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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--PHOTO JAR

Let’s think outside the box—or in this case, the picture frame. There are many ways to display family photos. We don’t always have to place them in frames.

The next time you open a jar of applesauce, mushrooms, or even baby food, save the jar and lid. Soak the jar to remove the label. (You might have to use a product such as Goo Gone to remove any glue that remains on the glass.)

Measure the depth and circumference of the jar. You’ll need a photo that’s the height of the jar, minus the screw lid area and the width of the circumference. Scan the photo into your computer if you need to change the dimensions. Don’t worry if the width is too short. It’s the height that matters. You can compensate for the width by centering it on the printing paper or mounting it on a separate piece of paper after printing.

Place the photo upside-down in the jar. Screw on the lid. Using gem glue, glue a scrap of ribbon around the outer edge of the lid.

Friday, March 27, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHORS ROBERT AND DARRIN McGRAW

Today we have the mystery, science fiction, and fantasy writing team of Robert and Darrin McGraw sitting down for an interview. Read more about them and their books at their website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

Robert: I started freelancing for magazines and writing television scripts back in the 1980s. It was about twelve years ago that each of us independently started to be serious about writing fiction.

Darrin: Yes, I started working on a couple of fantasy novels around then, and at the same time he was writing a historical mystery which is slated to come out this year.

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

Robert: My first nonfiction book (Learning to Laugh at Work) was published in 1996, but Animal Future is the first novel we’ve published.

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

Robert: My nonfiction is traditionally published through a business publisher. Right now our fiction is entirely e-published online. I also wrote a traditionally published children's book, but it is currently out of print.

Where do you write?

Darrin: Our projects together tend to begin with brainstorming conversations while we’re sitting around the living room, and that part can take days or weeks until we have a plot ready to go. When it comes to actually generating chapters, I write seated at my desk, but he finds it more comfortable to use a stand-up desk or to type in bed.

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

Robert: If I don’t need to completely concentrate I might listen to music – usually classical.

Darrin: Upbeat music helps move the writing along. Paul Simon’s Graceland album is one we both happen to like.

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

Darrin: We tend to write about fantastical events, but characters can come from composites of real people: Huero, Shadow Guy, Susi, and the Himalayan sheep at the Karma Kabab are examples of characters who can be traced to real experiences.

Describe your process for naming your character?

Darrin: I do a lot of tinkering. Should this character be named Megan? Too ordinary. Mason? Too trendy. Mabel? Wrong decade. I let it simmer for a while before deciding. In any case her name will often end up being something else entirely, like Guinevere.

Robert: Usually my weird characters name themselves...although sometimes I'm introduced to one at a party.

Real settings or fictional towns?

Robert: I've done both. There are pros and cons each way.

Darrin: My preference is always to create a fictional place – it sounds like it takes less research. But you have to pay for it later by inventing the details from scratch.

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

Robert: In Animal Future, the cat is a little bit crazy; he speaks almost completely in literary quotations, especially Whitman and William Blake.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

Robert: Do you mean, what would it be if I weren't so dang-near perfect?

Darrin: We both wear a lot of hats. No, I mean literally. I have a bucket of hats in the closet.

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

Darrin: Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. Certain books are unimprovable, and that is one of them.

Robert: The Voynich manuscript, because I'd love to hand it to a publisher and say, “OK, wise guy, let's see you copy edit that!”

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

Both: We wish we’d started writing even earlier.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Darrin: Drivers who tailgate.

Robert: Drivers who drive too slowly in front of me.

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

Robert: A Gulfstream G650ER jet, a pilot, a runway.

Darrin: A web server with fiberoptic connection; a camera so I can post images on my website of this absolutely unspoiled paradise, with vacation packages starting at $8,999 for a limited time only; a team of travel agents to help take the reservations.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

Darrin: Picking up trash after company parties.

Robert: In graduate school, working all night at a convenience store and having to shovel snow off the parking lot at 3am. (It's slightly worse than being a test dummy for a cat-o-nine-tails factory.)

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

Robert: Not sure. I haven't finished it yet. Maybe it will be one of yours :O)

Ocean or mountains?

Robert: If possible? A humble 7-bedroom cottage in the Santa Barbara Mountains with a view of the Pacific. Rent-free.

City guy or country guy?

Darrin: We’re both in-betweeners; Manhattan is too much, Mojave too little.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Robert: On the horizon to the west, it's the Ortega Pass. To the east, it's my neighbor's trash cans.

Darrin: We are working on the second book in the Animal Future series – look for it this spring.

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

Robert: Please buy them. I don't want to have to work at that convenience store again.

Animal Future
In a near-future Southern California full of mentally enhanced animals, three unlikely companions— a Vietnamese-American policewoman, a well-dressed chimpanzee, and a fast-talking spy— find they have no choice but to combine their talents in order to stay alive. While being hunted by fanged assassins, corrupt officers, and some chillingly methodical robot snakes, the trio investigates what turns out to be a terrorist plot masterminded by unknown foreign interests.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#BEAUTY WITH NICOLE--AT HOME SPA TREATMENTS

photo by Monik Markus
You don’t need to spend a fortune at a spa or on high-end beauty products to achieve spa-like results. Here are a few beauty treatments that cost little to nothing but produce exceptional results:

For Your Hair
Boil some jasmine rice in water. Drain the water, and save it. After you shampoo your hair, pour the cool rice water over the strands and massage into your hair. Allow to sit for five minutes, then rinse out. The rice water is rich in Vitamin B and antioxidants and will help add shine to lackluster hair.

For Your Face
Want a youthful glow to your face? Dangle upside down for three minutes a day to send blood to your face. The blood delivers oxygen and other nutrients.

Try a yogurt facial. Once a week add a thin layer of plain Greek yogurt to your face. Yogurt contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory probiotics which will help sooth sensitive skin.

For Your Hands and Feet
To counter rough hands and feet, give them an exfoliating mask. Steep a lemon slice in a cup of boiling water for thirty minutes. Mix four tablespoons of the lemon juice with 1 tablespoon of oats. Allow to sit for five minutes. Add 1/2 tablespoon each of glycerin and almond oil, then add a mashed banana.  Coat hands and/or feet with the mixture. Cover with plastic bags. Allow to sit for ten minutes, then rinse.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--COFFEE'S HEALTH BENEFITS

photo by Julius Schorzman
I’m an addict—a coffee addict. Over the years I’ve been told caffeine is bad for me. At one point years ago “they” were even saying something about a link between coffee and cancer and heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, recent studies not only disproved this but have found many benefits to coffee consumption. Here are a few of them:

Coffee is loaded with antioxidants. A University of Scranton study found that Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other source.

An Australian study found that muscles recovered faster after strenuous workouts when people drank several cups of coffee after exercising.

According to a study of 400,000 older adults conducted by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, people who regularly drink coffee are less likely to die from all causes than non-coffee drinkers.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that women who drank coffee were less likely to suffer from tinnitus.

Research conducted in Florida found that three cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia in older people with mild cognitive impairments.

A Japanese study found that people who drank coffee on a daily basis had a 20% less chance of having a stroke than people who didn’t drink coffee. The study monitored over 83,000 adults between 45 and 74 years old.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that consuming coffee may protect against deteriorating eyesight.

Other studies have found coffee may protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease (including liver cancer.) Other studies find coffee can improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.

Of course, drinking too much coffee does have its risks, including the jitters and insomnia in some people. The key is moderation. So use common sense, enjoy your java, and reap the benefits. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY PUDDING CAKE

If you’ve read any of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, you know that I love to combine chocolate and fruit in baked goods. Two of my favorites are chocolate with cherries and chocolate with raspberries. This recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Pudding Cake was inspired by author Barbara Fass Leavy’s Chocolate-Chambord Bundt Cake recipe, featured in Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors ShareDessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing.

Chocolate Raspberry Pudding Cake

Ingredients:
1 box dark chocolate cake mix (without pudding in mix)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup Chambord
4 eggs at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 box instant chocolate pudding (not pudding that must be cooked)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup raspberry jam at room temperature
confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour cake mix into large bowl. Beat in oil, Chambord, eggs, sour cream, and chocolate pudding mix in that order. Fold in chocolate chips. 

Pour 1/3 of the batter into greased bundt or ring cake pan. Add half the raspberry jam in dollops to top of batter. Repeat with another third of batter, remaining jam, then remaining batter. 

Run a knife through batter to marble jam into batter. Bake for 1 hour and test with toothpick to see if it comes out clean. 

Place on rack to cool before removing. When cool, remove from pan and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--WINTER TOPIARY

In January I featured a Jute and Button Clay Pot Flameless Candle Holder on the blog.  Today I’m repurposing that decorated clay pot to create a winter topiary.

Materials
Jute and button decorated clay pot from January 26thblog post; one each 4”, 3”, and 2” Styrofoam balls; two toothpicks; 9” length 1/4” diameter dowel; floral foam; tacky glue; 1/8” diameter jute cord; 2 yds. 2” wide gathered ecru eyelet; 1 yd. 1-1/2” wide ecru grosgrain ribbon; cotton cording; sequin pins; assorted white and ecru buttons; excelsior; low-temp glue gun

1. Decorate the clay pot following the directions from the January 26th blog post.

2. Glue floral foam into clay pot.

3. Glue a toothpick halfway into top of 4” Styrofoam ball. Glue the 3” ball onto the 4” ball. Glue the second toothpick into the top of the 3” ball. Glue the 2” ball to the top of the 3” ball.

4. Wrap the middle 3” of dowel with jute cord, glueing in place. Allow to dry.

5. Poke a hole in the bottom of the 4” ball. Glue one end of the dowel into the hole and the other end into the center of the floral foam. Allow to dry.

6. Glue gathered eyelet spiraling around 3” ball, beginning at bottom and working up to top of ball. Use sequin pins dipped in glue to hold in place.

7. Cut the 1-1/2” wide grosgrain ribbon into 3” lengths. Fold each in half. Pin ribbon, overlapping sides slightly, around the center of the 2” ball.

8. Cut the 1” wide grosgrain ribbon into 3” lengths. Fold pieces in half and continue attaching in same manner as above in two overlapping rows around first row of ribbon.

9. Glue cotton cording around 2” ball.

10. Glue excelsior into pot.

11. Using the glue gun, randomly glue assorted buttons to topiary.

Friday, March 20, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR ADITE BANERJIE

Today Adite Banerjie sits down for an interview. Adite, who lives in New Delhi, India, is both a screenwriter and an author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

I started exploring the idea of writing fiction about ten years ago. Back then, though, I was more interested in writing screenplays and did a bunch of online courses to learn the craft. It was a fascinating and rewarding experience and I ended up writing several spec screenplays. I was also commissioned to write a drama feature based on a true life story. Writing novels happened quite by accident when I came across an ad for a romance writing contest organized by Harlequin India for aspiring authors.

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

Much faster than I expected! After winning the Harlequin India contest, I was mentored by one of their editors to turn my short story entry into a 50,000 word book. Soon after I was contracted to write four books for Harlequin. Two of these have been published.  My debut book, The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal, came out in 2013 and the second book, Trouble Has a New Name,  will be out as a Harlequin Special Release e-book in N. America in April 2015.

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

So far I’ve been traditionally published but I do have plans to go hybrid.

Where do you write?

At the dining table amongst all the chaos of everyday life.

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

I don’t need music to write or silence. Thankfully, I can turn on whatever I’m in the mood for in my head. ;)

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

All my characters are inspired from real life in some way. For instance, I had been on a trip to Kashmir where I met a lady who had the annoying habits of the interfering, advice-spewing Agra Aunty who features in my book Trouble Has A New Name. Apart from that particular aspect to the character, everything else about her is fictionalized.

Describe your process for naming your character?

My characters so far have mostly been Indians and therefore their names, too, are Indian. Sometimes I tend to name my characters depending on their personalities. For instance, in Trouble Has A New Name, the heroine is called Rayna (which means Night) because of her dusky complexion and the hero’s name is Neel (which means blue). Since the story is set in the beautiful Andaman Islands, the name Neel also has a resonance with the setting.

Real settings or fictional towns?

I prefer real settings but sometimes it could be a fictional place within a real setting. The ‘Emerald Isle’ in Trouble Has A New Name is a fictional island, which is set in the real archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

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

Rayna has foot-in-mouth disease.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

Reading the last ten-twenty pages of a book first!

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

I would have loved to write Gone with the Wind. I love the canvas, characters, dialogues, description, historical setting…everything!  You can never forget the book or its characters. If I were to write GWTW, though, I would set it in South Asia.

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

I don’t like do-overs. If things have gone really badly, I don’t want anything to do with it anymore!

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I wish I had more hours in the day to write more books and all the books on my humungous TBR pile. Sigh!

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

My Kindle. My hubby. My dogs. (In no particular order)

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

I have been a journalist, a content writer, a screenplay writer and now novel writer and have enjoyed every one of my jobs.

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

Too many best books on my list. My top favorites are: GWTW as already mentioned, Amitava Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, William Dalrymple’s The White Mughals and many, many more.

Ocean or mountains?

Ocean

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?

City girl

What’s on the horizon for you?

Am currently finishing up a romantic suspense for Harlequin. After that I will be writing another romantic comedy.

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

Someone once asked me what is your “brand of romance”? My answer: heartwarming romance with a dash of Bollywood. These two-hour-plus movies, with their blend of traditional family values, changing mindsets and romance, make for a unique mix, which unfold through a combination of song, dance and plenty of action. A typical Bollywood flick is a mix of romance, comedy and full-on drama. And of course, a hot hero and dreamy heroine. I try to bring in these much loved elements of Bollywood films into my books.

Trouble Has a New Name
Will you pretend to be my fiancé for the next few days?

Recently single model RaynaDutt does not feel like flying to her friend’s big fat Indian wedding. But she does—and when a mix-up with room allocation forces her to share a luxury villa on Emerald Isle with the gorgeous owner of the hotel Neel Arora, best man at the wedding, things begin to look up.

Until Rayna’s ex turns up with a new girl on his arm!

Hitting the panic button, Rayna searches for a solution. Surely Neel wouldn’t mind being her fake fiancĂ©…? In an instant the attraction they share is at fever-pitch, but when scandal comes calling Rayna soon finds herself in more trouble than she can handle!