Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for February, 2016

Writers Conference Prep

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 24, 2016

This weekend is SleuthFest and Left Coast Crime. Writers’ conferences require advance preparation, especially if you’ll be speaking on a panel or giving a workshop. Aside from determining your particular goals—i.e. attending specialized craft sessions, learning about new publishing options, meeting editors, making new author friends, greeting fans—there’s the physical prep. Here’s a checklist of things to consider.

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  1. Prepare for your talks. If you’re a panelist, it can be easier because you might not have to do much prep other than jotting down some notes about the points you want to get across. Moderator-run panels in general mean more work for the moderator but less work for the panel guests, unless you are each expected to present your material for xx minutes.
  2. If you are conducting a workshop on your own, you’ll need to compose or update your material and get copies made of handouts.
  3. If you’re speaking on different topics, assemble each handout in a separate manila envelope to keep them organized.
  4. Order business cards unless you have them already. Consider updating them with QR codes or with your social network URLs.
  5. Design, order, and pack brochures, bookmarks, and/or postcards about your books. Bring along display containers so they don’t get strewn across the tables.
  6. Design, order, and pack swag for the promo tables or goody room. These are items such as magnets, pens, door hangers, candy, and other giveaways.
  7. If you are driving, toss a box of extra books into your trunk in case the on-site bookseller doesn’t get your books in time or is unable to obtain copies of a particular title.
  8. Bring a checkbook in case the bookseller offers to sell you leftover stock at a discounted price.
  9. Pack a book or two to display at your presentations and panels.
  10. Bring a copy of your receipts showing your registration and any other special paid events.
  11. If you’re donating a raffle basket, either get your materials to the coordinator ahead of time or bring the basket prepared and ready to go.
  12. Bring a signup sheet for your newsletter to put out at signings.
  13. Print out the conference workshop schedule and highlight your appearances. List these on your website and other online sites and include these papers in your suitcase.
  14. Bring a highlighter along so you can go through the conference schedule and mark sessions you want to attend.
  15. Print out contact info for friends you want to meet at the conference.
  16. Decide which outfits to wear to the different events. Business attire for daytime, dressier clothes for evening? Don’t forget matching accessories.
  17. Determine what gadgets to bring along: iPad or Laptop? Kindle or Nook? Camera to take photos for your blog? Charging devices?
  18. Pack a notebook to take notes. Later, write blogs about the sessions you attended to share your knowledge.
  19. Include Sharpie pens for signing books and ballpoint pens for note taking.
  20. If you belong to a professional writing organization, bring along chapter brochures to hand out to potential members.

And the countdown begins. What else would you add to this list?

I’ll be at SleuthFest for the next few days, so there will be a brief hiatus here while I take notes and photos to share with you later.

 

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

Green Cay Nature Center

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 22, 2016

We spent a lovely day on Saturday enjoying the serenity of nature at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach. Besides a boardwalk offering a couple of trails over the wetlands, there’s a science center with exhibits and a tiny gift shop.

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The weather was perfect for a trek, in the seventies with cloudy skies that kept the heat away. It attracted the birds, however, because we saw many varieties.

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What thrilled us was catching a glimpse of an alligator swimming along. It’s rare to see one moving like this, so we stared transfixed. See it moving on my Facebook page.

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Here’s another one sunning on a patch of higher ground.

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The trees and vegetation were lovely and relaxing to our urban-glazed gaze. We strolled along, soaking in the bird sounds and enjoying the slight breeze.

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It pays to seek nature once in a while, forcing you to remember the days when electricity wasn’t abundant and people had to live off the land. You gain a renewed appreciation for all that civilization has given us, minus the ugly side of human nature. Here in this oasis, all is at peace and harmony. And so, peace be with you, my friends. Where do you go to seek tranquility?

Our walk made us hungry, so we headed to Seasons 52 for lunch. I’d say we enjoyed ourselves, yes?

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Creatures and Story Creation

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 8, 2016

Writers can spin stories out of thin air. Yes, it’s true. We grab ideas out of the effluvia around us. Soon we’re building a novel. The characters gel, and the setting takes on detail. And then we’re off, pounding at the keyboard, the fervor of creation keeping us in its grip.

Let me give you a demonstration.

The other day, my husband and I enjoyed a sunny afternoon at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray. Florida may have changeable weather in the winter, but we have no snow, sunny skies, and colorful flowers.

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Birds fly down here in the colder months to share space with ducks and turtles that grace our neighborhoods.

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We also have a variety of critters we’d rather not meet up close and personal. Witness this guy we observed during our visit to Morikami.

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Here he is enjoying a meal. Thank goodness iguanas eat plants and not people.

 

Places like Morikami remind me of why I became a writer. When I sit on a bench and gaze at a lake or tread upon dead leaves through the forest, I let my imagination soar to other worlds. And so here we go with an example of how easy it is for a writer to start a story under any circumstances. We are walking along a wooded trail surrounded by tall trees and leafy foliage.

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Mystery: I’m a tour guide/curator/director leading a group through a botanical garden. Our continued funding depends upon the success of this excursion as does my job security. All is going well until one of our party goes missing and later turns up dead…murdered. Whodunit? Is it the real estate magnate who covets the property to turn into condos? The chief curator at a rival attraction? A meandering spouse who saw the tour as a good opportunity to make his partner disappear? A politician whose stance on public safety will lift his status on the campaign trail? The mystery deepens as I begin my investigation and learn that each person in the group has a secret to hide.

Romance: I’m sitting on the park bench when a cute guy sits beside me. He wears a camera with a big lens around his neck. With a sexy grin, he peers over my shoulder and asks what I am sketching. We get to talking. I love the dimples that crease his cheeks when he smiles. But I’m dismayed when he tells me he’s the photographer assigned to the article I’m writing. Oh, no. How will I keep my professional distance when all I can think about is jumping his bones?

Horror: Patrons have vanished from the trail around the lake. Other guests have reported hearing strange noises in the brush and glimpsing a reptilian tail. But my friends think it’ll be a hoot to stay here overnight. We’re all drinking and having fun after dark until Ada is pulled screaming into a clump of trees. No one sees what grabbed her, but she’s totally gone except for the blood. We pack to leave and go to call for help, but our cell phones have no service and the road is closed due to flooding ahead. We’re trapped there….

Science Fiction: With my laser weapon strapped to my hip, I patrol the woods. My acute sense of smell tells me the creature is near. Anticipating the bounty for my catch, I track its life form on my portable viewer. My client will pay a bonus if I capture the specimen alive. All I have to do is net the prickly ardtrunk and transport us both to my flier.

Fantasy: I halted at the Japanese rock garden, admiring the combed gravel. At the far end, a pair of white stone statues guarded the display of Bonsai plants. A sense of peace washed over me as I stared at the small, glittering stones on the ground. They’d been raked recently, with a spiral pattern leading one into the other like a miniature maze. I’d been drawn to this place, never realizing the oasis sat just outside the city beyond the Fae Woodlands. I glanced to my right, where the air under a painted red archway seemed to shimmer. My heart raced as I approached. I could no more stop my feet from stepping across the threshold than I could stop my breathing. And that’s when the world tilted….

YA Fantasy: Oh Gawd, why’d my parents have to bring me to this boring place? They might enjoy the trees and plants, but nature isn’t my thing. Give me my cell phone and a Diet Coke, and I’m a happy sixteen-year-old. I took out my cell phone to text Marlene and tell her what Randy had said to me in math class, but the dang thing wouldn’t connect. “Hey, Ma,” I yelled, glancing up. “When are we leaving already?” Oh great, I couldn’t see my folks anywhere in this freakin’ garden. They must have gone up ahead. Wait, that hedge hadn’t been there a moment ago. And where did that weirdo come from? The short little guy stood staring at me as though I had come from Mars.

Isn’t this fun? Which story do you like?

As you can see, storytelling is in my blood. I can’t stop playing the “What If?” game. Where do you go for inspiration?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 98 Comments »

10 Mistakes for Beginning Writers to Avoid

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 2, 2016

It’s annoying, when I’m judging a writing contest or reading a self-published book, to find common mistakes that could be avoided with editorial help. Unfortunately, many beginning writers don’t even realize they need assistance. They’ll ask a friend or an inexperienced critique partner or a local English teacher to proofread their work, and the result is considered ready for publication. Think again. If you write fiction, you want an expert in the genre to edit your work and not the local journalist who has published nonfiction or the lit professor mired in academia.This post doesn’t apply to indie authors who know the ropes and have an expert eye screen their story.

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Revise and polish your work as best you can before submission, whether to a writers contest or a publishing house or even to an editor you might hire. Here are ten common mistakes to avoid.

1. Create an Identifiable Main Character

Get us into the action right away with a sympathetic viewpoint character. Put us in her head and show us the world from her unique viewpoint. Make sure we can identify with this character throughout the story, so stay in her head as much as possible. Even when you use multiple viewpoints, we want to root for the hero.

2. Make Your Characters Likeable

Remember to address your character’s goals, motivation, and conflict. What does your character want? If she wanders aimlessly through life with no particular goals, that makes me as a reader less interested in her. Give me a reason why she behaves that way. Maybe she lacks confidence because of a past event. Maybe she’s afraid of failure. Knowing this will make the reader become more engaged with her. Give her redeemable qualities so we’ll like certain aspects of this person. If not, the reader won’t care, and that’s the death knell to your story. This also applies to the anti-hero. What makes him redeemable? Why should I, the reader, care about him? By balancing action with reaction, you’ll motivate your characters and make them more believable. For every action, you need a reaction. Don’t focus on plot to the exclusion of emotion. Make me care about your characters’ lives.

3. Avoid Bouncing Heads

Don’t switch viewpoints in mid-scene. If you must switch viewpoints, use a space break. Don’t leap into the head of every minor character. We cannot know a person’s thoughts unless we’re in their mind. You have to infer what the other person is thinking through non-verbal cues or dialogue. It becomes very disconcerting when every character we meet has an internal dialogue. Then the story loses focus. Stay in one character’s head. When you switch, indicate it with a space break.

4. Establish the Setting Up Front

As soon as possible into the story, establish the place, season, and time of day. Remember your five senses of Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Try to work these into the opening pages. Examples: Crickets chirped their nightly summer chorus, or late afternoon sunlight glinted off an icicle hanging from the roof. Also, don’t mention a street name or landmark and assume the reader knows where this place is. Be specific and give a location. Use the five senses to bring your settings alive, but remember to describe them from your viewpoint character’s perspective.

5. Watch Your Use of Bad Language

The occasional curse word may be acceptable for a hero who’s a hardass or for a heroine in the urban fantasy genre, but elsewhere it may raise a reader’s hackles. It can also turn off some readers completely, so this language should be sprinkled in judiciously, if at all. Add it only if it helps to define a character, not because you believe it makes your protagonist seem tough. Ask yourself: Is this necessary? If not, leave it out. Or deploy a substitute, like “frak” on Battlestar Galactica. Remember the old adage: Less is better, especially if you want to expand your readership.

6. Show, Don’t Tell

To keep the pace flowing, use dialogue and action and minimal exposition. If you have long passages where nothing happens except the protagonist thinks to herself or explains what happened in the past, the story comes to a dead halt. You want to imbue a sense of immediacy to your story, and that won’t happen unless you involve the reader. Long meandering passages of narration may have been acceptable centuries ago, but that doesn’t work today. Show us what’s happening; don’t tell us.

7. Avoid Flashbacks Like the Plague (and don’t use clichés, either)

The first chapter is your only chance to grab the reader so she’ll continue your story. If you segue into a flashback, the forward momentum is lost. Who cares what happened in the past? Throw in a line or two of dialogue or introspection to show us how the past is relevant to the current action, and then move on. Or make it part of the story action, such as a confrontation with a friend or a hesitation on the part of the main character to perform some act. Work backstory into your chapter with minimal intrusion. Flashbacks, too, will kill pacing, so remove those long passages that reflect past scenes and not the present. Only retain what is necessary to explain the current action.

8. Every Conversation Should Have a Purpose

When I suggest you use dialogue generously, I don’t mean that two friends should get together and chat meaninglessly on matters that don’t move the story forward. Dialogue must serve a purpose: to reveal information, define character, move the plot ahead, offer reaction and reflection on what’s just occurred. So ask yourself as you approach a conversation, what do you want to get across in this segment? If you don’t have a point to make, delete the scene.

9. Use Character Tags Sparingly

Try to replace “he said” or “she said” with actions. Avoid adverbs and show the tone of the conversation in dialogue instead. Don’t use “he thought” or “he wondered” if you are in the character’s head. Do use italics for inner thoughts.

Bad Example:

“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” he said in an angry voice.

You’re telling me to mind my business? she thought. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer,” she replied. “You’re the one who should watch your back.”

“Oh, yeah?” he sneered nastily. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Better Example:

“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.” He towered over me, as though his superior height could intimidate me into behaving.

You’re telling me to mind my own business? You’re the one who should watch your back. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer.”

“Oh, yeah?” He jabbed his finger in the air. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

10. Proofread Your Work

Would you enjoy reading a book riddled with spelling errors or misplaced commas? No? Then why send one to a contest where mechanics are judged? Proofread your work for typos, dropped quotation marks, missing periods, and misspellings. Same goes for your work before you indie publish it. Get beta readers to help if you can, and definitely hire both a developmental and a copy editor. You want your work to appear professional, not only out of respect for your readers but also for your future career as an author. If the goal is to increase your readership, you’ll strive to publish a polished product so readers will want more.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Living with a Writer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 1, 2016

My husband and I took a walk on Saturday, since we finally had a break from the rain and cold weather in South Florida.

Plantation Preserve

Our conversation went something like this:

“I finally figured out the murder weapon,” I said. “Now I just have to determine whodunit.”

“Oh, and I thought you were looking at knives on the computer to use on me.”

“No, I found the perfect blade with a special handle. It’ll help lead to the killer’s identity. But I’m not sure how I’ll get there. I have to eliminate each suspect one-by-one to reveal the bad guy.”

“I don’t know how you can do all that. It would give me a headache.”

“Me, too. I haven’t figured out what Marla will do next. Her stepdaughter just had an emergency. We have to get past that, and then….”

And so on. You get the idea. Our imaginations are always active. I tend to zone out at times and have to remind myself to live in the moment. But it’s hard when you’re in the middle of writing a novel to stop thinking about it. We need the momentum to keep going, until the final page where we can write The End. Then it’s like a great burden lifts off our brains…at least until we start revisions.

 

Marla

 

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

 
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