Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for April, 2010


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 29, 2010

A new writer has in mind one goal: getting published. Often they don’t think beyond that goal post. But once they get The Call, everything changes. I think it’s Fear of Success that keeps some folks from submitting because they don’t want to face what comes next. They will have to get a publicity photo, reserve a domain name, set up a website and blog. They’ll want to think about joining social networks and decide what to do to launch their debut book.

As a newly published author, you’ll also have to determine a reasonable date for your next deadline if book number two isn’t done yet.  Figure out how many pages per day you can write.  How much time do you need to complete the word count? Allow for vacations, sick days, unexpected crises, and additional work on book one. Thought you were finished with that project? Think again. Figure in two weeks for revisions and copy edits and another week for page proofs. Add an extra week if you want to do a final read through. That’s an added month tacked onto your deadline for the next book.  Working on book one will interrupt your train of thought, and you’ll have extra deadlines to meet.

These days authors are often asked to submit marketing plans, art sheets, blurbs, endorsements, and back cover copy. Since when have we been trained in advertising and marketing? Writers not only have to take workshops on writing, but we must learn the principles of promotion. It’s probably hardest to write what the book is about in two paragraphs or less. For the blurb, you have to distill the story essence into a one-liner like a movie teaser. These things also take up your time.

Do you want to schedule a blog tour? You have to research which would be the best sites, garner invitations,  announce the dates on your social networks, and write the blogs or interviews. More time gone out the window. Feeling frantic yet? Oh, and don’t forget printed materials. Once you have your book cover JPEG, you can design bookmarks, brochures, and/or postcards. Having a contest to add readers to your mailing list? Make up the rules, determine the prizes, post announcements, and keep track of entries.

Amidst this flurry of activity, you must stick to your daily writing schedule in order to complete book number two on time. This may necessitate retreating into your writer’s cave for days on end, only emerging to eat and perform other necessary tasks such as paying attention to your loved ones, dealing with household emergencies, and doing the laundry. Did anyone say this job would be easy? And yet it’s what we love to do. Despite the siren call of the Web, it’s still about writing the story, telling the tale that’s in your heart, and spending time with your characters.

Just make sure to allow yourself enough time with reasonable deadlines.


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M.E. Kemp on Salem Witch Trials

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 27, 2010

M. E. Kemp, author of DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE and DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER, was born in Salem in 1636 — whoops, that’s when the first family baby was born.  Her roots do go back to the first settlement of Oxford, MA in   1713, the town where her family still lives.  Kemp grew up in Oxford with a strong sense of local history, so when it came time to begin writing her first novel  — after a career in journalism — she returned to her early interest and set her first mystery in Boston with two nosy  Puritans as detectives.  Kemp lives in Saratoga Springs, NY with husband Jack and two kitties: Boris and Natasha.

 “Which Witch is Which? – The Salem Trials of 1692”

            There is no incident in our history that grabs our attention quite like the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  Even today the topic fills lecture halls and continues to inspire artistic endeavors in film, theatre, poetry and prose.  Indeed, the number of books written today on the topic would fill the average person’s bookshelves.  Just to recap: 19 people were hung and one man pressed to death as a result of the trials.  I like to point out that in Europe at this same period thousands of people of both sexes and ages were being burned at the stake as witches.  Kind of makes our twenty victims a dot on the map.  To be sure, the jails of Salem and Boston were filled with hundred of the accused, but these people were released as sanity returned.  The European victims were not so lucky.  Persecutions continued there well into the 18th century.  (By the way, the Salem victims were tried with the use of English law books.  Judicial proceedings were followed, not that that was any comfort to the families of the victims.  I give an actual sample of trial testimony in my book, DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE.)                         

            In the Colonies we did not burn witches, we hung them.  Since one man, Giles Corey, refused to plead guilty or not guilty, he could not be hung; he was pressed to death with huge boulders.  This incredibly brave act saved his property for his family.  We have to keep in mind that witches were very real to the early colonists, as were ghosts.  In fact, when the testimony of ghosts (“spectral testimony”) was finally disallowed, the trials collapsed.  How did this whole thing happen in the first place?  There are many books and television shows written about the causes.  One of them suggested “Ergot” or infected rye bread as the cause.  But it hardly seems possible that hundreds of people ate the same ergot-infected rye; most people grew their own.  

The French and Indian wars have been blamed; ostensibly the survivors came down from Maine to infect the Salem people with hysteria, but what has that got to do with witches?  People already recognized the dangers of the Canadians and their Native allies.  The media, even today, often blame Puritan cleric Cotton Mather for the Salem trials, but this is patent nonsense, as Cotton Mather at that time was only 26 years old.  The judges were colleagues of his father so he felt he was in no position to criticize these older pillars.  There is no evidence that he ever attended any of the trials, although he did ask the Secretary for transcripts so that  he could write a book about it.  Cotton Mather wrote over 400 books, so this was only to be expected.

            Town and village property and family quarrels has been proposed as the cause, and in some cases that may have been a part of the dispute, but hardly the cause.  Perhaps there was real witchcraft going on, as one book proposes?  They found an old rag doll in the cellar of one of the accused women, and that was enough to set the hounds in motion, but a toy left behind by a child in our minds today is just that: a toy left behind by a child.  One cause hits close to the truth — girls without husbands as yet.  The accusers were mainly in their teens and early twenties — had these girls been married, home and children might well have kept them too occupied for mischief.  As it was, it was a long, cold winter and a group of teen-age girls were bored.  They began to accuse some local old women of tormenting them by pinching and choking them through use of the old ladies ‘spirit’ selves.  “We must have our sport,” as one of them later said.  The village minister cried “Witchcraft!” and the hunt was on.  At first the victims were old and poor, unable to defend themselves from the charge, but seeing a chance to wreak more havoc, the “afflicted children” – remember, these girls were mostly in their late teens — began to accuse men and women more prominent in the community.  The only real defense was to run away and hide, which is what the son of pilgrims John and Priscilla Alden did.  It was either run or confess, if you wanted to stay alive, for if you confessed you were let go.  Let go for confessing?  Why didn’t the twenty victims just confess?  Because that would have been a lie and these were people of great Faith.  I’m sure I would have lied like a sneak-thief, like Baron Munchausen, like Pinnochio, if it meant saving my life!  Ah, but our Puritan forefathers were made of sterner stuff.  It’s not widely known that there was official remorse after the event and compensation was paid to the families of the victims.  One of the judges and several of the accusers later confessed their roles in the tragedy and apologized for their parts in the drama.  I doubt that ever happened in Europe.                 


“Kemp paints an entertaining picture of Colonial Boston and its surprisingly high-spirited Puritan inhabitants. Amateur sleuth Hetty Henry is plucky, independent, and a lot of fun.” –Beverle Graves Myers, author of the Tito Amato Mysteries

For more details about the author and her books, visit


Posted in Author Interviews, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 23 Comments »


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 23, 2010

What are the turning points in a mystery? When we plot romances, we have certain emotional plot points, like first kiss and big dark moment. What about the traditional whodunit mystery? For example, is it necessary to have a dead body in chapter one? Does the crime always have to be a murder? How many suspects is too many? How can the sagging middle be avoided?

Each author will have a different answer, and they’re all right. I’ve read mysteries where no one gets killed for the first hundred pages. You can guess who might get the axe and are often right, but everyone you meet until that point becomes a suspect. This works if the sleuth leads such an interesting life that you don’t care about when the body shows up, or the author’s voice is so catchy and engaging that you’ll read along just for pleasure. But for beginning mystery authors, placing the body up front is often the best bet.

After writing ten mysteries in my Bad Hair Day series, I found a pattern that I find comfortable. This isn’t to say I follow it every single time. But my loose structure might help others who are wondering how to plot those turning points. Keep in mind that other writers might reverse the order, jumble it up, or not include these items at all. The crime might be a stolen object of value, a missing person, a kidnap victim. It doesn’t always have to be a murder. But for a mystery in the traditional sense, the story usually involves a murder with an amateur sleuth in a confined setting, which may be a small town that has its own unique flavor. So these are the plot points I might employ:

Dead Body

Introduction of Suspects

Secrets: Every suspect has something to hide

Second dead body

Attempts on sleuth’s life as he/she gets closer to truth

One suspect turns out to be a red herring and has led sleuth down the wrong path

Secrets are exposed and suspects are eliminated

Final clue leading to killer

Through all of this is the personal subplot, often a romance or other relationship, that leads the sleuth to experience a revelation about herself thus providing character growth by the end of the story. This is the hook to make your reader buy your next book. She has to care what happens to your sleuth, and it’s the personal relationships, the sleuth’s quirky outlook on life, and the distinctive setting that will draw readers back for more.


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Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 19, 2010

Have you ever written your characters into a hole? I did this recently and had to pause in my writing schedule to figure out a way to salvage the situation. Jennifer and Paz, the only passengers on a private jet in my story, are     attacked midair by the villains who set off an electromagnetic pulse grenade. The blast disables the plane’s electronics and the aircraft plummets toward Earth. The pilots have been shot, and Paz is supposed to save the day.  

Since he has knowledge of advanced technology, I figured he’d use Jen’s diamond earrings for their inherent crystal properties and power the airplane.

Problem #1: When I researched diamonds, I read they can conduct electricity but they do not produce it (correct me if I’m wrong here). If anything, it might be quartz that has more undiscovered properties.         

Problem #2: Even if he finds a power source, isn’t the wiring on the aircraft fried from the EM pulse? (Research topic: non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons)

Problem #3: In the opening chapter, he shows up naked. O-kay, you’ll have to read the story to learn the particulars, but this means he has no futuristic gizmos on his person to help him out.

Solution #1: Allow him to keep his personal comm unit that looks like a wrist watch in chapter one even if his clothes have been ripped off by….sorry, spoiler alert.  That info is classified for now.  Anyway, he uses the comm unit as a power source and the diamonds as a wireless transmitter to power the engines.

Problem #4: Hero successfully lands aircraft. (Research source: Star Trek: The Starfleet Survival Guide). But where do they land? (Research topic: The Pacific Ring of Fire and the Izu Islands)

Problem #5: The villain has a fortress complex on this island. Is it Mediterranean in style? That’s illogical since we’re in Asian territory. Have the villains brought in native materials from their homeland and built it from scratch? Or maybe they took over an estate from a previous occupant.

I recall a couple of James Bond films with confrontations on islands. (Research James Bond). These are The Man with the Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice. Or maybe the estate should be Japanese since our heroes originated their journey in Tokyo. (Research topic: Asian castle fortress estates). I discover Himeji Castle. (Research: Construction, Maps, Interiors).  Very cool place.            

Yes! I can land my people, describe the island, get them inside the villain’s lair. Next up: They hitch a ride on a Chinese junk to escape the island. Uh oh, more research required. And although I can now have my hero land the airplane, I’d better look up what the basic controls on a private jet are called. A visit to is on order plus a look at the reference books on my office shelves.

As you have gathered by now, I research as I go along. I just do enough to be able to formulate my synopsis but the details wait for the scene itself. Then I have to stop, study the materials I’ve collected, visualize the setting, and write.

Oh, and this is for a paranormal romance, so don’t ever say we fiction writers make everything up. I just might have to challenge you to a duel.

So please tell us, what do YOU do when you’ve written your characters into a hole?


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


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2010

We spent a lovely day recently at Lake Eola in Orlando. Close to downtown, this peaceful lake hosted their annual Spring Festival. Vendors lined the walkways, selling jewelry, art works, and hand-crafted items, among other things. Smells of hot dogs, kettle popcorn, and barbecued chicken wafted our way as we strolled around the lake past the bandstand and swan boats. On Sundays, you can shop the Farmer’s Market here. We dined at Spice on their outdoor patio facing the tranquil lake. Just a few blocks away is trendy Thorton Park with Lake Eola Wine Company, Hues, Dexters, and other popular restaurants. Spanish moss drapes from the live oaks trees in this upscale neighborhood. We dodged mothers pushing baby strollers, people walking dogs, young couples, and families out for the day. So put this on your list of other things to do next time you’re in Orlando and get tired of the theme parks.

Spring Festival

Spring Festival

Lake Eola



Spice Restaurant


Lake Eola

Posted in Florida Musings | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 15, 2010

SAPPHIRE PHELAN is an author of erotic and sweet paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction romance, along with a couple of erotic horror stories. She also writes as Pamela K. Kinney, for horror, fantasy, science fiction, and two nonfiction ghost books, Haunted Richmond,Virginia and Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two cats, Ripley and Bast. She admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing. And yes, the house and husband sometimes suffers for it!                          

How did you get started writing paranormal romance?

I started out published as a horror, fantasy and SF author, but been reading paranormal romance and I wanted to do that, too. So I wrote two short stories (both more fantasy romance than paranormal) and submitted both in 2005 to this publisher who was looking for fantasy romance stories for their print anthology. Both were accepted. Unfortunately, a year later the publisher closed its doors and gave everyone back their rights to their stories. During at the same time, I had just submitted an erotic medieval fantasy romance story, “The Curse” to this ezine, which was accepted. It was at that time I started to use the pseudonym, Sapphire Phelan, for any erotic paranormals I wrote. In 2006, my erotic paranormal SF romance short, Crimson Promise was accepted for Lady Aibell Press, an e-publisher (when LAP closed its doors and I got my rights back, I added more story to it and Crimson Promise was accepted by Phaze Books). From then on, I’ve been writing in this genre.


Has this always been your favorite genre?

Yes, though I love straight horror, fantasy and science fiction without romance, too.


How long did it take you to get published?

I actually got published for three poems of mine back in spring 1972—for Hyacinths and Biscuits Poetry Magazine. Then I was published over years, mainly in poetry and one article. It took until 2005 for my first fiction piece to be published.


You’re a member of Central Virginia Paranormal Investigations. Can you share some of your more unusual experiences?

Since I write nonfiction ghost books as Pamela K. Kinney and been to haunted places for that and later, with CVPI, did investigations, I’ve gotten evps (electronic voice phenomenon) on my digital recorder, snap photos of orbs and anomalies, and had personal experiences.


You wrote a non-fiction book titled Haunted Virginia. What does it include?

Ghost stories (more the myths and legends, though have some real paranormal experiences too—like the owner of Natural Bridge Hotel killed his wife and kids and they haunt the grounds of the hotel. The real story is that it is a manager who committed suicide and he is the spirit that haunts the hotel), monsters, urban legends that are fake and some that been proven true, myths of famous Virginians (like George Washington and Edgar Allan Poe), African-American and Native American Virginia tales, and true stories that people think are myths, but are proven to be real (like the house made of Civil War tombstones in Petersburg, Virginia).


Tell us about your writing process.

I write during the week most of the time and during the daytime when my husband is at work. This way, when he comes home from work, I can spend time with him. But I have written at night and on weekends when I have a deadline looming. Like now, I have a third nonfiction ghost book manuscript that is due by the end of May. And I wrote all month the sequel to Beast Magic, Dark Leopard Magic, so I could turn it in by February.


What is your current book about?

A divorced man who is tired of the women he meets who want to get married or want the bad boy types, listens to a friend who lends him this book, The Dummy’s Guide to Demon Summoning, so he can summon a succubus. He does get one, but finds that it will be more than a one night stand.


What is a succubus?

A succubus is a demon that seduces human males, mostly through nightmares while asleep. This would explain ejaculations. Same goes for incubus–seduces human women and even getting them pregnant. Of course, all is found is human male sperm, explained by they stole it from human males. 
What are you working on next? 
 I am working on the third nonfiction ghost book, Haunted Historic Triangle and Charles City now, then I will be working on sequel to Being Familiar With a Witch, A Familiar Tangle in Hell.
Ain’t Nothin’ Like Succubus Lovin’ blurb:
Finding a date was never more hellish. When Jordan Hudson borrowed his friend’s A Dummy’s Guide to Demon Summoning and called up a succubus, he found that dating and making love to a minion of Hell proves to be more than a one night stand.



Being Familiar With a Witch:

Unwitting Sacrifice (erotic Lovecraftian horror novella):




Advice to aspiring writers?
Keep on writing and submitting. If you want your dream bad enough, never give up. And join a writer’s critique group to help you hone your craft better.


Posted in Author Interviews | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Florida Library Association

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 14, 2010

I was happy to participate in a panel discussion at the Florida Library Association Convention in Orlando recently. The evening before, local MWA members met for dinner at Hot Olives in Winter Park. Located on New England Avenue, this trendy restaurant sat us outside on their shady patio amid bamboo, lit torches, and tropical trees. I tried their famous chopped olive appetizer and ordered pecan crusted salmon while chatting with fellow MWAers. We all had a great time in a relaxed atmosphere.  

Grace Kone & Nancy Cohen

Ann Meier & Sharon Potts


Neil Plakcy, James Born, Julie Compton

Neil Plakcy & Bob Morris

Dean Murphy, Joan Bond, Gerry Wolfson-Grande, Frances Palmingiano

Linda Hengerer & Olive Pollak

Early the following morning, six of us appeared at an MWA sponsored breakfast at the FLA convention. Over 150 librarians ate the sit-down meal while we introduced ourselves and answered questions from the guests. James Born, Neil Plakcy, Julie Compton, Deborah Sharp, Sharon Potts, and Moi then spoke on a panel about Florida mysteries and why we like living and writing about this vast state. We all agreed Florida has such a diverse population, ecology, and climate, not to mention kooky characters, that it’s the perfect setting for our stories.               

Julie Compton, Neil Plakcy, Nancy Cohen, Sharon Potts, James Born, Deborah Sharp


Sharon Potts & Nancy Cohen with Librarian Judy Buckland


Posted in Business of Writing | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 6, 2010

I awoke to the news there had been a home invasion robbery and murder in my town. Although we’re a western suburb of Fort Lauderdale, our city doesn’t experience violent crime all that often. So when it does occur, it’s scary. What’s even more scary is that I just got a call from a mystery writer friend of mine, and it happened right across the street from her. I hadn’t even connected the addresses. She can see the CSI folks out her front window.  sleuth

This incident brings home the fact that a random act of violence can happen to anyone. All we need is somebody to follow us home because we drive a nice car, or a nutcase to obsess on us, or else we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Often these cases end badly. No wonder we want to read crime novels where the villain is caught and justice is served. I’d say this is Reason #1 why we read this genre. Stories may reflect on social ills and grapple with weighty issues, but they still reach a satisfactory conclusion, unlike real life.                                      

An HEA ending (i.e. Happy Ever After) makes us less afraid. These stories force us to confront our fears, especially in psychological thrillers or romantic suspense. In my case, I prefer to read lighter fare, humorous mysteries where no one likes the victim and the amateur sleuth catches the crook. I accept that these are fantasies, because in reality, murder is a somber and sad business. Survivors mourn the dead. The killer may never be caught. So what do you say? Do you get your thrills from gritty crime fiction, true crime, or stories rife with forensic details? Or would you rather confine reality to the news and read a book with an HEA that leaves you with a smile?

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 2, 2010

I hate beginnings. Some authors love starting a new book, but not me. It’s painstakingly difficult for me to write the first few chapters. Why? Because I don’t know my characters yet. Sure, I’ve done character development sheets on them, but they don’t really come to life until they’re on stage. Then I have to describe their physical mannerisms, type of dress, speech foibles, etc. Once they’ve made an appearance or two, the story flows much easier. I don’t have to stop to figure out how to describe them. The story takes over. But getting through those initial pages is tough. This is where the Doubt Demons show up. Will I be able to write this entire book? Do I have enough conflicts to keep the story going? Am I writing crap? And deep down, there’s always the question: Have I lost my touch? Yet invariably, the book gets finished. My heart is satisfied. And we move on to the next story. I am in writing nirvana during the second half of a book when the story flows and my fingers fly over the keyboard. But the first five pages? The first chapter? The first appearances of each character and the first setting details? Ugh. Only by being disciplined and forcing myself to do my daily writing quota do we get past this awkward stage. Is it crap? Yes. Can it be fixed later? Yes. What’s important is to get the words on paper. You can’t fix what you don’t have, but oh, how glorious it is when this stage is passed. Compare it to a baby who starts out crawling, then learns to stand, and then can walk. Soon he’s running around the house driving his parents ragged. So let’s swat those Doubt Demons away, practice Bic-Hok (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard) and pound out those pages.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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