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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Knitting fail
Ann Myers writes the Santa Fe Café Mysteries featuring café chef and reluctant amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. When not writing, Ann enjoys cooking, crafts, and reading other authors’ cozy mysteries. Learn more about Ann and her books at her website.

Failures and Frustrations

Failures and frustrations…oh, where to start? I’ll confess first to crafting flops. There have been a lot. The cardboard sculptures that went straight to recycling. Sewing, particularly pants. A glass bead workshop I fled because of my totally reasonable fear of giant shooting flames. Metalsmithing went slightly better, but only as far as soldering with a crème brûlée torch. Then there’s knitting.

Those of you who knit probably think it’s as easy as devouring pie. Not for me. Friends and family have tried to teach me. I’ve watched videos and envied people who can knit in waiting rooms or on planes. How do they do it? I’ll probably never catch on. Even my dear, sweet grandmother lost hope. “You’re good at other things,” she told me.  

Which leads to other things: career failures. To better understand, let’s label me: I’m an introvert with an active imagination regarding murder. So, living in Florida in the boom years, I decided to sell real estate. Why not, I thought. I love looking at houses! I didn’t think about how I’d find clients, or about meeting people (potential murderers) in empty buildings. I had two listings: a beetle-chewed shack and a ’60s ranch home with a pool owned by a man who claimed to run an international spy agency. He also claimed the pool required expert care. That was true. It turned green, he changed agents, and I sold the shack and quit real estate.

You’d think I’d learn. No, I turned to insurance sales. With my expect-the-worst tendencies, I’m a big fan of insurance. However, insurance required cold calling. I dreaded this probably exponentially more than the average person dreads cold calling. And when I got appointments, they were on the other side of the state, across the vast Ocala Forest (a forest notorious for serial killings). I did meet lovely people and listened to a lot of books on tape. Predictably—in retrospect—insurance was another failure, and I moved on to grant writing and editing.

So, what did I learn? I guess I can’t change my nature. I’ll never be good at mingling, cold calling, or verbal persuasion. But I’ll always love books and solitary work, and what better way to channel my criminal suspicions than mystery writing? With crafts, I’m afraid I haven’t changed my ways. A friend and I are currently taking blacksmithing classes. Yes, more scary flames and a craft that’s a lot harder than it looks on YouTube videos. But we’re going to keep trying because that’s the fun part—and because bending steel seems a whole lot easier than knitting!

Feliz Navidead
Holly, jolly, and downright deadly—the third Santa Fe Café mystery unwraps surprises both naughty and nice…

It’s the most picturesque time of the year in Santa Fe, and Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Café hopes the twinkling lights and tasty holiday treats will charm her visiting mom. Rita is also planning fun activities, such as watching her teenage daughter, Celia, perform in an outdoor Christmas play. What she doesn’t plan for is murder.

Rita discovers a dead actor during the premier performance but vows to keep clear of the case. Sleuthing would upset her mom. Besides, there’s already a prime suspect, caught red-handed in his bloodied Santa suit. However, when the accused Santa’s wife begs for assistance—and points out that Celia and other performers could be in danger—Rita can’t say no. With the help of her elderly boss, Flori, and her coterie of rogue knitters, Rita strives to salvage her mother’s vacation, unmask a murderer, and stop this festive season from turning even more fatal.

Buy links

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Pickled Onion and Tomato Salad

2 small or one large red onion
1 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T sugar
3 teaspoons Italian seasoning sea salt
1-1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
3 T sour cream

In a glass bowl whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt are dissolved.

Thinly slice onions and place in vinegar to soak. Let sit at room temperature at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Slice tomatoes in half and add to bowl, stirring to coat. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator.

An hour before serving, remove 1 T vinegar and place in small bowl. Drain remaining vinegar. Add sour cream to small bowl and whisk until mixture is smooth. Fold into onions and tomatoes. Return to refrigerator to chill before serving.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Indian pandal (marriage canopy)
Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series, set in South India, and the Chief Joe Silva/Mellingham series, set in a coastal New England town. Her stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website. 

One of the pleasures of setting stories in India is thinking about the artwork and the crafts. I have always enjoyed handwork, and India has some of the finest examples of this in terms of fabric and embroidery. A common item is the pandal (shown above), or marriage canopy under which the ceremony is conducted. The canopy is decorated with various images in crewel stitching, and one piece can be both hand-stitched and machine stitched. My example is from Rajasthan.
Sozni (satin) stitching
My grandmother gave me a small scarf, really a shoulder scarf, to be worn under a jacket. This is pure Kashmiri wool with a pattern embroidered on one side. This kind of stitching is called sozni, or satin stitch. My grandmother gave me this when I was in college, and I've carried it with me over the years. I have rarely worn it because I recognized when I received it that it was already an antique. It's now probably 140 years old. This stitch is most often found on shawls today sold throughout India and for export.

At one time royal families would commission an entire dress or outfit to be covered in this stitch. The project could take years, and an artisan often made only one in his lifetime. I read years ago that the British were so disturbed that these artisans ended up blind from the close work that they prohibited the making of these outfits. I've seen them on display during textile exhibits in museums, and the stitches are tiny and the patterns intricate, covering every inch of fabric.
Dorukha style stitching 
I treasure another item passed down to me from my grandmother. This Kashmiri shawl is embroidered in the dorukha style, which means the embroidered pattern is double sided. The same pattern appears on both sides in the same or different colored threads. One side is done in red and pink, and the reverse is done in blue. This work is done by hand; it is not woven into the fabric. Embroidering something like this can take a year, and covering an entire shawl in this style can take three years and cost the same as a car. Not many artisans remain who are willing and able to do the work, and few can find younger people to train. This is a dying art, unfortunately.
Test of a true pashmina shawl
One of my first discoveries in India was about pashmina wool. Today I see ads for pashmina wool shawls, but I know they're fake, though even the sellers may not know that. When I wanted to buy a light shawl in Delhi, the seller brought out several but he said I should buy a real pashmina shawl while I had the chance. Did I know how to identify a real pashmina shawl? I did not. So he showed me. A real pashmina shawl will slide through a wedding ring, and the one he offered me did just that. I bought it. It's the only plain shawl I own, but I treasure it. It's as light as a summer breeze.

Anita Ray, the Indian-American photographer in my mystery series, wears cotton dupattas, or long stoles that go with the salwar khameez sets that she wears. She can drape them over her head on a sunny day to block out the sun, or over her shoulders in a cool evening breeze.

When Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery

In the glorious beauty of a tropical night, a young woman abandons her daughter in the Hotel Delite compound and flees into the darkness. In the morning Anita Ray recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, but before she can track her down, the police arrive at the hotel looking for her. She is the main suspect in the stabbing death of her husband. This seems impossible to Anita, but so does the discovery that Nisha and her husband were involved with unscrupulous moneylenders from their family's village.

Anita is ready to let the police do their work as she prepares for a one-woman photography show in a prestigious gallery, but fate conspires against her. An accident wrecks her schedule as well as her car. She sets up her camera for one last shot, but it fails to work. When she inspects the camera she finds a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else's memory card inside.

Whether she likes it or not, Anita is drawn into the frantic search for a young mother and the murky world of moneylenders and debts of honor, a hidden corner of life in South India.

When Krishna Calls asks how far will a woman go for love and family? Anita Ray thinks she knows how Nisha would answer, but before it is all over Anita must also answer that question. How far will she go to protect her family and her home?

Friday, October 21, 2016


Marilyn Meredith (aka F.M. Meredith) claims she’s has had so many books published, she’s lost track of the count, but it’s getting near 40. She lives in a community similar to the fictional mountain town of Bear Creek, the big difference being that Bear Creek is a thousand feet higher in the mountains. Learn more about Marilyn and her books at her website and blog.

When Fiction Comes too Close to Reality

That’s what happened to me with my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Seldom Traveled.

I’m a combination of a plotter and a “pantser”. When I begin writing I’ve already decided who the murder victim will be and why, along with a few ideas who might have done it, where and how it happened.  An actual murder in a mountain community that I read about in a news clip is what got me started, however not much about that murder ended up in my story.

As I wrote, more and more ideas about who might have killed this person and why began to bounce around in my head. As I’m writing the story on the computer, I always have a notebook and pencil at hand to jot down all the new ideas so I don’t forget. This is an exciting process for me and part of why I enjoy writing so much—even after all these years.

Something else real that I included was a fugitive who managed to get away from the law and fled to the foothills where I live. Despite using dogs, law enforcement was unable to find this man. (I don’t know if he ever was apprehended because nothing more was ever mentioned in our local news.) For me, though, this was a great starting point for Seldom Traveled, and my fugitive plays a major part in the plot.

As I continued with the writing, I knew that a forest fire would play a major part in the plot. To make things accurate, I spent a lot of time asking a friend who is a firefighter many, many questions. He supplied me with the answers and made suggestions.

Remember, that a book is written long before it comes out. You probably all know that forest fires have plagued California this summer and into fall. When the book came out, several forest fires were burning around the state. Though I knew I had nothing to do with the fires, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of guilt.

When I sent the book to the publisher and answered the questionnaire about what I wanted the cover to look like, I mentioned the forest fire and a bald eagle that also plays a big part in the ending. My heroine is an Indian (she prefers that to Native American) so there is always a bit of Indian mysticism in the series. The artist did a perfect job. Take a look and see what you think.

Seldom Traveled
The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

Buy Links

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Former award-winning journalist and author Michele Drier writes the Amy Hobbes Newspaper Mysteries and the paranormal romance series SNAP: The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles. Learn more about Michele and her books at her website.

Maps are a passion.

Want to get from Bath to Stonehenge by way of Limply Stoke? I have a map for that.
Looking for the best route between Beaune and Auxerre? I have a map for that.

I love to travel, to find different lands, different people, different foods, different cultures and outlooks. There’s a sense of adventure, of reinventing oneself, of adopting a different persona.

This may be why I set the Kandesky Vampire Chronicles primarily in and around Kiev. The protagonists live there, but they travel throughout Europe. And, like me, their favorite city is Paris.

They own a flat in the 7th Arrondissement, a leafy enclave overlooking the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars and the Ecole Militaire. They visit Paris for shopping, for business and always for Fashion Weeks.

A few years ago, before my mother died, she got a passport but hadn’t gone anywhere. I told her it was illegal to have a passport but not use it and asked where she’d like to go. I expected her to say England, but she said Paris and so we went for a week, not long enough.

After we spent hours at the Louvre, we sat beside one of the ponds in the Tuileries Gardens, watched French kids sail toy boats and she said, “I’m in love.” She loved the sights, the families, the art, the food, the sounds. She said that all her life she’d heard French emergency sirens in movies and on TV and now she was hearing the definitive “OOOH-ah, OOOH-ah.”

That was probably my seventh or eighth visit to Paris and I, too, had fallen in love with the city over the years. Now, as I write, I have maps of many European cities and countries near. After all, the Kandeskys are an uber-rich, uber-sophisticated vampire family who rose in Hungary five hundred years ago. They spend time in many European cities, and I need to see where they go, what they do, so I read the maps. The most tattered is a map of Paris from Galleries Lafayette picked up years ago. I close my eyes and see the street, the apartment, the courtyard, the trees that the Kandeskys see, though their view is by night.

 In the latest Kandesky book, SNAP: I, Vampire, a visit to a Fashion Week show results in a kidnapping and chase through the French countryside. And I traced the kidnappers’ route on one of my maps.

Soon, I’m going back to Paris, back to the 7th Arrondissment, back to the food, the people, the OOH-ah sirens, and to revisit the places where my mother fell in love.

SNAP: I, Vampire
Book 9 of The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles

Maxie Gwenoch, LA-based media star, VP for International Planning for the multi-national gossip conglomerate, SNAP, has finally agreed to marry Jean-Louis Kandesky, a 500-year-old Hungarian vampire and leader of the family that owns SNAP.

Is marriage a big change? Not as big as the fact that Maxie is now a vampire, as well. When munitions from the Kandesky Enterprises weapons plant in Slovakia turn up at the bombing of a Royal's house in England, Jean-Louis and his "brother," Nik, are hot on the trail of shadowy terrorist groups dealing in international weapons sales. Are the Kandesky arms being sold to terrorists groups? Should Maxie use her newfound vampire strengths to ferret out the scum?

Buy Links

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Amber Foxx has worked professionally in theater and dance, fitness, and academia. In her free time she enjoys music, dancing, art, running and yoga. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months. Learn more about Amber and her books at her website. 

Frustrations: Fragmentation

I usually blog about things that make me happy, so I challenged myself to discuss frustrations. It was harder than I expected. I have a bias toward the positive. Still, it can be good to hear someone share a frustration. Recently, one of my students delivered a hilarious rant about early morning classes as she slumped and sprawled over her desk—in a morning class, of course. I’m the professor, so I can’t behave like that, but I agreed with her and felt more normal about my preference to sleep late. It doesn’t change the fact that morning people took over the world while we were asleep; it just makes it more bearable to have someone express the same feelings. I don’t have much to complain about it, and I’m not as funny as she was, but I do have an ongoing frustration that others may identify with. Fragmentation.

I heard the following fragments of fascinating facts on NPR.

1.   A study found that people who are interrupted frequently as part of an experiment will continue to interrupt themselves for one to two hours after the intrusions have stopped.

2.   France has passed a Right to Disconnect Law. Workers have the right to ignore calls and emails from their workplaces while they are on vacation or after working hours, and employers legally cannot penalize them for not taking those calls. The purpose of this is to make sure people can enjoy their leisure, their social events, and their family time uninterrupted.

I would have liked to learn more, but I had to interrupt each of these stories, get out of the car and go teach a class.

As a professor, my day is broken up into one-hour to ninety-minute chunks for meetings and classes without enough time in-between to focus the way I like to. During an hour between two classes, I end up doing lots of fragmented tasks, such as answering emails. Students and colleagues have come to expect this as the norm for communication, rather than dropping by office hours for conversation. I long for uninterrupted concentration. (Did you notice the rhymes? I could write a patter song from that. Oops. Did you notice how I just interrupted myself?) All these tiny tasks breaking up my focus are turning me into an absent-minded professor. It’s my job to read, write and think, and fragmentation makes it harder. I’ve picked two nights out of the week on which I schedule nothing after work, so I can stay late to read and grade student papers in peace, taking as long as I need to.

Because I crave escape from fragments and want whole experiences, I love getting lost in books, both reading them and writing them. Summers and vacations are bliss because I can write for hours. I schedule my time around a few key events—exercise, social life, and sleep—and otherwise I can enter flow to my heart’s content.

I confess that fragmentation fatigue makes it hard for me to enjoy most social media. Facebook lets me stay in touch with friends I don’t see often and fellow writers I only know online, but its busy interface doesn’t inherently appeal to me. Twitter makes me feel as if hundreds of fragments are flying at me, and I want to duck them. The only social media form I truly embrace is blogging. The blogs I follow present fully developed ideas or images that I can take time to enjoy, with no other visual stimuli clamoring at me from above or below them. Writing a blog post allows me time to explore an idea and polish it. While other social media feel like a drive in heavy traffic in a construction zone with billboards on all sides, blogging feels like a leisurely walk on a pleasant day.

While I was writing this, it struck me that although my protagonist is in college (she’s in her late twenties, a non-traditional age student), I’ve set only small portions of any of my books during the academic year. As a student, her days are chopped up as much as mine are, between her classes and study groups and her job at the campus fitness center. The open space of her vacations gives me more freedom in my plots. Snake Face takes place during a Christmas holiday. The newest book, Ghost Sickness, is set during her summer break.

On my own summer breaks, I have frequently and blissfully attended the ceremonies on the Mescalero Apache reservation that Mae goes to in the book. I can enter a deep, ecstatic state of pure attention during these dances. But of course, I can’t give my main character the kind of serene vacations I enjoy. What I can give her is uninterrupted time to get involved in a mystery.

Ghost Sickness
A Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, Book 5
No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

A visit to the Mescalero Apache reservation turns from vacation to turmoil for Mae Martin.

Reno Geronimo has more money than a starving artist should. He’s avoiding his fiancée and his family. His former mentor, nearing the end of her life, refuses to speak to him and no one knows what caused the rift. Distressed and frustrated, Reno’s fiancée asks Mae to use her psychic gift to find out what he’s hiding. Love and friendship are rocked by conflict as she gets closer and closer to the truth.

Bargain! The first book in the Mae Martin Series, TheCalling, is on sale for 99 cents through October 28th.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Award-winning romance author and editor Kathryn Lively is an avid Whovian and Rush (the band) fan who loves chocolate and British crisps and is still searching for a good US dealer of Japanese Kit Kat bars. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

In my contemporary romance, Finish What You Started, actress-turned-showrunner Gabby reconnects with her ex-husband Dash. Dash’s acting career hovers around the D-list, and he hopes to get back to star status. Along the way, there’s food to enjoy but I don’t dwell too much on the eats as I have in other works. Dash and Gabby have takeout from his favorite Italian place, there are scenes at the craft table during a shoot, and a tense confrontation at a popular Jewish deli. Food isn’t much of a star in this story, but rest assured people will eat well in the follow-up book.

I tend to showcase Italian food in many of my works by virtue of heritage. My mother is a second-generation American in her family, with grandparents from Sicily. Sundays were reserved for sit-down dinners of pasta and meatballs, or ziti with fried zucchini. Special occasions called for lasagna and sausage and peppers. Over time, I’ve managed to cooks all these dishes with good results. One of my favorite meals, gnocchi, my mother never tried for some reason. I’m not sure why—having made a lasagna, the work involved doesn’t seem excessive.

My characters enjoy a variety of bites in my first book, Totally Bound. Do they have gnocchi? You’ll have to read to find out. I know I plan on it in the future. What’s more, I’ve devised a “cheater” recipe in case you don’t have the time to boil and mash potatoes beforehand. If you have leftover mashed potatoes from the grocery deli, or if you buy the premade stuff, it can work.

I take about a cup of cold mashed potatoes (they have to be cold, you’ll see why) and mix in one egg with enough flour to create a dough-dumpling consistency. If the potatoes are warm, wait, otherwise you’ll end up creating cooked egg in potatoes. Yuck.

As for measuring flour, I start with a quarter cup and keep adding until I get the dough. You don’t want potatoes coming off on your fingers as you knead.

Once the dough ready, separate it and roll long ropes to about the width of a fingertip. Cut one inch pieces and press the tines of a fork down on each to create that ridged appearance. Or don’t – it doesn’t affect the flavor.

Boil a pot of water, and add the gnocchi. The dumplings will be ready when they float to the surface, and you just skim them out of the water into a bowl. Add your favorite sauce, brown some ground sausage or add ham or meatballs, and grate some cheese. Time to eat!

Just thinking about gnocchi has me ready to make some dough for dinner. Don’t be surprised if my characters eat it in every book I write from now on. ;)

Finish What You Started
In this business, it gets hot under the spotlight…

Once a teen idol, Gabby Randall now spends her time behind the camera. With her show Danse Macabre scripted and greenlit for a popular streaming site, she has everything she wants…except her star. Deadlines are looming and she’s desperate to cast the role of a modern-day, motorcycle-riding Grim Reaper. She never thought she’d end up hiring her former co-star, TV’s most beloved g'eek…and her ex-husband.

Until the day he dies, people will remember Dash Gregory as Freddie ‘Grody’ Grodin, the token geek friend of the cool kids at Wondermancer High. After years of casting agents overlooking him for plum roles, Dash wants to show Hollywood he’s more than a one-note player. He’s ready to break the vicious typecasting cycle, and he’s set his sights on the lead role in a sexy new series too hot for network TV.

When the director yells “Cut!” the star wants to keep up the action behind the scenes. Are Dash and Gabby willing to make ratings history again?

Buy Links