Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for October, 2011


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 31, 2011

As I approach another trip to Disney World for Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, plus an upcoming cruise on Allure of the Seas, I am contemplating the various electronic devices to bring along. Considering that each one has a charger and perhaps other accessories, I’ll need a special case just for these items. Here’s a potential list:

  • Camera: Take charger but leave home USB cable. Will transfer photos to computer later.
  • Alphasmart: For working on blogs. Can only type ahead, not go back and revise. Uses batteries. Leave home USB cable. Will transfer data to computer later.
  • Cell phone: Take charger.
  • Kindle: Take charger.
  • iPad: Take charger. Leave home cable for connecting to computer.

Okay, do I really need both an iPad and an Alphasmart? Probably not, but I’m new to the iPad and haven’t really typed anything on it yet. Other authors recommend the Pages app where you can save your file in Word. I should install that before we leave.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned bringing a laptop. My notebook computer is too heavy and the battery is dead. Besides, with all these other gizmos, I don’t need it. I do not plan to do much writing on vacation, but I like to have the capacity to scribble down blog topics and to keep up with online activities.

What about you? What do you lug along these days when you go away for the weekend or longer trips?

LAST DAY to “Like” my Facebook Fan Page and be entered for a chance to win a free copy of Dead Roots, my seventh Bad Hair Day mystery.

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

Book Giveaways

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 25, 2011

Check out my Giveaways on Goodreads and on LibraryThing for a chance to win a free signed ARC of Shear Murder. Also keep watch on my Contest Page for additional opportunities (or click the Contest tab on my blog) to win free books and more. Bonus prizes for newsletter subscribers: sign up on my website (see the sidebar) now.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Shear Murder by Nancy J. Cohen

Shear Murder

by Nancy J. Cohen

Giveaway ends December 18, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


Posted in Business of Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Writing is a Business

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 24, 2011

Writing is a business, but most often lay persons and wannabes have no clue what this involves. They believe that we authors just sit at the computer all day, write our stories, and send them off to our editor or agent. Sometimes we collect rejection letters. Sometimes we make a sale. Then we get royalties along with accolades and starred reviews. Right?

Wrong. Writing is only one part of the process. It’s the creative part, where we slave over our desks and face the blank page day after day, fighting the self-doubt demons that plague our artistry. Once the rough draft is done, revisions come next. We stare at the monitor so much that our eyes dry out. So let’s say our work gets accepted. Then we have editorial revisions, copy edits, and page proofs. At the same time, we are writing the next book and starting research for the third book down the line. How do we keep all these details straight? Through the use of software programs, notebooks, and charts. But amidst the clutter of our writing projects, we have to clear space in our home offices for the next stage in the process.

As in any other small business, we must engage in marketing and promotion. This consumes all the rest of our free time. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of sitting back and hoping readers will discover us. The hardest work comes at the business end of this career. Don’t like public speaking? Get used to it. Don’t like talking about yourself? Learn the meaning of Blatant Self-Promotion without being obnoxious. Lacking support from your publisher? Create your own bookmarks, flyers, and posters. Set up your own appearances. Offer contests and giveaways. Oh, and did I mention the important tools of website, blog, and social networks?

Speaking of contests, I have just set up giveaways for signed ARCs of Shear Murder on Goodreads and LibraryThing. I will also be sending out an email newsletter soon with more chances to win free books, so if you’re not a subscriber yet, please look for the newsletter form on my Website sidebar and sign up now.

Learning a new career is challenging, and writing isn’t any different in this regard from other professions. Why are people are so surprised by the level of dedication we show and by the hard work we do?

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Paranormal in Mystery

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 18, 2011

Mystery Panel

Diane, Brenda, Mary, Britin

Paranormal in Mystery

Who do you call when things go bump in the night or when you need help solving the mystery of a missing person, beyond the usual methods of investigation? The paranormal team, that’s who.

At a recent meeting of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America, four illustrious panelists discussed their experiences with the paranormal. Neil Plakcy, author of the Mahu Hawaiian mystery series, moderated the panel.

First speaker was Diane Stuckhart who writes historical romance and mysteries. Writing as Ali Brandon, she’s author of the Black Cat Bookshop mystery series. Mummified cats are an element in her stories.

Next came Brenda Elizabeth, a spiritual intuitive who belongs to a psychic detective agency. She helps the authorities find missing persons and teaches workshops to help others develop their abilities.

Mary Stanton, a prolific writer of fantasy and mysteries, pens the Beaufort & Company paranormal series set in Savannah. Writing as Claudia Bishop, she’s author of the Hemlock Falls mysteries as well.

Long time MWA member Britin Haller terms herself a paranormal profiler. She’s co-founder of the Messengers Paranormal Support Squad based in Miami. While accompanying paranormal investigators to haunted sites, she interviews family members to see if their interpersonal dynamics may be responsible for the phenomena.

Here are some questions posed to the panel.


Paranormal Panelists

How did you get interested in this field?

Diane said her interest began at a young age. To those who feel powerless, the thought of having power is attractive, and that’s how she gravitated to the field. She went to a Meetup group for paranormal interests and joined. Brenda admitted that her mother was a medical intuitive who helped discern people’s ailments, so that made her open-minded. She feels everyone is intuitive in some way, and she began helping others with her gift. Mary loved to read fantasy when young. At one point, Berkley asked her to write a ghost hunter series, but she decided she’d rather write about angels. Thus was her first Beaufort & Company mystery, Defending Angels, born. As for Britin, her father died when she was young and “the paranormal got into me.”

How do you incorporate elements of paranormal into your writing?

In Mary’s series, Brianna is a lawyer whose clients are souls condemned to hell, and her job is to take charge of their appeals process. Mary is fascinated by medieval theology and uses Dante as a resource. Her world building is all about angels. Diane advises other writers that the paranormal elements should be organic to the story, and they should be subtle. Britin suggests you keep the reader wondering if the element is real or not. Brenda spoke from the viewpoint of a practicing psychic. She said most true mediums are evidential. They bring in information through words. “It’s a mental process. The message comes to you, and you speak the words. It isn’t as dramatic as on TV. Spirits have moved beyond daily concerns, so they might say things like, ‘I forgive you, so let’s move on.’”

Britin described her paranormal investigations. A “dude run” is when you see something scary and you want to scream, “Dude, run!” Real-life investigators are more low key. If they hear a noise, they go investigate. There’s no screaming, running, or cursing. Britin showed us a meter that she uses to indicate changes in energy. Her team has to be careful to eliminate interference from outside sources like cell phones. Britin’s group offers support to families who have requested help. As a skeptic, she tries to learn the family dynamics to explain away the phenomena.

Someone in the audience asked, why are old houses often haunted? Britin explained that this occurrence is more common with static hauntings, for example, where a spirit repeats its actions at the same time each year. It can be due to the “battery acid” environment of old houses. Lead paint and old metal pipes may make these houses more resonant, especially if the house is built on land with quartz.

Brenda works more like the heroine in one of our novels. She helps authorities find missing people. Location is the critical factor. First she’ll meditate to clear her mind. Sometimes an object belonging to the person is given to her, but most often she’ll get an email about the person with a photo and a brief background. From looking at the person’s eyes, she may be able to tell if they’re dead or alive. If dead, she’ll communicate with them directly. If alive, she’ll tap into the energy around them. She works through a detective agency.

Can you discuss world building in relation to the paranormal?

Mary said the writer has an obligation to the reader to be consistent. She’s done extensive research on angels for her work. Diane has studied Egyptology for her stories about mummified cats.

What’s on the other side?

One panelist claimed that it’s a Judaic-Christian concept that there is another side. Other cultures believe past, present, and future are all one continuum. As for predicting the future, it “changes all the time, but we may be able to pick up some elements.”

Speaking of paranormal elements, here are two of my Bad Hair Day mysteries that feature ghosts, spooky locales, and psychics: Dead Roots

Dead Roots
Marla’s family reunion at a haunted Florida resort turns up dead bodies instead of fond memories. She and her fiancé, Detective Dalton Vail, launch another murder investigation in the midst of Thanksgiving dinner.

“Ghost stories, nifty secret passages, tales of gemstones and family secrets enliven this tale.” Sun-Sentinel                          

“If you like ghosts and ghoulies and things that go blink in the night, you’ll love this book.” Mysterious Women

Died Blonde
Hairstylist Marla Shore stumbles over her rival’s body in the meter room behind their competing salons. The stakes rise when the victim’s trusted psychic warns Marla that someone she loves is in great danger. Her investigation takes her to a smoky bingo parlor, a spooky town run by spiritualists, and sultry Delray Beach.Died Blonde

Intrepid Marla Shore is up to her elbows in hot water when a rival salon owner turns up dead and shorn. Marla follows a path of clues that includes a wacky psychic, bingo mamas and mysterious keepsakes…Another follicle‑raising frolic with a wry twist of romance.” – P.J. Parrish, NY Times bestselling author of Dead of Winter and Island of Bones.

Have you personally had any paranormal experiences?

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

Haunted Halloween Contest

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 16, 2011

HAUNTED HALLOWEEN CONTEST                          pumpkin

Want to get in the mood for a spooky Halloween? Curl up with a good haunted hotel story. Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Dead Roots by Nancy J. Cohen.

PRIZE: A signed copy of Dead Roots and a bag of tiny Caribbean worry dolls. (Lay them at your bedside at night and sleep anxiety-free while they do the worrying for you.)

Note: If not a U.S. Resident, an equivalent value online gift card will be offered instead.

HOW TO ENTER: “Like” my Facebook Fan Page

DEADLINE: Contest will run from Oct. 14 through 0ct 31. I will do a drawing of all my FB fans on November 1st. If you have already Liked my fan page, you are entered.

Dead Roots by Nancy J. Cohen

Marla’s family reunion at a haunted Florida resort turns up dead bodies instead of fond memories. She and her fiancé, Detective Dalton Vail, launch another murder investigation in the midst of Thanksgiving dinner.

“Well‑developed characters and an intriguing historical background enhance this winning cozy.” Publishers Weekly              Dead Roots

“The setting, a Florida resort complete with ghosts, ruins and secret passages, makes a terrific site for a mystery.” RT BookReviews

“Ghost stories, nifty secret passages, tales of gemstones and family secrets enliven this tale.” Sun-Sentinel

“If you like ghosts and ghoulies and things that go blink in the night, you’ll love this book.” Mysterious Women

“Condemned wings of the hotel, secret passages, and a gaggle of paranormal experts investigating the resident ghosts, all add up to a frenetic mixture of mirth and mayhem.” I Love A Mystery


No purchase is necessary. By your entry, you certify that you are at least 18 years of age and agree to the conditions of this contest. You will hold the Author harmless for any misdirected emails and release her from any liability claim that may arise from your entry.

For more details, visit my Contest Page .

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cut That Wimpy Dialogue!

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 14, 2011

Dialogue should be focused to further your plot or reveal character. If your characters sound weak, you steal from your story by reducing their appeal. Who wants to read about people less decisive and more wishy-washy than we are? Not your average reader. Here are some examples to illustrate my point.

Choose one of each:

“I think we should hit the beach at dawn. That way, we’ll probably be able to avoid the patrol boats.”
“We’ll hit the beach at dawn to avoid the patrol boats.”

“It is my belief that it would be best if we took the right-hand path.”
“Let’s make a right-hand turn.”

“I suppose I could agree.”
“I agree.”

“I guess it would be all right if you borrowed my bracelet, but if you don’t mind, please try to return it tomorrow.”
“You can borrow the bracelet, but I’d like it returned tomorrow.”

“Well, I don’t know. I suppose I could research it for you.”
“I’ll find out and let you know by Monday.”

If you chose any “A” answers, you’re making your character sound weak. To strengthen your heroine, have her sound positive and determined. Characters should focus on their goals, not on their insecurities. Avoid phrases such as: I think, I guess, I suppose, maybe we should, it’s my belief that, or I don’t know.

Exceptions to the rule do exist. Just make certain your character doesn’t sound wimpy when he speaks or has an introspection. Cutting extra verbiage can help. Aim for precision of speech, but avoid curtness. Phrases that reveal hesitation or self-doubt may indicate places that need revision, unless it’s part of your character’s personal arc. Strong characters appeal to readers, so make every word count!

Do you have any examples from your own work that you can share?

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

The Writer’s Brain

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 12, 2011

Can you turn off your writer’s brain? Check out my blog post today over at and leave a comment!

Posted in The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 8, 2011

Every year, our family attends the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. We love eating our way around World Showcase and sampling new dishes. This experience comes with a price tag, though. With our annual passes, we bypass the daily park admission and parking fees. For three of us this year, we spent just over $70 in cash for our food samples and drinks.

Epcot Welcome sign          Daisy and Donald

cranberry exhibit

Cranberry Exhibit

We started to the left toward Mexico as is our usual pattern. We stopped first at Argentina for the grilled beef skewer with Chimichurri sauce and Boniato Puree for $5 a portion and the beef empanada for $3.75. I thought the meat on the skewer was a bit chewy but I enjoyed the puree that tasted like mashed potatoes with pesto sauce. Still smacking my lips, I paused at the Caribbean venue while my husband and son each got a ropa vieja braised beef with white rice for $3.50 and a jerk spiced chicken drumstick with mango salsa for $3.25. One of us at Mexico next got the crispy shrimp taco for $4.95.



At Scandinavia, I couldn’t pass up the Swedish meatballs with Lingonberries for $3.50. Very yummy, especially the gravy. I would make these at home. At South Africa, the seared filet of beef with smashed sweet potatotes was delish. Our son had a sweet treat next, the apple strudel with vanilla sauce at Germany for $3.25.


South Korea

South Africa

Beef Filet and Sweet Potato Mash

But by far, the best dessert ever that I’ve tasted was the pumpkin mousse with Craisins and orange sauce in a mini dessert glass at the American pavilion. For only $1.50, this dish was reason enough for me to attend the festival. If the recipe had been in the festival cookbook, I’d have bought it. Um, um. This treat about spoiled me for anything else, though, and I didn’t have a big appetite today.

pumpkin mousse

Pumpkin Mousse

The men got the popular Belgian waffle with berry compote and whipped cream at Belgium for $3.00 each. My men could eat more, though, so they went for the chicken souvlaki and the Greek salad at Greece, for $4.25 and $3.00 respectively.


Greek Souvlaki


Belgium is popular

Hawaii Menu

Menu at Hawaii

Now we needed to walk off those calories and get cooled off, so we headed for the Captain E-O 3D attraction starring Michael Jackson in a sci fi music video at the Imagination pavilion. It’s still one of my favorites at this park and always leaves you with a happy feeling.

Inside one of the Innovations buildings, we entered the House of Innoventions where cool futuristic technology is on display. I liked the Numi Toilet that opens and closes the seat automatically depending on which way you face it, the LiftMatic Oven by Siemens that mounts up on a wall. Instead of bending down to put a baking pan on the shelf, you simply place your pan on a shelf that lowers from above automatically. We admired the other fabulous furnishings and utilities, like the Atmospheric Water Collector and the water Heat X-changer.

Then we returned to World Showcase and the Brazil station where my guys ordered the seared mahi mahi with steamed rice, hearts of palm and coconut-lime sauce for $4.50 per portion. I was still too full to eat more, so I passed. Clearly, another visit is in order so I can taste my way around the rest of the worlds. World Showcase, unlike the rest of the Epcot, opens at 11am and gets more crowded throughout the afternoon. If you’ve attended the festival, what are some of your favorite dishes?

Epcot Food & Wine Festival on Facebook

Posted in Florida Musings, Food | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Critique Group

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 5, 2011

Without a doubt, I look forward to critique group as the highlight of my week. Why? Is it because we’ve known each other for so long that I can’t remember when we started out? Is it the group therapy we offer each other, a bunch of friends eager to listen and offer support? Or is it for the valuable comments on our stories we receive that help us to progress as a writer? All of the above! But really, it’s all about the food.  🙂

Decorated for Autumn


Isn't it lovely?

Bean Dip

Bean Dip with Rosemary

Pumpkin Bars

Frosted Pumpkin Bars

Last week, it was my turn to host. Our group consists of six published authors. We meet every two weeks during the day and rotate houses. The hostess provides the mid-morning snacks. We’ll chat and nosh for up to an hour before settling down to business. I like hosting because it gives me a chance to use my elegant serving bowls and cook new items. I experimented with three new dishes this time, but I’d only add one of them to my repertoire. Here is the recipe for my crustless zucchini pie.

Zucchini Pie

1 large onion, chopped
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
3 cups zucchini, grated
1 cup biscuit baking mix
4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup Eggbeaters

Mix together the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Add in the zucchini, baking mix, cheese, and Eggbeaters. Stir to blend.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray two 9 inch pie dishes with cooking spray. Pour mixture into pie plates, dividing evenly. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Zucchini Pie

Zucchini Pie


Not everyone can make each critique session, and we miss those absent. But as long as four of us are able to come, we’ll meet. We bring our printed story pages beginning with Chapter One. Setting the timer for fifteen to twenty minutes, we read each person’s work silently for the allotted time. Marking down the page numbers, we write our comments on a separate sheet of paper. After each round is over, we pass the pages to the left.

Once we’re done reading everyone’s work, we discuss our comments aloud, focusing on one person at a time. We each have our say, going to the left around the table, until we finish. Then we hand that person our notes to take home. And so on. Often we discuss industry news, publishing markets, promotion and more. We gripe about the industry and we rejoice in our successes. And we offer each other valuable advice on how to improve our work. We are a lifeline for each other and an inspiration for our careers. I couldn’t do it without my critique partners being there for me. Thanks, my friends.

Check out their work:

Allison Chase
Sharon Hartley
Karen Kendall
Cynthia Thomason
Zelda Benjamin

Do you work with a critique partner or group? If so, what’s your process?

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

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