Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pro-File: P.J. Parrrish

I've been pushing P.J. Parrrish novels for three years now, ever since I read one and then quickly went through the others. These are fine mysteries with real gravitas. Pro-File::

Who is PJ?

P J. Parrish is actually two sisters –- Kristy Montee and Kelly Montee -– who decided to pool their life-long loves of writing by teaming up in 1995 to create the character of Louis Kincaid. Their collaboration is unique in that the sisters live in separate states (Kelly in Mississippi, Kristy in Florida) -– which means hefty phone bills and a reliance on America OnLine. The sisters were born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, each going their separate ways in college.

Kristy graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a teaching degree but went on to journalism, first as a police reporter and features editor for the Southfield and Birmingham Eccentric newspapers chain in suburban Detroit. After moving to South Florida in 1973, she served as reporter, editor and finally assistant managing editor for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Drawing on a childhood love of ballet, she also served as the Sun-Sentinel’s dance critic for 18 years before leaving journalism in 1985 to write fulltime. She now lives in Fort Lauderdale with her husband, Daniel, who is a deputy managing editor with the Sentinel, and their seven cats. When not writing, Kristy keeps her hands busy trying to tame her jungle garden and her right brain busy by learning to play the piano.

After college at Northern Michigan University in the state’s remote upper peninsula, Kelly moved to Arizona and later settled in Laughlin, Nevada. She has worked in the gaming industry for the last 15 years -– doing everything from tending bar to dealing blackjack. Several years ago, she moved to Philadelphia, Miss., where she became a manager in the human relations department of a Native-American casino. Recently, she relocated to the north of the state, just outside of Memphis. She has two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren. Louis Kincaid was born of Kelly’s experiences in Mississippi and of her love of northern Michigan -— where she plans to retire someday.

The interview:

1. Tell us about your current novel.

An Unquiet Grave (released February 2006) is the seventh in our Louis Kincaid series about our biracial cop-cum-PI and it is a hybrid thriller-procedural. And while it retains our usual hardboiled style, it has a backstory that comes as close to a love story as we dare tread. It's a deeply personal book for us because it was inspired by a place we knew growing up: an old Victorian insane asylum, the kind of place that fuels campfire stories and kid's nightmares. Louis receives a call from his foster father Phillip asking for his help. Phillip has been tending the grave of a youthful love, Claudia, who died decades ago at the mental institution where she was a patient. But as the asylum is being torn down and its cemetery relocated, it is discovered that Claudia's coffin is filled with rocks. Louis's search for her remains crosses the path of a journalist pursuing rumors that a long-dead serial killer, once housed at the asylum, is alive and killing again. Louis's investigation leads him deep into the secrets of two families, the crumbling asylum and his own fears about mental illness.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

We have just signed a three-book deal with Pocket Books and are very excited because they have asked us to not only continue our Louis Kincaid franchise but to also write a new series
featuring a female protagonist. We are spinning off a character from our 2005 Kincaid book
"A Killing Rain," a Miami homicide detective named Joe Frye, whom Louis became romantically involved with. Her series will find her leaving Miami to become a police chief in a small Michigan town. The plan is to perhaps alternate books and then have Louis and Joe work a case together.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

That's easy. Some authors claim they write only for the pure pleasure of writing, that finding commercial success is not important. But commercial success in our genre means you've connected with a large audience. Connecting is the pleasure of knowing that something you created from the ether of your imagination and the sweat of your faith has resonated with someone else. It's the best high on earth.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

The vagaries and cruelties of the business that mean so many great storytellers don't get the patience from their publishers they need to build an audience. Publishers are too quick to pull the plug today. As a consequence, most writers work in constant terror or become contortionists trying to fit themselves into the mold of whatever is "hot."

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Quit overprinting bad books. It hurts all of us.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Hmmm...gotta get back to you on that one. I am not as well read as I should be.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

We rewrote it ten times at our agent's request before she would send it out. Everyone in New York turned it down. Except one editor, John Scognamilio at Kensington Books. But that is all you need -- one person who takes a chance on you. Even though it had the typical freshman mistakes, he saw something in our work and gave us our start. What we didn't realize then, though, was that it just gets harder and harder. To paraphrase from "Alice in Wonderland": In this country, it takes all the running you can do just to stay in place.




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