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

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Thursday, May 30, 2019


Dale T. Phillips has published novels, story collections, nonfiction, and over 70 short stories. Stephen King was Dale's college writing teacher, and since then, Dale has found time to appear on stage, television, radio, in an independent feature film, and compete on Jeopardy (losing in a spectacular fashion). Learn more about him and his books at his website and blog.

Authors get asked all the time about where we get our ideas. How do we create something so memorable from all the flotsam and jetsam of random brain neuron firings?

My Zack Taylor Mystery Series is now five books strong, with #6 on the way later this summer. Many readers enjoy the setting of Portland Maine, and the protagonist, a troubled ex-con who lives a life of violence, anger, and regret, but who tries to be a better person by helping others.

When writing the first one, I heeded the saying, “The average book doesn’t get read, but the average mystery does”. Also: you should write the kind of book you like to read. My favorite series is John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGe, so I wanted that flavor. A thinking person’s action series.

Having spent a lot of time in the wonderful city of Portland, the setting was so different from the mysteries set in NY, LA, or Chicago. It would be a fish-out-of-water story: how would a person from away fare in a place where everything is changed, but familiar enough to get by?

The protagonist would be a man with a dark past who looks into the death of a close friend. He would encounter danger, talk to people and investigate, and deal with the law. He’d be an amateur, a non-professional civilian just doing what he can.

In much of mystery fiction, unlike real life, guns solve most everything dangerous. When the protagonist whips out a gun, the threat magically diminishes or goes away completely. I’ve never been in a situation where a gun solved a problem, so what if the protagonist didn’t use a gun? That would make the story more interesting by upping the threat level to the max. And more believable as well.

But what kind of person would put himself in so much danger? How about a man who had a past gunshot tragedy, who blamed himself, felt rage and grief, and hated the effect of guns? He tried to drink himself to death, but was saved by a friend. He’d need something, though, so I turned to the martial arts. It’s a perfect way to show Zack’s character, and how he tries to channel all his destructive tendencies into a better way. It also helps when he goes up against the bad guys.

So we had a badly flawed, struggling character with darkness surrounding him and barely in control. Nice. To add to his problems, he had a criminal record, from a long time before when he lost control and paid the price. So he and law enforcement are always at odds. Zack’s past would cut him off from most people, make him shun the nine-to-five life of family and regular job. He became a bodyguard/bouncer, a man who lived in the night, who could work out his control issues and read people before violence erupted. As a wanderer, with few social ties and no involvement in his locale, he could pack up and move elsewhere for a mission, a thing that would finally give his life purpose, even if it killed him.

I like names that have echoes of other things, so we have Zack Taylor, named for the past President. He’s a smartass who does not suffer fools, pomposity, or pretension, and has no fear of social standing or speaking truth to power. He’s also a bit of a pirate, and loves finding (and keeping) stashes of cash, which often accompany the illicit dealings he’s looking into.

Zack finds that discovering the truth is difficult, but the search for it helps him deal with his self-destructive tendencies. So he learns to help others, and continue finding new adventures.

Travis had a friend, Meyer, who added much to the character of Travis himself. So Zack would befriend J.C. Reed, an older journalist and somewhat mentor. Maybe Zack would find love, and some friends. And enemies. Lots of enemies. Boy, are they fun to write!

Lastly, a title was needed. I chose a relevant quote about grief from a translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest recorded story we know. It fit the theme of the book perfectly, so I used similar items in subsequent titles, which represent the theme of each book. Titles now cover The Bible, the work of Plato and Carl Jung, Emily Dickinson, and the final words of Sir Walter Raleigh, with Nathaniel Hawthorne coming up next.

A Sharp Medicine
A Zack Taylor Mystery, Book 5

Zack Taylor's life is once again in shambles. Having narrowly escaped death, guilty over the pain he's caused a loved one, he's hurting and angry. When looking into the disappearance of a reporter, Zack's death wish may be his cure for his troubles as he uncovers corruption and evil in a world of politics, passion, and power.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019


Ten Commandments, Iowa, where nothing is as it first seems
Today we’re continuing with our series on where authors get their inspiration with our very own Lois Winston (she who writes about me) discussing the origins of a sequel she wrote to her first published novel.

The Inspiration Behind Elementary, My Dear Gertie

Years ago, back when chick lit hadn’t yet become the kiss of death in the publishing world, I was invited to take part in an anthology of chick lit novellas. By then I had already segued from writing romance and chick lit to spending my time wreaking havoc in Anastasia’s life, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take part in this project.

The one thing my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series has in common with my previously published chick lit (now known as humorous women’s fiction) is voice. I had started out writing dark romantic suspense, but when I switched to writing chick lit, I developed a humorous and sometimes snarky voice, especially for Gertie. Anastasia owes quite a bit of her existence to the characters I created in Talk Gertie To Me.

From the time Talk Gertie To Me was published, readers had been asking for a sequel to the novel, wanting to know whether Nori and Mac eventually married. It occurred to me that the anthology project was ideal for this purpose. Sort of. Given the characters I had created, I couldn’t simply write them a traditional happily-ever-after romance ending to their story. That just wouldn’t have been in keeping with who they were and would seem at odds with the story I had created in Talk Gertie To Me.

So I decided the novella would be the perfect vehicle for bridging the genre I had written in the past with the one I was writing in the present. How to do this, though? Inspiration struck! I got them involved in murder in Ten Commandments, Iowa, the town where nothing is like what its name implies. Hence the title of the novella: Elementary, My Dear Gertie.

Unfortunately, the anthology never materialized due to contract negotiations that fell apart. However, by this point I had finished Elementary, My Dear Gertie. So it was published as a stand-alone novella, rather than as part of an anthology.

Elementary, My Dear Gertie
In this novella sequel to the award-winning Talk Gertie To Me, two years have passed since the happily-ever-after that isn’t doing so well. Nori Stedworth has moved in with the love of her life, Mackenzie Randolph, much to her parents’ displeasure. They’re coping as best as parents from Ten Commandments, Iowa can. They want Mac to make an honest woman of their daughter, and that means nothing short of marriage. Mac is all for exchanging I do’s. He’s even bought the ring, but before he can pop the question, an explosion hurls him and Nori right into the middle of a murder investigation. Gertie, Nori's alter-ego, can't help but lend her acerbic wit to the twists and turns as the town is turned upside down in the search for a murderer and arsonist, and yet another scandal envelopes the not-so-pious residents of Ten Commandments.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Anne Louise Bannon is a journalist and former TV critic who has written several novels, including the Operation Quickline series; the Freddie and Kathy series, set in the 1920s; and the Old Los Angeles series, set in 1870. Learn more about her and her books at her website. Today she’s joins us to discuss how she gets the ideas for her books. 

How I Get My Ideas
I’m sitting at my desk. Behind me, from outside, comes the persistent whine and occasional wail of TobyWan, my basset hound/beagle mix. I’m waiting, in spite of his plaintive cries because I know darned well that if I get up right away, the dope will amble inside as if I have all the time in the world to serve his needs. If I make him suffer endlessly, like a whole five minutes, he’ll hurry right in.

I suspect that a moment like this will end up in one of my stories at some point – which is a long way of saying that ideas are everywhere. You never know when one will hit. You can use anything.

This is going to sound horrible, but when our last dog before TobyWan passed away, it was a long night of waiting for it to happen. Sometime after, I was writing a scene in which a young boy died slowly. It was a scene that needed a lot of pathos. In addition, I really needed you to feel for the kid and his family so that when the villain was finally revealed, there was an added punch to the emotional breadbasket. And using old Clyde’s last night on the planet as the basis for this scene really wasn’t as callous as it might sound. It helped me work through my grief over losing our sweet dog.

A weird dream jumpstarted the Operation Quickline series, a romance with espionage intrusions. I dreamt that an old man wanted to move into my house. He brought his suitcase inside, and I took it right out onto the porch. I’m still not sure how that got everything else started, but the next thing I knew, I had written several short novels.

A dream about a tiger was the genesis of Tyger, Tyger.

I don’t remember if I had the dream first or if the cheesecake spilled first, but both were involved in the launching of Fascinating Rhythm, my 1920s series. I was making a cheesecake while listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing the George and Ira Gershwin songbook, and as I was getting ready to put the cake in the oven, I started dancing to Fascinatin’ Rhythm. Not a good move, but as I cleaned up the mess, I realized that it’s a song about obsession. And there was that dream about a Model T underneath a theater marquee. First Kathy, then Freddie started talking to me, and the novel happened.

That last bit is pretty key. I get tons of ideas. I’ve got an obnoxious neighbor across the street who should be inspiring any number of plots. Somebody shows up late, and I can come up with a bunch of different scenarios. But which are the good ideas, the ones that will flower into full-fledged stories?

For me, at any rate, if it’s a good idea, it will stick around. It may even keep bugging me. That’s why I don’t write down ideas or keep much of an idea file. If it’s going to go somewhere, I’ll probably remember it. Now some specific details I may write down because those I will forget sometimes.

The second thing that happens is that the characters start talking to me. That’s what happened with Death of the Zanjero. My husband was doing a lecture on the zanja system in Old Los Angeles, which is how they irrigated farms in the days before Mr. Mullholland raped the Owens Valley, and inadvertently gave me the best set-up for finding a body I’d heard in a long time. But it didn’t really turn into a story until Maddie Wilcox started talking to me and would not shut up.

In fact, she kept talking and when my research turned up that L.A.’s first police chief was killed by his own deputy in a dispute over a prostitute (I kid you not), Maddie quite politely informed me that was her next adventure. So now I have recently released Death of the City Marshal, which is based on that incident.
Now, if you will excuse me, TobyWan has suffered enough. I should probably get the cats in, too, and with luck they won’t be dragging in anything disgusting. Such as… Hmmmm….

Death of the City Marshal
Old Los Angeles series, Book 2

It's October, 1870, and once again, violence has errupted on the streets of Los Angeles. This time, City Marshal gets into a gunfight with his deputy Joseph Dye, and is severely wounded. Fortunately, winemaker and physician Maddie Wilcox is on the scene to take care of the marshal. But the next day, she finds that the marshal has been smothered in his bed.

The morning after the marshal's death, red paint is splashed all over the front porch of his home, and a list of his sins posted on the front.

The list of people with grievances against the fiery-tempered marshal is long. But then another prominent citizen has his sins posted and house front splattered. 

Maddie takes an interest in the vandalism in the hopes of finding Marshal Warren's killer. But she soon finds out that she is up against a killer driven by a profound longing, and who is prepared to do the worst to keep that most basic of human desires: a home.

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Monday, May 27, 2019


Semi-Guilt Free Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
The other day I had a fresh pineapple nearly past its prime and needed to do something with it. Pineapple upside-down cake seemed the perfect solution. Using fresh pineapple instead of canned won’t give you a guilt-free dessert (especially if you add the suggested scoop of ice cream), but it will give you less calories per serving than using canned pineapple. So I’m calling it semi-guilt-free. Nothing like rationalization when it comes to sweets, right?

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 fresh pineapple
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt 1/3 cup butter in 9”x13” Pyrex baking pan in microwave. Stir in 3/4 cup brown sugar. Spread mixture evenly in pan.

Cut pineapple into 2” chunks. Arrange pineapple over butter and sugar mixture.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In mixer on medium speed, cream remaining butter with remaining brown sugar, scraping sides often. While continuing to beat, add eggs one at a time, then vanilla.

On low speed, gradually add flour, alternating with milk and scraping sides after each addition.

Pour batter over pineapple. Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Loosen sides of cake from pan by running a knife around inside of pan. Invert cake on cookie sheet or large platter. Let stand five minutes. Remove pan. Cool completely before serving.

Add a scoop of salted caramel ice cream for an extra treat.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Anastasia and the gang are taking the day off to honor all the brave men and women who have answered our country's call and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms.

Thursday, May 23, 2019


Award-winning mystery author Eileen Watkins writes the Cat Groomer Mysteries. Today she joins us to discuss the inspiration behind for the third book in the series, Feral Attraction. Learn more about Eileen and her books at her website. 

I write the Cat Groomer Mystery series, so I’m always alert for unusual situations involving felines. My idea for the third book, Feral Attraction, grew out of a friend’s experience. She lives in a modest condo development that backs onto woods, and a few feral cats stroll among the homes. She began feeding a particularly sad-looking gray one that at first was too wild to approach her, but eventually got brave enough to come up onto her small porch and then into her garage. Even if the cat had been willing to come into my friend’s house, she already had two living indoors and didn’t want to stress them out or possibly expose them to disease, so she just fed the feral when it visited.

One of her neighbors started haranguing her about this, claiming it was against the community rules. (Technically, it wasn’t.) My friend eventually found out that a group of nearby residents were feeding other ferals and had even tried a trap-neuter-return program to control the colony. But there remained several people who loudly insisted the cats were “wildlife” and should be removed by animal control.

Murder mysteries grow out of nasty conflicts, and I saw a perfect opportunity here. For my purposes, I made the condo community newer and more upscale, and the residents more affluent and fastidious, to raise the stakes. I also introduced an elderly activist—based on someone else I knew—who lived there and championed the cats’ cause. Because she stands out as an eccentric, and has been a gadfly all her life, she draws even more scorn from some of her neighbors.

I needed to involve my 27-year-old heroine Cassie in this battle, so I had her best friend Dawn beg her to attend a condo board meeting and speak up for the cats. This storyline takes Cassie out of her usual comfort zone—her grooming and boarding shop—and gets her working with a local animal shelter to try to manage the colony and calm down the residents. Meanwhile, the elderly activist is found dead in the woods, and soon afterward another resident also dies under suspicious circumstances. Both deaths that appear accidental, but Cassie and Dawn suspect otherwise. Because they can’t quite convince the police, they risk their necks to do their own investigating.

The real-life situation at my friend’s community ended more peacefully, thank goodness. Because the residents feeding the wild cats were found to be complying with the rules, their critics vented a little more steam but finally settled down. The angriest one actually moved away, but that only helped to restore my friend’s peace of mind.

Feral Attraction
Professional cat groomer Cassie McGlone agrees to help her friend Dawn protect a colony of feral cats on the property of an upscale condo community. Though many residents have their backs up over the situation, elderly eccentric Sabrina Ward has created a feeding station and even makeshift shelters for the ferals in the nearby woods. After a heated community meeting on the subject, at which Cassie proposes a humane solution, Sabrina is found dead in the woods of an apparent heart attack. The police call her death natural, but Dawn and Cassie suspect murder. Sabrina championed many underdog causes in her life, though; narrowing down suspects who might have wanted to kill her could prove even tougher than herding cats!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Merrilee Robson is the author of Murder is Uncooperative, a traditional mystery set it a housing co-op, as well as numerous short stories. Today she joins us to discuss where she gets her ideas. Learn more about Merrilee and her writing at her website

Where I get my ideas and what if….

It was the picture that first struck me.  I’d heard some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d always thought her life, coming from England to teach in a one-room school in Canada and meeting the local Mountie, was very romantic. I smiled when she described how dashing my grandfather looked as he rode up in his red coat.

I was familiar enough with the pictures in the family photo album and the stories behind them. But it wasn’t until I really looked at the photograph of the school – standing alone the middle of nowhere – that I finally understood what my grandmother had done.

That young woman had left the village where she had lived all her life to travel thousands of miles by steamship and rail to reach that very unprepossessing building in the middle of the Canadian prairies. What must she have thought when she first saw it?

That led to the opening chapter of the historical novel I’ve just finished writing, set in Saskatchewan in the month before the start of the first World War.

And then, because I write mysteries, she finds a body.

For me, as for many writers, I think ideas come from finding an interesting situation and then trying to picture what it would be like for the people in that situation.

Writing fiction involves answering the same questions journalism students are taught – who, what, why, when, where and how – although we might describe them differently, talking about characters, setting, plot etc.

But we also address another question - What if…?

That question can come from anywhere – a newspaper article about a brass clock that turned out to be gold, a conversation about a relative with dementia who was convinced people were stealing from her. Caregivers soon learn that dementia can also involve paranoia. But I tried to imagine what if the thefts were real and no one believed you? That idea turned into a short story that will be published soon.

My first mystery, Murder is Uncooperative, is set in a non-profit housing co-op. The protagonist, Rebecca, is a single mom desperate to find an affordable home for her family. It’s a situation I was quite familiar with, having lived in a co-op when I was younger, and working for a national housing organization for over a decade.

But the question that started me off on that book was, “What if her new home isn’t as perfect as she thought it would be?”

I’m at work on a sequel to that book. Vancouver’s insanely expensive housing market has settled a little, but recent reports have revealed that organized crime members are using real estate to launder money. And I’m off, wondering what if….

Murder is Uncooperative
All Rebecca Butler wants is a good home for her young son and disabled father. At first, Waterview Housing Co-op seems perfect. But then she finds the body of the building’s manager.

When Rebecca learns that another murder took place in the building 20 years earlier, she suspects that the two deaths might be related. And that one of her new neighbors is hiding a secret that will put Rebecca and her family in danger.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Today we sit down for a chat with JadeAnne Stone from author Ana Manwaring’s JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I remember well that evening as the fog poured over the shoulder of Mt. Tam blotting out the setting sun, and my office took on the damp chill of summer in the San Francisco Bay Area. I shivered as I closed the windows and turned on the lights. It was almost eight and I still had reports to transcribe, bills to pay and the week’s payroll to compute—that is, if we had enough money to pay anyone. My job as managing partner of Waterstreet Investigations and Marine Salvage (WIMS) had become tedious, boring actually, especially since my boyfriend and business partner, Dex, was again diving a shipwreck off the coast of the Sea of Cortez, and I was stuck in the office. Maybe my folks were right—I was wasting “that expensive Stanford education” on a dead-end job and a slacker to go with it. Then someone started pounding on the [locked] entry door.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I don’t think about it much. I’m generally a quick thinker—intuitive, and I often recognize connections between seemingly random facts. Also, I never forget a face. I guess in the world of investigations, these are good traits to have. But secretly, I love my hair.

What do you like least about yourself?
I sometimes fall into the pits of insecurity. It’s a holdover from my upbringing. I was born during the fall of Saigon in 1974. My mother, a university student, was killed in an air strike on her village. My father was an American serviceman in jail at the time of my birth. His best friend, my adoptive father, got me out through Operation Babylift in 1975. Mom and Dad had always wanted a baby and as soon as I arrived, Mom got pregnant with my sister. It’s an old story. I was pretty well forgotten once the little princess came along. I grew up with every advantage, and the knowledge I was not wanted. It was like standing outside a picture window watching a family be happy. Wah wah wah. Falling into the “past pit” and what it does to me is what I hate about myself. If I were truthful, no one in my family was happy. I didn’t miss anything!

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
And you don’t think driving alone four days and 2,232 miles to the resorts of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo in a tricked out VW pop-top camper with my dog and a gun, which, by the way, is totally illegal to carry into Mexico, straight through the heart of drug cartel country was pretty strange? To find a missing wife? I was so naïve, I thought I’d have a lovely holiday with my best friend, Sally, in Zihua. Anyway, the VW is easily repaired in Mexico—they’re a million of them there, and Pepper is a trained bodyguard. What could happen to me?

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Do Ana and I argue? Not since the shark head incident. She thought she knew how the story went until I pulled that stunt. Yeah, a bloody shark head was pretty gross, and I had to burn half my clothes (wardrobe wasn’t happy about that!) but Ana recognized it was the right plot point in the right place. She backs off if I have another idea now. But at first? I hated what she was doing. Can you believe she changed my name three quarters through the first draft? Looking back, it made sense. When I stepped onto the page, I was the sidekick from her boyfriend’s thriller. Change is hard, and I liked the name Laura. I whined and refused to cooperate until we compromised with a first person point of view. Anyway, The JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures are hardly Tomb Raider. FYI, I look just as hot as Angelina in a swimsuit.

What is your greatest fear?
This is a serious question. I fear many things. It’s one of my problems. I used to be afraid I’d never belong anywhere, that I’d never fit in and remain an outsider watching everyone else surrounded by family and friends, successful occupations and, well, having a life. Sometimes I fall into this sad way of thinking, but mostly I fear the vast quantities of tacos I consume are going to make me fat. That and retribution from Los Zetas. Senator Aguirre, Quint and I really messed up their plans to take control of trafficking in Mexico City, but  you can’t shut those cartels down. It’s like the mythical Hydra—you know the one: a nine-headed monster in the form of a long, writhing water snake that attacked, killed and ate anyone who ventured near its swampy abode. When Hercules succeeded in cutting off one of its heads, two grew in its place. To triumph, each neck stump had to be immediately cauterized to prevent regrowth. In the case of the swamp of Mexico’s organized crime, I sure hope we burned that stump, because I’m praying nothing comes after Z—or me. 

What makes you happy?
I was pretty happy that day Anibal took me to the Miguel Caballo store and bought me that hip suede jacket. It was rated to withstand an Uzi shot at close range, like in a restaurant or something. I didn’t exactly believe Ani at first, I mean, who shoots an Uzi in a restaurant? But when he had Pepper outfitted with a matching bulletproof vest, I was all in. I do love stylish clothes! But what really makes me happy? Sitting on the deck of my houseboat, the Sarasvati, with Dad and dear friends, amid my orchid collection on a balmy day watching the sailboats glide by on Richardson Bay. Add Pepper at my feet and Cumbias playing on iTunes, oh! and a pitcher of my own Meyer lemon and rum margaritas to go with a steaming plate of quesadillas (or tacos al pastor) and guacamole—I’m in heaven.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
Well, without any spoilers—you’ll read all about it in my “memoir” The Hydra Effect—I’d have not let myself be lured in by Anibal Aguirre. Like brother, like brother—isn’t that what they say? Anibal’s brother (yeah, yeah, half-brother) Senator Polo Aguirre was the one that hijacked me off the highway in Michoacán to his marijuana plantation. And there was Aguirre’s cousin—the lovely missing wife of the banker—and her charming and muy guapo younger cousin, Anibal, lounging by the pool. Anibal was ready to comfort me when Dex broke my heart. I’m such a sucker for a cute guy with a tan and a six-pack. But I digress, what happened a couple of weeks later in Mexico City changed me. I don’t care that Ani was in mourning; he acted like the devil’s hand. But that aside, I might have married Dex when he asked that time in Venice. I miss him; he was like a second skin. We were together for almost ten years and built WIMS together. We’re still partners in the business—he made it possible for me to discover my superpowers! I’ll always be grateful for that.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
I don’t even have to think. Señora Perez, hands down—thumbs down! She bugged me from the moment I met her. Always sneaking around listening at keyholes, or where ever. I feel kind of sorry for her. She lost her entire family in the big earthquake in Mexico City in 1985. 10,000 people were killed, including Sra. Perez’s children and sister. That’s when she got mixed up in all of this. But really, it’s been almost 20 years. Why does she stick to Senator Aguirre’s mother like a burr? She snitched to “Aunt Lidia” on everything that happened at Anibal’s house and now she’s at the new house creeping around. I can’t get rid of her. I’m certain Lidia is at the heart of the trafficking ring. I’m shivering just thinking about it.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
That’s easy! I’d trade places with Pepper. Dogs are the best. I plan to reincarnate as a dog with a loving human (like me) to shower me with love and groceries in my next life. Dogs have figured life out: look hungry and wag, and humans will obey their every command, fulfill their every desire. Pepper is a super dog: smart, loyal, highly trained and fun loving. I can count on him. He either knows exactly what to do, or he’s willing to accept my command without quibble. He has saved my life. I’d like to be like that—strong, sure and ego free. Just wag and be waited on.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Ana Manwaring is her name, and she lives next door to two goats and a Barbados sheep with her husband and a cat who looks like a feline Holstein Friesian cow. Beyond ghostwriting my adventures battling organized crime in Mexico in Set Up and The Hydra Effect? She teaches creative writing and autobiographical writing through Napa Valley College and she founded JAM Manuscript Consulting, where she wears several hats. She reviews books on her blog, Building a Better Story. Ana particularly loves to review debut novels and is always happy to hear from new authors in time to review before publication date. She’s the Treasurer for Sisters in Crime Norcal, a member of SINC Guppies and Capitol Crimes, and is stepping down from the board of the California Writers Club Napa Valley Branch to finish the third installment of my Mexico adventures. It’s about time. She says to tell you to checkout her website to learn more about us, to read Building a Better Story and to keep up with my latest adventure.

What's next for you?
I’m so excited! Book 2, The Hydra Effect has just published on Amazon and will be available on Nook and Kobo soon. Both Set Up and The Hydra Effect will launch on iTunes this summer to great fanfare, I’m sure. And we’re talking about audiobooks—I’m dying to be the reader! After all, who knows my story better than me? But I doubt we’ll get to the audio edition before Ana finishes ghostwriting book three, Nothing Comes After Z, which I have to deliver to our editor in August. Right now, I’m madly boning up on digital marketing. It’s a beast! Shouldn’t marketing be the writer’s job? Shouldn’t I be in Mexico on my next adventure?

The Hydra Effect
A JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventure, Book 2

Reeling from her break up and dreading the emptiness at home, JadeAnne Stone and her dog, Pepper, head to Mexico City at Anibal’s aluring invitation. Anibal reveals he is undercover with the DEA, and enlists JadeAnne in his alleged investigation—a terrifying maze of human trafficking, double dealing and violence. Help comes from Senator Aguirre's associate, Jackman Quint, but at the cost of everything JadeAnne believes about her own life. Can she trust Quint? She uncovers the truth, but not before facing the ultimate betrayal. 

Monday, May 20, 2019


I love my bananas nice and firm, just as they turn from unripe to ripe. The trouble is, I usually wind up with a few that are too ripe for my palate if the bunch isn't consumed quickly enough--no matter how small a bunch I purchase. So I'm constantly peeling and freezing bananas to use in baking. And that's why I'm constantly coming up with new recipes for banana baked goods!

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 12

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 lg. ripe bananas (over-ripe is fine!)
1 lg. egg
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with baking spray.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter in microwave.

Mash bananas in a medium bowl. Blend in butter, milk, and egg.

Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients, mixing by hand until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly in muffin tins.

Bake 30-32 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of muffins comes out with melted chocolate but no crumbs or batter attached. Allow to cool on rack before removing muffins from tin.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Patchwork American Star

Memorial Day is next week. Why not go patriotic with this quick-to-stitch flag star? Worked on 14-ct. perforated paper, it measures 2-5/8” x 2-5/8”, a perfect size for a broach.

Following the Color Key, cross stitch with two strands floss. Backstitch with one strand DMC 311 Navy Blue-MD (Anchor 148).

When stitching is complete, trim the paper to one hole all around the finished stitching. Using jewelry glue, attach a pin backing to the back.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Carola Dunn is the author of twenty-three Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, set in 1920s England; four Cornish mysteries, set in Cornwall around 1970; and more than thirty Regencies. Born in England, she set off around the world after university and made it halfway before returning to the US, where she has lived ever since. Today she joins us to talk about the inspiration for her plots. Learn more about Carola and her books at her website.

Whence plot ideas?
Many of my plot ideas spring from nowhere, or at least, I was too busy writing to bother to trace them back to their origins. But quite a few I still remember years, even decades, later exactly what sparked them. More than once it was a place.

Having picked the setting of The Corpse at the Crystal Palace (US paperback August 27th 2019), because it sounded intriguing, I started to research. One surprising fact struck me: the original Palace, erected in 1851 in Hyde Park, had the first ever public ladies' loo in London. No lady, it was thought, would want to be seen entering such a convenience where anyone who saw her knew on what embarrassing errand she was bound. I instantly decided to murder someone in the ladies room, and to make it more intriguing, the victim was to be a man dressed as a woman. The plot revolved around not only who killed him, but what on earth he was doing there in a Nanny's uniform.

The Tower of London (The Bloody Tower, 2007), with its sinister history, is another place capable of inspiring any number of plots. Its semi-isolated population, including the Lieutenant Governor and his family, the Keeper of the Jewels, the Yeomen of the Guard, and the garrison of Guardsmen with their colonel must be a breeding-ground for all sorts of disagreements, quite apart from the greed engendered by the presence of the Crown Jewels. On a visit to refresh childhood memories, a steep stone outdoor stairway enclosed by high walls struck me as an invitation to shove someone down it. I just had to choose the shover and the shovee and add fog rising from the river...

A very different place, Rocky Valley, a narrow inlet on the coast of northern Cornwall, was the inspiration for Valley of the Shadow (my third Cornish mystery). The steep cliffs on either side offer no way for a swimmer to climb out, but what if Eleanor and co. found a half-drowned man floating there...The cliffs thereabouts are riddled with caves, the haunts of smugglers for centuries, so what would they have been smuggling in the 1970s--not silk stockings, for sure. People? It took a lot of research to find out who and from where were the most likely group of refugees to be desperate to enter Britain.

Research for one book often leads to a plot for another. I came across a mention of the so-called "superfluous women," the over a million British women who were unlikely ever to find a husband because so many young men were slaughtered in WWI. An irresistible subject that formed the background of Superfluous Women (2015), the twenty-first Daisy mystery, in which three young women decide to form a household and find a nasty surprise in the house they acquire.

A great idea for a title can be a starting point. For instance, Styx and Stones (1999) obviously has to be a poison-pen story.  Sometimes leisure reading is the spur: Reading three Regencies each entitled The Fortune Hunter suggested to me to write one about two covert fortune-hunters falling in love with each other (The Fortune Hunters, 1991). And Murder on the Orient Express is entirely responsible for my Murder on the Flying Scotsman (1997), which I made as different as possible from Christie's famous book!

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace
A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery, Book 23

A casual outing to the Crystal Palace in London takes a mysterious and murderous turn in The Corpse at the Crystal Palace, the latest mystery in Carola Dunn’s beloved Daisy Dalrymple series.

April 1928: Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is visited in London by her young cousins. On the list of must-see sites is the Crystal Palace. Discovering that her children's nanny, Nanny Gilpin, has never seen the Palace, Daisy decides to make a day of it—bringing her cousins, her 3-year-old twins, her step-daughter Belinda, the nurserymaid, and Nanny Gilpin. Yet this ordinary outing goes wrong when Mrs. Gilpin goes off to the ladies’ room and fails to return. When Daisy goes to look for her, she doesn't find her nanny but instead the body of another woman dressed in a nanny's uniform.

Meanwhile, Belinda and the cousins spot Mrs. Gilpin chasing after yet another nanny. Intrigued, they trail the two through the vast Crystal Palace and into the park. After briefly losing sight of their quarry, they stumble across Mrs. Gilpin lying unconscious in a small lake inhabited by huge concrete dinosaurs.

When she comes to, Mrs. Gilpin can't remember what happened after leaving the twins in the nurserymaid's care. Daisy's husband, Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the murdered nanny. Worried about her children's own injured nanny, Daisy is determined to help. First she has to discover the identity of the third nanny, the presumed murderer, and to do so, Daisy must uncover why the amnesic Mrs. Gilpin deserted her charges to follow the missing third nanny.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Janice Seagraves grew up with a deep love of science fiction and adventure stories. Always the consummate artist, she traded in her paintbrush for a laptop to write breathless romance novels that takes you out of this world. Today she stops by to tell us the inspiration behind her latest novel. Learn more about Janice and her books at her website.

The Dream That Inspired Alien Heart

Hi, I’m romance author Janice Seagraves, and today is my birthday. So happy birthday to me!

How did I get the idea for Alien Heart? It all started with a dream.

I dreamed of a redheaded woman. Let’s call her Audrey. In my dream, someone knocked on Audrey’s door. She opened her door to a white-haired handsome man. An alien. Does anyone remember the 1982 TV series, The Phoenix? The alien looked like the star of that show, Judson Scott. Let’s call him Keefe.

Keefe told Audrey he liked her show. (What show? I had no clue.)

The next morning, Audrey woke up in a cabin in the woods, and heard the noise of someone in the shower. When that person walked out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his hips, it was the same person who had knocked on her door. Keefe, the white-haired alien. And he explained to her that they were mated, and she was pregnant with his child. She, of course, was not happy. He made her breakfast, which she could barely eat. Later that same morning, Keefe had a visitor. Another alien who looked like him.

While they were visiting, Audrey sneaked out and climbed down to the creek that ran behind the cabin. She ran splashing through the water, but the alien and his friend called to her to stop and ran after her. The aliens leap from boulder to boulder like grasshoppers. Audrey looked back, then fell and hurt her knee. Keefe took her to the clinic, where she was treated by the aliens’ doctor. She was told she’s locked in, there were no phones, and no escaping the Compound.

That one dream launched the story of the Arcons coming to Earth and gaining mates.

Except I changed a few things.

Audrey became the host of The Ms Fixit Show. Teaching people how to make or fix things. I was called Miss Fixit because I made things out of wood or fixed things. I figured if it was good enough for me, than it was good enough for my female character.

Keefe got his name because it was close to Kiefer Sutherland’s name, and he played a vampire with light blond hair in Lost Boys. And because of Kiefer, the Arcons gained vampire fangs.

The Arcons remained tall and thin. Over six-foot tall. Some of the Arcons were more muscular than others. Those males are in the military class. But all are male.

I like to turn my stories on their head, so instead of a male dominated society like ours, the Arcons came from a female oriented society, and their females had all tragically perished on the trip from their planet to ours.

And because their females had all died, they needed human women for mates.

And to stay with my theme of turning things on its head: since our society holds the armed forces in high regard, their society does not. The military in their society is a place to send overly aggressive males to teach them discipline.

I decided Keefe needed a brother who was military, but he was ashamed of him. Enter Blade, who has a dark sense of humor. The two can barely tolerate each other. So, what was the glue I used to keep the brothers Keefe and Blade together? I gave them a little brother named Paz, who isn’t grown yet. Because the brothers were the last of their family, they had to raise Paz together.

And just for fun, I made the Arcons smell great and their kisses taste like candy!

Click here to watch the video. 

Alien Heart
Divorcee and single mom, hardworking Audrey Westberry is the host of a cable TV show called Miz Fixit.

Romance was the last thing on Audrey’s mind when two handsome extraterrestrials join the audience of her show.

Soon Audrey finds out a single word “mated” has different meaning when you are born a galaxy away. After a wonderful night of passion, Audrey finds herself far from home, impregnated and her life turned upside down. Will she ever be able to leave the alien compound, see her son again, or get home in time to film the fall season of her Miz Fixit show?

But what's a girl to do with two aliens that smell like candy, and their kisses taste like it, too?