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, November 21, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LINDA O. JOHNSTON

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, has published 38 romance and mystery novels, including the Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter Mysteries and Pet Rescue Mysteries as well as stories for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her latest cozy mystery series, the Superstition Mysteries debuted in October. Learn more about Linda and her books at her website and blog.

Superstitions and Writing

My fingers are crossed that you enjoy this blog post.  Why?  Because I write the Superstition Mysteries!

My first Superstition Mystery is Lost Under a Ladder, an October 2014 release.  In it, protagonist Rory Chasen is a superstition agnostic.  She isn't sure she wants to believe in them, but she needs closure after the loss of her fiancĂ©, who died after walking under a ladder.  Rory therefore goes to Destiny, California, which is all about superstitions.  She brings her black and white dog Pluckie along... and Pluckie almost immediately senses an ill woman at the back of the Lucky Dog Boutique and saves her life.  The woman, Martha, knows she'll be fine, since she's sure that black and white dogs are lucky!  Soon, Martha asks Rory to stay and run the Lucky Dog for her while she gets better.

And when Martha becomes a murder suspect, Rory has to help her--of course.  Meanwhile, Rory the skeptic is surrounded by sidewalks with cracks that the tourists must avoid while picking up lucky heads-up pennies.  She stays at the Rainbow B&B and visits stores and restaurants like the Broken Mirror Bookstore, the Heads-Up Penny Gift Shop, the Apple-A-Day Cafe, and the Shamrock Steakhouse as well as the Break-A-Leg Theater.

Yep, the town is full of superstitions.  And I've had a whole lot of fun researching them.

Some of the research I've done involves superstitions of writers--of course, since I'm a writer.  Am I superstitious?  Well, I've become a lot more aware of superstitions since I started this series.  I've always knocked on wood a bit as well as crossed my fingers.  To me, though, 13 has always seemed a lucky number despite the taint on it.

What are some superstitions that involve writing?

Well, some writers will not end a story on Chapter 13.   Others--or sometimes the same writers--cannot have 13 pages in a chapter.  Still others must end each chapter on an odd  --or even--page number, whichever works for them. 

Some writers must write something every day, even if it's just one word.  Others have a special pen that they must use to sign all snail mail letters and contracts or whatever.  Then there's the superstition that they can only use one pencil for writing or editing per manuscript.  Sometimes they'll break that pencil when they're done with that particular manuscript.

Some writers must sit down at their desks at the same time every day.  Or drink the same kind of coffee from the same cup.  Or wear a particular piece of clothing--a jacket, slippers, or whatever--all the time while writing.

Some must have a cat around, or several.  Me?  I've got my two dogs.  Are they lucky?  Yes, I think so.  They're also distracting since they have me trained to get up a lot to take them outside--and feed them treats.  But they're there for me and inspire me, so, yes, they're lucky for me.

What happens if superstitious writers fail to follow their superstitions?  They don't want to find out!  Perhaps their writing will be terrible, and/or will be buried in a slush pile and fail to attract an agent or sell to a publisher--and if it is published, readers will hate it. 

How do some superstitious writers choose characters' names?  One superstition is that they'd better not have the same initials as someone the writer knows or that person will be doomed to bad luck. 

There are writers who refuse to eat anything sweet, and may choose to eat something totally sour when they're writing about the villains in their stories, or those villains might wind up as likeable characters.

And if some writers are traveling, they might not get a whole lot done because they believe their best work can only be achieved at their usual work station and computer.  Can they transfer the luck by memory stick to a laptop or tablet?  That depends on their superstition!

So... if you're a writer or know one, please share any writing superstitions with me.  It'll surely bring you good luck.  I'm knocking on wood now to ensure that's true.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR LYNN CHANDLER WILLIS ON WINK, TEXAS

Rig Theater, Wink, Texas
(photo by Whole is One)
Lynn Chandler Willis is the first woman in ten years to win the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best 1st PI Novel competition. She lives in North Carolina with Sam the cocker spaniel. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

 There Really is a Town Called Wink

When I was researching settings for Wink of an Eye, I knew what I wanted. I knew I wanted heat, desert, dirt, and rugged mountains. Throw a couple cacti in for good measure. I probably could have settled for any small town in New Mexico, Utah, or Arizona, but I was drawn to Texas.

Each state in these great United States of America has its own personality, its own quirks and charms. Most states are known for one thing or another that is unique to that particular state. And often, a state's residents, especially the native-born, share certain characteristics. In Texas, one of those characteristics is Texas pride. Every Texan I've ever met or talked to loved their state. “Texas” isn't just a physical place—it's a way of life. Whether it's the ultra urban cities like Dallas and Houston, or the smaller towns, like Wink, Texans are proud to call the Lone Star state home.

I started my search looking at the smaller towns. Google became my friend. I wanted a town with a population under 2,000, a few mom-and-pop businesses, and at least one somewhat odd-ball fact. And then I found Wink, Texas. Home of the Roy Orbison museum (call for an appointment to visit), sidewalks, and two giant sinkholes. My main character, Private Investigator Michael “Gypsy” Moran, was coming home.

To learn more about the town Gypsy was running home to, I continued my research and discovered the little town of Wink, Texas has a weekly newspaper—and it was online! I immediately subscribed and with each new edition of the small town paper, I fell more in love with the tiny town. The people of Wink, Texas weren't the oil barons of Dallas or the country club golf pros of Houston; they were down to earth, working class people. They were the people I wanted Gypsy Moran to call family.

Although fiction takes the reader to a make-believe world, the characters need to be real enough for the reader to be able to relate to them in some manner. In Wink of an Eye, the main characters are everyday people. They get up and go to work or school, they eat dinner together at a cramped kitchen table, and they're more likely to drink a cold beer on their back deck than a dry martini in a penthouse.

They're the people of Wink, Texas. A place Gypsy Moran is proud to call home.

Wink of an Eye
When twelve-year-old Tatum McCallen finds his father, a deputy sheriff, hanging from a tree in their west Texas backyard, he sets out to restore his dad's honor and prove he didn't kill himself. He and his disabled grandfather hire reluctant Private Investigator Gypsy Moran, who has his own set of problems. Like a double-cross that sent him fleeing Vegas in the middle of the night.

Gypsy agrees to help the kid and his grandfather Burke because he feels sorry for them. Burke, a former deputy sheriff now confined to a wheelchair, is all Tatum has left. When Tatum shows Gypsy a private file his dad had been keeping, Gypsy knows the kid's father was on to something when he died. Eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers are all connected to the K-Bar Ranch.

Gypsy is quite familiar with the K-Bar Ranch. Before running off to Vegas, he spent his summers as a teenager working for ranch owner Carroll Kinley while romancing Kinley's beautiful daughter Claire. But Claire, now married to a state senator, is managing the ranch now and is more involved with the case Tatum's father was secretly investigating than Gypsy wants to admit.

Aided by adolescent Tatum and reporter Sophia Ortez, Gypsy begins pulling the pieces of the puzzle together, but it could end up costing him his life. Or worse—Tatum's life.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

THIS DAY IN HISTORY--NOVEMBER 19TH

Every once in awhile we need to shake things up a bit here at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. After some brainstorming we came up with a few ideas we plan to introduce to the blog every so often. One of these new features is This Day in History. Why? Because it’s fun to learn what happened on a particular date in years gone by (and sometimes we just can’t think of anything to blog about!) Today we kick off This Day in History with some of the notable events that have taken place on November 19th.

1492—Christopher Columbus discovers Puerto Rico on his second voyage

1620—the Mayflower reaches Cape Cod and begins to explore the coast

1805—Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific Ocean

1861—Julia Ward Howe writes “Battle Hymn of the Republic”

1863—Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address

1895—the pencil is patented

1916—Samuel Goldwyn and Edgar Selwyn form Goldwyn Pictures

1919—the U.S. rejects the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations

1959—“Rocky & His Friends” debuts on television

1965—Kellogg’s introduces Pop Tarts

1969—Apollo astronauts Conrad and Bean become the third and fourth humans to walk on the moon

1985—Regan and Gorbachev meet for the first time

1997—the first set of septuplets to survive infancy are born

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--SKILLET APPLE-BLUEBERRY CRISP

Skillet Apple-Blueberry Crisp

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 large or 6 medium apples
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Core, trim, and chop apples into bite-sized pieces, leaving skins on.

Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in large skillet. Add nuts, lemon zest, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Toss to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Remove from pan.

Melt remaining butter in pan. Add apples and blueberries. Cook, stirring frequently, until apples are soft but not mushy. Mix topping back in. Stir together. Serve warm by itself or over vanilla ice cream.

Friday, November 14, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--LOIS WINSTON

In the musical South Pacific Lt. Joe Cable is a Philadelphia blueblood who has fallen in love with a Polynesian girl. As much as he loves Liat, he knows he could never marry her. He laments about bigotry in “You Have to Be Carefully Taught,” a song about how children learn from a very early age to hate and fear people who are different from them.

Hatred is not born in us; we’re taught it, often from a very early age. It’s passed along from generation to generation until we have no idea why we hate members of another race, religion, ethnic group, political party, sexual persuasion, or country. We just do. And taken to extremes, this hatred often becomes deadly. Hatred is what creates bullies, violence, wars, and terrorists.

The only way to combat hatred is to teach children not to hate. This can be a daunting task, but it’s one we all need to undertake if we’re ever going to find a way for people to get along with each other, no matter their differences.

To that end I wrote The Magic Paintbrush. Without being preachy, The Magic Paintbrush addresses the issue of differences, in this case, a kingdom that is all pink at war with a kingdom that is all blue for longer than anyone can remember—so long that no one even knows what started the feud. It takes two children from another land to point out to the rulers of both kingdoms how we're all really the same inside and the benefits to getting along.

With the holidays fast approaching The Magic Paintbrush would be a perfect gift for youngsters on your gift list. And maybe the adults will learn something, too. The book is suitable for readers eight years old and up to read on their own and can be read to younger children.

The Magic Paintbrush
When nine-year-old Jack and his seven-year-old sister Zoe are snowed in for days with nothing to do, their complaints land them in every guy’s worst nightmare—the kingdom of Vermilion, a land where everything is totally pink! At first Jack is mistaken for a spy from the neighboring kingdom of Cobalt, but Zoe convinces Queen Fuchsia that they’re from New Jersey and arrived by magic.

Queen Fuchsia needs a king, but all the available princes in Vermilion are either too short, too fat, too old, or too stupid. Jack and Zoe suggest she looks for a king in Cobalt, but Vermilion and Cobalt have been at war since long before anyone can remember. Jack and Zoe decide Vermilion and Cobalt need a Kitchen Table Mediation to settle their differences. So they set out on an adventure to bring peace to the warring kingdoms—and maybe along the way they just might find a king for the queen.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR KATE DYER-SEELEY AND THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Kate Dyer-Seeley writes the Pacific Northwest Mystery Series for Kensington Publishing. The first book in the series, Scene of the Climb, features the rugged landscapes of the Columbia River Gorge. Kate’s work has appeared in a variety of regional and international publications. Learn more about her and her writing at her website.

Have Book Will Travel: Mystery in the Great Outdoors
I’ve been a fan of mysteries for almost as long as I’ve been reading. I started with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and worked my way through all of Agatha Christie’s books one year in high school. Mysteries are escapism at its best, taking readers on a quest to figure out whodunit, with plenty of page-turning twists and a dash of romance.

My favorite thing about reading the genre is that mysteries also serve as travelogues, offering a glimpse into a quaint village, or a charming small town. I’ve traveled to the English countryside, a dreary castle in Scotland, a coffeehouse in New York City, eclectic neighborhoods in San Francisco, and so many other corners of the globe while reading mysteries.

When I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing a mystery, I knew I had to write about the Pacific Northwest. Like the famous writing adage I had to write what I knew. And I know the Pacific Northwest. I’ve spent my entire life (minus college and travels) in ruggedly beautiful Portland, Oregon. It’s a city that feels like a small town with artisan coffee shops, pubs on every corner, and the outdoors within minutes of downtown.

On the weekends my family and I like to lace up our boots, fill our Camelbacks, and head out to our favorite trails. One weekend we opted to hike Angel’s Rest in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s one of my favorite hikes. It’s a relatively easy climb to the 2,000-foot summit, and the payoff at the top is worth any amount of sweat. The rocky summit boasts staggeringly beautiful views of the Columbia River and Washington hillsides. It’s also dangerous, and the setting for my new mystery Scene of the Climb.

While we were trekking through switchbacks and working our way to the summit, a thought flashed through my head: What if someone fell from the top of Angel’s Rest, and what if they had help?

The perfect setting for a mystery had appeared. Now I just needed a protagonist. That came when we made it back to the trailhead and I spotted a young woman hiking with a group of burly men. She was the only female, and the only one wearing pink hiking boots. Perfection!

From there the story came together. The young woman in the pink hiking boots became Meg Reed, twenty-three, fresh out of journalism school, and couch-surfing in Portland, Oregon. When she has a chance encounter with the editor of Northwest Extreme magazine, she bills herself as an intrepid adventurer in order to land a gig writing for the outdoor publication. The only problem is that Meg’s idea of sport is climbing onto the couch without spilling her latte.

The magazine sends her to Angel’s Rest to cover a reality TV adventure race filming in town. She claws her way to the top of a cliff only to witness a body falling off the summit. Meg is suddenly out of her element and mixed up in a murder investigation.

The Pacific Northwest becomes its own character in the book as Meg treks to popular tourist spots like Multnomah Falls, and more challenging climbs deeper in the woods. She and her friends meet at their favorite local pubs and puzzle over the clues with pints of Oregon’s famed microbrews. Hopefully readers will get a glimpse of the Pacific Northwest’s wild untamed spaces, and a taste of its eclectic culture as Meg fumbles her way through her first assignment and a murder.

Scene of the Climb
Portland, Oregon, is the perfect fit for someone like Meg Reed. It's a city with a small town feel, where she can crash on the couch of her best friend Jill, now that she's graduated from journalism school. . .

But a girl needs a job, so Meg bluffs her way into writing for Northwest Extreme magazine, passing herself off to editor-in-chief Greg Dixon as an outdoor adventure enthusiast. Never mind that Meg's idea of sport is climbing onto the couch without spilling her latte. So when she finds herself clawing to the top of Angel's Rest--a two-thousand-foot peak--to cover the latest challenge in a reality TV adventure show, she can't imagine feeling more terrified. Until she witnesses a body plummet off the side of the cliff. Now Meg has a murder to investigate. And if the climbing doesn't kill her, a murderer just might. . .

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