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 ‘Florida mysteries’

Research Insights – Olive Oil Scams

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 6, 2018

While doing research for my books, I love to learn about esoteric topics. For Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day Mystery series, I focused the story on food. Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest that’s a recipe for disaster when a contestant ends up dead.

In considering the possible crime involved, I came across the topic of olive oil fraud. This led me to delve into the Florida olive growing industry and how olives are processed. Yes, I’m an olive fan. And now I’m more aware of fraud in the olive oil import business. Read on, and you can become more knowledgeable, too. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data so you are urged to verify the facts yourself.

The Problem

Olive oil scams rake in millions of dollars and involve fake labels and inferior products. The Italian extra virgin olive oil you paid a hefty price to buy? It may originate from somewhere else entirely. For example, a criminal ring from Italy passed off a blend of imported oils from the Middle East as authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Italy’s authorities unraveled the scheme, which involved twelve companies and a certification laboratory. Thousands of tons of olive oil were fraudulently bottled and labeled as made in Italy. Just so you know, Italy may be the world’s largest importer and exporter of olive oil, but Spain is the largest producer. Much of what comes from Italy is merely bottled there.

In another case, seven well-known Italian olive oil producers were investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as extra virgin. Italian authorities conducted operation “Mama Mia” and seized 2,000 tons of falsely labeled EVOO worth $14.5 million. Two months later, they seized another 22 tons of counterfeit oil. Italian newspaper La Stampa tested twenty of the most popular brands in Italy and discovered forty-five percent was falsely labeled.

As much as eighty percent of olive oil labeled as extra virgin may be diluted with lower grades of oil. These can include refined oils that have been processed with heat or chemicals. Or the EVOO may be adulterated with processed seed oils, such as soybean, peanut or sunflower. These seed oils can cause potential allergic reactions. Sometimes the extra virgin olive oil is cut with stale oil left over from earlier crops, or it may even be sold rancid. The market is rife with fraud, with estimates that nearly seventy percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the United States are falsely labeled.

Olive OilFL

What is being done about it?

The U.S. Congress ordered the FDA to begin testing imported oils for adulteration and misbranding. Italian producers have created their own seal of quality that says 100% Qualita Italiana. California producers have a California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. The North American Olive Oil Association has its own certified logo.


What can you do?

Check the label and see if the country of origin is listed. Look at the date for when the oil was pressed or harvested and try to buy it less than a year old. Ignore the “bottled on” date as well as “use by” a certain date. See if it has one of the certification seals above. Look for specialty olive oils produced by local olive growers in Florida and California. Shop at specialty stores that provide information about chemical analysis, olive variety, where and when it originated. These shops do tastings and sell in small quantities. Once opened, olive oil deteriorates quickly. So it’s better to buy two small bottles than one bigger one.

Olive Branch



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, she discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!

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Enter Here Dec. 1 – 15 to win a signed hardcover of Peril by Ponytail along with a DVD of “Author’s Anonymous” and a bag of microwave popcorn. Two Runners-up get either a signed paperback of Shear Murder or Hanging by a Hair.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Food, Research, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Hair Brained Large Print Edition

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 8, 2018

The Large Print Edition of Hair Brained is now available!

Large Print

ISBN: 9781432852771, $26.99, August 8, 2018; Wheeler Publishing

Murder on the Beach Bestseller List
Finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards

Large print editions are great if you want to reduce eye strain. Order your own copy or ask your librarian to order the book for you. Reviews are always appreciated.

When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a suspicious car accident, Marla assumes guardianship of her infant son and becomes embroiled in another murder mystery. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident. But who would want to kill Tally—or Ken in the car with her? As Marla digs deeper into her friends’ lives, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. But it’s her duty as their son’s guardian to ensure his safety, even if it means putting her own life at risk.

“You are always thinking and on your toes while reading this book.  And when you get to the end and everything is revealed….it will blow your mind!” Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

“Spending time with Marla and Dalton is like visiting old friends and I think Hair Brained is one of Ms. Cohen‘s better entries in the series.” Buried Under Books

“The story actually has a couple of mysteries within its pages and all is worked out by the end, but there are a lot of plot twists along the way.” Carla Loves to Read

“From page one, you’ll hang on every word as the twists and turns of the mystery are revealed and Marla goes into overdrive to prove that the friends she trusted all this time were definitely worthy of that trust.” Amy Lignor, Suspense Magazine

Order a Copy Now or Buy a Copy for a Friend.

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Posted in Marketing, New Release | Tagged: , , , , | 18 Comments »

Shipwrecks and Suspense

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 19, 2017

Research Insights – Shipwrecks and Suspense

I like adding bits of history into my mysteries. In Facials Can Be Fatal, I mined our Florida past concerning shipwrecks. Did you know the waters off Florida teem with sunken vessels? Spanish galleon ships alone may account for up to forty wrecks off our coast. Millions of dollars in silver, gold, and jewels lay at the bottom of the sea, much of it undiscovered. But Spanish treasure ships are not the only ones sunken off our shores. Pirate vessels, slave ships, merchant transports, and Civil War ships plied these waters, too. Storms, shallow water, coral reefs, and pirates were responsible for many of the wrecks.


Buried treasure has long been exploited in stories, and my book is no exception. An old family journal is recovered that hints at a nefarious past for a couple of characters. How does this relate to the present? That’s the key that my hairstylist sleuth must uncover. Marla and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, travel to Key West to learn more about Florida’s history from a reporter who has an interest in Dalton’s latest case. The victim is society matron Valerie Harper, who expired in the middle of a facial at Marla’s day spa.

Treasure Chest Reveals A Luminous Secret  Notebook

Here’s how the conversation goes with the reporter:

“The waters around Florida have seen ships flounder for decades, starting with Native Americans who used dugout canoes to travel up and down the coast. As civilization increased, ships and boats became vital to our development. Waterways were the most efficient means to transport people and cargo. Florida became a hub for maritime trade routes, but our waters can be treacherous. Hence we have a large number of shipwrecks offshore.”

“What about treasure ships from Spanish fleets?” Marla asked, shifting in her seat.

“My estimate is that maybe thirty to forty Spanish ships, dating from the 1500s to the late 1600s, lay at the sea bottom. The Spaniards would pick up gold, silver, jewels, and rare spices from the Caribbean islands and the South and Central Americas. Sometimes, they’d stop at a mint in Mexico before grouping together to return home. Or they’d gather in Havana and leave from there under convoy.”

“But not all of them made it.”

“That’s right. They’d get grounded on our reefs or floundered during hurricanes. For example, the Tierra Firme fleet set sail in 1622 from South America. Twenty-eight ships headed home to Spain. They ran into a fierce storm off the Florida Keys. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were lost. In 1985, Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha’s resting place and its treasure.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all the gold coins, silver bars, and jewels aboard. No wonder they sank. Who owns the salvage rights to a sunken ship?”

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”


To accomplish my due diligence, I paid a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, a fascinating attraction in Key West. Here you can see many of the relics recovered from the Atocha. Read about my experience and see my photos HERE. Shipwrecks and buried treasure will always provide fodder for stories.

Do you like a bit of history mixed in with your mystery? Does it enhance the story for you?


For more details on Facials Can Be Fatal, CLICK HERE.

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Goodreads Giveaway

Goodreads Giveaway

ENTER HERE July 6 – 20 to win a signed ARC of HAIR BRAINED (Bad Hair Day Mystery #14). Hairstylist Marla Vail determines to learn the truth when her best friend is hurt in a suspicious auto accident.







Posted in Book Excerpt, Excerpt, Florida Musings, Research | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Charlaine Harris

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 12, 2012

Sleuthfest: Part 5

Charlaine Harris
Charlaine Harris began her keynote speech by giving an entertaining description of her typical day and all the requests she fields. She discussed how her writing schedule has changed and how the publishing industry has altered in the past ten years. It’s a challenge to agents and publishers as contract negotiations have changed forever. The traditional model may be going the way of the dinosaurs. The difference between traditionally published books in the bookstore and self-published e-books is editing. And to conclude, “All books benefit from editing.”

Charlaine Harris

Indie editors are on the rise. Some are professional; others take advantage of newbie authors. So while e-books are here to stay, they bring along a lot of baggage. Regarding TV/film sales: Be prepared to concede certain rights or walk away from the deal. Charlaine says that when people meet an author, right away they demand to know if you’ve sold to TV or the movies. Writers are in the entertainment industry. We want to deliver our books to readers anyway we can, even if it’s an e-book carried in your purse. Her advice to aspiring authors: “Read, read, read. Put your butt in the chair and write.”

Nancy and Charlaine

Nancy Cohen and Charlaine Harris

Does Your Muse Need A Makeover?
Lisa Unger, Peter Abrahams, and Julie Kramer, with Elaine Viets moderating.

Lisa began by stating how her first publisher turned down her option book, but she was lucky that another publishing house picked it up. Peter reinvented himself as a YA author. And then he wrote a first-person story from a dog’s viewpoint. His agent suggested he take on a pen name when he started writing with broader humor within the crime fiction genre. Julie’s work got darker over time. She’d already been orphaned by her first publisher. Afraid her current publisher was about to cancel the series, she killed off a significant character. It shook the series up. Peter advises authors to “Have the story come out of you rather than following the latest trend. Find that unique part of you and blow it up.” Lisa says, “Have respect for your own voice.” And Julie wished that she’d changed from journalism to writing fiction a lot sooner.

Stretching Credibility
Marcia Talley, Mary Ann Evans, Nancy Cohen, Julie Kramer, moderated by Bob Williamson

We discussed how we keep our characters real in the midst of absurdity, like dead bodies popping up everywhere in amateur sleuth stories. We talked about the daily news as a source of tales stranger than fiction, and how we might use humor to involve our sleuth in “over the top” situations or as a behavior to mask uncertainty. Grounding the stories are the sleuth’s personal relationships.

Saturday evening, we enjoyed the Sleuthfest cocktail party with appetizing hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. This gave attendees the opportunity to mingle with editors and agents in a social setting. Following was bestselling author Heather Graham’s dinner party at Disney’s House of Blues. The food was amazing and the entertainment—with Heather as vocalist and MWA members in the band—was lively. People danced and chatted and it was great fun. Many thanks to Heather for her generosity in sponsoring this event!

Michael Meeske, Kathleen Pickering, Nancy Cohen, Traci Hall

You can view my Sleuthfest 2012 Photo Album on my Facebook Author Page. Please “Like” the page while you’re there!

Sunday morning wrap sessions and a discussion with the keynote speakers ended the conference, but I skipped out to go to the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.

Coming Tuesday: Guest Blogger and Mystery Author Camille Minichino

Posted in Business of Writing, Conferences | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Kirkus Review of Shear Murder

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 3, 2012

SHEAR MURDER by Nancy J. Cohen

Finding the bride’s sister’s corpse under the dessert table can ruin most of your day, as hairstylist Marla Shore (Killer Knots, 2007, etc.) discovers at her friend Jill’s wedding.

With her own special day a scant two weeks off, Marla plays close attention to the Barlow-Hartman nuptials. And at first things look perfect. Jill Barlow has even converted to Judaism so she and Arnie can include the traditional Seven Blessings in their service under a gorgeous, flower-bedecked chuppah. Jill’s sister Torrie, a fashion reporter from Boca Style Magazine, has talked philanthropist Falcon Oakwood into allowing the wedding to take place on the opening day of his Orchid Isle nature preserve, so Boca Style photographer Griff Beasley is on hand to take lots of fabulous pictures. Florist Phillip Canfield has outdone himself in supplying cascades of rare blooms. Of course, Jill’s quarrel with Torrie over what to do with the parcel of land they co-own, managed by their realtor cousin Kevin, doesn’t bode well. But the real downer is Marla’s discovery of Torrie’s body tucked under the table just before Jill and Arnie cut the wedding cake. Marla is so bummed out that she can hardly make tender love to her sexy fiancé, Dalton Vail, that evening. Instead of writing out place cards, she spends the time before she ties the knot asking pointed questions of anyone she thinks may be responsible for Torrie’s demise, until of course someone decides to shut her up—unfortunately, not soon enough.

Cohen takes the amateur-sleuth-who-asks-too-many-nosy-questions formula to new depths. It’s enough to make your hair curl.

Kirkus Reviews

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4328-2554-6

Page count: 246pp

Publisher: Five Star

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4th, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2011

**Don’t forget to follow my blog tour and leave a comment for a chance to win free signed books! Coming next:

Saturday, February 4, Poe’s Deadly Daughters, Topic: Florida as Character

Sunday, February 5, Cozy Chicks, Topic: Love and Murder

Thursday, February 9, The Stiletto Gang, Topic: Why I Like Cozies

Thursday, February 16, Patricia Stoltey, Topic: Obsessions and Orchids

Tuesday, February 28, Killer Characters, Topic: Hair Care Q&A with Marla Shore


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

Show Me the Body

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 3, 2011

Check out my blog post at The Kill Zone today for the answer to this burning question: How soon should the body show up in a mystery?

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Author Events

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 3, 2011

Join multi-published author Nancy J. Cohen for a discussion and signing of her latest books.

February 5, Saturday, 1:00pm – 3:00pm, Discussion & Signing with Florida Romance Writers, NW Regional Branch Library, 3151 North University Drive, Coral Springs, FL 33065. 954-341-3900. Win prizes and enjoy refreshments with nine published authors.

February 12, Saturday, 1:00pm – 3:00pm, Panel and Signing with Florida Romance Writers, Glades Road Branch Library, 20701 95th Avenue South, Boca Raton, FL, 561-482-4554. Win prizes and enjoy refreshments with eighteen published romance authors.

February 26, Saturday, 10:00am – 2:00pm, “Blending Mystery and Romance”, SpacecoasT Authors of Romance, The Pizza Gallery in the Avenues of Viera, 2250 Town Center Avenue, Melbourne, FL 32940.

March 5, Saturday, 2:30pm – 3:20pm, “Keeping It Real”, SleuthFest, Hilton Deerfield Beach, 100 Fairway Drive, Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441

March 12, Saturday, 11:00am, Friends of Helen B. Hoffman Library Book & Author Luncheon, Jacaranda Country Club, 9200 West Broward Blvd, Plantation, FL 33324. Mystery Authors Nancy J. Cohen and Deborah Sharp will discuss and sign their books. Cost is $35 for luncheon and talk. For Reservations and more info, contact Judi Holland at or 954-370-5178.

March 16, Wednesday, 6:30 pm – 8:00pm, “Writing the Whodunit”, Bienes Museum Conference Room, Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301, 954-357-7444. Free and open to the public. Sponsored by The Writers’ Network of South Florida.  RSVP to Tina Koenig,

April 9-10, Naples Press Club 9th Annual Writers’ Conference, FGCU Renaissance Academy,
1010 5th Ave S # 100, Naples, FL 34102. Register now:

April 9, Saturday, 11:30 am – 1:50 pm, Celebrity Luncheon with Nancy J. Cohen   

April 10, Sunday, 9:30 am – 10:20 am, “Writing Fiction for Fun and Profit”

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

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