Jenny Kales is the author of the Callie’s Kitchen Mysteries, focusing on the adventures of Greek-American business owner and amateur sleuth, Calliope “Calllie” Costas. Her latest release is a boxed set featuring the first three books in the series, and the 4th in the series, A Stew to Kill, comes out October 9. Jenny is an avid reader, cook and baker and she’s addicted to mystery TV, especially anything on Masterpiece Mystery or BBC America. She lives just outside of Chicago with her husband, two daughters and one cute but demanding Yorkshire terrier and is hard at work on additional writing projects.
How did you get started writing fiction? Tell us about your first book.
I’ve always dabbled in fiction but I didn’t seriously start writing a cozy mystery until a few years ago. My first book came from wanting to explore some areas of the genre that I felt were mostly unexplored. That’s why I chose Wisconsin as the setting and for the main character to be a Greek American. There is a significant Greek culture in the Midwest that never really gets talked about and I thought it would be fun to position my mystery from this point of view. The first book in my series introduces you to my main character, Callie Costas, and you immediately get a sense of her life, her problems and the setting that she lives in.
What draws you to mystery, specifically cozy mystery, as a genre?
I have always loved to read mysteries and to watch mysteries on TV and in movies. I like the tidy aspect of a cozy mystery: The world is set to rights at the end and you know that going in. I read and watch all sorts of things and I’ve noticed everything is getting more violent, shocking and graphic. Cozy mysteries provide you with a murder, true, but justice is served at the end and a sense of community is normally involved in solving the mystery. I find that uplifting, despite the involvement of the murder. I also love cozies for the recurring characters and getting to know them as friends.
You write culinary mysteries centered around a Greek restaurant. I’ve noticed an insurgence of culinary mysteries in recent years. To what do you think the success of this genre can be attributed?
Food is often used as a symbol for friendship and love, so when you combine that idea with the darker aspects of a murder mystery, I think it’s intriguing to many people. Plus, the overall popular culture has been obsessed with food and food shows for many years. It’s only gotten bigger. Combine a passion for cooking and good food with the popular mystery genre and you have a winning combination!
You were a corporate communications marketing writer for years. Has that helped you market your books as an indie writer?
Yes, absolutely! I have used all of my copywriting and networking skills in this venture. Indie publishing is like running a small business and you always have to be thinking about the marketing end of things. My past experience gave me confidence, too, because I was already reaching out to readers, etc, through my work writing for magazines and websites, plus blogging.
There are a few but you’re right: not a lot of people think Wisconsin when they think cozy mystery. I attended college at University of Wisconsin, plus I have visited the Geneva Lakes region of the state my whole life. I’ve always loved Wisconsin for the natural beauty and charming small towns. On a trip to the Geneva Lakes about 5 years ago, I thought it was the perfect spot to stage a cozy mystery. It’s a scenic small community with a tourist trade and lots of business and industry to spark mysteries. It also has plenty of historical interest. I didn’t want to have to stick to it completely, so I invented “Crystal Bay.”
The reviews of your books tend to focus on the relatability of your well- rounded characters. How do you develop your characters?
I’m so happy when people tell me my characters are relatable because I want readers to be able to put themselves in my characters’ shoes. I try to create characters who are interesting, but yet, they are living regular lives and dealing with regular problems. The murder shakes up their routine, but they still have to make a living, take care of children, deal with their personal problems, etc. I envision characters that you will recognize and maybe even want to know (well, maybe not the killers!) Sometimes characters come to me out of the blue and other times they are a mix of people I know. They all speak to me in their own ways.
Your fourth book, A Stew to Kill, is due out tomorrow. What can we expect next for Callie?
Callie has learned the value of being strong and independent throughout the arc of the books and A Stew to Kill finds herself feeling more confident as a business owner and boss, daughter and mother. Her challenge now is to learn to make herself vulnerable enough have fulfilling relationships, including with the hunky detective in her life. She also finds herself dealing with constant change and conflict with regard to being a business owner. In the new book, she is involved in a Halloween community event and helping raise funds for a food pantry, one extension of her passion to feed people and help others. When the murder happens, despite all of her personal growth, her loyalty to her friends, family and associates can make her impulsive, which can lead to trouble.
Your books contain Greek recipes. Where do you get your recipes? Are you a big cook yourself?
Yes, I love to cook and bake. It’s one of my hobbies. I also collect vintage cookbooks. I get my recipes everywhere. I create some, I get some from family (my husband is half Greek and comes from a long line of amazing cooks) and I am always looking to find new recipes to tweak and make my own.
You are a member of the Cozy Mystery Crew. What is that?
Cozy Mystery Crew is a Facebook page for our fans and readers created by fellow culinary cozy author Debra Sennefelder. We’re a group of 12 cozy mystery authors who love to interact with our readers. We each take turns hosting the page throughout the month and we also host online parties, giveaways and author chats on a regular basis. We’re at well over 1,000 page members and it’s a lot of fun. Here’s the link for anyone who’d like to join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1757692634274149/
What authors have inspired your writing career?
I have always had the greatest admiration for authors, ever since I was a young child. I’ll never forget reading Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh in one afternoon, and thinking “I want to do that.” As far as cozy mysteries go, I have been greatly inspired by Dianne Mott Davidson and Leslie Meier. I read a LOT and I love too many authors to list here, but I have to single out fellow (wonderful) cozy author Linda Reilly. She encouraged me at a crucial part of my development as a cozy mystery writer and I’ll always be grateful for that.
To preorder Jenny’s next book, A Stew to Kill, due out October 9, visit Amazon
To learn more about Jenny, visit the following sites: