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, February 10, 2016

MONEY MATTERS--GUEST AUTHOR SUSAN SANTANGELO ON SERIAL CLIPPERS

photo by Carol Pyles from Winter Haven, FL, US
Susan Santangelo is the author of the bestselling humorous Baby Boomer mystery series. Book 6 in the series, Second Honeymoons Can Be Murder, will be released on February 16th. She divides her time between Cape Cod, MA and the Gulf Coast of Florida and shares her life with two very spoiled English cocker spaniels who serve as the model for her books' covers. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website. 

I’m Married To A Serial Clipper!

Not a serial killer. Or a cereal killer. Nope. I’m married to a serial coupon clipper, who’ll clip any coupon, and shop in any store, for any item – even those we don’t need and will never use – just because he thinks he’s saving a few pennies.

And I bet I’m not the only woman who lives with a serial clipper. What is it about retired men and coupons? The longer my Personal Beloved is retired, the more coupons he clips. I mean, the man is so in love with his coupons that he springs up from bed on any given morning and heads right for the newspaper, scissors in hand. He’s quivering with excitement – the same way he used to quiver with excitement for, ahem, other reasons, back in the day. Way back in the last century. I call it Obsessive Coupon Disorder, OCD. And there’s no magical little blue pill to help with that problem, unfortunately.

In my sixth Baby Boomer mystery, Second Honeymoons Can Be Murder, my protagonist, Carol Andrews, is dealing with exactly the same issue with her retired husband, Jim. The good news for Carol, however, is that despite a few “setbacks,” no coupons were clipped to make the Florida trip happen. Jim actually left his scissors at home.
           
If any of you have tips for dealing with a serial clipper, please share them. Maybe we should start an online support group!

Second Honeymoons Can Be Murder
Carol Andrews can’t believe her luck when her husband, Jim, surprises her with a second honeymoon trip to Florida. But there’s a catch – it’s really a business trip, not the romantic getaway Carol expects. Jim’s been called out of retirement to create a marketing plan for a new television game show aimed at Baby Boomers, The Second Honeymoon Game, and the pilot episode will be shot in the Sunshine State. The honeymoon is really over when the show’s executive producer, none other than Carol’s grammar school boyfriend, winds up dead on Carol and Jim’s first night in Florida. And their son, Mike, is the police’s number one suspect.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--TRULEE DELECTABLE CHOCOLATE BODY PAINT

photo by Seth Anderson
Valentine’s Day is less than a week away. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In Finding Mr. Right, the short story sequel Lois Winston wrote to Hooking Mr. Right, she includes a recipe for edible body paint. We’re not necessarily advocating our readers go all Fifty Shades. After all, this is a G/PG-rated blog! However, for the less adventuresome, Trulee Delectable Chocolate Body Paint is equally tasty on ice cream, fruit, and cake and would add the perfect ending to a romantic home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website.

Trulee Delectable Chocolate Body Paint

4 oz. butter
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
12 oz. evaporated milk
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond or peppermint extract

Melt butter and chocolate on top of a double boiler. Remove from heat. Beat in evaporated milk, then confectioner’s sugar. Return to double boiler and continue to heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens. Stir in extract once mixture has thickened. Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

Finding Mr. Right
In this short story sequel to the award-winning Hooking Mr. Right by Lois Winston (writing as Emma Carlyle,) editor Grace Wainwright, has taken over the role of bestselling author and romance guru Dr. Trulee Lovejoy. Thea Chandler, the original Trulee, is now married to her Mr. Right and is a successful cookbook author. She and Grace host the top-rated Love Recipes cooking show. When producer Becket Delaney announces the first two shows in February will have a Valentine’s Day theme, Grace freaks out. The worst day of her life occurred on Valentine’s Day ten years ago, and she wants no reminders of it. Beck has his own reasons for hating the holiday, but the show must go on, and he absolutely refuses to deal with an uncooperative prima donna. When a citywide blackout traps him and Grace in his thirty-fourth floor office, their adversarial relationship really begins to heat up. Recipe included.

Finding Mr. Right is available as a .99 cent ebook or as a bonus short story in the paperback edition of Hooking Mr. Right.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR DELIA JAMES

A Crafts Fair Photo by John Cummings
Delia James writes her magical mysteries from her home near Ann Arbor, Michigan, assisted by her loving husband, Tim, her magnificent son, Alex, and her vocal cat, Buffy the Vermin Slayer. A Familiar Tail is the first of her Witch’s Cat Mysteries. Learn more about Delia and her books at her website. 

For Love or Money
In my latest series, the Witch’s Cat Mysteries, my main character Annabelle Britton does not start out as a witch (or as a cat for that matter.) But she is a freelance artist. I’m a writer, not an artist, but I know full-time freelancers and I have worked with them, and I’ve noticed a few things about them, and, for that matter about myself.

Those of us who do arts and/or crafts (I’m a baker in my spare time, and I’ve embroidered and cross-stitched, crocheted, knitted and quilled at various points in time) all start from a similar place. It’s a place of love and enjoyment. Sometimes it gets to be an insanely detailed and meticulous place where we get deep into conversations about the minutia of materials and techniques that leave those who love us best scratching their heads.

And for every one of us there comes a moment when the idea crosses our minds that I could do this for money. Maybe not full time of course but…

But. Well. Maybe yes. Maybe full time. Maybe I could. With Esty and all the other Internet venues, with fairs and Amazon and farmers markets and the strong artist and artisan movement, why not take that love, that intense interest and accumulated knowledge, and turn it into a living?

I am very familiar with this question. I never went there with my cookies or bread or needlework, but twenty (very) odd years ago, I went there with my writing. So, I can tell you in one word, the difference between the life of the passionate amateur and the life of the professional: Hustle.

As soon as the rent, the groceries, cat food, clothes and new materials become dependent on the money you raise from your art and your craft, everything changes. Time speeds up. There’s a spark and intensity to what you are doing, and it is not always a pleasant one. But, oh, when that check comes, and it’s for the sale of the work of your heart and hands, there is nothing like it in the world.

But is that worth the rest of it? The anxiety and the feelings of inadequacy, and the occasional bouts of anger and exhaustion. Because that’s part of the hustle, too, and it’s the question every amateur-turned-professional has to ask at some point.

It’s that hustle I channel for my unlucky-in-love artist Annabelle Britton. Anna arrives in Portsmouth with a depleted bank account, a career that’s feeling stalled out, and wondering what she’s going to do about her own future. She meets a magical cat, finds a corpse, and a family history she never knew she was a part of. Her magic builds on her art, but its her understanding of how to hustle that helps her solve the mysteries.

In order to make a living, freelancers must do their legwork. They search out their materials, their friends and like-minded practitioners, not to mention venues to sell their work. They are constantly learning, and constantly striving to improve their art and their craft. They know there are answers out there. They know there are ways to do something better, something more intricate, more interesting, and something they’ve never tried before. They just have to go out and find those answers and turn them into art.

No wonder they make such great sleuths.

A Familiar Tail
A Witch’s Cat Mystery

Unlucky-in-love artist Annabelle Britton decides that a visit to the seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the perfect way to get over her problems. But when she stumbles upon a smoky gray cat named Alastair and follows him into a charming cottage, Annabelle finds herself in a whole spellbook full of trouble.

 Suddenly saddled with a witch's wand and a furry familiar, Annabelle soon meets a friendly group of women who use their spells, charms, and potions to keep the people of Portsmouth safe. But despite their gifts, the witches can’t prevent every wicked deed in town....

 Soon, the mystery surrounding Alistair’s former owner, who died under unusual circumstances, grows when another local turns up dead. Armed with magic, friends, and the charmed cat who adopted her more than the other way around, Annabelle sets out to paw through the evidence and uncover a killer.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JONI SAUER-FOLGER

Joni Sauer-Folger spent twenty-two years with an airline traveling and moving around the country before settling down near the beautiful Pacific Ocean with her three very spoiled cats. She writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance as J.G. Sauer, and cozy mysteries and romantic suspense as Joni Folger. Learn more about Joni and her books at her website. 

As an author, I’m always interested in what folks are reading. What genres captivate you? What kinds of stories do you gravitate toward before all else? Do you watch television? Go to the movies? If so, what are your preferences? Science fiction, mysteries, sitcoms, thrillers, romance…

As a reader, I‘m very eclectic. And I mean, in the extreme! I’ll gobble up everything from Kathleen Woodiwiss’s historical romance to Stephen King’s horror and everything in-between. I’m pretty much the same with my television/movie viewing. I love science fiction (X-Files are back!), time travel (Dr. Who), space adventures (the late Firefly/Serenity, the new series The Expanse), adventure, romance, murder mysteries (LOVE Masterpiece Mysteries), thrillers, and the list goes on. But some of my absolute favorite shows/books revolve around treasure hunts, ancient mysteries, and paranormal objects. From television: the likes of The Librarians and Warehouse 13…from movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (naturally), Sahara, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, National Treasure (swoon!), even the Brendan Fraser Mummy series… Well, you get the picture.

The thought of digging for treasure or finding an artifact that was handled by another human being from a distant time in history fascinates me. I love archaeology, as well as all things magical. Now take the search for an ancient relic, add a paranormal element to it, and you have a captivating mix that I can really get behind.

My first publishing contract was for a cozy mystery series, which I do enjoy, but as an author, and reader, my primary love is paranormal romance, urban fantasy, or mystical adventure. Immortal Obsession was my initial foray into this world. A different take on the Arthurian legends, the story revolves around ancient Immortals, the search for ultimate power—and of course, a prophesy (Yum!)

But when I started The Guardian series, I was looking for something more along the lines of an ‘A Team’ with paranormal abilities meets Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Warehouse 13. This series chronicles the missions of a disgraced ex-Ranger leading a ragtag squad of misfits—each with their own unique paranormal gifts—as they search for ancient mystical artifacts. I was most interested in these team members, all from different walks of life with very different stories, and how they would interact. In the beginning, you have a high-end thief with visions, a demolitions expert with kinetic ability, a mechanic/driver with an electrical touch, led by a tarnished warrior. Then there’s the interesting ‘strays’ they pick up along the way to round out the squad. On top of everything, they’re always up against an evil adversary who used to be part of the team.

Of course, they’re not searching for just any old relics, either. In some cases, the pieces they hunt have the potential to change or destroy life as we know it, especially in the wrong hands. Working in the shadow of a private corporation, it’s the job of this diverse team to hunt down these artifacts and safely store them away.

Tarnished Guardian, a digital only prequel, kicked off this series last year with a bit of background on the members of the Guardians. Search for the Mystic Stone, book one, released in October, and Sandman’s Lute, book two will release sometime in 2017, followed by book three, Through the Changling Glass.

Tarnished Guardian (digital short story prequel)
Narrowly escaping court martial for events beyond his control, Major Evan Coulter is approached with an interesting employment opportunity just when he needs it the most. But this job may be more than he bargained for when he’s introduced to a shadowy world filled with paranormal abilities and artifacts.








Search For the Mystic Stone
Evan Coulter is no stranger to life or death situations. The ex-Ranger has faced down danger too many times to count. But when half of an ancient paranormal relic with prophetic powers known as the Mystic Stone is stolen and put up for auction, he must lead the Guardians in a race to neutralize the threat before it can be used by a wealthy industrialist to change the future. Can he gain the assistance of the entrepreneur’s daughter? If so, will she be a help or a hindrance?

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

A TOUR OF THE MET WITH AUTHOR SUSAN C. SHEA

 Author Susan C Shea stops by today to take us on a tour of one of her favorite museums and mine. Susan spent more than two decades accumulating story material before creating her bestselling mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum in San Francisco. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website and blog.   

I (Heart) an Art Museum
I love art the way some people love Star Wars or professional football or designer clothes…well, I love designer clothes, too, even if my budget doesn’t. I also enjoyed fundraising (really) as part of my career. So it made sense for me to write a mystery series in which the protagonist earns her living raising money for a fictional art museum.

The Devor Museum in San Francisco is a construction that exists only in my head, although there are aspects of it that might remind readers of SF’s Museum of Modern Art, before the massive and exciting expansion it’s currently undergoing.

But my heart lies with the art museum of my childhood, the great and wondrous Metropolitan Museum on upper Fifth Avenue in New York. I was born nearby, before living there cost the earth. As World War II ebbed, my father was a war correspondent in Europe and the Pacific, and my mother was a CBS radio producer, and so it was nannies who had to figure out what to do with a curious child on rainy, cold days. The Met became my playground, an endless, mysterious source of play, of surprises, of quiet moments to imprint images and ideas on my small, fertile brain. Believe it or not, in that era, the Met was chilly, dark, and empty. I still remember climbing the sides of a stone sarcophagus to see who might be interred, and wandering among the hieroglyph-covered walls in the Egyptian area.

Today, the Museum is packed, noisy, brightly lit, re-imagined to engage in new ways with literally millions of visitors from around the world. There are new galleries, new wings, periodic re-arranging of the fine and decorative arts, and a more comprehensive global perspective than in my youth. The Temple of Dendur, reassembled from the flooded Nile, has its own wing, surrounded by light. The American Wing includes the entire façade of an elegant building. The huge gift shop could consume my annual discretionary funds if I let it.

I’ve probably been to the Met a couple hundred times and I discover something new every time. A relatively new favorite is a small gallery in which Buddha statues, many of them life size or larger, from a handful of countries surround me and remind me to slow down and stay in the moment even as I admire the artistry in the sculptures.

I have a couple of touchstones, works I have been looking at for many decades, works so iconic they don’t get moved. My absolute favorite is a self-portrait of Rembrandt in middle age, the rough red skin, the wrinkles around his eyes, the slightly worn clothing, the posture of fatigue, and those eyes – when I was five, I realized they follow you around the room. Wherever you are, the painter is looking right at you, communicating his feelings about his life at that moment, asking you to remember him and to come back again to visit. I promised then, and I continue to promise every time, that I will return.

Do you have a museum you love? I’d love to hear your stories.

Mixed Up With Murder
In the third in the Dani O’Rourke Mysteries series, Dani visits a small New England college to help them as they accept a stunning art collection and a cash gift to support a new gallery for it. The financial vice president has some concerns about the gift and when he drowns on a golf course before he can share them with her, Dani has a terrible feeling she may have gotten herself mixed up in murder once again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#DECORATING WITH GUEST AUTHOR MARY ELLEN HUGHES

Mary Ellen Hughes is the national bestselling author of the Pickled and Preserved Mystery series and the Craft Corner Mysteries. Learn more about her and her books at her website.  Today Mary Ellen’s latest amateur sleuth, Piper Lamb, joins us.


Unexpected Perks of Decorating

Hi! Piper Lamb, here, proprietor of Piper’s Picklings, the shop in upstate New York that I opened after breaking off my going-nowhere engagement with Scott.

I love my little shop, where I make and sell all kinds of pickles, along with the spices and equipment for making your own. The first year, I was pretty busy just getting my new business off the ground and wasn’t too concerned with decorating. But when Ralph Strawbridge, who happens to be a master carpenter, saw the deteriorating condition of my front door, he offered to replace it with a hand-carved door.

At first, I hesitated, wondering if I could afford that. But then he gave me a too-good-to-pass-up price quote, so I jumped at it.

Ralph’s inspiration was the beautiful plaque Scott sent me from Thailand as he traveled the world to “find himself.” Though I loved the plaque, which was carved with all the vegetables and fruits that I pickle and preserve, I was also pretty annoyed because sending me such a great gift meant he was ignoring the fact that we were no longer a couple. Eventually, though, I hung the plaque up in the shop, where Ralph spotted it.

Ralph did an amazing job duplicating the carvings on his door. Once it was in place, crowds actually gathered to ooh and ahh over it. I was so delighted that we decided to hold a “grand opening” for the door, and we put together a celebration at the shop for the next night.

The party was great fun, despite the sound of nearby sirens, which, we learned the next day were due to a murder. Unfortunately, the immediate suspect was Zach, the college-aged son of Sugar, an amazing caterer who is also my good friend. How could I say no to her plea for help when Zach was on the verge of being charged for murder?

Ralph, besides being such an outstanding carpenter, showed a whole other side of himself by jumping in and coming up with great leads for other suspects, as well as giving Sugar much needed support. This led Sugar, who I think had been vastly underestimating Ralph, to see him with fresh eyes.

Yes, that carved door led to many things beyond being a lovely entrance into my shop. But isn’t that often the way with decorative art? What seemed at first like a small change—hanging a new plaque on the wall—led to an amazing new door, which brought people together who solved a murder and prevented a terrible injustice, not to mention the beginnings of a new romance!

The impact of that one plaque could hardly be predicted, but you might want to look around at your walls, or floors, or furniture and think about what might be worth a tweak or two. Hopefully there’ll be no murders to worry about (unless wallpaper is involved, LOL), but a small change in décor might do wonders for your life. I’d say go for it!

Scene of the Brine
Piper Lamb has to take a break from jarring her delicious pickles and preserves to blow the lid off a poisoner....

Business is booming at Piper’s Picklings in Cloverdale, New York. But not all is sweet in the life of Piper’s number one customer and friend, local caterer Sugar Heywood. Sugar is dating wealthy realtor Jeremy Porter, but his family doesn’t approve. After their unscrupulous accountant finds some dirt on Sugar, the family quickly urges Jeremy to throw her out like rotten fruit.

Things are further spoiled after the accountant is found poisoned, and all evidence points to Sugar’s son, Zach. With the Porter family determined to avoid scandal, it won’t be easy for Piper to preserve Zach’s innocence. And after someone falls victim to a poisoned jar of some of her brandied cherries, Piper’s got a peck of trouble to deal with herself…

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CHERRY ALMOND FRENCH TOAST

Several years ago I found a recipe for baked French toast made with apples, cinnamon, and raisins. Ever since first making the recipe for Christmas morning, it’s become a tradition for any holiday breakfast or brunch, but I always switch it up with different fruits and flavorings. This cherry almond iteration would be perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Cherry Almond French Toast

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 bag frozen dark pitted cherries
1 loaf day-old challah or brioche
6 lg. eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon almond extract
maple syrup

Cut cherries in half. Frozen cherries are easier to cut. Allow cherries to defrost or defrost in microwave.

Place butter in microwave-safe 13” X 9” casserole dish. Microwave 30 sec. to melt butter. Stir in brown sugar. Spread cherries evenly over butter/sugar mixture.

Cut bread into 1” cubes and spread evenly over fruit.

Mix eggs, milk, and almond extract until well blended. Pour over bread, soaking bread completely. Cover with foil and refrigerate 4-24 hrs.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake covered 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes or until top of bread is golden brown.

Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving with warm maple syrup.