by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Peril by Ponytail by Nancy J. Cohen, along with an interview with Nancy. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it.
Peril by Ponytail: A Bad Hair Day Mystery By Nancy J. Cohen
Review by Cynthia Chow
A dude ranch would not have been hairstylist Marla Vail’s first choice for a romantic honeymoon. Florida homicide detective Dalton Vail failed to consult his wife on his decision, though, and Marla wasn’t about to argue so soon into their marriage. Dalton has his reasons, the primary one being that his cousin owns the Arizona Lone Trail Ranch, making their stay free of charge. That’s not to say that there isn’t a price, as the dude ranch and neighboring ghost town, both owned by Dalton’s uncle, are plagued by numerous accidents and acts of sabotage. While Uncle Raymond Campbell is quick to blame a neighbor and his former friend, the death of a forest ranger and disappearance of another employee indicate that this is far more than a past youthful rivalry.
Away from Palm Haven and her Cut N’Dye hair salon, Marla finds herself out of her element among horses, rattlesnakes, and environmentalists. She’s also surrounded by Dalton’s relatives, including the uncle who hasn’t spoken to Dalton’s mother in decades. No one seems willing to discuss the reason for their estrangement, something the ever-curious Marla cannot comprehend and finds incredibly frustrating.
Author Cohen removes Marla from her comfort zone in colorful Florida and instead explores a unique Arizona setting with its many environmental issues. Competition over water rights, development, and of course the psychics of Sedona all play a role in Marla’s unofficial investigation and Dalton’s family secrets. Raymond’s plans to develop a ghost town into a tourist attraction add a fun historical element and provide vivid descriptions.
A honeymoon investigating murder and mayhem would not be the preferred choice for most newlywed couples, but considering that the Vails met over murder, it seems fitting. Fans of this long-running series will be relieved to know that Marla and Dalton will of course find the time to fit in enough seduction, as well as humorous banter, to please romantics and mystery lovers alike.
You can use this link to purchase the book in Kindle form:
Author Interview with Nancy J. Cohen:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Nancy: I’ve been writing professionally since the late 1970s when I wrote my first novel. Seven books later, I finally sold one. Now my repertoire includes 20 published novels, one novella, and one nonfiction work.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Nancy: Circle of Light was my first published title. This science fiction romance debuted in 1994 from Dorchester Publishing. I still want to be the heroine. Here’s a blurb:
Attorney Sarina Bretton is kidnapped from Earth by Captain Teir Reylock of the Coalition Defense League. As the legendary Great Healer, Sarina is destined to marry Lord Cam’brii, a stiff politician, but she falls in love with the captain instead. Though Teir returns Sarina’s passion, he must fulfil his duty as her bodyguard to protect her from the Coalition’s enemies, and from his own heart.
Circle of Light won the HOLT Medallion Award. If I could have a superpower, I’d be the Great Healer like Sarina, who saved people from a deadly plague. I’ve revised the early work, and it’s available online at various retail sites. This book began a trilogy followed by Moonlight Rhapsody and Starlight Child.
KRL: What all genres have you written?
Nancy: I started out writing science fiction romance. I’ve written eight books in this genre, although my more recent Drift Lords series takes place on Earth in modern day times and involves elements of fantasy. This series has heroines whose powers are derived from the Norse gods, and heroes from space who’ve come to Earth to defeat invaders from another dimension. I write this series for Wild Rose Press. Actually, in my Light-Years trilogy above, the heroines all have special powers, too. Strong, capable female protagonists populate my stories.
Besides the romances and my Bad Hair Day mystery series, I’ve written a romantic mystery novella and the nonfiction guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery. This instructional booklet defines the cozy mystery genre and teaches you how to write your own whodunit.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Nancy: Marla Vail is the hairdresser sleuth in my Bad Hair Day Mystery Series. In book one (Permed to Death), she meets Detective Dalton Vail who suspects her of poisoning a client’s coffee creamer. They begin a rocky romance that culminates in Shear Murder when they get married. After moving into a new neighborhood (Hanging by a Hair), Marla and Dalton finally go on a honeymoon. So Peril by Ponytail is a natural evolution of their story. It’s book 12 in the series.
I’ve always wanted to visit a dude ranch, so I picked that setting for Marla’s and Dalton’s honeymoon trip. Dalton’s cousin has invited them to stay at a resort owned by Uncle Ray. But all isn’t as it seems at this Arizona destination. Random accidents spell trouble for the ranch and a ghost town Uncle Ray is renovating. He blames a neighboring rancher, and this harkens back to a family feud involving Dalton’s mother. So we learn a lot about Dalton’s family history in this story. He and Marla work together to find the saboteur. When a local forest ranger is found dead, the stakes escalate. Then it gets personal when Dalton and Marla are targeted. They have to find the killer before someone else gets hurt.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Nancy: I write to entertain and to give my readers a few hours of pleasant escape. My stories contain humor. If you want serious crime, read the newspaper. I’d rather make you smile than imbue you with a sense of dread. I read for escape and entertainment as well, and that’s the same feeling I hope to give my readers.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Nancy: When I’m in a writing phase, my goal is five pages a day or a chapter per week. I write early in the morning nearly every day unless I have somewhere to go. Afternoons are spent on marketing activities.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Nancy: I do a complete synopsis before I begin writing. This acts as my roadmap, even though the story might change as I write it. Then I’ll go back and revise the synopsis later. Sometimes I’ll do a plotting board or a chapter-by-chapter outline to help me keep track of plot threads and days of the week. These help when my work schedule is disrupted and I can’t remember where I left off.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Nancy: Same as I do now, very early around 5 a.m.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Nancy: I wrote six books before my seventh manuscript got accepted. Joining Florida Romance Writers, getting into a critique group, and attending my first writing conference gave my career a boost.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Nancy: Finish book 14 in the Bad Hair Day series; revise my backlist mystery titles—I’ve done three Author’s Editions so far—and then put the mysteries into audio editions. Facials Can Be Fatal, book 13 in the series, is already in production.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Nancy: My writing heroes are everybody else who writes faster and keeps up better with social media.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Nancy: I like hands-on research when possible. It’s important to visit a place for the sensory impressions and unique qualities that you don’t get until you see it for yourself. The internet is hugely helpful, and so are experts that I consult as necessary. But I’ve had all sorts of fun adventures in the name of research.
For Peril by Ponytail, I stayed overnight at a haunted Arizona hotel and did the nightly ghost hunt, visited a famous cavern, toured a copper mine, stayed on a dude ranch, visited historic ghost towns, took a boat ride on a lake in the midst of the desert, bounced on a jeep ride into the hills, and more. Not all of these excursions made it into the book, but it was a memorable trip.
KRL: What do you read?
Nancy: I like escapist genre fiction: historical or futuristic romance, cozy mysteries, sci fi/fantasy, and some YA.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Nancy: Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, Guardians of the Galaxy, Galaxy Quest, Arrow, The Flash, Castle, Once Upon a Time, Downton Abbey…and more.
KRL: Sounds a bit like my list. Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Nancy: Follow the 3 P’s: Practice, Professionalism, and Persistence. Networking with other writers is critical to your career, so join a professional writing organization. Never give up, never surrender. Persistence pays, so keep writing one book after another. Get professional help by hiring a freelance editor if you intend to self-publish. It’s a long road ahead, so make a firm career choice and train for it like you would for any other job. Education is ongoing, so attend conferences and writing workshops. And have faith in yourself.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Nancy: Thank you for having me here today!
KRL: Thank you for joining us! What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Nancy: I worked as a registered nurse for ten years and have a master’s degree in nursing. But while in high school, I had another career choice option. I turned down the opportunity to audition for a professional ballet company.
KRL: Oh wow! Website? Twitter? Facebook?
You can also find Nancy on many other sites-check out her website to learn more!nancyjcohen.com
Some bonus questions:
KRL: You researched this new Bad Hair Day Mystery at the Tanque Verde Ranch. What led you to choose to make a ranch your latest setting?
Nancy: I’ve always wanted to visit a dude ranch. I expected it to be all about horses and rodeos, but I was pleasantly surprised. You could lounge by the pool, visit the day spa, indulge in gourmet meals, or hang out at the bar. Each day came with a list of activities you could pursue, including lectures on history or science of the region, various hikes or nature walks, fishing at a nearby lake, and more. The Sonoran desert included some beautiful vegetation, and the breathtaking scenery was spectacular. I loved the tranquility of the setting. It was inspirational.
KRL: When you first starting writing the Bad Hair Day mysteries (back in 1999!), did you ever see your characters in the place they are now? Did you have their futures already plotted out?
Nancy: I never thought the series would go on this long. My initial contract with Kensington was a three book deal. Subsequent contracts were for two books each time. I never knew for sure that they would renew. And when they didn’t, I was fortunate Five Star picked up the series. I’ve been revising some of my earlier titles and producing them as Author’s Editions. Now that I can revisit my earlier books, I’ve been creating a series bible. It would have been helpful to do this from the start, but who knew? I’m just grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to watch my characters evolve and change as the series progresses, like they would in real life.
KRL: Marla is a hairstylist, and this often plays a role in her solving mysteries. Hairstylists seem to have become therapists for people. Have you ever found yourself oversharing while at the salon?
Nancy: All the time! I’ve known my stylist for years, and now my nail tech as well. So sure, I’ll tell them whatever is on my mind. They share as well, so it’s a two-way street. And I learn a lot about what’s going on at the salon. Very often, I’ll talk about my latest plot and get ideas while I’m there. Or I’ll talk about upcoming publicity events since that’s usually why I’m there.
KRL: You were a Registered Nurse, but your protagonist is a hairstylist. Do you ever consider writing novels with a main character who was also a nurse?
Nancy: I like to write humorous stories, and I couldn’t think about nursing in a way that would be funny. So no, I didn’t consider having a protagonist who was a nurse. Besides, researching beauty salons was a lot more fun. My nursing background enters my story in other ways, like in Body Wave, where Marla pretends to be a nurse’s aide while investigating a murder, or in her nurturing nature toward her clients.
KRL: You also write fantasy romances. Do you have a different mindset when you write these, as opposed to your mysteries? Or do you begin writing them all in the same manner?
Nancy: My romances are very different from my mysteries. The Bad Hair Day series is grounded in reality, whereas anything can happen in my romances that include elements of sci fi/fantasy. So I can let loose with my adventurous side in the romantic stories. The Drift Lords series is set in modern day times, so it has realistic settings, but when the fantasy elements come into play, anything can happen. I do write a synopsis first regardless of which genre I’m writing, and the plotline must follow a logical path. Otherwise, they’re divergent from each other in the elements present, although Warrior Prince contains a murder mystery. I can’t get away from the suspense factor. It’s an integral part of both genres. So is female empowerment with strong heroines no matter what stories I write.
To enter to win a copy of Peril By Ponytail, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Ponytail,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 3, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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