Guest Blogger – Judy Willmore

I am a history buff, and years ago I stumbled on the Affair of the Poisons: in the 17th century poison and witchcraft permeated the court of Louis XIV. I was fascinated: did Louis’ mistress have a black mass celebrated over her beautiful naked body? Historians have been arguing over that for years. The tempestuous marquise was certainly no angel, and she was competing with every pretty face at court for Louis’ wandering eye. When the King learned about poison and witchcraft at court, he appointed Lieutenant-General of Police Nicolas de La Reynie to investigate. Soon, suspects were pointing their grimy fingers at the marquise—but how do you arrest the King’s mistress?

My varied background helped me figure it all out: I have a MS in Clinical Psychology and a former career as a private investigator, plus I am a practicing astrologer. I devoured stacks of trial transcripts, diaries and letters, focusing on the marquise and La Reynie, the first modern police officer, who uncovered a massive ring of poisoners and con artists. These so-called “witches” were nothing like “wise women” or today’s Wicca: they lured in gullible clients with promises of love spells, then advised them how to get rid of a troublesome spouse—with poison. The suspects claimed the marquise was a client of the witch La Voisin, burned at the stake. Worse, she was linked to the infamous black mass.

But she wasn’t the only one. Several noblewomen also got caught up in the scandal, and like the desperate marquise, they were all trapped: prisoners of their fathers, brothers, husbands. Disobey, and you might find yourself locked up in a convent. The noblemen too could not leave Versailles and the King’s presence, or they would risk losing any chance of advancement. In my book, the courtiers compare their existence with the creatures trapped in the Versailles menagerie, with His Majesty as the gamekeeper dispensing both discipline and rewards. Desperate, they resorted to fortunetellers and purveyors of poison.

The suspects whispered of a criminal mastermind behind the poisons, and even a plot to kill the marquise. What really happened? To fill in the blanks I needed to create a fictional character, someone wide-eyed and innocent; so along came Sylvie, a young embroiderer. She went to work in the household of a prime suspect, and the gates of the Versailles menagerie clanged shut behind her.

I am now working on a sequel to The Menagerie set in Les Gobelins, the manufactory that made Versailles’ tapestries. The artisans were Huguenots, Protestants faced with either converting at sword point or leaving—and leaving was illegal.

FranÇoise-AthÉnaÏs de Rochechouart de Mortemart had to have Louis, King of France, but his other mistresses stood in the way. Then she meets the very helpful sorceress and AthÉnaÏs gets her wish. But soon Louis hears tales of witchcraft and poison, a conspiracy spreading through his court—like the beasts in the Versailles menagerie, courtesans are clawing their way to his favor, and his bed. He orders Lieutenant General of Police Gabriel-Nicolas de la Reynie to investigate. Mysterious deaths mount while La Reynie presses on, hauling in witches, charlatans, and the nobility alike. Grimy fingers point to AthÉnaÏs, the King’s mistress, with whispers of a black mass celebrated over her naked body. Then La Reynie discovers a plot to kill her.

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Judy Willmore is a former journalist, then private investigator, and now a psychotherapist who practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her historical mystery The Menagerie was published in 2021 by Artemesia Press, and she is now working on a sequel.

Guest Blogger ~ Nancy Raven Smith

Which Comes First – The Protagonist or The Situation?

Every author arrives at the protagonists for their books from a different direction.

When I decided to write my Land Sharks series I knew I wanted to write cozy mysteries about fraud, scams, and white collar crime A land shark is a nickname for a scammer, con man, or fraudster targeting people to steal money and other valuables.

The hardest part of planning the series became choosing the employment of the protagonist. They had to deal with frauds regularly or I wouldn’t have a series. That meant it couldn’t be a normal person because, even though the numbers are high for the victims of those crimes, a series couldn’t be based on one person being constantly the victim without them appearing unintelligent. I already knew my protagonist needed to be fairly smart.

Naturally, I thought of the police. A policeman/woman might sound logical, but it actually isn’t. I found that out the hard way when my checking account was crashed with bogus checks. I had to insist to get my local police department to file a report. The same is true for victims of identity theft and credit card fraud. It turns out that police departments rightfully give priority to ‘crimes against persons,’ not ‘crimes against property.’ They simply don’t have the time or budget to do anything else. So a protagonist who was a policeman/woman was out.

The next stop to get my checking account straightened out was the bank. I met with the manager. I brought the right proof to get the stolen money returned to my account. As I left the bank, the manager made a comment that “I might be contacted by their fraud department.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

I continued to consider and discard several other possible employments for my protagonist such as stock broker and Interpol. But then the bank manager’s words came back to me. The bank had a fraud department. Who deals with more financial fraud on a daily basis than a bank? An employee in an international bank’s fraud department was perfect for my new protagonist.

With my protagonist’s employment settled, I moved on to other character choices. This is always a fun part for me. Here are some of my final decisions. I wanted a woman. Although my first choice was to make her black, I had to discard that because, as a white woman, I didn’t have the personal experience to write from another race’s POV. So my character became white from necessity. I named her Alexis ‘Lexi’ Winslow. She became a diplomat’s daughter, which allowed a natural affinity for travel, languages, and unusual situations. I put her in her mid thirties, so physicality wouldn’t be a problem.

 I also decided she’d be a rising star in international banking fraud, until one con man left her with a broken heart and a destroyed reputation. As book one, A Swindle in Sumatra, opens, she’s been fired from the big New York bank she’s been with because of the situation with the con man, and is employed at a small, privately owned bank in Beverly Hills where the other employees are suspicious of her.

As a reader/writer, I’d love to hear how other writers have developed their protagonists. And which came first – their protagonist or the situation.


“If you can’t follow the money, follow the body.”

Lexi loves her job as a Beverly Hills bank fraud investigator. It lets her pursue scam artists and con men – known in the business as land sharks.

Sadly, one crook left her with a broken heart and a destroyed reputation. And the bank’s president is looking for any excuse to fire her.

Yet she risks everything when she follows a dead embezzler’s casket to Coober Pedy in the Australian outback. She knows it’s a gamble, but it’s her last hope to recover the bank’s stolen money. Unfortunately, she’s persona non grata in that country. She needs to get in, find the money, and get out before the Australian police discover her presence. But will the unexpected appearance of an ex-lover make her linger too long?

If you like cozy mysteries in exotic locations with deadly secrets and touches of humor, then you’ll enjoy the multi award winning Land Sharks Cozy Mystery series.

Available on at

Nancy Raven Smith grew up in Virginia, where she ran and participated in horse sport events. On their farm, she rescued horses, dogs, and cats and is an advocate for animal rescue. Later in California, she traded her event experience for film work. Her screenplays and novels have won numerous major awards. Her first mystery, A Swindle in Sumatra was chosen as an Amazon Kindle Scout Program Selection. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Women in Film, and Mystery Writers of America.

When not writing, Raven Smith enjoys her family and friends, reading, travel, art, movies, and white water rafting.

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My “Little Gray Cells” Are Getting Full

As Hercule Poirot, one of Agatha Christie’s prominent characters, was often to say, his “little grey cells” were working. I have been feeling of late that my “little gray cells” or brain is getting too full to handle much more. LOL

Between the research I’ve been doing for the latest Gabriel Hawke book I’m writing, which is set in the winter in the mountains, to the research for Dela Alvaro, a lower limb amputee, I feel like I finish one book on a subject, only to pick up another book and read about something else I need to know for the book I’m writing or plotting.

While I sound like I’m complaining, it is the research I love the most about writing a book. Well… maybe that’s a second to coming up with an interesting or unique way to kill someone. They are close in what I enjoy most about writing a murder mystery.

I have been using Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking, The Outdoor Survival Book, Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow, and the Oregon Gazetteer, not to mention Google Maps and numerous sites I’ve pulled up on the internet to answer questions. These are all for Owl’s Silent Strike, book 9 in the Gabriel Hawke series.

My character has to take care of a broken leg on his significant other in three feet of snow. Care for another person’s frostbite on their feet and keep all three of them away from men with AR rifles that Hawke believes are after the man he found wandering on the mountain. So you can imagine I had to also research caring for a compound fracture and frostbite.

I also was lucky enough when I started this series to make friends with an aviator who is always willing to help me with aircraft questions as Hawke’s significant other is a pilot. He helped me figure out why she wouldn’t be able to fly the helicopter, they came after, off the mountain.

There are some books, like this one, that I feel like I put in twice as much time with the research as I do actually writing the book. I hope all of this effort pays off in the incidents sounding plausible and realistic.

I have also been filling my head with as much information as I can about a lower limb amputee for my character, Dela Alvaro, in my Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries. I found a book the other day titled AMPossible. It’s written by a lower limb amputee who also counsels other amputees. It has all the nuts-and-bolts information about how a person feels after the amputation, from emotions to physical and what to expect. It has been very helpful for knowing how to portray my character.

All of this and the research I will continue to do for each book as it comes along is why my “little gray cells” are getting full. It’s no wonder I forget the little things. Where’s my phone? What did I do with that letter? What was I supposed to do when I finished writing?

Getting into the Rhythm

My second book in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries is up on pre-order, publishing on February 18th. I have been fascinated with my main character, Dela Alvaro, ever since I conjured her up for a short story I entered in a contest. She kept knocking around in my head until I decided to make her a main character in her own series.

Even before starting her series, I introduced her to my readers in a Stolen Butterfly, book 7 in the Gabriel Hawke novels. Readers liked her and the secondary characters who are in her life. I was excited to start her series. I had gathered gambling terms to use for book titles because she is head of security at a casino on a reservation. The first book was Poker Face. It delved deeper into what makes Dela tick as the reader is in her point of view, not someone seeing her on the outside.

She has been medically discharged from the Army due to losing a lower limb from an IED. Her plans had been twenty years in the army, which was cut five years short due to the explosion. In book one she has returned to the reservation where she grew up and is trying to piece her life back together. She’d planned on a job in law enforcement but being an amputee put a stop to that plan. Through Grandfather Thunder, the man who lives next door so her mother, Dela gets a job working security at the casino.

During book one, while Dela and FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce work together to find out who killed and stuffed a casino employee in a laundry chute, Dela, myself, and readers discover more about her and how determined she is to not let her disability be who she is. One of my beta readers thought I’d talked too much about her disability in the first book. But I wanted readers to feel how she felt. She has only been an amputee for less than two years, a year of that was spent in surgery and rehab in an army hospital.

Fast forward to House Edge, book 2, the same beta reader said she loved how I handled the disability, how she’s coming into her own, and the expanded men in her life. That made me feel good. Because I thought after the short story and Dela having a large role in Stolen Butterfly that book 1 wouldn’t feel like an author exploring what she could do with a character.

As I wrote book 2, the premise I had planned for book 3 took root and I planted a hint of what will happen in book 3 in book 2 and I wrote the opening scene for Double Down while I was writing House Edge. It felt right to get the information accurate while the start of the conflict was fresh in my mind.

It isn’t new for me to come up with ideas for future books while I’m writing the current book. I do it all the time. I generally just jot down the idea and then when I’m not writing, swirl it around in my head figuring out how to make the idea work and where in the line of books it will fall.

I have several ideas for what will happen down the line in various books. Some deal with her friends in trouble and some will deal with the father she was told died before she was born.

There will be more mystery in Dela’s life as she continues to solve murders that happen at the casino and on the reservation. It’s a good feeling when a character becomes real in my mind and writing the book is like walking in their footsteps. That’s when I know I have found the rhythm of the character.

Book 2 in the Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries has Dela Alvaro not only trying to keep her job by discovering the killer before word spreads about the murder, but she also has to deal with FBI Special Agent Quinn Peirce butting heads with her high school sweetheart who has returned to the reservation as a tribal police officer

Zealous Environmentalists

Greedy Power Companies

…and a body

A bitter dispute over the breaching of dams in Idaho sparks emotions at a summit held at the Spotted Pony Casino. When the keynote speaker is murdered, Dela Alvaro, head of security, teams up again with FBI Special Agent Quinn Pierce.

The suspects are many since it appears the victim was playing both sides of the controversial environmental issue. Did someone take advantage of a marital dispute… witnessed by a crowd of casino spectators? Or did an angry wife murder her husband? 

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Guest Blogger ~ J.R. Camelback

Although I’m a lady who loves writing international mystery thrillers, I write my international mystery thrillers using a male pseudonym, and I’ve built an “identity” for my writer, J. R. Camelback.  His photo is in shadow and I’ve made him a “Marlboro” kind of man, which is apparent when you read his bio.  Perhaps because I am a “lady” who writes international mystery thrillers, an unusual romance unfolds when the plot reveals love for the same person can take many forms, but this Kindle eBook Taking the Queen – a Caper Book 1 in the Prometheus Foster series has a plot leaving no doubt this is an international mystery thriller.

As readers discover in Book 1 of the Prometheus Foster series,  Taking The Queen – a Caper,Prometheus Foster is a flawed truth seeker who often creates confusion when he asks too many questions.  He and his partner Smarty Jason use their own special methods to solve puzzles involving a plethora of possibilities.  At times there is a certain rivalry between these two, former Washington Post reporters,  however, they join forces to unravel the curiously worded tip by a whistle blower who comes forward some fifteen years after the whistle blowing event takes place.  They need to seek the secrets hidden within the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents, in files the FBI has only partially declassified.   The FBI’s awry sting scheme takes place right in the nation’s political cauldron Washington D. C. and in the nation of Singapore where political intrigues are a “winner take all game.” 

My multifaceted international mystery thriller has glowing Editorial reviews from the industry leading publications: “Kirkus Review”  “Publisher’s Weekly Booklife” and “Writers Digest,” citing a “…intriguing plot with many twists and turns…”  A reader who bought my Kindle book and left a 5-star review said: “This book convincingly melds international crime with a tale of determination to uncover an ugly truth. The plot moves fairly quickly thanks to the tight and focused writing. While many characters get mentioned, a journalistic duo propel the narrative. Prometheus Foster and Smarty Jason prove to be as interesting and memorable as their names, and their backstories would no doubt be a great subject for additional books. The author also adeptly connects this fictional story to real-life FBI headlines, further adding to the book’s realism. Taking the Queen is an unusually intriguing and satisfying read.” 

Taking The Queen – a Caper” Book 1 Prometheus Foster series has been produced as an Audible book, the Amazon Kindle website lists both the Kindle eBook and the Audible book is located at the link: .

Taking the Queen: A Caper Book 1 in the Prometheus Foster series, features investigative reporter Prometheus Foster and Smarty Jason, former collogues at The Washington Post in this international crime thriller tale within opposing lenses of time, Foster and Jason join forces to pursue a whistle blower’s tip about a botched FBI counterintelligence operation hidden within the maze of investigative government agency files under the Freedom of Information Act.

J. R. Camelback

I do my outlines In-between IT security assignments, I conceive the plot with all the twists and turns as I ride the Arizona sacred hills trails. And I am a familiar figure known to all who live in a place sacred to Apache and Comanche Indians for their hunt on ground sacred to ancestors. I do seek to blend into the landscape of wherever I need to be to research the details that I am meticulous about.  In my photo, you will see me in my study where I have a bookshelf of books, and of course, my computer for the online sources I need to offer my readers an insight into the environment where the action takes place.  I am now at work on the draft manuscript of Book 2 in the Prometheus Foster series, THE WUHAN PUZZLE , this book straddles 2 mystery genres:  International Mystery & Crime:  Thrillers: Espionage, and I am placing Prometheus Foster in a plot that is swimming the boundaries of integrity to make him question his life’s purpose, and then I test his moral purpose amidst the rivers of circumstances when the life of his beloved wife, Marcy is at stake, she defines his humanity, THE WUHAN PUZZLE tests him in ways that brings him to his knees and in ways he’s never thought emotions sway.

PLEASE NOTE:  I am testing Book Covers for THE WUHAN PUZZLE and hope the Ladies of Mystery blog readers can tell me what they think of this one:


The word “puzzle” in another font similar cover