Addison: Today I am welcoming prolific author and Facebook friend Joe Cosentino to tell us about his books, writing secrets, and life as a popular award-winning MM author, college theatre professor/department chair, husband, activist, and frequent Facebook poster. Welcome, Joe!
Joe: It’s great to be here, Addison. I’m staying Til Death Due Us Part From This Day Forward To Love and to Cherish (little writer joke), which I loved by the way.
Addison: Thank you! Then I’ll have to have you back!
Joe: And we’ll take lots of Snapshots.
Addison: Good one. You’ve written twenty books in four years for four publishers. I’m getting dizzy thinking about that. Where do you get your special powers?
Joe: I’m not a Scientologist with alien matter or a Mormon with magic underwear (hah). I’m a night owl. While my husband sleeps, I’m in my study writing. Like Martin Anderson (the theatre department chair in my Nicky and Noah mysteries), I have a cozy study with cherry wood furniture, tiled fireplace, and a gorgeous view of the woods. Since I was an actor, I have a very vivid imagination. Once I enter into the world of my books, it flows pretty quickly.
Addison: Do you hear the characters talking in your head?
Joe: Definitely. And I know they have medication for that (smile).
Addison: You mentioned you were an actor. Where did you act, and how did that lead to writing?
Joe: My first acting gig was at three years old when my older sister and cousin wrapped me in a blanket and placed me on a garbage can full of straw. They threw sheets around themselves and we did a Nativity play in my cousin’s garage. I loved it because I was the star! We graduated to full scale musicals in a neighbor’s garage. So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when I majored in theatre at college (except my mother who said, “Take this knife and stick it through my heart”). After graduation, I went on to act opposite stars like Rosie O’Donnell (AT&T industrial), Nathan Lane (Roar of the Greasepaint musical onstage), Bruce Willis (A Midsummer Night’s Dream onstage), Charles Keating (NBC’s Another World), Jason Robards (Commercial Credit computer commercial), and Holland Taylor (ABC’s My Mother Was Never a Kid TV movie). I then began writing plays produced in New York City and ultimately writing novels. My first MM romance novella, An Infatuation (Dreamspinner Press) was adapted from my one-act play. Since I’m a cozy mystery fanatic, and there are so few gay cozy mysteries out there, I also began writing in that genre. Oh, and I got two masters’ degrees along the way and became a college theatre professor. My students recently saw My Mother Was Never a Kid on YouTube and said, “Professor, you were cute when you were young!” Thanks, kids!
Addison: Do you use situations from your own life in your books?
Joe: Constantly. Though my spouse would say I exaggerate them. My Dreamspinner Press romance novellas are a great example of that. An Infatuation & A Shooting Star (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention) are loosely based on my high school and college years respectively. Many readers messaged me that they laughed, wept, and cherished those two stories, reading them again and again. They did so well that Dreamspinner Press gave me my own paperback anthology, In My Heart. And I’m really excited that Joel Leslie is doing the audiobook. The first Bobby and Paolo Holiday Story, A Home for the Holidays, is loosely based on my trip to the gorgeous, magical, and romantic island of Capri. Joel Leslie did the audiobook for that too. More Bobby and Paolo Holiday stories are coming: The Perfect Gift and The First Noel. The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland is my hysterically funny gay take on my favorite fairytales like Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Pinocchio, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, and the Snow Queen. Joel Leslie did the audiobook, a Favorite Audiobook Book of the Month at Open Skye Book Reviews. Joel hit that audiobook out of the park. Hm, that’s an awfully butch metaphor for me (hah).
Addison: But you’re most famous for your Nicky and Noah mystery novels.
Joe: Yes, I’m a legend in my own mind (smile). Actually, when I went to the Rainbow Book Fair in New York City, readers were asking for the author of the Nicky and Noah mysteries, because they wanted to see if I was as funny as Nicky. As Nicky would say, “I was happier than a Jehovah Witness at a new condominium complex.”
Addison: Are the Nicky and Noah mysteries based on your life too?
Joe: I was sitting in my office at my college, and I realized that theatre departments are chock full of mystery, romance, and humor. The series was born. My faculty colleagues kid me that if they tick me off, I’ll murder them in my next Nicky and Noah mystery.
Addison: For anyone who may not know, what is a cozy mystery?
Joe: I had terrible insomnia as a kid. Believe it or not, what finally helped me sleep was reading cozy mysteries since they are generally good brain puzzles in lovely settings with quaint characters. In the Nicky and Noah mysteries, the settings are warm and cozy, the clues and murders (and laughs) come fast and furious, and there are enough plot twists and turns and a surprise ending to keep the pages turning (as Nicky would say) faster than a priest heading for altar boy orientation. At the center of all the stories is a sweet romance between Nicky and Noah and other characters in the novels. No matter what trials and tribulations Nicky and Noah go through, there is always a happily ever after ending—until the next book. Reviewers called the series hysterically funny farce, Murder She Wrote meets Hart to Hart meets The Hardy Boys, and a captivating whodunit. One reviewer wrote they were the funniest books she’d ever read! When Nicky, Noah, Martin, and Ruben cozy up to the fireplace with hot cocoa in hands to discuss the suspects and clues, that’s is the true definition of a cozy mystery.
Addison: What would you say to someone who hasn’t read the series yet?
Joe: Read them! Here’s a little preview. In Drama Queen (Divine Magazine’s Favorite LGBT Mystery Novel of the Year) college theatre professors are dropping like stage curtains at Treemeadow College, and college theatre professors Nicky and Noah have to use their theatre skills, including impersonating other people, to figure out whodunit. In Drama Muscle (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention) Nicky and Noah don their gay Holmes and Watson personas again to find out why bodybuilding students and professors at Treemeadow are dropping faster than barbells. In Drama Cruise it is summer on a ten-day cruise from San Francisco to Alaska and back. Nicky and Noah must figure out why college theatre professors are dropping like life rafts as Nicky directs a murder mystery dinner theatre show onboard ship starring Noah and other college theatre professors from across the US. Complicating matters are their both sets of wacky parents who want to embark on all the activities on and off the boat with the handsome couple. In Drama Luau, Nicky is directing the luau show at the Maui Mist Resort, and he and Noah need to figure out why muscular Hawaiian hula dancers are dropping like grass skirts. Upcoming are Drama Detective, where Nicky is directing and ultimately co-starring with Noah as Holmes and Watson in a new musical Sherlock Holmes play at Treemeadow College prior to Broadway. Of course dead bodies begin falling over like hammy actors at a curtain call. Once again Nicky and Noah use their drama skills to figure out who is lowering the street lamps on the actors before the handsome couple get half-baked on Baker Street. In Drama Fraternity Nicky is directing Tight End Scream Queen, a slasher movie filmed at Treemeadow College’s football Christian fraternity house. When the quarterback, jammer, wide receiver, and more begin fading out with their scenes, Nicky and Noah once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is sending young hunky actors to the cutting room floor before Nicky and Noah hit the final reel. In Drama Castle Nicky is directing a historical film co-starring Noah and their son Taavi at Conall Castle in Scotland: When the Wind Blows Up Your Kilt It’s Time for A Scotch. When hunky men in kilts topple off the drawbridge and into the mote, it’s up to Nicky and Noah to use their acting skills to figure out whodunit before Nicky and Noah land in the dungeon. Finally, in Drama Dance Nicky is directing The Nutcracker at Treemeadow College with Noah as the Cavalier and Taavi as Fritz. When dancers drop faster than the bulge in their dance belts, it’s up to Nicky and Noah to once again use their drama skills before they become cracked nuts. My spouse and I travelled to Alaska, Hawaii, and Scotland. So Nicky and Noah did as well.
Addison: Are they available as audiobooks as well?
Joe: So far, only the first three.
Addison: They sound like a television series.
Joe: From your mouth to the television gods’ ears. I want to play Martin Anderson, the department chair. I’ve written a teleplay pilot of the first novel and treatments for the others. Come on, television producers, make me an offer I can’t refuse!
Addison: Who would play Nicky and Noah and why?
Joe: Matt Bomer could be Nicky, because he’s Matt Bomer. Neil Patrick Harris might be fun as Noah.
Addison: Why did you pick Vermont for the site of Treemeadow College?
Joe: Vermont is a gorgeous state with green pastures, white church steeples, glowing lakes, and friendly and accepting people. Treemeadow College is the perfect setting for a cozy mystery with its white Edwardian buildings, low white stone fences, lake and mountain views, and cherry wood offices with tall leather chairs and fireplaces. I love that Treemeadow College is named after its gay couple founders: Tree and Meadow.
Addison: Is it difficult writing a series compared to a standalone novel?
Joe: They say you can’t go home again. Well you can if you write a series! It’s as much fun as visiting with old friends. I love watching the leading characters and their relationships grow and develop. Witnessing Nicky and Noah’s family expand has been joyous and brings many a tear to my eyes. It’s also great fun developing minor characters from earlier books into major characters later on, like Martin Anderson’s husband Ruben. Finally, I enjoy creating new characters/suspects in each book to relate to the regulars. I laugh out loud when writing these novels, and the endings still surprise me—even though I wrote them!
Addison: What is your writing process? Do you plan out your novels, write outlines?
Joe: I generally jump out of sleep at 3am with a terrific idea. If I can read my notes on my night table the next day, I write character biographies and then an outline. For the mysteries, I write out the clues, red herrings, and secrets—and when I’ll reveal them. After the characters start talking to each other in my head, I hit the computer. My spouse reads my second draft. After we argue, I write my third draft. The fourth draft is after notes from my editor.
Addison: Do you have a favorite character?
Joe: That would be like asking a parent for their favorite child, though my parents would have no problem naming my sister. If I had to choose, I’d pick Nicky Abbondanza. Nicky is terrific looking. However, what I admire most about him is his never say die attitude, wit, smarts, and perseverance in the face of adversity. He is genuinely concerned for others, and will do anything to solve a murder mystery. Finally, he is a one-man man, and Nicky is proud to admit that man is Noah Oliver. Nicky is also incredibly devoted to his family and friends. Speaking of them, I think Nicky’s parents and Noah’s parents are hysterical. They are very much based on my parents.
Addison: Is it hard for you to write comedy?
Joe: I come from a large, very funny Italian family. So I’ve always thought funny. I remember directors telling me as an actor to stop making my scenes so funny. I didn’t realize I was doing it. I think I get this from my mother. For example, for Christmas one year my parents bought my sister a house and me a jacket. When I complained, my mother said, “But it’s such a nice jacket.”
Addison: What are the rules for writing a good comedy?
Joe: Keep it real. Let it come out in the scene naturally. Life is funny. Trust that.
Addison: What are the rules for writing a good romance story?
Joe: Romance is all about love. If a writer is in love with his/her characters, the readers will be too.
Addison: What are the rules for writing a good mystery?
Joe: It has to be a good mystery with clear clues, plot twists and turns, red herrings, and a shocking but totally justified ending. Also, it should include interesting characters, a strong plot, romance, and humor.
Addison: Are the Nicky and Noah mysteries your only mystery series?
Joe: No, I used my background as an actor for my Jana Lane mysteries published by The Wild Rose Press. I created a heroine who was the biggest child star ever until she was attacked on the studio lot at eighteen years old. In Paper Doll Jana at thirty-eight lives with her family in a mansion in picturesque Hudson Valley, New York. Her flashbacks from the past become murder attempts in her future. Forced to summon up the lost courage she had as a child, Jana ventures back to Hollywood, which helps her uncover a web of secrets about everyone she loves. In Porcelain Doll Jana makes a comeback film and uncovers who is being murdered on the set and why. In Satin Doll Jana and family head to Washington, DC, where Jana plays a US senator in a new film, and becomes embroiled in a murder and corruption at the senate chamber. In China Doll Jana heads to New York City to star in a Broadway play, faced with murder on stage and off. In Rag Doll Jana stars in a television mystery series and life imitates art. Since the novels take place in the 1980’s, Jana’s agent and best friend are gay, and Jana is somewhat of a gay activist, the AIDS epidemic is a large part of the novels. The first two novels are on audiobook. Hopefully more will come.
Addison: Why do you write gay fiction?
Joe: Simple. Go to a mall and look at the row of movie posters without any LGBT characters in them. Take a look at so many of our political and so called religious leaders who raise money and gain power by demonizing LGBT people and trying to take away civil rights. I mourn for the young gay kids who consider suicide. So I support organizations like GLSEN, and I write stories that include LGBT people and themes. However, just as my Jana Lane series with its gay supporting characters has huge crossover appeal for gay people, the Nicky and Noah series with its LGBT leading characters and straight supporting characters has a tremendous amount of crossover appeal for straight people. Most people like a clever mystery, a sweet romance, and a good laugh, regardless of the sexuality of the characters.
Addison: You haven’t mentioned your New Jersey beach series?
Joe: I just received the nicest compliment about them. A reviewer compared them to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books. I was incredibly humbled and flattered. I love the Cozzi Cove novels, and they are incredibly cinematic (hint-producers)! NineStar Press published Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back, Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, and Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings. Coming is Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings. They are about handsome Cal Cozzi’s gay beach resort on a gorgeous cove. I spent my summers as a kid on the New Jersey Shore, so it’s a special place for me. The first novel was a Favorite Book of the Month on The TBR Pile site and won a Rainbow Award Honorable Mention. I love the intertwining stories of Cal and his family and the guests as Cozzi Cove, each so full of surprises. Cozzi Cove is a place where nothing is what it seems, anything can happen, and romance is everywhere. Some reviewers have called it a gay Fantasy Island.
Addison: Well, I’m exhausted hearing about all of your books. Thank you for being my guest.
Joe: It was my pleasure.
Addison: How can readers contact you?
Joe: I LOVE hearing from readers. They can reach me via my web site at http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com. Here are some other ways: