Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Black Horizon": Ripped from Tomorrow's Headlines - A Guest Post by James Grippando

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger James Grippando. James is a New York Times bestselling author. His 21st novel, Black Horizon, was released in March ,2014 and is the 11th in the critically acclaimed series featuring Miami attorney Jack Swytek. James lives and writes in south Florida, where he is Counsel at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. He was our featured writer on April 27, 2011.

The marketing folks who promote my novels like to say that “James Grippando’s books are ripped from headlines.” I disagree. Like many writers, I stay on top of current events, but I don’t retell the past. I look for trends and forces that are destined to collide in the future, and then I ask the most important question a thriller writer can ask: “What if …?”  

If I’m ripping anything from the headlines, it’s from tomorrow’s headlines.

Black Horizon (Jack Swyteck #11) is a perfect illustration of how I work. Last year, I launched Blood Money (Swyteck #10) with an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The final question Joe Scarborough asked me in the TV interview was “What’s next?” I told him that Cuba was drilling for oil just fifty miles from the Florida coast, and Black Horizon was the story of what could happen if a drilling disaster of the magnitude of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill happened in Cuban Waters. Within ten minutes of the airing of my segment on “Morning Joe,” about thirty e-mails had populated my inbox. Almost all were about Black Horizon. One was from Gwen Keenan, Director, Office of Emergency Response, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

“You are writing about the U.S. Coast Guard’s worst nightmare,” Keenan said in her e- mail to me.

I’ve always done my own research for my novels. It’s something I enjoy. From my perspective, the best thing about being an established author is that people far more knowledgeable than I are eager to help me get the facts right. Director Keenan became that person in Black Horizon. Through her, I became aware of some startling dangers about a potential oil spill in Cuban waters. Some of these dangers stem from the eerie similarities between Cuban offshore exploration and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. But it’s even more complicated, due to the fact that the U.S. has imposed a strict trade embargo against Cuba since 1963. (I’m told that President Kennedy ordered 1,200 Cuban cigars the night before the embargo became effective, but that could be Miami folklore). Cigars aside, consider these facts, which collectively add up to a potential geo-political crisis:

·       An estimated 5.5 billion barrels of oil and another 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath a mile or more of ocean in the Cuban basin, midway between Havana and Florida. Because of the U.S. trade embargo, current exploration is being led by Russian oil companies with no U.S. oversight or involvement.

·       Earlier this year (Jan. 2014), former Florida Senator and Governor Bob Graham, who co-chaired a presidential commission on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, reported that, with the Russians’ help, Cuba and its state-owned oil company are “aggressively” pursuing plans to drill offshore, as close as 56 miles from Key West.  Deepwater Horizon was 48 miles from shore.

·       Cuba’s primary target is near the maritime border in waters that could be 10,000 to 12,000 feet deep. Deepwater Horizon was in 5,000 feet of water.

·       Experts agree that with the Gulfstream moving at a swift three to four knots, a Cuban oil spill would impact Florida in just six to ten days. It is estimated that Cuba has 5% of the resources it needs to respond to spill on the order of Deepwater Horizon.

·       The lack of any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, let alone a maritime treaty, means that the U.S. cannot be assured of the safety standards in Cuban drilling operations. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba means that the Coast Guard would be barred from deploying highly experienced manpower, specially designed booms, skimming equipment and vessels, and dispersants. U.S. offshore gas and oil companies would also be barred from using well-capping stacks, remotely operated submersibles, and other vital technologies.

Pardon the pun, but with facts like these spilling out before me, the premise for Black Horizon almost wrote itself:  What if an oil spill of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe happened in Cuban waters and the U.S. was powerless to stop it? 

I’m proud of the fact that critics have heralded Black Horizon as my “most timely book” (Huffington Post). Worsening relations between the U.S. and Russia over the crisis in the Ukraine only make the premise more timely. Most of all, however, I’m grateful to people like Gwen Keenan who help thriller writers get it right. 

Click on this link to see James's interview on "Morning Joe."

 Visit James's website at:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Nancy Cohen - Hair-Raising Whodunits

Mix together a sassy hairdresser with a penchant for sleuthing, a sexy detective and some eccentric friends and neighbors. Stir in an unconventional murder or two. Bake in the South Florida sun, and you have the makings of Nancy J. Cohen’s delicious “Bad Hair Day” mystery series.

Cohen spent ten years as a registered nurse before retiring to become a full-time writer. After purchasing a copy of Robert C. Meredith’s Structuring Your Novel, she decided writing was her real calling. In 1975, she completed her first book but was unable to find a publisher. She wrote two more novels, both of which were rejected. Undaunted, Cohen joined Florida Romance Writers in 1988 along with a critique group, found herself an agent, and kept right on writing.

Then an author friend suggested she combine her love of science fiction stories with romance. Cohen seized on the idea and went on to write her first futuristic romance, Circle of Light. This became her first published novel. “It was the seventh book I’d written and the first one I’d sold,” she says.  The novel, a book Cohen describes as “a paranormal romance,” went on to win the 1994 Holt Medallion Award. Written under the pseudonym Nancy Cane, it tells the story of Sarina Bretton, a young attorney who is kidnapped from Earth and falls in love with her intergalactic abductor. Spurred on by the book’s success, Cohen wrote two companion novels to create "The Light-Years" Trilogy (now available in revised digital formats under her real name).

In 1999, Cohen decided to try a change of pace with Permed to Death, the first in what was to become an ongoing mystery series starring South Florida hairstylist Marla Shore, a  wannabe detective who manages to find herself in the middle of some very unusual murders. Whether it’s an elderly woman who expires in Marla’s shampoo chair, a mysterious death on a Caribbean cruise ship, the murder of the owner of a competitor’s salon, or the discovery of a body under the cake table at a friend’s wedding reception, Marla just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Luckily, she can depend on a handsome detective, to help her over the rough spots. “These are cozy mysteries, which are lighter than the gritty ‘noir’ type,” Cohen explains. “They involve an amateur sleuth who we know will solve the crime and give us a happy ending. These stories leave readers with a smile and a satisfied, happy feeling – a nice escape from the daily news.”

The latest “Bad Hair Day” mystery is Hanging By A Hair, in which a homeowners’ association president is found dead after Marla’s husband, Dalton, argues with him. When Dalton, a homicide detective, is removed from the case due to a conflict of interest, Marla resolves to solve the crime. Anyone who’s belonged to an HOA will relate to this entertaining story.

Cohen also writes the “Drift Lords” Series—paranormal romances based on Norse mythology. Warrior Rogue is the latest title, and coming next from Wild Rose Press is Warrior Lord. A reviewer from Manic Readers says, Cohen’s futuristic, paranormal romance series blends aspects of science fiction with magic and mythology then tops it off with steamy sexy scenes that are so hot you will need a fan and a mint julep drink to cool off…I love the Drift Lords so much I dream of having one of my own. Many thanks to Nancy J. Cohen for creating such a delightful series.”
Currently, Cohen is working on Peril by Ponytail, Book 12 in her “Bad Hair Day” Mysteries. She’s also serving as President for Florida Chapter Mystery Writers of America and as Vice-President for Florida Romance Writers.

In spite of the non-stop work hours, Cohen wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love the storytelling process, but my real satisfaction comes from sharing my stories with readers. Their feedback inspires me and encourages me to keep writing.”
For more information, visit the author’s website at