Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Archive for November, 2016

Celebrity Equinox – The Food, Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2016

Day Three found us at Murano, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Celebrity Equinox cruise ship. We had exquisite service in elegant surroundings. Our meal began with a complimentary fried scallop. Next I had a crab and smoked salmon parfait with salmon caviar. We chose Chateaubriand for two which the waiter carved tableside. It came with fingerling potatoes and asparagus. For dessert, I had the chocolate soufflé.

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On another day, we attended the complimentary wine tasting for Elite members that came with four glasses and breadsticks. The complimentary tea party had waiters circulating with a selection of open sandwiches with smoked salmon, shrimp, egg salad, and ham. Then desserts followed. After the rum cake, I couldn’t even eat a scone.

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And so ended our journey, with us boarding as passengers and rolling off as cargo. With the holidays upon us, it’ll be a while before I lose these extra pounds. And then we’re likely to be on board our next cruise and starting all over again.

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Celebrity Equinox – The Food, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 29, 2016

The Oceanview Café’s breakfast buffet had stations for omelets or eggs made to order, toast including bagels and English muffins, rolls, Danish, croissants, muffins, yogurt, berry medley, cereal, whole or cut fruits, scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese. English breakfast. Asian breakfast. American breakfast. Bacon, ham, sausages. Smoked salmon. Herring. Roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables. Grilled zucchini, sautéed mushrooms, Eggs Benedict. Hungry yet? Our only complaint is that the buffet opens at 7. If you’re an early riser, you can only get fruit and yogurt before then. It would have been nice to have pastries available earlier.

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Lunch could be taken at the outdoor grill with burgers or hot dogs and French fries, at the very small spa café by the solarium pool on Deck 12, where some items cost extra; in the formal dining room, or at the Oceanview Café. Here you had a choice of freshly carved meats, deli meats, sandwiches made to order, various salads, salad bar, hot dishes, Asian foods (we particularly liked the vegetable fried rice), Indian foods, British foods, soups and breads, pizza and garlic toast, pasta, and an array of tempting desserts including an ice cream bar. Free drinks included lemonade, iced tea, a fruity drink, water, and hot beverages at a coffee station. The Lavazza coffee served throughout the cruise was very good. Real half-and-half was available in urns along with milk. Inside the ship, you can get free desserts at the coffee lounge but no free sandwiches or appetizers like on other cruise lines. I missed having this extra choice. For a ship of this size, free dining choices are limited.

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Dinner on Day one for me was Shrimp Louie with Avocado, a Chicken Egg Roll, Caesar Salad. Prime ribs came with buttered French green beans and mashed potatoes. The portions of all the meals were generous. For dessert, I had apple pie a la mode. Dinner Two was a shrimp cocktail, braised lamb shank with broccoli, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Other meals included braised beef short ribs, vegetable Wellington, lobster with butter sauce. The salads at dinner were varied each night, like kale with roasted walnuts, dried cherries, and diced butternut squash. The French onion soup, available each night as an appetizer along with shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad, looked delicious but would have been a whole meal for me. My mouth waters at the thought, and now I want a crock of hot onion soup with melted cheese on top. I miss these scrumptious meals.

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Celebrity Equinox

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 23, 2016

Celebrity Equinox Cruise Part 1: The Ship 

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Celebrity Equinox is a beautiful ship. She seems relatively new with a clean look and modern furnishings. As usual on Celebrity, we were greeted on board with a welcome glass of champagne. After dining at the buffet lunch in the Oceanview Café on Deck 14, we made our way to our cabin on Deck 8. Located in the center near the stairs and elevator, it was closer to the aft side than forward. We unpacked, finding all the cubbyholes and shelves to put away our things. The bathroom was the best ever on any ship we’ve encountered. It had adequate counter space, enough storage, extra toilet paper and tissues. And the shower was the best. Plenty of room to move with a soap dish, bar soap, and even a thick steel rod to rest my foot on when I shaved my legs. Lotion, shampoo, more bar soap, and conditioner were other amenities along with robes for each of us. The shower head was forceful enough and the hot water was nearly instantly available. Amenities also included small glasses for our toothbrushes.

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Our room had a desk, a flat-screen TV above a console with drawers, and an enormously long couch where another person could easily have slept. Our balcony let out from sliding glass doors, and even this was a generous space with two chairs and a small table. The drapes folded over each other so no light shone through at night, and no peephole in the door also ensured a dark interior. The bedding was soft and the pillows comfortable. The safe was large enough to hold my iPad, and the room also came with a stocked fridge. Cabin service was excellent, and we still got chocolates on our pillows each night although no towel art on this cruise.

We explored the 15 decks before the lifeboat drill that was held without life jackets in a lounge or dining room, depending on your muster station. Then it was time for dinner. We skipped the first night’s show since it was a juggler, and that’s my least favorite entertainment. All the other shows were great and varied between the ship’s singers, dancers, and acrobats to a ventriloquist and a variety of solo singers.

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Deck 15 has a grassy lawn area where you can sit and watch the view, or observe a Hot Glass Show during the voyage. Deck 14 has the Oceanview Café and the outdoor grill. Overlooking the pool below are many lounge chairs, some undercover to provide shade. This ship had more shaded seating spots than I remember from other cruise lines. Even the pool areas on Deck 12 had wide overhangs to protect the lounge chairs. If you got too humid, you could sit in the solarium with its covered glass roof and air-conditioning. On Deck 5 by the life boats are a few scattered chairs on an outside deck but not many, and you can’t walk all the way around the ship there.

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The shops inside the ship did not have merchandise that appealed to us. It was one of the poorest selections that we’ve noted, at least for our tastes. Not even the costume jewelry attracted me except for their occasional sales. These were held in a crowded corridor instead of a lounge like other ships. They had the usual souvenir logo items, resort wear, hats, liquor, fine jewelry. All seemed pricey.

In the evening, musicians played in the central atrium on deck three. This was generic-sounding except for a cello player. A small dance floor here sufficed since there wasn’t anywhere else to hear dance music except after 10pm in the Sky Lounge. This is a shortcoming of this ship that has limited lounges with dance floors. There’s a Gastropub that serves small plates and beer; another lounge with occasional piano music; a Martini bar. But nowhere else with a dance floor. The Sky Lounge forward on Deck 14 was a favorite place of mine for quiet daytime sea views and for the evening cocktails for Elite members. But it would have been nice if they’d had dance music here earlier instead of the atrium where you’re in view of people several decks high. That’s not very private. Regarding the music, these same bands played by the pool. We like Caribbean music when cruising and sitting outside, and this group played the same generic tunes you get on the radio. But overall, we loved the ship, the relaxed environment (few kids running around) and the excellent service.

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Hair Raiser Audiobook

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 21, 2016

Hair Raiser Audiobook, book #2 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, is now available on Audible and iTunes. Narrated by the talented Mary Ann Jacobs from Voice Over Visions.

Hair Raiser Audiobook

When South Florida hairstylist Marla Shore takes charge of a fundraiser for a coastal preservation society, she has to comb through a knot of suspects to determine who’s sabotaging their gala event. Participating chefs are dropping off the roster like hot rollers. It’s only through a series of hair-raising exploits that Marla can tease the truth from a tangle of suspects. Too late to stop a murder, she must salvage the grand affair before she’s moussed into oblivion.

If you haven’t tried audiobooks, here are some good reasons to check them out:
• A story can come to life in a new way when read by a professional narrator.
• You can listen while working out, driving, or doing chores around the house.
• If you have trouble reading due to vision problems, you can listen to a story instead.
• If you buy the ebook along with the audiobook, you can switch devices using Whispersync and never lose your place.

How to listen to audiobooks on your phone, Kindle, tablet and computer: https://www.audible.com/mt/Apps

Listen to this sample from Hair Raiser: https://soundcloud.com/mysterygal/hair-raiser

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End of Chapter Hooks

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 2, 2016

Creating a hook at the end of a chapter encourages readers to turn the page to find out what happens next in your story. What works well are unexpected revelations, wherein an important plot point is offered or a secret exposed; cliffhanger situations in which your character is in physical danger; or a decision your character makes that affects story momentum. Also useful are promises of a sexual tryst, emotional aftermath of a love scene, arrival of an important secondary character, or a puzzling observation that leaves your reader wondering what it means.

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It’s important to stay in viewpoint. Otherwise, you’ll lose immediacy and this will throw your reader out of the story. For example, your heroine is shown in first person viewpoint placing a perfume atomizer into her purse while thinking to herself: “Before the day was done, I’d wish it had been a can of pepper spray instead.” What happens later on? This character is looking back from future events rather than experiencing the present. As a reader, you’ve lost the sense of timing that holds you to her viewpoint. You’re supposed to see what she sees and hear what she hears, so how can you observe what hasn’t yet come to pass? Thus you are tossed out of viewpoint while being forewarned things are going to get nasty.

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Foreshadowing is desirable because it heightens tension, but it can be done using more subtle techniques. Here’s another out-of-body experience: “If I knew what was going to happen, I’d never have walked through that door.” Who is telling us this? The Author, that’s who. Certainly not your character, or she’d heed her own advice. Who else but the author is hovering up in the air observing your heroine and pulling her strings? Same goes for these examples:

“I never dreamed that just around the corner, death waited in the wings.” Who can see around this corner if not your viewpoint character? YOU, the author!

“Watching our favorite TV program instead of the news, we missed the story about a vandalized restaurant.” If the characters missed the story, who saw it?

“I felt badly about the unknown victim, but it had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought.” He’s speaking again from the future looking back.

“I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.” Ditto to above.

“I was so intent on watching the doorway, I didn’t see the tall figure slink around the corner.” Then who did spot the tall figure? You got it–the author.

Although these examples are given in first person, the same principles apply to third person limited viewpoint. Your reader is inside that character’s skin. She shouldn’t be able to see/hear/feel beyond your heroine’s sensory perceptions. By dropping hints about future events, you’re losing the reader’s rapt attention. Avoid author intrusion by sticking to the present. End your chapter with a hook that stays in viewpoint.

Here are some examples from Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries:

“This was her chance to finally bury the mistake she’d made years ago. Gritting her teeth, she pulled onto the main road and headed east.” (Important Decision)

“There’s something you should know. He had every reason to want my mother dead.” (Revelation)

“Her heart pounding against her ribs, she grabbed her purse and dashed out of her townhouse. Time was of the essence. If she was right, Bertha was destined to have company in her grave.” (Character in Jeopardy)

“Her heart heavy, she crawled into her car. Until this case was solved, she couldn’t call anyone her friend.” (Aftermath of emotional scene)

[Heroine has been poisoned] “She allowed oblivion to sweep her into its comforting depths.” (Physical Danger)

“Todd Kravitz, the old lady’s son. Don’t you remember? He was the male model who posed with you for those sexy shots.” (Secret Exposed)

The same techniques apply to romance novels as well as mysteries. Ending a chapter with a confrontation between the hero and heroine will make the reader turn the page, especially if you’ve presented only one character’s reaction. Anticipation rises for the other person’s response. How will this event change their relationship? In addition to emotional turning points, escalating sexual tension will keep your reader eagerly flipping pages.

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Decisions that have risky consequences can also be effective. For example, your heroine decides to visit her boyfriend’s aunt against his wishes. She risks losing his affection but believes what she’s doing is right. Suspense heightens as the reader waits to see if the hero misinterprets her action. Or have the hero in a thriller make a dangerous choice that puts someone he cares about in jeopardy no matter what he does. What are the consequences? End of chapter. Readers must keep going to find out what happens next.

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To summarize, here’s a list of chapter endings that will spur your reader to keep the night light burning:

1. Decision
2. Danger
3. Revelation
4. Secondary character’s unexpected arrival
5. Emotional turning point
6. Sexual tension
7. Puzzle

Sprinkle the lucky seven judiciously into your story and hopefully one day you’ll be the happy recipient of a fan letter that says: “I stayed up all night to finish your book. I couldn’t put it down.” That’s music to a writer’s ears.

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