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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Sunday, March 31, 2019


An illustration from the 1770's
depicting pranksters tying a kite to an old man's wig.
(Those of you who are regular readers to this blog might remember this post from four years ago, but every so often we like to rerun an oldie but goody.)

April Fool's Day is certainly an odd holiday, albeit not an official one. Did you ever wonder how it got started?

Although April Fool’s Day is not a religious holiday, one theory as to its origin involves Pope Gregory XIII. In 1582 he decreed the adoption of the Gregorian calendar (which he named for himself,) moving New Year’s from the end of March to January 1st. Word of the change traveled so slowly that people in rural areas continued to celebrate New Year’s Day in the spring instead of on January 1st. These country bumpkins became known as April fools.

Others claim this theory is completely wrong because the French traditionally celebrated the beginning of the year on Easter, not April 1st.

Another theory is that April Fool’s Day grew out of ancient European spring festivals of renewal. Often at these festivals people disguised themselves and played pranks on each other.

Yet another theory, according to Joseph Boskin, professor emeritus of American humor at Boston University, claims April Fool’s Day began with Roman jesters during the reign of Constantine I in the third and fourth centuries A.D. When jesters petitioned Constantine to have one of them chosen as king for a day, he agreed and turned over his empire to his jester Kugel for the day. As king, Kugel declared April 1st would forever become a day of absurdity. 

It turns out Professor Boskin was pulling a prank of his own when he told this story to the Associated Press back in 1983. The AP was not amused when they learned they’d been pranked.

Even though no one knows when or why April Fool’s Day began, it’s been going on for centuries in many countries around the world. So happy April Fool’s Day!

Thursday, March 28, 2019


UK author Hywela Lyn joins us today in our continuing series on where authors get their ideas. Hywela is an animal loving virtual star traveler who loves crafting romantic tales of science fiction and fantasy set on far away planets and imaginary worlds. Learn more about Hywela and her books at her website. 

Where Do Authors Get Their Ideas?
Ideas of course, are all around us. Anything can spark the idea for a story, an overheard conversation, a news item or magazine article to name a few. For me though, it’s nearly always the characters who come to me first and live in my mind for some time while I get to know them. Then follows the setting. Once that is in place, my imagination usually goes into overdrive as I find ways to keep my hero and heroine apart, put obstacles in their way, and in general make life as difficult as I can for them, until at last I reward them with their H.E.A. (happily-ever-after)

I used to live on top of a high Welsh hill overlooking the sea and mountains. The view I had from my home was the sea to the west, and to the north, a mountain range with several ranges of mountains beyond. Welsh mountains are wild and rugged, and I just love the way they constantly change according to the time of day and the season.

One winter’s evening I looked out over the mountains at sunset and watched the mist rolling in, tinged with pink by the setting sun. As I watched, I realised it wasn’t mist swirling across from the mountains but snow, and I started to play the game of ‘what if?’ What if there was a distant planet, which had occasional falls of pink snow? What if most of that planet was so cold and inhospitable that only the most temperate parts could be colonised? What if the first colonists were from Earth and decided to renounce technology in favour of a simpler life? How would the scattered settlements communicate with each other?

The cold and misty conditions on my imaginary planet reminded me of the mythical Niflheim of Scandinavian legend. So that’s what the settlers from Earth called their new Earth colony. Those with hitherto suppressed psychic abilities developed telepathy as a means of communication across vast distances. They named the areas of the planet they were able to chart after places and characters in Norse legends, even naming some of their children after mythical Norse heroes. This tradition was continued by their descendants. As the decades passed, they developed their paranormal abilities even further, to include telekinesis and levitation, and telepathy became their normal means of communication.

At the time I was writing my first novel, Starquest, which was to become the Destiny Trilogy, three complete novels connected by the starship Destiny. Two of the crew members of the ship were telepaths, but that was all I knew about them. Now I realised my snowy planet could be their home world, proving a rationale for their telepathic abilities.

The planet that started out as a couple of lines about my telepathic crew members went on to become an important background in several chapters in Starquest, as more characters from the icy planet materialised in my mind, I even drew a map, which was very helpful in keeping track of my characters and their journey. By the time Starquest was sold, I had already started on Children Of The Mist, which is set almost entirely on the planet Niflheim and features many of the characters from the first book. There were a few mysteries surrounding the planet in Starquest, which were hinted at.

In the second book, the history of Niflheim, before its colonisation – loosely based on a hypothesis in a scientific paper I read – is revealed to the main characters. I have to admit the planet’s origin came as a surprise to me, even as I wrote it. That’s one of the many things I love about being a writer. One’s characters and the worlds they inhabit, can constantly spring surprises, just when you thought you knew exactly where they was going, and a vague idea can develop and spark a whole novel or even a series.

Children of the Mist
The Destiny Trilogy, Book 2

Long ago Tamarith fell in love with a man she can never have, and is convinced she will never love another. However, she cannot help but be intrigued by a handsome stranger whose psychic powers exceed even her own.

Vidarh seeks only to find his true purpose in life and to win the regard of his father, who eschews his son’s psychic abilities. Thrown together by a common threat to their planet, then torn apart by an evil greater than any they could have imagined, can Vidarh save the lovely Nifl woman who has captivated him, before it is too late?

Will Tamarith and Vidarh overcome the deadly enemy who threatens to destroy all they know and love? Will they find the happiness they both seek? Or are they fated to live their lives alone?

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Multi-award-winning southern author Maggie Toussaint is the author of twenty mystery and suspense books. Her twenty-first, a paranormal mystery, is slated for a June release. Today Maggie joins us to talk about how one of her books came to life. Learn more about Maggie and her books at her website. 

The Origin of Hot Water
Long before I wrote series mystery, I wrote standalone mystery and romantic suspense novels. After the romantic suspense Muddy Waters was released, one diehard fan in particular kept hounding me to write more in that story world. I patiently explained how a romance novel story arc was complete when the couple resolved their conflcts and came together in a happily-ever-after.

Undeterred, the woman said, “So?” You’ve got other characters in this story world that could use a story. Use one of them.”

Indeed. She went on to tell me exactly which character I should write about, the female cop. At that time, the amount I knew about what cops do would fit in a thimble. (I’ve since learned substantially more, though I don’t know if I’ve graduated up to a tumbler size glass yet.) The task seemed huge, but I decided to go for it.

I began the next Mossy Bog book and called it Hot Water. The final book in the series, also about another Mossy Bog female, is called Rough Waters. Both Hot Water and Rough Waters have just been released through my own imprint after prior publication by a small press.

My female cop, Laurie Ann, is tough as nails at work. At home, she gardens and sews and volunteers for many community activities. Laurie Ann cares deeply about her hometown of Mossy Bog, and she will go to great lengths to protect it. Good thing because a serial arsonist-turned-killer is based out of her town.

Without the prompting of my local fan, there would’ve been no Hot Water and certainly no Rough Waters. I’m so very glad I listened and kept Mossy Bog alive for friends and fans.

Hot Water
Something evil lurks in this town of secrets.

Solving Mossy Bog’s first fire fatality could net police officer Laurie Ann Dinterman the promotion she desperately wants. When the state arson investigator arrives to take over the case, Laurie Ann is assigned to give the man everything he needs while keeping him alive. The fact he’s the sexiest man ever to hit town shouldn’t make a difference.

Hot on the trail of a serial arsonist, Wyatt North demands justice for his partner, the arsonist’s first victim. He’ll find the murderer or die trying—no matter how distracting the tall, lithe figure of his local partner is.

As the investigation zeroes in on a suspect uncomfortably close to Laurie Ann’s life, her cop instincts conflict with her feelings for Wyatt. Worse, the arsonist will do anything to protect his identity. Can Laurie Ann accept the truth in time…or will she and Wyatt go up in flames?

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


With the weather warming up, many of us turn our thoughts to spring cleaning and a bit of decorating to freshen up our homes. Most of us don’t have the money to do a total decorating makeover every spring, but there are some tricks for sprucing things up with little or no money spent. Take this beachy bathroom look.

One of my relatives came up with this idea for holding the pump bottle of soap on her bathroom counter. She chose a piece of pottery she already owned in colors that complemented her bathroom. Then she placed the bottle of soap in the center of the bowl, and filled the bowl with some small pieces of driftwood, shells, and a starfish she’d collected on trips down the shore. The cost? Not a penny.

The look? Beachy-keen!

Monday, March 25, 2019


Today, in our continuing series on how authors get their ideas, we feature Elizabeth Rose, bestselling author of more than 80 books and counting. Mainly known for her medieval series, she also writes paranormal, contemporary, and western romances. Learn more about Elizabeth and her books at her website. 

Starstruck Cowboy is a book that almost never got published. I started writing more than twenty years ago, and this was the third book I ever wrote and also the first contemporary romance.

Back then my works were stored on floppy disks. Well, I changed and updated computers several times since then. I couldn’t find a copy of this book and thought it was lost forever. Recently, I found it on a floppy disk but had no way to read it. So I bought a floppy disk reader and plugged it into my computer and was thrilled to see that the book hadn’t disappeared into a black hole after all. With a little revising and lots of editing, I am happy to say that Luke Tyler and Star Brighton’s story has been born after all.

As writers, our inspirations come from anywhere and everywhere in life. There is a scene at the beginning of this book when Luke and Star first meet. Luke is driving a limo with darkened windows. He turns off the highway and doesn’t pull back as Star Brighton is driving past. It almost becomes a game of chicken with the two of them, since neither of them wants to yield. Well, this happened to me many years ago. I was in Star’s position, and a limo with darkened windows almost ran me off the road. That got me fired up, and I decided to put the scene in my book.

At the end of this story, there is a cameo appearance by James Taylor. Not the singer, but the hero from Wrangling James – Book 6 of my Bad Boys of Sweetwater, Tarnished Saints Series, a twelve book series about twelve brothers who are sons of a preacher but far from saints. As a matter of fact, they’re nothing but trouble.

Tarnished Saints, is my favorite series of all the ones I’ve written because it’s inspired by my own life. It takes place in a small town and on a lake in Michigan. I grew up visiting my grandparents on that Michigan lake.

Getting back to Starstruck Cowboy, it’s a fun read about two people willing to do whatever it takes to save their ranches. I hope you enjoy a quick visit to Texarkana where Luke is about to find out that Star has a strong right hook.

Keto Bagel Recipe
(Low calorie and gluten free)

Yield: 6 bagels

1-3/4 cups almond flour
1 tsp. each garlic powder, basil, oregano and parsley*
1 T. baking powder
2 oz cream cheese
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
chopped nuts
Asiago or Parmesan cheese

Mix dry ingredients and spices in one bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs with a sprinkle of salt and ground pepper.

In a third bowl cube cream cheese. Add mozzarella and microwave till soft. (1 min & 15 sec at 70% power then mix, 45 sec 70% power, mix, 45 sec 60%.)

Mix eggs into cheese. Add dry ingredients.

Knead dough until completely mixed. (I refrigerate a little afterwards to make the dough less sticky and to shape it into bagels.)

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Separate dough into 6 pieces. Roll each into log and shape into round bagel. Top with chopped nuts and/or fresh Asiago or parmesan cheese.

Bake 12 - 15 min. at 400 degrees.

TIP: Put a 2nd baking tray on bottom shelf while preheating. When bagels go in, put a few ice cubes on bottom tray for humidity to help the bagels rise.

Serve fresh or freeze.

* If desired, you can choose your favorite herbs and spices instead.

Starstruck Cowboy:
Working Man Series, Book 1

Luke Tyler is a cowboy turned stuntman, trying to raise money to buy back his ranch. When the low-budget movie shoots on location at Bright Star Ranch, Luke meets up with the feisty rancher’s daughter, Star Brighton. However, his charming ways don’t work on her. Star is a tough cookie, and can herd cattle and run a ranch with little to no help. But after one kiss from Luke, Star starts wishing she were playing the role of his leading lady instead.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019


photo credit: Parvathisri
By Lois Winston

Today I’m continuing my series on where I’ve gotten the ideas for my books and characters. Even though it wasn’t the first book I wrote, Talk Gertie To Me was the first book I sold to a publisher. It debuted in 2006 at the height of the chick lit craze, but the book wasn’t chick lit in the Bridget Jones’s Diary sense. It was a genre hybrid, combining chick lit and what came to be known as hen lit (chick lit featuring older heroines). Because chick lit is the genre that must not be spoken in the world of publishing nowadays, today we call such books humorous women’s fiction.

Talk Gertie To Me featured Connie Stedworth, a kinder, gentler menopausal Martha Stewart, her rebellious daughter Nori, and Nori’s acerbic imaginary friend Gertie. The book received critical acclaim and was the recipient of several awards.

When it comes to “write what you know,” I know crafts. I had a long career in the consumer crafts industry as both a designer and craft book editor. So it wasn’t a stretch for me to create Connie. But I wanted Connie to have a rebellious streak of her own. So I decided I needed her to come up with an outrageous craft project, one that would get tongues a’wagging in her conservative Iowa hometown. I needed to look no further than one of my fellow crafters.

For years I belonged to the Society of Craft Designers. Every year we held a conference where designers, craft book editors, and craft kit manufacturers gathered for several days of workshops and networking. One designer I got to know quite well was Priscilla Hauser, the queen of decorative painting. One night over drinks Priscilla told a group of us about her quest to appear on The Tonight Show.

Priscilla had developed an outrageous craft project involving plaster of Paris and a certain body part (No, not that body part!  My, you all have dirty minds!)  She wanted to demonstrate the technique on The Tonight Show.  Unfortunately, Johnny Carson’s people weren’t interested. Fast-forward quite a few years: I’m wracking my brain for a zany craft, and I remembered Priscilla’s story. Johnny Carson’s people might not have been interested in Priscilla’s craft, but David Letterman’s people are definitely interested in Connie’s craft. She winds up demonstrating it on Late Night, using a certain sexy movie star from Down Under as her guinea pig. (Of course, I gave proper credit to Priscilla and sent her a copy of the book when it came out.)

Ever since Talk Gertie To Me, crafts and some of my experiences in the crafts industry, have featured into many of my books, especially in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series.

Talk Gertie To Me
Two years ago Nori Stedworth fled the conservative mentality of both her parents and Ten Commandments, Iowa, for Manhattan. She loves her new life -- until one devastating afternoon that culminates with the arrival of her mother. Mom is suffering from middle-age meltdown. Her only identity is as a wife and mother, but her husband is a workaholic, and her daughter is halfway across the country. Grandchildren would give her life new purpose. If only Nori would come to her senses and marry town mortician and most eligible bachelor Eugene Draymore.
To that end, Mom sets off to bring Nori home. But when she meets Nori’s neighbor, her plans take an unexpected twist, and she’s thrust headfirst into a career as the next Martha Stewart. Suddenly, she’s a somebody in her own right and reconsiders returning to her old life.

As a coping mechanism, Nori resurrects Gertie, her adolescent imaginary friend. A laptop mix-up lands her musings in the hands of Mackenzie Randolph, a talk-radio station manager on deadline to boost sagging ratings or lose his job. He knows he’s found the answer to his prayers when he reads Nori’s make-believe correspondence. 

And maybe he’s found much more.

Meanwhile Dad, with Eugene in tow, comes in search of his AWOL wife. Tempers flare when Mom refuses to return home. However, when she and Dad hear Nori on the radio, they unite to “save” her from the corruption of both Mac and Manhattan.
And that’s when things really get interesting.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019


Lesley A. Diehl is the author of several series and short stories, all featuring country gals whose snoopy attitudes and smarts make them great candidates for taking down the bad guys. From the river valleys of Upstate New York, to the swamps of rural Florida to the cornfields of the Midwest, these sassy sleuths never let anything get in their way. Today Lesley’s Detective Stanton Lewis stops by to talk about the positives and the negatives of her amateur sleuth Emily Rhodes. Learn more about Lesley and her books at her website and blog.

Both Sides Now: Detective Stanton Lewis on Emily Rhodes
My name is Detective Stanton Lewis, and I work for a police department in rural South-Central Florida. I’m told you’d like some information about Emily Rhodes, something positive about her and something negative. I can think of about a million negative aspects of her but saying anything good about the woman may be harder.

(At this point Emily’s daughter, Naomi, intervenes by pointing out that Detective Lewis is biased because he has had a crush on Emily since they first met. He has been reluctant to admit to this, and Emily has always disavowed any affection between the two of them. As Naomi says, “They are honest to a fault about everything else in their lives, but in denial about their feelings for each other.”)

The detective continues: Okay, then, let me do the easy part first. If I tell you Emily is a Yankee and a woman, that says everything about her. She’s meddlesome, thinks she’s smarter than me, and always manages to get me to tell her more about my cases than I should. Well, I guess she thinks she owns the three murders I’ve been assigned to investigate because she finds the bodies. She’s like a bloodhound when it comes to murder victims. This last one she stumbled onto in the mud and then I tripped over her, so we both were responsible for finding the guy, but the case was mine. In her usual way, she promised to stay out of the investigation, but she lied about that. She had her fingers in that pie from the time she talked with one of my suspects to when she solved the murder.

But let me say in my defense that it was serendipitous she found out who was responsible. Of course, being a woman, she has a way of getting folks, especially other women, to talk to her, but it was only a matter of time in all these cases before I would have broken through my witnesses’ resistance.

(Naomi interrupts again by reminding him he has a habit of underestimating her mother’s sensitivity to people. “Mom was a preschool teacher, so she’s tuned in to nonverbal cues. She knows how important body language is.”)

Lewis emits a sound something akin to a growl and continues with his comments:
Emily also is naïve about people, especially men. A friend of mine, Donald Green—great fisherman, but not great with the ladies—has taken a liking to Emily, but she thinks he’s just a “friend.” She even hired him as a bartender to work with her at the country club. Everyone knows he’s a hound.

(From Naomi again who says she told her mom about Donald’s crush on her, so Emily is aware, and when she hired Donald, she was desperate for another worker, and she’s regretted the decision ever since. And adds Naomi, “Donald is not a hound about any woman other than Emily. You are correct about her being naïve about some men, like you. It took her forever to figure out you were sweet on her.”)

I remind Lewis that he was supposed to talk about one negative aspect of Emily, not malign her entire character. Stanton wraps up his negative aspects of Emily by using the words “uppity” and “snoopy.”

As to those aspects of Emily’s character that are positive, Stanton continues: I would have to concede she is smart, an attribute easy to ignore because her looks are deceiving. She’s tiny, barely five-foot tall, blonde, blue-eyed and cute.

(Naomi chuckles at this, chiding Lewis for calling a fifty plus gal “cute.”) In his defense, he says he is over six feet tall, so calling her “cute” makes sense and continues: I’ve got to think about some on this. The positive parts of this woman are kind of hard to see right off.

(Naomi rolls her eyes and says, “Only for you, only for you.”)

The detective again: I’m going to ignore Naomi’s comments. She has no appreciation for how difficult it is for a detective to solve a crime if there’s some woman constantly second-guessing him and chasing down clues he thinks are dead ends. Now that I think of it, Emily is a beautiful little woman who’s really, really smart figuring out motives in a murder, she’s loyal to her friends and family, has tried hard to fit into her life here, she makes a mean martini, and… Okay, one positive aspect of her. I’ll sum it up this way: I asked her to marry me, didn’t I?

Scream Muddy Murder
A Big Lake Murder Mystery, Book 3

EMILY RHODES DOES IT AGAIN! This time she nosedives into a mud puddle at a Seminole War battle reenactment and finds she’s sharing the muck with a dead body. As usual the hunky detective she loves to aggravate, Stanton Lewis, cautions her against getting involved in the case, and as usual she ignores him. Emily’s sleuthing pays off, revealing disturbing information about the victim’s past. Is it the reason behind his murder? With the help of her family and friends, Emily sets out to uncover secrets kept too long and puts herself and the people she loves in the killer’s path. Too late she realizes Detective Lewis was right. Her snoopiness proves to be a deadly idea.

Bonus feature inside: Emily’s neighbor shares her recipes. Make them for your favorite sleuth!

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019


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. Her latest endeavor is the soon-to-be-released Christmas Trifle, Book One of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Series. Today her P.I. sleuth Lee Alvarez stops by to discuss cat potty training. Learn more about Heather and her books at her website.

How I Potty-Trained My Cat
By P.I. Lee Alvarez

When I was a fairly new cat owner, I was struck by the idea of training my cat Tugger to use the facilities instead of the litter pan I tripped over every time I went into the laundry room. It can’t be so hard, I reasoned, even if he can’t work the flusher. After all, I am a Stanford graduate. I am a private detective. And Tugger is a very intelligent, obedient cat. Okay, he’s very intelligent. That’s a start.

After reading a particularly entrancing ad on the internet, I acted. Several days later, I received a pair of steel, reinforced gloves in the mail and a set of instructions that went like this:

Remember, it’s essential to take the upper hand when laying down the law to your cat. You can achieve your goal if your commands are clear and concise. You will be rewarded by an animal who loves you even more for your discipline. Below are three foolproof steps to employ:

1 – Discuss overall goal with self. You must be in total agreement with self on objective and how to achieve it. Keep cat out of room during this discussion. There is no sense in alerting cat ahead of time. They have their ways.

2 – Now relay overall goal to cat before you begin training process. You will find that sitting cat down in a quiet place, void of distractions, and outlining problem is the way to go. They will usually pay rapt attention to you, especially if you are waving catnip about. They may not remember all you’ve said, but it is a bonding experience.

3 –When you see cat doing business in litter pan, carefully lift animal out of pan while wearing aforementioned, patented gloves and carry to facility. Be sure lid is up. Firmly but gently, place back legs of said animal on either side of seat, smiling and chatting casually. Casualness is essential for success. After a few times of using firm but pleasant voice, you will be rewarded with a cat that accomplishes feat on his or her own.

Here are the steps they left out:

4 – Dry self off after cat and you splash about in toilet bowl. Apply Neosporin to scratches on upper arms and face. Clean up poop that landed on new rug while carrying cat from laundry room to bathroom.

5 – Transfer litter pan from laundry room to bathroom, so it will be closer to ultimate goal.

6 – Using ladder, get wet cat off top shelf of linen closet and towel dry. Put more Neosporin on new bites and scratches, bearing in mind you have to break an egg to make an omelet. Although at the moment, you have no time to cook.

7 – Introduce cat to new location of litter pan in one and only bathroom of house. Leave lid of toilet up even though you are a woman and you are used to it being down when not in use.

8 – Clean up cat poop in laundry room done by now confused cat that went behind dryer on your new, washable silk blouse that fell there earlier in the day and you forgot to retrieve. Rewash blouse. Hope claw marks will not show.

9 – Return to bathroom. Because you left toilet lid up, remove rubber ducky and bottle of expensive perfume that fell in when you and cat were engaged in wrestling match. Wash ducky and perfume bottle thoroughly.

10 – To continue training process, stand guard over litter pan waiting for opportunity to catch cat using again. Sleep in bathtub overnight.

11 –Bandage big toe that got stuck in faucet during night. Wash foot that stepped into litter pan as you were trying to get out of tub, overturning litter pan in process. Curse Internet. Curse cat litter. Curse all cats.

12 – Exhausted, track down cat and spy him curled up in bed on top of your favorite pillow, looking like the innocent you know he isn’t, but you realize you love him, anyway.

13 – Stagger back to bathroom. Shut toilet. Refill and remove litter pan. Return pan to laundry room. On knees, scrub down bathroom and use one hundred twenty-five dollar an ounce perfume to help mask odor you believe to be coming from recently removed litter pan. Realizing it is you who smells. Take shower to remove odor and excess kitty litter from hair and body. Put soothing moisturizer on chaffed knees, re-bandage toe, and reapply Neosporin to bites and scratches. Throw what’s left of perfume behind your ears; what the hey.

14 – Pray cat forgets entire 24-hour experience and will resume litter pan usage in laundry room. While you’re at it, pray boobheads that sold you reinforced gloves will take them back.

15 – Crawl into bed next to sleeping, purring cat that snuggles next to you, while you thank God for short memories.

Marriage Can Be Murder: A Mystery Novella
The Lee Alvarez and Gurn Hanson Mysteries, Book 2

Someone is trying to kill Delores De La Vega, an aging but legendary movie star known as much for her looks and numerous marriages as her acting ability. Now an animal activist and fabulously wealthy, she’s about to change her will in favor of the daughter she gave up at birth for adoption, making a claim on her biological mother’s billions.

With a woman as dramatic as Delores De La Vega, it’s all or nothing, so she’s planning to write out everyone else previously in the will. But can she live long enough to make the changes? And just who is trying to kill her? Is it one or all of her many -exes set to be cut out of millions? Or the onsite vet who might be more than a friend? Or is it one of the dozens of staff members, also being rejected in favor of the newly discovered daughter? Lee and Gurn, the Nick and Nora Charles of Silicon Valley, find no lack of suspects when death stalks a Portola Valley animal sanctuary.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Ever wonder if a mystery writer would be chosen to sit on a jury for a murder trial? Author Michele Drier writes the Amy Hobbes Newspaper Mysteries, a paranormal romance series, and is currently working on the first book in The Stained Glass Chronicles, which she calls a dark cozy series. Today she joins us to talk about her experience when summoned to jury duty. Learn more about Michele and her books at her Amazon author page.

Murder? On a Jury? Moi?
When the jury summons envelope showed up, I put it aside to look at later. I could have asked to be taken out of the pool, I’m old enough to have been excluded.

I believe in civic duty, though. Always vote, even in strictly local elections. Obey traffic laws. So on the appointed date, I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. in order to get to the jury assembly room before 8 a.m., coffee mug and ebook reader handy. I figured a piece of cake. Even on the off chance my name was called, I go to a courtroom, sit in the back, watch as a jury was chosen and then head home, dismissed.

This was not to be. I was in the first group called to report to a courtroom. Once there, I was in the first eighteen people to be seated for voir dire (when the judge and attorneys ask questions). I’d carefully written down that I was an author of murder mysteries on my questionnaire, thinking this was a slam-dunk for dismissal as the case was murder.

The judge asked what my favorite book was (I’ve probably read thousands) and who my favorite author was (before my jaw hit the floor I managed to come up with Agatha Christie), the attorneys asked if I would wait to hear all the evidence before I made up my mind and bang, I was juror #7.

It was a murder case, but the defendant called the sheriff’s office and announced he’d shot his wife, so our job was to sift through testimony and evidence and come up with the degree; first or second degree murder or manslaughter.

The defendant was a young man in his early 20s who’d shot his female partner and killed her. There were no witnesses; it happened in the middle of the afternoon in the mobile home they shared with their 3-year-old son. We saw pictures of the scene, pictures of her dead on the bed, pictures of the gun and ammunition, pictures of the mobile home and pictures of their cars. We heard testimony from another man she was dating, the defendant’s closest friend, the victim’s mother and a psychologist the defense retained to interview the defendant after he’d been in jail for about 18 months (right before the trial).

It was just a sad tale of domestic abuse and jealousy. One of the pieces of evidence used by both the defense and prosecution was a Facebook message that he’d posted on the page of his girlfriend’s other lover. “You don’t mess with someone else’s wife.”

We heard from forensic experts on gunshot residue, blood spatter (there wasn’t any, it pooled on the mattress under the exit wound), stippling (gun powder marks on her face), to judge how close he was to her and at what angle the shot was fired. We saw autopsy pictures clearly showing the entry and exit wounds.

There were text message conversations and cell phone records to give us a picture of what happened the day he shot her and what he did immediately after (left in her car, with the gun, drove around somewhat aimlessly until he called the sheriff about 45 minutes later.)

After about four days of testimony—broken up by a holiday, unavailable witnesses and other court matters—almost three weeks after I’d first reported, we were given the case and began deliberations. I was chosen the foreperson and watched each person wrestle with the evidence and their own conscience and understanding. The choice we had ultimately was between first and second degree murder, with the only factor separating those two decisions being premeditation.

In California, the jury instructions and definitions of the varying degrees of murder and manslaughter are very clear and the definition of “premeditated” doesn’t have any time constraints. Premeditated can be as little as a few seconds and hinges on testimony and evidence as to the defendant’s state of mind and preparations before pulling the trigger.

Twelve people, six men and six women, strangers to one another, were locked in a room, handed all the evidence and told to come up with a verdict. At the end of the penultimate day, ten people voted for first degree and two for second degree. When we came back the next morning, it was eleven to one. I asked each of us to give the one piece of evidence or testimony that made them believe it was premeditated and finally, we were unanimous on first degree. My piece was that there was only one shot, a kill-shot to her face, that entered next to her left nostril and exited through her brainstem, killing her instantly. He testified he never shot the gun before.

During this process, I was reminded, and reminded my fellow jurors, we could only use the evidence and testimony we heard and saw. Several people were concerned about the child, but that was beyond our purview. Some people wanted to understand the relationship that led to the murder, but that was also beyond our purview.

As mystery writers, we’re free to explore the other motivations, points of view, secondary characters surrounding the actual event, but it was a good lesson to hear again—rely on the evidence.

Edited for Death
Amy Hobbes never expected to solve anything tougher than a crossword puzzle. When she left her job as a journalist in Southern California, she planned to give the adrenaline a rest, but her next job, managing editor of a local newspaper, delivers some surprises. After a respected Senator and World War II hero dies and two more people turn up dead, the news heats up. Both victims had ties to a hotel owned by the Senator's family. With the help of reporter pal Clarice and the new man in her life, Phil, Amy uncovers a number of shadowy figures, including a Holocaust survivor who's spent sixty years tracking down Nazi loot. It's a complex and dangerous puzzle, but Amy can't walk away until she solves it.

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Monday, March 18, 2019


Award-winning author Judythe Morgan has seen a lot of the world as first an Air Force daughter, then an Army wife and a one time-Department of Army Civilian employee.
She’s been an antiques dealer, teacher, former mayor's wife, and sometimes-church pianist, who recently added Sacred Harp singing to her resume. Learn more about Judythe and her books at her website and the weekly blog she writes with her urban farmer daughter. 

 Tea and Scones
Annie Foster frequently enjoys a cup of Irish afternoon tea and one of her soon-to-be mother-in-law’s blueberry scones in my Irish love story, Claiming Annie’s Heart. She is in Ireland, so it’s not surprising.

Plus, scones are one of my favorite treats. Whether with breakfast on Lake Louise, the Europa breakfast buffet in Belfast, Northern Ireland, or sitting at my kitchen table in Texas with my cup of Irish breakfast tea (or afternoon tea, depending on the time of day), I savor a not-too-sweet, not-too-dry scone.

Researching Claiming Annie’s Heart in Ireland, I sampled many a scone. Some I had to load with clotted cream because they stuck like peanut butter to the roof of mouth. Others were so perfect they melted in my mouth.

Once back home, I began a quest to find a good scone recipe. I tried dozens searching for the perfect blend of sweet and moist and biscuit consistency before I came up with the recipe below. It started with a recipe on the Bisquik baking mix box.

You’ll notice many options on the ingredients. That’s because, when I make the scones, I use whatever I have on hand. I also discovered if you grate the cold butter, it blends easier, a tip I now apply anytime a recipe calls for cutting in butter.

Another option I like is to use a biscuit cutter instead of shaping into traditional scone triangles. Most Irish serve theirs as biscuits.

Don’t think the recipe is too complicated to try. It’s not.

If you’ve ever made biscuits with Bisquik or from scratch, these scones will be easy-peasy. I promise it goes together quickly, freezes well, and the scones are delicious.

Once you’ve tasted one, you’ll understand why Annie grabs the pastry whenever she can. I know whenever I take a batch some place, they disappear fast.

2 cups Bisquik or other brand of baking mix
10 teaspoons sugar, divided 7 – 3
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/3 cup cold butter
1 cup dried fruit (cranberries, blueberries, cherries, raisins, dates, figs, or currants)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup half-and-half, buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon whole milk, almond milk, or soy milk

Glaze (optional):
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice

Orange Butter:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 to 3 tablespoons orange marmalade

Preheat the oven to 400°

In a large bowl, combine the biscuit mix, 7 teaspoons sugar, and orange zest. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the dried fruit, orange juice, cream/buttermilk, and egg. Add to flour mixture and stir until soft dough forms.

On a floured surface, gently knead 6-8 times, then pat into a 3/4-inch thick 8-inch square. Cut into 4 squares, then cut each square into 2 triangles. If you prefer, form a circle and use a biscuit cutter.

Separate triangles or rounds and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with milk; sprinkle with remaining sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees F until lightly browned, 12-15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool a bit before glazing.

Combine glaze ingredients, if desired; drizzle over scones. Combine orange butter ingredients; serve with warm scones.

Claiming Annie’s Heart
Annie Foster stays in Ireland after boarding school to nanny a widower’s infant daughter. Five years later, the widower proposes.

Her first love Chad Jones, whom she believes abandoned her, arrives weeks before the wedding on an undercover assignment probing her fiancé’s connection with IRA terrorists. Chad’s determined to change Annie’s mind and her heart because he’s never stopped loving her.

Which man will win Annie’s heart?

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