Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for January, 2016

Critique Groups

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 21, 2016

Thanks to a post by author Terry Odell, I am turning back the clock to my early blogging days. It’s incredible to realize I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I didn’t start out on WordPress and converted my site somewhere along the way. Fortunately, I save all my posts in Word. My very first topic was on Critique Groups. Believe it or not, much of the same advice applies today. Here’s what I said back then:

CRITIQUE GROUPS (August 2005)

Yesterday I went to critique group. Including myself, this consists of six authors, most of us published or agented. We meet every other week and rotate houses. While eating a sumptuous brunch, we discuss publishing news, share personal insights, and encourage each other to keep writing through the ups and downs of our careers. I can’t tell you how invaluable this group has been to me. I could not have achieved what I have without them.

After exchanging news, we get down to work. We read each other’s manuscripts silently for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, passing the pages around the table, until all of us have been read. Then we share our comments aloud, focusing on one person at a time. We do not do line editing. Mostly we focus on character development, emotional reactions, dialogue, plot consistency, and so forth. For example, when my sleuth Marla asked a suspect outright if he might have killed the victim, one of my critique partners said this was too blunt. So this morning, I toned down Marla’s response in my WIP (work in progress). We catch typos, point out clichés, and suggest ways to restructure for more impact. But more importantly, we’re there for each other to gripe, to cheer, to support, and to listen.

I wrote an article for Romantic Times Magazine [now RT Book Reviews] on how to set up a critique group. Here’s an excerpt with seven tips for getting started:

1. To find other interested writers, join a local writers group and put a notice in their newsletter that you are looking for critique partners.
2. Limit your group to six members or less.
3. Seek friends with compatible personalities and a similar writing level.
4. The focus of your meetings should be on critiquing content, not line editing. Consider holding a separate meeting on occasion just for brainstorming plot ideas.
5. Determine a procedure for your group that is agreeable to everyone. Some groups read aloud, others pass pages around the table and read silently, and still others e-mail chapters ahead of time. It’s up to you how you want to run your show.
6. Offer constructive criticism. If you see the need for change, make suggestions for improvements in a positive manner. Don’t forget to give praise where it’s due.
7. Have fun! Enjoy refreshments and spend time chatting about the industry. Being sociable will draw you closer together and enable you to accept advice more readily.

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My current group has six members, most of whom were around back then. See how long we’ve known each other? These are steadfast friends, and they understand me on a level better than most people. We share common needs and goals and understand the foibles of the business. We’re also pros at our jobs, producing a constant stream of material, attending conferences, and supporting each other via social media. When you find a good critique group, it’s like discovering gold. Treasure your partnerships.

Critique GroupcritiqueCritique2014critque Dec09

In these photos, besides myself, are Zelda Benjamin, Sharon Hartley, Alyssa Maxwell, Kat Carlton, and Cynthia Thomason. We do like to eat!

CritiqueJan12 (800x600)CritiqueTableKaren Table

Do you belong to a critique group? If so, what is your process?

 

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

Florida Romance Writers Conference

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 18, 2016

Saturday was a one-day mini-conference for Florida Romance Writers. The day started off with an inspirational keynote address by NY Times bestselling author Carla Neggers. She spoke about the ups and downs of a writing career and how we balance these setbacks and successes.

Carla Neggers

A panel followed with agent Marlene Stringer, Cleis Press Publisher Karen Thomas, Harlequin editor Charles Griemsman, and Berkley editor Kristine Swartz.

Editors Panel

Charles from Harlequin mentioned how he works with short category, contemporary romance series. He prefers alpha males who are wealthy and passionate, hard men with an underlying vulnerability. Tycoons and ranchers are ever popular as are stories with babies. He looks for books that focus on romantic tension and internal conflict. The Special Edition line is more family-oriented but its stories are still sensual.

Kristine from Berkley likes epic and urban fantasy, sexy romance, women’s fiction, and some mystery. She likes humor in stories as well.

Karen Thomas spoke about her publishing house that produces erotica and gay/lesbian fiction.

Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Agency is looking for commercial fiction but no erotica, inspirational, or space opera. She says there aren’t any bans in romance anymore like there used to be for musician or actor heroes.

Regarding genre fiction, paranormal isn’t dead if it’s something fresh. New Adult is a hard sell because booksellers don’t know where to shelve it. The Chick Lit label is gone, but the stories are still there. As for historical romance, it’s on the rise again. Regency, Victorian, and Scottish settings remain popular. Stories set in France do not fare as well. Books today need more diversity to reflect our society.

We ate a box lunch following the agent and editor panel. Then Dr. Debra Holland spoke about how she became a bestselling indie author.

Deborah Holland

At 2:00, I gave a workshop titled Marketing on a Shoestring.

Nancy Speaking

Then I listened to my friends Carla Neggers, Alyssa Maxwell, Kat Carlton, and Traci Hall speak about Revitalizing Your Career. A general booksigning followed with Murder on the Beach booksellers present.

Career Panel

As it is with any conference, networking with other authors was the best part. Now I am looking forward to SleuthFest next month.

Nancy VickiLisa DebbyGrahl

Contest Alert!

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Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Avoiding Info Dumps

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 15, 2016

An info dump is when you drop a chunk of information on the hapless reader. This can take various forms. Here are some examples:

Overzealous Research

You love your research, and you can’t help sharing it with readers. These excerpts are from Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery #13). The first paragraph is the original. The second one is the revised version.

Original

“The company built houses and rented them to the miners and their families. Single men would have shared a place together, eight to twelve of them in one dwelling. The homes were shotgun style. You could see in through the front door straight back to the rear. Since the miners worked twelve hour shifts, they weren’t all home at the same time. The rent was taken out of their paychecks.”

Revised

“The company built houses and rented them to the miners and their families. Single men often shared a place together. Since they worked twelve hour shifts, they weren’t all home at the same time.”

P1030065 (800x600)

Original

“The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divided the waters of the Colorado River between seven states and Mexico. Getting it to the farther regions of our state proved difficult. Thus was born the Central Arizona Project Canal, or CAP as we call it. This required pipelines and tunnels to move the water. That can be costly, which is why our cities obtain most of their water supply from underground aquifers. Groundwater is our cheapest and most available resource.”

Revised

“The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divided the resource between several states. The Central Arizona Project Canal, or CAP as we call it, uses pipelines to move the water to the far reaches of our state. That can be costly, which is why many of our cities obtain their water supply from underground aquifers. Groundwater is our cheapest and most available resource.”

Laundry List

Any kind of list runs the risk of being tedious. Here’s a litany of symptoms you might get after being bitten by a rattlesnake. This passage is from Peril by Ponytail (Bad Hair Day Mystery #12):

Western rattlesnake strike ready

“You’d have intense burning pain at the site followed by swelling, discoloration of the skin, and hemorrhage. Your blood pressure would drop, accompanied by an increased heart rate as well as nausea and vomiting.”

As this passage wasn’t necessary to my plot, I took it out. Be wary of any list that goes on too long. Here’s another example:

He counted on his fingers all the things he’d have to do: get a haircut, buy a new dress shirt, make a reservation, call for the limo and be sure to stop by a flower shop on the way to Angie’s house.

Do we really need to know all this, or could we say, He ran down his mental to-do list and glanced at his watch with a wince. Could he accomplish everything in one hour flat?

Dialogue

Here’s a snatch of conversation between my sleuth, Marla the hairdresser, and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail:

conversation

“I’m going to talk to our next-door neighbor, who happens to be the Homeowners’ Association president,” Dalton told her. “Wait here with Brianna. Since my daughter is a teenager, she won’t understand the argument you and I had yesterday with the guy.”

“Yes, isn’t it something how he made a racist remark?” Marla replied.

“I thought it was kind of Cherry, our association treasurer, to defend you.”

This dialogue could have come from Hanging by a Hair (Bad Hair Day Mystery #11). But why would I have Marla and Dalton talking about something they both already know? This is a fault of new writers who want to get information across. It’s not the way to go, folks. Show, don’t tell. In other words, show us the scene and let it unfold in front of us. Don’t have two characters hack it to death later when they both know what happened. Now if one of these participants were to tell a friend what went down, that would be acceptable.

No doubt you’ve run across info dumps in your readings. Can you think of any further examples or other forms this problem might take?


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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Book Reviews

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 11, 2016

As an author, I’m often asked what I like to read. Basically, my taste runs to genre fiction. I like to escape to other worlds far away from the reality of daily news. Here are some of my recent reads from Fall 2015. You can also follow my reviews on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91508.Nancy_J_Cohen

Bookshelf

A Matter of Honor by Jamie McFarlane (Science Fiction)
Captain Liam Hoffen and crew are determined to rescue the survivors from Cape of Good Hope, a ship abandoned by the powerful Belirand Corporation. But even as they set this goal, they’re marked for death. Because now they know the secret that Belirand will kill to keep. Aiding their quest is the mysterious inventor, Phillipe Anino. While avoiding Belirand’s assassins, Liam and friends discover the issue is way bigger than they’d thought. It could blow a hole in everyone’s concept of the known universe. And Belirand is willing to guard this knowledge at the expense of Liam, his crew, and their families. Is he willing to risk all to save the forty-five crew members of Cape of Good Hope?

A Matter of Honor is another action-packed installment in the Privateer Tales. What makes you care are the characters who are noble at heart and take the moral high road. They are heroes you can cheer for until the final page is turned, and then you have to wait impatiently for the sequel.

Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron (Mystery)
Cajun cuisine mixes with murder and history in this delightful debut novel from Ellen Byron. Maggie Crozat, an artist from Manhattan, goes home for a stay at her family’s B&B. The mansion’s rooms are filled, but no sooner can you say “Laissez les bons temps roulez,” than the shenanigans begin. First one guest meets her demise. When her death appears suspicious and the finger points to Maggie’s relations, Maggie vows to uncover the truth. Impeding her progress is the sheriff, whose feud with the Crozat family is legendary. Fortunately, his handsome relative shows up on the force and quickly becomes Maggie’s ally. Will she unmask the murderer before more guests meet their untimely end? Can she save their plantation from financial ruin? Maggie needs to fire up her southern charm and sniff out a killer to save the estate. With the richly Southern setting, quirky characters, and evocative descriptions, you’ll be wanting more in this charming series.

Kris Longknife: Unrelenting (Science Fiction)
Admiral Princess Kris Longknife is in charge of Alwa’s defense, a planet under imminent threat of attack from a homicidal race. Her resources are limited. But it’s hard for her to remain focused when an act of sabotage within her own ranks neutralizes a number of military women’s birth control devices. Kris is one of the affected officers who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. With a baby on the way, she faces her biggest battle yet. The survival of the planet depends on her. Will her forces be strong enough to defend this one world and prevent the aliens from eradicating humanity elsewhere in the galaxy? Natives, colonialists, scientists, and soldiers join forces in the ultimate confrontation.

Kris Longknife is a sympathetic, strong female protagonist who keeps being forced into military space battles when she’d rather seek peace. But with her brilliant strategic mind, she’s best suited to lead her people toward victory. I’m eager for the next installment.

A Cup of Jo by Sandra Balzo (Mystery)
The grand opening of Maggy Thorsen’s coffee shop by a train station is proceeding according to plan, until the event organizer is found dead inside an inflatable coffee cup. Suspects abound, from the woman’s husband to various acquaintances, most of whom have motives. When her boyfriend’s integrity is called into question, Maggy decides to do some investigating of her own. A solid mystery, a cast of quirky characters, and a savory setting make this a pleasant whodunit to add to your shelves.

Killer Transaction by Catherine Bruns (Mystery)
Real estate agent Cindy York has the job from hell. She’s consistently cheated by rival Realtor, Tiffany Roberts. Tiffany steals her listings and woos her clients while their boss looks the other way. Being cheated one time too many, Cindy leaves a nasty message on Tiffany’s voice mail. This comes back to haunt her when she discovers the woman’s dead body. The police focus on Cindy as the main suspect. With her job in jeopardy and being a hairsbreadth away from serving jail time, can Cindy find the culprit and clear her name?

Smuggler’s Dilemma by Jamie McFarlane (Science Fiction)
In Book 5 of the Privateer Tales, Captain Liam Hoffen and company are hired to locate a battleship operated by the deadly pirates known as Red Houzi. The pirate fleet has just decimated a naval force, and the Navy must regain control so people don’t panic. Liam’s unorthodox tactics are the only thing that might help them gain the upper hand. But when Liam spies the enemy ship, he decides that rather than call in the Navy as he’d been ordered, he’ll attack the vessel and take it over instead. Meanwhile, he struggles with his girlfriend’s recovery from disabling injuries. Can she manage well enough to come along as his pilot? This story contains the usual battle scenes, along with personal interactions that develop the characters.

Mercy’s Prince by Katy Huth Jones (Fantasy)
Valerian is second in line to the throne until his brother is killed in battle. Now the Crown Prince, Valerian must live up to his father’s expectations and become a warrior. While he’s struggling with his fate, Mercy lives in a nearby village and has to discover her destiny. Aware only recently of her healing power, she has no idea how extensive her gifts are until forced to use them. When Valerian and Mercy meet, they slowly realize they belong together. United, they can defeat the enemy. But how long will the peace last before the fearful soldiers come back stronger? Dragons, mind melds, magic, and romance blend together in this coming-of-age tale. Mercy’s Prince is a pleasant escapist read.

The Savants by Patrick Kendrick (YA SciFi Thriller)
The Eastern seaboard of the U.S. is imperiled when a nuclear bomb explodes underwater off the coast, triggering a fault line to crack apart. A gigantic tsunami will flood a number of states unless the President can find a solution. He discovers unlikely help at a research institute for savants, individuals who’ve suffered brain damage but are gifted in unique ways. Working together for the first time, these young people believe they can help. But their leader, who has brought them there to study the group’s dynamics, hides a secret of his own. Much worse is the secret guarded by the Vice President, who sows the seeds of distrust in our government. Can disaster be averted and the traitors in our midst exposed in time to save the world? Scientific theories collide with political intrigue in this fast-paced thriller. Kudos to Mr. Kendrick for educating us about savants and their special talents.

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen (Historical Mystery)
This installment in the Royal Spyness series is the best yet. A trip to America for Lady Georgiana, distant cousin to the royal family, provides laughs with its fish-out-of-water theme. Add to this a wacky cast of film stars, an eccentric producer, and a jewel thief, and the fun accelerates. Georgiana’s suitor, the mysterious Mr. Darcy, appears when the crew congregates at a glitzy Hollywood mansion. He’s after the jewel thief, but then someone turns up dead. As the puzzle deepens, Georgiana wonders which one of her new friends is the culprit.

G-2 (The Guardian of Earth Series) by Nigel Carson (Science Fiction)
When Zeke discovers a hostile alien fleet is headed to Earth, he is determined to stop them. His role as Guardian of Earth and descendant of a faraway race is a secret. He trusts no one for help, including his robot valet, Forman. It’s a good thing, since Forman’s creator has tampered with his programming. She’s put a locator inside him, and this becomes useful as Zeke and Forman are compromised by the Maleem invaders. Zeke has a narrow escape aided by his girlfriend, Jessie. Could they use the way she freed him as a means to repel the alien force? Why is it that humans are disappearing around the globe? As more world leaders succumb to the Maleem mind link via a mysterious necklace, Zeke consults his Taman relatives for answers. How can he defeat an ingenious enemy who is seemingly unstoppable? They tell Zeke that he needs to have faith in his own powers and the help of others who believe in him. Can he use his newfound heritage to protect the planet? Filled with action, adventure, and suspense, this story will take you on a ride that’s out of this world. The secondary characters are memorable and unique. An exciting, edge-of-your-seat read!

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Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Setting Goals

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 4, 2016

Happy New Year! It’s time to look forward to what we hope to accomplish in the coming months. Every year, I set goals and separate them into the creative and business aspects of writing. So here are my goals for 2016.

You’ll note there’s only one new book in the mix. I still need several months to finish this story and polish it before submission. Then I plan to continue revising my backlist titles and get them into audio. I’ll have a big learning curve involved with the audio process using ACX. I have to learn how to attract a narrator, what qualities to look for in choosing one, how to evaluate each chapter as it’s done in audio, and where to promote audio books. This process is apt to take quite a few months, at least for the first time until I know what I’m doing.

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I’ll also have a steep learning curve if I decide to bundle my first three revised backlist titles into a box set. This involves cover design, formatting, scheduling, pricing, and promotion. It promises to be a time-consuming venture should I go this route, but it could be a bonus for readers. What do you think? Is this something that might interest you?

Plus, I need to spend more time on exercise in 2016 and less time in the chair. That’s a prime goal for the new year. So here’s a glimpse of what’s on my list.

Goals

 

WRITING GOALS

Finish and Submit Hair Brained, #14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Publish Author’s Edition of Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Commence audio book process via ACX, starting with Permed to Death.
Revise backlist mystery titles Highlights to Heaven, Died Blonde and Dead Roots.
Learn how to write short fiction.

BUSINESS GOALS

Enter Peril by Ponytail in writing contests.
Learn about box sets. Consider bundling books 1-3 as a special offer.
Hold launch parties for each backlist Author’s Edition and audios.
Plan promo campaign for Facials Can Be Fatal to be released Feb. 2017.
Keep up with quarterly newsletter, blogs and social media.

Have you set your objectives yet for 2016?

Contest!
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Posted in Business of Writing, Marketing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

 
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