Hoping for a romantic honeymoon at an Arizona dude ranch, hairstylist Marla Vail and her husband Dalton arrive to find a series of mishaps plaguing the resort. A nearby ghost town is suffering similar problems. Is it mere coincidence that Dalton’s Uncle Raymond owns both properties? When Raymond asks for their help in finding the culprit, Marla and Dalton eagerly accept. Then news of a local forest ranger’s death raises the stakes.
With sleuthing more natural to Marla than horseback riding, she delves into the investigation. But as she digs deeper, she discovers skeletons in the family closet. Someone means to drive Raymond out of business, and the reason may be linked to his past misdeeds. Raymond isn’t the only one with secrets. The trail leads Marla from an environmental activist group to saguaro poachers to water rights proponents to an abandoned copper mine beneath the ghost town. She’d better saddle up, rein in the clues, and find the killer before she becomes the next spirit inhabiting the haunted hillside.
Q: Nancy, welcome! What sparked the idea for Peril by Ponytail?
A: The story is a natural progression of events in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Hairstylist Marla Shore first meets Detective Dalton Vail in Permed to Death. Ten books later, they get married in Shear Murder. Then they move into a new home in Hanging by a Hair. Finally, Marla and Dalton go on a honeymoon, and that brings us up to Peril by Ponytail. I’d always wanted to visit a dude ranch, and so that became the destination for their trip. Here Marla meets a branch of Dalton’s family we haven’t seen before. All isn’t well at the ranch owned by his secretive Uncle Ray. Ray also owns a nearby ghost town that he’s renovating so as to bring in more tourists. Accidents plague both sites, and Dalton’s cousin asks for his help in unmasking the culprit. When the pranks escalate into murder, Dalton and Marla realize they might become the next target. Is Ray right to blame a neighboring rancher? Or is Ray himself not as innocent as he claims?
Q: Did you spend time on a dude ranch for your research?
A: We stayed at the Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona. It was different from what I’d expected. Besides admiring the horses and signing up for riding sessions, you can attend lectures, visit the nature center, spend the day at a full-service spa, play tennis, lounge around the pool, and enjoy gourmet meals. Just walking the hilly grounds gives you enough exercise. The rustic décor mingled with the lovely trees and plants offer a sense of tranquility. I wish we’d had more time to spend there. Our experiences in Arizona included exploring an underground copper mine and a famous cavern, staying overnight and hunting ghosts at a haunted hotel that had been a hospital for copper miners, touring a desert botanical garden, shopping in historic Scottsdale, being awed by the majestic cliffs in Sedona, going on a wild jeep ride into the hills, and more. It was one of the best trips ever. I took copious notes and photos. What I didn’t expect were all the orbs that showed up in my photos from the haunted Jerome Hotel and the copper mine. Ghosts or dust particles? You can see the photos on my Facebook page.
Q: Peril by Ponytail is number 12 in your wonderful Bad Hair Day mysteries. How do you keep the series fresh? What changes from book to book and what do you keep constant? Marla got married and is now on her honeymoon, so clearly some things have changed for her!
A: Marla’s relationships constantly evolve, so I haven’t had a problem keeping the series fresh in that way. The key is keeping the family dynamics real with all the conflicts we experience in our own lives. Friends come and go, new acquaintances pop onto the scene, and our priorities change through the different stages of our lives. So it is with Marla. You can’t have a static heroine with mysteries in each story, or readers will quickly tire of your series.
Every few books, I’ll set the story in a different location. Marla and Dalton have gone on a cruise, visited the west coast of Florida at a haunted resort, and stayed at a dude ranch in Arizona. This keeps me from being bored with the same setting and fans as well.
Another thing that keeps things fresh is to introduce new material. I like to learn something new with each book, so I look for an angle that excites me. In Peril by Ponytail, I enjoyed reading about the history of the region and its current problems. So I learned about the struggle for water rights, the history of copper mining, the types of desert trees and shrubbery, the issue of saguaro poaching, the difference between a park ranger and a forest ranger. I had such a wealth of material that this book almost wrote itself.
As for what stays constant, that would be Marla’s dedication to the truth, her devotion to her clients, her appreciation of family, and the recurring characters who surround her. She still confides in her best friend Tally and in her colleague, Nicole. Marla is amused by the friendly rivalry between her mother and Dalton’s mom. Dalton’s teenage daughter Brianna is a learning experience for Marla as a stepmother. These folks anchor the stories as they are the constants. The values of truth, justice, and family pervade each story.
Q: Book #1, Permed to Death, has a copyright date of 1999. How has being a writer changed, in your experience, in that time? What’s better, what’s worse, what has been most unexpected?
A: My first published book was actually 1994 with Circle of Light, a scifi romance. Social media didn’t exist back in the early days of my writing career, nor did email or even computers. Writing was more laborious. I typed on a typewriter when I started my career. Every mistake had to be corrected with correction ink or a freshly typed page. We had to print out the manuscript, make copies of the entire book, and mail this package to our publisher. As for marketing, I used to band together packets of bookmarks and mail them to individual booksellers. I did lots of in-person signings at mall bookstores. I am not sorry to see those events go the way of the manual typewriter. Now I’ll still send out bookmarks upon request, but most other business is conducted online or via email. My speaking engagements take place at libraries and community groups instead of Borders or Waldenbooks.
But the biggest benefit of this era is being able to communicate directly with fans. We can talk to each other on Facebook, which is fabulous. Now I send out email newsletters (see link below to sign up) and hold giveaways online so I can get my books into the hands of more readers. The whole publishing world has undergone a revolution wherein writers have more choices than ever before. The downside is that there’s a thousand times more competition in the digital marketplace. It’s hard to get noticed. But hasn’t that always been the case?
Q: Is there a real-life model for Marla?
A: Marla is partially me, and partially a former hairdresser of mine who’d owned a salon. Marla has my values in terms of justice and family, but she’s a lot braver than I am. She also has the hairdressing skills that I sorely lack. I’m afraid of burning my fingers on a curling iron. We share similar backgrounds, minus the past tragedy that haunts her. And I like to think we share the same nurturing nature. That comes from my former career as a registered nurse.
Q: Writing can be very solitary. How do you balance the need for solitude with the need to get out and be with people?
A: My husband is retired, so he’s always around. As for getting out, we mix business trips with pleasure. I do a lot of speaking engagements and conferences, so that gets us out of the house. I’ll meet friends for lunch. Most of my writing gets done in the morning, so that leaves afternoons for excursions or doing marketing activities. My writer groups keep me busy. I meet with a critique group twice a month. I’m President of Mystery Writers of America, Florida Chapter, and we have regular monthly meetings. And I belong to Florida Romance Writers, another active group in the area and a branch of RWA. I can always attend other meetings, such as Friends of the Library. So there’s enough to do. You have to be incredibly self-disciplined to be a writer and keep producing book after book. Sacrifices are made along the way. Being in the home office alone much of the time is one of them. Non-writer friends don’t often understand the passion, dedication, and hours required by this job.
Q: What cozy mysteries do you read for enjoyment?
A: I like historical series by Alyssa Maxwell, Kate Parker, C.S. Harris, Rhys Bowen, Susan Elia MacNeal. Then I read July Hyzy’s White House chef series, Lucy Burdette’s Key West food critic series, Maddy Hunter’s tour group series, Maggie Toussaint’s paranormal mystery series, Ellen Byerrum’s Crime of Fashion books, and more. Cozies are a pleasant source of escape. They present a puzzle to solve in a lighthearted manner that entertains while engaging the mind. It’s a diversion from the real world, where criminals escape justice and heinous crimes occur on the daily news. My goal as a writer is to entertain and provide a pleasant escape from your daily toil. This genre isn’t always given the same respect as serious crime fiction, and yet these stories are popular and just as well written. I sensed a lack in the marketplace for an instructional guide, and so I wrote Writing the Cozy Mystery. This book has more reviews than any of my works of fiction. I am proud to write cozies and to give fans the same enjoyment from my books that I get as a reader.
About The Author
Nancy J. Cohen writes the humorous Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring hairdresser Marla Vail, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a valuable instructional guide on how to write a winning whodunit. Her imaginative romances, including the Drift Lords series, have proven popular with fans as well. A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, she enjoys fine dining, theme parks, cruising, and outlet shopping.
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