A Bittersweet Anthology: In My Heart by Joe Cosentino

Today’s author interview is a man who by now surely needs no introduction! This is the fourth time I’ve interviewed Joe Cosentino, and just like our previous interviews I had a lot of fun, not only reading but coming up with questions for Joe. You can read our most recent conversation here. Welcome back, Joe! How are things going?

Joe: Busy. My readers still tell me I’m writing books faster than they can read them. Hah. Thank you for having me back. I always love your insightful and stimulating questions. And thank you for reading my books—though I’m writing them faster than you can read them. Hah.

Every book from you feels like a new experience. I think out of everything I’ve read of yours yet, Joe, that these two novellas might be my favourite, simply because you do the drama and romance inherent in everyday lives so well. To start with An Infatuation is a romance which tells the story of a love affair that is never realized. I love that — because real life, unlike romance novels — is full of difficult choices and could-have-beens, or if-only-things-were-different, and you manage to capture that in a way that is both romantic but also absolutely right for the characters. Huge congratulations for that! It must have been difficult to pull off, and I imagine, scary to write — romance readers are notorious for wanting happy endings! What was the response from Dreamspinner, the publisher of An Infatuation, to this approach to romance? And how has reader reaction been?

Joe: First, thank you, Gillian, for noticing the different styles in my novels and novellas from the funny and touching In My Heart (An Infatuation & A Shooting Star) to the romantic travelogue A Home for the Holidays to the fantastical The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland to the comedic mystery Nicky and Noah mystery series (Drama Queen, Drama Muscle) to the soap opera Cozzi Cove beach series (Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back, Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward) to the straight theatrical mystery Jana Lane mystery series (Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll). Some readers insist a number of different writers are writing under my name, especially since all of my books have been released over the last two years. As my spouse will verify by my late nights in my study, they all came from my head, which is kind of scary if you think about it. Hah. In each case I think I use my theatrical background and offbeat sense of humor to tell a romantic story with lots of plot twists and turns and a surprise ending.

InMyHeart_Anthology-2Thank you for the nice words about An Infatuation. Everyone seems to love that novella, including me. As they say, your first is the most special. Just ask my mother about my sister. Hah. When I received the email from Dreamspinner Press that they wanted to publish An Infatuation, I danced around my house like a fool. They have published three other e-book novellas of mine since. I’m so glad you liked the theme of An Infatuation and A Shooting Star. How often do we sit around thinking, what if I had done this instead of that? Well, since I write so many books I don’t have much time to do that anymore, but I certainly did at one point wonder how my life would have been different if I had made different decisions. As is the case in many people’s lives, including mine, while things didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned, I got my happily ever after ending. The same holds true for Harold in An Infatuation and Jonathan in A Shooting Star. They don’t end up with their first love/infatuation, but each of them has a happily ever ending with the right man for them. I love that about the stories.

Any discussion of An Infatuation has to start with Mario, naturally! At first he comes across as larger than life, seen through the adoring and uncritical gaze of Harold, our narrator. It’s clear from the start that Mario is not as perfect as Harold believes him, but I struggled to sympathize with him, possibly because of the teacher in me — maybe Mario the student was too realistic? As the story developed, Mario became more nuanced, and I became really invested in his development, hoping that he would be able to accept and live true to himself. He’s an amazing characters, so I have to ask where did he come from?

Joe: Mario is a combination of a few supposedly straight, perfect guys who I met as a young actor in New York City. They were handsome, muscular, captivating, and always tortured, carrying an inner secret.

In contrast to Mario who denies who he is, Harold has a really strong grip on his identity. His journey seems to be less one of knowledge, but one of gaining confidence and strength while remaining true to himself. Like Ms. Hunsley, their science teacher says, Mario and Harold have a lot to learn from each other. Ironically, I wonder if Mario’s denial of who he was, made Harold more determined not to fall into that same trap?

Joe: Great insight, Gillian! I agree that Mario’s denial of his true identity made Harold stronger and more resilient. Since Harold is based on me, I really admire his resilience, honesty, intelligence, wit, and ability to keep going in trying situations. His heart may be broken, but his spirit always stays intact. Harold’s devotion to his spouse, Stuart, is admirable, as is his honesty about his teenage infatuation with Mario. I love that the story spans twenty years so we see Harold (and Mario) develop and mature.

The stand out character of An Infatuation for me was actually not one of the romantic leads! We’ve talked about Mario and Harold, and Stuart is pure joy, but actually I was most impressed by Mr. Ringwood. The principal’s first introduction is not promising, as we see him pressuring Harold to stay quiet about some seriously horrific bullying and advocating that he keep his sexuality under wraps to avoid other incidents. Victim blaming with a side of shut up? I was furious. But Mr Ringwoood is, much like Mario, a victim of circumstances and the inability to be true to himself. Like Mario, his actions show Harold the dangers of following Mr. Ringwood’s path. And while the bullying students are so bad they read almost as caricatures, Mr. Ringwood genuinely believes he is doing what is best for the school and for Harold. Having an antagonist that is this well-nuanced in a romance novel is pretty rare! Mr. Ringwood’s regret and growth towards the end of the story was good to see, offering a parallel to Mario and Harold’s story. I can’t say that he redeems himself entirely, but he definitely made an impression. I’ve met Mr. Ringwoods before. Tell us about him!

Joe: Yes, Stuart was great fun to write, because he is based on my spouse who is totally organized and a real list maker, but also sweet, creative, and caring. He creates an itinerary for our trips in ten minute time blocks! Mr. Ringwood is a very special character to me because I see him as representing so many older gay men who had to stay closeted to keep themselves safe and employed in the past. In the red states where Republicans are passing these “Do Not Serve the Gays” so called “Religious Freedom Laws,” I imagine there are still many Mr. Ringwoods. As the times grow more tolerant, it has been great fun to see these older men find the courage to be themselves and come out. I want to play Mr. Ringwood in the movie!

Lastly, I know you did a book-signing at a Barnes and Noble in Poughkeepsie recently, and you read from An Infatuation. I bet that was a ton of fun! Was it difficult to choose which passage to read? What is it like, being able to see the audience react to your writing?

Joe: Thank you for mentioning that, Gillian. My author talk/book reading/book signing went very well at Barnes & Noble’s with a SRO crowd! The funny thing was that I had come prepared to talk about and read from my mystery novels (Drama Queen, Drama Muscle, Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll). Since I had a little time left over at the end, I read the locker room scene from An Infatuation where Harold first approaches Mario in high school, and the audience (mostly straight) went wild with laughter. To my surprise, I signed quite a few In My Heart (An Infatuation & A Shooting Star) paperbacks there!

From a dramatic reading to drama students, time to talk about A Shooting Star! I really enjoyed the parallels and differences to An Infatuation, particularly the variations on the theme of self-acceptance. What most interested me is how the story could be read either as that of David’s inability to accept himself leading to tragedy, or David’s inability to find anyone who could accept him for himself driving the story. David is clearly a pivotal character in the story. What did you set out to do with him?

Joe: Though we move from high school memories to college memories, there is definitely a parallel between Harold in An Infatuation and Jonathan (also based on me) in A Shooting Star. The same holds true for Mario and David, who is a combination of a few young men I met as a theatre major in college. They were gay, bi, closet-gay, or straight. Each was handsome, muscular, charismatic, sensuous, and almost other-worldly like Greek gods. Though they appeared to hold the world in the palm of their strong hands, they each had a secret weakness. I think David is a fascinating character, because the reader is never quite sure what David is really thinking, and what he will do next and why. As a college professor/department head, I can verify that college is a time when many young people sort out who they are and want they want out of life. David (just like his last name) wants more than anything else to be a star. He cares about others, especially Jonathan, but his goal of stardom is the driving force that helps him through the pain he experiences in life.

My personal reading of the story was that David was simply not capable of or interested in the sort of relationship Jonathan longed for, and Jonathan’s inability to accept that indicated he did not know or love David as well as he thought he did, an opinion heightened by the many instances of Jonathan’s inability to read the reactions of those around him (and, admittedly, my own preferences for atypical romances). Not until David’s final confession did I wonder if maybe Jonathan’s interpretation of David’s actions was right. I love that you’ve created such a complex story and nuanced characters that it can be read either way. Much like real life! Was that your intention when writing A Shooting Star? If not, what did you set out to accomplish?

Joe: Yes, Gillian, again you are incredibly insightful. That was my intention exactly. Life isn’t pat, and people don’t always behave consistently. David has good intentions, but he just doesn’t fit into the mold. A great deal of that has to do with his childhood. He loves Jonathan in the way he loves, which is different from how Jonathan and most people love others.

The other thing I really enjoyed about A Shooting Star was the acknowledgement of the power of people to both influence others and change. Both these stories may not end with the typical happy ending, but the love shared goes on to make a lasting impact on the characters. To me, that is as romantic as the traditional happy ending. I imagine I am not the only person to think so — how has reader reaction been to A Shooting Star?

Joe: As you know, Dreamspinner Press released An Infatuation and A Shooting Star separately as e-book novellas. The reader response was amazing. I can’t tell you how many readers told me those two novellas made them laugh, cry, and changed their lives. An Infatuation was voted Second Place Favorite Romance Novel of 2015 by the readers of Divine Magazine. That makes me incredibly happy and proud.

Another thing I admired about A Shooting Star was that you managed to balance the sadness inherent in the story with humour and happiness. I was expecting a really difficult read. Instead I found an upbeat affirmation of the strength of love and kindness to make a powerful impact on the world around us. Characters like Jim, Sasha and Barry Goldman were a great counterpoint to the main storyline, while Professor Katzer provided a nice note of humour to the story. Do you think that your experience on the stage and your interactions with audiences have helped you know when to counterbalance happy and sad?

Joe: Totally! I definitely write with a theatrical style full of humor and drama, just like life. BTW, I want to play Professor Katzer in the movie!

As much as I love ebooks, there is something inherently special about having a printed book in your hand. The re-release of these novellas in printed form must have been an amazing feeling! How did that come about?

Joe: When the e-books of An Infatuation and A Shooting Star did so well, last month Dreamspinner Press released the paperback In My Heart (An Infatuation & A Shooting Star), my own anthology! Obviously I’m thrilled.

My final question is what are you working on now?

Joe: Do you really want to know? Hah. I am editing the third Nicky and Noah comedy mystery, Drama Cruise, published by Lethe Press, where theatre college professors Nicky and Noah do a murder mystery dinner theatre show onboard a cruise ship to Alaska and cast members start dropping like anchors. I am also editing the fourth Jana Lane mystery, Ragdoll, published by The Wild Rose Press, where ex-child star/current movie star Jana Lane stars in a murder mystery television show and life imitates art on the set. Finally, I am finishing the first draft of Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, the third Cozzi Cove beach novel, published by Nine Star Press, where handsome Cal Cozzi and his guests at the Cozzi Cove New Jersey Shore beach resort experience love and many surprises.

Thanks as always, Joe! It has been lovely to interview you again. I’m happy that 2016 is going so well for you and look forward to talking to you again!

Joe: Thank you, Gillian. 


More about Joe Cosentino:

Amazon Bestselling author Joe Cosentino wrote An Infatuation, A Shooting Star, A Home for the Holidays, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland (Dreamspinner Press), Drama Queen and Drama Muscle Nicky and Noah mysteries (Lethe Press), Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back (NineStar Press), Paper Doll (Whiskey Creek Press) and Porcelain Doll (Wild Rose Press) Jana Lane mysteries, 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, Charles Keating, 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 releases are Satin Doll & China Doll Jana Lane mysteries (Wild Rose Press), Drama Cruise Nicky and Noah mystery (Lethe Press), and Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward (NineStar Press). Joe was voted 2nd Place for Best MM Author of the Year in Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards for 2015.

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InMyHeart_Anthology-2

IN MY HEART (An Infatuation & A Shooting Star)

by Joe Cosentino, published by Dreamspinner Press

Dreamspinner | Amazon | B&N 

Release Date: March 21, 2016

Contemporary Romance

ISBN-13: 978-1634771030

Pages: 209

Cover Artists: Christy Caughie & L.C. Chase

 


 

AN INFATUATION: With his ten-year high school reunion approaching, Harold wonders whether Mario will be as muscular, sexy, and tantalizing as he remembers. As a teenager, it was love at first sight for Harold while tutoring football star Mario, until homophobia and bullying drove Mario deep into the closet. Now they’re both married men. Mario, a model, is miserable with his producer wife, while Harold, a teacher, is perfectly content with his businessman husband, Stuart. When the two meet again, will the old flame reignite, setting Harold’s comfortable life ablaze? How can Harold be happy with Stuart when he is still infatuated with his Adonis, his first love, Mario? Harold faces this seemingly impossible situation with inimitable wit, tenderness, and humor as he attempts to reconcile the past and the future.

Excerpt of AN INFATUATION by Joe Cosentino

published by Dreamspinner Press

 One Friday afternoon I accidentally ran into my hero in the boy’s locker room. I’d had enough of the big guys banging me into gym lockers, pushing me into cold showers, and hanging me from the gym ropes. So I was on my way to give Mr. Adoni a note from Dr. Dlorah excusing me from gym class for the remainder of the school year (due to my highly contagious disease being studied by my doctor in Guatemala, where he could not be reached for the next year).

The locker room smelled of an odd combination of soap, cologne, sweat, and desire. Mario was getting ready for football practice, standing at his gym locker without a combination lock on it. Nobody would dare to break into it (Except for me that one time I smelled his jock strap. Okay maybe it was a few times, but not more than ten.). Mario slid his T-shirt (red today) over his thick, black hair and threw it on the nearby bench. No longer harnessed by cotton, his arm, back, chest, and neck muscles swelled to full size. I was half hidden behind the adjoining row of lockers, wearing my usual green and blue flannel shirt and brown corduroy pants. Mario, who wasn’t looking in my direction, said something really beautiful to me that I will never forget. “Hi.”

“Did you just? Oh. Hi. Hello. Good afternoon. Nice to see you. I mean, change with you.” I looked down at the floor (but cheated a bit) as Mario kicked off his boots, slipped off his jeans then threw them in the lucky locker. His red underpants (briefs) revealed ample manhood. This is better than the newspaper’s underwear ads!

“Good gym class today with Mr. Adonis, I mean, Mr. Adoni.” Did I just say that? “Harold High.”

“Hi.”

“High.” How can I get my pulse down to 260?

“Hi.” Mario reached into his locker for his sweat clothes.

Shouldn’t people be doing that for you? “Oh, my last name is High. Like a kite.” How can I stop my arms from waving like an airport flagger on speed?

“Mario Ginetti. Like nothin’ else imaginable.” Mario smiled, revealing a row of perfectly white teeth, and held the sweat clothes in his hands as if he was mortal.

“I know. I watch your body play.” Why can’t I stop talking? “I mean, I watch you play … football … on the field … in your football outfit.” I feel like Michelangelo with his David!

As Mario put on his sweats, I continued to sweat.

“I’m voting for your body … I mean I’m voting for you for president of your … our … the student body.” I need my jaw wired shut. “I’m your lab partner in Chemistry class. Ms. Hungry’s class … I mean Ms. Hunsley’s class.”

His olive-colored face glistened as Mario’s face registered recognition—of me! “I thought I knew you from somewheres. Hey, thanks for doing the lab reports.”

“It’s my honor … I mean my pleasure. It’s fine. If you need help putting up posters for your campaign, I can … ”

Having just tied the laces of his sneakers, Mario stood absolutely still. He looked at me as if he was staring into my heart and somehow knew what I was feeling. “I gotta take a wicked piss.”

Can I watch?

“Thanks for helping me out, Buddy.” He slammed the locker door and left.

He called me, Buddy! My heart was as soft and silly as putty that Mario held in the palm of his hand like his soap on a rope.


 

A SHOOTING STAR: On the eve of the best night of his life, winning an Academy Award, Jonathan Bello thinks back to his one great love, David Star. Flipping back the pages of time, Jonathan recalls his handsome, muscular, and charismatic college roommate. Since Jonathan was a freshman and David a senior in the Theatre Department, David took Jonathan under his wing and molded him, not only as an actor but as a lover. With every wonderful new adventure, David left his joyful mark on anyone with whom they came in contact, but Jonathan soon uncovered David’s dark past, leading to a shocking event. Undaunted, Jonathan celebrates the captivating man who will always hold a special place in his heart.

Excerpt of A SHOOTING STAR by Joe Cosentino,

published by Dreamspinner Press

As an Italian-American, I subscribed to my mother’s theory that if someone doesn’t want you to see something, he will hide it in a locked vault covered with cement. So I inadvertently took a quick look at my roommate’s things on the other side of the room. He was incredibly neat. Numerous theater textbooks and play scripts lined his bookshelf in alphabetical order. The bulletin board above his desk displayed artistically arranged programs from various comedy, drama, and musical college productions listing the same male lead in each show: “David Star”.

“Do you always look at other people’s things?”

I nearly got whiplash as he entered the room.

Stammering like a kid caught masturbating by his parents, I said, “I… w-was… ad-m-miring y-your… r-room.”

Though it was a fall September day, he took off his scarf (violet) and rested it on a tall coat-rack, which held scarves in various colors like a department store window display. He was taller than me, with a chiseled, handsome face, and straight, shiny black hair, which fell down his thick neck. I admired his perfectly sculpted muscles, housed in a turquoise designer dress shirt. But what captivated me the most were his piercing crystal-blue eyes—and the enormous bulge in his skin-tight, designer beige pants.

“What’s your name?”

“Johnny Falabella.”

He looked at me like a surgeon examining a tumor. “No, it’s not.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s Jonathan Bello.” He opened a bureau drawer, pulled out a bottle of hair gel, and tossed it to me. “You should gel your hair.” He opened his closet, revealing a multitude of color-coordinated shirts and slacks, and lay some on my bed. “And you can wear these.”

I looked at his perfectly pressed designer clothes. “Where did you get all these things?”

“They were gifts, mostly.”

“You must have some generous friends…. Sorry, I don’t know your name.”

I’m David Star.” He took a bow.

Looking back at his play programs, I said, “You must have starred in every play at the college over the last three years.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“What happened to your last roommate?”

“He went to LA over the summer break and started auditioning. He got cast in a new TV sitcom. I hope it takes off. It’s called Cosby.”

“At the orientation session, they said freshmen are housed with other freshmen. How did I get a senior for a roommate?”

His eyes twinkled. “Just lucky I guess.”

“Do you think it was some kind of an administrative error or something?”

“Or something.” He added matter-of-factly, “I asked for a freshman roommate.”


Praise for AN INFATUATION (Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award for 2015: 2nd Place Best MM Romance Novel, 1st Place Best Cover Design):

“The author executed his storyline with a marvelous precision that would be the envy of many authors. He draws the readers into the lives of his characters, they become real and in turn, their emotions becomes yours.” “If you can only afford to buy one more book this year, buy this one.” Three Books Over the Rainbow Reviews

“I really loved this book and having an ending that made me laugh and cry at the same time is testament to the brilliant writing.” BooksLaidBareBoys

“I think you will be left breathless with the reality and emotion behind An Infatuation.” Diverse Reader

“Don’t miss this one friends, it is a heartfelt story magical in the telling! Thanks Joe for putting your heart on the page for us to savor!” Bike Book Reviews

“Author Joe Cosentino brought just the right amount of humor, angst and honesty to make this short but sweet coming of age story a success.” MM Good Book Reviews

“Joe Cosentino proves there’s more than one way to a happy ending in An Infatuation, a story of first love and heartbreak delivered in a fresh and funny voice.” The Novel Approach

“It’s unusual for me to get sucked into a book in the first chapter but it grabbed me early and I read the whole thing in one day”. Nautical Star Books

“I recommend this book to anyone reminiscing about that one that got away.” LoveBytes Reviews

“There were times I laughed and then there were times I cried…unforgettable.” Multitaskingmomma Reviews

“Like an onion, Joe Cosentino’s stories have layers. I would really recommend them. This is a Bittersweet novel, but it has laughs-a-plenty despite the sad and ugly lurking beneath the veneer. A truly fabulous read.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews

“The story kept me turning the pages and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish.” “I love that Harold found what he was looking for in life and in a partner and love that he has his HEA. Great read.” Up All Night, Sleep All Day

“just the right dose of humor, honesty, and of course, sweet romance” Readers’ Favorite

Praise for A SHOOTING STAR:

“unbelievably beautiful” “a masterpiece” Lovebytes Reviews

“heart-wrenchingly beautiful, that no words I possess in my vocabulary would do it justice” “Again Joe Cosentino drew me into his wonderful world of part fact/part fiction/loosely based on his own experiences world – a world as a reader I love to enter, time and time again.” Three Books over the Rainbow

A Shooting Star could easily function as a master class in how to write short fiction (or any fiction). Joe Cosentino has provided a work that will leave you thinking and wanting to savor and re-read it again and again.” GGR Reviews

“This is a bittersweet love story, so don’t be surprised if you find tears running down your face when a shining and burning star is extinguished too soon. But, as Joe Cosentino proves time and time again, with his wonderful writing and storytelling ability, love will prevail, and you will smile from ear to ear.” Kathy Mac Reviews

“For those readers looking for something a little bit different – dare I say unique? For those readers who like to laugh. For those readers who appreciate the nuances of people and the way each character is different. For those readers who want to read a damn good story – check out this author. I’m glad I did.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews

“Cosentino has another winning heartbreaker with A Shooting Star.” Prism Book Alliance.

“Yes, it is a bittersweet story but it is one that still has hope and love.” Hearts on Fire Reviews

“This story just blew me away.” “If you like something different from time to time, a bittersweet story, actors, college men, and a very sweet romance I highly recommend this.” Cathy Brockman Romance/MM Good Book Reviews

“From the beginning I was enthralled and couldn’t wait to finish the book.” Inked Rainbow Reads

“really grabs you and tugs at your emotions” “unique and enjoyable.” Nautical Star Books

“a sophisticated, enthralling and suspenseful tale with a gothic vibe and a multi-layered execution that will have you sitting up and taking notice. This is polished prose at its best. Intelligent writing, a thought-provoking plot and characters befitting the theater genre make A Shooting Star one of my favorite reads this year.” Love’s Last Refuge Reviews

“a beautifully written story, full of life, love, heartbreak, tragedy, and maybe most importantly, triumph.” Readers’ Favorite

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