Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

Choose Your Chocolate
by Nancy J. Cohen

Today is National Choose Your Chocolate Day. Somehow this treat makes its way into our stories, either as an indulgence the heroine enjoys, a coffee shop menu item, or a hot drink on a wintry day. Then there are recipes that authors share with readers, tempting them to make the confections at home that are mentioned in their books.

In Trimmed to Death, hairstylist sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest sponsored by a local farm. Her entry is a rich coconut fudge pie. In Hair Brained, Marla tours an artisan chocolate factory to question the owner. Along the way in writing these scenes, I learned a few tidbits about this rich sweet.

Kahlua Cake

For example, cocoa contains flavonoids. These are antioxidants that prevent cellular damage due to free radicals and help lower your risk for heart disease. Flavonoids also improve blood flow to your brain and cause your body to release endorphins. Dark chocolate has a higher content than milk chocolate. You’ll want to avoid cocoa powder that has undergone Dutch processing. It’s been treated with alkali agents that reduce the flavonoid value.

Cocoa contains some caffeine, but it also has theobromine. Both of these compounds can increase your heart rate. Again, dark chocolate has a higher concentration than milk chocolate. These chemicals are usually not present in white chocolate.

As for dogs, they metabolize theobromine more slowly. They can get theobromine poisoning from even a small amount of milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is even more toxic and can lead to seizures and death. The same risk is reported for cats, but they’re less likely to eat sweets.

Let’s assume you are not worried about any health issues. If you could choose a free supply of any chocolate item for a year – what would be your favorite?

While you’re here, check out our September contest, which runs from September 1-18. The winner selects a book from the book vault on the contest page, with print books limited to US mailing addresses. Enter here!

Let’s Talk with Debra H Goldstein

Teddy Bear Love
by Debra H. Goldstein

Do you love fuzzy wuzzy cuddly teddy bears? Does simply seeing a stuffed bear evoke feelings of happiness or comfort? If any of this is true, this is your day to celebrate. Why? Because September 9 is National Teddy Bear Day.

Although I have gifted many teddy bears over the years and my twins had matching white Gund bears which were each their favorite lovies, I never exhibited the same type of devotion to any type of stuffed animal. For me, it was always books.

One Taste Too ManyAs a toddler, I dragged a cloth book around the house. It was replaced by board books and finally by books with words. Although I wasn’t born reading, I can’t recall a time that I didn’t read or demand that others read to me. I’m grown now (okay, that is debatable), but books are what still provide me with happiness and comfort. They give me the opportunity to escape reality, to travel to unknown places, to learn about how others, live and imaginary, live. Books are my refuge and my joy.

For a chance to win an e-copy of One Taste Too Many (U.S. only), tell me your secret love – is it books or teddy bears?

While you’re here, check out our September contest, which runs from September 1-18. The winner selects a book from the book vault on the contest page, with print books limited to US mailing addresses. Enter here!

Let’s Talk with Terry Ambrose

Labor Day Celebrations

by Terry Ambrose

Labor Day Parade - Sept. 3, 1894

“A lovelier day for a national holiday could not have been asked for. The smoky haze that filled the air kept off the hot rays of the sun, but it was still warm enough to make out-door life attractive.” — The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., September 3, 1894.

Next Monday is the 127th celebration of Labor Day. Since its beginnings in 1894, Labor Day has seen some tumultuous times. A depression (or two), world wars, and tremendous social change. And yet, the holiday lives on. Whether you think of Labor Day as a day to recognize how laborers helped build America, as the official end of summer, or just another day to rock those online sales, this one’s got something for everyone.

Before we get into the more modern meanings of Labor Day, let’s take another look back at what that first Labor Day looked like. 

Organized labor on display“Organized labor will be on dress parade today in honor of the new national holiday. It is Labor Day by legal designation and the industrial hosts of the country have made elaborate arrangements to give it a christening worthy of the name and occasion.” — The Washington Times, Washington, D.C., September 3, 1894

Aha! Elaborate parades and auspicious guests! And those celebrations weren’t just in Washington, D.C. Even Topeka, KN, had a celebration. It just didn’t look the same as the Capitol’s.

Organized labor“The Labor Day observances at Kerr’s park were not of an inspiring nature. About the worst enemy of labor is beer. Under the grand stand, while we looked on, seven men were engaged in dishing out beer, and we are told that at other times there were ten or so engaged.” — The Topeka State Journal on September 5, 1894: 

 Okay, so not everyone dressed up in fancy suits and frilly dresses. But that wasn’t for lack of opportunity. In fact, even 127 years ago, they had the equivalent of online sales. Just look at this ad from The Evening World (New York, N.Y.), September 3, 1894, (LAST EDITION). I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to head on over to Bloomingdales to pick up some of those books for ten cents!

Bloomingdales Ad - September 3, 1984

Congratulations, Labor Day! You matured, but you have changed so little! And with that, it’s time for a little Labor Day celebration of our own.

Do you have a favorite Labor Day story from years past? I’d love to hear it, so leave a comment. One lucky commenter will receive a Kindle version of any of my books. Learn more about the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mysteries, the Trouble in Paradise Mysteries, and the License to Lie Thriller series here. Contest ends September 8, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.

While you’re here, check out our September contest, which runs from September 1-18. The winner selects a book from the book vault on the contest page, with print books limited to US mailing addresses. Enter here!

Let’s Talk with Cheryl Hollon

Red Hot Time
By Cheryl Hollon

It’s a Red Hot Time in St. Pete! Unfortunately, cooler weather is still months away.

Red Firecracker bush

As the calendar reaches the end of August, my tolerance for the relentlessly hot days also reaches an end. Typically, we would be on vacation to mountain country, enjoying cool mornings and firepits at night. But, alas, this is not an average year, so I’m facing another two, possibly three months of what is known as 90/90 days here in St. Pete. Translation: 90 degrees temperature/90 percent humidity.

What I’ve noticed in my section of town is that the red flowers are blooming like fury. Unfortunately, there is a garden near me that has completely given up producing anything edible. The next planting season isn’t until late October.

These are red firecracker bushes that line the walkways near our apartment. They do look like those bunches of firecrackers that are common in Singapore. It was an everyday event for someone to light a cluster and throw them into the street.

Jacaranda Tree

The Jacaranda trees around Mirror Lake have gone berserk. The fragrant blooms and fern-like leaves give dappled shade to the banks.

Ixora

The Ixora is also going crazy but looking absolutely gorgeous. These showy ball-shaped flowers grow at the end of their branches. It can quickly get leggy when it lacks water, but we’ve been getting drenched overnight for weeks.

If you’re looking for a regional eastern Kentucky series, my Paint & Shine Mysteries are set in the Daniel Boone National Forest. My characters spend a lot of time preparing traditional southern meals along with moonshine cocktails. Buy local. Independent bookstores need your help during this challenging time. If you’re an Amazon shopper, here’s that link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B088WYF8QV


While you’re here, enter our Booklover’s Bench contest. We’re collecting entries for a book giveaway from our vault by one of our Booklover’s Bench authors. It runs from September 1-18. Click here to enter! (please note that the link isn’t LIVE until Wednesday, Sept. 1)

Authors on the Bench

Welcome to our fun-tastic Q&A bonus feature of our seven talented Booklover’s Bench authors

AUGUST’S QUESTION

What mystery-based TV show(s) do you enjoy, and why?

Nancy J. Cohen: I love the Hallmark Movie & Mystery Channel because their cozy mysteries are the type I enjoy. These are mostly lighthearted and fun with a dash of romance. I also am a fan of The Brokenwood Mysteries on the Acorn Channel. This series, that takes place in New Zealand, has humor, clever whodunits to solve, and an engaging cast.

Debra H. Goldstein: I’m hooked on Perry Mason re-runs because I love the ensemble cast, the structure of the crime, characterizations, and resolution, and the crafty use of the law that Perry demonstrates.

Cheryl Hollon: As soon as possible, I always pre-order the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books by Louise Penny. They’re emotionally complex, and the characters are three-dimensional and leap off the page. I also love the Vera Stanhope books by Ann Cleeves as well as the TV series. Further afield in New Zealand, I adore The Brokenwood Mysteries along with the Murder Road set in Australia’s outback. Other favorites are the Agatha Christie productions, Midsomer Murders in England, and the Murdock Mysteries set in Toronto.

Diane A.S. Stuckart: I enjoy the old classics like The Rockford Files and Columbo and, of course, Murder, She Wrote. More recently, I’ve watched the newer British mysteries, one of my favorites being Rosemary and Thyme (not only am I a long-time fan of Felicity Kendal, but I also desperately want the vintage Land Rover she drives in the series). I’ve just now started watching Broadchurch, an incredibly smart and atmospheric production.

Maggie Toussaint: I enjoy all the mystery-based TV shows, but my all-time favorite is Monk, the OCD retired detective in San Francisco. I thoroughly enjoy his character and flaws, and yet his intellect and memory surpass his challenges. For a while I took to framing my visual field with my hands a la Monk, not realizing I was doing it as I searched for keys or glasses, until my husband called me on it. The Adrian Monk character portrayed by Tony Shalhoub stands out as a giant in a crowded field.

Lois Winston: Any show where I can’t figure out whodunit. The problem with most TV mystery series is that they often follow a formula. Watch enough episodes, and the formula becomes evident. What keeps me watching is the character development and writing, especially when there’s great dialogue and chemistry between the lead characters. Some of my favorites over the years (in no particular order) have been Big Little Lies, Law & Order: SVU; Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, House (not a murder mystery but a medical mystery), Castle, Burn Notice, Forever, The Avengers, Moonlighting, and Instinct.

Terry Ambrose: I have two favorite mystery-based TV shows. Both are on the Hallmark Channel, and both are favorites. The first is The Gourmet Detective with Dylan Neal and Brooke Burns. The parallels to Castle were what drew me to this set of movies. Sadly, I think this one’s over. The second is Mystery 101 with Jill Wagner and Kristopher Polaha. Great character dynamics and I usually don’t see the ending coming.

 NOW IT’S YOUR TURN–WHAT’S YOUR FAV MYSTERY TV SHOW?

 

 

Let’s Talk with Maggie Toussaint

Dressage Horse or Bucking Bronc?
By Maggie Toussaint

The gait of a horse can be compared to story writing, editing, and even marketing. During the creation of a story world and its characters, the initial feeling authors have is often prancing or flighty. Authors shy away from some ideas and gallop like the wind toward others. Along the way of getting the first draft composed, we settle into our conception of the main characters and the story world, which I liken to a contented canter.

Sometimes, ideas really sync, and the story flow becomes a dressage horse so that the momentum is precisely choreographed to a music only the author hears. Other times a story can fight the author like a bucking bronc, letting us know that our preconceived ideas are wrong, wrong, wrong.

In my experience editing is like a bumpy trot. Words need polish, sentence construction needs variation, and every scene needs to add to the main plot (in my case a mystery) or the subplot (for me, that’s the main character’s personal growth arc). If you’ve ever cleaned horse tack, and I’m talking about a deep clean here, you can understand some of what the author goes through with the scrubbing and polishing of a story. Some parts clean up easily, some require more elbow grease. But once it’s ready, it is a thing of beauty.

Have you experienced a horse changing gait? If they are speeding up, their hooves cover territory quickly until they reach the desired stride, then their speed levels out. When they slow down, they transition from a gallop to canter, then they hit a few bounces of trot before they walk. In the same way a regular horse/pony can’t go from 0 to 60 (or the reverse) without transitioning, a story needs bridges to move the characters from one scene to the next. In a writer’s world this changing of the tension or conflict level is known as pacing, so there’s another parallel to the world of horses.

Ever since the pandemic, many writers have struggled, much like horses off their feed. We want things to go back to normal, only we can’t make it happen. Days, weeks, and months passed as we stared at the blinking cursor as if words would magically appear on our monitor screens. Much like a bucking bronc, our imaginations want assurances that it is okay to be creative. With varying success, writers find the trail from the pandemic wilderness and once again go through their story paces.

This month I find myself nearing the end of an extensive edit on a book completely written during the pandemic. It needed a lot of work, but then so do all my books at this stage. Editing is my friend, much like a kindly trainer who uses encouragement to keep a horse moving in the right direction. Once the book is ready, I’ll send it to my agent, and we’ll see what happens. I’m hoping it will be a dressage horse and not a bucking bronc! As a bonus for you, here’s a recent dressage competitor video snippet in the Tokyo Olympics as seen on Twitter:

For a chance to win a print (US mailing address only) or ebook copy of SHRIMPLY DEAD, share something about horses. It can be where they race, what they eat, a breed of horse you particularly like, anything goes as long as the word “horse” is in your comment!

Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

This Will Definitely Go in a Book!
By Lois Winston

After our recent move from New Jersey, we’re now settled in at our new home in Middle Tennessee. If you own stock in Lowes, Home Depot, or Amazon, my husband and I are most likely responsible for the recent increase in your portfolio. I shudder to think what our next credit card bills will look like!

I thought the real estate market in the NY Metro area was crazy, but I didn’t expect it to be worse in metropolitan Nashville. The house we bought went on the market on a Friday. We had an appointment to view it the next afternoon. At that point the owner already had five offers and was making a decision at three o’clock. After touring the home, we had about twenty minutes to submit a sixth offer before her deadline.

When you’re under that kind of pressure, you don’t have time to do a deep dive into the nooks and crannies of a house. The house is only seventeen years old, and it ticked off most of the boxes on our must-have list. But we were in for more than a few shocks when we did our walk-thru prior to taking possession last month.

The seller is a single parent of two teenage boys and a dog. She freely admitted that she pulled the batteries out of the smoke detectors when they beeped and never bothered to replace them. (“I guess that makes me an awful mother?” she asked with a shrug of her shoulders and a giggle.) Once I heard that, nothing I discovered surprised me. Here are but a few examples:

Food that had spilled inside kitchen cabinets was never cleaned up and had eaten away at the wood base and fossilized into rock-hard masses.

The granite kitchen counters are full of gouges and cuts, as if they were used in place of cutting boards. I don’t want to know what they were doing to create quarter-inch pock marks on the island.

I do remember looking inside the oven when we toured the house. It was clean. Apparently, after she had an agreement of sale in hand, she didn’t bother cleaning up any spills, which continued to bake onto the oven interior and wire racks during the months between the acceptance of our offer and the day we took possession.

At some point after the home inspection, she also dropped something heavy in one of the bathroom sinks, causing fine cracks in the bowl. Accidents do happen, though. But it would have been nice if she’d cleaned up the mascara she spilled in the sink at some point afterwards. Now the cracks are black. Straight bleach failed to get rid of them.

Nearly every square inch of wall space was covered with photos and kitschy framed sayings, from floor to ceiling. No care was taken in removing them. They were simply yanked off the walls, the picture frame hooks and nails pulling away wallboard. As I write this, my husband is walking around the house with a can of spackling compound, but he’ll need to haul the ladder in from the garage to get the holes near the 9-foot ceilings.

Star-Trek type adhesive LED light strips ran around the perimeters of the second-floor rooms. We tried various ways to remove them, but nothing worked that didn’t also pull off chunks of paint. The photo shows what the walls now look like after the strips were removed in one room. (That’s me on the left and my great-grandparents on the right.)

We had hoped to wait a year or two before painting. So much for best laid plans…

I’m currently finishing up the tenth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, but I’m thinking ahead to the next book in the series. I may just have to base a victim on the former owner of our new home. I need the catharsis of killing off that woman—at least on the page.

Did you ever encounter surprises when moving to a new home? Share your experiences for a chance to win a print copy (U.S. residents only) or ebook of either Death by Killer Mop Doll or Revenge of the Crafty Corpse.

Also, while I have your attention, our Booklover’s Bench August contest is live now through Aug. 18. Enter for a chance to win a free mystery! Click here to enter.

Let’s Talk with Diane A.S Stuckart

A Dog’s Life…
By Diane A.S. Stuckart

Today is “Work Like a Dog Day”. Never heard of it? Neither had I, though apparently it’s a holiday meant to honor those who put out extra effort on the job. Or, ha ha, maybe it’s meant to shame the rest of us who don’t. Because, if you think about it, just how hard does your typical canine work? Now, I’m not talking about farm dogs or therapy dogs, or K-9s, or other pups trained specifically to aid humans. I’m referring to your basic fur babies – the ones who hang out in the house while YOU go off to work each day so you can earn enough scratch to keep them in kibble and squeaky toys.

These are the same dogs that will spend the afternoon lounging on your bed (often tucked under the covers with fuzzy face on your pillow). The same little beasts that will shamelessly snatch a hot and fluffy pancake off your breakfast plate during the millisecond that your back is turned (I’m looking at you, Miss Nina the Italian Greyhound!). The very canines that, at least at my house, get a treat from their human daddy when they do nothing more than obey the command to “look cute!” Seriously, if reincarnation is a real thing, I want to come back as one of my dogs, because they don’t do a lick of work around the place (pun intended).

Okay, I take it back. My pups do earn their keep one way besides simply being loyal and loving pets. And that’s by serving as inspiration for the various canine characters in my books.

The king of doggie inspiration is my dear and recently departed Italian Greyhound, Ranger. He became a character in my second Leonardo da Vinci mystery, Portrait of a Lady, starring as Pio the Hound. My editor sent his picture to the book’s cover artist and, voila, Ranger also became a cover dog! I bought the original artwork, and the rendition of Ranger as Pio hangs on our wall to this day. He added such warmth to the story that Pio made a return appearance in the third Leonardo book, A Bolt from the Blue, with a promotion to the great master’s own pet. Not bad for a mild-mannered dog from Oklahoma, huh?

But Ranger wasn’t the only one of my dogs who found literary fame. Mattie the Aussie from my Georgia B&B Mystery series is based on two of my own Australian Shepherds, Matilda and Oliver. The real-life Mattie was one of the smartest dogs ever (my husband actually saw her move a ladder over to the cats’ outdoor raised feeding station, climb it, eat the kitty food, and then move the ladder back!). And Oliver was the most good-hearted dog I’ve ever known, befriending every human and pet he met. While both pups have long since crossed the fabled Rainbow Bridge, they live forever in my books. (As a side note, go to my website www.dianestuckart.com to find out why a Border Collie is posing as Mattie on my book covers.)

So, happy Work Like a Dog Day to you! Be sure you spend some time napping or snagging pancakes off other people’s plates, or simply looking cute?

Do you know a dog who works like a dog? Tell us about him or her, and you’re automatically entered in a drawing to win an epub version of Peaches and Schemes featuring Mattie the Aussie and her new friend, Gustopher the Goldendoodle. Deadline to enter is midnight Sunday.

Also, while I have your attention, our Booklover’s Bench August contest is live now. Enter for a chance to win a free mystery! Click here to enter.

Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

Summer Blockbusters
by Nancy J. Cohen

Summer used to be the time for blockbuster movies. As June approached, you looked forward to some of your favorite franchises returning with long-awaited sequels. You’d buy tickets and watch the films in darkened, air-conditioned theaters while munching on popcorn or Sno-Caps.

The pandemic brought a halt to movie releases last season. Now they’re back, but I don’t know if I’m ready to sit in an enclosed theater with other patrons. I’m mostly looking forward to The Jungle Cruise based on the Disney ride and arriving on July 30th. But it runs only an hour and a half. That doesn’t seem worth the price of two tickets.

However, for a premium price, I can watch it at home on the Disney + Channel. The snacks would be a whole lot cheaper. And I could take bathroom breaks whenever I want while pausing the film.

Have we become so accustomed to viewing movies at home now? Or are you ready to venture out for the theater experience? It’s still more exciting to view a film at the cinema as it becomes an event you can share with family or friends.

What movies are on your list for this summer?

Characters on the Bench

Welcome to our brand new 4th Monday Q&A feature for our fab cozy authors!

July’s Question
What outrageous character names tickle your fancy?

Terry Ambrose: I’m terrible with outrageous character names! However, I’ll give this a go. How about a femme fatale named Scarlett Ribbons? Or a boss who was called Malum Dictatum? The psycho could be Doozy McCoozy. And a stalking ex could be Folle McVey.

Nancy J. Cohen: The most outrageous character names I’ve created are in DEAD ROOTS, #7 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Champagne Glass is the social events coordinator at the haunted Sugar Crest Plantation Resort. She speaks in an effervescent voice and has a bubbly personality. George Butler is the staid hotel manager who wears tailored suits to match his proper manner. Seto Mulch is the groundskeeper whose name reflects his job. “Brownie” Butterworth is the resort’s pastry chef. Wanda Beake, an avid bird watcher, acts as tour guide. And finally, Dr. Rip Spector is a paranormal investigator looking for spooks.

Debra H. Goldstein: I’m horrible at making up names – especially outrageous ones. That said, I sometimes phrase something in a manner that creates an outrageous name or phrase. For example, in the acknowledgements of one of my Sarah Blair books, I thanked one of my beta readers by writing he “is a master beta reader.”

Cheryl Hollon: Shylo Drew is the perfect name for a reluctant amateur sleuth who is too curious for her own good, or she could be Nancy’s younger, smarter sister. Bobby Clueless would be the bumbling police constable in a small British village. Dewey Lids is perfect for the femme fatale accused of murdering her gangster boyfriend, Aye Dunnit.

Diane A.S. Stuckart: As an author I try not do dip too deeply into farce or cliché when it comes to monikers. Instead, I give my characters names that are a step above “John Smith” and “Jane Doe” but are names you’d find in real life. That said, the female antagonist in my short story, The Shape of Things, was named Tiffany Glass, which I think would also work quite nicely for a femme fatale. Any evil boss would have to be Cash Ledger; the psycho would be Thurston Sharp; the stalking ex would be Beatrice “Bea” Ware; and the BFF would be Sally Friday, just because that’s such a chipper name.

Maggie Toussaint: I like Lovely Divine for the femme fatal, Frank Fearsome for the evil boss, Luna Tic for the psycho, Bess Friendly for the best friend, and Knight Walker for the stalking ex, and Dix Daring for the detective.

Lois Winston: Gee, the best ones have already been taken—Natasha Fatale, Boris Badenov, Dudley Do-Right…but here goes. Femme fatale: Bea Guiler; Evil Boss: Griede Cunning; Psycho: Villin Nutter; Best Friend: Faith Friendly; Stalking Ex: Rush Savage; Thief: Rob Steele; Female Sleuth: Scout Sharpe; Hero: Beau Knight; Heroine: Belle Lovely; Victim: Ash Underhill; and, Detective: Whit Braner.

You’ve read our “on the bench” responses. Now it’s your turn! Test your author chops and comment with an outrageous name you create.