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Spaceships & Beauty Shops

by Philip K. Jason

WHEN NANCY J. COHEN RETIRED from her first career as a clinical nurse specialist in order to write full-time, she continued keeping people in stitches. This witty writer, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree from the University of California in San Francisco, knows that vicarious adventure and the release of laughter are effective cures for what ails us.

Cohen’s most recent title, Silver Serenade, is a smashing good combination of two genres: romance and science fiction. Two highly motivated, extremely able, and extremely attractive characters have goals that both intersect and interfere. Jace Vernon, a young leader from the domain of Kurash, has been charged with the murder of his parents. Jace needs to bring the intergalactic plunderer, Tyrone Bluth, to justice so that his name can be cleared and his ancestral estate restored. Government security agent Silver Malloy, an Earthling, has been tasked with the assassination of Bluth, but her motives are highly personal as well as official.
Cohen manages the novel so that the missions of the two dynamic figures bring them into conflict even as an all-consuming passion draws them together. Jace cannot clear his name and prove that his own cousin had plotted the murders and framed him if Bluth does not live to testify. Silver cannot allow anything to interfere with her monomania about ending Bluth’s life as soon as she can. Jace and Silver are suspicious of one another, but form an uneasy, fragile alliance — one that is complicated by the magnetic attraction each has for the other.

They are both suffering from overwhelming personal losses. As Ms. Cohen puts it, “They both carried around enough emotional baggage to fill a cargo hold.”

The author draws a fascinating world of intergalactic politics, futuristic technologies, and clashing moral priorities. She also paints a delicious cast of secondary characters — a population drawn from the variegated worlds that intersect in her plot.

Principal among these is Mixy, the Elusian, who is bonded to Jace as his valet. Elusians, who have essentially emotionless lives, are programmed to bond with species whose emotional dimension is powerful. This bonding is not physical, but psycho-spiritual. Their garments absorb and reflect emotional waves from those to whom the Elusians are bonded, signaling the emotions by changing colors. Elusians have a kind of telepathic awareness of emotion — and they can magnify and retransmit it.

This characteristic provides a paranormal dimension to the novel, a dimension that links Silver Serenade to Cohen’s earliest books, written under the pen name of Nancy Cane. It also provides, in this novel, a good deal of comic relief, as the guarded feelings that Jace and Silver have for one another are vividly revealed through the warmer colors radiating from Mixy’s garments, creating some embarrassment. Mixy, appearance-conscious and finicky, is a delightful, over-the-top comic character who is almost unbearably loyal.

The sex scenes between Jace and Silver are hot and heavy, but in themselves do not resolve the issues of trust, respect, and conflicting loyalties. Nancy J. Cohen teases the readers along to see if Jace and Silver can each achieve mission success without abandoning the growing need each has for the other, and if the need transcends physical attraction.

But wait, isn’t Nancy J. Cohen the author we know from her popular ‘Bad Hair Day’ series? The series with the catchy titles like Died Blonde, Highlights to Heaven, and Permed to Death? The series whose protagonist, hairdresser Marla Shore, gets caught up in crime-solving in South Florida’s resort towns while building her relationship with detective Dalton Vail? Yes, she’s the one. Cohen packs mystery, humor, popular culture, and plenty of attitude into this delightful series, and several of these books have been listed as best sellers by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Her next ‘Bad Hair Day’ mystery, Shear Murder, will appear early in 2012 from Five Star Publications.

Nancy J. Cohen knows her worlds well, both the complex, imagined worlds of outer space, which she draws with sure-handed detail, or the more familiar worlds of the beauty shop and the sunshine state. Just as important, she knows how to craft plots, develop characters, and — what it all adds up to — satisfy her readers.

Aspiring writers can learn a lot from this talented and successful writer, who is also well-known for giving her time to writers’ organizations and speaking at conferences. She has served as President of Florida Romance Writers, and as Secretary for the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

On April 9 & 10, Nancy J. Cohen will be featured at the Naples Press Club’s 9th annual Writers’ Conference and Authors & Books Festival. On April 9, she will be giving a keynote address at the Celebrity Author Luncheon, to be held at Vergina Restaurant on Fifth Avenue South, where she will discuss the digital devices that promise to morph tomorrow’s reading — and publishing — experiences. She will also offer anecdotes from her writing life.

On the morning of April 10, Ms. Cohen will present ‘Writing Fiction for Fun and Profit’ as part of the Writers’ Conference.

Visit the Writers Conference and Authors & Books Festival at www.authorsandbooksfestival.org for more information. •

from the March-April 2011 issue



Nancy packs mystery, humor,
pop culture, and plenty of attitude
into her 'Bad Hair Day'
series of books.



In 'Silver Serenade' Cohen
draws a fascinating world of
intergalactic politics,
futuristic technologies
and clashing moral priorities.