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, July 24, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR KATHLEEN HEADY

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
EPIC nominee Kathleen Heady has lived in and traveled to many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. Learn more about her and her books at her website/blog.

My latest novel, Hotel Saint Clare, is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean but is partially based on my travels in Costa Rica, especially the Caribbean coast of that country. I moved to Costa Rica in the early 1990s to teach in an international school on the outskirts of San José. Less than a year later, I married another teacher at the school and we stayed in Costa Rica for another seven years. Since I lived there for so long, most of my favorite spots in Costa Rica tend to be off the beaten tourist track.

I much prefer the beaches on the Caribbean coast with its laid back Jamaican influenced culture. You don't see the highrise, luxury hotels on this coast. Things tend more toward small hotels and cabinas tucked in the rain forest, but still often only a few steps from the beach. When I first visited Puerto Viejo in 1992, there was only one telephone in the village. Now that has changed. Everyone has the latest technology, and Internet cafés are common. But you will still hear reggae music as you walk down the street, and your feet automatically slow down to a relaxed pace.

Rice and beans are traditionally served with almost every meal in Costa Rica, but on the Caribbean coast they’re cooked with coconut milk and are called by the English name, "rice and beans," rather than the Spanish "arroz y frijoles."
If you want to try making "rice and beans" at home, here is how you do it. A good friend who lives in Puerto Viejo sent me the directions, but you will have to use your own judgment and taste preference for quantities of ingredients.

There is nothing more refreshing than a cold fruit drink, and you find all varieties of them in Costa Rica, where they are known as "refrescos." They come in flavors such as blackberry, strawberry, pineapple, mango, papaya, and less well-known tropical flavors like cas, guanabana, and tamarindo. There is nothing better than ordering a refresco in a restaurant and hearing the whirring of the blender before your drink is brought to the table in a tall, cold glass.

Many people from temperate climates believe that they would miss the change of seasons while living in the tropics. I never found this to be so. There is a change of season, but it does not involve the temperature. Roughly, the rainy season lasts from May to the end of November, and the dry season from December to the beginning of May. I prefer the rainy season. It doesn't rain constantly. In fact, the mornings are usually dry. People who work outdoors start very early, at least by six a.m., to take advantage of the clear morning. This is also a good time to exercise. The rains come in the afternoon, and can be anything from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. There is truly nothing like the sound of the rain hitting the metal roofs that are so common in the tropics. And if you get wet, so what? You will dry soon.

The weather, the food and drinks are all part of life in the tropics, but the best part of living in Costa Rica is the people. Everyone you meet is friendly, open, and affectionate. You soon adjust to a hug and kiss on the cheek when you meet an acquaintance on the street, on a bus, or in someone's home. I was surprised to be hugged and kissed by students when visiting another teacher's home for a school activity, but I soon got used to it, and love the custom. As they say in Costa Rica, "Pura vida," or "pure life." This can be a greeting or simply an expression to say it all. Life is good. Enjoy it.

Hotel Saint Clare
Hotel Saint Clare is a Caribbean island paradise, a place filled with happy carefree people whose only concern is the pleasure of the tourists. But appearances can be deceiving. Greed, envy, jealousy, murder, lust… all can be found within the luxurious hotel. Nara Blake has landed a dream job at the Hotel Saint Clare, until the owner is murdered in his hospital bed, and her life changes in ways she would never have expected.


Someone wants her dead, and even with the wise counsel of the island shaman, she does not know who to trust and must rely on her instincts and her wits, as she always has.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--GUEST AUTHOR ADRIAN LILLY ON MENTAL ILLNESS

Author Adrian W. Lilly writes horror, suspense, and mystery. He’s the author of three novels and has also been published in short fiction and poetry. Learn more about him and his books at his website. 

Writing About Mental Illness Isn’t Always Writing About the ‘Bad Guys’

I’m the type of guy who doesn’t take too many things seriously. I’m a notorious practical jokester who likes to give friends and family a good scare. And when it comes to repartee...nothing is sacred.

With my writing, however, I feel very differently. Especially when it comes to portraying difficult scenarios and complex issues. In my novel Red Haze, which at its heart is a murder mystery with a paranormal twist, I tackled bullying, suicide, and revenge.

Each of these elements has real world implications for potential readers who may have been bullied, who may have a loved one who has committed suicide, or who has dealt with the anger after loss. For these reasons and many others, I delved into research to create my characters and reactions.

Did you know*:

~One in four adults—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experiences mental illness in a given year.

~One in 17—about 13.6 million—live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

~Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.

~Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46 percent live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

~Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

Many of us know someone with mental illness. Maybe you have even struggled with anxiety, depression, or another mental illness. In Red Haze, one of the main characters, Marne, suffers from depression after the suicide of her brother. I wanted to delve into the complex web of emotions and connections within herself and her family that was keeping her trapped in the past. To me, that was a way to attempt to reflect the reality of anguish. I felt a great responsibility to portray mental illness without demonizing a character who suffers from the condition.

Since Red Haze is a thriller, of course, I had to have some bad guys with their own personality disorders. But I think we are long past the days of having only one representation of mental illness—and that being a crazed killer.

Red Haze
Something sinister is happening at Grove University.

Some nights the woods on the edge of campus glow with a spectral, shimmering red haze. Marne Montgomery knows—she’s seen it. She also saw a figure in the haze. He beckoned to her and then vanished. Marne puts the incident behind her until her roommate, Sara Murdock, shows her a picture of a student. The one Marne saw in the woods. But he’s been dead for more than a year. Suddenly, Marne and Sara are tangled in a secret that threatens their college careers—and their lives. Their only hope is to find the cause of the red haze…
Before someone else dies.

Red Haze is a haunting psychological thriller that hovers between the spectral and the natural, blurring the lines between remembrance and regret, dedication and obsession, justice and revenge.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR AND BAKER CADENCE DENTON

Cadence Denton has worn many hats over the years—retail sales rat, dental assistant, fulltime mother, part-time cheer coach, and dachshund wrangler. When she’s not chasing runaway dachshunds, you can find her at her desk devising ways to make her characters suffer. Learn more about Cadence and her books at her website.

No matter the season, baked goodies have always been a staple at every gathering in my family.

Of course, Thanksgiving must have my baby sister’s traditional Golden Pecan Pie, and Christmas isn’t complete without a scrumptious Hummingbird Cake. July Fourth demands my mom’s Sock-it-to-me Cake, and Valentine’s Day is known for my daughter’s special double fudge brownies with pecan coating. However, the one catch all treat guaranteed to please everyone’s palate is my Coconut Cake with basic butter cream frosting.

I discovered the joy of baking early in life. My grandmother, an accomplished home cook, always had a lovely homemade dessert waiting at the end of every evening meal. Some of my earliest memories were standing at her side watching as she dusted her counter with flour then rolled out sugar cookies. It’s particularly poignant because, ever patient, she let me use her special cookie cutters to cut the dough. Granted, my stars may have come out shaped more like blobs, but she never complained. To her they were always perfect. My grandmother had several large, aluminum shakers filled with colorful sugar that she used to sprinkle the cookies before she popped them into her oven. To this day, if I close my eyes, I swear I can almost smell them.

She was the mother of eight, (four still at home back then) and sixteen grandchildren. Even so, she single-handedly cooked a full sit-down Sunday dinner for us all every week! Poor dear, I would have so been picking up Popeye’s Chicken or Little Caesar’s Pizza, right?

I believe cooking was my grandmother’s way of showing her love for her family. From the quality and amount of food she cooked, I’d say she really, really loved us. Was she a chef on a Julia Child level? Nope. If you were looking for fancy cream sauces and lobster you wouldn’t find it on her table, but what you would find was hot and hearty and filling.

While I’m not a slave to the stovetop, I do enjoy baking and have shared this love with my daughter. I know my grandmother would be proud that her legacy has been handed down. I only wish she and my daughter could have met.

Grandma’s Coconut Cake

Ingredients:
2/3 cup softened butter                                               
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 cups sifted flour                                                           
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt                                                                       
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/4 cups milk

Combine sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Sift the dry ingredients. Beginning with the dry mixture, add to the butter mixture alternating with milk. Beat on low speed until smooth. Pour into two prepared pans. Bake for 30–35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Cool on rack.

Simple Frosting

Ingredients:
16 oz. box confectioner’s sugar
1 stick softened unsalted butter
4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or coconut extract
2-1/2 cups flaked coconut

Mix the butter until smooth. Slowly add the sugar and flavoring. Add milk as needed. Frost each layer and sprinkle with coconut. Enjoy!

Midnight Delight
Call me Contessa. Forget my name, you couldn’t pronounce it. I’m a professional chef—actually, I’m the LeBron James of chefs. Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay even Julia Child have all been my students, and that’s just a few. I’ve probably forgotten more about the culinary arts than any chef alive has learned. I was in the thick of things when today’s conventional culinary techniques were first being developed. You ever used the three basic steps in dicing an onion? Prego. That was me. Ever heard of clarified butter? Bingo. Me again.

How can that be? I was born in Genoa, Italy in the year of our Lord 1642. That’s right. I’m an Eternal, a creature of darkness, a vampire…and I’m obsessed by what I cannot eat. Food.

Ironically, I’m the star of my very own cooking show on the Foodie Culinary Channel. My dream job! Where I get to create the recipes I adore and share them with my audience and one lucky dinner guest. Which is where my troubles began. And will end.
I was caught partaking the red jungle juice from the neck of my dinner date. I was threatened, attacked with Holy water, and finally blackmailed by my mild-mannered joke of an Associate Producer. As it turns out, she isn’t so mild-mannered. Now I have two choices: turn her into a child of darkness or risk exposure to the human world.

I’m thinking there’s a third choice. His name is Rocco Guadagnino.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--PAINTED GLASS JARS

Summertime…and the kids are outdoors, splashing in the pool, at the playground, playing sports. Except on those days when they’re stuck in the house due to summer storms and “I’m bored” becomes a common cry. Suggest they read a book during vacation, and many of you will wind up on the receiving end of a “parents are such dorks” eye roll.

Of course, you can allow them to veg out in front of the TV or computer all day, but do you really want your little darlings turning into zombies? Of course not!

So how about a crafts project?

Grab a few empty jars from the recycling bucket and have your kids repurpose them as vases or storage containers. Even though this is a painting craft, it’s one that’s far from messy, no matter how young your child, and it will keep all the kids busy and away from the TV, computer, and their smart phones for at least a few hours. The more glass jars you can scrounge up, the longer they’ll be occupied at something that stimulates their brain cells instead of numbing them.

Materials:
empty glass jars
rubbing alcohol
assorted acrylic paint colors in squirt bottles
clear acrylic sealer
glass paint markers (optional)
paint brush

1. Clean the glass jars with alcohol.
2. Squirt one paint color inside a jar. Allow paint to drip down sides. Let dry.
3. Squirt a second paint color inside the jar. Allow to drip down sides. Let dry.
4. Paint inside of jar with a third color. Allow to dry. Apply a second coat. Allow to dry.
5. Paint inside of jar with clear acrylic sealer.
6. If desired, decorate outside of jar with glass paint markers. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JENNY MILCHMAN

Award-winning author Jenny Milchman is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of the Debut Authors Program for International Thriller Writers. She also goes out on very long book tours as you’ll discover from reading what she has to say today. Learn more about Jenny and her books at her website.

Sheer Bliss or Utter Insanity? The Story of the World’s Longest Book Tour

I’m not usually one for titles, but I believe I should be in the running for this one: She Who Goes on the Longest Book Tours.

OK, as a title it may be a little cumbersome. As a reality, though? It fits. When my debut novel came out last year, I traveled 7 months and 35,000 miles. My second novel is out now, and I’m on the road for another 4 months and 20,000 miles.

When I met mystery writer Mary Stanton at Murder on the Beach in Florida last year, she said, “I would rather eat rats than do what you’re doing.”

Did I mention that my husband and our two children are along with me? He works from the front seat, kids are “car-schooled” in the back. And just to share a few more details…we rented out our home in New Jersey to cover costs, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and gave up a place at the kids’ charter school.

Why did we do all that? Well, there are many reasons, and none include my having a taste for rat—although I will say that Mary is not alone in her thinking. There’s a look I receive that ranges from incredulous to fall-on-the-floor shock when I describe our exploits.

But when it takes you thirteen years to get published, a few things happen. The first is that the road to that “first” book—my debut was actually the eighth novel I had written—becomes something of a quest. And a dream. Another is that a great number of people become supports and supporters along the way. Once It finally happened, I wanted to get out there and thank everyone who had kept me going all those years.

I also have a deep belief that no matter how the web has widened our worlds—and it has, wonderfully—there’s nothing like the connection that takes place in real time. I have seen this occur over and over—and over and over and over some more—during our ten months of traveling. A handshake or a hug is different than a smiley face emoticon. Both enrich our lives. When the twain meet, though—that’s when the real magic happens.

There’s a robust and lively bookstore scene that doesn’t reflect the messages we get from the media. Small town America and Main Street are thriving, thanks in part to a renewed penchant for locavorism—and this is happening in cities, too. Bookstores often become a hub of this revitalization in astonishingly creative ways.

I have sat down to a ticketed three-course dinner held off-site by a bookstore—it was like a wedding with books. Square Books in Oxford, MS brings in 200 attendees to their regular author radio and music night. The Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA holds a coffee & crime brunch. Yum. Macintosh Books on Sanibel Island, FL goes for lunch a little later in the day. I could go on and on, describing events that draw attendees from as far as three states away.

As much as I love them, bookstores aren’t the only sites I visit. Libraries, book clubs, schools and other even more outside-the-box locations bring people together for a lively discussion about books, culture, and our lives.

There’s a practical reason for getting out there—if not for seven months, then perhaps for seven days—and it’s about introducing a book to readers in ways that are less focused upon these days. When a bookseller who never otherwise would’ve discovered your book continues selling it a year after it’s come out because her customers tell their friends about it…that’s word of mouth in action, and WOM may be the only real way we know to sell books. Zigging while others are zagging also just makes good sense—you stand out, and that’s awfully hard to do amidst today’s clamor of voices.

But there are also what I call reasons of the heart. Is the driving hard, especially with two kids in the back? Sometimes, I guess, but if you find a school, you find a playground, and kids don’t need much more than that when they’ve got their parents with them. And there’s nothing like turning the whole country into a classroom—watching those same kids come alive over civil rights or environmental infrastructure or The Hunger Games  in that evening’s bookstore.

About those nights spent in bookstores. When you walk into an audience of one—which you will do, no matter how big you become—and that person doesn’t buy your book, you might think, “What am I doing out here?” But then say that person buys a different book, one you recommend, so the bookseller is happy. And say he tells you that he didn’t buy your book because he already owns two copies—one to read, and one to keep pristine. And then he tells you that he has to go—because he’s got a three hour drive home after coming to see you, which he did because your book meant so much to him.

That’s a reason of the heart. And believe me, it’s a lot better than eating rats.

Ruin Falls
Liz Daniels should be happy about taking a rare family vacation, leaving behind their remote home in the Adirondack Mountains for a while. Instead, she feels uneasy. Her children, eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally, have only met their paternal grandparents a handful of times. But her husband, Paul, has decided that despite a strained relationship with his mother and father, they should visit the farm in western New York where he spent his childhood.

The family doesn’t make it all the way to the farm and stops at a hotel for the night. And in the morning, when Liz checks on her sleeping children, all of the small paranoias and anxieties from the day before come to life: Ally and Reid are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice cold terror as the hours tick by without discovering a trace of her kids. Soon, Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, detectives are called in. Frantic worry and helplessness threaten to overtake Liz’s mind.

But the children are safe. In a sudden, gut-wrenching realization, Liz knows that it was no stranger who slipped into the hotel room and kidnapped her children. Instead it was someone she trusted completely. And as the police abruptly wrap-up their investigation, Liz identifies the person who has betrayed her. Now she will stop at nothing to find Ally and Reid and get them back. From her guarded in-laws’ unwelcoming farmhouse to the deep woods of her hometown, Liz follows the threads of a terrible secret to uncover a hidden world created from dreams and haunted by nightmares.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR KAREN McCULLOUGH ON EDISTO ISLAND

Award-winning author Karen McCullough is a web designer as well as the author of a dozen mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy novels, novellas, and short stories. Learn more about Karen and her books at her website and blog.

The Beach That Inspires Me

For the last several years, my sister-in-law has been renting a beach house on Edisto Island, a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina between Charleston and Hilton Head. My husband and I and various other family members join her for a week of sun, surf, and sand in early to mid-May. 

It’s a wonderful break for all of us, but like everything else, the sights, sounds, smells and other experiences of the coastal visit go into the idea-churn inside my brain and come out in new pieces in various stories.


Although Edisto Island isn’t the exact model for the island setting of most of the first third of my paranormal romantic mystery, The Wizard’s Shield, the experiences I’ve had there over the years do figure largely into the descriptions and events in the book, especially the first part.

A violent storm in the first couple of chapters forces my two main characters, one-time friends separated by circumstance and betrayal for many years, to work together to save the island and its inhabitants. It brings them back together and reminds them of the unique bond they’d had at one time.

Although I’ve never had the opportunity to fight the effects of a squall with magic as Michael and Ilene do, I’ve experienced the frightening way storm winds howl and flatten the sea oats along the dunes, the way they churn up the ocean, making waves roar and foam, the sizzle of lightning that seems way too close, and wind-whipped rain that feels like bullets. I’ve looked out across the ocean and seen the dark cones of waterspouts dropping from cloud to sea. All of that became part of the scene, amped up by magic.

Later when the two protagonists take a long walk on the beach to have a painful but necessary conversation, I use the sights, sounds, and objects found on the sand to punctuate their talk.

“What did they do to you?” she asked.

He didn’t know how to answer, so he started walking again. He stalked along, occasionally glancing out at the ocean. The roar of the waves beat against his ears, keeping time in some odd way with the beating of his pulse. His chest seemed to collapse inward, making it hard to get enough of a breath to speak. It took a while before he realized that Ilene had caught up and was nearly running to match his pace. He slowed enough to let her stop jogging.

“It’s a long story,” he warned her at last, when he’d relaxed slightly.

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a conversation that serious during my many long walks on the beach, but there is something about the surf, sand, shells and other bits of nature that inspire one to think about life and one’s place in the universe more deeply.

The Wizard’s Shield
A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past invents a shield to ensure he'll never again be tortured almost to death.

The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve the device or destroy it.

When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own ends.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--FOOD SAFETY

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 128,000 people are hospitalized each year due to E. coli, salmonella, listeria, and other food borne illnesses. Three thousand of them die. This is a sobering statistic. Ten years ago I spent three days in the hospital due to food poisoning. It’s not an experience I ever want to repeat or want anyone else to experience.

So here are some tips on food safety:

1. Buy whole produce only. I know it’s tempting to purchase that cut watermelon or cantaloupe because it’s easy to see if it’s sweet by looking at the color and texture of the fruit. But it’s not a good idea. The contamination risk of pre-cut produce is much higher.

2. Always place meats and produce in the plastic bags supplied by the store, even though the food comes pre-packaged. Those grapes and cherries that come in plastic bags with air holes can become contaminated when you place them in your shopping cart.

3. If you’re using reusable shopping bags, make sure you wash them frequently. They’re great for the environment, but any food particles inside them will quickly grow all sorts of nasty stuff in the heat of your trunk.

4. And speaking of trunks, don’t place your groceries in your trunk on hot days. Put them on your backseat where it’s cooler, and there’s more airflow.

5. Don’t rinse chicken and eggs before using them. Any bacteria on the chicken can splash to your faucets and countertops, and bacteria on eggshells can be absorbed into the egg washed. Eggs are washed and sanitized before their shipped to markets.


6. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw foods. A good rule of thumb is to sing the birthday song to yourself twice as you’re lathering up. And don’t forget to wash between your fingers and the tops of your hands.