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!
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: