Review and Interview: Paper Doll by Joe Cosentino (Possible Spoilers)

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?

May Contain Spoilers

This book was very intriguing and the mystery and flashback aspect of the story was very well done. I wasn’t a fan of Jana’s relationship with Rocco throughout the story. Jana kept compounding one bad decision after another and I wasn’t entirely sure of her reasoning for some of her actions. I also couldn’t figure out why Brian kept leaving when Jana needed him the most. I didn’t see who the bad guy was until the end when it was revealed. I also didn’t expect what wound up happening to Jana and her sister. I liked that there was enough evidence for each of the suspects to keep me guessing until the very end.

Molly: What music, if any do you listen to when you write?
Joe: I have a beautiful, cozy study with a window seat, fireplace with a cherry wood mantle, and a large cherry wood desk and bookcase. I never listen to anything, including music, when I write. Instead I use my background as an actor to engage my characters in improvisational discussion. They say the most amazing things. I’ve been told I have a terrific flair for writing humorous and dramatic dialogue. That’s probably why.
Molly: Are you a full time writer, or part time writer?
Joe: I am currently a college professor/department head. So I write in the evenings. Prior to being a college professor I was an actor. When I told my mother I wanted to be an actor, she said, “Take this knife and stick it through my heart.” I did it anyway, and acted on stage and screen with stars like Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Holland Taylor, Jason Robards, and Nathan Lane. It occurred to me that acting is storytelling in the same way that writing is storytelling, so I decided to give playwriting a try. When I told my mother I wanted to write fiction, she said, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” I wonder if Shakespeare’s mother said that? Since my novels have been published, my mother is my greatest fan! I think being an actor also has helped me create realistic, entertaining, and emotional characters in my novels. For example, while the situation is fictitious, Harold, the lead character is AN INFATUATION, is based on me. I really admire Harold’s resilience, honesty, intelligence, wit, and ability to keep going in trying situations. His heart may be broken, but his spirit always stays intact. Harold’s devotion to his spouse, Stuart, is admirable, as is his honesty about his teenage infatuation with Mario. Stuart was also great fun to write, because he is based on my spouse who is totally organized and a real list maker, but also sweet, creative, and caring. He creates an itinerary for our trips in ten minute time blocks! I love that the story spans twenty years so we see Harold (and Mario) develop and mature. Jana Lane in PAPER DOLL is based on the amazing spirit and incredible talent of ex-child movie stars like Patty Duke, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney.
Molly: Do you hope to one day be a full time writer?
Joe: Teaching my students feeds me and helps me creativity, so I have no plans to retire. The old adage, you learn from teaching, is very true. Writing evenings and weekends work for me. I never have writer’s block. New story ideas come into my head constantly, as if I am channeling a font of fascinating plotlines and characters. I think that is quite evident in the amount of fiction I have written in only a couple of years. AN INFATUATION (Dreamspinner Press) is my first novella. Two other MM novellas followed: A SHOOTING STAR and A HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. I hope they will be published soon. PAPER DOLL (Whiskey Creek Press) is my first novel. It is book one of the Jana Lane mystery series. Book 2, PORCELAIN DOLL, is written, and I am currently starting Book 3, SATIN DOLL. I wrote the first three novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series, an MM mystery/romance/comedy series taking place in the world of academia (which I know well): DRAMA QUEEN, DRAMA MUSCLE, and DRAMA CRUISE. Thankfully nobody has been killed at my college—yet. DRAMA QUEEN is set for release this summer by Lethe Press.
Molly: Do you have a word count per day you try to hit?
Joe: Since I come from the acting world, I look at each section of a book as a scene. My goal is to write two scenes per day. So far I’ve hit my goal! When I write, I feel as if I am the leading character, going through the story and experiencing all of the emotions right along with him/her. I lay out the plot which culminates with only one possible ending, unveiling various plot twists, surprises, and secrets along the way. I don’t appreciate novels, where authors lay out a story then arbitrarily pick an ending. The end must justify the means. And it needs to be funny, sexy, and tantalizing all along the way with real emotions. That’s one of the reasons I think my books would make terrific movies. So come on and make some offers, movie producers! I want to play Mr. Ringwood (the high school principal) in AN INFATUATION, Simon Huckby (Jana’s agent) in PAPER DOLL, and Martin Anderson (department head) in DRAMA QUEEN!
Molly: When you finish writing a book, how long before you begin writing the next one?
Joe: Immediately! I am always writing, even in my head when I sleep. For example, I was thinking back to my high school days, and how difficult it was back then for a gay teen before GLSEN, PFLAG, and Will and Grace. Lab partners, gym locker rooms, and club meetings where super important. At my high school reunion, I realized things weren’t what they seemed back then. An INFATUATION was born. Also, I was talking about my fascination with ex-child movie stars like Shirley Temple and Hayley Mills, and the Jana Lane mystery series was born. Finally, I was thinking about how the theatre department of a college campus would be a fun place to stage a mystery series and the Nicky and Noah mysteries were born.

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…”

“Tell me.”

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 what?”

“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 Joe:
Joe Cosentino is the author of An Infatuation (Dreamspinner Press), Paper Doll, the first Jana Lane mystery (Whiskey Creek Press), Drama Queen, the first Nicky and Noah mystery (Lethe Press-releasing this summer), and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Eldridge Plays and Musicals). 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 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 Muscle (the second Nicky and Noah mystery).

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