By Liz…still freezing in New England, and making plans for next winter that don’t include snow and ice.
Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Shelley Costa, author of You Cannoli Die Once and Basil Instinct, to the blog. Shelley is a fabulous writer and awesome person, and I’m so glad she’s taking the time to visit Wicked Cozy Authors today! Here’s Shelley’s bio:
A 2004 Edgar nominee for Best Short Story, Shelley Costa is the author of You Cannoli Die Once and Basil Instinct (Simon and Schuster 2013, 2014). Cannoli was a 2014 Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. Shelley’s mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands,The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and Crimewave (UK). Shelley teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Find her at www.shelleycosta.com.
I asked her a few questions about her books and her upcoming projects. Here’s our interview:
For our readers who haven’t met Eve Angelotta yet, tell us about her and the kinds of trouble she’s been finding herself in.
Eve Angelotta is my sleuth who’s the head chef in her family-run, generations-old northern Italian restaurant outside Philly. She’s a former Broadway dancer who had an accident that’s sidelined her, making her turn reluctantly to “la famiglia” for a livelihood. She is a strong, funny, thinks-outside-the-spaghetti-box type of gal.
Even when murder doesn’t find its way into their kitchen, Eve is up against her elegant but difficult grandmother, Maria Pia, who owns the place and, although she’s technically retired, still makes her big presence and personality felt. Eve’s best friend is her gay cousin (and sous chef) the wonderful Landon Angelotta, and the other cousin employed full-time at the restaurant is the big guy Choo Choo Bacigalupo, a softie who works as maitre d’ — and who actually gets along with Maria Pia! Eve’s nemesis is her second cousin, the flaky, farming Kayla Angelotta who supplies the restaurant produce. All of these characters are truly fictitious, although Mrs. Crawford, the mysterious pianist, is drawn from my eighth grade math and reading teacher (who wore cocktail dresses and wide-brimmed hats to school). Eve herself is probably some fun, crime-solving side of me, since her voice is very strong and clear to me. . . although I can’t quite figure out why she’s funnier than I am.
Your books are hilarious. How easy is it for you to weave humor into murder? Does it come naturally with the characters, or is it something you have to consciously think about?
Thanks! They make me laugh, too. Book One, YOU CANNOLI DIE ONCE, opens with a corpse in the restaurant kitchen who turns out to be Maria Pia’s elderly boyfriend. (Can an arrest be far behind?) And Book Two, BASIL INSTINCT, finds Eve’s new sous chef murdered. . .just as Maria Pia is inducted into a secret, 200 year old all-female (possibly homicidal) cooking society. One has to wonder just how bad the initiation ceremony gets! It’s certaily easier to weave humor into murder when the book is a cozy, right? In cozies the story contains murder, yes, but in some ways the murder is an excuse to live — both writer and reader — for a few hundred pages in an interesting, delicious world with fascinating characters banding together to figure something out. I find it hard to imagine a through-line of humor in other subgenres. Hardboiled PI? No, it’s mean streets and loner-sleuth. Murder just validates the cynicism. There can be a wry narrative voice for sure. But wit or a laugh-out-loud worldview? Not so much. And thrillers take themselves very seriously, which is fine and can be very well done. The murderous situations get ramped way up. Nothing funny in psychopaths or doomsday plots. Me, I’d rather laugh. Bottom line for all of us writing across all the mystery subgenres: it comes down to crime and punishment. Laughs or gore aside, we have that in common. All the rest is just a matter of style or taste.
Talk about setting. Why did you pick Philly?
I grew up in central New Jersey. When that’s where you are, you get carted by school bus or family car either to NYC or Philly. Once or twice I went to New Hope, PA, a charming old town just north of Philly that’s a magnet for antiquing tourists. I wanted to write a place close enough to a major city that it might give me some plot options, and yet interesting and rich in its own right. I grew up in a small town, and I’ve lived in others. I “get” — and like — certain kinds of small towns, the ones with history and civic pride and an array of different kinds of folks going about their lives, so I invented Quaker Hills with a thriving downtown commercial district you get to know in the books.
What’s next for you?
Next up is the first book in a new series, PRACTICAL SINS FOR COLD CLIMATES (Henery Press, January 2016), featuring my thirtysomething sleuth, Valjean Cameron, a NYC editor sent to the Canadian Northwoods to sign a reclusive bestselling author to a book contract. But first she has to find him — a tricky thing to do in her Prada heels. A fish out of water, Val lands in this wilderness community where seasonal residents battle with permanent ones over the development of the lake. Murder ensues. Val has to find her quarry, that bestelling author, prove he isn’t a killer, and get back to the city before she loses her mind. PRACTICAL SINS is a traditional amateur sleuth mystery.
Thanks for visiting, Shelley! Readers, any questions for our guest?