dragon Bonded
In this quirky adventure through various fantasy realms, dragon Hazel and her (former) best friend Gaelyn struggle to foil a villainous unicorn. Ever since her brother Cl'rnce and his wizard partner were crowned the Dr'gon Primus, Hazel has had her paws full dealing with all the work. Cl'rnce might wear the crown, but Hazel is the one cleaning up the messes her prankster brother leaves behind. To manage everything, Hazel relies on her own Wizard Partner, the unflappable Galeyn. When Cl’rnce is poisoned, it’s Gaelyn that Hazel turns to for help. However, Gaelyn has been keeping secrets of her own—secrets she never intended to share, not even with a friend like Hazel. Gaelyn struggles to hide her true self, but is unable to lie when her secret is revealed. Now caught between their former friendship and their new distrust for one another, the two must work together if they are going to save Cl’rnce’s life from a foe neither of them had expected.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

MERRY WEIRD CHRISTMAS?

It’s the time of the year when stores bring out all the stops to outdo each other coming up with eye-popping window displays. No place does this better than the department stores and shops that dot Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. But many of those same stores also have branches at the Mall at Short Hills, the same mall where I reluctantly took part in a sting to catch a killer in AssaultWith a Deadly Glue Gun.
On a recent trip to the mall I came across some window displays that left me rolling my eyes and scratching my head at these decidedly un-Christmasy decorations.

For example, the windows at Dior featured life-size jungle animals covered in red Toile fabric.
Both Prada and Hugo Boss had colorful modern sculptures in their windows. The Prada ones reminded me of the Minions from Despicable Me. The one in the Hugo Boss window looked like a bunny head perched on a bucket perched on a pig head perched on a square face with feet.
Cacti used as shirt racks filled the window at Pink, the men's shirt store. Cacti in New Jersey. In December. Maybe in New Mexico but New Jersey?
The Christian Louboutin window did have Christmas trees, but Christmas trees with human-looking arms and legs!

Maybe the theme for this year was Merry Weird Christmas?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

MYSTERY AUTHOR ANNE LOUISE BANNON ON CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS AND NEW KITTIES

 
Anne Louise Bannon is the author of the Freddie and Kathy mystery series set in the 1920s, the Old Los Angeles series, set in 1870, and the Operation Quickline series, starring Lisa Wycherly and Sid Hackbirn. Today she joins us to discuss the significance of one of her favorite holiday traditions in the first book in that series. Learn more about Anne and her books at her blog. 

A Fave Tradition Comes to Life in My Novel
Way back in the 1980s, when Sid Hackbirn and Lisa Wycherly first started coming to life, I was fascinated by the dichotomy of a young, devout woman sharing a house with a man whose hobby was sleeping around. I had to give Lisa a good reason for sharing Sid’s place – he recruited her as a spy.

But I also had to give Sid a good reason for his sexual appetite, one that would make sense and keep him from coming across as slimy. So Sid was raised by a Communist hippie who taught piano lessons and was also an atheist. In Sid’s universe, sex was just something you did, and he grew up utterly bemused by people’s attitudes and hang-ups. He also grew up not celebrating holidays, particularly Christmas.

Being the good, devout little Catholic girl that Lisa is, she, of course, is horrified. She brings Christmas into Sid’s house for the very first time. It was important to show Lisa having an effect on Sid’s life, given the effect he’d been having on hers. What better way to do that than have Lisa engaging in what has always been my favorite tradition – getting and decorating the Christmas tree.

It’s the memories that spring to life every time I get a whiff of that tree smell. My dad charming the tree lot guy into knocking a few bucks off the price. Hanging the ornaments that I’ve been hanging on Christmas trees since I was a small child. Just seeing them in the box gives me a feeling of rootedness and peace. My first tree as an adult, which I decorated with my ex in his apartment. My now-husband and I choosing a new ornament every year to document our then-new life together with my daughter.

In my family, we waited until at least the second weekend before Christmas to get our tree. I was always grateful that my parents didn’t hold to the old tradition (based on celebrating Advent) of waiting until Christmas Eve to get and decorate a tree. My mom often tried to do the whole color-coordinated thing. But I always protested and it was one of the few times I won. There were years she got a more “tastefully” decorated tree but I’m pretty sure she appreciates the more eclectic mix of ornaments because she kept those old ones until I was old enough to commandeer some for my own household. Please note, Mom does not keep things easily, so if she really didn’t like eclectic, she would have gotten rid of the old ornaments.

This year, sadly, I will most likely not be decorating a tree. We have kittens. Two adorable fluffy seven-month-old terrorists who would only see a nice, bright jungle gym with all sorts of fun, shiny things to bat at. With previous cats, we had put the unbreakable ornaments on the bottom and even tied the breakable ornaments to the branches. The problem, in this case, is the climbing. These two love climbing and are surprisingly good at jumping to get what they want. There’s only so much you can do to stabilize a Christmas tree, and with the one kitten turning into a decidedly larger cat, it’s just not worth taking the chance.

But as I walk by the tree lots, I’ll still be snorting that evergreen scent, and I will find some time to put some carols on softly, and sit back and reflect on the holidays and how blessed I truly am.

It’s why Lisa looks at the tree and reflects on the message of the evergreen – that love doesn’t change from one season to the next. Which may be why decorating the tree is my favorite tradition.

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine 
In 1982, Lisa Wycherly was broke, out of work and desperate. So when Sid Hackbirn offered her a job as his live-in secretary, she jumped at it, little knowing just how dangerous it would be. Living at Sid's house was scary enough, given Sid's tendency to fool around and Lisa's unexpected attraction to him in spite of their directly opposed values regarding sex. Sid was a spy for an ultra-top-secret agency and had recruited Lisa to work as his associate. Sid knew he was turning Lisa's life upside-down. He had no clue what she'd do to him.

As Lisa learned the spy biz, things got rocky almost immediately. Lisa wasn't used to being in danger and didn't always react well. Sid tried to maintain his usual emotional distance but soon found that Lisa was not going to let him. It took the kidnapping of a college professor to force the two to really talk, and Lisa to face her own fears.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--A WEDDING CAKE FIT FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Heather Haven is a multi-award winning mystery author. Her work includes the Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, the NYC trail-blazing WWII lady shamus of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, a stand-alone mystery noir, and an anthology of stories. Learn more about Heather and her books at her website. Today Heather joins us to share a cake recipe baked for her PI's wedding, but there's no reason you can't make one for the holidays. Just dust the top of the cake with some red or green colored sugar or Christmas sprinkles. 

Lee Alvarez on Her Wedding Cake
When Gurn and I were getting married at the end of The CEO Came COA, Book Five of the Alvarez Family Murder Mystery series, Tío, my uncle and a retired executive chef at San Jose’s famed Las Mañanitas Restaurant, offered to make the wedding cake, decorated in a Mexican motif. As you can see, not only did it look beautiful, but the cake tasted fantastic. I asked him to cut the amounts to a normal-sized cake, so I could share it with you. Tío always lets me lick the remnants of the frosting bowl. If I’m not around, you can do that yourself. Always a bonus in baking.

Ingredients:

For The Cake
1-2/3 cups raisins, chopped
8 dried figs, finely chopped
1/2 cup brandy (you can also use warm water with 1/2 teaspoon of brandy extract. I prefer the booze, myself)
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites

For The Frosting
2 cups butter, softened
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Tío Says To Follow These Directions And You Can’t Go Wrong:
In a small bowl, combine raisins and figs. Add brandy (or warm water and extract); toss to combine. Let stand, covered, at room temperature about 2 hours or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line bottoms of three greased 8-in. round cake pans with parchment paper; grease paper.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt until blended. Add buttermilk, butter and vanilla; beat on low speed 30 seconds or just until dry ingredients are moistened. Beat on medium for 2 minutes. Add egg whites; beat 2 minutes longer.

Transfer batter to prepared pans. Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

In a large bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar. Beat in vanilla and enough cream to reach desired consistency. For filling, remove 1 cup frosting to a small bowl; stir in pecans and raisin mixture.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with half of the filling. Add another cake layer; top with remaining filling. Add remaining cake layer; spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill until ready to serve. Delicious!

The CEO Came COA
The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Book 5

Someone is trying to sabotage the Initial Public Offering of 'Read-Out', a small Silicon Valley start-up, and Lee Alvarez has been hired to find the culprit. Meanwhile, the first Alvarez grandchild is about to be born while Lee is planning her very own Christmas wedding; or rather letting her mother plan it. When Lee finds the CEO hanging by the neck in his boardroom wearing nothing but baby blue boxer shorts, she has to ask herself, was it suicide? Or was it murder? If so, was the saboteur responsible, one of his business partners, or even his famous rock star ex-wife? There are too many suspects and the bodies start piling up just in time for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--METALLIC BRAID ORNAMENT

Need a last minute gift for a holiday open house or Secret Santa? Nothing could be quicker than this Metallic Braid Ornament. Make several in a variety of colors and wrap them up in a festive holiday basket.

And don’t forget to check out Drop Dead Ornaments, the latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. You’ll find lots more quick and easy ornaments to make.

Metallic Braid Ornament

Materials
Clear glass ball ornament*
5-yds. 5mm braided metallic cording (choose silver, gold, or 2-toned combination colors such as red/gold or black/silver)
9”-12” of 1/4”-1/2” wide satin or grosgrain ribbon in a complementary color

Note: If you can’t find 5mm braid, you can substitute a different diameter. You’ll need less braid for a thicker diameter and more for a thinner diameter braid. You can also substitute yarn, twine, thin braid, or a thin strip of fabric for the ribbon used for the hanging loop.

Carefully remove the metal cap from the glass ball. Feed the metallic braid through the opening into the ornament. Reattach the metal cap. Tie the ribbon through the loop for hanging.

* This is a great project to make with kids, but depending on their age, you might want to substitute clear plastic ball ornaments for the glass ball ornaments.

Drop Dead Ornaments
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 7

Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?

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Kobo 
Nook 

Friday, December 7, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AN INTERVIEW WITH OLIVER GOURDINE FROM AUTHOR BETTYE GRIFFIN'S EIGHTY-EIGHT, MISSISSIPPI SERIES

Today we sit down for a chat with Oliver Gourdine from author Bettye Griffin’s Eighty-Eight, Mississippi series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I was, and still am, just a humble country lawyer from the quiet town of Eighty-Eight, Mississippi.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
My sense of fair play and adherence to the law. I really should have been a judge. You should have seen me in action when local resident Courtney Mathis and outsider Jordan Thomas got into a nasty custody fight in Since I Fell For You. That situation was stickier than molasses, but I handled it. And I couldn’t be more pleased with how things turned out.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
In Weekend in Eighty-Eight she had lifelong Eighty-Eight resident Simone Degree come into my office and demand to know the identity of her biological mother. Apparently, my elderly daddy got a little confused one day when he saw her in the park and started blabbering at her like he was in the past, but came back to the present just in time to deny he knew anything. That was weird with a capital W. Poor Simone was desperate to know about her birth parents. As the only attorney in town, I thought I knew everybody’s secrets…but I sure didn’t know about that one.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I’d like to be the leading man in one of Bettye’s books, but I’m relegated to secondary character status. I guess romance lovers aren’t interested in reading about a gray-haired, overweight sixty-three-year-old man who’s been married for nearly forty years, even if he’s still madly in love with his wife. But Bettye accommodated me…in a way. Her next book in the series, as yet untitled, is centered around the fallout from a tell-all novel an anonymous author wrote that’s clearly based on events in the town, a fictitious story about a murder…and the murder victim is a small-town lawyer who knows a lot of secrets. In other words, the mystery is centered around a character who’s based on Yours Truly. I just wish I knew who wrote it…

What is your greatest fear?
That the residents of Eighty-Eight will learn just how wealthy I am. I might look like a humble country lawyer, but I’m really loaded, thanks to my investments.

What makes you happy?
Money, of course. And power. As the only attorney in town, I’ve got the scoop on everybody…and they know it. Plus (and I should caution that these answers aren’t in order of importance), I love my wife, my son, and my grandchildren. I just wish my son and his family lived closer.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
That’s just it. I don’t get a story. I’m just a secondary character, a piece of the glue that holds this series together. Nobody wants to read about my love story with my wife, Gloria, which happened forty years and a hundred pounds ago (we’ve each put on some weight over the years and are no longer the svelte young couple we once were).

But I’m proud to have played a role in a couple of local romances, like that between schoolteacher Cornell Sebastian from DeSoto County and local kitchen designer Ajay Vincent in It Happened in Eighty-Eight. I handled the estate of Cornell’s great-uncle, who left her his house. She met Ajay when she decided to update the kitchen in preparation for selling it. That girl looked a little lost when I first met her, but I’m happy to say that she seems to have found her footing…and a happily-ever-after to boot.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
It’s a tie: Senator Philip Reavis, because he’s a hypocrite…acts like a white supremacist to get votes when he’s known all along that his mama was of mixed race; and Leticia Sterling, because she’s a liar. That girl damn near ruined Ajay Vincent’s life and got him branded as a sex offender. Neither is the behavior of a good Christian.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
I’ve had such a good time, I’d love to be young again and do it over. Some of the folks who’ve fallen in love here in Eighty-Eight are in their 50s, like Simone Degree and that Yankee from Illinois whose grandfather was born and died here in Eighty-Eight…but others are younger, like Cornell and Ajay and the latest romance to blossom, between Shayla Sterling and that fabulous blues singer from Memphis, Luke Willis in Dream Come True. Gloria and I really dig his music. So why I wouldn’t really want to trade with anyone, I’d love to repeat my life. Law school, courting Gloria, raising our son, watching the so-called “new Mississippi” rise after the Civil Rights Movement…the whole nine yards. It’s truly been a wonderful life.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Ah, Bettye. She works real hard to bring her readers interesting stories with unforgettable characters. She really should be better known than she is, but, as another memorable character (Hyman Roth from The Godfather, Part II) once said, [puffs out chest and lowers chin] “This is the business we’ve chosen.” Not that there are any gangsters here, but the concept fits. Every actor isn’t going to be Al Pacino; every actress won’t be Meryl Streep.

Here’s some good news: Bettye has lowered the price of the first book in the Eighty-Eight series, It Happened in Eighty-Eight, to just $1.49, through December 12th. You can learn more about Bettye at her website

What’s next for you?
Now that the gym I opened in partnership with a young fitness expert is open, Gloria and I are trying to lose weight. Gloria is my assistant, and she also handles the real estate transactions in town. Eighty-Eight has declared itself the healthiest city in Mississippi, and it doesn’t look good for its leading citizens to be carrying around an extra seventy-five pounds, but what can I say? I love me some fried bananas and sweet tea, and Gloria makes a mean fried chicken and biscuits.

Oh, and I’ve got to smooth some ruffled feathers. The whole town’s in an uproar over a new novel that was clearly inspired by events in the lives of our residents. I hear that even Senator Philip Reavis, who was born here in Bolivar County, is hot under the collar that a local rumor about his mama has now spread all over the country. Some old scandals have been brought back to life, plus some new secrets have been uncovered, and a lot of folks aren’t happy about it. The problem is, the book was written under a pseudonym, and nobody knows who wrote it. I feel sorry for the author if their identity is revealed. But Christmas is coming…it looks like forgiveness is the order of the day. (Note: Bettye had hoped to publish a Christmas story about all the things going on in Eighty-Eight, but her freelance editing services have been in demand lately, so that book has been postponed until the first quarter of 2019).

It Happened in Eighty-Eight
Eighty-Eight, Mississippi, Book 1

Eighty-Eight, Mississippi, a town that has more secrets than it has magnolia blossoms...

Schoolteacher Cornell Sebastian returns to the Mississippi town that had been her salvation after a traumatic experience ten years before when she was just fifteen. Her uncle has willed his house to her, which she plans to spruce up and sell. Living on her own for the first time bolsters her self-confidence, and she begins to think that maybe she can put her nightmare past behind her…but there’s just one thing she needs to do to accomplish that, and it’s not something she can do alone…

Kitchen and bath designer Ajay Vincent is enchanted by the new woman in town when she hires him to update her kitchen. As he gets to know Cornell, he suspects she has a troubled past, but his confidence that she will eventually confide in him turns to frustration as her issues stall their burgeoning relationship. When Cornell finally does share the details of her past with him, Ajay is left with a dilemma, for learning her secret makes it all but impossible for him to tell her his own…

Thursday, December 6, 2018

AUTHOR JUDITH COPEK SETS A MYSTERY AT BURNING MAN

According to author Judith Copek, she’s most likely the only person you will ever meet who was born in Montana. A former English major and Information Systems nerd, she
Enjoys putting a literary spin on technology, and showing technology’s humor and quirkiness along with its scary aspects. When not writing, cooking or digging in the garden, you’ll find her on a Baltic beach or at Burning Man in the Nevada desert researching her next novel. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Sometimes I take a vacation that inspires a novel. World of Mirrors came about from a visit to the Baltic Island of Ruegen. Festival Madness arrived after a couple of trips to the Burning Man Festival. Setting is paramount in my fiction, up there with characters and plot. When I know I’m going to write about a place, my camera is my best friend. There’s no pressure to take a wonderful photo. I just need to record an image.

The Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert is a writer’s dream, with a hostile but scenic environment, (the Black Rock Desert), thousands of people, art, music, drugs, booze, fire, and total craziness. And isolation. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and you are nearly one hundred miles from civilization. There is one road in, two-lane and dusty. A perfect setting.

Anything can and does happen at Burning Man!
Everything is dusty: your vehicle, your luggage, yourself. Radical self-reliance is the watch phrase. You bring in what you need including food and water and carry away everything. Every speck of trash There’s always a dust storm. Rain turns the playa to gooey mud. Black Rock City becomes a vast chaotic circle of “camps” consisting of tents, campers, trucks, and people. The people are mostly in costumes, the more bizarre the better. Some of them are naked. Men wear dresses with ease. They are living their fantasies. The “Man” is the best place to do this because there is a pleasant anonymity. A more-perfect setting.

The desert is called the Playa, Spanish for beach, and it stretches forever, surrounded by bare mountains including the Black Rock. Somewhere there is always a techno beat. The statue of the Man looms over the Playa. The Temple does, too. Both are ultimately burnt to the ground. Art cars belch fire. A band marches by in women’s underwear. Beyond the city is the art. Stunning is the best word for this desert museum. You can get drunk on the art. I mostly ignored the drugs and the booze because I had a mission: to capture this compelling setting for my novel.

Weird stuff happens. Pilots at the airport offer rides so Burners can join the Mile-High Club. The women have a bare-breasted bicycle ride. Thousands of naked-to-the-waist women on bikes. With attitude. The “Critical Tits Ride.” There are parades. At dusk, the Lamplighters light lanterns throughout the city because most of the burners are on bikes and they need to see. Headlamps are everywhere, as is glowstick jewelry. Bad stuff can happen in the dark. Yes!

And the Burn? Saturday night everyone forms a huge circle around the statue of the Man. There is drumming and fire dancers and all the art cars (mutant vehicles) gather round with belching flames and the throbbing, pulsing, techno beat. You cannot help but dance. Fireworks explode, and the man starts to burn. He raises his arms. The flames burn higher. Everyone is shouting and dancing and drinking and drugging and screaming as the man burns. Enough drama for a half-dozen settings.

Sunday night the temple burns and the celebrants make their way off the playa through the dust. The drive is long, slow. and hot. Next year will be more of the same, but different. It’s addictive. A most-perfect setting.


Festival Madness
The Burning Man Festival, two murders and high-tech hi-jinx equal Festival Madness for a troubled cyber-sleuth. Boston-based computer security consultant Emma Lee Devens leaves her top-secret project in disarray and jeopardizes her marriage when she races to find her missing friend and colleague. Emma’s search takes her to the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada and the Burning Man Festival where a unique experience of survival, ceremonial fire, danger, and transcendence awaits. Anything can happen at Burning Man. Even murder.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

MYSTERY AUTHOR HEATHER HAVEN DECORATES A CHRISTMAS MEMORY TREE

Heather Haven is a multi-award winning mystery author. Her work includes the Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, NYC trail-blazing WWII lady shamus of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, Death of a Clown, a Ringling Brothers’ Circus stand-alone mystery noir, and anthology, Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories. Today she stops by to share a Christmas memory with us. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

A Christmas Memory Tree
Twenty years ago during the Christmas season, I was visiting a dear friend and noticed a small, jewel-like tree glittering on her hallway table. When I asked her where she got it, she told me she had made it for her mother using ornaments, broken jewelry, and so forth from her family’s life. Now that her mother passed, she had the tree and would someday leave it to her own daughter.

All you need is a small fake tree, a charming container to hold it, plaster of Paris, lights, ornaments, costume jewelry, and a glue gun. I ran, not walked, to my local craft store and bought a small one-and-a-half foot tall tree, a bag of plaster of Paris, and an attractive round plant holder.

Day One: fill that charming little container about 3/4 of the way up with plaster of Paris (follow the directions on the box). Pull the little tree out of the base it came on, stick the tree into the wet plaster of Paris, hold the tree straight for a minute or two until the plaster begins to set, then go about your business for the rest of the day so it can dry thoroughly.

Day Two: Starting at the top, take the center of each wire branch and bend the branch back into itself. This keep it from looking scraggly. Next, wrap the string of lights around the tree, pushing the lights into the tree. Be sure the cord plug is at the bottom of the tree with enough length for plugging into an extension cord or the wall. Even on a small tree, you can use a 500-light or a 1000-light string. The more lights, the more glitter.

 Any balls and decoration that are slightly broken but too important or sentimental to have thrown away go on the tree first and in a place of prominence. With the hot glue gun, dab some glue on one side of the ornament near the metal loop that hooks it on to the tree. You don’t want all of that metal distracting from your jewels. Keep gluing, then sticking ornaments and jewelry wherever you want them to go, hold in place for a few seconds and voila! It’s like magic. Leonardo da Vinci couldn’t do better.

After I added a beautiful angel Mom had kept through the years to the treetop, I lovingly packed the gift in bubble wrap and shipped it off to my mother who lived three-thousand miles away. Until the end of her life, every year my mother took the tree out from the back of the closet and put it on a table, reveling in all the holidays and memories the tree represented. I was happy knowing that even though we were separated by miles, that little tree brought us closer with our shared memories.

Happy Holidays!

Iced Diamonds
In late December 1942, Persephone (Percy) Cole, one of Manhattan's first female PIs, has been hired to find out who killed a Santa Land elf and left the body in the storefront window of a swank 5th Avenue jewelry store. Was it the spoiled heiress whose big buck handbag was found on the scene? Or was it the rat who broke out of the big house to settle a score? Shortly after, the corpse of the Christmas Angel is discovered stuffed in Mrs. Santa's workshop. Will Santa Claus be next? With a penchant for Marlene Dietrich suits, pistachio nuts and fedora hats, this working mother finds diamonds to the left of her, diamonds to the right, and skullduggery aplenty. Armed with her noodle and a WWI German Mauser, Percy is determined to solve these crimes or it just might be the 'kiss off' for Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--SLEUTH CARRIE SINGLETON BAKES DOUBLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

Today we’re joined by Carrie Singleton from mystery author Allison Brook’s Haunted Library series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
It was a total mess. After college I stayed in one town for a while—never more than a year—then would move on to another. I felt I had no roots, no family or purpose.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I'm resilient. When I was made Head of Programs and Events of the Clover Ridge Library, I proved to be a capable and responsible worker.

What do you like least about yourself?
I can easily lose my sense of security.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
I wasn't happy when Allison sent me to search a cabin in the woods a good hour's drive from Clover Ridge to see if my father's partner-in-crime had hidden the jewels there.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
The only time we argue is when she does something completely unexpected—like having my father break into my cottage at three in the morning, asking me to contact his partner-in-crime so he can recover his share of a heist.

What is your greatest fear?
That my new life in Clover Ridge will suddenly evaporate. Or I will wake up and it will all be a dream.

What makes you happy?
Spending time with Dylan, my boyfriend; girls' night out with my best friend, Angela; having dinner at my great-aunt and uncle's home across the Green from the library; and, of course arranging programs and events that the library patrons will enjoy.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I would give me a happy childhood and not let my brother Jordan die in a car accident in his twenties. Jordan was my protector and the one person I could depend on when I was growing up. He and Dylan were good friends when we were little and spent our summers on the Singleton farm. Jordan would be happy to see that Dylan and I are now a couple.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Dorothy Hawkins, the reference librarian. She has the most miserable disposition and got it into her head that she should have been given my position. Soon as I started my new job, she pulled all kinds of dirty tricks until I managed to put a stop to it.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Right now I'm happy to be me, but I'd love to trade places with Julia, my cousin's wife, for a short while. As I see it, Julia has the perfect life—a husband she loves, two wonderful children, a beautiful house she decorated herself, and a career. I envy her calm and imagine she must have had a happy childhood.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Allison Brook is the pen name of author Marilyn Levinson, who has been writing mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids for many years. Before that, she was a Spanish teacher and enjoys conversing in Spanish when the opportunity arises. She loves to travel, read, knit, watch foreign films, dine out with her significant other, and visit her two grandkids. She lives on Long Island and has a red cat named Sammy. Readers can learn more about her and her books at her website. http://www.marilynlevinson.com 

What's next for you?
Book #3 in the Haunted Library series will be out in the fall. Alas, a member of the library staff has been murdered and I'll be investigating—along with the police.

Double Chocolate Brownies
(Perfect for the holidays and other family occasions)

Yield: 12-16 brownies

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 –1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line 8” square pan with parchment paper.

Stir together eggs sugar, vanilla and butter.

Mix together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir into egg mixture. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. (Note: if you like, you can melt the chocolate chips before adding them to the mixture.)

Spread mixture evenly in pan. Bake 20-25 minutes. Test with toothpick. Brownies done when toothpick comes out slightly moist.

Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Read and Gone
Twenty million dollars’ worth of missing gems bring Carrie Singleton’s long-lost and larcenous dad back into her life and it’s up to Carrie to clear his name.

A devoted dad is as precious as diamonds, but Carrie Singleton wouldn’t know since her dad Jim’s been on the lam most of her life. In an unusual family reunion, she finds Jim breaking into her cottage in the middle of the night. The fun really starts when he begs her to help him recover his half of a twenty-million-dollar gem heist he pulled off with the local jeweler, Benton Parr. When she refuses, Jim takes off again. 

Carrie finds her father again behind bars for the recent murder of Benton Parr. Who made the connection? Unbeknownst to her, Carrie’s boyfriend Dylan, an insurance investigator, has been searching for the gems. Determined to find the jewels herself, she starts examining every facet of Parr’s life. She turns up a treasure trove of suspects, one of whom bashes her on the head as she’s searching the victim’s country cabin. 

Retreating to the quiet confines of the library where she works, Carrie watches as Smokey Joe, the resident cat, paws at a hole in the wall. Is he after the library’s ghost Evelyn, or something shinier?

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