Let’s welcome our guest, Author Mary Cunningham, who will share what inspired her to write the Andi Anna Jones mystery series featuring a travel agent sleuth.
A Writer’s Life by Mary Cunningham
I’ve written most my life, but until the ripe old age of fifty, I’d never ventured beyond family memoirs and very bad poetry. Then five crazy women got together and formed WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty. All of us had reached that magical milestone, or were about to, and weren’t all that thrilled with the ramifications. Hormones, hot flashes, hair loss, and weight gain were just a few of the complaints. We decided to become proactive and write a book that not only made light of our fate, but would honor our love of dogs, too. We embarked on the WOOF adventure.
From there, I moved on to middle-grade fantasy. Huh? Not a natural transition you say? When you have a recurring dream about a friend’s attic that served as your clubhouse on rainy days, you have to write about it. Write? Er…right? Cynthia’s Attic Series features best friends, ancestors, family stories, and time travel. While I, my family nor friends have admitted to time travel, writing about family stories passed down from great-grandparents, grandparents, and my mom and dad, gave me as much writing material as any Google search could generate.
I’ve now jumped into a totally different genre—a cozy mystery series about an inept travel agent whose real talent is amateur sleuthing. One of the first “writerly” pieces of advice I got was “Write what you know.” I was that inept travel agent in North Miami Beach. (Won’t mention the agency in case there are pending lawsuits against me) Seriously, I was awful. And hated it. I’m thrilled this new book and series has given me some sense of redemption and exorcised a ghost or two.
All those miserable days I spent, completely out of my element, led to one of the most satisfying journeys of my life. Writing about Andi, and her quirky cohorts, has been a freeing experience. Not only does writing give me a release from the past, I can draw on the good and the bad. For instance, Andi’s sidekick (and true agency manager) Ellie, is based on Ellen, the proficient agent who worked with me, and saved my backside on many occasions. She knew, instinctively, when I was struggling to make an airline reservation or book a trip, and would subtly step in and guide me through the process.
So many characters in Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder are written for the reader’s enjoyment and for the purpose of making lemonade from lemons. I can’t remember writing a story that made me laugh out loud. This one did.
Throughout my writing life, I’ve made fun of the aging process (WOOF), made up adventures about my ancestors, and written about a poor, but short-lived career choice; all with self-deprecating humor. If you have life-experiences you want to remember, or would rather forget, maybe writing will help.
Do you have any memories of quirky characters or mysterious family stories?
Andi’s step-mother, Ruby, is a real piece of work, but is she a murderer?
Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will include the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby might be the main suspect.
Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with charming local sheriff, Manual Gonzales. An embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, can’t quell her determination to clear the name of her ex-stepmother.
While gathering clues and interviewing witnesses, however, she suspects dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.
If you have as much fun readingMargaritas, Mayhem, & Murder: An Andi Anna Jones Mystery (# 1) as I had writing it, we’ll all be winners!
Order Your Copy Here or at your favorite online bookstore:
Author Mary Cunningham grew up on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn.” Through the author’s horrifying stint as a travel agent, Andi Anna Jones sprang to life. This series gives extra meaning to the phrase, “Write what you know.” Cunningham has several other books published, including five books in the Cynthia’s Attic middle-grade fantasy series, the women’s lifestyle/humor book, WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, Ghost Light and Christmas With Daisy.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Carrollton Writers Guild. When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, she enjoys golf, swimming, and exploring the mountains of West Georgia where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, furry daughter, Lucy.
When writing a mystery, it’s crucial to tie up any loose ends by the end of the story. You don’t want to leave readers hanging on what some incident or snatch of dialogue might have meant when they finish the book. There are several ways for you to keep track of these plot threads.
You might make a list of all the questions that will arise in a reader’s mind as you write the story. Or you can create this list as you do your first read-through revision. If you write a synopsis, that’s another way to keep tabs of what’s going on. Once you’ve finished the first draft, read through your synopsis and make sure you’ve resolved all the plot points. If not, fix them during the revision process.
Here’s an example of some loose ends from Easter Hair Hunt. A brief story blurb will fill you in so you can follow these questions.
When hairstylist Marla Vail attends an Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor, she’s only there to fix hair for a client, Bonnie “Blinky” Morris. But when she’s asked to comb the grounds for leftover goodies, Marla discovers more than just a few dyed eggs. The dead body in the bunny costume is definitely not having a good hare day. And Blinky seems to have disappeared down a rabbit hole.
LOOSE ENDS – Spoiler Alert!
Where is Blinky?
Why did Blinky give her costume to the dead guy?
Who stabbed the victim and why?
Where and what is the murder weapon?
What does the autopsy report say?
How did the Faberge egg end up in the grass next to the body?
Who is stealing artifacts from the house? Is the motive money or spite?
Why did Connor Tremaine deed his property to his wife and leave nothing to his son?
I write a synopsis up front as a writing guide. I’ve just gone through the one for Styled for Murder, my next Bad Hair Day mystery, to make sure it matches the story changes I made along the way. Whoops. It appears I’ve left too very obvious loose ends and forgot all about them. One factor is part of the killer’s confession, and another relates to a subplot with a secondary character.
Re the subplot, I left a hint in a conversation but have no idea what it meant. I can’t find an explanation for this statement anywhere in my character profiles or plotting notes. Do I eliminate this snatch of dialogue, or do I come up with a reasonable explanation? I chose to leave it in and explain what this character meant later on. That’s what I get for not keeping better track of each detail. I didn’t keep my list of loose ends for this story like I usually do, and that would have helped. All is not lost, though. I can write them out during my next revision pass to make sure everything is solved.
This is also why a story needs multiple views. We need to make sure all the questions have been answered by the end. Even our editors and beta readers sometimes miss things that our fans will point out later.
The first three books in the award-winning Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series are now available in a brand new box set! Here’s your chance to get started or to get caught up if you’ve missed these earlier titles. Or buy the set for a Mother’s Day gift!
Meet Marla Shore, a Florida hairstylist and salon owner with a knack for styling hair and solving crimes. In her debut case, the brazen beautician unravels a shocking murder that’s making waves all over Palm Haven, a small southern town where almost everyone has something to hide. A coastal fundraiser and a murder at a sports club round out this trio of fun, light reads.
PERMED TO DEATH – Book 1
Sassy salon owner Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when her client dies in the shampoo chair. If that isn’t enough to give her a bad hair day, handsome Detective Vail suspects Marla of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer. Figuring she’d better expose the real killer before the next victim frizzes out, Marla sets on the trail of a wave of wacky suspects. Her theory regarding whodunit gels only after she looks for the culprit closer to home.
“A terrific mystery debut for Nancy Cohen. Marla the beautician is a delight!” Tamar Myers, author of the Pennsylvania Dutch Mysteries and the Den of Antiquity Mystery Series.
HAIR RAISER – Book 2
When South Florida hairstylist Marla Shore takes charge of a fundraiser for a coastal preservation society, she has to comb through a knot of suspects to determine who’s sabotaging their gala event. Participating chefs are dropping off the roster like hot rollers, and it’s only through a series of hair-raising exploits that she can tease the truth from a tangle of suspects. Too late to stop a murder, Marla must salvage the grand affair before she’s moussed into oblivion.
“Curl up with Nancy Cohen’s stylishly witty and chillingly suspenseful tale of murder on the Florida coast—Hair Raiser is a cut above.” Joanne Pence, author of the Angie Amalfi mystery series
MURDER BY MANICURE – Book 3
Hairstylist Marla Shore joins a fitness club to get in shape but discovers a dead body instead of an exercise routine. Jolene Myers—a client at Marla’s salon—has drowned beneath the frothing waters of the whirlpool. When Homicide Detective Dalton Vail determines Jolene’s death was no accident, Marla decides to give her deductive skills a workout and help solve the case.
“Marla Shore is a beguiling, very clever sleuth who teases out every clue. Absolutely delightful!” Jill Churchill, author of the Jane Jeffry & Grace and Favor mystery series.
*A Word About Reviews* My new box set will need reviews. If you’ve already read these three books, I’d appreciate it if you might say a few words on this box set page at any of the above sites. Ditto for when you read this volume for the first time. My thanks in advance!
If you haven’t read EASTER HAIR HUNT, you can enter to win it on BookSweeps — plus 25+ exciting Mysteries with Humor from a great collection of authors AND a brand new eReader! Enter here: bit.ly/HumorousMystery-Apr21
Browse sixty booths across genres at this virtual event, all books by Florida authors. They even have freebies at every booth! Even better? There’s a Reader Rewards program, so the more you spend, the more ebooks you get for free! I’m one of the participating authors, and I hope you’ll join us. Prizes and free books for attendees! Also, I’ll be interviewed on site Monday, May 3 at 2:00 pm. Go Here to browse, pick up some freebies and join the fun: https://floridawritersbooks.com
Enter Here June 23 – 29 to win up to 25+ Cozy Mystery eBooks and bonus paperbacks in this multi-author giveaway. My book, Shear Murder, is included!
Please join me at one of these upcoming online events. It would be great to see some friendly faces in the virtual crowd.
Monday, June 29, 4:00 pm – Chat with author Nancy J. Cohen
Nancy J. Cohen will discuss her cozy mysteries set in Florida with a touch of humor and a hint of romance via Zoom. Sponsored by National Council of Jewish Women Palm Beach as part of their “What’s in the Author’s Bag?” program. **Pre-registration and fee required. https://ncjwpalmbeach.org/whats-in-the-authors-bag/
Wednesday, July 8 at 3 p.m. Self-Publishing Made Simple with Nancy J. Cohen, a writing workshop sponsored by South Florida Book Festival Do you have a novel that doesn’t fit genre guidelines or a personal project you want to self-publish? Or perhaps you want to reissue backlist titles or become a hybrid author? In this workshop, award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen will discuss setting up your own imprint, buying and assigning ISBNs, preparing your manuscript, ebook and print distributors and marketing tips. Register here: https://broward.webex.com/broward/k2/j.php?MTID=t2837d4c885a368ab35e39866caaa2420
For more information about #SOFLOBOOKFEST go to www.sfloridabookfestival.com/2020
Wednesday, July 15 at 3 p.m.Blogging, Posting, & Tweeting Your Way to Success with Nancy J. Cohen, a writing workshop sponsored by South Florida Book Festival Blogging is a proven route to building followers. You can start even before you’re published by sharing your writing journey. Or perhaps you already have a blog but want to increase your subscriber list. How can you attract more followers? In this workshop, we’ll discuss how to get started blogging as well as useful techniques for Facebook and Twitter. Register here: https://broward.webex.com/broward/k2/j.php?MTID=t652b81d9202dca80961d83990b69b036
For more information about #SOFLOBOOKFEST go to www.sfloridabookfestival.com/2020
I am proud to announce the release of A Bad Hair Day Cookbook featuring over 160 quick and easy recipes from my home kitchen to yours!
This cookbook was a labor of love. I’ve enjoyed posting on my social media sites about my cooking classes, food tastings, kitchen experiments, and other adventures in dining. My list of recipes grew until the idea came to me to compile them into a cookbook. I hope you enjoy making the recipes for your friends and family as much as I enjoyed sharing them.
Are you having a bad hair day? Whip out your whisk, snatch up your spoon, and prepare your palate. Inside the pages of this cookbook are recipes that will bring you good cheer.
Enjoy 160+ tasty recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s popular Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series. Included in this cookbook are excerpts, cooking tips, and anecdotes written by hairstylist and savvy sleuth Marla Vail. From appetizers to desserts, Marla offers cooking tips and tricks along with commentary about the dishes she prepares for her family. Whether you’re a skilled cook or an eager novice, this cookbook will unravel the mystery of cooking. Put on your apron and plan to make some killer recipes! Bonuses Include:
• Meet the Sleuth
• Introduction by Marla Vail
• Cooking Tips
• Excerpts from Series Titles
• Themed Menu Suggestions
• “A Sabbath Dinner” by Nancy’s Mother
For Home Cooks, Mystery Fans, and Cookbook Collectors
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9997932-4-4, Orange Grove Press, $4.99
Print ISBN: 978-0-9997932-5-1, Orange Grove Press, $15.99
“Reading through this cookbook has revived my interest in getting back in the kitchen.” Rhonda Gilliland, Author and Editor of the Cooked to Death Series
“Mysteries and cookbooks belong side by side on readers’ shelves. A Bad Hair Day Cookbook serves up both food and justice.” Christine A. Jackson, Ph.D., Author of Myth and Ritual in Women’s Detective Fiction
“A BAD HAIR DAY COOKBOOK brings to readers the amazingly delicious recipes from the series of the same name. Easy, fancy, and favorite standbys, they’re all covered, making this book packed with something for everyone!” Lisa K’s Book Reviews
“Designed for busy cooks who may not be out solving crimes, but whose time is equally challenged.” Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
“This book is not only a treasure to add to any cookbook collection, but a pleasure to read.” Emily-Jane Hills Orford, Readers’ Favorite
NEW RELEASE!I am proud to announce the reissue of KILLER KNOTS, #9 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Hairstylist Marla Shore is looking forward to a romantic interlude with her fiancé, Detective Dalton Vail, on their first Caribbean cruise. Her excitement hits a snag when she discovers his parents have come along for the ride. It isn’t how she might have chosen to meet her future in-laws, but she hopes they’ll have smooth sailing ahead.
The first sign of trouble is a mysterious note addressed to Martha Shore on her cabin door. Marla assumes the sender spelled her name wrong but is disturbed by the message. When she meets her dinner companions and learns they’ve received similar notes, she suspects something isn’t kosher, and it’s not the lobster on the menu. Moreover, Dalton’s parents have been seated at another table by mistake. Is it merely a mishap, or something more?
Their tablemates all seem to know each other as colleagues from an art museum, where an artist died recently under dubious circumstances. When her dinner companions start disappearing one-by-one, Marla realizes they’re headed for stormy waters. If she doesn’t find the culprit fast, she might end up with a one-way ticket to Davy Jones’s locker.
Killer Knots was originally published by Kensington. This Author’s Edition has been revised and updated with added bonus materials.
Print ISBN: 978-0-9997932-3-7, May 21, 2019, $14.99, Orange Grove Press
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9997932-2-0, May 21, 2019, $3.99, Orange Grove Press
Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica
Digital Layout by www.formatting4U.com
“Delightful…The Love Boat meets Sex and the City. A charming heroine and a hero to die for, pick this one up posthaste!” MaryJanice Davidson, NY Times Bestselling Author
“Fans of vacation mysteries will enjoy watching Marla find her way through this light whodunit.” Publisher’s Weekly
“Overeating isn’t the only danger when a Florida hairdresser and her fiancé take a Caribbean cruise. As passengers start to disappear, Marla suspects lobster thermidor isn’t the only thing aboard that’s not kosher.” Kirkus Reviews
“Cohen’s latest Marla Shore novel shines with the compelling drama of an old-fashioned whodunit. A cruise ship is the perfect setting for this closed-door mystery.” RT Book Reviews
“Killer Knots lures you with balmy breezes, exotic ports of call, and an intriguing mystery. Kick back with your favorite tropical libation and enjoy the sailing.” Reader To Reader
“This fun cruise ship cozy makes it seem as if you are on the cruise–the food, activities, ports, music, description of the ship–everything is described in luscious detail. Set sail for a fun read.” Armchair Interviews
“Set on a cruise ship headed for the balmy Caribbean, stormy relationships and murder brew on the horizon. Maybe the hairstylist should have caught a clipper ship instead (ouch!). This Bad Hair Day mystery is a stylish read.” The Murder Circle
Hairball Hijinks: A Bad Hair Day Cozy Mystery Short Story, is now available in ebook format.
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-4-8, $0.99, Orange Grove Press
Hairstylist Marla Vail agrees to help find a neighbor’s lost cat and discovers a ransacked house where more than the pet is missing.
Savvy hairstylist and super sleuth Marla Vail visits her friend Tally who just got out of the hospital after a serious car accident. Marla has been caring for Tally’s baby and is sad but grateful to return him to his mother. She and Tally reconcile their friendship that had become estranged before the crash.
Happy to have her friend back, Marla is about to leave when a knock summons her to the door. It’s a distraught elderly neighbor who claims her cat is missing. Marla, unable to turn down a person in need, accompanies the lady home. But when Marla enters the house, she realizes much more is missing than a lost feline. The place has been ransacked, and when she calls the police, they inform her the neighborhood has been beset by a series of thefts. Can she find the crooks before they cause another cat’astrophe?
Bonus One: An interview with Marla Bonus Two: 5 new recipes! Bonus Three: A sneak preview of Trimmed to Death
Spoiler Alert! This story comes after Hair Brained, #14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. It contains spoilers so you might want to read that book first.
With special thanks to Lois Crockett for suggesting the story title.
Marla hastened to the front door. After a glance through the peephole, she opened the door to face an elderly woman with white hair.
“I heard you were taking care of Tally’s affairs after her accident, and I recognized your car in the driveway. You have to help me,” said the lady with a frantic expression.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“I’m one of Tally’s neighbors. I understand you’ve a reputation for solving crimes. Thanks to your efforts, the police discovered who hurt Tally and her husband. Poor thing to lose her man that way. Now my guy is missing. I can’t find Mr. Stanton anywhere.”
“What do you mean?” Did the woman really address her spouse in that formal manner?
“I went out on some errands. When I got back, he was gone. I don’t know how he could have slipped out of the house on his own.”
Marla gave her a sharp glance. She wanted to learn more, but Luke had quieted, and she didn’t dare risk waking the baby by asking this person inside. Besides, it wasn’t her house. She didn’t have that right.
However, Marla couldn’t turn the woman away. Her natural inclination was to help people, so she stepped outside and shut the door behind her. The first order of business was to determine if this lady was legit or a scam artist preying on folks in the community.