Joanne Guidoccio: From Chemotherapy to Cozy Mystery Champion
- Melissa Yi: Welcome, Joanne. You fell in love with cozy mysteries during chemotherapy. Do you mind telling that story?
Joanne Guidoccio: On the cusp of my fiftieth birthday, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and forced to take a leave of absence. While undergoing chemotherapy, I searched for light and entertaining novels that would provide a healthy diversion. I was grateful for the bags of books dropped off by friends but couldn’t get into any of the storylines. I found the spiritual books too intense and the comedic books unsatisfying.
Instead, I gravitated toward cozies, those delightful murder mysteries that include a bloodless crime and contain little violence, sex, or coarse language. I was familiar with Agatha Christie’s novels and pleasantly surprised to discover more authors in the genre, among them Susan Wittig Albert, MC Beaton, Mary Jane Maffini, and Denise Swanson. I read voraciously, often finishing a cozy in one or two sittings.
Toward the end of treatments, I decided to experiment with the genre and considered the following scenario: What if a woman wins a major lottery, returns to her hometown, and then finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation involving four blondes? Can she prove her innocence and solve this case before it’s too late?
MY: Great hook! My only problem is that I felt guilty because you’ve read at least two Hope Sze novels, and Graveyard Shift is much darker. Do you have trouble identifying with more gritty thrillers?
JG: While I do read the occasional psychological thriller, I don’t think I could ever write that “dark” …it just isn’t in me. A fan of riveting medical drama, I enjoyed reading several novels in the Hope Sze series. I didn’t pick up on an extreme grittiness factor.
Would you like to comment on the division between cozies and noir? I had no idea this was a “thing” until I attended my first conference, Bloody Words, but it seems like there are two separate camps and for some, “never the twain shall meet.”
To be truthful, I am not too familiar with noir literature. In some of the articles, it has been described as a “disturbing mix of sex and violence.” Not something I would care to read or write.
I prefer more light-hearted mysteries, aptly call cozies. The crime takes place “off-stage,” and very few graphic details are provided. By the end of the story, the criminal is punished, and order is restored to the community.
I agree…” never the twain shall meet.”
One of the things I admire about you is that you’ve created a real community on your website and, I suspect, in your life. One of your heroines, Gilda Greco, is a career counsellor. The tagline for your website s “On the Road to Reinvention,” and you invite authors to blog about their “Second Acts,” where we talk about careers or lives we had before. Why this passion for reinvention? How important is friendship in your writing career and in your life?
Reinvention is a core theme of my own life. A cancer diagnosis at age 49 and a decision to retire at age 53 prompted me to reassess my life goals. An avid reader, I searched for fiction and nonfiction literature that would help me navigate these uncertain waters. And then I decided to write the books I wanted to read.
As for friendships—both IRL and online—I cherish all of them. I am grateful to all the friends who have supported me on my cancer and writing journeys. They have enriched my life beyond measure.
You wanted to be a writer in grade 13, but chose to go into teaching first. Yet A Different Kind of Reunion is dedicated to your former students, and the plot is clearly inspired by your teaching. What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursing a “safe” career before your dream career?
Pursuing a “safe” career made economic sense. I received a regular salary and qualified for health benefits. Throughout those 31 years, I toyed with writing a novel during weekends and vacations but never followed through. I enjoyed teaching but found it to be a very demanding career. I simply didn’t have the time and energy for much else.
That being said, I have no regrets about selecting the “safe” career. In retirement, I now have the time and space to pursue a creative second act.
- You called Between Land and Sea “a paranormal romance about a middle-aged ex-mermaid.” I find that your middle-aged heroines, both ex-mermaid and human, help expand diversity and representation. Is that important to you?
In my late forties, I realized that I no longer enjoyed reading novels with 20something and 30something protagonists. It felt like poking into the heads and hearts of young women who could easily be former students. While searching for novels featuring an older crowd, I discovered several late-blooming authors who had launched successful second acts. I was inspired and decided to populate my novels with Boomer women and their older sisters
- How do you continue to improve your writing after five novels?
I take online courses and attend writing workshops. I also enjoy reading craft books. Two recent favorites: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier.
- I enjoyed A Season for Killing Blondes. Then I picked up A Different Kind of Reunion, which starts off describing three different Barbie-like students, and the constable quizzes her about the email she missed from “Moody Barbie!” Do you have something against blondes? 🙂
For some reason—that’s unexplainable—I visualize certain characters as blondes. At some level, I may be trying to balance the brunette/blonde ratio in my novels. Most of the Italian characters in the Gilda Greco Series have dark hair. So, it makes practical sense to add more diversity with the new characters. Also, I like to have one Ken/Barbie couple in each book.
I do love the Italian characters–and the Italian food, family, and friendships. Thanks for coming on my blog, Joanne, and sharing your stories and your mysteries!
About the Gilda Greco Mystery Series
A cross between Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, and Cher (Moonstruck), protagonist Gilda Greco brings a unique perspective to the amateur female sleuth.
The teacher-turned-lottery winner returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in a series of murder investigations. Before you start imaging thrillers with high stakes and police chases, pause and take a yoga breath. The three novels in the series—A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, A Different Kind of Reunion—are cozy mysteries, written in the Agatha Christie tradition. All the crimes take place “off stage” with very few graphic details provided.
While the pace may be more relaxed than that of thrillers and police procedurals, there are no steaming cups of herbal teas, overstuffed chairs, or purring cats in these contemporary cozies. Prepare yourself for interfering relatives who don’t always respect boundaries, adult mean girls, deserving and undeserving men, multiple suspects, and lots of Italian food.
A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romances, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.