Have you been wanting to know more about the Callie’s Kitchen Mysteries? Maybe you want some details about the author behind the stories (me). 🙂 Well, here you go! Earlier this week, I was part of an author chat with Jerri Cachero, one of the administrators of a cozy mystery Facebook group. Jerri asked me about SECRETS AND PIES, my latest Callie’s Kitchen Mystery, as well as general series questions and some questions about me and my writing/personal life. Jerri’s excellent questions and my answers are below. And speaking of Facebook groups, I have a new one to share with you: Cozy Mystery Crew! Click here to join the group. I’ll have more news on that fabulous new group as the month unfolds. Mark your calendars for our Facebook launch party on May 4th. More info on that to come!
Now, on to the interview:
Q. It’s always interesting to learn what our favorite authors do when they’re not writing. Tell us a little about yourself.
A. I live in Illinois, just outside of Chicago and have been married to my wonderful husband, Jim, for almost 21 years. We have two beautiful daughters – the oldest is headed to college next fall. A lot of my time is devoted to them and their activities – they are both into theater and music and are great students.. I love antique stores, reading, finding new restaurants, British mystery shows (and The Great British Bake-Off. You’ll also find me in baking supply stores looking for the latest in Nordic Ware pans – I have a collection.
Q. Calliope “Callie” Costas is a confident, hard-working restaurateur who owns a Mediterranean-Midwestern restaurant, is a loving single mom to 10 year old Olivia and an amateur sleuth. Who was your inspiration for Callie?
A. The Greek-American aspect of Callie was definitely inspired by my husband, who, like Callie, is half-Greek. I learned so much about the Greek culture from him and I thought it would be fun to create a heroine from the same ethnicity. But, since my husband’s family is rooted in the Midwest, I was fascinated by the way that people take their culture and express it in a certain locale. Callie has a strong affinity to her Greek heritage, but she is a Midwesterner, through and through. She deals with the bad weather, makes the best of things and is down to earth.
Q. Callie has a decent, but sometimes strained, relationship with her ex-husband, Hugh. I like the way the characters interact – it’s very realistic. Why did you decide to have Hugh and his new wife, Raine, involved in this mystery and the series?
A. I really wanted to create real characters with real problems. I come from a divorced family and the question of dealing with break ups and loss is one that many people deal with. I didn’t want her to have a fully adversarial relationship with either her ex-husband or his new wife, because I didn’t want cartoonish “villains” that are easy to hate. Callie accepts the situation with her ex, even if she doesn’t always like it. I thought that exploring the real-world tensions and issues between these flawed but basically decent people would create realistic and relatable issues for them to confront, as well as intriguing plot points. Also, I think Raine’s personality creates a lot of potential for humor, even though she doesn’t always intend to.
Q. The characters come alive in your books! Where did you get the inspiration for Callie’s father George, Sweetie a beloved Aunt that has been in previous books but is now back in Greece and Callie’s maternal grandmother – the lovely Viv? I loved the scenes where George is “helping” in the restaurant!
A. George is kind of the father that I think everyone wants. I was partly inspired by my father in law, who by the way was not in the restaurant business – he’s a retired psychiatrist (along with my mother in law!) But he’s a strong family guy with a great sense of humor and lots of love for his family. Sweetie is a combination of many people, but my husband’s grandmother, or yiayia, gave me a lot of inspiration for her. YiaYia was strong, smart lady who said exactly what she thought. And she was a legendary cook! Also his Aunt Beth (who is not from Greece, she was born here). Grandma Viv is another character I love to write about. She is inspired by my own maternal grandmother who helped to raise me. We lost her many years ago, but I think she’d love Viv. Like Viv, she was a straight talker, loving and funny with a great gift of gab.
Q. Okay, I have to ask – will we see wedding bells in the future for Ian Sands, the local police detective, and Callie?
A. LOL! Guess what: may see wedding bells for several people. Let’s just say Callie and Sands have both been hurt in the past, so while they have a strong relationship, they are not jumping into anything. That said, I think they are headed in a good direction. Let’s leave it that, at least for now. 🙂
Q. The book takes place in the town of Crystal Bay, Wisconsin during the annual Greek-American Festival and at a murder mystery dinner theater performance. What type of research did you do for this book and is there a “real” Crystal Bay?
A. The research for this book was a blast. I’ve been to many Greek Festivals and my husband has worked them. I also had family members chime in on Greek fest “drama.” There is a “real” Crystal Bay, or at least, a very similar place: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. This waterfront town is not too far from Chicago and it gets a lot of tourism. I love it for the history and natural beauty – there is a lot to work with in terms of a mystery. The murder mystery night is taken straight from an event in Lake Geneva that is often held at one of the historical homes that’s been turned into a hotel.
Q. Max, Callie’s right hand person in running the restaurant, has a hard choice to make – working in his family’s farming business or staying at the restaurant. Why did you decide to include the struggle and resolution in the book?
A. Max is a character that I get a lot of positive feedback about. I posed the following question to readers while I was writing SECRETS AND PIES – who do you want to see more of/learn about?
The resounding answer was Max. Which was great, because he is one of my favorites, too. I wanted to give Max the very real problem of being faced with family obligation vs. what is right for him at this point in his life. The thought of him leaving ratchets up the stakes for Callie. It also gave me the opportunity to introduce a new character, Josh.
Now for a few personal questions…
Q. What is your favorite thing about being an author?
A. Losing myself in creating the story is so rewarding.When I feel like I’ve really nailed it, it’s such a great feeling of accomplishment! Also, interacting with readers and hearing that they love the books is just the best thing ever! Least favorite? The last-minute editing right before a release is super-stressful because that’s when the doubts come at exactly the time I want everything to be perfect.
Q. How long have you been writing?
A. I can honestly say I’ve been writing stories since I could write. I’ve always loved it. I worked in various writing capacities before turning to fiction, such as a catalog copywriter, advertising/Web content writer and professional blogger. What influenced you to write mysteries? I absolutely love mysteries and always have, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown and The Bobbsey Twins. Cozy mysteries are so much fun, I had to try and write one and I’m so glad that I did.
Q. What type of books do you enjoy reading?
A. I do love mysteries, but I read everything from thrillers to contemporary fiction, to non-fiction. The Tudor times and the 1920s are two of my favorite eras to read about. Favorite authors? I have too many favorite authors to count but here are a few: Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Caroline Graham (author of Midsomer Murders books), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Leslie Meier and Dianne Mott Davidson. Newer cozy authors I love are Linda Reilly and Lorraine Barrett. But literally, the list could be several pages long.
Back to the book…
Q. Do you have a favorite character in the series? Who and Why? OK, besides Callie, I’d have to say George. I just love writing scenes with him. Things always flow when George is talking.
A. What’s your favorite Greek dish to make? I love to make spanakopita (spinach-feta pie) and paxemathia, which are basically a Greek biscotti.
Q. Reading the series always makes me hungry! You have delicious recipes in the back of your books. Do you enjoy cooking? Are the recipes, in the books, family recipes? I’m so happy you enjoy the recipes.
A. I have to say that when I hear that readers have made my recipes in their own kitchens, it just makes my day! I love to cook and bake and several of the recipes in the books originate from family recipes, either ones I’ve created or from my husband’s family. I have a 1950s Greek church cookbook that my husband’s grandmother contributed to, and it an endless source of inspiration. I appropriated a recipe from my husband’s Aunt Beth that showed up as Sweetie’s Spinach Squares in SPICED AND ICED. (P.S. I did give her credit in the book! 😊)
Q. Can you give us a hint as to what’s in store for Callie?
A. In my next book, A STEW TO A KILL, it’s a beautiful Midwest October in Crystal Bay and Callie is involved in a Halloween Walk for the downtown business association, and a food pantry benefit that culminates at a Costume Ball. Of course, there are obstacles! We will get to meet or become reacquainted with several of her fellow business owners, (like Christi, from Tea for Two), plus someone from Callie’s past shows up. Will we be seeing the delightful Sweetie again? Oh yes, I am bringing her back eventually. I have something in mind that will require her presence physically in a future book. In the meantime, she just may show up in a Skype session with Callie and George! I’m so thrilled that people enjoy Sweetie – I’ve had several requests for her to return.
Q. Do you plan on writing another series?
A. After I finish up with my latest Callie mystery, I’m settling in to complete the first in a new series idea that I have. I’m about 6 chapters in to this one, but I’m putting it aside until I complete Callie Book 4. My new book features a retired school teacher/librarian with a sharp wit and tongue to match, who finds herself at the center of a crisis when a mystery TV show fan convention she’s helping to organize goes awry. The characters are colorful, and the mystery is a lot of fun. Working title is The Middleton Murder Society.
As always, I love hearing from readers! Have you made one of my recipes? Take a picture of it! Or, have you brought my Callie’s Kitchen Mysteries on vacation, to the park or just around town? Capture it in a photo. I have a fun giveaway idea planned, and your photo (posted on social media) is your entry!
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Until next time,