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.


  1. I love the name of your books, Shelly; you are going on my tbr list.Thank you for the contest, and best of luck in everything.

  2. It's fabulous fun reading "you cannoli die once" so I can't wait for "basil instinct"!

  3. These sound like some awesome books.