Rita A. Popp is a mystery writer who has worked as a newspaper reporter, public relations account executive, university writer and editor, and community college instructor. She and her husband divide their time between Colorado and a cabin in the New Mexico mountains.
Rita’s debut novel, The First Fiancée: A Bethany Jarviss Mystery, is due out from The Wild Rose Press on December 14, 2022, in e-book and paperback formats. It will be available to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, including local bookstores. In this classic whodunit, the discovery of human bones near a remote New Mexico mountain village sets a worried sister on a treacherous path to solve a murder. Bethany Jarviss fears her sister’s fiancé killed the long-missing young woman. He was first engaged to her and swears he thought she left him to pursue a singing career. News of the murder swirls as the newly engaged couple gets set to open their bed-and-breakfast inn right before Christmas. Bethany, who once solved the murder of a college girl, gives in to her sister’s pleas to investigate this case. Soon she meets many locals besides her future brother-in-law, who had motives for killing his beautiful, thieving, secretive first fiancée.
What brought you to writing? I wrote a short story for a high school English class. On my handwritten effort, the teacher jotted an “A” and one sentence: “You could be a good writer.” He was the only teacher I recall assigning students to write fiction as well as read it. Most teachers probably didn’t think we could earn a living by making stuff up. So I shelved that idea and settled for being an avid reader. I enjoyed literary works in class, but at home, I read mysteries. My uncle gave my dad a cardboard box filled with books from the Detective Book Club series. Each book contained three mystery novels. I devoured those and also read as many Agatha Christies as I could get my hands on.
Early in my career, I focused on journalism and public relations. Then, in my early thirties, while working as a university writer, I was entitled to take a free class each semester. I enrolled in a creative writing class, wrote my second short story, and earned a master’s degree in English. My thesis consisted of several stories. Much later, I tried my hand at mysteries.
Can you name some favorites of your works and writers? I love stories with some sort of twist at the end. The Open Window by Saki is delightful. I first read it in school and still get a kick out of the final sentence. As for novels, I have almost complete collections—mostly dog-eared paperbacks—of the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, and Elizabeth George. While I admire their male detectives, I adore the female amateur sleuths Jane Marple and Harriet Vane. If I only had time to re-read two mysteries in my life, I would likely pick 4:50 From Paddington and Gaudy Night. Both are real puzzlers that end on a high note.
You’ve published your first mystery novel. Do you still write short stories or write in any other genre? I write short stories, two of which have appeared in Sisters in Crime Guppy anthologies. My flash fiction pieces have earned honorable mentions in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine contests. And one of my six-word mysteries won the Police Procedural category of a contest annually sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America Rocky Mountain Chapter. A long story of mine, Passing on the Farm, is scheduled for a spring 2023 release by The Wild Rose Press.
A serious story with a romantic subplot, it will be part of a new series titled Jelly Beans and Spring Things. I had fun making the candy and season integral to the story and munching on jelly beans as I drafted it.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? They’re a mashup of both. The First Fiancée takes place in a fictional, small New Mexico village named Sorrel. The town, the scary mountain road up to it, and the guest lodge outside of it are inspired by visits to the historic small towns of Mogollon, Hillsboro, Kingston, and Cloudcroft and stays at my mountain cabin.
Please tell us about your writing process. Usually, stories stew in my mind for ages. I’m an avid labyrinth walker, keep a journal of the labyrinths I’ve walked, and often imagine scenes for my fiction as I walk labyrinths’ winding paths. So far, none of my fictional victims have been found dead in a labyrinth, but that’s always a possibility! When I’m out in public, I scout locations and spy on people to create characters. Then I jot down on paper or my laptop whatever bits I might use. For a new story or novel, I type a character list and some initial ideas about setting and plot. Then I start writing scenes. My routine is to write weekday mornings, a cup of tea at hand, in my home or cabin office with the door closed. If my husband or golden retriever interrupt me, I growl at them! Everything else in life, I try to schedule for other times. But I did make an exception recently to drive my husband to his early-morning colonoscopy appointment!
What are you currently working on? I’m editing the manuscript of a second Bethany Jarviss mystery novel, The End of Promise, and drafting a third, The Middle of Nowhere. I’ve got a new mystery story in the hopper too.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Absolutely! I’ve learned so much from speakers, classes, critiques, write-ins, and the camaraderie of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Northern Colorado Writers, and other groups. I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month in November and weekly Shut Up and Write Zoom sessions. Without the support of other writers, The First Fiancée would exist only on my computer and printouts stuck in a bottom desk drawer.
How do your readers contact you? Besides bumping into me at a café, bookstore, or library? Through my website at https://ritapopp.com. I love to hear from readers and other writers!
Kirsten Weiss writes laugh-out-loud, page-turning mysteries. Her heroines aren’t perfect, but they’re smart, they struggle, and they succeed. Kirsten writes in a house high on a hill in the Colorado woods and occasionally ventures out for wine and chocolate. Or for a visit to the local pie shop.
Kirsten is best known for her Wits’ End, Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum, and Tea & Tarot cozy mystery books. So, if you like funny, action-packed mysteries with complicated heroines, just turn the page.
Gingerbread Dead – Tea and Tarot room owner Abigail has her hands full for the holidays. But when a business owner on her street is murdered in her small California beach town, she and her Tarot-reading partner Hyperion are on the case. Now, with a cranky cop on their tails, the duo must find a way to solve the crime and stay out of the slammer. All before a killer cancels their Christmas.
Do you write in more than one genre? I stick to mystery novels, but that genre has been broken into several niches. I’ve written cozy mystery, witch mystery, urban fantasy mystery, and even some steampunk mystery/suspense.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, though the way I write them sometimes does. But that’s why I edit the heck out of all my books. That way, I can fix character and other issues before publication.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? My stories are chock full of subplots. Since I write comedic mysteries, I usually rely on subplots for most of the humor. (Murder isn’t all that funny). And I like my heroes to have a life outside amateur detecting, something that will give them room to grow.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I work with a loose outline that allows me to plot my clues and red herrings but gives me enough flexibility to change things up a bit as I go along. Sometimes the best ideas strike as I’m writing. It feels like plotting and writing use two different types of thinking. Character actions or plotting ideas can seem obvious in the middle of a scene, but I don’t seem to catch those obvious twists and turns during the plotting process. Maybe I can get into a flow state while writing which allows easier access to the intuition, whereas plotting doesn’t get me there.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I like to stick to fictional locations based on real places. That way, if I mess up where a certain street or business is, no one will know! (And I most definitely will mess up actual locations).
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m continuing to write in my Wits’ End, Tea and Tarot, and Paranormal Museum series. But I also have a literary fiction project coming out next year, tentatively titled The Mysteries of Tarot. It’s ostensibly a book on reading Tarot cards by Hyperion from the Tea and Tarot series, but it’s actually much, much more.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Successful writers are those who don’t give up, keep learning and writing, and just stick with it. So, stick with it!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Since it’s the holiday season, readers may enjoy picking up the latest in my Tea and Tarot series, Gingerbread Dead. It’s got a lot of humor and holiday scone recipes in the back of the book.
How do our readers contact you? I’ve got a contact form on my website at KirstenWeiss.com. At the same site, readers can also pick up a free eBook copy of Fortune Favors the Grave, a Tea and Tarot novella.
Where to buy Gingerbread Dead:
Apple Books: https://apple.co/3OS7VvL
Google Play: https://bit.ly/3Q7dxTW
When George invited me for a return visit to his blog, I asked him if he had a topic he’d like me to discuss. He suggested how I got into blogging.
I started blogging back in 2010 after selling my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series because my publisher had insisted that I have a social media presence beyond my website. What they really wanted was for me to have a Facebook presence. My editor pretty much insisted. She was one of those people who posts her entire life on Facebook, something that boggles my privacy-conscious mind.
I loathe Facebook—with a passion. I’d heard and read too many horror stories about Facebook, and that was way back then. Over the years, it’s gotten far worse. Talk about a “bully” pulpit (and not the kind Teddy Roosevelt had in mind)! I wanted no part of it. I’d been bullied enough in my life prior to the creation of the “social” platform that gave free rein to the extremely unsocial and antisocial elements of society. I had sworn I’d be the last person on the planet not “Zucked” in.
But my editor insisted. So I caved and set up a Facebook page. Within minutes, I was inundated with friend requests from creepy looking guys from Third World nations. I should have trusted my gut. It then took me several hours to figure out how to delete my account. Zuckerberg doesn’t make it easy to leave once he’s snared you.
When I did finally navigate the labyrinth to the Delete Account key, I emailed my agent. We brainstormed other social media, and I came up with the idea of Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, a blog that would be the online version of the magazine where my sleuth worked. Amazingly, my editor loved the idea—even if she wasn’t thrilled that I had deleted my Facebook account the same day I’d set it up. I appeased her further by also agreeing to set up a Twitter account for my sleuth and Pinterest pages to promote my books and the blog.
The blog has evolved over the past twelve years. I used to post five days a week but cut back to three a few years ago. I also used to have guests only on Fridays. Now I have as many guests as would like to come for a visit. This not only saves me time, but it’s a way of highlighting and networking with other authors, some of whom have become good friends over the years.
To be honest, I rarely post anything on Twitter. When I do, it’s book or writing-related, never personal or political. I usually forget to update my Pinterest pages. However, I’ve discovered that I do enjoy blogging. Along with Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, I belong to two group blogs—The Stiletto Gang, where I blog on the fourth Wednesday of each month and Booklover’s Bench, where I blog every seventh Thursday. I also do guest posts at other authors’ blogs, such as this one I’m doing for George.
Social media has since grown to include Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and more. I won’t be joining any of them. Some people have said not being on all these sites adversely impacts the sales of my books. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’d sell a few dozen more books a month if I spent hours each day on social media. But then, when would I have time to write my books?
Life is a series of choices, and we each must choose what we feel is right for us. I’d rather write my books than scroll down the rabbit hole of social media. What about you? How do you feel about social media? Post a comment for a chance to win an audiobook of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun (US or UK only), the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.
Guilty as Framed – An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11
When an elderly man shows up at the home of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, she’s drawn into the unsolved mystery of the greatest art heist in history.
Boston mob boss Cormac Murphy has recently been released from prison. He doesn’t believe Anastasia’s assertion that the man he’s looking for doesn’t live at her address and attempts to muscle his way into her home. His efforts are thwarted by Anastasia’s fiancé Zack Barnes.
A week later, a stolen SUV containing a dead body appears in Anastasia’s driveway. Anastasia believes Murphy is sending her a message. It’s only the first in a series of alarming incidents, including a mugging, a break-in, another murder, and the discovery of a cache of jewelry and an etching from the largest museum burglary in history.
But will Anastasia solve the mystery behind these shocking events before she falls victim to a couple of desperate thugs who will stop at nothing to get what they want?
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/guilty-as-framed/id6442846272
J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes science and international travel in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Games for Couples, Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and seven others.
A woman scientist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who poisoned the food at a political rally with botulism toxin in order to kill their target—a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate.
A number of physicians and biologists have become novelists, including Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Homes series), Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds), and Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita). Agatha Christie worked in a pharmacy during World War II. Several have commented that they wrote novels because they wanted to arouse interest in the medical sciences and public health among their readers, i.e., Robin Cook (Coma) and the inventor of birth control pills Carl Djerassi (Cantor’s Dilemma).
Do novelists impact readers’ interest in science? Maybe. A number of undergraduate women and minorities majoring in biology at one university claimed Abby Sciuto, the forensic scientist for many years on the popular T.V. show NCIS, was a role model because she was a caring person even though she was a scientist.
Their comments were particularly interesting because the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have invested millions of dollars trying to recruit women and minorities into scientific fields but have had limited success. It seems many students think of scientists as being weird, white males. One can’t wonder if this stereotype was enhanced by fictional villains, such as Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Strangelove, and Dr. Moreau.
As scientist and dean, I can tell you that recruiting and retaining women and minorities to faculty positions is not easy. Furthermore, it’s not fun being the only woman on a government panel.
What I decided to do? I decided to write mysteries and thrillers with a woman scientist Sara Almquist as my protagonist. Sara is a feisty woman who tired of the constant bickering among university faculty members and became a consultant on epidemiology for the FBI and other agencies, including the USAID, an arm of the State Department concerned with agriculture and public health issues internationally. She has a love interest but is too independent to marry him. He calls her “a nosy do-gooder,” and she reluctantly agrees with his assessment of her.
In each of the mysteries and thrillers in my Science Traveler Series, Sara investigates a different scientific issue as she helps law enforcement agencies solve murders. They include weight loss schemes, industrial sabotage in the biotechnology industry, and bubonic plague in livestock.
In my newest mystery FAIR COMPROMISES, Sara Almquist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who endangered the lives of a hundred attendees at a political rally by poisoning the food with botulism toxin. The poisoners’ target was a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate; the rest were just collateral damage. As these agents track clues from a veterans’ hall in Clovis to health spas of Santa Fe, they must make a multitude of personal and professional (perhaps too many) compromises.
What is known about botulinum toxins? One of the hottest anti-aging products offered at health spas is BOTOX or related botulinum products. I suspect many clients get rid of their wrinkles or make their lips look luscious, and pouty know little about the injections they are getting.
Botulinum products, such as BOTOX, are produced by the same bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) that grows in improperly canned vegetables and meat. Perhaps a few of you remember your mother using a pressure cooker when she canned vegetables to prevent the lethal effects of botulinum toxin.
Your mother was right. Scientists have found botulism toxin is the most toxic natural compound ever discovered. It literally paralyzes muscles. Hence, the victims of botulism poisoning die of paralysis of the muscles needed for respiration. The death rate used to be 90%. Now with an antidote, the death rate is 5-10%.
During World War II, botulism toxin was considered as a potential weapon of war. In the 1980 and 1990s, scientists discovered tiny amounts of it could be used and injected into muscles that spasmed in various neurological conditions. They also figured out that tiny injections of botulinum toxin would prevent the muscle contractions that caused crow’s feet around the eyes and worry lines.
How is botulinum toxin used in FAIR COMPROMISES? In this mystery, state public health officials quickly determine that botulism poisoning has caused double and blurred visions and headaches in dozens of people who attended a political rally the day before. The health officials requested the help of the FBI when they realized the symptoms of the senate candidate at the rally were much worse than those of others, and she was progressing rapidly to respiratory paralysis. They think she may have been targeted.
Thus FAIR COMPROMISES is a medical mystery in which the source of the toxin must be identified. At first, improperly home canned food served at the rally appears to be the source of the toxin. The mystery turns from being the analysis of a severe food safety breach to the investigation of a diabolical murder attempt using “cosmetic” botulism toxin when Sara, with the help of a talented lab crew, discovers a more sinister source of the toxin at a health and beauty spa in Santa Fe.
How are these bits of science in FAIR COMPROMISES useful?
- It’s a reminder to home canners to follow recipe instructions carefully.
- It helps consumers appreciate the scientific basis of public health regulations in regard to food processing and cosmetics.
- It reminds women to get the facts before they select to “beat the aging process” with just an easy injection or cream.
- Maybe it will generate interest in the science in general.
J.L. can be contacted at: https://www.jlgreger.com
FAIR COMPROMISES is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Compromises-Science-Traveler-Greger/dp/1735421421
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Charts bestselling author. Her newest series features forensic semiotician Dr. Evan Wilding—a man whose gift for interpreting the signs left by killers has led him to consult on some of the world’s grisliest cases.
“Dr. Evan Wilding is absolutely my new favorite fictional human.” (Danielle Girard, USA Today & Amazon #1 Bestselling Author of The Ex)
Dark of Night: When an historian is found dead from a cobra bite, only Dr. Evan Wilding can read the signs around her strange death—and follow the path to the priceless treasure behind her murder.
Groups: Mystery Writers of America (including the Colorado chapter—RMMWA) and Sisters in Crime (including Sisters in Crime – Colorado).
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I’m fortunate to have a room of my own, filled with books and decorated with items that inspire me—Egyptian paintings on papyrus, black and white photos taken in Africa, globes, and maps. I wish I could say I don’t allow any distractions, but I’m not that disciplined. My phone and internet access are right there in the room with me. But I always start my day with the phone in a drawer, and I don’t allow myself to log on to the internet until lunch unless I know there’s something I have to take care of.
Tell us about your writing process: I wish I could go straight from my bed to my desk—Dennis Lehane says he prefers to write first thing in the morning when he’s still in a dream state. But I have to start my day with breakfast, or I’d pass out at my computer after the first hour. So, breakfast while I read the news, then I make coffee and head upstairs to my study. I spend the morning writing new material and the afternoon editing and doing research, taking an early afternoon break for exercise. The late afternoon and evening hours are for items related to the business of writing or social media. Maybe a glass of wine and some reflection on the day’s work. Almost always a walk. I try to preserve my weekends as much as possible to spend with family and friends.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The fact of a deadline. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m so very grateful to have a deadline because it means my book will go out into the world after my publisher has worked their magic. But I never feel I can give the book everything it deserves. It’s a bit reminiscent of a time in college when I was taking a trig test, and the professor gave us a twenty-minute warning. After that, all my brain could process was “twenty minutes.”
What are you currently working on? I’m writing the third book in the Evan Wilding series, tentatively titled Play of Shadows. It’s about sibling rivalry, domineering fathers, and the question of how early in life humans show a penchant for evil. It’s also about mazes and the minotaur and the undeciphered hieroglyphic script of Crete.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Yes, in the most wonderful ways. The combination of moral support, shared stories, and practical craft lessons is invaluable. Writing can be lonely, and even though I’m a profound introvert, I’ve learned that having a writing community is priceless.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? For me, it’s describing men and women from the POV of a man. As a writer, I have to portray a woman the way a man (in particular, my protagonist) would see her—the details he would notice, the things about her he’d find most important. And I have to be equally careful to describe a male character the way another man would see him.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? It’s more the other way around. If I’m not bringing everything to the table, I’ll disappoint my characters—and I’ll be disappointed in the results.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Separate your goals into two categories: Those you have control over (improving your craft, reading a lot of other authors, how much time you spend at the desk) and those you don’t (whether or not a particular story or novel sells, how it will be received by the reading public, what the reviewers will say). Focus all of your energy on the things you can control and do your best to forget the rest.
Readers can reach me through my website: https://www.barbaranickless.com
And they can buy my books on Amazon (or at any other bookseller): Amazon Barbara Nickless
Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. Titles in this series have been named Best Cozy Mystery by Suspense Magazine, won a Readers’ Favorite gold medal and a RONE Award, placed first in the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and third in the Arizona Literary Awards.
Her nonfiction titles, Writing the Cozy Mystery and A Bad Hair Day Cookbook, have won the FAPA President’s Book Award and the Royal Palm Literary Award. Active in the writing community, Nancy is a past president of Florida Romance Writers and the Florida Chapter of MWA. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising, and visiting Disney World.
STYLED FOR MURDER – Hairstylist Marla Vail realizes the dead body in the bathroom wasn’t part of her mother’s home renovation plans. To flush out the culprit, she must tap into a pipeline of suspects. Can she demolish their alibis and assemble the clues to nail a killer?
Get Your Copy Here – https://books2read.com/StyledforMurder
Do you write in more than one genre? Not at present. Years ago, I started out writing SciFi/fantasy romances and later switched to mysteries. Currently, I write the Bad Hair Day mystery series featuring hairstylist and salon owner Marla Vail. This series has 17 full-length titles, a novella, a short story, and a cookbook. Permed to Death is book number one, but readers can jump into any installment to get started. The first four books are also in audiobook format, and I have box sets as well.
What brought you to writing? I’m an avid reader but can’t always find the stories I want. Sometimes you have to write the book of your heart that you can’t find anywhere else. I learned how to write a novel from a book called Structuring Your Novel and also by outlining stories I liked for the structure and pacing.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I work in my home office with a view out the front window. I don’t play music and prefer silence in the background.
Tell us about your writing process: I write a first draft straight through with few corrections. Then I’ll begin revisions. This may take two to three rounds and often more until the book is done to my satisfaction. I write early in the morning and spend afternoons on marketing and other author tasks.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Starting a new book is the hardest part for me. Until the characters come alive on the page, it’s slow-going at first. The story may not take off until the second half, when it begins to write itself. I have to trust the process because I always feel I’ll never make my word count. And yet, I do. Somehow the pages get filled in.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on Star Tangled Murder which is book #18 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Marla and her husband, Dalton, attend a battle reenactment over July 4th weekend where a fake skirmish turns up a real dead body. Currently, I’m in the revision phase.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I rely on my critique partners to steer me on a straight path. Otherwise, I belong to Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Novelists Inc., Florida Writers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, and Florida Authors & Publishers Association.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took me a couple of years to write my very first book. That’s not the one that sold, however. I wrote six books before a critique partner inspired me to write a futuristic romance. Circle of Light was my first published title. It won the HOLT Medallion Award and began a trilogy for Dorchester Publishing. Aside from my mysteries and two nonfiction titles, I’ve written eight romances and a romantic mystery novella.
How long to get it published? Circle of Light sold within six months of submission. It was an agented query. That was the seventh novel I’d written. I still have rejection slips for those early manuscripts.
How do you come up with character names? I create names that are appropriate to the character. I keep a spreadsheet now, so I don’t duplicate them. If you’re planning a series, do this from the start to make things easier.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? Marla is independent and won’t let anyone slow her down once her mind is made up. She’s a dependable, caring friend and definitely not on the wild side. While she can be impulsive, she has a practical nature and focuses on getting things done.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Subplots involve what is going on in a sleuth’s life with her friends and family. For example, Marla meets Detective Dalton Vail in book one. They both have conflicts to overcome before they can be together. These play into the next few stories until they’re engaged. Then there’s more conflict before their nuptials. It’s a push/pull situation. When they’re finally married, they work together as a team to solve crimes. Meanwhile, Marla’s mother has a role, as do Dalton’s parents and his teenage daughter from a previous marriage. There’s plenty of fodder for subplots among their relationships.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? When Marla starts getting too close to the truth, the killer will do what they must to stop her or warn her off. One caveat with a cozy is that nobody gets terribly hurt, at least not the sleuth. And definitely not her pets, either.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I used to write a synopsis before beginning the story, but for Star Tangled Murder, I mostly winged it. However, I already knew my suspects and the victim. It helps me to plan as much as I can ahead of time, so I have a direction to follow.
What kind of research do you do? This depends on what I set out to learn. I like to discover something new with each story. That’s what makes it exciting for me and keeps things fresh for my fans. For example, Easter Hair Hunt was fun to research. The setting was based on Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C. Topics that interested me for this story included beekeeping, Fabergé eggs, honey production, love bugs, postage stamp collecting, and Russian nesting dolls. Now for Star Tangled Banner, I’m into tea growing, fire starter kits, buttons, and battle reenactments, as well as the Seminole wars and historic Florida circa early 1900s. Styled for Murder involved Marla’s mother, who found a dead body in her shower during a bathroom remodel. For that story, I learned about copper thefts, among other topics. I like to share these topics with my readers in a fun manner.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Mostly I use fictional locations, although these may be based on real ones like above. Sometimes I’ll mention real places depending on what happens in the story.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’d like to put more of my mysteries into audiobook format and my revised earlier romances into trade paperbacks. Then we’ll see.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Join a professional writing organization, attend workshops and conferences, expand your contacts, and follow other authors. This is the best way to learn the business of writing. Meanwhile, keep the faith and keep writing.
Where to Find Nancy:
Lorna and Larry Collins grew up together in Alhambra, California. They have been married for fifty-seven years and have one daughter, Kimberly.
They worked together on the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka. Larry was a Project Engineer responsible for the Jurassic Park, JAWS, and WaterWorld attractions. Lorna was the Document Control Supervisor in the Osaka field office.
Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was a 2006 EPPIE finalist, and named one of Rebeccas Reads Best Nonfiction books of 2005.
Their mysteries, set in Hawaii, are Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise.
Along with several friends, Lorna co-wrote the six sweet romance collections in the Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies series, set in Colorado. Directions of Love won the 2011 EPIC eBook Award as best anthology.
Her solo mystery/fantasy is a ‘beach read’ called Ghost Writer. She also wrote Jewel of the Missions: San Juan Capistrano and a children’s book, Lola, The Parrot Who Saved the Mission. Their joint venture is The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s, told from the point-of-view of a Juaneño Indian.
Larry’s collection of short stories is entitled, Lakeview Park. His latest project is his sci-fi series, The McGregor Chronicles. He has finished nine books in the series.
Their latest collaboration is Dominic Drive, from an idea of Lorna’s late brother, Ronald Travis Lund. (Available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audio.)
Dominic Drive is the coming-of-age story of Charlie Williams, a young man who has a difficult childhood but who remains optimistic and hopeful, told through the eyes of another young man who becomes as close as a brother to him. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it captures life in a post-WWII community.
All their books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, their website (www.lornalarry.com), and other online book outlets. Follow Lorna’s blog at http://lornacollins-author.blogspot.com.
Do you write in more than one genre? We started writing a nonfiction memoir of our time spent working in Osaka on the Universal Studios Japan theme park, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. We never expected to write and publish anything else. However, we attended a writing conference and got an idea for our first Mystery, Murder…They Wrote. This led to our second mystery, Murder in Paradise, and we have added several other genres since.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Since we write together, blending our voices into one seamless voice was initially a challenge. Also, Larry is a plotter, and Lorna is a “pantser.” (She writes by the seat of her pants.) Over the first few books, Larry learned to trust the characters, and Lorna became more disciplined. We sometimes disagree on plotlines, but we usually throw out both ideas and settle on another—better—one. After having written several books together, the process has become almost second nature.
What are you currently working on? After nearly three years of research, in 2014, we published The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano, California, between 1820 and 1890. We talked about a sequel and started the research for it. However, we both were pulled into other projects, and this one languished. When Larry finished Book 9 of The McGregor Chronicles, he was ready to get back to it. Meanwhile, Lorna had written quite a few chapters, but she needed Larry’s voice in the story. They are finally finishing the sequel to be called Becoming the Jewel, to be published soon.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? After we wrote our first book, it was nominated for an EPPIE award from EPIC (The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition). We attended their conference in 2006 and became members. There we met publishers, other authors, agents, and other industry professionals, from whom we learned a great deal. We did presentations and panels at over a dozen or more of their conferences, including one keynote address, and Lorna moderated the publishers’ panels. We remained members until the group disbanded several years ago.
Through members of EPIC, we joined PSWA (Public Service Writers Association). We have attended several of their conferences and learned a great deal about police procedures as well as how other safety professionals work. We have also made some great friends in the group.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters of the opposite sex? This is where writing together gives us a decided advantage. For the most part, Larry writes the male characters, and Lorna writes the female ones. With one exception: Larry writes most of the old ladies in our novels! For some reason, he started writing them in our first mystery, and he has continued ever since.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Between 1861 and 1863, a plague (black pox or smallpox) killed 90% of the Indian population of San Juan Capistrano. When we were writing The Memory Keeper, we knew at least one of our characters would have to die. Larry was set to lose one, but Lorna argued with him. If 90% of the native population died, then their family would have to lose more of their members.
When we reread the completed chapters about the plague, Lorna sobbed. She does so every time she rereads the book. A few chapters later, we needed to lose another character. He was a particular favorite, so his loss felt very personal to both of us.
In these cases, their loss was already part of the plot. (Larry is a plotter, remember?) The storyline already included their losses, so the storyline continued as planned.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Because we write about the authentic history of San Juan Capistrano, California, and because history is so revered and protected here, we have to be 100% accurate. (History is like a second religion in town.) If we say a particular thing happened at a specific time, it did. Historical figures must be portrayed exactly as they were. So far, we have received no criticism about our historical accuracy, so we must have done a few things right. But in order to achieve this level of accuracy, we have to read a great many books and articles and interview many experts. About 95% of what we learn never makes it onto the pages of our books, but it is necessary for us to know it.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The first thing is to keep writing. Too many writers give up early. Second, join a critique group or take a college-level writing class. Third, when you think you are finished, find a few beta readers, who are NOT friends or family members, to read the complete work and give you feedback. This is where professional organizations can be of great help.
Once you get positive feedback, hire a professional editor. No one can properly edit their own work—including us.
Last, if you intend to self-publish, also invest in a professional cover artist. Since books are now purchased mostly online, the cover must stand out when seen as a thumbnail image. A professional can help you with an image that will sell your book.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourselves? Lorna is a well-respected professional editor. She had lots of experience in her former career in Document Control and carried it into her writing profession. She provides content and line editing as well as formatting for ebooks and print.
Larry is a professional cover artist with well over 100 published covers to his credit. He has designed nearly all of the covers for their books.
Dr. Eve Sprunt is a prolific writer and consultant on diversity and inclusion, as well as the transition from hydrocarbons to cleaner forms of energy. She is passionate about mentoring younger professionals, especially women struggling to combine parenting and professionalism and those facing cross-cultural challenges.
Her over 120 editorial columns addressed workforce issues, industry trends, and cross-cultural challenges. In addition to authoring 23 patents and 28 technical publications, she is the author of four books: A Guide for Dual-Career Couples (Praeger), Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, A Guide to Career Resilience (Springer Nature) as co-author with Maria Angela Capello with whom she authored Mentoring and Sponsoring: Keys to Success (Springer Nature).
During her 35 years in the energy industry, Eve acquired extensive experience working for major oil companies on projects around the world. She was the 2006 President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the 2018 President of the American Geosciences Institute, and the founder of the Society of Core Analysts. She has received high honors from SPE, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Geological Society of America. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from MIT, and she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. (1977) from Stanford in Geophysics. She speaks and consults on women’s and energy issues and is an active member of the California Writers Club Tri-Valley Writers Branch.
A Guide to Career Resilience (with Maria Angela Capello), 2022
Mentoring and Sponsoring, Keys to Success (with Maria Angela Capello), 2020
Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, 2019
A Guide for Dual-Career Couples, Rewriting the Rules, 2016
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, self-help and memoir/biography
What brought you to writing? It runs in the family. My mother (Ruth Chew) wrote and illustrated 29 children’s fantasy chapter books. Mother’s first and best-selling book, The Wednesday Witch, sold over a million copies. My maternal grandfather was also a writer.
As a female scientist, when technical women were rare, documenting my work in writing (both within the company and in industry publications) improved my odds of getting credit for my work and enabled me to build my reputation.
I volunteered to serve as Senior Technical Editor of the Society of Petroleum Engineers for three years because the role included writing a monthly editorial column. I authored “edgy” articles on workforce issues. After my term ended, I continued writing bimonthly editorial columns for another seven years. I began writing books when I retired and was no longer subject to corporate censorship.
What are you currently working on? I am polishing a memoir/biography of my mother, Ruth Chew, who became a successful children’s book author/illustrator after I left home. Passionate Persistence is based on Mother’s 67 years of daily diaries and my memories. The Tri-Valley Writers critique groups and Lani Longshore (as a beta reader) have been tremendously helpful.
When the leader of my hiking group learned that I was receiving the 2022 Curtis-Hedberg Petroleum Career Achievement Award for outstanding contributions in the field of petroleum geology, she urged me to write a memoir about my career. I was astounded to be selected for that Geological Society of America’s award because my degrees are in geophysics, and I usually impersonated a petroleum engineer. However, my most significant technical contributions involved convincing the engineers that they had overlooked critical aspects of the geology.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The first book I wrote was the one I self-publishing in 2019, Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story. I found an agent for that manuscript, but in hindsight, I suspect she took me as a client because she was a fan of my mother’s children’s chapter books, which were out of print. Shortly after I signed agreements with the agent to represent both my work and my mother’s, an editor at Random House approached me about the republication of my mother’s books. The agent received a sizable commission on the agreement with Random House but never found a publisher for Dearest Audrey, despite representing it for several years.
That agent didn’t like my manuscript for A Guide for Dual-Career Couples but recommended that I go through the submission process for Praeger, which asked for an outline and sample chapters. Praeger accepted my proposal, and the agent spent months working on the contract, leaving me only about six weeks to get the manuscript completely revised if I wanted to have A Guide for Dual-Career Couples included in Praeger’s spring 2016 catalog. I realized that since I was working for myself, I could work 7-day weeks and long hours, and I met the deadline.
Eventually, I concluded the agent would never find a publisher for Dearest Audrey, so we agreed to dissolve our agreement. I hired a developmental editor through Reedsy, who guided me through the self-publication process. Dearest Audrey was published in 2019.
Self-help books like A Guide for Dual-Career Couples and my two books published by Springer, Mentoring, and Sponsoring, Keys to Success (2020) and A Guide to Career Resilience (2022), are accepted based on an outline and sample chapters. The writing and publication process can be very swift.
Passionate Persistence, The Life of Ruth Chew, which I hope will become my fifth book, may be a tough sell. I asked the developmental editor I used for Dearest Audrey to edit it and advise me on whether I should seek an agent or pursue self-publishing. After I left home, my mother was so focused on her successful career as an author my younger siblings ran wild. She wrote children’s chapter books, but her life was not a story for children.
About twice a week, I go hiking with a group of ladies. When the leader learned I was selected for the Geological Society of America’s lifetime achievement award, she said, “Who’s going to write your story? You need to do it.”
In A Guide to Career Resilience, my co-author and I share examples in which we successfully challenged the system. Both of us consider ourselves to be shy, but I don’t know anyone else who would. Our author at Springer objected to the concept that “forgiveness is easier than permission.” We included the concept and the examples but refrained from using the forbidden phrase. In our careers, my co-author and I leveraged that concept to surmount barriers.
My mother (the title character in Passionate Persistence) was an ambitious woman. She thought her older sister, Audrey (the heroine of Dearest Audrey), was afraid of her own shadow. Ironically, before writing Dearest Audrey, I accepted my mother’s assessment of Audrey despite ample evidence to the contrary – Audrey went on sabbatical to Pakistan in the mid-1950s, not knowing exactly where or what she would teach, and was traveling alone near the Khyber Pass when she met her true love.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? All the time. I always disguise their identity if I use them as a bad example.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to write about my life experiences but will weave them into a self-help book because those are easier to market than memoirs.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Join a writing group.
How do our readers contact you? Please contact me at www.evesprunt.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori Robbins is the author of the On Pointe and Master Class mystery series. She won the Indie Award for Best Mystery, the Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery, and is currently a finalist for a Mystery & Mayhem Book Award. Short stories include “Accidents Happen” in Murder Most Diabolical and “Leading Ladies” in Justice for All. She is also a contributor to The Secret Ingredient: A Mystery Writers Cookbook. Lori’s experiences as a professional dancer, English teacher, writer, and mother of six have made her an expert in the homicidal impulses everyday life inspires.
Latest Projects: Lesson Plan for Murder, the first book in my Master Class mystery series, will be re-released in September. The third work in my On Pointe mystery series, Murder in Third Position, will release on November 22nd. All are published by Level Best Books.
A killer in the shadows. A ballerina in the spotlight. One missed cue, and the curtain will fall on Leah Siderova’s career. And her life.
Despite my devotion to crime fiction, I’m not in the market for a Glock. Nor do I plan to engage upon a high-speed chase anytime soon since I still get nervous merging onto the Garden State Parkway. As for courage under fire, I would never follow a suspect down a dark alley if there was the slightest chance of running into a rodent of any size. And don’t get me started on the topic of creatures with more than four legs. Staring down a threat like that is simply not happening unless I was armed with an industrial-sized can of bug spray and could aim it from a remote location.
Perhaps this is why I prefer to write and read stories with amateur sleuths. One of the great pleasures of this genre of crime fiction is it enables a vicarious experience that allows us to be a better and braver version of ourselves. We’re given the opportunity to investigate with a detective who possesses the deficiencies most of us share. And when a flawed hero or heroine overcomes weakness and delivers justice, this feels like a win for ordinary people everywhere.
As a writer, my heroines pose a creative challenge of no small proportion. They won’t leap into danger unless forced to do so, and even then, they constantly threaten to pack up and go home. The only way to credibly place these risk-averse characters at the heart of a murder investigation is to make the impossible seem inevitable, and narrowing my protagonists’ options is how their transformation from hesitant to heroic happens. Actions that would have been unthinkable on page two become the only means of survival on page two hundred. In order to make their journey believable, I imagine myself in my character’s place. That’s why both my mystery series are inspired by lived experiences.
My first career was as a dancer. It’s a world I know intimately, and because it’s filled with inherent conflict, it works well as a dramatic framework for a murder mystery. A ballerina’s professional life is brutally short, even without a fictional crime thrown into the mix, and this vulnerability makes dancers extremely susceptible to all kinds of pressure. An added element of tension is the fact that dancers aren’t simply in competition with each other. They’re also in competition with themselves: their own bodies and their own frailties. The stresses dancers face didn’t need much in the way of exaggeration to provide plenty of motivation for murder. The emotions are real, even if the situation is fiction.
Much of what makes the amateur-sleuth genre of crime fiction so satisfying is that an unexceptional person is challenged with the opportunity to do extraordinary things. But the quests aren’t one-dimensional. In Murder in First Position, for example. Leah’s journey takes place externally, in the context of a murder investigation, but it also takes place internally as well. She learns there’s more to life and to her than being onstage. You don’t have to know the difference between a plié and a pirouette to understand the heartbreak of losing a much-loved job or the triumph of achieving a hard-fought victory.
Ideally, the mundane elements of an amateur sleuth’s life become her superpower, and tapping into those resources is how armchair detectives connect with their fictional alter egos. The English teacher in Lesson Plan for Murder uncovers the identity of the killer using clues from the literature she teaches. The ballerina in the On Pointe Mysteries draws upon her knowledge of stagecraft to hide in plain sight.
Amateur sleuths bring order out of chaos armed only with their wit, their intelligence, and their determination to see justice done. There’s nothing ordinary about that.
I’m a member of the NY/Tristate Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America [NY], and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
I’m most active on Instagram, but I also post on Facebook, with the occasional tweet thrown in. Honestly, I’ve tried and failed multiple times on Twitter.
Ann Claire earned a degree in geography, which took her across the world. Now Claire lives with her geographer husband in Colorado, where the mountains beckon from their kitchen windows. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking, gardening, herding housecats, and enjoying a good mystery, especially one by Agatha Christie.
DEAD AND GONDOLA – In this series debut, a mysterious bookshop visitor dies under murderous circumstances, compelling the Christie sisters and their cat, Agatha, to call on all they’ve learned about solving mysteries from their favorite novelist.
Hi, George and readers! I’m thrilled to be posting today. It’s launch day for the first book in my new cozy mystery series, Dead and Gondola, a Christie Bookshop Mystery. I’m also launching a new pen name, Ann Claire. I previously wrote the Bookmobile Mysteries as Nora Page and the Santa Fe Café Mysteries as Ann Myers.
I adore writing and reading cozy mysteries because everyday characters get to be the heroes and use their special skills to solve crimes. In Dead and Gondola, Ellie and Meg Christie are bookseller sisters with a love of mysteries. Although the only Agatha in their family tree is their cat, in Dead and Gondola, they summon all they’ve learned from their favorite author to catch a killer in their tiny Colorado hometown.
George asks some wonderful questions about writing and books, so I’ll turn to them now.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write at home, which is great, but there are many distractions. I’m way too easily enticed by my garden, cats, baking, and—the worst distractor—the Internet. To combat web-surfing distraction, I got a popup screen tent so I can write out in the backyard, beyond the reach of Wi-Fi. Wonderful, but then I’ll see a weed to pull or flowers to admire… I wish I were distracted by useful household chores, like cleaning or doing the laundry. Alas!
What are you currently working on? I’m working on the second book in the Christie Bookshop Mystery series. The series is set in Last Word, a fictional Colorado mountain town, and features two bookseller sisters named Christie (sadly, no relation to their favorite author). When a matchmaking service based on bookish interests turns deadly, the Christie sisters must summon their inner Miss Marples to catch a killer.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Yes! Sisters in Crime has helped me immensely with its wonderful support, encouragement, training, and especially friendships.
How do you come up with character names? I spend a LOT of time on random-name generators, baby-naming websites, and occasionally online graveyard records. Google must wonder about me…
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Mmmm… I can’t think of a disappointment. Just the opposite, usually. I love writing cozy protagonists because they’re relatable but can also do things I’d never do—like track down killers while maintaining a bookshop and still taking time for tea and cookies. They have skills and bravery I can only wish I had.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? For me, it’s more discovering writers I should have read before but somehow missed. You mention Joyce Carol Oates. I recently read some of her short stories and loved them. How had I not read them before? So many books, so little time, right?
Given that I have such a towering to-be-read stack, I rarely reread books. When I do, sometimes I’ll see them in a different light. For instance, Rebecca. I first read it when I was much younger and considered it a romance. I reread it a few years ago and had a totally different impression of Maxim de Winter!
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I’ll use aspects of real people. My grandmother is an inspiration for intrepid senior characters in all three of my series. However, the characters take on lives and features of their own.
What kind of research do you do? I’ll do a lot of research about places and occupations. I’m a geographer by training and love sifting in regional details when I can. My current setting is fictional but loosely based on some real Colorado towns, Ouray, and Telluride, which I love to visit. I did some fun gondola-riding “research” in Telluride before starting Dead and Gondola.
Anything else you’d care to add? Most of all, thanks again for inviting me to post, George, and thanks so much to readers! I really appreciate your time and support!
My website: https://novelmystery.wixsite.com/books
You can hopefully find my series at your library: The Santa Fe Café Mysteries by Ann Myers, Bookmobile Mysteries by Nora Page, and Christie Bookshop Mysteries by Ann Claire.
Dead and Gondola, To order: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/690689/dead-and-gondola-by-ann-claire/
George, I don’t belong to many groups except Sisters in Crime (Colorado Chapter and Guppies) and the Facebook group Save Our Cozies, https://www.facebook.com/groups/726103940858234.
Thanks again! I appreciate this opportunity to post!