Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Readers Favorite Awards Ceremony

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 21, 2017

This was my first time attending the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards Ceremony. I won a gold medal in the Southern category for Facials Can Be Fatal. I’d submitted this title in their contest a while ago and forgotten about it until I received an email one day telling me I had won. This was indeed a pleasant surprise! Most writing contests let you know when you’re a finalist, but the winners aren’t announced until the actual event takes place. This usually happens at a conference away from home. I really liked that I knew I’d won ahead of time.

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Because the Readers’ Favorite Awards Ceremony was being held nearby, I signed up to attend along with my husband. We checked into the Regency Hotel Miami on Friday afternoon. The hotel is conveniently located near the airport for winners flying in for the ceremony. People came from all over the country, plus Canada and Australia. Since the event didn’t include a full meal, we ordered a snack in the lobby bar/restaurant.

Dress for the event was billed as formal or semi-formal. Ladies wore cocktail dresses or gowns and men for the most part wore jackets and ties. The doors at the hotel’s nightclub opened at 6:00 pm. The evening before on Friday, there had been a Meet and Greet in the lobby, but we hadn’t attended. So I picked up my name badge Saturday night along with a pin and a complimentary pen. Then we took our seats. A cash bar was available in the rear.

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I was impressed by the production that made this event special for the award winners. Chairs were draped in white like at a wedding and arranged auditorium style. The stage was flanked by two huge floral bouquets and a back screen projection of the award logo. We could take photos before and after on the stage or over by the official photography station.

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The event was filmed, while the photographer took pictures of each candidate standing beside the host. The awards were not called by category, like at other ceremonies. Instead, beginning at 7pm, people sitting in a certain section of the room were directed to line up. One-by-one, we climbed the steps to the dais and handed the emcee a card from our name badge. He read from this card, which included our name, book title, award level and category. Then we proceeded to the center stage to receive our medallion, shake the host’s hand, and pose for the photographer. When one group finished, the emcee called another section to come forward.

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This method proved to be efficient as we were done in an hour. A buffet of finger foods followed while contestants mingled. We ate triangles of grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, turkey slices, chicken empanadas, cookies, or pastry. Free soda and coffee were available.

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I truly did feel special. My book had been picked by anonymous judges for this honor. There might have been hundreds of submissions. I liked that my story had been evaluated for its merits and wasn’t a popularity contest with votes like some other writing awards. This made it more meaningful, and so did the sponsors for giving winners an evening to showcase their talents.

Find the list of winners here: https://readersfavorite.com/2017-award-contest-winners.htm

Visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ReadersFavorite/

Enter the 2018 contest at https://readersfavorite.com/annual-book-award-contest.htm

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Posted in Appearances, Book Reviews, Conferences, Contest, Marketing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Stay in Viewpoint

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 13, 2017

As a beginning writer, I didn’t understand what it meant to stay in viewpoint. I was guilty of bouncing heads, or switching viewpoints within the same scene. This confuses readers because they become unsure of who is the main character. You should stay within one person’s head or else use a space break to delineate a change.

Books in the thriller genre often use multiple viewpoints, a technique that can work as long as there’s one clearly identifiable hero. If not, your reader isn’t going to care about any of the characters. Sure, you can catch their interest using bait and switch tactics. This means, you leave off each scene with one person in jeopardy before switching viewpoints with a space or chapter break. But get inside too many different heads, and the reader will cease to care. Maybe this is why I like single third-person or first person viewpoint in the mysteries I read. In a romance, it’s standard to alternate the hero and heroine’s viewpoint and sometimes this includes the villain as well. That’s okay as long as the character switch is well marked.

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In revising Keeper of the Rings, one of my earlier romances that I wrote originally as Nancy Cane, I caught a perfect example of changing viewpoints in the same scene. Here’s an example:

[B’s viewpoint] Wellis, the village priest, had requested Bendyk’s presence. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.

“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith.” He squared his shoulders. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”

“That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit.” Wellis wagged his finger. “They’re afraid you’ll report to the Docent about their indiscretions.”

[W’s viewpoint] Pursing his lips, Wellis felt he should know his flock better than any representative from the central authority, such as Bendyk Worthington-Jax. He’d sent for help, realizing the situation could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? His own, of course. But the golden-haired missionary, despite his zeal, had found nothing amiss.

It wasn’t Bendyk’s fault, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution. The blasphemous talk circulating throughout the town was bound to bring dire repercussions. Wellis had hoped Bendyk would inspire a renewal of faith and, indeed, the service he’d conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.

Bendyk faced him across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. The young man quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”

Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll of ten percent on less the amount actually produced.”

Bendyk’s eyes darkened to a shade of indigo. “You mean this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”

Wellis leaned back in his chair, relishing the warm salty breeze blowing in from the open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.

His congregation enjoyed a simple life living off the bounty of the sea and their industries of ropemaking and small boat construction. No one had enough revenue to fuel an investigation, so he didn’t see any harm in telling Bendyk of the tax agent’s favoritism.

“It appeases people,” he said with a shrug. “There’s enough grumbling about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts.”

Bendyk scraped a hand through his short, wavy hair. “That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”

“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”

Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged his people fairly and considered their needs.”

[B’s viewpoint – we can’t see if our own eyes look shrewd] Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Cranby is an exception. Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”

[W’s viewpoint] “It is the work of the Truthsayers.” Bendyk’s jaw clenched. “They seek to undermine the Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”

Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”

I decided this scene should be told from Bendyk’s viewpoint since he’s a major player in the story. So here’s the new scene. See if it flows better and keeps your interest more.

Wellis, the village priest, had requested a private audience with him. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.

“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith,” he said. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”

Wellis wagged his finger. “That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit. They’re afraid you’ll report their indiscretions to the Docent.”

Bendyk tightened his lips. No doubt Wellis felt he knew his flock better than any representative from the central authority. But the priest had sent for help, realizing the situation there could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? Yet the blasphemous talk circulating through town wasn’t evident during Bendyk’s inspection. He wasn’t surprised, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution.

Wellis had hoped his arrival might inspire a renewal of faith. In truth, the service Bendyk had conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.

He faced the priest across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”

Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll on ten percent less than the amount actually produced.”

“You mean, this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”

Wellis leaned back in his chair, while a warm salty breeze swept in through open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.

“It appeases people,” Wellis said with a shrug. “I hear grumblings about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts. My people enjoy a simple life. They live off the bounty of the sea, plus their industries of rope-making and small boat building. No one earns enough revenue to warrant an investigation.”

“That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”

“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”

Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged people fairly and considered their needs.”

“Cranby is an exception.” Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”

“It is the work of Truthsayers. They want to undermine our Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”

Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”

You may have noticed that I polished up the prose as well. So what do you think? Were you better able to identify with Bendyk in the second sample?

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Waterhouse Residence Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 10, 2017

Built in 1884 for carpenter William H. Waterhouse, the Waterhouse Residence Museum at 820 Lake Lily Drive in Maitland, FL is available to the public for a peek into the late Victorian era. William and his wife, Sarah, had two children. Charles and Stella lived in the house after them, and soon Stella was left. She lived into her nineties and had no offspring of her own. It’s said her spirit inhabits her former bedroom, and she was happy when the curtains were opened at the window so she could look outside.

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I took a number of photos here but no orbs showed up. So whether or not this site is haunted is questionable, if you believe in such things. Our guide does, or so she led us to think. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by the Maitland Historical Society. The grounds overlook Lake Lily.

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The house is decorated for Halloween in these ensuing photos. The front parlor is where they might have had a coffin viewing before a funeral. The sofa is called a courting couch because the young couple would sit at either end.

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The dining room table is set with lovely china. Note the hand in the center, and the skull inside a cage on the chest of drawers. The room even has a creepy doll. I really liked the lace curtains.

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Next we entered a sort of breezeway, which may have separated the kitchen from the main house. The house is constructed from pine, which is termite-resistant but susceptible to fire. This crank device was where you’d wash and wring out your clothes. That plunger-like device was called an agitator. Aren’t you glad we have washing machines today?

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Here’s the stove and an ice box next to our guide in the kitchen.

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Here’s the bedroom where Stella lived, sample clothing, the master bedroom, a desk with implements of the day. The framed wreath contains human hair. Victorian mourning customs (which you can read more about in my book, Died Blonde) involved preserving a hank of hair from the deceased in jewelry or other remembrances. More bedroom scenes and another parlor.

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Get tickets or see the hours here: http://artandhistory.org/plan-your-visit/tickets

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Epcot Food Festival Revisited

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 8, 2017

We spent another delightful afternoon at Disney World’s Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Here we sampled more foods from around the world. Hurry if you want to go. The festival ends Nov. 13.

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Active Eats in Future World West (near Coca Cola pavilion on the way to World Showcase)
Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese – $4.75 with pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, green onions, and chopped bell peppers. My favorite for this season!
Sweet Avocado Cream with strawberries, yellow cake, and streusel topping. $3.75

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China – Chicken Pot Stickers $4.00. You get two dumplings. Very tasty.

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Italy – Absolut Penne with penne pasta, shrimp, and vodka sauce. $7.00. The shrimp are good but too much pasta is filling.

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American Adventure Hops & Barley – Smoked beef brisket with pimento cheese served on garlic toast. $5.50. The barbecued beef flavor was good but the meat a bit overdone. The soggy piece of bread beneath the meat was unappealing.

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We had a better meal at The Boathouse in Disney Springs. I had the lump crabmeat with avocado appetizer (enough for a meal) and Richard had a giant crab cake.

 

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FWA Conference Recap – Staging Fight Scenes

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 6, 2017

Fight Scenes

Author L.E. Perez gave a good talk on fight scenes at the Florida Writers Association 2017 Conference . Here are the tips I garnered. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.

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  • Focus on character emotions.
  • Defending yourself is not the same as being prepared to injure someone.
  • PTSD happens to anyone who experiences a violent event or is a crime victim. This also applies to domestic abuse since the characters are at war.
  • Consider words that reflect a fight: sudden clarity, adrenaline rush, freeze up, smashed, buffeted, rage, pain.
  • If your character punches someone, he may need to shake his hand out afterward. It hurts to throw a punch.
  • Allow for recovery time. Either use the recovery in the story, or skip ahead and have the character recount what happened during this interval.
  • In a knife fight, someone invariably gets cut. Or your hero might survive a knife fight and then cut himself chopping vegetables for a bit of humor.
  • Act out your action scenes to get a sense of motion. How is your character moving during the scene? How is he holding a weapon?
  • Kamas is a weapon with a scythe-like blade on one end and a pointed blade on the other end.
  • Not all knives are throwing knives. They have to be properly balanced.

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FWA Conference Recap – Book Marketing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 3, 2017

Besides giving my own talk on “Book Promotion on a Budget” at the Florida Writers Association 2017 conference, I sat in on a couple of other presentations about book marketing. Here are some of the main points I gleaned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.

If your book isn’t selling, you may need to:

Change the cover

Get more reviews
Write a letter to readers asking for reviews.
Continue to acquire reviews for backlist titles.
Aim for 100 reviews on Amazon to make an impact.

Evaluate your Amazon page
Check your keywords and categories.
Keyword strings work better than single keywords.
Note the sales rank of each category.

Examine your social media influence
Do you need to increase your engagement? This matters more than the number of followers.

Put your book out in multiple formats, not ebooks alone. Consider print and audiobooks.

Is your book in the right genre?

How relevant is your backlist title? Does it need an update and a fresh cover?

Are you marketing your book to the right audience?

Practice ebook price rotation. Ideal ebook pricing is $2.99 to $5.99. Shuffle your books in and out of sales promotions.

Plan a promotional campaign that includes Publicity, Online Promotion, Events, and Multimedia.

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Posted in Business of Writing, Marketing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

FWA Conference – Day 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 30, 2017

Saturday morning at the Florida Writers Association annual conference found me starting off the workshops with a talk on “Book Promotion on a Budget.”

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Next I attended Penny Sansevieri’s presentation, “Help! My Book Isn’t Selling.”

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A buffet lunch followed with barbecue chicken and accompaniments. Awards were given to youth writers. After lunch, I had a booksigning and later a video interview.

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Then it was time to get ready for the Royal Palm Literary Awards banquet. My family came to support me as a finalist. It was interesting to see the blurbs about each author’s book on big screens as we ate. I didn’t win, so I’ll have to try again next year. I’m still thrilled to have made the finals.

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On Sunday, I attended a workshop “Bring that Action Scene to Life” by author L.E. Perez. I learned a few tips during her entertaining presentation.

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Then I checked out and packed up the car to meet our family for lunch.

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FWA Conference – Day 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 27, 2017

This was my first time attending the Florida Writers Association annual conference. The theme was “What A Character.” I didn’t attend the Thursday all-day workshop with bestselling author David Morrell, but I did hear him speak later on. Instead, I checked into the hotel and went to faculty orientation followed by a general welcome for conference attendees.

Friday morning, things began in earnest with a breakfast buffet at 7am. Scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, bagels and pastries were on the menu. We sat at genre tables to speak to other writers in our specific categories. Here I am with true crime author Carla Norton.

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First on the agenda was my talk on “Writing the Cozy Mystery.”

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I put away my laptop and attended Carla’s workshop on “True Crime – Stranger than Fiction.”

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Then I wandered through the bookstore organized by Murder on the Beach and the silent auction rooms. Lunch was a bountiful buffet of Italian food.

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At 2pm, I was on a panel titled “Dredging Up Your Dark Side” moderated by Ken Pelham. Also on this panel were Carla Norton, Doug Dandridge, Micki Browning, and Dan Alatorre.

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Later that afternoon, I attended a panel on “Effective Book Marketing with POEM” by speaker Keith Ogorek.

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That evening was a welcome reception with superhero-costumed characters. The picture with a foursome has Carla Norton, Ken Pelham, Vic DiGenti, and literary agent Mark Gottlieb.

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A sit-down dinner was followed by a keynote address from bestselling author Steve Berry.

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Plot Twists

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 23, 2017

I always thought I wasn’t clever enough to come up with good plot twists. Short story writers have the market on this writing technique. Especially in the mystery genre, short fiction often relies on an unexpected twist for its punchline at the end.

So how can cozy writers come up with enough surprises to keep the reader turning pages? Sometimes you can plan ahead. I’ll write a synopsis before I begin writing the actual story. But something happens along the way. The characters, setting, and story elements stew in my brain, and out pops a surprise I didn’t anticipate. This is what I call story magic.

How can you get it to work for you? Review what you’ve written, and note any plot threads that you’ve introduced but failed to resolve. How about that minor character who makes a brief appearance on stage but whose role might be significant? Or the connection between two characters you didn’t expect? Or maybe a new character arrives on scene who upsets the balance among your suspects or your recurrent cast. Who is this person and how do they relate to the plot? To the other people in your story? Why did this person arrive at this time and for what reason?

In other words, pick up on clues that you’ve left for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what you find. If you are taken by surprise, so will your readers be amazed at your plot twists.

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You can go back later and revise your synopsis accordingly. Meanwhile, go with the flow and see where it takes you. You’ll be pleased by your reviews when you have a few surprises along the way. Here are some of mine that are particularly pleasing in this respect:

Facials Can Be Fatal

“The story had more twists and turns than a pretzel. And I ate them all up! It is really fast-paced and kept me thoroughly engaged to the end.” Readeropolis

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“I recommend this book to those who are cozy mystery fans and enjoy a sleuth mystery with many twists and turns.” Readers’ Favorite

“The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end. There were several different twists and turns this story could have taken. I was surprised at the outcome.” Socrates Book Reviews

Hair Brained

“You are always thinking and on your toes while reading this book. And when you get to the end and everything is revealed….it will blow your mind!” Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

“The story actually has a couple of mysteries within its pages and all is worked out by the end, but there are a lot of plot twists along the way.” Carla Loves to Read

“There were several twists and turns, plus many red herrings in this book. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the author threw in a few extra curves to have me scratching my head.” Socrates’ Book Reviews

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Notes in the Night

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 16, 2017

When you wake up in the middle of the night after having a vivid dream or a great idea for your novel, do you scribble in a notepad or write yourself a note on your smart phone? I do the latter, so I don’t have to turn on the light. Invariably if I think I’ll remember the details later when I’m fully awake, I am mistaken. A vague recollection might return but not every nuance. Recently I had a dream that was a mystery with a surprise twist. It would work for a short story. I wrote it down, which is a good thing because right now I cannot remember a single element. Maybe as I review my notes, I’ll see it was a silly idea, but at least I will have that option.

Dreamer

Last night I had another dream. I went with a friend to my former publishing house’s NY office. I saw some faces I recognized from my days there. I got invited to an informal dinner where we were invited to choose some complimentary romance novels by their authors. I browsed the room and picked out a paranormal romance with an Indian American heroine (as in native India). I didn’t care for the other choices as I was tired of the same tropes. The editor proposed we sit together while he had food brought in and we’d discuss our works in progress. This editor took me aside and asked what I was working on. When I told him I was revising my backlist titles, he said, “Why are you wasting time working on projects that appeal to your old readers when you could be working on new ideas that will draw in all readers?”

Is this sound advice? Is someone from a higher authority suggesting I’d be better spending my time doing something new? Should I be working on the idea I’ve put on the back burner while working on these other projects? And yet, those backlist titles matter to me. I have eight romances and four mysteries to do yet, and even though they won’t require much in the way of revisions, I have to carefully read through for formatting errors and to tweak the prose here and there. It’s important to me to make these titles available in multiple formats for readers and in the best version possible.

But it’s interesting what comes from our subconscious. What do you think of this advice I received? How do you record ideas that come to you in a dream or while you’re lying in the dark?

notepad

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