A Conversation with Award Winning Cozy Mystery Author, Nancy J. Cohen

Thank you for joing us in The Drawing Room, Nancy.

NANCY J. COHEN writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. Titles in this series have been named Best Cozy Mystery by Suspense Magazine, won a Readers’ Favorite gold medal, placed first in the Chanticleer International Book Awards and third in the Arizona Literary Awards. Nancy’s instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery, was nominated for an Agatha Award and won a gold medal at the President’s Book Awards from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. Her imaginative romances have proven popular with fans as well. These books have won the HOLT Medallion and Best Book in Romantic SciFi/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews. A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, she is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, Nancy enjoys fine dining, cruising, visiting Disney World, and shopping.

James:                  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Nancy:                  I decided to become a serious writer when I was in graduate school to earn a Master’s Degree in Nursing. Before this time, I wrote short stories, plays and poetry. I bought a book called “Structuring Your Novel” which taught me how to write a complete novel. I also studied Writer’s Digest Magazine and analyzed plots in the books I read.

James:                  I’m impressed with your methodical approach.

James:                  What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Nancy:                  It’s easy to get hung up on editing and revisions. If you try to create pages that are perfect, you’ll never achieve your goal. You’ll keep rewriting over and over. You have to write the first draft at a steady pace to the end. Then go back and fix it. Join a critique group. Hire a developmental editor if you will be indie publishing. Don’t assume your English teacher friend or family member can critique your work with the same eye as a professional. Make your product as polished as possible.

James:                  Thank you, Nancy, for your common sense and insightful advice.

James:                  Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Nancy:                  It’ll hurt you. We all learn from each other. Humility and gratitude go a long way.

James:                  I couldn’t agree more, Nancy. There is a common misconception that ego and confidence are essentially the same things. However, in reality confidence is faith in your own abilities and belief in one’s self; while, ego operates out of self-interest seeking approval, accolades and validation from others. It is these very differences that can make or break your career.

James:                  How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Nancy:                  I have 8 unpublished manuscripts.

James:                  Is that by design?

Nancy:                  No, it isn’t. I wrote six books before I sold one. I have another two full-length mysteries that are unsold as well.

James:                  What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Nancy:                  The money spent on my cover designer for my indie books is well worth it. She’s a talented artist, and the book cover is all important.

James:                  Great advice, Nancy. We all know the cliché you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, which I think was intended to refer more to people than to actual books, however, a book’s cover is usually the first point of contact a reader has with your book. You only get one chance to make a first impression. It takes a mere seven seconds to make a first impression. First impressions do matter but content and substance have the final word.

James:                  How do you select the names of your characters?

Nancy:                  I select names randomly. This sometimes works against me, as in my current book where I have a Dalton and a Daniel.

James:                  That’s not the response I was expecting, Nancy, considering your proclivity for a methodical and well thought-out approach.

James:                  Do you feel like it’s most important to have A) Strong characters B) Mind-blowing Plot twists or C) Epic settings?

Nancy:                  Strong characters are most important. They drive the plot and view the setting through their own angst. Characters are memorable more so than a setting or story. We get to know them and think of them as friends.

James:                That is so very true, Nancy. You need to know your character and understand why your character does what they do.

James:                  Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Nancy:                  No. I write whodunits, so I have to play fair with my readers.

James:                  What does literary success look like to you?

Nancy:                  Making a profit! Seriously, writing is a business, and we need to make a profit to continue publishing our work. Awards are wonderful for the recognition, and I’d love to see my books as a TV series. I suppose recognition as a household name would be the ultimate success. I mean, most of us know who J.K. Rowling or John Grisham or James Patterson are, right?

James:                  Good points, Nancy.

I’ve always ascribed to the principle that if you can dream it, then you can achieve it. You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want. I guess success is a complex and personal concept determined the individual.

James:                  What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Nancy:                 The research I do depends on the story. For my current work in progress, for example, I’ve delved into the history of the postal service, Easter traditions, Fabergé eggs, Russian Imperial daggers, honey production and beekeeping, among other eclectic topics. I’ll look up what I need to know to plot the story and then will go into more detail later during the writing process.

James:                  Do you use any special writing software? If so what is it, and what are a few of your favorite perks of it?

Nancy:                  I use Microsoft Word. I’ll also employ the SmartEdit software after the book is written to help me catch grammatical errors, redundancies, clichés, repetitive word usage, and such.

James:                  What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Nancy:                  I am about to become a grandmother for the first time.

James:                  WOW! That is exciting news. Congratulations, Nancy! Thank you for sharing that with us.

James:                  What was the hardest part of writing your author bio?

Nancy:                  It’s still hard for me to write my author bio. I feel it should be more entertaining.

James:                  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Nancy:                  Not writing? When is that? We are always thinking about writing or marketing or plotting or listening to snatches of dialogue in our head. But I’ll go shopping, out to lunch with friends, read for pleasure, take nature walks. And write. Oh, and I like cruising to the Caribbean and visiting Disney World.

James:                  Ha, ha. J I know what you mean.

James:                  Do you read the kind of books that you write or do you tend to read books that are the opposite or different – and why?

Nancy:                  I like to read genre fiction. So at any time, you’ll find me reading two or three books in different genres. This includes historical romance and historical mystery, cozy mysteries, sci-fi/fantasy novels, and some YA. I like a story that sweeps me into another world and takes me away from the daily grind.

James:                  Yes, I have read almost exclusively what I call cerebral mysteries. Not so much about the crime itself but about its solution. Now I’m finding that, like you, I have begun to read other well written stories that inexorably draw me in.

James:                  What question do you wish that someone would ask about you/your book, but nobody has? What is your response to that question?

Nancy:                  What’s the biggest challenge you had in writing this book?

My response: Staying on track is difficult with so many distractions. It takes focus, dedication and sacrifice to get a book out there. People who aren’t writers don’t understand the demands on our time and energy. When we’re not writing, we are marketing our work, responding to publicity requests, or planning the next project. It’s an all-consuming career, and because we work at home, we’re often not taken seriously. We have to force ourselves to get down to business with Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

James:                  So very true, Nancy.

James:                  Pick one excerpt from one of your books you would like to share with readers.

Nancy:                  Here is an excerpt from Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day series.

Marla shivered as robed individuals muttered their incantation in unison. It reminded her of a witch’s circle. Could this group’s aims really be so innocent?

“Did you attend the harvest festival at Kinsdale Farms the day Francine died?” Dalton asked.

Colin shook his head. “I wish I had gone. Then maybe I could have prevented what happened. I was at a popular culture conference in New Orleans that weekend.”

“Do you know anyone who might have wished to harm Ms. Dodger?” Dalton swayed slightly on his feet as he spoke.

Marla gave him a sharp glance. Was the incessant chanting getting to him, or was it the drink he’d ingested?

Colin tented his hands together in prayer formation. “Francine did sound excited about an article she’d been researching. ‘Now I’ll finally get my revenge’ are the exact words she said to me. But when I pressed her for details, she wouldn’t say more.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I can’t believe she’s gone. We were good together, and now…”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Marla told him in a soothing tone. “Is there anything else you can tell us that may be helpful? I’m sure you want to see justice done for Francine same as we do. Even something seemingly irrelevant might be important.”

“Her colleagues might have more information, especially the lady who took over her job. Maybe she orchestrated the whole thing to get a promotion.”

“I’ve interviewed them,” Dalton said, “and no one seemed to bear Francine any ill will that I noticed. As for the topic she’d been pursuing for her alleged exposé, she was keeping it a closely guarded secret, same as her relationship to you.”

As soon as those words left his mouth, Dalton’s legs folded. He sank to the ground in a sliver of lantern light that illuminated his senseless form.