I am pleased to announce the release of a newly revised and updated Author’s Edition of Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. This title is available in print and ebook formats. I’ve tightened the writing, added new back materials, and hopefully improved the story with these changes. Isn’t this cover great? Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica is a genius.
Join me in celebrating the start of Marla’s adventures at a Book Launch Party on Facebook Tuesday evening 7:00 – 8:00 pm EDT. Fun and prizes!
The Open Road Media ebook edition is still available if you want to see how my writing has progressed through the years. The original title was published by Kensington.
Since most of the reviews for Permed to Death are based on the original text, I’d appreciate any new customer reviews for my revised edition. This book is especially important to entice readers into reading the entire series, so your kind words would be greatly appreciated!
Permed to Death 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.
My husband and I took a walk on Saturday, since we finally had a break from the rain and cold weather in South Florida.
Our conversation went something like this:
“I finally figured out the murder weapon,” I said. “Now I just have to determine whodunit.”
“Oh, and I thought you were looking at knives on the computer to use on me.”
“No, I found the perfect blade with a special handle. It’ll help lead to the killer’s identity. But I’m not sure how I’ll get there. I have to eliminate each suspect one-by-one to reveal the bad guy.”
“I don’t know how you can do all that. It would give me a headache.”
“Me, too. I haven’t figured out what Marla will do next. Her stepdaughter just had an emergency. We have to get past that, and then….”
And so on. You get the idea. Our imaginations are always active. I tend to zone out at times and have to remind myself to live in the moment. But it’s hard when you’re in the middle of writing a novel to stop thinking about it. We need the momentum to keep going, until the final page where we can write The End. Then it’s like a great burden lifts off our brains…at least until we start revisions.
Do you lie awake at night worrying about future events or reviewing your to-do list? The other night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Too many thoughts and concerns flickered through my mind. When this happens, one technique I use is to grab a handy notepad and pen and scribble down every thought in my head. This might include a list of things I have to get done the next day or a list of my worries, whether realized or not. Writing them down seems to allay some of the anxiety.
Assigning these concerns to a set of worry dolls is another method I might employ. These are miniature Caribbean dolls that you lay out on your nightstand or put under your pillow. Then you assign each doll one of your worries. They fret all night while you can go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that someone else is doing the worrying for you.
I’d suggest a good book, but if it’s too good, you might want to keep reading. So choose a happy story that isn’t so engrossing that you can’t put it down. And if all else fails, there’s always a glass of wine to lull you into a state of tranquility.
What does this have to do with writing? When developing your main characters, you want to do the same thing. Imagine your character’s lifespace. Determine what is in her head at any given moment in time. Here is an early version for Marla Shore, my hairdresser sleuth. Never mind my minimal drawing skills.
What is YOUR main character thinking about right now? Why are these things on her mind? Which ones are the most important to her? How do they influence what she’s going to do next?
Giveaway! Anyone who comments or reblogs this article will be entered into a drawing for a free set of miniature Caribbean worry dolls. Winner will be picked by random.org on Monday morning and posted here. U.S. residents only due to postage constraints.
Contest Alert Visit my Contest Page for a chance to win free books.
I’m excited to announce the release of Body Wave, #4 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Body Wave was originally published by Kensington. This Author’s Edition has been revised and updated with added bonus materials.
Stylist Marla Shore goes undercover in a hair-brained scheme to catch a killer in her latest South Florida adventure. In a story braided with unexpected twists and curls, she takes on a role as nurse’s aide for wealthy Miriam Pearl. While Marla snoops into the elderly matriarch’s affairs, her boyfriend, Detective Dalton Vail, is afraid that the only affair she’ll snag is with her ex-spouse, Stan. Juggling work at her salon, crime solving, and two amorously inclined males, Marla fights a race against time to save Stan before the dashing detective nails him for murder.
Excerpt from Body Wave
Marla is being interviewed on Sunday for the part-time nurse’s aide position. Also present are Morris, a family member, and Agnes, the woman’s regular nurse.
“We’ve had a death in the family,” Morris explained to Marla, “so things aren’t well organized right now. Why don’t you come on Thursday next week? We’ll expect you to wear a white uniform when you report for work.”
Marla glanced at Agnes, who wore slacks and a pullover sweater. Did that mean the nurse was already off-duty for today?
“You can run off now, Agnes,” Morris said, answering Marla’s silent question. “Miss Shore will begin at once.”
Marla nearly dropped her handbag on the floor. “Now? But I’m not ready. I mean, this was just supposed to be an interview. I thought you said you wanted me to start on Thursday.”
“It doesn’t matter that you’re not in uniform today,” Morris said. “Come upstairs, and I’ll introduce you to my mother.”
“B-but what do I do? Agnes, aren’t you going to instruct me?”
“I already did.” Agnes paused. “Good luck, Miss Shore. May I call you Marla?”
The woman’s gaze cooled. “A word of caution, Marla. Mrs. Pearl is a special lady, and I care deeply about her. See that you follow her orders explicitly. If she has any complaints, I’ll hear about them. I may be an employee here, but I report directly to Miriam. She’ll listen to me if I advise her to dismiss you.”
“Ms. Cohen’s plot has more twists than a French braid, and Marla is a shear delight.” Joanne Fluke, author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries
“In Nancy J. Cohen’s fourth bubbly Bad Hair Day mystery, Florida hairdresser Marla Shore agrees to help her snake of an ex‑husband, Stan Kaufman, who’s been arrested for the murder of his third wife, Kimberly, find the real killer.” Publishers Weekly
“In Body Wave, Marla faces more shades of guilt and malice than she has colors of nail polish in her salon ‑‑ and exposes herself to a hidden killer who may decide that eliminating Marla is a permanent solution for getting away with murder.” Barnes & Noble Ransom Notes
“The Bad Hair Day mysteries have been noted for their humor, quick pacing and an intelligent amateur sleuth. Author Nancy J. Cohen continues to offer a refreshing and fun series.” Creatures ‘n Crooks
“You will find it all within the pages of Body Wave: a touch of romance, laugh out loud moments, hilarious characters, and a puzzling mystery.” The Romance Readers Connection
I’m in that void in between books. Having finished my Author’s Edition of Body Wave (Bad Hair Day Mystery #4) and scheduled it for launch on June 16, I can start thinking about my next project. And so far that’s all I’ve done—think about it. This would be Bad Hair Day #14. It’s a direct sequel to Facials Can Be Fatal that follows Peril by Ponytail, my September release. I’ve set this summer for plotting with writing beginning in the Fall.
All I have at this point is the victim. I also have a possible motive, but whether this ends up a red herring or the actual reason for the crime is yet to be determined. My suspect pool is limited to work colleagues. Who else can I bring in? Did the victim have any interests or extracurricular activities that might have gotten him in trouble?
I won’t know the answers until I do my character development charts. But first, I have to figure out the timelines, because this guy’s background indirectly intersects with my sleuth’s life. So where was she when they first met? What does she know about him?
Another person is involved who has a closer relationship to our intrepid hairstylist. How is this person related to the crime? Is it random, or does this character have secrets of her own that could provide a motive?
And what about the so-called crime? Is it plausible? What could be the course of events that led to the victim’s death? Who else might be involved? This necessitates research. I have to ask an expert in the field.
As you see, all I have are a series of questions. But these are things I must ask myself to start the plot formulating in my head.
And then there’s the Wow factor for me. What can I learn that’s new and interesting? This is what really grabs my interest and gets me excited about a story. The idea can come from a newspaper or magazine article, news broadcast, personal experience, or tidbit of information that crosses my path. Maybe as I’m delving into the characters, it’ll come to me. Meanwhile, my story antennae are alert.
If all else fails, I can explore my Dirt File, where I keep clippings of interesting articles about people’s crimes. Or I could explore my General Research files where I stick items that might inspire me. I’m hoping these actions won’t be necessary. Maybe I’ll get an unexpected visit from the muse who will bring me the right idea. Then the pieces will start to fall into place, and a story will form. I call this the Discovery phase because you are discovering what the story is about.
Plotting a new book is a daunting task, but one every writer faces when he finishes one book and contemplates the next. I can’t wing it like some authors. I need the story plotted out in advance. I’ll write a synopsis before beginning page one. This entire Discovery process can take me from one to three months. Then the hard work of writing begins.
How about you? When does your story brain put the pieces together?
LibraryThing June 1-22
Enter at LibraryThing to win one of two signed ARCs for Peril by Ponytail (Bad Hair Day Mystery #12). Look near bottom: LibraryThing Giveaway
Goodreads Giveaway June 3-14
Enter to win one of two signed paperback copies of Hanging by a Hair (Bad Hair Day Mystery #11) Goodreads Giveaway
Booklover’s Bench June 4-18
Enter June 4-18 to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklovers Bench Check out our other features, including a weekly giveaway, while you’re there.
Do you belong to a book club? Maybe you’ve always wanted to start one. But what do you discuss? Aside from determining the parameters for your group, you’ll need to figure out how analytical you care to get.
Here are some questions to jumpstart your discussion. Adapt them for your own use.
When you put the book down, were you smiling or sad? Did you feel a sense of satisfaction? If you liked the story, what elements appealed to you—The setting? The writer’s style? The fast pace? The memorable characters? Things you learned from the story? The emotional depth? The real life issues? The escapist element into another world? The happy ending? Or the ambiguous finale?
If you didn’t like the book, why not? Did the characters not engage you on an emotional level? Was the pacing plodding? Not enough action? Inaccuracies in research? Long descriptive passages that put you to sleep? A setting you found distasteful? You couldn’t relate to the characters or concept? You don’t like the genre? Your friend or book group made you read it? Would you try a book by that author again?
Why did you buy this particular book? Do you feel the expense was worthwhile? What inspires you to buy any book? Is it the author? Book cover? Endorsements? Cover copy? It’s on the Bestseller List? Recommendations by friends? Do particular story elements or tropes appeal to you? Character archetypes? How much do you read to see if the story captures your interest?
Characters Do the characters seem real?
Can you identify with the hero/heroine?
If they’re not snagging your interest, why not?
Can you distinguish between different people in the story? What makes them distinctive?
Does the protagonist grow and change by the story’s end?
Are the characters memorable?
Setting What is the novel’s setting?
Does it appeal to you? If so, why?
How does the author convey a sense of place?
Would you want to visit the location in the story?
Are there certain settings you avoid in a book?
Plot Does the storyline develop logically?
Is the plot linear or wrought with twists and turns?
Are elements of mystery or suspense included? Are they important to you?
Is the pacing too slow, just right, or so intense you can’t put the book down?
Is there a balance between action, exposition, and dialogue?
Were you surprised or is the story predictable?
Is there a subplot? How is it related to the main plot?
Voice Is the story in first person, third person, or multiple viewpoints? Which do you prefer?
What would you say is the protagonist’s attitude toward life?
Does a sense of humor shine through?
What makes this author’s voice unique?
Style Is the writing didactic or breezy? Wordy or clear? Poetic or simple? Action and dialogue or lots of exposition? Do you prefer long passages or lots of white space and short chapters?
Theme Can you identify a central theme? (i.e. sibling relationships, coming of age, father/son)
How does the theme relate to the story?
Does the theme have symbolic references?
Genre Specific Topics
Mystery: Did you suspect the killer early in the story or were you guessing until the end? Was the killer’s motive plausible? Would you want to read more about this sleuth and his world? What makes this series unique and interesting?
Suspense: Were the characters realistic, or did they put themselves in jeopardy unnecessarily? Was the villain evil enough for a sense of dread to pervade the story? Were the stakes high enough? And was the resolution convincingly satisfying?
Romance: What’s the heat level of this book? Did the relationship develop in a believable manner, or did the love scenes seem gratuitous? Did you fall in love with the hero/heroine? Did the story contain an archetype that appealed to you (i.e. marriage of convenience, fish out of water, rags to riches)? Is it considered a classic romance with a happy ending?
Sci Fi/Fantasy: What kind of world did the author create? Is it believable? Is there enough detail to make you feel you’re there? What is at stake in the story? What does the hero risk losing if he fails in his mission? Would you want to revisit this universe?
What else would you add to this list for a book club to discuss?
Here I am speaking to a book club. I’m available locally or via Skype.
Are you prepared for disaster? The other morning, we were taking our daily walk when we heard a series of explosions. Then I noticed sparks from among the trees. Getting closer to the source, we noted the disturbance came from a utility pole on our community’s main street. Upon rushing home, our fears were confirmed. The power was out.
Not to worry. We kept the blinds closed along with the refrigerator. I shut down our computers as they still were running on battery power with my backup APC unit. And it was daylight, so we could see just fine. I decided I’d read newsletters on my iPad. And so I got the reading done that I’d been postponing.
At 11am, I had a hair appointment. My husband and I were starting to get restless. He’s used to running out on errands while I get my writing done. But as we attempted to manually lift the garage door, we failed. It was incredibly heavy and required both of us to shove it upward. I wasn’t tall enough to push it over the edge. And then it came crashing down if we didn’t lower it. It wouldn’t stay in place. I got out the manual for our hurricane-proof steel door. From the instructions there, it appeared our springs were not working properly. We’d need a service call.
Fortunately, we still had landlines. Our portable phone units didn’t work, and I wanted to save my cell phone for checking email and doing posts on my social networks. So we called the garage door people. A breath of relief. They’d send someone out later that day.
More time passed. Another call to FPL said the power wouldn’t be restored until 1 pm. There was damage to the main line. Great. I cancelled my hair appointment. We couldn’t go out for a second walk in case the garage door guy called. So there we were, trapped in our house. We ate snacks from the pantry, not wishing to open the refrigerator and raise its temperature. It was relatively cool in the house, being partially cloudy outside and not the summer heat, thank goodness. It gave us the opportunity to test our flashlights and battery-run radios. We have a solar powered/hand crank device that has a searchlight, radio, and cell charger. And I have a portable cell phone charger as well.
Without a laptop, I couldn’t do any writing, but I’d already finished my task for the day before we’d gone out earlier. Finally, just around one the garage repairman came. He adjusted the springs and lubricated the joints. Lo and behold, I was able to easily lift the door myself thereafter, and it stayed open. We pulled out both of our cars. And right after the serviceman left, the power flickered on.
The outage had lasted six hours. It had made us do garage door maintenance, which we’d needed and wouldn’t have known otherwise. And it made us take stock that we really weren’t prepared for hurricane season. But at least for those storms, you have advance warning.
Character development in fiction writing always mentions goals. These can be long term or short term and are usually practical in nature. But what about your protagonist’s youthful dreams? An article in a news magazine got me started on this topic. It randomly interviewed a bunch of women about their dreams in life. This inspired me to make a listing of my own to aid in character development
Start a political career
Have a big family
Travel throughout Europe
Enter a baking competition
Become an Olympic athlete
Study to be a ballerina
Perform on Broadway
Turn party planning into a career
Visit the Egyptian pyramids
Apply to be an astronaut
Run a marathon
Ride on the Orient Express
Learn computer programming
Adopt some rescue dogs
Join the Peace Corps
Sing in public
Live in Paris for a year
Hike the Appalachian Trail
Be on a reality show
Get hired as a personal chef
Work on a cruise ship
Learn to fly an airplane
Become a volunteer firefighter
Write a novel
Marla Shore, my heroine sleuth, carries around travel brochures of Tahiti in her purse. She may never get there, but at least she has been on a Caribbean cruise.
What hidden dreams does your main character have?
Contest Alert! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench in our April contest http://bookloversbench.com/contest/ Check out the other features on our site while you’re there.
At the March meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter, bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan spoke for an hour on how to be a great speaker. Her talk was riveting and the perfect example of what she was saying. She should know. Joanna has been named by Sharing Ideas magazine as “one of the top 25 motivational speakers in the world.” Her personal essays have appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and one was made into a television program on the Pax Network. So here are her tips:
Tailor your introduction to meet the needs of the audience. What connection do you have with this group? Praise them for their work. What have they done that makes your life better? Practice out loud. It gives you muscle memory.
Before you speak, listen to group dynamics to learn what’s going on. This will also predispose people to like you. When addressing the group, “Charm their socks off.” When you reference people you’ve met who are in the group, you close the gap with the crowd. “It was great to sit with Mary today.” Listeners want a connection.
The group wants to learn about you as a person. What can they gain from hearing about your experiences?
Mention the importance of a signed book, how it might inspire a younger person to read or to write stories someday. If your readers aren’t in the audience, instill good will so the listeners want to take home a piece of you or give your book to someone who loves to read. A physical book can be kept as a souvenir or passed on.
Anything you can do wrong has already happened to someone more important. The audience is rooting for you to succeed. Nobody expects perfection, but they don’t want you to waste their time either. What can you do that benefits them? Regarding handouts, people often keep them for years.
Prepare your introduction. Prepare a testimonial that relates to your expertise. Find someone in the audience who can back up your claims. Prepare something fun, like putting sticky notes under a chair so someone wins a prize.
Catalog your personal anecdotes and practice them. You shouldn’t be the hero of your own story all the time, i.e. “I did this and everyone loved me.”
Get the audience engaged by asking them a question. Perform an activity, like asking them to speak to a neighbor or write something down on an index card. End your talk with a call to action, i.e. sign up for your newsletter. Hand around a slip of paper and offer a freebie for people who sign up. Or do a special offer: If you buy 5 books, I’ll donate one to your library.”
Now to go practice what Joanna taught us….
Joanna’s first mystery novel—Paper, Scissors, Death—was an Agatha Award finalist. It features Kiki Lowenstein, a spunky single mom who lives in St. Louis. Joanna’s next series—The Jane Eyre Chronicles—began with Death of a Schoolgirl and continues with the release of Death of a Dowager. Her newest series—the Cara Mia Delgatto Mysteries—is all about second chances. Tear Down and Die and Kicked to the Curb are just the beginning. The college textbook Joanna wrote—Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience—has been praised as an invaluable resource by Benjamin Netanyahu’s speechwriter and has been endorsed by Toastmasters, International. http://www.joanna-campbell-slan.com/
Yesterday I took a break from work to relax at Fort Lauderdale Beach. On Saturday, I’d attended a meeting of Florida Romance Writers, and Sunday I spoke at a benefit for the Palm Beach School of Autism. Fellow panelists were Elaine Viets, Joy Fielding, and Michael Haskins. Some very talented members made paper sculptures out of books. The table decorations were inspired as well. We spoke a bit about our work and then fielded questions from the audience.
Monday I decided that I deserved a day off, so I suggested to my husband we head to the beach for a walk and lunch. We drove down Las Olas and parked at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park across from Bahia Mar resort. It’s cheaper than one of those flat-rate lots. After paying our money via the meter and placing the sticker on our dashboard, we walked alongside the low wave-shaped white wall that borders the beach. Fort Lauderdale officials had the foresight to ban condos here so there’s an unbroken view of the water. Across the street are souvenir shops and cafés bustling with customers.
We passed the cruise-ship shaped Ritz-Carlton hotel and went as far as the Casablanca Café, a popular restaurant on Route A1A. Then we turned back and went to lunch at Coconuts Bahama Café on the Intracoastal. The breeze was pleasant as we sat outside under an umbrella. I had a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and we split a Key lime pie for dessert. Tourist boats and yachts plied the water while pelicans groomed themselves on the adjacent boat dock.
Satisfied after our meal, we took our beach chairs from the car and found a shady spot on the sand. Here we sat for an hour or so until we were ready to leave. The ocean looked pretty clear down by the shore and I listened to the waves crest and recede. It was fun to people watch. Young girls wearing bikinis strode past while their male counterparts played on a basketball court or used the outdoor gym apparatus near the picnic tables. When I closed my eyes, I heard the ocean surf, seagulls squawking, people chatting, the thump of the ball on the court, the roar of a motorcycle, the drone of prop airplanes overhead dragging banners.
And so a sense of peace descended upon me until I returned home. And now it’s back to work.
Contest Alert! One more day! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free books from Booklover’s Bench authors, including an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2), in our March contest http://bookloversbench.com/contest/