Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘characterization’

Characters Too Weird To Be True

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 15, 2014

Characters Too Weird To Be True by Nancy J. Cohen

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014

It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we can write are actually inspired by true events in our sunshine state. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Read on, click the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, and enter the contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

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Florida has its share of wacky characters. Every Sunday, I buy a newspaper and read through it with a pair of scissors in hand. Inevitably, there’s some article about an interesting resident or an issue that intrigues me. I cut out these articles and file them. Whenever I’m searching for a secret to give a suspect, I’ll glance through these clippings. That’s how I found a cool character who was a funeral director by day and a Samoan fire knife dancer at night. I tracked down the guy, interviewed him at his funeral home and based a character on him in Hair Raiser.

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There’s no lack of strange people living in Florida. Criminals move down for the good weather same as other citizens. But most of the interesting characters in the news appear less in the spotlight. It might be a housewife running a prostitution ring, a non-profit administrator embezzling money, or a local teacher found with child porn files on his computer. These are secrets worth considering, because they’ll make the characters in my books seems suspicious. And Florida does have its share of wackos where truth is stranger than fiction.

Another character I used in a book was inspired by a reader at a talk I gave. She’d owned a clothing boutique and mentioned a guy who came in and wanted to try on women’s clothes. This idea was perfect for Murder by Manicure who now has a transvestite in the story. So you never know where inspiration will strike.

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For Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day mysteries, neighborhood communities played a role in story development. Who hasn’t had trouble with their homeowners’ association? Marla’s husband has a disagreement with their HOA president who is later found dead. Our state’s Native American heritage comes into play in this story with a suspect who is a tribal shaman.

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Florida has a rich history, a diverse ecosystem, and a hotbed of issues. All we have to do is read the newspaper for ideas. Thus I’ve dealt with citrus canker, illegal immigrant labor, exotic bird smuggling, child drowning prevention, melanoma detection, and a host of other matters that affect Floridians. Although these issues can be serious, my stories contain humor, a satisfying ending, and a lesson learned. And what have I learned? We never lack for material in sunny South Florida.

Amazon Hardcover: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Nancy-J-Cohen/dp/1432828142 
Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Bad-Day-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00JJ2XVUQ/
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hanging-by-a-hair-nancy-j-cohen/1116603785

Nancy J. Cohen has written over twenty romance and mystery novels. She wishes she could style hair like her hairdresser sleuth, Marla Shore, but can usually be found reading instead.

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Blog Commenters can win an ebook copy of either Shear Murder or Writing the Cozy Mystery (your choice). Winner will be announced on April 23. Leave a comment, and your name will automatically be entered. And don’t miss our Grand Prize contest below!

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Click on the link below to Win a KINDLE PAPERWHITE

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kindle Paperwhite

No purchase is necessary. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. By submitting your entry, you agree to be entered into the participating authors’ email newsletter list. Your information will not be shared with anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Winner will be notified by email. Authors are not responsible for transmission failures, computer glitches or lost, late, damaged or returned email. Winner agrees for their name to be used in conjunction with the contest on FMWA and authors’ social media sites. U.S. Residents only due to postage constraints.

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Visit our other FMWA Authors and win more prizes:

Victoria Allman, Gator Bites, http://www.victoriaallman.com/blog
Miriam Auerbach, Bonkers in Boca, http://www.miriamauerbach.com/bonkers-in-boca
Gregg E. Brickman, Crazy South Florida—How it got to be home, http://www.GreggEBrickman.com/blog.html
Diane Capri, Fishnado!, http://www.dianecapri.com/blog
Joan Cochran, The Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of  Coconuts and Bagels, http://www.joanlipinskycochran.com/blog.htm?post=952677
Nancy J. Cohen, Characters Too Weird to Be True, http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
JD Daniels, He Did What? http://www.live-from-jd.com
Joy Wallace Dickinson, In Florida, It’s Great to Be a Cracker, http://www.FindingJoyinFlorida.com
Linda Gordon Hengerer, Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast, http://footballfoodandfiction.blogspot.com/
Victoria Landis, Eavesdropping 101, http://www.victorialandis.com
Sandy Parks, Keep your eyes to the Florida skies, http://www.sandyparks.wordpress.com
Neil Plakcy, Moscow on the Intracoastal, http://www.mahubooks.blogspot.com/
Johnny Ray, Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews, http://www.sirjohn.us
Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You’ll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf, http://www.joannaslan.blogspot.com

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 47 Comments »

Increase the Chaos. Engage the Reader.

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 19, 2014

Increase the Chaos. Engage the Reader. by Julie Anne Lindsey

Chaos is one of my favorite things about fiction. This is especially true in a cozy mystery. I truly enjoy the insane amount of juggling required by the heroine. As a woman, I can relate to the pressure and frustration of handling too much- minus the murder investigation, of course – and it’s fun to see the scenarios unfold on someone else for a change. I can relate. It’s no secret women handle unthinkable amounts of responsibilities while maintaining the peace and meeting unreasonable expectations of others. We hold down the household, punch a time clock, volunteer in the community, date, please our family, entertain our friends and so much more. (We really are the more miraculous portion of our species. In my humble opinion). Which is why we all deserve a good book and a break from time to time.

As writers, it’s our job to connect strangers with a character we dreamed up. Chaos is a common ground we can use to our advantage. When I fall into a great new cozy or amateur female sleuth series, I immediately connect with the heroine if she’s got her hands full. I nod along and smile, thinking, man-oh-man am I glad it’s not me this time. My heart goes out to her. It’s hard keeping things afloat, and honestly, the chaos can be pretty entertaining when I’m not on the business end of things. Murder-Comes-Ashore-jpg

As I write each mystery, I want my heroine overwhelmed, well-liked and spread paper-thin. I want readers to feel the pull of hands on her time and person. So, as I plot and scheme a fun new investigation, I ask myself “What do I do every day?” and then “What do my friends do?” What keeps us so busy? The snowball method takes over from there because the short answer is we do too much.

Piling up the trouble is a great writers’ tool. It’s a fun and easy way to increase the chaos and pacing of a story. It keeps the pages going and stops the story from stagnating. I spend extra time on my outlines peppering in all the commitments my heroine, Patience, has to maintain in addition to surviving the wrath of a provoked killer and exploring the leads in her investigation, not to mention all the people she wants to please.

Add responsibilities to connect readers to your heroine. Give her problems they can all relate to, like family and romance. Those things are complicated. Messy. Real.

In my newest release, Murder Comes Ashore, I’ve piled up the everyday things that make a woman bananas. As my heroine pursues her investigation, (the crux of the story), she’s drawn away repeatedly by phone calls from clients, impromptu visits from family and a frustrating love triangle she’d prefer not to think about. She’s running from a killer, volunteering at the grade school and questioning birders about anything unusual they might have seen since the murder. Local law enforcement is running a parallel investigation and they get in her way, too.

Adding reality to the fiction anchors readers to your story. Who can’t related to a boss that expects us to show up on time? Or a sister who takes it personally if you’re five minutes late for dinner? The predicaments don’t have to be fantastical because they’re fiction. Take the things that make you the craziest and share them with your heroine. It is fun to move the burden onto someone else and it bridges the gap between you and women readers everywhere. Hey, it’s no fun when I have to fold laundry, check homework assignments and explain to my mom why I haven’t called all week, but when those things fall to a character, I smile because we share common ground. And us XX chromosome types have to stick together.

If you’re looking for a fun new mystery to cozy up with, I hope you’ll consider my new release, Murder Comes Ashore. It’s packed with chaos and a heroine who understands. Besides, who couldn’t use an island escape right now?

Murder Comes Ashore

Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.

Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.

When the body count rises and Patience’s parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It’s not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she’s determined to clear her family’s name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer’s next victim.

Amazon Barnes&Noble

About JulieJulie Lindsey

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

Murder Comes Ashore is a sequel in her new mystery series, Patience Price, Counselor at Large, from Carina Press.

Learn About Julie at:

Julieannelindsey.com

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Creating Vibrant Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2013

This past weekend, guest speaker Joanna Campbell Slan told us how to create vibrant characters. First she mentioned four personality styles. Dialogue should reflect if the person is a tell versus an ask kind of guy. This sounds like me and my husband. He is ALWAYS asking questions. He’ll say, “Why is that man cutting his grass so early?” I’ll say, “I wonder why he’s cutting his grass so early.” See the difference?   Joanna Slan

Which comes first, character or plot? Start by developing your characters. Give them conflicts, differing viewpoints and reactions. Problems between them will create tension. Remember that if any strength is overused, it becomes a weakness. An example is the character who will get the job done, but at any cost. Or it can be the person who follows rules no matter what happens.

Give each person a habit and a telling detail that helps identify him. Also, pair a physical description with an emotional one for each character.

Have your characters work toward a goal. The four personality types will react differently. One group may ask numerous questions and want to know the rules. Another group may spend time getting organized and elect someone to take notes. Group three might just play around and have fun. And group four will be the ones who take charge and accomplish the task.

Joanna offered a lot more tips in this valuable workshop. This only touches the tip of the iceberg on what she covered. But keeping just these few bits of advice in mind is helpful.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Writing the Military Hero

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 10, 2013

Have you ever thought about writing a military hero into your story?

If so, be sure to get your facts and lingo straight. At a recent Florida Romance Writers meeting, we had the good fortune to have as guest speaker a Navy Captain and the brother of one of our members. Let’s call him Captain X for the sake of anonymity to respect his privacy. His experience includes flying helicopters, missions over Iraq, and special ops support.     soldier

He explained (Disclaimer: All comments are subject to my interpretation) that Special Forces means U.S. Army and Special Operations Forces (SOF) refers to any service. In general, these guys are professionals, fairly introverted with quiet personalities, and very patriotic. Rogue agents like you see in the movies probably would be “PNG-ed” or deemed “persona non grata” in reality. A QRF refers to Quick Reaction Force. These are the guys who stand by in case “things go sideways.”

Captain X mentioned how you don’t really know how you’ll react until you are actually under fire. A brave man faces his fears and chooses to overcome them.

The Captain talked about Iraq and how he’d rather be there in the summer because it’s too hot for the bugs to come out. It rains in the winter and the powdery sand becomes like mucilage. Some of the wildlife includes camel spiders (“as big as a dessert plate”), no-see-ums, mice, and scorpions.

His helicopter had two pilots, two gunners, and a medic. He wore armor and a helmet with a boom mike. He says they never use the word “gun” but call it a “weapon” instead. They refer to members of the military as “teeth or tail”, i.e. going to war or staying behind. He says they are careful not to cause collateral damage in terms of injuring civilians. They’re allowed to say No to a mission if they deem it to be too dangerous in this regard.

This was reassuring to me. It’s nice to know our military officers’ opinions are respected and they’re not expected to blindly follow orders, the excuse for too many atrocities in the past. At least, this is one officer who makes conscientious decisions based on the information available. I hope there are many others like him out there.

Captain X also mentioned his deep respect for Vietnam Veterans, and from his personal experience, they are as brave and honorable as anyone who ever wore the uniform.

And if anyone wishes to support the service, please consider the Wounded Warrior foundations.

The writing lesson learned is to be true to the lingo if you write a military hero. Captain X’s talk was peppered with colorful language that probably wasn’t as bad as it is in reality. Honor is still important, and so is bravery. And when your hero raises his rifle, it’s a weapon, not a gun. Or better still, it’s a specific model weapon. So just as cops and other folks in our books have their own jargon, so do the military. Get it right.

My hairdresser sleuth has a particular way she looks at things. How about your characters? What occupations have you researched for accuracy?

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Mystery Author Nancy G. West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 15, 2012

Nancy G. WestA Secondary Character Appears Mid-Stream and Demands Her Own Story: Nancy G. West Interviews Her Series Protagonist, The Inimitable Aggie Mundeen                     

NGW: I was writing a serious suspense novel, NINE DAYS TO EVIL, about Meredith Laughlin, a graduate student facing a life-threatening dilemma. Why did you pick that time to pop into my head, Aggie?

Aggie: Meredith needed a friend.

NGW: Somebody with whom she could share problems? Somebody to help her?

Aggie: Somebody with a sense of humor. Meredith’s too serious.

NGW: Of course, she’s serious. Her world disintegrates. Her life’s in danger. And you showed up in the middle of my writing Meredith’s novel to be funny?

Aggie: To lighten things up.

NGW: So you appeared in my head making wisecracks about Meredith’s problems, about her outlook, about her husband, even about her professors . . .

Aggie: Yep. I was right there with Meredith in those classes at University of the Holy Trinity.

NGW: You showed up in class wearing a warm-up and sneakers. With hair like a Brillo pad. Giving the professor a ‘show-me-something’ look.

Aggie: The kids needed a role model.

NGW: You made me chuckle, sitting there like you owned the place.

Aggie: You needed to loosen up.

NGW: You made it hard for me to keep ratcheting up suspense in Meredith’s story.

Aggie: You needed contrast. Dark moments versus light. Scary versus comic . . . stuff like that.

NGW: Wait a minute. I’m the writer here.

Aggie: I got in your head, didn’t I? You needed me.

NGW: You made it hard for me to focus on Meredith’s problems. I’d be concentrating on how she could get out of her predicament, agonizing over it, and you’d do something to make me laugh.

Aggie: Yeah. I enjoyed that.  Fit to be Dead

NGW: My husband thought I was crazy.

Aggie: You share an office with your husband? That’s really crazy.

NGW: I’d be chuckling in front of the computer screen, and he’d ask me what was so funny. I’d say, “Aggie just did something hilarious.”

Aggie: That’s one way to get him out of the office.

NGW: I got tickled at you so often, it was difficult for me to stay serious long enough to even finish NINE DAYS TO EVIL.

Aggie: You made it.

NGW: Yes.

Aggie: And it’s a better book, thanks to me.

NGW: By the time I finished NINE DAYS TO EVIL, Meredith’s story, you’d taken over my consciousness to the point where I knew I had to write about you.

Aggie: And you knew that one book from my point of view wouldn’t be enough.

NGW: I figured you would demand your own series.

Aggie: If you hadn’t promised me that, I’d never have let you finish NINE DAYS TO EVIL.

NGW: I realized that. So your first mystery caper, FIT TO BE DEAD is out now. Your second mystery caper, DANG NEAR DEAD comes out December 1st.

Aggie: I like those books. You’re getting to know me, and I’m getting to know Detective Sam Vanderhoven better and better. I really like that part.

NGW: Meredith’s still your friend. She’s in both your books.   Dang Near Dead

Aggie: Yes. You and I appreciate her more. Thanks to me.

©Nancy G. West 2012

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Nancy G. West is the author of an artist’s biography, the suspense novel NINE DAYS TO EVIL, numerous magazine articles and two books in her new Aggie Mundeen mystery series, Fit to Be Dead and Dang Near Dead.

FIT TO BE DEAD (Aggie Mundeen Mystery #1)
Aggie, single, pushing forty and terrified of becoming decrepit, tries to get in shape before anybody discovers she secretly writes the column, “Stay Young with Aggie.” At the health club, she deals with killer machines, muscle maniacs and disgustingly-fit fillies until a girl turns up dead. So curious it makes her feet itch, Aggie is determined to flush out the killer, despite warnings from the SAPD detective appalled by her sleuthing methods. When the killer comes after Aggie, and the club evacuates members in less-than-dignified attire, Aggie really has to get creative . . . while she tries to stay alive.

DANG NEAR DEAD (Aggie Mundeen Mystery #2, coming December 1, 2012)
Aggie vacations with friends at a Texas dude ranch. She’ll advise column readers how to stay young and fresh in summer. Except for heat, snakes and poison ivy, what could go wrong?

When the assistant ranch manager, an expert rider, is thrown from her horse and lies in a coma, Aggie thinks somebody caused her to fall. Determined to expose the girl’s assailant, Aggie concocts ingenious sleuthing methods that strain her dicey relationship with the handsome detective traveling incognito. When Aggie scatters a hornet’s nest of cowboys, more than one hombre in the bunch would like to slit her throat.

Follow Nancy:

Website: http://www.nancygwest.com/

Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/nancywest

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6442929.Nancy_G_West#

Posted in Author Interviews, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Literary Tea

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 16, 2012

LITERARY TEA with Author Nancy J. Cohen

Friday, February 17 @ 7 PM

“Shear Murder”

South Florida Stylist, Marla Shore, is back and attending the wedding of her friend . The matron of honor must have stood in the way of something because she is found at the reception dead beneath the cake table.  With her own nuptials only weeks away, Marla becomes embroiled in a series of secrets from the past that threaten her own safety.

Well Read Books, South Harbor Plaza, 1374 SE 17th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

CALL 954-467-8878 FOR FOR DIRECTIONS OR WITH ?’s

Refreshments from the 11th Street Annex

While at the tea, enjoy the photography installation by Clay Wieland.

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I’m guest blogging today on Patricia Stoltey’s site about Obsessions and Orchids, or How to make a character more interesting. Leave a comment for a chance to win signed copies of Killer Knots and Perish by Pedicure in my February drawing!

Posted in Business of Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Collectibles

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 20, 2011

You can learn a lot about your hero or heroine from the knickknacks found in their living quarters. Perhaps your heroine presents a tough exterior but indulges herself by wearing lacy silk lingerie. Or your hero, who seems a sensitive type, harbors an assortment of evil-looking knives in his drawer. This one might work especially well in a mystery. For inspiration, check out those unsolicited catalogs you get in the mail or take a stroll through the mall.

What are some of the items your protagonist might collect? Books and/or magazines? Be specific. Are they fiction or nonfiction? What genre or topic? Are they strewn about the cocktail table for show, or are they askew on an unmade bed? Are the pages ragged, the corners folded in, or are they in pristine condition?

Maybe your heroine collects porcelain figurines. Are they animals, children, or couples embracing? What secret longing do they represent? Or your macho hero owns a collection of chess sets. What does this say about him?

Here are some other ideas: embroidered throw pillows, letter openers, music boxes, sports memorabilia, clocks, model airplanes. If art adorns the walls, are they watercolors, oils, or photography? What do the subjects depict?

Decorative plates, antique jewelry, and vintage clothing are popular items for collectors. So are fairy tale characters, wizards, angels, and unicorns.

Look at the items surrounding you at home and think about your hero’s domain. Why does he collect a particular item? Does it express a hidden desire, reveal a facet of his personality, or expose a secret sentiment? Even owning nothing of a personal nature makes a statement in itself. Have fun delving into the intricacies of your protagonists’ hobbies so you can describe the collection through their eyes. It will give an added dimension to your story.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Make Your Characters Stronger

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 1, 2010

How can you make your characters sound stronger when they speak? Think of the ways authoritative people talk in terms of their word choices and tone of voice.

Choose one of each:

1.A. “I think we should hit the beach at dawn. That way, we’ll probably be able to avoid the patrol boats.”

B. “We’ll hit the beach at dawn so we can avoid the patrol boats.”

2.A. “It is my belief that it would be best if we took the right-hand path.”

B. “Let’s make a right-hand turn.”

3.A. “I suppose I could agree.”

B. “I agree.”

4.A. “Oh, dear, perhaps this yellow dress would be more suitable. It brings out the highlights in my hair, and I do want Butler to notice me.”

B. “The yellow dress complements my hair, so I’ll wear that one. Butler has to notice me tonight.”

5.A. “I guess it would be all right if you borrowed my bracelet, but if you don’t mind, please see if you can return it tomorrow.”

B. “You can borrow the bracelet, but I’d like it returned tomorrow.”

If you chose any “A” answers, you’re making your character sound weak. To strengthen your heroine, have her sound positive and determined. Characters should focus on their goals, not on their appearance or performance. Avoid phrases such as I think, I guess, I suppose, dear me, maybe we should, It is my belief that, I don’t know.

Of course, exceptions to the rule do exist. Just make certain your character doesn’t sound wimpy when he speaks or has an introspection. Cutting extra verbiage can help. Aim for precision of speech, but avoid curtness. Remember that dialog should further your plot or reveal character. Phrases that reveal hesitation or self-doubt may indicate places that need revision unless you purposefully want your character to act this way.

Strong heroes appeal to readers, so take out your pen and get to work. Good luck!

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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