Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for May, 2011

Creating a Series

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 20, 2011

Creating a Series: Laying the Groundwork

Do you want to begin a new series, but you’re overwhelmed by the task? Where do you start? It’s critically important in book one to lay the groundwork for the entire series. For this reason, writing the first story will probably take you longer than subsequent ones in the series. Let’s look at the components of what you have to determine. Think of this model like a play, where you have to set the stage and then hire the actors, supply the props, and draw in the audience.


The Setting

What’s the time period of your story? The location? Once you decide upon these factors, you can begin building your world. Start with the overall setting and decide what ambiance you want to present. Quaint small town? Decadent urban center? A cold, drafty castle in Scotland? A tourist ski resort in Colorado? A bustling capital city? Now narrow it down. Who’s in charge? What are the means of communication, transportation, credit exchange? Customs and religions? Holidays? Here is where you set the stage for your series.

I choose to set my mysteries in Florida because it’s easier for me to research, and the state has so much diversity that there is plenty of material to feed my stories. My futuristics are another matter, however. Those worlds are entirely produced from my imagination. Yet I must still determine the politics, transportation methods, means of communication, etc. same as for a contemporary story. As for my paranormal romances, they take place in urban centers around the globe but include elements of magic. You can use Internet sites, maps, tourist brochures, restaurant menus, etc. to gain the info you need. People are also a great resource. Find someone who works at the job and talk to them. Most important are the sensory details to bring your story alive. Watch movies or TV shows, read people’s travel blogs, or go to the places yourself to note the minor details that you can’t read about and to smell the air.


What are the rules of your universe? If your story is a fantasy, what are the magical elements and how do they work? If science fiction, what type of society are you creating, and how did it come about? If a historical, what factual content will be part of your story? These items must be consistent throughout your series. For example, if you have vampires who sizzle into nothingness when exposed to light, you must build your world to reflect this rule and it must not change, without reason, from book to book.

lady sword

The People

This is an important component, because in book one, you must populate your setting with recurrent characters who will show up in each installment. These people will become your readers’ friends and will be the reason why they keep coming back for more. Who will be accompanying your heroine throughout the series? Consider her immediate family, extended relatives, colleagues, and love interests. Who else is important in her life?

Try to make these secondary characters somewhat quirky. You can have fun with them, whereas for the most part, your protagonist will be a straight arrow. I call these people the Continuing Cast. Then you’re ready to create the characters particular to book number one. You’re writing a mystery? These are your suspects. You’re writing sci fi? These are the folks who help your hero save the galaxy. We may or may not see these people again, but they populate the current story.

When developing your characters, you can fill out character charts, look for photos to match your people, interview them, even make a collage about their life if you’re so inclined. This goes in the “Bible” for your series along with the other elements mentioned here. Don’t forget to include timelines, i.e. how old your characters are and what time of year the story takes place. You may also want to note their birthdays so you can age them appropriately as your series takes off. I only allow a few months between books for my settings, so my characters age much slower than real life.

The Props

When starting a series, you have several things to research: Your hero’s occupation. The setting.

Anything specific to this first story. When I began my Bad Hair Day series, I didn’t know anything about the hairdressing profession. I performed diligent research to learn all I could about being a hairstylist. Ditto for the backgrounds in my two other mystery proposals. I had to research the town and the sleuth’s career. For a story centered around boats, I collected material on boat shows, types of boats, diagrams of specific models, yacht clubs, nautical terms, accessories and equipment, and so on. This background research is essential for insuring the authentic sound of your story.


You need to get this basic data ingrained in your mind so you can pop into your main character’s head for your next story. By then, you’ll already know what she does in her day job and how she goes about her business. You’ll know where she hangs out and where she goes to lunch. The first book is where you figure all this out. Put this research into your Series Bible. Your notebook may be getting filled by now, but that’s what you want.

Start a section for Sequels and start jotting down ideas and collecting information for the next book in the series. Consider an overall series title and linked book titles for each sequel. What about an overall character arc? Will you have a predetermined number of books in the series, so you can plan out a beginning, a middle, and an end, or will you go on as long as a publisher lets you? When you complete book one, you should have all the material ready to go for the next story.

Reeling in the Audience

Here is where your marketing savvy comes into play. Besides your normal completed manuscript, prepare a sheet listing your series title and giving a brief story blurb on the next few books. Come up with a one or two sentence tag line for your overall series. Then for book one, do your back cover copy type story summary in one or two short paragraphs. Now your package is ready for submission. Send it out, and good luck!

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Blogs or Books

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 17, 2011

Writers have many opportunities online to contribute blogs, interviews, and articles. This is great publicity, assuming you have the time to wade through these offers and filter which ones would be most worthwhile.

These offers weren’t around when I started out in this career. In those days, we wrote the book and then…we wrote the next book. We sent out press releases, via snail mail, and bookmarks and postcards. It was time consuming more than anything.

Today, writing blogs and articles and educational pieces can become a full-time occupation. So tell me, dear readers, would you rather read an author’s blog or her next book? Which is more important to you as a writer: spending time writing blogs, or being more prolific in terms of your new releases?

A choice has to be made. I can write books faster, or I can write blogs and articles. It’s crucial to avoid burnout, which can happen if you’re glued all day and all evening to the computer screen. Down time is essential. So how do we get it when there are so many demands on our creativity and time? By setting priorities, that’s how. Some of the most popular writers don’t do blogs. They don’t do articles. They just write their books in a steady flow.

When I’ve been somewhere interesting or have a tale I want to share, I write a blog. Otherwise, I’m often stumped for what to say. Shall I spend a few hours composing a piece on writing craft, for example, or should I get ahead a few pages on my next chapter instead? Does a blog really matter in terms of book sales? What does this blog do for you? Do you feel you get to know me better? Or are you more interested in useful information that you can apply to your own work?

Tell us how YOU balance writing blogs and articles versus writing the next book.

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

S. FL Writers Workshops

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 17, 2011

If you’re going to be around South Florida this summer and have an interest in fiction writing, check out these workshops by multi-published authors. Note that I am teaching the last one on September 24.    writer pencil

The Authors Academy

Writing Workshops for Tomorrow’s Authors!

All workshops are $25 per person. Register for all eight and get one free!

Reservations are required. 561-279-7790 or

Saturday June 11, 10am – Noon
Where Does Your Novel Start? Show me the story and I’ll show you the book.
Instructor: Randy Rawls, author of the Ace Edwards PI mysteries.

Saturday June 25, 10am – Noon
From Idea To Novel. Plotting, the backbone of every book.
Instructor: Karen Kendall, author of Take Me For a Ride.

Saturday July 16, 10am – Noon
What a Character! Creating and developing characters that withstand the test of time.
Instructor: Sharon Potts, author of Someone’s Watching.

Saturday July 23, 10am – Noon
It’s Not Just Scenery. How to use setting to build emotion and drive your story forward.
Instructor: Allison Chase, author of Outrageously Yours.

Saturday July 30, 10am – Noon
Stay on the Yellow Brick Road. Keep your story from wandering.
Instructor: Jonathon King, author of Midnight Guardians.

Saturday August 13, 10am – Noon
Point of View. Whose head are we in and why are we there?
Instructor: Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of the Leonardo da Vinci series.

Saturday September 10, 10am – Noon
How To Get Published. Learn what it takes to get your work published.
Instructor: Joanna Campbell Slan, author of Photo Snap Shot.

Saturday September 24, 10am – Noon
Finding an Agent. Query letters, synopses, and the pitch!
Instructor: Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Bad Hair Day mysteries.

All workshops will be held at Murder on the Beach
Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, from 10am to Noon. All instructors are multi-published authors. Charge for each workshop is $25 per person. Register for all eight, only $175. Get one free! Cash, check or credit cards accepted.

Make Your Reservation Now!
561-279-7790 or

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Grammar Primer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 12, 2011

Do you get stumped periodically on certain phrases in your writing? I have a sentence in my current WIP: “I wrote down the info Chelsea gave me then lay back on my chaise.”

Wait a minute. Is that correct? Should it be lay or lie? Or maybe laid or lied? I’d better consult my grammar notes. Okay, I think what I have above is correct. What do you say?   

                          writer pencil


That is the defining or restrictive pronoun: The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

Which is the nondefining or nonrestrictive pronoun: The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the mower)

If the clause can be omitted without altering the meaning of the noun it modifies, use which; otherwise, use that.

A clause starting with which should be set off by commas; one starting with that should not.

LIKE versus AS

Use like before a noun, a compound noun, or a pronoun.

Use as before a phrase (a group of words containing neither a subject nor a predicate):

She smelled sweet, as a girl named Violet should, but she swore like a stevedore.

Use as if or as though before a clause (a group of words containing both a subject and a predicate):

She drenched herself in Obsession as if it were as cheap as ale.

He acted as though he owned me.

LAY versus LIE

Lay means to place, put down, or deposit. It requires a direct object. The past tense of lay is laid.

Lay the book on the table. He laid it down. She has laid her books next to the clock. They have been laying papers down all over the office.

Lie means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. The past of lie is lay.

Let it lie. He lay there without moving. She has just lain down beside him. They have been lying there for hours.


Use each other when referring to two people: Olivia and Victor loved each other.

Use one another for more than two people: Kelly, George, and Linda loved one another madly.

AND versus BUT

Do not use a comma when there’s only one subject: She stood up and walked to the door.

Do use a comma with a compound sentence (two subjects and two verbs): She stood up, and a wave of dizziness assailed her. The situation is fraught with danger, but we have a chance to escape.


Use it to mean "during the time that". Try replacing it with a semicolon, or substitute "although".

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Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 8, 2011

This movie has exciting action, adventure, and romance. What’s not to like in a film with a hunky hero and Natalie Portman? Plus it ties in perfectly with my paranormal romance series based on Norse mythology. As a primer on the myths, here is a summary of what I’ve learned from my research. Some of the sources can be confusing so this is my interpretation. Now if only I can find a home for this series to share my stories with you.

This mythology primer will give you a better understanding of the fantasy portions of the Thor movie, although in no way is it meant to be similar to the story in the film. I loved how they visualized the magical realms. Yet for all the special effects, the focus was on the characters and how Thor had to transform himself into a true hero.

Thor2     Thor


These tales derive from the Edda, an epic of Germanic origin. As the story starts, a great void stretched between the land of ice and darkness in the north (Niflheim) and the land of fire and light in the south (Muspell). When warm air met the ice, water formed, and the droplets produced the first Giant, Ymir, along with a cow who fed him.

While the Giant slept, a male and a female grew from his armpit. They were Frost Giants who had human form and supernatural powers.

The cow licked the ice and brought forth a man named Buri. Buri’s son married a descendent of Ymir, and they in turn produced three sons. These offspring became the Gods, including Odin.

Odin and his brothers killed Ymir and used his body to create Midgard, the middle land, from the void. Then they made the oceans and the earth, the heavens and the stars, and the cycles of night and day.

The Gods split into two families, the Aesir and the Vanir. Odin and Thor belonged to the Aesir. They were warriors, while the Vanir became farmers and merchants. Odin ruled over them all as King of the Gods. Thor was a great warrior who carried a magic hammer called Mjollnir, which returned like a boomerang when he threw it.

The Aesir Gods lived in Asgard, a celestial palace. Bifrost, a rainbow bridge, connected Asgard to Midgard. Odin created humans to occupy Midgard, which was surrounded by an ocean inhabited by Jormungand the serpent. The God Heimdall guarded the bridge, which was prophesied to collapse at Ragnarok, the end of the world.

The Giants inhabited Niflheim, the underworld. They didn’t live alone there. After the first Giant, Ymir, died, dwarfs formed from the maggots in his flesh. The Goddess Hel ruled over this underworld. Hel’s realm was a peaceful place, even though it was called the Land of the Dead. She lived in a palace like the Gods. It wasn’t considered a punishment to end up there.

An ash tree connected all three realms. The World Tree, or Yggdrasil, was fed by three sources of water under its roots. One of these was the Fountain of Wisdom, guarded by the god Mimir. According to legend, Odin sacrificed an eye to drink from this fountain. That’s how he gained his powers of prophecy.

The Urd well, or Fountain of Youth, was protected by the Norns, Goddesses of Fate. Their root supported the tree at Midgard, so they ruled the destinies of men. A dragon named Nidhog guarded the third spring and gnawed on its root.

As the first living creatures, the Giants were angry when the Gods dispelled them from their rightful place. They gathered their allies in preparation for an attack on the Gods. This great battle was called Ragnarok.

Loki used to be a companion to the Gods, but he caused much mischief. He had the ability to shapeshift and delighted in causing trouble. Eventually, the Gods banished him. Giants released Loki and he led them in battle against the Gods.

At Ragnarok, the Gods battled monsters and Giants. Thor fought the sea monster of Midgard. He killed the serpent with his hammer but not before the monster fatally slashed him with poison. Odin was defeated by the wolf Fenrir. Loki fought Heimdall and they killed each other.

The rainbow bridge collapsed and the great World Tree burned down. Each of the realms fell. Midgard was consumed by fire and sank into the sea. But all was not lost. Earth reemerged from the vast ocean, and the sons of the dead Aesir returned to Asgard to rule again. Thus was the world reborn.

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mailing Lists

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 4, 2011

I am updating my mailing lists as long as I’m in between books and will be sending out a Spring newsletter soon. This also marks the start of another Contest. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you gain an extra chance to win a prize, so sign up now! Visit and fill in the newsletter signup box in the sidebar. If you already receive my news updates, you do not have to reenter your name.

I just got a cool household tip from my maid that I’m putting in the newsletter this month instead of a recipe, so I hope you’ll check it out. Just so you don’t feel deprived, here is the most recent recipe I’ve made:


2 cups Marrakesh Express CousCous Grande or other large grained Middle Eastern couscous

Low sodium chicken broth as per cous cous package instructions

8 oz fresh gourmet mushroom blend, coarsely chopped

2 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp fresh thyme

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together mushrooms, garlic, olive oil and thyme, and spread in aluminum foil lined baking pan sprayed with Pam. Bake for 20 minutes.

Cook couscous in chicken broth liquid according to package directions.

Stir mushroom mixture and Worcestershire sauce into couscous and serve.

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May Musings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 2, 2011

On Sunday, we parked at North Hollywood Beach Park ($7 per day) and strolled along the Hollywood boardwalk, actually made out of bricks and not boards. It was a perfect morning. We walked past the sunburnt yellow, deep coral, and hot pink buildings, the amphitheater, and the numerous restaurants. At Josh’s Organic Garden, we bought some produce before turning back. After a two hour walk, we crashed in our air-cooled home for the afternoon.

Hollywood Beach

Now it is Monday and back to work. I have completed my WIP, finished my first round of line edits, revised the synopsis, and have now put it aside so I can gain some distance on the story before a final read-through. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about the sequel and jotting down notes on the next plot.

There are plenty of other projects to keep me busy. I tried to put my lectures into Power Point and failed, so I need a friend to teach me how to use the program. I have yet to learn Windows Movie Maker so I can make a book trailer for my January mystery release. I’ve started selecting photos and music at the royalty-free sites online, but it’s a tedious process. Then I’m still revising one of my backlist titles, another time-consuming project. I need to update my mailing lists and send out another newsletter, devise upcoming contests, set up a blog tour. And the list goes on. Sorting through old family photos and files is beginning to sound more appealing. But this period in between book projects is a good time to get things done. Or not. Somehow the less busy you are, the less you accomplish.

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

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