Bookin' It

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Wednesday Author Interview: Nancy J. Cohen

HangingbyaHair

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.

Amazon Author Page

Barnes and Noble

Harlequin Mysteries

WarriorLord_w8513_750

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.

PubPink

 

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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14 thoughts on “Wednesday Author Interview: Nancy J. Cohen

  1. Thank you for having me here, Marcia!

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  2. alisonmcmahan on said:

    If I know an author has a series with multiple volumes, I know the first one might not be the best. But there is a certain pleasure in starting from the beginning and growing along with the character.
    And with the writer, if that’s part of it.

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    • I absolutely agree with that, Alison. Some of my very favorite series started with books that intrigued me, but mostly simply showed the promise of becoming more. And they did. Some became absolutely brilliant, and part of the fun was watching the characters and plotlines grow, and the author become more assured in their writing. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting today! Have a great evening.

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    • Sometimes it isn’t possible to start with book one. It might be out of print or otherwise unavailable. That’s why we writers must make sure each book stands on its own. And in some cases, the first book may be better than the rest because the author had more time to write it before getting pressed with deadlines.

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      • That’s true. One of the things I love about e-publishing is that the book will never go out of print. But I have been known to look for used books on amazon when I needed the first book in a series.

        I agree, it’s nice if a book has just enough back story so it can stand alone, but I was really talking more about how each book in a series can be stronger as it goes. More and more character development takes place when spread over several books, and more complicated plot lines can develop. I love watching that progression from a good first book to a remarkable series. (It doesn’t always turn out that way, but it’s great when it does.)

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  3. Loved your interview Nancy. Didn’t know you wanted to be a nurse! I admire how disciplined you are with plot and characters when you write. If I get stuck on my plots, I tend to sip a Cosmo and wait for inspiration. As to the question of which in a series to read first, I use my magic query: If you were on a desert island, which book in a series would you like to wash ashore – the first in the series or the last? I think your advice to writers to make sure each is a stand alone is excellent. Keep writing and much success.

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    • Hi, Diane! I don’t know about Nancy, but if I were stranded on a desert island, I’d choose stand-alone books or the entire series. 😀

      I read an awful lot of urban fantasy, and the world-building is so complex in some of these, with the story arc spread over several volumes, as wars commence, or epidemics spread, or whatever. It just wouldn’t be possible to understand a later book thoroughly (and “thoroughly” is the key word, here) without that grounding from the previous books. Even having read the earlier books and having some decent back story included in the current one, I still forget some things that can be critical to understanding the latest book. Knowing the long, carefully developed history between characters is something a few “catch-up” sentences just can’t really capture. At least, that’s my take on it.

      Of course, these books are often “epic” in nature, and the plot isn’t wrapped up at the end of any one book. Whatever crisis is happening at the moment is cleared away, but the war maps are still on the table, or the zombies are still roaming the streets, or the enemy airships are still hovering overhead. (Just kidding about the zombies…I never read those. Hardly. Hahaha.)

      Just one reader’s thoughts, and not to be taken all that seriously. (Nobody around HERE, takes me seriously, so why should you guys?) 😀

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      • Marcia, my Drift Lords series as that sort of “epic” feel in that there’s an overhanging story arc. But in each book, I explain the technobabble/mythology so no matter which title you pick up, you needn’t have read the previous ones. As for me on a deserted island, I’d get too frustrated with the first book in a series. I’d rather read the last one to see what happened.

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        • I know what you are saying, Nancy, and I agree, you have to explain the details in each book, but it’s not the same as having “lived” through it all. At least, it’s not for me. That could be totally a personal thing, but I can’t imagine reading the latest Dresden Files book, for instance, without having known every single moment of the ongoing relationship between he and Karrin Murphy. I could “guess,” based on the recaps here and there, but it just would lose so much.

          So…I’m just going to hope I can always track down that first book, so I can read every series in it’s entirety. 😀 That will make me reallyreally happy. 🙂 And I could NEVER read the end of anything first. (I cover up the page on the right while I’m reading the page on the left, just to keep from accidentally learning anything ahead of time.) I’d hang on to that last book for years, until I had tracked down every one that came before it. 😀 A bit compulsive, you say? Yeah, about books, maybe so. 😀

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          • I was just thinking about the trilogy I’m reading now, too. (Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy). These books have one story that is being told in three parts. It’s like Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3. None of the books would stand alone, to my way of thinking, and you’d never know the complete story if you just read one. I don’t think all series work like that, but for some, that follow a very long story, with the same couple, as they do things on an epic scale, I just really need to read them all, and I can’t imagine reading only the last one, and understanding what happened before. You are reminded, of course, and certain things are explained again, like how allomancy works, but you still wouldn’t get the whole story, because none of the books is complete in itself. It was designed to be a trilogy.

            Does that make sense? I’m not trying to belabor the point, but I think what works for one type of series might not work as well for another type, even with re-explanations, etc. You have to have watched each character evolve and grow, which is what I love about them. So maybe I’m thinking of the types of series that are really, in essence, one long book, broken up into easy to digest bites.

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    • Diane, if you wait for the muse to strike, you might be waiting a long time. That’s why I write a synopsis first. It’s a road map so I always know where to go. In my early days, I did chapter by chapter outlines. Hey, whatever works, right? Regarding nursing, I worked as a registered nurse for ten years so I’ve fulfilled my goals for two careers.

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