Ann Arbor, Michigan-based artist Cathy Gendron has drawn the covers for all of Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries (see page 21). <strong>American</strong> commissioned Gendron’s illustration of Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini, the writing team behind the series.
BY AMY BURROUGHS BIG APPLE BLEND WITH NEARLY 1 MILLION BOOKS IN PRINT, THE HUSBAND-AND-WIFE WRITING TEAM OF MARC CERASINI AND ALICE ALFONSI, WASHINGTON SEMESTER ’83, KEEPS READERS BUZZING WITH TALES OF MURDER AND MOCHAS IN NEW YORK CITY. ILLUSTRATION BY CATHY GENDRON Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini are skilled at plotting murders, robberies, and hit-and-runs. They know about New York City treasures that some natives don’t even know about, like Socrates Sculpture Park and the rooftop gardens at Rockefeller Center. And they are coffee connoisseurs, with expert knowledge of the common bean and discriminating palates to rival any wine aficionado. Cerasini and Alfonsi, a husband-and-wife writing team, connect each of those threads in their best-selling Coffeehouse Mystery series. (Their pen name, Cleo Coyle, was inspired in part by their cat, Cleocatra.) Published by Penguin, the series launched in 2003 with On What Grounds. Their 14th book, Once upon a Grind, hit shelves in December. By the time they started the series, Alfonsi—a 1983 alum of AU’s Washington Semester Program—and Cerasini had more than 20 years of experience writing and editing books, essays, magazines, and media tie-ins, such as novels based on Fox’s television show 24. Alfonsi spent her Washington, DC, semester taking journalism classes at AU and interning at the Federal Times, before graduating from Carnegie Mellon. The Washington Semester Program, established in 1947, brings undergraduates worldwide to study at AU and complete an internship. Alfonsi moved to the Big Apple in 1984, launching her career as a cub reporter for the New York Times. Cerasini landed in New York in 1979. She and Cerasini didn’t know each other in those early years—they both worked in publishing, which is how they eventually met—but they shared common roots in working-class neighborhoods near Pittsburgh, a love of literature, and a dream of writing careers in the big city. They married in 2000 and have been writing together almost as long. When they decided to create their own mystery series, an amateur sleuth managing a New York City coffee shop piqued their interest from the start. The City On a frigid January day, Alfonsi and Cerasini are having lunch at The Cuckoo’s Nest, one of many Irish pubs in their Queens neighborhood. With burnished wood floors, red club chairs, and a wooden bar that runs the length of the restaurant, it’s a warm respite from the sharp wind. The Nest is also one block from the subway station for the Number 7 train, which appears in their book A Brew to a Kill. New York plays a huge role in the authors’ creative process: locations suggest a storyline, a cabbie becomes a character, real-life incidents plant the seed of a plot. “That butcher shop across the street— people come from all over the city to go there,” Cerasini says. “I’ll get a good meal and a story at a place like that.” The couple moved to the city long before former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s reforms in the 1990s, which cut crime and improved quality of life. They remember a plague of drugs and violence. Early on, when Cerasini lived in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, “They found a corpse down the road by the end of my block—a Mafia corpse.” Alfonsi remembers graffiti, drug dealers, shootings, and smashand-grabs where criminals stole radios out of parked cars. Despite all that, they loved the city. “There’s a lot of energy from the people,” Alfonsi says. “As writers, it fuels us. You just get in a cab and talk to the cab driver. We don’t tell people we’re writers; we just engage people in conversation and we hear stories.” FOLLOW US @AU_AMERICANMAG 19