Joe Cosentino is back! Last week, I talked to Joe about the first Nicky and Noah mystery, Drama Queen. This week, I’m interviewing Joe about the second book in the series, Drama Muscle. Welcome back, Joe!
Joe: Thank you, Gillian. We make a good team. I feel as if we are Sonny and Cher. Hah.
In Drama Queen, you drew a lot on your own experiences as a theatre professor and actor. In Drama Muscle, the story revolved around a bodybuilding contest. Did you have to do much research in order to write the story? How did you go about it?
Joe: As a college professor/department head, I have always been aware that colleges are rife with mystery, romance, and humor. As you know 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.
In Drama Muscle, as you mentioned, Nicky is directing the college’s bodybuilding competition, and bodybuilders are dropping like dead weight. Though you would never believe it to look at me, I work out an hour a day on various “torture” devices. I have always been fascinated with bodybuilders, especially the ones who are so big they don’t even need to iron their shirts! The concept of eating protein every two hours, lifting weights for three hours a day, shaving every body part, spray tanning, and posing in tiny gold trunks is amazing to me. What dedication! After reading books and watching documentaries on bodybuilding, and talking to a few in the flesh (no pun intended), I noticed the link between bodybuilding and theatre. So I realized the second Nicky and Noah mystery would take place in the Bodybuilding Department at Treemeadow College.
It was really nice to see some recurring characters — Martin, Shayla and Detective Manuello. I actually feel quite sorry for Detective Manuello. Other detectives get forensic experts, the support of their brother officers, but Detective Manuello doesn’t seem to have anything, besides his own limited resources. Is there more going on behind the scenes that we don’t see, or are the Vermont Police Force too busy to spare any resources to Treemeadow?
Joe: You may recall Detective Dickerson, Detective Manuello’s backup in Drama Queen. He seemed more interested in getting into Nicky’s pants than solving the mystery. Obviously that didn’t work out too well, so Nicky and Noah had to step up and save the day. One of the many things I love about cozy mysteries (in addition to the beautiful settings, humor, and romance) is the bumbling detective who makes the amateur sleuth look good. I patterned Detective Manuello in the vein of Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes who sees the general picture and jumps to an incorrect conclusion. It takes our hero, Nicky, to read between the lines and catch the killer. Nicky has such amazing wit, perseverance in the face of adversity, and smarts. I love his sense of determination in not only nabbing the murderer, but also getting his man—Noah. Nicky knows what he wants and how to get it. He is genuinely concerned for others, and he wants to help them. He also has no problem taking on the role of hero.
Actually, another question occurred to me — with all the murders happening on the Treemeadow campus, have there been any changes? Your characters seem quite resilient, but if there was a drop in tuition in reaction to a drop in attendance, that might make Nicky’s drama students happier! Or, conversely, does Martin and other department heads, have any problems hiring replacement staff?
Joe: Good point. In book two, the students no longer complain about the high tuition. Perhaps that’s why! There’s a funny line in Drama Muscle, where Noah’s mother (who is hysterical) asks Nicky and Noah why any parent would ever send his/her child to Treemeadow College with all the murders that have happened there. Since Drama Queen took place in the Theatre Department, and Drama Muscle takes place in the Physical Education Department, I didn’t need to write about hiring replacements in the Theatre Department. I did mention in Drama Muscle that adjunct instructors were being used to fill full time faculty positons until more full time faculty could be hired. That is pretty standard in most colleges. As a real department head and full time faculty member at a college, I can tell you there is no shortage of people applying for full time faculty and adjunct faculty positions in colleges in the US. The department heads would have no problem filling those positions. However, since I killed off numerous faculty members and students at Treemeadow, the third Nicky and Noah mystery doesn’t take place at the college.
I enjoyed Drama Queen, but I think that Drama Muscle is my favourite of the two! I felt the mystery aspect was a lot stronger (which may just me being pleased because my suspicions were on the mark this time) and it was cool to see the characters further developed. I’m pleased to see that there is a third Nicky and Noah book expected out later this year — tell us about Drama Cruise!
Joe: The third book, Drama Cruise, is written but won’t be released for another six months. It takes us on a cruise to Alaska for sights of glaciers and whales as Nicky directs a murder mystery dinner theatre show onboard ship. You guessed it. Cast members (all college theatre professors) begin dropping like anchors, and Nicky and Noah have to figure out whodunit. Their both sets of parents join them on the cruise for more hilarity. Noah’s father even helps Nicky and Noah with their investigation.
With the setting of Drama Cruise not the Treemeadow campus, what recurring characters will be making the journey with Noah and Nicky to the cruise?
Joe: Nicky and Noah are joined by Martin (their friend and department head) and Martin’s husband, Ruben. Noah’s parents are back with Bonnie’s penchant for photographing everything in sight to share with her neighbor back in Wisconsin. Another regular may make a surprise appearance as well. Of course there are a slew of wacky and wonderful new characters as victims and suspects, including the cast of the murder mystery dinner theatre, the ship’s captain, the ship’s doctor, and ship’s masseuse.
I noticed a number of references in Drama Muscle to Murder She Wrote and Hart to Hart! What crime/mystery shows do you enjoy and how do you feel they have influenced your writing?
Joe: one reviewer 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. I love that review, since those are my favorite television shows—thanks to the nostalgia channels. Like those three television, shows, the Nicky and Noah mysteries are cozy, meaning the setting is warm and cozy, the clues and murders (and laughs) come fast and furious, there are enough plot twists and turns and a surprise ending to keep the reader hooked, and there is romance. For most of my life I’ve read cozy mystery novels and watched cozy mysteries on television. Though full of murder and mayhem, they always made me smile, challenged my brain, and relaxed me. What could be better than a brain-teasing puzzle taking place in a comfortable environment? Like an Agatha Christie novel, the mystery is the central focus with red herrings and inversions leading to a satisfying conclusion. Unlike those television shows, the Nicky and Noah mysteries have gay leading characters. I think that makes them even more special and necessary. Many people have said the books are quite cinematic in style. I would love for the Nicky and Noah mysteries to become a television series. Can’t you see Matt Bomer as Nicky, Neil Patrick Harris as Noah, and me as Martin Anderson? Come on, TV producers, make your offers!
Thanks again for taking the time during a busy holiday season to talk to me, Joe! I’ve enjoyed our interviews, and I wish you all the best for the rest of 2016.
Joe: Thank you, Gillian! I have quite a number of releases coming out in 2016. On January 27 Dreamspinner Press is releasing my novella, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland. It is my gay take on my favorite fairytales like Cinderella, Pinocchio, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, and The Snow Queen. On March 15 The Wild Rose Press is releasing Porcelain Doll, the second Jana Lane mystery about the most famous ex-child star now grown and making a comeback film—with murder, mayhem, and romance on the set. Dreamspinner Press releases the paperback version of my two hit e-book romance novellas, An Infatuation and A Shooting Star on March 21. Later in the year, come Satin Doll and China Doll the next two Jana Lane mysteries from The Wild Rose Press, Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back the first in my New Jersey Shore beach novels from Nine Star Press, and of course Drama Cruise the third Nicky and Noah mystery from Lethe Press. So it’s going to be quite a year. Thank you for the fun and stimulating interviews. Until the next time, I wish you good health, happiness, joy, and wonderful reading, writing, and reviewing in 2016!
DRAMA MUSCLE (a Nicky and Noah mystery)
a comedy/mystery/romance novel by JOE COSENTINO from Lethe Press
It could be lights out for college theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza. With dead bodybuilders popping up on campus, Nicky, and his favorite colleague/life partner Noah Oliver, must use their drama skills to figure out who is taking down pumped up musclemen in the Physical Education building before it is curtain down for Nicky and Noah. Complicating matters is a visit from Noah’s parents from Wisconsin, and Nicky’s suspicion that Noah may be hiding more than a cut, smooth body. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining second novel in this delightful series. Curtain up and weights up!
As the ethereal sound of horns parted the heavenly clouds, the young gods and goddesses appeared in a ray of white light. Standing as strong as the stone columns behind them, the deities displayed stunning muscles, colossal beauty, and mammoth ambition housed in the smallest and most seductive of white garments. Lightning flashed as they formed a resilient line and each struck their first flawless pose. Zeus was dark-skinned and as powerful as thunder. Ganymede at his side had skin of white porcelain and a clever stare. Hercules and Adonis were the perfect blend of masculine vigor and physical splendor. Athena was a gorgeous, olive-skinned warrior, and Aphrodite a lovely, fair-skinned temptress. Achilles watched them all, vowing to be victorious in the end.
“Good work, everyone!”
That was me, Nicky Abbondanza, Professor of Directing at Treemeadow College, a white-stone Edwardian-style private college in the quaint and picturesque village of Treemeadow in the equally quaint and picturesque state of Vermont. As inscribed on the two bronze statues at the college’s entrance, the college’s name comes from its founders, Harold Tree and Jacob Meadow. Tree and Meadow were madly wealthy, madly generous, and madly in love. The old gents would no doubt be proud to know that Noah Oliver (Professor of Acting) and I have become a current generation couple at Treemeadow College. That’s not to say Noah and I look anything like our college’s founders. We aren’t made of bronze for one. We wear dress shirts, slacks, and blazers in the fall season rather than heavy dark suits. Also, the Treemeadows were small, thin, scholarly types. Noah and I are both tall. I am of the dark hair, long sideburns, Roman nose, pumped body (thanks to the gym on campus) variety. Oh, there’s one other small thing. Well, it’s not really small. To the delight or horror of my past boyfriends, I have a nine-and-a-quarter-inch penis—flaccid. Luckily, Noah is delighted and totally open (pardon the pun) to new adventures. Noah has luxurious curly-blond hair, batting blue eyes, and the warmest heart in New England. His body is firm and smooth, but not toned as he never goes near the gym—until now!
Each year the top students in the Bodybuilding Department compete in a contest to be named the Top Toned Tan Trojan at Treemeadow (Try saying that three times fast). Actually, the real name is Treemeadow’s Annual Bodybuilding Competition. The winner receives an enormous gold cup, and more importantly, the year’s college tuition free. Given the rising cost of tuition at Treemeadow, this is no lightweight matter (pardon the pun again).
Bodybuilding Department Head Professor Brick Strong asked my Theatre Department Head, Martin Anderson, if Noah and I could use our theatrical expertise to add a dramatic flair to this year’s bodybuilding competition. Since I was not directing a play that semester, Martin agreed to give Noah and me release time, thereby changing our mantra from “Let’s put on a show” to “I’m gonna pump you up.” That led to Noah and me hauling lighting, smoke, sound, and set equipment, along with a number of skimpy Greek period costumes, from the Theatre Department building to the Physical Education building. The plan was that I, as a directing professor, would direct the production, and Noah, as an acting professor, would work with the student-athletes on stage presence for their individual poses.
“Okay everyone, Professor Oliver will take it from here.” I stepped aside and leaned against the gym wall.
Noah flicked back his gorgeous blond locks and took my place in front of the students like a new king taking the throne after a revolution. Sounding delectably butch, he said, “Let’s take a little time to discuss each of your characters. The Greek period was a—”
“That’s the period we’ve selected for the competition in terms of characters, set, and costumes,” I said.
Noah smiled in my direction.
I think Noah and I are the perfect couple. “Rodney, we know that your character, Zeus, was the father of gods and men—” Rodney Towers was tall, dark, and massive with muscle. “—which is why your toga has a thunderbolt on it,” I said.
“I’m always happy to help,” I said.
“So I see.”
“But Professor Oliver is totally in charge now. So everyone, please listen to Professor Oliver,” I said.
“Thank you.” Focusing back on Zeus, rather Rodney, Noah said, “The Greek gods in mythology were part god and part human—”
“Which is why I selected this motif for the competition. You all have human emotion, but your strength and powers are supernatural.”
“Right,” said Noah with a tight jaw.
I folded my arms across my chest. “Professor Oliver is really good at working on character development, so pay close attention to him.”
Noah took in a deep breath. “And the Greek gods were quite amorous—”
“With both sexes,” I said. “Zeus and Ganymede were just one pair of famous lovers who influenced the arts.”
“Excuse me, everyone.” Noah put a hand on my shoulder and ushered me to a corner of the gym. “Nicky, I appreciate your help, but—”
I put my arm around Noah. “You don’t need to thank me. I love you, and I am always here to help you.”
“Well can you please…stop?”
“Did I say something wrong?” I asked dumbfounded.
“I would like to be able to finish a sentence! Will you let me do that?”
“I won’t say another word,” I said as we walked back to the students.
“Promise?” Noah whispered in my ear.
“Of course.” I looked at my watch. “You should move the rehearsal along, since there’s lots more to do.”
Noah opened his mouth to say something, but Rodney Towers interrupted. “Professor, I was thinking about what Professor Abbondanza mentioned.”
Noah sighed. “Which of the numerous things said by Professor Abbondanza are you referring to, Rodney?”
“The thing about Zeus and Ganymede getting it on.” Rodney looked as if someone had held his nose and poured vinegar into his mouth.
Noah tried to speak again, and Maria Ruiz (our Athena) interrupted. “Homophobe anyone?” Maria stood nose to nose with Rodney. “What’s wrong with you, Rodney?” She pointed to the twins at the other end of the line. “Tim and Kim are playing Hercules and Adonis. Everyone knows they were a couple. You don’t hear them complaining.”
“Um now that you like mention it, Kim would rather, you know, play another part,” said Tim.
“Um so would Tim,” added Kim.
Posed with their hands on their hips, the twins looked like an advertisement for The King and I in double vision.
Let me explain. Kim and Tim Sim (Try saying that three times fast), as identical twins, can read each other’s minds. I could never read my brother’s mind when we were kids. That’s why I had to read his diary, listen in on his phone conversations, and bug his book bag.
The muscles on Rodney’s massive back curled as if snarling. “Let me make myself clear, Maria. I’m not happy playing Zeus, because I don’t want any part of an unnatural lifestyle.”
Maria shot him dagger eyes. “And pumping iron three hours a day and spray-painting our bodies is natural?”
“Maria knows all about being natural. Don’t you, Maria?” said compact Jonathan Toner (Achilles) with a smirk on his pimply face.
“Shut up, Jonathan,” replied Maria as if swatting a pesky fly.
Rodney said to his workout partner, “Maria, don’t rag on me because I believe in the Bible.”
“Then you better get to work in the fields, ’cause you’re a slave, honey,” Maria answered with a wave of her muscular arm and snap of her strong fingers.
“Kiss my muscular black ass.”
“Kiss my muscular Latina ass.”
Noah said, like a referee at an A.D.D. Little League game, “Okay, let’s talk about your character, Maria. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, courage, and justice. As you think about your poses—”
“Try to incorporate those feelings into your performance,” I said.
“Right,” Noah added with narrowed eyes in my direction.
I mimed buttoning my lips and rested my back against the wall.
Noah continued, “And Jonathan, Achilles was shot in the heel, the only weak part of his body.”
“Hence the term ‘Achilles heel,’” I added, then placed my hand over my big mouth.
Jonathan flexed his small, high-peaked biceps. “There’s no part of me that’s weak.”
“Except your brain,” said Maria.
Waving his stubby finger under her square jaw, Jonathan said, “Careful, Maria. You don’t want to piss me off.”
Like a substitute teacher on the last day of school, Noah tried to keep control. Noticing Mack Heath (Ganymede) standing quietly, Noah said, “Let’s talk about Mack’s character.”
Middle weight, fair, perfectly proportioned, and amazingly cut, Mack said, “Didn’t Ganymede represent youth and beauty?”
“Correct!” I said then covered my mouth with both hands.
Jillian Flowers (our Aphrodite), a raving blonde beauty, gazed at Mack with lust in her violet eyes. “You um totally are like Ganymede, Mack.”
Mack’s cheeks grew flushed. “Thanks.”
“For what?” Jillian asked.
“You just said I’m like Ganymede.”
Jillian said, “Um isn’t that like who you are, you know, playing?”
Poor Jillian. Last year, while working out, a barbell accidentally fell on Jillian’s head, leaving her with poor short-term memory.
“Let’s talk about your character, Jillian,” said Noah, clearly hoping to get things back on track. “Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty—”
“And love,” I added, then hid my face underneath my blazer.
Jillian batted her long lashes at Mack, then rested her strong hand on his mountainous shoulder. “Did um Aphrodite and Ganymede ever like, you know, hook up?”
“No, they didn’t, Jillian.” Mack slid his shoulder out of her clutches.
“Who didn’t what?” asked Jillian in confusion.
“Aphrodite and Ganymede were never a couple,” Mack explained, then walked away.
Jillian responded, “Who said they were?”
“Tim is like getting, you know, bored,” said Kim.
“Kim um wants to like get back to, you know, rehearsing,” added Tim.
Having lost his patience, Jonathan walked past each of his classmates with a smirk on his pockmarked face, like a carnival sharpshooter wiping out a row of rubber duckies. “Jillian, Mack isn’t into you. Mack isn’t into anybody, except Mack. Tim and Kim, you don’t need this competition. Stay home and wait for Daddy Big Bucks Sim to kick the chop suey. Maria, you don’t want to tick me off, and you know why. Rodney, join the twentieth century.”
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).