Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Bouchercon: Day 3

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 30, 2015

Saturday at Bouchercon began with the New Author Breakfast. Anyone could attend, but each table ideally held one or two debut authors with a centerpiece of books. The authors were introduced one at a time, and each had a few minutes to tell us about his book. A list was provided on each table with the authors’ names and their debut titles. I checked off the ones which interested me, and I hope to add those titles to my TBR list.


That afternoon, I attended a panel on Danger and Death in Suburbia. Speakers included Greg Herren, Mary Sutton, Meredith Anthony, and Lori Roy, with Katrina Nildas Holm moderating.

These stories involve a dichotomy, with beautiful settings where nothing bad should happen but crimes do occur there. We have expectations of people who live in suburbia. You’ll often hear, “He was the nicest man,” about a neighbor who commits a crime. Suburbs are not as peaceful as they appear.

People believe marriage is forever. Then you live together and experience the pressure cooker of constantly being with someone else. This togetherness can inspire crimes.

These types of mysteries often involve ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The highest stakes come from your loved ones. Romantic suspense involves things that frighten women. These are more internal stories.

Why do people keep secrets? Shame is often the motivator. People will kill to hide their secrets, so others will not think badly of them. There is also the pressure to succeed. If we all work hard, why aren’t we at the top? So we cast blame on others. We say, “She slept her way up the ladder”, or “He must be corrupt.” We’d like to believe successful people are not as perfect as they seem.

The Anthony Awards Ceremony capped the evening.


As for the rest of the time, I hung out and schmoozed. Here are photos of my writer pals.

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From left to right, starting at the top: Rebecca Swope, Olive Pollak, Suzanne Baginskie; Rebecca Swope; Carla Norton; Cheryl Hollon, Nancy J. Cohen; Con Lehane, Sandra Balzo, Nancy J. Cohen; Dirk Wyle; Don Bruns; Don Bruns, Con Lehane, Sandra Balzo; James W. Hall, James O. Born, J. Kingston Pierce; Nancy J. Cohen, Heather Graham; Toni L.P. Kelner; Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenuto;  Neil Plakcy, Nancy J. Cohen

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Young Adult Mysteries

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 28, 2015

This panel at Bouchercon was titled “Importance of Book Clubs and Young Adult Literacy.” Speakers included Destiny Geddis, Matthew McGrath, B.K. Stevens, and Kaley Whittle, with Tina Whittle moderating.


Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretation and any errors are mine.

· This panel included YA readers. They do reviews and have a book club at their charter school. Here is what they wish writers and editors knew about YA.

· YA mysteries have a teenage sleuth. The crime doesn’t have to be a murder. These stories often include elements of self-discovery and current issues for teens.

· Panelists advised authors to talk to young people to see how they speak. TV teens are as accurate as CSI teams on TV. Know your audience. Do the research. Talk to young adults to see what they do and what their friends do. “We don’t use certain words that have become antiques. We talk differently.” They also use different languages between texting, e-mail, talking in person to friends and to adults.

· Not all teen protagonists need a tragic backstory. They don’t have to be misunderstood. They don’t have to be loners, either. There’s lots of diversity in high school.

· Adults are not always evil, mean, unlikable, or uncaring. Avoid clichés like “I’m a teenager and I hate my parents.” Teens don’t rebel against authority in high school. They have to be respectful to teachers. Parents don’t always have to be divorced or dead. Nor does the family dog have to die. Most parents love their kids and try to be good parents and sometimes make mistakes.

· Don’t force the romantic elements. Have your characters be strong on their own, and then they can fall in love. You don’t need a lot of angst. The romance doesn’t always mean boy/girl, or white guy/white girl. Platonic relationships work too. Friendships are also desirable. The romance can lead to character growth when the protagonist has to make a choice.

· Don’t kill off a pet just to elicit an emotional response. Make the emotion natural and realistic to a character who’s connected to readers. Don’t throw in a baby either for the emotional response. Look at for a guide to movies.

· Create a diverse cast of characters.

· Treat YA mysteries as seriously as adult mysteries. Readers should have access to clues, and the protagonist should solve the mystery on her own. “We figure things out really quickly and we want surprises. Don’t dumb down the mystery. Give us challenges. Develop the villains as fully as other characters.” Avoid dialogue such as “as you know…”

· Strong female characters do not act like stereotypical men. They can be feminine but strong. Males will read books with a female lead. Don’t follow gender clichés. Guys can be sensitive, and girls can like sports.

· Leave your moral soapbox at home. Subtlety is appreciated. Talk to the reader, not at the reader, otherwise it feels preachy.

· It’s okay to be both serious and funny.

YA writers or readers, what would you add?

Posted in Conferences, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Bouchercon: Day Two

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 26, 2015

Friday, October 9, at Bouchercon started out with the Sisters in Crime Breakfast. Here we heard about all the wonderful programs this organization offers.

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Then I attended a panel on Paranormal Mysteries with Heather Graham, Alexandra Sokoloff, Lorena Peter, Toni Kelner, and Rochelle Staab as moderator.


Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretation and any errors are mine.

The definition of paranormal includes any phenomena that is beyond normal experience and scientific explanation.

Is there evil in the world? Do we believe in witches? This question of belief is part of the mystery. Some elements used in the speakers’ stories include witches, energy vampires, skeletons, and ghosts. Ghosts are more possible than other creatures, Heather said. We want to believe in the afterlife. Alex agreed people like to be scared. Lorena admitted that family experiences and personal stories influence her books. Tony was inspired by TV shows, such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Heather liked The Twilight Zone.

Alex said the scariest things are what people do to other people. She has to scare herself as an author, note the experience, and then scare the reader. Heather suggested the scariest things are what we do in our own minds. Lorena delivers messages from spirits. “They are out there.”

Why do people read these stories? They want more control over their lives. They like to have the powers. The little bit of magic is appealing. Ghost stories relate to the history of sites. Heather mentioned residual versus active hauntings. Alex likes the sensual thrill of the unknown with a slow build to an exciting climax. As for ideas? They are all around. Keep a dream journal. And listen to people with interesting stories.

Besides these authors, check out Maggie Toussaint’s Gone and Done It series with a psychic sleuth.

Preventing a Mystery Series “Jumping the Shark”


Panelists included Nancy J. Cohen, Candace Robb, Lisa Unger, Laurie R. King, and Francine Mathews as moderator.

We spoke about how we keep a series fresh and then fielded questions from the audience. Ideas that I spoke about included:

The relationships between recurring characters should evolve and change like in real life.
Switch locations every few books but not too often.
Learn something new that excites you for each story.
Bring in new characters or focus on a different secondary character for a change of pace.
Also consider having a continuing personal thread that isn’t resolved right away.
If you really need to step away for a break, think about doing a short story or novella, either with your main characters or from the viewpoint of a secondary character.

Coming Next: Mysteries for Young Adults

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Changing Face of Publishing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 23, 2015

Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 at Bouchercon in Raleigh, NC began with author speed dating. This meant authors hopped from table to table giving a two minute pitch for our books. We went to 15 tables and repeated our spiel at each one. It’s intense but a great way to meet readers and tell them about your work.

Speed Dating

I attended my first panel on the Changing Face of Publishing. Panelists were Juliet Grames, Bob Gussin, Jim Azevedo, Joshua Kendall, and Andrew Gulli as moderator. Here are the highlights based on what I heard. Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretation and any errors are mine.


The editor for Soho Crime said they prefer books with a multi-cultural or global angle.

It’s important for brick-and-mortar stores to be flexible regarding where they shelve books.

“We’re not trend followers. You want to write the book I’ve never seen before.” This editor wants to learn something new, so the educational aspect is important to her. She doesn’t acquire a lot of new authors because her publishing house cherishes their loyal writers who’ve been there a while. Authors who bring individuality are desirable.

Self-published authors in the past 3 to 4 years have really upped their game. If you are considering self-publishing, you need to get an editor.

Be on Facebook and Twitter, go to libraries and give talks, get out there…Publishing has exploded and given everyone an opportunity.

Early endorsements help as they are put on advance reading copies where booksellers see them. Social media platforms; personal relationships with booksellers, reviewers, and bloggers are important.

What accounts for the sophomore slump with book two? The author feels more rushed because of deadlines. They have less support as all the friends who came to their events for the debut novel aren’t there this time. The story may not be as new and interesting as the first book.

Strong characters are the key to success. If readers like the characters, they’ll come back for the second book. Your work needs time to build an audience, so don’t rush the next one out there.

Are e-book sales hitting a plateau? Many of the respondents said yes. But the data analyzes money, not necessarily the number of units sold or downloaded.

Young people will read the same book in audio, print, and ebook.

Tweet This: Taking Social Media to the Next Level


Deborah Lacy moderated this panel with Maddee James, Janet Rudolph, Cara Brookins, and DruAnn Love. These panelists spoke about using Twitter for self-promotion. They advised authors to choose the social media sites we enjoy and do them really well. Know your audience. Young adults are more into Instagram than Facebook. Say more than “buy my book.” Start a discussion. Get people involved. Have fun. Make every tweet count. Use less words so people can re-tweet. Visuals draw people in. Young people like many more hash tags than older adults. Team up with other authors and cross-promote.

After the Opening Ceremonies, a BBQ dinner followed in a tent across the street.


Next: Friday at Bouchercon

Posted in Business of Writing, Conferences, Travel | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Florida to North Carolina

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 19, 2015

Since I-95 was closed due to flooding in South Carolina, we decided to drive to North Carolina via a western route. The first night we stayed in St. Augustine to once again visit this historic city. We entered Flagler College, which used to be an ornate hotel. You could see the trappings of its luxurious era in the décor. We passed up the chance to pay and see the dining room, but the courtyard and entry hall were impressive enough.

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From here, we strolled down the main shopping street and ate lunch in Columbia, a popular place with Spanish cuisine. I had to get a glass of sangria. We’d been to town before and had already visited the museums, Fountain of Youth, fort, and winery. So this time we headed out toward I-75 and hit the two outlet malls on either side of the highway. We ate dinner at an Asian place and retired early to prepare for our long journey the next day.

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We took I-75 to Atlanta, which is a snarl of traffic. After a brief stint on 285, we veered onto 85 north. We stopped for the night in Buford, Georgia which has The Mall of Georgia and many chain restaurants. It’s a good place to stop and stretch your legs.

The next day, we continued on I-85 to Durham, where we explored the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. You could wander here for hours.

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We drove inside the Duke University campus, impressed by the stately stone buildings and the remarkable chapel that was under renovations, judging from the scaffolding surrounding the tower. The town itself had nothing to draw us so we moved on to Raleigh, where the Bouchercon mystery conference was being held.


Next: The Adventures Continue


Posted in Florida Musings, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

New Smyrna Beach Book Festival

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 16, 2015

This active little town on Florida’s east coast near Daytona holds lots of festivals, fairs, competitions and social events. I was excited to be invited as a speaker for their recent Book Festival. After arriving at the beachside Best Western on Friday (Oct. 2), we joined the event organizers and other authors for drinks and hearty appetizers at Barracudas down the street. A stiff breeze bent the palm fronds as remnants of Hurricane Joaquin blew past the coast. We enjoyed the company and getting to know our weekend group.

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Saturday morning at 10am, a bunch of us authors were on a panel together. Moderating the panel was a fellow from UCF, one of the sponsors. We spoke a bit about our work and answered questions from the audience. Then we each got an hour spot to do a talk. Mine wasn’t until 4pm, so I met my husband for lunch at That’s Amore for Eggplant Parmigiana. Afterward, we strolled down Flagler Avenue, enjoying the seaside ambiance, the shops, and the multitude of cafes.

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Back at the conference center in the middle of town, I hung out in the book room before taking a seat to listen to Patrick Kendrick. Like me, he’s a Florida chapter member of Mystery Writers of America. Patrick spoke about his fascinating thriller, The Savants. Then it was my turn. We had a decent sized audience who asked good questions.

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That night, we all met again for drinks and appetizers at Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grille. They treat their authors well! The book festival was a memorable and pleasant experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet all the persons involved.

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And here is a yummy Key Lime dessert:


For more info on this festival, go to:


Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Honeymoon brings Florida sleuths to imperiled Arizona setting

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 8, 2015

Nancy J. Cohen:

Great review of Peril by Ponytail by Phil Jason at Florida Weekly.

Originally posted on Phil Jason Reviews Books:

Peril by Ponytail, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star. 292 pages. Hardcover $25.95.

Certain formulas help focus a writer’s effort. Adaptations of the so-called classical unities of time, place, and action advanced by Aristotle (for drama, not prose fiction) put helpful limits, and the pressure of limits, on the writer and the reader. That’s why island motifs are so popular. In theater, the arrival/departure frame has long been a design staple. Nancy J. Cohen exploits these conventions effectively in her in twelfth “Bad Hair Day Mystery,” featuring hair salon owner Marla Vail, recently married to Dalton, a South Florida homicide detective. PerilByPonytailFront

The romantic Arizona honeymoon that they are planning at the Last Trail Dude Ranch, to which they’ve been invited by Dalton’s cousin Wayne Campbell, the general manager, ends up being short on romance but long on adventure. Strange happenings, disappearances, and even deaths plague the resort and threaten…

View original 320 more words

Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

New Website Launch

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 29, 2015

My new website has launched! Come and take a look:

Header Website

I love the colors, artistry, and layout. It’s SO much better than what I had before. Thanks to Dee Tenorio for her amazing talent and design. I highly recommend her services at Laideebug Digital.

So what do you think? I’ve needed this upgrade for a while, so I am excited to have finally done it. Now you can view my books based on series or genre. It’s so much easier to navigate.

Between my book launch for Peril by Ponytail and getting the website up to speed, I haven’t had much time for blogging. And I’m leaving soon for the New Smyrna Beach Book Festival and Bouchercon, so I’ll be gone for the next few weeks. This means I’ll have lots to talk about when I get home, but you’ll have to wait a bit to hear it. In the meantime, you can follow my tweets and posts on Facebook for when I’m able to go online. This hiatus might last until November unless I can squeeze in a post before my next events in Bradenton, FL. For details on these events, Click Here.

So enjoy the beginning of the Fall season, and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for your support!


Contest Alert–One More Day!

Enter Now to win a Collectible Handcrafted Porcelain Drummer Doll or one of two runner-up prizes – a pair Arizona crafted earrings and a signed paperback Hanging by a Hair. I bought the doll while in Arizona doing research for Peril by Ponytail. U.S. Residents only please.


Posted in Business of Writing, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Portobello Mushroom Appetizer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 26, 2015



4 Portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
Fresh chopped basil
1 large ripe tomato, sliced


Scrape gills out of underside of mushrooms. Place mushrooms top side down on greased baking sheet. In each mushroom hollow, sprinkle some balsamic vinegar.


Top with tomato slice, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and a few sprinkles of olive oil.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 4.

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This dish can be served as an appetizer, as a vegetarian entrée along with a salad, or as a side dish. It stores well refrigerated overnight and reheated in the microwave.

Contest Alert!

Enter now at to win a Collectible Handcrafted Porcelain Drummer Doll or one of two runner-up prizes – a pair Arizona crafted earrings and a signed paperback Hanging by a Hair. U.S. Residents only please.


Posted in Food, Recipes | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

New Smyrna Beach Book Festival

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 24, 2015

Hi, I have a number of upcoming events where I’d love to meet you in person. Coming up is October 3, Saturday, 10:00 am, New Smyrna Beach Book Festival, Coronado Civic Center, 223 Flagler Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169. At 10:00 am, I’m on a panel with several other authors. Then at 4:00 pm, I’m speaking about Peril by Ponytail with time for reader Q&A. If you’re in the area, I hope you can attend! For more in-person events, click my Appearances tab above.

NSB Poster

Contest Alert!

Enter Now to win a Collectible Handcrafted Porcelain Drummer Doll or one of two runner-up prizes – a pair Arizona crafted earrings and a signed paperback Hanging by a Hair. I bought the doll while in Arizona doing research for Peril by Ponytail. U.S. Residents only please.

Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Contest, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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