Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Posts Tagged ‘crime fiction’

Writing the Cozy Mystery

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 5, 2014

Do you want to write a mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or maybe you’ve begun a whodunit but are stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on how to keep track of your material?Cozy

After hearing numerous aspiring writers ask for advice on how to write a mystery, I decided to compile an easy-to-read instructional booklet on this needed topic.

What makes a cozy different from other crime fiction? How do you plot the story? Where does your sleuth originate? How do you plant clues?

The answers to these questions and more are in Writing the Cozy Mystery.

This title is now available on Amazon but will appear soon in multiple digital formats, including Nook, Kobi, iBooks, & SW. A print edition is coming next. Please keep watch on my website for links to these editions.

For the affordable rate of $0.99, what have you got to lose?




CUSTOMER REVIEWS are requested. Please write a blurb about the book if you find it to be useful and post it on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. Also any shares and tweets would be appreciated.

This morning we are at:

#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing Skills

Let’s keep the momentum going!

And here’s another reason to celebrate: I just finished, as of this morning, my first draft of Peril by Ponytail, #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries! Yes, I actually typed “The End.”

Watch for my Valentine’s Day contest coming soon. In the meantime, enter our Booklover’s Bench anniversary contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite or 1/8 free books by our authors, including an advance reading copy of Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day series.


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

CSI Investigations

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 22, 2013

At a recent meeting of MWA Florida, we heard a CSI investigator from North Miami PD speak about her experiences. “Our day begins when yours ends,” she quipped. A beautiful woman who is married with five children, she could be a TV star of her own show. She proceeded to differentiate what’s real and what isn’t from what we see on television. The “CSI Effect” is what people expect from watching these shows, like immediate test results. That isn’t what happens in reality when it might take years. However, these dramas are good for bringing attention to an underfunded field. Private labs might produce quicker results, but she’s not allowed to use them for legal reasons.  magnifier

Why doesn’t she drive a Hummer? This is one of the questions she’s been asked. She drives a van because it’s large enough to hold her equipment and has storage space. She never parks in front of a business unless she’s on a case because that would drive customers away.

DNA testing can take months. Florida is number one for the best hits on CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). You must have been arrested to be on this database. In Miami, they have one year from date of entry to make a hit with a suspect. Otherwise, the statute of limitations runs out. Two types of DNA concern them: Mitochondrial and Nuclear. The latter contains a cell’s nucleus and goes back to a single source while the genetic pool is larger for the former type of DNA.

IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) is fingerprint storage and retrieval. Usually it’s the latent examiner who makes the hit, although this can be subjective. Prints come from people who’ve been arrested. Other sources for prints can be places like jobs that require them, immigration, etc.

Five manners of death exist:

Natural (over 80%)

She says investigators specialize in certain areas, and the science and technology are constantly changing. They look for signs of foul play. For example, if you are sick or injured, you may curl on your bed into fetal position. You don’t lie prone in a closet, where a body was found. It was later determined he died from a broken neck. A migrant worker renovating the house was guilty of murder.

With Live Scan, ink isn’t used for fingerprinting. The old method often resulted in operator error—too much or too little ink, not rolling the prints properly. There are 150 points of identification on each finger. Patterns can be a loop, arch, or whorl or a combination therein. Footprints have similar characteristics. Fingerprints develop at 7 months in the womb. Changes may occur with scarring, like musicians who grow calluses. How long do prints remain on the scene? Forever, unless they are removed.

They give every case a name, like the Lemon Case where a guy supposedly fell on his knife when paring fruit. She’ll look in the kitchen, in the garbage for clues. It turned out the man’s girlfriend stabbed him, and friends helped her cover it up. But they neglected to erase the footwear impression where someone had stepped on the knife.

As a mystery writer, it’s important to get the facts straight. We can’t rely on what we watch on TV.


Disclaimer: These are my notes and they are subject to my interpretation. Any errors are not intentional.

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

The Plotting Process

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 6, 2012

I love it when a new story begins to come together. I’ve started to plot my next mystery, and as such, I’m in the discovery phase as I mentioned below in my discussion on the three stages of writing. This means I’m getting to know the general background, setting, and characters before sitting down to actually write the story.

Since this will be a continuation of my series, I already know the main characters and the setting. So who’s the victim? That’s the first thing I determine. Next come the suspects. Who wants this guy dead and why? I begin by making a list of possible acquaintances, relatives, or business associates close to this individual. Then I give each one a motive. Suspect A is embezzling money. Suspect B is skirting state regulations. Suspect C resented the victim for spurning her. And so on. What’s more difficult is linking these people together.

For example, the Victim discovers an irregularity and reports it to Suspect B. Suspect B advises him to notify the authorities. Instead, he tells Suspect C. Suspect C, alarmed about the implications, threatens Suspect B to keep her quiet. Meanwhile, after the Victim dies, Suspect B throws suspicion on Suspect D. This person tips off the sleuth that Suspect E could cause trouble. You get the idea?

It’s wonderful when these connections start snapping together. At this point, I begin writing my synopsis. I also have to determine the personal angle for the sleuth, because the mystery won’t take up an entire 75,000 words. We want the story to be about her life and how the crime impacts her and why she gets involved. What other difficulties is she facing at this time? How will she grow and change by the end of the book?

Research also comes into play at this stage. I have to ask my police source about the crime scene and I have to look up info on the “irregularity” the Vic discovers and where that can lead my sleuth. Maybe I’ll send her to a location I haven’t visited before, so I’ll have to figure out how to work that into the plot.

The discovery process can take weeks or even months. I don’t like to hurry it. Once the fragments start to brew in my subconscious, it’s like a stew that has to simmer so the ingredients can blend together. Ideas will bubble to the surface and I’ll jot them down. I’ll delve deeper into my characters, determining who they are and cutting out photos from magazines to suit them. Eventually, I’ll have a cohesive whole and a completed synopsis. Then I can begin writing.

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Crime Scenes

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 22, 2012

Detective R.C. White (retired) spoke at yesterday’s Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Here’s a smattering of what he discussed. Even though my cozy mysteries don’t contain forensics details, you never know when such knowledge will be useful.

  • Consider involving a Public Safety Aid in your story. The PSA doesn’t have arrest power but does a lot of the grunt work.
  • DAVID—Driver and Vehicle Identification Database. If an officer has this equipment in his car, he can bring up your driver’s license photo, driving record, vehicle registration info, and your emergency contacts if you’ve listed them.
  • NCIS is one of Detective White’s recommended TV shows.
  • Bag and Tag. In reality, more than plastic bags are used. Guns may go in boxes. Items may go into brown bags. But on TV, they use plastic bags so the viewer can see the item.
  • Before touching anything at a crime scene, you must carefully observe and photograph.         camera
  • Photographs should be taken from wide angles all the way to close up shots. The camera should be at a ninety degree angle. Tripods or other equipment are sometimes used to steady the camera, which has to be leveled to take the shot. Often a ruler is placed beside the item being photographed. Different types of rulers may be used depending on what’s being photographed. Lighting is important. Footprints, for example, require oblique lighting.
  • A database of shoeprints exists, or at least it did when the detective was active at work.
  • Luminol glows like a wrist watch in a darkened room, and it’s a time exposure. This chemical agent is used to expose possible blood stains. False positives can come from rust, copper, iron, enamel paint, horseradish, etc. So it’s a presumptive test. The next step is to take a swab and test it. Some of the other techniques deploy PTH or phenylthaline and Protein Dye Stains.
  • For fingerprints, besides lifting tapes, Iodine Fuming involves breaking a glass beaker tube and blowing through it. The fumes adhere to grease and oils, i.e. prints may become visible. Must photograph them before the chemical fades. Ninhydrin turns fingerprints into color so you can see them this way, too. (Disclaimer: This is what I heard, so it’s subject to my perception. Accuracy should be verified before using this source).

At this point, Detective White showed us clips from the film, “My Cousin Vinny”, to demonstrate courtroom technique. He said this movie is required viewing at some law schools. I hadn’t seen this movie. It looks hilarious as well as informative. Will have to watch the TV schedule to catch it next time it plays.  detective

I may never use this information in one of my stories, but again, you never know. It’s absorbed into my mental storage unit of crime data from mystery conferences. But it proves one important point. Don’t rely on television for your investigative details. Get the facts, ma’am, and check your sources.


Please visit the sites on my Blog Tour and leave a comment for your chance to win a free signed copy of Shear Murder. This site counts, too, but I’d like to thank my hosts by having folks stop by my guest sites. Today I’m at Lelia Taylor’s Buried Under Books.

**January 22, Sunday, Buried Under Books, “Setting as Inspiration”

Coming Next:
January 25, Wednesday, Escape with Dollycas, “Weddings and Murder”
January 30, Monday, Savvy Authors, “Concluding a Series”

And if you missed my prior ones:
January 13, Friday, Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, “Character Quirks”
January 16, Monday, Author Expressions, Author Interview
January 20, Friday, Jungle Red Writers, “Conferences, Cocktails, and Coffee”

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Crime Writer Geraldine Evans

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 7, 2011

Geraldine Evans is a multi-published author who writes the popular Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series. She also writes the Casey & Catt mystery series and has published historical and romance novels, plus articles on a variety of nonfiction topics.          Geraldine2

Geraldine is a Londoner but now lives in Norfolk, England where she moved, with her husband George, in 2000. Deadly Reunion is her eighteenth novel and number fourteen in her humorous Rafferty & Llewellyn series. She is currently working on her next mystery in this series.

How I set about creating my first, Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series.

How on earth do you set about creating an original crime series? All I can tell you is how I went about it.

This bit will mean more to the Brits amongst you, though I know a lot of Americans also enjoy British cop and comedy shows. Anyway, having a love of both, I decided to meld the cop and the comedy. I suppose you could describe my Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and Family. So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear.

The Rafferty family’s leisure pursuits are far from Sherlock Holmes’s, far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing or Morse and his Wagner. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of questionable legality. And Rafferty’s Ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits, using emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her. Having far more than her fair share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. I used a cop who, although male, wasn’t a million miles away from me and a family who, although not my family (!) were certainly reminiscent of some of the families on the south London Council estate where I grew up. Ma Rafferty has a bit of my own mother in her as well as a casserole of all the other Dublin ladies I used to know when I was a kid when we used to spend the summer holidays in Ireland with my maternal grandmother.

Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems. Deadly Reunion, my fourteenth Rafferty novel (UK 24 February, US 1 June 2011), like the previous thirteen, has Rafferty embroiled in more family trouble than a Victorian lady of the night sans the morning after pill.     Geraldine1

To return to similarities, I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me, he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do. Would a non-classical music lover have created Colin Dexter’s Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry-writing Adam Dalgliesh of P D James? Well, possibly, I suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life. I wanted a lead character I could empathise with, one who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps!

My background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic), in a bog-standard Catholic school. So was Rafferty. All these similarity help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their lives, something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels. There are a lot of working-class police officers out there, just like Rafferty, who have risen up the ranks, perhaps leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family. But just because our police character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean that his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong, and all beyond the lead character’s influence or control. Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character. He could even have his career put at risk by them.

Okay, we’ve got our lead character, but what about his past? Maybe elements of your own past would help flesh him out? When it came to my character, I decided that if Rafferty was going to be working-class like me, he might as well have other elements of ‘me’. It not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to him and to the past which has helped to shape him. Rafferty lost his father when he was around twelve. In a way I had ‘lost’ my father, too, although he hadn’t died, but was a rather distant figure.

So – his past. In order to have a ‘past’ he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories. For instance, in Down Among the Dead Men, the second novel in the Rafferty series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild, he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church and sing Latin hymns without –as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about. Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but I believe that it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life.

Once I had Rafferty down on paper, I gave a lot of thought to his side-kick. Now opposites always provide conflict. A genuine conflict, stemming from character, background and upbringing.

So Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn was born. The intellectual, university-educated, only child of a Welsh Methodist minister, who thought the law should apply to everyone – even the mothers of Detective Inspectors. Llewellyn is a side-kick pre-ordained from birth to look with a jaundiced eye on Rafferty’s outlook on life, his theories and conduct of cases, and his less than law-abiding family. The words Duty and Responsibility feature strongly in Llewellyn’s life, though his character is leavened with a sense of humour so dry that Rafferty isn’t sure it exists at all. Given what I said earlier about finding characters as much like oneself as possible, I thank God every day that I spend all my time in Rafferty’s head!

Once I had the basics of Rafferty, his family and his sidekick sorted out, I had to place Rafferty in his environment. And after all I’ve said about his background, I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character. Essex. Non-Brits won’t understand the resonance. But perhaps you will after reading a couple of ‘Essex’ jokes. Like these.

Q What’s the difference between Essex and Mars?

A There might be intelligent life on Mars.

Q What is an Essex Girl’s idea of a really classy meal?

A A wooden chip fork with her takeaway. (Any Americans out there

will know chips as French fries, or just fries).

Get the picture? People from Essex are regarded as always able to put their hands on ‘dodgy’ (ie stolen) gear. They’re also regarded as not being too bright.

Anyway, after describing Rafferty’s background and his family and their little hobbies, I felt that Essex was the only place I could use as a setting for such a character. But unlike the stereotyped depictions of the working-classes in ‘Essex’ jokes and many of the older British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, not only in Essex, but among the working-classes themselves. Okay, Rafferty’s not exactly deeply intellectual or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that’s often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence.

There was another reason why I chose to locate my Rafferty and Llewellyn novels in Essex. And that was that Essex has lots of interesting historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And, because of its port links, the entire area has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe. A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle, it’s no wonder he feels so at home in an area with such strong dissenting traditions.

So, one decision about a character helps you make other decisions, not only about the lead character himself, but also about the other characters who will populate your series and about where in the world they’re going to play out their roles.

Anyway, all this furious thinking produce Dead Before Morning, a crime novel which features a prostitute bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor and an idle hospital porter who had a few ‘nice little earners’ of his own. In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID. His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester, the old Roman town where that original ‘Essex Girl’, Queen Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions.

Whatever the critics made of it, I must have done something right, because on only its second outing, that first Rafferty & Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published. It was also published in hardback and paperback in the US.

So far, I’ve had seventeen novels published, fifteen of them crime, two of which form the first two novels in my Casey & Catt crime series, with the eighteenth, Deadly Reunion, another Rafferty book, coming out this year.

I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read, but rarely found, the kind of mystery where, along with a murder investigation, the writer makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me wait, even. But most of all, makes me care about the characters. Admittedly, that’s just my preference. You might prefer your crime novels to concentrate firmly on stimulating the brain rather than the funny bone. But I didn’t see any reason not to try to do both.

This approach provided the bonus that I had far more fun with Rafferty than I imagine the more high-minded writers have with their characters. And writing’s meant to be fun. Isn’t it? It’s meant to be enjoyable. If it isn’t, why do it? After loads of dead-end jobs in my youth I was determined that I would end up doing something I liked.

There’s no reason why, just like me, you shouldn’t ‘Do your own thing’ and attract a publisher who goes, ‘Mmm, this is different.’

So, go and have fun. And give me another crime series that provides the occasional chuckle. If you do, you’re guaranteed one fan.

Geraldine’s Blog Tour:  **Prize Drawing from all blog commenters!

Geraldine’s website:

Geraldine’s blog:

Deadly Reunion

Detective Inspector Joe Rafferty is barely back from his honeymoon before he has two unpleasant surprises. Not only has he another murder investigation – a poisoning at a school reunion, he also has four new lodgers, courtesy of his Ma, Kitty Rafferty. Ma is organising her own reunion and since getting on the internet, the list of Rafferty and Kelly family attendees has grown, like Topsy. In his murder investigation, Rafferty has to go back in time to learn of all the likely motives of the victim’s fellow reunees. But it is only when he is reconciled to his unwanted lodgers, that Rafferty finds the answers to his most important questions.

To Purchase Deadly Reunion:

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »


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