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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Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of action-adventure and fantasy tales that focus on women who know when to apply lipstick and when to apply a foot to someone’s hind end. She can usually be found chasing after her daughter or glued to the computer, working on her next novel or screenplay. Learn more about Bethany and her books at her website where you’ll also find links to other social media accounts.

Holiday Cheer

This month as I geared up for the release of my Christmas mystery novella, Winter Wonderland, I found myself moving straight past Thanksgiving at the speed of Santa’s sleigh. I am more than ready for some holiday cheer, and I’m relieved that the calendar is about to hit December and I can officially fly the holiday flag AKA don my Nakatomi Towers Christmas Party shirt. I’m not always so Yule inclined but this year, like my heroine Larissa Frost, I want ALL the Christmas. I want cookies, crafts, and enough candy canes to build a fence. Unfortunately, my family are more in the category of my hero, Marcus Winters, and have forbidden decorating until December first.


I have lured my daughter onto my side with crafts, but my husband is unswayed by glitter. He knows that decorating means that at some point there will be the struggle to have an upright Christmas tree and sees no reason to rush into such things.


I can’t blame him. Verticality is both the hallmark and bane of a Christmas tree. If we wanted them to remain upright, we really should stop chopping them down. In the past, we've had two trees that decided to lodge complaints with management and went for a more recumbent position. They have a right to protest, of course, but it seemed unfair to take the lights and ornaments with them. 


I also understand the hesitation to launch into the extra work that the holidays take. Some years I don’t have the energy to invest in the full holiday extravaganza. (See pandemic years 2019-2021.) But this year I feel like I've got a few extra bars of battery life and I could manage a gingerbread house and an extra batch or six of cookies. 


If all you're up for is a soothing re-watch of Die Hard and White Christmas, then I salute you and wish you a warm couch, a good beverage, and a toasty dog for your feet. However, if you are also ready for some holiday cheer and would like a quick and easy craft, see below for instructions on how to turn paper sandwich bags into an oversized snowflake. This one is fun and good for kids who are of glue gun handling age. Younger kiddos can participate by pre-decorating the bags and letting their big people handle the gluing. 


Note from Anastasia: Using a low-temp glue gun or tacky glue will allow full participation by the young ones. Just make sure to allow the tacky glue to dry completely before cutting out the shapes.

Paper Snowflake

Materials: 9 paper lunch sacks with flaps, hot glue, scissors, twine, hole punch. (optional ruler, pencil, Xacto knife)


1. Glue the bags together, one on top of another, with the bottom fold flap side facing down. Make a T-Shape with the glue across the bottom fold and then 3/4 of the way up the seam toward the top of the bag.


2. After all the bags are glued together, cut out simple geometric shapes along each long side above the folded bottom portion of the bags the way you would have when creating snowflakes out of folded paper. You can first draw the shapes before cutting if you choose. 


3. Unfold and glue the final edges together. Sometimes it helps to stick your hands all the way into the bag, but be careful. Hot glue is…hot!


4. Use a hole punch to make a hole. Thread with twine or ribbon and knot ends together for hanging.


Additional ideas: Add glitter or spray paint or have the kids color on the bags ahead of time.


Winter Wonderland

A Rom-Com Mystery


Marcus "Bag Humbug" Winters is hiding from Christmas, and the rest of his life, when he gets an offer he can't refuse—the chance to photograph a top model with the enormous 70-karat Hartford Diamond. The Hartford Diamond shoot is also an answered prayer for set designer Larissa "I Love Christmas" Frost. But while she needs the job to pay for her brother's unexpected hospital bills, she does not need the headache of a demanding photographer who keeps calling her Larry. But when they finally meet on set, Larissa is unprepared for Marcus to be a hunk, for him to apologize profusely, or for the Hartford Diamond to be stolen. Now Marcus may be the only one who can keep Larissa from going to jail for a crime she didn't commit. For Larissa and Marcus, this Christmas is anything but a Winter Wonderland.


Buy Link 

Monday, November 28, 2022


Dr. Randy Overbeck is a bestselling author of the award-winning Haunted Shores Mysteries, each a cold case murder mystery wrapped in ghost story served with a side romance and set in a beautiful resort location. He is also the author and voice of a new podcast, “Great Stories about Great Storytellers,” which reveals the unusual backstories of famous authors, directors and poets. In addition, he shares his multi-media presentations with audiences around the country. Learn more about all at his website.

Christmas Ghost Stories

When readers pick up a Christmas story today, even a Christmas mystery, they will likely encounter brilliant Christmas lights, a decorated Christmas tree, or even a Santa Claus—in addition to a murder victim and a detective, of course. In fact, listening to the incessant stream of cheerful, holiday songs, readers might think it was always so. Not true. Not so long ago, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, children and adults were told stories of a different kind of “spirit.” In England—the same country that gave us such holiday traditions as Christmas cards and mistletoe—children and adults gathered around a fireplace on a wintry Christmas Eve and were frightened into the Christmas “spirit” via a few creepy ghost stories.


The most famous of these eerie Christmas tales is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with its four specters to scare straight Ebenezer Scrooge. But Dickens is hardly alone. Henry James’s most famous work, The Turn of the Screw, which also takes place on Christmas Eve, is the tale of a governess who encounters the ghostly figures of a man and a woman. 


In the same British holiday convention, A.M. Burrage’s eerie short story “Smee” is about a group of young people messing around on Christmas Eve who decide to play a game of hide and seek in a spooky house in which a young girl died years before. What could go wrong?


The list goes on and on.


This tradition of sharing ghost stories on Christmas eve is thought to emanate from the pre-Christian celebration of the Winter Solstice, a time when light dies and the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest…and many of these threads continue even into our time. For years, the BBC hosted “Ghost Stories for Christmas,” spooking late night audiences into the ‘70s. Even the recent hit series, Downton Abbey—which portrayed life in England in the first half of the twentieth century--featured a Christmas episode where family members are gathered around a Ouija board, trying to access a spirit.


My new title, Scarlet at Crystal River, (watch the video here) continues this fine tradition of spooky Christmas ghost stories. This year, why not continue a centuries-old tradition and grab an alluring Christmas ghost mystery to read by the burning yule log this holiday?


Merry Christmas to all and to all a good fright! 


Scarlet at Crystal River

A Haunted Shores Mystery, Book 3


During the Christmas holidays, Darrell and Erin travel to Florida for their honeymoon, but, once there, the ghosts of two murdered children interrupt their romantic excursions. The newlyweds are driven to find out what really happened to the two kids, even when they are shot at, driven off the road and nearly killed. 


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Wednesday, November 23, 2022


New York Times bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan is a serial crafter, who likes to try a variety of creative hobbies in the evening after writing all day. She goofs up a lot, but mostly, she doesn’t care. Her latest book is Ship Wrecked, Book #8 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series. Learn more about Joanna and her books at her website

I’m Forever Making Booties

On March 23 of this year, I became a grandmother. Like generations of crafty grannies before me, I wanted to handmake “something” –I didn’t really care what—for Landon James Slan. It’s a universal truth among makers that with every bit of effort we put into a project is really an act of love. The memory box in my closet still contains cross-stitched drawstring purses my late grandmother made for me. When I run a fingertip over the threaded pattern, I can close my eyes and literally feel her love. I wanted my grandson to have that emotional touchpoint, too. But what to make a little boy?




That was the answer!


Now if I was an ace crochet maven like Bippy, a character in my Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series, I could have whipped out a pair in nothing flat. But I’m not that experienced. Years ago, I attended a beginning crochet class at a yarn store. Booties were not included.


However, Google is a crafter’s best friend. By googling “crochet patterns for booties,” I found a plethora of options. The first pair claimed to be super simple. Basically, you made a T-shape and lapped over the sides to form a shoe. The result was lamentable, and they didn’t stay on.


Back to Google. I found a Baby-Bean Booties pattern by Brenda K. B. Anderson. 


The Baby-Bean Booties pattern comes with a video tutorial. Yes, the pattern was more complicated than the cross-over pair I first made, but these new booties were designed to stay on. Babies are terrific at kicking, and Landon is no exception. Baby-Bean Booties’ tall, stretchy cuff helps them to cling to those chubby little calves.


The pattern is well presented. The instructions are clear. By watching the video, I was able to work through any hiccups. Using yarn that I already had, I made my first pair. They fit Landon perfectly! Since then, I’ve completed four pairs—teal, blue, gray, and red. There’s a real value to recreating the same pattern, over and over. Each time I approach the project, my confidence grows and my skills improve. Of course, I also get faster. 


But I like changing things up, and a pair of Santa Claus boots would be adorable for the holidays. The idea of a fuzzy cuff thrilled me. Unfortunately, crocheting with fluffy yarn is a nightmare. Once again, I turned to Google for advice. Two tidbits made a lot of sense: 1.) pair the fluffy yarn with regular yarn so you can see/find your stitches and 

2.) use a larger size crochet hook. 


I set out to conquer the fur-trimmed booty.


The cuff on the Baby-Bean Booties is worked sideways in rows, starting with a chain of 19, putting the hook in the back loop of the stitch to give it stretch, and then slip-stitching the sides together to form a tube. Try as I might, I couldn’t FIND the back post of the stitches when I switched to the fuzzy yarn. After a frustrating evening, I asked myself, “What CAN I do? What do I know how to do already?” 


Time for a modification. With the black yarn. I crocheted a cuff that was half the size required, a chain of 9 instead of 19, but still making 26 rows. As directed, I slip-stitched the piece together to make the (shorter) tube and continued with the body of the shoe. Once I had the shoe and the stretchy top, I switched to the fuzzy-and-plain white yarn and increased the hook one size. Using this new combination, I worked into the top of the existing black cuff with a single crochet stitch. I kept going until I had crocheted an additional white, fuzzy band the same size as the existing black cuff. 

Ta-da!!! It worked!


Lessons learned: Don’t give up. Think up a work-around. Take a break when you get too frustrated. Find help with Google. And keep on making booties.


Ship Wrecked

A Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery, Book 8 


Cara Mia Delgatto is doing historical research when she visits the House of Refuge, a way station for shipwrecked sailors, on Hutchinson’s Island, Florida. But Cara gets a dose of hysterical reality when another visitor is stabbed—and she’s called upon to administer first aid. The subsequent death of the victim weighs heavily on Cara. The police are stymied, but Cara is spunky and determined. Until she finds out whodunnit—and why—she’s haunted by the senseless murder.


Pre-order Link 

Monday, November 21, 2022


Deadwood, South Dakota

Today we sit down for a chat with mystery author Barbara Pronin. Learn more about her and her books at her website

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? 

I was in sixth grade when Scott O’Dell, author of Island of the Blue Dolphins visited my school. I was struck by his charisma and his tale of how he came to write the book, and I knew right then I was destined to follow in that path.


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

I have been very lucky. I sold my first magazine article with my first query, when I was a young mom with kids at home. When my kids were in school, I became a substitute teacher – and that resulted in my first book, Substitute Teaching: A Handbook for Hassle-Free Subbing, which sold to St. Martin’s Press. The book is still in print after some 30 years, and my success with that gave me the courage to finally try my hand at a novel – Syndrome – which sold to Avon Books and launched my career, writing as both Barbara Pronin and as Barbara Nickolae, which began with a collaboration on Finder’s Keepers and resulted in a two-book contract under that name. 


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

Traditionally published


Where do you write? 

At home, in an office cluttered with books, manuscripts, reference materials and ‘stuff.’ My ‘filing system’ is non-existent, but I can usually find what I want with little effort.


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

I love classical music, but I find I write best without distraction. 


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

I think I’ve been pretty guarded about writing from my own life, but my characters are often composites of people I have met. Syndromes’ Sister Althea was inspired by a former nun I met while working at a newspaper, and casual conversations with a forensic psychiatrist I knew inspired Sing Sweetly to Me. I typically start each novel with very motivated characters, which helps me to build out the plot. I have to admit, I am a pantserrather than a plotter. I trust my characters to tell their story. It’s what I love most about writing novels.


Describe your process for naming your character? 

Oddly, my characters mostly dance into my head complete with names. An exception is the novel I’m working on now, which takes place in the Netherlands. I did need to do the research to get comfortable with Dutch names.


Real settings or fictional towns? 

Mostly real settings. A trip to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore led me to the mining and gaming town of Deadwood, which was the impetus for The Miner’s Canary.


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

Shannon Buchanan in Finder’s Keepers has more of a sense of trusting innocence than anyone I’ve ever known. It gets her into deep trouble, but I think it is very endearing to readers, because the book was optioned for film and published in eight or 10 languages by Readers Digest Condensed books all over the world.


What’s your quirkiest quirk? 

I have to practically slap my hand to keep from answering a ringing phone, even when the caller ID says, ‘Unavailable.’ Answering machines notwithstanding, I’m always afraid I’ll miss the one call I wish I had taken.


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

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron. It speaks volumes to me about strength of character and making life’s hardest decisions.


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

I wish I had spent more time on exercise and health. I realize as I age that some of the aches and pains I deal with now might have been prevented if I had done that.


What’s your biggest pet peeve? 

Having to click five times and listen to five stupid messages before you can reach a live person on the phone.


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

Books. Family photos. A radio.


What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 

Making counter signs in the basement of a five-and-dime store. I did that when I was in college and my hands were permanently stained red and black.


Who’s your all-time favorite literary character (any genre)? Why? 

Lula, the steadfast sidekick in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. I can’t write funny, but I so appreciate those who can, and Lula’s whacky antics makes me laugh every time.


Ocean or mountains? 



City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 

Hmm…City girl?


What’s on the horizon for you? 

My first venture into historical fiction – a WW II adventure and love story set in The Netherlands in the Hunger Winter of 1944. It’s based on fact, I fell in love with the characters, and I can hardly wait to see it between covers.


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

I was raised by parents who gave me a sense of self-confidence, which is so important when you compete in the arts – and I’m grateful for all the family and professional support I’ve had over the years.  But while I’m sure that talent counts, so does persistence and a deep resolve to keep learning and improving. That’s the one piece of advice I would give to younger writers: Hang in there. Keep your eyes open. You can do it.


The Miner’s Canary

They say you can’t go home again… For single mom Julie Goldman, who thought she’d left the ghosts of her troubled youth behind her, inheriting her aunt’s old Victorian in the Black Hills mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, is as much a test as a blessing. Her aunt was not the person she thought she knew, and a diary left by her long-dead cousin Kate sets Julie on a path to find her killer. But with two new murders in town, and faced with a series of escalating threats, Julie must overcome her personal demons to protect her daughter and stop the killer who has them clearly in his sights.


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Friday, November 18, 2022


Today we sit down for a chat with award-winning cozy mystery author Liz Boeger. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? 

When I had a dream about the basic premise of AppleJacked in 2012.


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

Nine years for the first book, ChainLinked, then AppleJacked followed this year. 


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

I’m indie published but part of an authors co-op called Misterio Press, where we help vet one another’s’ drafts and cross promote our work. They are an amazing group of writers.


Where do you write? 

Mostly in my head and then when it gets to the tipping point, I go to the computer. The typing usually happens at my kitchen computer nook, in my easy chair, or on the back porch.


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



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

The flavor of my life as a school administrator and teacher is there, but the stories and characters are completely fictional. The setting is a mashup of the many childhood and adult adventures I enjoyed on my beloved Florida Gulf coast.


Describe your process for naming your character? 

Some names come automatically, others take a lot of thought, but that’s usually because they sound like caricatures or cliches. I knew I wanted my main character to have an Irish/American heritage so she’s Ana Callahan. 


Real settings or fictional towns? 

Combo. The main town is a fictional island set in an area of Florida where a real nature preserve is established. There are also excursions to actual locations in Tampa and the surrounding vicinity featuring completely fictional endeavors.


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

Ana does a lot of snarky self-talk, but it is mostly a stress response. I like to think of residents of the island itself as one big quirky character. Come to find out the good folks of Moccasin Cove know a thing or two about secret networks and ways to bypass the rabid press who besiege the town looking for juicy news tidbits after a murder or two.


What’s your quirkiest quirk? 

I write murder mysteries. Enough said.


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

The list is so long. From adult traditional mysteries to middle grade fiction there are so many authors I flat out admire because reading their work makes writing look effortless. And I know that it absolutely is not. But to name one for middle grade—JK Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise because I admire her persistence and the planning that went into creating the entire arc of the series. For adult mysteries it would have to be the late great Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series.


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

I don’t believe in do-overs because I don’t believe in tempting fate. Work hard and deal with the incoming tide until you can ride the waves to success and happiness.


What’s your biggest pet peeve? 

Cliches like “Ride the wave to success and happiness.”


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

A sticky-note requesting rescue, a populated island within rock-throwing distance. A rock.


What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 

Babysitting as a teenager. Ugh.


Who’s your all-time favorite literary character (any genre)? Why?

You really want me to choose? Impossible, because I have so many more books to read.


Ocean or mountains? 



City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 

Island Country


What’s on the horizon for you? 

I’m deciding on the storyline for Book 3 in the Moccasin Cove series. I also have ideas for another cozy mystery series and a middle grade book percolating in the back of my brain for future work.


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

Yes, thank you. I am indebted to the writing community for the encouragement and academic support they provide as I have learned to become an author. Likewise, for the readers who have embraced my books and left great reviews to encourage others to visit Moccasin Cove.


A Moccasin Cove Mystery, Book 2


Elementary principal Ana Callahan knows a thing or two about flipping failing schools, but she’s discovered the learning curve on solving murders is steep.


Now in the second year of her school rescue, in Moccasin Cove on Florida’s Gulf coast, Ana is on the verge of winning a pivotal grant award. But her grand plan hits a snag after a teacher is murdered and the crime is pinned on a runaway teenager Ana mentored. The story goes viral. Ana’s campus is besieged by the media, angry parents, and complex questions about the dead teacher’s past. Worse, the myopic rookie detective assigned to the case has her sights set on all the wrong suspects.


While grieving the teacher’s death, Ana starts her own investigation, but her discovery of a body on the beach pins a bullseye on Ana’s back. In her quest to solve two murders, locate the missing teen, and salvage the grant win, Ana unwittingly unleashes a riptide of childhood secrets that force her to learn a hard lesson... 

It takes a village to raise a child, but it may also take your life.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Today we sit down for a chat with Crystal Hagan from author Christine Desmet’s Mischief in Moonstone Series. 

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings? 

I was teaching first grade in a village called Moonstone that hugs Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. I also live on a small acreage and enjoyed my animals, particularly my reindeer, Rudolph, that was going to be featured in our live-animal holiday display until he was stolen. 


What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? 

Patience. If you teach first graders you have to be patient and kind, and of course a peacemaker because of the occasional scuffles among the kids.


What do you like least about yourself? 

My inability to give up some old habits—even an old boyfriend. I’m a bit too much of a traditionalist, too. When I apologize to people for anything small or otherwise, I always have to bring them a pie or cake I’ve baked, or Christmas cookies at this time of year.


What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you? 

She hid my reindeer Rudolph on me in a mansion we call the North Pole here in Moonstone. An older gentleman who used to play Santa Claus lives there, but he’s become a curmudgeon. And now, his rather handsome son is back from Arizona visiting for the holidays, and he says they’re not returning Rudolph to me. I believe his father is in cahoots with our mayor who wants my live-animal display discontinued. So, my author has me fighting for Rudolph on two fronts. And my first-graders are very upset because they think Santa Claus can’t find our town without Rudolph leading the sleigh.


Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about? 

I don’t argue with her so much as the local townspeople and the two men living in the North Pole mansion. Some of my first-graders don’t have much. Some won’t be able to see a parent for Christmas for any number of reasons. My author likes romance, and she’d like me to settle into a romantic story, but I tell her that Peter LeBarron may be handsome, but he stole Rudolph and I want him back! For me, the mystery has to be solved soon so the kids aren’t feeling sad.


What is your greatest fear? 

That I won’t be able to bring a good holiday to my first-graders and to the people in my quaint, little village. This is a poor area, and some of the children need me to come through for them with happy things like being able to pet Rudolph.


What makes you happy? 

I enjoy seeing my students smile. And baking and making candies. I make homemade popcorn balls for the students and teach them games in the snow, such as “Duck, Duck, Goose.” I’m hoping that the father of one of my students will be able to come home for Christmas. Jobs are scarce here in northern Wisconsin, and some of the guys travel to other states for construction or other jobs.


If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why? 

Sticking with my old boyfriend too long. I’m the loyal type, and somehow I keep excusing his slights or so-called forgetfulness. This new guy Peter LeBarron keeps pointing out I need to consider that we all outgrow people just as we outgrow other things. 


Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why? 

Peter LeBarron certainly bugs me. Those feelings have to do with him growing up here until high school when he left for private school and college. He essentially abandoned his father, I believe. He says there’s more to the story. But do I have the patience to listen to the man who stole my reindeer and won’t give back Rudolph? Of course, I don’t get along with Mayor Bob Winters either because he dislikes my ideas for drawing tourists to Moonstone for the holidays. Two men who don’t believe in Rudolph leading a sleigh “slay” me!


Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?

My best friend Rita Johnson. Rita is the postmistress in Moonstone. Her daughter Gretchen is in my class. Rita is so together, smart, and very quick with her wit and actions. She put up a flier on the “FBI Most Wanted” board for my missing Rudolph, and of course it said something to the effect “last seen with Peter LeBarron.” Peter wanted to rip that down, but of course defacing federal property might land him in jail. That action of Rita’s on my behalf began to change the dynamic in my relationship with Peter LeBarron. I learned he had a lot more secrets besides kidnapping Rudolph.


Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog? 

My author is at her website, where you'll find links to her other social media, and at Blackbird Writers, where you'll find a link to theBlackbird Writers Discussion Forum and the group's newsletter.


What's next for you?

My author has me continuing to get involved with new people coming to Moonstone. Murder and other types of mysteries appear in the remainder of the Mischief-in-Moonstone Series novellas. All have sweet romances included. In Misbehavin’ in Moonstone, No. 2 in the series, I meet the new chef Kirsten Peplinski, who discovers there’s an illegal gambling boat off-shore in Lake Superior featuring scantily clad servers. The men in town suddenly say they’re going fishing. Kirsten discovers evidence the party boat’s captain might actually be a pirate scouting Moonstone to steal jewels and other valuables. 


When Rudolph was Kidnapped

Mischief in Moonstone Series, Book 1


When her pet reindeer, Rudolph, is stolen from the live animal holiday display, first-grade teacher Crystal Hagan has a big problem on her hands. Her students fear that Christmas will be canceled. Ironically, the prime suspect is a man who lives in a mansion known as the “North Pole.” And to her shock, Peter LeBarron admits to kidnapping Rudolph and he won’t give him back without some romantic “negotiations.”

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Monday, November 14, 2022


Today we welcome back Justin Murphy. In both his fiction and nonfiction, Justin explores many themes in his work, including probing into the darkness of pure evil and exploring obscure figures often forgotten in entertainment. Today he talks about books that would appeal to disabled readers. Learn more about Justin and his books at his Facebook Author Page.  

What Books Interest Disabled Readers?

For the last several years, there has been lots of discussion about the need for more diversity and inclusivity. Especially when it pertains to issues concerning African Americans, Asians, and those of Latino or Hispanic heritage, among other races and ethnicities as well. There are also mentions of giving women more prominent roles in fiction, along with the LGBTQ community. This way readers of such backgrounds see some reflection of themselves in stories with characters they can identify with.


Yet as a reader and author with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy caring for an autistic brother, there doesn’t seem to be much representation for the disabled in comparison. As with any of these cases and in general, there’s most likely a tug of war between literary and commercial genre fiction. With the former, there’s often a first-person story chronicling one’s ordeals and allows readers to see things through their eyes. The latter is mostly, but not always, a more accessible third-person story in the categories of crime/mystery/detective or sci-fi/fantasy/horror. Either concealing important issues in the guise of these stories or providing an escape into a more imaginative situation where one escapes such.

Two novels come to mind where a first-person story dealing with a mentally disabled and/or neurodivergent character engages in a detective story. One is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close written by Jonathan Safran-Foer about Oskar Schell, a boy with Asperger’s who lost his father on 9/11. He sets out across New York City in search of the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father. 


The other book is The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon, about Christopher John Francis Boone, another autistic boy who discovers the neighbor’s dog impaled by a garden fork. Despite being considered the prime suspect, he sets out to investigate the canine’s murder.


I’ve read both novels and feel they do a good job of staying entrenched in the world of a first-person literary novel while incorporating elements of said detective story. The same could be said for House Rules Written by Jodi Piccoult. Though in most cases, I lean toward the latter myself. In terms of the fiction, I’ve been reading a collection of stories by sci-fi/fantasy author Ray Bradbury, also read similar volumes by legendary mystery authors Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. While I can’t speak for other disabled readers and their feelings on these matters, embracing more disabled narratives and placing them in a genre context might be taking several steps forward.

 For the most part, disabled narratives are either of a first-person literary or non-fiction nature. But as a reader, I want to see more risks taken with this subject matter. A broader crime/mystery/detective or sci-fi/fantasy/horror story involving a disabled character, whether he or she is a main or supporting player. Even better if such were a series detailing one’s ongoing ordeals within these settings. Yet even readers know it takes a lot of skill and craft to balance the realistic struggle of said character with a more imaginative genre scenario, and consistent on sequential basis. Though such is not impossible and could work very well.


It’s one thing to read about one’s struggles being recounted in first-person, whether it be factual or fictionalized. You’re being told this individual’s story. Yet when placed in a genre context, the author shows you their ordeal, whether it be a crime/detective/mystery story or a sci-fi/fantasy/horror tale. You’re learning a broader social message which their life or perspective tries to convey. Yet it remains up to the reader to decode the fiction from the more concealed portion of the author’s life. Odds are, this would be a worthwhile reading journey and enable these observers to think for themselves.


While these ideas may be ahead of the curve, a first person literary or non-fiction story might be too confining. A genre story or series with disabled character front and center, or with regular involvement in the stories broadens the profile and understanding of these people and their issues. It would be great to see such a thing come to pass sooner or later.


(Note from Lois and Anastasia: The Maid by Nita Prose is a cozy mystery with an autistic amateur sleuth.)

Friday, November 11, 2022


Author Ellie Fields weaves small town charm, baking recipes, and gardening tips into her cozy mysteries. Her diverse fictional town of Cricket Creek is an amalgam of the small towns up and down the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains where she lives and where she finds inspiration for her stories and characters. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Who Doesn't Love Chocolate?


Um…that would be me, actually. What??? Seriously????


Truthfully, it’s not that I don’t like chocolate, it’s that I’d rather enjoy something lemon-y or coconut-y, especially when it comes to cakes. But given that my friends, family, and hubby all love chocolate, that’s the flavor of cake I usually make for birthdays, and wow, do I have a fabulous chocolate cake recipe that everyone seems to love!


In Wedding Planned to Death, my amateur sleuth Cicely Rue is a gardener, not a baker. In fact, the only thing she likes baking are pies and pizza. She’d much rather have her hands deep in the rich soil of her garden than in a bowl of batter (although she did win the blue ribbon for her pies at the County Fair ten years running). In fact, she loves gardening so much that when she’s laid off from her job, she starts a business hosting weddings in her lovely flower garden.


Cicely's best friend Josie Barrett owns Creeky Sweets, a bakery in the small fictional town of Cricket Creek, California, and she bakes like a dream. She even bakes the cakes for the weddings Cicely hosts at her place. I love writing Josie’s character, because I can almost smell and taste all the goodies in the bakery as I write. Usually, when I’m done writing one of the scenes set in Creeky Sweets, I’m inspired to bake something, which my friends and hubby always appreciate! And each time I create some delicious confection, I save the recipe to use in one of my Wedding Garden Cozy Mystery books.


In Wedding Planned to Death, I shared one of the recipes from Josie’s bakery that included lavender from Cicely’s garden: Creeky Sweets Lavender and Lemon cookies. I also included a recipe for a pie Cicely Rue bakes in the story: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. Both are delicious, and I knew that for the next book in the series, Grave the Date, I needed to include other equally yummy recipes. I had several picked out from cakes, cookies, and breads I’ve baked before, but ended up not including my favorite chocolate cake recipe in the book. It’s too good not to share, though, so here it is.


First, though, answer me this: Do you love chocolate? Or are you like me, more of a fan of other flavors? And if so, what’s your favorite cake flavor?


Chocolate Decadence Cake



3 cups (plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

3 cups granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

4 large eggs

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

1-1/4 cup warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup warm dark coffee

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butter or Crisco to coat the cake tins

Three parchment paper circles to fit the bottom of 9-inch cake pans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Using a paper towel, coat three nine inch cake pans with butter or Crisco, then sift flour into the pans and shake to make sure the butter is thoroughly coated. Tap out excess. Place parchment paper circles inside the cake pan. Set pans aside somewhere cool.


Using a wire whisk (or on low speed if you’re using a stand mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt until thoroughly incorporated.


In a separate bowl, add the eggs, buttermilk, warm water, warm coffee, oil, and vanilla, then beat by hand with a wire whisk just until the eggs are broken up.


Add the wet ingredients to the dry, beating with a wire whisk for about five minutes or if using a stand mixer, about two to three minutes until the cake mixture is smooth and the wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Be careful to not overmix.


Using a tare scale or another method, divide the batter equally among the three pans. 


Bake for 30-35 minutes. Check for doneness by sticking a toothpick in the middle. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is done. If it’s sticky, bake for another two minutes, then test again, using a fresh toothpick. Be careful to test quickly, as you don’t want all the heat to escape your oven.


Cool in the pans on wire racks. I typically cool ten to twenty minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Put a wire rack on top of the cake, grab it carefully, then flip it over and hopefully the cake will slide right out of the pan. If you’re using parchment paper, be sure to peel the paper off at this point. Allow to cool completely (at least another hour). 


Layer the cake, adding a ring of Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttermilk on the bottom layer and filling it in with chocolate ganache. Repeat for the next layer. Add the top layer, then crumb-coat the cake with a thin layer of the Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. Set in the refrigerator for an hour. When the frosting is solid, remove cake from refrigerator and coat with a generous layer of the frosting, then serve and enjoy!


Chocolate Ganache



8 ounces heavy cream

16 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (room-temperature)


Grate the chocolate and place it in a dry medium-sized bowl. Set it aside.  Grating the chocolate results in an easier melt. (Note: be sure all utensils are dry.)


In a heavy saucepan, heat cream over medium heat until little bubbles begin to form along the edges. Do NOT boil! I never leave my saucepan at this step.


Pour the cream into a dry medium-sized bowl. Carefully add the chocolate to the cream, stirring until just incorporated. Let it sit for five minutes, unbothered.


Once the mixture has set for five minutes, with a dry wooden spoon, stir the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is fully incorporated into the cream.


Cool completely, then whip for five minutes on high in a stand mixer.


Put in a piping bag to use as the filling in the cake. 


Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttermilk Frosting



1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

8 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened

1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon cold dark coffee

7-8 cups sifted powdered sugar

1/4 cup (or less) milk


Using a hand or stand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. 


Slowly incorporate the cocoa powder, then add the vanilla and cold coffee and beat until thoroughly incorporated.


Add the sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time. If the mixture gets too thick, add milk, one tablespoon at a time until it gets to a good spreading consistency (this is a thick frosting so be sure not to add too much milk). 


Wedding Planned to Death

A Wedding Garden Cozy Mystery, Book 1


When introverted gardener Cicely Rue loses her job and learns she and her son (along with her dog, cat, and all her chickens) may have to move away from Cricket Creek, wedding planner Sabrina Mattingly—the town’s former bully—tosses her a lifeline by offering a contract to host a wedding in Cicely’s picturesque flower garden.


Cicely’s at first reluctant (host weddings? with people?), but given the choice between losing her home or becoming more sociable, she soon agrees to turn her garden into a wedding venue. Even as Cicely grows increasingly nervous, the town vendors excitedly prepare for the wedding. The wedding plans are coming along beautifully . . . until the wedding planner turns up dead and buried in Cicely's compost heap!


Milo Levine may be a brilliant detective, but he’s dead wrong when he makes Cicely his prime suspect just because her fingerprints are all over the murder weapon. Doesn’t seem to matter that Milo had once been her friend, nor does it matter that Cicely has a blooming suspicion others in town have motive for murder.


Despite Milo ordering her to steer clear of the investigation, Cicely and her dog Otis dig for clues rooted deep in the town’s history to prove she’s not a murderer—and to find out who is before Cicely becomes the murderer's next victim!


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