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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR BOBBI A. CHUKRAN

Bobbi A. Chukran writes contemporary and historical mystery novels and short stories, as well as comedy plays and some macabre short stories. Today she sits down for a round of Q&A. Learn more about Bobbi and her writing at her website and blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

When I was young, I constantly wrote stories and plays and "published" them with construction paper covers, stenciled titles and brads. The urge was there; I just didn't have any guidance.

I was working in a Walden's Bookstore in '77 when The Thorn Birds came out. I remember unpacking the books and immediately bought one. It wasn't the type of book I usually read, but I finished it and told a co-worker, "Wow, I'd LOVE to write a book like that some day."  But it was just a passing comment and not something I really thought I could do.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?

I was convinced to go into art in college and studied textile design because I loved fabrics and patterns. Afterwards I worked as a surface designer making fabric projects and selling them.

I got published in non-fiction fairly soon with some craft projects in magazines. My first article was published after one query (to Needle & Thread magazine), and my first book, The Fiberworks Sourcebook, a resource guide for fiber artists, was also published in '85 after one query. I was 29 at the time, and decided to pursue writing fulltime. I continued writing other non-fiction books and magazine articles and eventually started an indie publishing company for craft and garden books.

(Bobbi: Now I'm wondering if we ever crossed paths, Lois? J
Lois: It’s highly possible. I used to design for Needle & Thread.)

A few years later, I met a woman who wrote romances for Silhouette. She said "I bet you could write one of those!" and a light bulb went off in my head. I started researching and reading every how-to book I could get my hands on, although it was years before I actually sat down to start a novel.

I started writing a time-travel/mystery/romance, then took a class from Susan Rogers Cooper, Austin mystery author, and discovered writers like Joan Hess, Dorothy Cannell, Katherine Hall Page, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Tony Hillerman. Boom! The world of mysteries opened up to me.

I decided I wanted to try a traditional mystery and taking the advice of "writing what you know," I came up with a sleuth who was a weaver and fiber artist. I went to my first Sisters in Crime conference and talked to editors.

I got lots of encouragement from several who loved my book but wanted more romance. They also weren't quite sure that a weaver sleuth would be popular enough. That seems ironic to me given the popularity of the subject now.  

After going through some horrible experiences with two publishers, I finally decided to take my self-publishing know-how and put it to use. I put the contemporary story aside and wrote an 1880s western mystery, Lone Star Death. I published it for my 50th birthday gift—from me to me. I still don't know why I started with that one.

After a few years, I basically quit submitting my novels to others and revamped my publishing company to publish fiction instead of non-fiction. Since then, I've published a number of my short stories and novellas.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?

I've been a hybrid author in non-fiction, but my fiction books are all indie published, so far. I do still submit short stories to anthologies, online 'zines and magazines published by others. If the right situation came along, sure, I'd work with a traditional publisher on a book project.

Where do you write?

I write in a tiny room at the front of my 1930s home. It used to be the "preacher's parlor"—the nice room where company was invited.  It's painted a beautiful cool blue, it's cozy, I have a partial view of the garden and I still have the original curtains from the '50s. I have a collection of original art on the walls, a few muses (art dolls and glittered skeletons) sitting around and am surrounded by books. An original '50s chair that used to be in my house was gifted to me by a friend, and it sits in the corner with a quilt my great-grandmother made in the '30s draped across it. My computer sits on a wobbly table made from antique long-leaf pine that was salvaged from another old house. But I do carry the laptop from room to room seasonally, depending on the view of the garden at the time or whichever room is the quietest, coolest or warmest.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?

I've never been able to write while listening to music because I make up new lyrics or harmonies in my head to go with the music and that distracts me.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?

Plots can get inspired by real life (like my "Dewey & the Peckerwood Tree" short story), and I do love watching people and pick up quirky or interesting characteristics from them. I've never based any one character on a real person. My characters are more of a composite of real life people. My Aunt Jewel character (in Dye, Dyeing, Dead and the other Nameless short stories) is a composite of older, feisty Texan women who had a sense of humor, even though they didn't often show it.

Describe your process for naming your character?

For my historical fiction, I look up names that were popular at the time. There are lots of resources online. Back before I had the 'net, I'd look in old phone books, newspaper articles or obituaries in libraries. I "audition" names for my characters. When I hit on the right one, I know it's right, and go with it. I once named my contemporary sleuth Kendra O'Keefe. I love playing with alliteration, but didn't feel her name was quite right. Now she's Kendra Louise Harper.

Now, I "collect" names I like and have lists of them in notebooks and mix and match them up. Naming characters is important to me. And fun. I love to play with language, and names are one way to do that.

Of course, all my female characters have middle names and nicknames, because that's just the way it's done here in Texas and the South.

Real settings or fictional towns?

A little of both. My "Nameless, Texas" location is a fictional town outside of Austin, and is a composite of four small towns I've lived in.  I've visited hundreds of other small towns, too, and take photos, write down descriptions and impressions, etc. and use those. I'm a keen observer of people and always find something to use in a story.
My first novel, Lone Star Death, had some added real places and people that were in Austin at the time.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?

Oh, Jeremy Clifford! He's a theatrical fellow, into drama, very flamboyant and colorful, and is a bright spot in everyone's day. I'd LOVE to have a friend like Jeremy. He loves vintage fashion, dressing like TV characters, loves to burst out with a song and is just a hoot. I'm not sure where he came from, to tell the truth. He's been lurking around for a while.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

Not sure it's a quirk, but I have a strange sense of humor that can be wicked and a very vivid imagination. I still paint now and then, and some very bizarre creatures appear on my canvases. Day-glo robots, all sorts of winged creatures and monsters cavorting with blue cats and strange little girl creatures with big off-centered eyes. I write captions for them, make up stories, etc.

Oh, and I do voices for animals, cars, etc. And sound effects. I love doing sound effects.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?

I don't think it was written originally as a book, but I love The Nightmare BeforeChristmas.  And I recently fell in love with The Stupidest Angel. It's a hilarious satire. I love crazy satire.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over.  What’s yours?

I wish I had started seriously writing fiction earlier than I did. I wish I had majored in creative writing or playwriting in college instead of studio art/graphics. I wish somebody other than my high school English teacher had told me early on, "YES, you can write fiction." It took me years to convince myself I could do it.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I have two. First, people who hurt animals. I have a long list of delicious punishments that should be inflicted on them.

And secondly, people who have no respect for other people's rights. People who drive down residential streets going 90 mph where children play and people walk. And bozos who drive down those streets with their car stereos blasting every hour of the day or night. I honestly don't know where their sense of entitlement comes from. I'm working on several extreme revenge stories to deal with them, though.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?

My husband Rudy. At least one cat.  My Kindle with Wi-fi? LOL

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

There is a tie between my first two jobs out of high school. I worked at a rubber factory for two days before I got sick from the fumes. I was the person who checked to make sure little rubber balls were round enough. The second worst was at the DFW Airport as a cleaning lady. Travelers can be nasty.  (Although, I did get a couple of stories out of it—one was about a flasher.)

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

The Bottoms, by Joe Lansdale.  It has everything I admire in fiction. And then some.

Ocean or mountains?

Ocean. I'm a Pisces and dream about large bodies of water I've never seen, although I still can't swim. Some research I've done suggests that one of my ancestors might have been an Irish or English sea captain, so maybe that explains it. I'm a flatlander at heart.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?

Country girl, definitely, although I love to run away to the city for very short periods of time for a culture fix--to visit bookstores, see plays/musicals, eat at a great restaurant and hear live music.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Right now I'm working on putting a collection of my stranger macabre short stories into a book that hopefully will come out by Halloween.  And I'm working on the final edits and the cover for a Christmas comedy/satire novella that started out as one of my prize-winning plays.  

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?

Somebody recently mentioned on the wonderful Dorothy-L group that they wanted to read books by authors who are "bona fide" — authors who know what they're talking about. I have finally embraced the whole "small town" thing and that's been very freeing. Yes, I lived in Austin, but that's not where I’m most comfortable. In my stories I try to capture some of the sheer bizarre nature of small town life and the funny people who live there.  As they say, some of this stuff I couldn't make up if I tried!

I have lots of stories I want to tell and they don't all fit easily into some box. I want to write mystery, AND comedy, AND horror, etc. Why not? I've followed a lot of muses over the years to get where I am now. And for the first time ever, I feel comfortable with it. I'm a storyteller at heart. That's one thing that has never changed.

Dye, Dyeing, Dead, the first contemporary cozy novella in the "Nameless, Texas" mystery series featuring Kendra Louise Harper, Folklorist.

Kendra Louise Harper is a folklorist, avid gardener and accidental sleuth in Nameless, Texas, a small agricultural town (population 2,354) located about 30-miles east of Austin.

All Kendra wanted to do that day in September was help her Aunt Jewel with a Natural Dyeing with Plants workshop for the local garden club. Before the workshop is over, a dead body lay face down in a pool of glass and indigo in Kendra's courtyard garden. The neighbor swears that he saw Aunt Jewel whack the victim over the head with a silver hammer.

No one else really believes Aunt Jewel killed Mrs. Bunch--that is, except maybe the sheriff.  But he has no proof; he's not going to waste his time trying to prove her innocent. He'd rather bide his time and wait for the murderer to slip up and come to him.

Kendra decides that if anything is going to be done to get her aunt off the hook, she'll have to do it. Along with Kendra's friends---a very colorful waiter at Do-Lolly's Diner named Jeremy, Deputy Jim Wyman (Kendra's love interest), Ginger Marshall (a local art quilter) and her friends---she sets out to prove that her aunt is innocent.

The victim, Mrs. Eula Mae Bunch, was not a popular person in Nameless. As one resident said, "That old woman is meaner than a room full of peckish wolverines."

And there are other mysteries in town. Who is the inebriated stranger that shows up to Eula-Mae's funeral? And what does an erotic romance novel have to do with all of it? Tongues are waggin' in Nameless! Things haven't been this exciting since George Leroy Johnson got the back of his britches caught in the revolving door at the old Railroad Hotel and was pitched out the middle of Main Street with his wherewithalls showing.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR SUSAN C. SHEA


Santa Fe, NM
Susan C. Shea writes the Dani O’Rourke mystery series. Today she stops by to tell us about Santa Fe, the setting for Murder in the Abstract. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website and blog

I’m going to start by sounding like a caffeined-up tourist guide, but I promise I’ll get to murder mysteries soon.

Santa Fe is a special place, equally delightful in every season, rich with multicultural art, food, music, and history. While it does a magnificent job catering to tourists, it’s also a real working area, which adds a welcome level of liveliness to the town…and a handful of local Mexican-Southwest restaurants on the main drag outside of the old town serving some of the tastiest food around. And art? Well, there’s no way you can see a quarter of what’s there in one visit, which is one reason, if you love art, that you’re drawn back time and again.

I had been to Santa Fe four or five times before I decided to set part of my debut mystery, Murder in the Abstract, there. What brought my significant other and me there in the first place were the galleries that carried his Calderesque mobile sculptures over the years. When one folded – and they do come and go in this highly competitive gallery town - another would pick him up, and every year or so, he needed to visit, shake hands, and generally be present. I would tag along, scout out good restaurants and hikes, and try not to spend too much money on Southwestern arts and crafts.
Tim Rose's Mobiles at Shidoni Gallery
When I began my series, I decided it would be fun to have my San Francisco-based amateur sleuth visit one other American location as part of each story. It took me about 20 seconds to pick Santa Fe as the first. It was a good fit because my series is set in the art world, with a cast of museum staffers, collectors, artists, and socialites – and Santa Fe has all of that. The story begins in San Francisco when a brilliant young artist plunges from a window in the art museum where Dani works – her office window. She’s convinced that his rising prominence as a painter had something to do with his death, but the police suspect her. She flees to Santa Fe to chase down a collector she thinks will profit from the artist’s death, but the plot – of course –thickens before she figures out who did the deed.

Interestingly, the nice reviews the book got frequently mentioned the evocative, visceral sense of place as one of the novel’s strengths. I wrote about Santa Fe in the winter, with snow and cold wind, and crackling fires, and the warmth of terrific Mexican food as prepared by Santa Fe cooks. I love the place, and critics could tell.

I’ve been back since, the latest time being for a fabulous Left Coast Crime event a few years ago. And I will go again. I miss my S.O.’s presence; he passed away before Murder in the Abstract came out. But I can always drop by Shidoni, the last gallery to carry his work, eat at our favorite cafe, Pasqual’s, and go to the Folk Museum, the O’Keeffe Museum, SITE Santa Fe, or any of about a dozen excellent museums.

Murder in the Abstract
Danielle O'Rourke's gala evening at the Devor Museum ends in catastrophe when the body of a young artist plummets from her office window. The police label it murder and suspect Dani, the Museum's chief fund raiser. Self-preservation and an insider's understanding of how money moves the art world drive her to investigate who might have a motive for murder. Dani's playboy ex-husband and a green-eyed cop complicate matters as her search moves through the fashionable worlds of San Francisco and Santa Fe.

Buy Links

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--POWERHOUSE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

photo by Masparasol
Watercress? Who knew?

The buzzword in healthy eating over the last few years has been “superfoods.” But what exactly is a “superfood”? Actually, it’s a marketing concept. However, there are some foods that are really, really good for us. Research has shown that certain foods over time are associated with a reduction in cancer and other diseases. We know there are foods we should eat and foods we should stay away from or eat sparingly. But fads come and go. So how do you choose?

Researchers at William Paterson University have come up with a list of “41 powrhouse fruits and vegetables” which are ranked by the amount of 17 critical nutrients contained in them. Foods were scored by their fiber content as well as various vitamins and minerals deemed vital to public health. The study was recently published in a CDC journal article. Topping the list was watercress, followed by Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach, and hickory.

Fruits ranked a lot lower than vegetables. The highest-ranking fruits were red peppers (yes, peppers are really a fruit,) pumpkins, tomatoes, and lemons. Even more surprising, blueberries, which we’ve been told for years are really, really good for us, didn’t even make the list. Neither did cranberries and raspberries. This is because although these berries are rich in phytochemicals, which are non-essential nutrients that have protective or disease prevention properties, there’s no uniform data on food phytochemicals or recommended consumption levels. The scores in the study are based solely on nutrients.

If you’d like to see the complete list, you can find it here

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--LEFTOVERS WITH AUTHOR E. AYERS

E. Ayers is a multi-published author of over twenty books and has spent plenty of time on Amazon’s top 100 authors list. She’s best known for her sweet westerns and her sexier River City novels. She’s also a proud member of the Authors of Main Street, which means her books are suitable for the average adult audience. Her newest release is Campaign (Brad and Ryn’s Story), a River City novel. Just jump into this series because the glue that ties the books together is the city. Learn more about E. at her blog and website.

Today E. joins us with some interesting suggestions for leftovers.

Hi Cloris, it’s fun to see you again. Cooking can be boring or wonderful. I think the day-to-day drudge used to get to me. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch… Then all it takes is one picky-eater in the family and well, you know how that goes. Add to it a tight budget, and I got creative in the kitchen. In those days, there was no surfing the web for exotic recipes, but I often hit the cookbooks looking for something different.

Parents who had been through two World Wars and were married during the Great Depression raised me to eat everything that was on my plate. They encouraged me to try new things, but once it hit my plate, I was expected to eat it. Omigosh, do not waste food! Mom saved every little thing, then had a meal that she called her merry mix-ups, which was nothing but leftovers from the week. I tried that a few times but my husband refused to eat leftovers no matter how I tried to disguise them. Nor would he eat that last tablespoon of green beans. I didn’t have the heart to toss them in the trash. What was I to do?

Guilt crawled over me and I’d eat whatever was left. My husbands motto became waste it, don’t waist it. Okay, I got his point. I didn’t need to gain extra pounds.

The most important thing I learned to do was keep clearly marked containers in the freezer. One was for leftover veggies, the other for leftover potatoes, then one for beef, one for chicken, and one for ham. Leftovers hit the containers! Not plate scrapings but leftovers. You made six hamburgers but ate five, that little end piece from the roast, the ham bone from Sunday’s dinner, the tablespoon of peas, the leftover squash, a quarter cup of beans, that dollop of mashed potatoes, those ten little french-fries, and that half of the baked potato because the youngest only eats half. These containers became my budget stretchers and my source of free or almost free meals!

Leftover mac and cheese can easily be added to a beef-based soup, as can leftover spaghetti. I’d cut the spaghetti up into tiny bits before freezing. And add it to beef soup.

Also do not use plastic containers that had once contained store bought foods or takeout. Use containers specifically designed for freezing. This is important to maintain the quality of the food being stored. I’d permanently mark the containers and reuse them for the same foods.

To save time later, I’d cut up the vegetables before I froze them. And depending on the size of the meat, I might or might not cut it up. That little wedge of beef will flake apart, but if I cut it up, it won’t take as long to cook. Most of the time, I pulled the chicken off the bones, but allowed any leftover legs or thighs to remain whole. Chicken leg bones make better stock than the thin breastbones or wings. Ham tends to remain whole, so cut it into small chunks. Always save that ham bone for the stock!

When I had a full container of chicken, I dropped it in a large soup pan and covered it with water. Let it simmer with a carrot, onion, that celery that lost its crunch, and a dash of salt to taste. I’d lift the chicken and pull it from the bones. Then I’d lift the veggies from the pot, strain the broth, run the carrot, onion, and celery through the blender with a little broth and return it to the stock, add the chicken meat, a pinch of turmeric to give it a little yellow color. Often I’d return the stock to the refrigerator overnight or for several hours. This allows the fat to come to the top and be skimmed or lifted off. No one wants greasy soup. A few little bits of fat does add flavor, but lowering the overall fat content is important.

If you’ve made a huge batch of stock, you can freeze the plain stock. This will save time later. It can be added to other recipes or used as a base for gravies.

Use some fun noodles such as ABC’s or stars. There are lots of interesting miniature noodles and pastas available today and they aren’t that expensive to use. Kids love seeing different types of noodles from the traditional ABC’s or stars. Most of the time you will find these on the grocer’s shelves near the spaghetti noodles or in their gourmet section. (Don’t forget to check the Chinese food area!) Or you can use rice or beans. Put the stock, meat, frozen veggies (optional,) pasta or rice back on the stove and cook until the noodles or rice are done. Free or almost free soup.

Or thicken it a little bit and add dumplings and a handful of frozen peas, and maybe a little more sliced carrot for chicken and dumplings. Keep the noodles out of it and add potatoes. After it gets good and thick, put it between two pie crusts and you have chicken potpie!

Do the same thing with the leftover beef, except this time add the vegetables and potatoes for a hearty beef vegetable soup. If you have lots of potatoes, you can cook it longer. It’ll thicken until you have beef stew! Or put it between pie crusts for beef potpie.

Ham? Lentil, split pea, or bean soup. (We’re talking under a dollar to buy some dried beans and make a big pot of soup!)

Vegetarians can make a vegetable-based stock with leftovers. I’d often make such stock especially in the summer when my garden was overflowing. I’d cook everything and then when it cooled, I run it through the blender and make a slurry. This can be added to gravies or used as a soup base.

It doesn’t take a lot of meat. If you have two or three pieces, you can make a small pot. Most of the time, I had enough leftovers to make a beef soup and a chicken soup at least once a month. Occasionally I’d buy a beef soup bone from the butcher. (After making the stock, your pooch will love the bone, just be certain it’s bigger than his mouth. You don’t want him choking on it!) If I didn’t quite have enough to make a hearty soup but I had a tasty stock, I’d cut up an extra potato and add it, or I’d use more pasta.

With today’s crock-pots, it’s twice as easy!

Free or almost free food is a great way to avoid waste and stretch the budget to the max. And you really don’t need a recipe, just do it. No little pastas? Use the big ones! That half-cup of ziti or rotini at the bottom of the box - toss them in. Rice noodles, bean threads…experiment! If you want to add some basil, cilantro, or oregano, do it. A little sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and extra onion… You know what you like. Taste it as you go! If you hate it, toss it! You would have thrown all those leftovers away, anyway.

Things I learned not to add: pickled beets, cabbage, okra, or any strong tasting vegetable. I kept my tomato-based things in a separate container. Tomato and chicken didn’t go over very well in my house. Pickled beets would show up the following day as my favorite leftover. Cabbage does work with ham-based soups so I’d freeze it in a small container, but sauerkraut didn’t seem to be worth saving for soup. Mashed potatoes will thicken anything!

When the empty nest set in, I figured my days of leftovers were gone. I think they doubled. No matter how hard I tried to cut down on portions, it was impossible for two people to eat everything! But I did learn to make smaller batches of soup or I’d share with my married children, or an elderly neighbor. Soup is freezable! I’d freeze it in individual-sized batches, dump one in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke it for lunch!

Campaign (Brad and Ryn’s Story,) a River City novel
Brad Shoemaker was blindsided when he discovered that love could be silent, and Kathryn “Ryn” Demary is mute. But when Mayor Bruno Giovanni is forced into early retirement, he chooses Brad to run in his place. Ryn is determined to campaign at Brad’s side, but instead of being an asset, she just might be his biggest liability. Ryn finds herself campaigning not just for Brad to become mayor but also for his love. Politics can get dirty and Ryn’s caught in the middle.

Buy Link (also available as part of Kindle Unlimited)

Monday, August 18, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--SEWING FROM A BYGONE ERA WITH GUEST AUTHOR DONIS CASEY

Donis Casey's Great-aunt and Grandmother
Donis Casey makes a return appearance to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers today. Donis is the author of the award-winning Alafair Tucker Mystery series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children. The series is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. Today Donis stops by to discuss fashionistas of a bygone era. Learn more about Donis and her books at her website.

Self-Made Fashionistas
I have been called penurious in my time. Yet, in comparison to my mother, or even more so with her own parents, who actually had to support themselves and their families during the worst downturn in U.S. history, I am downright profligate.

Nobody knows from frugal any more. 

I recently saw a woman on television saying that there is a trend among fashionable young people to buy cheap, hip clothing that may fall apart the first time you wash it. But they don’t care. They only spend $30 or so for something they throw away when it’s ruined, and then they can buy something even more stylish and up to date.

I make no judgment. I’d rather be in a position to do that than have to wear clothes I made myself out of a flour sack. For much of American history, few farm families had the money to buy ready-made clothing from a store. Clothes were homemade and worn until they were so patched and stained that they were unwearable. After which, the mother would use what was left to make a quilt, or a rag rug, or a mop. Then use the scraps to make a patch for a shirt elbow or the knee of some trousers, or a button cover, until the material disintegrated into molecules and floated away on the breeze.

In the mid-1800s, companies that sold sugar, flour, and animal feed began selling their goods packed into heavy cotton sacks instead of boxes and barrels. It didn’t take long for women to realize that once the bag was empty, they were in possession of a piece of durable fabric that made really nice, cheap clothes for the kids. Or work shirts for the men in the family, or aprons for themselves. Once the flour and chicken feed companies found out what was going on in homes around the country, they started printing pretty designs on the bags, and suddenly every rural child in America was wearing a dress or shirt with little pink flowers on it, or underwear with “Pillsbury” printed across the seat.

Not long ago I received a note from a second cousin of mine who said, “Aunt Thelma always bragged about how Grandma Bourland (our mutual great aunt and great-grandmother) only had to look at a photo of a dress to be able to copy it.” That comment made me smile, because my grandmother on the other side of the family had said exactly the same thing about her mother.  

“Ma didn’t even need a pattern,” Grandma Casey told me. “You’d just tell her, ‘I want pleats here and this kind of sleeve,’ and she’d whip it up.”

She did, too. I have a photo of my grandmother (above photo) and her sister, both clad in dresses their mother made for them. For a fictional wedding in one of my books, I dressed the bride in my Grandma’s fabulous outfit.

I suppose if you had seven daughters and you made every stitch of clothing they wore from birth until they left home, not to mention clothing for your sons and your husband and yourself, you’d become an expert seamstress in short order. Even if you had to sew it all on a treadle machine. Many years ago I tried to make something on my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. You really have to get the knack of pumping the treadle up and down with your feet. It’s like rubbing your head and patting your tummy at the same time.

Handmade 70's Dress
My own mother made a lot of clothing for her three daughters. We did not live on a farm and could well afford store-bought clothes, but Mama grew up in the country during the depression, and she was the living embodiment of frugality. If she could make do, she did. I never felt put-upon by wearing homemade clothes, because what my mother made was excellent. She had a great eye for material and color and we girls always looked tres chic. I so loved some of the dresses she made for me in the ‘70s that I still have them to this day. I think they are museum quality. I’d model some for you, Dear Reader, but these days I couldn’t get into them with a shoehorn.

The world has changed. Even if you wanted to make your own clothes, it’s not as easy as it used to be to find a place to buy fabric. My mother taught me to sew, but I learned in school, too, back when all the girls took Home Ec and all the boys took Shop. I have the skills, but no longer have the time or equipment to make my own outfits from scratch. I still mend and patch and make it last, if it’s a piece I like. But how I envy anyone who has the eye, and the will, to make a piece of clothing that is unique and totally hers. 

Hell With the Lid Blown Off
In the summer of 1916, a big twister brings destruction to the land around Boynton, OK.  Alafair Tucker’s family and neighbors are not spared the ruin and grief spread by the storm.  But no one is going to mourn for Jubal Beldon, who made it his business to know the ugly secrets of everyone in town. It doesn’t matter if Jubal’s insinuations are true or not. In a small town like Boynton, rumor is as damaging as fact.

But as Mr. Lee the undertaker does his grim duty for the storm victims, he discovers that even in death Jubal isn’t going to leave his neighbors in peace.  He was already dead when the tornado carried his body to the middle of a fallow field. Had he died in an accident or had he been murdered by someone whose secret he had threatened to expose? There are dozens of people who would have been happy to do the deed, including members of Jubal’s own family.

As Sheriff Scott Tucker and his deputy Trenton Calder look into the circumstances surrounding Jubal’s demise, it begins to look like the prime suspect may be someone very dear to the widow Beckie MacKenzie, the beloved music teacher and mentor of Alafair’s daughter Ruth.  Ruth fears that the secrets exposed by the investigation are going to cause more damage to her friend’s life than the tornado. Alafair has her own suspicions about how Jubal Beldon came to die, and the reason may hit very close to home.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR CHRISTINE KELENY

Christine Keleny likes working with her hands. She crochets, sews, tiles, paints, cross stitches, frames pictures, stains furniture, and cuts and splits firewood, but her main loves are writing and helping others publish the book of their dreams. Learn mor about her at CK Book Publishing and her blog. 

I was thrilled when I found Anastasia’s site about mystery novels and the people that write them. What a good idea, I thought, to write on a mystery writers site about the writers of one of the most famous girl sleuths to date: Nancy Drew. I’m glad Anastasia agreed!

Oddly enough, I didn’t read Nancy when I was growing up. I read mostly Agatha Christie and a few other obscure mystery writers, but my daughter (now 18) is an avid reader, and she read all of the Nancy Drew books our library owned, some 56 of them or so. I am a student of history, so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated to historical fiction. I’m not sure what made me think of doing a story about Nancy Drew, but I’m glad I did. It’s really quite an interesting story.

Did you know there is an ongoing dispute about who the real creator of Nancy is? I’m sure all you seasoned mystery writers know that Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym. So is Laura Lee Hope of the Bobbsey Twins and Franklin Dixon of the very popular Hardy Boys. All these stories are the brainchild of one of the most prolific children’s writers of the twentieth century: Edward Stratemeyer. The problem with Nancy, however, is that Edward died soon after he had sent the first three Nancy stories off to his publisher.

Edward’s first ghostwriter to work on Nancy (he just called them “writers”) was Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson. And as with all of Edward’s stories, she worked off outlines Edward had given her.

As I was writing my stories, I was lucky enough to correspond with two people who had some firsthand information about the people who wrote the Nancy Drew stories. One of those people is Geoffrey S. Lapin. Geoffrey developed a relationship with Mildred “Millie” Wirt Benson when he found out that she had written many of the first stories.

You see, all writers for the Syndicate signed agreements that gave up any rights they might have to the stories they wrote, and the Syndicate required these writers not to tell anyone what stories they had written. Mr. Lapin didn’t quite agree. He even purchased one of the original three outlines that Edward had sent to Millie (an item I was not able to get my hands on before communicating with Mr. Lapin.) He had talked with one of the three young women who ended up being a partner in the Syndicate (Edward’s, then his daughter’s, book company) in the 1980s.

Geoffrey said that the first outline for The Secret of the Old Clock was three pages long and included much detail about what and how Edward wanted his story written – including the dialect of the “colored” character in the story. The second outline for The Hidden Staircase was only two pages and supposedly the outline for The Bungalow Mystery was even shorter. Apparently Mildred was getting the idea of what Edward was looking for. This was all well and good until May of 1930 when Edward died of pneumonia.

What was to become of the Syndicate and all its stories – Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Ruth Fielding just to name a few?

Harriet’s two daughters, Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer, ended up deciding to run the company when they couldn’t find anyone (post-depression) to buy it, and that’s when the trouble began. Harriet – who primarily ran the company – didn’t like the way Mildred wrote the Nancy stories, so she started giving Mildred lengthy outlines again and edited out what she didn’t like once she received Mildred’s completed manuscripts. These women politely battled each other until 1953, when Mildred wrote her last Nancy story: The Clue of the Velvet Mask (Nancy book #26.)

After this Harriet and a few other ghostwriters took over Nancy, but Harriet always did the final edits on her Nancy stories. Harriet was the one who oversaw the refreshing of all the original Nancy stories in the 1950s at the behest of the publishers, when the original blue roadster changed to the beloved blue convertible and Nancy matured from 16 years of age to 18, so she could legally drive in all 50 states!

The other person I had helping me with my book was Edward’s great-granddaughter, Cynthia Lum. Cynthia is adamant that Harriet is the real creator of Nancy, and she has a good argument toward that point, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. In my story, I lay out the lives of the three primary creators of Nancy and let the reader decide who her real creator is.

Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up? tells of the lives of the three primary creators of the Nancy Drew mystery series and how the plucky, intelligent, resourceful, and famous girl sleuth came to life, along with the controversy that still rages on about who really created the Nancy Drew that millions of readers across the globe have come to know and love.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--TOURING A MAKE-BELIEVE LOUISIANA SETTING WITH AUTHOR LIVIA QUINN

Storm Lake
It was culture shock when a city girl from D.C. moved to Louisiana thirty years ago. Rural back roads, country living, and critters! And so much bad weather. In the South, Livia Quinn’s childhood fear of storms became an irresistible preoccupation. She survived tornado outbreaks, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Isaac, and the Mississippi River flood. All became fodder for the Storm Lake series, a sometimes magical, always mysterious lake about which Livia has written several paranormal novels based in Destiny, and romantic suspense novels set in Larue and Thunder Point. Today Livia takes us on a tour of the area. Learn more about Livia and her books at her website.  

Welcome to Storm Lake
The Storm Lake Tourism and Development Board describes the towns surrounding the lake as a topographical mixing pot of swamps, vast areas of open waterways, and deep-water seiches—the ultimate fishing and vacation experience. There are many activities to choose from, including charter fishing, nature walks, tours of the studios in Larue, known as “Hollywood South,” and even surfing. Infamous for its crazy weather, the tourism board encourages businesses to promote both the lake’s attractions and its mysterious nature. (See the Accommodations Page for information on lodging around the lake.)

OPEN YEAR ROUND!

On the west end: Destiny
Some people swear there have been sightings of supernatural beings near Destiny, a vast area of swamps and bayous, a wetlands dream.

Features: A scenic drive around the west end from Hugo to Amity, but no accommodations in Destiny at this time. There is a B&B, but it is booked year round and there is no waiting list.


Author Tip: It is rumored that a family of storm-wielding Paramortals have lived here for thousands of years. The good news: it is said their purpose is to protect humans and weaker species. That does leave some to wonder… protect us from what?

A sunset cruise from Hugo to Fierce Winds Island looking toward Destiny affords some spectacular photo opportunities.
On the southeast side: Larue
“Hollywood South” boasts many studios in the country’s third largest film producing state. Larue’s proximity to New Orleans means plenty of venues and film ventures for visitors to both spectate and even participate as extras.

Features: Knights Production Inc. uses current and former military or law enforcement professionals in their photo shoots.

Author Tip: Visit some of your favorite movie sites that have appeared on screen, or sit in on a photo shoot for a romance novel cover like this one. Make your reservations with Buffy Romano at Knights. You might even get lucky and meet a movie star!

Thunderpoint: Directly east from Destiny, across 35 miles of open water lies Thunderpoint, an area protected by the sea walls from the seiches and violent weather that travels the length of the lake and picks up steam in deeper waters. Those same deep waters offer some of the best charter fishing and awesome inland surfing.

Features: Golf course, airport, charter fishing, dinner cruise, jazz breakfast cruise, lightning lab, RV campgrounds & cabins.

Author Tip: If you’re fascinated by weatherological issues, you might enjoy a trip to the Point and a visit with local weather scientist Brenna McLaren, who operates a privately funded lightning forensics lab right at the edge of Storm Lake. Check in at the marina, rent a lakeside cabin or stay in one of the many secluded campgrounds

On the north shore: Campbell Green
Gambpell Green, a self-sustainable GREEN farm with a long Scottish heritage, was recently taken over by a former ad exec from NYC with ties to the original landowners. Mystiq Campbell has been the driving force in the all-GREEN environment. If there’s an issue with the ecosystem on the lake you can contact mystiq here: mystiqcampbell@campbellgreen.com

Features: Five star restaurant on the northern bank.

To the South:
Twin Lakes Convention Center offers a full range of convention facilities and a sparkling new venue. See the Twin Lakes page for full details.

PLEASE NOTE: There are many great attractions around Storm Lake. There’s only one problem—the lake exists only in Livia Quinn’s fertile mind.


Storm Crazy
Storm Lake—Is it Mayberry or Middle Earth?
 
To say I was having a bad day would be like saying Katrina dropped a little rain on the Gulf Coast. My name is Tempest Pomeroy. I’m a mail carrier in Destiny, Louisiana, and a Paramortal like my family. Or I’m supposed to be. If I didn’t have a few little talents, I’d think I was adopted.

Before I left for work, I discovered my brother’s amphora missing from the mantle—that’s genie bottle to you mere-mortals. On my first delivery, a handsome scantily clad doctor triggered some sort of hallucination with just a touch. Pheromones? Then one of my customers had a stroke while reading me the riot act over a piece of mail, but I saved the old grouch with a zap of my Zeus juice, just before Destiny’s hunky new sheriff showed up.

He made another appearance when the owner of Flowers by Dick filed a complaint against me for dropping a seventy-five pound box on his foot. Yeah, I did it, but it was kind of an accident. He put his hand where it didn’t belong and I… sorta dropped the box. Things went downhill from there. I discovered a dead body in the clubhouse and rescued my brother’s bottle from a locker, bashing it in with a Greg Norman wedge. And wouldn’t you know - him again.

I’ve denied my heritage as a Tempestaerie for too long. Now, my mother’s out of pocket, my brother’s missing and the sheriff thinks one of us is guilty of murder. Is it any wonder I’m calling this the worst M.A.L.E day of my life?

Oh, and the sheriff? He thought he’d settled in a normal small town to raise his teenage daughter. Like Mayberry. We’ll see how that turns out… Things better settle down soon, ‘cause I’m about to go Storm Crazy.

Storm Crazy, the first book in the Destiny Paramortals is free today: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00L02VHE0