"Q&A With Elle Cosimano"

"Q&A With Elle Cosimano"

Book: Finlay Donovan Is Killing It

(Photo courtesy of Powell Woulfe Photography)

Author: Elle Cosimano

Author Bio:

Elle’s debut, Nearly Gone, was a 2015 Edgar Award Finalist, winner of the International Thriller Award, and has been nominated for multiple state book awards. Her more recent young adult thriller, Holding Smoke, was an International Thriller Award nominee and a Bram Stoker Award finalist. In addition to writing novels for teens and adults, her essays have appeared in The Huffington Post and TIME. Elle lives with her husband and two sons in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia."

1.  What are you excited for readers to experience in “Finlay Donovan Is Killing It”?

2020 was a horrible year for many of us, and 2021 isn’t shaping up to look much better. I’m excited to carry my readers away into an engaging, hilarious escape. I’ve received so many messages from readers who’ve said that this story pulled them out of a rut or brightened their day or made them forget about the pandemic for a while. I think a story like this might be exactly what a lot of us need right now, and it makes me so happy to know that my book has brought people a little laughter and light.


2.  What is the secret to holding and maintaining suspense throughout your novels?

For me, it’s about trusting the reader. I think part of what makes a book suspenseful is the slow peeling away of layers, allowing the reader to make their own discoveries along the way. I don’t want to spoon feed my reader every detail or bit of backstory; I want them to take an active role and make their own guesses and discoveries. I want to surprise them. I want them to dissect subtext and nuance and feel the reward of solving a hard-won mystery or being shocked by a well-drawn out twist. These are the things that make me sit on the edge of my seat and stay up past my bedtime as a reader.


3.  What scares you?

Like many mothers, I think my deepest fears center around my kids. Will they be happy? Will they grow up to be healthy, kind, responsible humans? Will my heart survive when they eventually move out and start their own lives? Funny, how motherhood puts fear in perspective. The things I used to worry about all seem less significant by comparison. 

I think that’s what makes Finlay Donovan’s character so relatable; there are so many stressful, scary things happening in her life, not the least of which is a being embroiled in a murder investigation, but all her worries are grounded in one single powerful driving fear—will I lose my children? And this is a fear many of us can relate to.


4.  Can we please talk about Panera Bread? A) why this specific fast-casual restaurant and B) Are you banned from anywhere in particular?

Haha! No, I’ve never personally been banned from a dining establishment. Finlay’s a tad more impulsive than I am, though I can’t say I blame her for those choices—she was a woman who’d been pushed to her limits. But why this restaurant in particular? The idea for the story of Finlay Donovan actually came to me three years ago in a crowded Panera Bread! I was away on a writing retreat with two of my beloved critique partners, Ashley Elston and Megan Miranda

We were brainstorming over lunch, troubleshooting through a tricky plot for a thriller I was writing, discussing a particular violent scene, when it occurred to me that the woman seated at the table beside us looked very uncomfortable. With good reason! She couldn’t have known we were only plotting fictional murders. We all got quite a laugh out of it later on that night, as we were recounting the story to Ashley’s family over dinner, when one of her cousins asked us, “Wouldn’t it have been funny if she thought you were contract killers?” Lightning struck, and the idea for Finlay Donovan was born.


5.  Has anyone ever mistaken your identity for someone else’s? Also, if put into the same predicament as Finlay, would you make any of the same choices?

I can’t say I’ve ever been mistaken for someone else. And I certainly hope I never find myself in Finlay’s predicament! But if the worst were to happen, I honestly couldn’t say what I would do. I don’t know that any of us could until we’ve walked in that person’s shoes. If I thought I was going to lose the people or things I cared most deeply for? Maybe I would. All I know is that I would want a friend beside me who I could trust—someone who would push me to be the best version of myself, who I could rely on unconditionally—like Finlay has in Vero.


6.  Is Finlay Donovan a character that readers should root for?

I think, as readers, we root for characters we relate to. When we can see our own vulnerabilities, fears, and flaws reflected back at us in believable ways, we want that character to succeed and find happiness, because deep inside, we want the same for ourselves. Finlay’s situation may be far-fetched, but her character is very human. 

She’s a woman who’s been stretched too thin, who’s desperately trying to hold onto her kids. She’s doing all the wrong things, but for all the right reasons, and in those mistakes, we also see moments of heroism, love, wits, and courage. There’s a lot to admire—and root for—in Finlay.


7.  At what point in your life did you realize that you wanted to be an author?

I’ve always enjoyed creative writing, but growing up, I never saw creative writing as a potential career. I spent nearly fourteen years in real estate sales and marketing. In that time, I don’t think I wrote more than a few paragraphs of anything that wasn’t related to a real estate listing or a sales ad. I was miserable, stuck in a grind raising two small children, working too many hours per week and missing time with my husband. 

My mother, in her infinite mom-wisdom, recognized that I was teetering on the edge of a crisis, and she suggested I take a sabbatical from work to write a novel. I told her she was out of her mind—that it was certain to be a wasted, foolish endeavor. But the longer I sat with that idea, the more it took root in my mind. That summer, I took two months off and drafted my first novel. It felt like I was finally doing something that made me happy. That year, I took the leap and made the major changes to my life that would allow me to pursue writing as a career. I’ve never looked back.


8.  Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?

Mostly little things . . . a song lyric, a photograph, an image, or a snippet of conversation that gets my wheels turning.


9.  How important is pacing to your writing style and when did you get comfortable with your pacing?

Pacing is critical to my writing because all of my books are thrillers of one flavor or another. Maintaining the tension in a thriller is a function of stakes and pacing as much as it is about plot, but I struggled with this early on. I lacked confidence in my prose, so I compensated by trying to embellish it, and the overwriting was bogging down the flow. 

In our first year working together, my agent taught me the greatest writing lesson I would ever learn. She said, “You don’t need a lot of words. You only need the right ones.” I spent that year putting my red pen to work, sharpening my prose, tightening my writing, and building my confidence. Spare prose is powerful. Once I figured that out, everything else fell into place.


10.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?

For me, the best cure has always been to get out from behind the computer and stop staring at a blank screen. Sometimes, a long drive with the perfect playlist in the background can shake something loose.

Other times, a research field trip can get the cogs moving. My favorite cure is a retreat somewhere quiet and lovely with my writing peers—a simple change of scenery, good company, some brainstorming between friends . . . that always manages to rekindle my creative fire.


11.  What’s the best book you have read this year so far?

I have to pick one? Oh, no. That’s really tough, so I’m going to cheat and pick one from each genre. In suspense, Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife grabbed me by the throat; I couldn’t put it down. In mystery, I absolutely devoured The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. For my fantasy pick, I fell in love with Fable by Adrienne Young. And in rom-com, I’d have to go with The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.


12.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

Yes! Finlay Donovan is a planned mystery series (and has been optioned for TV, with the amazing Marlene King set to adapt for 20th Television Studios), so book two is already drafted and in the works. If all goes well, we’ll see plenty more of Finlay and Vero.


Places To Find More From This Author:

Instagram: @ellecosimano

Twitter: @ellecosimano

Facebook: Elle Cosimano

Website: www.ellecosimano.com



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