Guest Blogger ~ Laura Kelly Robb

Behind the Book – Discovering the Florida Highwaymen

By Laura Kelly Robb

Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, lived her last years in Fort Pierce, a beach town on the Atlantic coast of Florida.  She lived for a while on a houseboat and later in a modest cement block rental house.  A visitor can see the makeshift desk and black Underwood typewriter Hurston used for her last pieces.

Through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, I traveled to Fort Pierce to learn more about Hurston’s life through a week-long seminar led by Professor Heather Russell.  She told us the story of how Hurston had fallen out of favor with many critics until Alice Walker resuscitated her legacy of novels, stories, and African American folklore.

While in Fort Pierce, cultural ambassadors from the African American community  helped us understand other aspects of the town’s history.  The Florida Highwaymen, they said, had gone a long way toward putting the town on the map.  I had never heard of those artists, but our guides forgave my ignorance and led us to a gallery run by James Gibson, one of the Highwaymen.  Sitting on a stool, as casually as if he were telling us about dinner the night before, he spun tales of his companions in art, the twenty-five men and one woman, who made up the official list of Florida Highwaymen.

They knew each other, some from long contact, some only by sight, and some were blood relatives.  They were eager to get out of the sweltering fields and as far away from the punishing orange harvests as possible.  Hope came in the form of post-war prosperity, air-conditioning, and a wave of middle-class tourists. Black and white, the vacationers were driving the length of Florida.  The Highwaymen’s images of sunsets, palm trees, and scudding clouds were the perfect souvenir.

From the mid-1950’s until the early ‘80’s, the loose group of self-taught artists produced, by conservative estimate, over 100,000 paintings.  Sold out of the back of a car, sometimes on the side of the highway, for a bargain price of twenty-five dollars, the paintings traveled with their new owners all over the fifty states. Al Black, a prolific painter and also the lead salesman, could sell water to a whale they said. Money was made; oranges were not picked. James Gibson smiled and called them the best of years.

After the seminar, the story of the Florida Highwaymen stayed tucked away but not forgotten. I read reports of the uptick in interest and I saw episodes of Antiques Roadshow where the art experts valued Highwaymen paintings from $5,000 up to $10,000.  I wondered how art professionals dealt with a body of work as large as the one generated in Fort Pierce.

That question serves as a starting point for my mystery, The Laguna Shores Research Club (TouchPoint Press, September 14, 2022), featuring an art cataloguer, an art collector, and an ambitious museum curator in St. Augustine. The protagonist, Laila, believes her chance to get ahead in the art world lies in protecting the Florida Highwaymen.  When her friend and fellow researcher turns up dead, Laila is the one who needs protection. 

The Laguna Shores Research Club

Laila Harrow knows the best way to track down anything—or anybody—is to ask Billie Farmer. As the brains of the Laguna Shores Research Club, Billie teaches fellow members how to reach into the ether and pluck out facts.

Counting on Billie’s guidance, Laila promises the St. Augustine Museum a catalogue of Florida Highwaymen paintings that will catapult her standing in the art world. But when Billie dies suddenly, Laila is forced to pull herself out of the darkness to think like Billie and follow the facts.

Fact: Billie’s good health makes the diagnosis of a heart attack unlikely.
Fact: Her actions the night of her death hint at a looming threat.
Fact: Her condo has been turned upside down, her computer and phone missing.

With support from her friends and family, Laila vows to get to the bottom of Billie’s death. Then one last piece of information comes to light.

Fact: Laila is at the center of a dangerous game.

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Laura grew up in New York, the fifth of six daughters.  She earned a BA from the University of Toronto and went to work in Vigo, Spain. She lived in a small village and studied part-time at the University of Santiago.  Returning to the US, she taught Spanish and History for Seattle Schools.  She began to submit short stories and write novels while getting coaching at an Iowa Writers Workshop summer session.  She now writes full-time, with a sequel to The Research Club expected in 2023.  With her husband Paul, she lives in St. Simons, Georgia and takes breaks from the heat in Friday Harbor, Washington near her three adult children.

Twitter: @LauraKellyRobb

Instagram: @BookHardy and LauraKellyRobb_Author

Guest Blogger ~ Sharon Marchisello

Setting a Mystery in the Galapagos

When my husband and I took our bucket-list vacation to the Galapagos in 2014, I had no idea I’d set a book there; otherwise, I’d have written off the trip on my taxes. (If you’re looking for the Galapagos on the map, it’s a group of  islands straddling the equator, approximately 600 miles off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador.) But I didn’t get the idea until six months later, when something triggered an experience from our cruise that I thought would make a great opening scene for a mystery.

Normally, the guides were conscientious about counting heads and watching over all the passengers in their charge whenever we were away from the ship. In an archipelago comprising 97% national park containing flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, tourists must be carefully supervised. But one day, my husband and I left another activity to join a snorkeling excursion already in progress, so neither of the guides assumed responsibility for us.

We were swimming along, marveling at the vast array of colorful underwater life, when I surfaced to see both Zodiac boats motoring back to the ship—without us! I can still feel the panic of being left alone in the middle of the ocean, treading water off the shore of an island populated only by sea lions and blue-footed boobies.

I waved and screamed, popping up and down like a cork, and fortunately, someone spotted me. One of the boats turned around and came back to pick me up. I didn’t see my husband right away but told the guide he was still out there. In a moment, he’d swum up and climbed aboard. All was well.

But what if…. What if my protagonist’s companion didn’t get picked up? And what if the person was left behind on purpose?

When Secrets of the Galapagos begins, my heroine, Giovanna Rogers, is snorkeling with her new friend, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo. The two get separated from the group, and Laurel disappears. And then no one on the ship will acknowledge that Laurel didn’t make it back.

Trying to determine a motive, I recalled a conversation I’d had with one of our guides during a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz (one of only four inhabited islands in the chain). “I know a secret about Lonesome George,” he said. “But if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” Lonesome George was a Galapagos giant tortoise made famous for being the sole survivor of the Pinta Island species. Unfortunately, efforts to breed George were unsuccessful, and the ancient tortoise passed away in 2012 without an heir.

But what if someone discovered another giant tortoise from a different subspecies also thought to be extinct? And then a tortoise researcher unearthed some information about the animal that certain individuals in the tourist industry didn’t want released?

You’ll have to read Secrets of the Galapagos to find out what happens next.

Shattered by a broken engagement and a business venture derailed by Jerome Haddad, her unscrupulous partner, Giovanna Rogers goes on a luxury Galapagos cruise with her grandmother to decompress. At least that’s what her grandmother thinks. Giovanna is determined to make Jerome pay for what he’s done, and she has a tip he’s headed for the Galapagos.

While snorkeling in Gardner Bay off the coast of Española Island, Giovanna and another cruise passenger, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo, become separated from the group, and Laurel is left behind. No one on the ship will acknowledge Laurel is missing, and Giovanna suspects a cover-up.

When the police come on board to investigate a death, Giovanna assumes the victim is Laurel. She’s anxious to give her testimony to the attractive local detective assigned to the case. Instead, she learns someone else is dead, and she’s a person of interest.

Resolved to keep searching for Laurel and make sense of her disappearance, Giovanna learns several people on board the ship have reasons to want Laurel gone. One is a scam involving Tio Armando, the famous Galapagos giant tortoise and a major tourist attraction in the archipelago. And Jerome Haddad has a hand in it. Thinking she’s the cat in this game, Giovanna gets too involved and becomes the mouse, putting her life in jeopardy. But if she doesn’t stop him, Jerome will go on to ruin others.

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Sharon Marchisello is the author of two mysteries published by Sunbury Press—Going Home (2014) and Secrets of the Galapagos (2019). She has written short stories, nonfiction, training manuals, screenplays, a blog, and book reviews. She earned a Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and has been an active member of Sisters in Crime since 1995, currently serving as treasurer of the Atlanta chapter. Retired from a 27-year career with Delta Air Lines, she now lives in Peachtree City, Georgia, and volunteers for the Fayette Humane Society.

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Photos source: Sharon Marchisello

Guest Blogger ~ Dianne Freeman

An Inspirational Feud

My Countess of Harleigh series takes place among the aristocracy of late Victorian London. That era and group of people provide an endless supply of situations on which to hang a murder mystery. The inspiration for my latest book was an unusual feud between two millionaires of the Gilded Age—John MacKay and Charles Bonynge.

The men had quite a bit in common. John MacKay came to the US from Ireland. In 1851, at the age of twenty, he made his way to California where he worked as a miner for eight years. Tired of mining, he began a mine-servicing business. As mining expanded, his business boomed. He continued to maintain ownership in a few mines as he was sure there was more silver to be found. He was right. One of his mines hit the Big Bonanza, the greatest mining strike in the history of the American West, and made him a millionaire many times over. He and his wife relocated to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Charles Bonynge immigrated to the US and headed west. He worked in San Francisco in a livery stable while speculating on the stock market. In the 1860s he too moved to Nevada, where he worked in the mines and traded in mining shares. After a while, he quit mining to set himself up as a stockbroker and met with great success. Bonynge, along with his wife and step daughter, moved to San Francisco, where Mackay became one of his clients.

Bonynge and MacKay had a business relationship that appeared to be cordial and lasted for several years. Then Bonynge retired, but not before he made some public comments about MacKay’s unethical business practices.

So began the feud.

Both families had homes in London and they all showed up for the social season of 1886. On the same day, Mrs. MacKay and the Bonynge family were meant to be presented to Queen Victoria at one of her Drawing Room afternoons. Unfortunately for Mrs. Bonynge, a newspaper ran a story revealing that she had been divorced, which made her ineligible to meet the queen. Mr. Bonynge and their daughter attended without her. Only the MacKays could have provided that tidbit to the papers. If this was the opening salvo in the feud, they were happy to fire back. They revealed to a reporter that when MacKay met his wife, Louise, she was working as a washer woman in mining camp.

Despite their wealth and class, the feud, which carried on for four years, was every bit as dirty as the Hatfields and McCoys and far more public. Enough so, that I had to wonder what would happen if one of these men was murdered? Wouldn’t the police immediately suspect the other party in the feud? And if someone else wanted to murder one of these men, what better time than when he was involved in an openly hostile feud with someone else? It was the perfect time. And that’s where A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder begins.


On the eve of her marriage to George Hazelton, Frances has a great deal more on her mind than flowers and seating arrangements. The Connors and the Bainbridges, two families of American robber barons, have taken up residence in London, and their bitter rivalry is spilling over into the highest social circles. At the request of her brother, Alonzo, who is quite taken with Miss Madeline Connor, Frances has invited the Connor family to her wedding. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother has invited Mr. Bainbridge, and Frances fears the wedding may end up being newspaper-worthy for all the wrong reasons.

On the day itself, Frances is relieved to note that Madeline’s father is not among the guests assembled at the church. The reason for his absence, however, turns out to be most unfortunate: Mr. Connor is found murdered in his home. More shocking still, Alonzo is caught at the scene, holding the murder weapon.

Powerful and ruthless, Connor appears to have amassed a wealth of enemies alongside his fortune. Frances and George agree to put their wedding trip on hold to try and clear Alonzo’s name. But there are secrets to sift through, not just in the Bainbridge and Connor families, but also in their own. And with a killer determined to evade discovery at any cost—even if it means taking another life—Frances’s first days as a newlywed will be perilous indeed.

You can find links to all Dianne’s books here: Dianne Freeman | Historical Mystery Writer (

Goodreads: Dianne Freeman (Author of A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder) | Goodreads

Dianne Freeman is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award winner, as well as a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. After thirty years of working in corporate accounting and finance, she now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at

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Guest Blogger ~ Kaye George

Where Did Enga Dancing Flower Come From?

I ask myself that sometimes! Her original name, in my mind, was Enga Yellow Flower. Her twin was Ung…some other color of flower. They were either abandoned by their own Neanderthal tribe, or the sole survivors of a catastrophe. However, as soon as I inserted Enga into the tribe who rescued them, in the very first book, DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, it became clear she was a dancer. The best dancer in the tribe. She wanted to keep the Flower in her name, hence, Enga Dancing Flower.

Maybe I should answer the larger question. Where did the Neanderthal tribe, who call themselves the Hamapa, come from? It is totally my fault that they find themselves in what is now North America. My life-long fascination with all things ancient compelled me to use that setting so I could include the wondrous mega-fauna from that time, about 35,000 years ago. I couldn’t resist the giant sloths, giant beavers, dire wolves, glyptodonts, saber tooth cats, mammoths of course, and many more. (The book, ICE AGE MAMMALS OF NORTH AMERICA: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre, helped to make them irresistible.)

Aside from residing where it’s probable that they never did (but it’s also possible, just barely!), this tribe and the others are drawn as faithfully to modern research as I can. It’s hard to keep up, though, because new discoveries are constantly being made, and new theories being posited. Just the other day, a baby wooly mammoth emerged from the permafrost in the Canadian Yukon, almost perfectly preserved!

Enga’s twin eventually became Ung Strong Arm when she turned out to be one of the best spear throwers. The Hamapa are matriarchal and the woman are the spear throwers since they are patient and accurate. The strong males are charged with hauling back the large pieces of the kills. Seems fair to me.

How about the names Enga and Ung? Believe me, everything had to be thought out for these books. I studied linguistics to learn what the easiest sounds are, the least complicated. It was thought, for some time, that Neanderthals had no speech capabilities, but that has been shot down for theories that they probably did. I took the middle ground. They can speak, but rarely do. And when they do, they use the sounds that young children and people with speech problems find easy to make.

That’s where Enga Dancing Flower came from. Where is she going? When the leader of the tribe is murdered in the first book, Enga is clever enough, with the help of a juvenile male named Jeek, to figure out who the murderer is. The tribe values her dancing as well as her problem-solving skills. You know, if you read mysteries, that more people will be murdered, and Enga and Jeek will have to uncover more clues, facts, and culprits.

The second book is DEATH ON THE TREK, and DEATH IN THE NEW LAND is the latest.

Enga Dancing Flower and her tribe have reached a place they can stay in safety. Or have they?

It’s clear the groups of other settlers in the area do not want more neighbors, and this is made even more evident when a male of Enga’s tribe is murdered, and a baby is kidnapped.

The future of the tribe is immediately put into question. Can Enga and her people find the killer and rescue the baby? Or will the security and bright future the tribe has dreamed of fall to pieces?

Buy links

Paperback from Untreed Reads (discounted here)

Ebook from Untreed Reads (discounted here, too)


Barnes & Noble

Also available through Ingram

Kaye George, award-winning novelist and short-story writer, writes cozy and traditional mysteries and a prehistory series, which are both traditionally and self-published: two cozy series, Fat Cat and Vintage Sweets; two traditionals featuring Cressa Carraway and Imogene Duckworthy; and the People of the Wind prehistory Neanderthal mysteries,  Over 50 short stories have also appeared, mostly in anthologies and magazines. She reviews for Suspense Magazine and writes a column for Mysterical-E. She lives in Knoxville TN.

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On The Road

As you are reading this, I’m off on a research trip for the next Gabriel Hawke novel. This one is set in Montana. I have an place in the middle of the two areas I need to research.

This story started about 5 years ago, before I had even started writing the Gabriel Hawke series. My husband and I were driving from the south to the north of Montana headed to visit my cousin in near Flathead Lake. As we followed this lake, I looked out and spotted a resort on an island in the lake. My first thought was “what a great place to have a writers retreat!”

A photo from when I was in Montana before. This is south of the lake.

That island and building kept coming back to me and when I decided on the premise of book 10 in the series, I knew that resort would be in the story.

I didn’t know the name of it and hubby and I were of a different opinion of which road we’d been on. One of my oldest daughter’s friends lives and works in Helena, MT. I contacted her and asked if she’d seen the place on her weekend drives. She knew the place and sent me a link to their website. I had been right! It was off the road I had said we’d driven up to my cousin, not the road, hubby had thought. Score one for me! That doesn’t happen often when it comes to driving and roads since hubby was a truck driver for 30 years.

With the website I looked up the island and the resort. I had hoped to stay there one night and get a feel for the place. Not at $2000 a night! So then I emailed and asked if I could just come hang out for a couple of hours (you have to get there by boats that are run by the resort). I explained I was a writer and wanted to use the resort for a couple of scenes in my book.

The person who wrote back to me asked if I was the author who had requested the same a while back. I said no. When I told her when I’d be in the area, she said there would be guest at the resort and no one else was allowed. But she would be happy to answer my questions and send me any photos I might need. You can bet after I go scope it out from the side of the lake, I’ll have more questions for her. Luckily it is only being used as the place where Hawke’s sister is attending a corporate retreat and it is more of a starting point for the story than a main setting.

The other place I’ll be visiting is the Flathead Indian Reservation. I’m debating on where the sister will run to, the reservation or the wilderness. That will depend on what I find out on my trip.

Right now, I’m pleased to say that book 9, Owl’s Silent Strike, is now available in ebook and print. My narrator is working on the audiobook.

Unexpected snowstorm…

Unfortunate accident…

And a body…

What started out as a favor and a leisurely trip into the mountains, soon turns State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s life upside down. The snowstorm they were trying to beat comes early, a horse accident breaks Dani Singer’s leg, and Hawke finds a body in the barn at Charlie’s Lodge.

Hawke sets Dani’s leg, then follows the bloody trail of a suspect trying to flee the snow drifted mountains. Hawke is torn between getting the woman he loves medical care and knowing he can’t leave a possible killer on the mountain.

Before the killer is brought to justice, Dani and Hawke will put their relationship to the test and his job on the line.

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