Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for February, 2012

Crime Writers Research

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 26, 2012

While researching my mysteries, I often need information that you can’t go around asking friends. Things like, what kind of poison will kill someone right away and is easily obtainable? How can I stage a crime scene by hanging to make it look like a suicide? What would tip off the cops that it’s foul play? Or, if a detective becomes a suspect in a murder case, is he removed from action? Often I need specific answers to help me set my scenes with as much authenticity as possible.         

Fortunately, mystery writers have a range of resources available besides your friendly cop on the local force. These are some of the sites where you can get this type of concrete information. Check out the links; they’ll lead you to more informational websites and blogs. Others are listserves you can join. Once you’re on the loop, throw out whatever question you need answered. Chances are someone will be qualified to respond.

Please share here which places you find useful in your crime scene research. And good hunting!

Crime Scene Writers at Yahoo Groups,
To subscribe:

In Reference to Murder,

Lee Lofland, veteran police investigator,

Mystery Writers of America,

The Writers Forensic Blog by D.P. Lyle, MD,

Sisters in Crime,


All commenters during my February blog tour will be entered into a drawing for signed copies of Perish by Pedicure and Killer Knots. Only three more days  to enter! Be sure to stop by:

Tuesday, February 28, Killer Characters, Topic: Hair Care Q&A with Marla Shore!

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 29 Comments »


Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 22, 2012

Here’s another promotional tool that will drive you crazy. I’ve recently joined Pinterest, where you pin up pictures online that can relate to any themes you choose, such as your books, your characters, the locations in your story, or your life in general. This acts as an online pinboard collection that other folks can follow. If someone spots a photo on my board they like, they can share it. You tell what the picture means and people can comment on it. You create your boards and give each one a name. It’s good to check out the boards of someone you know first to get an idea of how it works and what themes might appeal to you.

Follow Me on Pinterest

When you install the Pin It button on your browser, it allows you to pin a picture whenever you go to a website with pin-able photos. The program automatically attributes the source. Still, I think you should be wary of copyright issues. It may not be okay to just lift any photos you like and stick them on your boards.

Here’s one tip for writers that’s been useful. Instead of uploading your book cover photos from your computer (like I did for my first two), go to the buy page at an online bookstore and use that photo. Then the attributable link will take people there.

Learning how to use Pinterest is definitely a time sink. But with nearly five million users, it can be a great promotional opportunity. People seem to get hooked on it once they get started. It’s a way to let readers into your life and to showcase those things you find meaningful and fun. Oh, and you have to request an invitation to join or ask a friend who’s a member to invite you. Then you register using your Facebook or Twitter account.

Check out these sites for more information:

So do any of you already participate in Pinterest? Or would you do it now that you’re aware of this site?

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

Struggling with a Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 19, 2012

Before I begin writing the story, I write my synopsis. This will act as my writing guideline. See my Feb. 6 blog on the plotting process. With each draft of the synopsis, I add more depth, consistency, and motivation. However, I’m now stuck on two points for my next mystery.

The Crime Scene: My working title is Hanging by a Hair. So I want my victim to be hanged. The problems are two-fold. He’s bigger and stronger than the killer. And where in a house can I hang him? I searched through my file of newspaper clippings and came up with one that tells of a woman hanged by a workman on a shower rod. A shower rod? Seems to me it would fall down if the victim is heavy. Where else in a house would this work? And wouldn’t the killer have to incapacitate the person first and then string him up? How would this be possible if the victim weighs a lot?

Once I figure out these details, I’ll have the killer write a confession scene. Then I will know, before I begin writing, what the outcome is of my story. When I get to the confrontation between killer and sleuth in the book, I’ll just slide in this dialogue. My next step is to research on the Internet to see if I can find any relevant news stories that may help spark ideas. If the killer incapacitates the victim first, how is this done? Hitting him on the head is easy, but it’s too obvious if you want the hanging to appear as a suicide. Say the killer poisons the vic. What type of poison? How do they get hold of it? Does it act immediately? Does vomiting/diarrhea occur before death, causing a messy scene?

See how you have to think things through. Then the writer has to figure out what clues are left at the scene.      detective

The Suspects: I’m pretty clear on most of my suspects, having worked through their motives a couple of times and with my critique partners’ input. But I am still having one problem. The victim discovers a secret. He tells Suspect A, who tells Suspect B. Meanwhile, the victim also tells Suspect C who pays him to keep quiet. But Suspect C is afraid Suspect A will talk to the authorities. So he threatens her to ensure her silence. Okay, he threatens her with what? What does she want to keep hidden?

She’s a professor at a local university. So I’ve come up with a list of possibilities: Plagiarism? Falsifying credentials? Seducing a younger student? Making up reference material to support a recent publication? Accepting bribes in return for good grades?

Whichever one I choose, how would Suspect C—a real estate developer—find out about it?

I decide Suspect A is a single mother with two college age kids. She needs to keep her job to put them through school. Suspect C threatens her with exposure in a manner that might get her fired. Which one of the above might she have done? Does Suspect C threaten her before or after she tells Suspect B? And why does she tell that person? Because she holds a grudge against the victim, and she knows Suspect C will act on her revelation without getting her involved. So basically, I have to determine what secret she’s hiding and how Suspect C finds out about it. Sound complicated? I’m confusing myself by even discussing it here.   thinker

Fortunately, I’m not on deadline, so I can take as long as necessary to work out these points. I’ll want my synopsis to read smoothly, follow in a logical manner, and include personal elements in the sleuth’s life. In a cozy mystery, the story is more about the sleuth than the victim, the aftermath of murder, and the criminal’s psyche, which may be the focus of a serious crime novel. In my stories, the personal relationships among the suspects and how they impact the sleuth are what matter, but still the details have to be accurate and plausible.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Literary Tea

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 16, 2012

LITERARY TEA with Author Nancy J. Cohen

Friday, February 17 @ 7 PM

“Shear Murder”

South Florida Stylist, Marla Shore, is back and attending the wedding of her friend . The matron of honor must have stood in the way of something because she is found at the reception dead beneath the cake table.  With her own nuptials only weeks away, Marla becomes embroiled in a series of secrets from the past that threaten her own safety.

Well Read Books, South Harbor Plaza, 1374 SE 17th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316


Refreshments from the 11th Street Annex

While at the tea, enjoy the photography installation by Clay Wieland.


I’m guest blogging today on Patricia Stoltey’s site about Obsessions and Orchids, or How to make a character more interesting. Leave a comment for a chance to win signed copies of Killer Knots and Perish by Pedicure in my February drawing!

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

Versatile Blogger Award

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 12, 2012

Thanks to LEONIE LUCAS who granted me the Versatile Blogger Award! I put off posting this announcement because it was daunting to come up a list of with 15 bloggers that I follow. It took some work to trace my steps and see where I’ve been, but several hours later, I’m done. Whew!    versatilebloggeraward

So, here are the rules:

  1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post (done)
  2. Share 7 things about yourself (Oh heck, I have to be interesting now??)
  3. Pass this award along to 15 others (Um.. oh there’s her.. and them.. and well, see below for some cool blogs)
  4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award (Yay!)

Seven Things About Me You Didn’t Already Know…

  1. I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate.
  2. I always have to read before going to sleep.
  3. I don’t sing but I like to dance.
  4. Taking walks is my favorite form of exercise.
  5. The only crime show I watch on TV is Castle (unless you count Grimm).
  6. I love to read historical romance but I won’t write it.
  7. I hate filling out these types of questionnaires.

Here are some people that I follow, although I’m often in lurk mode. Please check them out:

Fifteen Blogs You Really Ought to Know!

  1. Allison Chase’s News and Views — Popular author of steamy Victorian romance.
  2. Cynthia Thomason — Award-winning author of historical & contemporary romance.
  3. It’s Not All Gravy — MaryAnn Miller writes books, screenplays, and stage plays.
  4. Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers — Lois Winston’s blog features crafting tips, cozy mystery authors, and recipes.
  5. Author Expressions — Multi-published authors chat about the writing life.
  6. Jungle Red Writers — Eight mystery writers talk about life and writing.
  7. The Kill Zone — Musings of eleven top mystery and thriller authors (including me!).
  8. Escape with Dollycas — Lori Caswell offers book reviews and entertaining posts by guest authors.
  9. Poe’s Deadly Daughters — Elizabeth Zelvin’s blog is for mystery lovers.
  10. The Stiletto Gang — A group of women writers discuss life and love.
  11. Cozy Chicks — Nine mystery authors discuss life, writing, and their latest releases.
  12. Terry’s Place — Terry Odell writes romance with a twist of mystery.
  13. Mona’s Blog — Romance author Mona Risk discusses her books and world travels.
  14. Believing is Seeing — Sandra Sookoo writes romance with a paranormal twist.
  15. Fabulous Florida Writers — Jackie Minniti’s site features Florida authors.

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Hair Horror Stories

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 11, 2012

When I started the Bad Hair Day mysteries, I asked readers to share their bad hair day stories and then I put these on a page at my Website. Several years later when I revamped my site, I took these down, but I’d saved some in a file. I thought I would share these true bad hair day stories with you.

I’ll bet you have your own. I remember going to one stylist for a cut who had short, layered hair. After she trimmed mine, I looked in the mirror and my jaw dropped. She’d given me a similar style, except with my fine hair, the ends stuck out and my hair hung flat. That was the one and only time I’ll ever get a short haircut. Chin-length is the shortest that looks good on me. A cute pixie style to bring out my eyes? It would sit there like limp noodles with no body. So here are the woes other customers have shared, but first a few tips I’ve learned from these experiences:woman elegant

· Bring a picture of the style you’d like your hairstylist to try on your own head. She’s not a mind-reader.

· Be aware that your hair has its own unique texture. What looks great on someone else might not work on you.

· Go to the salon for a professional coloring and avoid home dye jobs. Otherwise, you might rush in for a costly color correction.

· If something goes wrong, speak to your stylist before taking it further. See if she can correct the mistake.    badhaircut2

· If you’ve agreed to certain services, you owe for them. Don’t try to walk out just because your hair didn’t turn out exactly as you’d expected.

· Tell your stylist if you have a new medical condition or are taking medications that might affect the hair.

Anonymous: I tried a little self-beautification and decided to highlight my hair to look like a singer on a CD I’d bought. My hair is black and had previously been relaxed for about a week. The highlights were to be a light brown color and of course I could not use the cap to get the effects that the singer on the CD had. So I did a little free-styling with the color that was called Sahara Shimmer. My hair was supposed to turn out with beautiful golden blond highlights. On the bobadhairx it read, “What you see is what you get.” Boy, they weren’t lying.

As I applied color to the front section of my hair, I thought this would look good. It was already turning brown. So I started applying it to the other sections of my hair. Well, the box did mention that it would be best to have a friend to help and looking at my hair turning blond right before my eyes at the roots in the front section and in that section only, I panicked.

I started applying all the highlight coloring to my whole head hoping it would turn out one color at least. Fifteen minutes later, I washed it out and prayed I didn’t look too bad. As I flipped my hair from under the running water and looked in the mirror, all I could see was a sunburst. I never knew that I could get the color of the sun in my hair. My hair was the color of the rising phoenix. Around the edges and at the roots of my hair, it was blond fading into a copper color with a blond strand here or there. Throughout the middle of my hair at the roots, you could see the remnants of my black hair that used to be healthy and strong after the relaxer straightened it. Now it’s fried, dyed and lay to the side. Pray that I will have success at the beautician. Hopefully she can give me back my original color without my hair falling out, as it is already breaking off now.

Anna says: About a year ago I went to a hair salon that I had been to once before. I brought along a picture of a girl with slightly layered hair that was just brushing her shoulders. I told the stylist that I wanted it an inch or two longer than the picture and very slightly layered. Most days, I pulled my hair back so it had to be able to be pulled back at least into a ponytail.      badhaircut

Well, she cut it about a half an inch below my chin and it was very layered. It looked horrible on me and the worst part was I couldn’t pull it back. I tried washing and blow-drying it differently and curling it but nothing made it look better. I was sobbing about it in my room when a good friend, Abby, called. When she heard me crying, she asked what was wrong. When I told her how I had gotten a horrible haircut, she burst out laughing. Neither of my parents understood either how much what my hair looked like mattered to me. I spent the next two weeks sobbing in my room and refusing to leave the house. Word from the wise: SPEAK UP IF YOU THINK THE HAIRSTYLIST IS CUTTING TOO SHORT, TOO LAYERED, TOO LONG, Etc. OR AT LEAST TELL THEM YOU DON’T LIKE IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE SALON. THERE IS USUALLY SOMETHING THEY CAN DO.

A reader shares: My sister and I decided to lighten our naturally very dark hair, so we used those at-home kits. Well, halfway through the hour-long process, our hair was very orange and we were scared. So stupidly, we tried about 3 different at-home kits. Now, I have unnaturally jet‑black, purple hair, and my sister has unnaturally light orange hair. Never again, I’ll tell ya.     purplehair

Melissa’s story: I’m a teenager who loves to cut her hair every so often. I like to keep it short because it goes well with my face. I try to get different looks every time I go to my stylist. I have never done my hair at home, and I trust her to the fullest. I never complain and always say “Do what you think is best.” I have nice wavy hair, and she’s always taken good care of it.                              mushroomhead

Well, when I went for a cut this time, she cut too much from the top. Now I look like a mushroom. I can’t let my hair loose and it’s too short to pick it up completely. I look horrible; I can’t even look at myself in the mirror. I’m going on vacation in three weeks and have no clue what to do with my hair. So, a word of advice to anyone, always put your two cents in as to what you want done with your hair. At the end of your appointment, you’re the one walking out on the street with your hair.


Check out hairstylist Marla Shore’s customers in Shear Murder:

Order a signed copy from Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore.
Barnes & Noble
What hair horror story would you like to share?

Posted in The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Jewish Wedding Customs

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 8, 2012

Today is the official “on sale” date for Shear Murder! Weddings form the theme for this story, a suitable topic right before Valentine’s Day. Consider giving a copy of this Bad Hair Day mystery as a gift to your friend or family member.

Hairdresser Marla Shore is a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s ceremony. Things go terribly wrong when Marla finds the matron of honor—Jill’s sister—dead under the cake table. Weeks away from her own wedding, Marla has to find the killer fast or she might end up wearing a funeral shroud instead of a bridal veil.

For both ceremonies, I had to research wedding customs the bride would follow. Here are some of my findings:

Why is the bride veiled?                                       3705351_m
The tradition honors Rebecca, who veiled her face when she was first brought to Isaac to be his wife. The veil also symbolizes modesty and tells us that a person’s character is more important than the outward appearance. If truly following the customs, the groom is supposed to lower the veil over the bride’s face. Thus after getting a glimpse of her, he won’t be deceived as was Jacob when Leah was substituted for Rachel.

What is the meaning of the canopy under which the couple are wed?

The four-posted chuppah symbolizes the home being built by the happy couple. It is open on all sides like the tent of Abraham and Sarah who welcomed visitors.

Why does the bride circle the groom seven times?
Just as the world was created in seven days, the bride, representing Mother Earth, reminds people that marriage is part of the creation process. At the same time, she symbolically builds the walls of the couple’s new dwelling, as embodied by the chuppah.

What happens next?

Blessings of betrothal, including the Kiddush or blessing over wine, come next. The Kiddush is a sanctification prayer recited on most religious occasions. Here it signifies the sanctification of a man and woman together in marriage.

When is the couple officially married?

In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the groom gives his bride an object of value, such as a gold ring. For more religious observers, it is placed on the bride’s right forefinger where witnesses can readily see it, and the ring is a plain band without any stones. The ring symbolizes the continuity of an everlasting marriage.                 3091177_m

The Ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, is read after the giving of the ring. This document is signed and witnessed, often immediately prior to the ceremony, and is considered legally binding. It details the husband’s obligations to his wife, including among other things, his duty to provide food, clothing, and marital relations. It also mentions his obligations regarding child support and provides for his wife’s financial security in the event of death or divorce.

What kind of blessings follow?

After the giving of the ring and reading of the Ketubah, seven more blessings are offered. These, like the previous ones, are accompanied by sips of wine.

Why does the groom smash a cloth-wrapped glass?

This practice is supposed to remind people of the Holy Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem. It means that to truly experience joy, one must be open to the possibility of sorrow. Some say this is the last time the groom gets to put his foot down.


One of the most interesting topics I discovered during my online research was the concept of Soul Mates. According to one source, forty days before a male child is conceived, a heavenly voice announces whose daughter he will marry. This match is called bashert. However, finding one’s bashert doesn’t mean that bliss will follow. Jewish law allows divorce. The Lord also arranges second marriages, choosing a man’s next wife based on his merits.

Some resources:


Shear Murder by Nancy J. Cohen
Weddings always make Marla Shore shed a tear of joy, and she’s elated to attend her friend Jill’s reception. Marla’s own nuptials are weeks away, and she’s busy following her frenetic to-do list. Her plans go awry when she discovers Jill’s matron of honor dead under the cake table, a knife embedded in her chest. Lots of folks aren’t sorry to see Torrie go, especially since the bride’s sister knew their deepest secrets. But when suspicion falls upon Jill, Marla wonders if her dear friend is truly innocent. She’d better untangle the snarl of suspects and iron out the clues before the killer highlights her as the next victim.


Leave a comment during Nancy’s blog tour and enter to win signed copies of Perish by Pedicure and Killer Knots.

Coming next: Why I Like Cozies at The Stiletto Gang on Thursday, Feb. 9 (That’s tomorrow!)

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Plotting Process

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 6, 2012

I love it when a new story begins to come together. I’ve started to plot my next mystery, and as such, I’m in the discovery phase as I mentioned below in my discussion on the three stages of writing. This means I’m getting to know the general background, setting, and characters before sitting down to actually write the story.

Since this will be a continuation of my series, I already know the main characters and the setting. So who’s the victim? That’s the first thing I determine. Next come the suspects. Who wants this guy dead and why? I begin by making a list of possible acquaintances, relatives, or business associates close to this individual. Then I give each one a motive. Suspect A is embezzling money. Suspect B is skirting state regulations. Suspect C resented the victim for spurning her. And so on. What’s more difficult is linking these people together.

For example, the Victim discovers an irregularity and reports it to Suspect B. Suspect B advises him to notify the authorities. Instead, he tells Suspect C. Suspect C, alarmed about the implications, threatens Suspect B to keep her quiet. Meanwhile, after the Victim dies, Suspect B throws suspicion on Suspect D. This person tips off the sleuth that Suspect E could cause trouble. You get the idea?

It’s wonderful when these connections start snapping together. At this point, I begin writing my synopsis. I also have to determine the personal angle for the sleuth, because the mystery won’t take up an entire 75,000 words. We want the story to be about her life and how the crime impacts her and why she gets involved. What other difficulties is she facing at this time? How will she grow and change by the end of the book?

Research also comes into play at this stage. I have to ask my police source about the crime scene and I have to look up info on the “irregularity” the Vic discovers and where that can lead my sleuth. Maybe I’ll send her to a location I haven’t visited before, so I’ll have to figure out how to work that into the plot.

The discovery process can take weeks or even months. I don’t like to hurry it. Once the fragments start to brew in my subconscious, it’s like a stew that has to simmer so the ingredients can blend together. Ideas will bubble to the surface and I’ll jot them down. I’ll delve deeper into my characters, determining who they are and cutting out photos from magazines to suit them. Eventually, I’ll have a cohesive whole and a completed synopsis. Then I can begin writing.

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

Kirkus Review of Shear Murder

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 3, 2012

SHEAR MURDER by Nancy J. Cohen

Finding the bride’s sister’s corpse under the dessert table can ruin most of your day, as hairstylist Marla Shore (Killer Knots, 2007, etc.) discovers at her friend Jill’s wedding.

With her own special day a scant two weeks off, Marla plays close attention to the Barlow-Hartman nuptials. And at first things look perfect. Jill Barlow has even converted to Judaism so she and Arnie can include the traditional Seven Blessings in their service under a gorgeous, flower-bedecked chuppah. Jill’s sister Torrie, a fashion reporter from Boca Style Magazine, has talked philanthropist Falcon Oakwood into allowing the wedding to take place on the opening day of his Orchid Isle nature preserve, so Boca Style photographer Griff Beasley is on hand to take lots of fabulous pictures. Florist Phillip Canfield has outdone himself in supplying cascades of rare blooms. Of course, Jill’s quarrel with Torrie over what to do with the parcel of land they co-own, managed by their realtor cousin Kevin, doesn’t bode well. But the real downer is Marla’s discovery of Torrie’s body tucked under the table just before Jill and Arnie cut the wedding cake. Marla is so bummed out that she can hardly make tender love to her sexy fiancé, Dalton Vail, that evening. Instead of writing out place cards, she spends the time before she ties the knot asking pointed questions of anyone she thinks may be responsible for Torrie’s demise, until of course someone decides to shut her up—unfortunately, not soon enough.

Cohen takes the amateur-sleuth-who-asks-too-many-nosy-questions formula to new depths. It’s enough to make your hair curl.

Kirkus Reviews

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4328-2554-6

Page count: 246pp

Publisher: Five Star

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4th, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2011

**Don’t forget to follow my blog tour and leave a comment for a chance to win free signed books! Coming next:

Saturday, February 4, Poe’s Deadly Daughters, Topic: Florida as Character

Sunday, February 5, Cozy Chicks, Topic: Love and Murder

Thursday, February 9, The Stiletto Gang, Topic: Why I Like Cozies

Thursday, February 16, Patricia Stoltey, Topic: Obsessions and Orchids

Tuesday, February 28, Killer Characters, Topic: Hair Care Q&A with Marla Shore


Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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