Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Q&A with Matt Cost




Matt Cost is the author of the new mystery novel Velma Gone Awry. His many other books include I Am Cuba. A former history teacher and coach, he lives in Maine.


Q: What inspired you to write Velma Gone Awry, and how did you create your character 8 Ballo?


A: Velma Gone Awry is my 12th published book. I’ve written three historical novels and eight contemporary mysteries. I decided to put my two loves of histories and mysteries together to create a historical PI mystery set in Brooklyn during the 1920s.


This era of the Roaring ‘20s is possibly the most exciting period in all of history. It is an epoch filled with storied events, new creations in culture, and legendary figures. Prohibition. Speakeasies. Suffrage. Flappers. Jazz. Baseball.


Velma Gone Awry touches on all these things while weaving in immortal characters such as Dorothy Parker, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Bugsy Siegel, and Babe Ruth, to name just a few.


8 Ballo is the eighth child of Hungarian immigrants. His mother was so certain that he’d be a girl to balance out his four brothers and three sisters that she had picked the named Margit for him.


When he was born a boy, and his father was out to sea, she wrote down the numeral 8 on the birth record, marking that he was the eighth child, and meaning to change it later. She never did. 8 is a man woke long before his time, upset with the prejudices of the world as portrayed first by his father, then by too many others.


Q: As you mentioned, the novel includes various historical figures--what did you see as the right balance between history and fiction as you worked on the book?


A: I have written two historical fiction books that are almost entirely history. In both, At Every Hazard and I Am Cuba, I used a fictional character to shine a spotlight on people and events that are as accurate as historical research allows. In both cases I recreated dialogue and thoughts that I thought might have come from their mouth or filled their head, but took no more liberties than that.


In Love in a Time of Hate, I began to progress more toward the creative side of history. I retained many important figures of the time, but my plot and many of my main characters were fictional.


In Velma Gone Awry, the transformation swings even further, with all the main characters and the plot being works of fiction. These are cloaked around real people and events of the time, but the onus is more on the fictional component of the novel.

In other words, I think the balance between history and fiction is rarely the same for two books. It helps to state in a forward how much is true and how much is created.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read several books about the people and events of the 1920s and supplemented this with various other tidbits gleaned from the internet and elsewhere, but the true inspiration in research comes from a site called This is an archive of every newspaper ever printed in the US, and for just $75 a year you can have access to it.


I often dabbled into various newspapers when researching a particular piece, but one thing I did was that I read the Brooklyn Daily Eagle every morning for the year of 1923. I started with January 1, and after I read my local paper, I’d read the Eagle online.


This gave me the events, the politics, the gossip, the meetings, and best of all, advertisements. These were great in giving me brand names for radios, ice boxes, dresses, hats, typewriters, and so on, as well as their cost. An absolute must for anybody writing historical fiction in the US in the last 150 years.


There were many fascinating things in the research for Velma Gone Awry that intrigued and grabbed me, but not much that really surprised me. But in my research for the second in the series, City Gone Askew, due out April of 2024, I was truly shocked by my research into eugenics.


This science of weeding out undesirable genes through sterilizations had its roots in the US before being embraced by the Nazis, and hence, falling out of favor for the most part. It did continue into the 1980s, but was never so high-profile as it was in the 1920s.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Velma Gone Awry is meant to be a thrilling mystery that keeps the reader rapt within the pages. I hope that the reader can identify with 8 Ballo and his group of friends so that they in turn feel like compadres. On top of that, I hope that the reader takes away the richness of the Roaring ‘20s and the people and events that existed in that time. It was truly legendary.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have finished the first draft of City Gone Askew, book two in the Brooklyn 8 Ballo mystery series, and am now in the editing process. I have also begun writing a new thriller, The Not So Merry Adventures of Max Creed.


Soon, I will be doing final edits on two books that have been sent to the publisher and have release dates in August and December. Mainely Wicked is the fifth book in my Mainely Mystery series, and Pirate Trap is the fifth book in my Clay Wolfe Trap series. And of course, I am busy promoting and marketing Velma Gone Awry, due out April 12.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love to hear feedback from readers, be it good or bad, about my books. Writing is an ever-evolving craft that changes with the times, book by book, sometimes page by page, and that is the true beauty of a novel. Write on.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Matt Cost.

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