Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Characters Too Weird To Be True

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 15, 2014

Characters Too Weird To Be True by Nancy J. Cohen

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014

It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we can write are actually inspired by true events in our sunshine state. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Read on, click the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, and enter the contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite.


Florida has its share of wacky characters. Every Sunday, I buy a newspaper and read through it with a pair of scissors in hand. Inevitably, there’s some article about an interesting resident or an issue that intrigues me. I cut out these articles and file them. Whenever I’m searching for a secret to give a suspect, I’ll glance through these clippings. That’s how I found a cool character who was a funeral director by day and a Samoan fire knife dancer at night. I tracked down the guy, interviewed him at his funeral home and based a character on him in Hair Raiser.


There’s no lack of strange people living in Florida. Criminals move down for the good weather same as other citizens. But most of the interesting characters in the news appear less in the spotlight. It might be a housewife running a prostitution ring, a non-profit administrator embezzling money, or a local teacher found with child porn files on his computer. These are secrets worth considering, because they’ll make the characters in my books seems suspicious. And Florida does have its share of wackos where truth is stranger than fiction.

Another character I used in a book was inspired by a reader at a talk I gave. She’d owned a clothing boutique and mentioned a guy who came in and wanted to try on women’s clothes. This idea was perfect for Murder by Manicure who now has a transvestite in the story. So you never know where inspiration will strike.


For Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day mysteries, neighborhood communities played a role in story development. Who hasn’t had trouble with their homeowners’ association? Marla’s husband has a disagreement with their HOA president who is later found dead. Our state’s Native American heritage comes into play in this story with a suspect who is a tribal shaman.

clip_image006  Hanging By A Hair

Florida has a rich history, a diverse ecosystem, and a hotbed of issues. All we have to do is read the newspaper for ideas. Thus I’ve dealt with citrus canker, illegal immigrant labor, exotic bird smuggling, child drowning prevention, melanoma detection, and a host of other matters that affect Floridians. Although these issues can be serious, my stories contain humor, a satisfying ending, and a lesson learned. And what have I learned? We never lack for material in sunny South Florida.

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Nancy J. Cohen has written over twenty romance and mystery novels. She wishes she could style hair like her hairdresser sleuth, Marla Shore, but can usually be found reading instead.


Blog Commenters can win an ebook copy of either Shear Murder or Writing the Cozy Mystery (your choice). Winner will be announced on April 23. Leave a comment, and your name will automatically be entered. And don’t miss our Grand Prize contest below!


Click on the link below to Win a KINDLE PAPERWHITE

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kindle Paperwhite

No purchase is necessary. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. By submitting your entry, you agree to be entered into the participating authors’ email newsletter list. Your information will not be shared with anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Winner will be notified by email. Authors are not responsible for transmission failures, computer glitches or lost, late, damaged or returned email. Winner agrees for their name to be used in conjunction with the contest on FMWA and authors’ social media sites. U.S. Residents only due to postage constraints.


Visit our other FMWA Authors and win more prizes:

Victoria Allman, Gator Bites,
Miriam Auerbach, Bonkers in Boca,
Gregg E. Brickman, Crazy South Florida—How it got to be home,
Diane Capri, Fishnado!,
Joan Cochran, The Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of  Coconuts and Bagels,
Nancy J. Cohen, Characters Too Weird to Be True,
JD Daniels, He Did What?
Joy Wallace Dickinson, In Florida, It’s Great to Be a Cracker,
Linda Gordon Hengerer, Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast,
Victoria Landis, Eavesdropping 101,
Sandy Parks, Keep your eyes to the Florida skies,
Neil Plakcy, Moscow on the Intracoastal,
Johnny Ray, Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews,
Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You’ll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf,



47 Responses to “Characters Too Weird To Be True”

  1. LOVE the titles. These do sound like fun to read.

  2. These titles sound like great fun, Nancy. I’m putting every one of them on my wishlist!

  3. Gail Rosenstrom said

    I LOVE this….I live in FL and I agree FL is melting pot of the weird and unusual!

  4. Sounds like so much fun.

  5. Personally, I love humor in mystery novels. Characters? The more eccentric the better. Florida does seem to specialize however. Witness Carl Hiassen’s novels. Best wishes for the success of your new mystery. I know it will be just as satisfying a read as the previous books.

  6. I spent two months in Florida and loved every minute. Before my trip, I heard about some of the wacky and “entertaining” people I would probably run in to. It was true. Florida has a unique variety of characters not seen in other parts on the country. What fun using them as inspirations for the characters in your books. Whenever I want ideas for crazy characters, I turn to the newspaper police blotters. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

    • Well, that’s an unusual source, the police blotters. Our newspaper has a weekly column of the weird and unusual. Otherwise, I look in the local and community sections for reports on our less than ordinary citizens.

  7. Nancy, Florida isn’t the only state where wackos proliferate. In Wisconsin, they’re not as visible because of the harsh winters, but they’re there. Michael Giorgio, a mystery writer friend, does little vignettes of his experiences waiting for the bus on the corner of 7th and Wisconsin in downtown Milwaukee. Priceless! The world is full of material for writers.

  8. deannad414 said

    I love hearing about how authors come up with their characters. If I were a writer, I’d be able to just sit on my porch and watch the neighbors. I’d have plenty of fun characters to choose from! Thanks for sharing – I love your books!

  9. Gigi said

    love the way you get ideas. I live in south Georgia and our papers are filled with crazy stories too.

  10. KathyMcIntosh said

    Fun post! You have a lot of characters down there! Actually, they’re everywhere! It’s remembering to make notes that sometimes slows me. Gotta get those scissors out.

  11. Gregg E. Brickman said

    Florida does have the best characters. All of mine are a result of my Florida experience, even the ones that I “flew in” for elsewhere for story purposes.

  12. Brooke said

    What a fun post! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  13. hotcha1 said

    HI NAN!

  14. Barbara Tobey said

    Enjoyed all of your books I have read and look forward to the latest.

  15. bn100 said

    Interesting characters

  16. lkish77123 said

    The stories you have written about all sound terrific.

  17. And somehow, Nancy, you always make the crazy seem quite plausible in your stories. Looking forward to the new one.

  18. Now why didn’t I think of this? I haven’t read our newspaper in a very long time. I used to clip articles and file them away in my “Ideas” file. Thanks, Nancy, for reminding me of the possibilities to be found in the newspapers.

  19. I am very fond of reading newspapers and listening to local news about some of the strangest people and their antics. I send all of our Northern “celebrity” stories to my friend in NC and she sends me her newspaper stories; we are always trying to find a way to top the other with craziness. Most of the time it is a draw as “they” are everywhere. Have enjoyed every book that I have read of yours Nancy but still have a lot more to order and read; have been confined to bed for 23 hours a day for almost two months now and yet I am not even feeling up to reading too much, which is very sad isn’t it??? Can’t concentrate but hope that will change soon, 🙂 Hope you are doing much better yourself

  20. Cecilia said

    I enjoyed reading about how you get inspiration for your books. I enjoy cozy mysteries that are mixed with humor and a little romance. Quirky characters are a bonus. Thanks for sharing.

  21. So true, Nancy, this is the land where truth is stranger than fiction. Love your wacky characters!

  22. KarenM said

    After my one visit to Florida – all I remember is rain every afternoon. California is also known for whacky people. Viva la differance!

  23. Nancy, you have to be the MOST organized author I’ve ever met. Scissors while reading the paper? So smart!

  24. Nancy, great examples. I’m still thinking about that funeral director-fire dancer. Stranger than fiction, indeed!

  25. The winner of my giveaway is deannad414. Please contact me with your email address.

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