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We are thrilled to have Ereader News Today featuring Happy Homicides: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries

Happy Homicides: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries is an anthology written by twelve cozy mystery authors, including me 🙂 The collection is available for pre-sale now, and will be available October 15. 

It is only $.99 (that’s right, less than one dollar), and includes a link to download bonus material: recipes and crafts. 

You can get more details by clicking Ereader News Today for the Amazon link, or visit the Happy Homicides booklaunch page for other ereader options.

Visit LindaGordonHengerer.com to sign up for my newsletter and receive two free gifts. I send out news and recipes several times a month.

Writing Fiction: Murder Victims

What would a murder mystery be without a death? If it happens off the page, it’s a cozy mystery. If you see the death happen on the page, through a character’s viewpoint, it could be a thriller (like the Jack Reacher series written by Lee Child). 

How does a writer decide who the victim will be? In some cases, the victim’s name can be nominated by friends or family. Lisa Gardner has a contest to Kill a Friend, Maim a Buddy. Some writer’s auction off the opportunity at a fundraising event. The name is separate from the person’s appearance or traits. 

In my case, any person who really annoys me or is too stupid to live is a potential candidate. I may take certain aspects of that person, but only I will really know who the inspiration was. Enough details will be changed to prevent a lawsuit for libel. In the romance genre, the joke was that the best way to avoid being sued was to give the character a small penis. Who would want to claim that identifying aspect?

Some characters die to move the story forward. These are typically minor characters, who may be in one story. J.K. Rowling killed off one of her recurring characters in the Harry Potter series, and fans mourned his loss. 

Some characters die because the author is tired of them. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, only to bring him back to life after the public demanded more Sherlock. Killing off a character for good works best when there is a body. In this case, Sherlock disappeared into the water beneath the falls, and the body wasn’t found. Presto, he reappears, and lived again through many stories.

Every mystery author has their own way of dealing with death.

I’d be interested in hearing about yours.

Double Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

After making Coconut Chocolate Chip Macaroons, I started thinking about making chocolate macaroons. Everything’s better with chocolate, right?

I thought about the best way to do this, so experiment one was to use cocoa powder instead of using melted chocolate. The results were tasty, and my guinea pigs were guests at a 6-year-old birthday party. The plate wasn’t totally empty by the time we left, but there had been birthday cake, and there were very few macaroons left that I felt confident this recipe is good.

At some point, I’ll probably try this recipe with melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder. I usually have cocoa powder on hand, so wanted to try that first.

Judge for yourself, and let me know what you thought 🙂

Double Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Makes 5 dozen (depending on size; I use the small ice cream scoop to get this many)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 16:30 minutes/sheet pan of small macaroons; 18-19 minutes for the larger ones (using a regular sized ice cream scoop)

1 14 oz bag of sweetened, flaked coconut (can be toasted at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or used right out of the bag)
1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 t vanilla
1 pinch of Kosher salt
1 t coffee powder
2 T cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Dark Chocolate)
1 C mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 355 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, salt, and coffee powder. Once these ingredients are well combined, add in the cocoa powder. Mix thoroughly. Add the coconut, and stir to coat. Add the chocolate chips, and combine.

Using two teaspoons, two tablespoons, or an ice cream scoop, portion out cookies. On a half-sheet pan, I usually get 5 across and 6 down when I use the small ice cream scoop (30 per sheet pan). This recipe fills two full, and one partial, half-sheet pans. I occasionally make 5 or 6 large cookies, just to speed up the process. I find that a mix of small and large macaroons on the dessert platter look inviting.

I tried an experiment using a mini-muffin tin. You’ll notice that a few of these have a cup shape, versus the mound shape from those cookies baked on parchment. I liked the taste (these came out chewier), but it was harder to get them out of the muffin tin. I used a chopstick to loosen the edges, and some came out easier than others. Those broken macaroons were used as quality control samples (my husband and I enjoyed them).


Writing Fiction: Developing Characters

Developing characters is a job. You create out of whole cloth, or you cannibalize traits from people you know or have seen. What else can you do, to make three-dimensional characters readers fall in love with?

One method is to write a short story about them. This is not for publication, although Jennifer Crusie has published hers (Crazy People: The Crazy For You Stories), but is a tool for you to get to know your characters better. 

The objective is just to think for a few moments about your character, and then write several pages about them. Some things will bubble up from your subconscious (Jennifer Crusie calls them the girls in the basement), and you’ll be surprised at what useful bits will result.

I use various methods. I think of actors/actresses who would be cast in the movie, just for the visual of what the character looks like. I think of people I know and borrow traits from them. I do a Tarot spread (see the Creating Characters post), which is a seven card spread that looks at the following:

1. Character’s Past
2. Character’s Present
3. Character’s Future
4. Character’s Secret/Subconcious Influences
5. Character’s Hopes/Fears
6. Character’s Worldview
7. Character’s Worldview Continued

This gives me something unexpected to think about. Whether I use any of the information from the Tarot spread, I always have something come up that hadn’t occurred to me. That’s the point of any character-building exercise: Think outside of the box, and make your characters as real as you can.

One way I know my writing has improved is that my character’s aren’t cartoons. In the beginning, they were extremes: of bad traits, of good traits. Real people are a mix of good and bad. 

Just FYI – mystery writers kill the people who annoy them in real life (fictitiously, of course). 

Let me know what you think of these methods, or if something else works for you!

Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry

I’ve been posting desserts for the past few weeks, and it’s time to change it up 🙂

I love using puff pastry – it’s endlessly versatile, it can be used for both sweet and savory dishes, and it’s easy to create a dramatic dish. Best of all, it’s easily obtainable at the grocery store.

This is a fast and easy meal; I had it on the table less than an hour after walking in the front door. The key is to plan ahead at least one day, to give the puff pastry time to defrost. It is best to defrost it overnight in the refrigerator; it can be harder to handle if it defrosts unevenly.

Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry

Serves 2
Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 25 min

1 sheet from a defrosted package of frozen puff pastry
2 T whole grain mustard (or your favorite)
2 T fig preserves (optional)
4 slices of baked ham
4 slices of Gouda cheese
1 egg, beaten with 1 T water

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 

On a piece of parchment paper, lay out the sheet of puff pastry. Use a rolling pin to smooth out the seams. Loosen it from the parchment paper. Lay the parchment paper in a baking sheet, and put the puff pastry on it. Mix the mustard and fig preserves together; brush over the puff pastry, leaving a 1″ border. Lay the cheese in one layer over the mustard and preserves; lay the ham over the cheese.

Brush the egg wash all around the border. Carefully fold one half of the puff pastry/ham/cheese over the other half; crimp the edges to seal. Brush the top with egg wash, and cut slits in the top to vent.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit on a cutting board for a few minutes before cutting.

Delicious with a green salad, or some fruit. If you are serving more than two people, double the ham, cheese, mustard, and fig preserves. Use both sheets of puff pastry, filling the bottom of one and topping with the other. Cooking time remains the same.

Dying for Holiday Tea: A Beach Tea Shop Novella

Tomorrow is the pre-sale date for Happy Homicides: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries! What’s it all about? 

The description on Amazon, courtesy of Joanna Campbell Slan, says it best: “It’s a huge collection of heartwarming, brain-puzzling, and character-driven traditional mysteries that’ll keep you entertained for hours. (At 213,000 words, this is 627 pages of reading material!) Plus, you can email to get a FREE Bonus File with recipes and holiday craft ideas. Celebrate the holidays with stories by these thirteen bestselling and award-winning authors: Joanna Campbell Slan, Neil Plakcy, Lois Winston, Annie Adams, Jenna Bennett, Nancy Jill Thames, Sara Rosett, Camille Minichino, Nancy Warren, Linda Gordon Hengerer, Joyce and Jim Lavene, and Teresa Trent.”

Fans of Joanna Campbell Slan‘s Kiki Lowenstein and Cara Mia Delgatto will love the two stories in this anthology. Love dogs? Neil Plakcy‘s golden retriever Rochester makes an appearance and solves the crime in “Dog Forbid.” Joanna and Neil are long-time friends and fellow Mystery Writers of America-Florida Chapter members.

“Dying for Holiday Tea” is my story.  Sisters Danielle, Chelsea, and Alexandra Powell rejoice when Alex finds their grandmother’s old recipe book—and plan to bake her gingerbread for their upcoming holiday tea. But someone else wants the recipes and is willing to kill for them. Can the Powell sisters cook up a way to catch a murderer?

Let me know if you love cozy mysteries, or prefer murder with a harder edge.

S’mores Tarts

S’mores. I have fond memories of eating these at Girl Scout Camp and after barbecues or cookouts. If a grill was still warm, and we could toast marshmallows, we made s’mores.

Several years ago we had friends over for dinner. As a throwback to childhood, I bought marshmallows, chocolate bars (some with almonds – delicious nutty goodness!), and graham crackers. It had been years since we’d had them, and it brought memories racing back.

Flash forward to May 2015. Going to a Memorial Day party where kids might outnumber the adults, and I thought about how to make s’mores portable. I have used the small graham cracker tart shells in the past, and decided use them this time. 

They were a hit with kids and adults!

S’mores Tarts

Makes 12

2 C small marshmallows
Chocolate ganache (see recipe posted 8/27/15)
Marshmallow cream
12 graham-cracker tart shells

Place the tart shells on a baking sheet. Place 3-5 mini marshmallows in the bottom, and top with chocolate ganache. Chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and place a dollop of marshmallow cream on the cooled ganache. Place baking sheets under the broiler, and broil until the marshmallow cream has warmed up and turned brown. Remove from oven and eat now or later.

Next time I make these, I’m going to use a torch to brown the marshmallow cream. It will be easier to evenly brown the tarts.

Are you ready for some Football!!

All right, sports fans, the regular football season starts Thursday night! Break out your team colors, ice down the beers, and plate up the nachos. 

My father used to say, “Any team can beat any other team on any given day.” As a New York Giants fan, I certainly know the truth of that, and so do the New England Patriots

The season starts all bright and shiny, no disappointing losses spoiling the win-loss column. The must-win games are in the future, the injuries taking out key players haven’t happened yet, and the weather hasn’t adversely impacted any games. 

We have “Did you see that?” moments in our future. We have “I can’t believe that just happened!” moments, for better or for worse. 

ESPN and NFL Network are on Sunday morning. Who am I kidding – ESPN is always on, every morning. NFL.com is a great resource for score updates, stats, standings, and so much more. 

I wrote American Football Basics because I thought more women would enjoy football if they understood it. In my experience, it’s hard to get an explanation of something that just happened in the heat of the moment.

Throughout the season, I’ll post recipes for fan favorite foods – perfect for a tailgate party, whether at home or at the stadium.

Let me know if you have any football questions!

Strawberry Cream Pie

Chocolate and strawberries, strawberries and cream. My mouth waters just thinking about putting those flavors together. I like taking proven combinations, and seeing if I can give them a twist to put my own spin on them.

Case in point: I was looking at Pinterest and saw a recipe for strawberry pie. I wanted to make it for a cookout I was going to, and had chocolate ganache leftover from making S’mores Tarts. The idea came together, and this is the result.

Strawberry Cream Pie

1 9″ pie crust (I used a store-bought chocolate crust)
Macerated strawberries (See recipe posted 7/30/15)
Vanilla pastry cream (See recipe posted 7/23/15)
Chocolate ganache (See recipe posted 8/27/15)

Put 1/4 cup chocolate ganache in the bottom of the pie shell, and spread out. Chill for 15 minutes.

Spread a layer of strawberries over the ganache and cover with a layer of pastry cream. Repeat until the pie shell is full, ending with strawberries. Chill until firm, at least three hours.

Serves 8-12