Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Visit with Nancy J. Cohen

Nancy is a multi‑published author who earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Rochester and a master's degree from the University of California in San Francisco. After working as a clinical nurse specialist, she retired to write full-time. She made her debut onto the publishing scene with futuristic romance novels written as Nancy Cane. Her first book, Circle of Light, won the HOLT Medallion Award. Nancy wrote a total of four futuristic romances for Dorchester before switching to mysteries.

Nancy, how did your “Bad Hair Day” mystery series come about?

I started out writing romance, and my romances had mysteries in them. I liked plotting the mystery angle so much that I was thinking about doing a straight mystery series. But who would be the sleuth?

One day, I was at the hair salon getting a perm, waiting for the timer to go off, and I had nothing good to read. I glanced at the other customers who were staring into space waiting for their timers to go off, and I thought, we need something gripping to read to kill time. Let’s kill off one of these ladies! Thus Permed to Death was born. In the story, hairstylist and salon owner Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when the old lady croaks in the shampoo chair. Marla has to prove her innocence to handsome Detective Dalton Vail.

Marla is a businesswoman as well as a talented professional who cares about her customers. A stylist has to be a good listener, so she’s a natural for a sleuth. She knows many people around town, and clients confide in her. Plus the beauty salon is a great background setting for a mystery series. People are constantly walking in, gossiping, and exchanging information. A hairdresser can work anywhere if you think about it: weddings, film sets, funeral homes, fashion shows. It opens up the possibilities.

Why the switch from futuristic romance novels to mysteries?

Honestly, the futuristic market took a dive, much like cozies in recent times. I had no choice except to reinvent myself and I really liked plotting the mystery part of my romances. So I decided to branch out and try a straight mystery.

Why do you write? And what’s the best part of being a writer?

I write because I have to write. If I don’t, tension builds up inside me until I put words on paper. I believe this is the true difference between a career writer and a wannabe. You have to do it. As for the best part, I love hearing from readers. Reader feedback gives me the inspiration to keep writing.

What’s your writing schedule?

I’m an early bird, so I wake up before dawn and start work right away. My daily quota is five pages a day or more, then I spend the rest of the time on promotional activities.

How difficult was it to acquire an agent?

I wrote three books before I joined Florida Romance Writers. Then I got my first agent at the first conference I ever attended.

Which writer most influenced your own writing?

I first got hooked on female amateur sleuth stories by Jill Churchill’s humorous series. I went on to read mysteries by other women writers featuring strong female protagonists and a humorous slant and then decided to write one myself.

Tell us about your latest mystery novel, Killer Knots.

Florida hairstylist Marla Shore hopes for a romantic interlude with her fiancé on their first Caribbean cruise, but troubled waters lie ahead when their dinner companions disappear one-by-one. Then Marla learns a killer is along for the ride. Onboard art auctions, ports of call, and sumptuous buffets beckon, but she ignores temptation and musters her snooping skills to expose the culprit. She'd better find him fast, before her next shore excursion turns into a trip to Davy Jones's locker.

I've been on over twenty cruises and wanted to write a cruise mystery. I based the ship on a cross between the NCL Spirit and the RCCL Navigator. Then I made up an itinerary to my favorite ports. It was great fun doing the research in person.

Coming next in the Bad Hair Day series is Shear Murder in January 2012.

What’s the most difficult aspect of writing and the one that you enjoy most?

The most difficult aspect of writing are the distractions. There are dozens of things that jostle for my attention and it’s tough to tune them out. I enjoy it most when I’m in the middle of writing a book and the story just flows. It’s an innervating, glorious feeling.

Advice to fledgling novelists?

Follow the 3 P’s: Practice, Persistence, and Professionalism. “ Never Give Up, Never Surrender!” as they say on Galaxy Quest. It’s true for a writing career, too. Your career isn’t over until you say it’s over. So keep writing!

It was good to have you with us, Nancy.

Nancy's web site:

Her blog:



Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Visit with Barbara Graham

Cody, Wyoming, novelist Barbara Graham writes mysteries featuring her favorite pastime: quilting. The former dance instructor and travel agent has a varied background.

Barbara, why do you bill yourself as a “mystery writer, quilter and village idiot"? You also call yourself a “flake.” Is that your funny bone running amok?

I think the first two are obvious and accurate. I feel like a flake. I have trouble holding my focus sometimes because I am trying to do several things at one time. I can lose my coffee cup while holding it in my hand or I put it down some odd place. I spend a lot of time retracing my steps. The “village idiot” goes back to the time my friend Michelle and I were used to diffuse a difficult situation at a meeting. We looked at each other and said something about being “the village idiot”. When we briefly had a pattern company the natural name for it was Village Idiot Quilters.

You’ve lived in various places, including Texas, Louisiana and Colorado. Why did you decide to settle in Wyoming?

It is really quite simple. My husband was offered a job in Wyoming. We moved here over 25 years ago and love it here. (The wind, not so much)

What is a mystery quilt and what are the clues planted in your books?

It’s really an extra for quilters. It has nothing to do with the solution to the book’s mystery. A mystery quilt is a pattern followed blindly, not knowing what the finished top is supposed to look like. It’s a bit like a treasure map. The “clues” tell the quilter how much fabric is needed of different values (dark, medium or light). More clues explain how to cut it and how to sew it together. No pictures. It does assume some familiarity with quilt construction.

I love it when someone shows me the quilt they made from one of the books.

How did you get into quilting and is it strictly a hobby or avocation?

I have done needlework since I was a child. While buying embroidery floss at a local shop I signed up for a basic quilt class. I was totally hooked and find I have no patience for some of my earlier crafts. I am addicted to quilting and enjoy not only the colors and patterns but the tactile nature of it. I find it very soothing. If everyone quilted, there would be no wars.

Do you plan to incorporate your former professions of dance teacher and travel agent into future novels?

Not really. The nature of the travel industry has changed since I left it. I can imagine killing off some passengers on recent airplane flights but that’s another story. As for teaching dance, I use the skills I used for choreography every day. Every move a dancer makes, position of the head, arms, hands, is not random but carefully choreographed. So when I send a character skidding down a hill, they obey my rules.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you outline your books?

I wish I was an outliner. I’m sure it would save me time and angst. I try to work every morning but sometimes I am distracted into playing in the garden or being slave to the dogs. Especially in spring, I am lured outside and end up playing in the dirt.

As far as working on the books, I consider my characters imaginary friends and sometimes we just sit and chat about what’s happening in their lives. What’s changed since I saw them last? What’s the gossip in Silersville? I do percolate the story line for quite a long time before writing much.

Why do you write?

I write because I cannot not write. I have plenty of other things I could be doing but when I go too long without writing I feel ill and edgy.

What are you working on now?

The third book in the series, Murder by Music: The Wedding Quilt will release next October and I am working on Murder by Vegetable: The Baby Quilt now. I also am trying to find a home for a suspense novel not connected to the series.

Advice to aspiring writers.

My best advice is, if you have to write, keep writing. Finish the book, story or poem. Only after it is finished and you step away from it for a while will you'll be able to assess what improvements it needs. Books require rewriting.

Thanks, Barbara, for stopping by.

Barbara's website:, which she's in the process of updating and redesigning.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Visit with Sue Ann Jaffarian

Sue Ann Jaffarian makes her readers laugh with her three mystery series starring paralegal Odelia Grey, ghost Granny Apples, and her latest, Murder In Vein.

Sue Ann, how did your new vampire mystery series come about? Tell us briefly about Murder in Vein.

Funny thing, both my vampire and my ghost mystery series were totally unplanned. The Ghost of Granny Apples series emerged from an online chat with my first editor at Midnight Ink about an idea I had for a short story. As for the vampires, at the launch of Ghost a la Mode last September, I told my agent I had an idea for a vampire mystery. She loved it and asked for sample chapters and a synopsis. She shopped them to several publishers, including my current one. By the end of November, we had a contract for three books with Midnight Ink, who wanted to fast-track the series. A year after I mentioned the idea to my agent, the book was released!

Murder In Vein is not a vampire book as much as it is a mystery involving vampires. Young women are being murdered in the Los Angeles area and their blood drained. Madison Rose, a young street-wise waitress, is about to be the next victim when she is rescued by an elderly couple taking a moonlight stroll in the woods. When they kill her attacker, Madison realizes the Dedhams are vampires. She quickly learns that vampires living in California are very organized and put a lot of effort into not being detected. They are concerned that the recent killings will expose them, so they use Madison as bait to catch the killer. At first reluctant, Madison is soon drawn into their world and joins forces with the vampires and a mortal LAPD officer to draw out the killer. Just this week I completed the second book in the series.

Are you writing three mystery series concurrently?

Yes, I am. I know. I know. It’s insane. But so far it’s working beautifully. In addition to the vampire mysteries, I write the Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries, which feature a 100-year-old ghost who teams up with her great-great-great granddaughter to solve the murders of ghosts, starting with Granny’s own murder in Ghost √† la Mode. The second book in that series, Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, will be out in February. I also write the Odelia Grey mysteries, which center around Odelia Gray, a middle-aged, plus size paralegal as an amateur sleuth. The Granny Apples and Odelia Gray books are both humorous mysteries.

Your paralegal protagonist Odelia Grey has been called gutsy, smart and loveable. How did the series come about?

It was a case of writing what I knew. Like Odelia, I am a middle-aged, plus size paralegal, so when I needed a career for my amateur sleuth, I looked to my own. Originally, the book started out as a dramatic-comedy about weight prejudice in our society. When my then agent suggested I turn my focus to mysteries, I easily converted the book and it worked. In fact, the manuscript took off. I guess Odelia was thrilled to finally find her niche, and it showed. Midnight Ink has contracted for twelve books in the series. I just completed book six, Twice Dead, which will be out in June 2011.

Tell us about your protagonist Odelia Grey.

Odelia is an ordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. She doesn’t view life through rose colored glasses, but rather through Groucho Marx glasses. She’s been hurt a lot in her life, but doesn’t let it get her down, choosing instead to turn lemons into lemon meringue pie. She’s in her late forties when the series opens, single and living a life of contented boredom. She can be cranky and crusty and will speak her mind more often than not, but she’s fiercely loyal to her friends and family, who understand that underneath it all, she’s a marshmallow. As the series goes on, Odelia is reluctantly drawn into one murder after another, always with the idea that she’s helping someone for the last time, then hanging up her sleuthing shoes.

How important is humor in a mystery novel and have you always written tongue in cheek mysteries?

I enjoy threading humor through my mysteries, using it to break up the heaviness of murder and mayhem. I love entertaining my readers and making them chuckle along the way. As for the importance in a mystery, I think that depends on the goals of the author for his or her story. In some mysteries, funny or slapstick circumstances would be totally out of place. In mine, it puts the focus on the characters and how they handle finding themselves in life and death situations. Both my Odelia Grey and Ghost of Granny Apples books contain a lot of humor. There is humor in Murder In Vein, but it is much darker and low key, not at all broad as in the other books.

Why did you take part in the Camp Pendleton Mud Run last year? How did that come about?

I was sitting on my sofa and channel surfing one evening and saw it featured on some show. I’d never even heard of the Mud Run before. (BTW, the Mud Run is a 10K (6.2 mi) through a military obstacle course over hills, walls, a river, tunnels, mud pits, etc.) I’m not sure why, but I got it in my head that I wanted to do it. That I could do it. Now, mind you, I was a serious couch potato, more than 100 lbs overweight and in my late 50’s, but even so, I set out to train for the one that was being held in 2009. And I did it! What’s more, I did it under the official time allowed to complete it, with nearly ten minutes to spare! I now have it in my head to do the Mud Run again in 2011 and have cleared my calendar for it. I want to better my time and get over the walls, something I couldn’t do last year. In a nutshell, I had to prove to myself that I could do something totally out of my box, especially since I’m as physical as a glob of Play-Doh. And look for the Mud Run in book seven of my Odelia Grey series!

Your first Odelia Grey novel Too Big to Miss was optioned for film. How’s that project coming along?

Actually, the option lapsed just a few days ago and we’ve heard nothing about it being renewed again. So folks, Odelia’s back up on the block for sale! We have, however, received some interest in Murder In Vein, but it has not been optioned yet.

What do you include in your newsletter, Hot Flashes?

Hot Flashes is an e-mail distributed newsletter that comes out about three times a year. It includes information about upcoming releases, launch parties, events and even fun tidbits (like the Mud Run) that we feel would be of interest to readers. I also like to give readers a heads-up on other books they might enjoy. To sign up, folks should send an e-mail to and put “add me” in the subject line.

Advice to fledgling writers?

The Big C – COMMITMENT. It doesn’t matter how good of a writer you are, or how good your story idea, if you don’t have commitment to your craft, it’s never going to happen. And I don’t mean pretending you’re a writer by talking about it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I mean keeping your butt in the chair and pouring out the words hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, and also being open to constructive criticism to help hone your craft. If you’re serious about being a writer, put all the BS aside, set yourself a schedule and stick to it. That’s what writers do. And there are no short cuts or easy ways to get there. It’s like the Mud Run – to get to the finish line, you have to go over or through all the obstacles, but the sense of accomplishment is so satisfying in the end.

Her website:


Group Blog:

Readers can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vicki Delany Revisted

Vicki Delany has been called one of Canada's most promising practitioners of crime fiction by Dick Adler of the Chicago Tribune. The former bank systems analyst and single mother of three daughters took early retirement to write, and has come up with some interesting subjects for her mystery series. Her latest is Negative Image, which will be released early next month by Poisoned Pen Press.

What's this new novel about?

When renowned photographer Rudolph Steiner is found murdered, Police Sergeant John Winters learns that his wife is the prime suspect. The former supermodel was the murder victim's lover 25 years earlier, and although his beautiful young wife and photographic assistant have accompanied him to Trafalgar, Steiner lures Eiza Winters to his hotel room just prior to his death. There are other suspects but the Trafalgar, British, Columbia, police are focusing on Eliza. Constable Molly Smith is involved in the investigation and is torn between her desire to solve the murder and her loyalty to Sergeant Winters.

Vicki, tell us about Constable Molly Smith, the protagonist of this mystery series. 

Molly is with the Trafalgar City Police. Trafalgar is a small town in the British Columbia Interior. Outside of the big cities most policing in B.C. is done by the Mounties, but there are a few exceptions. Trafalgar is a fictional town, but it is based on a real place and that real town has its own city police force. They rely on the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] for a lot of things, such as major crime investigations and forensics.

Does Molly face discrimination because of her gender? If so, how does she handle it?

The real policewomen I spoke to in doing my research for the book, tell me that sexism is generally not a problem anymore, although there are some holdouts remaining in the police. In B.C. [British Columbia] over 20% of all police officers are women, so they can now essentially be women. Molly does have a problem with one of her colleagues, a constable whose ambitions exceed his ability. But she deals with it. In later books Molly will begin a romantic relationship with a fellow officer and it will not go well, as he will keep trying to protect her.

You moved from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to South Africa for a while. Did the experience influence your writing in any way?

Good question. Not directly no, although I would love to set a book in South Africa one day. But I do, I think, have a sensitivity to sanctioned injustice resulting from my years there during the Apartheid era. A fact that doesn’t get much attention is that in the apartheid years women, white as well as black, had very few rights. I lost many of my legal and property rights when I married.

Do Canadian mysteries, like those in the British Isles, differ significantly from those in the U.S. as far as popular genres are concerned?

Yes and no. In this, as in so many other things, Canadians take the best of both the U.S and Britain (or straddle the fence if you prefer). There are authors such as Peter Robinson and Louise Penny who I think write in more of a British tradition–slower pace, more ‘cerebral’, less of the slam-bang action and more of the puzzle of the mystery, and others who like the faster-paced American stuff, e.g. Rick Mofina. I read a lot of British books, and I write for an American publisher. I hope I combine the best of both!

I'm intrigued by the title of one of your novels, Whiteout. Have you experienced deadly whiteouts?

I live in Ontario, so I’ve been in lots of whiteouts. I live in a farming area, full of flat open spaces–the other day I couldn’t see the fields on the other side of the road. The only weather related accident I’ve ever had was in Alaska. I was driving back from Bouchercon in 2007 and hit a patch of black ice in their first snowfall of the year, about 100 miles outside of Fairbanks, and went off the road. The car was bashed up, but not me. I sold a book to the cop who came to help me! I was lucky as about 50 feet before where I went off, that ditch was a cliff. I spent most of last year in Nelson, B.C. the inspiration for Trafalgar, working on the book and soaking up the atmosphere.

Your novel, In the Shadow of the Glacier, deals with American draft dodgers who retreat to British Columbia during the Vietnam War. Why did you feel the need to write the book? Is it a serious problem?

It’s not a serious problem in the context of how it’s presented in Glacier, although the incident in the book is based on true events. A statue was presented to the town of Nelson, B.C, to commemorate the Vietnam era draft dodgers, a great many of whom settled in the B.C. Interior. (The parents of my fictional Molly Smith were draft dodgers.) It was very controversial for a short time and got international press attention, but the town refused the statue and the issue ended there. I wondered what would have happened to that small, close-knit town if the controversy didn’t die down, and thus I had the plot of the book.

However, the issue is back, as U.S. army deserters have come to Canada in protest against going to Iraq. There are not many, a few hundred, compared to the tens of thousands who came in the 60s and 70s. And this issue is different as these are deserters, not draft dodgers, and it is a lot more difficult to move between countries these days than it was, in terms of getting jobs and settling down. The Canadian government is refusing them refugee status and they are under threat to be sent back. Many Canadians want them to stay. Once again the B.C. Interior is the place they are coming to. The real-life Chief of Police of Nelson came out quite strongly, saying his officers would arrest these people if told do to so, but he didn’t agree with it. So we will see what happens. I have considered using that as a plot for a book, but I’m afraid that with President Obama vowing to withdraw from Iraq, it might become a moot point before the book is published.

How do you feel about the current publishing downturn? Do you foresee major changes in Canada's publishing industry?

I read recently that purchase of books is UP about 4% in Canada. It has long been said that books are recession proof, but indications are that it won’t be this time, so I am worried. My major publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, in Arizona, so I have much to worry about regarding the U.S. publishing industry! My Klondike Series (beginning with Gold Digger, May 2009) is published by Canada’s Rendezvous Crime, and I have heard that Canadian publishers are cutting back on their lists of new releases. But what can anyone do, other than to keep writing the best books they can and keep promoting them? I, for one, am not about to cut down on my reading.

Do you have advice for fledgling writers?

Read! If you want to write, you have to read. And read a lot. You need to know what’s out there, and what’s being written now. I believe that reading is the best way of sharpening your own skills–when reading any writer naturally falls into the rhythm of saying ‘what makes this work’ or ‘why is this scene just not right.”

What’s your writing schedule like?

I am in the highly fortunate position of not having a day job. I took early retirement in 2007. But I was working full time as a systems analyst for a bank when I began my writing career, and I am the single mother of three daughters to boot. It isn’t easy, but you have to find the time when you can. My advice to anyone who simply doesn’t have the time, is to wait. Make notes on what you want to do, keep it in your mind, read the sort of books you want to write in the snatches of time you do have, and wait. Your time will come.