Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In the hotseat...SHELLY COSTA!


our guest this week is author Shelly Costa!

SHELLEY COSTA  is a Mystery Writers of America 2004 Edgar Award nominee for Best Short Story, and author of You Cannoli Die Once (Simon and Schuster, 2013), which is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.  The second book in the series, Basil Instinct, comes out this June.  Her mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands, and The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories.  Shelley teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  Visit her at www.shelleycosta.com.



R:  Welcome Shelly!  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.  

 Well, Rocco, I’m married and have three grown daughters.  We’ve got a great golden tabby named Edgar.  I grew up in New Jersey, worked in New York City, and moved to Cleveland many years ago for graduate school.  And stayed.  I’m a lifelong writer minus the first five years of my life before I could hold a pencil, so for me, writing was one of my earliest imperatives.  It’s been the defining passion of my life.


R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

 Hard to say, but there are plenty I admire.  Here are a few:

Harlan Coben, for his humanity and humor.

Robert Goddard, for the complexity of his characters

Agatha Christie, for her ingenuity and close plotting.

P.D. James, for the sheer beauty of her style.


R: Tell us about your upcoming release, BASIL INSTINCT.  How did the idea for this series come about?

 The series began with YOU CANNOLI DIE ONCE, and BASIL INSTINCT is the upcoming release – Book #2.  The series began (truly!) as a cozy set in a tap dance academy in Greenwich Village and morphed – in discussions with my agent -- into an Italian restaurant outside Philly.


R:  Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? 

 Sure, Rocco.  After twenty years of contacting over 120 literary agents on behalf of my two female PI novels – without success – I switched to writing two chapters of a traditional mystery (the tap dance academy) I pitched to the man who became my agent.  He was the first agent I contacted after I switched subgenres – I guess I was finally where I needed to be.  From there, everything happened quickly.


How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?

 I was writing at my local Starbucks.  When my agent called with the news, I stood up, recognized it for the life moment it was, and started to cry.  The writer friend sitting behind me kept whispering, “Keep it together!  Keep it together!”


R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

 A good cup of French roast coffee in a mug.  The occasional biscotti.  A clean, clear table is better than a desk.  Light.  Warmth.


R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

 In college I took time off and went to acting school in New York.


R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done? 

 Several wilderness canoe trips.  Crazy for me because I have no outdoor skills to speak of. . .and a healthy helping of fear.  Fortunately, my family is competent.


R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

 That I can tell a story about murder that features a rich setting, characters worth getting to know, and a whole lot of humor.

R: What are you working on at the moment / next?

Just finished another amateur sleuth mystery – not in the series – set in the Canadian wilderness (finally, those canoe trips pay off!), called PRACTICAL SINS FOR COLD CLIMATES.  A real fish-out-of-water story about a New York editor sent to the Northwoods to sign a reclusive, bestselling thriller writer.  There’s murder.  There’s humor.  Now we shop it.

R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m both, but mostly a pantser.  Because I write mysteries, I need to see all the “bones” of the story as I begin, so I’m a plotter in a knee-bone-connected-to-the-thigh-bone kind of way.  Many things get fleshed out as I move along.  Other things take me completely by surprise.  I really like it when something or someone in the story surprises me.  It makes me feel like those people on the page have lives without me, thank you very much, and they bring me into the mystery I was mistaken to think I controlled fully.  True delight!

R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)

No party tricks but am willing to learn.  I enjoy spending time with family and friends.  Lately I’ve been getting myself to yoga classes, feeling strong and peaceful.  Good stuff.  Also, I’ve taken tap dancing for about eight years. I’m no better at it now than I was when I was a kid, but I love the look and history and spirit of it.  Finally, I’m a relentless reader of mysteries. 

R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

 Be disciplined.  Find writing connections, such as writer’s groups, book groups, classes and workshops.  Read a lot, and read diversely. Try for a meaningful day job.  Something that comes at writing, reading, literature from a different angle.  For instance, I teach creative writing to college students.  Showing them how to write good stories is like a refresher course for myself.  It keeps me keen and connected.  Finally, stay open to new paths: it wasn’t until I switched from private eye to amateur sleuth that I got my first book contract.


R: What book is on your TBR shelf you can’t wait to get to?

 I’m actually almost caught up!  Right now I’m reading the wonderful Jasper Fforde’s THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER, and the sequel, SONG OF THE QUARKBEAST, is on my nightstand.  They’re smart, wildly original, playful YA fantasy/suspense tales.  Jasper Fforde is one of my very favorites.



Just for Fun:

Night or Day?   Day

Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  Both.  Absolutely.  Why choose?

Beach or Pool?   Beach

Steak or salad?  A slice of rare steak plus a whole mess of salad.

Favorite Drink?  Coffee

Favorite Book?  Lucky Jim, a witty academic novel by Kingsley Amis

Favorite TV Series?  Downton Abbey

Favorite Movie?  So hard to choose, but I still like Rain Man

Favorite Actor: Daniel Day Lewis

Favorite Actress: Sandra Bullock

Dirty Martini or Pina Colada?  Martini (although I prefer wine or a good lager)

Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be  Clarence Darrow

If I had just one wish, it would be:  Sorry to sound like Miss Congeniality here, but. . .world peace

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: Truly, nobody.  I’m very happy. 


Rocco, you’re a great interviewer.  Many thanks!  Here’s a kitty treat.  One of Edgar’s favorites.  It’s got salmon in it.



Meow, thanks Shelly!

The place to find out Shelly’s news, upcoming events, and contact info is her website: www.shelleycosta.com.


Her books are available at all the usual places both online and in stores.

 And now....Giveaway time!
 When it’s available, Shelly will send a signed copy of my new book, BASIL INSTINCT, to the first three readers who email her at shelley@shelleycosta.com with CONTEST in the subject line.  Be sure to include your mailing address.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rocco's guest...DANA CAMERON!


Today my guest is author Dana Cameron!
ABOUT DANA:
Dana Cameron can't help mixing in a little history into her fiction.
Drawing from her expertise in archaeology, Dana's work (including traditional mystery, noir, urban fantasy, thriller, and historical
tales) has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards and earned an Edgar Award nomination.  Her second Fangborn novel, PACK OF STRAYS, will be published in April 2014 by 47North.  A Fangborn short story, "The God's Games" will appear in Games Creatures Play in April, and her story, "The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars," featuring Pam Ravenscroft from Charlaine Harris's acclaimed Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, will appear in Dead But Not Forgotten: Stories from the World of Sookie Stackhouse in May.
R:  Welcome, Dana! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
Thanks for having me, Rocco! 
 I wanted to be a writer from the age of four or five, but decided I couldn't do that, because I thought writers had to have “experiences,” like running with the bulls or getting into bar fights, which didn't sound like much fun.  So at age 10, I decided on archaeology instead, and eventually earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees in that.  I was studying human culture and that was actually good training for writing fiction, and thinking about motives for behavior tied in nicely with my interests in crime fiction.
 Being confronted by a treasure hunter with a gun while I was in the field provided the impetus to start writing mysteries.  It was very ironic, as that was exactly the sort of thing I was trying to avoid as a kid!  So I took all those years of studying people and my experiences figuring out puzzles in the field and used them to write my six Dr. Emma Fielding mysteries.
It was being asked by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner to contribute a story to one of their urban fantasy anthologies, Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.  I've always loved fantasy and had an amazing time exploring Fangborn “culture.”  I've written seven short stories set in that 'verse, and two novels, Seven Kinds of Hell and the latest, Pack of Strays, which debuted April 15.  I suppose it's no surprise that the protagonist of the series, Zoe Miller, is also an archaeologist. :-)
R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?
 Hmm, in mystery and crime fiction, I think Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christy, probably to start.  Sayers in particular always struck me with the acuteness of her cultural observations, which are important for archaeologists and detectives both.  I've already mentioned the profound effect that Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner have had on my new series, but also in my urban fantasy, I've been influenced by Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, and Poul Anderson.
R: Tell us about your new release, PACK OF STRAYS.  How did the idea for this series come about?
 It's based on the Fangborn world I developed through my short stories.  I kept looking at the Fangborn through their history and it really was compelling to me.  Nearly all cultures have a shape-shifting myth, so what if some of them were actually related?  I began playing around with an idea for a Fangborn novel, and it was at the same time as I was working on an archaeological thriller.  Neither one really worked until I realized the archaeologist was a werewolf, and Fangborn, but didn't know it; the two books were really halves of one book.  That led to Zoe's first adventure, Seven Kinds of Hell, which was published by 47North.  Pack of Strays is the second book in that series.
R:  Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share?  How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
 I met my awesome agent, Josh Getzler, chatting at Bouchercon!
 I was...confused when I got that call, about fourteen years ago.  I'd been scraping the paint from our deck and had just badly hyperextended my thumb.  So when my first agent called me, I was very excited and in a lot of pain.  Eventually, the thumb healed, but I never got over the thrill of being published.
 When Josh sold the Fangborn series a few years ago, I was returning from vacation so that was a much happier experience!  We stopped on the way home to pick up champagne to celebrate.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
 I need the right playlist for whatever it is I'm working on.  If I don't have a “soundtrack” for the WIP, then I'm lost.  When I get really stuck, I go to an art museum for inspiration.
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
 I love Hong Kong action movies.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
 I'm not a very crazy person, but one time, I was hiking along the Cinque Terra in Italy; the path was blocked by a locked gate.  We had to get to the train station at the town on the other side, and couldn't move up the cliff, so I swung myself around the gate.  For a few seconds, I was clinging to a chain link fence many feet above the Ligurian Sea.  I was about halfway around when I felt my hands sweating against the rusty chain link and wondered if the gate would support my weight as I dangled above the water.  It was the wrong time to wonder if that was a smart idea.
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
Entertainment, certainly, I hope.  I love when someone tells me she related to one of my characters or that my writing got her through a tough time.  I'm always excited when someone gets into archaeology or history when he reads my books.
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
I'm working on Fangborn Novel #3 and a Fangborn short story, which may be a Holmesian pastiche.  I'm also working on another project, but can't discuss it yet.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Total pantser.  It is a harrowing way to write, but it's the only way I really feel comfortable working.
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
No party tricks, I'm afraid.  I like to travel, go to museums, go for long walks.  Trying new food and drink is one of my passions. 
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Work every day, even if you have to steal 15 minutes to do it.  Finish what your working on.  Find excellent, and increasingly tough critics.
R: What book is on your TBR shelf you can’t wait to get to?
 I'm super busy right now, so my TBR pile is heaped up!  When I need a break, I make a tiny dent in the pile by reading comics—especially Wonder Woman, Saga, The New Avengers, Hellboy, and a flock by Greg Rucka.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what the other contributors did with the Sookieverse in Dead But Not Forgotten.  I chose Pam Ravenscroft.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day?  Day.
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)   I have always been a cat person! (ROCCO: excellent answer, meow!)
Beach or Pool?   Beach.
Steak or salad?   Salad or steak salad.
Favorite Drink?  I always have water with me.  I do love a raspberry lime rickey, though.
Favorite Book?  Toss up between Shakespeare's Complete Works and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  Those are the ones I quote most often.
Favorite TV Series?  Until Series Four of BBC's “Sherlock” comes out, it's “The Americans.”
Favorite Movie?  Tough one—“Raiders of the Lost Ark” comes first to mind.
Favorite Actor:  Hmmm, at the moment, it's Benedict Cumberbatch.
Favorite Actress:  Emma Thompson. 
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada?  Bourbon.
Hawaii or Alaska?  Yikes...I love both, but I've been to Hawaii more often.
Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Cleopatra.
If I had just one wish, it would be_universal free education through university and beyond.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be Joss Whedon.  Just for a week, to see how it's done.
Where can readers find you?
I'm on Facebook and Twitter.  My website is www.danacameron.com.  I blog with the Femmes Fatales (http://www.femmesfatales.typepad.com/ ) and on my own site, where you can also find my appearances.
Dana, thank you for a great interview, meow!
Folks, Dana will give away a copy of Pack of Strays to one lucky commenter!
To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:
  * Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link: https://twitter.com/RoccoBlogger)
* Follow Dana on FB or Twitter
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend the HUMAN on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link: https://www.facebook.com/ToniLotempio)#!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)
Winner will be chosen at random using random.org.  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Contest ends midnight, April 20. Good luck!


Friday, April 11, 2014

In the hotseat...Rosie Genova!


Meow! My guest today is author Rosie Genova!




A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut mystery, Murder and Marinara, was selected as a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives in central New Jersey with her husband and two of her three Jersey boys.




R:  Welcome to the blog, Rosie!  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

Thanks ROCCO.  I have always been a writer—I have lots of bad poetry to show for it—but it wasn’t until about ten years ago I got serious about starting and finishing a book. I began writing romantic comedies that were modern updates of Shakespeare plays. It was the submission of the first one that got me my agent. Those books are currently unpublished, but still in the works (as Rosemary DiBattista).


R: Tell us about your Italian Kitchen series and how that came about? Have you always had an interest in cooking?

My agent and I “cooked up” the idea of a series set at an Italian restaurant. I’ve always loved the Jersey shore and food, so it seemed like a natural fit for me. I do love to cook, but I’m not a fancy chef. I’d call my style rustic—regional Italian foods with pretty basic ingredients like pasta, beans, sausage, Italian greens, polenta, and of course, tomatoes.


R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

For me it would be the Golden Age mystery writers, particularly Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. I also love Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh. My modern favorites are Anne Perry, Elizabeth George, PD James, Deborah Crombie and Louise Penny—those women are in a class of their own!


R: Tell us about your upcoming release, The Wedding Soup Murder.

Victoria gets put in charge of helping to cater a big Italian wedding at the upscale Belmont Country Club. The club’s president is an unlikeable snob who gets on the wrong side of a number of people, and one of them shoves her over a sea wall after the reception. When a family friend comes under suspicion for her murder, Vic reluctantly gets involved.


R: How much of yourself would you say is in your character, Victoria Rienzi?

Well, she’s much younger and has much better legs than I do. But I would say we share some definite characteristics: we adore our families but sometimes feel the need to run away from them; we love good food; we have a weakness for tall, dark guys; we’re both writers, and we’re both scared of boardwalk rides!


R:  Love the recipes in your book.  Are they ones that you yourself have tried, or have they been handed down through your family?

Thanks! A little of both. The three in Murder and Marinara were ones I came up with. In The Wedding Soup Murder, I’m including my grandmother’s recipe for iced ricotta cookies I make every Christmas. Anise is the secret ingredient—yum!


R: You are also a teacher. Which career is your favorite, teacher or writer and why?

Ah, not a fair question! I am honored to be able to call myself a writer and a teacher. Each of those careers feeds different parts of me. I love interacting with my students and seeing the light bulbs go off in those moments of understanding. But writing serves my solitary side, the part that needs to go off and be alone to think for a time. I can better answer which job is harder though—hands down, it’s teaching.


R:  Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share?  How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?

As I mentioned, it was one of the Shakespeare stories that caught the attention of Kim Lionetti at Bookends. But though we came close a couple of times, those books weren’t picked up by publishers. It wasn’t until we submitted the mystery proposal that I had offers—three, in fact! But I’d been with Kim five years before it happened. It was very surreal to finally get that call.

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

I need quiet. I know lots of writers who work to music, but I would find that very distracting. I love my office, and I’m inspired every time I sit down to my desk. It’s a secretary style that used to belong to my great aunt.


R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?

I’d love to have been in the middle of Time Square on V-J Day when the peace was declared at the end of World War II. I have always been moved by the famous photo of the soldier kissing the nurse, and I love hearing stories my mom tells about growing up during the war. Everything about that era, from the clothes to the music, the cars and the movies, holds a fascination for me.



R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

I’m a Jersey girl who does not have big hair.


R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done? 

I don’t do crazy. “Caution” is my middle name.


R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

If I can make readers laugh, keep them guessing, and strike a tender chord or two, I will consider my work done.

R: What are you working on at the moment / next?

I’m working on Book 3 of the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, and in my “spare” time, a contemporary romance inspired by Twelfth Night called “Twelve Nights.”

R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser in plotter’s clothing. I work best when certain scenes unfold in my head, but mysteries require outlines and tight plotting. So I force myself to plan, even though I’d rather fly by the old seat.

R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)

Well, I’m a voracious reader. When the weather’s good, I like to get out walking every day. I love snooping around antique stores and I love to sew when I get the time (which is hardly ever). And of course, visiting the Jersey shore!

R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?





Just for Fun:

Night or Day?  Dusk!

Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  Dog—sorry. I had a fox terrier I adored, and we had to say good-bye to her last fall.  (Meow – I forgive you, I know how tough that can be)

Beach or Pool?   Beach, for sure.

Steak or salad?   Can I say pasta?

Favorite Drink?  Charles Shaw California Chardonnay (I’m a cheap date)

Favorite Book?  Pride and Prejudice

Favorite TV Series?  Downton Abbey

Favorite Movie?  Classic: Bringing Up Baby/ Contemporary: Sleepless in Seattle

Favorite Actor:  James Stewart   

Favorite Actress:  Katherine Hepburn

Dirty Martini or Pina Colada?  I like Pina Coladas. (But not walks in the rain.)

Hawaii or Alaska?  Is this a trick question?  Hawaii, of course.

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be ___Jane Austen________________

If I had just one wish, it would be   A house at the beach___ ______________________________________

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be _Ginger Rogers, for at least one film with Fred Astaire______




Thank you for a great interview, Rosie!  Folks, Rosie will give away two copies of Murder and Marinara to commenters selected by moi!  To enter, leave a comment with your email address below! For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:


* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link: https://twitter.com/RoccoBlogger)
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link: https://www.facebook.com/ToniLotempio)#!/

  * Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Friend Rosie on FB or Twitter

Winner will be chosen at random using random.org.  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment.

Contest ends midnight, April 16!  Good luck!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

THIS WEEK'S GUEST...HARLEY JANE KOZAK!


Hello, Folks! This week my guest is author/actress HARLEY JANE KOZAK!

 Harley Jane Kozak  is an actress,  best known for her roles on the daytime soaps Santa Barbara, Texas and Guiding Light.  She is also the author of the popular Wollie Shelley mystery series.

And now...here's Harley!
R:  Welcome to the blog, Harley. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

Rocco, I have always written. I was that kid in school who loved essay tests because I had a shot and impressing the teacher even if I hadn’t studied and didn’t know what I was talking about. I still remember my first diary, complete with lock and key. I have boxes and boxes of old journals that I keep thinking I need to destroy before I’m dead and my kids read them. However, it was years before I thought about writing professionally because I was so in love with acting, I figured I’d be doing that and that alone, until I was old and gray. I thought I was just a compulsively writing actor. For even my tiniest acting roles I’d write long character biographies, and 20-page letters while on location.


R:  You are the youngest of eight children. Did that have any influence to your decision to pursue a career in the arts? (acting, writing)

My mom was a music professor and my dad was a lawyer, but they were both artists at heart and so we all grew up thinking art was where it’s at. It was completely normal in my family to pursue music or painting or theater. It would’ve been odd to find a Kozak into farming or auto mechanics or dentistry. We like those people; we just don’t seem to have those genetic predispositions.


R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

 My early favorites—apart from the usual classics (Austen, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Salinger) -- were Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer—that lovely blend of mystery and romance and, esp. in the case of Heyer, humor. A little later, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and John Le Carré were my favorite series writers. Loved Ann Rice, Frank Herbert, Tom Robbins, Alice Hoffman . . .


R: Tell us about your “Wollie” series.  Any hope of another adventure in the future?

Well, since you asked – after I finished writing Dating Dead Men, my first Wollie book, while waiting to sell it, I started a book about Wollie’s best friend Joey. Wollie is an L.A. greeting card artist, temperamentally unsuited to crime-solving; Joey is more of a natural. So I just switched them around in terms of star/supporting cast. However, my editor at Doubleday asked for 3 more Wollie books instead and the Joey book went on the shelf. Now I may take it off the shelf and shape it into something shorter for a company called Stark Raving Group that’s asked me to write a novella. It would be so satisfying to finish up that story. Poor Joey’s been hanging off a cliff since 2002. It’s called Gun Girl.


R: Which would you rather write, novels or screenplays and why?

Since I am currently finishing up a screenplay and it’s giving me a really hard time, that’s easy – NOVELS! In six months, when I’m having novel troubles, the answer will be: screenplays!


R: You were an actress for years on various soaps, including one of my favorites, TEXAS. Do you miss acting? What did you like best about it? Least?

I took a 15-year hiatus to raise my kids and oddly enough, didn’t miss it at all. Then I woke up one day last year and thought, “okay, time to act again” so now I’m auditioning. I’m having so much fun, I can’t believe I didn’t miss it. What I like most is having a transcendental emotional experience with another actor. What I like least is the stress of “how do I look? Do I look okay?” and also, being so dependent on so many other people in order to create something, having so little control over the outcome, or even getting the job in the first place.


R: You’ve written quite a few short stories for anthologies. Do you find them less or more challenging to write than a full novel?

They are nearly as challenging as novels, but they take less time. (Duh.) Actually, they’re tough for me because I’m really chatty and a good short story has no wasted words, no tangents, no meandering subplots. I think of them as a cross between a novel and a poem. I always get sucked in by an idea that clearly wants to be a short story and the conviction that, “Oh, this won’t take much time.” It always takes four times longer than I expect it to.


R:  Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share?  How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?

I was being rejected by agents in the usual way (one said my novel wasn’t dark enough and another said it was too dark) when a wonderful novelist named Karen Joy Fowler, who was a kind of mentor to me, happened to leave my manuscript on her kitchen table. A houseguest of hers, another wonderful novelist named Kelly Link, picked it up and read it, and called her agent to recommend it to her. Kelly’s agent became my agent—Renée—who sold the novel, after working on it with me, in a matter of weeks. I had just given birth to twins when Renée called to say that Doubleday was offering a 2-book deal. I remember saying, “Hold on, I gotta set this baby down, or I’m going to drop it.” (I don’t usually refer to my children as “it” but I don’t remember which twin it was I was holding.)


R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

Deadlines. And caffeine.


R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?

I would love to visit Shakespeare, but only for a little bit because then I’d want to come back and floss my teeth and do my laundry and take a shower. And make coffee.


R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

 I think my readers are a clever and savvy bunch, so this is a hard one. They might be surprised to know I’m crazy about metaphysical things, and ghosts and spirits and magic and paranormal phenomena—or they might not. That I’m rabidly political. That I’m very good at making soccer banners from felt and can actually use a sewing machine. That I have a very good Italian accent (I once had a boyfriend from Rome) and a very good French accent (I once had a boyfriend from Paris).


R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?

 One year a friend of mine, Griffin Dunne, tracked me down in Chicago, where I was having Christmas at my sister’s, and asked if I’d mind flying to Hawaii the next day to have a blind date with his best friend who was vacationing on Lanai and really needed a girlfriend for a week. I said, “sure.” It could have been gruesome, but it was fantastic. 


R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

A feeling of joy.

R: What are you working on at the moment / next?

The spec screenplay-that-will-never-end, and then the novella about Joey (Wollie’s BFF) and then a novel that I can’t talk about yet because of the jinx factor.

R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pantser. But I think that I have a kind of subliminal internalized plotting thing going on. I never realized this until my friend Nancy Martin suggested that most pantsers do, if they’re actually producing novels with good plots. I don’t think you can consciously work on structure and study it and pay attention to it in other people’s books without absorbing it. But do I write out a detailed plot beforehand? No. That feels too tedious to me, and also, once I’m actually in a scene, writing it, the emotional reality takes over and leads me to places that my left brain could not have planned.

R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)

I used to do a lot of counted cross stitch, but having 3 kids in 2 years brought that to a screeching halt. I do a lot of collage-y stuff – my mom called it treasure mapping. I have a lot of art supplies that I pretend are for my kids, but they’re really for me. I vacuum a lot. I have some kind of sick need to paint rooms every year or so. I play the piano in spurts. I’m also working on my French and Italian by listening to CDs in the car. It drives my kids crazy.

R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?

www.harleyjanekozak.com

R: Where can your readers find you?

In my living room, at the gym, in the carpool pickup line at middle school, in the kitchen, at Starbucks, on the Venture Freeway, and the 405 and at yoga, in the laundry room, in front of my computer, and with my nose in a book, of course.


Just for Fun:

Night or Day?  Night

Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Dog. Oops. I meant cat. OBVIOUSLY.

Beach or Pool?   Beach, unless it’s cold and then pool, but only if it’s heated.

Steak or salad?  Salad! I’m a vegetarian.

Favorite Drink? coffee

Favorite Book?  Winter’s Tale, from way back (scared to see the movie, though.)

Favorite TV Series?  original Star Trek, with Buffy as runner up.

Favorite Movie?  Very, very tough. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, maybe. Or Charade. Or Two for the Road. Out of Africa.

Favorite Actor: Johnny Depp, even in bad movies.

Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep, who has no bad moments, in my opinion.

Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Ah, back in my drinking days? Martini

Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii, but Alaska is pretty groovy too.

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be ___my dad, who died when I was a baby.

If I had just one wish, it would be___that my kids live long and healthy and happy lives______________________________________

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be nope, nobody. I’m happy being me. Plus, I’d miss my kids and my dogs if I weren’t me._____