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.

Holiday Blog Hop Starting December 11th

Holiday Blog Hop

Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Friday, October 30, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LYNN CHANDLER WILLIS

Multi-award winning author Lynn Chandler Willis was the first woman in a decade to win the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best 1st P.I. Novel competition with her novel, Wink of an Eye. She lives in North Carolina where she spends her days babysitting 8 of her 9 grandchildren while simultaneously plotting interesting ways to kill people. There could be a connection. Learn more about Lynn at her website.

What Scares You the Most?

It's that time of year again when ghosts, goblins, and witches decorate yards with dying grass. Scarecrows standing tall beside a bale of hay are now threatening. Crows remind us of ravens and everywhere you look, there's a zombie.
Television networks begin running horror movies back to back in horror-fest marathons. And even though we know how it's going to end—and usually not good—we continue to watch. We read Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and now Blake Crouch. And if you really, really, really want to be scared—read Bram Stoker's Dracula. Trust me, there's no sparkly boy in the original vampire tale. But there is fear, pure and heart-clutching.

Why do we do it? Why do we like being scared? From riding large, swooping roller coasters to watching a terrifying movie or reading something that can induce nightmares, we're active participants in our own horrors. Some researchers believe it to be linked to our “fight-or-flight” instinct, triggering an adrenaline rush. Whatever the reason, some people enjoy being scared to death.

I'm not necessarily one of them. Well, maybe to a point. I don't enjoy the “slasher” movies. The Friday the 13th franchise, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre...not my cup of tea. Given my choice, I'd take a Hitchcock movie any day over the blood and gore that dominates today's cinema.

Monsters don't really scare me. Vampires, Frankenstein, werewolves, and even zombies don't really do it for me. I find Vampires interesting more than terrifying. With the exception of the original—Mr. Stoker's is quite frightening. Maybe it's my penchant for bad boy characters? Vampires are often portrayed as tortured souls (if they had one!) and a little more on the sexy side than we're comfortable with. While Frankenstein, on the other hand, doesn't mean to do the things he does, so he's a little misunderstood. Werewolves? Nah. Recent literature has made them sexy, manly-men, take-me-under-the-moonlight antiheroes and who's scared of that?

But a human who’s a tad “touched” in the head—absolutely terrifies me. The psychology behind the horrors they commit is scarier to me than any freak in a hockey mask or mutant with a chainsaw. Yes, I know, the slasher movies almost always star a crazy, murdering, monster of a person but they're so over the top exaggerated, they become fun. In a really twisted sort of way.

The AMC hit show The Walking Dead is a great example of what scares me. And it's not the zombies. Look beyond the snarling, lumbering, flesh-eating things roaming the woods and pose the question to yourself—what would I do? What would you do if you woke up one day and the world you knew was gone? Forget the zombies. How would you survive?

The one that scares the bejeezus out of me is an oldie, but a goodie. In the 1944 George Cukor film Gas Light starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, a husband attempts to convince his wife she's going insane. The mental manipulation used by the husband in the movie is the basis for the psychological term gaslighting. Now that, to me, is true terror.

What scares you?

Wink of an Eye
Twelve-year old Tatum McCallen hires reluctant PI Gypsy Moran to prove his father didn't kill himself. Gypsy, on the run from his own set of problems, soon finds himself in the middle of a case involving eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and hostile deputies. Aided by a sexy reporter, Gypsy begins unraveling secrets buried deep in his tiny hometown of Wink, Texas. Secrets so deep, exposing them threatens the only woman he's ever loved, and the very life of Tatum.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

CRAFTING A CEDAR CHEST WITH GUEST AUTHOR EDITH MAXWELL


Agatha-nominated and national bestselling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Learn more about Edith and her books at her website. 

Crafting a Cedar Chest

In the Country Store Mysteries, Robbie Jordan uses the carpentry skills she learned
from her cabinetmaker mother in Santa Barbara to renovate the old country store she buys in fictional South Lick, Indiana. She ripped out walls, installed insulation, updated wiring and plumbing – all the things you have to do to bring an 1870s-era building up to code, especially for a restaurant. She hired out for the electric and plumbing, but was proud to know how to do all the carpentry herself, especially as it brings her closer in spirit to her mother, who died suddenly a year earlier.

Readers are already asking if I, too, possess carpentry skills. My father taught me to saw and hammer when I was little, and I have dabbled in projects over the years: simple bookshelves here, a storage box for my garden shed there. Now I live with a man who himself renovates antique buildings. He’s got the full array of power tools. He makes mitered corners. He can tear out, insulate, and build walls, floors, and ceilings. He can put up wallboard without killing himself (or wrecking the wallboard.) So I don’t do much hammering and sawing anymore.
But some years ago I made a cedar chest from scratch. I still use it and am proud of my work, even if it might not win any awards. I wanted a chest to store blankets and sweaters in, and aromatic cedar has natural insect-repellant qualities. I hit up the local lumber store and bought tongue-and-groove cedar boards, which would normally be used to line a small closet. I bought lengths of 2x2 and, on a Father’s Day sale, a rotary power saw. I built the frame and then nailed the boards onto it.

This was way back before I had a husband or children, so I could fill my rental apartment kitchen with sawdust and ends of cedar boards. I was in heaven, working on my chest after work in the evenings and on weekends. The hinges almost defeated me, though. Have you ever tried to buy hinges? There’s a huge range. Inside, outside, inserted, and so on. But I finally figured out a workable solution, and that chest has been holding blankets, and now quite a few of my own late mother’s gorgeous quilts, for several decades.

In When the Grits Hit the Fan, book three of the Country Store Mysteries, which I’m writing now, Robbie finally has time to tear out the walls of her store’s second floor. She wants to create bed-and-breakfast rooms up there. But a couple of her discoveries, including an old pair of baby shoes and a secret door, prove more dangerous than she had imagined. Some of her finds come from finds of our own in the antique houses my boyfriend and I have renovated.

What’s your home improvement superpower? Do you love to build things, whether small or large, or would you rather leave that to the professionals – so you have more time to read?

Flipped for Murder
Book One in the Country Store Mysteries series

Nursing a broken heart, Robbie Jordan is trading in her life on the West Coast for the rolling hills of southern Indiana. After paying a visit to her Aunt Adele, she fell in love with the tiny town of South Lick. And when she spots a For Sale sign on a rundown country store, she decides to snap it up and put her skills as a cook and a carpenter to use. Everyone in town shows up for the grand re-opening of Pans ‘n Pancakes, but when the mayor's disagreeable assistant is found dead, Robbie realizes that not all press is good press. With all eyes on her, she'll have to summon her puzzle-solving skills to clear her name, unscramble the town's darkest secrets, and track down a cold-blooded killer--before she's the next to die...

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR AMY METZ AND APPLE UPSIDE-DOWN PIE

Amy Metz, a former first grade teacher, is the author of the Goose Pimple Junction mystery series. When not actively engaged in writing, enjoying her family, or surfing Facebook or Pinterest, Amy can usually be found with a mixing spoon, camera, or book in one hand and a glass of sweet tea in the other. Learn more about Amy and her books at her website.

A Southern Kitchen

Food and family are at the heart of every Southern kitchen. Sunday dinner, church picnics and potlucks, and simple everyday life have one thing in common: really good food and a lot of it. Southerners cook with bacon grease, drink their tea with a lot of sugar, and fry anything and everything. Every Southerner knows it's just plain polite to offer their guests something to eat, and the worst insult you could pay them is to decline to eat. Food, family, and love are always wafting around a Southern kitchen, where cooks put love into everything they make.

In the South, you don't cook meals, you fix them. When eating barbecue, if you don't have it all over you, you aren't eating it right. "I'll have a Coke" means I want a soda--anything from 7-Up (Sebmup) to Dr. Pepper. Southerners preserve fruits and family recipes.

I think it's because Southerners love food so much that they equate everything with it. That's why some of the best Southern sayings have some reference to food:

You can use food to describe the weather: "Colder than a two-day-old biscuit" or "Hotter than doughnut grease in the middle of July."

Or someone's mood: "Look who had sassy casserole for lunch."

Even to warn someone about a slick-talker: "He talks so smooth, he could steal grease out of a biscuit without breaking the crust."

You can describe someone's lack of intelligence: "His bread's not quite done." Or "There's biscuits on the griddle, but the stove ain't on." Or "The butter slipped off his pancake."

One's intellect can also be likened to food: "He's sharp as a donut." Or "She's one marshmallow short of a s'more."

You can describe speed, or the lack thereof: "Slower than molasses."

Or say something's a good idea: "That sure is a peach."

Or describe someone's age: "She's not the freshest egg in the carton."

Someone's nature can be as "Sweet as pie," because pie is sweet and wonderful and loved in the South.

Only in the South could someone's appearance be likened to an onion: "She's so ugly she makes onions cry."

Food can even be used as a salutation: "See you 'round like a doughnut." Or "See ya later, sweet potater."

Exclamations using food are plentiful. For example, when someone exclaims that something is unbelievable they might say, "Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit," or "Well, I'll be dipped in peanut butter," or "Well, pick my peas," or "Well, I'll be battered and fried." I could go on and on.

Where did the saying "Gimme some sugar" when someone wants a kiss come from? Maybe because sugar is equal to love, so show me some love! You can always count on a lot of love and a lot of sugar in a Southern kitchen.

I could go on as long as a link of sausages. My point is, if the characters in a book live in the South, you can count on reading about a lot of good food. A lot of conversations will happen in the kitchen or diner or restaurant. Food is the tie that binds, and in the South, the kitchen is a place where WTF means Where's The Food. And it will taste so good, you won't be able to keep your feet still.

The following recipe is from my third book, Short & Tall Tales in Goose Pimple Junction:

Apple Upside-Down Pie
apple pie filling
crust
pie topping
salted caramel sauce

Salted Caramel Sauce
2 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon (more or less) sea salt

In a thick-bottomed, heavy saucepan, cook the sugar on low-medium heat. Do not stir the sugar, but you can swirl the pan around to mix it that way. The sugar will begin to turn an amber color.

Watch the sugar carefully as it can burn quite easily. Once it reaches 350°, add all of the butter, whisking quickly to combine.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in heavy cream. Mix in salt and let cool.
Once cool, pour into an airtight container.

Prepare the crust:
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons shortening
2 tablespoons cold butter
7 tablespoons orange juice
In a large bowl mix together the flour and salt and then cut in the shortening and butter. Once the mixture resembles crumbs, slowly add the orange juice. With a fork, mix until the mixture begins to form a ball. Divide ball into two pieces, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Pie Topping:
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 375° and line a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with foil. HEAVILY grease with cooking spray.

Combine butter, brown sugar, and pecans. Place mixture evenly on bottom of pie plate.

Make apple filling:
6 to 8 tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3/4 - 1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter

Mix together the apples, flour, sugar, and salt.

Roll one ball of pastry out to fit the pie plate. Place half of apple mixture evenly on bottom of pastry; drizzle 1/4 cup salted caramel on top, place remaining apples, then another 1/4 cup salted caramel.

Roll out second ball of pastry to fit the pie. Place on top and seal both pastry pieces together, you do not need to make a beautiful design because the pie is going to be flipped upside down. Make sure to still cut four 1-inch slits in the piecrust before baking.

Bake for 50-55 minutes. Check pie after 35 minutes. If crust is becoming too brown, cover with foil for remaining baking time.

Let pie cool on wire rack for 15 minutes.
Place serving dish on top of the pie and flip over. Drizzle pie with remaining salted caramel. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Short & Tall Tales in Goose Pimple Junction

This is not your average Southern town. With a hint of mystery and a lot of laughs, you'll catch a glimpse of everyday life in Goose Pimple Junction in this short story compilation. Short & Tall Tales occurs chronologically between Murder & Mayhem, book 1, and Heroes & Hooligans, book 2, in the Goose Pimple Junction mystery series. Tales is a fun escape that will answer readers' burning questions about the residents of this quirky, small town.

How did Johnny Butterfield become police chief?
How did Tess and Jack get engaged?
How did Ima Jean come to live with Louetta?
How do you celebrate an Apple Day?

These questions and more are answered in Short & Tall Tales in Goose Pimple Junction. Five short stories, one novella, and three recipes will give you more of the unique charm of Goose Pimple Junction, make you laugh, and have your mouth watering. If you want a feel-good read, you've come to the right place. Grab some sweet tea and escape to Goose Pimple Junction.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR REBECCA BROOKS ON #WRITING, #ART, AND #MAGIC

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She writes about outdoorsy guys with both muscle and heart, and independent women ready to try something new. Learn more about Rebecca and her books at her website

Writing, Art, and Magic

It occurred to me recently that I write an awful lot about artists. The heroine of my last romance is a painter. There’s a photographer in my upcoming release, and I’m outlining a new book in a series that will introduce a hero who is a sculptor—as soon as I finish up this next book about a bartender and a chef. (My other favorite thing to write about? Food.)

I’ve written elsewhere [http://avian30.com/2014/07/26/guest-post-writing-as-art-or-why-not-to-draw-the-perfect-nose/] about how my background in drawing shapes the way I write. But I think there’s more to it than that. Why do I keep coming back to these kinds of characters, the people who make and create?

I’ve decided it has to do with magic. Art is about making something new, transforming the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. Art is about a unique way of seeing and experiencing the world, and isn’t that true for writing, too?  

I write steamy books. But there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, and too many overt sex scenes in a row can make a story start to lose its luster. I love to build tension and anticipation by finding other ways to insert sensuality into the narrative. Art is physical. It’s emotional, honest, and raw. When I describe an artist at work, I’m revealing something about the character and how he or she moves through the world. I’m also creating a point of connection—something the hero and heroine can experience together, no matter what other challenges they face.

There’s something special, something different, about those of us who are drawn to create, whether it’s a manuscript, a masterpiece, or something as simple as a cut-and-paste collage. The magic is there, if we take the time to notice it.  I think I’ll keep writing about artists. I want to find out what they’ll discover. And I love what they do with their hands.


How to Fall

Julia Evans has always put others ahead of herself—her high school math students, her troubled best friend, and her ex. But with New Year's approaching, she buys a round trip ticket to Brazil. For one week, she can put her needs first. She can meet a stranger in the hotel pool at midnight and dance all night on the beach. 

Screenwriter Blake Williams has to keep moving before Oz’s latest scandal catches up to him. But the dark-haired beauty with a backpack and an adventurous streak is messing with his plans. He can’t seem to walk away from her. But secrets have a way of coming out, and when the week is up, Julia and Blake will have to decide if they’re jumping into the biggest adventure of all or playing it safe.

Friday, October 23, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JENNIFER FAYE

Contemporary romance author Jennifer Faye joins us for an interview today. Learn more about Jennifer at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I fell in love with books when I was young, starting with Dr. Seuss. And then as I got older, I devoured the Hardy Boys and Judy Bloom books. I started writing short stories in elementary school and asked Santa for a typewriter. When I was a teenager, I found my first Harlequin at a sidewalk sale. I loved it! I couldn’t get enough romances. It was then that the dream of becoming a romance author was born. It wasn’t until I was nineteen that I made my first attempt at writing a full novel. It was a disaster, but it was a start. And all dreams have to start somewhere.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I became serious about my writing in 2007. My dream was to be a Harlequin author, but first I had to find the right line for my voice. The funny part is my gut told me that it was the Romance/Cherish line, so I submitted there first. Being inexperienced, I let the form rejection scare me off. When I got the courage to submit again, I concentrated on other lines such as American, Special Edition and SuperRomance. And with each rejection, the letters were personalized and positive. But it wasn’t until I got the courage up to resubmit to my favorite line that I sold. I got ‘The Call’ in October 2012 and my debut hit store shelves July 2013.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m a hybrid author. As I mentioned above, I started off writing for Harlequin. But I soon found that I had stories that didn’t quite fit into their guidelines and word counts. So I started out on my own. I must admit that it was a tad bit intimidating at first, but it was so worth the effort. At this point, I’m writing one Harlequin and then one indie title (that goes through the exact same editorial process as my Harlequins.) It definitely takes up all of my free time, but I have all of these story ideas just longing to get out.

Where do you write?
My favorite spot to write is out on the porch with the fresh air, butterflies and hummingbirds, but when the cold weather sets in, like now, I usually huddle under a throw on my recliner with my Writer Kitty.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I like to have music playing. Silence is just so isolating. Unless it’s Christmas time or I’m writing a Christmas title, I play country music. Tim McGraw is one of my favorite singers.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Um, none. At least none that is conscious. But real life influences everyone in different ways. The thing is, I have a very vivid, very active imagination so it doesn’t take much for it to head off on a path of its own. When it comes to writing books, it’s a blessing. When it comes to real life and stressful situations, it’s a detriment. That’s why my hubby is great. He always puts things in perspective.

Describe your process for naming your character?
I don’t actually have a process. Hmm…is that a bad thing? Basically I get to know my characters while writing the synopsis and then I go back and fill in the names.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional settings as much as possible. It’s so much more fun to write about a fictional town such as Whistle Stop or a fictional Mediterranean island nation such as Mirraccino as I’m not hemmed in by the restrictions of reality. And I don’t want to jar the readers out of the story if I take a real town and insert a bakery where there’s a car lot.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Hmm…I had to think about this one for a bit. The heroine in A Moment to Love (A Whistle Stop Romance, book 1) has an interesting background. She comes from a wealthy family, but her parents divorced when she was young. Her father retained primary custody of her, but he was a workaholic. So after school, she’d go to his office to wait for him to finish working. His administrative assistant was an older woman who was superstitious—very superstitious. With my heroine being young and bored, she learned the superstitious ways. And as she grew up, some of them stuck. The funny thing is when the hero figures this out about her, he tries to point out that it’s all foolishness. However, the heroine points out just how much superstition people take for granted in everyday life. So she’s not so different after all.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Oh my, how much time do you have? You know I might have to consult my family on this one. Okay, the hubby’s answer is my craving for ice cream when it’s snowing out. LOL. Way back when we were dating and I asked him to take me to Brusters for a sundae; it was sleeting. He looked at me like I’d grown a second head. But he did it. Got out in the snowy mess and ordered me a sundae. He’s awesome!

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
This is going to be silly, but I would have written One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. I just love how he can take the English language and make it such fun. And somehow not only do the words rhyme but they tell a story. It makes the people who read his books smile, and I think being able to make a person smile is the greatest gift in the world. I try with each book I write. Sometimes I fail, but then there are those times that readers write to me and tell me something that made them smile in one of my books. Those are priceless moments.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I honestly don’t have too many do-over wishes. Has my life been perfect? No. But it’s all of the stumbles, trips and face-plants that have led me to this point in my life. I have the most amazing husband, who is so patient with me. And two wonderful daughters that make me so proud that they call my mom. Now, see if I went back to change things, I wouldn’t have these wonderful gifts in my life. Nope. No do-overs. I love my life, the good and the bad. It’s a gift.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
You mean other than someone putting the toilet paper roll on backward? (Not naming any names!)

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
My husband. My daughter. My other daughter. Hey, if I have to be stranded I might as well share the fun. Plus, they’re really smart and should be able to figure out how to get us off that darn island.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Working fast food as a teenager. It was boring.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Oh my, these questions are getting tough. Hmm…I don’t know if I have just one book that ranks as my favorite. I remember devouring the Mallory saga by Johanna Lindsey as I was growing up. Those were books I’d read by flashlight under the covers and be bleary eyed for school the next day…after two hours of sleep. I never wanted those books to end. I haven’t read them in years, but I just might have to revisit them as I see there are new additions to the series. Lots to catch up on.

Ocean or mountains?
Mountains. I’m fair skinned so I don’t do well in the sun. I wilt.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I’m a country girl at heart. I love windy country roads, wildlife and the peaceful evenings.

What’s on the horizon for you?
Next up, wedding bells are about to ring out in Whistle Stop. And trust me, it won’t be your typical wedding. It will be done up in Whistle Stop style. And if that isn’t enough, there’s a mayoral election underway that’s about to become rather sticky and not from the honey fresh pastries at the Poppin’ Fresh Bakery either. For years now, Mayor Ortiz has run unopposed, but all of that is about to change. Mason Noble is about to toss his hat into the election. But will his political pursuits endanger his engagement to the beautiful Bella Nez? And are the townsfolk of Whistle Stop ready to do away with tradition? So many questions. So many changes. Keep an eye out for the fourth installment in the Whistle Stop series, A Moment to Cherish, coming Spring 2016.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
If you’re new to the Whistle Stop Romance series, for the next week, you can grab the e-book of the first book in the series, AMoment to Love, for 99 cents. 

A Moment on the Lips
A Whistle Stop Romance, book 3

Welcome to Autumn Fest...sweet treats, entertaining company, and a tender romance.

Piper Noble feels like she's going places. Her business, the Poppin' Fresh Bakery, is a culinary success story. Next on her to-do list is expanding the bakery into the vacant shop next door...and starting a new diet, like her mom keeps nagging her to. But when Joe Montoya steps into her life, her grand plans grind to a sudden halt. 

Joe's taken a big risk returning to Whistle Stop. But with his disastrous marriage over, it's time for a fresh start, including opening a coffee shop...and coming to terms with his troubled past. Though his neighbor Piper looks like she'll be a big distraction in getting Fill-It-Up Joe off the ground--with her honeyed smile, curvy goodness, and her unflagging determination to grab his storefront. 

However, when Piper and Joe are elected as co-chairs of a fundraising committee to help the town's revitalization project, the hostilities must cease. Joe's not sure about spending time with a woman who, one moment, reminds him of all the good things he's been missing, and the next minute drives him up a wall with her stubbornness. Meanwhile, Piper's looking for the way to this gorgeous but grouchy guy's heart--maybe serving him one of her fresh-from-the-oven pastries could be just the right start...

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