Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for January include: (1/5) Jennifer J. Chow, (1/12) Amy Pershing, (1/19) Heather Weidner, (1/26) Marilyn Levinson.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

An Interview With J. C. Kenney

by Grace Topping

Some people seem to have stereotypes in mind when they think of writers of different genres. Rough rugged men write westerns, little old ladies write cozy mysteries, and young gorgeous women write romances. Meeting writer J. C. Kenney, a male writer of romances and cozy mysteries, definitely dispels the stereotype of romance and cozy mystery writers. I had the pleasure of meeting J. C. Kenney, aka Jim Cangany, at Malice Domestic last spring, and was pleased when he agreed to tell me about his entry into the worlds of romance and cozy mystery writing. 

A Literal Mess
by J. C. Kenney
Book Jacket Copy

The first book in a new series featuring Allie Cobb brings the New York literary agent back to her Hoosier hometown where a mysterious death keeps everyone on spoiler alert . . .

Allie Cobb left home for the literary circles of Manhattan to make her name out from under the shadow of her legendary father. Now his death brings her and her rescue cat Ursula back to the southern Indiana town of Rushing Creek, population: 3,216. But a tragic new chapter hits the presses when the body of her father’s hard-drinking, #1 bestselling client is found under the historic town bridge. The local police suspect foul play and their prime candidate for murder is the author’s daughter—Allie’s longtime friend.

Determined to clear her bestie, Allie goes into fact-checking amateur detective mode while trying to ignore the usual rumormongers. Those with means, motive, and opportunity include the vic’s ex-wife, his rejected girlfriend, the mayor, and a rival agent trying to mooch clients. With a rugged genealogist distracting her and the imminent Fall Festival about to send tourists descending on their once-peaceful hamlet, Allie needs to stay alive long enough to get a read on a killer ready to close the book on a new victim: Allie . . .

Welcome, J. C., to Writers Who Kill.

What inspired you to write a mystery with a literary agent as your main character? 

J. C. Kenney
To begin with, I want to thank you, Grace, for having me today. I appreciate it. As to your question, I chose my main character’s career based on two criteria. First, I wanted her to be able to live wherever she wanted. Doing that would give me flexibility in choosing the story’s setting. In today’s wired world, agents live all over the place. For example, my agent lives in Virginia, while I have a friend whose agent lives in Chicago. Making Allie a literary agent gave me great flexibility to choose where she wanted to live. 

Second, there aren’t many characters in the cozy mystery genre who work as literary agents. I thought it would offer readers something unusual and hopefully give them a glimpse into the real world of a literary agent. 

The Allie Cobb mystery series is the second series you’ve written. Please tell us about your other series.

Under my real name, I wrote seven contemporary romance novels. The first series comprises three books and is called The North Star Trilogy. The second series, also a trilogy, is The Irving University Series. My final romance, Start Your Engines, is set in the world of IndyCar-style racing. 

Start Your Enginesis the only one that is currently available to purchase. I have the rights to the other six novels and may publish them sometime in the future.  

As a male writer in genres overwhelmingly written by women, what has been the reaction from agents, publishers, and readers?

In the majority of cases, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. I think if you show people you respect the genre in which you’re working, whether it’s romance or cozy mystery, and have done your homework, they’ll give you a chance. I’ve done those things. At the end of the day, you have to be able to tell good stories. That’s what agents, editors, and readers want.

You’ve done an excellent job writing using a female POV. What was your secret? 

Thank you very much for the compliment. I appreciate that. What I try to do is put myself in my main character’s shoes. I want to get to know her, figure out how she thinks. What does she like? What does she dislike? 

The key for me is to spend the time to get to know a character like Allie on an individual basis, so I know her as well I know someone in my family. Once I get inside of her like that, I’m able to see the world through her eyes, and hopefully write a convincing female protagonist. 

What advice would you give to male authors interested in writing romances and cozy mysteries?

First off, make sure you’re writing in those genres because you enjoy them. If you’re doing it to chase a trend or to make money, your work will lack the luster that only comes when one is writing with the fire that comes from the heart. 

Next, read in the genres. A lot. Doing so will help you become familiar with the main tropes, whether it’s friends-to-lovers in romance or a locked room in mystery. Another thing is to surround yourself with other writers in the genres. Follow them on social media, join a local writers’ group, and take advantage of opportunities to learn from them. Writers are giving people and want to help others. 

And one last suggestion: Be kind to others. 

Which do you find more challenging to write, romances or mysteries?

They each have their unique challenges. For me, mysteries are tougher when it comes to putting the story’s structure together. From the beginning, I need to know who committed the murder, how they did it, and why they did it. Then, I have to figure out who the other suspects are and make sure I have some convincing red herrings included. Because of all that, I have to do a ton of work before I write the first word of a new story.

Romance is a challenge from the emotional end of things. A romance is often more about the journey than the destination, so I have to make sure that journey’s believable and engaging, while also making sure the hero and heroine have fought for their happily ever after ending. It’s not easy, and those who can do it well, like Kristan Higgins, for example, are absolute rock stars.

In your Allie Cobb mystery series, Allie follows in her father’s footsteps and becomes a literary agent but in NYC and not in Indiana. Why didn’t she stay in town and join her father in his agency?

This is an issue I delve into more deeply in A Genuine Fix, book two of the series. Basically, Allie felt like she never fit in while she was growing up. Other than her bestie, Sloane, she didn’t have friends. She had neither her brother’s athletic ability, nor her sister’s homecoming queen looks, so she felt like she belonged more on The Island of Misfit Toys than among the people of Rushing Creek, Indiana. Because of this, she dreamt of leaving her hometown, and the bad memories that came with it, behind, and forging her own path in a place far away.

You’ve taken Allie Cobb to NYC for her job, but you bring her back home to Indiana to solve a crime. Why not place your story in NYC where she now lives?

I live in Indianapolis and wanted to set the Allie Cobb Mysteries in my home state. By having Allie live in New York City when the story opens, I was able to explore whether she truly could go home again. It had been over ten years since she left Rushing Creek. A lot of things had changed during that time, including Allie. By having Allie return to Rushing Creek as an “outsider,” I was able give her some additional challenges on top of trying to solve a murder. As if that wasn’t enough!

Living in Indiana, it’s only natural that you would be into motorsports and a fan of Indy and Formula 1 auto racing. You’ve written romances with that backdrop, but have you thought of basing a mystery series with a racing setting?

That would be really cool. Unfortunately for me, another author is currently doing just that. The Kate Reilly Mysteries by Tammy Kaehler involves a female racecar driver who also solves mysteries. The stories are wonderful, and I don’t want to become an unintentional copycat. Though, one should never say never!

Tell us about your path to publication. Was it a smooth path or a rocky one?

For me, it’s been more of a winding road than anything. I started writing seriously in August of 2011 when I got an idea about a cross-county adventure a young man and woman take together. I had no idea that story would turn out to be a contemporary romance. On June 13, 2013, that book was published by a small press. It seemed gut wrenchingly hard at the time, but looking back, I was unbelievably fortunate to land a contract and become a published author so quickly. 

The switch from romance to cozy mystery was a big change in direction. I hadn’t planned on the career shift, but when the opportunity arose, I went after it. So, I’ve gone from an adventure writer to a romance writer to a cozy mystery writer. Hopefully, I’ll be able to stick to the cozy path for a while!

You wrote your romances using your real name, Jim Cangany. Why the switch to J. C. Kenney for mysteries?

The different name symbolizes the new direction in my writing career. In a way, I’ve completely started over, so everything is fresh, including the author name. 

Now that you’ve had a few books published, what do you wish you could tell your younger self?

So many things, but above all, celebrate the accomplishments, even the small ones. There are very few overnight successes in publishing. For most writers, success is built on a foundation of hard work that’s been years in the making. Each page written, each manuscript completed, each book published is an accomplishment in and of itself. Let yourself enjoy them. The crazy ride that an author takes is much more fun that way.

What’s next for Allie Cobb?

Allie will return in July 2019 in A Genuine Fix. When the guy who stood her up the night of her senior prom is killed and dumped in a pile of mulch, Allie’s suddenly the prime suspect. Suddenly, it’s a race against the clock to clear her name before she’s the one who ends up behind bars.

Thank you, J. C. 

A Literal Mess was released on January 8, 2019. To learn more about J. C. Kenney, visit and Jim Cangany on Facebook.


Jim Jackson said...

Welcome to WWK, JC and congrats on your latest endeavor.

I remember being severely chastised years ago in a critique group when I wrote a short story from a woman's POV -- by another guy. He was first up as we went around a circle. I thought I had really screwed up until the women in the group said they had no problem with my characterization.

That experience taught me the importance of taking risks with characterization, but always making sure character feelings ran true.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

congratulations on your new release! I look forward to reading it.

Were you at Magna Cum Murder in October?

Kait said...

Congratulations on the newest release. I find this interview fascinating. Kudos on the books, and on the choice of genres.

J.C. Kenney said...

Thanks very much, Jim! To me, one of the best things about being a writer is getting to know a character so well, gender differences don't matter. Appreciate you stopping by!

Thank you, Margaret! I wasn't able to make to Magna Cum Murder this past October but hope to in the future. Since it's in my home town, no excuses for missing it, right? lol

I appreciate the kind words, Kait and am so pleased you enjoyed the interview, Have a great day!

Maria said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing. I found it interesting that you need to know the whodunit when you start. I'm the opposite. Even if I think I know, it has to change by the time I'm done. I'm kind of a seat of the pants writer when it comes to that and even when I plan things out, that plan ends up red herring!

Congrats on the launch and best of luck with the series!

Liz Flaherty said...

A great interview. I'm so happy for you and your new beginnings!

Warren Bull said...

I also frequently write from a woman's point of view. I'm glad to know how well you do it.

J.C. Kenney said...

At times I wish I could take your approach, Maria! It is quite fascinating the different ways authors put their stories together!

So glad you liked it, Liz! This writing gig sure can have a curvy path you know!?!

Thank you, Warren. That's very kind of you! I like to think it comes down to respecting our characters on an individual basis. Appreciate you stopping by to visit!

Marilyn Levinson said...

I enjoyed this interview very much. Jim, good luck with your new series and all future books! I think it's great that you write cozies. I just got reviewed by a fellow who likes to read my cozies, so why shouldn't men like to write them as well.

KM Rockwood said...

Fascinating! I love to hear about how authors are able to handle the point of view character, even when the character is very different from the author.

Lena Gregory said...

Great interview, Grace and Jim! Congratulations on the release, Jim. I can't wait to read it.

E. B. Davis said...

I just finished your book. Love the main character and the small-town setting. More, please!