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, January 30, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHORS JANET ELIZABETH LYNN AND WILL ZELLINGER

Today we have husband and wife authors Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zellinger sitting down for a dual interview. Along with solo works, the two have teamed up to co-author the mystery Slivers of Glass. Learn more about Janet and her books at her website and Will and his books at his website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

Janet: I always wanted to write a Noir murder mystery. After seven murder and cozy mysteries, I discovered I couldn't get into a guy's head as well as another man. So I approached my husband, also a published author and he agreed. We started January 3, 2014 and finished it November 2014.

Will: Writing wasn’t always on my radar. I was trained as a graphic designer/art director. In my field, I’d written a lot of ad copy but never anything like a novel or even a short story.  Imagine my surprise when I found out I liked to write and had stories to tell. Working with Janet is a joy as she brings an entirely different skill set to our writing.

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

Janet: I wanted to write all my life. I became a Clinical Speech Pathologist and enjoyed the field for 30 years. But I always wondered about writing a novel. Finally, 15 years ago I decided if I didn't try, I'd never know. I took classes, seminars, and sat in writer groups. In 2011 I published my first murder mystery, South of the Pier. Since that publication, I have published 4 murder, 3 cozy mysteries and 4 cookbooks. Slivers of Glass is my 8th mystery.

Will: After writing and pitching my first book, a romantic comedy from a male POV, for 6 years and only getting a couple of nibbles, I switched to mystery/crime.  I independently published those first three novels as ebooks and have enjoyed seeing them sell.  For Slivers of Glass, I joined with Janet to research and write this period Noir mystery.

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

Janet: Indie for sure, but who knows what the future will bring.

Will: I am an indie published author with four novels, a cartoon book and a short story included in an anthology

Where do you write?

Janet: Someone once wrote the following equation, "Butt + chair = book". I write usually at my computer in my office. However, I am not above writing or editing in doctor's offices, dental offices, grocery lines, or stuck in traffic. Anywhere!  As long as I have light, pen, script and place to put my butt, I'm focused.

Will: I like to write at my desk in my home office. Because I am easily distracted, taking my laptop or a notepad somewhere does not usually result in very many words.

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

Janet: Depends on the scene. If I'm writing a fight scene and need tension, I listen to heavy metal like, Aerosmith or Led Zepplin. If I'm writing romantic scenes, I like Strauss waltzes. Otherwise, I like quiet.

Will: Like Janet, it depends on the mood of the scene I am writing. Mostly I prefer quiet, but ambient noise (airplanes, sirens, leafblowers, etc.) doesn’t bother me too much.

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

Janet: I combine several friends’ personality and quirks into one character. As far as plots, they say life imitates fiction!

Will: Very little of what I write can be attributed to actual life experience or people I know.  From my life? Ha, ha – I do use some characteristics from some people I’ve encountered in my life, but they are usually composites and not individuals.

Describe your process for naming your character.

Janet: Character names that easily roll off the tongue. I like the way the name Skylar Drake makes my mouth feel when I say his name!

Will: My first step is to research whether the name I’ve chosen has been taken by any other author. Second I try to use names that are believable, memorable, easily spelled and pronounced. Third, they should be appropriate for period and character traits.

Real settings or fictional towns?

Janet: Real towns with fictional characters and events are great to write about. By using real towns, research is easy and about real life.

Will: Again. I normally use places that are composites of actual places unless the story requires an actual location – sometimes I mix real and fictional places.

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

Janet: Skylar Drake refused to date women whose name ends in "y". Even when they put the moves on him, he bites his tongue and slowly walks away, biting harder as he closes the door behind him.

Will: In my book Something’s Cooking at Dove Acres, there is a gypsy/brunette Marge Simpson/hippy chick with a sing-songy “Yoo Hoo.”

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

Janet: I would love to write a sequel to the book, Cold Mountain. Why? I love the characters, they just pop off the page.

Will: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler Why? It's one of those books that defines noir. Setting, characters, dialog, plot all lead the reader to follow the author down the dark path. A classic.

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

Janet: My bathroom, I hate the tile.

Will: Can I get my hair back?

What's your biggest pet peeve?

Janet: People who expect the world then demand the world from others. One of my characters in Slivers of Glass is such a person.

Will: Cashiers and wait staff who chit-chat with their coworkers right in front of you instead of doing their jobs. In my college days I waited tables and worked in retail. I don’t remember it being as prevalent – or maybe I’m just old and cranky.

What was the worst job you've ever had?

Janet: Assembly line work while a starving student. This particular job was stuffing old style thermometers with mercury, BORING!!

Will: Working graveyard shift printing the window price stickers for Lexus, Infiniti and other luxury cars while making close to minimum wage (30 years ago)

You're stranded on a desert island. What are you three must-haves?

Janet: My pillow, food/water and a sheet. I hate creepy crawly bugs.

Will: A woman, food/water, a boat.

What's the best book you ever read?

Janet: Mysteries of any kind. I love the puzzle, the challenge of figuring out who and why!

Will: Too many to name – no favorites as each one is different.

Ocean or mountains?

Janet: Ocean, the most amazing place to visit underwater, and enjoy the environment on top of the water.

Will: Ocean - warm ocean.

City girl/guy or Country girl/guy?

Janet: City girl by all means. I'm from New York, love the hustle and bustle of the city.

Will: A little of both. As a kid, I used to spend summer on the farm, grass open spaces friendly folks, but I like the nice things city life provides.

What's on the horizon for your?

Janet: More noir and short stories, all mysteries.

Will: Ditto.  Well, maybe some tongue in cheek stuff, too.

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

Janet: Partnering was a most amazing experience. People warned us it would break up our marriage, but it did the opposite. We were organized, scheduled and committed. It worked...and it worked well.

Will: I’m still looking for the proper niche. Mystery/Crime is a lot of fun, but I like a little (non-explicit) sex tossed in for the guys.  Al Capp was once asked why he drew Daisy Mae and her cousins in such a voluptuous manner, he replied:  As long as I have a choice…”

Slivers of Glass, a Skylar Drake Mystery
Southern California 1955:  the summer Disneyland opened, but even "The Happiest Place on Earth" couldn't hide the smell of dirty cops, corruption and murder.

The body of a women thought to be killed three years earlier is found behind a theater in Hollywood. Movie Stuntman Skylar Drake, former LAPD detective, is dragged into the investigation. He can make no sense of the crime until he discovers a dirty underworld and unearths deep-seated...greed.

Watch the video.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--TOUR YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND WITH GUEST AUTHOR HELENA FAIRFAX

The Yorkshire Moors in Summer
Award-winning author Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. Since then she’s worked abroad in France, Germany, and Austria, and traveled to many countries, from Ecuador to Norway. Nowadays, she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, in the north of England. Today Helena joins us to talk a bit about Yorkshire, England and her latest novel. Learn more about Helena and her books at her blog

For many years I’ve lived in Yorkshire, in the north of England. If you live in England, you’ll know that Yorkshire people (or Yorkshire “folk”, as we say in our local dialect) are often subject to teasing from the people who live in the south. The British enjoy “taking the mickey” (teasing in a harmless way) and southerners’ jokes about Yorkshire include our northern accent (we say grass with a short “a”, as in “cat”; in the south, they say “grahss”, as in “harm”), and stereotypes such as our liking for clogs and flat caps, our love of meat pies, and how we live in poverty in a sort of Dickensian grime.

York Minister
photo courtesy of Pixabay.jpg
The jokes might be good-natured, but for many years Yorkshire has been treated as a poor relation to the more affluent south. London, Cornwall and Stratford-on-Avon in the south were always the biggest draw for tourists, and any travelers who ventured north would bypass Yorkshire altogether and head for Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands.

Recently, though, our status in Yorkshire as poor relations has changed. In 2013, The Lonely Planet named Yorkshire as one of its top tentravel destinations in the worldFor those of us who live in Yorkshire, the accolade from The Lonely Planet came as no surprise. We call Yorkshire “God’s Own County” (we’re not modest, here in the north!) and we already appreciate the variety and staggering beauty of our large county.

Here are just a few of the attractions on offer in Yorkshire:
A visit to York, a former Roman city with Roman walls still surrounding it, and a medieval Cathedral, cobbled streets and fabulous shopping.

A visit to Whitby, a seaside town, chock-full of history, with an abbey, whaling, Captain Cook, and scenes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

A visit to Bradford, the so-called “Curry Capital of Europe” and home to a renowned film festival.

A Street in Saltaire
A visit to Saltaire, my own hometown, a former Victorian mill town and a UNESCO-preserved World Heritage Site.

A visit to Conisbrough Castle, built just after the Norman Conquest in 1066, and featured in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

A visit to Harewood House, stately home of the present Earl and Countess of Harewood with a magnificent interior open to the public, and the setting for Brideshead Revisited.

The Yorkshire Moors in Winter
The area of Yorkshire I love the most, though, is the Yorkshire moors. Many years ago I spent a week in a hostel in the middle of the moors with a group of teenagers from an industrial city in Germany. They were on an exchange with a group of English young men from a similar urban environment. I remember sitting in the coach with them on the way from Leeds/Bradford airport, watching them gaze out at the rolling heather, the moors stretching into the distance, all greens and purples, with not a bar, or a café, or a McDonald’s in sight.

One of the Germans murmured, with his face pressed to the window: ‘Ich habe Grün-Schock.’ Literally: I’m suffering from green shock. What a great expression!

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about that week on the moors, and last year I began to turn the experience into a story. The moorland setting is wonderfully wild and romantic. Kate, the heroine of my novel, takes a group of disadvantaged London teenagers on a trip to the Yorkshire moors, in the company of an upper-class journalist. In the middle of the countryside, surrounded by sheep and moorland, how will they all get on?

Heather on the Yorkshire Moors
Although I’ve lived in Yorkshire for many years, I’ve traveled an awful lot in my life. One thing I’ve learned from my travels is that people are the same the world over. One of the teenagers in my novel is from Afghanistan, and I took the theme of my story from an old Afghan proverb: ‘There is a way from heart to heart.’ My story is filled with differences in culture: between town and country, between north and south, between rich and poor. Despite the outward differences, the theme of the novel is that people are the same across the globe, whether from Yorkshire, London or Nigeria, and have the same human emotions and the same capacity for love. ‘There is a way from heart to heart’ is the positive, uplifting message I wanted to leave readers with at the end of my novel, and it’s also the main lesson I’ve come to learn from my own many travels.

A Way from Heart to Heart
After the death of her husband in Afghanistan, Kate Hemingway’s world collapses around her. Her free time is spent with a charity for teenage girls, helping them mend their broken lives—which is ironic, since her own life is fractured beyond repair.

Reserved, public school journalist Paul Farrell is everything Kate and her teenage charges aren’t.  But when Paul agrees to help Kate with her charity, he makes a stunning revelation that changes everything, and leaves Kate torn.
Can she risk her son’s happiness as well as her own?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

IS THERE SCIENTIFIC PROOF LINKING CREATIVITY AND SHOWERS?

photo by Alexander.stohr 
Creativity comes to different people in different ways. I’ve always gotten some of my best ideas while taking a shower. That’s where the idea for the bestselling Bake, Love, Write:105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing came to me. When I first approached other authors, asking them to participate in the project, many told me that they, too, often got their best ideas while in the shower.

Coincidence? Or is there a scientific basis for this phenomenon? It turns out the latter may be the case. Hansgrohe, a German fixtures manufacturer recently surveyed 4,000 people in eight countries. 72% of the respondents said they had gotten new ideas while in the shower.

The company sought the input of cognitive psychologist and creative thinking expert Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. According to Dr. Kaufman, showers can enhance creativity by encouraging contemplation: “The relaxing, solitary and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.”

So the next time you’re stuck for an idea—whether you need a plot for your next book or the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for friend or relative—hop in the shower.

Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing
What do most authors have in common, no matter what genre they write? They love desserts. Sweets sustain them through pending deadlines and take the sting out of crushing rejection letters and nasty reviews. They also often celebrate their successes—selling a book, winning a writing award, making a bestseller list, or receiving a fabulous review—with decadent indulgences. And when authors chat with each other, they often talk about their writing and their lives. Recipes. Writing. Relationships. In this cookbook 105 authors not only share their favorite recipes for fabulous cakes, pies, cookies, candy, and more, they also share the best advice they’ve ever received on love and writing.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUILT-FREE SPINACH DIP #RECIPE

Are you planning a SuperBowl party or have you been invited to one and need to bring a dish? Why not try this guilt-free spinach dip? It takes just as yummy as the original but with far fewer calories and fat.

Guilt-free Spinach Dip
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:
1 10-oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
1/2 plain lowfat yogurt
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried dill


Combine all ingredients. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Serve in a hollowed-out round loaf of pumpernickel with pumpernickel bread cubes and crudités.

Monday, January 26, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--JUTE AND BUTTON CLAY POT FLAMELESS CANDLE HOLDER

Jute and Button Clay Pot Flameless Candle Holder

Those of you who follow this blog know that I like creating crafts projects that use jute, buttons, clay pots, and whatever else I have on hand or left over from other projects. The project above is one such craft. The only other materials you’ll need are a glue gun and pair of scissors.

I used a 4” clay pot because I wanted one large enough to hold a flameless pillar candle. You can use any size pot you want, depending on the end use. If you don’t have jute, use rope or other cording such as macramé cord. Or braid some leftover yarn together. Be creative!

Stick to a monochrome palette as I did, or go wild with rainbow colors.

I started at the lip of the pot and wrapped it with 1/4” jute. I then twisted five lengths of leftover mop string (from the last time I made a mop doll) together and glued a row to the top edge of the pot and another row directly underneath the bottom jute row.

Now glue various size buttons randomly around the base of the pot until it’s covered. Overlap buttons for a more 3-dimensional look.

And that’s it. The entire project took less than an hour.

One precautionary note: Be careful not to burn your fingers with the glue gun as I did!

Friday, January 23, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR CATHY PERKINS

An award-winning author, Cathy Perkins works in the financial industry, where she's observed the hide-in-plain-sight skills employed by her villains. She writes predominantly financial-based mysteries but enjoys exploring the relationship aspect of her characters' lives. Learn more about Cathy and her books at her website. 

Choosing Memories

Cleaning up after Christmas and the accompanying flurry of departing guests seems as much a January ritual as making New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know about you, but every year I vow to get organized. To clear away the clutter on the kitchen counter. To organize the storage area.

So how’s that working for you?

This year, I have an added incentive. We’re moving to a smaller house in the mountains, which means this house has to go on the market, and did you catch the part about a smaller house? On January 1, I tackled the kitchen junk drawer and then breezed through discarding old magazines, expired coupons and random notices for events. Every day there was a new task. Clothes? No problem. Haven’t worn it, out if goes.  My husband watched in delighted disbelief as bag after bag went to recycle, charity and the trash.

My pace slowed when I tackled the storeroom. Stashes of old financial records? Into the shredder—I created enough confetti for a New Year’s Day parade. Then I hit the brick wall. You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

Family pictures. The kids’ school records and awards. How could I part with those? How should I choose which memories to keep—and which to discard? I can blame part of the reluctance to let go on being far away from the rest of my family, or on my husband being the last member of his, but I think I’m simply sentimental—or a big softie—when it comes to families.

In my latest release, Caroline (Cara) Wainwright is desperately trying to save not just family mementos, but her actual family. An assassin is picking off family members one by one. Cara and Detective David Morris are is a desperate race to stop him before the entire family is eliminated.

What’s the one memento from your family that you absolutely wouldn’t give up? Hopefully there isn’t a hit man targeting you while you make that choice!

Cypher
Cara Wainwright thinks life can’t get tougher when her mother's cancer becomes terminal—until she returns home from the hospital and finds a courtyard full of police officers and her houseguests dead.

Greenville, SC Detective David Morris, is unsure if Cara is the suspect or the intended murder victim. Searching for insight into her family, their mounting secrets, and the conflicting evidence from multiple crimes, his attraction to Cara complicates his investigation. Is the lure need, manipulation—or real?

While David pursues forensic evidence, Cara pushes for answers about her father's possible involvement, for at the center of the mystery stands Cypher—the company her father built and will take any measures to defend.

When the assassin strikes again, Cara and David have to trust each other and work together to stop the killer before he eliminates the entire Wainwright family.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR C. HOPE CLARK ON EDISTO BEACH



C. Hope Clark lives between two worlds – on the banks of Lake Murray and the shore of Edisto Beach. All of her stories take place in these areas where she understands how nature and the beauty of South Carolina can steal one’s heart and grip it forever. Her latest release is Murder on Edisto, book one in the Edisto Island Mysteries. Learn more about Hope and her books at her website. 

The Hidden Charm of Edisto Beach

When my publisher asked me to diversify and write a second series, my heart stopped. In love with The Carolina Slade Series, I could not imagine building a new world with original characters any more enticing, in a setting any more inviting. The parameters? Make the protagonist law enforcement, create some family angst in addition to the mystery, and finally…place the entire series in my favorite locale of choice in South Carolina. My mind jumped to my getaway haven, Edisto Beach.

Located about 50 miles south of Charleston, is the major Edisto Island. You feel the relaxation the farther you take the two-lane roads from the peninsula across the various islands separated by tributaries, marsh, creeks, and bays, toward the coast. This is not your commercial beach trek. You almost feel a hush as you approach, because these live oaks dangling yards of thick, Spanish moss, the white tufted egrets, porpoise, crabs and lush growth of myrtle and palmettos, continue to mirror the Edisto of old, back to the 1600s.

Edisto Island is huge as far as South Carolina islands go, 68 square miles, but it’s a precious commodity maintained and protected. Even the rice field dikes of the 1700s are still in existence, along with three hundred year-old plantation homes that represent the Golden Era of Edisto’s history, when wealthy landowners and their secluded world across the Edisto River almost put Gone with the Wind to shame. You’ll find no commercialism short of a family-owned store here and there. Small single-family homes lay tucked behind the oaks and azaleas that practically grow wild. No franchises or motels. No taxis or buses. You can breathe the air. You disappear in time.

At the tippy-toe end of Edisto Island is Edisto Beach, a sliver of a town again without hotel or strip malls. Few commercial enterprises. No chains. No franchises. Edisto Beach proper covers maybe five miles of sand, but that’s plenty. Nowhere along the coastline of the state will you find a stretch of shore so secluded, peaceful or condoning for those who just want to get away and watch the tide. The only partying takes place in your beach house unless someone creates an impromptu gathering at Whaley’s, McConkey’s or Finn’s, none of which can handle much of a gala. The dress is always informal, and societal tiers melt away since everyone wears shorts, sundresses or bathing suits.  You shop at farmer roadside stands or the lone BiLo.

In my years of visiting Edisto, I’ve learned that the year-round natives gravitated there for a purpose—to leave the rat race behind. The unspoken understanding is that everyone has left another life, and that the present is all that’s important. They are at the tip of the world, happy, living the live-and-let-live life. Seclusion is key.

Why visit Edisto? To get away, pure and simple. What is there to do on Edisto Beach and its surrounding area? Plenty.

The main interest of the region is wildlife. Surf fish along the beach or head out to deeper water where you can catch just about anything your heart desires for dinner. Shrimp or crap the waterways. Take a tour to enjoy the sea life. Don’t dare come without a camera, or you’ll miss the most gorgeous sunsets and undisturbed nature vistas you’ve ever seen. Canoe, kayak, bike or walk. The beauty is unsurpassed.

Visit Botany Bay, a 3,300 –acre wildlife preserve traced back to Bleak Hall Plantation and Sea Cloud Plantation in the 1700s. The combined plantations grew more cotton than any other plantation in South Carolina. But what Botany Bay is noted for today is its often photographed scenic driving paths with live oak canopies and the ancient live oak forests that go right to the beach, many of the trees dead yet remaining, reaching up to the sky with gnarled fingers in prehistoric design. People do not swim on that beach. They stroll, marvel and whisper, as if not to disturb a setting so untouched by the modern world.

The second interest of the area is history. The Edisto Historical Museum is proactive in sustaining the genealogy and its lifestyle going back to when Native Americans ruled the land. Unfortunately the Edistow Indian tribe is no more, but you’ll see what they contributed to the island and marvel at their love for the place. The Edisto Island Land Trust subtly yet firmly rallies to avoid commercialization and over development of this pristine landscape.

And of course the final interest is beachcombing. With innumerable entrances to the sand, you avoid the parking lot mentality so many beaches have. Wherever you are on Edisto Beach, you are an easy saunter to the water. Walk your dog. In the winter he can run loose. Wet a line or search for shark,s teeth which are in fair abundance.

I can never be too long away from Edisto, and when my publisher asked where I intended to set the new series, my heart leaped at the opportunity to infuse that secluded environment into a series of mysteries. The romance, the enchantment, the healing power of its nature left no doubt in my mind that my protagonist could thrive, along with her readers who almost always ask how can they find their way to Edisto Beach.

Murder on Edisto
When her husband is murdered by the Russian mob, Boston detective Callie Jean Morgan suffers a mental break and relinquishes her badge to return home to South Carolina. She has no idea how to proceed with her life, but her son deserves to move on with his, so she relocates them to the family vacation home. But the day they arrive on Edisto Beach, Callie finds her childhood mentor and elderly neighbor murdered. Her fragile sanity is threatened when the murderer taunts her, and the home that was to be her sanctuary is repeatedly violated. Callie loses her fight to walk away from law enforcement as she becomes the only person able to pursue the culprit who’s turned the coastal paradise into a paranoid patch of sand where nobody’s safe. But what will it cost her?