Interview With Joe Cosentino
Joe Cosentino, thank you for speaking about the art of writing at the release of the fourteenth novel in your award-winning and popular Nicky and Noah gay cozy comedy mystery series.
Thank you. I’m feeling very artsy.
You’ve written thirty novels!
And my mother wishes I had a “real” job like my sister the accountant.
How did you become a storyteller?
My mother says I tell tall tales—and she’s right! I’ve always had a wild imagination. My parents always feared what I’d make up and tell neighbors about them. And they still do! I appropriately majored in theatre at college. Then 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). Finally, I began writing plays and ultimately writing novels. Since I’m a cozy mystery reading fanatic, and there are so few gay cozy mystery series out there, I was happy to fill the bill—or in this new novel, the nightshirt.
You’re also a college professor/department head. How do you find the time to do all this writing?
I don’t get a lot of sleep.
Where do you write?
My home study is very much like Martin Anderson’s office at Treemeadow College including a fireplace with a cherry wood mantel and a cherry wood desk and bookcase. I also have a window seat beneath a large window/gateway to the woods.
Do you write an outline before each book?
For a mystery, an outline is imperative. It’s important to plot out all the clues and surprise reveals. I generally think of a great idea for a new book at 3 a.m. If I can remember it the next day, or read my notes on my night table, I draft the outline. Since I was an actor, I also write a character biography for each character. Then I close my eyes and let the magic happen. As I see the scenes in front of me like a movie and 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.
What advice do you have for unpublished writers?
Don’t listen to naysayers. Find the magic within yourself. Get in front of the computer and start writing your unique story. Don’t copy anyone. Write what you know and feel passionate about. Write every day. Don’t be afraid to take chances. When you have a story you think is perfect, ask someone you trust to read it. Then after doing another draft, email it to a publisher who has an open submissions policy and who publishes the kind of story you’ve written, or publish it yourself.
Is it hard to write comedy?
Not for me. I’ve always thought funny. As an actor, I remember directors telling me 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 mother gave me a jacket and my sister a house. When I complained, she said, “But it’s a nice jacket.” Thanks, Mom!
Why do you write gay fiction?
Why not? LGBT people have many interesting untold stories. Go to a mall and look at the row of movie posters without any LGBT characters in them. Visit a bookstore and see cover after cover of opposite sex love stories. Take a look at so many of our Republican political and so-called religious leaders who raise money and gain power by demonizing LGBT people and trying (and often succeeding) to take away civil rights. I mourn for the young gay kids who consider suicide. So I support organizations like GLSEN (giving them a portion of my book royalties), 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.
In your various series, how do you remember all the elements about the characters and settings over a long time period?
I keep good notes on everything for continuity. Also, the regular characters are like family to me. I know them so well. I love watching them and their relationships grow and develop. It’s equally fun creating new characters in each book. I laugh out loud when writing my novels, and the endings still surprise me—even though I wrote them!
You’re a college theatre professor/department chair like Martin Anderson in your Nicky and Noah mysteries series. Has that influenced that series?
As a past professional actor and current college theatre professor/department chair, I know first-hand the wild and wacky antics, sweet romance, and captivating mystery in the worlds of theatre and academia. The Nicky and Noah mysteries are full of them! I never seem to run out of wild characters to write about. My faculty colleagues and students kid me that if any of them tick me off, I’ll kill them in my next book.
Are you Martin Anderson, the theatre department head, in the novels?
My colleagues say my sense of humor is Nicky’s but I look like Martin Anderson. I love how Martin is so loyal and supportive of Nicky and Noah. His one up-man-ship with his office assistant Shayla is a riot. I’ll admit that like me Martin is a bit of a gossip. His spouse, Ruben, is based on mine. It’s great when Ruben keeps Martin’s theatricality in line with hysterical barbs. The older couple stay sharp by engaging in their verbal warfare, but it’s all done in deep admiration and respect. Finally, it’s wonderful to see an elderly couple so much in love (uncommon in the entertainment field), and how they can read each other like a book—no pun intended.
Are college theatre professors/amateur sleuths/adorable couple Nicky and Noah based on any of your younger colleagues?
Like most of the characters in my books, Nicky is a combination of a few people I’ve known. He’s handsome, muscular, smart, charming, and he has an enormous manhood, which doesn’t hurt (or maybe it does). However, what I admire most about Nicky is his never give up attitude and sense of humor in the face of adversity. He is genuinely concerned for others, and he’ll 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. Noah is blond, blue-eyed, lean, handsome, smart, and devoted. He makes the perfect Watson to Nicky’s Holmes. (I always thought Holmes and Watson were a gay couple.) Noah also has a large heart and soft spot (no pun intended) for others. Finally, like Nicky, Noah is quite gifted at improvisation, and creates wild and wonderful characters for their role plays to catch the murderer.
Since both you and Nicky are of Italian-American decent, are Nicky’s parents like yours? Are Noah’s parents like your spouse’s parents?
Both Nicky’s parents and Noah’s parents have many of the traits of my parents. They’re absolutely hilarious. I love Noah’s mother’s fixation with taking pictures of everything, and his father’s fascination with seeing movies. I also love how Noah’s father is an amateur sleuth like Nicky. As they say, men marry their fathers. Nicky’s mother’s obsession with Bingo at her church is a riot. Both sets of parents fully embrace their sons and their sons’ family, which is refreshing.
For anyone unfortunate enough not to have read them, tell us the titles of the Nicky and Noah mysteries.
Drama Queen, Drama Muscle, Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle, Drama Dance, Drama Faerie, Drama Runway, Drama Christmas, Drama Pan, Drama TV, and now Drama Oz.
Why Drama Oz as the fourteenth novel in the series?
Like many other people, my favorite movie of all time is The Wizard of Oz. I’m definitely a friend of Dorothy, since I adored those books as a kid, and I still love them! So I decided the Treemeadow College theatre group would take a trip to a Wizard of Oz theme park to stage an original musical adaptation of the much-loved classic entitled, Friends of Dorothy. Of course murder and mayhem ensue.
Why is the novel set on Key West?
Key West, Florida is one of my favorite places! If you haven’t been to Key West, it’s a peninsula with white sandy beaches laden with foamy waves tickling jagged rocks under an azure sky dotted with marshmallow clouds. Gorgeous white seagulls and towering lighthouses herald gorgeous pink, violet, and gold sunrises and sunsets. Quant guesthouses, theatres, and restaurants inhabited by people open and affirming to all line the shore. It’s the perfect place for the fictitious Wizard of Oz theme park.
Tell us a bit about the plot—no spoilers.
A killer is loose in the Wizard of Oz theme park theatre. The young actress cast as Dorothy is quite the diva. The young actors cast as Toto, the Munchkin Leader, and the Winged Monkey Leader fully inhabit their roles and their G-string, chaps, and loincloth respectively. Of course Nicky and his crew use their drama skills, including playing wacky characters in investigative role-plays with the suspects, to catch the killer before the witch’s fireball sends them up in smoke.
It’s great to see our favorite characters back.
Nicky Abbondanza, our foot-long wonder and gay and hunky Sherlock Holmes, is the wizard onstage and off, doing double duty as show director and playing the Wizard. As Nicky says, “It takes a wiz!” Nicky’s gorgeous and devoted husband, Noah Oliver, is cast as the Scarecrow sitting on a long pole (pun intended). Their teenage son, Taavi, plays the role of the Tinman with a large can of lube, and his best friend, Ty, counters as the Lion with a playful tail. Nicky’s best friends, older couple Martin and Ruben, join the cast playing Aunt Em and Uncle Henry “going down on the farm.” They also double as Glinda who does it good and the Wicked Witch of the wild West.
Who are the new characters/suspects/victims for book fourteen?
Adorable actor Pip Manning plays Toto in the show. His affections waver between handsome Mormon Drew Gateway the stage manager and bodybuilder Detective Rick Boulder. Gymnast with a secret Topper Tucker, who plays the Winged Monkey Leader, has his wings set on stocky Taz Zaman, who plays the Munchkin Leader. A crew of woman technicians and the diva starring as Dorothy have more baggage than an airport.
How can your readers get their hands on Drama Oz and how can they contact you?
The purchase links are below, as are my contact links, including my web site. I love to hear from readers! So do Nicky and Noah. I tell them everything!
Thank you, Joe, for interviewing today.