Wednesday, November 1, 2023

An Interview With Cathy Wiley

by Grace Topping


It takes real talent to be able to write both novels and short stories. Writing short is harder than it sounds. Cathy Wiley is skilled at doing both and was kind enough to tell me about both worlds. After several years of writing short stories, she launched her latest novel, Claws of Death. 



Claws of Death (Fatal Food Festival Mysteries Book 1)

Join Jackie Norwood, a down-and-out celebrity chef, as she judges the first gig on her comeback quest—a Texas Crab Festival cooking contest.

This new venture takes an unexpected twist when she discovers that her archnemesis, Heather Curtis, is her co-judge. As if that weren’t enough to stir the pot, one of the competitors is Chef Benjy Hayes, Jackie’s long-lost ex-boyfriend.

Disaster strikes as Heather takes a fatal taste of Benjy’s dish. Determined to clear Benjy's name—and her own—Jackie relies on her wits and the unique skills of her friends and family. The kitchen timer is ticking as Jackie races to bring the killer to justice before her own goose is cooked.   



Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Cathy.


You’ve made quite a reputation for yourself as a short story writer, including being a finalist for the Derringer Award. Prior to that, you wrote the Cassandra Ellis mystery series. After a long break from writing novels, what made you return to novel-length mysteries?


While I love to write and read short stories, I’m a novel writer at heart. However, for the past decade, I’ve struggled to find the time to write a novel. I’ve had the idea for this series for years, and have written three short stories featuring this main character, but wanted to return to writing a novel series. So I dedicated myself to finding more time to write.


You share a background with your Cassandra Ellis character, a writer. Jackie Norwood is a celebrity chef. What inspired you to make Jackie a chef? 


I am not a chef (nor a celebrity) but I have been a foodie since right after I left college. My roommate at the time introduced me to many different cuisines, and we loved trying new restaurants and attempting to cook our favorite foods. I’ve also always loved cooking shows. Julia Child was my gateway drug to all the shows on PBS, the Cooking Channel, and Food Network. When I came up with the concept of having the murders at various food festivals across the country, I thought a chef would be a fun amateur sleuth.


Do you have experience as a gourmet cook, and if not, what was the research like to learn so much about fine dining?


I have not worked directly in a kitchen; however, I was an HR Manager at a hotel that had a fine dining establishment. So I was chef-adjacent—I hired (and sadly, fired) staff, worked on job descriptions, and was heavily involved with performance reviews.


I also watched Food Network shows (it’s the only channel that is on in our house, other than during football season). I also read a number of chef memoirs, like Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, and spoke to a few chefs that I knew. I also visited a variety of restaurants owned by celebrity chefs. Yes, I suffered for my research.


Writers are encouraged to give their main characters a flaw. Please tell us about Jackie’s flaw and what accounted for her becoming a down-and-out celebrity chef?


At the start of the series, Jackie is newly sober after a third attempt at rehab. This is, sadly, a common problem in the restaurant industry. Alcoholism and drug abuse seem to go hand-in-hand with the long hours and fast pace that come from working in a kitchen or restaurant. I also have a personal connection to this issue. My father was a recovering alcoholic for twenty-seven years before he died. I’ve always admired him for his willpower to give up alcohol. 


Jackie has resorted to being a judge at a Texas food festival. Are you familiar with food festivals? What research did you do to become familiar with them?


My husband and I love to travel and we love to eat. Food festivals are a perfect fit! After we attended our first—a Dungeness Crab festival in Washington state—I came up with the story concept. We’ve since gone to a lobster festival in Maine, a BBQ festival in Tennessee, ramp onion festivals in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and we just returned from the Mushroom Festival in Pennsylvania. Up next is a pickle festival!


One of your characters is a young woman on the autism spectrum. Please tell us about her abilities and how they helped Jackie investigate a rival’s murder.


While working on the series concept, I was listening to a podcast that featured Becca Puglisi, one of the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. This book gives suggestions for descriptions of emotional cues so that authors can vary their wording. This is a great resource for authors. But Becca said that she has heard of those who struggle with reading body language, for example, someone with autism, using the book to learn how to recognize various emotions. 


I thought that having someone who was now observant and knowledgeable at reading people’s body language would be a great resource in a murder mystery. Since I also have a number of family and friends in my life who have autism or have family members with autism, I wanted to give them representation in my stories. 


Early in your writing career, you decided to indie publish. What was it about that experience that convinced you to continue indie publishing?


With my first two books, I went with a small publisher that was incredibly small. One person small. She was a talented cover designer, author, and editor. But she didn’t do marketing. Since my major in college was journalism with a focus on advertising, I joined the company to help her with her books, my books, and a few other authors we published. 


However, a new job ended up taking all my time, and that’s when I turned to writing short stories.  Those were traditionally published and were a great experience, but would always take so long to come out. I’d write a story, have it accepted…and wait two years to see it come to light. Since I already had the contacts and experience of working with cover artists, editors, and formatters via my first publishing company, I decided to speed up my publishing experience. Especially since, when I do dedicate myself to writing, I can write faster than one book a year.


Your short stories have appeared in a number of well-received anthologies. What advice would you give authors who are interested in submitting to an anthology?


Anthologies are a perfect place to start writing because most of them give some type of writing prompt or theme. This gives a new writer a place to start the creative process. They also give authors the chance to share a publication with other new authors, and often, experienced and well-known authors they can learn from. 

Anthologies are also fantastic for readers since they give the readers the opportunity to find new authors without investing a large chunk of time. I love anthologies, can you tell? My advice to authors would be to understand that rejection is part of the process. I’ve submitted way more stories than I’ve had published. Don’t get discouraged. 


What’s next for Jackie Norwood and for you?


Coming up next is the second novel, Mushroom Capped, which takes place at a mushroom festival in a fictional town in Maryland. (I never use the actual towns or festivals, since I figure they wouldn’t appreciate my setting a murder at their event. Bad for business.)


The release date for that is November 29th, which also happens to be my birthday. 


What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned since you started writing?


To be a writer, all you need to do is write. But that means you need to write. Coming up with stories in your head is great, but it’s not the same as actually writing things down. So like voting in Chicago, write early and write often. 


Thank you, Cathy. 


To learn more about Cathy Wiley and her books, visit

Grace Topping is the author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series.


  1. Cathy, congratulations on your new book!

    1. Thanks, Heather! It's been a long time coming! :)

  2. Congratulations on the new release, Cathy!

  3. Best of luck with your new release, Cathy. I hope you and it both prosper.

  4. I love Cathy's stories! I'm looking forward to the new release.

  5. Thanks, Cathy, for joining us today at Writers Who Kill. Congratulations on your two releases.
    Grace Topping

  6. Oooh! New books for my TBR pile. Great interview!

  7. Another great interview, Grace. Cathy, welcome to WWK and congratulation on the new books!

  8. Claws of Death is great. Very much looking forward to the next one.

  9. Excellent interview. Kudos to Cathy and Grace! You'll have a unique party this month, Cathy, celebrating your own and your new book's birthday. I'm looking forward to seeing you at the Sisters in Crime book extravaganza on Saturday.

    1. Thanks, MaryAnn! I look forward to seeing you as well.

  10. Terrific interview, ladies! I can't wait to read Cathy's new book. Shari

  11. Fabulous interview and a happy birthday a bit early! I'm looking forward to reading Mushroom Capped - great title.

  12. Really fun interview, Cathy. Congrats on the new book, and I look forward to Mushroom Capped.

  13. Enjoyed the interview! I love learning what inspired plots for writers.