Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Archive for the ‘Excerpt’ Category

Trimmed to Death – Book Release Day

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 25, 2018

Happy Book Birthday to me! Today is the release day for Trimmed to Death, #15 in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.


TRIMMED TO DEATH eBook

Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla joins a scavenger hunt where people playing character roles are the targets. Instead of scoring points with a live person, she finds a dead body planted face-down in the strawberry field. Who would want to cut short the life of food magazine publisher and fellow bake-off contestant Francine Dodger? As she investigates, Marla learns there’s no shortage of suspects. A celebrity TV chef, food critic, olive oil importer, food truck owner, pastry chef, and cookbook author may be stirring up more than their next recipe. Can Marla unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!

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Launch Party

Excerpt

“Do you know anyone who might have wished to harm Ms. Dodger?” Dalton swayed slightly on his feet as he spoke.

Marla gave him a sharp glance. Was the incessant chanting getting to him, or was it the drink he’d ingested?

Colin tented his hands together in prayer formation. “Francine did sound excited about an article she’d been researching. ‘Now I’ll finally get my revenge’ are the exact words she said to me. But when I pressed her for details, she wouldn’t say more.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I can’t believe she’s gone. We were good together, and now…”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Marla told him in a soothing tone. “Is there anything else you can tell us that may be helpful? I’m sure you want to see justice done for Francine same as we do. Even something seemingly irrelevant might be important.”

“Her colleagues might have more information, especially the lady who took over her job. Maybe she orchestrated the whole thing to get a promotion.”

“I’ve interviewed them,” Dalton said, “and no one seemed to bear Francine any ill will that I noticed. As for the topic she’d been pursuing for her alleged exposé, she was keeping it a closely guarded secret, same as her relationship to you.”

As soon as those words left his mouth, Dalton’s legs folded. He sank to the ground in a sliver of lantern light that illuminated his senseless form.

Early Reviews 

“From fundraiser activity, culinary insights, and probes into Marla’s logic to recipes and romance which pepper the story line and embellish its twists and turns, readers who want a cozy mystery filled with atmosphere, intrigue, and adventure should settle a chair by the fire for a good evening’s read.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“This sweet cozy mystery has an interesting cast of characters along with plenty of suspects to thicken the plot.” FS Brown, InD’Tale Magazine

“Trimmed to Death is a solid cozy replete with olive facts, dogs, small town rivalries, entrepreneurship, and killer recipes. Another entertaining read from author Nancy J Cohen. She kept me guessing to the end!” Muddy Rose Reviews

Trimmed to Death
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-5-5, $4.99, Orange Grove Press
Print ISBN: 978-0-9985317-6-2, $14.99, Orange Grove Press
Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica

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Booksellers and Librarians: This title is available at Ingram.

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Trimmed to Death – Midwest Book Review

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 6, 2018

I am excited to share this review of Trimmed to Death from Midwest Book Review:

Trimmed to Death

Trimmed to Death is the 15th book in the cozy mystery ‘The Bad Hair Day’ series that profiles hairstylist/sleuth Marla Vail. One would think that, with such a long-standing series of adventures behind her, any newcomer to Marla’s world would at least need some degree of prior familiarity with the series, but no such expertise is required in order to delve into the world of South Florida and Marla’s endeavors to succeed.

In this latest story, Marla has entered a local charity bake-off contest at a Fall festival, and stumbles upon the dead body of fellow contestant Francine while she awaits the results. This sets off a chain of events in which Marla uncovers a host of food-related possible perps who each would have had a stake in Francine’s demise.

As Marla plans her own benefit to support a local historical museum, the threat of repeat deaths looms over her promotion plans for her salon and the community.

One reason why Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning cozy mystery author is that her stories are packed with personality, upbeat scenarios, and the solid pairing of a murder mystery with broader community entanglements. In this story, Marla isn’t just a sole proprietor operating independent of her world; she’s thoroughly connected to the community through her salon and work.

Descriptions are thus nicely crafted and filled with atmosphere and detail that bring Marla’s world to life, sometimes with a touch of ironic observation, as when she and her companion venture into an eclectic restaurant during the course of their investigations and have to confront a decidedly sophisticated menu that challenges their taste buds:

“I don’t see anything here that I like. You didn’t tell me the menu was this eclectic.”

Marla took a look. Crawfish cocktail, conch fritters, gator bites, deviled crabs. Those didn’t appeal to her, either. “How about the guacamole?” she asked in a less than enthusiastic tone. It wouldn’t be her appetizer of choice.

“The dip comes with pita bread. And what’s this pawpaw martini?” Dalton asked.

“Some kind of fruit drink, maybe? We could always get a salad to start.”

“That seems like the best bet. I wouldn’t want the sunray salad. That’s got oranges and onions and cream cheese balls. Ugh.”

As for the investigation itself, it’s filled with the kind of realistic flavor that cements the idea that Marla and her fellow partners in non-crime are not professionals, but informed amateurs:

Marla drew a stool over to the counter, sat on the vinyl seat, and unwrapped her sandwich. After taking a few bites, she said, “We have some promising leads, but nobody stands out as the main suspect.”

“Who do you have so far? In the mystery novel I just finished, the guilty party was the business partner.”

From fundraiser activity, culinary insights, and probes into Marla’s logic to recipes and romance which pepper the story line and embellish its twists and turns, readers who want a cozy mystery filled with atmosphere, intrigue, and adventure should settle a chair by the fire for a good evening’s read.

Trimmed to Death is a delicious story to savor primarily because the focus on Marla and her community is so realistically and compellingly done that readers will relish the final results and the path that leads Marla and her detective hubby Dalton to move from the concerns of the Cut ’N Dye Salon and Day Spa to probing Francine’s life and the motives of who would want to murder her.”

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-5-5, $4.99, Sept. 25, 2018, Orange Grove Press
Print ISBN: 978-0-9985317-6-2, $14.99, Sept. 25, 2018, Orange Grove Press

Pre-Order Your Copy Now:

Amazon Print: https://amzn.to/2xXmY57
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2Kb7oIK
iBooks: https://apple.co/2xWHSRP
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/trimmed-to-death
BN Nook: http://bit.ly/2sH9vcH
BN Print: http://bit.ly/2lEUhkB

Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/AHwKfK-vTIY
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40504820-trimmed-to-death

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Keeper of the Rings – Reissue

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 16, 2018

Keeper of the Rings, one of my earlier science fiction romances, is the book that taught me how to write a murder mystery. It was the fourth book I wrote for Dorchester in my early days as a romance writer. I’m happy to announce the reissue of a newly revised and yes, better written, edition. It’s the last romance I wrote before switching to mysteries and starting my Bad Hair Day series. So how did this book inspire me to write a straight mystery novel? First let’s see what the story is about.

Keeper of the Rings

A PRISM Awards Finalist

Story Blurb

Taurin is shrouded in black when Leena first meets him, his face shaded like the night. At first she believes him to be a simple farmer, but the man exhibits skills worthy of a warrior. With his commanding presence, he’s an obvious choice to be the lovely archaeologist’s protector on her quest for a stolen sacred artifact. Curious about his mysterious background, and increasingly tempted by his tantalizing touch, Leena prays their perilous journey will be a success. She must find the missing relic, or dangerous secrets will be revealed that may forever change her world.

Who stole the holy artifact? Only the members of the ruling priesthood, the twelve-member Synod, had access to the sacred closet where it was kept. Was it Zeroun, the stern Minister of Religion? Perhaps Karayan, Leena’s family friend and Minister of Justice, is involved. Or maybe Sirvat is guilty. The Minister of Finance has something to hide. So does everyone on this elite council, including the Arch Nome, Dikran.

Leena is assigned the perilous mission is to retrieve the artifact. She engages Taurin Rey Niris as her protector. Together, they journey on a desperate quest around the globe and deep beneath the ruins of a hidden temple. Meanwhile, Leena’s brother investigates the backgrounds of the ministers. He finds that each one of them has a secret to hide.

Sound familiar? An amateur sleuth investigating a murder follows a similar process.

Here’s an excerpt wherein Leena and Taurin discuss the suspects with her brother, Bendyk, and his lovely assistant, Swill. Oh, and be prepared for two love stories! This is a romance novel, after all. The spice level is hot.

Excerpt

“We’ll pretend to be new settlers when we go to Woden,” Leena explained. “Dikran is arranging for the proper documentation. Now tell me, have you and Swill made any progress?”

Swill answered, tugging at the long sleeves of her burgundy blouse. She’d tucked it into a black skirt that hugged her hips. “Magar makes regular entries in his receipt book. These deposits have no mention of the source. Sirvat transfers the money into the Treasury account. Her financial records are impeccable, but she takes trips every so often, returning with a new piece of jewelry each time. It’s odd, because normally she’s not one to adorn herself.”

“I’ll bet I know where she gets those pieces.” Leena related what they’d learned about Sirvat’s relationship to Grotus.

Bendyk shook his head. “She seems so strait-laced. It’s hard to believe she’d fall for a rogue like him.”

“Perhaps Sirvat hides a passionate nature. Now that I think about it, some of the items I saw in Grotus’s mansion are similar to pieces in Karayan’s house. The minister has quite an extensive art collection.”

“Are you implying he buys goods from Grotus?” Bendyk asked with a horrified expression.

“Not necessarily. They may simply share the same tastes, although Karayan is a much better dresser.”

Taurin snorted. “We’re not here to discuss anyone’s preference in art or clothes. Did you investigate Zeroun? As Minister of Religion, his department is responsible for administering the Black Lands. Someone there has granted illegal rights to the Chocola Company.”

“We’ll check into it,” Swill assured him. “We’ve cleared most of the other Synod members but weren’t sure about Sirvat’s trips or Magar’s secretive dealings in his trade commissions. I still feel he’s withholding information from us.”

“I’m more willing to trust Magar,” Taurin said. “It’s Zeroun who needs further investigation.”

They could easily be discussing suspects in a murder. We have a limited number of suspects, most of who know each other and have a secret to hide; an amateur sleuth; and a confined setting. It’s the prescription for a cozy mystery, albeit combined with a “quest” theme in the search for the missing horn. Mystery, adventure, romance and danger—what could be better?

What was my favorite part to write? I loved planning the booby traps in the secret temple and figuring out what was hidden there.

Praise for Keeper of the Rings

“A dark, dangerous hero and imaginative adventures make Keeper of the Rings an entertaining read.” Phoebe Conn, NY Times Bestselling Author

Keeper is a lot like Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone. A good mystery, action/adventure, sci‑fi, and romance all rolled into one.” Mary Saums, Author of the Thistle & Twigg Mysteries and the Willi Taft Series.

“Prepare yourself for exotic locales, evildoers galore, and two splendid romances! Ms. Cane’s done it again!” The Paperback Forum

“Fascinating! Nancy Cane combines the elements of science fiction and fantasy into a marvelous love story. Her books capture the imagination with their originality.” The Literary Times

“The spellbinding action gets more terrifying and enthralling as the uniquely different plot thickens. The conclusion is stunning!” Rendezvous

“Intense and fast, Keeper of the Rings has an absorbing and complex plot that expands over and over again. And like ripples in a pond the reverberations are felt throughout the book to the very explosive climax. 4-1/2 stars.” Affaire de Coeur

Buy Now

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2NTkzwg

Nook: http://bit.ly/2LfyQF1

iBooks: https://apple.co/2miwneM

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/keeper-of-the-rings-1

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/KeeperoftheRings

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Do you read archaeological thrillers? Or books like The Da Vinci Code? Perhaps you prefer movies like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft? Leave a comment below and you might win a signed first edition print copy of Silver Serenade published by The Wild Rose Press. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday.

Silver Serenade

 

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Hairball Hijinks – New Book Release

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 12, 2018

Hairball Hijinks: A Bad Hair Day Cozy Mystery Short Story, is now available in ebook format.

Hairball

Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-4-8, $0.99, Orange Grove Press

Hairstylist Marla Vail agrees to help find a neighbor’s lost cat and discovers a ransacked house where more than the pet is missing.

Savvy hairstylist and super sleuth Marla Vail visits her friend Tally who just got out of the hospital after a serious car accident. Marla has been caring for Tally’s baby and is sad but grateful to return him to his mother. She and Tally reconcile their friendship that had become estranged before the crash.

Happy to have her friend back, Marla is about to leave when a knock summons her to the door. It’s a distraught elderly neighbor who claims her cat is missing. Marla, unable to turn down a person in need, accompanies the lady home. But when Marla enters the house, she realizes much more is missing than a lost feline. The place has been ransacked, and when she calls the police, they inform her the neighborhood has been beset by a series of thefts. Can she find the crooks before they cause another cat’astrophe?

Bonus One: An interview with Marla
Bonus Two: 5 new recipes!
Bonus Three: A sneak preview of Trimmed to Death

Spoiler Alert! This story comes after Hair Brained, #14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. It contains spoilers so you might want to read that book first.

With special thanks to Lois Crockett for suggesting the story title.

Excerpt

Marla hastened to the front door. After a glance through the peephole, she opened the door to face an elderly woman with white hair.

“I heard you were taking care of Tally’s affairs after her accident, and I recognized your car in the driveway. You have to help me,” said the lady with a frantic expression.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“I’m one of Tally’s neighbors. I understand you’ve a reputation for solving crimes. Thanks to your efforts, the police discovered who hurt Tally and her husband. Poor thing to lose her man that way. Now my guy is missing. I can’t find Mr. Stanton anywhere.”

“What do you mean?” Did the woman really address her spouse in that formal manner?

“I went out on some errands. When I got back, he was gone. I don’t know how he could have slipped out of the house on his own.”

Marla gave her a sharp glance. She wanted to learn more, but Luke had quieted, and she didn’t dare risk waking the baby by asking this person inside. Besides, it wasn’t her house. She didn’t have that right.

However, Marla couldn’t turn the woman away. Her natural inclination was to help people, so she stepped outside and shut the door behind her. The first order of business was to determine if this lady was legit or a scam artist preying on folks in the community.

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TRIMMED TO DEATH is now available for Pre-Order. This title, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, will be released on Sept. 25, 2018.

Trimmed to Death

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Inconsistent Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2018

Revisions for our novels should include a complete read-through for repetitions and inconsistencies. What do we mean by the latter? You’ll want to take a look at your characters to see if they are behaving in a manner consistent with their personality. As a writer, this should be an essential part of your self-editing process. Below are some examples.

Inconsistent Characters

What’s wrong with this passage?

Dalton went for his gun, but Marla slapped his hand away. “Don’t risk it. You don’t know what we’re up against yet. And they won’t know you’re armed.”

Marla would never slap Dalton’s hand away. He’s a police officer. He knows his business. He’s allowed her to come along on a night mission, which she shouldn’t jeopardize this way.

Often it’s my critique group that catches these kinds of mistakes. In this case, I read those sentences and frowned. Wait a minute. Marla would never do this. I went back and changed it.

Ditto for Marla acting dumb. My editor has caught me on this one more than a few times. “Marla is too smart not to figure this out when everyone else knows what’s going on.” She isn’t acting in character when she’s too dense. Same goes for Dalton. Should he let Marla accompany him to interview suspects without protesting or finding an important reason for her to come along?

This also goes for mannerisms of speech. Your rough-around-the-edges hero isn’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, good heavens.” His dialogue should be consistent with his personality.

Here are more examples from my current work-in-progress. Marla and Dalton are talking about the victim.

“That would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away,” Dalton said.

“Do you truly believe another person did this to her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

My editor said, It’s obvious another person did this to her. Could the woman whack herself on the back of her head?

“This injury is indicative of a blow to the back of the head,” Dalton replied. “The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, though.”

Would he say this to Marla when the gash is evident? Not according to my editor, who wrote, “This is another dumb remark. Of course matted blood to the back of the head is “indicative” of a blow to the back of the head!!!”

I’m lucky my editor isn’t afraid to call the shots as she sees them. She’s always right. Here is my rewrite. See what you think:

“So that would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away.”

“Are you certain the blow is what killed her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

“That’s not for me to say, but it would be my best guess. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.”

We hope to catch these errors during the revision process. What we write during the heat of the story-making process doesn’t always pass muster when examined under the editorial microscope.

 

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Silver Serenade Reissue

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 9, 2018

I’m excited to announce the reissue of Silver Serenade. This science fiction romance was originally published by The Wild Rose Press. My newly revised edition has been updated with added bonus materials.

SilverLarge

A beautiful assassin and a desperate fugitive join forces to catch a terrorist and prevent a war between worlds.

Starship pilot Jace Vernon is forced to flee his home world after being framed for murder. He seeks justice, but a lovely S.I.N. agent gets in his way. Not only does she distract him with her silvery hair and violet eyes, but she counters his every move in the quest to clear his name. As he attempts to sway her to his cause, he doesn’t count on the personal consequences of success.

Rookie assassin Silver Malloy refuses to abort her deadly mission even if it means killing the one man Jace needs alive to prove his innocence. The leader of Tyrone’s Marauders murdered her family and ended her career. She’s dedicated her life to getting revenge, and now she finally has the chance. She won’t let a wanted criminal get in her path. But as Jace’s charms melt the barriers around her heart, she finds her resolve wavering. Can she help him win his case, even if it means failing her assignment and betraying her people?

Best Book 2010 in Romantic SciFi/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews

2010best2

Excerpt

The door buzzer sounded, indicating imminent departure. She swallowed, preparing for the gut-wrenching angle of ascent. At the last minute, the man in the black robe jumped from his seat and squeezed out the doors. He’d been so silent, she’d forgotten about him.

She slid over on the bench seat for more space. As the tram tilted into the air and zoomed toward the rooftops, something fell to the floor.

“Oh no, that guy forgot his package.” Silver moved to retrieve it, but she halted at Jace’s sudden intake of breath. She knew at once what he was thinking even before she felt the impact of his fear.

“Stop this thing,” she shouted. The sky tilted outside the windows as they careened to a new heading.

She credited Frok for quick thinking. He leapt up and yanked an overhead pulley. The sudden stop made them crash into each other.

“Quick, open the doors,” Jace urged.

With Frok’s assistance, he forced them wide enough to squeeze through while the tram hovered above a tall building.

“What’s wrong?” Kira asked, glancing at Silver for guidance.

“Bomb.” She couldn’t get another word past her dry throat. Nor could she explain to their newfound friends how she and Jace knew without a doubt they’d been set up. That Elusian had been waiting for them outside the Institute.

Jace stood aside to let the others pass. “We have to jump. Aim for that roof. We should be able to make it. Hurry.”

Silver tapped her utility belt. “I have a tensile line. Let me—” Her words died on her tongue as Jace snatched her and tossed her out the open door.

View the Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/QcX_OfHZg-c

“Get ready for an epic adventure, as vast as the universe in which it is set! With a touching love story, a great blend of humor, action and passion, and a great cast of characters, this is a book that won’t let you go until the very last page.” The Romance Reviews

Silver Serenade is an exciting, action-packed space adventure with more attention-grabbing twists and turns than a West Virginia highway. I loved it.” Two Lips Reviews

Silver Serenade

Silver Serenade by Nancy J. Cohen
Published by Orange Grove Press

Digital ISBN: 9780997003895
ASIN: B078JVBPMS
Cover design by Robin Ludwig Design Inc. www.gobookcoverdesign.com
Layout by www.formatting4U.com

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Glam Up for the New Year! January 9 – 29
Glam up for the new year with a crystal pendant from Effy. To celebrate the reissue of Silver Serenade, I have FIVE to give away. ENTER NOW. Color of stone may differ from what is shown in this picture. U.S. Residents only due to postal constraints.

Effy Necklace

Booklovers Bench, January 1 – 18
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The One Page Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2017

Your publisher requests a one-page synopsis. How do you condense an entire story into a single page? My normal synopsis runs fifteen pages on average. Here’s what I do for a traditional mystery.

Synopsis OnePage

First offer a tag line that sums up the plot. Here’s an example from Shear Murder:

A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.

The Setup

This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.

Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.

The Personal Motive

Why does your sleuth get involved?

At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. But when Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, Marla has no choice except to unmask the killer.

The Suspects

Give a brief profile of the suspects along with possible motives.

Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property together. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, has been trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband, Scott, will inherit his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was Torrie’s colleague at the magazine where she worked as well as the photographer at Jill’s wedding. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. Then [Suspect X] turns up dead.

The Big Reveal

The final paragraph is where the clues lead to the killer. If possible, include what insight the protagonist has gained. This last is important for emotional resonance so readers will be eager for the sequel to see what happens next to your heroine.

It appears Suspect Y did [Evil Deed]. Snooping into his background, Torrie learned that Suspect Alpha helped him [Do Something Bad]. Suspect Alpha murdered Torrie because she found out about [His Illegal Business], and then Suspect X because she’d discovered [fill in blank]. Marla reveals the killer and is free to enjoy her own wedding ceremony.

No, I’m not going to tell you who the killer is in Shear Murder. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But this gives you an idea how to write a one-page synopsis.

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15 Steps to Writing the Smart Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 28, 2017

Do you dread writing a synopsis? If so, get used to it, because this tool is essential to your career as a writer. Not only is a synopsis necessary for a book proposal, but the sales force at your publishing house may use it to design your cover or to plan marketing materials for your book.

Smart Synopsis

A synopsis is a complete narrative of your story told in present tense. A synopsis should include essential plot points plus your character’s emotional reactions. It can act as a writing guideline while not being so rigid that your story can’t change. When you finish the actual writing portion, you can return to the original synopsis and revise it to suit the finished storyline. So how should you proceed?

1. Consider adding a tag line (i.e. one liner story blurb) on your first page before the story begins.

2. Open with a hook.

3. Use action verbs. Your story should be engaging as you convey it to the reader.

4. Make sure the story flows in a logical manner from scene to scene. In a mystery, present the crime, the suspects, and their secrets. Then show how the sleuth uncovers their hidden agendas and unravels the clues.

5. Avoid backstory. Stick to present tense and keep moving the story forward. Enter background events in small doses via dialogue or interspersed with action, and only if it applies to the current situation. Less is better. And don’t reveal too much up front. It’s best to keep the reader guessing.

6. Leave out minor characters, physical descriptions unless applicable to the storyline, and subplots unless critical to the resolution of the main plot.

7. Avoid snippets of conversation, point-to-point description of your character’s every move, jumping from one place to another without any explanation, gratuitous sex, or threats on a character’s life unless they evolve from the story.

8. Include your character’s emotional reactions.

9. Stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint as you would in the story. Use transitions if you switch viewpoints. Be careful of too much head hopping in a synopsis.

10. Show your character’s internal struggle as well as her external conflict. What’s inhibiting her from making a commitment to the hero? What is causing her to doubt her abilities?

11. Include the emotional turning points. For any genre, tell us what’s at stake for the heroes. What will happen if they fail?

12. In a romance, make sure you cover the goals and motivation of your hero/heroine, how they first meet, their romantic conflict, what leads up to the first kiss, complications that keep them apart, what they admire in each other, the black moment, and the resolution. What makes these two people right for each other that no one else can provide?

13. If it’s the first book in a series, you might begin with a short profile of your main character(s). For a mystery, offer a few paragraphs about the sleuth. For a romance, write a paragraph each about your hero and heroine. What do they hope to accomplish? What is keeping them from reaching this goal? Why is it important to them?

14. Explain the ending. In a mystery, this means you tell whodunit and why. In a romance, it’ll be the resolution of the romantic conflict.

15. What lesson will your protagonist learn in this story? How will she grow and change?

MYSTERY EXAMPLE FROM FACIALS CAN BE FATAL (Bad Hair Day #13)

Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial.

Screams emanating from next door draw salon owner Marla Vail’s attention. She rushes into the adjacent day spa to see a crowd gathered in front of a treatment room. It appears Rosana Hernandez, an aesthetician, was doing a facial on her first morning client. She’d put on the woman’s chemical mask and left the room for ten minutes. Upon her return, Valerie Weston was dead.

Since the receptionist had enough presence of mind to call 911, Marla enters the treatment room to see if CPR will help. It’s too late. The woman has no pulse, and her skin is clammy. The greenish cream mask clings to her face.

The police arrive, along with Marla’s husband, Detective Dalton Vail. He takes charge of the scene and questions Rosana. The tearful beautician claims Val had been a long-time customer, and the only known problem she had was a latex allergy. Rosana was careful not to use latex gloves in her presence.

Marla, owner of the spa plus the salon, is upset about the negative publicity this incident will generate. She has applied to become an educator for Luxor Products, whom she’d worked for once at a beauty trade show. But there’s another person being considered for the job. A smear on Marla’s reputation would be detrimental. But she’s also concerned about Rosana and proving the aesthetician wasn’t at fault.

Marla has an additional problem during this December season, which should be full of happy holiday plans. One of her clients is suing her. The woman claims Marla left on her hair dye too long, and it burned her scalp. Marla contacts her insurance agent.

Doubts roil in her stomach, and they increase when lab tests confirm liquid latex had been added to Val’s face mask cream. Val died from anaphylactic shock. Rosana denies her involvement, and Marla believes her. So who else had access to the room, and why would someone target Val?

ROMANCE EXAMPLE FROM WARRIOR LORD (Drift Lords #3)

A fantasy wedding in Las Vegas turns into a nightmare when contest winner Erika Sherwood realizes she’s married an alien.

Erika has had one drink too many at the blackjack table in Las Vegas when a bearded man wearing a cape and sword drops into the seat next to her. While his strange garb doesn’t arouse her curiosity, his comment on her wristwatch does. A gift from her parents when she turned sixteen, the watch runs with no visible mechanism and no battery, and it has a peculiar symbol engraved on its face. Her nape prickles at the man’s interest but an announcement over the loudspeaker distracts her.

The casino is holding a contest for engaged couples to win fifty thousand dollars. The lucky winners will have a televised wedding and receive a new car, a stay in the honeymoon suite, and the cash.

Erika mutters how she could sure use those funds, and the mysterious stranger overhears. He leans toward her and makes a scandalous suggestion. Why not pretend they’re engaged and enter the contest? He needs a room in the Viking-themed resort, but the hotel is full.

Giddy from the free drinks offered by the staff, Erika accepts his proposition. She doesn’t think they’ll win, but hey, the competition will be fun and all contestants get bonus credits on their club cards.

When they actually win the contest, she goes through the rushed wedding ceremony in a mental fog. Magnor kisses her and something sparks between them. However, she balks when he suggests they stay together in the honeymoon suite. She already has a room at the resort. However, his rationale is valid. If the resort people discover their deception, she and Magnor might lose their prizes.

Soon she’s alone in a room with the tall stranger. She’s drawn to his brooding good looks and muscled form but is puzzled when he becomes taciturn at her attempts to draw him out.

Someone knocks on the door. It’s the official from the televised marriage. He wants Erika’s address so he can mail out the official marriage certificate. With a jolt of clarity, Erika realizes the ceremony was valid.

Quelling her panic, she considers that having an unexpected husband might suit her needs.

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I hope these examples make you curious to read on. How long should your synopsis be? Mine average around fifteen pages. Sometimes a publisher will ask for a one or two page synopsis which means you’ll have to encapsulate your story into a shorter form. Stay tuned for my next post on The One Page Synopsis.

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Stay in Viewpoint

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 13, 2017

As a beginning writer, I didn’t understand what it meant to stay in viewpoint. I was guilty of bouncing heads, or switching viewpoints within the same scene. This confuses readers because they become unsure of who is the main character. You should stay within one person’s head or else use a space break to delineate a change.

Books in the thriller genre often use multiple viewpoints, a technique that can work as long as there’s one clearly identifiable hero. If not, your reader isn’t going to care about any of the characters. Sure, you can catch their interest using bait and switch tactics. This means, you leave off each scene with one person in jeopardy before switching viewpoints with a space or chapter break. But get inside too many different heads, and the reader will cease to care. Maybe this is why I like single third-person or first person viewpoint in the mysteries I read. In a romance, it’s standard to alternate the hero and heroine’s viewpoint and sometimes this includes the villain as well. That’s okay as long as the character switch is well marked.

keeper

In revising Keeper of the Rings, one of my earlier romances that I wrote originally as Nancy Cane, I caught a perfect example of changing viewpoints in the same scene. Here’s an example:

[B’s viewpoint] Wellis, the village priest, had requested Bendyk’s presence. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.

“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith.” He squared his shoulders. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”

“That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit.” Wellis wagged his finger. “They’re afraid you’ll report to the Docent about their indiscretions.”

[W’s viewpoint] Pursing his lips, Wellis felt he should know his flock better than any representative from the central authority, such as Bendyk Worthington-Jax. He’d sent for help, realizing the situation could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? His own, of course. But the golden-haired missionary, despite his zeal, had found nothing amiss.

It wasn’t Bendyk’s fault, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution. The blasphemous talk circulating throughout the town was bound to bring dire repercussions. Wellis had hoped Bendyk would inspire a renewal of faith and, indeed, the service he’d conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.

Bendyk faced him across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. The young man quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”

Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll of ten percent on less the amount actually produced.”

Bendyk’s eyes darkened to a shade of indigo. “You mean this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”

Wellis leaned back in his chair, relishing the warm salty breeze blowing in from the open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.

His congregation enjoyed a simple life living off the bounty of the sea and their industries of ropemaking and small boat construction. No one had enough revenue to fuel an investigation, so he didn’t see any harm in telling Bendyk of the tax agent’s favoritism.

“It appeases people,” he said with a shrug. “There’s enough grumbling about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts.”

Bendyk scraped a hand through his short, wavy hair. “That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”

“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”

Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged his people fairly and considered their needs.”

[B’s viewpoint – we can’t see if our own eyes look shrewd] Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Cranby is an exception. Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”

[W’s viewpoint] “It is the work of the Truthsayers.” Bendyk’s jaw clenched. “They seek to undermine the Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”

Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”

I decided this scene should be told from Bendyk’s viewpoint since he’s a major player in the story. So here’s the new scene. See if it flows better and keeps your interest more.

Wellis, the village priest, had requested a private audience with him. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.

“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith,” he said. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”

Wellis wagged his finger. “That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit. They’re afraid you’ll report their indiscretions to the Docent.”

Bendyk tightened his lips. No doubt Wellis felt he knew his flock better than any representative from the central authority. But the priest had sent for help, realizing the situation there could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? Yet the blasphemous talk circulating through town wasn’t evident during Bendyk’s inspection. He wasn’t surprised, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution.

Wellis had hoped his arrival might inspire a renewal of faith. In truth, the service Bendyk had conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.

He faced the priest across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”

Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll on ten percent less than the amount actually produced.”

“You mean, this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”

Wellis leaned back in his chair, while a warm salty breeze swept in through open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.

“It appeases people,” Wellis said with a shrug. “I hear grumblings about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts. My people enjoy a simple life. They live off the bounty of the sea, plus their industries of rope-making and small boat building. No one earns enough revenue to warrant an investigation.”

“That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”

“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”

Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged people fairly and considered their needs.”

“Cranby is an exception.” Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”

“It is the work of Truthsayers. They want to undermine our Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”

Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”

You may have noticed that I polished up the prose as well. So what do you think? Were you better able to identify with Bendyk in the second sample?

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Hair Brained Book Release

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 12, 2017

Today is Release Day for Hair Brained (#14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries)!

HAIR BRAINED ebook

Digital ISBN 13: 978-0-9970038-7-1
Print ISBN 13: 978-0-9970038-8-8
Published by Orange Grove Press

Book Launch Party tonight at 7:00 – 8:30 pm EDT. Join us at https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty/ Fun and Prizes!

When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a suspicious car accident, Marla assumes guardianship of her infant son. No sooner does Marla say, “Baby want a bottle?” than she’s embroiled in another murder investigation. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident after all. But then, who would want Tally—or Ken in the car with her—out of the way? As Marla digs deeper into her friends’ lives, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. Nonetheless, it’s her duty as their son’s guardian to ensure his safety, even if it means putting her own life at risk. Can she protect the baby and find the culprit before someone else ends up as roadkill?

Excerpt

Marla crossed the pavement toward her Camry, so deep in thought that she didn’t pay attention to her surroundings. A sudden roar made her lift her head. She gasped as a car barreled straight toward her.

She leapt to the side, crashed against a parked sedan, and slid to the asphalt. With a squeal of tires, the car sped away. She glimpsed a flash of silver and the back end of an SUV.

Shaking from head to foot, she rolled to her knees and managed to stand. It wouldn’t be smart to wait around in case the driver returned to make another pass at her. She had no doubt this had been a deliberate attempt to injure her, or worse.

She brushed off her pants, grabbed her purse from the ground, and hobbled to her car. Safely locked inside, she examined herself for damage. Her wrists throbbed, having taken the brunt of impact. They didn’t appear to be broken, thank goodness. And her hip felt bruised but nothing more. She’d been lucky.

She sat immobile, her heart racing like a squirrel on steroids. Get a grip, Marla. You’re okay. This proves you’re on the right track if you’ve riled someone enough to take a potshot at you.

A Sampling of Praise

“Nancy Cohen does an excellent job of constructing a suspenseful mystery, with thoroughly believable characters and conflict that produces great tension. I raced through the pages…Hair Brained is a compelling read. Don’t miss it!” Stephanie Saxon Levine, Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore

“As the body count rises, the tension and danger increases not only for Marla but for Luke as well. This is the 14th in the Bad Hair Day Mystery series – they just keep getting better.” Christa Reads and Writes

“A complicated and intense mystery with strong emotional elements that may make you look closer at your own friendships and personal values.” Laura’s Interests

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