Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Beauty of our Everyday World . . . and of Reading.

It is no new news that many of us deal with daily depression and anxiety. Those of you who know me personally are aware of my own struggles with these minor disorders--and I've been working to find ways to bring more light, happiness, and meaning to my life.
This past weekend, my husband and I went out for a lovely day together at the Henry Doorly Zoo. We keep a yearly membership to the zoo because we live in downtown Omaha, right close to where so many cultural things are--including the zoo. Going to see the animals is always a therapeutic experience for me. It's relaxing, eye-opening, and even enlightening every visit.

As our stay at the zoo was coming to a close, we were heading through the main building containing the Lozier Imax Theater. We noticed that a move was about to start soon, and seeing as we get free tickets as members, we decided to stick around for the showing.

The movie in question was Backyard Wilderness 3D.

I was expecting the usual array of cute animals interacting with one another in their natural environment. While I certainly did get my fill of that, I also had my eyes opened to so much more.
The story of the movie revolves around an average suburban family in upstate New York going about their day to day lives and how they eventually discover the wonder and beauty of the animals, plants, and wilderness right there in their backyard.

We see cute mice, deer, coyotes, frogs, salamanders, and so much more.

For me, however, it caused me to slow down and remember just how remarkable the day to day, in and out of life, really can be.

With everything that seems to be difficult, hard, or evil in our world, there are equal parts of beauty and goodness that go overlooked day after day--and that is the real evil. Missing the good that is always there.

Nature and all its animals keep growing and changing and adapting and moving without ever once stopping to think about politics, war, crime, or religion. They live their lives and do their part to keep the natural world moving.
So, why should we do anything different?

As the film ever so simply states, "In nature, there is no good and bad." How true that is. Everything strives to thrive, to eat, to live.

As I come back to what I said at the beginning, I deal with daily depression. I wake up staring at the blank white ceiling and often wonder what the point of living is. I get on the computer for work and see post after post of sad, depressing, or downright angering news--both real and contrived. I see people act meanly and spitefully in their comments and opinions when there is no reason to. Chronic illness and sickness only push me down further until I can barely stand it any longer.

Well, the truth is, none of us have to or should wander through life in a haze of constant depression. Instead of looking down we can look up and see the wonders that the world does offer--and choose to stop being afraid.
Finally, finally, I realize what drew me to reading and eventually writing cozy mystery fiction years back. It wasn't only the close relationship with my mother, sitting together and watching Masterpiece Theater Mystery, Miss Marple, Agatha Christine, and Sherlock Holmes. It was also the realization that murder mysteries, despite being about one of the worst crime a human can commit, actually focus light on the best and most beautiful parts of our world and our lives.

All the main characters in cozies are people who find joy in life. Either through cooking, knitting, writing, or any other assortment of daily activities, these women (and sometimes men) know how to love themselves, their family (included fur babies), and life in general. Not even something has scary as murder can remove that from their lives.

Best of all, the crime is always solved and safety restored.
Over the past six or so months, I've struggled to write much of anything, finding it pointless. I often find myself wondering what the point is, if any, to writing these stories. All of the negative comments, thoughts, and opinions from a career full of struggling to defend genre fiction come back and weigh down on me.

Then, as I've had all these thoughts and feelings today, the realization dawned. I write these stories not only to remind myself of the goodness and happiness in the world but to share that with you--the readers. If I can help remind you that life is good, give a moment to relax and unwind, or even just a second to escape a hard day . . . then I realize how important my job actually is.
I don't have to be Jane Austen or even the next Joanne Fluke or Leslie Meier (two favorite authors of mine who inspired me to write) to have my work be meaningful. All I need is readers who buy the books and receive something worthwhile from them in their lives--even if it is small.

And all of that just from watching a cute documentary? Life trully is wonderful! And I hope to remember that each morning I wake up to remind myself there is something lovely worth living for.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"Instant" Irish Beef Stew

While my distant Irish roots never carried over very much in my family traditions, St. Patrick's Day has been one of my favorite holidays in recent years--mostly because of all the delicious foods and recipes that come out of Ireland!  One of my favorite things to make every year is this tasty Instant Pot rendition of Irish Beef Stew.

Quick, easy, and delicious, this meal is the perfect addition to any St. Patrick's Day celebration.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Package (about 1-2 lbs) Cubed Stewing Beef.
  • 1 White Onion (Diced)
  • 2-3 Carrots (Diced)
  • 2-3 Potatoes (Diced)
  • 1 Vegetable/Herb Flavored Bouillon Cube
  • 2 (28oz) Cans Tomato Sauce
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Package (1lb) Frozen Peas
  • Garlic Salt (To Taste)
  • Onion Powder (To Taste) 
  • Pepper (To Taste)

DIRECTIONS:
  1. Turn Instant Pot onto saute setting. Place cubed stewing beef in the pot and cook until just browned.
  2. Add the onion. Cook until translucent. 
  3. Add the carrots and potatoes and saute for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often so it doesn't stick.
  4. Crumble up the bouillon and stir it in. (You can add the garlic salt, onion powder, and pepper now if you wish. It helps the flavors marry while they cook. Otherwise, add at the end to taste)
  5. Add tomato sauce, water, and peas. Close the Instant Pot and set it to the soup setting (or 30 min).
  6. When the timer is up, release the pressure valve and allow to come down. 
  7. Add any extra garlic salt, onion powder, or pepper to flavor. Serve with Irish Soda Bread! 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Energizing Coffee Peanut Butter Fudge!

Hello, readers! It has been some time since I last posted here on my blog. I'm hoping to change that by updating at least once a week with recipes, book news, or just little insights into my life as a full-time writer.

As many of you know, I love food! (What cozy author doesn't?) I'm always trying to think up new dishes and treats to make. Baking and cooking offer a great break from writing when my brain is just overworked. What better way to restart our engines than with some coffee infused peanut butter fudge?

This is something I whipped up recently when I realized I was out of chocolate in my house. When I saw I had an excess of Peanut Butter, it only made sense to make it into fudge!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Stick of Butter (1 Cup)
  • 1 16oz Container of Peanut Butter (about 2 Cups)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Tablespoons of Coffee Beans (or grounds)
  • 4-6 Tablespoons of Granulated Sugar (or powdered sugar) depending on your preferred sweetness.
  • Chopped nuts (optional)
DIRECTIONS:
  1. In a microwave-safe mixing bowl, melt the butter for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until it is just liquid. Try not to let it boil. (Alternately, you can do this on the stovetop in a medium sized saucepan on medium to low heat.)
  2. Mix in the peanut butter. Return to the microwave and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute until the mixture is soft and easy to stir.
  3. Add the vanilla to the mixture and stir it in.
  4. In a coffee grinder (or food processor), combine the coffee beans and sugar. Blend on a "fine grind" setting until the sugar looks powdery. (If you are using powdered sugar and preground coffee, you can skip this step. I prefer freshly ground coffee myself.)
  5. Add the coffee/sugar to the peanut butter mixture. Stir until well blended. 
  6. Pour the mixture into a standard bread pan (9x5 inches) lined with parchment paper or buttered along the bottom and sides. (The fudge will come out more easily with the parchment than with just buttering.)
  7. Top with chopped nuts of your choice. I like using pecans.
  8. Freeze for at least an hour. For best results, leave it overnight. 
  9. After it is done setting, cut it into 1-inch squares and store in airtight container in the fridge. If the fudge is left out for more than an hour, it will start to get soft.
For an extra ZING, feel free to add another scoop or two of coffee to the fudge mixture. This may add a slightly bitter flavor, but it compliments the peanuts well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Killer Chocolate Pecan Pie

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, readers! The big day is just around the corner and I know all of us are rushing to get ready. Presents need to be bought and wrapped, food needs to be prepared, and family gatherings need to be organized.

I know just how stressful this time of year can be for all of us, so I therefore also know how important it is to take time for ourselves in all the holiday busyness. What better way to take a breather than to curl up with a blanket and some Christmas cookies with a good book?

Well, you're in luck! My newest cozy mystery, Killer Chocolate Pecan Pie, is out today on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

This story of Yuletide murder is a long time coming. It took a long time to write and had many, many edits and rewrites that needed to be done to make it just perfect. Thankfully, we got it out in time

Here is the book description from Amazon:

‘Tis the season to be…dead?

There is nothing pie and bookshop owner, Bertha Hannah, loves more than Christmas.
Smiling faces in the shops, softly falling snow, parties, presents, and—as always—delicious pie. Bert can’t wait to spend the holiday cuddled up on the couch in front of a warm fire after Jack Frost nips at her nose.


Unfortunately, things aren’t all songs and carols when a bitter rivalry breaks out between the choir directors of her church’s holiday concert. The good-natured warmth of the season turns icy when a church member winds up dead and the number one suspect begs Bert to use her sleuthing skills to solve the case and clear their name. 


Will Bert be able to solve the crime and recapture the Christmas spirit…or will she die trying? 


You can pick up the new Pies and Pages today for only 99 cents!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Combating the Ho-Ho-Holiday Blues With Something a Little Cozy

 Ho-ho-ho, and Merry Christmas, readers! Nothing quite says Happy Holidays like a delicious and comfortable cozy mystery. A little cheer, and little food, and a little murder all mix together so well during the chilliest season of the year.

Personally, I love nothing more than curling up in front of a roaring fire (or in my case this year, a warm radiator) having some hot chocolate and a little popcorn while reading a good Christmas cozy mystery.

As many of you know, I spend my life writing cozies. I constantly am thinking up new ways for people to die as well as new ways to solve said murders. It is a fun if not daunting process.

However, something many of you might not know about me is my constant struggle with depression. Yes, yes, I know. Isn't it so cliche for the writer to fight their inner demons while trying to get their words on the page? Still, it is a real daily struggle that many people have to deal with, including myself. It is as real as fighting off daily migraines, gal bladder pain, back troubles or any other chronic condition.

I'm usually the sort of person who is against sharing personal trauma or struggle online, finding it a hollow attempt at a cry for help most of the time. However, seeing as I consider many of you friends, it seemed okay to do it this time of year--when the season is at its brightest.

As it is for many, this struggle becomes more acute during the holiday season--and this year has been one of the hardest holiday seasons of my life. Hubby is so darn supportive through all of this and I can't thank him enough. He is the light of my life and something to be happy about.

To make sure we get plenty of Christmas cheer together, we've attended the Nutcracker Ballet, gone hiking in the local forest that they string with Christmas lights each year, gone out for festive coffees, tried some seasonal beers, did Christmas shopping together, and so much more. In many ways, it has been an amazing time of happiness for us.

Still, having these struggles also means I write a little slower, my drafts aren't as clean, and the whole process of getting books out to you takes more time than usual. First and foremost, my apologies for that. I prefer to give you guys at least two or three new Christmas books a year, but this time around it looks like I'll only be able to manage one.

Ultimately, I wanted to write this little blog post as a way to say thank you. This is my Christmas card to you. I'm grateful for all the constant support you have given me this year by buying my cozy mysteries. I want to thank you for your patience during this time where I may not be writing as many books as usual. Know that I am never not working. I always have something new in the works--even if it comes a little slower.

Finally, I also want to thank my publisher, Summer Prescott who is always flexible and patient. She always treats me as capable and hard working (things I don't always believe about myself) and that gives me a big boost to get better and better stories out. Also, to my editor Gretchen Allen, who puts up with my minor gripes over edits and is always honest.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and I hope to put out many new books in the new year. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Spicy Christmas Murder

Merry Christmas to one and all! Do you enjoy dark chocolate? How about spicy food? How about spicy hot chocolate on a chilly winter's night? If so, you're in luck. My stand alone Christmas murder mystery is a perfect item to warm you up on a cold evening.

Spicy Christmas Murder is a stand alone reprinting of my cozy mystery contribution to last year's Summer Prescott Books Publishing Christmas collection (which is no longer available). Therefore, I'm thrilled to announce the solo release of this wonderful title!

The main character and business are based off a real woman and her hot sauce company. It is called Crazy Gringa's Hot Sauce. So, go check that out for the inside scoop!

Here is the book blurb:

You'll feel the burn in this exciting Christmas Cozy Mystery!

Hot sauce shop owner, Margo, never expected to find herself having to hide out for her own safety during the Christmas season. When it comes to homicide, however, Sheriff Carlsbad isn't taking any chances. Will Margo be able to help determine just exactly who is trying to hunt her down before Christmas Day, or will she and the sheriff be too late? 


Find out in this intense holiday Cozy Mystery!


Pick up your copy of the book on Kindle for only 99 cents!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

One Cozy Christmas

Get into the Christmas spirit this holiday season with all of us at Summer Prescott Books Publishing by picking up your copy of the One Cozy Christmas box set, featuring new stand alone cozy mysteries by myself, Gretchen, Summer, and Patti. It's out today!

My story is something a littler different than I've tried before and is inspired by the Miss Marple short stories by Agatha Christie which I've been reading in the evenings with my husband. In my new tale, an elderly woman must recall the past few evenings following up to a murder in her local retirement community in order to gather enough clues to pin down the real killer. 

Time in the story jumps from the present, with our main character talking to the police detective, to the past where she interacts with the victim and suspects. As she completes her statement to the police, she begins to solve the case on her own.

Here is the book blurb:

The spirit of Christmas is in the air at Sweet Hills Retirement Community . . . but so is murder.
 

Seventy-nine year-old Agatha Reiner is determined to enjoy this Christmas season. Despite the fact that her only daughter is on the other side of the country, Agatha is making the best of the holiday cheer by eating Christmas cookies, listening to carols, snuggling up with her dog Aki, and crocheting doilies for all her neighbors in the retirement community.
 

Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone is in a festive mood. When Agatha stumbles upon a body, police suspicions turn toward her. It doesn't help that she was presumably the last one to see the victim alive and the detective on the case seems to think she's nothing more than a dotty old woman with a jealous streak.
 

Agatha realizes it is up to her to recount her time with the victim, step-by-step, clue-by-clue, to solve this mystery before she finds herself behind bars for the holidays.

You can pick up your copy of One Cozy Christmas for a limited time on Kindle for only 99 cents! Merry Christmas and happy reading!