Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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A Fun Cozy Read

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 16, 2017

“A fun cozy read with mystery, family drama and some romance.” Check out this new review of Facials Can Be Fatal from Carla Loves to Read!

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Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery, #13)byNancy J. Cohen

Expected publication: February 22nd 2017 by Five Star Publishing

4 Stars

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On Sale Permed to Death

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 13, 2017

The Open Road Media ebook edition of Permed to Death (Bad Hair Day Mystery #1) is on sale TODAY ONLY for $1.99. This edition is based on the original version published by Kensington.

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If you want my revised Author’s Edition instead, also available in print and audiobook, Go Here.

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Wick Costume Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 12, 2017

The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton offers several unique experiences. We chose to do the museum tour and lunch. First we gathered in the lobby of the museum where Kimberly Wick described the various dresses on display.

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From here we entered a cavernous hall with an exhibit titled Where Runway Meets Broadway, showcasing a range of costumes from the 1800s on up that represented the changing fashions of the times. The beautiful designs and vintage couture were fascinating.

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Next was a quick tour backstage before we headed into the delightful restaurant. The first course is a fruit cup. Then you have a choice of three entrees. I chose the stack of avocado and shrimp with salad greens. A tray of pastries followed.

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After lunch, Kimberly gave us a presentation about the place’s history. I’d had no idea their own costume designs were a worldwide enterprise. Her mother, Marilynn Wick, was an entrepreneur who started the business and grew it into an empire. I found their story as fascinating as the museum.

Before leaving, we swept through the gift shop, took a peek at the theater lobby and box office, and headed out.

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Hillsboro Pineland

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 11, 2017

This nature refuge, located at 5591 NW 74th Place in Coconut Creek, FL, is a hidden oasis in a sea of suburban congestion. Just off Route 441 north of Sample Road, Hillsboro Pineland is a small park compared to others but its two hiking trails will give you a brief respite from civilization. It’s far enough removed that you can hear the crickets instead of the traffic. The first trail leads you through pinelands as per the park’s name. It’s a pleasant shady walk among tall trees.

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The second trail takes you through marshland adjacent to a river that you can’t see from the boardwalk but you can see the water seeping through the grassy vegetation. Lots of wildflowers attract butterflies in this portion.

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This park exhibits what I love about living in Florida. The trails go to what seem like two different ecosystems. Our state has a variety of terrain, from the sea-studded Keys to the hilly and cave-ridden north to the sandy beaches to the mangrove coastlines. Nearby, we can go to Flamingo Gardens and see hundreds-year-old trees or go to Volunteer Park to watch the turtles or take a shady walk on a trail in Tree Tops Park. Our peoples are just as diverse, celebrating our heritage as a melting pot of cultures. Our history, too, provides for a colorful past. And then there are the haunted hotels and plantations. We won’t talk about hurricanes. They’re offset by the flowers and balmy winter temperatures. What more could a writer want?

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Writing the Mystery – Howdunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 7, 2017

When writing a cozy mystery, you need to decide upon crime scene details even though interpersonal relations and not forensic investigations are your story’s focus. Here’s an example of what this means. For my next book, I decided to start the tale at a bake-off contest, but the setting bothered me. Our city fairs are held on athletic fields or a flat stretch of grass in a park. This doesn’t leave much opportunity to stash a dead body.

I was telling this to my manicurist and mentioned that I needed a more interesting setting. She suggested Bedner’s Farm as a possible model for my story. The next day, my husband and I drove north to visit this farmer’s market in Boynton Beach. See my post for a report on this visit. The varied structures and grounds were ideal for my purposes, but I’d move my fictional site nearer to Marla’s hometown. Marla Vail is my hairstylist sleuth and the star of the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

Bedner's Farm  sheds

Now what? Francine Dodger is the target of the festival’s Find Franny scavenger hunt. I got this idea by looking up harvest festivals online. This drove me to research living scavenger hunts until I had an idea of how mine would work. Think about the five W’s when you’re in this phase.

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Who ends up dead? Let’s say Francine is the victim.

Where is she killed? How does she arrive there? Is she lured on purpose, or it is a crime of opportunity? Did the killer follow her? Determine Where-dunit.

How
does he do it? She could be drowned in a ditch. Water-filled canals line the U-pick rows. But other customers might be milling around there. Will it look like an accident or right away be identified as a homicide? She can fall down a silo. But what would make her climb up there in the first place? Or she could be runover by a tractor.

What knowledge does the killer need? If the murder involves an equipment accident, it’ll have to involve someone who knows to operate the machinery. Ditto the hazards inside a silo. You don’t want to point the finger at a particular suspect like the farmer, because it’s too obvious. Maybe give one of the other characters a secret history of working on a farm or of selling agricultural machinery.

If you poison a victim, who has knowledge about the type of poison used as well as access to it? Is it fast-acting enough for the circumstances, or do you need a slower more insidious death? What are the particular symptoms? Consider your means of murder very carefully when you’re making these decisions so your story will sound plausible.

When does it happen? Think about not only the time of death, but also why not a week or a month ago? Why NOW?

How does the killer get away? Does he have blood on his clothes? Are his shoes wet or muddy? Is he able to blend back into the crowd? How does he act when he encounters the heroine?

Now let’s throw a wrench into the works.

What if it’s a case of mistaken identity? He thought he had killed one woman but he got somebody else who was similarly attired. How will he react upon seeing his intended victim alive and well? This leads to another set of problems. It means he can’t see the victim’s face before he kills her, or he’ll realize it’s the wrong person. So again, we go back to Howdunit?

Once you figure out these details, you’ll have to determine how your amateur sleuth stumbles across the dead body. And this is when the story actually begins.

If you missed my previous posts on this topic, go here:

Writing the Mystery – Whodunit
Writing the Mystery – Whydunit
Five Stages of Writing

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Writing the Mystery – Whydunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 3, 2017

In the previous post, we discussed character development. As you figure out each person’s goals and secrets, you need to determine how that character relates to the others. Think of a spider web. The victim is in the center, and all of the other threads are the suspects. Or visualize it as a character wheel with spokes. Whichever model you choose, you’ll want to connect the characters to each other.

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Here are examples from my WIP to show you how it’s done. The characters are involved in a bake-off contest held during the spring festival at a local farm.

Tally Riggs, my hairstylist sleuth’s best friend, met Becky Forest at a local historical museum. She told Tally about the bake-off.

Becky, a scientist, is a cookbook author and curator of the museum. She studies plant remains of ancient peoples, including early Florida food practices. Every time Becky has a new cookbook out, she’s a guest on Chef Raquel Hayes’ TV show.

Raquel, a judge at the bake-off contest and a TV chef, did something in the past that could scandalize her. Francine Dodger recognizes her on TV and threatens to spill her secret.

Francine, a contestant at the bake-off, is a food magazine editor. While researching an article on the farm, she uncovers something that could ruin the owners’ reputation.

Zach Kinsdale, eldest brother of four siblings who run the family farm, hasn’t told his two brothers and sister Janet about this looming disaster.

Janet is married to Tony, who runs an import-export business. He sells his imported olive oils to Zach for the farm’s marketplace. But Janet suspects something unethical about her husband’s business. She’s the one who organized the bake-off since her husband’s company is a festival sponsor.

Tony, Janet’s husband, is worried about an exposé that Francine has mentioned. He’s also concerned about Tristan Marsh, pastry chef at The Royal Palate and a judge at the show. Tristan has been making inquiries that concern him. He’s not the only one. Alyce Greene, a blogger who supports the farm-to-table movement, has been troublesome as well.

Alyce is a contestant at the bake-off. She’s married to Jon, a food truck operator. Jon got a loan to start his business from Alyce’s brother, Steve Madison. Steve, an investment advisor, manages Tony’s accounts.

And so on. You get the idea. It helps when the puzzle pieces fit together as a whole, but this process may take a while. In the meantime, allow your subconscious to stew on these ideas until story magic happens. The connections will pop into your brain. It’s a joyful moment when this occurs. It always does; you have to maintain faith in the creative process.

Now you know as much about these people as I do. Next comes Writing the Mystery – Howdunit.

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Writing the Mystery – Whodunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 1, 2017

During the Discovery phase of your novel, which I discuss in my post on Five Stages of Writing, you’ll begin formulating the characters. If you’re writing a mystery series, you may already know the protagonists and recurrent characters. So now you have to determine the suspects that are specific to your WIP (work-in-progress).

As a plotter and not a pantser, I’ll create these characters before I can begin writing. This means knowing their goals, conflicts, and motivations as in Debra Dixon’s book by that name. I’ll assign each person a secret with a motive for murder. At this stage, I may not know which one is the killer because it could be any of them. Or, the person I pick to be the killer might turn out later to be a red herring.

Here’s an example of how I develop my characters. This guy is one of three judges for a bake-off contest in my current WIP.

Round One

Alton Paige, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a dog. He’s a bit of a philanderer. Alton extorts money from restaurant owners in return for a good rating.

Oops, I have an Alton and an Alyce, one of the contestants. Watch out for similar names when creating your characters. I will change the judge’s name. In the next round, I fill in his secrets and start working on his relationships to the other characters. Okay, this guy below doesn’t have the face or frame of my character, but he depicts the attitude.

food critic

Round Two

Carlton Paige, 44, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a dog. He’s a bit of a philanderer. Carlton accepts gifts from restaurateurs. In return, he gives them a high rating but only if warranted. The word to describe him would be smarmy. His wife, Sally, who accompanies him on his food jaunts, spends most of her spare time at the gym. She’s always criticizing his lack of restraint in eating…and in other things. Since she’s having an affair with her personal trainer, she overlooks his marital transgressions. Secretly he has an inferiority complex, being the younger brother of three siblings and on the plump side even as a kid. He strives for recognition. Food has been his means of consolation. He’s worked his way up in journalism and aspires to be editor of the entertainment section. Carlton’s reputation is all important to him, and he resents the attention being given to upstart bloggers like Alyce Greene (a contestant in the bake-off). Her blog is eroding his ratings and putting his job in jeopardy. He has to learn self-respect in order to refuse bribes and move ahead in his career…or to realize his worth in his current role.

Round Three

Carlton Paige, 44, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a pug breed of dog. He’s a philanderer whose sensual attitude in life appeals to women. Carlton accepts gifts from restaurateurs. In return, he gives them a high rating but only if warranted. The word to describe him would be smarmy. His wife, Sally, who accompanies him on his food jaunts, spends most of her spare time at the gym. She’s always criticizing his lack of restraint in eating…and in other things. Secretly he has an inferiority complex, being the younger brother of three siblings and on the plump side even as a kid. He strives for recognition. Food has been his means of consolation. He’s worked his way up in journalism and aspires to be editor of the entertainment section. But this won’t happen unless he gains readers. He resents the attention being given to upstart bloggers like Alyce. Her blog is eroding his ratings and putting his job in jeopardy. What will he do to protect his reputation and his readership?

Sally Paige, Carlton’s wife, knows Francine Dodger, another contestant, from the gym. When Carlton complains to her about Alyce, he suggests Sally should discredit her to Francine. But Sally hesitates to approach Francine because the food magazine publisher knows about Sally’s affair with her personal trainer. And while she overlooks her husband’s marital transgressions because she’s unfaithful as well, she still loves Carlton. How far will Sally go to protect her husband and her marriage?

angry woman

You see how each round adds another layer? These people will come alive when they walk onstage for the first time. I don’t bother with long biographies. I’ll see how they move and speak and act when I meet them on the page. What matters now are their motives for murder. If you want to get a better handle on their physical descriptions, search for images online at the royalty-free sites.

After you have a profile on each character, it’s time to connect them to each other. These interrelationships are crucial for a cozy mystery, because the focus of this subgenre is on personal connections among the characters rather than on forensic details or police procedure. More on this next time.

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Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2) by Nancy J. Cohen

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 31, 2017

Thanks to Ian Hughes for this 5 Star review of Hair Raiser audiobook!

Murder, Mystery & More...

njc-hair-raiserWhen savvy hairstylist Marla Shore volunteers for a fundraiser, she has to comb through a knot of suspects to determine who’s sabotaging the gala event. Participating chefs are dropping off the roster like hot rollers, and it’s only through a series of hair-raising exploits that the brazen beautician can tease the truth from them. Too late to stop a murder, Marla must salvage the grand affair before she’s moussed into oblivion.

Can Marla’s shear her way through the lies to catch a killer?  Before the killer buries her for good?

Hair Raiser was originally published by Kensington Publishing Corp. This Author’s Edition has been revised and updated with added bonus materials.

Another fun Bad Hair Day mystery from the pen of Nancy J. Cohen.

Well plotted and written, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning the pages (or listening) right through until the hair splitting conclusion.

These audio…

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Chef Jean Pierre Cooking School

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 30, 2017

We attended Jean Pierre’s Cooking School last night, thanks to a generous gift from our daughter. The complex consists of a commercial kitchen in back, a store selling gourmet spices, olive oil, vinegar, cooking pans, and utensils in the front, and a classroom holding thirty guests off to the side. We received bottled water, but if you want wine, you are welcome to bring your own. We took our seats in the comfortably upholstered chairs. These all faced forward so we could easily see the chef or watch his movements in an overhead mirror.

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Chef Jean Pierre is an entertaining personality who’d operated The Left Bank restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We used to enjoy meals there along with his tableside preparations of various French dishes. Now he runs the cooking school, which appears to be highly popular judging from the full-house last night and the distance some folks came to attend.

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The first course was Shrimp Sambucca with Israeli Couscous. It tasted sublime and could easily be a main entrée. It seemed fairly easy to make, except for peeling and deveining the shrimp.

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Next came Steak Diane in a flavorful mushroom tomato sauce. The chef cut beef tenderloins into medallions and pounded them between parchment paper so they came out thin and easy to sauté. The potatoes were made by thinly slicing sweet potatoes and regular baking potatoes on a mandolin. This dish required a lot of preparation so we got to taste the results. Buttered baby green beans accompanied the meal.

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By now I was full, but I made room for the irresistible Bananas Foster. Who doesn’t like this sweet dish of caramelized bananas with vanilla ice cream?

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Naturally I learned a few interesting cooking tips. For example, if you’re using thickeners, flour should be added in the beginning as it needs to cook adequately. Cornstarch can be added at the end. When adding flour to a sauce cooking in a pot, put a strainer in the pot and add the flour. Whisk the flour through the strainer, and this will avoid lumps.

As for storing garlic, you can buy a jar of peeled garlic. Then chop it all up in a food processor. Add a little olive oil and mix. Freeze in an ice cube tray, and you have set portions to drop into your dishes thereafter.

NOTE: These are my interpretations and any errors are mine.

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Giveaway
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Facials Can Be Fatal Kindle Edition is now available for Pre-Order

 

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Bedners Farm and Market

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 23, 2017

Bedner’s Farm was established in 1960 by Arthur Bedner from Pennsylvania. Today the 80-acre property is run by his three sons and grandson.

The store itself is in a sprawling building off Route 441 in Palm Beach County between Boynton Beach Blvd. and Atlantic Ave. Parking is in front or at an overflow lot in the back. From the back, you climb up a small rise toward the main attractions. A narrow water-filled canal borders the fields so you can’t reach them from the rear parking lot. Just across the ditch is a pepper patch growing red and green bell peppers. Divided by tall sugar cane plants that serve as a wind block are more fields growing strawberries and grape tomatoes.

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We decided to go picking first. At an open air stand, you collect however many buckets you want by leaving your credit card. In return, you are assigned a number that you have to remember. Prices are listed on signage.

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From here, we trudged along a packed dirt path to the fields. The sun was warm and the temperature rose to the low eighties. The air had low humidity, making for a pleasant day. Hats shaded our eyes along with sunglasses. I wore a fanny pack where I kept my camera. Row after row of plants stretched before us. One section, the plants flattened and dried, had held cucumbers. Another with tomato plants had been picked clean of ripe, red tomatoes and held only green ones. So my husband headed toward the peppers while I went to pick strawberries.

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I held each stem between forefinger and middle finger and gently yanked. One-by-one, I plopped the berries into my bucket while inhaling the scent of fruit warming in the sun. It was addictive, and I couldn’t stop picking the fruits. My treasure hunt revealed the ripe red berries glistening in the sun and waiting to be snatched. When my bucket was nearly full, I went to find my spouse. He had some delectable pepper specimens in his pail. We headed back up a slight ridge toward the open-air sales booth and turned in our buckets. Our bounty came to just over $18.00. I put my driver’s license back in my wallet and the brown paper shopping bags into the car.

We bypassed the tractor-pulled tram ride and gem mining in a nearby wooden sluice with a water tower at the top. Hungry from our exertions, we strode over to Porky & Beth’s Barbecue truck across the yard from the outdoor ticket booth.

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The aroma of barbecued beef wafted into our noses. I ordered a quarter chicken and Richard got the brisket. Yellow rice accompanied his meal while I chose mac and cheese. We’d both selected cole slaw and also ordered drinks. By the time we took our Styrofoam-encased meals to the thatch-roof covered picnic area, I was salivating. I tore into my meal, hungrier than ever. There’s nothing like outdoor exercise and a barbecue cooked by someone else to stimulate your appetite. Birds stood nearby, twittering while we ate. A welcome breeze cooled our skin while we swatted flies away from our food. Happily full, we tossed our empty trash in the can to proceed in our explorations.

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Facing the fields, we noted a petting zoo and pony rides to our left but resisted a visit to this popular kids’ area, instead heading toward the indoor market. Sheds with empty crates, tools, and tractors dotted the property. As we approached the air-conditioned building, we noted a Sabrett hot dog stand, a lemonade stand, soft pretzels, and homemade ice cream available from various vendors. There was also a lady selling clothing and another selling orchids at five plants for twenty dollars.

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Inside the building, we took a shopping cart and plowed down each narrow aisle. The place had a crowd which made maneuvering difficult. It’s best to get there early. Besides the usual fresh produce, I spied olive oils, vinegars, olives, pickle barrels, granola mixtures, Florida-made honey, soaps, challah rolls, onion rolls, a variety of breads including but not limited to banana and zucchini breads and gluten-free choices. One section held bins with peppers in different colors and shapes. There was pasta and pesto, hot sauces, gourmet tortilla chips, hot peanuts, a coffee machine where you could buy a cup, olive spreads, packaged nuts, salad dressings, fruity sauces, apple butter, pickled peaches, German sauerkraut, and a large selection of wines. It’s easy to fill your shopping cart.

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I’d like to return here in the fall when they have a pumpkin patch and corn fields. Here’s the bounty we brought home this time. Now I have to decide what to do with it all. Eggplant Parmigian with a fresh salad, anyone?

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