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, February 28, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- EVEN MORE SEWING TIPS

Today I’m back with even more sewing tips.

*Apply fusible batting to the wrong side of fabric for stuffed animals or dolls before sewing the pieces together. This will give a smoother finish to your project when you stuff it.

*To avoid skipped stitches when machine sewing fake fur that has a shiny finish on the wrong side, trace over the seam line with chalk or a bar of white, unscented soap.

*When sewing Velcro to fabric, place wax paper on top of the Velcro and under the fabric to prevent skipped stitches. When you’re finished stitching, simply tear away the wax paper.

*Use a Post-It Note to hold your place when following complicate sewing directions from a pattern or book so you won’t accidentally skip an important step.

*Ballpoint pen ink can be removed from fabric by spraying the area with hair spray before hand or machine washing it.

*To get a smoother, cleaner edge when using pinking shears, place a piece of paper underneath the fabric and cut through the paper and fabric at the same time.

*To puff quilt batting and remove the wrinkles, unroll it and let it lie flat for a week before using it.

*Stuffed animals and pillows can be dusted by placing them in the dryer on the air only cycle for about fifteen minutes.

*For a quick way to finish the edges of appliqué pieces, sew each piece, right sides together, to a piece of interfacing. Make a slash in the center of the interfacing, turn the piece right-side out, and press.

*When attaching safety eyes to stuffed animals and dolls, apply clear nail polish to the placement spot and allow to dry before poking a hole through the fabric. This will strengthen the fabric, keeping it from tearing or stretching when poked.

Have a tip I haven’t mentioned? We’d love to have you post it. 
Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNERS

Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Paul D. Marks for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering copies of both of his anthologies to two of our readers who posted comments this week. The winner of Murder in La-La Land is Julie Compton, and the winner of the Deadly Ink 2010 Short Story Collection is Marilyn Meredith. If you would both please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, I’ll forward the information to Paul, and he’ll mail the books to you. 

FROM HEROINES TO RELUCTANT SLEUTHS

Author Lois Winston, who tells my story in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is the guest blogger at Fresh Fiction today. She talks about switching from writing romance to writing mysteries in an article called From Heroines To Reluctant Sleuths. Personally, I'm thrilled that her keyboard is firmly planted in the mystery world now, because I have many more adventures for her to share with you. And I'm also loving the spotlight. -- Anastasia

Friday, February 25, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR PAUL D. MARKS

Today we have something a little bit different for you on Book Club Friday. Paul D. Marks is the award-winning author of over thirty published short stories, but his day job was as a "script doctor," and he’s going to share a bit of that with us today. 

Paul is currently finishing a novel featuring a recurring character from his short stories.  Bobby Saxon is the only white musician in an otherwise all-black swing band at the famous Club Alabam in Los Angeles during World War II. Bobby has appeared in three published stories: The Good Old Days, in the anthology Murder Across the MapSleepy Lagoon Nocturne, which appeared in the LAndmarked for Murder anthology, and Santa Claus Blues, published in Futures Magazine.  

Paul has won several awards.  His novel White Heat took second place in the Mystery-Suspense-Thriller-Adventure category of the SouthWest Writers Annual Writing Contest and his story Netiquette won First Place in the Futures Short Story Contest.  Endless Vacation received Honorable Mentions in two prestigious literary contests: the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Competition and the Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition.  Visit Paul at his blog or website.

Paul has generously offered a copy of the
Murder in La-La Land anthology, which opens with his story Continental Tilt and a copy of the Deadly Ink 2010 Short Story Collection with his story Poison Heart to two lucky readers who post a comment this week. -- AP

Thank you for having me, Anastasia.

Though my background is as a writer, I come to short story and novel writing from a different perspective. After you meet someone, sooner or later – usually sooner – the conversation turns to, "What do you do?"  I'm never quite sure how to respond to that.  Not because I don't know what I do (though some people may find that arguable) but because they probably won't know what it is and then I have to explain.  Which is not the end of the world, but you know what they say, if you have to explain something to your reader (or listener), most likely you've already lost him. 

What I do – or did – is script doctoring or rewriting screenplays.  When you see a movie there are usually one or two, sometimes three, writers' credits.  But there are often several other people who've worked on the script who don't get screen credit.  I guess I'm one of those unsung heroes, though I'm not sure everyone would consider us heroes. There are script doctors who specialize in one thing or another, such as dialogue or adding humor or action.  Others are generalists.  Some are in the Writers Guild; some aren't.  I've been both.

No one likes being rewritten.  And sometimes rewriting betters a script.  But, to be honest, sometimes it makes it worse, depending on what the producer wants.  On top of that, you can work on a script, whether as a rewrite or having written and optioned a spec script, and it ends up in "development hell," never to see the light of day or at least the light of a projector.

And even rewriters get rewritten.  Once I was hired to do a major rewrite on a comedy script.  Several writers pitched their ideas on how to go about it to the producer.  I said I thought it should be an updated, sophisticated screwball (not slapstick) comedy, like those of the 1930s. And I outlined several of the changes I would make to various characters and situations.  They loved the idea.  And I gave them exactly what I said I would.  They hated it!  So they hired someone else after me to do another draft and the first joke on the first page was a girl peeing in her pants – it went downhill from there.  Now that's sophisticated.  That's Hollywood.  That's why I'm turning to fiction, though I'm not sure I can compete with Snooki: Novelist.

As I say, the problem with being an uncredited writer on a film is that no one knows what you do.  My father still can't figure out what I do all day since he never sees my credit on the silver screen (of course, considering some of the masterpieces I've worked on, that might be a good thing).  Which is one of the reasons I decided to start writing more short stories and novels.  Both so he and my mother could see my name on something, and, well, for me, too.  But, even being unsung, being a script doctor has helped me in terms of being a better fiction writer.

Some of the tricks I use as a script doctor are also useful on stories and novels.  One of the most useful is knowing when to get into and out of a scene, a sequence or even the entire project, whether it's a screenplay, story or novel.  You've heard the expression "cut to the chase" and this is what it's all about.  Most people start scenes too early and end them too late.  I've found that often by cutting the first and last thirds of a scene you really get to the meat of the scene, (unless you're a vegetarian, but I digress).  Sometimes, of course, you need some piece of information in one of those lost thirds and it can be worked into what's left of the scene or another scene.

On one occasion, I deleted the entire first act (the first quarter to third, give or take) of a screenplay, starting it on the second act. There was some information in the deleted scenes that had to be inserted, but overall the first part of the script was back-story, exposition, etc.  And not missed.

Granted, it's harder to take a butcher knife or even a scalpel to your own work.  And I do believe that in novels one should have a bit more luxury of back-story, exposition and, of course, internal dialogue and introspection.  Still, this is a good tactic to consider if you want to make your writing tighter. 

I've used this, as well as other script doctoring techniques, on most of my stories, though the transition from writing screenplays to short stories and now a novel hasn't necessarily been easy.  In screenplays, less is more – there's very little character or scene description.  And to some extent that's true in modern novels.  But in novels you can have more of some things.  The hardest part for me is writing description, as that is so bare in a screenplay.  When I first started writing fiction, people said my writing read too much like a screenplay.  It was too abrupt.  Too much shorthand.  I think I've improved in that department. 

The techniques I learned doing screenplays help me write better, tighter stories.  Though sometimes it's nice and necessary to indulge in back-story, atmosphere and description.

So next time you sit down to write, think "cut to the chase."  Now get out that scalpel and start trimming the fat.

Thanks, Paul! What an interesting post! What did you think, readers? Let’s hear from you, and you’ll be entered into the drawing for the anthologies Murder in La-La Land and Deadly Ink 2010 Short Story Collection. And be sure to check back Sunday to see if you’re one of the winners. -- AP

Thursday, February 24, 2011

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE-- WINTER SKIN CARE TIPS

As promised last week, beauty editor Nicole Emmerling is back today with some tips for caring for your skin during the winter months. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! First and foremost, it’s important to stay hydrated. We tend to drink less water during the winter because we don’t get thirsty from the heat, but it’s still important to keep up your daily fluid intake. And remember, part of that fluid intake should be from vegetables and fruits that are rich in nutrients.

That leads me to my second tip: Eat a balanced diet. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also important during the winter to maintain skin hydration. So make sure your diet includes fish as well as walnuts, Brazil nuts, soy beans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, and olive oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.

Exercise is also important for maintaining good skin health throughout the winter. Exercise increases blood flow, and if you remember from last week’s article, cold temperatures impede blood flow, leading to dry, itchy skin.

Use a humidifier, especially if your home is heated by forced air heat.

If you’ve been outside in the snow or icy rain, make sure you remove wet gloves, socks, and any other damp clothing immediately once you go inside. Leaving on damp clothing, thinking they’ll dry soon enough from the indoor heat will, will lead to skin irritation and itching.

Repeating something mentioned last week, keep those showers and baths lukewarm and short. The hotter the water and the longer you stay in it, the more you’ll irritate your skin.

Don’t use soap. Always wash with a moisturizing cleanser. Soap dries out skin.

Use a soft towel to pat your skin after bathing or showing, rather than rubbing, and leave your skin slightly damp. Then, immediately lock in the moisture by applying lotion to your damp skin.

Thanks, Nicole! Great tips. Readers, do you have any tips you’d like to share? 
Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA--BUDGETS

As many of you know, when Karl, my dead louse of a spouse, permanently cashed in his chips in Vegas, he left me in debt up to my eyeballs. Our finance guru Sheila Conway has been helping me formulate a plan to dig my way out of debt. Today she offers some tips to aid anyone mired in budgetary woes. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! It’s hard to chip away at debt when it seems overwhelming, but the biggest hurdle many people face is their own denial of the situation. You have to accept that you have a problem before you can take steps to solve it.

So the first thing you need to do is put it all down in black and white. Make a list of everything you owe, what you’ve saved, and what you need to spend each month. Numbers don’t lie, and they don’t make excuses.

Now, formulate a realistic budget based on those black and white numbers. If you need to whittle down debt, study your monthly expenditures. What can you do without or downgrade or cut back on? Most Americans spend far more each month than they realize and spend it on items that are non-essential. If you got yourself into debt by spending more than you earn, now is the time for a bit of austerity.

Once you accept that you need to change your lifestyle in order to keep having a life, you’ll be amazed by what you can do without. The kids want pizza for dinner? Fine. Throw a frozen pizza from the supermarket into the oven instead of picking up the phone for take-out. Borrow a DVD from the library for a home movie night instead of piling the family in the car for a trip to the multiplex. Get together with a girlfriend to do each other’s nails instead of that weekly trip to the nail salon. If you’re a smoker, stop. Not only will you save money, you’ll save your health. And most of all, step away from the mall. Too many Americans spend a good chunk of their free time on weekends at the mall where the temptation to buy, whether we need something or not, is too great.

Brutal as always, Sheila. But totally on the money. What do you think, readers? Are there things you spend money on that you could just as soon do without? Let’s hear from you. Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- PARMESAN CHICKEN

Chicken is the budget conscious cook’s best friend. Today Cloris offers us a chicken recipe that’s one of my favorites. -- AP

PARMESAN CHICKEN
(serves 8)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 lbs. skinless chicken breasts
2 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup skim milk
paprika

Combine the bread crumbs, half the Parmesan cheese, oregano, and garlic powder in a heavy duty Ziplock bag. Shake to mix. Add chicken, a few pieces at a time. Shake to coat the chicken, then place the chicken in a shallow baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn chicken and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Blend soup and milk. Pour over chicken. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and paprika. Bake another 20 minutes.

Thanks, Cloris! I love this dish served over wide noodles with steamed brocolli How would you serve it? 
Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, February 21, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- MORE SEWING TIPS

Awhile back I gave you some sewing tips. Today, some more.

*Make sure your sewing machine is working properly. Remember, a sewing machine in a lot like a car. It needs to go in for a “tune up” every ten thousand miles or so.

*Always begin a project with a new needle in your machine, and make sure you’re using the correct size and type of needle for the weight and type of fabric being stitched.

*Use a hair dryer on the coolest setting for a blast of air to blow dirt away from your sewing machine.

*Stuff pin cushions with non-soap filled steel wool pads to keep your pins and needles sharp.

*When gathering a long piece of fabric with double thread, thread the needle from two different spools and don’t cut the thread. This will prevent the thread from twisting and knotting as you gather.

*To work elastic through small casings, thread the elastic through a large-eyed tapestry needle. Secure the other end with a safety pin, and push the needle eye-first through the casing. For larger casings, use a plastic-head diaper pin instead of a safety pin. The plastic head will slide through the fabric easier, and the pin will not accidentally open as you work.

*If you find it difficult to remove the paper backing from fusible web, score the paper with a needle or straight pin. Begin removing at the scoring. The paper should pull off a lot more easily.

*To keep thread from tangling as you sew, run a fabric softener sheet over the length of the thread.

*When sewing with double thread, always knot the ends separately. They’ll be less likely to tangle.

Have a tip I haven’t mentioned? We’d love to have you post it. 
Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Linda O. Johnston for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of HOWL DEADLY to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is cstironkat. Cstironkat, please email your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I’ll forward the information to Linda, and she’ll mail your book to you. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR LINDA O. JOHNSTON

Today we welcome author Linda O. Johnston for Book Club Friday. Linda writes across several genres, but the one constant in her writing is that they all somehow involve animals. You can read all about Linda at her website. Leave Linda a comment on the blog today, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of HOWL DEADLY, the eighth book in her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery. -- AP

GOOD OBSESSIONS

BEAGLEMANIA starts next month!

No, it’s not a rendition of classic rock music with a misspelled twist.  That’s the title of my first Pet Rescue Mystery, a spinoff series from my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime.

Unlike Anastasia Pollack here at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, or many of the characters featured by my fellow bloggers at Killer Hobbies, my protagonist Lauren Vancouver isn’t a crafter, nor does she partake in other hobbies.  Her entire life centers around saving animals.

I was invited to blog at Killer Hobbies years ago, thanks to my Kendra series.  My main topic was to be pets.  But as I said then and always repeat, pets aren’t hobbies, they’re family.

To Lauren, they’re also an obsession--in a good way.  She’ll do anything to save animals. 

BEAGLEMANIA begins with a rescue from a puppy mill.  Some of Lauren's later adventures will involve an animal hoarder and a shelter that takes in unadoptable pets. 

I’m really pleased to be blogging here at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers and admit to being intrigued by both.  Once upon a time, I was a crafter.  I hooked rugs, and was obsessed by it.  I also often sewed my own clothes.   I admit that I’d love to hook another rug one of these days, but haven’t yet undertaken it.  Now, I focus more on crafty killers--in writing my mysteries. 

When I began researching my new series, I met with pet rescuers of many kinds.   I visited shelters, both public and private.  I talked to people.  Met animals.

Found my new obsession. 


Now I volunteer at a private shelter, Pet Orphans of Southern California.  I’m a dog adoption counselor, which means I both screen potential adopters and introduce them to dogs they might fall in love with. 

I’m also the Los Angeles Pet Rescue Examiner, for the Examiner.com website.

If helping to save animals isn’t a good obsession, what is?

I’ll be giving away a copy of HOWL DEADLY, the eighth Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery which introduces Lauren Vancouver, to one person who comments on this post.  Tell me all about your obsessions... and if they happen to involve animals, all the better!

Thanks for stopping by today, Linda! Readers, don’t forget to post a comment to enter the drawing for HOWL DEADLY and check back Sunday to see if you're the winner-- AP

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE-- WINTER SKIN CARE MYTHS


We still have more than a month of winter ahead of us. This snowman is sitting in front of a house a few blocks from me. Gives you some indication of the winter we've had in NJ this year. It's hard to tell in the photo, but he's close to three stories tall! 


Winter weather means all sorts of winter skin problems, too. Beauty editor Nicole Emmerling is here today to dispel some skin care beauty myths. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! For those of you who live in areas of the country where winter means cold temps and snow, you know that your skin can take quite a beating from the weather. But do you know why? Blood vessels constrict when your skin is cold. This reduces blood flow to the skin and your oil-secreting glands, which in turn causes skin cells to dry out and flake off, thus irritating your skin and making you itch.

We all do various things to counteract the effects of winter on our skin, but many people don’t realize that some of the remedies they use to fight the dryness, irritation, and itchiness are actually adding to the problem, not helping it.

For instance, do you enjoy a long soak in a hot tub on a cold night, thinking it helps hydrate your skin? Wrong! Whether you’re bathing or showering, super-hot water can irritate your skin. Keep those baths and showers short, use lukewarm water, and always, always slather on body lotion afterwards.

Do you think the only way to counteract dry, cracked skin on your feet is to use a pumice stone? If so, you’re making a bad situation worse. That pumice stone is only going to irritate your feet more. Instead, slather on foot lotion and slip into a pair of socks.

Finally, do you believe that the sun isn’t as strong in winter? Do you skip sunscreen for that reason? You shouldn’t. UVB rays are not as strong in cold weather, but UVA rays remain consistent throughout the year. Get into the routine of using sunscreen year-round.

Thanks, Nicole! Good things to know. And readers, Nicole will be back next week with some more tips for keeping your skin healthy throughout the winter. Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DECORATING WITH JEANIE -- ON A SHOE STRING MAKE-OVERS

Getting tired of your home’s accessories but don’t have the money to splurge on room redos? Decorating editor Jeanie Sims is here today with some decorating on a shoe string tips. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! No matter how much you loved some doodad, bauble, or tchatcke when you bought it, after looking at it day in and day out for umpteen years, you’re probably sick of it. Or you don’t even notice it any more. Or it’s totally outdated. Whatever the reason, you feel your rooms need a bit of freshening up, but you don’t have the extra funds to do much about it. Is there a solution?

You bet!

You’d be surprised how you can add new life into a room just by doing a bit of rearranging and switching out of accessories. Here’s how you get started:

First, gather up all the accessories you have in each of your rooms. Don’t forget the stuff you have hanging on the walls. Lay these items out all in one large space, like the floor of your rec room.

Now start mixing them up. See what looks good with each other that’s different from the mix you previously had in each room. Maybe that decorative bowl that held potpourri in your bathroom will look great holding keys or out-going mail on the table by your front door. The three framed landscapes from your front hall might be just the thing to spice up the wall above your kitchen table. That cute glass penguin lost among the books on your den shelving unit will look totally new and fresh on your bathroom counter.

When you see your possessions in a new light, you give new life to them. You may still feel the need to buy a few pieces to fill in where you used to have that lava lamp, but you’ll spend far less.

Lava lamps? Really, Jeanie! How could anyone give up a lava lamp? Isn’t that as necessary a decorative mainstay in a home as fuzzy dice are for a car? ;-)  


Readers, remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author.-- AP

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- TOMATO ASPARAGUS SOUP

Nothing beats a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. Today Cloris is featuring her recipe for Tomato Asparagus Soup. Yum! -- AP

TOMATO ASPARAGUS SOUP

Ingredients:
two 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1/2 lb. asparagus, cut into 1” pieces
1 onion, diced
1 qt. chicken broth
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients except cheese in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hrs. Sprinkle cheese over each individual bowl of soup. Serve with crusty bread.

My mouth is watering just reading this recipe. What about you, readers?
Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, February 14, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- VALENTINE NAPKIN RINGS

Happy Valentine’s Day! For those of you making a Valentine’s Day dinner for your family tonight, here’s a quick way to add a little something special to the table setting.

Photo-copy some Victorian Valentine clip art onto card stock or heavy paper. Cut strips 1-3/4” x 5-1/2”. Staple the short ends together and use as napkin rings.













Remember to post a comment to be entered into the drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday guest author.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Kate George for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of MOONLIGHTING IN VERMONT to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is petite. Petite, please email your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I’ll forward the information to Kate, and she’ll mail your book to you. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR KATE GEORGE


Today we have something a little different for Book Club Friday. Author Lois Winston is interviewing award winning writer, Kate George. Kate is the author of Moonlighting in Vermont and California Schemin’ (due out March 1, 2011.) She lives in Vermont with dogs, kids, and currently, snow. You can read more about Kate at www.kategeorge.com. Her books are available at www.mainlymurderpress.com, amazon.com or can be ordered from any bookstore.

Kate has graciously offered a copy of Moonlighting in Vermont to one lucky person who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP

LW: Welcome, Kate! Tell us a little bit about yourself. Do you write full time, or do you have a day job?

KG: I long for the days when I could write all day long! I took them for granted. I have a day job, now, at our local K through 12 school, where my job title is Admin Support. That means I do everything from substitute teaching to answering phones. It’s great to work at the same school my kids attend. And in most of the country it wouldn’t be possible because my youngest is in fifth grade and my oldest is a junior in high school. There aren’t a bunch of K-12 schools around any more.

I’m not sure my kids like having me around all the time. They can’t get away with much.

I write either late at night or very early in the morning. When I can stay awake!

LW: You call your books “mystery with a side of laughter.” Given that mysteries usually involve dead bodies, in what ways do you infuse humor into your writing?

KG: It’s just my personality. I don’t take anything that happens in my stories too seriously. My odd sense of humor takes over and the next thing you know a madcap adventure appears on the page.  My aim is to give readers a good time. You shouldn’t have to think too hard when you read my books. It’s not literature, but if you need to relax and have a laugh, then my books are for you.

By the way, I don’t actually laugh at the dead people, well at least not in these two books, the next Bree novel; How Much is that Dead Guy in the Window (working title) is a little more irreverent. The body has diapers duct taped to it.

LW: Tell us a little bit about Bree MacGowan. How did you come up WITH her as your protagonist?

KG: I wanted to write about the period of my own life when I wasn’t a kid anymore but I didn’t really feel like an adult. I was sort of feeling my way along, not sure of how to get what I wanted out of life. Bree is a little more confident than I was, so it’s kind of like I got to rewrite a section of my life.

Bree evolved as I wrote. I knew some about her when I started; I know a lot more now. Bree has a lot of what she wants, but there’s still a lot that she hasn’t figured out yet. She’s miserable at relationships. She doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up. But she has this lovely old farmhouse and tons of animals and she likes her life.

She’s a little tired of finding dead people.

LW: How close is Bree MacGowan to Kate George?

KG: Bree is who I wish I’d been when I was thirty. She’s far more self confident than I was. She has more fun. She knows she’s attractive and she enjoys flirting for fun. She knows she doesn’t have to marry, date or sleep with every guy she’s attracted to.

On the other hand, Bree has my sense of humor and my love for animals. She appreciates life in the same way I do. She loves living out in the sticks and hanging out with her friends. All traits she gets from me.

But she’s also a typical Vermonter, whereas I’ll always be a Californian.

LW:  How much of your plots do you draw from real life, if any? Or your life in particular?

KG: My plots tend to be products of my imagination. The details though, the dogs, the chickens, getting stopped by state troopers come from my life. It’s a mash-up. I think the details make the stories more believable.

LW: I see that besides your current book, Moonlighting in Vermont, you have another Bree MacGowan book coming out in March, California Schemin’. Tell us a little about both books.

KG: We first meet Bree MacGowan in Moonlighting in Vermont just as she’s discovering her dead boss. As sometimes happens when you discover a body, she becomes a suspect in the murder. Bree knows she’s innocent, which means the murderer is still on the loose. The trouble is the cops don’t seem to be interested in looking for the real killer.

Moonlighting is full of Mud, Snow, Dogs, Danger and of course, some sex.

California Schemin’ finds Bree in – you guessed it – in California. She’s hanging out in the Sierras with Beau Maverick relaxing and recovering after her run in with a murderer, and a body falls out of the sky. Well, off a bridge, but it seemed like it fell from the sky. Once again Bree is in danger, and the story takes her from California to Vermont and back again. Twice.
California Schemin’ is full of handcuffs, FBI agents, knock out pills and airplanes but not much sex. Bree is too busy in this one to be thinking much about romance.

LW: Are there more Bree MacGowan adventures in the planning stage?

KG: Yes, as I mentioned above I’m working on the next Bree now. It’s called How Much is that Dead Guy in the Window. At least it’s called that for now. I like book titles that play off song titles but I couldn’t think of any more good ones with state names in them. But titles often change so I try not to get too attached.

Bree is back in Vermont for this book and there will be some new characters and some old standbys. I can’t say what’s going to happen with Bree’s love life. It’s hard to say what will happen until I’ve written “the end.” Plots have a way of changing – and I don’t really work off an outline anyway. It’s much more fun (and nerve wracking) when I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

LW: Did your dog really eat your flash drive?

KG: Yes, I have three dogs. One is a rather large yellow cross that looks like a lab, but probably is a cross between a goat and bear. He eats everything. Especially if it belongs to me. I either dropped my flash drive, or he stole it off my desk. Either is entirely possible.
There was material on that drive that I hadn’t backed up yet. That’ll teach me to be more diligent about backing up my work, but I was pretty cranky re-writing those scenes.

LW: Anything else you’d like to tell us?

KG: Well besides mysteries I’m starting to write paranormal romance. I thought it might be nice to switch off once in a while, to keep everything fresh. The first one is set on what would be the east coast of the US – if the east coast had mermaids, magic, cliffs and coves.
That’s about it. Feel free to ask questions. I very rarely bite.

You heard her, readers. Kate rarely bites. So ask away! One of you could win a copy of Moonlighting in Vermont. Don’t forget to check back on Sunday to see if you’re the winner. -- AP

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- HERE TODAY, POSSIBLY GONE TOMORROW



Travel editor Serena Brower reminds us today that nothing lasts forever. -- AP

We think of tourist destinations as places that will always be there for us to see. Many of them are on our “someday” list, but for some of these places, “someday” may not be around someday. Today I’d like to tell you about a place that attracts upwards of 100,000 sightseers each year but may be gone by the time it comes up on your “must see” list.

There’s a very freaky phenomenon in Austin, Texas. At least, I think it’s freaky for anyone other than vampires and their fans, but certain critters have never had much of an appeal to me. You, on the other hand, might want to check this place out. It’s Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge.

What’s so special about this one particular bridge? It’s home to the largest bat colony in the world, approximately a million and a half Mexican free-tail bats. Every evening throughout the summer, these bats emerge from their colony under the bridge to feast on insects.

I’m told the sight is spectacular. I’ll take their word for it. I have no desire to see it for myself. However, if you’re batty about bats, you’d better high-tail it to Austin pretty soon because the bats are being threatened. White nose syndrome, a mysterious disease that’s killing bats, is making it’s way across the country. There’s a very real chance that white nose syndrome might wipe out the entire bat population in America.

As much as bats give me the heebie-jeebies, they’re an important link in our ecological chain because they keep insect populations in check. We lose bats, and we tip the fine balance of the ecosystem.

We also lose an awesome sight to behold each summer evening in Austin (or so I’m told.) No one knows if white nose syndrome will wipe out the bats, but if the Congress Avenue Bridge is on your list of sights to see at some point in your life, you might want to consider moving it up closer to the top of your list.


Thanks, Serena. I’m with you when it comes to bats. I once found one living in my bedroom window well when we removed an air-conditioner. I think they probably heard me screaming all the way to Austin, Texas!  What about the rest of you? Any bat experiences? Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA--SUCKERED BY THE SUPERMARKET

P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. Today, money guru Sheila Conway gives some tips on how to outsmart all those Madison Avenue tricks employed by supermarkets that want you to spend, spend, spend. -- AP


Thanks, Anastasia. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to any of you that supermarkets have been stepping up their marketing campaigns over the last few years in an effort to get consumers to spend more than they need to each week. They do this by employing experts who use psychology as a marketing tool. A savvy consumer aware of the tricks they employ will not become one of P.T. Barnum’s suckers.

So here are some things to look for:

1. Ambience. Don’t be suckered in by the food court, books and magazines, coffee bars, and lovely décor. All of this creates a desire to browse. Make a list. Get in. Get out.

2. End caps. Many people think end caps (those sections at the end of each aisle) are for sales merchandise. Not necessarily. This is prime real estate. Manufacturers pay for it. Compare the unit price of the merchandise on the end cap to the unit prices of the merchandise on the aisles. Often the end cap products are more expensive.

3.  Unit pricing. Since I mentioned it above, let’s talk a little more about it. The giant size or sale product is not always the cheapest. Check the unit pricing on the little tags at the front of the shelves. Bigger does not always equate to cheaper.

4.  Look up. Look down. We’re programmed to zoom in on the products at eye level. Again, this is prime retail real estate. Check out the brands on the upper and lower shelves. You might save money by reaching higher or stooping.

5. Un-sales flyers. Check out those weekly flyers. Read the fine print. Not everything publicized in the flyer is necessarily on sale. Manufacturers pay for this space as well.

Great tips, Sheila! I’m sure our readers will become more savvy supermarket shoppers thanks to these tips.  Our Book Club Friday guest author has a very crafty giveaway this week. Post a comment to be entered in the drawing. -- AP 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- RASPBERRY ESPRESSO CAKE


With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, today Cloris has something sweet to bake for your sweetie. -- AP

RASPBERRY ESPRESSO CAKE

Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespons butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all fruit raspberry preserves
1/2 cup dried raspberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup cold espresso or double strength coffee

Sift together 3/4 cup sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in microwave. Stir in milk, vanilla, and preserves. Fold into flour mixture. Mix in dried raspberries. Pour into greased 9” x 9” pan. Combine remaining sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Pour espresso over sugars and cocoa. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Serve this to the man in your life, and you’ll have him eating out of your hand. How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? What’s the favorite gift your sweetie ever gave you? Let’s hear from you. -- AP

Monday, February 7, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- SHABBY CHIC PHOTO FRAME


Valentine’s Day is only a week away. Here’s a quick craft to dress up a special photo for your sweetie. If your sweetie is more the beer and pretzels sort, make this for yourself or your mom or your favorite aunt.  -- AP

Materials
unfinished wooden photo frame (available at craft stores); white primer spray paint; assorted lace trims, ribbon, buttons, beads, and other accessories; fabric glue and jewelry glue

1. Spray frame with light coat of primer. Leaving some of the wood grain showing through the paint will add to the antique look.

2. Position the lace trims and ribbons on the frame to form an appealing collage effect. Glue in place with the fabric glue.

3. Place the buttons, beads, and other 
accessories around and on top of the lace and ribbons. Glue in place with the jewelry glue.

4. Insert that special photo and wrap your gift.

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Partake in any annual Valentine’s Day traditions? Or do you ignore the holiday for whatever reason? Let’s hear from you. -- AP

Sunday, February 6, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Barbara Graham for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of MURDER BY ARTIFACT to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is Barb Kowalik. Barb, please email your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I’ll forward the information to Barbara, and she’ll mail your book to you. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR BARBARA GRAHAM


Our Book Club Friday guest today is Barbara Graham, author of the Quilted Mystery series. Barbara describes herself as a mystery writer, quilter, and village idiot and believes “every book needs a dead body and every bed needs a quilt.” You can read more about her at her website. Barbara has offered a copy of MURDER BY ARTIFACT to one lucky reader who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP

I write crime fiction. In other words, I make up people and then kill them off. I also make quilts, a process of turning large pieces of fabric into small ones and back into large, but different pieces. A psychologist might have a professional opinion about my behaviors. I think I’m having fun.

I have met few writers who are not compelled, almost against their will, to drag words from their storage area and arrange and rearrange them into a pattern that suits them. For me the process of beginning a new book and a new quilt are similar. I open the cabinet where my “stash” of fabrics or words is kept or walk into a fabric shop and see what material whispers “choose me”. One will shove the others aside, fling its threads into my path and say “Darling we can make a beautiful quilt together” or the ever tantalizing whispered words, “Have you lost weight?”

Then I audition companion fabrics, secondary characters if you will, and gauge the way the fabrics work together. Too bland. Too crazy. Ooh, you’re even prettier than your cousin. What pattern would show you to best advantage? Triangles? Squares? Appliqued leaves?

When writing a mystery I spend lots of time creating the victim. This is the person the entire story hangs on. Why kill this person? On this day? In this manner?

When someone asks me if I am a mystery author or a quilter, I try to stifle a sassy “Yes”. I’m both. I love words and I love fabric, seriously adore them both. When I was creating the imaginary Tennessee county where the “Quilted Mystery” series takes place, I received a piece of advice—find a secondary market for my books. So, while writing Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt, I charged in and gave the sheriff’s wife a passion for quilting and even her own shop. Her name is Theo Abernathy. I am not her but we share a love of color, fabric and our friends and family. She and I work together to create patterns for mystery quilts. The clues are included in the books, not as a part of the murder solution but as an extra for quilters. It’s the toy in my cereal box.

While Theo works at her quilt shop and is mom to two little boys, her husband Tony has his own work issues. He’s the sheriff of tiny Park County and therefore must juggle his duties to the citizens while solving crime. He has his own issues including a magnificently proportioned groupie named Blossom Flowers, his mom and the rest of the residents.

So, or sew, what is a mystery quilt? It’s a pattern followed blindly. No picture. The “clues” provide specific information about amounts of fabrics needed and general descriptions like dark, medium and light. Cutting instructions and sewing instructions follow through a series of clues. The clues do assume a familiarity with piecing quilts and sewing accurate ¼” seams. Murder by Artifact: The Murder Quilt has a different mystery quilt. Writing the books and designing each mystery quilt keeps me busy but I find each passion fuels the other.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Barbara! Readers, if you’d like a chance at winning a copy of MURDER BY ARTIFACT, leave a comment. Check back Sunday to see if you’re the lucky winner. -- AP