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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Friday, May 29, 2020

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--MYSTERY AUTHOR JODI RATH BAKES TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CRUNCH CAKE

Today Jodi Rath makes a return visit to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. Jodi wears many hats. Along with screenwriting and authoring a cozy mystery series, she’s involved in educational writing, works as an adjunct for Ohio teachers, and does marketing and consulting work. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Another Year, Another Candle
This year I get a little nearer to living close to half a century. My protagonist, Jolie Tucker, turns twenty-five this year in the latest book in The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series titled Cast Iron Stake Through the Heart. She’s got a lot to learn. 

I debated what age to make my protagonist when starting the series two years ago. My gut told me to make her my age so I could immediately relate to all the things she goes through, but then I thought about how many lessons I have learned since my twenties, and I thought it would be fun to play with those lessons in this series.

Jolie’s family life falls on the overprotective, in her face twenty-four/seven, extremely annoying, hovering family. I have seen many readers agree from their reviews and commentary with me on social media. While my family can fall into that hovering category—they are nowhere near as horrific as Jolie’s, but it is fun to have her continually stop to reassess how best to deal with them. Along with her wacky family, she’s always balancing a mystery, her Cast Iron Creations restaurant, and now working as her BFF’s assistant in Bounty-Full Investigative Services. 

I am getting to the climactic point of this series. Readers will find that Jolie will have a lot of growing up to do in the next few books. Life is going to throw her many curveballs at once, and she’ll have to learn to sink or swim. 

Here are a few issues coming up in no particular order, someone goes into labor on Labor Day weekend, two new engagements—one could be called off, more pregnancies in the village, mafia mayhem runs rampant as a string of various mafia gangs finally collide—and the truth about urban sprawl and gentrification is revealed to both the residents of Leavensport and Tri-City.

The questions remain: will the residents turn against one another or come together to oust criminal activity that has been lurking for decades? Will Jolie be able to handle all that is thrown at her to find a balance and get the life she has been working toward? Time will tell.

Betsy’s Love at First Sight Triple Chocolate Crunch Cake

This recipe is taken straight out of Chocolate Caper’s kitchen and is Betsy’s original recipe for Jolie’s birthday cake. 

Chocolate Cake
1-3/4 cup flour
1-3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa, high quality
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil, canola or coconut oil
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup hot water

Chocolate Buttercream
1-1/2 cups butter, softened
1 cup cocoa
5 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cream, half and half, or milk
Toffee or chocolate covered toffee candy, smashed into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

In another bowl, beat oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla for 1 minute. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until combined. Pour in hot water and mix together. The batter will be liquidy but that's a good thing -- it will create a moist cake.

Spray three 8” cake pans (cast iron baking pans make cake very moist) with non-stick cooking spray. Bake 22-27 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Allow cakes to cool before removing from pans. 

Chocolate Buttercream
In mixing bowl, cream together butter, cocoa, powdered sugar, and cream until light and fluffy. You may want to add more cream or milk depending on consistency. 

Fold in toffee before frosting cakes.

Note: If desired, reserve some toffee to sprinkle on top of cake.

Cast Iron Stake Through the Heart
On again, off again, ON AGAIN–Jolie Tucker and Mick Meiser are giving their relationship another try. Things seem to be working out for them so far, and love is on the menu all over Leavensport! An unexpected pregnancy with a surprising partner, a therapist pairs off with the chief of police, and the mayor of Leavensport falls for Jolie’s Aunt Fern! 

Although Leavensport is serving up affairs of the heart, there are a lot of mysterious activities lurking in the air. The townspeople awake to find freshly dug empty holes throughout the fields that were recently up for sale under suspicious circumstances. Jolie and Ava believe they are taking a break from solving murders when they start teaching an online cooking course–until they witness one of their students take a stake through the heart!

Welcome to Leavensport, OH, where DEATH takes a DELICIOUS turn!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

AN INTERVIEW WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR KASSANDRA LAMB'S AMATEUR SLEUTH MARCIA BANKS

Today we sit down for a chat with Marcia Banks (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) from author Kassandra Lamb’s Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mystery series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings? 
A lot tamer than it is now, I can tell you that! I train service dogs for military veterans who have PTSD or other psychological issues related to their service. And I live in a small town (tiny really), Mayfair, Florida, where not much happens. And then this Kassandra person showed up, and I've been tripping over bodies ever since.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? 
My persistence (although my mother calls it stubbornness). I do NOT give up. If I see something wrong, I have this almost compulsive need to make it right, if I can. Unfortunately, this trait gets me into trouble at times.

What do you like least about yourself? 
My snarkiness. I've dubbed the snarky part of me Ms. Snark, and most of the time she just talks to me inside my head. I try not to let her slip out and actually interact with others, but she gets past me every once in a while.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
Some bad guys kidnapped my Black Lab Buddy and me and took us into the Ocala National Forest. Now, if you were from North Central Florida, I wouldn't have to say any more than that. You would know that the Ocala National Forest is notorious for swallowing campers and hikers whole, and not spitting them out. Quite a few have disappeared in there, and were never seen nor heard from again.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
No, but I should. I really am trying not to "poke around" in other people's business so much. But then my author will throw something in my path that I just can't resist checking out.

What is your greatest fear?
Losing someone I love, especially my husband.

What makes you happy?
That's easy. Hanging out with my four-legged best friend Buddy. Oh, and I do have something to thank Kassandra for. She gave me a horse---a beautiful, black Paso Fino mare named NiƱa. When I'm riding her, with Buddy running alongside, I'm in heaven.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
My short-lived first marriage. And if I couldn't erase that disaster, I'd change my commitment phobia that came out of it, so that I didn't make poor Will wait over two years and through seven books before marrying him.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Hmm, probably Charlene, our local postmistress. I don't dislike her; indeed, I sometimes feel sorry for her. But she's afraid of dogs, which can get awkward when I'm walking mine. And one time she tried to get the town to ban certain breeds that she thinks are aggressive. They didn't go for it, thank heavens.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
On the one hand, that's an easy question. My two-legged best friend Becky is gorgeous, wise, and a truly sweet person. I get little bursts of envy whenever I'm around her. But on the other hand, she has two almost-toddlers---twins, Jasmine and Winston. They are my godchildren and I adore them. But when they poop in their diapers or smear food all over their faces well let's just say, I'm not inclined to have kids of my own, and leave it at that.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist who's really gotten into this fiction writing thing. She spends most of her time hunched over her computer, in an alternate universe with me and/or the characters in her other series. Her dog Watson and her husband catch occasional glimpses of her when she scurries to the kitchen for food.

She has a website dedicated to her books and her readers and blogs at her publisher's website about psychology and lifeand mysteries, of course. 

What's next for you?
Well, I'm finishing up the human part of the training process with my current client, who's a disabled Army sergeant. I have to spend some time with the veterans, teaching them how to work with their service dogs. But things have gotten complicated in this case. He's a vendor at a local flea market, and the owner of the flea market managed to get himself killed. If you check out Kassandra's new release, Lord of the Fleas, you can find out what happens with that mess.

was looking forward to several months of peace and quiet in Mayfair, as I train my next dog. But Kassandra informs me that the town isn't going to be so peaceful soon. Someone is moving there who will be stirring things up. She does this to mea lot. Just when life is settling down some, she causes trouble in Mayfair itself, in what she calls the holiday novellas. This one's called My Funny Mayfair Valentine. I'm hoping she stops messing with the town after this one, since she's pretty much run out of holidays.

Lord of the Fleas
A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, Book 9

What could be more innocent than a country flea market?
When service dog trainer Marcia Banks takes up temporary residence with her best friend, her goals are simple: spoil her toddler godchildren and train her newest dog’s veteran owner, a vendor at a local flea market. But when the owner of the flea market is found dead and her client is a prime suspect, she discovers that nothing is as it seems, including the victim himself. 
Even her guileless client puts her in a double bind when he shares, in confidence, something that local law enforcement would love to know. The only way out of her dilemma seems to be to find the real killer. The flea market, however, is hiding more secrets, and some of them could be deadly.

Monday, May 25, 2020

MEMORIAL DAY 2020

Anastasia and the gang are taking the day off to remember all of those who have served us and our country in the past and those who are on the front lines today helping in so many ways. We salute our service members, our medical professionals, and all the volunteers across the country who are working for the greater good. Stay safe, everyone!

Friday, May 22, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--MEET HOLLYWOOD PSYCHIC TO THE STARS MISTY DAWN

Today we sit down for a chat with Misty Dawn from Nancy Cole Silverman’s Misty Dawn Mysteries.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings? 
I can’t say I was surprised when Nancy picked me as her protagonist for her new series with my name. I had been pestering her for quite some time to pull me from the pages of her Carol Childs novels and give me a story of my own. After all, I’ve been around for a while. I’m a seventy-year-old Hollywood psychic, and my clientele list is like a who’s who in Hollywood, plus I’ve been a frequent consultant to LAPD and the FBI. I came to L.A. in the sixties selling love potions out of the back of my VW van; there’s not much I haven’t seen and don’t know. 

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? 
I’m a soft touch. I enjoy my work, and while it’s allowed me to earn a living, I tend to give away as much as I’ve ever made to those I’ve helped. I always thought I’d be fine.  Unfortunately, psychics can’t read themselves, and lately, I’ve found myself on hard times, but then I’m an optimist. 

What do you like least about yourself? 
I’m not terribly well organized, which has caused a lot of problems with my current roommate.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you? She had paired me with a shade, a person who hasn’t totally passed, and for whom it’s my responsibility to help. As a psychic, this isn’t the first shade I’ve been paired with, but Wilson, a former set designer, hasn’t been easy for me. And worst of all, I’m living in his house where every room is a former set, and he is beyond particular. 

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about? 
We argue about Wilson. He’s more free-spirited than I’d like. 

What is your greatest fear? 
Losing WilsonAs a shade, his time with me is limited, and I fear the universe will yank him from me before I’ve been able to prepare him.   

What makes you happy? 
Helping my clients. I never know who’s going to knock or what mystery lies ahead. 

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why? 
I’d probably be younger, taller and twenty pounds lighter. But Nancy doesn’t seem to think so.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why? Denise! Denise is my landlady, client, star-struck wannabe actress, president of the Hugh Jackman fan club, and Wilson’s sister. She is also a psychic junkie, and has been visiting with me for years. It was Denise who decided after her brother passed, that I should live in Wilson’s house, and now she makes frequent unannounced visits. 

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why? 
My calico cat Bossypants. She had way more than nine lives and comes and goes as she likes. 

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog? 
When Nancy’s not writing, you can find her on Facebook or catching up with some of her other work like The Carol Childs Mysteries, or her story stories. Read more about her and her writing on her website

What's next for you?  
Like I said, psychics can’t read themselves, so...it’s a mystery.

The House on Hallowed Ground
A Misty Dawn Mystery, Book 1

When Misty Dawn, a former Hollywood Psychic to the Stars, moves into an old craftsman house she encounters the former owner, the recently deceased Hollywood set designer, Wilson Thorne. Wilson is unaware of his circumstances and when Misty explains the particulars of his limbo state—how he might help himself if he helps her—he’s is not at all happy.

That is until Zoey Chamberlain, a young actress, comes to Misty’s door for help. Zoey has recently purchased The Pink Mansion, a historic Hollywood Hills home, and believes it’s haunted. But when Misty arrives to search the house, it’s not a ghost she finds, but a dead body. The police are quick to suspect Zoey of murdering her best friend. Zoey maintains her innocence and fears her friend’s death may have been a result of the ghost...and a long-time family curse. Together Misty and Wilson must work to untangle the secrets of The Pink Mansion or submit to the powers of the family curse.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

MYSTERY AUTHOR ANNE LOUISE BANNON ASKS: ARE BOOKS SET IN THE 1980'S CONSIDERED HISTORICAL FICTION?

Mystery author Anne Louise Bannon is an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age fifteen. Her journalistic work has appeared in Ladies' Home Journal, the Los Angeles TimesWines and Vines, and in newspapers across the country. She also spent more than ten years as a TV critic. In addition to her mystery series, Anne is also the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons with Serita Stevens. Learn more about Anne and her books at her website 

Is it Historical Yet?
In my youth, I came up with a perfectly lovely series of spy novels that turned out to be more romance than spy. Over the years, I’ve re-written them, fleshed out the characters, officially named it the Operation Quickline series, but one thing held up – the original 1980s setting.

So, fast forward to a couple of years ago. I’m at a writers’ meeting and someone asks this agent what she considers historical, and she says late 1980s and before. Okay. The days of my tender youth are now considered history. Hmmm.

When it comes to my own aging, I’m pretty cool with it. I wear my gray hair proudly. I’m working on accepting my extra pounds with the same grace. I’m certainly not going to lie about my age, which is almost sixty-two. After all, I have had the good fortune to last as long as I have, and with God’s grace, I’ve got another couple of decades or so to go.

But wrapping my brain around the idea that people consider the time of my early twenties as history. That one is going to take more work than getting used to the extra weight. I get that it’s over thirty years ago, almost forty. But that still says recent past to me. I mean, it doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago.

Yet, in some ways, it really is. The daughter I gave birth to was born in the middle of that decade and is now thirty-five years old. The world has changed quite a bit since I was the first person in the theatre department at Cal State, Fullerton to write a masters thesis on a word processor. The phone I put in my pocket has more computing power than that Apple IIe that I wrote on.

Attitudes have changed. I have changed. I hope I’ve gotten more resilient since then, and I really hope I’ve gotten a lot more open-minded. I know I’m a better writer than I was then, which is why I made the decision to re-write the Operation Quickline series. 

The joy of working with something I wrote so long ago is revisiting those times, looking at the person I was then, and realizing, yeah, I have grown, and not just my waistline. And there’s also looking at my old work and realizing that I was not a bad writer. And that I was pretty darned cute in my mid-to-late-twenties. Yes, that is a mullet I’m wearing in that photo – it was the best-damned haircut I ever had. If only it weren’t so dated. Sigh.

Finally, there’s the blessing of having those everyday kinds of details already in the text so that I don’t have to remember when we got word processors and when the full Star Wars trilogy was first available on video. Even if I have to look something up, I have a starting point and a frame of reference that I will never have for Nineteenth Century Los Angeles, no matter how many pictures I look at, and books I read.

So, I guess it’s not all bad having someone call the time of my youth history. It’s still going to take some time to get used to, but with luck, I’ll be around long enough to call it ancient history.

Operation Quickline Box Set
A compilation of the first five books in the Operation Quickline series, featuring Lisa Wycherly and Sid Hackbirn, agents for an ultra top-secret organization, who may seem like opposites but have a lot more in common than they think. The set includes the following titles:

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine
Lisa Wycherly had no idea what she was getting into when Sid Hackbirn recruited her as his partner in an ultra top-secret organization called Operation Quickline. But then, neither did Sid.

Stopleak
Lisa and Sid are set up as bait to plug a leak in the system. Surviving the elaborate trap will be a lot easier than learning to appreciate each other.

Deceptive Appearances
When Sid and Lisa are called to Lisa's home town of South Lake Tahoe, they find themselves in the middle of a murder and a drug operation. 

Fugue in a Minor Key
Lisa's nephew is in trouble at school. An old girlfriend of Sid's has dropped his son into his lap. Oh, and they have to find out who's selling secrets from local defense plants.

Sad Lisa
Lisa gets engaged to her boyfriend only to have the case she and Sid are working blow up in the worst possible way.

Monday, May 18, 2020

MYSTERY AUTHOR FRANCES SCHOONMAKER ON DEVELOPING A MIDDLE GRADE HISTORICAL FANTASY MYSTERY

Old Shep
A former classroom teacher, Frances Schoonmaker is Professor Emerita from Teachers College, Columbia University. The Last Crystal, the third book in her The Last Crystal Trilogy, won the 2019 Agatha for Best Middle School/Young Adult Mystery. Learn more about Frances and her books at her website.  

Years ago, an uncle told how he and his little brother made a Kansas City to Sacramento train trip every summer to visit grandparents—alone. Their father worked for the railroad. It was an affordable way to keep the family close. The idea captured my imagination. What kind of mischief might two boys get into on a train trip? Who kept an eye on them? What if the train broke down? What if…?

I had the beginnings of a story. Still, it didn’t seem fair for two boys to have all the fun. I knew that if there were two boys, there had to be two girls.

The busy life of wife, mother, elementary school teacher, and graduate student took precedence over writing. By the time I retired, I knew the story was to be a wilderness quest with room for facts, fantasy, and mystery. I wanted the four children to be real, ordinary kids, not superheroes. Intuitively, I wanted them to learn that one can act heroically while shaking in their boots and that sometimes you do what has to be done because it’s right, not because you think you can do it or have any chance of accomplishing it. I wanted the least likely of the characters to step up to the challenges they faced, too. 

After more than a dozen years as an elementary school teacher and another dozen plus as a teacher educator, I know a lot about kids. Circumstances change, but people are driven by needs and wants that have existed since the beginning of time. So I planted four children I barely knew into my quest, starting on the famous Santa Fe Chief a couple of years after the outbreak of World War II. 

I gave the eldest a family name. From that moment, I knew J.D. would be the standard bearer. He’d protect, lead, and keep the others from giving up hope. Mary Carol emerged as a caregiver, responsible, an organizer, imaginative, and bossy. Robert developed with the contents of his rucksack. They needed the rucksack if they were to survive in the wilderness. So Robert became a kid who is always prepared. He has all the answers because he’s read about the questions. From the first, Grace was the kind of protected, manipulative, darling little girl you’d like to give a good smack. 

Underlying the events that shape the lives of the four children, is a struggle between immortal twins C’lestin and Celeste, charged with care of seven crystals set aside for the care and healing of the earth. Forfeiting her immortality to be the most beautiful woman who has ever lived, Celeste steals the crystals and uses them to sustain herself, down to the last one. Leave it to say that their development made me realize that when I finished The Last Crystal, I wasn’t done.

I kept wondering how the last crystal came to be where it was. Why were these particular children on a quest for it? Again, context led my characters. The children start out on the Santa Fe Chief train. What if the quest actually began on the Santa Fe Trail a hundred years earlier with another Grace, protected, privileged, probably equally bratty? Before I finished answering back-story questions, I had The Last Crystal Trilogy.

I didn’t follow a story formula or make a chart of protagonist, antagonist, and secondary characters. I created an evolving time line with settings as close to real as possible, meeting characters along the way. “Who?” “How come?” and “What if?” drove me. Some characters changed as I refined the story. Old Shep is a good example.

Old Shep was Grace Willis’s faithful dog on the Santa Fe Trail. The fourth and fifth graders in schools where I piloted The Black Alabaster Box fell in love with him. They didn’t love my switch from trail life to quest. Thankfully, they were still engrossed in the story. I realized they needed advance notice that magic was afoot. Old Shep was promoted to time traveler, mysteriously appearing in chapter one of The Black Alabaster Boxwith an important role in The Red Abalone Shell. I couldn’t leave him out of book three. I had to find a place for him.

All this is to say that in The Last Crystal Trilogy, character development was a messy, recursive process where circumstance and characters interacted to tell a story.
  
The Last Crystal
The Last Crystal Trilogy, Book 3

When they board the Santa Fe Chief in Kansas City, bound for L.A., the four Harrison children have never heard of the Last Crystal or the magic surrounding it. They are concerned about their father, who has been injured in World War II, and dread having to stay with their boring, old Uncle James. But before the train is half way to L.A., J.D., Mary Carol, Robert, and Grace discover that staying with their Uncle James is the least of their worries. They cross paths with a Nazi spy. One of them is kidnapped. Then, without warning, the four find themselves off the train, magically drawn into a quest for the Last Crystal. To get home again, they must cross two thousand miles of wilderness and find the Crystal with nothing to guide them but their wits, each other, and an old map that only the youngest can read. 

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