Wednesday Author Interview: Nancy J. Cohen
BI: Today, Bookin’ It would like to welcome cozy mystery and sci-fi romance writer, Nancy J. Cohen. Welcome to the blog, Nancy. Could you tell us a bit about how you became a writer? When did you decide that’s what you wanted to be, and what steps did you take to prepare for a writing career?
NJC: I have always enjoyed writing but wanted to be a nurse. So I followed that career while writing poems and short stories. During grad school, I decided to learn how to write a novel so I bought a book called “Structuring Your Novel” and that taught me what I needed to know. I wrote six books before one sold. What made the difference was joining Florida Romance Writers, attending a conference where I met my first agent, and participating in a biweekly critique group. Networking with other writers was critical for my career. I wrote four scifi romances for Dorchester before I switched to writing mysteries. I’ve come full circle in that now I write in both genres.
BI: Wow, you were not only inspired, you were dedicated. Florida Romance Writers sounds like exactly what many of us need. Were you inspired by any particular authors, past or present, and what is it about their work that impresses you, or moves you?
NJC: Jill Churchill’s books got me interested in funny mysteries. I still like to read humorous cozies as much as I like to write them. Then Alyssa Maxwell’s books and recommendations hooked me on historical mysteries as well. As for romance, I am still a fan. I also read scifi/fantasy. Through the years, what lesson has stuck with me is that the series I’ve enjoyed have captured my attention because of the main character’s growth and maturity. He doesn’t remain static. And that’s been an important influence on my own work. I read Horatio Hornblower and followed the character from midshipman to admiral. If you think about it, Nancy Drew doesn’t evolve. So series that have really gripped me keep me coming back to see what’s happening in the main character’s personal life. That’s influenced my own mystery series, too. My hairdresser sleuth, Marla Shore, evolves from a divorced businesswoman who doesn’t want children to marrying handsome Detective Dalton Vail and becoming stepmother to his daughter. How they adjust to their new life together will provide the impetus forward after book ten in the series. I’m already up to book twelve as of this article. As for my current Drift Lords paranormal series, each book features a different Drift Lord and his intended mate. They, too, have to grow and change during the course of their adventures.
BI: Growth and change. Sounds like the perfect way to go to me, and I agree, it makes for a much more interesting series in the long run. What genres do you read most often for pleasure…those books you gravitate toward the minute you walk into a bookstore?
NJC: I like to be swept away to another world when I read, so I gravitate toward historical romance and historical mystery, humorous cozies, light paranormal romance, and scifi/fantasy. I read some YA these days, too. I don’t care for dark stories as there’s enough scary stuff in the daily news. I want to be entertained and escape to another world.
BI: I think escape is the key for many of us. While I don’t mind dark stories, I really don’t want any real life headlines intruding on my fantasies, either. Do you have a dedicated workspace, and are you consistent with the amount of time you spend writing each day?
NJC: When I’m on a writing schedule, I’ll do a minimum of five pages a day. I work on a desktop computer in a home office. I’ve two desks there, one for my computer and the other for household correspondence. My husband, who is retired, knows to keep things quiet during work hours. After doing my page quota, I’ll spend the rest of the day on marketing activities.
BI: Okay, now I’m jealous. Two desks? I love it. Do you use visual aids, like Inspiration Boards/Photos or maps of your book’s setting? What reference books or other material do you consult most frequently as you write?
NJC: Right now, I’m consulting books on poisons. LOL. Sometimes I’ll use a plotting or story board, dividing a poster into twenty blocks for chapters and sticking up Post-Its with plot points. I may go online for images of my characters. And if necessary, I’ll map out a location. In Warrior Lord, I created a theme park in Copenhagen modeled after Tivoli Gardens. So I got an extensive a diagram of that place in order to create my own location. Ditto for the scenes in Las Vegas in this story. Much of my research is online although I have plenty of reference books in my home library.
BI: I like your approach. I’d be lost without inspiration boards and photos of places and characters. When you have an idea for a new book, do you sit down and start typing, or do you start with an outline, and figure out all the major plot points first? In other words, is your working style structured and organized, or more organic and free flowing?
NJC: I’ll write a complete synopsis before starting the story. Before I even get to that point, I’ll develop the characters, figure out the suspects if any, and have a general idea about the overall plot. The whole story has to come together for me before I can begin writing. That’s not to say things can’t change. Usually I end up revising my synopsis to match the actual work.
BI: So basically, you are a plotter, but one who remains flexible. Sounds like a pretty good approach to me, and it seems to work very well for you. Do you prefer reading eBooks, or print? Why?
NJC: I like both. At home, I prefer print books. On trips, I take my Kindle or iPad. Like many others, I enjoy holding a book in my hands, being able to turn the pages and look at the cover. But sometimes a heavy hardcover might be better read on my ebook device. It depends on the cost, too. If an ebook and paperback are similarly priced, I’ll opt for the print copy. And some series I still collect in print. Sometimes I’ll have two books going at the same time. One might be a print book and one might be on Kindle. Which story I’ll read at night depends on what mood strikes me.
BI: Sounds like the best of both worlds. I do that, too. Tell us about the books you have published, and where we can buy them.
NJC: I’ve written eleven published Bad Hair Day Mysteries and three titles in my paranormal Drift Lords Series, plus five other scifi romances. And I also have available a nonfiction writing guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery. You can get most of my titles here. Hanging by a Hair is my most recent mystery and Warrior Lord is my most recent romance. Shear Murder, #10 in the mystery series, will be released in mass market format in August by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery Library.
BI: Are you currently working on a new book? When do you expect it to be available?
NJC: I’m working on several projects. One is my father’s true life travel adventure of his hitchhiking journey across the U.S. in 1929. Another is the audio editions of my backlist mystery titles. Peril by Ponytail, book #12 in the Bad Hair Day series, is in the editing stage. And Warrior Lord, book 3 in my Drift Lords series, is newly released on August 1, 2014.
BI: What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?
NJC: The best part is getting feedback from readers. I love it when readers inquire about my next book. It means they’re hooked on my series and like my main characters. I am gratified when somebody tells me that my books have helped get them through a rough time. This makes my work meaningful. The worst part is the constant promotion that we have to do and the fear that if we stop, we’ll become invisible.
BI: I agree with you on all counts, especially the self-marketing aspects.
Nancy, it’s been great having you visit with us today. We’ll be keeping an eye on your new projects, and wishing you the best! Thanks so much for talking to us.
Nancy J. Cohen writes the humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series featuring hairdresser Marla Shore. Several of these titles have made the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller list. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a valuable instructional guide for writers on how to write a winning whodunit. Her imaginative romances have proven popular with fans as well. Her titles in this genre have won the HOLT Medallion and Best Book in Romantic SciFi/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews. A featured speaker at conferences, libraries, and community events, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising and outlet shopping.
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