featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#YouMattertoMe Day

Today is You Matter to Me Day. You Matter to Me Day is an annual event that has been held on October 7th every year since 2010. It’s a day where you're encouraged to take time to let the people in your life know they matter to you. On the You Matter to Me website  it states:

“You matter to me. 
Four words, one phrase that can make a profound difference 
to every person who hears it and shares it.”

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers has also been around since 2010. The blog debuted on May 17, 2010. So today I’d like to take the time to tell all of you—those who stop by the blog and those of you who have read The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and my other titles—how much you mean to me. Thank you for allowing me and Anastasia into your lives. You matter to me.

Now it's your turn. Go spread the love and let the people in your life know they matter to you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


photo by Clever Cupcakes, Montreal, Canada
If you’ve read any of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, you already know that I’m a sucker for cupcakes. My car brakes for cupcake bakeries. What I’ve found, though, is too many bakeries don’t know how to make a light buttercream frosting. Frosting is always the best part of a cupcake, but too much is not necessarily a good thing. There has to be a nice balance between the cake and the frosting. A cupcake where the frosting overpowers the cake is not a successful cupcake, at least not in my opinion.

Years ago I came across a delicious buttercream recipe, and I thought I’d share that recipe with you today.

Best Ever Buttercream Frosting

3 T. flour
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar

Blend together flour and milk, adding milk to flour slowly. Beat out any lumps.

Pour into saucepan and cook on low heat, stirring continually, until thick. Set aside to cool.

When flour/milk mixture is cool, add vanilla.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add flour/milk mixture, beating on high until frosting is fluffy.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Eric Mayer and Mary Reed published several short stories about John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, before John's first novel length adventure appeared in 1999. The American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine named the novels one its four Best Little Known Series. Murder in Megara is the eleventh entry in the series, appearing in October 2015. Learn more about Eric and Mary at their website. 

Doubtless many readers will recall childhood fun making mosaics from fragments of painted eggshells, and a messy business it was too!

The Romans were masters of the essentially similar but vastly larger enterprise of creating beautiful floors made of pebbles, stone, and marble pieces, often framing intricate patterned borders around abstract designs or those featuring mythological and other figures. But the highest point of the mosaicists' art must surely be wall mosaics, created from thousands of small cubes of glass and other materials. At their glorious height in the Byzantine world, these mosaics dazzled worshippers in churches, Ravenna and Constantinople in particular, whose mosaics were and are world famous for their beauty and the amazing way tesserae are used to depict subtly graduated colors of garments, buildings, and artifacts, as well as details of facial features.

Our historical mystery series is devoted to the adventures of John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian I, in and round the imperial court in Constantinople -- although we have sent him to Egypt to look into the matter of the suicidal sheep and in Murder In Megara he is tasked with solving the murder of which he is accused. All of the covers for these books are illustrated with mosaics.

We introduced the mosaicist Figulus in Seven For A Secret. His artistic hand had, however, been seen in the series right from the beginning entry, One For Sorrow, as it is revealed in Seven For A Secret he created the mosaic in John's study. By daylight it depicts a bucolic landscape in which a young girl stands near two boys playing knucklebones, but flickering lamplight reveals a debauched heaven peopled by Roman gods and goddesses.

John calls this little girl Zoe and often has conversations with her, much to the horror of his elderly servant Peter, who is further scandalized by the revelations lamplight produces.

As a family man and devout Christian, Figulus detests making the vile mosaics popular among certain of the rich, but undertakes them in order not only to feed and house his wife and children but also to finance his ambitious project in the course of creation in a sub basement, shown to John and his friend Anatolius.

The project is nothing less than a mosaic history of the world beginning with the formless void, moving on to the expulsion from Eden, and continuing from there. As Figulus explains "...tesserae are expensive. I could not afford this except for those evil pictures. It is a torment to me to make them. But I am not responsible for the lusts and sinfulness of other men and here their vices are transmuted into a tribute to God's glory."

As for the way the scene in John's study mosaic changes when seen by lamplight, Figulus reveals he discovered the method and it is accomplished by cutting tesserae to certain angles and painting one side of them.

Tesserae, the miniature building blocks of wall mosaics, were manufactured from glass of various colors and shadings, although marble tesserae and the use of semi-precious gems was not unknown. Shimmering gold backgrounds were made by affixing thinly beaten gold leaf to a sheet of glass and then covering the gold with a thin layer of glass, in effect making a gold leaf sandwich, cutting up the sheet into cubes to use as tesserae.

The process of creating a mosaic began by spreading a small area of fine plaster over a wall whose roughened plaster had hardened, setting tesserae into the wet second layer as it dried. Naturally this meant only a small amount of laborious work could be accomplished at each session, and some days were not suitable because it was too hot or too cold for the painstaking process to be completed successfully. Guidelines for the scene were lightly painted on, and it has been suggested stencils may also have been used.

The effect of weather on his work was used by Figulus as he constantly attempted to avoid working again on the completed study mosaic, commissioned by the previous owner of John's house. Finally, the former owner refused to believe Figulus when he said winter was not the best time for the work in that the plaster might not set correctly. So the mosaicist was forced to amend the mosaic -- by adding a portrait of the owner's little girl.

Figulus did however manage to protect her innocence in a fashion only he as a mosaicist could have done. How? Well, you'll have to read Seven For A Secret to find out!

photo caption: Mosaic of the Emperor Justinian from the Basiilica of San Vitale.

Murder In Megara
John, former Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has been exiled from Constantinople to a rustic estate John has long-owned in Greece, not far from where he grew up. But exile proves no escape from mystery and mayhem. The residents of nearby Megara make it plain John and his family are unwelcome intruders. His overseer proves corrupt. What of the other staff—and his neighbors?

Before long, John finds himself accused of blasphemy and murder. Now a powerless outsider, he’s on his own, investigating and annoyingly hampered by the ruthless and antagonistic City Defender who serves Megara as both law enforcer and judge. Plus there’s that corrupt estate overseer, a shady pig farmer, a servant’s unwelcome suitor, a wealthy merchant who spends part of his time as a cave-dwelling hermit, and the criminals and cutthroats populating such a seedy port as Megara.

Complicating matters further are two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths, plus the stepfather John hated. John realizes that in Megara, the solution to murder does not lie in the dark alleys where previous investigations have taken him, but in a far more dangerous place—his own past. Can he find his way out of the labyrinth of lies and danger into which he has been thrust before disaster strikes and exile turns into execution?

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Friday, October 2, 2015


Originally from Lyon, France, historical and contemporary romance author Marie Laval now lives in Lancashire, England where she teaches French. Today Marie joins us to talk about titles. Learn more about her and her books at her website

A lot of Sense and Some Sensibility or What I Should Have Done to Choose the Titles of my Novels!

There are many great articles dedicated to choosing titles of novels, but I must confess I hadn't read any of them before naming any of my three historical romances. The titles for Angel Heart and The Lion's Embrace popped into my mind in the early stages of researching the stories. I liked Angel Heart because it was catchy and related both to the name of my heroine and to the plot. The Lion's Embrace reminded me of the main character—the hero this time—and the North African setting. As for Dancing for the Devil, my third historical romance, to be published in three parts later this autumn, I had set my heart on it even before working out the details of the plot.

Things didn't quite go so smoothly for A Spell in Provence, my contemporary romantic suspense, which was released in January. The novel's original title was The Lady of Bellefontaine (Bellefontaine is the farmhouse my heroine has renovated and is opening up as a guesthouse), but a few weeks before publication my editor suggested that I change it because it sounded too much like a historical romance. Even though I had never thought about it, I immediately saw that she had a valid point. It took me a few days of hard thinking to come up with the new title, which I loved a thousand times better!
The process made me realize that I should have taken more time over my previous titles and experimented with different ideas. First and foremost, I should have 'Googled' them to make sure they didn't already exist or weren't too similar to others. This makes so much sense I can't believe I didn't think of it. Secondly, I should perhaps have waited until I had finished writing the story before deciding on the title, because the original title may not reflect the plot, characters, or style of the final manuscript and may therefore confuse potential readers. This was something else I didn't do, but then again it might be too much like leaving the choice of a baby's name until after the birth and I'm not sure I could do that.  

Of course, there are other factors to consider when choosing a title. For example, should you go for an obvious title that reflects the genre, style and content of the novel so that readers know exactly what they are buying, or choose a more intriguing title, one with different layers of meaning?

Many romance novels are often easily identifiable from their title. Anything with the words 'heart', 'passion', 'temptation', 'wedding' and of course 'love' points to a romance. Add an aristocratic title—'Viscount', 'Marquess' or 'Duke'—and you fall into the subgenre of historical romances, Regency usually. Further references to a geographical or historical setting will immediately appeal to a specific market. For example any mention of the Highlands evokes Scottish lairds, clan wars or Jacobite plots, and of course men in kilts.

Even without being too obvious, some book titles give you an instant feel for the mood of the novel. I doubt anyone picking up Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables or Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath would expect a cheerful read with a happy ending, even if they knew nothing of the story.

But what about the element of surprise? Is it a good idea to have a title so obscure readers feel compelled to pick up the book, or is there a danger that they might feel let down if the novel turns out to be somewhat less original than its title suggested? There are of course many great novels with intriguing titles. Among them, I love French novelist Katherine Pancol's The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles or Cruel Men aren't so Easy to Find. And what about One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Madam, Will you Talk by Mary Stewart?  I wish I could come up with one of those. 

So what can an author do if you can't think of a title for her story? Using the name of the main character or of the place or period where the novel is set is a good starting point. So is referring to key words, concepts, or images recurrent in the story and contrasting them (War and Peace is a classic example.) Some authors use a play on words or alliteration to help make a title memorable (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility), and some use rhyme (The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss.) 

When planning a series, it makes sense to have catchy titles that follow on from one another or have the same style. Sue Grafton takes letters from the alphabet - A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse. Sophie Kinsella uses the same word in her Shopaholic series, and so does Kathy Reichs for her thrillers, Bones Are Forever, Devil Bones, Break No Bones.  

All three parts of Dancing for the Devil, my soon-to-be released trilogy, have been named after Highland dances because the story takes place in Sutherland in the mid-nineteenth century. But I also wanted each title to reflect what was happening in the story, so therefore settled for Dream Catcher, Blue Bonnets, and Sword Dance.

If you’re an author, how do you choose the titles of your novels? If you’re a reader, how do you feel about titles?

The Lion’s Embrace
Does forever lie in the lion’s embrace?

Arrogant, selfish and dangerous, Lucas Saintclair is everything Harriet Montague dislikes in a man. He is also the best guide in the whole of the Barbary States and the only man who can rescue her archaeologist father, from kidnapping by a gang of Tuareg fighters.

As Harriet embarks on a perilous journey across Algeria with Saintclair and Archibald Drake, her father’s most trusted friend, she discovers a bewitching but brutal land where nothing is what it seems.

Who are the men intent on stealing her father’s ransom? What was her father hoping to find in Tuareg Queen Tin Hinan’s tomb? Is Lucas Saintclair really as callous as he claims – or is he a man haunted by a past he cannot forgive?

In the heat of the Sahara, dangerous passions engulf Harriet. Secrets of lost treasures, rebel fighters, and a sinister criminal brotherhood threaten her life and the life of the man she loves.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015


C. Hope Clark adores her South Carolina home on the lake, but sometimes it takes a beach to bring characters to life in her head. Hope is the author of The Carolina Slade Mysteries as well as the Edisto Island Mysteries. Her latest release is Edisto Jinx. Learn more about Hope and her books at her website.

Edisto Beach – the Perfect Getaway . . .  for Murder

The perfect getaway . . . we all dream about it. The place where nature soothes us like a balm, and nothing is allowed into our senses but peace and calm. Where we can write great thoughts because nothing else stands in their way.

To most of us, that means the presence of water.

The Edisto Island Mystery Series is set on exquisite and secluded Edisto Island. Located on the very edge of South Carolina, down long, long Highway 174 that crosses a huge bridge then a smaller one across the marsh, Edisto Beach faces the Atlantic Ocean with five miles of beach. Steeped in history, from the extinct Edistow Indians to the Civil War, this jingle-like area welcomes visitors, but does not welcome development. To get away, you rent someone’s house, and every single one of them is within three short, walkable blocks to the waves on one side, or the jaw-dropping beauty of the marsh. No franchises. No fast food. No pollution of urban light. Just breezes and a low, sliding roar of waves curling over the sand.

Callie Jean Morgan was a Boston detective until she finally nabbed a criminal she’d pursued for five years, and then his family killed her husband. Desperate for revenge, she ruins her career, and in an effort to salvage her son’s emotional health, she returned to South Carolina. Her parents give her the keys to the family’s vacation home on Edisto Beach. Reluctantly she retreats to the house with all its calming memories, the childhood mentor next door, the healing ebb and flow of the sea.

What a perfect setup. A horribly broken woman hoping to find herself at a setting everyone views as a generic panacea to anyone with ills to cure. Then the day she sets foot into that Eden, her childhood mentor is murdered right under her nose. She is yanked back into a world of crime, against her best judgment, risking her fragile sanity, only to also face a world of beachcombers who don’t believe crime happens at the beach.

People who vacation at Edisto Beach always return. Most wish they lived there. Many scan the blocks for real estate signs, seeking that special deal, hoping to actually buy a piece of this treasure where they can one day retire. I own a small piece on one of those blocks. This is where I go to sigh and settle, think and weave stories. It’s the consummate setting for a character whose arc takes her from lows to highs and back down again, in story after story, book after book, as she learns to fight to make her life perfect, instead of expecting the setting to do it for her.

Edisto Jinx
Is it a flesh and blood killer—or restless spirits?

According to Sophie the yoga mistress, beautiful Edisto Beach becomes a hotbed of troublemaking spirits every August. But when a visitor dies mysteriously during a beachhouse party, former big-city detective Callie Morgan and Edisto Beach police chief Mike Seabrook hunt for motives and suspects among the living. With tourists filling the beaches and local business owners anxious to squelch rumors of a murderer on the loose, Callie will need all the help she can get—especially once the killer’s attention turns toward her.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Check out My New Look & New Low Price!

Anastasia here. As the star of an amateur sleuth mystery series, I want as many people as possible to read about me in the books written by author Lois Winston. Can you blame me? However, Lois and I both know that most readers only have a limited amount of dollars they can spend on their reading habit, and most choose to divvy up those reading dollars among a variety of authors and protagonists. Hey, I understand. Thanks to dead louse of a spouse leaving me with debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, I know what it’s like to count pennies and live on an austere budget.

That’s why we find it so frustrating when publishers charge an exorbitant price for ebooks. After all, ebooks don’t have anywhere near the production costs of physical books. There are no paper and ink costs, no printing costs, no warehousing costs, and no shipping costs involved in the production of an electronic book. The manuscript has already been edited, and the cover has already been created for the print version of the book. The only added expense is in the file conversion for the ebook. According to Lois, who is admittedly no computer genius, this is a relatively easy process that doesn’t involve much time. If she can do it, anyone can. Yet some publishers are now charging more for ebooks than for the paperback edition of the book. How does that make any sense?

Over the last few years Lois has slowly gotten her rights returned to her and thanks to modern technology, has republish her books herself—at a much more reasonable price for both the print and ebook editions.

I’m happy to announce that Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, is now finally available at a significant discount from her previous publisher’s edition. Whereas the publisher was charging nearly $10 for the ebook(yikes!), Lois’ version is a very fair $3.99. The only difference? A new cover and lower price. In addition, there's also a new edition of the paperback, again at a lower price than what the publisher had charged.

Revenge of the Crafty Corpse
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 3

Anastasia Pollack’s dead louse of a spouse has left her with more bills than you can shake a crochet hook at. Teaching craft classes at her mother-in-law’s assisted living center seems like an easy way to supplement her meager income. But when Lyndella Wegner—a 98-year-old know-it-all with a penchant for ruffles and lace—turns up dead, Anastasia’s cantankerous mother-in-law becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Upon discovering that Lyndella’s scandalous craft projects—and her scandalous behavior—made her plenty of enemies, Anastasia sets out to find the real killer before her mother-in-law ends up behind bars.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Victoria Adams has been penning stories since she was a little girl. Now she’s the published author of contemporary romances and contemporary new adult romances. She’s also the only author I’ve ever know who studies Raqs Sharqi, Egyptian belly dance, (unless some of our other guest authors have been holding out on me!) Learn more about Victoria and her books at her website. 

I’m a chocolate lover. I have books and books of the history of chocolate and how to work with chocolate and recipes dedicated to chocolate. I just love typing the word—chocolate. One of my special desserts that dinner guests ask for is Trinity Parfait—3 ingredients: chocolate,   whipping cream and sugar. You vary the amount of chocolate for the layers which rise up from the bottom: dark chocolate then a lighter chocolate and at the top - chocolate speckled whipped cream. (I think I just put on a pound typing this.)
For someone who might not be as addicted to theobroma cacao—food of the Gods—as I am (although I am shocked that there might be such a person!) here are a few fun facts about my favorite food.

1. Chocolate is in its own food group. Okay…maybe that’s my fact and not based in actual fact. But chocolate is good for you. It’s repudiated to be an antioxidant and does have trace amounts of the mineral copper which is good for our bodies. But this doesn’t mean gobbling down corner store chocolate bars.  A specialty store will offer designer chocolates of various percentages. Start low and build up your taste buds to the 80% range. It is an acquired taste.

2. There are three common species of Cacao trees: Criollo (Central America,) Forastero (West Africa, South America,) and Trinitario (all cacao regions.)

3. Cacao trees can only grow within a tight region 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

4. The top cacao production countries are Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.

5. White chocolate is NOT chocolate.  To be chocolate, it should have cocoa solids as well as cocoa butter. However, white chocolate has only cocoa butter, and no cocoa solids.

Where is this leading to? In my latest story, my hero and heroine have dinner at his mansion and he treats her to a fabulous dessert—Madagascar vanilla ice cream drizzled with a hot fudge sauce made with fifteen different kinds of cacao, and the whole thing is presented in a solid gold goblet topped off with edible gold!

Cacao is not a spelling mistake.  Cacao is what the base chocolate comes from. It is from the Olmec language (pre Mayan.) There is some train of thought in the chocolate world that cocoa is actually just a misspelling of the word cacao and since it is easier to pronounce that version stuck. But for a chocolate foodie the proper word is cacao.

Chocolate Trinity Parfait

Ingredients for all 3 layers
6-1/2 cups whipping cream
3 cups sugar
2 T. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. vanilla
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Collect all the ingredients then divide into what is needed for each layer

Bottom Layer – Cocoa Cream
2 cups cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Whip the cream until thick. Add the other 3 ingredients. Whip until incorporated. Pour into bottom of parfait glass and place in fridge. (I use 4 big ones.)

Middle Layer – Chocolate Cream
2-1/2 cups cream
8 oz. semisweet chocolate – melted
2 T. sugar

Melt the chocolate. Cool. Whip the cream. Add the sugar. Whip until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate. Divided inito parafait glasses. Return to fridge.

Top Layer – Speckled Cream
2 cups cream
2 T. sugar
4 oz. chocolate, grated

Whip the cream until thick. Add sugar. Whip until incorporated. Fold in grated chocolate. Fill the parfait glasses then refrigerate until served.

Red Tulip
Darcy O'Calahann, a junior gardener from a small mid-western town, is trying to make her way in the big city.

Shamus McRae is a wealthy bachelor with a mysterious family past.

Are Darcy's eyes playing tricks on her? Is she losing her mind? Or is there really a Red Tulip tying her and Shamus together?