Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for June, 2011

Transitioning Between Book Projects

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 27, 2011

Do you have a hard time jumping from one series to another when you’re writing in different genres? How do you fade out one set of characters and their world from your mind and switch to another?

I just made the transition from a contemporary mystery to a paranormal romance. It didn’t happen overnight. I took a few weeks off to catch up on emails and promo activities, to work on the book trailer for my next release, and to focus on household matters. But as those things receded from my priority list, the empty space in my head told me it was time to start the next book.


Although I had a rudimentary synopsis and plotting notes and already knew the background from the previous two volumes in the series, I didn’t know my main characters well enough to start writing the story. So first, I filled in my character development sheets and my romantic conflict chart. Next, I watched a couple of movies that have scenes in Las Vegas where the story begins.

My synopsis didn’t seem complete enough, nor was the villain clearly defined, so I added in some complications to the plot. I’ll rely on my critique group to tell me if the story flows logically and if the emotional highs and lows of the romance are adequate. At this point, though, I am ready to begin writing.

After a hesitant start, the story picks up. I finish the first chapter, eighteen pages long. This is rough draft only. I’ll keep writing daily at a steady pace without looking back until I hit the finish line. Then I’ll spend a few weeks on polishing and revisions.

So here’s my advice on how to transition between projects:

• Take a break and recharge your creative batteries

• Review your plotting notes on the new project

• Develop your characters

• Perform any necessary research on the setting

• Write the synopsis

• Begin Chapter One

It’s okay if you don’t know how your characters will react yet. I only learn that when I’m writing the story and see them in action. That’s when story magic comes into play and your subconscious takes your story in unexpected directions. You can revise your synopsis later; for now, just keep writing.

Seasoned writers, please share your experiences. How do you get one book out of your head and the next story simmering in your mind?

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Calibre is Cool!

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 23, 2011

Thanks to my author friend, Carol Stephenson  (, I have just discovered Calibre!

If you have an e-book reader, this software program will convert files to your reader’s format. Go here for a free download:

What could be a more fabulous find of the day?

Why do you need this? As an example, I wanted some of the free books offered this week over at Carina Press:

Today’s FREE BOOK is Blue Galaxy by Diane Dooley
Just type in the promo code GALAXYFREE at checkout

Friday’s FREE BOOK is Friendly Fire by Megan Hart
Just type in the promo code FRIENDLYFREE at checkout

The only problem is that these books are offered in ePub format, and I have a Kindle. What to do? Download Calibre! It converts files into the format of your e-book reader and sends them to your device. It wasn’t hard to figure out how to do it, and now I have two new books on my Kindle to read. I can’t wait to see what else I can do with this program. I’ve heard other writers talking about it but finally had the time to check it out. Until there’s a standard format that suits all e-book devices, this program may prove invaluable.

For those of you who already have this software program, please share your insights!

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Anna Maclean, Mystery Author

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 21, 2011

Jeanne Mackin, aka Anna Maclean, is the author of several novels for St. Martin’s Press and Kensington, plus she has published short fiction and creative  Anna Maclean nonfiction in various journals. She is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers and has written art columns and feature articles for newspapers and arts magazines. Her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education in Washington, D.C. She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has held workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and New York, and has traveled extensively in Europe. She lives with her husband in upstate New York.

Guest Blog by Anna Maclean

When I write historicals, either mysteries or historical fiction, it is for me a kind of time travel. I get to visit places distant not only geographically, but also chronologically. ‘Visiting’ mid-nineteenth century Boston, for writing my series of cozy mysteries with Louisa May Alcott as the sleuth, was great fun, and very interesting. Think of what was going on at the time: women’s rights was a beginning movement and the earliest suffragettes were making their voices heard (Louisa’s father, Bronson, as enlightened as he was, still believed a woman’s place was in the home); the abolitionists were protesting, sometimes violently, against slavery; well-to-do Bostonians were making those fascinating ‘tours’ of Europe and bringing home tales of the Roman coliseum and the art galleries of Paris.

It was a time of great activity and tension…exactly what I, as a novelist, most like to work with. So in the first book in the series, Louisa and the Missing Heiress, I made a mystery using many of those ingredients: the slavery issue, women’s rights, the new giddiness of foreign travel. Louisa is somewhat down-and-out, working hard as a teacher trying to keep food on the table, but because she is of a good family, because her father is already famous as a philosopher and educator, she can freely mingle with the ‘best’ of Bostonian society. And because she is a woman of conscience who believes in equality for all, she also gets to mingle with the down-trodden. It makes for a great mix, I think.

Anna Cover

Louisa, when this novel begins, is still unknown as a writer and years away from writing her classic beloved novel, Little Women, but I use her experiences to show the development of the writer she will become: a woman of great independence who is also devoted to her family; an author who can write the most enduring children’s fiction of all time but, under a nom de plume, also write tales of exciting luridness, full of fallen women and dangerous men.

Henry James and Edith Wharton brought skeletons out of those very genteel mid-nineteenth century society closets; so did Louisa. In the series, I work with a Louisa who is observant and involved in the movements, and weaknesses, of the world around her. She lived in a fascinating time and place and it helped make her as a writer.

Perhaps that would be my first recommendation to people who want to write a mystery: find a time and place that truly captivates you and then work with a character who can ‘use’ that great setting to the best advantage.

Excerpt from Louisa and the Missing Heiress by Anna Maclean:

The clock chimed four-thirty. I sighed and stirred, tapping my foot more quickly under the concealing hem of my brown linsey-woolsey skirts. Where was our hostess? Surely she could have tried on every hat in Boston by now. Had she forgotten? Dot had never been the quickest mind – she had wept over fractions and torn her hair over South American rivers – but to completely forget her own welcome-home tea party!

I looked outside the room into the hall. The huge, ornate coat tree was close enough to the parlor that everytime I looked in that direction and saw Mr. Wortham’s velvet coat hanging there on its hook, I had the eerie sense that someone else was standing there, watching. Something strange, hostile, dangerous, floated through that house where newlyweds should have been so happy.

Much as I wished to see Dot, I decided it was time to leave. Abba was waiting for me at home with a basket of clothing to clean and mend for the women’s shelter and other tasks with which society could not be bothered. Mr. Wortham was standing at the bay window, looking out into the street. I went to him.

“I do hope Dot is all right. This is not like her.”

“I fear a year in Europe may have changed her,” he said. “It is liberating to travel, you know.” But he was frowning and his dark eyes seemed darker than usual.

Book Link:

Anna’s Website:

Posted in Author Interviews, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Happy Father’s Day

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 19, 2011

We had the joy of having both our kids home for the weekend, and our daughter for the past week as her Staycation. It was a carefree time as we observed our adult children hit golf balls at the local driving range, dined at the Aruba Beach Café, shopped at Sawgrass Mills Mall, ate prime ribs at J. Alexander, played Wii sports games, watched movies, and more. We even sorted through some of the stuff in their bedrooms and added to the donation pile.

Time passes quickly when you’re having fun, and now they’re on the road. The house is empty, except for my husband and me. Already, I trekked through the house and took an armful of dirty towels to the laundry room, but I don’t have the energy to do the wash yet or to change their bed linens. Instead, I thought I’d get caught up on a few blogs, write one here for you and schedule my Wednesday blog at The Kill Zone.

One of these days, when life has settled down and the house is back to order, I’ll have to start my next book project. It’s too hard to concentrate right now after being away for a week. Then again, it’ll be nice to have some peace and quiet, to be able to watch my favorite TV shows, and to read at night. You get used to a routine. It’s healthy to shake it up now and then, but it’s comforting to get back to it. Or at least that’s what I tell myself so I don’t miss our kids too much.

Don’t forget to stop back here on Tuesday for my guest blogger, mystery author Anna Maclean.

Happy Father’s Day to those of you who celebrate!

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

Plotting the Mystery

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 11, 2011

How do you get started plotting a mystery? Let’s assume you have already created your sleuth, the continuing characters, and the setting. See my blog below titled “Creating a Series: Laying the Groundwork” for more details on these aspects. So what’s next?

The Victim

Answer the five W’s about your victim: Who, What, Why, Where, When.                                       
Decide Who is the dead person. What is the method of murder? Why is this person eliminated? Where does the crime take place? When the crime could have occurred at any other time, why does it have to happen now?

The Suspects

Make a list of all the people who might have a reason to want the victim dead. Consider the victim’s relatives, co-workers, and friends. Give everybody a secret that will make them seem guilty. Now link them up wherever possible.

Here’s an example. DARA is the victim.

ALICE was an employee of Dara, who denied her a job promotion. Did Alice kill her out of spite? Or did Dara find out about her secret affair with Brent and threaten to fire her?

BRENT is Dara’s business partner, who is having an affair with Alice. Did Dara find out and threaten to reveal his corrupt dealings with their subsidiary? With Dara dead, Brent takes over her half of the company. Did he murder her to gain control of her business assets?

MICHAEL is Dara’s brother, who is glad she’s taken a family secret to the grave. He doesn’t know that Dara confided this private matter to Brent.

And so on. After you have your list of suspects and their possible motives, look for photos to match your characters’ appearances. This will help you visualize each person.

At this point, make a drawing with a circle in the center and spokes like a wheel coming out of it. Put the victim’s name in the center circle. Put the suspects’ names in a balloon at the end of each spoke. Where the suspects have a connection, draw a line between them. This should start to look like a web. I call it my Web of Suspects. Branches off each line can represent motive, means, and opportunity.

Which suspect is the killer? Often it’s the one with the strongest motive. You can also decide at this point which one is the best one for a red herring, or a misdirection. You’ll try to fool the reader into believing this person is guilty.                    

Now that you’ve determined the killer’s identity, answer this question: Why has the murderer decided to kill the victim now? What change has occurred or is imminent that threatens the killer? Or what new opportunity has arisen for him to carry out his plan? There has to be a reason why the murder occurs now instead of at some other time in the backstory.

The Story

At this point, you’re ready to write the synopsis. Begin a narration telling what happens from the start of the story. If you’re a newbie writer, it’s best to have the murder up front in the first chapter. Besides a crisis at the opening, creating a sympathetic sleuth is the key to hooking the reader and drawing him in.

Give your sleuth a personal reason for solving the crime and also a subplot that follows her throughout the story and leads to character growth at the end. We’re speaking here of internal and external conflict. The external conflict is the murder. The internal conflict is the personal dilemma afflicting the sleuth that for whatever reason inhibits her from moving on in relationships, from forgiving herself for past mistakes, etc. She should come to a realization about herself by the end of the story that makes her grow and change. It’s more satisfying if this comes after the final confrontation with the killer and hints at a new direction in her life. For example, she may express interest in a new boyfriend, or face a reconciliation with a family member. This personal thread is what will keep your readers coming back for more.           

The story should flow logically from the opening scenes. The crime occurs. The sleuth gets involved. What does she do first? In a classic whodunit, often she’ll interview the suspects, overhear gossip about different individuals, or people will come to her with information. She’ll realize everyone has something to hide. She’ll follow trails, some of which will prove false. Other information will come to light that leads her in a new direction. Here is where you’re planting clues while misdirecting the reader and slowly moving the story ahead. Secrets are revealed, and at last, the killer is exposed. Many times, while you’re writing the synopsis, new connections between characters will come to light. This is great; it means your subconscious is at work. Remember to include the sleuth’s emotional reactions to what’s going on.

Once your synopsis is done, you’re ready to begin writing. Storytelling magic comes into play and the story may take off in unexpected directions. This is okay; you can revise your synopsis later. Keep moving forward until the book is done. You can fix things in the revision and polishing stage. Keep in mind that Action leads to Reaction leads to Decision. The story should flow logically until the compelling conclusion.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Indie Bookstores

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 6, 2011

Independent bookstores have always struggled to survive against the discounts offered by the chains, but now the digital revolution makes it twice as hard for them to compete. Yet where else can you find a huge selection of titles in a particular genre, and personalized service? Who else offers a place for book clubs to meet and for author events to take place? Your indie bookseller, that’s who. We need to support these brick-and-mortar stores before they become obsolete and go the way of Borders. Once the booksellers figure out a way to sell e-book downloads and still hold author events for people with e-book readers, they may come out on top of the bookstore heap. But for now, as well as then, they’ll need our support.

all the cool aliens and monsters are at the independent bookstore!

This past weekend, I did an event at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore in Delray Beach. Besides regular signings with visiting authors, MOTB offers community groups a package deal including lunch, a paperback book, and a talk by a local mystery author. It’s a great deal, especially if your organization is looking for something new and interesting to do.

Nancy and store manager, Joanne Sinchuk

I did one of these luncheon gigs. The ladies filtered into the bookstore from the restaurant, and I gave my talk, followed by a lively discussion. It’s a great way for an author to meet new readers, and for readers to find a new author whose books they might love. Surrounding us in this locale are all these mysteries for sale in the bookstore, wall after wall of them. I believe I am truthful in saying the ladies all had a good time. Now go find an indie bookstore near you and buy some books to help keep them in business serving the community!

Posted in Business of Writing, Florida Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Hurricane Season

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 1, 2011

June 1st begins the active hurricane season, so here is my annual reminder of what to do BEFORE a storm approaches. We just got new hurricane impact windows on the sides of our house, so along with our shutters, that should help keep us safe. What must you do now to stay secure in your place if a storm hits?


1. Buy bags of ice. Put on lower shelves in freezer, and later in fridge if power is out, so melting ice doesn’t flood the interior. Turn fridge to colder setting ahead of storm. Freeze water in plastic containers to help keep food cool. If you drink bottled water, save empty containers and fill with tap water to freeze or refrigerate.

2. Buy bottled water and fruit juices; sport drinks if you like them.      

3. Have enough snack foods in stock. Fruits that keeps well: grapes, apples, bananas. Buy bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

4. Cook and eat perishable foods. Hard boil your eggs, and make sure you cook dinner early in case the power goes out.

5. Consider boarding your pet at a kennel or make plans to have a secure place for the pooch and enough supplies.

6. Backup important computer files. Send an email to yourself at another online address or to an out of state relative or friend with your important data files attached.

7. Bring in all loose objects from outside.

8. Do the laundry.

9. Perform personal grooming essentials. It’s hard to shave and wash hair with no lights, and the water might get contaminated.

10. Fill gas tank in car.

11. Get extra cash to have on hand. ATM’s won’t work in a power failure.

12. Pay bills.

13. Charge cell phone and other portable electronic gadgets.

14. Prepare list of repairmen and tree trimmers who might be needed.

16. Buy hand sanitizer and moist wipes in case the water is contaminated.

17. Have paper plates and cups on hand along with plastic utensils and paper towels.

18. Stock up on trash bags to clear away debris.

19. Place a flashlight or battery-run lantern in each room. Buy extra batteries, cooking fuel if necessary, duct tape, and a roll of plastic sheeting. Candles can be a fire hazard and they don’t provide enough light to read by in the dark.

20. Put insurance papers and other important documents into plastic bag for quick departure or store copies in a separate location.

21. Eat all the ice cream in your freezer!

Watch the weather reports at:                

National Hurricane Center

Navy Tropical Cyclone Page

National Weather Service–Miami

The Weather Channel

Broward County Hurricane Page

Posted in Florida Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

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