Gourmets and cooking-show fanatics will shake their heads at this post, but I must share the story of the first dinner I cooked for my boyfriend (now my husband of many years). We were sophomores in college and had only been dating for several months. Yet, somehow we both knew this was the one. Keep in mind, any time my mom tried to teach me to cook I would run in the other direction. Even chemistry homework appealed more than anything in the kitchen. But when Ken asked me to fix him dinner during Christmas vacation, what did I say? Sure, why not? After all, how hard could it be? I packed all the ingredients from grocery store into my car and drove to his house. The rest of his family would be out for the evening. Did I take a cookbook? Of course not, since my mother didn’t own one. She’d learned everything from Grandma Ellis who also never wrote anything down. Ken chose fried chicken and potato salad as his favorite meal. I added iceberg lettuce with bottled dressing and green beans straight from the can—no butter or seasoning—to round out the meal. I breaded and fried the chicken, then kept turning the pieces in the skillet until I set off the smoke alarm. After all, I had no idea when they were done. But the extra crispy chicken turned out better than my potato salad. Since I had no idea when the potatoes might be cooked, the result resembled mashed spuds with tiny pieces of celery, onion and hard-boiled egg. But Ken loved my dinner. He not only cleaned his plate but raved about everything. Maybe it’s not surprising since I was cute-as-a-bug and he was enchanted. But here’s the best part: When his parents and sister returned from the movies, they all took plates and ate the leftovers. In fact, my late mother-in-law’s exact words were: “Oh, my, you better not let this one get away. Any girl who cooks like this is a keeper.”
I went home that night thinking I was a good cook. It would be some time before I found out the truth. But Ken proposed that Christmas and we marred six days after college graduation. I still miss my mom and my mother-in-law. They both taught me that unconditional love is more important than anything that goes into your stomach. Before she passed away, my mom did teach me to cook a few of her special recipes, but every now and then I still set off smoke alarms…just for old times’ sake.
You may pre-book at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Amish-Sweet-Shop-Emma-Miller-ebook/dp/B07BVGY2HD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536951371&sr=8-1&keywords=the+amish+sweet+shop&dpID=5143TwRcd%252BL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch
What first comes to mind if someone mentions the television show, Hawaii 5-0? The muscular actor who plays Commander Steve McGarrett, or perhaps a clever plot twist in an episode involving identity theft? More likely it’s a visual of tanned young surfers riding the perfect wave to the shores of Waikiki, or perhaps a volcanic peak rising from the mist above the rainforest. How about NCIS – New Orleans? Those who’ve seen the show might picture Scott Bakula chasing a murderer through the crowd of perennial spring-breakers on Bourbon Street, or maybe tracking a psychopath by airboat through the gator-infested bayous of Cajun country. Most TV shows and movies rely on setting for more than just backdrop. The setting becomes as integral to the story as protagonists and villains.
Yes, movie and television rely primarily on visuals, but books paint pictures in the minds of readers. Consider the imagery created by Michener’s South Pacific, John Grisham’s The Testament, or Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Could you imagine moving Oliver Twist from the slums of London to the heath-covered Scottish highlands? I don’t think so. Setting can be either protagonistic as in Jane Eyre or Under a Tuscan Sun or antagonistic as in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Whether creating a romantic spot to rekindle the flame of lost love, or a dangerous snake pit from which characters must escape, an author must choose carefully to create a memorable world that readers can see, hear, taste and smell.
When an author contemplates a new series, location becomes even more crucial. Consider Jan Karon’s marvelous series set in Mitford, or Debbie Macomber’s lively romances in Cedar Cove. One of my favorite series by Nevada Barr involves Anna Pigeon, a federal park ranger engaged to an Episcopal priest. Mystery series particularly benefit by a change in locale as characters adapt to new challenges, both natural and man-made. Personally, I love to travel. I often set stories far from home, making several trips for research and to tweak final details. As my husband and I travel around the South, I find plenty of settings for my books.
For book one of my brand new series, Marked for Retribution Mysteries, I decided Charleston would be the perfect setting. In Hiding in Plain Sight, Kate Weller rents a room above an Italian restaurant owned by a handsome chef, where she lands in the middle of a family feud with robbery, arson and murder for the daily specials. Available in hardcover or in e-book, including B&N and Amazon.
Summer is my absolute favorite time of year. And although there are lawns to mow, gardens to weed, and extra laundry to wash, just about everyone has a shady spot to sit with a glass of lemonade and read. For me, it’s my screened-in porch where I read, work, or simply watch the deer coming and going as the sun sets. When I know friends will be dropping by, I brew a batch of iced tea, mix up some lemonade and bake this luscious treat. Bake two and freeze one, so you’ll be ready when neighbors arrive unannounced. Just remember to take it easy…after all, it’s summer! Mary Ellis
Fresh Lemon Sheet Cake
1 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick)
Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to creamed ingredients alternate with 1 cup milk. Next add in the juice of ½ lemon and about 2 tsp lemon zest. (Optional: a few drops of lemon food coloring) Fold in 2 well beaten eggs last.
Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees – your oven temp may vary)
For approximately 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Hint: This cake is great with lemon sherbet for a cool summertime treat or you can frost with a lemon butter frosting…
LEMON BUTTER FROSTING:
Cream 3 tbsp room temperature butter
Blend in 2 egg yolks
Stir in 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind (zest)
2 tbsp lemon juice
Now, go find a shady spot, along with a good book to read!
HAPPY SUMMER! Summer is for relaxing on the beach or next to the pool. Picnics, long car rides on your way to a great vacation. What can you do during those times? Why, read of course! The Suspense Sisters will give you a great group of books, including some awesome audio books. You can win Patricia Bradley’s books, JUSTICE DELAYED and JUSTICE BURIED in audio! E.E. Kennedy is giving away an audio copy of her wonderful mystery, IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER! You’ll also win all three of Nancy Mehl’s Defenders of Justice series in audio. As you sit by the beach, you can listen to FATAL FROST, DARK DECEPTION, and BLIND BETRAYAL! For those of you who like print books, there will be plenty of those too! ALSO FOR YOUR SUMMER ENJOYMENT YOU CAN WIN:
$100.00 Amazon gift card for additional books! (Or whatever you want!)
A great Suspense Sisters tote bag!
An awesome towel for the beach or the pool! And a personal CD player!
For your chance to win, enter below! (All images are representative of the prizes given. Actual prizes might be a little different. U.S. entries only, please.) a Rafflecopter giveaway
Today, help me welcome a brand, new cozy author, Vivien Chien, with book one of the Noodle Shop Mysteries, Death by Dumpling.
Here’s a little bit about Death by Dumpling: The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband. Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead―after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy―to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out―it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.
ME: If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say?
VC: I am a lover of words, a gal who likes to laugh and be silly, a huge fan of doughnuts, and too long-winded to answer this question properly in just one sentence.
ME: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any interesting hobbies?
VC: In my spare time, if I’m not at the bookstore buying all the books I can fit in my arms, I’m playing video games. I love any game that has an intricate storyline and a good amount of action. I’m no stranger to third-person shooters or a good RPG (role-playing game). I’ve found them to be one of the most effective ways to decompress from writing and/or regular daily life. I’ve also recently found myself wildly enthralled with decorative planning. (If you have no idea what that is, have fun spiraling down that rabbit hole.) Becoming a published author definitely requires you to become organized and anyone that knows me can tell you that is most certainly not me. Decorative planning gives me a way to keep my life together and have some fun while doing it.
ME: What was your favorite book as a teen or child?
VC: Any time anyone asks me this question, I struggle with the answer because I have so many that I consider my “favorite.” But here are my top three that often compete for first place:
1. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaretby Judy Blume – This book was such an influential piece of work to me growing up. It stuck with me and I still reference it today.
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryby Roald Dahl – I LOVED this book and wished so many times that Willy Wonka was a real person.
3. Claudia and Mean Janine(The Babysitters Club) by Ann M. Martin – This was the first time as a child that I read a book featuring an Asian-American character and I remember thinking I’d struck gold when I found it.
ME: What genre did you start out writing? Have you changed course? Why or why not?
VC: The first book I ever wrote was modeled after Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I started constructing it when I was in my teens and I had no idea what I was doing. I kept attempting to finish it, but I still had much to learn about the writing process. Later, I attempted to write a chick-lit book that fell insanely flat and I pitched it without so much as a second thought. When I discovered my love for mystery, I knew I’d found my true path. There was no turning back at that point.
(However, that original vampire story still exists in a binder and has transformed many times. It’s now a paranormal mystery and I hope one day it will grace a bookstore shelf somewhere.)
ME: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
VC: The tough criticism I’ve received so far was from someone who said the humor in my first book felt both flat and forced. I think I took this comment to heart more than any others because I pride myself on the ability to relay my snarky humor through my writing. But like any criticism, you take it and use it to your advantage in the hopes it will make your writing better in the future.
On the flip side, the best compliment I’ve received was from a few Asian-American women who thanked me for writing the Noodle Shop series and creating an ethnic character they could relate to in the mystery genre. There are only a few us who have stories featuring Asian-American characters and I had no idea how little the number actually was. I’m proud to be one of the people to contribute to the demographic. My main goal when beginningDeath by Dumpling was to write an enjoyable story with likable characters. I had no idea that Lana Lee would be someone people were searching for. That makes this series all the more special to me.
ME: Any other genres you’d like to try? If yes, what and why?
VC: If I ever got the chance, I would love to write a historical. I have such an interest in two periods of history: 1920s America and any period of China’s Imperial dynasty timeline, with a specific interest in the Tang dynasty. Random, I know, but I find both of these times extremely fascinating and would love to explore them further through writing.
ME: If you could go back in time and do something differently at the start of your career, what would it be?
VC: Even though I’ve been writing for several years, this is the start of my career. If I could go back, I would have started sooner. I spent a lot of time doubting my ability to write a readable book or the plausibility of becoming a published author. Putting yourself (and your creativity) out there for everyone to see is one of the hardest things to do.
ME: What is the most important piece of advice you’d like to give to unpublished authors?
VC: This kind of falls in line with my answer to the question above. Believe in yourself, keep pushing. At times you may not feel like you’re good enough, but keep moving forward until you get where you want to be. I was told many times that this was not an achievable dream, but trust me when I say that is a false statement.
Here’s a little about the author: Vivien Chien first started writing simple stories about adventures with her classmates when she was in elementary school. As she grew up, her love of books and the written word increased, leading to the attempt of her first novel at age 16. After many struggled beginnings and several different genres, she found her passion in the mystery world. When she’s not writing, she can be found frolicking in the bookstore or searching for her next bowl of noodles. She has a soft spot for doughnuts, a healthy love for coffee, and an extreme need to participate in random acts of crafting. She currently lives in Cleveland where she is hard at work on the next book in her Noodle Shop series and writes side-by-side with her toy fox terrier.
Turn on a made-for-TV movie or one of those “reality” shows about adoption and you’ll find adult children in serious angst over being given up. Everyone seems to be frantically searching for natural mothers and birth siblings. Invariably during the program’s second segment, after the commercial break, the viewer meets the long-suffering mother. Apparently she never stopped loving, worrying about, and searching for the baby taken from her or surrendered during a momentary lapse of judgment. These stories have always rung false for me, or at least overly “Hollywood” dramatic.
Do I believe such situations exist in real life? Yes, indeed. But are they the norm as the producers would have us believe? Not by a long shot, in my opinion. I’ve known too many adopted friends and siblings who suffered disappointments or faced disaster after discovering their “roots.” Personally, I hold no grudge or latent hostility for the woman who gave me up, but I also possess no buried affection either. She is a stranger. Throughout my life I’ve been offended by the predictable question: Don’t you want to know who your real mom is? I’ve always replied, “No, because I know who my real mother is—she’s the one who wiped my runny nose, fixed my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and put up with my sassy mouth as a teenager.
As a writer who was adopted from Children’s Services as an infant, I chose to explore this issue from a different viewpoint…as the woman who gave up her child. In Always in my Heart, my novella from An Amish Miracle, Hope Bowman believes God punished her for giving up her firstborn son and because she hid this secret from her husband. Although Hope is thankful for three daughters, she still prays for a son. But instead of a new baby, God sends her the fifteen-year-old boy she had abandoned.
Writing that novella several years ago turned out to be therapeutic for me. But in my upcoming release, Hiding in Plain Sight, I chose to tackle this sensitive issue from a different viewpoint, as a biological sibling in need of an organ transplant. I thank God that I haven’t needed a transplant thus far, but this situation happens every day. Although my adoptive parents were the only ones I ever knew and as “real” as birth parents to me, other adoptees might choose a different path. I hope you’ll enjoy my Amish novella or my next book, Hiding in Plain Sight, about two young women brought together to save one life.
The award-winning Always in My Heart (novella) is available in Kindle from Amazon, or in the paperback anthology,An Amish Miracle from Harper Collins Christian Publishing.