by Grace Topping
During the past year, one of the things I’ve missed the most has been attending mystery conferences and running into friends like J. C. Kenny (aka Jim Cangany). I had the pleasure of meeting Jim at Malice Domestic, a conference of fans and writers of traditional mysteries, and learning about his mystery series, featuring Allie Cobb, a literary agent. Since then, I’ve been following each new book Jim releases, including his most recent one, A Deadly Discovery. Since an in-person Malice isn’t being held this year, I caught up with Jim online. It was a pleasure talking to him about his series.
A Deadly Discovery
Back Cover Copy
Certain she’s seen more than enough death for one lifetime, literary agent Allie Cobb is ready to close the book on her amateur sleuthing, even when she learns that an unidentified body has been unearthed in a local state park. But when a worn and haunted-looking woman shows up on her doorstep with a grim story about her young daughter’s disappearance twenty years ago—and the police confirm that the recently discovered body is hers—Allie can’t bear to turn the poor woman away.
Determined to uncover the truth about the young woman’s murder, Allie begins delving into the circumstances of her life and those she knew so many years before. And when she meets powerful resistance from those she questions—many of whom are now trusted leaders in her small, tight-knit community—she’s sure she’s on the right track. But as she narrows down the list of suspects, Allie realizes too late that a cold-blooded killer is dead-set on keeping the secrets of the past buried, and it will take all her wit and cunning to avoid becoming the second young woman to meet an untimely end . . .
Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Jim.
In your Allie Cobb Mystery Series, you’ve included interesting details about Allie’s job as a literary agent, including doing a happy dance when a client gets a book offer. Have you ever worked as an agent? If not, what was your best resource for information about the field?
I haven’t, and I tip my hat to all the hard-working agents out there. It’s a job I couldn’t do. I rely on two resources for information on agent life. First, is my wonderful agent Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. She and I have been working together since 2015. I’ve learned a lot from her simply by talking with her about what she does, as well as paying attention to how she interacts with other clients. Another source is my writer friend, C.H. Armstrong, who’s also a literary agent for The Purcell Agency. Knowing two literary agents has been a big help in writing about Allie’s “day job.”
After having a really bad experience in A Mysterious Mix Up, you would think Allie would be shy of getting involved in another case or would need some prodding. But in A Deadly Discovery, when she hears about the discovery of a body of someone who has been missing for twenty years, she readily agrees to get involved with the investigation. Why?
I think that, at the end of the day, Allie has a servant’s heart. Given the circumstances around the person who asks for her help, she simply couldn’t say no. Along that line, Allie experienced being bullied growing up, so she has a strong motivation to come to the aid of those who she sees as having been treated unjustly.
Over the course of the series, Allie has begun experiencing anxiety attacks. What has accounted for that? Besides seeing a counselor, how is she dealing with it?
Allie never intended to become a murder investigator. It was something that just happened. After a while, though, looking death in the eye from such a close distance has begun to wear on her psychologically. The anxiety attacks are a manifestation of that. At the end of A Mysterious Mix Up, she realized she needed help coping with what she’s gone through. Seeking professional counseling has done just that. She’s also been honest with friends and family about her challenges. She understands ignoring her mental health is a prescription for disaster.
Allie turns to use a punching bag. Does taking out her aggression on the bag helping her?
Absolutely! Working out with the bag helps her in a lot of ways. She’s a tiny woman and uses the workouts to keep her self-defense skills sharp. It also helps her maintain physical fitness. Walking and bike riding are great, but the bag gives her the chance to work on other muscle groups, especially in the upper body. Lastly, the endorphin release that comes with the workouts is a big help. She gets rid of the negative feelings and feels so much better afterward.
Allie often resorts to things like drinking chamomile tea to help her relax and using tea tree shampoo. Is she getting into natural products to help herself?
Her mom’s a physician, so Allie trusts traditional, science-based medicine. Shortly after moving back to Rushing Creek, she tried some natural products on a whim when she was having trouble sleeping and found they helped her. She doesn’t know if it’s a placebo effect, but she feels better using herbal teas and natural bath products, so she’s not going to question the results. Plus, she buys the products from a friend in town. She’s always happy to help a local business.
I read somewhere that authors use details from their own lives and experiences but start running out of personal material about book seven. Do you draw on your own life for your books? If so, are you running out of material?
My life’s pretty boring, so I ran out of that material a while back. LOL These days, I find myself drawing on the experiences of my family. For example, my wife is a genetic counselor. Her work in the genetics field gave me an idea that became the basis of the plot of A Deadly Discovery. My younger child is studying music education in college. I’m using his love of music in a new series I’m working on.
As a male writer with a female main character, do you ever hear from beta readers or fans that Allie wouldn’t say or do that, etc.?
You know, I don’t. I may have a reason for that. Before I got into mysteries, I published seven novels and one short story in the contemporary romance genre. One of the lessons I learned early on was the importance of taking the time to get inside of a female’s head and really get to know her as a whole person. I ask questions about what she likes to eat, what are her hobbies, what are the things that matter to her on an everyday level. Things like that. I hope the result of that effort comes across on the page.
Do you use sensitivity readers to ensure you get the female viewpoints or characteristics right?
I used to but haven’t in the past few years. I’d like to think that the lessons I learned over the years get put to use automatically, nowadays. When in doubt, I don’t hesitate to go to my wife for guidance, though.
Fans love Ursula or Ursi, Allie’s cat. She is unusual that she will walk attached to a leash. Have you had or seen a cat that will do that?
I’ve never seen it in person, but my wife did one time when she was in Boston on business. She was so excited, she took a picture and sent it to me. I tried to get my cat, Maria, to walk on a leash, but she had no interest in it. I watch a lot of cat videos and see
Allie follows music groups that someone in my age group probably wouldn’t be familiar with. Are you a fan of these groups, or are you just good at finding the music someone in Allie’s age group would listen to?
A little of both, actually. I love listening to music from young, up-and-coming artists. I joke with my kids, both of whom are fans of classic rock, that I heard those songs enough when I was growing up. I don’t need to hear them again. I also think it's important to be mindful of the fact that Allie’s in her early thirties. That’s young enough for her to be my daughter. I don’t think it would be realistic for her to listen to the same music her parents do.
Allie gets around on her bike. Why only a bike and not a car?
She spent almost a decade living in New York City and found she could get around fine using public transportation. By the time she moved back to Rushing Creek, she’d gotten used to life without a car and didn’t want the expense that comes with owning one. She’s happy to admit that Rushing Creek is so small, she can get around on two wheels most of the time. When she needs four wheels, her family is happy to lend her a car. She always fills the tank as a thank you.
With so many authors writing a number of series, have you given any thought to another series?
Yes. I’m actually just starting work on one. In the new series, the amateur sleuth works in a record store near a college campus. Book one in the series, currently titled Record Store Reckoning, is scheduled for release in March 2022. I’ll be leaning on my younger son heavily for help with this one.
What’s next for Allie and her friends?
I’m about ready to submit book five in the series to my editor. The idea for this one, tentatively called An Unsafe Solution, comes from real life. My wife’s brother lives in the country. He told us how one time he was driving home and almost hit a gun safe that someone had dumped in the middle of the road. Well, that got me to wondering why someone would do that. That scenario forms the basis for An Unsafe Solution, which should be out in January of next year.
Thank you, Jim. Sounds like we have a lot to look forward to from you.
To learn more about J. C. Kenney and links to his books, visit https://www.jckenney.com/