Thank you, Elisa. It’s my pleasure to be on your blog today.
As a kid I played make believe constantly. “Let’s put on a show!” was my motto. Thankfully my parents and teachers indulged me (rather than committed me-hah). Eventually I became an actor in film, television, and theatre, working opposite stars like Bruce Willis, Nathan Lane, Rosie O’Donnell, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. It occurred to me that acting is storytelling in the same way that writing is storytelling, so I decided to give writing a try. I knew my first novel would be a show business story, since show business has always been such a huge part of my life. As an avid mystery reader, it was clear to me that my novel would be a page-turning murder mystery with clever plot twists, engaging characters, romance, humor, and lots of clues leading to a surprising conclusion.
When writing or acting, I ask myself the same questions about my characters. What are their histories, motivations, actions, objectives, emotions, tactics? What do they want and why? How do they go about getting what they want? What are their secrets? Who do they love or hate? What makes them happy or fearful? I also try to find their passions and methods of self-expression. Finally, I search for their humor, since in every situation, no matter how upsetting or harrowing, there is always humor.
You are a college professor. How does that influence your acting and writing careers?
The old adage that you learn by teaching others is so true. Every time I give a lecture, engage in a class discussion, speak to a student one-on-one, and/or critique my students’ work in class, I learn something. I like playing and writing engaging characters who I want to spend time with. If acting or directing, I do improvisations with other actors to flesh out the backgrounds or back-stories of the characters. When writing I let my characters talk to one another and see what happens! I’ve learned an outline is simply an outline, and not to be afraid to deviate from it.
Also, by having read hundreds of them, I’ve learned a great deal about mystery writing. I write mystery novels that drop lots of clues leading to the murderer. I also incorporate many other characters with secrets into the story. I create an entire world of suspense above and beyond “who done it.” When a reader finishes my books, he/she should be satisfied that the various parts equaled the whole, rather than the author pulling an ending out of the hat. When I read a great novel, I feel as if I am the leading character, going through the story and experiencing all of the emotions right along with him/her. A terrific mystery lays out all the clues and culminates with only one possible ending, unveiling various secrets along the way. I don’t appreciate mystery novels, where authors lay out clues then arbitrarily pick a murderer. All of those things have influenced my writing.
In PAPER DOLL I share my love of movies and moviemakers with my readers. I have always been fascinated with ex-child stars like Hayley Mills, Shirley Temple, Patty Duke, and Brooke Shields. My heroine, Jana Lane, is an ex-child star who has lost her self esteem as an adult. Through the course of the book, Jana not only solves the mystery of her past, but also reclaims the courage and fortitude she had as a child. This is an important message for all of us.
I am currently writing a comedy mystery series set in the world of academia. Since I am a college professor, I know that world quite well. I have completed the first two novels, DRAMA QUEEN and DRAMA MUSCLE. I am currently writing the third, DRAMA CRUISE. The first novel will be published by Lethe Press this summer.
Thank you, Elisa, for hosting me today. I love to hear from readers. After they have read PAPER DOLL, I hope they will contact me with their reactions via my web site at http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com. Happy reading!
Paper Doll (Jana Lane Mystery Book 1) by Joe Cosentino
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press LLC (March 5, 2015)
Amazon Kindle: Paper Doll (Jana Lane Mystery Book 1)
Jana Lane was America’s most famous child star until she was attacked on the studio lot at eighteen years old. Now she’s a thirty-eight-year-old beauty and mother of two living in a mansion in picturesque Hudson Valley, New York. Jana’s flashbacks from her past turn into murder attempts in her present. Forced to summon up the lost courage she had as a child, Jana visits the California movie studio she once called home. This sends her on a whirlwind of visits with former and current movie studio personnel. It also leads to a romance with the son of her old producer – Rocco Cavoto – the devilishly handsome filmmaker who is planning Jana’s comeback both professionally and personally. Can Jana uncover a web of secrets about everyone she loves, including the person who destroyed her past and threatens to snuff out her future?
She took her cue and seated herself on the ample tree stump with her sneakers buried into the welcoming grass. She asked her best friend, “What do you want to know?”
Jackson asked pedantically, “Why do you suppose your dreams are coming up now?”
She gazed out at Buddy’s guest cottage in the distance and felt a slight breeze on her burning cheek. “I’m not sure, Jack.”
“You can do better than that.”
“All right, about two weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep. I went into the boys’ game room and flipped through the television channels. Sugar and Spice came on. I watched it for the first time.”
“Why all of a sudden, twenty years after its completion?”
She swallowed hard. “Maybe it’s time I finally deal with what happened to me back then.”
“That’s the best I can do!”
Jackson dug the heel of his shoe into a convenient crevice inside the stone beneath him. “All right, when did you have your first dream?”
“Maybe a week ago.”
“What happened that night?”
She thought a moment then finally said, “Brian and I went to a movie.”
“Just the two of you...without asking me?”
“Are you this obnoxious in court?” she asked.
“Worse. Now, what film did you see? And if you say Cruisin’, you will be cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”
Giggling, she answered, Ordinary People.”
“Which we certainly ain’t.”
“Have you seen it?” she asked.
“I’m asking the questions.” Jackson frowned like a senior citizen at a school budget meeting. “Okay, now think back to that day. You woke up, got the kids breakfast, yelled at Theresa for being late, worked out, swam, took care of some bills on your desk, and talked to me on the phone.”
“How do you know that?”
“That’s what you do every day.”
“Am I that dull?”
“We’ll talk. Anyway, that evening you fed the kids dinner, put them to bed, got dressed—”
“You didn’t get dressed?”
“I didn’t put the kids to bed. We dropped them off at my father’s house.”
Jackson nodded. “To babysit. Of course. Now, did anything happen out of the ordinary.”
She felt the small lines between her eyebrows create a runway to her nose. “Let me think. Brian waited in the car. I took the boys inside.” She rubbed her aching temples. “I saw Tamara in the kitchen…eating”
“As usual.” Jackson snickered at the thought of Jana’s full-figured sister.
“The boys rushed in and joined Tamara to make buttered popcorn.”
“Emphasis on the buttered.”
Jana leaned over so far in recollection she nearly tipped off the tree stump. “My father was on the phone downstairs—in his den.”
“Nothing too exciting so far.”
The fuzzy image cleared in her head like a television screen after repair. “Wait! Dad was upstairs in his bedroom, and the phone in the den was off the hook. I guess he began the phone call there, but for some reason switched to the bedroom phone. So I started to hang up the phone in the den.”
“I heard a voice.”
“Whose?” Jackson asked, sounding every bit of the trial lawyer.
“Dad’s...and another voice.”
“I’m not sure.”
“What did the voice say?”
As if under hypnosis she replied, “My name.”
She nodded. “Then I put the phone back down on the desk.”
Jana felt a line of sweat make its way down her back. “I was terrified.”
“I’m not sure.”
Jackson continued his inquiry. “Did you recognize the voice on the other end of the phone?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What did your father respond?”
She was beginning to lose her patience—with Jackson’s questions and with her own ineptitude at answering them. “I heard Dad’s voice say I would always love him, no matter what he did.”
“Then?” Jackson motioned along her story with an impatient roll of his hand.
“I turned around and saw Tamara at the door to the den behind me—with a peculiar look on her face.”
“Did you ask her what was wrong?”
“No. I was caught eavesdropping. I kissed the boys goodbye, thanked Tamara for watching them, and left the house.”
“And you never mentioned this to your father...to Tamara...to Brian?”
She shook her head. “It was my father’s private phone conversation.”
“A conversation about you.”
“So you think that phone conversation is the reason I’m having these dreams?”
“I’m not sure...yet.” Jackson knew Brian would be proud of him.
“But my father could have been talking to anyone.”
“He phones Brian and Buddy all the time to see about the kids. You said the other day Dad spoke to you about some legal matters. His agent is—”
Jackson waved his arms. “All right. You haven’t told me anything about your dreams yet.”
No longer postponing the inevitable, she rested back on the tree stump. As Jana peered out at a tree with a yellow ribbon tied around it, she thought of how her life had been held hostage during the past twenty years. With eyes sealed tightly shut she blurted out, “They’re like flashbacks. I see myself at the studio on the set of my last film—on the final day of shooting.” She moistened her lips. “We’re outside in Lot C. After my father, playing the town sheriff, makes me an assistant sheriff, I strike my last pose on my horse, Ginger. She bucks underneath me, but I control her until Mr. LeClerc, the director yells, ‘Cut!’ Hank, the trainer, helps me off my horse. A few speeches are made. My agent, my sister, Mr. Cavoto—the studio head, and his son are there. Everyone applauds. As usual—”
“—you walk inside to your dressing room with your agent.”
She opened her eyes. “How did you know that?”
He bit at a blade of grass. “I just assumed.”
“You really are good at this.”
Another satisfied nod from Jackson led her eyelids to close again.
“My agent, Simon, waves at someone who passes us in the hallway. Then a flash hurts my eyes. I think it’s a photographer. Simon approaches him, scolds him I think then leaves me alone...and this part of the dream occurs over and over again...”
After a shaky breath, she said, “A masked figure in black appears in front of my dressing room door. I’m forced into a dark corridor...pushed down onto the floor...we struggle. His touch is angry but somehow...familiar. I try to scream...but...nothing.” She opened her eyes.
“Then Jana Lane—the girl who swam the rapids, climbed Mt. Everest, parachuted from a plane to save the world from mad scientists in her movies—wept uncontrollably in a psychiatric hospital for nearly a year while the masked man got off free.”
“How do we know it was a man?”
She replayed her nightmare and came to a realization. “I guess we don’t.” Her eyes suddenly swam in tears. “Jackson, the years since I left Hollywood, I’ve been hiding. Housewife, mother, community fundraiser—they’re shields, so I don’t have to face an assault and breakdown from when I was eighteen years old...or face something worse.” She wiped her face with the back of her hand. “Maybe I should see a shrink again.”
Jackson diagnosed in his best German accent. “You don’t need a shrink. You have me.”
“I wish I had Brian, too.” She knew Jackson would understand.
Jackson helped her to her feet, and laid a pansy in the palm of her hand. “Brian will come around.”
“So will the F.D.R. Benefit,” she said, happy to change the subject. After a nervous glance at her watch, she added, “Let’s get to work.”
* * * *
The room was cold and full of ominous shadows. As the viewer waited in anticipation, the most famous child star in history filled the screen nearby.
Jana Lane, at eighteen in Sugar and Spice, was dressed in a canary and brown leather cowgirl suit and matching boots. With determination beaming from her face, she pushed a kidnapper off a cliff and lifted her little friend, Timmy, onto her horse. After she sped Timmy down the mountain to safety, her father—the sheriff—kissed her on the cheek and proudly presented her with an assistant sheriff’s badge. Jana remounted her horse, Ginger, and waved her cowgirl hat triumphantly as Ginger stood up tall on hind legs.
As Jana’s celluloid face filled the room, restless fingers lifted a glass of liquid and sent it crashing into orange droplets against the screen.
Eerie laughter transformed into a hushed voice. “It’s time to play again, Jana. The first time was sweet, but the second time will be so much sweeter!”
About the author: Joe Cosentino is the author of An Infatuation (Dreamspinner Press). 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, and Jason Robards. His one-act plays, Infatuation and Neighbor, were performed in New York City. He wrote a musical theatre adaptation of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Eldridge Plays and Musicals), and 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 novels are Porcelain Doll (the second Jana Lane mystery) and Drama Queen (Lethe Press). http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com.
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