An Interview with Nancy J. Cohen: Exploring the World of Cozy Mysteries and Literary Influences

From Favorite Reads to Unexplored Classics

PHOTO: Embracing Genre Fiction and Inspiring Writers

Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. These books have won numerous awards along with her nonfiction titles, Writing the Cozy Mystery and A Bad Hair Day Cookbook. Nancy is a past president of Florida Romance Writers and Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising, and visiting Disney World.

What’s the last great book you read?

I read so many books that it’s hard to name just one. My most recently read titles include: The Lochlann Treaty: Complete Series by Robin D. Mahle & Elle Madison (YA Fantasy); Dead Men Need No Reservations by Terry Ambrose (Mystery);The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel (Historical Novel WWII); and The Socialite’s Guide to Death and Datingby S.K. Golden (Historical Mystery). If I enjoy a book, it’s a great one as far as I’m concerned.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I covered most of the classics in school. Aside from the usual books we were assigned to read, I liked Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare in particular. I haven’t read any classics recently. There are too many other books on my to-be-read list.

Who are your favorite writers? Are there any who aren’t as widely known as they should be, whom you’d recommend in particular?

I would recommend my friends at They write the kind of cozy mysteries I like to read. These include Terry Ambrose, Debra H. Goldstein, Diane A.S. Stuckart, Cheryl Hollon, Lois Winston and Maggie Toussaint. For historical mysteries, I enjoy books by Alyssa Maxwell and S.K. Golden.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

The characters have to be memorable. If they’re distinctive, they will stick in your mind. They become like real people, and the secondary cast are like your friends. I’ll also look for immersive world-building. A setting that’s very detailed will make you feel as though you’re there. Whichever way the character can achieve his goals, I must have an emotionally satisfying happy ending.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? 

I like to read for entertainment. For me, this includes sci-fi/fantasy, romance, and mystery. I just love genre fiction. I want to escape into other worlds and read about adventures that I can experience vicariously. I’ll also read YA. If there’s humor, that’s even better. If I want a more serious outlook, I’ll watch the news. That’s depressing enough, so I want to be uplifted when I read fiction.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? 

I have to admire Horatio Hornblower. He was a man of honor and a hero to emulate. Reading that series taught me the importance of the main character’s need to evolve. For example, readers follow a mystery series more for the sleuth’s personal life than for the crime to solve in each story. It’s important to be realistic about the protagonist’s lives and have their relationships grow and change.

What books and authors have impacted your writing career?

Besides the Hornblower series, I read Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Judy Bolton series when I grew up. Judy Bolton affected me the most because her main character matured and got married. Nancy Drew didn’t change very much at all. And Cherry Ames inspired me to become a nurse. That was my career before I turned to writing full time.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? And what would you want to know?

I’d want to meet Dame Barbara Cartland. Reading her books got me interested in Regency Romances, and from there I went on to love the romance genre. My first published books were science fiction romances. Barbara Cartland wrote into her 90s and penned hundreds of novels. I’d like to know how she lasted that long without getting burned out and how she kept coming up with fresh ideas.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I don’t read books on the bestseller list. They just don’t interest me. I like genre fiction, and most often the books I like to read are only available online.

You’ve written eighteen books in your Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series. What’s next for you?

I’m working on a different mystery for now, then I’d like to do some holiday-themed cozy novellas for my series. I also need to put more of my titles into audiobooks. The first four are available in that format now.

How would you define a cozy mystery?

A cozy is generally a mystery with an amateur sleuth, a distinctive setting, and a group of suspects, most of whom have a motive for murder. There’s no graphic sex or violence and no bad words. Cozies are clean reads for all ages and often contain a touch of humor and romance. The focus is on character relationships rather than forensic details. I wrote Writing the Cozy Mystery as a reference for writers because there hadn’t been anything like this on the market before.

If readers want to start on your series, should they begin with book one, or can they jump in anywhere?

My books are written to be read as standalones, so you can enter the series with any title. However, you’ll get a better sense of how the characters develop if you start with the first book, which is Permed to Death.


Star Tangled Murder

Hairstylist Marla Vail and her detective husband Dalton visit a Florida living history village over Fourth of July weekend. But when a battle reenactment turns up a real dead body, it sets off fireworks among the villagers. One of the cast members has gone off script to murder the town marshal. As Dalton takes charge of the investigation, Marla determines to help him solve the case. Instead of spending the holiday chilling and grilling, somebody’s mind is on killing. Marla needs to find the culprit fast before she becomes the next victim.

“Nancy J. Cohen does an incredible job creating a dynamic storyline, with constant suspense, purposeful dialogue, and a beautiful ending.” InD’Tale Magazine

“Libraries seeking cozy mysteries replete in psychological strength and American history drama will find Star Tangled Murder a compelling portrait of a historical reenactment gone awry.” Midwest Book Review

“An A-plus mystery in a compelling cozy series.” Muddy Rose Reviews

“Nancy Cohen’s Bad Hair Day mysteries are fun and educational. I love the location is set in Florida.” Fundinmental

Star Tangled Murder shines with excellent plotting, lots of twists and turns, and a satisfying ending. Highly recommended.” Suspense Magazine

Excerpt from Star Tangled Murder:

Dalton took her elbow and steered her along the outdoor path at the living history village. “Butter house, blacksmith shop, or smokehouse? Or should we check out the fishing hut next?”

“Let’s go to Baffle House before it gets too crowded.”

They had to pass by the jail again. The marshal stood in the doorframe talking to a wiry fellow in a denim overall.

Dalton’s cell phone buzzed. “I have to answer this text. It’s from Captain Williams. Wait here a minute,” he told her before walking away.

Marla’s steps lagged as raised voices reached her ears.

“You won’t get away with it, Phil,” the man in overalls said in a gruff tone. “Don’t try to cut in on my operation.”

“It isn’t yours, Simon. You may have some fancy title, but you’re not in charge.” The marshal adjusted his cowboy hat while glowering at the other man.

Marla froze in place, hoping they wouldn’t notice her. Just in case, she made a pretense of looking at the site map.

Simon jabbed a finger in the air. “They couldn’t have gotten far without me. So don’t imply that my contributions aren’t important.”

“I’m just saying they’re using you. You’re too blind to see it.”

“Oh, and you’re perfect? You think you’re so high and mighty bossing it over on us. But let me tell you something, I can bring you down like an avalanche if you don’t leave this alone.”

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