Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

From Fantasy to Sci-Fi to Mystery: Author Interview wtih Nancy J. Cohen

I am in awe at the number of books you have written and how you can easily move between the different fiction styles. When did you publish your first book?
My first book was published by Dorchester in 1994. Circle of Light was part of a trilogy and won the HOLT Medallion Award. This started my career as a paranormal/scifi romance author. After three books in the Light-Years trilogy, I wrote another standalone scifi romance before switching to mysteries.

How do you keep the writing fresh and contemporary after so many books?
It helps to change genres. That way, I don’t get tired of writing same old, same old. If I need to refresh my creative energy, it’s time to switch to my other series. Setting a story in a different location can also help keep things fresh as does bringing in new characters or changing the way my character relationships evolve. Plus I like to learn something new for each book, and it’s this issue or place or material that excites me and urges me to write the story.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I develop my characters first and do preliminary research. When the story is swirling in my head, I write a synopsis. Then I put myself on a daily writing schedule of five pages per day or twenty-five pages per week.

What do you think you learned from writing your first novel that helped you in the second one?
I like to believe my writing skills improve with each book. In the early days, I didn’t fully understand Point of View. I think I finally got it by book three. You’re always learning.

Do you use any writing programs, such as Scrivener?
And no, I don’t use Scrivener or other writing programs except for my brain.

I love the mystery titles of your hairstylist sleuth. What made you decide to have a hairstylist be a crime solver?
What could be more fun to research? Seriously, a hair salon is a great background setting for a mystery series. People gossip to each other, confide in their hairdressers, walk in and out all day. And a hairstylist doesn’t have to be confined to a salon to do her work. She can do wedding parties at a hotel, for example. It’s a great way for the main character to meet new people and get involved in other persons’ lives. Besides, I admire Marla’s talent. I have no ability to do my own hair. Book One, Permed to Death, starts with Marla’s grumpy client dying in the shampoo chair while getting a perm.

How do you define the difference between a murder mystery and a cozy murder mystery?
A cozy mystery is a whodunit featuring an amateur sleuth, a distinctive setting, and a limited number of suspects, most of whom may know each other. These stories contain no explicit sex or violence. The focus is on the character relationships rather than on forensic details of the crime. It’s essential to present a puzzle that challenges readers to solve the mystery.

Where would an Agatha Christie or a Mary Higgins Clark book fit? 
Agatha Christie’s novels typify this genre. I’d put Mary Higgins Clark into the romantic suspense category. These stories have a personal element of psychological suspense that you won’t see in a cozy. As for a murder mystery itself, this can fit into any genre. I had a murder mystery in Warrior Prince, book one in my Drift Lords Series.

You’ve written a “how to write” book for cozy mysteries. What is unique about writing cozy mysteries in their formula?
This technique is what works for me, and I explain the details in my instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery. I’ll start with the victim. Who is it? How was the person killed? Who would gain from their death? Thus begins the round of suspects who may be the victim’s friends, associates, or family. Next I assign each one a secret. It might or might not be a secret relating to the murder. But everyone will either have a motive or will seem suspicious. Then you decide how the sleuth will uncover the crime, plant clues and red herrings, and your story is born.

Your writing includes different facets of the romance genre. How do you define the difference between paranormal, fantasy and sci-fi?
My earlier books were termed futuristic romance. I think a large part of it is marketing hype. Now I call them sci-fi romance, but a purist of this definition might want more detailed descriptions of space vehicles and weaponry, for example. Futuristics in general tend to be more romance oriented. They can take place on a pre-technology world, for example. 

I view mine as scifi romances because they involve space travel and take place on other planets that are technologically advanced. Keeper of the Rings is an exception in this regard, but it still fits the genre. The hero comes from another world and knows the truth about the religion practiced by the inhabitants of the planet, Xan. And it’s a truth most believers won’t want to hear.

I interpret paranormal romance to be an umbrella term for extraordinary phenomenon. It could involve ESP, psychics, vampires, shape shifters. These stories can be dark and scary or light and funny. Usually they take place in our modern world.

Fantasy-based stories may be set on imaginary worlds or here on Earth. Elements of magic, sorcery, and myth are included in this genre.

In many cases, the elements are blended. My Drift Lords series involves all of these. It takes place in modern day times on Earth, but the heroes come from other planets. They seek the help of six Earth women who have special powers. Norse mythology is the basis for these stories that involve prophecy, magic, and creatures such as evil trolls. But space travel is also mentioned. So it’s a mixed genre bag of tricks. Think Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings.

How do you personally find time to do all the personal media attached to your website? Does someone assist you?
I do my own marketing and book trailers because I like having control over what goes out there in my name. I have, on occasion, used publicists or virtual assistants. It depends on what I need to get done. For social networking, I prefer to do it myself. However, I wouldn’t be averse to a street team if someone volunteered to create and lead one for me.

What suggestions do you have for enhancing a writer’s social media platform?
Connecting with readers is all important. I listen to feedback, respond to emails, send out a quarterly newsletter and run contests. Plus any writer should have the basics: a professional looking website and headshot, a Facebook author page, an Amazon author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads. Doing a blog is a personal choice but it’s another way to build platform and enhance your brand. Writing is a business as much as it is an art.

What has worked best for you in generating sales?
It’s hard to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. I think you need to be “out there” in as many forms and many ways as you can so your name gets heard. Writing blogs and posts and articles helps as well. I do speaking engagements, talk at conferences and libraries, and am active in local writing groups. But what really works? Writing books people want to read on a consistent basis

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
“Throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.” This is good advice for the beginning writer to find your particular niche. Once you start to get fan mail, you’ll see what resonates with readers. Since you never know what you’ll be writing tomorrow, it’s good to join different writing organizations and attend workshops in other genres. Keep learning, keep growing, and keep writing. Always have faith in yourself. And networking with other industry personnel is crucial to learning the business aspects of this career.

What is the next book that will be hitting the bookshelves and eReaders?

On the mystery front, I’ve turned in Peril by Ponytail, #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

My latest release in this genre is Hanging by a Hair. Here the blurb:

Marla’s joyous move to a new house with her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, is marred by their next-door neighbor who erects an illegal fence between their properties. When Dalton reminds the man of the local permitting laws, tempers flare—and worse, the neighbor is found dead the following day. Dismayed when Dalton is removed from the case due to a conflict of interest,

Marla decides it’s up to her to find the killer. Can the intrepid hairstylist untangle the clues and pin down the culprit before he strikes again? 

Warrior Lord is an August 1, 2014 release from Wild Rose Press. This title is # 3 in my Drift Lords Series. Here is the story blurb: 

Pottery sculptor Erika Sherwood has no idea her televised wedding in Las Vegas is for real until an official confirms she and the stranger she’s just met are legitimately wed.

A Drift Lord and warrior of the Tsuran, Magnor tricks the redhead into marriage because she’s one of six women prophesied to save Earth. But as he’s forced into her company in their race against the apocalypse, he wonders if he risks his heart more than his life.

Can a free-spirited ceramic artist and a fierce swordsman trust each other enough to prevent disaster? 


  1. Nancy and Christine,

    I enjoyed reading this excellent in-depth interview. Nancy, wishing much continued success.

    1. Thanks so much, Jacqueline. I appreciate your visit!

  2. Thank you for such great insight into defining various genres. Very helpful! And not surprising given how prolific you are. I'm still a fan of your early Sci Fi Romances!

    1. So are other people. I can never find them in used bookstores. People must keep those original romances.

  3. i enjoyed your interview. Thanks for the writing and marketing tips.

  4. I can't wait until Warrior Rogue releases! Your paranormal romances are page-turners for me!

    1. As are your books for me. I'm looking forward to your new release, too.

  5. Maggie, Thanks for dropping by! I agree with you, Nancy is definitely talented.

  6. Love the title Shear Murder. How clever. Love the idea of switching genres. I like to do that too, although I'm not as fast a writer as some people.

  7. Thanks so much for having me here!

  8. We all have to write at our own pace, Shirley. Having a clone would be helpful!