Interview with Tom Cosentino

Author of The Art of Looking for Trouble

I initially discovered author Tom Cosentino on Twitter, where I was immediately impressed by his bio. He is an Army veteran, who holds an MBA, and has experience as a chef and literary fiction editor. He is very supportive of his fellow writers and followers on Twitter, and quite the amateur photographer judging by his enviable beach photos that remind me how bleak it is to live in Pittsburgh (sorry to the people who love it here!) where it rains most days.

Cosentino’s debut novel, The Art of Looking for Trouble, is a humorous story about an upstate New York bartender running for mayor after a robbery interrupts his fiftieth birthday celebration. The book is getting great reviews on Amazon. I browsed the reviews and found this, which I think would make any writer exceptionally proud.

Cosentino has faced criticism in unlikely places (a writer’s group), but only used the heckler (my word, not his) to fuel the flames on his passion and see his author dreams come true. Maybe the unnecessarily harsh critic in the group underestimated the Army’s influence on Cosentino, who doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Cosentino is a family man, married to the same woman, Caye, for thirty-three years, and a father of two. He enjoys cooking, reading, and helping new writers hone their craft. That last part, helping other writers? Yeah, that’s what we are supposed to do, build up, lend a hand, and foster the talents of other writers so that the world will benefit from their yet untold stories.

Enjoy this interview! I know I did! I especially liked the title of the book Cosentino is working on now. Read on to see if you feel the same about it!

L.A. Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers? I’m sure they’d like to know where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing, and what you enjoy doing in your free time!

T.C. Hi, I’m originally from Syracuse, New York, although I have lived all around the country. I have a degree in Political Science from Syracuse University and an MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology. I was an Artillery Officer in the Army after I graduated from Syracuse. I started writing seriously when we moved to Safety Harbor, Florida and I joined a writer’s group in 2010. I have been married to my wife Caye for 33 years and we have two children, Genevieve and Dominic.

L.A. Did you have a career before writing? If so, what was it, and at what point did you transition over to writing full-time?

T.C. Unfortunately, I am not a full-time writer, I have a full-time day job which means I have to be very disciplined with my time. I have had various management positions in large companies, focusing on data analytics and process improvement. I was an officer in the Army right after college, which was the best job, I ever had but I was too young to appreciate what being an officer meant. I left the business world and worked as a chef for a few years and am glad I got that out of my system. Getting my MBA mid-career was a lot of work but also very rewarding. I plan on writing full-time once I retire in a few years (hopefully).

(On publishing his first novel) “I was 59 years old, so I was very late to the game.”

~Tom Cosentino

L.A. How many books have you published so far? Also, how old were you when you wrote the first book?

T.C. Just my first novel, The Art of Looking for Trouble. I was 59 years old, so I was very late to the game. I have had several short stories published in various publications.

L.A. Have you ever written a manuscript that didn’t translate into a finished novel?

T.C. I have two unfinished manuscripts. I might pick them up again, there is good material there. They were valuable learning experiences but I’m also glad I realized that they weren’t projects that were ready. I also have short stories that I think would be great novels if I find the time. I would also like to take a shot at turning my novel into a screenplay.

L.A. Can you talk a little about your writing process?

T.C. Since I have a full-time job, I write when I can. When I was in the “groove” writing my novel I would spend all day on the weekends writing. I didn’t really keep track of how long it took me to complete my novel. There were lots of starts and stops. An edit by my friend who ran the writer’s group, several reads by my betas and a lot of editing. I splurged on a handmade Arts and Crafts style writing desk. It’s in our dining room but as soon as a kid or two moves out permanently I’ll claim a bedroom as my office.

“When I’m really in the zone I can see and hear my characters talking and I am just writing down what they are saying.”

~Tom Cosentino

L.A. Do you write with music, or do you need it quiet while you work?

T.C. I prefer quiet or background noise like a movie that I’ve seen a hundred times. I wrote during the Super Bowl once just because I was in the zone.

L.A. Do you outline your stories before you begin writing them?

T.C. No. I start with a general idea, and I start writing. My novel started as a short story. I loved the setting and the characters, so I knew they had more to tell me. One chapter will spark more ideas. When I have enough done, I organize the chapters into a plot and then I start filling in the holes. I have a great picture of my wall covered in yellow sticky notes where I put each chapter on one note with the title and a brief description and then I did a final organization of the chapters to make sure all the story lines worked. When I’m really in the zone I can see and hear my characters talking and I am just writing down what they are saying.

Cosentino’s picture wall (described in the paragraph above).

L.A. Do you have a test reader(s) such as a spouse or friend that reads your work along the way?

T.C. I had a rough version, probably 3rd or 4th draft, that I sent to my friend from the writer’s group. She did an edit and also pointed out areas that needed work. I made most of the changes she suggested and then sent the draft to three readers. Once I had their comments, I made more changes based on what they saw. I sent that version to my editor David Swindle, at Liberty Island. He loved it and sent it to his boss with the recommendation to publish. There were delays because of changes at Liberty Island which actually turned out to be beneficial because I kept editing. I mapped out the chapters with the yellow sticky notes, added a few chapters where I thought there were holes. I then took a week off work and used the “Read Aloud” function in Word to listen to the entire novel. I caught a lot and made more changes. David gave his edits after that, and we ended up with the final version. Although I could still think of changes.

L.A. Can you discuss the pros and cons of self-publishing, as well as your experience with the process?

T.C. I didn’t self-publish; I went directly to a small publisher. That experience has been good, and I recommend that path. Also, I get the impression that agents and publishers are looking for more than just a good writer. I just didn’t see going through that process. Self-publishing is tough as well as using a small publisher. I have to do almost all of the marketing myself. Sales have been good given that we are only on Amazon and a few bookstores. Covid cancelled many of the book fairs and seminars that give space to authors to sell their novels and hopefully that will start to pick up. It really is up to what goal the author has in mind. If you really want to be in every bookstore, on Amazon and other online retailers then go for it. Give yourself a time limit and see what happens. I would look at small publishers that take direct submissions also. If you just want your book in your hands, self-publish.

L.A. How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?

T.C. I wouldn’t have gotten to this point unless I was able to handle criticism. In the writer’s groups I was in for several years the feedback was supposed to be positive but every now and then someone would really pan my work. This actually pushed me to get better just to prove them wrong. I know that not everyone will like my work, but the reviews so far have been really good.

L.A. What is it like connecting with your readers and hearing how your stories have impacted their lives in a positive way?

T.C. I just had a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Syracuse. I saw so many old friends and people I hadn’t talked to since high school. I sold all 50 books I brought with me and signed about another 50 that people brought in. I was just overwhelmed by the support. Hearing all those people say how much they enjoyed my novel left my head spinning. It was always in the back of my mind that people were just being nice until I saw the turnout for the signing.

L.A. What advice would you give to someone who has writing ability, but is stuck in fear and can’t go the distance with a full-length manuscript?

T.C. What worked for me was switching to writing short stories. I did a new one for each group meeting. It was a way to get quick feedback and improve my writing. I also found that a novel was just too much. People forgot the plot, missed a meeting and didn’t know who a character was and other distractions that kept them from giving me feedback on the actual writing.

L.A. What are you currently working on?

T.C. My work in progress is based very loosely on my life in the interesting neighborhood where I grew up in Syracuse, New York. It spans the time between the main character’s senior year of high school and the summer before he leaves for college. The true part is that he and his friends are commissioned to paint his friend’s house and his friend’s father is paying them with a keg of beer per side.  It is titled The Summer We Almost Painted the House.

L.A. What books/tools did you use to learn the science of story development?

T.C. The writer’s group, seminars and workshops I attended were all helpful but what really worked for me was the advice Stephen King gave in his book On Writing. He said to read as much as you can in the genre that you want to write. I read everything by Richard Russo, Matthew Norman, Jonathan Tropper, Tom Perrota’s funny work and many more. I also read many Irish authors like Roddy Doyle. I really connected with the way Irish writers tell a story.

L.A. What is your favorite book, and why?

T.C. It has to be Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo because that is the novel that started me on my writing journey. I saw the movie with Paul Newman first and went to Barnes and Noble the next day to get Russo’s novel. The setting in Upstate New York provided a special connection and the characters where just like people I knew back in Syracuse. I loved his style, and I just knew that I had a novel inside me that I had to write.

Thank you, Tom Cosentino, for allowing me the chance to get to know you better. It was wonderful to hear about your publishing experience. In a conversation outside of this interview, Cosentino told me that “…if there is a legitimate marketing company for small press and self-published writers, that can show even a marginal return on investment and an increase in sales, they would make a fortune.” Well said, and I couldn’t agree more! To learn more about Tom Cosentino, you can check out his Twitter or his Amazon author page that’s linked above.