Delighted to have Joe as a guest here. Welcome to my blog, old bean, and thanks for such comprehensive answers.
Joe: Thanks, Charlie. We both write gay mystery series set in the world of academia. Now that I’m here, I’m wondering what took me so long. It’s a mystery. No pun intended.
Charlie: Speaking of mysteries, lots of people write mystery series and other series, but not everyone is as successful in keeping the interest of readers. Can you give us some tips on making every addition to a series a success?Joe: Prior to becoming a playwright and now novelist, I was an actor on stage, film, and television opposite stars like Bruce Willis, Nathan Lane, Rosie O’Donnell, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. What I learned (besides that I’m a name-dropper) is that any story is only as enticing as its characters. So I write leading characters in my series who make me fall in love with them. Happily, the readers fall in love with them too, and become invested in their lives. So it’s one big love orgy. Okay, that didn’t come out exactly right. How’s this? It’s like watching a loved one go through life’s joys and challenges, and having a great time being smack in the middle of the action. As the leading characters in each book of a series grow and change, so do the readers. It’s actually easier to write a series, because the readers are already invested in the leading characters’ lives and laugh, fall in love, solve a mystery, experience loss, marry, have a child, etc. right along with them. With each book in a series, I feel as if I am visiting with old friends. I love watching the leading characters’ relationships develop, and I miss them terribly when I’m not writing that series. Since I am a college theatre professor/department chair by day, I write in the evenings. My mother said to me, “Don’t you have anything better to do at night than write books?” Hm, I wonder if Agatha Christie’s mother asked her that? In any case, my answer is, “No.” My characters are each a conglomeration of fascinating and unique people I’ve met throughout my life. Spending time with them is incredibly entertaining and fulfilling.
Charlie: You have several series. How do you ensure internal consistency in them all? Have you ever made a complete howler?
Joe: I keep a notebook full of notes for each series, my spouse is my first reader, and the editors at my publishers check back to past books to ensure consistency as well. So I haven’t made any errors. I can say that assuredly, because if I did, I know the readers would tell me. They are incredibly attentive to every detail in my books, and quite open about giving me their opinions, which I cherish—since they love the books.
Charlie: What differences do you find writing mystery series/books to romantic ones?
Joe: I have some mystery in my romance novels and some romance in my mystery novels, so there isn’t that big of a difference. I try to write the novels I like reading: funny, theatrical, sexy, full of plot twists and turns, and a surprise yet earned ending. Whether writing mystery or romance, to the chagrin of my spouse, I generally jump out of bed at 3am with a terrific idea and jot down notes on my night table. If I can read them the next day, I start writing a character biography for each character and a plot outline. Since I was an actor, playwright, and director, it’s not a surprise that many of my ideas are theatrical in nature. As a college professor, it also isn’t too surprising that many of my plots have to do with the wacky world of academia. The mystery novels, however, need more plot preparation before writing to plan each clue, red herring, inversion, and reveal. As someone who has read and enjoyed hundreds of mystery novels, that’s great fun for me. The romance novels let me explore my romantic side and put my fantasies on paper. The humor in the books offers me an opportunity to share my warped outlook on life. Since I come from a funny Italian family, that comes pretty easily for me.
Charlie: Do you have a favourite book, favourite character, and/or favourite pairing from your works? Which one and why?
Joe: That’s like asking a parent who is there favourite child, though my parents would have no problem answering, my older sister. Hah. As they say, the first one is the most special. So for favorite book, I’ll go with my In My Heart/An Infatuation & A Shooting Star, my first love novellas loosely based on my high school and college years respectively. So many readers told me those stories made them laugh, cry, feel romantic, and changed their lives. The novellas did so well as e-books that Dreamspinner Press published them together in my own paperback anthology. I was thrilled when the book received a Rainbow Award Honorable Mention, and was voted Second Place Favorite Romance Novel of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine. Joel Leslie is performing the audiobook this summer. I was incredibly lucky to get such an in-demand performer. The novellas also started my cherished relationship with Dreamspinner Press, who also published my comical gay take on my favorite fairytales, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland, and my holiday romance novella A Home for the Holidays, where an American tourist falls in love with his distant Italian cousin on the gorgeous and magical Island of Capri. Joel Leslie did an amazing job performing the audiobook versions of those two books as well. I just finished writing a sequel to A Home for the Holidays called A Perfect Gift, which lets us find out what happened to Bobby and Paolo after they moved to America.
As for my favourite character, I hope my other characters aren’t too jealous, but I’ll select Cal Cozzi from my Cozzi Cove series published by NineStar Press: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention/TBR Pile Book of the Month), Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings. Ex-professional football player Cal Cozzi runs his family’s gay resort of bungalows on the New Jersey shore. The series explores his family and love life as well as the lives of the vacationers in each bungalow every summer. However, nothing is what it seems at Cozzi Cove, romance is always in the air, and anything can and does happen. Cal is handsome, muscular, sexy, honest, passionate, moral, stalwart, dependable, and loyal. To me, he’s the perfect gay man.
For my favourite couple, hands down it’s Nicky and Noah from my Nicky and Noah comedy mysteries (Lethe Press): Drama Queen (Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Poll Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Novel of the Year), Drama Muscle (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention), and Drama Cruise. Upcoming are Drama Luau (June, 2017), Drama Detective (December, 2017), and Drama Fraternity (June 2018). The Nicky and Noah novels are cozy mysteries set in an Edwardian style university founded originally by a gay couple (Tree and Meadow) whose name the university bears: Treemeadow College. The clues and murders (and laughs) come fast and furious, there are enough plot twists and turns and a surprise ending to keep the pages turning, and at the center is a touching gay romance between Associate Professor of Directing Nicky Abbondanza and Assistant Professor of Acting Noah Oliver. Reviewers called them hysterically funny farce, Murder She Wrote meets Hart to Hart meets The Hardy Boys, and a captivating whodunit with a surprise ending. Who am I to argue? However, what makes the series so special is the growing relationship between handsome and sexy Nicky and Noah. Between flirting, impersonating others, keeping us laughing, and using their other theatre skills to cleverly solve the murder mysteries, Nicky and Noah remain tried and true, and madly in love. Michael Gilboe and Chip Hurley did a terrific job bringing them to life in the audiobook versions of the first two novels. I am currently planning an audiobook for the third.
Charlie: Do you have a favourite mystery series written by another author? Which one and why?
Joe: I can’t decide between the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries and the Lindenshaw Mysteries. Do I get to come back on your blog now? Hah. Actually, I had terrible insomnia as a kid. What finally helped me sleep was reading cozy mystery novels. The warm and fuzzy locations, likeable characters, humor, puzzles to figure out, and happy endings lulled me to sleep. Agatha Christie was my favorite. I loved how she played fair, introducing the murderer and clues early on, but using misdirection so the reader misses them until the final reveal. My one disappointment was that there were no openly LGBT characters. I fixed that in my mystery series.
Charlie: I’m a huge fan of audiobooks, but there’s always a risk that fans of a book won’t find the voices ‘right’ for the characters. What do you do to ensure authenticity?
Joe: I give my performers a written biography on each character. If he/she is doing only one book in the series, I give him/her all the books to reveal the arc of the series. They generally pick my brain with questions as well, which I am always happy to answer. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have only worked with the top performers, and I’m incredibly pleased with the audiobook versions of my books. I’ve also written screenplays for some of my books, so I’m waiting for Hollywood to call. I want to play the theatre department chair, Martin Anderson, in The Nicky and Noah Mysteries!
Charlie: What’s the best audiobook you’ve ever heard?
Joe: Lessons in Love of course. Now I’m definitely going to be invited back. Hah. Let’s see. Besides my audiobooks, which are difficult to do with all the character voices, Jim Dale’s Harry Potter audiobook is fantastic. As a versatile actor, he fully embodies each of the characters with a distinct and perfect voice. BTW, when I mentioned my audiobook performers, I hastened to mention the wonderful Charissa Clark Howe who is doing my Jana Lane mystery series: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (the Wild Rose Press). The series is about an ex-child star now grown up making a film comeback while solving murder mysteries on the set and off—including who attacked her on the studio lot as a child and who is trying to kill her now. Charissa is fantastic at capturing Jana’s inner emotions as well as believably playing the other people in Jana’s life, including her older gay agent Simon Huckby, who I want to play in the film or TV version! Sense a pattern here?
Charlie: It’s been most entertaining. How can readers contact you and/or purchase your books?
Joe: Here’s just a few links:
Web Site: http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com
Charlie: Thank you, Joe, for visiting. Keep writing wonderful books.
Joe: Right back at you, Charlie!