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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

MYSTERY AUTHOR DIANNE ASCROFT ON HOW A DRY CANADIAN TOWN INSPIRED A COZY MYSTERY SERIES

Annette Public Library in Toronto where amateur sleuth Lois Stone works
Dianne Ascroft, author of the Century Cottage Cozy Mystery series and the World War II series The Yankee Years, is a Canadian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland, with her husband and an assortment of strong-willed animals. She is fascinated by the history of the places where she has lived, and when she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside and evenings in front of a roaring fire. Learn more about Dianne and her books at her website

Didn’t Prohibition End Almost a Century Ago?
I’m Dianne Ascroft and I write the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries. In the books middle-aged widow Lois Stone has moved from the big city of Toronto to Fenwater, a small Canadian town, and is trying to adjust to life on her own. Out of Options is the prequel novella to the series. 

In A Timeless Celebration, the first book in the series, I referred to events in Lois’s life in the city that prompted her to move to a small town. After I released the novel, I decided I needed to write the prequel so readers could see what exactly happened in Toronto to upend Lois’s life, causing her to move to the town where the rest of the series is set. 
In Out of Options it’s 1983 and in West Toronto Junction, a unique district in Toronto where the story is set, the law that prohibits the sale of alcohol has been fiercely upheld most of the twentieth century. In fact, this law wouldn’t be revoked until the beginning of the twenty-first century. I grew up and spent my early adult years in another Toronto neighbourhood not far from this district and I’ve always been fascinated by the profound effect prohibition had on West Toronto Junction. 

Since the unusual history of West Toronto Junction intrigues me, I wanted to set the story there so I could explore the tensions that might arise in a community divided over whether to continue to uphold their ‘dry’ status or not. Although you might think that prohibition would just be a non-issue toward the end of the twentieth century, it was anything but in West Toronto Junction, and that made for an interesting platform to build a story on.

In many places throughout North America laws banning alcohol were strictly enforced during the 1920s and the decade was known as the prohibition era. In the province of Ontario, where Out of Options is set, the provincial prohibition law was revoked in 1927. So why was West Toronto Junction still dry in 1983? That’s because Canadian law allows each municipality in the country the right to ban the sale of alcohol if the majority of the residents of the area vote to do so. West Toronto Junction voted to go dry in 1904 and it still was in 1983.  

So what’s life like in a dry area in 1983? Well, there is no gazing into your loved one’s eyes over the rim of a glass of wine during an intimate restaurant dinner, men aren’t standing in front of the television screen in their neighbourhood bar cheering on their favourite sports team, and you don’t stop at the shop on your way home from work to pick up a few beers for your backyard barbecue. Meanwhile a few bus or subway stops away, in the next neighbourhood, there’s no ban on the sale of alcohol. West Toronto Junction is a tiny time warp in the midst of a modern metropolis.

The ban on the sale of alcohol doesn’t concern Lois Stone though. She’s busy at her job in the local library each day and goes home each night to her bungalow and her two calico cats. But there’s lots of other people in the neighbourhood who have very strong views on the subject. Restaurant owners want to be able to sell alcohol on their premises to increase business. And other business owners believe that trade will improve for everyone if the ban is lifted. On the opposing side, the temperance movement, which continually fights to uphold the ban, fears that without prohibition the community might sink back into the type of society that existed before the ban on alcohol was enacted in 1904: streets rife with violent crime, poverty, domestic abuse, general drunkenness and disorder. 

While Lois is aware of the struggle between the two opposing camps in the area and their fierce antagonism toward each other, the issue doesn’t really impact on her until one weekend everything changes and she has to face the issue head on. What happens next will change her life forever.

Before joining Lois in Fenwater for the rest of the series, I hope readers will enjoy discovering Lois’s life in Toronto in the pages of Out of Options as much as I enjoyed writing about it.  

Out of Option
A Century Cottage Cozy Mystery Prequel 

Middle-aged widow Lois is settling into life on her own in her neighbourhood and in the library where she works, and she is just about coping with her fear of strangers after her husband was mugged and died in the park at the end of their street. But her quiet existence is rocked when her friend and fellow local historical society researcher, Beth, arranges to meet her to reveal an exciting and shocking discovery she has made about the history of prohibition in West Toronto Junction, the last dry area in Toronto, and then goes missing before she can share her secret with Lois. There isn’t any proof that Beth is missing so the police won’t actively search for her. Only Lois and Beth’s niece Amy are convinced that Beth’s disappearance is very out of character, and they are worried about her. Where has Beth gone? Is she in danger? And, if she is, who might want to harm her and why? Lois knows she must find the answers to these questions fast if she wants to help and protect her friend. 


Out of Option
A Century Cottage Cozy Mystery Prequel

Middle-aged widow Lois is settling into life on her own in her neighbourhood and in the library where she works, and she is just about coping with her fear of strangers after her husband was mugged and died in the park at the end of their street. But her quiet existence is rocked when her friend and fellow local historical society researcher, Beth, arranges to meet her to reveal an exciting and shocking discovery she has made about the history of prohibition in West Toronto Junction, the last dry area in Toronto, and then goes missing before she can share her secret with Lois. There isn’t any proof that Beth is missing so the police won’t actively search for her. Only Lois and Beth’s niece Amy are convinced that Beth’s disappearance is very out of character, and they are worried about her. Where has Beth gone? Is she in danger? And, if she is, who might want to harm her and why? Lois knows she must find the answers to these questions fast if she wants to help and protect her friend. 

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST MYSTERY AUTHOR JULIA BUCKLEY'S CHICKEN PAPRIKAS

Mystery author Julia Buckley, who writes The Writer’s Apprentice Series, The Undercover Dish Series, and the new Hungarian Tea House Series, is the child of European parents—one Hungarian, one German. She grew up eating good food. Chicken Paprikás was one of the staples of her diet, and she joins us today to share the recipe for it. Learn more about Julia and her books at her website.

Chicken Paprikás: A Hungarian Meal You Won’t Forget
In my new mystery novel, Death in a Budapest Butterfly, Hana Keller often consumes food made by her grandmother, an innate cook who was born in Hungary and cooks, as my own grandmother did, by instinct.

Chicken Paprikás is a popular Hungarian dish; I’ve tasted a lot of versions of it in my life, and not one has yet rivaled my grandmother’s. I’ve tried for years to come close to the flavor I remember from my childhood, and now I’ve got my husband on the case, since he is the cook in the family.

The recipe is relatively simple and surprisingly delicious when you consider the paucity of ingredients. But it’s in the blending of the ingredients that the genius lies (and, I fear, in the lard that was a staple of my grandmother’s cooking and which heart specialists encourage us not to eat nowadays).

Another trick to making good paprikás is the paprika. If it’s not from Hungary, you’re not getting the flavor you could be achieving. I recently found that I could order from Bende, Inc. online and get Szeged paprika imported from Szeged, Hungary. I got a large bag and it’s delicious.

Chicken Paprikás (Csirkepaprikás)
1 chopped onion
1 tablespoon shortening
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons salt
4–5 pound chicken, disjointed
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 pint sour cream

Sauté the onion in either shortening or butter. Add paprika, pepper, and salt and stir well; lay chicken pieces in pot and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add water to the mixture, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender. Remove chicken (place temporarily on plate or platter) and add sour cream to the spices and drippings; mix well. Add dumplings and place chicken on top of dumplings. Heat and serve. If more gravy is required, add ½ pint sweet cream to the sour cream mixture.

When the dish is finished, you’ll normally want to pair it with dumplings, and there are a variety of recipes for Hungarian dumplings online. You don’t want the little German spaetzli, but the dumplings called Nokedli. However, you don’t need to push them through a pasta strainer, as the fancy recipes say. My mom just made them in a glass bowl with a spout, and she flicked the dough into boiling water in one-inch sections, one after the other. The dumplings are finished when they rise to the surface. Make sure they don’t stick to the bottom.

In my husband’s latest crack at paprikás, he substituted chicken breasts for the legs, but I think you lose some of the flavor when you don’t have the bone-in chicken. Also, he used egg noodles at the end (delicious, but not the same).

Try making this dish for your family; if you’ve never had it before, the flavor will be your reward! If you’ve eaten this dish in the past, then you know how good it is. Enjoy!

Death in a Budapest Butterfly
A Hungarian Teahouse Mystery, Book 1

Hana Keller and her family run Maggie's Tea House, an establishment heavily influenced by the family's Hungarian heritage and specializing in a European-style traditional tea service. But one of the shop's largest draws is Hana's eccentric grandmother, Juliana, renowned for her ability to read the future in the leaves at the bottom of customers' cups. Lately, however, her readings have become alarmingly ominous and seemingly related to old Hungarian legends...

When a guest is poisoned at a tea event, Juliana’s dire predictions appear to have come true. Things are brought to a boil when Hana’s beloved  Anna Weatherley butterfly teacup becomes the center of the murder investigation as it carried the poisoned tea. The cup is claimed as evidence by a handsome police detective, and the pretty Tea House is suddenly endangered.  Hana and her family must catch the killer to save their business and bring the beautiful Budapest Butterfly back home where it belongs.

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Monday, July 29, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CHRISTMAS IN JULY!


A snowman in July? Absolutely! Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, the eight novel in the series where author Lois Winston gets her kicks by continually involving me in murder and mayhem is now available for pre-order at all the usual suspects (Do you like the crime reference I tossed in there?) The woman just won’t leave me alone, even at Christmas. It may be July for all of you reading this, but thanks to Lois, it’s Christmas in my world, and once again there’s a dead body. You’ll never guess who discovers it. (she said with unmasked sarcasm).

Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide opens days before Christmas:

Two and a half weeks ago magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack arrived home to find Ira Pollack, her half-brother-in-law, had blinged out her home with enough Christmas lights to rival Rockefeller Center. Now he’s crammed her small yard with enormous cavorting inflatable characters. She and photojournalist boyfriend (and possible spy) Zack Barnes pack up the unwanted lawn decorations to return to Ira. They arrive to find his yard the scene of an over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. His neighbors are not happy with the animatronics, laser light show, and blaring music creating traffic jams on their normally quiet street. One of them expresses his displeasure with his fists before running off.

In the excitement, the deflated lawn ornaments are never returned to Ira. The next morning Anastasia once again heads to his house before work to drop them off. When she arrives, she discovers Ira’s attacker dead in Santa’s sleigh. Ira becomes the prime suspect in the man’s murder and begs Anastasia to help clear his name. But Anastasia has promised her sons she’ll keep her nose out of police business. What’s a reluctant amateur sleuth to do?

You know Lois has me breaking my promise to my kids, right? After all, she wouldn’t have an amateur sleuth plot if I sat back and let the police handle the investigation. However, in my defense, I really did have the best of intentions this time, but Lois, as usual, had other ideas. No telling what she has in store for me next time.

Check out the first chapter here. And while you're at it, take a look at Lois's newly designed website.

Pre-Order the Ebook now. Print edition available October 1, 2019.
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Friday, July 26, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AN INTERVIEW WITH COZY AUTHOR ZAIDA ALFARO

Today we sit down to chat with cozy mystery author Zaida Alfaro. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Many years ago, I became an avid reader of cozy mysteries. The story lines were intriguing, engaging, and funny at the same time. I was so inspired by the authors, that I then decided to take my musical experiences, and put it on paper. I began writing this first novel in 2012.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
From when I started the novel, including completing the manuscript, editing it (about a thousand times!), and sending out queries, my dream took about six years to come to fruition.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Published by an independent publisher, Cozy Cat Press

Where do you write?
My car, my bedroom, the couch, anywhere I can sit with my laptop and get words out.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Because I am a musician at heart, I need background music. I love listening to the Lumineers station on Pandora.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I would say that 80% of the plot and characters are drawn from real life. The Last Note’s main backdrop, the amazing city of Miami, Florida, is beloved and well known to me. I was born and raised in Miami, and like the novel’s main character Vy, I am a singer/songwriter, as well as the lead singer in a cover band. The phobia's, the dream sequences, and the quirkiness of the main characters, are all based on facts. The love I have for Miami, the Cuban culture, my family, and music, are drawn from real life as well.

Describe your process for naming your character?
I am Cuban American, so I had to give the main character a Latin name. Violet, or as you would pronounce it in Spanish, V(ee)oleta, is as Latin as I was going to get.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Real setting, changing the names of the locations to fictional names.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Thinking one insane thought, but actually saying the phrase in a sane manner.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Same as my character Vy! Thinking one insane thought, but actually saying the phrase in a sane manner.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. The concept of parallel worlds is fascinating to me. I would love to write about that concept, but I do not believe my mind is scientific enough to come up with those ideas.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
Going to college in another State.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People chewing loudly.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A physical book. My classical guitar. A lifetime supply of Jalapeno Kettle Chips.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Fortunately, I have liked all my jobs.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Ocean or mountains?
Ocean

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City girl

What’s on the horizon for you?
My goal is to write two more books for this cozy series (I have started writing book two, which I aim to complete in the next couple of months). I love the cozy genre. It is lighthearted, and I feel like you can relate to the characters, at least in the cozy mysteries that I have read. I want to bring that feeling of ease, relating to, and laughter in my future cozy books. I believe I did it with The Last Note, so you can expect that I am going to aim for that in the next two books. Then, I want to write a psychological thriller.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
In high school, I had to take two years of a language. I speak Spanish, and I didn’t have the accent or passion to speak French, so I decided to take Sign Language. I enjoyed it so much that I took three years of Sign Language in high school. My intent was to become an interpreter, so I minored in Sign Language, and majored in English. Needleless to say, I didn’t become an interpreter, but I do know how to sign. And, I am a comic book nerd, so I have a great collection of comic books! I know, this answer was quite random

The Last Note
A Miami Music Mystery

Killer songs and a killer voice, but a killer at her gig?

Vy has always found herself at the center of attention as the lead singer for one of Miami's top cover bands, but when she finds herself at the center of a murder investigation while performing at the Steel Horse Bar, the tune changes. Someone believes that Vy knows the truth behind the murder of the bar owner Ricky, and now that person is after her. Vy had better figure out quickly who wanted Ricky dead, who is threatening her with her favorite band’s song lyrics, and why she’s falling for handsome Detective Houston before she too sings her last note. With a mixture of mystery, mayhem and comedy, you will find yourself immersed in Vy's musical and murderous world.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

A DYING CANADIAN TOWN BECOMES THE BACKDROP FOR KEN OGILVIE'S DETECTIVE MYSTERY

Ken Ogilvie worked in a variety of roles in the environmental field, including holding positions with three governments in Canada and serving as the Executive Director of Pollution Probe, one of Canada’s longest standing environmental groups. He’s active as an environmental policy consultant and has served on the Boards of Directors of several non-profit organizations. Learn more about Ken and his books at his website.

Rebecca Bradley is a 24-year-old constable with the Ontario Provincial Police. Her goal is to become a homicide detective and learn how to catch killers. Psychologically damaged by the unsolved murder of her mother when she was eight years old, Rebecca is driven by her mission to catch the perp. She’s obsessed with justice and retribution, and haunted by dreams of revenge.

In Her Dark Path Rebecca gets her first chance as an acting detective – to investigate the cold case of Abigail McBride, who vanished for 16 days and then was found dead in her own home. The brutal crime shocked the small Canadian town of Conroy.

Conroy is a neglected and dying Canadian town with a population of less than four hundred. It’s isolated from the main tourist destinations of Georgian Bay to the west, Lake Simcoe to the east, and the sparkling lakes of the Canadian Shield to the north. Only the McBride murder has put it on the map. The last decent jobs disappeared twenty-five years ago when Conroy’s sawmill closed. Young people flee town as fast as they can.

Although formally part of Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes, Georgian Bay is a massive body of water in its own right (about 80% of the surface area of Lake Ontario). The eastern side of the Bay is known as the 30,000 lakes and forms the largest fresh water archipelago on the planet. Revered for its stunningly gorgeous rocky and wind-swept landscapes, the eastern shore has been described as “a pink necklace of islands scattered on a turquoise sea.” In 2004, the area was designated as a world biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Her Dark Path
The Rebecca Bradley Detective Novel, Book 1

16 years ago, Rebecca Bradley’s mother was murdered. Rebecca was only eight years old. The killer has never been caught. Growing up, Rebecca vowed that one day she would track him down and make him pay.

Now Rebecca is a young policewoman in Ontario. She wants to become a homicide detective. Her first investigation is the cold case of a woman who vanished for 16 days and then was found dead in her own home. The brutal crime shocks the remote Canadian town of Conroy.

The puzzling case has uncanny similarities to the murder of Rebecca’s mother. Both victims were found strangled in their own kitchens.

Can Rebecca keep her emotions together as she closes in on a killer with connections to her family and tragic past? And will she finally get justice for her mother?

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

CURB APPEAL?

Every so often I come upon something that leaves me scratching my head and wondering, “What were they thinking?” Such was the case recently when I drove past the house pictured above. Talk about curb appeal—NOT! Many people decorate their yards with bunting and flags for the Fourth of July, but I’ve never seen anyone celebrate with a life-sized replica of a T-Rex.

Maybe if it were Halloween, you could get away with a giant T-Rex skeleton as a lawn ornament, especially if was holding a Jack O’Lantern. It would certainly be something different from the typical ghosts and witches that dot the neighborhood in October. But Halloween is more than three months away.

There are some odd things that crop up in New Jersey from time to time. There’s even a magazine, Weird NJ, that chronicles them. I’m thinking this patriotic T-Rex should be added to the next edition.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--ZUCCHINI BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

If it’s summer, it must be zucchini season, and that means zucchini muffins and breads galore. Add banana and chocolate chips, and your kids won't even realize they're eating a veggie!

Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (from about 2 medium/large bananas)
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini, laid loosely in cup and not packed (don’t wring out)
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.

To a large bowl, add the first six ingredients, whisking to combine.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to bowl, stirring to combine.

Stir together the bananas, zucchini, and chocolate chips. Stir to combine with other ingredients.

Divide batter into muffin tin cups. Back 22-24 minutes or until tops spring back.

Allow muffins to cool in tin about 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Monday, July 22, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--MYSTERY AUTHOR JANICE PEACOCK TALKS ABOUT GLASS BEADMAKING AND HER BEADMAKING SLEUTH

While working in a glass studio with several colorful and quirky artists, Janice Peacock was inspired to write High Strung, the first novel in her ongoing Glass Bead Mystery Series. When Janice isn’t writing about glass artists-turned-amateur-detectives, she wields a 2,000 degree torch to melt glass and create one-of-kind beads and jewelry. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Your Guide to Glass Beadmaking
The main character in my cozy Glass Bead Mystery Series, Jax O’Connell, is a glass beadmaker. That’s an unusual profession, and one I am quite familiar with since I am also a glass beadmaker. But, I want to be clear: I am not Jax. Jax and I have some things in common—we are both glass beadmakers and are women of a certain age. But in most other ways we are different—for instance, Jax is fictional and I am not. Jax is a newbie to the world of beads. Me? I’ve been creating glass beads for nearly 27 years, and I love the craft as much now as I did when I started.

I thought I’d write about how I make glass beads. If you want to see a video about the process (videos are worth more than 1,000 words) please visit myYouTube channel.

When I make a glass bead, I melt long slender rods of colored glass in my torch, which runs on oxygen and propane and achieves temperatures in excess of 2000 degrees. While melting the glass, I wrap it around a stainless steel wire called a mandrel that is covered with a clay-like substance called bead release. Bead release, does exactly that—it allows a bead to slide from the mandrel once it is cool. Where the mandrel once was, there is now a hole, which is what makes a bead…a bead.

Since I can’t touch the glass while it’s molten, I use tools to sculpt it in the flame. Many of the tools are things you’d find around your house, especially if you like scrapbooking: an Xacto knife, scissors, and tweezers.

People often ask me if I get burned when I work in my studio making lampworked glass beads. Yes, I do, but usually those burns are mild—about what you’d expect if you touched a hot pan in the oven.

In case you are curious: The word “lampworking” comes from a few hundred years ago when glass beadmakers didn’t have high tech torches and fuels like oxygen and propane. Instead, artisans used oil lamps and bellows to create flames that were hot enough to melt glass. I’m glad I don’t have to try to pump a bellows while making beads—that would certainly be too many things to do simultaneously!

Writing about Jax has given me the opportunity to think about glass beadmaking in a new way—to remember what it was like to be a newbie. It also allows me to figure out ways to talk about glass beadmaking to an audience of readers who have never heard of such a thing. I love making beads, and even though my time is now split between glass beadmaking and writing about a fictional glass beadmaker who solves crime in her spare time, I know that I’ll never give up the fun and excitement of lighting up my torch and melting glass.

The large necklace shown above is one I made a few years back that traveled around the world as part of an exhibition of contemporary glass beads. I made nearly all the necklace out of glass beads—even the pieces that look like shells and beach glass.

This necklace is called Anne Bonny’s Treasure. Anne Bonny was a pirate in the 1800s in the Caribbean. The inspiration for this piece was the notion that she might have collected little trinkets on her many voyages, and that perhaps she’d find a way to proudly wear her treasured collection.

To Bead or Not to Bead
The Glass Bead Mystery Series, Book 4

When a wealthy theater owner is killed by a falling art glass chandelier, glass beadmaker Jax O’Connell’s boyfriend, Detective Zachary Grant, quickly determines it was no accident. Jax and her friend Tessa try to carry on with a charity fashion gala at the theater, but with only a few days before the big event, they have to scramble to keep things from falling apart. The emcee quits, and to make matters worse, Tessa’s daughters are suspects in the murder. As the chaos unfolds, Jax discovers new suspects at every turn, including an edgy glass blower, an agoraphobic socialite, and a hunky former-cop-turned-actor. Can Jax piece together the clues to find the killer and uncover the dark secrets behind the victim’s family or will it be curtains for her?

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Friday, July 19, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR INSPIRATION FROM GLORY WADE

Glory Wade, writes crime fiction and romance. Her debut novel, Diamonds of Fury, the first book in her Dead Husbands Never Looked So Good series, released July 5. Her other publishing credits include short stories and articles. Learn more about Glory and her books at her website.

Thank you for the opportunity to share what has inspired me. I hope that it will help some of your readers, or at least be of interest.

Newspaper and magazine articles are great sources. The Dead Husbands Never Looked So Good series was conceived from an article in Jewelers Circular Keystone magazine in the 90s. I was fascinated, if not slightly abhorred, by the idea of converting a loved one’s cremains into diamonds. Incredulity begat curiosity, which led to ordering a kit from the company in the article, and the long gestation began from short story to a series of three novels. The working title was Ashes to Diamonds, Dust to Dust, then finalized to what you now see.

My annual visit to Canada always provides fodder for settings, characters, and events. The tattered curtains in my protagonist’s childhood home date back to sighting a solitary trailer off a lonely highway in the Muskoka area. This small mobile home also morphed into an abandoned Airstream for my purposes. Long ago, on a day trip in British Columbia, my friend and I found a boulder in a stream back in the woods. That memory expanded into a scene that never took place, but developed when I put fingers to keyboard.  

Characters are a culmination of unusual people and eccentricities I see going about my daily life—at restaurants, casinos, stores, on the street, on television. The wheels of my creative side creak to life, building momentum until the bones of a character are transferred to the written page for future fleshing out. Being a bit old school, I always carry paper and several pens in my purse to jot down the gems that come to me, for cutting and polishing into diamonds of creativity (ideally brilliant ones).

Conversations, overheard or with a friend, can set off a mental ding. I mull it over, twist and mold its DNA to fit an appropriate scene or a specific character. The zygote resulting from imagination and the actual event can create an interesting scenario.

The nuisances, joys, and catastrophes of life are a constant seedbed for breathing life into my writing. It is difficult to focus on capturing the latter at the time, but the emotions can be relived and recorded after the crisis is past.

Writing prompts stimulate creativity in many people. A Writers Digest contest prompt resulted in a short story I wrote, that was published in an anthology.

In my experience, word choice is rarely addressed in the context of inspiration. Like many authors, I enjoy reading a variety of genres. Some books reveal wonderful verbiage. I note the phrase/clause/concept and “chew on” how I can massage it for my writing.

In parting, I want to add that all of our senses, including touch and smell, can inspire us, and will make our creative endeavors vibrate with life.

Happy writing!

Diamonds of Fury
Dead Husbands Never Looked So Good, Book 1

Lila Phyllips, a back-seat beer baby, has glittering aspirations to rise from her trailer trash beginning to a fairy tale life of true love and wealth—and lots of diamonds.

Kicked out by her embittered mother and abandoned by her boyfriend, 14-year old Lila goes to live with her aunt. She blossoms from a frightened teen into a woman, savvy in business, but conniving when necessary.

After not-so-sparkling experiences with the opposite sex, she opens her heart to Dale Anderson, and reveals her secrets—except one. He vows to love her forever, no matter what. When her perfect life is shattered by betrayal and death, she is torn between her fractured love for Dale and her desperate need for retribution, Lila must decide— 

Will Dale be her diamond in the rough?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

AUTHOR ALEC PECHE ON THE ORIGINS OF HER FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST MYSTERY SERIES

Alec Peche is the author of twelve books split between two mystery series, her Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist series and her Damian Greene series. Today she joins us to discuss the origins of the former. Learn more about Alec and her books at her website

The Origins of Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist
When I set out to write my first mystery story, I didn't know enough about law enforcement to feel comfortable with writing a cop as my main character. I was unaware of the cozy category of mystery novels. If I had heard of that sub-genre, I might have gone a different direction with my character.

Jill Quint, MD lives in the Central Valley of California growing the Muscat grape and producing Moscato wine. She resigned from working in a Crime Lab, tired of the endless paperwork and court testimony to pursue her second passion of being a vintner. Along the way, cases began to be referred to her for an autopsy for a second opinion on the cause of death. Now she gets referrals several times a year across the United States and Internationally. She has three friends who join her on cases bringing their own skills. Jo is an accountant and always looks for the money motive. Marie is a social media maven and does the background checks on the victim and suspects. Angela is the photographer and interviewer, able to ease secrets out of anyone. Marie, Jo, and Angela are based loosely on friends in real life.

In a previous life, I worked in a health care setting, and when we sat down to discuss the quality of care a patient received, there would occasionally be a pathologist in the room. I also have a friend with a niece who is a forensic pathologist and has worked in New Orleans and NYC. I was fortunate enough to have her tour me through the Coroner's office. Plus, I'll admit I loved CSI: Miami.

So now my character has a way to get involved in cases. Through the nine books, she's grown her reputation and along the way studied and obtained a PI license. Some homicide cases begin with Dr. Quint receiving a phone call by a family member to request that second opinion. In a few cases, Jill and her team have been on the scene when a murder is committed.

On the vineyard side, Dr. Quint has released 2-3 vintages, while perfecting organic insecticide and herbicides in her lab on her property that doubles to do analytical work for her cases. She explored opening a tasting room but is holding off on that at the moment. Her latest case takes her to Sicily, which has a hot and dry climate similar to California's Central Valley. While in Catania, she evaluated planting the Nero d'Avola grape. Jill likes the sweetness of Moscato wine, yet the Nero d'Avola grape makes a dry red wine. Fortunately, during the Sicilian case, she sampled lots of wine made from that grape and feels she can make her own Nero d'Avola wine.

Jill Quint has a partner – Nathan Conroy. He's a wine label maker, a job that I thought I'd invented. Dummy me saw an article in the WSJ regarding a woman who was a wine label maker. So I guess the profession exists for real. Jill has a dog, Trixie, while Nathan has a cat named Arthur. In my mind, Jill is in her mid-forties, and I don't know if she and Nathan will ever marry – it hasn't popped into a book yet!

Sicilian Murder
Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist, Book 9
Jill's been called to do an autopsy in Sicily, Italy. The man is an American CEO of a herbal product company and was found dead in a Mount Etna crater. The Italian authorities labeled his death as 'unnatural' but did not perform an autopsy as they assumed his death was due to a fall. Dr. Quint proves that it's not, and the search begins for the motive for his murder. Was it personal, or was it due to a product his company makes?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

WORLD EMOJI DAY

And now for something a little different…

Did you know today is World Emoji Day? Imagine, an entire day devoted to those tiny illustrations that seem so omnipresent in our lives these days! Then again, why not? For the simple reason that they are so omnipresent.

Emojis are great for quick text and email replies. Frankly, I wish more people would use them rather than not replying at all. How much time does it take to tap on a “thumbs up” or a “happy face” and hit Send? Common courtesy goes a long way, but unfortunately, common courtesy is a dying art. (Is there an emoji for a grumpy blogger?)

But then, there are the people who send an email or text with a long stream of emojis requiring a modern day version of the Rosetta Stone to decipher the message. I doubt I’m alone in head scratching, given that more than nine hundred million emojis are sent each day on Facebook Messenger without any text at all.

While doing researching for this post, I came across some interesting emoji facts. For instance, did you know that only 7% of people who use the peach emoji actually do so to indicate a peach? You probably did, but naïve waif that I am, I certainly didn’t! Should I be surprised there are so many dirty minds on social media? Probably not!

There are now a total of 2,823 emojis.157 were approved in 2018. Approved by whom? Who knew there was some sort of official council that rules on whether or not an emoji can become an emoji? Again, not I.

There are even emoji awards. The best new emoji in 2018 was the Exploding Head. 
Emoji of the Year went to Thinking Face.
The most anticipated emoji was the Lacross Stick and Ball. Were there really that many people around the world waiting with baited breath for a Lacross Stick and Ball emoji? Apparently so.

And of course, let’s not forget the Emoji Movie. You know you've really made it when there's an entire movie devoted to you and your iconic pals--not to mention Patrick Stewart portraying the Poop emoji. Now I have to wonder if Emoji Movie 2 will feature the Pile of Poop as Macbeth. 

What do you think?