Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interrogation Room #40: Elle Cosimano, author of NEARLY GONE

Today marks the release of a book that I've been dying to read since I first met Elle at a conference in the summer of 2011.  A YA thriller with page-turning tension, a mind-bending mystery and a melty romance?  I'll take two!

Kirkus Reviews calls NEARLY GONE "Tense and engaging."  Publishers Weekly says that "Cosimano weaves together math riddles, science-based clues, an edgy romance, and psychological terror to create an unpredictable page-turner."  And, in a starred review, School Library Journal said, "Eloquently written and packed full of suspense, debut author Cosimano strikes gold with this page-turning thriller that will have teens chomping at the bit to get to the end."

Bones meets Fringe in a big, dark, scary, brilliantly-plotted urban thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.

Elle agreed to sit in the interrogation room to allow us to help celebrate the launch of her debut novel, and to learn more about the book that has readers staying up into the wee hours of the morning.

1)  I know you are an alumni of the Writer's Police Academy.  How did your experiences there influence NEARLY GONE?

Every class I take at WPA is an opportunity. The experiences and lessons ad authenticity and a richness to my settings, plots, and characters. But a few in particular stand out as being exceptionally helpful with this book. First were the classes I took about serial killers -- the various kinds, what defines them as such, and perhaps most importantly for me, what motivates them. My killer needed a motive. There had to be a compelling reason for the murders. And these classes helped take me inside my killer's head.

The other was a ride-along with a deputy sheriff. During our ride, he took me through a trailer park very much like the one my character lives in. We talked at length about the challenges residents face there, and the types of crimes they often see, and how the teens in this neighborhood adapt to the challenges of poverty, drugs, and unsafe living conditions. It was an eye-opening first-hand look into Nearly's life, and I felt the experience brought me much closer to her story. During the same ride-along, I learned that the deputy had a lot of previous experience working with confidential informants. I had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about CI's (what motivates them and how they work) that helped me to better understand Reece's character.

2) I love that your main character, Nearly Boswell, is obsessed with the personal ads, and that the killer uses the personal ads to leave clues to the upcoming murders.  Where did this aspect of the story come from?  Did you read a lot of personal ads to prepare?

The inspiration for Nearly's character came from watching one of my co-workers read the Missed Connections during her lunch break at work. She read them obsessively, making fun of the people who wrote them, but when she thought she was alone, she looked so lonely reading them. As if maybe she secretly hoped one of the ads had been written for her. I did read a lot of Missed Connection ads when preparing to write certain scenes of the story. Some of them did make me laugh. But a lot of them were heartbreaking too. It was a fascinating look into Nearly's world, and it really got me thinking about what she might be looking for in those ads.

3) I find that writing a mystery presents its own set of challenges.  What was your process for constructing the mystery?  Did you plot it out in advance?  Were their suprises along the way?

I created a loose plot and an outline, but tried to give myself the freedom to recognize opportunities along the way. This left the door open for some really fun surprises. Of course, it also leaves openings in the floor for some big, fat plot holes. Once the guts of the mystery and plot were in place, it took me several passes to tie up all the loose ends. 

4) What was the most challenging aspect of writing a thriller for a young adult audience?

The things I love about YA lit are also the elements that make it so challenging to write. Within the scope of YA, genres can be bent and blended any which way. It's not unusual to see books that fall into three or four different categories, as is the case with NEARLY GONE. It's a thriller, and a mystery. It has a pinch of paranormal, but could be described as contemporary, and it has a strong romantic thread. It's definitely YA, but it has a lot of cross-over appeal for adult readers. And the trick with a book that crosses so many boundaries is that it has to commit to do all of these things well. NEARLY GONE couldn't be just a great thriller. It had to have a solid mystery that's difficult to solve. It had to have a compelling romance. And the paranormal elements had to be woven in very carefully. 

5) Rumor has it that NEARLY GONE has an amazing romantic element.  How did you balance the romantic aspects of the story with the thriller aspect?  Were you influenced by any particular authors or genres?

The romance between Nearly and Reece was the spoke in my wheel while I was building the story. It's the part of the story that remained the same from draft to shelf, the part I held tight to when the rest all fell away through three major revisions. In Nearly and Reece's case, the balance has always come from the tension between them -- tension that helped keep the plot tight and magnify the other conflicts in the story. For the romance to stand out, the tension had to be strong enough to stand up to the tension of a rising body count. If the romance wasn't as tense as the mystery or the thriller elements, then it would fall even flatter by comparison to the rest of the story. Nearly and Reece had to be strong. There had to be fire between them. And their romance had to be tested at every turn.

6) NEARLY GONE is your debut novel.  What has been the most satisfying part of the publication journey for you so far?
It's a strange and lonely thing, to have all these characters living inside your head, and then on the page. They almost don't seem real until I share them with someone else -- a crit partner, my agent, my editor. And suddenly, lots of people are getting to meet Nearly. Her story is out in the world, and so is the piece of my heart where she lived for the three years it took to bring her into the world. It's a beautiful and terrifying thing, to finally be able to share her with so many people. 

7) Now that NEARLY GONE is out in the world, what's next for Nearly?  For Elle?
A sequel, NEARLY LOST, is planned for release in 2015, in which Nearly takes an internship at a local forensics lab, and the crimes start hitting a little too close to home. As for me, I'm looking forward to attending RT Convention in New Orleans in May, and another round at the Writers Police Academy in September.

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Elle Cosimano is the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley. As a teen, she spent summers working on a fishing boat, baiting hooks and lugging buckets of bait. She majored in Psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two young sons, and divides her time between her home near Washington, DC and a jungle tree house in the Mayan Riviera.


  1. Cannot wait to read this book!!!

  2. Happy book launch, Elle Cosimano! Nearly Gone looks amazing!! Thanks for being interrogated!


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