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.

Friday, July 3, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR CHARMAINE GORDON

Romantic suspense author Charmaine Gordon sits for an interview today. Learn more about Charmaine and her books at her blog. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
As an actor for many years, my last job was on Broadway in a new play. Toward the end of the run, I noticed my voice change. I had trouble speaking. The diagnosis--spasmodic dysphonia to be treated with botox injections forever into the larynx. Thus ended a fine career--a small fish in a big pond since I began in midlife. Creative juices still flowed so without training, I began a story and wrote a book. Amazing what one can do. Undaunted, I began again in my seventies.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Call me lucky. It didn’t take too long before Vanilla Heart Publishing, a small company on the West coast, requested a few chapters and soon my first book, To be Continued, was published. What a kick.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
For me, traditionally published works just fine.

Where do you write?
I have a small office and three cats, cluttered with books, a litter box and the cats take turns sitting on my lap. I often wonder if this is where the name laptop comes from?

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Golden silence is best for me.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I noticed when first writing, I couldn’t help from dropping bits and pieces of my life into the story. My publisher reassured me. “You’re doing just fine,” she said.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Names float across my mind like on a ticker tape. When I need one, it’s right there. I have no explanation.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Some stories have real settings like St. Augustine beach, Florida in several books. More recently, I wrote a series about a fictional town, River’s Edge in upstate, NY where the motto is Kindness to Strangers. Readers have said they’d love to live in a town just like that.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
A half glass of Chardonnay and I’m tap dancing on the table. True story and it’s happened many times on Broadway in clubs after a play or in a local restaurant.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
To Kill A Mocking Bird. What a gorgeous story. The kind, intelligent father raising two chidren, a lawyer defending a black man at a terrible time in history and so much more.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? 
He died too young, my high school sweetheart. We never argued, raised a batch of kids and suddenly gone. Do over, my heart screamed for a long time. I survived, married again but he’s still with me. Do over, I still scream.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
When people ignore needs of older folks at the super market, I get very angry. Wait ‘til they get old and need help.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Gluten-free everything, laptop and a really smart hunk.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I raised a batch of kids and when the last one went off to kindergarten I helped my husband full time in our business. No time off for this lady.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
To Kill A Mocking Bird

Ocean or mountains?
Ocean

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Love the city, NYC and going home to peace in the country.

What’s on the horizon for you? 
I write The End and two days later I’m into a new book. Living a long healthy life is a good plan.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
After years of being an Air Force wife, we became civilians and moved to NY. I did a lot of local theater until one day, a professional actor suggested I go to the city and seek an agent. Life changed. My first job was as leg model for Geraldine Ferraro with bodyguards protecting her and her two daughters. That got me my first Union Card. After that came Working Girl where I had fun sharing a hot dog with Harrison Ford after singing Happy Birthday to Melanie Griffith. Anthony Hopkins invited me to lunch in one movie and Michael Douglas shared a moment in Fatal Attraction. I was like a sponge soaking up everything I heard and saw. When I had to kiss the sweet time goodbye because my voice failed, I was ready to write.

Bridging the Gap
Anna Youngblood and James Chandler have problems. His little daughter overheard his ex say she never wanted kids; Anna must make amends for breaking rules of her tribe; he has a serious concussion and she’s pregnant. Can this couple find happiness in River’s Edge?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

WEDDING DRESS HISTORY WITH GUEST AUTHOR AILEEN HARDWOOD

The Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Aileen Harkwood is a Readers’ Crown finalist who lives in the Southern Rockies. The Last Wedding at Drayhome is the prequel to two concurrent series of fantasy romances, Spell Touched and Wedding Spell, due out in September. Learn more about her and her books at her website

Queen Victoria
And the Bride Wore Brown?

Many assume the traditional wedding dress for a bride in the western world has always been white, but that’s because few of us alive today were born early enough to remember differently. Can you imagine a bride in red? Were you a young girl from a wealthy European family during the 19th century, you might have daydreamed about wearing a scarlet gown draped in fur to your nuptials. Historically brides have worn a variety of colors, gray, black, yellow, and yes, brown.

Many assume today’s wedding dresses are white because that is the only color one connects with purity, when in fact blue was originally the color to communicate that virtue and was a popular choice for wedding gowns through the 1800s.

So how did white weddings become the thing? We have Queen Victoria to thank for that. When she wed her beloved Prince Albert 175 years ago, she broke with the royal tradition of wearing a heavy brocade gown embroidered with silver thread and selected one of creamy white satin, trimmed in flounces of Honiton lace. Her goal was to support her country’s cottage lace industry, primarily housed in Honiton and Beer in Devon. Instead of a tiara, she chose a wreath of orange blossoms, a symbol of fertility. Her slippers were of white satin and her veil constructed of additional Honiton lace.
Queen Victoria's Wedding Slippers

Victoria also forever altered the cultural bias toward blue as a symbolic color for purity when a decade following her wedding Godey’s Lady’s Book championed the royal’s choice, “…white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”

While the ton might have been impressed by the Queen’s daring in selecting a color that until that time was often associated with mourning, (yes, white was the color of death!), it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that white became de rigueur across the pond. Here in the U.S. other colors weren’t pushed out until WWII, a century after Victoria’s 1840 wedding to Prince Albert.

Why? Simple economics. White is difficult to keep clean and until modern laundering technologies came along, not to mention the burgeoning prosperity of the mid-20th century, only the wealthiest women could afford to fork over a significant wad of cash for a dress easily ruined by the first wine spill. Instead, wedding dresses were more often a bride’s “best dress,” one she was expected to wear again, gussied up for the day with a bit of lace or a flower or two.

And the bride wore brown. 

MAGICAL WEDDINGS: 15 Enchanting Romances

If you love contemporary wedding romance, enjoy a touch of the paranormal--witches, psychic pets, ghosts--or if your favorite beach read is romantic comedy, historical or military romance, don't miss this engaging boxed set of all stand-alone stories (no cliffhangers) which includes 14 new releases written expressly for this set. Whether real or only in the hearts of the bride and groom, the magic of weddings is undeniable. And irresistible! As these 15 enchanting happily-ever-afters by bestselling and award-winning authors prove. From sweet to spicy, the romances bundled into this set cross time and unite hearts, cast spells of laughter, battle wedding jitters and fight back tears, while weaving love’s hopeful magic throughout 1400 pages.


The story I’ve contributed to Magical Weddings is:

The Last Wedding at Drayhome (Breens Mist Witches)

Never underestimate the power of a witch and warlock in love who have nothing left to lose…

Every witch and warlock in Breens Mist, Oregon has one main talent that guides their destiny. Colleen McColly’s gift is to be caretaker and voice for Drayhome, a magical estate with a mind of its own. Sent under the guise of helping to prepare for a wedding, warlock Terry “Ax” Paxton has orders to evict Colleen, and end Drayhome’s century-plus-reign as the heart and soul of Breens Mist. It’s a duty against which Ax rebels, not just because it’s wrong, but because he and Colleen have a connection of their own, raw, passionate and too many years denied.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

LIVING ON A SHOESTRING WITH GUEST AUTHOR LYNETTE SOFRAS

A former English teacher, Lynette Sofras gave up a high level career in education to focus on her writing a few years ago, thus fulfilling her lifelong dream. She mainly writes women fiction, often with suspense and/or a supernatural twist. When not producing novels, she works as an editor and writing tutor at 24houranswers.com. Learn more about Lynette and her books at her website and blog.

It's said that most Americans will experience poverty at some point in their lives, particularly inner city or rural dwellers. What seems almost ludicrous to me is that as the world advances in so many ways, poverty is steadily increasing. In the UK, the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks is testament to the fact that poverty is no longer a third world issue.

When times are tight, there are numerous ways you can cut back on expenses to save money for essentials. You don't have to starve or live in misery, thanks to food banks and the supermarket price wars. Buying budget brands doesn't always mean sacrificing quality and essential nutrition. In the UK, stores like Lidl and Aldi are forcing competition and the big name supermarkets are having to downprice accordingly. If you don't want to switch loyalties, try switching brands for a month to see how much you can save. Search for offers and money-off vouchers in free magazines or the Internet. Visit markets, boot/garage sales and auction houses to hunt down cheaper alternatives.

Foregoing expensive forms of entertainment for a short while can also help you save pennies. Cut out fancy restaurants and get experimental in the kitchen. Visit museums and libraries and broaden your mind for free or simply get healthy with a walk in the park and perhaps a picnic lunch.

While I've never known real deprivation, I did go through a period of financial hardship when I was bringing up a young child with virtually no support from the father, while putting myself through university and beyond to ensure I could provide for us both in the future. It is perhaps hardly surprising, therefore, that money issues infiltrate some of my novels. In my latest romantic suspense, The Nightclub, two half-sisters, fleeing a pretty dreadful past, find themselves living hand to mouth and surviving only with great difficulty. Money is so tight, they have to live in a squalid flat, shop at charity shops or scavenge for market bargains, and re-use teabags to save pennies. But they have each other, determination and ambition.

The Nightclub
Trying to make a living for her teenage sister and herself, naïve Laura Hamilton accepts a job offer as a hostess at an infamous London nightclub. As she struggles to survive in a world of sex, drugs and corruption, she certainly doesn't expect to find her own knight in shining armour in the club's owner, Julian. But will he really save her from a future as a fallen woman? And is he involved in the criminal organisation that threatens not only her sister's life, but will change her own fate forever?

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CATNIP COOKIES

Catherine the Great
Today is the last day of Adopt-a-Cat Month. If you’re looking for a feline friend, head over to your local animal shelter today. You can share this recipe for Catnip Cookies with your new kitty. Both Anastasia's Mama and Catherine the Great, her white Persian, love these treats.

Catnip Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus extra for rolling dough
1 cup soy flour
1 teaspoon catnip
1 lg. egg
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon honey
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the flours and catnip in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, blending well.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll out dough to 1/4” thickness onto a lightly floured surface. Cut out cookies with cookie cutters. Place cookies on lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool, then store in tightly sealed container.

Want to learn more about Catherine the Great? You’ll find her royal highness strutting around throughout the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. Meet her in Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the critically acclaimed first book in the series.

Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun
When Anastasia Pollack's husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle-class life craps out. She's left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her hateful, cane-wielding Communist mother-in-law. Not to mention stunned disbelief over her late husband's secret gambling addiction, and the loan shark who's demanding fifty thousand dollars.

Anastasia's job as crafts editor for a magazine proves no respite when she discovers a dead body glued to her office chair. The victim, fashion editor Marlys Vandenburg, collected enemies and ex-lovers like Jimmy Choos on her ruthless climb to editor-in-chief. But when evidence surfaces of an illicit affair between Marlys and Anastasia's husband, Anastasia becomes the number one suspect.

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Kindle

Monday, June 29, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--WASHI TAPE

Every so often I come across a new craft material that becomes my new favorite. Lately it’s washi tape, a craft material that originated in Japan. You may have seen projects using washi tape on various craft blogs or Pinterest pages. It’s becoming a real obsession, and now I’m one of the obsessed. Why? Because in a matter of seconds and with not a single discernable crafting gene, anyone can create fun, decorative projects from just about anything.

I’m sure you’ve all seen colorful, patterned Duck tape in craft stores and home improvement centers. People have been crafting with Duck tape for several years now, even creating prom dresses and tuxes from the sticky stuff. But crafting with Duck tape, precisely because it’s so sticky, is more difficult to master. Washi tape has none of the drawbacks of Duck tape.

Even though washi tape is made from paper, it’s nearly as strong as Duck tape. This is because it’s made from natural fibers—bamboo or hemp or the barks of the mulberry or gampi trees or the mitsumata shrub.

Washi tape isn’t one of those hard-to-find craft supplies. Many craft supply manufacturers now produce lines of washi tape. I found rolls in 1/2” and 5/8” widths and varying lengths available at Target and several local craft chains.

Washi tape is loved by scrapbookers, but it can be used to decorate just about anything. For my first foray into the world of washi tape, I decided to spruce up some old, boring desk accessories, adding washi tape to some banker’s clips, a stapler, and the galvanized pail I use to hold pens and markers.

What will you decorate with washi tape?

Friday, June 26, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR ANNETTE DASHOFY

Today mystery author Annette Dashofy sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about Annette and her books at her website and blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
When I was in high school, I started writing “novels” longhand in spiral-bound notebooks. I’d write a chapter or two and pass it around in study hall to my “fans” who would take their turns reading it before returning it to me with orders to “write more!” Now, there’s a term for what I wrote: Fan Fiction. Then it was simply inserting a character who was basically ME into a story involving my favorite television shows at the time. Recently, while cleaning out my mom’s basement, I found a binder with three of those early “novels” written when I was 13!

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I’m not counting those teenaged efforts! I got serious about writing for publication in 2004. From then, it took about 10 years for it to really happen.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m traditionally published with Henery Press, a small, but fabulous, publisher.

Where do you write?
Mostly I write in my home office, but when I travel, a hotel room does nicely. And my hubby and I have a “fishing/writing camp” on the Youghiogheny River. He fishes. I write. That’s probably my most productive writing location.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I need silence or as close to it as I can muster. The only time I need music to write is if there happens to be music or dancing in the scene.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I often get ideas from local news stories, but then I “corrupt” them into something completely different. A few story lines have been inspired by family folklore-type tales or stupid stuff that’s happened, but they’re just a seed from which to start. As for my characters, I use some real-life experiences. For instance, I have worked as an EMT on a small-town ambulance service. I own cats (or they own me) and have owned horses. However, that’s the extend of similarities between me and Zoe. We have totally different family backgrounds.

Describe your process for naming your character?
I like to use local names for characters, but I mix and match a lot. Pete Adams for example: Pete was the name of a local police chief, who passed away years ago and who was also a dear friend of my dad. Adams was the last name of the minister who married my husband and me. I like to walk through a local cemetery and pick names from tombstones, too.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Both. Monongahela County and Vance Township are fictionalized versions of southwestern Pennsylvania. Folks recognize aspects of the places I write about, but as with names, I like to mix things up. If I relocated stores and roads, or mashed together different police jurisdictions the way I do without fictionalizing it, all my neighbors and police friends would be calling FOUL! I do occasionally mention Pittsburgh and other real settings, though. Pete takes Zoe out to dinner in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, for example. It’s a real place, but I fictionalized the name of the restaurant.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Although Zoe works as a deputy coroner, she can’t stand the smell of autopsy. Not really a quirk for the average person, but for someone who’s considering a future in the Coroner’s Office, it’s a problem!

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I’m not sure I want to share that! I will confess to loving old Westerns with a passion. I own a lot of them on DVD and love to binge watch.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Oh… Just about any of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s novels. I love her writing and have always said I want to write like her when I grow up. I love how she writes setting. And I love how 3-dimensional all her characters are.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
Forgive me if I channel Frank Sinatra for a moment, but as for regrets, I’ve had too few to mention. I do sometimes wonder what if I’d made a different choice… But I’m really happy with my life as is right now, and I don’t know if a do-over would have made it any better.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who never look up from their cell phones. From moms not paying attention to their kids in Walmart to folks not paying attention to the road when they’re behind the wheel to people just missing out on what’s around them. Put the phone down!

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
My husband and a knife (because he’s a pseudo-MacGyver and could build a shelter and catch food as long as he has a knife!) and the latest Craig Johnson novel (which I could read over and over while Hubby builds the shelter and catches the food).  

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I once worked at a kiosk in a mall where I sold cheap jewelry and pierced ears. I hated it. I hated piercing little kids’ ears and making them cry. Plus after you do one side, it’s really hard to get them to sit still for the second one because NOW they know what’s coming!

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
From previous answers, you can probably guess I’m a huge Julia Spencer Fleming and Craig Johnson fan. It would have to be one of theirs, but narrowing it down to one is HARD. I think I’ll go with Johnson’s Kindness Goes Unpunished, although if you asked me the same question on another day, I’d probably give you different answer.

Ocean or mountains?
Mountains.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Country. Definitely country.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m currently completing With a Vengeance, the fourth book in the Zoe Chambers mystery series and noodling with ideas for the fifth one!

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’m thrilled that Circle of Influence was nominated for an Agatha for Best First Novel, and I’m also tickled that it’s recently been nominated for the David Award for Best Novel of 2014. Truly a dream come true!

Bridges Burned
Paramedic Zoe Chambers is used to saving lives, but when she stops a man from running into a raging inferno in a futile attempt to rescue his wife, Zoe finds herself drawn to him, and even more so to his ten-year-old daughter. She invites them both to live at the farm while the grieving widower picks up the pieces of his life.

Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams, of course, is not happy with this setup, especially when he finds evidence implicating Zoe's new houseguest in murder times two. When Zoe ignores Pete's dire warnings, she runs the very real chance of burning one too many bridges, losing everything--and everyone--she holds dear.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

#FASHION WITH TESSA--GUEST AUTHOR LYNN CAHOON

Photo by Neesa Rajbhandari
If you visited the town where New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lynn Cahoon she grew up, you’d understand why her mysteries and romance novels focus around the depth and experience of small town life. Currently, she’s living in a small historic town on the banks of the Mississippi river where her imagination tends to wander. Learn more about Lynn and her books at her website. 

Do you buy used clothes?

Fashion alert: Vintage Duds, a-new-to-you shop, selling designer clothes has opened in my fictional town of South Cove, California. Sherry King and Pat Williams are the newest business owners in my tourist trap town.  The store is filled with classic and modern designer creations, and Sherry has even added a small runway area for trunk sales that allows her to play New York Fashion week whenever she buys out an up-and-coming starlet’s closet. Or more likely, an on-the-way-out-of-Hollywood has-been’s clothes.

Either way, the clothes aren’t new off the delivery truck. Some have been worn once, some a little more often. I love walking through a local resale shop here in St. Louis. Some of my finds have lasted me longer than items I picked up new at mall stores. I’m a cheap shopper; I’ll admit it. I have great taste. I can point out whatever’s most expensive on the store floor. Sadly for my closet, I can’t bring myself to pay full price for anything. My wallet on the other hand, thanks me.

I shop clearance, out of season, and, yes, I’ll admit it, I also shop resale. Goodwill stores are too overwhelming. Too many bad choices, too much stuff to sort through. Even though I’m cheap, I’m also picky. I want to look professional and sharp in my new-to-me items. 

This season, I’m planning on hitting the charity resale shop to see if I can snag a little black dress for upcoming conferences. Whatever I’m wearing when you see me in NYC or Raleigh, NC at different conventions, you can count on one thing: I didn’t mortgage my house to buy the dress. 

So it’s your turn to dish. Are you a closet re-sale shopper? Do you love finding a garage sale where the woman used to be your size? Or does the thought of buying used creep you out a little?  (Read Joe Hill’s A Heart Shaped Box, and you may never let a used piece of clothing near you again.)

Dressed to Kill
Jill Gardner—owner of Coffee, Books, and More in the tucked-away town of South Cove, California—is not particularly thrilled to be portraying a twenties flapper for the dinner theater murder mystery. Though it is for charity…

Of course everyone is expecting a “dead” body at the dress rehearsal…but this one isn’t acting! It turns out the main suspect is the late actor’s conniving girlfriend Sherry…who also happens to be the ex-wife of Jill’s main squeeze. Sherry is definitely a master manipulator…but is she a killer? Jill may discover the truth only when the curtain comes up on the final act…and by then, it may be far too late.