Southern Writer Spotlight: Nancy J. Cohen
Name: Nancy J. Cohen
Book: "Styled for Murder"
Hometown: Apopka, Florida
Gives us a brief description of your book(s).
When South Florida hairstylist and salon owner Marla Vail gets a frantic call from her mother that there’s a dead body in her shower, she realizes this wasn’t part of the home renovation plans. The victim turns out to be the shady project manager. Disgruntled customers, unpaid suppliers, and the design company’s staff are among the suspects, but Marla is more concerned about her stepfather’s connection to the victim. Reed is keeping secrets and he won’t come clean about what he knows. Can she flush out the clues and nail the killer before he strikes again?
"Styled for Murder" is number 17 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. This title has been named “Best of 2021” Cozy Mystery by Suspense Magazine and is a RONE Award nominee.
What brought you to write these stories?
The inspiration for "Styled for Murder" came from personal experience. I had problems with the project foreman in charge of our bathroom remodel, and you know what they say—Don’t make a mystery author angry, or you might end up as the victim in her next book. That’s what led me to write this story. Doing home renovations is always stressful especially when things don’t go as planned. It was an easy step to creating a murder in that environment.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Story ideas spring from my characters or from personal experience. This far along in my series, the characters have twists and turns in their lives that can dictate what will happen next. Then it’s a matter of determining the victim, setting, and suspects. I’ll do preliminary research and get more specific as needed. Most of my research takes place online, although I’ll draw upon my personal travel journals and photos if they’ll be helpful.
Where does the story(stories) take place?
All of my Bad Hair Day mysteries take place in Palm Haven, Florida, with two exceptions. Marla goes on a Caribbean cruise in "Killer Knots" and takes a honeymoon in Arizona in "Peril by Ponytail." Palm Haven is a fictional town located west of Fort Lauderdale.
How does setting play in the telling of the story?
Setting is a character in itself. In my stories, I use local flora and fauna, food choices, ecology, and more to reflect the diverse environment of South Florida. Aside from this overall setting and the background of Marla’s hair salon, each story has its own “setting within a setting” that produces the murder victim and the suspects. These have ranged from a farm festival to a historic estate to a day spa to a haunted hotel, as some examples. The book I’m working on now takes place in a living history village.
What do you think makes a good story/book?
Sympathetic characters, a unique setting, a strong plot, and tight writing make for a good book. You want to hook readers by getting them to care about your protagonist and then keep them turning pages. In a mystery, you need twists and red herrings to keep readers guessing.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always had a love for storytelling. But it wasn’t until I started writing novels, joined a critique group, and met an agent at a writers’ conference that my career went forward. It was more of a hobby than a profession in the early stages. A writer has to make a decision that this is a serious career choice and requires training like for any job. Only then will you be committed to success. Writing is also a business, which you can learn from other writers. So getting involved in the writing community is essential.
When did you write your first book? And how was that experience?
I wrote my first novel while I was in grad school for nursing. It took me six more books before I finally sold a futuristic romance to Dorchester. I wrote four books for this NY publisher and then switched to mysteries. Kensington bought my Bad Hair Day series and published nine of those titles. When I got orphaned at their house, I left the company and wrote several sci-fi romances for Wild Rose Press. Then Five Star picked up my mystery series and it continued for four more books. At that point, they cancelled their entire mystery line and I decided to go indie. In total, I’ve published 25 full-length novels, 2 novellas, a short story, a cookbook, and an award-winning writing guide for cozy mysteries. Four of my mysteries are in audiobook, and I’ve done box sets as well. You can find the entire list on my website.
Is writing your primary job or do you have another career?
Currently, I am a full-time writer. My previous career was in nursing. I’d earned a master’s degree in nursing and worked as an R.N. for 10 years before quitting to pursue writing full-time.
What does your family think of your writing?
They are proud of my accomplishments and supportive of my work.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing your stories?
I’ve learned all sorts of eclectic facts. Each book requires research on different topics. I’ll start by doing whatever preliminary research I need to do online to formulate the background setting and get started on the plot. Then I’ll look for interesting items that catch my eye so I can learn about them and incorporate these factoids into my stories. For "Styled for Murder," this included topics such as edible gold, propane gas, copper thefts, home remodel scams, origins of bone china, and health benefits of garlic. I love learning something new with each book. This gives me the spark of inspiration to write the story and makes it exciting for me.
Did writing your book(s) lead you to other things?
It led me to the next title, "Star Tangled Murder." This is my Work in Progress and will be book number 18 in the series. Marla and her detective husband attend a battle reenactment where a fake skirmish turns up a real dead body.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
Join the professional writing community. Take webinars and online classes, attend meetings of local groups, participate in a critique group, go to writers' conferences. Set daily and weekly writing goals and stick to them. Give yourself permission to write a draft that will need work but at least get it done. Then don’t give up through the submission process. Learn all you can about the business aspects of writing from other authors and keep learning. Follow the 3 P’s – Persistence, Practice, and Professionalism.
How can readers find and purchase your books?
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/nancy-j-cohen