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

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Sunday, January 31, 2021

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--FIRE-STARTERS FROM AMATEUR SLEUTH AUTHOR JUDITH COPEK, PLUS A BONUS #RECIPE


Judith "Judy" Copek describes herself as a writer, ex-geek, cook, gardener, traveler, and cat fancier. Today she joins us with a twofer—a craft project and a recipe. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website.

Fire-starters*

These will work for wood-burning fireplaces, fire pits, and wood stoves. 

 

Materials

Old muffin tins

Baking cups (not metal) 

Wood shavings (Available at pet supply stores. You can also use sawdust.) 

Paraffin wax (Gulf Wax is good) 

Small cones and pods, dried wildflowers, dried rosebuds (small) milkweed pods, dried statice flowers. (It’s easy to collect these in the fall with a walk in the woods, or down an alley.)

 

Lay out all supplies and have dried items organized by size and color. 

 

Place paper baking cups in muffin tins. Fill muffin tins with wood shavings. 


Melt wax on stove. I put wax in an old coffee can, and put the can in a pot with water. Turn heat on medium. When wax is melted, carefully pour into shavings-filled baking cups. Fill to the brim. 


Working before wax can harden, arrange dried cones and pods, weeds, flowers, and milkweed pods in hot wax. Crowd dried items together. A milkweed pod (small or medium) gives some height, and colorful (red, orange, purple) dried items lend visual interest. 

 

I made twenty in all. It’s fun to do with a friend, older grandchild, or someone who likes crafts, but for 

 

*Safety Warnings: Do not let small children participate. They could be burned by the hot paraffin. 

 

Store away from small children in a metal container. 

 

These fire starters burn like crazy, and they ignite almost instantly. As for anything combustible, keep children away. Once ignited, the wax burns for 20-30 minutes. 


Laura’s Lemon Squares

My heroine from my amateur sleuth mystery Murder in the North Woods took these lemon squares to a party. They quickly disappeared. 

 

(This is really my mother’s recipe Easy and delicious. For best results use butter and under no circumstances use "Real Lemon" or anything other than fresh lemon juice and fresh rind.) 

 

Ingredients for Step 1:

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1/8 tsp. salt

 

Ingredients for Step 2:

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sugar

2 T. flour

2 T. fresh lemon juice

Grated rind of 1 lemon

 

Additional ingredient:

Powdered shugar

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

 

Cream together butter, sugar, flour and salt from first ingredients list. Press mixture into bottom of an 8” x 8” square pan lined with parchment paper. 

 

Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

 

Combine ingredients from second list. Pour over hot crust. Return to oven and bake 20-25 minutes longer. Do NOT overbake. 

 

Remove from oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cool thoroughly before cutting into squares. 

Murder in the North Woods

She’s into high tech. He’s into homicide. The Northwoods rock and roll when a savvy cyber-sleuth teams up with a hunky homicide cop to route corporate miscreants and to solve a murder. 

 

When she arrives in Wisconsin’s North Woods, Laura Goode discovers her only contact is now a corpse. The information officer at Great Northern Shoe Company was a local lothario whose killer could be anyone from an enraged husband to a bitter factory worker whose job is heading overseas.

 

Working undercover, Laura digs into the Y2K Millennium project, but office politics thwart her mission to determine who is subverting it. Adding more complications to her life, boyfriend Jack, a homicide cop visits unexpectedly, and makes friends with the local cops. Her soon-to-be ex-husband also makes an appearance. Laura welcomes Jack’s help, but he’s also a distraction as she segues from boardroom to bar room, trolls for bass, hunts hackers, and tries to rescue her kidnapped cat, all while getting closer to the identity of the murderer. The exciting but off-beat conclusion involves high water rafting and a naked motorcycle gang. 

 

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

ROMANCE AND ROMANTIC SUSPENSE AUTHOR TERRI REED TALKS ABOUT HOW AGILITY TRAINING HER DOG HELPS HER WRITING PROCESS

Bestselling and award-winning author Terri Reed writes romance and romantic suspense, and her novel A Family Under the Christmas Tree was adapted into a Hallmark movie retitled Picture a Perfect Christmas. Today she joins us to talk about how agility training her dog has helped her writing process. Learn more about Terri and her books at her website.

I’m an avid dog lover and have written many books featuring canines. When I was a child, my parents bought me a puppy. I loved this little guy so much. His name was King Kong. I have no idea what breed he was, I believe a mix of some sort of shepherd and terrier. He was wild and an escape artist. He would find inventive ways to get out of the backyard.

 

Unfortunately, the herding instinct was very strong. He would chase cars and ultimately one car won. I remember vowing to never have a dog again. Fast forward to adulthood. My husband really believed we needed a family dog. I was resistant but he and the kids finally won out. We brought home an Australian shepherd with a blue merle coat and named her Blueberry. I fell in love with this dog. I researched how to care for a puppy/dog and Blue, as we called her, lived to the ripe age of fourteen. She was the best dog ever. So patient with the kids, would keep track of them and make sure to alert if anyone that didn’t belong in the neighborhood ventured near. But she was the family dog, a pet well loved by each of us.

 

After she passed, my husband and kids, once again talked me into getting another puppy. We decided to stick with an Australian shepherd. We brought home Aubrey with a red merle coat. I was expecting Aubrey to be like Blue. Even tempered, patient and snuggly. Not so much. Aubrey is not a pet; she is a performance dog. To that end and to keep her and me sane, we started agility training when she was eight months old. At first it was to keep her active and wear her out so I could write. But I fell in love with the sport and with her. Agility really bonded us. She may not be the most snuggly dog or patient, actually, she’s quite bossy, but I can’t imagine my life without her. Through this dog, my husband and I were introduced to some people at the park who then introduced us to some other people, and now we have a whole new community of friends because of Aubrey. 

 

Doing agility with Aubrey has opened up a new world of activity and more new friends. Learning the sport of agility was a huge learning curve for me. What started out as something fun to do to keep her busy, has become a lifestyle and the thing I do to keep my mind creative when not writing books. We are always training, even when we’re not at the arena. Even going on walks is a lesson to be used in the arena. Learning the command to sit and wait until released is a daily exercise done at feeding time. She has a beautiful start line stay. This month, after nearly four years of training, I finally worked up the courage to enter agility trials. 

 

The first week trial was overwhelming. I didn’t know how a trial ran, wasn’t sure I liked the idea of competing or that she’d listen to me in a strange environment. I learned what to expect, I made the decision not to look at the trial as competing against anyone else, but the goal is to finish the course with or without faults (faults are a dropped bar, a refusal to take an obstacle, a late cue or going off exploring). And during our first run, she didn’t listen well. Too many distractions. We didn’t make it through the first course. We made it through the second course, but she had three faults.

 

The following week we went back for our second trial. Now better prepared, we made it through the first run with a few faults, but she stayed with me. And the second run, we did great. She was attentive, I gave cues on time, no dropped bars and we finished the course. I was happy. But then I discovered we placed first in our grouping, and we received our first qualifying ribbon. Apparently, we can move up to the next level after three qualifying ribbons. 

 

For me, agility with my dog is my hobby, my passion, and my stress reliever. And has helped me in my writing. 

 

ALASKAN RESCUE
Alaska K-9 Unite, Book 1


A mountain search-and-rescue mission turns into a fight for their lives.


Sent to find a wedding party that disappeared during a hike, Alaskan state trooper Hunter McCord and his K-9 partner, Juneau, discover bridesmaid Ariel Potter hanging from a cliff. But this was no accident—she was pushed—and her hiking companions are missing. Now it’s up to Hunter and Juneau to find them…and make sure whoever wants Ariel dead doesn’t finish the job.

 

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON AND HER GRANDSONS BAKE APPLESAUCE CUPCAKES

Baking is a fun activity to do with little kids when cooped up in the house. And considering we’ve all been cooped up for nearly a year, we need all the ideas we can get to keep from going bonkers. My grandsons and I highly recommend these yummy cupcakes. We had fun making them, they had a blast decorating them, and of course, we all enjoyed eating them!

Applesauce Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes

 

Ingredients:

1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

Best Ever Buttercream Frosting 

choice of toppings for decorating

 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

 

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

 

In a separate bowl, whisk oil, sugars, and vanilla. Whisk in eggs.

 

Gently stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until batter is smooth. Stir in the applesauce, apricots, and raisins.

 

Divide the batter evenly into lined muffin pan, filling nearly to the top. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the tops of the cupcakes are springy when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

 

Cool cupcakes in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting with Best Ever Buttercream Frosting, then let the kids have fun decorating.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

AN INTERVIEW WITH INSPIRATIONAL ROMANTIC SUSPENSE AUTHOR LAURIE WOOD

Today we sit down for a chat with inspirational romantic suspense author Laurie Wood.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

I started writing seriously in the late 1990s when my children were in elementary school and I had more time during the day. I joined Romance Writers of America in 1996 and took a lot of their online classes. My first novel was a medieval about 110K words and it hasn’t been published, but I got a couple of “close calls” with two romantic suspense novels I wrote right after that book. 

 

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?

I belonged to RWA till 2006 and then took ten years off because my husband had made a career change and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as an officer. We moved about four times across country, plus he was deployed to Afghanistan at the height of the war in 2010, so my writing took a back seat. We have two special needs children, and they needed my complete attention. In 2016, I tried writing again and entered another RWA contest in 2017, coming in second in my category. Then I sold my first romantic suspense novel in March 2018 and have sold a novella and another novel since then.

 

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?

I’m traditionally published with Anaiah Press, which is a small Christian publisher. I participated in #FaithPitch on Twitter in February 2018, and they requested a full manuscript from my pitch. I sold to them a month later.

 

Where do you write?

I wrote that first novel in my Heroes of the Tundra series at my dining table. It’s an antique table and not ergonomic at all. I had aching shoulders and wrists from using my laptop on it. So, after I sold that book, my husband surprised me when I went away on a ladies' retreat with our church for the weekend. I came home and there was a beautiful glass desk in the corner of our dining room. Now I have files hidden in an old credenza and some in a microwave cart. It’s not an office, but I make it work.

 

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?

(Laughs) I may be showing my age, but when I was in my forties, I could write to music, but not anymore. I have noise-canceling headphones, also courtesy of my husband, to drown out the “living” noise in our small house. I can’t concentrate on words and music at the same time. It works for me because when I put on the headphones, it’s like a signal to my brain that it’s time to work. 

 

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?

I was a police officer in the mid-1980’s so there are definitely parts of my characters and plot issues that are drawn from actual life. I don’t think authors can help themselves from incorporating bits and pieces of situations from real life into their work. Violence against women is a theme in my stories, and second chances. And in my most recent book, Northern Protector, the hero suffers from PTSD and painkiller addiction from his polar bear attack. Those are two things which are issues in the law enforcement community as well as the military community we live in now. So, I wanted to shine a light on them.

 

Describe your process for naming your character?

I named all three of my heroines for family members. I love their names and wanted to honour them by naming my heroines for them. We have some unique names in our family, so I can see using more of them in future books. I don’t know a Lukas, but I know a Ben, who was very helpful to me with my bear research, so he was immortalized as the hero in this book. 

 

And as both of my kids have special needs, I imagine I’ll have them as lead characters in future books as well.

 

Real settings or fictional towns?

Churchill, Manitoba is the setting for all three of my books, and it’s an actual town on the southern shore of Hudson Bay in Canada. It’s on the border of the sub-arctic and the arctic. I’ve been there, so it was wonderful to use it as a real setting, and my publisher loved that I could do it as well. 

 

I may set future books in fictional Canadian towns, or I may choose to set them in larger Canadian cities.

 

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?

Hm...I gave one character in Northern Hearts the quirk of collecting nativity sets, and she ended up with forty-eight of them. I don’t tend to have them do things like twirling pencils or rapping three times on the door before opening it. 

 

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

I’m probably not too quirky, either! I tend to drink my coffee cold and will put an ice cube in it even in winter. I love purple and bought myself a purple fountain pen and purple ink imported from Japan, just because, which my husband thought was a bit self-indulgent. But hey, if you can’t do that after three books, when can you?

 

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?

Just about any book written by Susanna Kearsley. I own all of her books and re-read them all the time. My favourite is The Winter Sea, and I just re-read it for the fifth time in November. They’re time-slip novels, and clean but not inspirational ones. I met her at a book signing here in my city a year ago. She said her book contracts give her one year to travel and do her historical research and one year to write and turn in the book. Look her up! If you love time-slip and history, you’ll love her books.

 

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?

I’m happy with my life. I can’t say I’d do anything over.

 

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Anti-maskers. Don’t even get me started!

 

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?

A knife, flares, and a working radio. 😊

 

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

Before my husband joined the military, he started working for a financial investment firm. I started working in the deli of a grocery store to help with his base income while he got the business started. It had been a while since I’d worked, but going from being a police officer to the social dynamics of who-was-who in the pecking order of the *deli* (it was like Mean Girls In High School) was the worst job I’ve ever held. I’d never worked an entry-level job like that back in high school or college, so it was beyond me that you had to work two yearsbefore you could dump macaroni salad into plastic containers and then weigh and price them. Horrible! But in this pandemic our grocery store workers have proven how essential they are and that we can’t live without them.

 

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It’s about an author who rents a cottage in north-western Scotland by the sea to do research for her historical novel and is thrown back in time via her “ancestral memories” into a love story that will just wrap around your heart and not let go.

 

Ocean or mountains?

Ocean all the way. You can’t beat it for soothing relaxation.

 

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?

There was a time when I would’ve loved living in the country on an extensive property and having a ton of animals, but I’m passed that now. When this pandemic lifts, I’m going to enjoy all the amenities our city offers that we’ve given up for the past year: the concerts, theatre, movies, baseball, and hockey. And our parks, museums, and art galleries!

 

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’ve got a couple ideas for some single title books and an idea for another series. First, I need to have cataract surgery and get back to normal. That’s going to be wonderful!

 

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?

I live in Central Canada and writes inspirational romantic suspense with an edge of danger. I’m also a military wife who’s raised two wonderful special needs children to adulthood. We’ve lived all over Canada and are still on that journey. When I’m not writing, I can be found at my spinning wheel, knitting, or hanging out with my dogs in the garden. She loves to hear from readers and always replies so feel free to get in touch with me through my website. https://www.lauriewoodauthor.com

 

Also, I hope readers enjoy the adventure aspect of my books, and that I try to write about real-life issues. I hate stories that are trite or don’t go deep enough. I hope people feel free to share my books with non-Christians friends and family because of the real-life issues. I’d like non-Christians to read them and be surprised that a Christian book actually tackled them.

 

Northern Protector

Heroes of the Tundra, Book 2

 

Constable Ben Koper is still healing from the polar bear attack that almost killed him. Nine months after it happened, he returns to Churchill, Manitoba, a changed man—scarred more than just physically. PTSD is his new shadow, haunting his every step, and he can’t seem to kick the pain meds he shouldn’t need anymore. He’s determined to prove, to himself and his colleagues, that he’s still up to his job. Failure isn’t an option.

 

ER nurse Joy Gallagher spent the entire last winter texting with a healing Constable Koper. What started as friendly concern from this single mother has grown into full-fledged romantic feelings, and she’s eager to level up their friendship and introduce him to the idyllic comfort of small-town life. Until a teenager is murdered at a summer party. The crime is strikingly similar to the cold case murder of Joy’s foster sister, stirring old trauma Joy has never fully dealt with.

 

When another victim is snatched in town, Ben and Joy must confront their own demons, and join forces to track down an elusive killer. The race to rescue the next victim before it’s too late will test Ben and Joy to their limits. Can they survive their encounter with this heinous killer, or will the past destroy them?

 

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--AUTHOR PATY JAGER'S NEWEST NATIVE AMERICAN MYSTERY FEATURES BEADWORK, FLUTES & A POWWOW

Paty Jager is the award-winning author of the Shandra Higheagle and Gabriel Hawke Mystery series. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters.Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. Learn more about Paty and her books at her website. 

Beads and Flutes

My favorite part of writing a book is getting to research topics that I’m interested in, and sometimes I learn new things that I find interesting.  The newest release in my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series is set at a powwow. 

 

I attended a powwow about six years ago. It was a kaleidoscope of color, interesting music, and unique vendors. The atmosphere is one of rejoicing and roots. While this book is set at a different powwow. and I had help from my friend Carmen Peone, who lives on the reservation where I set my story. I hope the reader gets a good sense of what the event is all about. 

 

While doing my research, from both my attending a powwow and gathering information about the one where my story is set, I was intrigued by the various vendors who set up booths and sell either products they themselves make or products to help make regalia (the clothing worn during the powwow dancing), jewelry, leather, feathers, sage, beads, and other items. There are also t-shirt booths and kitsch items. 

 

From the moment this story came to me, I wanted the victim to be a woman who did beadwork. I wanted her strangled with one of her own necklaces. Not because the woman deserved it, but because it was a symbol for the person who did the killing.  

 

I’ve done very little crafting with beads and found it interesting to watch beading videos, look up beading terms, and even the types of beads used by Native Americans. 

 

Before glass and metal beads were introduced from Europe, beads were hand carved from bone, shell, copper, and stone. These days the tiny glass seed beads are what are used in the beadwork that can at times tell a story.

 

This beadwork shown above is by my friend Carmen Peone to depict a horse in her True to Heart Trilogy.

 

Jingle cones are metal cones that are sewn on dresses in a pattern so they will knock together as the Jingle Dancer moves. This is a distinctive noise made by the Jingle Dancer. The sound is like sleigh bells.

 

When I started writing books with Native American characters ten years ago, I began listening to Native American flute and drum music. I love the flutes. Their ethereal tone and the journey they take me on while listening to the music made that another booth I put in my story. The character makes authentic flutes from elderberry wood. There is nothing more relaxing to me than listening to Native American flute music. 

The first legend of the flute as told by deceased Lakota Elder, Phillip Brown Bear (Phil Lane) can be found on the Wind Dancer Flutes website. This is a website where you can purchase handmade flutes or CDs by Roger McGee. Roger’s CDs are part of the music I listen to when I write. The photo is of one of his flutes.

 

Vanishing Dream

A Shandra Higheagle Mystery, Book 16

 

Deceit, Gluttony, Murder

 

Shandra Higheagle Greer’s deceased Nez Perce grandmother appears in her dream, dancing at a powwow. Since Grandmother only appears when there is trouble, Shandra believes, she, Ryan, and the twins should attend the yearly Powwow at the Colville Reservation. 

 

While out for a walk the first night, Shandra sees someone lurking in the dark between the vendor tents. The following morning a vendor is discovered strangled with her own beads. 

 

When members of Shandra’s family are attacked, she finds it hard to stay out of the investigation. Following a suspect, she’s captured. No one knows her whereabouts. Trying to call upon her grandmother to come to her aid, Shandra realizes the dreams are vanishing and fears so could her life. 


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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--A FELTED SOAP PROJECT FROM AUTHOR KIM RICHARDS

Kim Richards is an author, editor, and book formatter. She writes horror, fantasy, science fiction, erotica, nonfiction, and children's books under her name Kim Richards and two pseudonyms: Sharie Silva and Kim Bundy.Learn more about Kim and her books at her blog.  

Besides writing books, I’m a BIG crafter. I have so many obsessions—sewing, weaving, calligraphy, leather and wood working are just a few. Recently I ran across something simple, yet elegant:  felted soap. I’d like to show you my process and see if it sparks your interest.

 

I like felted soap because it’s a fun, relatively easy project that makes something luxurious for yourself or as gifts. It’s supposed to be mildly exfoliating too. 


There are just a few supplies:

Soap bars of whatever size you’d like to use.

Nylon stocking or fine net

Wool roving. Using wool is a MUST. 

Hot water. (You may want gloves to protect your hands from the heat of the water.)


The neat thing about felting the soap is the wool’s natural shrinking properties are what’s necessary to encase the soap. You want to use strips pulled apart just enough to see the soap through. Then start wrapping it around the soap bar. Keeping it tight as you wrap is helpful to the shrinking process, but you don’t need to tug on it hard. Change direction as you wrap second, third, or fourth layers of wool so you cover any corners and there aren’t many gaps.


Next, cover it with the nylon or netting.  You can tie it off if you like or just hold it. The idea is to keep the wool and soap together.  Next, put it in a bowl or sink of hot water and press it down gently so all the wool fibers are submerged. Squeeze it in your hands a few times. It won’t take long for you to feel the wool tightening up. This is when you want to begin massaging it. This agitates it just enough to push the wool fibers as they shrink around the soap. It’s normal for it to get soapy. You actually want it to do this.

 

Continue working it for about 12-15 minutes. At this point you should not see any stray strands of wool or the soap beneath. If there are, simply get it back in the hot water and massage it longer.  Give it a quick rinse under cold water, carefully remove the nylon/netting and set on paper towels to dry. How long drying takes depends upon the temperature of the room. You can set it in the sun or run a blow dryer over it if you like. I prefer to just leave it overnight. 

 

Tie it up with a ribbon or toss it in a basket for a nice gift. That’s it! Easy and fun. 

 

Fighting for Home
Descendants of the Amazoi, Book 1

In 300 B.C.—the Greco-Roman Age—tribes of warrior women thrived near the Black Sea. The area is now modern-day Turkey. The Greeks called them Amazoi (meaning Mankiller). Inspired by their story, Fighting for Home sings the tale of one tribe as they battle to save their way of life. 

 

Healing magic is real! Ilenea and Saphira, the wolf sisters, battle close to home with others of their generation. A healer priestess named Essla travels to a temple of Artemis at Anthela with her male slave, bringing a call to arms for the pending war. She meets and falls in love with a Roman General. Whatever the outcome, this war changes everyone.

 

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

MEET AUTHOR CAROLE T. BEERS, WRITER OF COZY MYSTERIES AND RESCUE TALES

Today we welcome author Carole T. Beers, a former award-winning reporter/columnist for The Seattle Times, writing instructor, and contributor to romance and western publications before focusing her attention on fiction in 2015. Learn more about Carole and her books at her website. 

“Saddle up for a great read!” These words jotted on a chalkboard say much about what I write: New West Mysteries with Heart. Cozy but properly chilling amateur sleuth stories, or rescue tales, featuring spirited animal-lovers who stop at nothing to make things right. And have a laugh, love or tasty meal along the way. Why not play to all our senses?

 

I came up with the slogan and displayed it at an author’s booth at our Josephine County Fair in 2019 after finding a horse head-shaped chalkboard at a crafts booth. I might have added the word “hope,” since ALL my books, not only the PepperKaneMysteries, spotlight hope. Second chances, Country values. They deserve to be written on EVERY chalkboard.

 

These are themes of the books and stories I read, whether fiction or biographies, and many of you do, too. I look for tough challenges in reading and writing. Books I can relate to. Books with an appealing hero or heroine. I want to feel I am firmly seated in a book and practically holding the reins. Hence the riding allusion in my slogan. No wonder all my books feature horses, include dogs, and showcase the occasional cat or chicken!


I’ve loved and learned from nature, and animals, from childhood. They teach us so much when we observe and interact with them, such as how to use all the resources at our disposal, communicate in an honest way, and how to live (and love) unconditionally. My earliest scribblings (age 7) had people interacting with animals. Even if “just” a goldfish.


I was inspired to write stories including nature by books such as The Honeybear, Girl of the Limberlost and Desert Storm. Today I still get a lift and kick out of classics like My Side of the Mountain. I became a newspaper reporter to learn discipline and creativity. And relate interesting stories!

 

My non-human family includes my horse Brad, tuxedo cat Velvet, Boston terrier Georgie, and parakeet Sky. We live on a hill in southern Oregon. Interacting with them daily, riding, walking or just hanging out, contributes to physical and mental health. Such as it is. Hopefully you are blessed with innocent “others”—including young humans! And learn from them, too.

 

Always focused on reading and writing, as well as spiritual growth, I quit newspaper work after thirty-some years to tell my own stories. They’re traditionally published by a small independent press in North Carolina. They have a quick turnaround time and let me have a say in cover design and marketing. I love the freedom. It lets me “saddle up and enjoy the WRITE.” I don’t enjoy the edits and revisions as much.

 

Sometimes the mount is stubborn, wild, or willful. But sometimes it takes me to a better place than I could have thought of myself.

 

In from the Cold

Jack Pennington has a heart as big as Oregon’s Rogue Valley, where he’s delivered agricultural equipment and taken in foster children for years. Stalled in his marriage, dreading retirement, and making his final runs over the pass to Klamath Basin, he sees an old, abandoned horse that won’t make it through the coming blizzard.

 

Carly Brown’s life with druggie parents changed for the better when she joined Daddy Jack’s family, and then had a baby with her fiancé. It crashed again when her partner assaulted her, and the baby had special needs. Now her struggles to make a better life for her and her son also seem doomed to fail. 

 

As Christmas draws near, can a despairing old man and struggling young mother find a way through cold prospects to a warmer, brighter future?

 

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--PUEBLO POTTERY WITH THRILLER AND MYSTERY AUTHOR J.L. GREGER

Pots and Progress 

Thriller and mystery author J.L. (Janet) Greger is a biology professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison turned novelist. Although she likes to send her protagonist—scientist Sara Almquist—on consulting trips to foreign countries, she sometimes has Sara solve mysteries in New Mexico where J.L. lives with her Japanese Chin dog Bug. Learn more about J.L. and her books at her website.  

 

Every pueblo in New Mexico once made pottery; many still do. (Please note: pueblo can refer to the community or the people of the community.) The pots of most pueblos are distinctive.

 

One of the settings in my mystery/thriller A Pound of Flesh, Sorta is Acoma. It is probably the oldest continually inhabited community in what is now the United States. Tribal traditions suggest the first pueblo buildings were constructed in the 1100's on this 350-feet high mesa. Today tourists travel sixty mile west of Albuquerque to see the historic pueblo and to buy Acoma pottery. Fortunately, visitors to the Pueblo now don’t have to climb narrow stairs up to the top of the mesa because a bus is available 

 

Acoma potters traditionally used a slate-like clay found in the hills surrounding the pueblo and constructed the pots using a "hand coil and scrape" methodology. They did not glaze their pots. 

 

The pots are famous for their thin walls and the geometric designs painted in black and white with occasional earth-tone accents. The lines on these pots are often so thin and the designs so complex that they create a dizzying modern effect. Nowadays many Acoma artists prefer to use pour molded pots as their canvas. However, generally the hand coiled pots are preferred by collectors. Artists, especially those from the famous families of Marie Zieu Chino and Lucy Lewis, sign their pots, which increases their value.

 

The photo is of a pot made by Emil Chino. I purchased it at Acoma because I thought the flowers at the top softened the intricate design on most of the pot. I suspect traditionalist would consider the flowers a distraction.

 

One of the concepts I wanted to demonstrate in A Pound of Flesh, Sorta  is modern pueblos may market their traditional arts, but the residents face modern economic realities. For example, the plague causes prairie dog die-offs almost every year in New Mexico and Arizona. These die-offs may worry conservationists, but mean economic ruin to ranchers in the area if their livestock become infected.

 

Barbara Lewis, a character in the novel, is trying to escape some of the "traditions" of her family of ranchers who reside in the tiny village of McCartys on the Acoma Pueblo. Thus she had begun a career in law enforcement in the fictional community of Mercado near the protagonist's home north of Albuquerque.

 

A Pound of Flesh, Sorta

A Science Traveler Mystery


Sara Almquist receives a mysterious box of animal guts contaminated with the bacteria, which causes the plague. The police doubt it's a prank and suspect gang leaders are trying to prevent Sara from testifying at their upcoming trials. As a scientist, Sara wonders whether the packet might be a plea from a rancher fearing another outbreak of the plague in the Southwest. Soon all suspect the package is a clue needed to solve the suspicious death of one employee in a meat packing plant and the disappearance of another man maimed in an industrial accident. 

 

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

ROMANCE, COMEDY, & THE CIA WITH AUTHOR KAY KEPPLER

Photo by Michelle Pemberton. This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by The Children's Museum of Indianapolis as part of an ongoing cooperative project. The artifact represented in the image is part of the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

(Photo by Michelle Pemberton. This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by The Children's Museum of Indianapolis as part of an ongoing cooperative project. The artifact represented in the image is part of the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.)

 

Today we're joined by romantic comedy author Kay Keppler who grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin but moved to California to escape the cold and snow. Now she lives in a drafty old house with dodgy plumbing and spends her time writing. Learn more about Kan and her books at her website and blog. 


Several years ago, after celebrating a friend’s birthday in Las Vegas, I turned on the TV in my hotel room and watched a local news story. The reporter was standing in front of the county courthouse, where, among other services, people can get married or obtain a marriage license. Behind the reporter, at least a dozen people, some of them in costume, ran up and down the courthouse steps passing out advertising flyers for the wedding chapels.

 

I noticed one young woman in particular. She was probably in her twenties. She wore a 1950s retro costume: poodle skirt, saddle shoes, and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar. Her hair was in a ponytail. As she worked the stairs in the sweltering heat—it was July in Las Vegas, after all—her face was flushed, her blouse was damp, and she looked really, really miserable.

 

Who was this young woman? I wondered. She couldn’t intend to hold this thankless job for long. She had her whole life ahead of her. Why was she here? What did she want? What were her goals?

 

I knew this was a story in the making. But I didn’t know who this young woman was. She didn’t step out and reveal herself to me. None of the scenarios I imagined for her seemed quite right.

 

Time passed, but I never forgot her. And then one day, a couple of years later, I was at a writers’ workshop. The topic was character development. In our small groups, we brainstormed solutions for the problems we were having.

 

“I have this character who won’t leave me alone,” I said, talking about the young woman at the courthouse. “But I don’t know who she is, or what she wants, or how she got there.”

 

“She’s divorced,” one participant offered. “She’s running.”

 

“She’s getting a master’s degree,” someone else suggested. “It’s part of her research.”

 

“Maybe,” said one participant hesitantly, “I think maybe she works for the CIA.”

 

And bingo! Just like that, all the pieces fell into place. I knew Phoebe’s name, how hard she’d worked to get to the CIA, how it all fell apart, and how determined she was to vindicate herself and return to the agency.

 

Phoebe’s arrival, fully formed in one bright second in that workshop, was a first for me. I’ve never had characters be so shrouded and then so fully revealed. I’m more grateful than I can say to that workshop participant who gave me that idea, the spark that led me to fully exploring this character and writing three books about her. (Skirting Danger is the first of a trilogy.)

 

I’ve had a blast writing Phoebe’s story, which is at heart a screwball romantic comedy. And maybe now that the trilogy is finished, I can finally get this character out of my head!

 

Skirting Danger

Chasing the CIA, Book 1


Suspended for a hunch gone wrong, CIA language analyst Phoebe Renfrew is desperate to get her job back. But when she uncovers a terrorist plot at a Las Vegas start-up owned by famed ex-quarterback Chase Bonaventure, no one will listen. Can Phoebe get Chase on her side--and thwart international disaster--before the All-Elvis Revue sings "Jailhouse Rock"?

 



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