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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Amy Alessio and Hearts & Daggers by Margot Justes

I would like to introduce my partner in crime, or Hearts & Daggers.

Amy is an outstanding YA librarian, an author, a collector of vintage cookbooks, and Amy offers very successful cooking & cookbook programs to Libraries-successful as in room filled to capacity-successful. Did I forget to mention that Amy is also a wife and mother? I have no idea how she does it, maybe via osmosis some of her energy will rub off on me. Amy was the driving force behind Hearts & Daggers, and I'm absolutely delighted to introduce Amy to margotsmuse.

Thanks so much to Margot for letting me discuss my vintage cookbook and crafts fixation and how that resulted in the novella I wrote as part of the Hearts and Daggers Valentine’s mystery trilogy. Like Margot Justes and Mary Welk, the authors who round out the trilogy, my story is part of a series. I’ve now published four stories about Alana O’Neill, a bookkeeper at an antiques mall. In this adventure, Alana and her eighteen year old son Elliott try to figure out what happened when a booth owner is murdered. They are in the midst of a Valentine’s weekend festival at the mall. One speaker at the festival is Rebecca Standish from Margot’s story, talking about the art of valentines. Mary’s Caroline Rhodes character also makes an appearance in the story and Alana has a cameo in each of the other novellas.

Alana, much like her author, collects vintage cookbooks. Also like her author, she’s not a great cook. A new cafĂ© is opened in the antiques mall and one of the bakers makes fun of the foods in old cookbooks, something not easily forgiven by Alana. Alana tries to make a fancy chili chocolate candy herself to show she can be modern –with terrible results. Did I mention Blast From the Past, my novella, contains over twenty recipes and variations? One is for eight variations of classic Butter Cake.

All the Alana stories have recipes, and no chili chocolates appear, don’t worry. I’ve enclosed one of the recipes below for you to enjoy. If you like seeing recipes from old cookbooks stop by the Vintage Cookbooks and Crafts blog at my site. I love it when people write in with their own food memories.

Alana has a lot on her mind besides recipes after a booth owner is murdered. She researches how the crime is tied to a diary and a necklace that owner had recently found in boxes of stuff brought in to the mall. Elliott is a big help to her as always but is also busy denying a crush on a lovely teen vintage clothing collector.

It was a Blast for me to do this project with Margot and Mary and we are looking forward to a Halloween trilogy from our series this year as well. I suspect there will be haunted objects in the antiques mall among other odd occurrences.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Punch Bowl Cookies
½ lb. butter
5 Tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour

Form small balls – press with fork or glass. Bake for 10 minutes at 375F. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar while still warm. Makes 3 dozen.

-Amy Alessio

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Fire Within 1st Chapter by Margot Justes

Chapter One
He burned. A fire within consumed him.
He burned for his lost love.
He burned for vengeance. He burned with hatred.
Rebecca Standish was dreaming. She had to be, but the blaring ringing did not relent. She tossed restlessly in her bed, plagued by a recurring nightmare. Like always, it began with the dissonant ringing of the telephone demanding her attention. In the past, the dreams would quickly morph into the hiss and crackle of flames. This time the noise remained incessant.

Drifting slowly toward consciousness, she turned on her side
and put a pillow over her face. Still, the clanging continued. She jerked upright
in bed and froze. Not again. Please not again. It seems just like yesterday and it was three years ago. Her heart raced as she reached for the phone and waited for doom. A monotone voice spoke her name. “Miss Standish?” She listened
with growing dread as her alarm clock twinkled the witching hour in big red
numbers. Midnight. She switched on the nightstand light and mentally prepared herself.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“This is Joe from Acorn security. The alarm at your gallery was triggered.”
“What happened? A fire?” She tightened her grip on the phone. Her knuckles white, she forced herself to relax. Her gallery burned down once before. I can’t go through this again. Please God, don't let it be a fire.
“No, no fire but there is an emergency. The front window in
your gallery was broken. The crash sounded the alarm. The police are on
their way.”
“So am I. Thank you.” She hung up and covered her face with her hands. What now?

She hurriedly dressed and threw a long sweater coat over her shoulders and went downstairs to wait for a cab. Not a tall woman, five-six in bare feet, Rebecca always wore heels which added to her height. She had a woman's body with curves in all the right places and hair as black as night with eyes to match. A self-assured woman who at the moment felt anything but; her gallery was in trouble once again. At least this time it wasn't engulfed in flames. Probably a drunkard with time on his hands. Her hands trembled as she wrapped the sweater securely around her body. Although Rebecca lived only a few blocks from her gallery, an easy walk, but jarred by the call she opted for a cab.

The short ride didn't give her enough time to calm down; her
hands still wobbled when she reached into her purse to pay the cabbie. She
stepped onto the sidewalk in front of her gallery, took a deep breath and
looked at the destruction.

Colossal windows surrounded a huge double door entry, the effect
usually both welcoming and awe inspiring. Displays were artistic, whimsical and
well placed. During the day, passersby often stopped in to look at the
treasures within -- an eclectic array of styles from sculptures and paintings
to anything that caught Rebecca's eye. Not so this morning.

The night sky added to the winter chill in the air and the red,
pink and white light display in the Standish Gallery window foretold of the
upcoming holiday season, Valentine's Day. Rebecca Standish was not one to let a
promotional opportunity slide by. Long ago she decided to honor any and all
holidays in her main display area, and always left the lights on in her gallery
to show off the window displays. Who said artists, patrons, and gallery owners
had no appreciation of the seasonal decorations. If sales increased, she for
one did not complain.

The biggest draw during any holiday season were the perfectly
lit windows highlighting the art. They were magical and transformed the usual displays into an exhibition to be savored for its splendor. Lights captured the colorful nuances of the various pieces adding sparkle to their beauty. Now there was no beauty, only debris and chaos.

From the street Rebecca saw the broken window, the sharp
glass icicles pointing into empty space. Crackled glass shimmers covered the
rest of the window, and the broken shards on the floor of the display area
gleamed in the colorful lights above. In its own way it was an ideal scene for
the upcoming holiday, magical and colorful. The reflected broken glass added a
glittering diamond-like sparkle to the whole scene. Except, this display was
not her idea.

The Chicago police were already on the scene. She walked up to one of the officers and tried to get some information, asked to wait a few seconds she folded her arms
together to keep warm . Less than a minute had passed before a different
policeman approached her and began the interview process. She gave the
essentials, her name, address and cell phone number, before being told to wait

The police would not allow access to the gallery. She wrapped the sweater coat tightly around her shoulders and waited, mesmerized by the activity swirling around her and the sheer power of the commotion, her concentration so complete that she did not feel the bitter cold or biting wind.

Finally allowed inside the gallery, an acrid smell overwhelmed her senses as she walked through the doors and shuddered. She looked around and saw no signs of a fire, just shards of glass littering the floor. Out of the cold, yet she couldn’t stop shivering. Something was very wrong.

The harsh blaring siren of an approaching ambulance and then
sudden silence stopped her in her tracks. She felt her blood turn cold. It
could mean only one thing: someone was hurt. Flanked by two policemen, she wrinkled her nose. “What is that smell?” She tried to take a deep breath but gagged, then tried again. Her stomach tightened and she feared she might hyper-ventilate. One of the police officers saw her problem and rubbed her hand for comfort. Grateful for his
concern, she quieted down a bit. He escorted her further into the gallery and quietly
replied. “There was a burned body tossed in your window. The smell is very
strong but it would have been worse if the fire started here.”
“A body?”

The scent was both sweet and musky. She smelled burning metal, sulfur probably from burning hair, and the overpowering essence of copper and metal from the iron rich blood. It was all so familiar and yet so foreign. She remembered the fires her ex, Kirk, fought and the various smells she associated with him. He would come to her after a particularly brutal fire, the scent of smoke seemed to linger on his body. Rarely did he talk about his job, but when he did, it broke her heart to hear the grizzly details, the smells he described in great detail as if to exorcise his demons. When he couldn't bring himself to hold it in he talked and she listened, grateful that he was willing to share this part of his life with her. Now it all seemed so long ago, but the memories stayed with her.

She thought she was shrieking, but in reality she whispered. The alarm had been turned off and now the quiet was deafening. Rebecca turned and looked at the policeman, expecting fast answers. “Why the ambulance? Was someone hurt as well? No one should have been in the gallery.” A raw and primitive grief overwhelmed her and she wrapped her arms around in self defense as if to ward off an assailant. Someone was burned. Died. How? Why?"
“I’m sorry, Miss Standish…”
“Sorry?” Still in a stupor, she barely held on to her wits.
“No one else was hurt. The ambulance is purely routine, in
case needed.”
“A body. A body?” Her voice was tight. It began to sink in, a body in her gallery. She still fought against it.
“I’m sorry.” The officer repeated again. “It was badly
“Burned? Where? There’s no fire.” Dazed she hardly knew what she was saying.
“The broken window. We don’t know where the victim died. We
know it wasn’t here, the body was put in the tin can and tossed through the

She briefly looked into the huge raised window display area and
felt nausea settle in her stomach. A metal garbage can lay on its side, the burned
amber colors of the can puckered and glowed in the lights. If she hadn’t been told
there was a body inside, she would not have recognized it as such. Numbed by
horror, she stared at the barely visible remnants of a human being.
“I think I’m now ready to go to my office.” She needed something to do.
“No, I’m sorry, not yet. We have to wait for the Medical
Examiner’s Office to finish and arrange for the pick-up of the body,” the
policeman replied. “We let you come in out of the cold, but we're not done yet.”

Rebecca moved out of the way, and stood silently as the Mobile Crime Lab pulled to a stop in front of her gallery. It looked well used, utilitarian and somber. There was a soothing routine to the men’s hideous job. She shook, but not from the cold as
she watched the ME's rep load the body and drive away.

Now the brilliant lights in the window seemed garish and
ghastly in the dark night outside, a fearful display suitable for Halloween,
not Valentine’s Day. She shivered and couldn’t wait to turn off the sparkling lights.
Rebecca stared at the bent and warped portraits that gave
the display an eerie elongated El Greco feel to the exhibit. Finally allowed to
go to the office, she walked slowly, accompanied by her police escort. She sat
down at her desk, put her head in her hands, and rubbed them against her face.
Tears moistened her eyes. She shook her head, exhausted beyond reason, she
needed to figure out what came next. She needed something to do.

Rebecca reached for the phone and called Tracy. Not only was Tracy a friend and co-worker, she dated Homicide Detective Gordon Kerric, and at the moment Rebecca needed a friend or two. A sleepy voice answered at the other end. “Hello.”
“Tracy, it’s Becky, I’m sorry to wake you, but I need help.” She almost whimpered as she finished the sentence. She heard the catch in Tracy's voice.
“Becky, are you all right? What happened? What can I do?”
“I don't know. No. I’m not all right. I’m in trouble. Can you call Gordon? There was a strange accident, for lack of a better word, at the gallery. There is a body…”
“A body? As in…dead?”
“Yes,” Becky whispered.
“I’ll call him. We’ll be there.” Tracy's voice sounded soothing and melodic. “Just
stay calm."

Rebecca replaced the phone in its cradle with trembling fingers. Her despair threatened to overwhelm. Who would do such a thing? Why? Where was the fire? Why
my gallery? She shuddered as she remembered the can, just barely visible as
she walked into the gallery. She didn’t know how long she sat there without
moving, minutes, hours, she wasn’t sure. As she moved her back it ached, she
must have sat in the same position for too long.

In the distance, she heard a new voice in the main gallery. She recognized its deep-timbered pitch. What is Kirk doing here? Who called him? She sat up ramrod straight, gathering her wits about her. He would not see her cry. Absolutely not! Never. She'd done enough crying when he ended their relationship.

Kirk Adams stormed into the office, his gaze instantly focused
on Rebecca. He wanted to offer comfort, hold her, love her, but knew she wouldn’t accept it from him. Not anymore. He saw her valiant attempt to appear normal, as if she was taking everything in stride, but he knew better. He knew her well. Intimately. He loved her, deeply, and he walked out on her.

He destroyed their relationship, fear of rejection because of his insecurities. After all she was out of reach, unattainable, she was Gold Coast, he a firefighter from the South Side of Chicago. Before she could show him the door, Kirk ran. Now, he’d do anything to get her back. Anything.
he just hoped it wasn't too late.
“Why didn’t you call me?” He barked at her. Anger burned in his chest. She hadn't reached out to him. He knew it was his fault. He'd left her first and now when she needed support, he was yelling at her. Great, I’m doing well. I need to yell more. I need to bark at her more. She can barely hold it together. I'm really helping her here. Sarcasm. I need more sarcasm.
“Is there a reason that I should have?”
“Yes,” he hissed.
Looking up at him, eyes clear as glass, she waited for him to continue. Disheartened, his voice chafed gratingly. “I got a call from Gordon. You had time to call him or Tracy. Doesn’t matter which. Why not me?”
“Tracy is a friend, as is Gordon and he's a policeman.”
“That is a burned body in the window. I'm a fire fighter. This is what I do for a
living." He paused, then spat out, "Am I making myself clear? I should have been
called.” Great Adams, keep it up, she'll throw you out on your ear.

Ignoring his barely suppressed fury, she replied, “The
police are handling the case. I’m sure they have, or will call the fire
department, if needed. This is your territory, so if you were needed, you would
have been notified. I’m tired and I have a lot to do. If you will excuse me.”
She got up and abruptly and sat down again as if she couldn’t bear her own
weight. "I have work to do," she repeated. Her voice faded as tears
came unbidden to her eyes. He called it quits and she had too much pride to
wallow in self pity. She managed to move on with her life, although something had
died inside her, leaving her empty. She turned her head away. He certainly
didn't have to know that.

She knew Kirk wasn't sure whether she was crying because seeing him again didn’t help, or because of the tragedy slowly unfolding around her. For her it was a combination of both. She flinched when she saw his hands clinch.
"We need to talk." He said softly, he saw the dark circles under her eyes and
the shallow breaths she took, let him see just how exhausted she was. He
agonized over the break up, and the fact that she didn’t want anything from him.
Not anymore. He was a damned fool for letting her go. My insufferable pride
and confusion cost me everything. “We need to talk." He said again.
"I need to explain … help you. I need to help you.” He repeated.

Rebecca forced herself to remain calm. “I don’t really care
what you need. We’ve already talked, and you made yourself quite clear. And
yes, as you can see, I have moved on. I have a show I need to re-schedule. I
need to get in touch with Minola Grey and find out if the damage done to her paintings can be repaired. And I need a stiff drink. None of which require your attention or involvement.” She got up and brushed right by him. Her shoulder ramrod
straight, she walked to the main gallery . "I have to see what progress is
being made.”

As she ambled past him, the scent of her perfume, the one she wore to bed every night, left Kirk reeling. He remembered holding her, loving her, being inside her, the heaven she provided as she offered her body to him completely. No reservations on her part, she gave everything. She was his. Only his. He missed having her in his life. He was incomplete without her. He began to curse himself for his insipid stupidity and insecurity.
Following her, he decided to get involved with or without her approval. He needed to make sure she would be protected, just in case this was a direct attack on her.

Kirk's bleak memories surfaced again. Memories of the first time he met her, also in the gloomy Chicago winter. Her gallery had burned down and he was the fire fighter on the scene. He remembered her stoicism, her courage and compassion. He remembered how easily they got involved, how it seemed so natural. They stayed home and
ordered in, went to movies, dinners, galleries and art shows. They did all the
things couples do. It seemed so effortless. So comfortable. No pretense.

Yet her glitzy world was never far away, along with the media who followed her everywhere. Rebecca Standish fodder for society gossip, and he a fire fighter from the South Side. Not once did Rebecca make him feel anything but a deep and abiding love. She accepted him as a fire fighter, even though he knew the risk to his life frightened her.

The more deeply he fell in love, the more scared he became. He believed that ultimately she would find someone of her own social standing and let him go. So he did the smart thing to protect himself, and let her go first.
And not well either. Smart move, Adams. Real smart. You're a genius. More like an idiot. That college education you got came in handy. Real handy, Adams.

The courageous man who faced death every time he raced to a fire became a coward when faced with a personal relationship. His inner demons got the best of him and one night over dinner in her apartment, he announced he was seeing someone else. He remembered her face. Ashen. A momentary look of deep sorrow, then distance and finally silence. Her eyes became moist as she lowered her gaze. She closed them briefly, then opened them again. She didn’t rant, didn’t say anything personal. The conversation gravitated toward the mundane. She allowed him to finish his dinner, then got his coat and wished him well.

Her parting words were, “Goodbye, Kirk.” The finality of her voice wrenched his
gut. She didn't say anything else. Just goodbye, and he knew it was the end.
He couldn’t respond. His throat seemed to close and dry up as he remembered standing in the hallway wondering what the hell he had done. He loved her. Deeply. Desperately. And he destroyed them.

Hearts and Daggers by Margot Jutses

Shameless self promotion, Hearts and Daggers is out earlier than expected and is available on In a way, it's sort of like giving birth-plenty of anxiety and wonder. Is anyone going to like it? What should or could have been done differently? Was it ready to go out? Will it ever be ready to go out?

A Fire Within was edited professionally, and edited by my critique partner, and I won't tell you how many time I went over it. Let's simply say, many, many times, it's all part of the writing process. The other part is the one that doesn't want to let go.

However, the voices in my head are persistent, maybe just one more time-but when you're coming up against a deadline-at some point-as a writer you have to say enough, it's time to give birth.

Once you give birth, the trepidation begins, and it really is sort of like giving birth. The wonder of the little person you brought into the world sinks in and then overwhelming terror grips you. The tremendous responsibility for that precious life you have assumed as a parent will last for the rest of your life. Now that is commitment.

At the onset, releasing a new book is giving birth to a new project, but it is only a story and once the butterflies settle down in my stomach, I will think rationally and hope readers will enjoy the story, and feel happy after they read it. It is after all a story and not a lifetime commitment to parenthood.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
Hearts & Daggers
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Projects by Margot Justes

I'm happy to say my novella will see the light of day February 1st, in time for Valentine's Day. A Fire Within along with Amy Alessio's Blast from the Past and Mary Welk's Framed complete the Hearts and Daggers anthology. We're celebrating Valentine's Day in style, by releasing three stories that celebrate the holiday. Hallmark move over.

We talked about the novellas while I was still with Echelon Press, the project fell through, we got busy with life. It seems we never let go of the idea, because we finished the stories, but life continued to move on.

One day I received an e-mail from Amy to see if we were still interested in the project. My immediate response was yes. Yes, I am. Mary said yes, and the anthology was re-born. The next thing we need to do is let everyone know it's out there, or soon will be.

This year I made a resolution I want to stick to-no, not the diet-that is a one day at a time project, and today we won't talk about that. I want to learn how to market on line, follow in the footsteps of Joe Konrath and Rob Walker, fellow Acme blogger.

Yes, I know they are both well known authors and masters in the craft of promoting, and I'm not, but if I'm going to learn, I'm going to learn from the best.

I have an ambitious plan this year to re-release a short story in May, a newly edited version of A Hotel in Paris in June. Paris is lovely in June, well, Paris is lovely any time of year, but I picked June.

I digress here, back to my planned releases, Blood Art, my vampire tale should be all set for Halloween and there is talk we'll do another anthology for Halloween.

The time not spent at my day job, hopefully will be spent in my office, doing what I love to do. Write.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Censorship by Margot Justes

With age comes wisdom and tolerance, at least that is what they say, whoever they are. Well, I find my intolerance for censorship is growing, not diminishing with age.

We accept the most brutal, disgusting and gory displays of our bodies in books, games and television, the more horrific the better, yet a look at a nude picture or painting puts us in a tizzy. Why?

We all come in different shapes and sizes, and we are all beautiful in our own way. The human body is magnificent it its complexity and function.

When I first saw Goya's the Naked Maja, in the Prado Museum in Madrid, I thought about the beautiful shape of the woman, the skin tone colors the artist used, the comfort of the model lavishly displayed on ruffled pillows, the sensual depiction of the female body. All masterfully portrayed by a magnificent talent. That is what I saw. I did not see depravity or pornography. I saw a beautiful painting.

I understand making a choice, if it offends me I don't buy the book, watch the show, or go to that movie. I make the decision to vote with my pocketbook. I make the choice for me alone. I let others choose. I do not tell them what to read, see or look at.

Censorship is wrong. I'm amazed that as an adult someone will have the right to tell me what to read, or what to look at. It should be my choice.

Recently a fb friend showed a nude picture and some were offended, a naked goodness. My response to the offended individuals don't look, but allow me to make my own decision on whether I find it offensive or not.

So much for my 2012 resolution to be more tolerant, in this case, it's not going to happen.
However, hopefully I'll stick to a semblance of a diet. So far that's not looking too good either...ah well, God willing there is always another year.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris