Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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    Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition
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    Trimmed to Death

    A Bad Hair Day Mystery

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    Hair Brained, a Bad Hair Day Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen

    A Bad Hair Day Mystery

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    Facials Can Be Fatal

    A Bad Hair Day Mystery

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    Permed to Death

    Bad Hair Day Mystery #1

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The Wedding Day

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 19, 2018

At 10am on our daughter’s wedding day, the bridal attendants and mothers gathered in the bride’s hotel room and donned the special robes she’d provided for each of us. Hair and makeup experts arrived and began their work, starting with the bridesmaids. These young ladies all looked like models, and they were even more gorgeous after the prep team did their work.

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I was very happy with the way my hair and makeup turned out. Thanks to Carrie Wilson Makeup and Hair by Lisa Moir for their expertise.

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Our daughter had ordered sandwiches brought in so we ate lunch while sitting around watching each other get done. The photographers arrived as our daughter was finishing with her hair. They snapped pictures of us in our robes. It was a glorious day outside, and we stood on the balcony admiring the view of the bay glistening in the distance. We’d lucked out with the weather.

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Before we knew it, we had to gather our belongings and make our way to the wedding venue at Treasury on the Plaza in St. Augustine. We were getting dressed over there in the bridal suite. Chaos ensued as the girls all put on their red gowns and touched up their hair in the large space allotted to us, complete with dressing table mirrors and our own restroom and kitchenette. We did a champagne toast to the occasion. Everyone looked beautiful, and it was heartwarming to see our daughter with her life-long friends and her cousin, the maid of honor.

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As I bent over in my gown to hook my silver shoes, the snap popped on my dress. This snap held the shoulders together at the back. Without it, the dress started to slip down. I had to constantly readjust it. I had told the seamstress the dress was too tight on top, and this proved it. Meanwhile, our daughter left to do the “First Look” photos with the groom. Then they came back in along with the rabbi. The bride and groom signed the Jewish marriage certificate called a ketubah in front of all of us as witnesses.

We all went outside to take formal photos in the park across the street before any guests arrived. Then it was time to wait in our private areas (the groomsmen had their own suite) until summoned by the wedding planner to assemble in the foyer. My heart rate accelerated. It was almost time.

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Coming Next: The Wedding Ceremony

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

The Wedding Rehearsal

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 15, 2018

The wedding rehearsal was held at 11am on Saturday. Our bridal party assembled at the Treasury on the Plaza where the wedding planner took us step-by-step through the ceremony. It was a sobering moment as the reality of the wedding hit us. How would we remember all these moves when the time came?

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Our heads filled with instructions, we went to lunch at O.C. White’s Restaurant in their upstairs room. We had a delightful meal while getting to know each other.

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During our free afternoon, Richard and I strolled down St. George Street to browse in the shops. St. Augustine is always a charming town to visit with its distinctive restaurants, museums, historical buildings and attractions.

IMG_E1319  St. George Street

Then it was time to rest in our room until the rehearsal dinner at The Floridian. Our private room upstairs was beautifully decorated, and appetizers were laid out on the bar. Mostly this was about connecting with close family members and getting better acquainted with members of the bridal party. Thanks to Es and Rick, our future mechutonim, for hosting this event. Anticipation filled the air. The big day would soon be upon us.

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Coming Next: The Wedding Day

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Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 12, 2018

I’m excited to announce the release of Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition.

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Do you want to write a cozy mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or are you in the middle of a story and stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on keeping your material fresh. Writing the Cozy Mystery will help you develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and solve the crime.

This Second Edition contains more examples; additional writing exercises; expanded sections; and seven new chapters including The Muddle in the Middle, Romance and Murder, Special Considerations for Cozy Writers, Keeping a Series Fresh, Writing the Smart Synopsis, Mystery Movies, and Marketing Tips. You’ll find everything you need to know in an easy-to-read, clear manner to write your own mystery and maintain a long-running series. Recommended for cozy writers, mystery fans, and creative writing classes. Just in time for your holiday gift bags!

“Too many writer’s guides focus on style and how to write; but Nancy J. Cohen’s Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition doesn’t limit itself to literary mechanics alone. This makes it a highly recommended pick for all levels of writers; from those who enjoy mysteries and need a clearer definition of ‘cozy’ and its applications; to writers already well aware of the genre, but who need tips on how to sustain suspense or sprinkle believable clues throughout a cozy production.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

If you are thinking about writing a cozy mystery, read this book first! Nancy lays out all the necessary steps in an interesting and informative way that is easy to follow. This book was an invaluable tool when I wrote my first cozy. Highly recommended.” Catherine Bruns, USA Today Bestselling Author

“Nancy J. Cohen offers clear examples, practical writing exercises, and friendly advice designed to help the beginning cozy author start—and finish!—a saleable book. Even seasoned cozy writers can find helpful hints for building better characters and story.” Diane A.S. Stuckart, aka Ali Brandon, NY Times Bestselling Author of the Tarot Cats Mysteries

“If you want to write a cozy mystery—or really, any kind of mystery—this is the book for you! Everything you need to know in one handy volume.” Victoria Thompson, Bestselling Author of the Gaslight Mystery Series

Digital Edition: ISBN 978-0-9985317-2-4, $3.99, Orange Grove Press
Print Edition: ISBN 978-0-9985317-3-1, $9.99, Orange Grove Press
Cover Design and Graphic Illustrations by
Boulevard Photografica

Print Pages: 130 pages. Word Count: 28,000 words
Nonfiction – Reference – Writing Guide

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Pre-Wedding Adventures

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 9, 2018

Our daughter’s wedding was magnificent. It’s hard to believe it is over. All that planning for ten months and then in three days, it was done. There’s relief that things went well mixed with regret that it’s past history, but we’ll relive the event through the photos. (This collage is representative of a wedding but is not ours.)

Wedding Collage

We checked into the bed and breakfast inn at St. Augustine that was designated for the bridal party. Here began the first of our Wedding Misadventures. This historic inn had no private parking area. You have to park in an assigned space at a lot several blocks away. To unload your luggage, you must hunt down a driveway on a street at the rear. We pulled into the wrong place and had to drive around the block again to find the proper loading zone. Our room was in a separate structure from the main building, where our daughter had booked a lovely suite. We had a room that needed renovation as the wall a/c unit blasted onto the beds. There was a long flight of steps up to our second floor room with no elevator.

The front desk sent a guy to help us with our bags. Then we backed our car out of the tight driveway and ended up scratching the passenger side. We suspect it came from a latch sticking out from a gate. Mishap #1.

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Friday evening, we had drinks in the cozy cocktail lounge at the inn and then got ready to meet everyone at Michael’s Tasting Room for an informal dinner. My husband flushed the toilet in our hotel room before we left. It overflowed and flooded on the floor. Mishap #2. We reported it to the front desk, who assured us they would get the maintenance man right over there.

We went to dinner and had a delightful meal with the members of the bridal party who’d arrived early. From left to right are the bride and groom. They are toasting with the groom’s brother (aka the best man) and his wife. And here are Richard and I seated with Es and Rick, soon to be our Mechutonim (i.e. relatives through marriage).

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Anxious about our room situation, we hurried back around 9:30. The front desk person said a plumber had been called, and he was still working on the toilet. We spoke to the man, who said the problem was in a pipe and he had to drill into the wall.

We were outta there. After speaking to the front desk, we spent the night at another hotel, planning to return in the morning. The inn refunded our night’s stay. We returned the next day and had a pleasant breakfast on the front porch. I had French Toast Peach Cobbler. That’s the best part about B&Bs – the morning meal.

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It’s a good thing we ate first, because here’s what we found in our room:

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Despite the clerk’s reassurance that the problem had been fixed and the maid would clean up, we checked out and booked two nights at the Hilton. Central a/c! Starbucks in the lobby! We were in heaven! We moved over all our stuff and were ready to face the new day.

Coming Next: The Wedding Rehearsal

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Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Research Insights – Green or Black Olives

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 19, 2018

I’m a big olive fan. When I was younger, I used to eat cream cheese and black olive sandwiches for lunch. Now I like to eat olives as an accompaniment to any kind of sandwich, or olive tapenade on crackers as an appetizer. I like green olives, but they can be saltier. Then we have Kalamata olives, which I enjoy along with nova on a bagel or in a Greek salad.

Olives

In Trimmed to Death, my hairstylist sleuth Marla Vail goes to interview a person of interest at an olive grove. Along the way, she learns more about this fruit from the olive tree.

What’s the difference between green and black olives?

The olive is a stone fruit, in which a fleshy outer covering surrounds a pit or stone, which in turn encases a seed. The outer flesh of an olive contains up to thirty percent oil. Olives grown for the table are different from olives pressed for oil.

Raw olives have a bitter taste. They need to be processed before we can eat them. They can be sun dried, but more commonly they’re treated to remove the bitter compounds and make them more palatable.

Green olives are picked before they ripen and are soaked in lye. Then they’re washed in water to remove the caustic solution and transferred to fermenting vessels full of brine. The brine is changed on a regular basis to help remove the bitter phenolic compound known as oleuropein. Fermentation occurs by natural microbes present on the olives that survive the lye treatment. These bacteria produce lactic acid that lowers the pH of the brine. This helps stabilize the product against unwanted pathogens. Once fermented, the olives are placed in fresh brine and acid-corrected before going to market.

olives

Black olives are picked after ripening. Tree-ripened olives turn purple due to an accumulation of anthocyanin, a purplish pigment. These ripe olives need treatment before they’re edible. Salt-cured olives, produced in certain Mediterranean countries, are washed and packed in alternating layers of salt. This draws the moisture from the olives, dehydrating and shriveling them. Once cured, they are sold in their natural state without any additives. Oil-cured olives are cured in salt and then soaked in oil. Otherwise, there’s the fermentation process described above.

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California black olives, although labeled as ripe on supermarket cans, are really green olives that have been soaked in lye and washed in water injected with compressed air. This process is repeated until the skin and flesh are oxidized, turning the olives black. Then the olives are washed and put into a fresh brine solution. Ferrous gluconate may be added to set the shiny black color before these olives are canned.

What is a Kalamata olive?

The Kalamata olive from this region in Greece has a deep purple color and is meatier than other varieties. These olives are placed directly into fermentation vessels full of brine until they appear almost dark brown or black. Most Kalamata olives are split to allow the interior to absorb the flavor. Beware these olives are usually sold with their seeds. Even if you get olives that are supposedly pitted, small bits might remain, so be careful when eating them.

Why are black olives sold in cans and green olives in jars?

Early California black olives sold in jars caused cases of botulism. As a result, the industry switched to a canning process. The artificially-ripened olives are heated to 240 degrees. A canned item can tolerate this temperature, but not a glass jar.

Green olives don’t undergo the addition of oxygen and are packed in brine. The salinity is high enough and the pH levels are low enough to inhibit bacterial growth, so they don’t have to be sealed in metal cans and cooked. These olives remain edible for many years stored in jugs, crocks, or jars. No refrigeration is required until opened.

Excerpt from Trimmed to Death

Hairstylist Marla Vail is talking to a Florida olive grower.

Olive Branch

“Some olive varieties may be edible off the tree if they are sun dried first. Otherwise, the curing process can take a few days with lye treatment, or a few months with brine or salt packing.”

“What do you mean, with lye?” Marla wrinkled her nose at the thought.

“Lye processing is mainly used with green or semi-ripe olives,” Ben explained, as they crossed over to another row and then headed back toward the main complex. “The olives are soaked in lye for eight to ten hours to hydrolyse the oleuropein. Then they’re washed in water to remove the caustic solution and transferred to fermenting vats filled with brine. Or, you can avoid the lye process and put them directly into fermentation vessels. There are other methods as well. One technique involves artificially darkening the olive to make it appear black.”

This was news to her. “Are table olives different from olives used to make olive oil?”

“Yes. Some olives are grown to cure and eat, while others are prized for their use in making extra virgin olive oil. Olive mills press the oil, and the sooner you get the product to consumers, the better the quality of the oil. Demand has increased since the health benefits of olive oil have been recognized. In the U.S., we currently import about ninety-eight percent of the millions of gallons we consume per year. You’re not always getting the product you think you are with these imports. Fraud has become a multi-million dollar enterprise.”

Olive Oil Scams are a topic for another time. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this fruit and are now eager to check out the varieties in your local grocery store. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data I read. Any errors are unintentional.

Are you an olive fan? If so, which variety do you like best?

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TRIMMED TO DEATH

Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!

TRIMMED TO DEATH eBook

Get your copy here:

Amazon Print: https://amzn.to/2xXmY57
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2Kb7oIK
iBooks: https://apple.co/2xWHSRP
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/trimmed-to-death
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After Your Book Launch

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 16, 2018

What should you be doing in the days following your new book release? Promotion doesn’t end when your book launch is over. You’ve tossed the ball into the court. Now you need to keep it rolling. Let’s say you have sent advance reading copies to reviewers and are participating in a blog tour or doing guest posts along the way.

Book Launch

What else can you do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Start a file for Amazon reviews and copy down each review as it’s posted, along with the date and reviewer. Do the same for Goodreads. Repeat for bloggers and other review sites. If you start getting tons of reviews, skip this step and go to item two.
  • Check these names against your personal reviewer list and mark each one as done. Then you’ll know which reviewers followed through so you can approach them with your next release.
  • Send a thank you email to the reviewers on your personal list who have posted.
  • Send a reminder to the reviewers who have not yet posted.
  • You should have already written a page of tweets and posts for your new book. For each reviewer, note their Twitter and Facebook handles. Now pull relevant quotes from these reviews and add them to your Tweet page. Remember to tag the reviewer.
  • Also write a tweet or post for each stop on your blog tour. Tag your hosts and add a link to their site.
  • Set your Twitter posts to rotate automatically at a site like SocialJukebox.com or schedule them ahead of time at Hootsuite. Space out your Facebook posts between your own pages and your groups.
  • Add quotes from reviews to your website.
  • Check your Amazon book’s page. If you don’t see reviews posted by your reviewers, you can add them as quotes via Amazon Author Central.
  • If you are doing a blog tour, return daily to each site and respond to comments. Leave your own comment thanking the host for having you there.
  • Get the specific URL for each post about your book and update it on your Appearances page. Shorten the link for tweets.
  • If you’re running a contest, don’t forget to mention this to your followers.
  • Remember to promote your friends’ books and retweet their posts so it’s not all about you.
  • If you’re doing concurrent sales on your other books, you’ll need to advertise these as well.
  • Gauge the effectiveness of the newsletter you sent out the day of your book release. Update your mailing list by removing bounces and unsubscribes.
  • If you boosted your Facebook post, was it effective? How many engagements and clicks did you get?
  • Keep meticulous records so that when you have another release, you can contact the reviewers who posted about your book and drop the people who got an advance copy but never responded. Then you can seek new readers to fill in the gaps.

I’m sure you can think of many more activities you’re doing in the couple of weeks following your book release. It’s a busy time when the pace seems relentless, but it will ease off. You’ll have to keep the promotional ball rolling, but at least it’ll be more of a steady pace than a race. What would you add to this list?

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Museum of Science

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 12, 2018

We took a break and visited the Museum of Discovery and Science in downtown Fort Lauderdale. It had been years since we’d last visited when our kids were young. The museum has two levels plus a gift shop, concession stand, and IMAX theater. We bought tickets to the exhibits only, bypassing the films and the flight simulator or Mars Rover experiences. There’s also an Everglades Airboat Adventure, which we chose not to explore since we’ve been on the real thing in the past.

We began our tour in the Florida Ecoscapes section. Here displays showed various South Florida habitats and some of the creatures that lived in them.

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An impressive aquarium section had colorful tropical fish and this spiny lobster. It’s a good thing the lobster and shrimp that I eat in a restaurant come without the heads and antennas or I’d lose my appetite fast.

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A section on prehistoric Florida had this giant replica of a sea creature whose only predator was the whale. An overenthusiastic young tour guide told us how its cartilage structure instead of bones meant mainly teeth were found to prove its existence. He may have said the creatures died off due to lack of food during a mini-ice age, but I was only half-listening to his rapid-fire talk. He was very knowledgeable if you wanted a thorough explanation of the era.

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The otter section is nicely done, with a rocky waterfall that gives the animals room to play.

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Naturally there’s a hurricane section where you can see a water spout form and watch news broadcasts about various storms. Downstairs also has a kids section that looks like fun for smaller children.

Upstairs are the flight simulators and IMAX theater. Models of aircraft cockpits tempt you to sit in them and push buttons to allow you to virtually cruise down a runway. I ended up blowing up my aircraft as we veered onto the grass.

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There’s a health section where you can read about various bodily functions and medical robotic techniques.

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An area with brain teasers could keep you occupied all day trying to fit the jigsaw pieces into a square shape and doing other tasks. The biggest exhibit was on The Science of Archimedes, a Greek scientist eventually murdered by a Roman soldier. He designed a great many apparatus that were replicated here.

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A brief area with rocks and minerals drew my interest, followed by the inevitable dinosaurs.

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This was a fun visit that took about two hours to roam around inside and check out the gift shop. There’s no café on premises but the museum map shows one under construction. Parking is next door in a public garage. So if you’re in town looking for something indoors to do, visit our Museum of Discovery and Science. It’ll bring out the curious child in you.

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Blog Tour for Trimmed to Death

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 26, 2018

Join me on my virtual book tour to celebrate the release of Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Please leave comments at each site to support my hosts.

September 25 – Christa Reads and Writes – REVIEW & EXCERPT

September 27 – Dru’s Book Musings – GUEST POST “Get to Know Marla Vail”

September 27 – Open Book Society – REVIEW

October 1 – The Big Thrill – SPOTLIGHT & AUTHOR INTERVIEW

October 2 – Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers – GUEST POST “Food Fiction”

October 3 – I Wish I Lived in a Library – REVIEW

October 4 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – REVIEW

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September 26 – October 5 – Great Escapes Blog Tour 

September 26 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – GUEST POST “Farm Festivals”

September 26 – Readeropolis – SPOTLIGHT

September 27 – Mallory Heart’s Cozies – REVIEW

September 27 – Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

September 28 – A Holland Reads – SPOTLIGHT

September 28 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – CHARACTER INTERVIEW & GIVEAWAY

September 29 – Island Confidential – GUEST POST “Tree of Life”

September 29 – Here’s How It Happened – SPOTLIGHT

September 30 – A Blue Million Books – CHARACTER INTERVIEW

September 30 – Lori’s Reading Corner – GUEST POST “Reality into Fiction”

October 1 – Babs Book Bistro – SPOTLIGHT

October 1 –Laura’s Interests – REVIEW 

October 2 – I’m All About Books – SPOTLIGHT 

October 2 – Mysteries with Character  – “Beyond the Story of Trimmed to Death by Nancy J. Cohen” 

October 3 – Community Bookstop – REVIEW

October 3 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT

October 4 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

October 4 – Mystery Thrillers and Romantic Suspense Reviews – SPOTLIGHT & EXCERPT

October 5 – MJB Reviewers – AUTHOR INTERVIEW & GIVEAWAY

October 5 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – REVIEW

IN PERSON EVENTS

Saturday, Oct. 6, 2:00 – 4:00 pm, Multi-Author Booksigning, Helen B. Hoffman Plantation Library 50th Anniversary Celebration, 501 N Fig Tree Lane, Plantation, Florida 33317, Phone: 954-797-2140. http://www.plantation.org/Library/ Attending Authors include Barbara Fox, Bob Brink, Christopher Bigney, Dawn Davies, Dora Vilk-Shapiro, Glen Ogden, Harriet Ottenheimer, KB Schaller, Laura Burke, Lauren Doyle Owens, Marlo Bromfield, Michal Sherring, Nancy J. Cohen, Neil Plakcy, Ray Flynt.

Library Signing

Saturday, Nov. 10, 6:00 pm, Booksigning & Discussion with Nancy J. Cohen and Diane A.S. Stuckart at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444. Phone: 561-279-7790. http://murderonthebeach.com

GIVEAWAY
Enter Here Sept. 26 – Oct. 12 to win a Fall Festival Gift Basket! Contents include a signed print copy of Haunted Hair Nights and Hair Brained and other autumn-themed goodies! Physical prize for U.S. Resident only. Ebooks for international winner.

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Posted in Appearances, Book Reviews, Business of Writing, Marketing, New Release, Reviews, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Trimmed to Death – Book Release Day

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 25, 2018

Happy Book Birthday to me! Today is the release day for Trimmed to Death, #15 in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.


TRIMMED TO DEATH eBook

Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla joins a scavenger hunt where people playing character roles are the targets. Instead of scoring points with a live person, she finds a dead body planted face-down in the strawberry field. Who would want to cut short the life of food magazine publisher and fellow bake-off contestant Francine Dodger? As she investigates, Marla learns there’s no shortage of suspects. A celebrity TV chef, food critic, olive oil importer, food truck owner, pastry chef, and cookbook author may be stirring up more than their next recipe. Can Marla unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!

Join my Book Launch Party tonight from 7:00 – 8:30 pm EDT. Fun and Prizes!

Launch Party

Excerpt

“Do you know anyone who might have wished to harm Ms. Dodger?” Dalton swayed slightly on his feet as he spoke.

Marla gave him a sharp glance. Was the incessant chanting getting to him, or was it the drink he’d ingested?

Colin tented his hands together in prayer formation. “Francine did sound excited about an article she’d been researching. ‘Now I’ll finally get my revenge’ are the exact words she said to me. But when I pressed her for details, she wouldn’t say more.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I can’t believe she’s gone. We were good together, and now…”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Marla told him in a soothing tone. “Is there anything else you can tell us that may be helpful? I’m sure you want to see justice done for Francine same as we do. Even something seemingly irrelevant might be important.”

“Her colleagues might have more information, especially the lady who took over her job. Maybe she orchestrated the whole thing to get a promotion.”

“I’ve interviewed them,” Dalton said, “and no one seemed to bear Francine any ill will that I noticed. As for the topic she’d been pursuing for her alleged exposé, she was keeping it a closely guarded secret, same as her relationship to you.”

As soon as those words left his mouth, Dalton’s legs folded. He sank to the ground in a sliver of lantern light that illuminated his senseless form.

Early Reviews 

“From fundraiser activity, culinary insights, and probes into Marla’s logic to recipes and romance which pepper the story line and embellish its twists and turns, readers who want a cozy mystery filled with atmosphere, intrigue, and adventure should settle a chair by the fire for a good evening’s read.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“This sweet cozy mystery has an interesting cast of characters along with plenty of suspects to thicken the plot.” FS Brown, InD’Tale Magazine

“Trimmed to Death is a solid cozy replete with olive facts, dogs, small town rivalries, entrepreneurship, and killer recipes. Another entertaining read from author Nancy J Cohen. She kept me guessing to the end!” Muddy Rose Reviews

Trimmed to Death
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-5-5, $4.99, Orange Grove Press
Print ISBN: 978-0-9985317-6-2, $14.99, Orange Grove Press
Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica

Book Trailer
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Plotting Questions For Mystery Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 22, 2018

Your main goal in writing a mystery, or any kind of fictional work, is to create story questions in the reader’s mind. This creates suspense that you need to propel the story forward. Even as you are plotting the book, assuming you’re a plotter like me and not a pantser (figuring it out as you go), you need to keep asking yourself ongoing questions.

Plotting Questions

Let’s take a story I have in mind as an example. The setting is a historic house. Suspects may include the head docent, the owner or owner’s children, a board of trustees if they own the place, the gardener, café manager, and gift shop lady. Objects are being stolen from this house one at a time so the theft won’t be noticed. So here we come to several questions.

Why is someone stealing valuable objects?

The thief needs money. What for?

Gambling debts (a bingo addict? Horse races? Jai A’lai games? Illegal online gambling?)
Medical care (expensive medications for a hidden disease? Medical treatment for a loved one? Nursing home care for an aged relative?)
To pay back a loan or to pay blackmail money
Greed (he’s not getting paid enough)
To hide financial losses

Or the thief is stealing out of a sense of entitlement. The culprit feels these items should be rightfully his because the former owner (a distant relative?) swindled his father out of his inheritance. Or was his father cheated by a business partner, the former owner of the estate?

Note that you can assign one of these motives to each suspect without deciding which one is the killer. It’ll make them all seem guilty.

Next question would be: Who has access to the house? This could be any of the above named suspects, plus the cleaning staff, repairmen, or other minor players.

So the thief steals these items. How does he sell them? Does he go through a person acting as fence? If so, how did he gain this criminal connection? Has he been incarcerated, which is where he got the idea for thievery and learned these skills? Or maybe the culprit is a woman lonely for attention who’s been seduced by a bad boy?

What about security? Are the valuable items in locked display cases? Is there video monitoring, motion detectors, glass-break alarms? Or are the objects in plain sight in various rooms guarded by security personnel until closing time?

Now we come to the next big question. Who is killed and why? Did the victim witness the thief in action? Maybe he saw the crook hand off the item to his fence in exchange for a wad of cash. Or he stumbled into the culprit and the stolen object tumbled from the thief’s jacket onto the ground. Either way, this appears to be a crime of opportunity.

The sleuth finds the body. What is the means of murder? Where does she find the victim? Let’s say the sleuth also discovers one of the stolen items on the estate grounds. How does it get there? Did the thief mean to get rid of the evidence, or did the item fall from his pocket accidentally?

Now let’s turn everything around. Thefts have been taking place at this estate, and the suspects all seem to be hiding these secret motives we’ve discussed. But what if the victim’s death was premeditated? The autopsy reveals that this act was set in motion even before the day’s events began. He died from poison, not the knife wound. Plot twist! Now your sleuth has to reexamine all the motives, the access to the victim, and the specialized knowledge needed to commit the murder.

If you’re a mystery writer who likes to plan things out in advance, you need to answer all these questions before you begin writing the novel. You might be a pantser who starts with a story crisis and keeps writing, being surprised along the way. But as you can see, a plotter can be surprised as well when these plot twists pop up. I call this process story magic coming into play. The point is to keep asking questions. These same questions will plague your readers, and that creates suspense. When one issue is settled, you’ll need to raise more questions to keep the tension going throughout the book.

For more on this topic, see my previous posts on Writing the Mystery

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