I'm pleased to welcome Joanne Sydney Lessner to the blog today. Joanne writes the Isobel Spice Mystery series. OFFED STAGE LEFT, the fourth book in the series, was released at the end of last month.
JSL: I knew the biggies: “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Washington Post,” and of course, every Monty Python fan is intimately familiar with “The Liberty Bell.” That was my phone ringtone for ages. But I discovered there were subtler, more serious marches when my husband was leading a band called “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine,” after the Sousa march of that name. Sousa is not quite like anyone else. And he’s just so very American. Patriotic without being sentimental. He also wrote a number of operettas and songs. That said, the idea of singing his marches is inherently hilarious, since they were never intended to be vehicles for words. I’m actually quite proud of the lyrics I wrote for Sousacal; they rhyme and scan properly, but they’re ridiculous. I hope readers will sing along. The marches are easy to find on YouTube.
Kathy: I graduated with a theatre degree and worked in regional theatre at the Cleveland Playhouse many moons ago. Do you have any theatrical experience?
JSL: A kindred spirit! Yes, I’ve been a professional singer/actor since I graduated college. I made my Broadway debut in 1994 and I’ve done a lot of regional theater and opera over the years. I just played Rosie in Mamma Mia! at the wonderful Weston Playhouse in Vermont. I actually set an Isobel short story at a fictionalized Weston (free on my website!), and the theater in OFFED STAGE LEFT is a composite of several I’ve worked at. I doubt anyone would be surprised to learn that Isobel is, essentially, me at twenty-three. Minus the dead bodies.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
JSL: Nancy Drew was my gateway drug. One of my favorite reviews on Amazon described my books as “Nancy Drew for grown-ups.” From there it was a short leap to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m also a big fan of British police procedurals.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
JSL: My debut novel, PANDORA'S BOTTLE, is literary fiction. It’s about a man who spends half a million dollars to buy a single bottle of wine once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and the waiter serving him drops it. So it’s about what happens to the man, the waiter, the girl he’s trying to impress, and the woman who owns the restaurant. It was inspired by a true story. I’ve also written extensively for the theater and have had both plays and musicals produced.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
JSL: OFFED STAGE LEFT is the fourth in the series, which follows aspiring actress Isobel Spice from temp job to temp job, solving murders at every turn. At the same time, it charts her career as she attempts to break into show business.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
JSL: This is terrible, but my two favorite characters don’t appear in this book! Percival, Isobel’s boy genius younger brother, and James, her temp agent. Percival is based on my son Julian, who was a computer science TA at Columbia when he was still in high school. James is a recovering alcoholic who finds Isobel equally irresistible and infuriating. He’s complex and flawed, and their relationship provides the romantic tension in the series. For various reasons, neither one follows Isobel to her first regional theater job in OFFED STAGE LEFT, but they’ll both be back in the next book.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
JSL: Most people have no idea what the day-to-day experience of breaking into show business is like. It can be dehumanizing—you wait for your chance to sing sixteen, sometimes eight bars of music, only to be dismissed with “Thanks for coming in,” which is code for “Thanks for blowing the subway fare.” The flip side is that you make lifelong friends. I’ve always loved mysteries, so it seemed like a great way to illuminate the real story I wanted to tell, which is what it’s like to be a young actor in New York. Plus I get to share all the humiliating audition stories I’ve collected over the years. Some of them are pretty side-splitting—in retrospect, of course. My all-time favorite is in AND JUSTICE FOR SOME, which is book three.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
JSL: That was always the goal. I guess it’s the performer in me. I need an audience!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
JSL: J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, W.S. Gilbert and George R.R. Martin. Then I’d just sit on the side and listen.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
JSL: When we were in London last winter, I dipped into Foyle’s Bookstore while my husband and daughter went on the London Eye. When they came back, I asked, “Guess what I bought?” My husband replied, “Probably some English country house mystery.” With which I produced my purchase: an anthology actually entitled English Country House Mysteries. I’ve been hoarding it ever since, so I’m reading it now as my reward for getting OFFED STAGE LEFT out the door.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
JSL: Singing, reading, writing, travel, going to live musical and theatrical performances, and hanging out with my husband and kids, who are my favorite people on the planet.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
JSL: Kind bars, eggs, paper towels and grated Parmesan. I have an irrational fear of running out of paper towels, and there’s nothing that can’t be made better with grated Parmesan. Except maybe paper towels.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
JSL: I have solid ideas for two more and a title idea for a third, but I doubt I’ll go beyond that. I have ideas for other standalone books, but not another mystery series. I think Isobel is it.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
JSL: There’s something really satisfying about pointing to a paperback and saying, “I made that.” But mostly what I love is storytelling. I do it as an actor and as a writer. The rewards aren’t as immediate for a novelist, since you’re not sitting there watching someone read your book (thank God!) but I love knowing that people want to spend time with these characters I invented.
There’s one role you don’t want a callback for: Prime Suspect.Aspiring actress Isobel Spice lands her first regional theater job, playing a supporting role and understudying the lead in "Sousacal: The Life and Times of John Philip Sousa." A series of minor backstage accidents culminates in the suspicious death of the leading lady on opening night. When Isobel takes over the role, her mastery of the material makes her more suspect than savior, and she realizes the only way to clear her name is to discover the identity of the murderer—before he or she strikes again.
Don't Miss Your Chance to Read Offed Stage Left! You can grab it at Amazon , Barnes & Noble , Kobo , Smashwords , & Add it to your Goodreads List !
Book Details:Genre: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth
Published by: Dulcet Press
Publication Date: Late October 2016
Number of Pages:260
Series: Isobel Spice, 4 | Each is a Stand Alone Mystery