Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two-week giveaway!

Author Tristi Pinkston is excited to announce the release of the third novel in her Secret Sisters Mysteries series.

Titled Hang ‘em High, this novel takes place on a dude ranch in Montana. When Ida Mae’s son invites her to come for a visit, of course she brings Arlette and Tansy along with her. They are expecting to spend the week looking at horses, avoiding the cows, and making amends in Ida Mae’s relationship with her son. What they don’t expect is to be stuck on the ranch in the middle of a blizzard and to be thrust headlong into the middle of a mystery.


Help Tristi celebrate her new novel in two ways. First, come participate in the two-week-long blog contest, where you can win a book nearly every single day! All the details are up on Tristi’s blog.

Second, come to the book launch!

You are invited to an

August Authorama!

Saturday, August 13th

Pioneer Book, 858 S. State, Orem

12 – 4 pm

Games, prizes, balloons, face painting,

and Dutch oven cobbler

prepared by world champion cook

Keith Fisher.

Authors Tristi Pinkston, J. Lloyd Morgan, Cindy Hogan,

Nichole Giles, and Heather Justesen

will all be there to sign books.

This is one book launch event

you will not want to miss!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Deleted scenes, chapter 2

Last week I posted the original chapter 1 for my culinary mystery. This is the deleted chapter 2.

The headlights slashed onto my best friend’s face, making her teeth glow white against her caramel-colored skin. She sat on the steps leading up to my grandma’s place, above the empty restaurant. I sighed in relief and parked beside her minivan, feeling at home for the first time in nearly a year. The long drive to Silver Springs, Arizona from Chicago had been grueling, reminding me why I usually flew when I came to visit.

Honey held a plastic-wrapped plate, piled high with the brownies she’d promised. There is nothing quite like a chocolate fix when your world has been turned upside down.

Though we had talked on the phone for over two hours since I left Chicago the previous afternoon—using my blue tooth, since I’m all about safety—just seeing her standing there, a half-gallon of milk sitting at her feet, the goodies in hand, made me feel better already. It had been too long since I’d last made the trip.

I dragged myself from the car, reveling in the warm air—Chicago winters are miserable—and threw my arms around Honey.

“You made it right on time. I pulled in a couple of minutes ago,” she said, hugging me.

“Thanks for being here.” I stepped away and looked her over. The past year had been good to Honey. Her cornrows were longer than last time I saw her—down her to shoulder blades and pulled back on the sides. Her round features, heart-shaped face, laughing brown eyes, and the dimple in her right cheek were reassuring and familiar.

“Like I would be anywhere else! Besides, it gave me a good excuse to avoid the quilt guild meeting again. Mary Ellen is getting so pushy lately!”

It was good to be back. I pulled out my key to unlock the door to the narrow staircase leading to the apartment above grandma’s old restaurant. “Let me get my bags and I’ll be right there.”

I held one suitcase in front of me, and another behind as I scaled the steps. The lamplight fell in pale splashes against the faded yellow paint on the right wall of the stairwell, showing rub marks and chips in a few places. Family portraits and postcards from trips my family had taken littered the walls. The Acropolis, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Egyptian pyramids, and St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia made appearances, many with me and my parents in the corner of the shot.

The little apartment held a slight musty smell. Everything was familiar, and contrary to the pain I’d felt on my last couple of visits, comforting. The room held old, worn sofas covered with afghans Grandma had knitted, the fake plants standing sentinel in the corners and on tables. More faded paint in mint green, more pictures, knickknacks, and a heavy layer of dust covered everything. It was a balm to my broken heart.

At least I’d have plenty of work cleaning the place up again. That should give me time to consider what to do next.

The sound of Honey running water drifted to me from the kitchen as I took the bags to the tiny bedroom I’d always slept in. The thought of moving into Grandma’s much bigger room hadn’t occurred to me until she’d been gone over a year, but I was so rarely here, I hadn’t bothered. Since it would have required going through her personal effects, the bigger space wasn’t worth the time, or the pain it would have dredged up. Now some time had passed, I might be able to face it.

Two sparkling salad plates, now with a couple of brownies on each, and two tall glasses of milk sat on the dusty coffee table when I returned to the living room. Though I considered detouring to the bathroom for a cleaning rag to wipe the table down, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Tomorrow was soon enough.

With a sigh, I kicked off my newest pair of Monolo Blahniks and wiggled my toes. They hadn’t been very practical for the long drive, but they made my feet pretty, and had cheered me up when I’d dragged myself out of the motel bed at the crack of dawn that morning.

Honey picked one up and held it reverently. “How unfair is it that I can never borrow your shoes? I can’t believe your feet are smaller than mine.”

I didn’t bother to point out that I lived on the other side of the country so borrowing opportunities were minimal anyway. “It’s all that coveting you did as a kid. This is Karma blowing back at you.”

She pulled a face at me. “How was your trip?” she asked as she curled up on the long sofa.

Snuggling in on the other end, I reminded her, “I spoke to you less than an hour ago.”

She laughed, her voice like the sound of tiny seashells as they clinked together. She was so feminine, from her short frame and tiny hands to her womanly curves. She even looked the part of a mother of three, though I still struggled sometimes to believe her oldest son was already eight. “So you did. Feeling any better?”

“I’m here, you’re here, and these brownies,” I took a bite and moaned in appreciation over her famous rocky road brownies. Filled with walnut chunks and chocolate chips, topped with melted marshmallows, and slathered with my famous fudge frosting, nothing on the planet tasted better than these babies. “Can we say heaven?” This dessert wasn’t sophisticated enough for my Chicago clients’ palates—at least that’s what the head chefs claimed when I suggested adding them to the menu. But I couldn’t imagine anyone not melting into a puddle of fulfillment with just a single bite—the repeat business would be phenomenal.

We settled into giggles and chat, catching up on all the local gossip, avoiding the topic of Bronson, my oh-so-recently ex-fiancé. There had already been plenty of discussion en route about my anger, disgust and hurt feelings over catching him in a lip-lock with the kitchen manager he knew I hated. Now I needed distraction. I was surprised when there was a knock at the door. Who else knew I was in town?

Honey looked at me like she knew who it was, and felt guilty. “That’s got to be Analesa.”

I searched my memory until the name came to me. I met lots of the locals when I spent summers here with my grandma, but hadn’t seen or even thought about this one in years. “Analesa Plumber?” I remembered the short, freckled little girl who had tried to insert herself in our playtime when we were kids.

“Yes. She was in the store earlier and I mentioned you were coming home tonight.” She stood and moved to answer the door. Honey’s husband’s parents owned a large grocery store just a few blocks down the road and George was well on the way to taking over the family enterprise as his parents moved toward retirement. I knew Honey put in time there now and then between her web design clients, though her son and two daughters kept her busy.

The door opened to reveal a stunning woman with hair falling halfway down her back like a sheet of black satin. The freckles were gone, the pinched look of hunger she’d always carried as a child eliminated. As her willowy frame entered the room, her arms outstretched to me for a hug, as if we were long-lost friends instead of acquaintances who hadn’t spoken in a decade or more. “Tess, I’m so glad to hear you’re home in my hour of crisis.”

I stood and accepted the embrace out of politeness and shock, though I was still wondering what had happened to the little girl I remembered. I also wondered why I was such a good omen in her crisis. That made me nervous. “It’s lovely to see you too, Analesa. How are things?”

“Terrible.” The woman dropped into the nearby loveseat without being invited and snatched a brownie from my plate without asking. “My wedding is in five days.”

“Sounds like you ought to be excited, not upset.”

Analesa took a bite of the brownie and moaned in appreciation. “This is divine. Can I have the recipe?”

“Sorry, family secret,” Honey said as she returned to her seat. We had developed the recipe together when we were seventeen, and two sisters were never closer than we are.

“That’s just too mean of you.” Analesa’s mouth turned down in a moue of disappointment.

“Sorry.” Honey didn’t sound at all sorry. She’d earned a blue ribbon with the recipe at the state fair and we’d made a pact not to share it.

“So you said things aren’t going well with your wedding plans? That’s too bad.” I tried to infuse understanding into my voice, but considering the state of my own love life, I didn’t feel especially compassionate.

“The wedding is going well, except for one thing.” She turned soulful eyes on me. “My cake decorator fell and broke her leg this morning. She’s not going to be able to make the cake! I was aghast when I found out—the wedding is at the end of the week and no matter how many places I called, no one can squeeze me in on such short notice. Not unless I want a second-rate chunk of Styrofoam from the grocery store—no offense, Honey.”

“None taken,” Honey said, without a shred of genuineness.

I smiled at Analesa’s words. I thought most grocery store cakes were rather bad as well, though the ones at Mark’s Food Town were better than average. “How unfortunate. I know how important the cake is to a wedding.”

Analesa grasped my hand with one of hers. She waved the half-eaten brownie in her free hand as she spoke. “So you’ll do it? Please, pretty please. You’re the best. I’ve seen the pictures of your cakes on your blog and Honey said you’d be staying here through the week at least. I know you could save my wedding.”

I suppose I should’ve seen it coming. “I don’t have a license here, or a kitchen, or the right tools.” Mostly, though the selection in my car would do for most designs.

“You could use the grocery store bakery. We have extra space and don’t use all the equipment much through the later part of the day,” Honey offered.

My glare didn’t seem to cow her in the least. “I don’t even have a food handler’s permit in Arizona.”

“That’s not hard to fix. The health department in Prescott has classes on Tuesday afternoon. You could go take care of it tomorrow when you run in to pick up supplies,” Honey suggested so helpfully I wanted to strangle her.

I crossed my arms over my chest. Were they both insane? I came here to mope and bag on men, not to bake cakes for a wedding that was only five days away. Five days. “You can’t be serious.”

“Tess, it would save my life if you did this for me. My wedding will be perfect if I have one of your signature cakes.” Analesa popped the last bite of brownie into her mouth and gave me a pleading look.

I lifted my brows. My signature cakes often took more than four days to create. They required time and preparation, proper equipment, supplies I wasn’t sure I would be able to find in Prescott. However, I looked in her pleading eyes, I couldn’t tell her no. What else was I going to do with my time? “What did you have in mind?”

She grinned in relief and pulled out a picture with four round tiers, each separated with columns and plates, dripping with gumpaste flowers. It was a nice design, doable—if I had three or four more days. The flowers were far more time consuming than people realized, and they had to be dried properly. “I assume your previous cake artist already has the flowers made.” If they were nice, I’d consider using them—this one time.

“She said she hadn’t started anything.”

Seriously? What kind of second-rate pastry chef had she hired? I asked about her timeline, suggested some alterations to the design to ensure I could finish on deadline, and she selected cake and filling flavors. Then I figured a price quote, making sure to add in a fee for the grocery store since I’d be using their kitchen. Though I dropped the cost significantly to what I charged brides through the hotel, I’d added a bonus for the short notice. I’d earn every penny. She gasped when she saw the total, then swallowed hard. I was unrepentant—if she chose to go elsewhere for her cake, it would leave me free to mope, as I’d planned.

She pulled out her checkbook with shaking hands. “I also wondered about a cupcake dessert for the previous evening, but these brownies are fabulous. Could you make them? There will be about twenty of us.”

I figured another dollar amount and added it to the first one. She nodded and wrote a check covering the full price. I’d expected her to balk, and wondered if it would bounce. It must be the cynic in me, but I figured I could cash it before I headed to Prescott for supplies the next day.

When the door shut behind her I turned to Honey, who beamed at me. “See how much we’d love to have you open a cake shop here? You’d stay so busy!” she insisted—as she always did whenever I came to visit, and often when we talked on the phone.

Though I’d been happy working in Chicago—at least until Karen had become the kitchen manager a few months back—Honey was determined that I should move permanently to Silver Springs and open up shop downstairs. I groaned. “Please, can we not start again?” I didn’t need her poking at me when I was already not at my best. If I didn’t shore up my resistance, she might succeed this time.

“Why not? You don’t know where you’re going. You quit your job and don’t have a better offer. You have a little nest egg to set up shop, an international reputation that local hotels and reception centers are bound to be thrilled to have available. And you make the yummiest desserts anyone ever imagined.”

“The restaurant is unsuited to the kind of work I do,” I shot back. I picked up another brownie and indulged in a large bite. Why were we discussing this when I needed serious chocolate therapy? Retail therapy was usually a great solution to a blue mood as well, but considering my current jobless state, picking up a pair, or three, of new shoes was probably not the best idea. Dang it. Discount store specials were not touching my feet.

“When was the last time you looked? I bet it’s better than you think. We should go down right now.” She bounced up and grabbed my arm, pulling me with her.

“Honey, really. I’m tired, I’m cranky, and I’m not going to open shop downstairs.”

She grabbed the brownie from my hand and set it back on my plate, then towed me to the stairwell behind her. Without missing a step, she snatched the spare key ring by the door that went to the restaurant downstairs.

One last segment to post next week. Until then, here are some more great reviews I've gotten on my book, Blank Slate.

Ariel from the Librarian's Bookshelf said "This book had me hooked from the start."

Susan from The Book Bag said: "Okay, so this book starts off prety predictable . . . Hang on, though, Ms. Justesen takes you on a ride you don't want to miss."

"Justesen has written a novel about the power of strength and love." Uniquely Moi Books.

"I was concerned that as the turning point in the book happened that the consequences of the circumstances would be glossed over and again the author came through . . . and wrote a great book." Read the rest at Book Reviews and More

Remember, you can get a discount coupon code good to the end of the month at the end of any of the book reviews on my blog tour. Check them out!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Deleted Scenes

Okay, I know, it's not Wednesday anymore (I'm still trying to figure out what happened to last week), but I wanted to share a couple of deleted scenes from my culinary mystery--which still needs some tweaks before I start submitting, but we're getting there. When I sent it out for the most recent round of critiques I cut the first three chapters--not because they weren't good, but because it was taking too long to get to the murder, and I wanted a more immediate payoff for the readers. I love Tess though, and writing the first scene was a joy and shows what a great, strong character she is, so I thought I'd share. The story is tentatively named Rocky Road Brownie Murder, and will include some seriously fabulous recipes I've developed to go with it.

Also, at the bottom of the excerpt you'll find a couple more quotes and links to reviews of my latest book, Blank Slate.

Former Chapter 1

It was late as I walked through the halls of the hotel on my way to the manager’s office. Though I’d been working in the restaurant inside the five-star DeMille Hotel for nine years, I still found the back halls creepy after midnight. I didn’t know why the hotel management offices were tucked in the dark end of the building, but I suppose that wasn’t my fiancé’s fault—his grandparents had built the hotel before he was born.

I looked at the enormous princess-cut diamond on my left hand and smiled as I approached his office. We’d been engaged five weeks and one of these days I was going to get him to commit to a date for the wedding. In the meantime, I’d already begun making lists.

Other hotel workers waved and greeted me as I made my way up the back steps to the office area. My fiancé, Bronson, was the hotel manager and after all of the power struggles with Karen that night, I needed some timeout with someone who would just hold me close. Unfortunately Bronson thought well of the woman—who had cheekbones thin as an ice skate blade and with a temper almost as sharp. This meant complaining about work—as I had with other boyfriends—was out of the question.

His office door was closed when I arrived, but the light beneath it told me he was inside, so I walked in.

And found Bronson in a heated embrace with Karen. Karen!

My stomach fell to my feet—or was it my heart? They pulled apart and Karen looked at me, a gleam of triumph in her blue eyes while her red hair frizzed around her head in an uneven ball.

Bronson turned to see who had interrupted and his too-handsome face took on a look of panic. Worry filled his brown eyes and he shoved Karen away. “It’s not what it looks like, Tess.”

Karen snorted. “Give me a break, Bronson. It’s exactly what it looks like, and it’s not a recent development. It’s past time she found out about us.” She folded her arms across her emaciated frame, her elbows pointing to either side like scalpels.

He turned and glared at Karen, then swiveled back, his face melting into conciliation as he walked to me. “Tess, calm down, this is just a thing. A fling, really. You know, before we get married. I love you.” His perfect, talented lips were swollen from their kisses.

I still stood there like an idiot, frozen in place, but his words shook me out of the shock. I threw the chef’s hat on the ground. “You’re cheating on me. With her. And it’s just a thing?” What kind of idiot did he think I was?

“I’m sorry.” He reached to put his hands on my arms.

I backed away, not wanting him to touch me. “Sorry doesn’t cut it.”

“Tess, be reasonable. You’re so busy, I never see you anymore. I didn’t mean to, it just happened.”

“What do you mean it just happened?” Karen screeched. “What am I, some passing distraction?”

I should have realized something was going on. Why hadn’t I paid attention? I narrowed my eyes at him, noticing his dark hair was mussed and his shirt pulled out of the belt. “You think that’s an excuse?” I balled my hand into a fist and slugged him in the shoulder.

The jerk moved no more than an inch at my effort. I should have gone for his face instead. He took my hand between his. “I told you I’m sorry.”

“Not good enough.” I pulled off the two-karat diamond he’d given me five weeks earlier and threw it at him.” I could feel tears begin to well in my eyes, despite the fact that I was more angry than sad. I wouldn’t give Karen the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I whirled around to stalk away.

Then her saccharine voice called out to me. “Be here tomorrow at four. If you’re late, I’ll have to write you up.”

Forget that! “Write me up all you like. I won’t be here, because I quit!” I slammed the door behind me.

The anger stayed with me, burning hot as I grabbed my things from my locker downstairs and rode the El to my condo. Chicago at night—especially in March—was cold and dark. Snow swirled around me as I walked the block from the train station to my building. The tears began to pour down my cheeks even as the freezing wind stole my breath. I trusted him, I love him. How could he do that to me?

Though I had never been the type to say things in the heat of the moment, to throw away a job I had loved—at least I had loved it until Karen started working there a few months earlier—I didn’t regret my decision to leave. The sole reason I hadn’t started looking for another job was because of Bronson.

I was sobbing as I passed the doorman of my building. He called out to me, asking if I was all right, if he could help, but I waved him off and entered the elevator. It was after two in the morning so I didn’t encounter any of the other building residents as I traversed the shiny oak floors, the walls covered in matching wainscoting and a rich red paint above.

I collapsed as soon as I entered my condo. The nubby fabric of the sofa rubbed against my cheek, comforting me. Bronson hated this old relic from my parents’ home. I loved it.

I’m not sure how late it was before I stumbled to my bed, slid out of my clothes and under the covers.

* * *

The first thought to pop into my head when I woke the next day: I didn’t have a job anymore. While this ought to have thrown me into a state of panic, despite my comfortably padded savings account, it gave me a sense of freedom. No more Karen. Then my heart plummeted as I remembered why I didn’t have a job anymore.

Bronson DeMille was the lowest form of scum out there. I had another bout of crying, followed by a whirlwind cleaning effort in my condo. By lunchtime the place was immaculate, and I knew I needed a break before I made decisions about what to do with my life. Quitting flat out wouldn’t win me any awards when I went looking for another job, and let’s face it, jobs as a pastry chef weren’t as plentiful as one could wish—especially if I wanted to continue working in a restaurant as elite as the one I just left. I couldn’t imagine taking another job if it didn’t allow me to do cakes.

I’m not just talking about any old cake. Vanilla, chocolate, carrot, and red velvet were all great—and my recipes are award winning and some of the best on the planet. Most of them were private, secret recipes neither Karen or Bronson had ever seen, I thought with some satisfaction.

One of the reasons the hotel had such a great reputation for weddings and parties was because of my cakes. So maybe I was just a tad deserving of fame—but I wasn’t surprised by that as much as the attention I got for my everyday desserts, many of which were also my own private recipes. Wedding and anniversary cakes were more fun than anything, and both meticulous and time consuming to make. And they taste fabulous.

And if I didn’t want to add to the padding on my hips by baking all afternoon, I really had to find a distraction.

It was only twelve-thirty, I thought. If I left right away, I could be in Arizona before dinnertime the next night. Then I could bake and share my woes with my best friend, Honey.

Thinking this, I hurried to my room and started throwing clothes into my suitcase. I packed for two weeks, not knowing how long I would stay. Then I threw in the various bags into my Outlander—and because the mood struck me, my personal cake decorating supplies. I topped it off with my secret recipe book. You never knew when you might need an emergency chocolate lava cake.

I took a moment to program the trip into the Mapquest function of my Blackberry and I was on my way.


"I definitely wanted to keep reading to see how it would all unravel. Besides, Heather is a very talented writer. Her characters feel like friends, and I enjoyed getting to know them." Read more of Lara's review here.

"...Heather Justesen is a phenomenal author, has several books to her claim and can write a "clean" kissing scene that will curl your toes." Christine Bryant. read more here.

"I was lucky enough to read this story early on and see Heather work her magic with authentic characters and wonderful plot lines." --Rachelle Christensen, read more on her blog.

Friday, July 8, 2011

New baby chicks!

The past couple of years I hatched baby chicks from February until Halloween or Thanksgiving--there are few things as fun as going to my incubator and finding new babies. This year I've been running like crazy and haven't even cleaned out my incubators, so I've been going into withdrawals without the little chirps and whistles of chicks and ducklings.

Due to a dwindling poultry population (I lost a LOT of birds to dogs and coyotes this winter), I decided to try out some new breeds and they arrived this morning. You can't see the hearts hovering around me whenever I stop to check on them, but they're there.

I know I was a slacker this week and didn't post up links to reviews (Fourth of July gets crazy for our family). So here are a few fun quotes and links:

"The unique premise is intriguing and fresh, and the characters completely, utterly lovable." --Nichole Giles. She posted an interview on her writing blog and a review on her book review blog.

"Blank Slate is Heather Justesen's third published novel and contains the elements we all want in a good read - engaging characters, twists and turns, emotional conflict, and best of all, a romance that continues on long past the last page." --Tristi Pinkston. Read her review here.

"Her writing abilities constantly impress me. She has taken a real life incident and expanded the possibilities."-- Keith Fisher. You can read more here. (And yes, there is a little spoiler at the end, so beware.)
There's also a review with spoilers at Cheryl's Book Nook.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blank Slate blog tour dates

I'm so excited about the release of my new book Blank Slate and the seriously awesome Tristi Pinkston has set up my blog tour for me. She's arranged a great line up of reviewers throughout the month of July. The reviewers are going to post a discount coupon code to buy my ebook from Smashwords (which allows you to download it for your ereader or in PDF for your computer for only $1.49. You can only get this discount code if you visit one of their blogs during the tour.

Here's the blog tour schedule:

July 1: Heidi Durrant
July 2: Nichole Giles did a review and an interview.
July 4: Tristi Pinkston
July 6: Cheryl Koch
July 7: Keith Fisher
July 9: Lara Neves
July 11: Christine Bryant
July 13: Rachelle Christensen
July 18: Ariel Wilson
July 19: Susan Schleicher
July 19: Jodie Baker
July 20: Kaylynn England
July 23: Danyelle Ferguson
July 25: Karen Clark
July 26: Kristin Durham
July 27: Kari Boardman
July 29: Kari Caulder
Also, at some point there will be an interview by Jennifer Walker and a review by Aislynn Thompson. I'll add them to the line up when I have definite dates.

I just picked up Heidi Durrant's review at Latter-Day Woman Magazine and it was great. here's an exerpt:

" thing that stood out to me considering her writing technique is how descritpive she is. I literally thought I was walking hand in hand with these characters. I could see what they were seeing and feel what they were feeling. I have read a few books lately, some books are slow going, others catch me almost instantly. This book caught me right away." You can find the rest of the review here.