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, August 28, 2015


Mystery and suspense author Judy Penz Sheluk sits down with us for an interview today. Learn more about her and her writing at her website/blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
The first time I read Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery. I was six or seven at the time. It took me a very long time to actually sit down and try.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
My short fiction has been published since 2005, and I’ve been a fulltime freelance writer since 2003 for magazines and newspapers. I started sending out The Hanged Man’s Noose, my novel, in February 2013. I had my fair share of rejections (which I blog about very honestly in my “My Publishing Journey” on my website) before I received a contract offer in July 2014, for publication July 2015.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Traditionally published with a small press.

Where do you write?
In my home office, on my iMac, where I am surrounded by familiar things and my beautiful Philipsburg Blue walls (thank you Benjamin Moore.) I can’t imagine writing in a coffee shop.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I know it’s unusual, but I generally listen to talk radio while I write: Talk 640 Toronto and Newstalk 1010 Toronto. I switch around depending on the host and the topic.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
My characters are completely fictional, though my protagonist, Emily Garland, is a runner (as I am), a freelance writer (as I am), and thirty-two (as I used to be!) Her sidekick, Arabella Carpenter, owns an antiques shop. I don’t own a shop, but I’ve been the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal since 2007. The town, Lount’s Landing, is also fictional, named after a colorful Canadian traitor, Samuel Lount, who was hanged for treason in the nineteenth century. I used to live in a town called Holland Landing, where Lount used to live, so there is that historical connection, but Holland Landing is nothing like Lount’s Landing.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Emily Garland: Emily (from Emily Climbs.) Garland (I was named after Judy Garland.)

The others just sort of come to me. I loved the name Arabella when I first wrote a short story about her in 2012. I have a notepad by the TV, by my bed, in my purse . . . basically everywhere. So if I hear a name that interests me, I’ll write it down, and then try to come up with a first or last name, as the case might be.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional, with the exception of mentioning a major city.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Emily is a bacon-eating vegetarian.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I’m addicted to The Body Shop’s cocoa butter lip balm. I have tubes of it in my purse, on my desk, in my bedside table; I buy six tubes at a time!

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I have so many favorite books. I’m going to say The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It made me laugh, cry, get angry and stand up and clap with delight. I read it this past winter, just a few weeks after my beloved Golden Retriever, Copper, died at age twelve. The ending of that book really gave me comfort.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I don’t actually have one. Every mistake I’ve made has brought me to where I am today, and I’m in a very good place right now.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Lineups. I read somewhere, once, that we spend one-third of our lives standing in line. That’s probably an exaggeration, but sometimes it feels that way.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Cocoa butter lip balm. The complete works of Agatha Christie. A notepad and pen to write about the experience.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I don’t think they sell them any longer, but there used to be these gold-and-white gift boxes that held a pair of socks and a matching tie. You’d find them in stores like Zellers, K-Mart or Woolworths. Anyway, I made the boxes. Someone down the assembly line would put in the socks and tie, and someone else would put the plastic over it. It was a summer job. I lasted about a week.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Again, I’ve read so many great books and have so many favorites. But I’m going to say In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, because it has stayed with me for so many years, and because Capote really did break the mold when it came to true crime.

Ocean or mountains?

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Small town, but have to get a city fix every now and again.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m currently finishing another mystery, Skeletons in the Attic; I’m almost ready to send it out into the world for publishing consideration. Arabella Carpenter, Emily’s sidekick in The Hanged Man’s Noose, makes a brief appearance, but other than that, all the characters and the main town are different. I’ve also started thinking about A Hole In One, which is a sequel to Noose. In that book, I plan to have Arabella as the protagonist and Emily as her sidekick. But that could change!

The Hanged Man’s Noose
Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful nineteenth century Canadian traitor. Emily quickly learns that many are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter of the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered. Although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.

Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.

Read the first 4 chapters of The Hanged Man’s Noose free and receive a 35% off coupon to buy the book! http://barkbks.me/1bLqA9Q

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Ellen Byron’s TV credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning GracelandLearn more about Ellen and her book at her website. 

An Overnight Stay at a Louisiana Plantation

When I planned a trip that would introduce my husband to the Louisiana that I fell in love with as a Tulane University student, I decided to treat us to the adventure of spending the night at a plantation. After doing a little research, I booked a night at Madewood in Napoleonville.

We drove up from New Orleans, turned onto a road that ran alongside Bayou Lafourche, and then stopped in front of an elegant Greek revival mansion. Built in 1846 by Colonel Thomas Pugh, it’s been owned by the Marshall family since 1964. No Marshalls were in residence when we arrived, but we were welcomed by a household staff member and given written details on how to enjoy our stay.

Around six p.m., we rendezvoused with fellow guests in the library for wine and cheese and appetizers. There were about half a dozen of us, but all I remember is a young couple from Boston on their honeymoon, and a tall, self-confident Texan. I don’t remember his wife, which tells you which of the couple had the larger personality. In order to begin dinner, we’d been instructed to ring a bell that would summon the help. This led to an awkward moment. The politically correct among us couldn’t bring ourselves to ring that bell. Finally, Tex, as I’ll call him, said, “I’ll do it,” then jumped up and rang the bell with gusto. An older woman in a white uniform came out of the kitchen and showed us to the dinner table, where we spent the next couple of hours eating an array of amazing homemade Creole courses.

Strangers brought together by chance. An evening orchestrated by a host not present. As the night went on, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was actually living the Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None. The only thing missing was a fierce storm that knocked out all the power and of course, a murder victim or two! Luckily, we were spared such drama. We finished the meal, had a good night’s sleep, and enjoyed a hearty breakfast the next morning. I left with great memories and the inspiration for my debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery.

Many of Louisiana’s plantations now welcome guests, including Nottoway, Houmas House, and the iconic Oak Alley. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend an overnight stay. It was a fascinating experience, and one I dream of replicating.

Plantation Shudders

Maggie Crozat, a feisty artist in her early thirties, moves back to eccentric Pelican, Louisiana, after a decade in New York to work at her family’s historic plantation-turned-B&B.  The family business is in peril after an obnoxious eighty-something couple staying at the B&B on their honeymoon – yes, their honeymoon – mysteriously drops dead within minutes of each other.  The Pelican Chief of Police carries a longstanding grudge against the Crozats, and Maggie can’t trust the sexy new detective in town because he happens to be the Chief’s cousin. So Maggie is forced to become an amateur sleuth, aided by her accordion-playing best friend Gaynell, her cross-dressing pal JJ, and her cocktail-loving Grandmere.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Women’s Equality Day

Today is Women’s Equality Day. It’s hard to believe that less than 100 years ago women in the United States weren’t allowed to vote.

On June 11, 1776 Congress appointed a committee of five men to draft what would become the Declaration of Independence. As John Adams, one of the five members, toiled away on the document, his wife Abigail implored him not to forget the women.

Unfortunately, Abigail was too progressive a thinker for her time. Our Founding Fathers didn’t believe women should have the same rights and privileges as men, which is why the Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” It took 144 years plus 7-1/2 weeks from the date we celebrate as Independence Day until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920 before women were granted the right to vote in this country. And even then it almost didn’t happen.

The first major women’s rights conference was held at Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. This is commonly considered the birth of the women’s suffrage movement. The Nineteenth Amendment was introduced in Congress on January 10, 1878 and was resubmitted many times over the next forty-one years until it finally received approval from both the House of Representatives and the Senate in June 1919. Along the way many women were jailed for the crime of demanding a right held by every man in the country. Most men opposed a woman’s right to vote.

Two-thirds of the states need to ratify an amendment in order for it to become law. Suffragists spent the next year lobbying states in order to get the necessary number needed for ratification. On August 24, 1920 Tennessee became the final state, ratifying the amendment by only one vote when Harry Burns was persuaded by his mother to vote for ratification. Two days later the U.S. Secretary of State signed the amendment into law.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but it never should have taken as long as it did, and unfortunately, in many areas we still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Part of the fun of cooking is coming up with interesting pairings of food. Have you ever thought of combining cucumbers and nectarines with crabmeat? Your taste buds will thank you.

Cucumber and Nectarine Crab Salad

4-1/4 oz. can crabmeat
1 nectarine, chopped
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1 T. mayonnaise
1 teaspoon honey mustard
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste if desired. Chill at least one hour before serving.

Serve on crackers as an appetizer or with salad as a meal.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Nancy Haddock is an award-winning and national bestselling author of romance and mystery. Basket Case, is the first book in her new Silver Six Crafting Mystery series. She’s also the author of a vampire series set in her current hometown of St. Augustine, FL. Nancy draws on historic wealth, southern culture, and the plain old quirkiness of places for her books. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

It Runs in the Family           
I come by my crafting gene honestly. My maternal grandmother sewed, and my great-aunt crocheted. My paternal grandmother crocheted and tatted. One of my aunt’s sewed, and another made purses for a while.

My mother might have been the most artistic of the lot. She carved and burned wood, tole painted, decoupaged, and crafted a large batik Madonna she had framed. She created elaborate holiday wreathes, ribbon pillows, knitted, and needlepointed. She also restored and repurposed furniture, particularly trunks. She’d find old, beat up trunks of all sizes, clean them up, and turn them into functional works of art.

In my past, I’ve let my artsy-crafty gene loose on any number of projects. I’ve crocheted scarves, headbands, and baby items such as blankets, booties, and hats. I’ve needlepointed using both standard and plastic canvases, and even designed and created a footstool cover for one of my sisters-in-law. I’ve made large, small, and mini wreathes, arranged artificial flowers, refinished and repurposed furniture, and crafted bead and feather jewelry. Heck, I even took up painting, although the results have to be described as beyond primitive. Prehistoric, perhaps? That’s okay. There’s something wonderfully freeing about slapping paint on a canvas and seeing where expression takes me.

Alas, I no longer make the time to craft like I used to do, but I admit to having yarn and crochet needles, and needlepoint canvas stashed in the guest closet. Oh, and half a dozen small gourds, too. I’m waiting for both the time and the inspiration to work with those, but they’ll be there when I get to them.

Meantime I indulge my love of art and crafting by writing folk artist characters who’ve bonded together to create their own family. I get to exercise my craft gene in a different way, and I’m loving the research!

Basket Case
Leslee Stanton “Nixy” Nix expects trouble when she’s summoned to check the welfare of her basket-weaving Aunt Sherry Mae. The trouble she expects in little Lilyvale, Arkansas is not the kind of trouble she finds. Sherry and her five housemates are not the least bit ill or forgetful, much less senile enough to be causing explosions and fires in the rambling old farmhouse. The self-styled Senior Six are, in fact, hosting a mobbed folk art festival on the lawn when Nixy arrives.

Nixy soon learns they are also battling a nasty-tempered real estate developer, a woman who wants Sherry Mae’s ancestral home and land at any cost. The seniors suspect the developer of burglarizing their barn, blowing up their mailbox, and then poisoning a box of chocolates left for Sherry.

Nixy still plans to return to her life and her art-gallery job in Houston—until the developer is found dead in the family cemetery. Now Sherry Mae is a suspect, and Nixy is determined to stay in Lilyvale to prove her aunt’s innocence. Nixy rallies the seniors to help investigate—a move that defies handsome police detective Eric Shoar, and puts Nixy and the Six in the killer’s sights.

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Friday, August 21, 2015


The Public Square today
Alice Orr is the author of thirteen novels, two novellas, a memoir, and No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells. She’s a former book editor and literary agent, now living her dream as a full-time writer of romantic suspense stories. Learn more about Alice and her books at her website.

Once a North Country Gal – Always a North Country Gal

I was born and raised in a remote area of Northern New York State that locals refer to as the North Country. The boundaries are roughly from north of Syracuse all the way to the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands with Canada on the opposite shore. The winters are fierce. The summers are mild. The people are interesting.

When I was a teenager in the North Country all I could think about was getting out of there and seeing the rest of the world. Since then I’ve done exactly that, and I never believed I missed my North Country roots until I decided to write a romantic suspense series. I was instantly certain where that series should be set. You guessed it. Remote Northern New York State.

I don’t go back there in real life now because my family members have all passed away or moved away. My friends have scattered except for one, and she lives on Lake Ontario. I grew up in town and visiting my family’s inland homesteads not far from town. Those are the places I remember most clearly and now discover I also yearn to experience again.

One of the wonders of being a writer is that we can go wherever we want in our imaginations. So I decided to travel in my imagination to my North Country beginnings, and that’s how the Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series was born. With each new book I go home again, and it’s a happy trip even though I murder at least one person in every story.

I recall places I loved when I was young. Near the overlook at a hilltop in the park, my family had picnic suppers on warm summer nights. The downtown arcade always smelled of caramel corn, and the public square wasn’t square at all. It was an oval at the center of town.

I reinvent these places in ways I love even more. The skies are bluer on sunny days and hover with more dark foreboding on stormy days. The grass is greener in springtime and the snow more sparkling in winter, but the people are mostly like the good folks I grew up with. Except for the villains, of course. You can’t have a suspense story without bad guys.

The romances in my books are reminiscent of my own hometown romance with my husband Jonathan, but that’s another blog story for another day. In the meantime, I can’t help thinking of one particular saying I used to hear back where I come from. “Once a North Country gal – always a North Country gal.” That has turned out to be true.

A Year of Summer Shadows by Alice Orr
Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book 2

The town she loves is filled with deadly secrets.

Hailey Lambert loves the North Country even though she doesn’t love some of her North Country memories. Mark Kalli has wanted Hailey in his bed for a long time but she won’t give him the time of day. Now she’s mixed up in the murder of Finley Yates. Mark has no choice but to get involved with the killing and with Hailey – whether she wants him or not.

A Year of Summer Shadows is Book 2 in the Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series set in remote Riverton, New York. Angela and Gus head the Kalli family. Each of their four gorgeous sons has his own story. Book 2 is Mark and Hailey’s story. A Wrong Way Home was Book 1, Matt and Kara’s story.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015


John Edward Mullen has been employed as a wild-lands firefighter, economist, financial analyst, university lecturer, and for twelve years he worked as a programmer/analyst. To learn more about John and his books visit his website

Doing “Yard Work” in Yosemite

If home is where the heart is, I am fortunate in that I have several homes, one of which is Yosemite National Park. Each year for the last fifteen years, I have spent a week as a volunteer in Yosemite helping to maintain and restore the Park.

Most of the work I have done in Yosemite is what my wife would call “yard work.” And she can’t understand my willingness to drive 500 miles to pull weeds and invasive plants like bull thistle and mullein (no relation) when I run from the mere suggestion of doing such work at home. Somehow, work, even physically demanding work such as digging holes for fence posts, becomes enjoyable when I can look around and marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds me: giant trees, massive granite structures, waterfalls, deer.

An important side benefit of volunteering is that I’ve developed friendships with other volunteers, some of whom I’ve worked with almost every year since 2000. They and some of the Park Service supervisors have become family, and each annual work week becomes a family reunion.

My favorite project was the restoration of The Fen at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. Back in the 1920s, half of this boggy area was paved to make a parking lot. A few years ago, I helped restore the area to its natural state. Removing asphalt, rock and fill could not be done by heavy equipment right next to the trees. So volunteers, including me, used picks, shovels and pry bars to loosen up large rocks snuggling against the trees and moved them to a pile that could be scooped up by a small skip loader.

After we had removed all the rock and fill, we transplanted willows, reeds and other plants we had dug up elsewhere in the Valley. Each year I return to The Fen and am amazed. Over the years, The Fen has transformed into an Eden, and I take pride in knowing that I helped accomplish that.

Yosemite also played a role in my writing. I began my novel, Digital Dick, shortly before the 2008 work week. On my Wednesday day off, I sat at a picnic table in our group camp wrestling with how to make my protagonist—a sentient artificial intelligence—a well-rounded character. While sitting under the tall pine trees, I received an inspiration—I’ll have my robot character, Dick, hate cats. Now I had a robot with personality! (Note that we have a cat at home who loves me. Also, Dick has a perfectly “logical” reason for his dislike of cats.)

I return to Yosemite in about ten days. This year I’ll be collecting seed in Tuolumne Meadow which will later be used to revegetate other areas in the Park. If doing “yard work” in Yosemite sounds interesting, consider joining the Yosemite Conservancy and signing up for a work week. Maybe I’ll see you there next year.

Digital Dick
As a computer with a human personality, Dick Young struggles to understand people. Some would deny personhood to Dick, others who fear him would take him apart chip by chip.

After he witnesses a bloody murder, Dick offers to assist the San Diego Police Department catch the killer. But when the search for the murderer turns up a second body, Dick’s Satisfaction Index plummets. He breaks company with the police and begins investigating the case on his own. As he follows the clues, Dick learns more and more about humans: how they live, how they love and how they murder. He will need that knowledge to overcome the killer who threatens to destroy Dick and everyone that Dick holds dear.

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