Today’s interview is a first for a few reasons. To start, this is the first time an author requested to appear on my blog! Joe offered me a pick of one of his books to talk about and I (vintage mystery lover that I am) went with Drama Queen, a comedy mystery romance, so this is the first mystery I’ve covered here. And finally, this is my first time getting to talk to Joe. We will see more of Joe next week as he has just released a second book featuring Nicky and Noah, Drama Muscle, and I’m going to interview him about that.
So, thank you for being here, Joe!
Joe: I’m honoured to be your premiere guest. I feel like the Queen of England. Hah.
Drama Queen is a really interesting take on the classic mystery, because the tone is so farcical. You have characters with names like Detective Dickerson and Wally Wanker. It seems like it would have been a lot of fun to write, so my first question is what was the experience of writing Drama Queen like?
Joe: I must admit I laughed out loud while writing it. The experts say to, write the book you like to read. So I did! I love books that are funny, theatrical, sexy, wild, and wacky with a solid mystery full of plot twists and turns at its center. Thankfully most reviewers agreed! They called Drama Queen hysterically funny farce, Murder She Wrote meets Hart to Hart meets The Hardy Boys, and a captivating whodunit with a surprise ending. One reviewer said it was the funniest book of the year! Who am I to argue? In Drama Queen college theatre professors were dropping like stage curtains and amateur sleuths/college theatre professors Nicky and Noah had to use their theatre skills, including impersonating other people, to figure out whodunit. When the ebook reached the Amazon bestsellers list in its category and the paperback and audiobook (with all twenty-four roles played by Michael Gilboe) sold like tickets to Les Mis after the Tony Awards, it was time for another Nicky and Noah mystery.
In Drama Muscle Nicky and Noah don their gay Holmes and Watson personas again to find out who is murdering musclemen in the Bodybuilding Department. In the novel Nicky is directing bodybuilding students in Treemeadow College’s annual Bodybuilding competition on campus. Bodybuilding students and faculty drop faster than barbells until Nicky figures out the identity of the murderer, as well as Noah’s secret revolving around Van Granite, one of the bodybuilding professors. Noah’s hysterically funny parents visit from Wisconsin and are drawn into the action, and Nicky and Noah reach a milestone by the end of the novel. In the third novel, Drama Cruise (not yet released), Nicky and Noah go on a cruise to Alaska for sights of glaciers and whales while Nicky directs a murder mystery dinner theatre show onboard ship. We also get to meet Nicky’s parents who are a riot.
At the same time you’ve got the light tone and the blossoming romance between your two MCs, you’ve got some really dark things happening — obviously the mounting death count is the main one, but you touch on some serious themes such as sexual harassment, exploitation, discrimination … Was it hard work blending the different elements of Drama Queen together?
Joe: I approach my writing in the same way as I did with acting. I start with character biographies and ask questions about each character. Who do they love, hate, fear? What do they want? What is standing in the way of them getting what they want? What was their history? Then I get them talking to one another and see what happens. Since I come from a funny Italian family, I tend to think funny. At the same time, I am quite passionate about issues of anti-gay discrimination and social justice. So much of that comes out in my writing. I write an outline, but I deviate from it constantly. My spouse reads my second draft then I write my third draft, which goes to the publisher.
Where did the idea for the series start? Did you always want to write a mystery romance, or did the characters pop into your head?
Joe: I go to sleep at night with a pad and pencil on my night table. Generally about 3am I wake up with a terrific idea. I write some notes then fall back to sleep. If it can read the notes in the morning and they are indeed the beginnings of a good idea, I get to work. 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/department head, it also isn’t too surprising that many of my plots have to do with the wacky world of academia. My colleagues at my college tease me that if any of them tick me off, I will kill him/her in the series? Hah. To be honest, I like my colleagues and students too much to murder them in my books. Martin Anderson, Nicky and Noah’s department head, is based on me. He’s a loyal, hardworking department head and professor who fully supports his faculty colleagues, office assistant, and the students in his department. Like me, he is also a little bit, well quite a bit, of a gossip. The other characters and the location came from my head. As my mother says, “How do you think up all these crazy things? Well, you always were a bit crazy as a kid.”
Drama Queen has a large cast, many of whom have a motive for getting rid of David Samson. How did you keep track of everyone’s motives and the unravelling plot?
Joe: Once I introduce a character in my writing, he/she becomes real for me. I can see, hear, smell, and know him/her quite well. Not remembering him/her for me would be like a parent not remembering a child. Though I think my mother would be happy to forget about me sometimes. Hah. Writing an outline helps me keep everything clear, especially the clues. I don’t enjoy mysteries, where whodunit is picked out of thin air at the end. The clues need to be there all along, but hidden in a way that isn’t obvious to the reader. However, by the end of the book, the reader should say, “Of course. How could I have missed that?”
You have another mystery series, the Jana Lane series, starting with Paper Doll. At a glance, Paper Doll seems much more serious than Drama Queen and Drama Muscle. Is that the case? What sets these two series apart from each other?
Joe: The Jana Lane mysteries have straight leading characters and gay supporting characters. The Nicky and Noah mysteries are the reverse. However, readers of all sexual orientations seem to enjoy both series. Both series are whodunits revolving around the world of show business. The Jana Lane mysteries are not farcical, yet they have some funny characters. I can’t help myself! Hah. Both would make terrific television series. I want to play Martin Anderson (the theatre department head) in the Nicky and Noah mysteries, and Simon Huckby (Jana’s agent) in the Jana Lane mysteries. Hear, that producers! In the Jana Lane series, 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 (Whiskey Creek Press), 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. She also embarks on a romance with the devilishly handsome son of her old producer, Rocco Cavoto. In Porcelain Doll (releasing March 15 from The Wild Rose Press), Jana makes a comeback film and uncovers who is being murdered on the set and why. Her heart is set aflutter by her incredibly gorgeous co-star, Jason Apollo. In Satin Doll (not yet released from The Wild Rose Press), 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. She also embarks on a romance with Chris Bruno, the muscular detective. In China Doll (not yet released from The Wild Rose Press), Jana heads to New York City to star in a Broadway play, enchanted by her gorgeous co-star Peter Stevens, and faced with murder on stage and off. I am writing Ragdoll now, where Jana stars in a television mystery series and of course life imitates art yet again. 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.
Obviously there is a thread of drama running through all these stories, due to your experiences as an actor, playwright and professor yourself. I think you did an amazing job of capturing the atmosphere of an academic department in Drama Queen. It actually reminded me a lot of Ngaio Marsh, a mystery writer who wrote from 1934 -1982. Marsh wrote a few mysteries set in the world of the theatre. Have you read them? If not, what mystery authors are your inspirations?
Joe: Yes, I enjoyed Ngaio Marsh’s novels, and many other mystery writers’ novels as well. I’ve read every Agatha Christie novel and play many times. She is a genius at outlining when and where to give the reader what information. I love the inversion in her books, where she uses sleight of hand to lay out all the information, but not in a straight forward manner. The reader becomes the sleuth to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I tried to do the same in this series, and it was great fun! I learned a great deal about fast-paced action from Mary Higgins Clark. Armistead Maupin is a prime example of creating quirky, outrageous, but endearing characters.
From a few comments made in Drama Queen, Nicky seems to be a Holmes fan. Holmes has been portrayed by many actors over the years. Who is Nicky’s favourite Holmes? And who is yours?
Joe: I can speak for Nicky, since I created him. Benedict Cumberbach! I love that series. I also thought Cumberbach was terrific as Alan Turing in the film. I wonder if he would play Nicky in the series. Can you make that happen? Hah.
Finally, you do not just write comedy mysteries! You’ve got quite a few romances available with Dreamspinner Press and elsewhere. Do you use the same writing process for all your stories, regardless of genre, or does it differ?
Joe: Yes, My Dreamspinner Press e-book novellas (An Infatuation, A Shooting Star, A Home for the Holidays, and The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland, which releases January 27) were also well received. Dreamspinner Press is publishing a paperback anthology version of An Infatuation and A Shooting Star on March 21. Nine Star Press is publishing my two novels that take place at a gay summer resort on the Jersey Shore: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back and Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward. My process is the same. Readers tells me they love how I include humor, drama, mystery, and romance in all my work. Whatever you write, it’s important for the reader to fall in love with the leading characters while the characters are falling in love with each other. I’ve been told my books achieve that, which makes me incredibly proud.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me at such a busy time of the year, Joe! I hope that your winter is going well. Before we say goodbye (for this week, at least) what is the best way for readers to keep up to date with your busy release schedule?
Joe: Thanks so much, Gillian. It was great talking to you, and I will forever be your first guest! I love to hear from readers. The best way to check out my releases, reviews, and interviews, and contact me is via my web site at http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com. Happy writing, reviewing, and reading to you. I look forward to chatting again soon!
Congratulations to Joe Cosentino for winning Best Contemporary Novel, Best Mystery Novel, Best Crime Novel, and Best Humorous Novel of 2015 for DRAMA QUEEN, the first Nicky and Noah mystery published by Lethe Press, in the Divine Magazine Readers’ Poll Awards!
Read on for an excerpt from Drama Queen and further information on where to find it!
It could be curtains for college theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza. With dead bodies popping up all over campus, Nicky must use his drama skills to figure out who is playing the role of murderer before it is lights out for Nicky and his colleagues. Complicating matters is Nicky’s huge crush on Noah Oliver, a gorgeous assistant professor in his department, who may or may not be involved with a cocky graduate assistant…and is also the top suspect for the murders! You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat, delightfully entertaining novel. Curtain up!
DRAMA QUEEN (a Nicky and Noah mystery)
a comedy/mystery/romance novel
by JOE COSENTINO
from Lethe Press
paperback, ebook, and audiobook available now
Noah led me to a window seat in a corner of the theatre lobby. White snow fell softly outside the window behind us like cotton bits in a glass ball. I could tell something was bothering Noah, and it hurt me that he was hurting.
“I don’t want to take advantage of our friendship.”
Take advantage! “What’s wrong?”
“It’s about my tenure application.”
I thought back to the neurosis, prayers, nightmares, and sheer terror before my tenure decision. “Noah, anybody lucky enough to get a tenure track position nowadays goes through the jitters stage. It’s not fun, but it’s part of the game. I read your application. It’s very strong. All the students and all the faculty in the department like you.”
His head dropped to his chest. “Not everybody.”
David, the self-prescribed technical theatre god, strikes again.
“I went to David’s office while you were giving notes.”
Tongue firmly in cheek, I said, “And the two of you had a cozy little chat about your promising future at Treemeadow College?”
Noah let out an I Love Lucy, “Hah!” then continued. “After complimenting David on the set design for the show, I mentioned my positive student surveys, and my supportive evaluations from Martin as department head.”
“And when you asked if he will support your tenure, David said he’d have to think about it.” I sneered. “That’s what David said to me when I applied for tenure.” I felt my jaw, hands, and knees clench in unison. “His was my only no vote, which I will never forget.”
“I fared worse than you. David came right out and told me I am too easy on my students, and that like most gay men I am too weak to be a dynamic lecturer.”
“That’s a lie. And against the law in this state.”
Noah’s magnificent lips pouted. “David told me that he wouldn’t support my tenure if I gave him a thousand dollars.”
“He’s never supported anyone for tenure. He has voted against every new course and program modification proposal in the department. He even voted against having a department holiday party. But David’s is only one vote.”
Resting his warm hand on my grateful shoulder, Noah said, “Nicky, David is running for department head.”
“He won’t win against Martin.”
Slumping back against the window seat, Noah said, “There are only seven tenured faculty members in our department. David can be very persuasive.”
“Ariella may be David’s wife but she’s her own person, and she likes you a great deal. And I doubt Jackson Grier would support David since David voted against Jackson’s tenure too.”
“I heard Jackson and David arguing in David’s office tonight before I went in to talk to David about my tenure. Jackson slammed the door and left in a huff.”
“What were David and Jackson arguing about?”
Noah’s shrugged. “I heard David criticizing Jackson’s movement and stage combat choreography for the show. Then all I could get were the words, ‘fresh start.’” Soft lines surfaced on Noah’s handsome face. “David could be making deals, offering his support to faculty if he becomes department head and if they vote against my tenure.”
I stood and lifted Noah to his feet. “Come on, young man.”
He looked like a school boy at a fire drill. “Where are we going?”
“Where everyone in our department brings all of our problems. To the Wizard of Theatre Arts.”
Praise for Drama Queen:
“I cannot stop laughing. Drama Queen is Hardy Boys-meets-Murder She Wrote-meets-Midsummer Murders, with a side of parodic, farcical, satire.” “Who-dunits don’t come more whodunnity than this.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews
“If you are looking for a fun mystery, lots of humor, like actors, play directors and hot professors, sweet romance and mild, mostly off-page but sensual man-sex this is definitely for you!” MM Good Book Reviews
“If you like broad comedy with a side of crime and a host of suspects, Drama Queen should fill the playbill nicely.” GGR Reviews
“I’m hoping that this is just the start for Nicky and Noah. If Jessica Fletcher could have so many murderers in Cabot Cove, why shouldn’t the same hold true for Treemeadow College?” Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Reviews
“This fast-paced, hilariously funny, entertaining novel will have you on the edge of your seat as you try to figure out who-dun-it!” Joyfully Jay
“a murder mystery, a comedic romp, an investigative caper, and a love story all rolled up into one nifty little novel” The Novel Approach
“The tangled weave of murder mystery and other mysteries comes to a startling conclusion that is both satisfying and mind boggling.” MultitaskingMomma
“The only two stories I have read from author Joe Cosentino were both heartfelt and heartbreaking. With Drama Queen, he proves that he can do humor and mystery with equal skill.” Prism Book Alliance
“I am not used to reading books that make me snigger out loud, but in Drama Queen Joe Cosentino has struck a great balance between his use of tongue in cheek humour and a compelling mystery which we want to see solved.” Divine Magazine
“Nicky and Noah are two sexy leading characters who conduct the investigation in this comedic caper with wit and style.” “The narrator delivered on the fast paced humor, the character nuances, and sheer entertainment.” Vance Bastian Reviews
“Cosentino does a wonderful job of writing a mystery that keeps the reader guessing right up until the end.” “I loved this story and want to listen to more like it. The characters are well developed and very believable.” “This book got some major grins from me as Nicky and Noah go about trying to prove Noah’s innocence.” “Michael Gilboe…was very believable as a crime solving college professor.” Barron Owens Reviews
“I love this story, just the right mix, of fun, hilarity and mystery in the mix. The storyline is fresh and well thought out, and the dynamic of the characters is through the roof! Top notch narration as well! This is a win win win indeed!” Bike Book Reviews
“the murder mystery had me guessing the entire time” “great narration” Susan Voss Dab of Darkness Reviews
“filled with humor and enough complexities to keep you turning the page. The author clearly knows of what he speaks on all matters theater, and the kind of authentic details he brings to the table in terms of characters and staging makes this immensely entertaining.” Love’s Last Refuge Reviews
“Without doubt the funniest book I have read this year, maybe ever” “brilliant” Three Books Over the Rainbow
“a fast paced and fun read. It has so many places where you laugh out loud. I look forward to the next book.” The TBR Pile
“Joe Cosentino has brilliantly done it again! His latest novel, Drama Queen, is the most fascinating mystery of all time. I loved the laugh out loud moments and the crazy fast-paced plot. Readers will instantly be drawn into Joe Cosentino’s stunning mystery. I recommend this novel to readers worldwide and look forward to reading the next adventure by this talented writer.” Danielle Urban, Universal Creativity, Inc.
Amazon Bestselling author Joe Cosentino wrote Drama Queen the first Nicky and Noah mystery (Lethe Press), An Infatuation & A Shooting Star & A Home for the Holidays (Dreamspinner Press), Paper Doll the first Jana Lane mystery (Whiskey Creek Press), and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Eldridge Plays and Musicals). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. His one-act plays, Infatuation and Neighbor, were performed in New York City. He wrote The Perils of Pauline educational film (Prentice Hall Publishers). Joe is currently Head of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and is happily married. His upcoming novels are Drama Muscle the second Nicky and Noah mystery (Lethe Press), The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland (Dreamspinner Press fairytale novella), Porcelain Doll the second Jana Lane mystery (Wild Rose Press), and Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back (Nine Star Press).