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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Monday, September 30, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CROSS STITCHED POINSETTIA ORNAMENT


Do you know what today is? It's Release Eve, the day before the official release of Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, the eighth book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, the eponymous cozy mystery series where author Lois Winston continues to taunt me, her reluctant amateur sleuth, with dead bodies.

To mark the occasion and since it’s never too early to begin your Christmas crafting, here’s an easy (no backstitch or fractional stitches!) poinsettia cross stitch design that can be fashioned into an ornament after it’s stitched.

The design measures approximately 2-3/4” x 2-3/4” when worked on 14-ct. fabric.


You'll find more Christmas crafts in Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide.

Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 8

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?

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Friday, September 27, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MISTY SIMON

Today we sit down for a chat with cozy mystery, paranormal, and romance author Misty Simon,who writes the Tallie Graver Mystery series. Misty thinks there’s nothing better in the world than making someone laugh, and she hopes everyone at least snickers in the right places when reading her books. Learn more about Misty and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? 
It happened on a rainy Saturday when I realized I was watching way too much Lifetime TV and took myself to the bookstore where I fell in love all over again with reading and decided to write.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? 
My first novel came out in 2005, about four years after I started writing. I had published in some magazines previous to that, but this was the Big Kahuna!

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? 
I’m traditionally published and in a few indie published anthologies.

Where do you write? 
At my desk, in my big chair, on the couch, at a café…Really anywhere if the words are flowing.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind? 
Oh, good question. It really depends on my mood. Sometimes I’m all about anything Dave Matthews and other times I want Epic battle music. Other times I have to have absolute silence except for my dogs barking.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Pretty much all of my characters come from my life but with modifications, of course, so I don’t’ get in trouble. And my main characters all have a facet of who I am, and then I blow them all up to make it interesting!

Describe your process for naming your character? 
I usually run through the alphabet and wait to feel that the first letter is the right one, and then I go to my trusty baby naming book and page through until one speaks to me. Names are so important and really nail the character down for me.

Real settings or fictional towns? 
I tend to use real locations and then rename them so I can play with where things are located just in case businesses close or move.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? 
Tallie is completely aware of her flaws and owns every single one. She seems to always be in the best and worst place at the same time. Her quirk in this series is more that people either tell her their whole life story or don’t even realize she’s there. She uses that invisibility to the best of her sleuthing abilities.

What’s your quirkiest quirk? 
I can’t touch untreated wood. Please don’t ever hand me one of those Dixie cup ice cream things with the wooden paddle or I’ll gag! Not sure why, but it’s so bad that I have to ask dining companions or the wait staff to remove those toothpicks everyone seems to want to put in sandwiches to hold them together.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? 
Hmmm. If I could have written Discovery of WitchesI would have loved that so much. The imagination and heart in that series is astounding.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? 
I have to be honest; I don’t want a do over. I am right here, right now, doing what I love with people I love and everything that I’ve been through has led me to this point. If I changed a single breath ten years ago, things would be different, and I love where I am and what I’m doing too much to not honor that.

What’s your biggest pet peeve? 
My complete lack of comma knowledge! No matter how many books I read, I still don’t get it right!

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? 
Music, my husband, and paper and pen (which only counts as one!)

What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 
Working in this one doctor’s office where I could not corner the doctor for answers no matter how many traps I set and sprang.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? 
Belgarathby David Eddings

Ocean or mountains? 
Ocean but I don’t like sand

City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 
Country please

What’s on the horizon for you? 
I’ll be starting a new series as Gabby Allan, release dates coming soon. The books are set on Catalina Island off the coast of California and involve golf cart chases and a gift shop owner. My next book to come out will be in Oct. 2020, and it’s the last in the Tallie Graver series, Varnished Without A Trace.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? 
I adore conversations with people of all walks of life about any number of topics, so if you see me, please don’t hesitate to engage me – I’m the one wearing the vintage 50’s dresses and yes, if you compliment the dress, I guarantee you I’ll say, “Thanks, it has a petticoat!”

Carpet Diem
A Tallie Gravers Mystery, Book 4

Live and let dust . . .
Now that Tallie Graver’s cleaning business is starting to shine, she’s ready to go squeegee to squeegee against Audra McNeal for a major contract at the Astercromb mansion. Tallie’s not afraid of a little friendly competition from the new cleaner in town. In fact, Tallie likes Audra, though she wonders how her glamorous rival manages to clean house and maintain her fancy manicure. Tallie has her rubber-gloves full staying one step ahead of her nemesis. Until she finds a well-polished hand poking out of a rolled-up carpet, rendering her competition . . . dead.

Though it lands Tallie the big job, there’s nothing tidy about Audra’s death. So between polishing and scrubbing, Tallie’s determined to find the killer. Hopefully the police chief doesn’t mind her cluttering up his investigation with the filthy dealings she discovers. Turns out Audra was not as squeaky clean as she appeared. And confronting her killer could bring Tallie to a very foul end indeed . . .

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

MEET MADELINE BOUCHER, AUTHOR NICOLE ASSELIN'S NEW COZY SLEUTH

Today we sit down to chat with Madeline Boucher from author Nicole Asselin’s Ballpark Mysteries.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
Pretty boring to be honest. I woke up every day, dragged myself into my cubicle in Boston, and spent the time daydreaming about the Red Sox. Sometimes the world works in mysterious ways, and now I’m back at home working with the Abington Armadillos. I never thought that would happen.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
My independence. I can take care of myself in most situations but love having the support of my family at my back if I need it. They believe in the fact that I will one day be able to run the team when they retire. 

What do you like least about yourself?
I tend to get involved with things before fully thinking them through. Lately It has gotten me in a lot of trouble in regard to investigating things at the ballpark. I hope to curb some of my more impulsive actions, but I will always make sure my family is protected and safe.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
Well, probably lose my job and make me return to the family ballpark. At the time I was super nervous and didn’t know if I would be able to take the challenge on. Now, I know I can help out here, and I realize that it wasn’t as big of a deal as I was thinking.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
We get along pretty well. We are very similar to each other, almost like sisters! I’ve never had a sister, just a brother who sometimes gets on my nerves. The only time we’ve argued is when she wanted to write about Tom and my mom’s matchmaking. She knew that was never going to happen. I knew Davis was the real goal. And you can read about how that turned out.

What is your greatest fear?
Disappointing my family. Not being successful at the family baseball business. Those keep me up at night sometimes. Luckily, they support me and would help if I need it, but I want to be able to keep the Armadillos going well into the future.

What makes you happy?
An ice-cold Diet Coke, a Fenway Frank, and the Red Sox winning another World Championship.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
Hmm…I think I would’ve been working for the family the entire time. I don’t know why I didn’t just work here in Abington after college graduation. I wasted too much time trying to make it out in the “real” world, when I could’ve been here. I love this team, I love the staff, and I love my family.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Ugh, William Chase. Owner of the Barnstable Barnstormers. He’s such a pain. He always seems to be around just when I don’t need him. He has hit on me constantly and won’t leave me alone at league events. Like, take the hint dude!

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Eliza seems like she has the most fun! She’s my best friend, but also has a great family life. She has her pulse on everything that goes on in the park and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. She’s always been super confident, and I would love to have that attitude about things too!

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
She is addicted to her twitter account @nanazlyn. She spends most of her workdays just scrolling away, following other writers and learning about more books to add to her ever growing TBR list. Her website is www.nicoleasselinwriter.com. It’s very much a work in progress but it has all the important stuff!

What's next for you?
Well, now that my brother is going to be leaving the family team, its time for me to step up to the plate (no pun intended). I’m going to take on more responsibility and try to keep the Abington Armadillos a popular family event on the South Shore. And hopefully there won’t be any more issues at the ballpark going forward.

Murder at First Pitch
A Ballpark Mystery, Book 1

32-year-old Madeline Boucher’s grandfather instilled a love of the Boston Red Sox into her from an early age and increased that love by purchasing a local Independent League Baseball team, the Abington Armadillos. After losing her corporate job in Boston, Madeline realizes her best option is to join the family baseball business. As the new “Social Media Director” for the team, Madeline attends her first business function and witnesses an argument between her brother Ben, and a strange man. A few days later when walking the ballpark during her early morning hours, she finds the body of a man beaten to death with a baseball bat in the Visitor’s Dugout. It was the man her brother was arguing with at the party. Madeline is concerned that her brother would be considered a suspect.

Through the local Detectives and Davis - the head of security for the ballpark she learns the victim is Christopher Dailey, a local baseball scout and prior felon. When her brother is arrested and taken to the police station, she realizes she needs to figure out who the real culprit is, so her brother doesn’t take the fall for something she knows he didn’t do.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

AUTHOR KELLI A. WILKINS TAKES A TURN AT SCI-FI

Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 100 short stories, 19 romance novels, 5 nonfiction books, and 2 online writing courses. Her romances span many genres and heat levels, and she’s also been known to scare readers with her horror stories. With her newest release, she turns her attention to science fiction. Learn more about Kelli and her books at her website.

Today I’m sharing a look at my newest release, Extraterrestrial Encounters: A Collection of Sci-Fi Stories. Right now you might be asking yourself, “Wait… What? Sci-fi? Don’t you write romances and horror stories?”

Well, yes. I’m mainly known for writing sensual romances and spooky horror fiction, but every so often I like to surprise myself – and readers.

I’ve always been attracted to the unusual, peculiar, and “weird” that exists in the sci-fi and horror genres. I grew up watching Tales from the Dark Side, Amazing Stories, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Outer Limits, and of course, The Twilight Zone.

I read every sci-fi and horror short story I could find, and I believed in the Ancient Astronaut Theory long before Ancient Aliens ever aired. So I guess it’s no surprise that when I started writing, I wrote what I loved reading: sci-fi and horror.
 
For me, science fiction is imaginative fiction, and it’s fun to make up all sorts of strange things. Sci-fi stories explore anything possible (or that may be possible one day), such as time travel, parallel universes, aliens, lost civilizations, artificial intelligence, robots, cloning, repressed societies, UFOs, mind control, futuristic societies, and more.

Sci-fi authors are free to dream up anything and use it in a story without having to do too much explaining about how or why these unusual or fantastic things are possible. In general, readers of sci-fi/fantasy are more open-minded about different plotlines, characters, and settings than readers of a romance novel, for example. Readers know the story isn’t “real” and most likely couldn’t happen, but they’re fine with that. They enjoy escaping into the world of the fantastic.

I like writing in multiple genres because I get to explore different plots, characters, and styles of writing in a horror or a sci-fi story that I couldn’t do in a romance – and vice versa. After writing a few romances I like to switch up and focus on horror or sci-fi for a while. My horror stories tend to be more psychological and creepy than bloody, and my sci-fi stories are about strange things that happen to ordinary people.

Authors are always asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” so when I wrote Extraterrestrial Encounters, I decided to share a peek at my writing process. I’ve included a brief note at the end of each story in the collection, explaining what inspired me to write it, where I got the idea, or general comments about the plot or characters.

I hope you enjoy these stories. Some are humorous, some will make you think, and others might scare you a bit, but they will all take you on a journey into the realm of the unknown for a little while.

Extraterrestrial Encounters: A Collection of Sci-Fi Stories
Are you ready to step into the unknown?

In these 18 sci-fi stories, you’ll encounter aliens of all shapes and sizes, curious (and sometimes unlucky) space explorers, and ordinary Earthlings having otherworldly experiences.

Some of the out-of-this-world tales in this short fiction anthology include:

“The Hoax” - A reporter learns that a creature from another planet is a dangerous thing to fool with.

“It Grows on You” - A strange kind of mold has invaded an office, and it’s the perfect tool for revenge.

 “What Lurks Below” - Everyone knows there’s no life on Mars, but nobody thought about what might be lurking under the surface…

“The Con” - An alien becomes an unlikely ally to a down-on-his-luck petty crook.

“Space Cowboy” - When a second-rate rodeo star is abducted by aliens, he makes the most of the situation.

 “They Just Keep Eating” - A Nebraska farmer encounters a menace from space… and it’s hungry.

This collection of speculative fiction will stimulate your imagination, unnerve you just a little, and make you wonder… “What if we’re not alone?”

I welcome questions and comments from readers. Let me know which story you loved best, which one made you laugh, or why you love reading sci-fi.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--BAKLAVA RECIPE AND A CHARACTER INTERVIEW WITH LILLY BATES FROM JUDY HOGAN'S PENNY WEAVER MYSTERY SERIES

Today we’re joined by Lilly Bates from the Penny Weaver Mystery Series by Judy Hogan.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings? Difficult, sad–I’d lost my husband–and boring.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? 
I may not seem tough, but I am.

What do you like least about yourself? 
That other people think I’m a pushover. I’m not.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
She set it up so I’d have my baby during a hurricane.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about? 
I argued that my babies always came on the due date, but she fixed it so it came early, and I couldn’t get to the hospital.

What is your greatest fear? 
Being asked to take care of houseplants.

What makes you happy? 
A quiet day, when everything goes along normally.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why? 
She decided I was going to marry the sheriff, just because he was in love with me. Unfair, I thought. I could have had a nice, quiet life with my two boys.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why? My boss at the Sheriff’s Dept., Derek Hargrave. He promoted me to lead detective, and then he won’t let me lead. He takes over my cases like anything.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?  
I’d rather be Sammie Hargrave. She can cope with anything. Nothing fazes her, seems like. Me, I get upset, even if I don’t show it.

What’s your favorite food? 
Oh, Angelika’s Baklava. Those honey treats go down well.

Baklava from Angelina’s Kitchen 

Ingredients:
Syrup
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups water 
1 cup good quality honey
2 cinnamon sticks
2 T lemon juice
10 whole cloves
Rind from one lemon – stud with the whole cloves.

Nut Mixture
5 cups nuts (e.g., pecans and walnuts) roughly chopped
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 T good ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
Zest of 2 oranges and or lemons

The Rest
1 package #4 filo dough, defrosted overnight in fridge 
1-1/2 lbs. clarified butter, warmed to liquid
Rose water (optional)
An 11 x 18 pan – or any size, then cut the filo to fit the pan

Combine all syrup ingredients except honey. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until sugar melts. Add honey and cook a few minutes until honey dissolves into syrup.

Refrigerate syrup. Syrup must be cold when you pour it over the hot baklava. 

Coarsely grind nuts. Mix with cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, sugar.

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Open filo and cut to fit 11” x 18” pan.  

Once you open filo, work until it’s done. Brush bottom of pan liberally with butter. Lay first sheet of filo in pan. Brush with a little butter. Repeat till you have 7 – 8 sheets of filo layered.

Cover filo with 1 cup of the nut mixture. Sprinkle nuts with a dash of rose water (optional.) Place another sheet of filo over the nut mixture. Brush with butter. Add another layer of nuts and rose water. Repeat for 4 – 5 layers until nuts are used up. 

Keep layering remainder of filo / butter till all filo. Place last layer of filo on top and gently pat to “settle” the nuts.

Cut the baklava before you bake it. Use a sharp serrated knife to make squares, diamonds or triangles. Do not cut all the way through – only through the top filo and into the nuts, then brush the rest of the butter on top of baklava.  Cover the baklava well – melt more butter if needed.

Bake at 350 degrees 40-50 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and pour the the cold syrup over baklava. Allow syrup to absorb. 

Fatality at Angelika’s Eatery 
A Penny Weaver Mystery, Book 11

Angelika’s Eatery is a favorite lunch place for activists and small farmers. Fred Ainsworth, who owns 500 acres, started a commune which ten farmers joined, paying cash. When Fred is found dead in the restaurant, Penny and her friends Sammie, and Lilly, lead detective in the Sheriff’s Department, work on solving the death. They learn from Fred’s banker that he was broke. In the legislature their representative Rick Clegg leads the fight against fracking while the banker tries to legalize it. The farmers learn Fred had sold his fracking rights to a fracking company. Penny and her husband Kenneth now live in the black community in the village of New Springs in a green home designed and built for them by their neighbor Arnold, who lost the most money when Fred died penniless and is top murder suspect. The three women, calling themselves the Cahoots, work to find the killer.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--ODD VICTORIAN CRAFTS

Remember the Friendship Bracelet craze of a few years ago? It may not be as much of a craze these days, but I still see friendship bracelets on the wrists of everyone from tweens to grandparents at least several times a week. But did you know that friendship bracelets were quite popular during Victorian times? However, instead of weaving strands of embroidery floss, Victorian friendship bracelets were made from a lock of hair cut from a living person.
Victorian women were the original scrapbookers, but they didn’t just preserve photographs. They also often kept locks of friends’ hair in scrapbooks. And lest we leave out men, they were known to wear watch fobs made from locks of their wives’ hair.

If this obsession of crafting with hair doesn’t creep you out enough, Victorians were also extremely obsessed with death, to the point that they used human hair from a deceased loved one to craft jewelry, such as brooches, as keepsakes.
The Victorian death obsession also included séances in which people used a crystal ball to try to contact the dead. However, the creepiest death obsession was the postmortem portrait. For these, the deceased was posed in a staged setting with other family members. Often props of the dearly departed’s hobbies and other interests were included in the scene.
And speaking of hobbies, Victorians had some extremely odd ones, including collecting seaweed, which they pressed into scrapbooks. The oddest, however, was probably their obsession with taxidermy. WalterPotter was the best known of what you might call the Taxidermist to the Rich and Famous of Victorian England. He created anthropomorphic dioramas from various stuffed critters, depicting everything from ice-skating hedgehogs to kitten weddings.
Another taxidermy craze was women wearing stuffed critters, most often on their heads. Plumes from exotic birds weren’t enough for these Victorian ladies. They wore the entire bird—everything from pheasants on their hats to hummingbirds on their fans. But the most bizarre twist of all came in the 1880s when these ladies of fashion segued from embellishing their headwear with birds to include other dead fauna such as cats and squirrels.

Friday, September 20, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR INSPIRATION FROM CATHY PERKINS

Today we’re joined by mystery author Cathy Perkins, here to tell us about the inspiration behind the plots in some of her Holly Price Mysteries. Cathy started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams. Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories. When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

That Truck Did What With Those Rocks?
Thanks for inviting me today! I thought it would be fun to share the story behind the story for some of the Holly Price mysteries with your readers. Well, let’s back up a minute. The first question from friends and readers usually starts: Where do authors get their ideas?

Sometimes a daydream offers a story start, but ideas and inspiration can show up in the strangest places. My husband and I were in eastern Washington state, hiking along the Snake River in a game management area called Big Flats (which happens to feature in So About The Money, the first book in the Holly Price Mystery series). We had to push through some tangled foliage at the shoreline. Being a mystery writer whose mind can go strange places, I glanced over my shoulder and said, “Wouldn't this be a great place to find a body?”

Fortunately, he laughed.

That germ of an idea—a body in the middle of nowhere—kept growing. Why would the heroine be at Big Flats to stumble over the body? How did the body end up beside the river in the first place?

The idea for In It For The Money(Book 4 in the series) came while I was chatting with a friend’s nephew at a party. He was all excited about designing some bizarre machine called a Rockcrawler. I had no clue what he was talking about, but I picked up on his passion. And my writer’s brain went, Hmmm… Rockcrawlers… That’s different.

I won’t make you listen to all the research I had to do into how these rigs and events operate, but it was a lot of fun developing a series of crimes related to both the Rockcrawlers and the Rockcrawling events.  

Let me explain Rockcrawling—or rather, here’s how Holly described the sport to her friend, Laurie Gordon, after Holly dragged Laurie to the opening day events:

"Two guys were sitting on their back porch, drinking." Holly raised her wine glass and Laurie clicked the rim. "One polished off his beer, belched, and popped open another can. He pointed at the vacant lot next door and said, 'Betcha I can drive my truck over those rocks."

"You're lying." Laurie narrowed her eyes.

"Swear to God." Holly raised her right hand. "And since God takes care of idiots and drunks, the first one made it over—alive—and his friend and all their friends had to try. And their friends..." She waved at the boulder—and Rockcrawler—strewn scene before them. 

In it for the Money

Holly Price traded professional goals for personal plans when she agreed to leave her high-flying position with the Seattle Mergers and Acquisition team and take over the family accounting practice. Reunited with JC Dimitrak, her former fiancé, she’s already questioning whether she’s ready to flip her condo for marriage and a house in the ‘burbs. 

When her cousin Tate needs investors for his innovative car suspension, Holly works her business matchmaking skills and connects him with a client. The Rockcrawler showcasing the new part crashes at its debut event, however, and the driver dies. Framed for the sabotage, Tate turns to Holly when the local cops—including JC—are ready to haul him to jail. Holly soon finds her cousin and client embroiled in multiple criminal schemes. She’s drawn into the investigation, a position that threatens her life, her family and her increasingly shaky relationship with JC.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

AN INTERVIEW WITH DAISY PETTLES AND THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE SHADY HOOSIER DETECTIVE SERIES

The author and her brother-in-law picking up pies
at the Poorhouse Pies pie shed
As a child, award-winning author Daisy Pettles was fed a steady diet of books, pies, and Bible stories. Today she stops by to answer a few questions. Learn more about Daisy and her books at her website. 

You set the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency Series in a small town called Knobby Waters, in Pawpaw County, Indiana. Is there such a place?
In my head and heart there is such a place. It’s a tiny town full of nosy neighbors, quirky characters, and kind-hearted souls. It’s the type of hometown that many are nostalgic for these days.

The series setting, Knobby Waters, is a fictional amalgam of several tiny towns that are sprinkled along old US Highway 50, across rural Jackson and Lawrence Counties, in the hills of southern Indiana. It’s the type of small town where everybody knows your name—unfortunately. And of course there are an endless supply of snoopy neighbors, crazy cousins, husbands with hanky-panky pants, and home-baked pies.

Book 3 of the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, Chickenlandia Mystery, is coming out this month. What and where is Chickenlandia?
Chickenlandia is a free range chicken ranch run by an eccentric elderly farming couple. The coops are fashioned out of scrap lumber to resemble the White House and the Senate buildings. It’s more of a village---a Chickenlandia—than a simple row of cages or coops. The name was inspired by the more urban, off-beat TV comedy, Portlandia. In tone, the Shady Hoosier Detective series is quite quirky.

One reviewer thought the books reminded her of the Golden Age of Hillbilly TV, the 60s sit-coms that reigned at that period. Did you envision the books that way?
Yes. I wanted to replicate the “feel good” tone of early TV comedies set in rural America, series like The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. The tone of the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency and the characters who populate Pawpaw County pay homage to the Golden Age of Hillbilly TV.

Like many children of rural America in the 60s I am growing nostalgic for an America that never did exist, but that we all still hope for.

While the books are cozy mysteries, their strongest element is humor. They are true crime comedies. One critic called Daisy Pettles the “hillbilly Janet Evanovich.” My senior crime fighting duo, Ruby Jane and Veenie, are very much a Lucy-Ethel or Stephanie-Lula gal pal team.

Food plays a big role in your rural setting. Your books mention a lot of peculiar foods. What are these foods and where do they come from?
True. I have a lot of fun with the food in Pawpaw County, which includes such country delicacies as crockpot possum and deer chili slathered with thick skims of Velveeta cheese. (Just yesterday my niece had to get off the phone with me because she needed to prep some deer meat Sloppy Joes for dinner.)

One of my favorite places is Pokey’s Tavern, famous for its cheesy mystery meat sandwiches. My mom owned and operated a fast food restaurant when I was a kid in the 60s. It was called the Dairy Bar, a little, DIY mom and pop Dairy Queen. We used to joke about the local tavern up the road which offered “mystery meat” sandwiches. The meat was usually whatever was in season—hunting season that is.

Is there a specific place in your books that you would love to visit?
The specific place in Knobby Waters that my readers would love to visit is Ma and Peepaw Horton’s emergency Pie Shed. It’s an old tool shed run by the elderly chicken farmers who operate Chickenlandia. The tool shed has been converted to a 24-hour self-serve, pick-up station for Ma’s home-baked pies.

I am fortunate because my neighbors in Underhill, Vermont, actually operate such a Pie Shed in their backyard. Poorhouse Pies, has appeared in the PBS documentary on the search for the Best American Pie. 
Pie shed in winter

Personally I think every town would benefit from a 24-hour emergency pie shed. In the series one of the leading lady sleuths, junior detective in-training, 71 year old Veenie Goens, is addicted to pie (and other forms of junk food).

Our crime fighting duo, Veenie and Ruby Jane, are constantly being sidetracked by drives out to the pie shed in an attempt to relieve each case’s more stressful moments.

One of the theme songs of the comedy podcast that we are developing based on the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency books is: “Remember when you’re feeling blue, stop and eat a pie or two.”

The Chickenlandia Mystery
Shady Hoosier Detective Series, Book 3

Pawpaw County, Indiana, is all atwitter about Ma and Peepaw Horton’s annual Chickenlandia Festival. The mood turns dark though when the Horton’s prize-winning rooster, Dewey, and his best laying hen, Ginger, vanish, leaving behind only a ragged trail of tail feathers. Also missing: Gertie Wineagar, local sourpuss, and BBQ chicken cook-off queen. Senior sleuths, Ruby Jane (RJ) Waskom and Veenie Goens, suspect Hiram Krupsky, Pawpaw County’s self-proclaimed Chicken Wing King, of master-minding the crime spree in an attempt to sabotage the Horton’s free-range chicken ranch. The sleuths get an unexpected “in” when Hiram commences to court a reluctant RJ. Follow the Hoosier senior snoops as they attempt to sort the good eggs from the bad in this hilarious, small-town crime comedy.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

AUTHOR INSPIRATION FROM ELIZABETH ZELVIN

Expulsion of the Jews from Spain
Elizabeth Zelvin is the editor of Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology (crimes against women, tales of retribution and healing); she's also author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries and the Mendoza Family Saga, a series of Jewish historical novels and short mysteries. She's been nominated three times each for the Derringer and Agatha Awards for Best Short Story. Today she joins us to discuss where she gets her ideas. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
On one level, I get my ideas from the same place as every other writer: from what I know, what I Google, and the voices in my head. On another, I'm still astonished that since I've been writing mysteries, I've never heard another author say, “I write because I have something to say.” (I was pleased to hear Bradley Cooper tell Lady Gaga that's why she should be writing songs in the new version of A Star Is Born. Yes!) The first Bruce Kohler novel started with a title. I was running a treatment program for homeless alcoholics on the Bowery, and I kept saying, “Someday I’m going to write a mystery and call it Death Will Get You Sober.” I wanted to write about the transformational power of recovery from alcoholism—not just a drunk getting sober, but deep emotional growth—and make it funny. And I did, though not till I quit my day job.

I come from an intellectual New York Jewish family for whom Judaism was bagels and lox and the occasional Seder, and that was it. I never had the slightest interest in writing about it. So imagine my surprise when a young Jewish sailor, Diego, came knocking on the inside of my head in the middle of the night, saying, “Let me out!” I didn't want to get out of bed, but he insisted I tell his story. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, on the same day Columbus set sail, and Diego sailed with them. That's all I knew, so that's how I learned to do research, a skill set I'd avoided all my life. I also became much more knowledgeable about Judaism, especially its social justice agenda, tikkun olam—repairing the world—and passionate about cultural relativism. I didn't get there by “ripping it from the headlines,” but it sure is relevant.

The first short story was a mystery, with Admiral Columbus as the kindly father figure and detective. But I wanted to write more, so I turned to history for my ideas. And history is dark.

I found myself writing not only about the horrors inflicted on the Jews by both Spain and Portugal, but also about the genocide of the Taino in the Caribbean. Diego's sister Rachel was born to accompany Diego on the second voyage because I needed a female character. Becoming a protagonist, perhaps my most beloved character, was her own idea. She sprang to life and stole the show. These days she's solving mysteries in the Sultan's harem in Istanbul in the 1520s and going home to her delightful family at night. The ideas come from the constraints of history, the setting, and the backstory I've set up for the fictional Mendozas in previous work. The fun comes from not having to stick to the biases of the 21st century.  

And so we get to my new anthology, Me Too Short Stories. In thirty-five years in my "other hat" as a therapist, I have heard many, many stories. I used certain things I know to craft a short story, “Never Again”: that parental child molestation may start when the child is a toddler, and that obese women, who may have eating disorders and/or be survivors of sexual trauma, suffer overwhelming shame. As I considered where I might place this story for publication, I realized that not only was it too dark for the traditional mystery markets, including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, but the noir e-zines wouldn't want it because it gave abused children and fat women a voice. Feminist journals? But it was crime fiction. Dark literary looking for something different? That editor doesn't like a happy ending, ie writer can't empower women characters. This story needed a home that didn't exist. I had to create one. And that's my biggest idea so far.

Me Too Short Stories, An Anthology
What do women want? A voice. To be heard. Respect. To be believed. Justice. To be both safe and free. The women in these stories have daughters, sisters, friends. The minister worries about her parishioners. The banshee worries about the Hippocratic Oath. The microbiologist worries about her obligation to the dead. They will use any means to protect themselves and those they love: a childish jingle, a skillet full of cornbread, a candle, their own quick wits. We cannot ignore their voices.



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