Today we're talking with Shelley Costa, author of You Cannoli Die Once
FQ: First, I LOVE the title! How many titles did you have to toss around before deciding on You Cannoli Die Once?
Thanks! Believe it or not, there was a list of about twenty possible titles my agent John Talbot and I put together before deciding on Cannoli.. When you're trying for some blend of pun, word play, references to movies or books about murder, you can hit bottom pretty quickly, so I won't tell you some of the other suggestions. John actually came up with the title for Cannoli, so I can't take credit, but his wife, my husband, and several friends have weighed in with possibilities. For this particular story, we knew You Cannoli Die Once was a winner.
FQ: You’ve captured the fun, and ‘trials and tribulations’ of a close-knit Italian family perfectly. Did you draw on your own family experiences?
Thank you very much! I have tried to offer a view of a different sort of "Italian family," one that veers away from the pop cultural view of Italians and Italian families as explosive, demonstrative, emotional, back-slapping folks. Based on my sense of my own extended family on my father's side, there's more personal reserve, a deep love of art and beauty, a sense of individualism. The job I set for myself was to find a comic tone in all that material. I'm guessing the Angelottas in You Cannoli Die Once are part pop cultural and part Costa.
FQ: I suspect that Maria Pia will be the favorite character of many readers. Was she based on your own grandmother?
No, because I was four years old when my Italian nonna, Pia Costa, died. I never really knew her, although I remember her stuffed artichokes! Maria Pia is a work of pure imagination, so if she seems lifelike, then I'm really pleased.
FQ: There’s enough about Italian cooking in your story to make every reader’s mouth water. Are you a cooking aficionado?
I'm so glad to hear that! I wanted just enough kitchen scenes to establish a work world for Eve and her family. Learning how to do that knowledgeably is an ongoing process for me, since, although I love good cooking, and can even produce a few passable dishes, I'm not myself a chef. But my three first cousins on the Costa side are chefs, so I'd like to think they've got my back. And I'm lucky enough to live near a fine cooking school, where next week I'll be learning how to make homemade pasta one day, and various Italian chicken recipes the next. The research continues, and the results will no doubt turn up in future installments in Eve's story. As for the cannoli recipe in You Cannoli Die Once, I spent two days in what I call the Costa Test Kitchen finessing the filling and the shell.
FQ: My grandfather used to play Enrico Caruso records all the time. Since the singer plays an important role in your mystery, is there any chance you also had a relative who loved Caruso?
Interesting you should ask. Eve's opera collection absolutely mirrors the one that has come down in the Costa side of my family since, oh, 1930, from generation to generation. The joke is that none of us knows what to do with it! Short story: Beniamino Gigli, the tenor at the Met who took over after Caruso died, had to leave NYC very quickly because of his political beliefs, so he gave -- gave! -- his entire personal record collection to his chauffeur. The chauffeur, who didn't care for opera, passed the collection on to his friends, who happened to be my grandparents, who did like opera. A couple of the records in the collection are actually mentioned in You Cannoli Die Once: the only song Caruso ever recorded in English, and a demo recorded by Gigli himself.
FQ: There are some nice, unexpected twists and turns in your story. Do you know before you start writing what they will be, or do they come to you as you write?
Good, I'm glad you liked the twists and turns. In plotting a mystery, I outline enough to keep the basic story straight in my head: victim, suspects, major points in the investigation, killer. But all the richness of detail -- the ups and downs of Eve's investigation, the false leads, the places where things get discovered -- which can suddenly include twists and turns, I discover as I write. It's how I stay in love with the process of telling a story.
FQ: Are you currently working on the next book in the series and if so, would you give our readers a little peak into what they can expect?
Sure! The second book in the series is called Basil Instinct (a new title altogether, not from the original list, and one of my own creation). I actually love this story because the two plot lines seem very rich to me and full of comic possibilities. In this book, Maria Pia, Eve's grandmother, is invited to join Belfiere, a two hundred year old secret all-female cooking society that has a very shady (homicidal?) history. At the same time, Eve's cousin Choo Choo Bacigalupo ropes her into teaching a basic cooking skills course at a local career center. But what he neglects to tell her is what kind of students these are. How these stories intersect with murderous results can be found this December, when Basil Instinct is released.