Please welcome Nancy J. Cohen, an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA (Independent Mystery Booksellers Association) bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi romances have garnered rave reviews.
Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star. Coming next is Warrior Prince, book one in The Drift Lords series, from The Wild Rose Press. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets.
Obsessions and Orchids by Nancy J. Cohen, Guest Blogger
Ask me how many candlesticks we have in our house, and my face might go red with embarrassment. For a while, my husband was on a collecting jag and he fixated on candlesticks. He ordered them from catalogues, picked them up on trips as souvenirs, and drooled over them in department stores.
Now imagine if he’s a character in a book. What sort of man would collect candlesticks? What kinds of obsessions do the people in your stories possess?
In Shear Murder, my latest Bad Hair Day mystery featuring hairdresser sleuth Marla Shore, I have a character who loves orchids. He’s addicted to collecting them. Before I researched this subject, I had no idea such a fanaticism existed. And yet the more I read, the more fascinated I became.
Consider this excerpt wherein Marla is at a class learning about orchids. Why is this important to her? She’s investigating a murder that took place at a friend’s wedding. The nuptials were held at Orchid Isle, a nature park in Miami. Like me, Marla knows very little about the exotic flower.
Marla raised her hand again. “How can I tell a rare orchid from a regular one?”
“Today, most orchids can be cloned, although this doesn’t usually happen because then prices would fall. A few years ago in China, a new species was discovered. It was fabulously expensive and rare, but not for long. To me, a rare orchid signifies that it’s in danger of being overcollected in the wild. There are laws regulating what people can take and from where. A well-known orchidist in Miami just got fined a hefty sum for illegally collecting specimens in the Philippines.”
“Does this mean there’s a black market for the more exotic blooms?” Marla folded her arms across her chest.
The instructor’s eyes gleamed. “Sure, fanatics will pay anything. Call it orchidelirium if you will, but collecting orchids can become an addiction just as strong as alcohol or drugs.”
“So how much money flows through this illicit trade?”
Pacing back and forth in front of the class, Diane snorted. “Trophy orchids, or rare varieties that cost thousands of dollars each, fuel a ten-billion-dollar orchid black market.” She paused to survey them. “Look at the London pharmacist arrested for having six rare orchids in his luggage. He went to jail for orchid smuggling, and that’s a minor case. Murder, greed, and
betrayal are not uncommon among people passionate about their plants.”
Another character in the story, the victim’s husband, is obsessed with clocks. Scott owns a clock repair shop and has a collection of timepieces in his house. Witness this conversation between Marla and one of the victim’s colleagues.
“I ran into Griff the other day,” Marla mentioned casually. “He nearly accused Scott of murdering his wife. You don’t know Scott that well, but did Torrie ever seem scared of him?”
“Hell, no. All she did was put down the poor guy. He wasn’t assertive enough. He spent more time with his clocks than with her. He didn’t care if his clothing was out of style. She didn’t have one good thing to say about her husband.”
Sometimes the meek types were capable of the most violence, Marla thought.
“Did Griff tell you he got mugged? Nothing was stolen, so robbery couldn’t have been the motive. That’s why I was interested in the pictures he took at the wedding. Maybe one of them shows Torrie’s murderer.”
Hally took a gulp of coffee. “What else would you expect, darling? The killer had to be someone familiar to her, and we’re all in the photos. I know it’s not me, so that leaves everyone else.” She wrinkled her brow. “What happened to Griff?”
“Someone conked him on the head.”
“Is he okay? I haven’t seen him in … since we worked together at Orchid Isle.”
And so the story shifts back again to Orchid Isle. Even the owner of the nature park has a collection. Animal heads brought back from hunting expeditions decorate his walls. He might love plants, but you can’t say the same for his wildlife targets.
Characters become more interesting when you give them an obsession or populate their houses with collections. You can use this to show character. What if a muscle man with tattoos collects glass figurines of cats? Or what if the sweet housewife has a secret hobby of hiding human bones in her underwear drawer? Maybe your gruff trucker who lives in a trailer raises cacti because he likes their prickly spines and hopes they’ll discourage unwanted visitors? As for an obsession, how far will your character go to pursue his interests?
Giving someone in your story an obsession will broaden his character as well as contribute to the plot. What are some memorable traits you’ve used or discovered in your reading?
Nancy, thank you so much for including us in your blog book tour. I hope you'll come back for the launch of Warrior Prince.
Who knew weddings could be murder? Hairstylist Marla Shore is weeks away from becoming a bride herself when she walks down the aisle as a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s ceremony. Things take a turn for the worse when the matron of honor ends up dead, the cake knife in her chest. Now what will they use to cut the cake?
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Leave a comment during Nancy’s blog tour and enter to win signed copies of Perish by Pedicure and Killer Knots.