Guest Blogger ~Mike Nemeth

The Bonds of Marriage

I’ve become fascinated by how far the bonds of marriage can be stretched before they break, like English toffee pulled apart by scrapping children. The inspiration to write a novel in which the main characters struggled to maintain their relationship under extraordinary pressures—Parker’s Choice—came from the senselessly shattered marriage of my best friends. Served with a side order of genealogy and a dash of corporate fraud, the fate of Parker’s marriage to Paula is baked into in a delicious murder mystery. A murder mystery, I found, is the perfect MacGuffin for a story about fragile relationships.

Parker is a prison-smart, professional data scientist who grew up immersed in his mother’s secret surrounding his birth father. Work and marriage are handholds for him as he seeks a stable life, but travail is the crucible in which his true identity is forged.

Three years ago, Parker took the blame for Paula’s assault with a deadly weapon and went to prison in her stead. Upon his parole, he finds Paula unwelcoming, ungrateful, unrepentant, and ensnared in an alcoholic spiral. He takes a high-paying job and moves Paula to suburban Atlanta, away from her support structure, only to find that his boss has hired Parker precisely because an ex-con can be coerced into committing corporate fraud. Parker’s comely Nigerian-American colleague, Sabrina, coaxes Parker to expose the fraud, but that would lead to his dismissal, entanglements with the authorities, and more discord at home. When the body of his worst enemy is pulled from the Chattahoochee River, Parker is certain that Paula committed the murder, but the cops make Parker their prime suspect. Parker shuttles Paula to an alcohol rehab facility in Florida to protect her from the cops, then becomes irresistibly infatuated with Sabina as they contrive to derail the fraud. On the run from cops and crooks, Parker and Sabrina travel to Columbia, SC, St. Petersburg, FL, and the New Orleans French Quarter in search of clues. In a creepy, decrepit cemetery, they find the link to Parker’s long, lost birth father and that breaks both cases wide open. Then Parker has a choice to make—protect his family or unmask the criminals.

From a writing perspective, I followed a simple, time-tested rule—I continuously asked myself: How can I make things worse for Parker? That was fun, but as a result, I exerted increasing pressure upon their marriage. No spoilers here, but Parker and Sabrina become terrific amateur sleuths.

Parker’s Choice has received two Firebird Awards, one for romantic mystery/suspense, and another for diverse and multicultural mystery/suspense. It can be found wherever books are sold.

Parker’s Choice is a tasty murder mystery served with a dollop of romance and a dash of corporate fraud.

Parker has been to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and he’s not about to let that happen again. He’s thrilled to land a good job after being paroled, until his boss threatens to fire him if he doesn’t facilitate a fraudulent scheme that will cost thousands of Americans their jobs. To complicate matters, a woman’s body is pulled from the Chattahoochee River and Parker fears his estranged wife, Paula, has committed the murder, but the cops make Parker their prime suspect. His clever and alluring Nigerian-American colleague, Sabrina, shames Parker into helping her expose the fraud and they find themselves romantically attracted to one another as they search for the “smoking gun” that will thwart the fraud and expose the murderer—the identity of Parker’s elusive birth father. On the run from cops and crooks, the last piece of the puzzle falls into place when Parker is ambushed in a frightening New Orleans cemetery. Then Parker has choices to make.

“A razor-sharp mystery with twists aplenty.” Kirkus Indie Reviews

Buy links: amzn.to/3elgUag (bit.ly compressed link for ebook)

ow.ly/cng050E2zNE

amzn.to/3FixaCT (paperback)

Mike Nemeth, a Vietnam veteran and former high-tech executive, writes mystery novels in which his characters face moral dilemmas. He is the author of three previous novels including The Undiscovered Country, which won the Augusta Literary Festival’s Yerby Award and the Beverly Hills Book Award for Southern Fiction. The book inspired songwriter Mark Currey to compose the song Who I Am. His latest work, Parker’s Choice, won a Firebird Award for thrillers and American Fiction Awards for Romantic Mystery and Diverse and Multicultural Mystery. His pieces have been published by The New York Times, Georgia Magazine, Augusta Magazine, Southern Writers’ Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and the Writers’ Voices anthology. Creative Loafing named him Atlanta’s Best Local Author for 2018. Mike lives in suburban Atlanta with his wife, Angie, and their rescue dog, Scout.

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Guest Blogger ~ Darlene Dziomba

I have always had a love of animals. My parents would good-naturedly complain that wherever we went, I had to pet every dog I saw. Half a century later, things have not altered. My volunteer work at the Animal Welfare Association has me close to numerous dogs and cats. As I scrub one kennel, I chat with the animals in neighboring kennels.

The idea for Clues From The Canines came from the experiences I had and the staff I met during my volunteer shifts. I thought that by creating characters whose days centered around working to find homes for animals in shelters, I could raise awareness of the efforts made on animals’ behalf.

When I crafted the protagonist, Lily Dreyfus, the piece of me embedded in her personality is an introvert who loves animals. There are numerous scenes in the book where one finds Lily talking to either the animals at work or her two dogs at home. Her friends criticize her for spending more time with animals than she spends with humans.

The time Lily spends with animals leads her to a new love interest. She even considers that she has found her soul mate. Lily met Pete when he came to the Forever Friends Animal Shelter to adopt a dog to aid him in coping with the PTSD he suffered from post-military deployment and the despondency he feels after losing both parents in a tragic auto accident.

Pete uses outings with his dog to get to know Lily. They have an accidental meeting in a park, and Pete asks Lily to join him on a walk with his dog. He suggests a stop for ice cream after the walk. Eventually, he summons the courage to ask her to dinner.

Their different family experiences draw them even closer together. Pete is an only child with a small extended family; and Lily is the oldest of four children. Her parents were active volunteers in the children’s school, and they made friends with other parents. She relays stories of multi-family trips to parks and beaches. Pete realizes that a lasting relationship with Lily will provide the sibling experience he did not have as a child.

The hope and promise of the relationship are brought to a screeching halt. Pete is found dead. Lily’s world is shattered. Her friends and her dogs help her pick up the pieces and sniff out a killer.

Clues From The Canines

Set in a small town in New Jersey, Clues From the Canines combines witty dialogue with tension and intrigue.  Lily, the Adoption Coordinator at the Forever Friends Animal Shelter, is stunned by the news that her physically fit, former Marine boyfriend is dead. When the police rule the death a homicide, Lily, spurred on by grief, resolves to sniff out the killer. She gathers her pack, both human and canine, to point police to the perpetrator.

The canine pack competes for the alpha position, their owner’s attention, and extra treats, while the human pack doggedly seeks out justice.

Darlene Dziomba debuted the Lily Dreyfus Mystery Series with the release of Clues From the Canines in March 2022. The book is currently being read on four continents.  Darlene volunteers at the Animal Welfare Association, a New Jersey animal shelter, where she chats with the dogs while completing her assignments. She has a 30-year career in Finance at the University of Pennsylvania and is an avid reader, gardener, and traveler.  Darlene is a member of Sisters in Crime and lives in New Jersey with her four-legged best friend, Billie.

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Guest Blogger ~ Dominique Daoust

Why I write cozy mysteries

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I felt like I had to prove I was a dedicated reader by opening the pages of the classics.  But regardless of how many times I forced myself, I simply couldn’t connect with them, they weren’t for me.  And why bother reading something during your free time if you didn’t enjoy it?

After some trial and error, I finally zoned in on what I liked.  I’m a big fan of mysteries and thrillers, historical fiction, true crime and other non-fiction like biographies.  They all bring something to the table that resonates with how my brain works.  I love the twists and turns of a good thriller, the time travelling in historical fiction, the stark realness of true crime, and the revelations of biographies.  My Goodreads TBR list exclusively contains those genres, but there’s one more I recently added.

I think it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say the past few years have been rough.  Other than cuddling my pets and watching reality television (big shout out to RuPaul’s Drag Race!), the only other thing that kept me mentally afloat was my newfound discovery of cozy mysteries.  The laid-back, small-town settings, the quirky characters and pets, the element of mystery that still pulled me in even though it was lighthearted.  It opened my world to a whole subgenre of mystery I could enjoy without it feeling so harsh and heavy.  And who knew there were so many categories!  Cafes, bookstores, gardening, vineyards?  Cozies basically cover every hobby and profession in existence and it’s perfect (cheers to London Lovett and Vivien Chien!).

When I finally decided to start writing, choosing the genre was a no-brainer.  I could include elements I like from all the other genres I’ve been reading for years and wrap them up in a cozy little package.  My goal wasn’t to create a new classic but rather write some fun mysteries that people can enjoy.  Not only did it relieve the pressure and expectations of the end result, but they were a blast to write! 

With The Deadly Exclusives Trilogy, I’ve incorporated a setting and job I’m familiar with, all wrapped up in a historical period I’ve been obsessed with for years.  I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal, my first job was as a maid and I studied journalism.  And I’ve watched so many 1930s movies on the Turner Classic Movies channel that I can’t keep count.  I doubt any genre other than a cozy mystery could quite capture the tone I wanted. 

Many cozies have brightened my days and I sure hope my trilogy can do the same for others.   

Secret sources have a whole new meaning.

Newbie reporter Rita Larose is tired of getting assigned boring stories at one of Montreal’s most popular newspapers. It’s 1930 after all, women don’t need to only write about household chores anymore! But when a high hat socialite gossips about the New Year’s Eve party at the Bonne Nuit Hotel, a riveting mystery falls right into Rita’s lap. This is her chance to prove to herself and her underestimating colleagues that she has what it takes to write the hard-hitting articles.

While going undercover as a maid to get the scoop, Rita will soon discover unexpected friendships and an unusual gift of her own to contend with. Will she be able to juggle this newfound ability while not blowing her cover and jeopardizing her career-making article?

Purchase here: https://www.amazon.ca/Disappearance-Bonne-Nuit-Hotel-Exclusives-ebook/dp/B09WVW6L53

Dominique Daoust is the author of The Deadly Exclusives Trilogy. She is a journalism graduate from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. When not reading or writing, she likes to do yoga, drink margaritas, incessantly quote Friends and listen to rap while doing mundane household chores.

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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22331118.Dominique_Daoust

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.

Buy link: https://smile.amazon.com/Menagerie-Passion-Power-Poison-Court-ebook/dp/B08XQXMG6Q

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.

https://www.facebook.com/JudyWillmoreAuthor

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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.

BUSHWHACKED IN THE OUTBACK 

“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 Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0794M2Q3M/

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.

Visit her at:

Http://NancyRavenSmith.com

Http://Facebook.com/NancyRavenSmith.com

Http://TheReluctantFarmerOfWhimseyHill.com