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.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

FASHION WITH TESSA--GUEST AUTHOR AND VAMPIRE SLAYER FASHIONISTA ASHLYN MATHEWS



And now for something completely different...guest author and fashionista Ashlyn Mathews is here today to educate us on fashion for the well-dressed vampire slayer. Ashlyn is the author of contemporary and paranormal romances featuring characters who are a little lost in their lives and who seek acceptance, redemption, and most importantly, love. Learn more about her at her website.

Must-Have Fashion for a Vampire Slayer
Kick-ass heroines of paranormal romance and urban fantasy aren’t just well-liked and well-read for their smart mouths, tough as nails attitude, and killer bodies, but for their lethal fashion wear. Leather and four inch heels, anyone? Or how about sawed off shotguns and an arsenal of other weapons meant to take down the enemy? And let’s not forget the other accessories our heroine needs to save the world and get her man.

What are these fashion must-haves, you ask? For Vampire Slayer Elise Castle, in my paranormal romance My Fallen, the accessories are the most important of all. Forget the earrings, necklaces or scarves. She prefers her crossbow, knives, swords, shotgun and explosive orbs to accessorize her mainly head-to-toe black garb. And when she’s out on the town, for instance, a black-tie affair, where the dark lords of the Underworld have gathered to give her and her new love their black moment, red is the color of the night.


Clad in a dress that is the source of curiosity from her demon lover Xavier Doom, Elise has no choice but to cover up. Otherwise she risks being sequestered to her apartment by Xavier for showing too much skin. Already, he’s killed for her. She won’t let him harm another for daring to ogle her.

What to do? Ah, along comes the best fashion cover-up ever — the black trench coat. The hem reaching mid-thigh, it’s just the right length to conceal Elise’s scantily clad body and her weapons. Perfect! Pair the flare, cinched at the waist coat with knee high boots, and there’s an additional place for her knives, shoved into the sheaths hidden inside a must-have for any hunter. Of course, an outfit is never complete without a fast ride of some sort. Why not throw in a motorcycle or a helicopter able to swoop in like a silent predator?

 As Xavier says, “I love a woman who packs as though the apocalypse was just over the horizon.”

An avid reader of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, I have to agree one hundred percent. So remember, slayers and hunters of all things that go bump in the night, accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!


My Fallen blurb: Next in line to command the dark lords of the Underworld, Xavier Doom is expected to marry a woman with money and influence. But when he falls for a Vampire Slayer who can only offer him her love, he questions whether tradition and his innate desire for money and power are worth abandoning to have a shot at love.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

DECORATING WITH JEANIE--GUEST AUTHOR E. F. WATKINS


Award-winning author E. F. Watkins specializes in paranormal mystery and suspense. She’s also a founding member of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. Today she’s here to discuss decorating with us. Seem like an odd combination? Read on. Learn more about E. F. at her website and more about Dark Music here. -- AP

Quinn Matthews, the heroine/sleuth of my new paranormal mystery Dark Music, writes about architecture and interior design for a living. She buys the Victorian house of her dreams in a quiet New Jersey suburb, only to discover it is haunted. The ghosts awaken latent psychic abilities Quinn didn't know she possessed, turn her life upside down and even thwart her attempts to sell the place. The only way she can lay them to rest is to solve a 100-year-old crimethe murder of the house's first owner, whose love life was far from "Victorian"!

All of this should be enough to keep any single 30-something busy, but Quinn graciously has taken time out from both her journalistic career and her sideline as a psychic sleuth to offer a few tips on decorating a 19th-century house on a slim budget:

The basic care and feeding of a Victorian home can strain anyone's finances, before you even think of furnishing it to suit the period. Good antiques from more than 100 years ago don't come cheap! If you weren't lucky enough to find a stash of these in your attic, here are a few ways to “cheat” with style:

* Scour vintage shops for pieces from the 1940s, which often had a neo-Victorian look. You should be able to find plenty of solid wooden furniture with curves, carving, inlay and other ornate touches. The pieces may be a bit more simplified than high Victorian, but that just makes them easier to dust—and much cheaper!

* If you love the lines of a piece but not the finish, you can strip it and refinish it—which calls for some real skill and elbow grease—or you can just prime and paint it. For the "shabby chic" effect, paint it white or a light pastel shade, change the knobs to cut-glass or flowered ceramic, and maybe add an old-fashioned floral decal in a key spot.

* Want the effect of dramatic Victorian wall treatments without spending a lot on wallpaper? Get a deep wallpaper border in a style you like, apply it near the ceiling and paint the rest of the wall to coordinate. Rich shades like rose, rust and gold are true to the period, though you may want to go lighter if your rooms are small.

* Intact throw pillows from 100 years ago are hard to come by, so try 1940s barkcloth in a romantic floral. The full drapery panels can be pricey, but all you need for a pillow or two is a remnant. Center a partial landscape or big burst of flowers on a round or square pillow form, and trim it in satiny braid or fringe for a Victorian look.
    
* If you like to needlepoint or crochet, you can make your own pillow covers in Victorian styles. Sometimes you can find an old needlepointed pillow “front” among the linens in an antique shop—just use a sturdy, solid-colored cotton or velvet for the back. Tack an old, crocheted doily onto a plain or calico pillow to give it that turn-of-the-century look.

* Have any old photos of your ancestors from that period? Display them—or copies if the originals are too frail—in antique or antique-looking frames. They'll add a touch of your own, personal past to your decor.

* Found a battered old trunk in the basement or attic? Clean it up yourself, or let a professional restore it, then display it as a coffee table or a funky storage piece. Finally, be sure to hang onto any contents of the trunk—such as period clothing, keys, a scrapbook or a journal—that provide clues to the history of your house. They might come in handy, just in case it turns out to be haunted! (Trust me on this…)



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

COOKING WITH CLORIS--DENG SHIM GUI WITH GUEST AUTHOR JUDYTHE MORGAN


Lucky Cloris is off judging a TV food competition this week. Filling in for her is award-winning author Judythe Morgan, here with a recipe for deng shim Gui, Korean Grilled Steak. Judythe is also an antiques dealer, former public school teacher and one time Department of Army Civilian (DAC), but storytelling is, and always will be, her passion. Read more about her on her website and blog. -- AP

Deng Shim Gui (Korean Grilled Steak)

You’ll find Green Beret Alexander C. (Ace) Cabot ordering this marinated sirloin every chance he gets in my upcoming release Love in the Morning Calm, set in 1960s South Korea.

Ace meets Lily Reed, a Department of the Army civilian (DAC) employed at Headquarters, Eighth Army while on temporary assignment. He’s a high-potential career officer who should resist the temptation of any woman, but he can’t ignore his attraction to her. A firm supporter of the budding women’s lib movement, she isn’t interested in the love-marriage-baby carriage syndrome dominating the era, but finds the Green Beret testing her resolve.

In writing Ace and Lily’s love story, I drew from my experience as a DAC in South Korea. That’s why you’ll find the story sprinkled with cultural details like this delicious BBQ-like dish.

Deng Shim Gui (Korean Grilled Steak)

Ingredients:
2 lb thin tenderloin or sirloin steaks, through any other good steak cut works
salt and pepper
bulgogi marinade (provided below)

Pound meat to tenderize and flatten to about the thickness of a pancake. Score meat on both sides. Season steaks with salt and pepper. Can be cut into 1” strips.Marinate in bulgogi sauce for at least 1 hour. Grill or broil about 2 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the steak.

Basic Bulgogi Marinade

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp chopped garlic (about 2 cloves)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed juice from an Asian pear*
1 Tbsp Japanese rice wine*
1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 green onions, finely chopped (including white part)
1 tsp pepper

Mix ingredients together until sugar and honey are dissolved and evenly distributed. Store in refrigerator or freezer for use on beef, pork, and chicken.

*No juicer for the pears? Puree two pears in a blender and then press through a strainer.

*No rice wine? Substitute a splash of dry white wine.

I grill the marinated steak strips on a bulgogi cooker like the one pictured, but you can use any lined barbeque grill or a pancake griddle. The spicy scent as the meat cooks will have you salivating.

Love in the Morning Calm
In the furor of the 60's, when women fought for their rights and men fought the Viet Cong, a young Tennessee preacher’s daughter seeks her liberation only to discover a love that defines her even as it replaces her newfound freedom with responsibility.

Also by Judythe Morgan:

The Pendant’s Promise
Twenty years after they met in South Korea, Lily and Ace meet again. Old passions return, but Alex feels betrayed by Lily’s fabricated marriage and widowhood. Lily believes revealing the truth could cost her the only man she’s ever loved and her daughter. Is the flame of love strong enough to be re-ignited, or, is it too late?


Monday, January 28, 2013

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--SHABBY CHIC FRAME


I first featured this craft project two years ago. Since it’s one of my favorites, and we’ve had so many new readers to the blog, I decided to run it again. The frame makes a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift. You might want to frame a vintage Valentine rather than a photo. Or frame give it as a wedding or bridal shower gift with a photo of the lucky couple.

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.

Friday, January 25, 2013

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY GUEST AUTHOR JENNY MILCHMAN


Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads. Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Her first novel, Cover of Snow, is published by Ballantine. Learn more about Jenny at her website and blog. -- AP


Mr. Sandman, Bring Me Your…

In a few weeks, I am going to get up in front of a roomful of people and ask them to tell me their hopes and dreams.

But let me back up a little.

In a few weeks my debut novel, Cover of Snow, is going to be published. This was a dream thirteen years in the making for me—and that’s if you count from when I first signed with an agent. If you count from when it first crossed my mind to try and get published, it’s more like fifteen years. And if you count from the time I first knew I wanted to be a writer…well, then you’d know about how old I am.

One of my release parties is taking place at a bookstore that has seen the likes of Caroline Kennedy and Jane Seymour. I can’t compete with that—Caroline Kennedy had between 700 and 800 attendees—and I probably don’t have anything as interesting to say.

But I do know something about sticking to a dream. Mine took me through a lot of low points—long, lonely drives and I’m-giving-up moments. And when I started inviting people to my launch party, I realized that they probably had some experience with dreaming, too. We all do. Writers, parents, single people seeking soul mates—all of us know what it’s like to want something very badly and not be sure when, or if, we’re going to get it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear a whole collection of hopes and dreams? Mightn’t saying them out loud make them just a little bit more real? A dream shared is a dream one step closer to being realized.

I envision a stream of people coming up to the microphone at the front of the bookstore and giving voice to whatever goal or aim has been living inside them. The poet Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

I know what helped me hang in there for thirteen+ years, and I offer these tips in case you might be trying to keep going towards something right now.

  • Seek out support. Whether that comes from family, friends, church or temple or mosque communities, or online groups and forums, it’s necessary to have someone in your corner to cheer you on and offer advice when the going gets rough. (If your support person is a good cook, that’s all the better.)

  • Concretize what you’re going for. Write it down, make a collage, record your own voice describing it. If your goal is to learn a craft, visit a foreign country, or go back to college, find something that represents that goal. Maybe a skein of yarn. Or a flag. A brochure. Let there be something physical you can pick up to remind yourself that one day this will be real. In my case, every book on my shelf was an image of what I wanted my manuscript to become.

  • Have a method to stamp out self-doubt. Because you’re going to—doubt, that is. And you’ll encounter the haters. I remember an old friend wondering aloud how long I intended to “keep at this.” Keep at what? My dream? The answer has to be forever, but we don’t always feel entitled to say so. Practice your response—“As long as I have to,” “Until I succeed,”—and have a way to combat depression when you start to feel like It’s Never Going to Happen. Go for a drive, take a shower, or eat some chocolate. Do all three. Pick up that concrete symbol you fashioned (see above.) Most of all, just know that doubt is par for the course, part of going for a dream, and until you give up, you haven’t failed. You just haven’t succeeded YET.

Oh, and if you’d like to, please join us either physically or in spirit on January 17th when hopes and dreams will be shared, and come that much closer to coming true.

Cover of Snow
Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora Hamilton instantly knows that something is wrong. When her fog of sleep clears, she finds her world is suddenly, irretrievably shattered: Her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide.

The first few hours following Nora’s devastating discovery pass for her in a blur of numbness and disbelief. Then, a disturbing awareness slowly settles in: Brendan left no note and gave no indication that he was contemplating taking his own life. Why would a rock-solid police officer with unwavering affection for his wife, job, and quaint hometown suddenly choose to end it all? Having spent a lifetime avoiding hard truths, Nora must now start facing them.

Unraveling her late husband’s final days, Nora searches for an explanation—but finds a bewildering resistance from Brendan’s best friend and partner, his fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. It quickly becomes clear to Nora that she is asking questions no one wants to answer. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies a powerful conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep its presence unknown . . . and its darkest secrets hidden.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK


We’re joined today by guest author and nature enthusiast Julie Korzenko, here to tell us about Grand Teton National Park. Julie’s fervent desire to "save the animals" feeds her stories as well as her ability to fall prey to half a dozen canines that rule her life.  The Fifth Season is Julie’s third book. Angel Falls, sequel to Devil’s Gold, will be released in February of 2013. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website 

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The above picture was shot on Elk Island, Jackson Lake. In the summer of 2001, I experienced a vacation of a lifetime. The beauty of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park touched my soul in such a manner that I seem incapable of NOT writing about this gorgeous area of our country every few books. The town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming is full of heart-stopping galleries and craftsmanship that make me yearn to revisit on a yearly basis. The artists of Jackson Hole have an inane ability to capture nature’s magic by stroke of brush and edge of knife that leaves me speechless – a feat not often accomplished.

My debut novel Devil’s Gold focused on the plight of the grey wolf and encompassed the beauty of Yellowstone National Park. Although my characters tended not to see the lighter side of their environment as they were often under gunfire, drowning in rapids, and dissecting disgustingly mutated wolves, it was heartwarming for me to revisit Yellowstone and grace the pages of Devil’s Gold with a hint of the magic that lies within this volcanic crater.

In The Fifth Season, I lightened the drama and focused on the splendor of the world within which my character’s lived. While on vacation in Jackson Hole, we stayed at Rancho Alegre. This breath-taking home is the inspiration and heart of The Fifth Season. Days spent at Rancho Alegre encompassed knuckle-clenching hot air balloon rides, bone chilling white water rapid adventures, and a hike around Jenny Lake that ended with a broken ankle. Pain aside, I persevered and managed to spend an afternoon on horseback, hours wandering the galleries and, never to be forgotten, the main focus of the trip for me and my sister: creeping on Harrison Ford.

The Fifth Season
Brought to Jackson, Wyoming under cover of darkness and with a past never to be revealed, resort manager, Emma O’Malley needs only one thing from Stone Connor: River Run.

The luxury five-star resort has been willed to Stone with the condition that he must spend four seasons within the property or else it reverts to his father…a man he passionately hates, a surrogate parent Emma dearly loves.

Struggling to emotionally recover from a disastrous covert operation, Stone is less than thrilled about River Run. The puzzle that is Emma O’Malley, however, adds a beacon of light to his darkness. As the nightmares of Emma’s childhood surface to reality, survival forces Emma to join forces with Stone. Desire and danger dance a fine line between love and war.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--GUEST AUTHOR ROB COSTELLOE


Author Rob Costelloe sits in for our Wednesday editors today to discuss trust in marital relationships. Rob began writing fiction as a youngster and completed his first novel a few years after college. He’s the author of two novels, Coinage of Commitment, a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist, and Pocket Piece Cameo. He’s currently working on his third novel. Learn more about Rob and his books at his website.  – AP


Separate Accounts

My books feature characters who want more from love that what they see all around them. Something stronger, something higher, something worth pursuing. Part of that pursuit is usually an effort to understand love. We can’t make it soar higher or make it last longer unless we figure out how it works. This usually means the characters need to take an intellectual as well as an emotional journey to attain the emotional altitude they seek. And this opens up all sorts of literary issues to explore. What conditions in their lives produced a hunger for such fulfillment? And, of course, what are they going to do about it?

As an author exploring such issues, I sometimes find myself reacting to relationship issues that pop up in the strangest ways. For instance, I happened to be walking through the den the other day and overheard a pundit on Fox News exhorting prospective newlyweds to be sure to set up separate checking and banking accounts. She seemed to be mentioning it as a kind of checklist item, probably part of an array of recommendations—many of them likely tax related—that she was reviewing for the benefit of people planning marriage. As a kind of afterthought, she said—as I got closer to the limit of my hearing range—that of course, in today’s hip, digital culture, with people more aware and better informed than ever before, separate accounts were an elementary safeguard for all parties concerned. As I walked out of range, I thought of another advantage to separate accounts. If you don’t see the mess your spouse makes of her account (and vice versa), then you’re not as likely to get upset about it and argue over it.

But then it occurred to me that this is one of those instances where the validity of your logic depends on the premises you set. Yeah, if your priority concern is to “protect” the individual members of a marriage, then separate accounts do provide that assurance. But how far should such “protections” extend?

Most murders are products of domestic violence, but does that make it wise for me to keep a pistol under my pillow to protect me from my wife? Also, it doesn’t take long for the realization to sink in that the protection is from each other. Do I need to be protected from the woman I’ve vowed to love and cherish till death do us part? More importantly, what message does establishing such protection send to one’s spouse? “Okay, let me get this straight,” I can hear her say. “You say you love me, that there will never be anyone for you but me, and that we are one flesh, but with your actions you are saying that I can’t be trusted not to abscond with all our liquid assets.” Worse yet is that she may not be saying that out loud, but instead storing it in her heart as a corrosive doubt.

So what’s the right answer? I think that depends on what you want out of marriage, and how much you are willing to risk and invest in the romance we pledge as a lifetime commitment. The guiding fundamental is that actions speak louder than words. In Coinage of Commitment, the female protagonist tells the love of her life that she is assuming a posture of emotional vulnerability and dependence on him. She does this to raise his commitment to her emotional needs to a level he had not contemplated. As a result of how he responds…well, better not to give away the surprise ending.

Coinage of Commitment
Wayne and Nancy grow up on opposite sides of the country, each certain they must have love better than what others will settle for. Something stronger, something richer, something worth searching for. During the turbulent nineteen-sixties, they meet while he is attending blue-collar Drexel, and she is at neighboring, Ivy League Penn. Although irresistibly drawn to each other, they must overcome obstacles posed by the class and social differences that separate them, as well as opposition from both families, and later, a twist of fate that will be the cruelest test of all. Can they reach the emotional heights they seek? Can they overcome time's downward pulling inertia? Coinage of Commitment is dedicated to all who ever wondered about the altitude love might soar to.
  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST CHEF HOPE MORGAN


Hope Morgan, heroine of Finding Hope by author Emma Carlyle (otherwise known as Lois Winston) stops by to give Cloris a break today. Some men should never set foot in a kitchen. Ben Schaffer, the hero of Finding Hope is one of them, as evidenced by his attempts at a pancake breakfast for his three-year-old triplets. -- AP

Who would have thought making pancakes could be this difficult -- and messy? Ben stared at the fall-out. The boys, spattered from head to toe with raw batter, held their collective breaths, no doubt waiting for him to explode. And although the thought had crossed his mind -- and he might benefit from the release -- he wasn’t about to blow up in front of his children. Instead, he shook his own batter-dappled head and tossed what remained of the blender-chewed rubber spatula into the sink. Throwing his arms up in defeat, he turned to the boys and asked, “Who wants breakfast at McDonald’s?”

A chorus of me’s answered him.

“Well, we can’t go looking like this,” he said. “To the showers, men.” He lifted the boys one-by-one off the kitchen counter and was about to lead them up the back stairs when the front doorbell rang. “Don’t move, and don’t touch anything,” he warned them, heading for the door. As it was, he faced a massive clean-up, but at least the mess was presently contained to one room. Ben wanted it to stay that way.

“Coming,” he yelled as the bell chimed a second time. When he swung open the heavy oak door, he was surprised at first to see Hope standing on his front porch. “Oh, the car,” he said, half mumbling to himself. “I forgot.”

“Am I too early?”

Ben followed her gaze, from his T-shirt to his hands, and then his jeans. After the spatula had caught in the blender and spewed pancake batter in all directions, he had attended to the boys. Only after he viewed himself through Hope’s eyes did he realize how extensively he, too, was covered in flour and raw pancake mix.

He picked at a clump of batter drying on his chin. Damn stuff felt like caked mud. “No, come in. I need to get us all cleaned-up, though.”

“Have a visit from the Ghostbusters?” she asked, following him back to the kitchen.

“Certain people should never be allowed in kitchens,” he told her. “I’m one of them.”

“I’ll say!” He watched as her large hazel eyes grew even larger, ogling first the boys, then the kitchen. “What happened?”

“Daddy goofed,” said Woody.

“Daddy’s funny,” added Scotty.

“I’m hungwy,” said Teddy.

Poor Ben has his hands full. His wife has walked out on him, and his housekeeper lands in the hospital. Hope Morgan, the resourceful heroine of Finding Hope, saves the day in this heartwarming and funny romance about second chances at love. 

For a limited time, Finding Hope is available on Kindle for only .99.


Hope’s Blueberry Pancakes
(serves four adults)

Ingredients:
1 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup blueberries
vegetable oil
maple syrup

Reserving 1 tablespoon of flour, mix together remaining dry ingredients. Set aside.

Beat egg. Gradually beat in milk, sour cream, and butter.

Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

Toss blueberries in reserved flour to coat. Gently fold into batter.

Coat skillet with vegetable oil and preheat. Using 1/4 cup batter for each pancake, cook on one side until bubbles form. Flip to cook second side. Continue cooking pancakes until golden brown.

Serve with maple syrup.

Monday, January 21, 2013

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-VALENTINE WREATH


With Valentine’s Day only a few weeks away, here’s a fun wreath you can make, no crafting skills required other than the ability to cut and glue.

Valentine Wreath

Materials: 8” grapevine wreath; 1-1/4 yds. 3/4” wide ivory beaded lace trim; 1/4 yd. 1/4” wide pink satin ribbon; assorted old Valentines, antique Valentine reproductions, or Valentine clip art; scissors; low temp glue gun and glue sticks

1. If you don’t want to use the original artwork, want to use images from books, or if you’re using clip art from your computer or pictures printed on thin weight paper, use a printer or copy machine, to make copies and reductions of artwork on index stock. A laser printer is preferable if the wreath will hang on an exterior door. Ink jet images will run if they come in contact with moisture.

2. Wrap beaded lace trim evenly around wreath, securing ends with glue.

3. Cut out images. Glue randomly around wreath.

4. Tie satin ribbon to top of wreath for hanging loop.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers this week and a special thank-you to our Book Club Friday guest author Camille Minichino. Camille offered a copy of her latest mystery, A Function of Murder, to one of our readers who posted a comment. The winner is Debbi Goodman-Smith. Debbi, please send your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so I can pass it along to Camille.

Friday, January 18, 2013

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR CAMILLE MINICHINO


We call Fridays here at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers Book Club Friday, but we’ve never had an author blog about book clubs. Today I’m thrilled to welcome back author Camille Minichino to rectify that.

Camille has published seventeen mysteries in three series: The Periodic Table Mysteries, The Miniature Mysteries (as Margaret Grace) and the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (as Ada Madison). She's written articles for popular magazines and teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Camille is past president of NorCal Mystery Writers of America, NorCal Sisters in Crime, and the California Writers Club. She works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and teaches science at Golden Gate U., San Francisco. Read more about her and her books at her website

Camille’s latest book is A Function of Murder, a professor Sophie Knowles Mystery, and she’s offering a copy to one of our readers who leaves a comment. -- AP

I Heart Book Clubs

I'll start with a confession: I never met a book club I didn't like.

Right now, I'm facilitating three of them. One is a nonfiction group that has been meeting for twenty-two years. This month we're reading The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, a new book by Kevin Dutton. (Take the quiz. You may be one. Scary!) The second club is a relatively new mystery group at an indie bookstore; the third (pictured above) is a library mystery group that has been meeting for sixteen years. Some of them agreed to pose tonight just so you could see them at work! You can tell who are the shy ones.

I thought I might do a little how-to, as if facilitating book clubs is a craft, like beading or making mop dolls! Here's how I do it:

1. At the first meeting, collect data on who likes what and choose the books for a few months ahead, making sure everyone has a say in some way. In succeeding months, be egalitarian in author gender, subgenre, setting, and any other group preferences.

2. Set out ranking rules. We use a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is "best book I've read since Poe's Telltale Heart, and 1 means "I threw it across the room." In the middle is "I would (or would not) recommend it." Ranking is based on 3 factors: Characters, Plot, Writing. A book can get a 10 on character and 2 on plot, or 7 on plot and 1 on writing, and so on.

3. At the beginning of each meeting, each member gives a ranking with a one liner: "I rated this a 10 in all categories because I didn't yawn once while reading it." This gives everyone, even the shyest, a chance to express an opinion before things get out of hand.

4. Discussion proceeds. I usually start with those who ranked the book the farthest off the average. "How come everyone gave this book a 2, Oscar, and you gave it a 10?" or "Anastasia, you're the only one who claimed to have taken a match to the book and gave it a 1. How come?"

5. The facilitator needs to be prepared:
• with questions that encourage discussion
• with familiarity of the author's work to give the current book context
• with insights that get people talking about deeper issues in the book
• with specific passages marked as examples, in support of her/his own opinion or those of others.

Some book clubs fall into disrepair when the talk is 80% social; others prefer it that way. I prefer clubs where the discussion is about the book of the month first, chatting about shoes and kids a very distant second (okay, you caught us going out for ice cream, but that was after the meeting).

 I spent many years of my life doing physics and math (a la Professor Sophie Knowles) – very social careers. No one does science out of her garage any more; it's a team endeavor. My concern when I turned to writing was that it was too solitary a profession and I'd never last. I'm so glad to have been wrong!

Book Clubs are a great way to share what I've read, to meet and bring together others who love to read and are eager to talk about why. Often I've given a book a 5 to start with and changed to an 8 after hearing from the group about things I missed.

Between critique groups (couldn't do without them), writers' organizations (ditto), conferences, and book clubs, I have enough interaction to last through the days when it's just me and Word 2011 for the Mac, and, of course, the whole crew in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with Book Clubs. If you leave a comment, you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of my latest release, A Function of Murder.

Dr. Sophie Knowles is a math professor with a knack for creating complex puzzles that delight her students. But now, at the close of the academic year, she must solve a crime that doesn’t quite add up…

At the math department’s graduation party, Sophie hears heated arguments coming from the graduates about Mayor Graves, the commencement speaker. Not the mayor’s biggest fan, Sophie is happy to escape the drama with an after-hours campus stroll accompanied by her helicopter-piloting boyfriend, Bruce Granville. However, their date is interrupted by the mayor himself—with a knife in his back.

As it turns out, the knife is actually a Henley College letter opener—something that is gifted to every member of the graduating class. Sophie is led to a complicated puzzle of scandal and corruption, and it seems that Mayor Graves is at the apex of it all. When Sophie finds out that the mayor was seeking her help on the day he was murdered, she must use her top-notch logic to crack the puzzle and catch the killer running free on campus…  


Thanks for joining us today, Camille. I wish I lived close enough to attend one of your book clubs. Readers, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of A Function of Murder, and don’t forget to include an email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’re the winner. We have a lot of giveaways going unclaimed because we have no way of contacting the winners. -- AP