Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Starting a New Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 21, 2015

Starting a new novel can either be an exhilarating prospect or a daunting one. No matter how many books you’ve written, this reaction still holds true. If you’re a pantser regarding plot, you might begin with a concept, a character, or a setting. You wing it from there with a general idea of where you want to go. But if you are a plotter like me, you need a roadmap. So how to begin?

Characters Come First

Get to know your main characters. Who are they? What do they want in life? Why do they want it? What stands in their path? Give them internal and external goals. Have them deal with an inner emotional struggle that inhibits them from moving forward. What caused this conflict? How does it relate to the main plot? Let’s say your heroine meets a firefighter that she really likes. But she has an insane fear of fires because her parents died in one when she was little. How can she have a relationship with a guy who’s life is always at risk? Meanwhile, the external plot involves an arsonist. For some reason, he’s targeted her. She has to rely on the hunky firefighter to keep her safe. And so on. But don’t leave the hero out, either. He should have his own reasons for not pursuing a commitment. As for the villain, give him a plausible motivation so the reader can understand his actions if not approve of them.

Determine the path of character growth so you know how things will end. How will your characters change by the end of the story? In this example, the heroine might have to overcome her fear of fires to rescue someone in a blaze—perhaps herself, or the hero who’s been disabled by the villain. She realizes her own inner strength will get her through any adversity. She’s a survivor. And so she can let down her barriers and give her heart to the man she has come to love.

It’s no different when you’re writing a series. In each book, your protagonist must change in some way or realize a truth about herself. Yet her emotional growth can involve a bigger arc that encompasses a number of books. Always solve the external conflict first in a story, and then wrap up the resolution with the insights your character has learned.

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Build Your Setting

You’ve done your character development. Now where does your story take place? What is unique about this setting? How can you bring it to life for readers? This is where your world building takes place. Where does your character live? Why did she choose this place? What are its architectural and design elements? How is the setting a character in itself? Describe the sensory impressions you might note if you visited this area. How can you get its flavor across to readers? Why is this setting important to your plot?

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Do Your Research

Make sure you get your facts straight about the locale and any issues involved in your story. This can be preliminary research until you begin your story. Then you’ll know what details to pursue. Is there an interesting news article that caught your fancy? Look up more information on the subject and figure out how it relates to your plot. Or perhaps your story is based on something you read or saw on television. You’ll know what avenues to explore. Just be sure you’re as authentic as possible. That goes for your protagonist’s career as well. Use metaphors and similes from her viewpoint. Get familiar with her work lingo and research her occupation.

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Plot Your Story

If you like to use the storyboard method, grab a big poster and divide it into squares that represent your chapters. Brainstorm plot points and put them on sticky notes. Plaster these sticky notes around the poster approximate to their timing in the story. Or you can do a chapter by chapter outline instead. Either way, keep track of emotional as well as external plot points. Don’t worry if gaps show in your planning; they’ll fill in later if you lay the groundwork properly.

Keep in mind that each scene must have a purpose and hold tension. Each action is followed by a reaction and a decision. Start with a crisis or “call to action” for your character. Build the complications, layer in the secrets and suspense, determine the plot twists, and aim for an exciting resolution.

Many writers utilize the three act structure in their story plotting:
I. Inciting Incident and Introduction of Characters, Conflicts build to First Turning Point
II. Secrets, Subplots, and Complications, Rising Stakes, Second Turning Point
III: Black Moment for Sleuth, Villain Exposed, Resolution, Character Growth

Hook the Reader

How can you grab the reader at the start? Begin with action or dialogue and move the story swiftly forward. This is not the place for flashbacks or background information. Make sure your protagonist is likable to gain reader sympathy. Make the stakes personal. Consider that you only have the first few pages to make an impression. And just as importantly, end each chapter with a hook. You want to create a page-turner, so keep that tension ramped up.

Tomorrow, visit my piece on Internal Conflict at The Kill Zone.

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

Power Outage

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 20, 2015

Are you prepared for disaster? The other morning, we were taking our daily walk when we heard a series of explosions. Then I noticed sparks from among the trees. Getting closer to the source, we noted the disturbance came from a utility pole on our community’s main street. Upon rushing home, our fears were confirmed. The power was out.

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Not to worry. We kept the blinds closed along with the refrigerator. I shut down our computers as they still were running on battery power with my backup APC unit. And it was daylight, so we could see just fine. I decided I’d read newsletters on my iPad. And so I got the reading done that I’d been postponing.

At 11am, I had a hair appointment. My husband and I were starting to get restless. He’s used to running out on errands while I get my writing done. But as we attempted to manually lift the garage door, we failed. It was incredibly heavy and required both of us to shove it upward. I wasn’t tall enough to push it over the edge. And then it came crashing down if we didn’t lower it. It wouldn’t stay in place. I got out the manual for our hurricane-proof steel door. From the instructions there, it appeared our springs were not working properly. We’d need a service call.

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Fortunately, we still had landlines. Our portable phone units didn’t work, and I wanted to save my cell phone for checking email and doing posts on my social networks. So we called the garage door people. A breath of relief. They’d send someone out later that day.

More time passed. Another call to FPL said the power wouldn’t be restored until 1 pm. There was damage to the main line. Great. I cancelled my hair appointment. We couldn’t go out for a second walk in case the garage door guy called. So there we were, trapped in our house. We ate snacks from the pantry, not wishing to open the refrigerator and raise its temperature. It was relatively cool in the house, being partially cloudy outside and not the summer heat, thank goodness. It gave us the opportunity to test our flashlights and battery-run radios. We have a solar powered/hand crank device that has a searchlight, radio, and cell charger. And I have a portable cell phone charger as well.

Without a laptop, I couldn’t do any writing, but I’d already finished my task for the day before we’d gone out earlier. Finally, just around one the garage repairman came. He adjusted the springs and lubricated the joints. Lo and behold, I was able to easily lift the door myself thereafter, and it stayed open. We pulled out both of our cars. And right after the serviceman left, the power flickered on.

The outage had lasted six hours. It had made us do garage door maintenance, which we’d needed and wouldn’t have known otherwise. And it made us take stock that we really weren’t prepared for hurricane season. But at least for those storms, you have advance warning.

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

Your Character’s Secret Dreams

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 14, 2015

Your Character’s Secret Dreams

Character development in fiction writing always mentions goals. These can be long term or short term and are usually practical in nature. But what about your protagonist’s youthful dreams? An article in a news magazine got me started on this topic. It randomly interviewed a bunch of women about their dreams in life. This inspired me to make a listing of my own to aid in character development

  • Start a political career
  • Have a big family
  • Travel throughout Europe
  • Enter a baking competition
  • Become an Olympic athlete
  • Study to be a ballerina
  • Perform on Broadway
  • Turn party planning into a career
  • Visit the Egyptian pyramids
  • Apply to be an astronaut
  • Run a marathon
  • Ride on the Orient Express
  • Learn computer programming
  • Adopt some rescue dogs
  • Join the Peace Corps
  • Sing in public
  • Live in Paris for a year
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail
  • Be on a reality show
  • Get hired as a personal chef
  • Work on a cruise ship
  • Learn to fly an airplane
  • Become a volunteer firefighter
  • Write a novel

Marla Shore, my heroine sleuth, carries around travel brochures of Tahiti in her purse. She may never get there, but at least she has been on a Caribbean cruise.

BoraBora   Tahiti Hut

What hidden dreams does your main character have?

Contest Alert! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench in our April contest http://bookloversbench.com/contest/ Check out the other features on our site while you’re there.

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Vizcaya

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 6, 2015

Vizcaya was built in the early 1900’s for James Deering. The mansion, located in Miami, is Italian Renaissance style. You can tour the house and gardens and lunch in a pleasant café adjacent to the gift shop.

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We began our stroll outside to take advantage of the cooler morning air. Surrounded by a lush tropical forest, the estate borders Biscayne Bay. We passed a swimming pool on the east side that’s partially under cover. Facing the water at the back are boat landings where guests arrived by boat at the property. This was actually the main entrance back in the day. A replica of a barge sits in the water to stem the tide. Note the little tea house gazebo in the distance.

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From here we entered the formal gardens via steps made from coral. Hedges, quaint grottos, and a maze of paths take you along this tranquil garden. Statuary draws attention as do fountains and secret little nooks.

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We headed to the house next and were informed photos were not allowed inside. On the ground floor, we viewed the library, living room, music room, reception rooms, open-air loggia facing the water, and a formal dining room with a serving pantry at its side. Tapestries, huge paintings, and silk panels decorated the walls with lots of gold trim and marble columns. Fancy chandeliers have been converted to electricity but still maintain their historical design.

Upstairs are the bedrooms, a breakfast room, and the kitchen—which always fascinates me in these historical homes. There were bathrooms as well. We didn’t get to see the servant’s quarters because they’ve mostly been converted into offices.

After getting our exercise climbing up and down stairs, some of which were narrow spiral staircases, we aimed for the gift shop and café. Here we ate a substantial lunch (self-service only) and then left to return home. It was wonderful to imagine what it must have been like living in such a big house. I’d call it Downton Abbey – Florida style, except Mr. Deering was a bachelor and his nieces inherited his property. They donated it to Miami-Dade County, which opened the house and grounds as a museum in 1953. http://www.vizcaya.org

Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

How to be a Great Speaker

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 2, 2015

At the March meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter, bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan spoke for an hour on how to be a great speaker. Her talk was riveting and the perfect example of what she was saying. She should know. Joanna has been named by Sharing Ideas magazine as “one of the top 25 motivational speakers in the world.” Her personal essays have appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and one was made into a television program on the Pax Network. So here are her tips:

JoannaSlan2Tailor your introduction to meet the needs of the audience. What connection do you have with this group? Praise them for their work. What have they done that makes your life better? Practice out loud. It gives you muscle memory.

Before you speak, listen to group dynamics to learn what’s going on. This will also predispose people to like you. When addressing the group, “Charm their socks off.” When you reference people you’ve met who are in the group, you close the gap with the crowd. “It was great to sit with Mary today.” Listeners want a connection.

The group wants to learn about you as a person. What can they gain from hearing about your experiences?

Mention the importance of a signed book, how it might inspire a younger person to read or to write stories someday. If your readers aren’t in the audience, instill good will so the listeners want to take home a piece of you or give your book to someone who loves to read. A physical book can be kept as a souvenir or passed on.

Anything you can do wrong has already happened to someone more important. The audience is rooting for you to succeed. Nobody expects perfection, but they don’t want you to waste their time either. What can you do that benefits them? Regarding handouts, people often keep them for years.

Prepare your introduction. Prepare a testimonial that relates to your expertise. Find someone in the audience who can back up your claims. Prepare something fun, like putting sticky notes under a chair so someone wins a prize.

Catalog your personal anecdotes and practice them. You shouldn’t be the hero of your own story all the time, i.e. “I did this and everyone loved me.”

Get the audience engaged by asking them a question. Perform an activity, like asking them to speak to a neighbor or write something down on an index card. End your talk with a call to action, i.e. sign up for your newsletter. Hand around a slip of paper and offer a freebie for people who sign up. Or do a special offer: If you buy 5 books, I’ll donate one to your library.”

Now to go practice what Joanna taught us….

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Joanna’s first mystery novel—Paper, Scissors, Death—was an Agatha Award finalist. It features Kiki Lowenstein, a spunky single mom who lives in St. Louis. Joanna’s next series—The Jane Eyre Chronicles—began with Death of a Schoolgirl and continues with the release of Death of a Dowager. Her newest series—the Cara Mia Delgatto Mysteries—is all about second chances. Tear Down and Die and Kicked to the Curb are just the beginning. The college textbook Joanna wrote—Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience—has been praised as an invaluable resource by Benjamin Netanyahu’s speechwriter and has been endorsed by Toastmasters, International. http://www.joanna-campbell-slan.com/

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

Venice Book Fair

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 30, 2015

On Friday, we took a ride over to Venice, Florida in preparation for the big Book Fair the next day. This charming seaside resort is on Florida’s Gulf coast just a bit below Sarasota. After checking in at our hotel, we drove to the fishing pier for lunch at Sharkey’s. This highly popular restaurant also has an upper level, but we chose to dine downstairs with a lovely view of the beach. The New England clam chowder was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. But the coconut shrimp didn’t compare to the ones at Bahama Breeze. These tasted greasy fried and the sauce had no flavor. I recommend you avoid this dish here. The stuffed mushrooms were good. These two appetizers and the soup were enough for lunch. From here, we strolled down the fishing pier but not to the far end as storm clouds were moving in. By the time we drove to downtown, it was pouring.

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Nonetheless, we gamely took out our umbrellas to stroll up and down the street lined with outdoor cafés and gift shops and bordered by majestic date palms.

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The deluge kept us in our hotel room for the rest of the afternoon until we met some of our gang at Left Coast Seafood, recommended by FMWA member Nancy Gazo. Nancy and her husband joined us along with Alison McMahan and her spouse. This restaurant is hugely popular and the food was worth the wait. I had grilled salmon with hush puppies and a vegetable medley. It was cooked just right.

The next morning found us all at Centennial Park for the Book Fair. While Nancy went to set up our exhibit booth, Alison and I met another FMWA member, Randy Rawls, who was our panel moderator. We were joined by thriller author Leo J. Maloney, whose experience as a black ops agent had us enthralled. Our panel went well and we proceeded outside to man the booth.

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Aside from a strong breeze, it was a lovely day to be outdoors with cooler temperatures and sunshine. We represented our Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, gave out brochures, and acquainted passersby with our books. All too soon, it became time to leave. Many thanks to Nancy Gazo for organizing these events for us. See you at the next one!

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Back home, we took advantage of the cool weather the next day to take a walk at Tree Tops Park. Little did we realize when we entered the path for the Pine Island Ridge section that we’d be in danger of getting lost! The trail wound around with no maps to tell us where we were. It seemed to go on for miles. Finally, we turned back and asked other walkers which way would take us into Tree Tops again. How scary to be lost with only a cell phone for communication with the outside world. What if there wasn’t cell service? Should we have marked the trail so we’d know the way back? I can just imagine Marla and Dalton getting lost with a killer on their tail.

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Okay, back to reality. Murder by Manicure (Bad Hair Day Mystery #3) is now available in a Print edition as well as for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks (See previous post for links).

Spring Into Summer Contest—March 24 to April 3
Enter to win a signed hardcover Shear Murder and $10 Starbucks gift card or one of two ebook copies of Hair Raiser http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

 

Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Florida Musings, Food, Marketing, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Murder by Manicure

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 24, 2015

I’m excited to announce the Author’s Edition of Murder by Manicure (Bad Hair Day Mystery #3). Murder by Manicure was originally published by Kensington. This edition has been revised and updated with added bonus materials.

Join my Book Launch Party for the Author’s Edition of Murder by Manicure (Bad Hair Day Mystery #3) March 24, from 2-4pm EDT https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty Fun & Giveaways! Guest authors Alyssa Maxwell, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Maggie Toussaint will be joining the party.

Murder by Mancure

Hairstylist Marla Shore joins a fitness club to get in shape but discovers a dead body instead of an exercise routine. Jolene Myers—a client at Marla’s salon—has drowned beneath the frothing waters of the whirlpool. When Homicide Detective Dalton Vail determines Jolene’s death was no accident, Marla decides to give her deductive skills a workout and help solve the case.

Jolene had few friends at the fancy athletic club. As Marla gets to know everyone, she wonders who might have targeted Jolene for a lethal soak in the hot tub. The shady pharmacist? The smarmy city councilman? Or maybe the vocal animal rights activist? The fitness club staff had no fondness for Jolene, either. How far would they go to keep their secrets? When another member turns up dead, Marla intensifies her efforts to nail the killer and wrap the case. If she fails, the next buff body on its way to the morgue might be hers.

“Marla Shore is a beguiling, very clever sleuth who teases out every clue. Absolutely delightful!” Jill Churchill, author of the Jane Jeffry & Grace and Favor mystery series.

“Cohen fashions her Bad Hair Day series with plenty of humor, snappy repartee and even a healthy helping of current events.” The News Press

“In Murder by Manicure, a southern sleuth who’s a cut above the rest pulls out all the stops to wrap up another nail-biting murder that will leave readers eagerly awaiting their next appointment with Marla Shore.” Barnes & Noble Ransom Notes

“Observations about makeup, hair, and apparel mix with humorous, sexy overtones and catty remarks. A solid series addition.” Library Journal

“This series is hilarious and very enjoyable and contains many hijinks.” The Best Reviews

“For the reader who enjoys the twists and turns of a tale by Mary Higgins Clark, Murder by Manicure is a must read!” ReaderToReader.com

BUY LINKS
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iBooks
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Spring Into Summer Contest—March 24 to April 3
Enter to win a signed hardcover Shear Murder and $10 Starbucks gift card or one of two ebook copies of Hair Raiser http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

Posted in Book Excerpt, Business of Writing, Contest, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 56 Comments »

Secret Woods

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 23, 2015

On Saturday, we heard bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan give a talk at the monthly meeting of Florida MWA. Joanna gave pointers on how to be a good speaker but the best example was her own talk that kept us fascinated for an entire hour. I hope I can utilize her tips during my forthcoming speaking engagements.

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Sunday found my husband and I at Secret Woods Nature Center for our afternoon walk. We’d been here years ago, and it hasn’t much changed. We walked down various trails, enjoying the natural vegetation, the mangrove swamp, and the view of the New River. From here, we went for ice cream. After all, it was ninety degrees out and we were pretty steamed after that walk.

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Today I finished Facials Can Be Fatal and sent it off to my agent. Yay! Another book in the bag. This one will be Bad Hair Day Mystery #13. It’s always such a relief to send a book on its way. I still have to work on things like back cover copy, promo blurbs, blog topics, and more, but the creative work is done. Those will come under the auspices of marketing.

Here’s a reminder to sign up for my newsletter to hear all my book news, contests, and more: http://nancyjcohen.com/contact-nancy/newsletter/

And speaking of marketing, tomorrow I’m launching the reissue of Murder by Manicure. So reserve the date for my online launch party: March 24, from 2-4pm EDT https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty Guest Authors & Giveaways!

So what’s your favorite nature park to visit?

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, Marketing, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 17, 2015

Yesterday I took a break from work to relax at Fort Lauderdale Beach. On Saturday, I’d attended a meeting of Florida Romance Writers, and Sunday I spoke at a benefit for the Palm Beach School of Autism. Fellow panelists were Elaine Viets, Joy Fielding, and Michael Haskins. Some very talented members made paper sculptures out of books. The table decorations were inspired as well. We spoke a bit about our work and then fielded questions from the audience.

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Monday I decided that I deserved a day off, so I suggested to my husband we head to the beach for a walk and lunch. We drove down Las Olas and parked at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park across from Bahia Mar resort. It’s cheaper than one of those flat-rate lots. After paying our money via the meter and placing the sticker on our dashboard, we walked alongside the low wave-shaped white wall that borders the beach. Fort Lauderdale officials had the foresight to ban condos here so there’s an unbroken view of the water. Across the street are souvenir shops and cafés bustling with customers.

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We passed the cruise-ship shaped Ritz-Carlton hotel and went as far as the Casablanca Café, a popular restaurant on Route A1A. Then we turned back and went to lunch at Coconuts Bahama Café on the Intracoastal. The breeze was pleasant as we sat outside under an umbrella. I had a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and we split a Key lime pie for dessert. Tourist boats and yachts plied the water while pelicans groomed themselves on the adjacent boat dock.

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Satisfied after our meal, we took our beach chairs from the car and found a shady spot on the sand. Here we sat for an hour or so until we were ready to leave. The ocean looked pretty clear down by the shore and I listened to the waves crest and recede. It was fun to people watch. Young girls wearing bikinis strode past while their male counterparts played on a basketball court or used the outdoor gym apparatus near the picnic tables. When I closed my eyes, I heard the ocean surf, seagulls squawking, people chatting, the thump of the ball on the court, the roar of a motorcycle, the drone of prop airplanes overhead dragging banners.

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And so a sense of peace descended upon me until I returned home. And now it’s back to work.

Contest Alert!
One more day! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free books from Booklover’s Bench authors, including an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2), in our March contest http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Disney World: Epcot

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 12, 2015

We always enjoy Epcot’s annual Flower and Garden Festival. Colorful blossoms met our gazes everywhere with perfect landscaping as only Disney can do. Not a weed in site, even in their vegetable gardens.

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Our main purpose being to eat, we aimed for World Showcase and the international food booths.

Turning right, I passed on the hot dog with spicy pineapple chutney and the refreshing pineapple soft serve at the Pineapple Promenade to head for France. They always have the best food. Here I had the pulled duck confit with parsley potatoes, and it was as delicious as expected. My husband had the Parisian dumplings with mushrooms and vegetables.

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Further along, I sampled the sweet corn pancake from Venezuela at a booth labeled Botanas Botanico. It was tasty but filling.

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I topped these meals off with a lemon curd and blueberry tart from Florida Fresh. This dessert was lip-smacking good.

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As the sun blazed overhead, it neared eighty degrees but wasn’t nearly as bad as in the humid, warmer months. After ending up back where we started, we headed home for a much-needed nap. Since we have annual passes, it’s easy to show up for a long walk and lunch and then leave. One thing I will advise, and that’s to avoid Downtown Disney. The construction is a mess over there, and parking is difficult I’ll wait until things improve, and the new restaurants open at the renamed Disney Springs.

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Spring is the perfect time to visit Disney World, same as November, when temperatures can be milder. Meanwhile, if you’re stuck at home, look for the new Cinderella movie debuting on Friday. Hopefully, it’ll be a winner. How can it not be, when Lady Rose from Downton Abbey plays the title role?

Contest! Enter March 4-18 to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free books by Booklover’s Bench authors.
http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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