featuring guest mystery 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.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Connolly's pub as it looked when Sheila first visited.
New York Times bestselling author Sheila Connolly writes three mystery series, a paranormal romance series, and romantic suspense. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

I write a series, the County Cork Mysteries, set in a pub in Ireland. Anybody who has known me for a long time knows I have never been a pub kind of person. So how did this happen?

I attended a women’s college in a dry town, so while I won’t say there wasn’t liquor around (our favorites, off the record, were Mateus and Tang mixed with vodka), we weren’t exactly into partying. More like studying, with playing bridge to fill in the gaps.

I spent four years living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in graduate school. I could even drink legally by then. But I can still count on my fingers the number of times I ventured into a bar. Now and then with a group of friends, maybe, but we were all broke and couldn’t afford it often.
Then I got married, and we lived in the Bay Area in California for a decade. But there I much preferred the outstanding restaurants or driving up to the Napa Valley to tour wineries, to sitting in any kind of bar. (Although the Claremont Hotel bar had spectacular views.)

And then life got in the way, and there were mortgages and a child and all that stuff. No pubs—until I went to Ireland.
When my daughter was in middle school, my husband and I decided we would take her to see England, Wales and Ireland (all in two weeks—ha!). When we landed in Ireland, the first pub we walked into (in Carlow, near where my grandmother was born) was eye-opening: on a Sunday afternoon, it seemed like everybody in town was in the pub, eating Sunday dinner. Grandmothers, kids, probably dogs as well. Sure, you might have a pint with your corned beef, but mostly people were there to talk to each other.

Inside Connolly's
After lunch we drove to Leap in County Cork, the village closest to where my grandfather was born. Leap has a population of just over 200 people—and four pubs, or maybe it’s five, depending on how you count. One was Sheahan’s, attached to the hotel (run by the same family for 135 years), and then Kickshaw’s, both with restaurants. There was one that seemed to have no name, and when I peered in once, it seemed to be filled with large silent men, and one next to it on the corner (three in a row there.) And then there was Connolly’s.

Obviously I should have recognized fate when it slapped me in the face. Of course I checked it out, and I’ve been going back ever since. If Eileen Connolly, the owner, is a relative, we haven’t figured out how we connect—yet. You see, there are two groups of Connollys in the townlands north of Leap—the families have been living a couple of miles apart for the last few hundred years, but you must not confuse them! Eileen is a Reavouler Connolly, and I’m a Knockskagh Connolly. But we get along just fine.

Connolly's pub as it looks today.
So we visited Connolly’s on that first trip. And the next year I went back with just my daughter, and we spent time there again (the Irish don’t seem to have a problem with children in places that serve liquor.) I’ve been back many times since. Each time I’ve paid attention: I listened to people, and I talked to people. Finally I realized that pubs are not about drinking—they’re about community. The TV show Cheers actually got it more or less right—a place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. At the same time, if you want to be left alone in an Irish pub, that’s fine, too. Up to you.

So you see, using a small pub in a small town as a setting makes perfect sense if you’re writing a traditional mystery: sooner or later everyone in town, not to mention the tourists, the local police, and the occasional criminal, passes through and ends up talking to friends and strangers alike. What better way to collect information to solve a mystery? You’ll learn everything you need just by listening.

An Early Wake
Pub owner Maura Donovan may have Irish kin, but she doesn’t seem to have the luck of the Irish. Who could have foreseen that bringing live music back to Sullivan’s Pub would lead to a dead musician? 

Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.

As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.

Buy Links

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


photo montage by David Castor from photos by Guillaume Paumier, NaJina McEnany, Abanima, Frank C. Muller, Scott Bauer and Fir0002
Addicted to the ocean and the color turquoise, award-winning author, Kathryn Jane, lives on the west coast of Canada with an obnoxious cat, a pathetically faithful dog, and the man of her dreams. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Living with food allergies and sensitivities can be complicated—and the ridiculously fine print on grocery item packaging, well, that's just plain annoying.

Developing food allergies after the age of forty, has been educational to say the least, and having a sense of humor is a life saver, although sometimes, it’s hard to keep a straight face.

This actually happened to me at a social function.

Hostess: “Have a cookie.”

Me: “No thanks, I’m allergic to nuts.”

Hostess: “Oh, but these have no nuts, I made them myself this morning. Just flour, sugar, butter, and peanut butter.”

Seriously? I thought. Do I just laugh and decline, or do I point out that peanuts are, hello? Nuts?

Me: “I’m allergic to peanut butter, too.”

Often when asked exactly what I’m allergic to, I reply, “It would be easier to list the thirteen food items I’m not allergic to.”

I then get, “Oh, you must be a very healthy eater.” I just smile and leave it there instead of saying, “Actually, no.”

I live on chicken, white fish, white flour, white rice, white sugar, and plain no-fat Greek yogurt, as well as potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, quinoa, Jell-O, and Becel margarine (the Canadian one with no Soy.)

As my allergist/immunologist once said, “The more colorful and healthy a food is, the more likely it will cause you to have a reaction. So my diet is all about lack of color.

But here’s the funny part. I’m extremely healthy. I take no supplements (most contain things I’m allergic to). My doctors do blood work and shake their heads in amazement when all the numbers fall within the normal parameters.

And something my friends shake their heads at? I watch the food channel on TV, a lot. I love being around food. When we go to a restaurant, I enjoy the aroma-rich air while I eat my baked potato, or steamed rice, and don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.

I think it’s a bit like watching sports. Most of us could never be Olympic athletes, but we sit in front of the television and lean into the wind with the ski jumpers.

I’d like to leave you today with some little tidbits I've learned over the last few years.

Did you know…

Ice cream often contains eggs?

Fruit juice may contain carrot juice.

Most packaged foods, like cookies, bread, frozen meals, and meal replacements contain SOY.

I just looked at a few cans in our pantry—the hubby doesn’t have to conform to my diet—and I found soy listed on the labels of chili con carne, vegetable beef soup, prime rib soup, vegetable soup, and mushroom soup. Soy’s also in the frozen French fries/chips, soda crackers, and of course, Teriyaki Sauce.

Many packaged foods contain corn in the form of cornstarch as a thickener.

In the US, the top eight foods most likely to cause an allergic reaction are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.

Intrepid Women series, Book 4
Kickass women and the men who dare to love them.

She’s desperate to stop a killer…. 

Rachel Meyers has been on the run long enough—hiding from more than just death. But now the murders happening around her are forcing her to take a stand and the only person she can trust to help is the man she ran away from. Her husband.

He’s desperate to have his wife back….

Quinn Meyers has spent two years searching for Rachel. Now she’s back, scared and asking for help. But Quinn wants answers. Helping her is a given, he won’t say no, but he also won’t let her go again. Not without a fight.

Desperate love…

Quinn’s body still aches for Rachel, even though he’s guarded his heart since the day she left. Her continued secrecy is tearing apart any hope of saving their marriage. But more than love is at stake if Quinn and Rachel can’t find the killer.

Buy Link

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Romantic suspense author Sharleen Scott lives and writes in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Learn more about Sharleen and her books at her website

When I decided to write my romantic suspense/mystery series, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate place for my characters to inhabit than a place I dearly love. The rugged terrain, panoramic vistas, foggy mornings, and stunning sunsets of the Oregon coast created the perfect locale for murder, mayhem, and love. In book one of the series, Caught in Cross Seas, I needed a gathering point for my characters and the Sweet Stuff Bakery and Café was born. It’s a homey little place across the street from the beach in Angel Beach, Oregon, filled with a hodgepodge of secondhand store tables and chairs painted in blues and greens. The owner, homeless advocate Harlie Cates, serves clam chowder, crusty breads, pastries, and sandwiches to locals and tourists alike. Alongside those sandwiches a diner might find potato salad and chips or maybe a large serving of Cowboy Caviar.

Why does Cowboy Caviar fit into this scenario? Because of a cowboy, of course. When country music superstar Clay Masterson comes to Angel Beach in search of his missing father, former city girl Harlie does her best to resist his small town charm and beautiful blue eyes. She fails miserably and soon finds herself in the middle of a bunch of Montana cowboys, a serial killer, and a murder mystery where she could possibly be the next victim.

About the Cowboy Caviar…it’s a delicious combination of fresh ingredients such as avocado, garlic, cilantro, and tomatoes together with a few pantry items like canned corn and black-eyed peas. Mix it up with vinegar, salad oil, and enough hot sauce to suit your taste. Cowboy Caviar is a lot like a romance novel…some like theirs mild and some like theirs hot. Enjoy!

Cowboy Caviar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-1/2 - 2 teaspoons hot sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons salad oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 firm-ripe avocado
1 can (15 oz) black-eyed peas
1 can (11 oz) corn kernels
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes, chopped
tortilla chips

In a large bowl, mix vinegar, hot sauce, oil, garlic, and pepper. Peel, pit, and cut avocado into cubes. Add to vinegar mixture and mix gently to coat.

Drain and rinse peas and corn. Add peas, corn, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes. Add salt to taste. Serve with chips or as a side dish.

I double the recipe for potlucks and always bring home an empty bowl.

Caught in Cross Seas
When country music superstar Clay Masterson finds his supposedly dead father, he wants to do two things: buy dear ol’ dad a beer to thank him for being a great father for the ten minutes he spent at it, and kick his dad’s sorry butt to Montana to face an eighteen-year-old murder charge. Harlie Cates will try to stop him. Happily ever after could be a problem for them.

Buy Links

Monday, March 2, 2015


A quilt barn in Harrison County, Ohio
Norma Huss, The Grandma Moses of Mystery, has written one ghost mystery (to please her grandchildren, of course) and two mysteries placed on Chesapeake Bay. Her non-fiction is her father’s true adventure. Learn more about Norma and her books at her website and blog.

Quilts and Barns

How do quilts, a handmade bedcover, and barns, a large building for cows, go together? Answer—when a barn sports a quilted decoration.

It’s a natural for the place where I live, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the home of Amish quilts, dairy farms, fields of hay and corn. But we are sort of a Johnny-come-lately. Quilt trails are found in 48 states and Canada. A local quilting farm woman saw her first barn quilt in Ohio which inspired the one profiled in our local newspaper.

Some 7,000 wooden or Mylar quilts were created by groups such as the Grange (a farming organization I belonged to as a teenage farm girl.) They can be found following quilt trails, and they aren’t all on barns.

Here is the article from our local newspaper. And, of course, something so popular has its own Facebook page here

I had never before heard of quilts on barns, or quilt trails. In the summer, we have corn mazes, tours of dairy farms, and the Hershey candy factory. Do you have similar activities where you live? I’d love to hear about them.

A Knucklehead in 1920s Alaska
Nineteen-year-old Bill Collins travels to Alaska in the 1920s to work and save for college. He finds adventure, misadventure, and not much money. He faces hardships, finds friends, and has experiences that change a boy into a man.
During three summers and one winter, Bill survives hunger, earthquake, stomping caribou, and icicle frost. He learns about stopes, sluice boxes, and powder smoke. He finds friends, one willing to face a bear for him, and enemies eager to knife him or smash him with a twenty-pound sledge. He has one lucky day and more than a few really bad days.

This is the story of one hot-headed young man determined to earn his own way, but in his own words, a true knucklehead.
The e-book is free for five days, starting today. Yesterday’s News, a bonus short mystery is included.

Buy Links
ebook (free today and tomorrow)

Friday, February 27, 2015


Today historical and contemporary romance author Marie Laval sits down with us for an interview. Originally from Lyon, France, Marie now lives in Lancashire, England where she teaches French. Learn more about her and her books at her website

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I always loved writing. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I was always making up stories and scribbling in a diary or a notebook, but that always in French. I started writing short stories in English several years ago, and when one got published, another won a prize and yet another got shortlisted in an international competition, I thought that maybe I could indeed write in English after all. So I started writing novels!

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It took a couple of years, and quite a few disappointments. At one point, my husband urged me to stop sending my manuscript to publishers because, as he said, we would soon be able to wallpaper the back room with all my rejection letters. Needless to say, I didn't listen. When you love writing, you can't just stop. You have to carry on and keep believing in yourself.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I am traditionally published. My first two historical romances, Angel Heart and The Lion’s Embrace are published by Canadian publisher MuseitUp Publishing. A Spell in Provence and my forthcoming historical Dancing for the Devil are published by Áccent Press.

Where do you write?
In my small, cramped and very messy dining room. This is where I set up my laptop and the printer. I dream of having my own space, with all my files and photographs and books. And a nice view too! Perhaps one day...

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I need silence but I very rarely get any, except if I get up very early on weekends and sneak downstairs before my family wakes up. Having said that, music is also essential to me, and with every one of my writing projects there are one or two 'special' songs I listen to in order to reconnect with the moods and feelings of my characters.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
They are purely fiction, although I must confess that I usually base my heroines on myself a little bit.

Describe your process for naming your character?
I don't have a specific process. Most of the time, the hero's and heroine's names just pop into my mind and feel 'right'. With A Spell in Provence, however, I had to change my heroine's name for the second draft because I no longer felt that the name I'd chosen suited the character I wanted to write about.

Real settings or fictional towns?
A mixture of both. I do set my novels in real locations, which I either know well or research, but I always invent places, too, whether it is a village or a castle...

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I would have loved to write The Lady in White by Wilkie Collins.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
Mine would be a personality do-over. I would love to be more assertive and more confident...

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People being nasty to one another.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
My three children (although that may be a little selfish, since they may not want to be stranded with me!)

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
When I was a student, I worked as a secretary in a very posh hotel in my hometown of Lyon for a few hours every week. Part of my job was to serve champagne to the very well-to-do ladies attending the cookery lessons of the chef every Wednesday afternoon. They were very snooty and unpleasant, and I hated every minute of it!

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
This is a very difficult question. There are so many books I have enjoyed over the years, and so many authors I love. I don't think I can answer this!

Ocean or mountains?

City girl or country girl?

What’s on the horizon for you?
My historical romance Dancing for the Devil will be released later on this year by Áccent Press. I am working on another contemporary romance and researching background for a couple of historical romantic novels.

A Spell in Provence
With few roots in England and having just lost her job, Amy Carter decides to give up on home and start a new life in France, spending her redundancy package turning an overgrown Provençal farmhouse, Bellefontaine, into a successful hotel. Though she has big plans for her new home, none of them involves falling in love – least of all with Fabien Coste, the handsome but arrogant owner of a nearby château.  As romance blossoms, eerie and strange happenings in Bellefontaine hint at a dark mystery of the Provençal countryside which dates back many centuries and holds an entanglement between the ladies of Bellefontaine and the ducs de Coste at its centre. As Amy works to unravel the mystery, she begins to wonder if it may not just be her heart at risk, but her life too.

Buy Links

Thursday, February 26, 2015


This is definitely not Judy's fashion style, but it might just be something her character Keisha would wear.
Judy Alter spent thirty years at TCU Press, twenty of them as director, while raising four children as a single parent and writing novels about the American West. A lifelong mystery reader, she always told herself she wanted to publish one mystery and she’d be content. She now has eight mysteries in print. Learn more about Judy and her books at he website and blog. 

A Fasionista I’m Not
My twelve-year-old granddaughter is a fashionista. She knows how to layer, how to fling or drape a scarf just right, how to combine the unusual and have it come out perfectly. One morning I caught her dancing into the bathroom happily singing, “Makeup time.” Of course, it helps that she’s tall, thin and drop-dead gorgeous. She got none of that from her grandmother.

I almost always wear stretched-out knit pants and a T-shirt when I’m home alone working; often it’s the T-shirt I slept in. In public, I try to class it up a bit with leggings and blousy tunics. But I know my sense of fashion is behind the times. I do manage makeup, though I’m no expert at it. And my hair has a cut I really like, so maybe I’m not completely hopeless.

I tend to dress my protagonists—those amateur female sleuths—the way I like to dress. Kelly O’Connell, of the mystery series with her name, is a bit out of date, choosing tailored slacks and blazers for the office, a silk shirt if she really wants to dress it up. Loafers whenever she can. For dinner out with Mike, she may wear a loose, long shift—she favors beige with turquoise jewelry. At home, she wears my outfit—stretched-out slacks, a T-shirt, and raggedy slip-on tennis shoes. Her daughters are sometimes embarrassed by her clothes, a feeling I know well from my own two girls. Her style is my style—casual.

Kate of the Blue Plate Mystery series wears jeans or khakis and often a white shirt under her chef’s apron, and Susan Hogan of The Perfect Coed usually wears slacks and a shirt, though sometimes she teaches a college class in jeans and running shoes. She, too, can spiff it up for dinner at an upscale restaurant, but it’s not her preferred style.

One or two minor characters break out of this rather ordinary mold. Miss Lorna, the reclusive former diva in the Kelly O’Connell Mystery Series, wears embroidered Japanese housecoats with dragons on them—one even showed up on the cover of Deception in Strange Places.

And then there’s Keisha, Kelly O’Connell’s capable office assistant. I think my fashion imagination went wild with her. She’s young, large (not fat, just a big-boned girl,) African American, and given to flashy outfits to match her larger-than-life personality. She wears loose tunics and even muumuus to the office, with matching high-heeled sandals (and thong sandals hidden under her desk.) If the day’s color is turquoise, her tunic, sandals, toenails, and fingernails are also turquoise, and bits of turquoise color highlight her upswept hair. She doesn’t follow fashion; she defies it.

In one episode she has cut her hair into a spiky, short style—she appears with it highlighted in pink to match the flowing tunic and high heels. Everyone is stunned, and she’s a bit taken back by the reaction, but nothing stops Keisha. In a book forthcoming this spring, Desperate for Death, she buys an outrageous wedding dress and outfits for Kelly’s daughters who will be her junior bridesmaids. Kelly is, shall we say, dismayed! I would so love to have a picture of Keisha in her wedding dress. I can see her clearly in my mind’s eye.

I think my fashion sense for my characters says something about my personality—going along in my own staid way but longing for an occasional something flamboyant. It’s sure fun to play with characters’ clothes.

Skeleton in a Dead Space, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery
Kelly O’Connell never thought real estate was a dangerous profession, until she stumbled over a skeleton in a dead space in an early-twentieth-century Craftsman house she was transforming into a coveted modern home in an older urban neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas.

From that moment, she runs into teen-age gang members, a manipulative ex-husband, a needy and single pregnant friend, a cold-blooded murderer, and a policeman who wants to be more than her protector. As free-spirited as the chocolate-peanut-jalapeño candy she craves, Kelly barges through life trying to keep from angering her policeman-boyfriend, protect her two young daughters, pacify her worried mother a thousand miles away, and keep her real estate business afloat. Too often she puts herself in danger, and sometimes it’s the girls, not Mike, who come to Kelly’s rescue.

Buy Links

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


photo credit: © Andres Rodriguez
Susan Lohrer is a contemporary romance author who writes about families bumbling through crazy situations. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website

A Well-Balanced Life
How often have we heard from the experts that we should eat more of this, never eat that, and start regularly doing something that pretty much feels like torture? Every day, right? And then every few years, the experts change their minds and tell us the opposite. Argh. In the last few decades, we’ve gone from “Fat and cholesterol are going to be the death of us all” to “Meh, that stuff doesn’t matter as much as we thought, and you should be eating bacon and eggs.” Not only that, but studies have discovered that an aggressive running program (think marathon runners here, people we’ve long thought of as probably some the healthiest folks out there) actually shortens your life.

So what can we learn from observing the ebb and flow of expert health advice?

1. They’re all quacks and we should just do whatever we want.

2. They know best, and we need to stick with whatever the current trend is, no matter how yucky or difficult.

3. We (hopefully) are equipped with enough common sense to interpret the stream of information for ourselves and understand that we need… balance.

Whoa, when I finally realized that I could choose between making myself crazy trying to do everything the way someone else said I should do it… and living a balanced life, did it ever take some stress off.

Mind you, balance can be a tricky thing. Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or we work outside the home, we can get so caught up in chasing our dreams, our lives become the chase. And is that what we had in mind when the dream began? Probably not. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, and I’ve worked outside the home. And it can get crazy—never mind being all things to all people, most of us are doing all that while tracking our calories and potassium intake (you can substitute your favorite health trend for potassium) on a smartphone app. It’s nuts. How do we balance all the important aspects of our lives?

We have to understand one key concept: We can’t achieve our dreams by piling so much on ourselves that we lose balance.

Because just like it’s now a bad idea to run excessively (thank goodness), it’s unhealthy to do anything to excess. Even good stuff like reading, knitting, and watching our nutrition. What good is it to spend so much time reading about the world that you don’t ever really live in it? To knit the most beautiful sweaters but never make time to bundle up and walk your dog? To eat only healthy foods and never enjoy an ice cream cone on a summer day with your best friend?

We need balance. Our dreams need balance. And yes, for the writers out there (myself included), our writing needs balance! The formula for success as an author or any creative person always includes a body of solid work; and I believe with all my heart that the secret ingredient in that formula is not spending 20 hours a day slaving over a computer keyboard—it’s making time to write daily without sacrificing every last moment of time with family and friends… or without sacrificing, say, a good night’s sleep. To create meaningfully, we first need to really live.

Now, I have many things to accomplish today and only a few hours in which to do them. I’ll get a lot done. I’ll write a few pages of my next book. I’ll try not to get fired (again) by my daughter who has Down syndrome and doesn’t approve of the fact that my job includes waking her up in the morning. I’ll drop everyone off and take myself to work. I’ll come home and make dinner and put away the laundry. But first? The sun is shining, and I’m going to go outside and take a little walk with my dog.

A Gift for Chloe
Her carefully ordered world is turning upside down…

Linda is the one who holds her family together. She’s an absolute rock—at least, she was until her daughter announced her pregnancy (wait, isn’t 40 way too young to become a grandmother?) and delivered the news that the baby has Down syndrome.

Now she finds herself standing in the middle of a bookstore, floundering to regain her equilibrium as her carefully ordered world tumbles willy-nilly around her. Instead of making a relatively simple decision about which book to buy, she’s spent an hour waffling between two titles and trying (and failing) to come to grips with this new reality she hasn’t had nearly enough chance to prepare for. It’s not that she hasn’t already fallen head over heels in love with baby Chloe, but this is something she’s not equipped to handle—she can’t even choose a self-help book on the subject, for goodness’ sake.

Her friends and the medical professionals blithely insist she’ll forget all about special needs the moment she sees her grandchild for the first time. Even the too-good-to-be-true, optimistic fellow customer she encounters in the aisle of the bookstore seems to think she’s worried over nothing.

This handsome stranger is obviously compassionate and knows a lot about Downs, but Linda is in no way interested in striking up a conversation with him, let alone a friendship, no matter how intriguing he is… until he performs a random act of kindness she can’t ignore.