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, April 29, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR MARIANNA HEUSLER


Today at Book Club Friday we welcome Marianna Heusler, the author of the Edgar nominated young adult mystery, The Night The Penningtons Vanished. Her next book in the series is The Day The Fortune Teller Died. Marianna is here today to tell us about that book and her own paranormal experiences. Marianna is also the author of five other novels, including the Polycarp series, published by World Wide Mysteries. Two additional mysteries are scheduled for publication this summer. Learn more about Marianna at her website

Marianna is giving away a copy of The Day The Fortune Teller Died to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP


The Day the Fortune Teller Died is geared towards a YA audience and is the sequel to The Night the Penningtons Vanished.

This book explores something which has always fascinated me – necromancy.

Isabella and her friends visit Stella, who claims that she can speak to the dead. But the dead don’t come alone – they bring thousands of cockroaches with them, which fall like raindrops from the ceiling. So Stella’s clients must bring umbrellas while they watch Stella perform.

And perform is the operative word.

Of course, Stella gets murdered and thus begins the mystery, which puts Isabella and her friends in danger. But it got me wondering –

Is there any way to break the barrier between life and death?

I teach third grade girls, who want desperately to believe in ghosts.

I tell them the story of Houdini – such an extraordinary man, capable of doing what no one else ever could –

He promised his wife that if there was any possible way that he could come back to her, then he would return.

He never did.

When I was a teenager, I awoke one night and I saw a man kneeling by my bedside. I had never seen him before and I have never seen him since. Terrified, I jumped across the room, woke my sister, and I began to scream hysterically. She wasn’t sure why I was shrieking but she figured it must be pretty bad. She, too, released bloodcurdling screams which alerted my mother.

My mother came in and made a pretense of searching the room. She concluded that I had a bad dream.

I don’t think so.

Years later, my sister believes that the man who knelt by my bed was a soul in purgatory. He didn’t mean to scare me. He just wanted me to pray for him.

I am still praying.

Thank you Marianna for a very interesting post. Readers, if you’d like a chance at winning a copy of The Day The Fortune Teller Died, post a comment, and be sure to check back Sunday to see if you’re the lucky winner. -- AP

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE

Ever go on a trip and come home to dead houseplants? Serena is here today with an easy tip to prevent this from happening. -- AP

I learned this one the hard way, Anastasia. I was gone for two weeks and came home to the dried out carcass of what used to be a healthy philodendron.

You’re about to leave on a trip. You’ve stopped the mail and newspaper delivery and boarded the pets. Have you thought about your houseplants? Some of them can go without watering for a week or two, but what about the ones that drink up water on an almost daily basis? Sometimes leaving them outside is an option, but often it’s not. Either the weather is too hot or too cold, or the neighborhood alley cat will use your planters as a litter box.

If you don’t want to come home to dead houseplants, try this trick: Braid some strips of cotton fabric. Make sure you’re using cotton, not blends or synthetics and that the fabric is free of sizing or starch. Put one end of the braid in a container of water and the other end into your planter. The water from the container will “climb” up the braid and into your plant.

If you have many plants, use a large container or bucket for the water and arrange the plants around the water bucket.

Great tip, Serena! Readers, do you have other houseplant tips you’d like to share? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DECORATING WITH JEANIE -- MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

Jeanie Sims, our decorating editor is here today with a decorating tip of the day. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! Here’s a tip that serves a dual purpose. Whether you’d like to make a room look larger or fill it with more natural light, add a large mirror. It’s like adding another window to a room.
And you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Find a mirror at a thrift shop, and paint the frame to coordinate with your room décor. Can’t find a mirror you like? Look for an interesting picture frame and buy a mirror to fit it. Stores that sell glass also sell mirrors that they’ll cut to size for you.

And there you have it -- another great decorating tip from Jeanie! Which one of our readers will give this one a try? Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS: EASTER EGG SALAD

Got Easter eggs? Cloris says, don’t let those decorated eggs go to waste. As long as they weren’t left at room temperature for more than two hours, they’re fine to eat. Just make sure you do so within five days. Try her Easter Egg Salad. It’s yummy! -- AP

EASTER EGG SALAD
Ingredients:
8 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon paprika

Peel eggs and chop. Mix in remaining ingredients. Chill before serving.


Cloris surprised me with the Parmesan cheese. Do you add something special to your egg salad? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday author. -- AP

Monday, April 25, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- SPOOL NECKLACE

Spring isn't all sunshine and flowers, as you all know. We still get cool temps and lots of rain that can make for very long weekends, especially if you've got kids climbing the walls.

Few parents want their kids glued to the TV or playing video games all weekend, so it’s time to haul out the crafts supplies and get creative. How about having the kids make spool necklaces?

To be prepared for those rainy weekends, head to the crafts store to buy a bag of wood spools, a bag of pony beads, and some plastic lacing (the kind you used to make lanyards out of back in summer camp.) Make sure you have a large selection of acrylic paint colors and brushes of various sizes.

Have the kids paint the spools in different colors. When the spools are dry, they can add decorative patterns to them.

After all the painting is finished and dried, have the kids string the painted spools onto the plastic lacing, alternating spools and pony beads. Tie the ends together to form the necklaces.


One bad weather afternoon down. Here’s hoping you don’t have too many more. 
Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, April 24, 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 Jane K. Cleland for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of Consigned to Death to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is BPL Ref. Please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, I’ll forward the information to Jane, and she’ll mail the book to you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR JANE K. CLELAND

Our Book Club Friday guest mystery author today is Jane K. Cleland. Jane writes the IMBA bestselling and Agatha- and Anthony-nominated Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. Set on the rugged coast of New Hampshire, the books are often reviewed as an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans. The books feature antiques appraiser Josie Prescott who uses her knowledge of antiques to solve crimes. Consigned to Death was named by Library Journal as one of only 22 “core titles” recommended for librarians seeking to build a cozy mystery collection, alongside novels by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayres.
To celebrate the release of her latest novel, Deadly Threads, Jane is giving away a vintage Pucci purse on her website. To enter, go to www.janecleland.net. 
And just for our readers, Jane is giving away a hard cover edition of Consigned to Death. To enter, simple post a comment to the blog today or Saturday. -- AP

Meet Hank, Josie’s New Cat

I love cats. I love tabbies and calicos and tigers, and what about the ones wearing those little tuxedo outfits… how cute are they? Cats knock my socks off, but that’s not why I introduced a cat into Josie’s world. (I write the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries; Josie is an antiques appraiser who uses her knowledge of antiques to solve crimes.) I introduced a cat because of a kitty I met several years ago named Hank.

I met Hank while visiting my husband Joe as he toured with Les Misérables. (He’s a musician.) The chief electrician was a big, tough-looking teamster named Steve. Steve had traveled with the show for years and his constant companion was an orange tabby named Hank.

Hank was more than mellow. Hank was warm and prideful and cute as a bug. Hank hung out backstage and was known for sweet-talking the ladies—and some guys, too—out of kitty treats. After every run, Steve oversaw the set breakdown from an electricity point of view, then he and Hank would climb on the crew bus and sleep their way to the next city. And then one day, someone complained that he was allergic to cats, and just like that, Hank got the boot. Hank was no longer allowed on the crew bus.

Steve posted a notice on the personnel bulletin board asking for a ride for Hank. Joe, my husband, was driving that leg of the tour, and being a cat person, was quick to volunteer. I witnessed Steve place Hank in his carry case on the back seat, unzip it, and lean in close to give Hank a kiss. And I heard this big, tough-looking teamster say, “I’ll see you in Fresno, Hank. Be a good boy… this is your only chance.”

I’m pleased to report that Hank was a better-than-good boy, and as far as I know, Steve and Hank are still touring… Steve traveling on the crew bus and Hank traveling with whichever actor, musician, or crew member happens to have a car—and no cat allergy.

I fell in love with Hank. He was sweet and adaptable and cuddly. What I really loved though, was Steve and Hank’s relationship. I don’t know—I can’t know—what Hank meant to Steve. But I write fiction, so I don’t have to know the reality. I just have to know the emotional truth I assign to the incident. In my mind, Hank kept Steve’s lonely demons at bay, the ones that taunt solitary travelers. Hank was a hero. That’s the emotional truth I wanted to tell, so when it came time for Josie to get a cat… I named him Hank.

I hope you’ll read Deadly Threads, a tale of vintage clothing, a cat who fetches, and betrayal, and I hope you fall in love with Hank, too.

Thanks for stopping by today, Jane! Readers, if you'd like a chance to win a copy of Consigned to Death, don't forget to post a comment. And also don't forget to check back on Sunday to see if you're the lucky winner. -- AP


Thursday, April 21, 2011

FASHION WITH ERICA -- STINKY SNEAKERS


Assistant fashion editor Erica Milano came up with a great solution for dealing with smelly sneakers. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. Whether you have teenage boys who live for sports or you go to the gym on a regular basis, you’ve probably been confronted with stinky sneakers. Gross, right?

You don’t have to deal with that rank odor any more. Simply slip a fabric softener sheet into each sneaker at the end of the day. The next morning your sneakers won’t make you pass out.

When I heard this tip, I went right out and bought a couple of boxes of fabric softener sheets for each of my boys. They keep one in their room and one in their gym bag for their cleats, and we can all stop holding our noses. Have you ever used fabric softener sheets for other purposes than in your dryer? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment to be entered into this week's drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY - ELECTRONICS RECYCLING

Earth Day is this Friday. Jeanie Sims, our decorating editor and resident Earth Mama, has a suggestion for how you can help the environment while doing your spring cleaning. -- AP

I do, indeed, Anastasia. As you all know, nothing lasts forever. That’s particularly true when it comes to all the electronic gadgets and gizmos we own. We’re always replacing or upgrading computers, TV’s, DVD players, stereo components, game systems, and phones. If they don’t work, too many people toss them out in the trash, and they wind up in landfills. The problem with that is they not only take up lots of space, they contain hazardous materials and toxins that over time will leach into the soil and ground water.

If you’re getting rid of any of these items while spring cleaning, here are a few ways to do so safely:

  • Check with your town or county. Many hold recycling days specifically for electronics.

  • Many phone and electronics stores have bins for recycling phones. Workable phones are given to shelters for the homeless or abused and can be a lifeline for these people. Phones that no longer work are stripped of their components and the materials recycled.

  • Some electronics stores are now offering store credit for trading in your old items on new ones.

  • Plantmyphone.com is an organization the uses the money they raise from recycling phone components to plant trees.


Great ideas, Jeanie! And such timely advice this week. Happy Earth Day! 


Readers, don't forget to post a comment to be entered into this week's drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- CHOCOLATE-CHERRY BREAD PUDDING

Today Cloris offers up a fabulous bread pudding you can serve as a dessert or as a side dish with your Easter ham. -- AP

CHOCOLATE-CHERRY BREAD PUDDING

Ingredients:
non-stick cooking spray
10 cups cubed French bread
4 eggs
1 cup Nutella
2-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cherry preserves

Spray inside of slow cooker with non-stick spray. Place bread in cooker. Place eggs in mixer and whip. Continue whipping as you add Nutella, then milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Pour over bread. Press down bread to submerge it in the liquid batter. Add spoonfuls of the cherry preserves on top of the bread. Cover and cook on high for 3 hrs. Remove lid and cook an additional 15 minutes.

One of the things I like best about this recipe (besides the fact that it’s unbelievably yummy) is that you don’t need to use the oven. Holidays are always such a juggling act when it comes to all the dishes that need to be baked at varying temps for different amounts of time. Using the slow cooker means one less dish to juggle. 



Readers, don't forget to post a comment to be entered into this week's drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, April 18, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- LACE TRIMMED EASTER EGG

Our final Easter egg craft uses scraps of lace, ribbon, and pearl trims. 


LACE TRIMMED EASTER EGG

Materials:
1-7/8” x 2-1/2” Styrofoam egg
24” lengths of ribbon, lace, and pearl trims
sequin pins

Today’s decorative Easter egg requires no gluing. The lace trims are attached with sequin pins. Begin by pinning the widest trim to the bottom of the egg. Wrap the trim over the top of the egg and back to the bottom, securing with pins. Trim. Using the same trim, repeat, bisecting the first layer at the top center of the egg. The next widest trim is attached in the same manner to cover more of the egg. Keep adding trim until the entire egg is covered.



Readers, don't forget to post a comment to be entered into this week's drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, April 17, 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 Karen Hall for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of Unreasonable Risk to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is Kathy. Kathy, please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, I’ll forward the information to Karen, and she’ll mail the book to you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR KAREN HALL

hardcover edition

Our Book Club Friday guest author today is Karen Hall, an environmental engineer and author of the environmental thrillers, Unreasonable Risk. After obtaining an English Literature degree, Karen attempted to answer the age-old question:  What do you do with one of those?  She spent time as an editor, lifeguard, graphics designer, marketing executive, bank teller, secretary and cherry picker (really—Yakima Valley, Washington).  None of them fit her well, so she went back to school for degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering and spent nearly nine years working in Minnesota’s oil industry.  She left to start her own environmental consulting business and to devote more time to writing.  Her first novel, Unreasonable Risk, published in 2006, is a thriller about sabotage in an oil refinery; it will be released for e-reader in April 2011. 

Karen has recently finished the second in her environmental thriller series, Through Dark Spaces, set in the hard rock gold mining industry of the Black Hills.  It will also be released for e-reader in the spring of 2011. To learn more about Karen, visit her website.

One of our readers will win a copy of the hardback edition of Unreasonable Risk. To enter, simply post a comment to the blog, and be sure to check back on Sunday to see if you’re the lucky winner. -- AP


e-book edition
An Answer to an Often-Asked Question: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Every time I do a book signing or go to a book club, I’m asked the question:  where do you get your ideas?  How do you decide what to write about?   My answer:  I write about things that have touched my life.  I think most writers at least begin that way.  I’d always wanted to write a novel, but it wasn’t until one sunny November afternoon in 1999 that the idea for my first book crystallized – as a result of an event that happened that day.

At that time, I was working in Koch Petroleum Group’s oil refinery just south of St. Paul, Minnesota, as an environmental engineer.  Refineries are structured a little like small towns – they have a grid of streets and avenues – and I was walking along A Street toward the wastewater treatment plant.  The brisk Minnesota wind made me hunch into my heavy blue parka, so I didn’t hear the pickup until it was nearly on me.  It was cherry red; all the refinery vehicles were sky blue.  And it blew past at about 30 miles per hour.    Since the speed limit in the plant was 5 mph, my adrenaline picked up and I ran, thinking there must be an emergency somewhere.

Though I never got to the emergency myself, I found out later that day what had happened.  The kid in the pickup had driven past the refinery every day, twice a day, going to and from work, for over a year.  On this particular day, he was coming home from the bar in the middle of the afternoon, having lost his job the day before.  He’d apparently been in that bar for quite some time, had imbibed a significant amount of the brew of the day, and was seriously angry.  As he drove past the refinery, he decided it was high time he had a look at what was in there, so he turned in at the gate. 

Now think for a moment about what’s in a refinery.  Pretty close to everything inside the fence is either flammable or, worse, explosive.   At that time, the only “protection” the refinery had was an arm gate, like those at railroad crossings, which the guards inside the building could raise or lower.  Not much of a barrier, as it turned out.  The kid in the truck simply plowed on through, snapping the gate like a twig. 

Here’s the kicker:  security didn’t catch him for nearly 45 minutes. 

And they only caught him then because it was November.  As refinery vehicles cornered him in one of the tank farms (where several of those enormous white cylindrical tanks sit), he abandoned the truck and sprinted up the metal staircase that spiraled around one of the tanks.  Fortunately for the refinery, he chose an asphalt tank.  Now if you think about asphalt and Minnesota Novembers, you realize that if the stuff isn’t kept hot, it would turn into a hockey puck well worth mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.  And to keep asphalt liquid, it has to stay REALLY hot.  The kid from the pickup stepped out onto the roof of the tank…and pulled his foot back.  He was afraid he’d burn his feet right through his shoes if he tried to walk across.  So they finally caught him and hauled him off, either to detox or to jail, I’m not sure which. 

The whole incident, though, made me realize how lax security is at many of our large industrial facilities.  And what would happen if, instead of some angry unemployed drunk, the person who broke in wanted to sabotage the place?  What could happen? 

The answer is:  nothing good.  My first thriller/mystery, Unreasonable Risk, takes a close look at that answer.  It opens up the world of the oil business for the reader, too, and provides a glimpse of an industry that touches every one of us every day, but about which most of us know next to nothing.  And without any mind-numbing descriptions of how refineries work.  Just lots of action, lots of explosions, and a likeable heroine with a strong sense of justice.

I hope you’ll all enter the contest to win a free copy, and that you’ll let me know what you think once you’ve read it.  And perhaps Anastasia will invite me back to explain how I got the idea for my second book, soon to be released for e-reader, Through Dark Spaces, another environmental thriller, this one set in a gold mine!

Thanks so much, Karen! We’d love to have you back at some point. Readers, let’s hear from you. Post a comment for a chance to win a copy of Unreasonable Risk. And remember to check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- BE A PACK WHIZ!

Our travel editor Serena Brower was trolling around the Internet the other day and discovered a great website for anyone planning a trip. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. The website is Packwhiz. If you’re super-organized, you probably don’t need to bookmark this site, but really, how many of us are super-organized? I know I’m not, and I travel for a living!

Packwhiz is a free site that lets you generate packing lists based on where you plan to travel and what you need to remember to do before you leave on that trip -- like take out the trash. You can create your own list or search public lists and edit according to your own needs. Their Top 20 includes everything from a  Weekend Camping Trip to a Mediterranean Cruise. Check it out!

What a great idea, Serena! I’d definitely use Packwhiz if I were going somewhere, but these days my travel is confined to the office and supermarket. What about the rest of you? When I did travel, I always arrived to find that I’d forgotten to pack something. That ever happen to you? 
Post a comment, and you could win the book being given away this week by our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA--DONATION TIP


Here’s a handy hand-me-down tip our money guru Sheila Conway came across recently. -- AP


That’s right, Anastasia, and it’s such a simple idea that I don’t know why I didn’t think of it long ago. We all have clothes that we donate to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross or other organizations periodically, right? Usually, that means cleaning out our dresser drawers and closets, and that can become a daunting task.

Why not keep a charity bag or box in your laundry room? After you launder an item you’ve decided to part with, place it in the bag or box instead of back in the closet or drawer. When the bag or box is full, call for a donation pick-up or bring it to your local drop-off center.

Brilliant, Sheila! What do you think, readers? Such a simple idea, right? 
Post a comment, and you could win the book being given away this week by our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- SLOW COOKED MAPLE RIBS

The other day I found a great sale on pork ribs at the supermarket, so I asked Cloris to come up with a slow cooker recipe that would take little prep time. As a bonus, this recipe isn’t a gazillion calories per serving the way many rib recipes are because it contains little in the way of high caloric ingredients. -- AP

SLOW COOKED MAPLE RIBS
Ingredients:
non-stick olive oil cooking spray
2-1/2 lbs. country style pork ribs
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
3 tablespoons dried minced onions
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Spray inside of slow cooker with non-stick spray. Cut ribs apart and place in cooker. Mix together all other ingredients. Pour over ribs. Cover and cook on low with 8 hrs.

Easy, right? Took me no time at all to prepare before leaving for work. When I came home, I made some fast-cooking brown rice and steamed broccoli. Voila! Dinner. It was delicious! Think you’ll give it a try? Post a comment, and you could win the book being given away this week by our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, April 11, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- PEARL COTTON EASTER EGG

Today’s Easter egg craft helps you use up all those scraps of pearl cotton leftover from needlework projects. Don’t have any pearl cotton? Use embroidery floss or yarn.

PEARL COTTON EASTER EGG

Materials:
1-7/8” x 2-1/2” Styrofoam egg
#3 pearl cotton in various colors
tacky glue

This is about as easy a craft as you can get. Simply apply glue to the egg. Then wrap lengths of pearl cotton around the egg. Begin at the center of the egg and work outwards toward the top and bottom of the egg. For ease in working, poke a piece of heavy gauge wire or thin dowel to the bottom of the egg and hold the wire or dowel as you glue on the pearl cotton.



Post a comment, and you could win the book being given away this week by our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Friday, April 8, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR PAT DALE


Mystery and suspense author Pat Dale is our Book Club Friday guest today. After a career as a professional musician and educator, Pat turned to the pen to craft more than a dozen novels and novellas. She uses musical rhythms and values to write what some might call poetic prose. Learn more about Pat at her website.

Pat is offering a copy of her romantic suspense,
A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND to one of our readers, but this is a different sort of contest. Read on to learn how to enter. -- AP

How do writers come up with such wild ideas?
Sometimes I embarrass myself with the things my characters do. I’m really a nice person; I mean, really. Have I ever murdered someone? No. Have I ever engaged in kinky sex? Uh, no, not that I would ever tell about. You can take that as another no. LOL

Have I ever wanted to commit murder? You bet! Have I ever had sexual fantasies that exceed what I’m willing to do? Oh yeah! Did I have to follow those desires to write about them? No way, Hosea.

And there’s your answer in a nutshell. Imagination, dreams, fantasies all come into play in my writing. As an author, I exercise ‘creator’ power over my characters and they will do what I write them to do. Oh, they complain loud and long at times, and I listen well. Usually, if a character whispers in my ear that I’ve taken them too far, I have. Most successful authors, in my opinion, pay close attention to the limits they set for their main characters.

I’ve joked that fiction writing is the only arena where a practitioner can be a certified loon and get paid for it, only partially in jest. To date, I’ve killed off 32 characters in just 7 of my novels. To be fair, there are five other books where nobody dies, so that would make it 32 for 12. Sounds bloodthirsty, doesn’t it? But, of those deaths, only 15 are violent and two thirds of them are bad guys doing bad things before they face justice.

Now for the kinky sex stuff… Nah, I’m not getting into that. Hee Hee Hee! Besides, what is kinky to one is run of the mill to another. Suffice it to say I approach sex scenes in my books on tiptoe. I’m not opposed to writing a pretty explicit scene if the genre calls for it, but I will not write my characters into lurid scenes for the voyeuristic thrill of it.

How about writing my heroine into a scene where she must do something that is totally against her mores? Now that can lead to amazingly successful dramatic character arcs. And character arcs are what keep a reader reading. Oh, many will call it something else. Character maturation, re-shaping, or what you will; following a main character’s growth from where she begins the story to her eventual triumph or failure at the climax is what rivets one to the pages as they fly by. Now that’s what good writing is all about, and why a good author needs lots of imagination as well as a willingness to go out on a limb from time to time, insisting the character does as she’s written to do.

My take on it. What’s yours?

My latest romantic suspense novel SLEEPING WITH HER ENEMY is being released today (April 8, 2011) by Muse Publishing. A short blurb:

Anika Henry, RN, has lost her husband to war and her son to a hit and run driver. Looking for some reason to keep moving forward, she loses herself in her work in the children’s ward of the hospital in Ft. Collins, Colorado. When Ana meets Dan Morrison by way of his sick daughter Sherry, life seems to beckon to her. Dan had lost his wife to cancer two years earlier.

They bond, Sherry takes to Ana, and fledgling romance blossoms for the adults. After Ana discovers a car that shows all the signs of being the one that killed her boy, she blows the whistle on Dan and her future turns as dark as a buried coal mine at midnight. Will Dan be found innocent? If he is, will he ever have anything to do with Ana again?

You’ll want to read SLEEPING WITH HER ENEMY to find the answers to those and other questions. I promise a fun read and worthwhile characters to get to know along the way. Also, you’ll meet Ana’s dog Molly, modeled after my own German Shorthair, the Unsinkable Brown Molly.

I want to give someone a copy of one of my previously released romantic suspense novels, A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND, available in trade paperback or eBook from Whimsical Publishing. So I’m having a contest and the winner will receive a copy of the book in electronic format, set up for your eReader. To enter, all you have to do is send your guess as to how many characters die in my next book release, DANCE WITH THE DEVIL, a romantic family saga to be published by Muse Publishing in July.

Hint: more than one, less than nine.

First correct guess wins the book! And everybody who enters will receive by email a free chapter of a new romantic comedy I’m finishing as we speak. Through subsequent months, all chapters of THE LAST COWBOY IN TEXAS will be given away for free. It’s the funniest thing I’ve done to date.

Send your guess to: patdale@charter.net and you could be the winner. Good luck, and happy reading!

Thanks for stopping by today, Pat. -- AP

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- GUEST TRAVEL WRITER DR. KELLE Z RILEY


Our intrepid guest travel blogger, Kelle Z Riley, is back again today with more tales from her early travels to Paris. Do you think she’ll get any sightseeing in this time? Read on to find out. -- AP

Kelle's kitties didn't want her to leave.
PARIS, PART 2
Hello fellow travelers!  I’m back after a month off to take care of some nagging health issues.  No doubt it was from a bug I caught while traveling.  So save yourselves the trouble of antibiotics and cough remedies and spend your travel time vicariously with me. . .  Last time we spoke (in Feb.) I told you of my first trip to Paris—where I saw some of the local industry rather than lots of tourist sites.

The second time I visited Paris—in winter—I stayed in a charming hotel in the heart of the city.  By charming, I mean small.  The room was as wide as a king sized bed and just a little longer!  My twin-sized bed lay so close to the window that I could reach out from under the covers and open or close the window to adjust the room temperature.  Since the room was boiling hot, it was delightful to be able to crack open the window and feel cool winter air swirl over the top of my down comforter.  Even the noise of the crowded streets four floors below seemed soothing.

Two feet from the foot of my bed and up one step was the bathroom.  If you dropped something in the shower, you had to get out and stand on the bath mat to retrieve it.  No kidding.  No bending to shave your legs allowed in this shower!  But there was plenty of warm water, so I had no worries.  The real beauty of the bathroom was a floor to ceiling window which could be opened just wide  enough to let me squeeze out onto a balcony.  The streets of Paris are narrow, winding, and intersect other streets at unusual angles.  Form my perch I could see a panorama of shops, pedestrians and vehicles of all kinds (from taxis to bicycles).  Every city has a special energy and I felt it keenly on that tiny balcony.

During this trip, I had some free time.  Two hours of it, to be exact.  In my 2 free hours, I went shopping (to purchase a souvenir suitcase to replace the one broken on the earlier legs of my journey).  Of course I also bought a beret and a scarf and some warm, fuzzy gloves.  The challenge (and a source of adventure) lay in the fact that I had no idea what the currency exchange rate was.  I was using Euros, but during that time the Euro and the U.S. dollar were not even close to the same in terms of spending power.  It is always scary to go to an ATM half a world from home and withdraw cash—you never know till you get home how much you’ve dented your bank account.  Ditto for credit card purchases.  But when you desperately NEED a suitcase on wheels—c’est la vie!

While my tourist activities were still severely limited (saw l’Arc de Triomphe from yet another cab window), I nevertheless learned some important aspects of French culture.  That is to say, I learned about the luxury of croissants, pain au chocolate (a flakey croissant-like bread with a bar of rich chocolate in the middle), and café au lait.  Warning: once you’ve had a croissant in Paris, you’ll never be satisfied with one anywhere else in the world!

The rest of the trip was dedicated to work and cab rides back to the airport where my sparkling new suitcase was properly broken in and began earning it’s travel legs.  We (my bag and I) went on to Germany, Amsterdam and finally home to the U.S., but that is a story for another blog.

I left Paris wishing I’d had more time and longing to return to the city.  As always, I hoped that the next trip would bring a chance to see the wonderful tourist sites that have inspired travelers for decades.  Cross your fingers. . .

I’ll see you next month!
Kelle

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--PAINLESS TRICKS FOR CUTTING CALORIES



Did you make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight? It’s the most common resolution people make at the beginning of a new year. It’s also the most common that resolution long given up by this time of year. Health editor Janice Kerr is here today with some tips for helping you get back on track and shed those unwanted pounds. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! Losing weight is hard. There probably isn’t anyone reading this blog who hasn’t been on the weight loss merry-go-round and fallen off too many times. One of the reasons we can’t stick to our diets is that we set the bar too high. And we expect results too quickly. The best weight loss -- the kind that stays off -- are the pounds that are shed gradually.

So here’s a trick to try: lower your expectations, and you may find you actually shed more weight and keep it off. Instead of cutting 500 - 1000 calories a day, try cutting 100 - 300. You’re less likely to feel as though you’re starving yourself and will be less tempted to cheat.

A pound of body fat is approximately 3500 calories. If you cut 500 calories a day from your diet, you’ll lose about a pound a week. But cutting 500 calories a day is hard for many people. That’s why their diets fail. Cutting 250 calories a day is a lot easier. It will take you twice as long to lose that pound, but isn’t it better to lose a pound every two weeks than not at all?

Here are a few examples of how you can cut 100 - 200 calories without feeling any pain:
  • Leave the pizza crust on your plate.

  • Make your morning eggs with egg whites only.

  • Eat one slice of toast instead of two with those morning eggs.

  • Make your sandwiches from bagel thins instead of whole bagels.

  • Leave the slice of cheese off your sandwich or burger.

  • Use mustard instead of mayonnaise on your sandwiches.

  • Drink flavored seltzer water instead of soda.

  • Use salad dressing spritzers instead of drowning your salad in dressing.


Great tips, Janice! This makes dieting sound almost painless. Readers, do you have any dieting tips that have worked for you? Let’s hear them. -- AP

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- APRICOT MOCHA CAKE

If you follow this blog, you know that our food editor Cloris McWerther comes up with the most incredible, to-die-for desserts, especially when she marries chocolate with other ingredients. But we here at American Woman magazine are also conscious of the fact that too many Americans are eating too many grams of sugar and too many calories. So, how do you have your cake and eat it without putting on the pounds. 

This is a topic that Cloris and health editor Janice Kerr have been discussing at some length. As a result, Cloris began experimenting with some of her recipes, cutting down the sugar and replacing some of the flour with whole wheat flour. Below is one of her successes. It contains 1 cup less sugar, replaces 1/4 of the flour with whole wheat flour, and uses skim milk instead of whole milk. We dare you to tell the difference.
-- AP

APRICOT MOCHA CAKE
Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 cup cold espresso or coffee

In mixing bowl sift together first 5 ingredients. Set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in microwave. Stir in milk and vanilla. Fold into flour mixture. Pour into greased 9” x 9” pan. Combine brown sugar and cocoa. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Pour espresso or coffee over dry ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Yum! Now keep in mind we’re not claiming this is a diet dessert, but it’s less guilt-inducing than many of Cloris's creations. And as with so many other things, it’s OK to indulge once in awhile as long as you do so in moderation. From Cloris, Janice, and me, bon appetit! -- AP

Monday, April 4, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- POMPOM EASTER EGG

If you craft, you most likely have pompoms leftover from other crafting projects. Today we have another Easter egg project, one that will help you use up some of those leftover pompoms.

POMPOM EASTER EGG

Materials:
1-7/8” x 2-1/2” Styrofoam egg
5mm - 15mm pastel and white pompoms
tacky glue

This is about as easy a craft as you can get. Simply apply glue to the egg. Then glue the pompoms randomly around the egg. Begin at the center of the egg and work outwards toward the top and bottom of the egg. For ease in working, poke a piece of heavy gauge wire or thin dowel to the bottom of the egg and hold the wire or dowel as you glue on the pompoms.