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 ‘Research’

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.

Shipwreck

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.”

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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?

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

Buy Here:
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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.

 

 

 

 

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

Bedners Farm and Market

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 23, 2017

Bedner’s Farm was established in 1960 by Arthur Bedner from Pennsylvania. Today the 80-acre property is run by his three sons and grandson.

The store itself is in a sprawling building off Route 441 in Palm Beach County between Boynton Beach Blvd. and Atlantic Ave. Parking is in front or at an overflow lot in the back. From the back, you climb up a small rise toward the main attractions. A narrow water-filled canal borders the fields so you can’t reach them from the rear parking lot. Just across the ditch is a pepper patch growing red and green bell peppers. Divided by tall sugar cane plants that serve as a wind block are more fields growing strawberries and grape tomatoes.

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We decided to go picking first. At an open air stand, you collect however many buckets you want by leaving your credit card. In return, you are assigned a number that you have to remember. Prices are listed on signage.

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From here, we trudged along a packed dirt path to the fields. The sun was warm and the temperature rose to the low eighties. The air had low humidity, making for a pleasant day. Hats shaded our eyes along with sunglasses. I wore a fanny pack where I kept my camera. Row after row of plants stretched before us. One section, the plants flattened and dried, had held cucumbers. Another with tomato plants had been picked clean of ripe, red tomatoes and held only green ones. So my husband headed toward the peppers while I went to pick strawberries.

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I held each stem between forefinger and middle finger and gently yanked. One-by-one, I plopped the berries into my bucket while inhaling the scent of fruit warming in the sun. It was addictive, and I couldn’t stop picking the fruits. My treasure hunt revealed the ripe red berries glistening in the sun and waiting to be snatched. When my bucket was nearly full, I went to find my spouse. He had some delectable pepper specimens in his pail. We headed back up a slight ridge toward the open-air sales booth and turned in our buckets. Our bounty came to just over $18.00. I put my driver’s license back in my wallet and the brown paper shopping bags into the car.

We bypassed the tractor-pulled tram ride and gem mining in a nearby wooden sluice with a water tower at the top. Hungry from our exertions, we strode over to Porky & Beth’s Barbecue truck across the yard from the outdoor ticket booth.

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The aroma of barbecued beef wafted into our noses. I ordered a quarter chicken and Richard got the brisket. Yellow rice accompanied his meal while I chose mac and cheese. We’d both selected cole slaw and also ordered drinks. By the time we took our Styrofoam-encased meals to the thatch-roof covered picnic area, I was salivating. I tore into my meal, hungrier than ever. There’s nothing like outdoor exercise and a barbecue cooked by someone else to stimulate your appetite. Birds stood nearby, twittering while we ate. A welcome breeze cooled our skin while we swatted flies away from our food. Happily full, we tossed our empty trash in the can to proceed in our explorations.

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Facing the fields, we noted a petting zoo and pony rides to our left but resisted a visit to this popular kids’ area, instead heading toward the indoor market. Sheds with empty crates, tools, and tractors dotted the property. As we approached the air-conditioned building, we noted a Sabrett hot dog stand, a lemonade stand, soft pretzels, and homemade ice cream available from various vendors. There was also a lady selling clothing and another selling orchids at five plants for twenty dollars.

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Inside the building, we took a shopping cart and plowed down each narrow aisle. The place had a crowd which made maneuvering difficult. It’s best to get there early. Besides the usual fresh produce, I spied olive oils, vinegars, olives, pickle barrels, granola mixtures, Florida-made honey, soaps, challah rolls, onion rolls, a variety of breads including but not limited to banana and zucchini breads and gluten-free choices. One section held bins with peppers in different colors and shapes. There was pasta and pesto, hot sauces, gourmet tortilla chips, hot peanuts, a coffee machine where you could buy a cup, olive spreads, packaged nuts, salad dressings, fruity sauces, apple butter, pickled peaches, German sauerkraut, and a large selection of wines. It’s easy to fill your shopping cart.

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I’d like to return here in the fall when they have a pumpkin patch and corn fields. Here’s the bounty we brought home this time. Now I have to decide what to do with it all. Eggplant Parmigian with a fresh salad, anyone?

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Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Research, That's Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Security Tips from an Expert

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 20, 2016

Situational Awareness

Research for crime writing often includes advice we can use in our daily lives. Recently, we heard retired police Sergeant Al Hallonquist from http://www.securityconsultants.com speak at a meeting of Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Here are his safety tips.

Al Hallonquist2

Use common sense and be aware of your surroundings.

In a restaurant, sit with your back to the wall. Watch the doorway and the cash register.

Before getting into your car, look in the back seat to make sure nobody is lying there. My note: Also be wary if there’s a van or large vehicle parked alongside your driver’s side. Somebody could slide their door open and grab you.

Look inside before entering convenience stores, banks, or other businesses.

Think about where you’re going when you are walking or driving. Pay attention to your surroundings. Is anyone following you?

Don’t go down a dark alley or dead-end street.

Think three steps ahead of everything you’re doing.

When in a room, note where everything is located, including exits. Observe who enters. Do a “threat scan.” Note where to hide and where to escape.

Re Schools: Schools today have codes they can use over the PA system. Teachers may be allowed to lock doors to keep intruders out.

Active Shooter Situation

Be aware of your surroundings prior to, during, and after an event.

Don’t get fooled by “NIMBY”—Not In My Backyard. This can happen anywhere.

Flee if you can. Use all available exits, not just the place where you entered. Follow the exit signs. This also applies to a fire.

Before the shooter takes control of the room, consider throwing anything handy to distract him or tackle him with intent to disarm. Do what feels right and comfortable to you, but don’t try to be an untrained hero. It’s better to be an excellent witness than a dead hero. Also, don’t get in the way by running at the bad guy. You might be blocking another person who is armed and who can fire a clear shot at the shooter until you block his aim.

Obtain cover when possible rather than concealment. Taking cover, like crouching behind a table that you’ve flipped over, may stop a bullet. Concealment will hide you but will not stop a bullet.

Be wary for a lookout or accomplice.

If you’re in a hostage situation, don’t look a shooter in the eye or you might set him off. Better to be a nobody.

When the police come, assume a non-threatening pose. Preferably lie down with arms spread out on floor or hands behind head. Don’t make any threatening moves. Don’t jump up and yell.

Tear gas: Pull clothing over your face.

Flash/Bang grenade: Super bright flash and concussive hearing loss. It’s a “ball-like” grenade. It flashes upward so be on the floor and cover your ears if possible.

Taser range is up to 20 feet. You shoot a wire from a distance. This wire has sharp barbs. In contrast, a stun gun needs physical contact.

Q: Re a taser, if you’ve been shot with one, is it all over? Is there anything you can do?
A: Pretty much.  It’s pretty brutal in that your nervous system contracts and shuts down. For a short time afterward, you’re disorientated as well.

Q: How about if someone is following you? Is it better to make eye contact to let them know they’ve been noticed?
A: Again, that’s a situation by situation decision. Sometimes confronting them (even something as simple as eye contact) makes them re-evaluate their goal.

“While I hope this helps someone with their writing, I also hope it helps people become more aware, and less victimized.” 

Disclaimer: Any errors in interpretation are my own.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Research | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

History of Food Sources in SE Florida

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 27, 2014

What did the early peoples of southeast Florida find to eat? Recently, Michelle Williams from the Florida Public Archaeology Network gave a talk about “Weeds and Seeds: Dining on the Riches of Southeast Florida.” Any errors in this report are due to my interpretation.

Archaeologist

She mentioned how the early people build pyramidal shaped mounds as symbols of power. About 2000 years ago, papaya could be found here, although it probably came to these shores via bird poop. Zoo archaeology is examining animal bones to study our history. She is a paleoethnobotanist. This discipline studies plant remains to understand how people lived.

In southeast Florida, we have environmental interfaces where there’s an overlap of more than one type of ecological environment (if I understood this correctly).

The Everglades has tree islands. The trees there have a specific orientation in a teardrop shape based on water flow. Every island has evidence that people used to inhabit the land. Animals lived there, too, and provided food. Plants and trees provided wood and other resources including a type of flour. Among other things, people ate tubers, alligator meat, fish and birds.

Another environment here is the Ocean, including the ocean’s edge and mangrove swamps. There people ate conch, dolphin, seaweed, seagrapes, and cocoplums.

Another system includes Rivers and river banks, with turtles, fish, muscadine grapes and prickly pear cactus.

Lake Okeechobee is another region with snakes and fish. Catfish was popular there and now it’s bass. Elderberries and other plants grow there. The Kissimmee River feeds Lake Okeechobee, and this in turn feeds the Everglades. So Southeast Florida had hunting and gathering but no agriculture. Yet the abundance of plants and animal life supplied enough provisions for these early peoples.

Some of the current problems are Burmese pythons in the Everglades, giant African land snails and green iguanas.

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Research | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Journaling for Research

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 20, 2014

Your experiences and travels provide fodder for future works and should be recorded. When I wrote travel journals years ago, little did I realize that I’d be mining those notes decades later for my Drift Lords series. I’d been to Hong Kong in 1978. Yet today, many of the sights, sounds, and sensory impressions remain the same. Thus I sought my notes for Warrior Rogue, where a scene takes place in that great city. Ditto for the other locations around the globe for my paranormal series—Los Angeles, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and Arizona. You never know when a bit of research will come in handy.

I’ve been journaling my travels ever since I can remember. And I never related this talent to my father’s writing ability until I edited his 1929 true life travel adventure titled Thumbs Up. Who knew this is where my drive to write everything down came from? Thanks, Dad. And from my mother came the attention to detail. She described every scene in a way that made me more observant.

And now, for my latest Bad Hair Day mystery, I’ve turned again to my notes. Years ago, I accepted an invitation to go backstage at a fashion show to observe the goings-on. In particular, I took note of the hairdressers and their role in prepping the models. I used all this info in a chapter I just completed for my current WIP.

How did I find this material? I write my observations, travel journals and on-location research notes in various small notebooks. I use colored tabs to divide the sections. Then I sticker them with a number and detail the contents on a separate list. Conference notes, on-scene research and experiences that may someday be relevant to my work go into these journals. So this time, I looked on my list and saw Fashion Show under number two. I pulled out this notebook and there they were: copious notes that would prove highly useful for my scene in progress.

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Here’s an excerpt:

Marla had brought four stylists plus herself for eight models. She’d let her staff do the actual work while she supervised. She had supplied each of them with Luxor products specifically for this event. The fashion designer had sent pictures of each woman ahead of time so her staff could consult on the look. Yolanda wanted a sleek, elegant appearance to go with her gowns.

In another corner, the makeup artist was laying out her cosmetics. Each model would head over there for a touch-up once her hair was done.

Marla glanced at the racks of gauzy, glittering dresses, wishing she had time to examine each gown and drool over the creations. Sparkling burgundy, bright yellow, sexy black, tropical turquoise, sublime coral, chocolate and lime stood out in satins, silks and chiffons along with sequins, seed pearls and intricate beading. A separate rack held a dazzling array of wedding gowns. Who else but a wealthy socialite could afford these outfits? Each one cost thousands of dollars. With a sigh, Marla realized this was the closest she’d ever get to high society.

Yolanda bustled about, greeting each person and keeping her tote box at hand. What was in there? Needle and thread for last minute repairs? Jewels to go with her gowns?

“Thirty minutes per person, ladies,” Yolanda shouted. “That’s the goal.”

Marla winced. That wouldn’t give them much iron time. “The guests have to eat dinner yet. It’s still relatively early.”

“Our show starts before the entrée course to get people in the mood for dancing. We have to get the models through makeup and into their gowns by eight-thirty at the latest.”

“How many changes does each girl have to make?”

Yolanda pursed her lips. “The show is divided into four segments, although the bridal procession at the end requires only four models. So some girls will have three changes and some will have four. You’ll have mere seconds between scenes to fix any stray hairs, so make sure your stylists do their jobs right the first time.”

The lesson here is for you to pay attention to your surroundings and experiences. Take notes on ANYTHING that might become useful to your writing. Chronicle your trips and record the sensory impressions along with unusual observations, sights and experiences. Take notes during conference workshops. Then organize the material so you can find it later. Consider it a legacy to pass down to your kids. They might throw out your journals, or they might treasure them like I do my parents’ writings. Never miss an opportunity to record a slice of life.

Do you take random notes when you go places, even if you can foresee no immediate use for them?

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Don’t forget to visit me over at The Kill Zone, where I blog on alternate Wednesdays. This week my topic is Attending a Writers Conference, very appropriate since I’ll be at the Novelists, Inc. event in St. Pete Beach.

Posted in Book Excerpt, Excerpt, Fiction Writing, Research, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Nautical Archaeology for Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 14, 2014

Nautical archaeologist Lindsey Hall Thomas (writing as Linsey Hall) spoke at a recent meeting of Florida Romance Writers. She told us about the role of an archaeologist and how we might use this information in a novel. These notes are my interpretation and any errors are my own.

Linsey Hall

The field started with Antiquarianism in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries in Europe. Wealthy Europeans collected artifacts to display in their curio cabinets. Later in the nineteenth century, this turned to Nationalism and treasure hunting for great museums became popular.

William Flinders Petrie was the father of archaeology. He began the study of dirt layers and pottery dating. With his methodology, the field became a scientific discipline.

Women in this field included Harriet Boyd Hawes, who directed a field project in Greece. Look at www.trowelblazers.com for more information on women in archaeology, geology, and paleontology.

The two primary types of archaeology are prehistoric or historic. These can be further divided into underwater and land archaeologists. People involved might be students, avocational hobbyists, government types, professors, private research foundation scientists or contract archaeologists who survey construction sites and often try to underbid each other for a project.

Federally funded archaeologists share their findings with the public.

When to dig depends upon several factors: weather (summer mostly); availability of labor (students and professors are out of school in the summer); money (get more funding in the summer over the winter) and research (goals or grants?).

The Job

The procedure is to choose a site, find the site, create a team, and get funding. Funding can come from the government, private donors, university grants, or documentary filmmakers, who pay for a project so they can film it. Next, you set up a base camp then begin excavating and recording.

To find a wreck, you can ask the locals. Use remote sonar sensing. Dive on the target. Drop a camera. Or use a remote-sensing magnetometer that looks for magnetic signals and picks up iron. Manned submersibles are not often used because they’re too expensive. You can deploy an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or AUV. You can program the AUV for where you want it to go, plus add sonar and video cameras.

After discovering the site, you go home to plan. You’ll need to acquire funding, permissions and permits, and equipment.

The team consists of archaeologists (1 to 2 for an average of 14 people), volunteers, technical specialists for the sonar, photographers for documentaries and other publicity, a conservator to deal with artifacts, boat skipper, medic, dive master, and film crew.

The objectives are to fully record the construction features of the shipwreck; photograph and record all artifacts; record a film documentary. You might recover a small amount of artifacts, but then you’re responsible for taking care of them.

The depth of the shipwreck makes a difference. It will cost a lot more if you have to go deep. Diving is done from small boats because they don’t attract sharks like larger vessels.

First record and measure the shipwreck and recover artifacts. Draw a diagram or picture of the wreck using underwater paper. Take notes, photos, and sonar. Build 3-D models of the ship online. Shipwreck artifacts must stay in water for preservation purposes.

An example: They excavated a wreck in Spain eighty feet deep. They created a grid with string underwater and recorded where everything was located. Air lift bags and dredges were used to move rocks and clear sediment from the water. They took pictures. Photogrammetry can take measurement images but it is expensive technology. Air bags can help clear water of fish, sludge and seaweed. It’s used on deeper sites and harder to do than dredge. Pottery is put into mesh bags and tagged as to where it is found.

In warmer weather, they can dive two times a day with four hours in between dives. During breaks, they may sunbathe or snorkel. The boat gets crowded and messy with lots of gear. They take all artifacts to the base camp to record the measurements, weigh them and then store them in water. In the evenings, they review their notes and photos. Up to sixteen people might cram into a three bedroom house, so some folks have to sleep outside. The project director has his own room. They’ll hold barbecues, throw parties in the evenings, go to Wi-Fi cafés to use the Internet.

For every hour in the field, you spend about 9 to 10 hours of processing. You’ll create a site plan, which is a record of how the ship looked. Conserve small artifacts, like buttons. For these, you need to get the salt out and stabilize the metal. As a larger example, the speaker showed recovery of a turret from the USS Monitor submersible. It’s stored in a water tank. Archival research can shed light on discoveries. The job includes education and outreach and may involve seeking designation for the site as a historical place.

Keep in mind that air, water temperature and depth limit your dive. You can dive for only forty minutes in a dry suit in cold water. Deep diving doesn’t offer enough time to work and is too costly. The best sites for preservation are the Great Lakes, the Baltic, and the North Atlantic. Wood gets rotted from ship worm. In Florida, you can see piles of rocks that were ballast, which may be indicative of a wreck.

The Dangers

Archaeologists may run into treasure hunters who can spoil a wreck site. In contrast to these salvage types, archaeologists want the artifacts preserved in a museum. Sharks are a danger. Black water diving is muddy water and so black that you can’t see. It’s more common in slow-moving, shallow rivers. You can run into bombs underwater left over from battles. Ferry boats can be a danger, and you must coordinate your activities with them. Or you could become trapped inside a shipwreck. Thieves can be another danger. There might even be one on your team as a volunteer. The dive boat capsizing would be another danger.

Visit the Nautical Archaeological Society for more information.

Also see a book called Submerged: Adventures of America’s Most Elite Underwater Archeology Team

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Lindsey Hall Thomas is a nautical archaeologist with an MA from Texas A&M University who has worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and ProMare, a non-profit nautical archaeology research foundation. She’s studied shipwrecks and submerged settlement sites from Hawaii and the Yukon to the UK and Italy. In Autumn 2014, she will release (as Linsey Hall) three books in a paranormal romance series inspired by her work as an archaeologist.

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

How to Have an Adventure and Survive It

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 31, 2014

How to Have an Adventure and Survive It by Pepper O’Neal

If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I’m an adrenalin junkie. Even as a child, I always had the urge to move on and see what was around the next bend in the river or down a lonely country road. I blame that on my nomad Cherokee ancestors. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up as my father was never content to settle down in one place. My mother and sisters hated all the moving. But I loved it. For me it wasn’t being in a new place that excited me. No, it was the “getting there” that was the thrill. Once I was “there” and saw whatever there was to see, it was time—at least as far as I was concerned—to move on. I’m afraid I drove my poor family crazy—everyone except my father who had the same degree of restless feet syndrome that I did. I was never one of those kids asking, “Are we there yet?” Oh no, I had my nose glued to the car window so I could watch the world go by. But after we’d been in a new place for a few weeks, I was asking, “Can we go now?” Even today, driving by a lonely county road makes me yearn to turn the car around and find out where that road goes. Doesn’t matter where I’m going or how late I am, I want to know what’s OUT THERE! Thankfully, I also have the luck of my Irish ancestors, so not only have I had to opportunity to have adventures, few of them have cost me much financially. Of course, there’s all kinds of adventures—some are good, some bad, and some ugly. (Sounds like the title of a spaghetti western, doesn’t it?) But, hey, an adventure is an adventure, right?

So how do you have an adventure yourself without paying a fortune? I’m not talking about going first class here. That’s a vacation, not an adventure. Vacations are fine, as far as they go. And some might even classify as adventures. But if you want an experience to remember—fondly, or not so—for the rest of your life, take a chance and don’t go first class. You’ll have some experiences money could never buy.

Okay then, how do you start? Once upon a time, you could work your way around the world. But that’s no longer easy or even advisable. Too many unscrupulous people out there. And human trafficking is a real problem. In fact, that’s the main plot point of my new book Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t, which came out in June. My heroine wasn’t looking for an adventure, but sometimes the best adventures happen when we aren’t looking for them. And anything you survive can be classified as a “good” adventure, which you will someday look back on and laugh about. Of course, this takes time—and with some adventures, it takes more time than with others.

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have an adventure fall into your lap, there are still inexpensive ways to travel. If you like boats, or think you might, contact the marinas along the closest coast to where you are and/or join the local yacht club. Most communities have a yacht club. Both of these things will put you in contact with boat owners. You’ll usually find at least one or two privately owned pleasure cruisers that are looking for crew. Sometimes, a single person sailing to someplace specific may want some company for the trip, as sailing by yourself is a lonely proposition. If you’re a male, handy with your hands, and willing to work, it’s fairly easy to snag a ride to almost anywhere in the world. If you’re female, it’s a bit harder, not to mention riskier, but it’s still a possibility. Especially if you can cook. While I was working as a researcher in Mexico and the Caribbean, I met a number of people who had hitched a ride on a yacht as a cook or crew member. Something to remember: some yacht owners can’t afford to keep their boats as pleasure yachts all year round. So they hire the boat out and provide the crew, including the cook. And some of them pay you fairly decent wages. You would live aboard the yacht, crew, or cook for the paying customers and get well paid for it. And see some really beautiful places. Just check out the boat owner, or renter, carefully. Talk to other crew or ask for references. Or both.

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Don’t want to get on a boat? No problem. Check ads in adventure magazines for jobs in foreign countries or for people traveling who want a companion. A lot of people still do, especially the elderly. And don’t forget the internet. But check the jobs and/or people out carefully before you commit. And if you’re already visiting in a foreign country, go for the cheaper modes of travel to get around, like trains and buses. One of the most memorable adventures I had was when a friend and I took a train trip across Mexico. (I don’t recommend going there these days as it’s gotten way too dangerous, but there are other places you can go where this information applies.) We paid for first class, which was very cheap. But for the whole three-day trip, we spent most of our time in second class, fascinated by the people and the things they had brought with them on the train: live chickens and pigs, baskets and barrels of exotic fruits, and whatever they’d bought at the market wherever they’d been and were dragging home with them. I remember one guy even had a toilet (new and unused, thankfully) he was taking home. My friend spoke excellent Spanish and translated for me, so we got to know some of our fellow passengers and heard some amazing stories of survival. As a writer, I gleaned a wealth of characters and story material for my novels.

Now whether your idea of an adventure is the same or different than mine, I’ll share the following tips with you that I believe apply to all adventures:

1. Don’t Go Alone. Whether you’re male or female, but especially if you’re female, don’t go off alone. Bad things can happen to people in that situation, and I’m not talking just about getting mugged, though that can happen, too. Plan to take a friend or two with you when you go if at all possible. If not, make some friends going your way and tag along. That way if something happens, you have some help.

2. Make Sure Someone Knows Where You’re Going. People can disappear while traveling, so make sure that someone knows where you are, where you’re going when you leave Point A, and when you’re expected to arrive at Point B. That way, there’s a chance if you get hurt, stranded, or abducted, someone will notify the authorities.

3. Don’t Put All Your Money in Your Wallet. Wallets can get lost or stolen. So have a money belt (or a money pouch you wear under your clothes) to keep your money (and ID) in and transfer it in small bits to your wallet as you need it. Then if your wallet goes missing, you aren’t stranded without any funds or ID.

4. Leave Your Prejudices at Home. Strive to have an open mind about the people and places you encounter. Yes, they’re going to be different than what you’re used to. And they may well seem primitive and crude by your standards. But hey, if you hadn’t wanted to experience something different, why did you go there in the first place? If all you’re willing to experience is what you already know and are comfortable with, you might as well stay home. Give the people and the experiences a chance. You won’t regret it.

5. Know Where the Nearest Consulates and Marinas Are. Whatever your nationality, know where your nation’s consulates are located in whatever country you’re visiting. Shit happens, folks. Believe me, I know. So before you leave, get on the internet and find out what cities have one of your nation’s consulate’s offices. The consulate is your main representative when you are in that country. If you get into trouble (lose your money or passport, unintentionally commit a crime, etc.), they are your best (and sometimes only) source of help. Also find out where the marinas are if you’re going to be on or near the coast. Marinas can collect mail for you and put you in touch with people who can help you out in an emergency. Write this important information down and keep it with you. You may never need it, but at least you have it if you do. And it may not be possible to access the internet if you need the information later. So be prepared.

6. Mix with the Natives. The beauty of immersing yourself in the culture you’re visiting is that you truly get to experience what life is like for the people who live there. If you’re friendly, most people will respond and, when they do, they’ll not only tell you where the real bargains in lodging, food, and entertainment are, they’ll take you to some of the private places that tourists never get to see or experience. If you don’t speak the local language, try to find someone who does to translate for you. Even if you have to pay them a few bucks, it’s worth it.

I’ve had some wonderful adventures following these rules. Of course, I also had some I hadn’t expected. I nearly got mugged in St. Thomas, spent a night in an abandoned motel in the middle of nowhere in southern Mexico, cowered in a hotel bathroom during a fierce tropical storm in St. Martin, broke my leg in Cozumel and my ribs in Tecamachalco, had to climb a mast—at sea in the middle of a hurricane—to repair the misen boom on a boat, took more than one shower with cockroaches the size of small dogs, and was medevac’d by helicopter during a gale after being creamed in the head by flying debris. As a friend once told me, if most people knew what was in store for them when they set off on an adventure, they’d never have the courage to start out on one. But, hey, I survived, so that makes them all “good” adventures. And now I can laugh about them—or at the very least, chuckle.

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Pepper2

A strange man has come to save her…but is he friend or foe?
Anderson Merritt’s been kidnapped, but when a stranger comes to rescue her, she isn’t sure he is who he says he is. He claims to work for her father’s boss. But someone close to Andi set her up, and now she doesn’t know who to trust. Every man she’s ever known has seen her only as a tool to get to her father or his money, so why should this one be any different? As the sparks between them ignite, and the danger escalates, Andi has to choose—go off on her own, or trust that some men really are what they seem.

He doesn’t want to hurt her…but he may have to if she doesn’t come willingly.
Ex-CIA black ops specialist Levi Komakov doesn’t believe in hurting women, but when the place is set to blow and Andi won’t cooperate, he has no choice to but toss her over his shoulder and carry her out of danger, determined to keep her safe in spite of herself. But the beautiful little spitfire doesn’t make it easy for him. With her abductors seemingly always one step ahead of him, Levi suspects there’s a rat in the woodpile, but who? Could it be someone close to Andi’s father, someone in the FBI, or someone in the family Levi works for? When a new threat appears, and even the CIA can’t help him keep Andi safe, Levi puts everything on the line—but will it be enough?

Buy Now: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Ops-Chronicles-Dead-Dont-ebook/dp/B00LAN3B98

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Pepper1

Award-winning author Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad.

O’Neal attributes both her love of adventure and her compulsion to write fiction to her Irish and Cherokee ancestors. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.

Website: http://www.pepperoneal.com

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

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 12, 2013

Normally you’d associate a dude ranch with horses, right? But do you also add in opportunities to partake in educational lectures, spa treatments, fishing and gourmet food? At Tanque Verde Dude Ranch outside of Tucson, Arizona, you have the chance for these activities and more.

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch  Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

I was pleasantly surprised as we drove up to the main lobby to note the green landscaping amid curving paths. Single-story pink adobe buildings are scattered throughout the property, each housing either guest quarters or public gathering places. It was pleasant strolling around the grounds and a hike in itself climbing the road to the haciendas at the top.

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch   Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch   Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

The more expensive accommodations overlook Saguaro National Forest and the mountains beyond. We stayed in a casita, a large rustic bedroom suite with a fireplace, dining alcove, seating arrangement, and modern bathroom facilities. Notably lacking was a television. The theory is you’re so tired out after being active all day that you’ll retire early.

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch    Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Daytime activities range from riding horses to nature hikes to lounging by the pool, playing a round of tennis, or getting a massage. You can visit the nature center and speak to a naturalist about wildlife in the area or track down a wrangler for a horseback riding lesson.

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch  Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Tanque Verde Dude RanchTanque Verde Dude Ranch

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch   Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Evenings might find you at an outdoor barbecue, attending a lecture, or relaxing on your patio with a good book. Maybe they’ll add a ghost tour in the future if the resort is found to have some associated ghost stories. Cooking demos might be another added attraction as the food was excellent. The dining hall offers a buffet for breakfast and lunch and a sit-down menu for dinner. Stop by the Dog House Saloon for a drink later in the evening.

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Tanque Verde Dude Ranch   Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

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In the same building as the dining room is a card room, cozy sitting room with leather couches and a TV, and a space for evening lectures. Nearby is a gift shop with souvenir items.

I didn’t get a chance to participate in any of the activities except for the evening historical talk because I was busy all afternoon interviewing staff members for my next mystery. I came prepared with a list of specific questions. Although I am not a horse person, staying at a dude ranch could grow on me. Certainly I like the feeling of being pampered, which you get with the inclusive meals and the spa facilities.

Taking walks, reading, and appreciating nature is a vacation in itself. I enjoyed strolling the paths and reading the labels on the desert plants and trees.

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch  Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch       Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

If you want to get away from it all and be close to nature, a dude ranch vacation may suit your needs.

How does this location relate to my next story? In Peril by Ponytail, Marla and Dalton accept an offer by his cousin to stay on a dude ranch for their delayed honeymoon. Naturally, where they go, mischief and mayhem follows. Does Marla learn to like horses? Stay tuned to find out.

Thanks to the staff at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch for graciously answering my questions. If you want more information about this popular destination, Click Here.

You can see more photos here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

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Fall into Reading Contest, Oct. 28 – Nov. 15
Enter to win an ebook copy of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery and a $10 Starbucks gift card or one of three runner-up prizes! http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

November Booklover’s Bench Contest Nov. 4 – Nov. 18
Enter to win a $25 Amazon or BN gift card or one of six runner-up ebook prizes. http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

Posted in Food, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Ghost Hunt

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 28, 2013

Have you ever hunted ghosts at a haunted site? We had the chance to go on our own ghost tour at the Jerome Grand Hotel in Jerome, Arizona. This five-story concrete structure used to be a hospital for miners populating the area in the early 1920’s. Our ghost hunt ($20 per person) began in the boiler room of the hotel with an orientation talk. The original 1926 steam boiler still provides heat for the hotel. Our guide told us ghost tales and the hotel history (see post on Jerome coming next). Here’s the boiler room. Can you spot the orbs? You might have to enlarge the photos.

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One ghost was a fellow who used to hang out at the bar and who disappeared for three days. He was found by the police chief hanging in his bathroom down a short corridor from the boiler room.

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Another ghost was a man who was found with his head smashed under the elevator that had stopped working. The coroner said the back of his head should have been bashed in, but the front had contusions. Had he been hit with blunt force and his body laid out there so it would appear to be an accident?

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Ghost number three was a 24-year-old female schizophrenia patient, who’d been drugged and restrained at night. On her last night there, she got loose and jump from the balcony to her death.

And finally, the fourth ghost could be the man who shot himself in his room.

Then we were given our instruments which included a Digital Camera, an IR Thermometer, and an EMF Meter that blinked red near electric sources.

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The ground floor has the lobby and boiler room, plus a gift shop. The lobby used to be an emergency entrance for ambulance patients. The men’s wards were opposite the women’s and children’s wards on floors two and up. Room 26 (our room) used to be the x-ray department. This was spooky in itself, since my husband is a retired radiologist. Room 27 was the nurse’s station.

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Floors one through four contain the hotel rooms and former patient wards, the former operating room, cafeteria, x-ray department, and solarium. The old-fashioned Otis elevator is enough to spark your imagination. You have to close a grate and then the outer door. A key is needed to reach the higher levels. Below is the incinerator where body parts were disposed along with other bio-hazardous materials after surgery.

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The third floor was the psychiatric ward. The fourth floor had been an enclosed rooftop and was converted to rooms for wealthier private patients. (If I get any of this wrong, it’s due to my note taking and not to the lecture). The cafeteria was off one end of a floor. The operating room was at another end at a different level. There was also a solarium.

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All are being converted into guest rooms. We walked through these sites on the ghost hunt tour, including the new areas under construction.

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As we went around, we didn’t find any cold spots. I took a lot of my own pictures, hoping something would show up later when I put them online. We were promised a disk of everyone’s photos from the hotel cameras, but so far, this item has not arrived. However, a lot of orbs showed up on my photos as you’ll see. If you want more information on this phenomenon, check out these resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orb_optics

http://www.ghostweb.com/orb_theory.html

http://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/o/orbs/

http://strangeoccurrencesparanormal.weebly.com/orbs-explained.html

What do you think about orbs? Are they spiritual entities, or are they artifacts like dust motes and water vapor droplets?

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Fall into Reading Contest, Oct. 28 – Nov. 15

Enter to win an ebook copy of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery and a $10 Starbucks gift card or one of 3 runner-up prizes! Enter here: http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

 

 

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

Desert Botanical Gardens

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 25, 2013

Setting is an integral part of any writer’s story arsenal, and sometimes you have to go to a place in person to learn more about it. Arizona was as foreign a setting to me as stepping foot on another planet. Expanses of red dirt dotted with scrub brush and cacti plus mountains stretching into the distance boggled my imagination. What were those wondrous plants called? The saguaro cactus made its remarkable presence known immediately, its tall stalks reaching toward the sky.

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But what were those beautiful green-barked trees or that intriguing purplish cacti? And why did my cousin warn me away from those lovely flowering cactus plants?

A trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens proved illuminating. Taking notes and photos as we roamed, I learned more than the names of the flora decorating the desert landscape. I learned not to rely on a mountain as a landmark. Oh, the entrance is opposite that mountain there? Well, guess what? There was more than one peak! My cousin and I got lost trying to find the exit. Yep, this intrepid author, armed with notebook and camera, couldn’t even find her way out of the park. Thirsty and tired, we finally met up with my husband in the gift shop and immediately headed to the café for cold drinks.

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How might this relate to my story? My heroine, Marla, could easily get lost on a path like this same as me. Only in her case, a killer might be on her tail.

The park lists four deserts in North America: the Mojave, the Great Basin, the Chihuahuan, and the Sonoran which is where we are located. Here are some of the plants we identified.

The dangerous plant that looks seductively appealing is the Cholla bush. Its sharp needles can blow off in a breeze and pierce your skin. Steer clear in a wind.

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I liked the purplish prickly pear cactus with its elephant ears, as they’re called. Being a Floridian, to me they looked like Mickey Mouse ears.

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My favorite trees are the green-barked Palo Verde and the shady Mesquite. No doubt Marla will stand in its shade at some time during my story, or she might trip over a creeping devil that hugs the ground like a snake. At least I’ll know what to call some of these plants now, and if I don’t have it in my notes, I can look it up in Cactus of Arizona Field Guide or the pamphlet on Arizona Trees & Wildflowers that I bought. Truly I was surprised by the abundance of greenery. The scenic beauty can grow on you.

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So where are we going next on our virtual tour? To the Grand Hotel in Jerome, an old mining town. We stayed overnight at the haunted hotel and took a ghost hunting tour.

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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