Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for December, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 31, 2009

Please ignore this Technorati code MHW2VTNRCFJR is for recognition purposes. Tomorrow I will post on this topic of resolutions. Have yours ready to share!

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SAN JUAN

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 30, 2009

San Juan

We’ve been on tours here before so this time we just walked around, browsing in the stores. I picked up some 14k gold hoop earrings at Tropical Jewelers for my daughter cheaper than the ones I bought myself in a similar size in St. Thomas. From the pier, walk up Calle Tanca a couple of blocks to Calle Fortaleza, the main shopping street. Turn left and stroll along, ducking into any shops that strike your fancy. We got lured into Restaurant Barrachina, home of the famed Piña Colada drink created here in 1963. It’s a charming restaurant with a tempting appetizer menu or a place for lunch. No worries about the waiters; they speak English. The food is good and there’s a rest room in the back. As for the piña coladas, I’ve had better but it was fun to try one here. The waiter recommended Don Q Cristal for a white rum. There’s a store by the waterfront but it was closed on Thursdays and that’s the day we were in port. He also mentioned Ron del Barrilito for a golden rum. He said these are the rums used by the natives, not Baccardi brands.

After an early meal, we continued onward on Calle Fortaleza. At the far end toward Calle Christo is a barricade blocking access to the Governor’s mansion. Turn left and you’ll find yourself at a historical chapel. Go into Pigeon Park next to the chapel for a fabulous view of the harbor. Note the stone wall with all the pigeon holes where the birds live. It’s a fascinating glimpse of old San Juan. If you’ve never been to the island before, you can tour the forts or take a bus tour to the rainforest. A couple of hours patrolling the city streets is more than sufficient for shopping.

Labadee

This is a fabulous beach party at RCCL’s private hideaway. Passengers haD the entire day to roam about this beautiful peninsula. It’s part of Haiti but is separated from the mainland by scenic mountains. Lush with green foliage and palm lined lagoons, this island-like setting offers something for everyone. You can lose yourself in bliss lying on a lounge chair and sipping a potent Labadoozee or rum punch while gazing at the sparkling turquoise waters. Go for a swim, stuff yourself at the BBQ lunch, or get a thrill riding on the zip line or rollercoaster. Shop for colorful Haitian paintings and wood carvings at the native market. Or rent a jet ski and zoom across the waves. Kayaking and floats are available as is an Aqua Park for kids. Whatever your pleasure, you can find it here. A tram ride can take you from one end to the other if you don’t feel like walking in the heat.

My camera broke so I don’t have any photos for these ports. A new camera became one of my holiday gifts upon our return. I hate learning new technology. Some features are better than my old camera, though, so it’s worth the effort.

Happy New Year!

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ST. THOMAS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 28, 2009

Here we took RCCL’s Best of St. Thomas tour to see the St. Peter Greathouse which opened to the public fairly recently. Owned by a governor initially, the house passed into various hands before being turned into a tourist attraction and catering hall. Our open air bus made two stops along the way at scenic overlooks, but the view from this impressive estate surpassed them.

St Thomas Ship

View of Ship from Mountain Top

St Thomas View

St Thomas View

The house itself exudes tropical ambiance with its expansive windows and comfortable furnishings.

House 1

St. Peter Greathouse

House 2

St. Peter Greathouse

House 4

St. Peter Greathouse

House 3

St. Peter Greathouse

Along with a gift shop and snack bar, there’s a planked nature walk that I enjoyed the most. Surrounded by lush tropical foliage, you descend a boardwalk into the jungle via a series of steps and then climb back up. It’s not too strenuous, and the fruity rum punch we had beforehand fortified us. This is a worthwhile tour if you want to get a taste of St. Thomas’s lush beauty. It took about 3 hours, so if you book an early morning excursion, you’ll still have plenty of time for shopping in town.

Nature

Nature Trail

Nan2 Nature

Nancy on Nature Trail

Back at Charlotte Amalie, the port town, we had lunch at the Green House. I recommend this restaurant or Café Amici in an alley near A.H. Riise. Once fed, we trekked uphill about 3 blocks to visit the old Jewish synagogue. It’s a sturdy building that has been here since the 1700’s. Sand covers the floor, and there’s a small gift shop off to the side.

Green House

Green House Restaurant

Temple2

Old Jewish Synagogue

Back downhill, we stormed the shops along Main Street. My favorite stores are Imperial Jewelers, Cardow’s, Ballerina Jewelers, and Royal Caribbean (not related to cruise line). A.H. Riise still has the best liquor selection, cosmetics, perfumes, rum balls, hook bracelets, and more. If you dock near Havensight Mall, you have a chance for more last minute shopping before the ship sails.

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ST. MAARTEN

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 24, 2009

St. Maarten

 

We’ve been here before, so I already knew to take the water taxi for six dollars round trip from the pier into the center of Philipsburg. It’s good for travel all day and they put a plastic bracelet on your wrist. Vendors sell nice hats for $5 by the pier, and I added another one to my collection.

Our first stop was Diamonds International to pick up a charm bracelet. If you show this in the different ports, you get a charm to add for each island. It’s also a good shop to browse for jewelry. Outside facing the courthouse, we turned left on Front Street, but we didn’t care much for the stores at that end. We turned in the opposite direction and ended up in Shopper’s Haven where I bought a pair of dangling white gold earrings. They were expensive even for 14k gold but a unique design. The shopkeeper gave my friend Lynn and I each a glass of champagne to celebrate our purchases. This made us hungry so we headed to Holland House a few doors down to a delightful open air restaurant facing the beach. I ate a brie cheese sandwich while ceiling fans twirled lazily overhead.

Diamonds International

Diamonds International

Beyond the Boardwalk is a free beach if you ever go to the island so you don’t have to take any beach tours. A selection of restaurants face the water where you can sit and enjoy the view. It’s much more pleasant here than in Marigot, the French side of the island, where you get stuck in traffic going and coming from the port. Shops are expensive there and service at the restaurants takes a long time. The Philipsburg shops offer a selection of jewelry, cameras, Belgian chocolate, Guavaberry Liquor, and souvenirs. The old adage applies: If you see what you like, buy it.

St. Maarten Beach1

View of St. Maarten

St Maarten Beach2

Beachside at Philipsburg

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INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 22, 2009

Independence of the Seas

December 12, 2009

8 nights to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Labadee

Ship Review
RCCL ships have a signature interior Promenade like a city street lined with shops and bars. The Café Promenade, toward the aft end, serves pastries starting at 6am in the morning and sandwiches starting at 11:30. Coffee is available 24 hours. Their Seattle’s Best coffee is very good, flavorful taste. Creamer cups are about half the size of ones at home. I suggest bringing your own non-refrigerated Coffeemate creamer cups along. Since this ship was based in England (and will be returning there), instead of a coffee pot in the room, you get a hot water device with packets of instant coffee. Forget that and go to the Café. They serve fresh baked cookies here too. The fudge ones are the best. Re the pastries, normally I like croissants but their variety has a glazed coat that stuck to my teeth, so I preferred the cinnamon roll.
Promenade

Interior View of Promenade

Sorrento’s, also on the Promenade on Deck 5 forward, serves pizza and mini desserts like tiramisu. They put out antipasto in the evening that can be a nice appetizer. Like the Café, the food here is free and included in your cruise price. Also on the Promenade you’ll find the Vintages Wine Bar with a sophisticated selection of wines and wine flights, but the menu tends to be pricey and confusing. The Dog & Badger Pub focuses more on ale but wine choices are more reasonable. People are allowed to smoke in a section here and the smoke drifted our way, making us disinclined to linger. We didn’t note any food menu in either of these lounges but then we didn’t ask for one either. Ben & Jerry’s has a shop on the Promenade, but why pay for ice cream when there’s a free frozen yogurt machine outside on the pool deck?

Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas

Up on Deck 14 is the signature Crown Viking Lounge, here called the Olive or Twist. Nice dance music here during evening hours. Daytime it’s a great getaway if you want solitude and a terrific view of the pool deck from up high. I may add that unlike other ships, you cannot sit outside and enjoy a view of the ship’s wake on the Independence, nor is there a lounge where you can enjoy a view of the ship forging ahead. Too much of the focus is on the interior Promenade, including evening parades and street parties. The Schooner Bar is a quieter spot but they often have trivia contests. Production shows occur in the Alhambra Theatre which has adequate tiered seating. The Pyramid Lounge at the opposite end holds art auctions and other events. There doesn’t seem to be any nightly entertainment other than the main show, shown twice at 7pm and 9pm. The Labyrinth is a disco but sometimes was reserved for private parties. There were no late night comedy acts like on other ships unless I missed notice of them.

Cabin

Cabin

A few other items were missing too, that used to be provided in the past. Chocolates on our pillow at night. Lotion in the bathrooms. All we got was bar soap and a shampoo dispenser in the minuscule shower.

The soundproofing was excellent in our cabin. Maybe we lucked out and had quiet neighbors, but we didn’t hear anyone next door. Our cabin was a comfortable size with a couch and console but limited storage space. The drawers are small, and only one tier of shelves fits into the closet. At least there were plenty of hangars. The shower is impossibly small and shaped like a round sewer cover. Ladies, forget shaving your legs in there. I suggest you bring an electric razor, preferably battery run. This applies to the sister ships as well. The shower doors kept the water contained very well and function much better than an old-fashioned curtain. There’s a European style hose spray that can be awkward until you get the hang of it.

Our balcony room gave a wonderful view, while a clear glass barrier under the railing guards against accidents. Cloudy glass partitions on either side of the balcony separate neighbors. Two chairs and a small table are provided. We heard the whoosh of waves in our room even on deck 8. Our room was towards the bow, starboard side forward. The bedding was very comfortable, hotel style white comforters, two pillows, cushy mattress. Flat screen TV by Samsung hung on the wall. A hair dryer is provided. Suitcases fit under the beds for storage. Bring a small packet of antiseptic wipes so when you first arrive, you can wipe down all door handles, tv remote, telephone, and light switches. People were ill on this cruise with symptoms of Norovirus. Load your purse and pockets with hand sanitizer and use it religiously. Hand sanitizer dispensers are located at each bar and eaterie and at the computer station but carry your own and don’t touch your face at all until you’ve washed your hands.

Balcony

Balcony Cabin

The weather in December was warm for our voyage. The ship isn’t freezing cold inside like some others so long sleeves can make you hot, although I was comfortable in the evenings with my dressy wardrobe. We had two formal nights and the rest were casual.You have your choice on this ship of any time dining or formal seating. We chose six o’clock dining. Our waiter, Handra, was a small statured guy from Indonesia. Some of the meals I ate were prime ribs, tiger shrimp, roast duck, lobster tail and garlic shrimp, lamb shank, shrimp and mahi mahi tempura. I do not judge this food as good as on the Princess line. Each night on the menu were also choices of an Indian dish, a vegetarian dish, a pasta dish. None of these appealed to me so that made limited selections. The pasta dishes were too ordinary, like cheese filled ravioli or spaghetti and meatballs. You can get those at home, so why order them here? We’ve been on other ships where the choices are more tempting. The buffets in the Windjammer Café didn’t seem to have much variety either. And they’ve done away with the late night Chocolate Buffet.

RCCL has an excellent program for children. This ship had activities for all ages. Athletic minded adults could surf on the Flowrider, play miniature golf or basketball, go rock climbing, work out in the gym, swim, or jog the deck. Kids had their own whimsical pool area with colorful fountains spraying water and music blaring in the background. I enjoyed listening to the steel band playing at the regular pool deck or sitting in the quieter solarium looking at the ocean.

H20

H20 Fun Zone for Kids

The Captain greeted passengers on a bridge over the Promenade on our first formal night, Day 2 at sea. He said, “We’re sailing in the Bermuda Triangle. I’ve been coming here for XX years and nothing happened. Maybe tonight is the night.” We made it safely home so it appears we didn’t meet any anomalies. Now it’s time to plan the next trip.

Pool Deck

Pool Deck

Flowrider

Flowrider for Surfing

Sports Deck

Sports Deck

Coming Next: Ports of Call

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REFILLING THE CREATIVE WELL

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 11, 2009

Every now and then, the muse needs to take a rest. Over the holidays is as good a time as any, especially with the frenzy of out-of-town visitors, parties, and gift exchanges. Rather than figuring what your characters are going to do next, think about what shows to attend, which exhibits to check out, and what friends to call. Come January, it’ll be time to get down to business again, but for the next few weeks, try to relax and have fun. New experiences will add to the creative well so that when 2010 rolls around, you’ll be ready to sit down at the computer for some intense work. Periodically it pays to step back, enjoy life, and push aside the worry about what to write next. In other words, try not to feel guilty that you’re away from the office. Sometimes ideas have to stew in the subconscious before they’re ready to bubble forth, and too much concentration can cloud the mixture. It’s also a good time for reorganizing your office, reviewing your new idea files, and catching up on writing-related articles. So relax and savor the season. It’s only once a year.

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NinC Blog

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 10, 2009

I’ve posted a blog today on Gifts for the Writer at http://www.ninc.com/blog

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BACKSTORY

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 9, 2009

One of the most common problems in new writers’ works is the insertion of backstory into the first chapter of their book. Nothing else kills the pacing quicker than paragraphs heralding back to some past event in the character’s life. Maybe it’s necessary to relate some of these facts, but they can be done in a less intrusive manner. You must keep the action moving forward. The reader wants to know what’s happening now, not twenty years in the past.

So how do you deal with this burning issue? Here are six tips to get you started.

1. Leave backstory until later. Is it absolutely essential to the core of the plot as the story opens?
If in doubt, leave it out. The story should start with some sort of crisis or change that propels your character to take action. Let the reader wonder why this is happening until your character can take a breather and reflect on what’s going on . That shouldn’t occur until at least the second chapter. Remember to end the third chapter on a hook, because this proposal is your selling tool. Kill the pacing, and kill your chances for publication.
2. Filter past events in gradually, not in one info dump. Only reveal what is necessary at that time in the story.
3. Leave some elements purposely out to create a mystery. The reader will keep turning pages to see what happened between your people in the past or why your heroine feels this way.
4. Add in the backstory through dialogue whenever possible. Let your character tell her story to someone who doesn’t already know it. Or have two characters gossip about your protagonist. If you’re in her viewpoint, she could overhear or one of them could mention it later. Find ways to work it in so that it’s interesting to the reader.
5. If you want to relate the backstory from your protagonist’s viewpoint, offer tidbits of past history a line or two at a time. Or segue into the past in a quick paragraph with a sensory element that ties the past and present together. The idea is not to get bogged down. Keep moving forward!

How do you deal with this problem?

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RESEARCH AND THE MUSE

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 7, 2009

A reader at one of my author talks recently said she was surprised by how much research I did for my books. She believed fiction writers made up their stories. I was appalled. No wonder some people (not YOU, of course) look down their noses at popular fiction writers. Any author would be dismayed by this observation because we put a lot of work into researching our tales.

As any reader of historical fiction knows, the writer must thoroughly research all details of the era in order to be accurate. Ditto for mysteries. I get people asking me all the time if I had been a hairdresser because my sleuth’s job details are so accurate. When I mention that my background is in nursing, they are astounded. How did you learn enough to write about a
hairstylist who solves crimes for your Bad Hair Day series? Well, I interviewed my hairdresser and followed her around the salon. I visited a beauty school and checked out their curriculum. I attended a beauty trade show in Orlando. I subscribed to Modern Salon Magazine. And if I needed to know anything else about hair, I asked my hairstylist or had her read relevant passages in my manuscript for accuracy.

That’s just the beginning. Consider that I also consult a homicide detective for crime details and police procedure, even if forensics doesn’t play a heavy role in my books. Plus each story has its own topics to research. I’ve investigated such diverse subjects as medical waste disposal, tilapia farming, migrant labor smuggling, the dog and cat fur trade, vanilla bean cultivation, and more. Then there is on-site research, i.e. pounding the pavement in Mount Dora to get street details, skulking through a Turkish Bath in my swimsuit, getting a reading from a medium in Cassadaga. I take very detailed notes and photos to use in crafting my story.

Authors who use contemporary settings cannot make things up out of thin air. Besides the location, we may need to research pertinent issues to include in our stories. I always try to include a Florida based issue or something of universal interest (like Alzheimer’s Disease) to give my stories added depth. Newspapers, magazines, the Internet, personal interviews, and on-site visits are just some of the techniques we use. Probably the most fun I’ve had for research was going on a couple of cruises for Killer Knots. I challenge you to fault any of my minute details in that adventure.

But what about the vampire and werewolf fiction out there now, and other paranormal stories? Don’t those authors just make up their imaginary worlds? No, because these worlds must be consistent, and they’re often based on mythology or early Earth cultures.

For example, my proposed paranormal series is based on Norse myths. I have several texts on the subject and took extensive notes so I can understand their creation theory. I wrote down the different gods and goddesses, because they play a part in my story as well. For this tale as well as Silver Serenade, my upcoming futuristic romance, I needed to name spaceships, weapons, and/or military personnel. Using the Internet to look up ranks in our own military gave me a model. I also have a collection of Star Trek and Star Wars Sourcebooks which are great inspiration for weaponry, ships, propulsion and such. So even for fantasy, research is necessary. Science fiction is even more exacting because you’re extrapolating what might be plausible in the future or exaggerating a current issue from the news.

So please have more respect for fiction writers. We do extensive research, and a truly gifted writer will not let it show because you’ll be swept into the story. A good work of fiction is like a stage show, with all the blood and sweat and tears going on behind the scenes. All the audience sees is the fabulous performance.

Note: This blog first appeared at http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com on November 13, 2009

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BOOK TRAILERS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 5, 2009

I’ve just posted my first book trailer on YouTube. Watch it there at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNcSYlRHAY4
OR click the Book Trailer tab above.

This has been an educational experience for me. Linnea Sinclair, multi-talented author of sci fi romance, put the video together. She’s done some of her own and they’re fabulous.

First Linnea had me look on http://www.123rf.com and on http://www.istockphoto.com for images to match my characters. This was fun but incredibly time consuming. You have to register for an account, then create a Lightbox. Each time you find an image you like, add it to your Lightbox. When you’ve selected the photos you want to purchase, you have to decide which size you want. I bought the medium sized images at istockphoto and the print sized images at 123rf.com.

Then we came up with 10 short lines of text. Linnea matched the text to the images to see if I liked the pictures. I changed some of them, and she substituted them in. Now we had an action sequence. I let my technically proficient friend do the music since I’m not at all talented in that area. Linnea altered some of the hair colors and backgrounds as well to suit my story and put the whole thing together. Many thanks!  This takes a lot of work but it’s so exciting when finished.

Next, I uploaded the trailer to YouTube. This meant creating a new account, filling in my profile info, then uploading the video. YouTube gives you links so you can direct link to their site or embed the video. Since I didn’t want to mess with HTML code, I added the direct link to my website and blog. Now I’m trying to figure out how to get my name to show up in the search feature on YouTube. Clearly, I still have a learning curve to go. I also have to find where else to upload the video besides my publisher’s website.  Suggestions?

Find links to Linnea’s book trailers on her website: http://www.linneasinclair.com

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