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Between the Pages
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Mystery author Dennis Collins gets you the who, what, where and why as he grills some of the latest, popular mystery writers. He also discusses writing mysteries.


An Interview with P.J. Parrish

     Writing mystery novels is a challenge in and of itself. When you write as a team, things get more complicated. When you’re siblings, it can get worse. If you live in two different parts of the country… Well, forget it, it’s not even possible.

     Now comes along two high energy sisters, one living in Florida and the other in Mississippi to prove wrong, all of the above. And to top it off, they write from a male perspective. 

     Kristy and Kelly Montee, better known to mystery fans as P.J. Parrish are on a fast track to becoming a household name. All of their books have met with positive critical acclaim and rightfully so. Their work is rock solid and hard-hitting. No cozies for these two gals.

     Here is a quick rundown on some of their thoughts and comments:

DC: Your situation is quite unusual because you write as a team from two widely separated locations. What is the biggest downside to that arrangement?

PJ: Time management for sure. It’s hard enough for most writers to discipline themselves to stick to a schedule. Think how it must be for two very busy people. We are constantly fighting time to get together- if only on the phone. The second biggest drawback is the lack of time we are able to get together to brainstorm. When we are together, the ideas flow more easily and we tend to get carried away with the plot, character layers and new ideas are always popping up, even in the middle of dinner. It’s a very inspirational and exciting way to work.


DC: Does the fact that you’re sisters bring any special problems?

PJ: Not at all. We are blessed with the same vision for our stories in terms of what we think works, what characters should be like and how the plot evolves. That may be hereditary, but if so, we’re lucky.


DC: Do you outline your stories? If so, is it a team effort?

PJ: Yes, we outline to a point. In the early books, the requirement was 20 plus pages, but that is difficult since so many ideas are generated during the writing process and you stray from the original, running the risk it may not be accepted. Currently, for our publisher, we are required to submit a 3-4 page outline, which is pretty easy for us to do. We work by laying out a template of several chapters ahead, jotting down what happens in the next chapter, then the next. When we finish those few chapters, we lay out the next 3 or 4.


DC: Have both of you always been writers?

PJ: Kris has a journalism background and Kelly is simply obsessed. It seems to work for us.


DC: How do you divide the duties and still keep a harmonious flow going?

PJ: We still tend to each lean toward certain characters and certain scenes, depending on the personality of the character and the tone of the chapter. In the early days, one had all the action and one took the emotional or quiet scenes. Now we’ve blended quite well and we have been told by many readers and reviewers that our books are seamless in terms of being able to tell who penned what.


DC: How long did it take to get your first book published?

PJ: It took 18 months and 10 rewrites to get to the point where it was being offered. Our agent sold it to Kensington very quickly. We were very fortunate.


DC: How many books have you had published and what are the plans for the future?

PJ: We have four available: Dark of the Moon, Dead of Winter, Paint it Black, and Thicker than Water. Our next, Island of Bones should be released in January of 2004. As for the future we hope to keep Louis alive as long as people want to keep reading about his adventures. Since we age him slowly in the books (starting in 1983 when he was 24) we hope he lives long enough to supplement his meager PI income with Social Security.


DC: A couple of your books have enjoyed some significant success. Want to tell us about it?

PJ: In February of 2001, we were excited to learn that Dead of Winter had been nominated for an Edgar Award. In the fall, Dead of Winter was also on the ballot for an Anthony Award, given during the mystery convention, Bouchercon. Paint it Black debuted on the New York Times extended list, as well as USA Today bestseller list. We have recently learned that Paint it Black is up for an Anthony and a Shamus award this fall. (Shamus Awards are presented by the Private Eye Writers of America.)


DC: Is there a particular writer who influenced your style or otherwise inspired you?

PJ: We feel that over time – especially the early years – authors are influenced by many different writers, combining their efforts into a style of their own. We enjoy many different writers now. Kris has recently finished Dennis Lahane’s Shutter Island and enjoyed it immensely. Kelly enjoys John Sanford and Steve Hamilton.


DC: Where did Louis Kincaid come from? Is he patterned after someone?

PJ: In general, Louis was born of Kelly’s experiences with her biracial grandchildren, but he’s not really patterned after anyone. We created him young with the purpose being able to mature him over time, adding layers to him as he evolves. Many of our readers write and ask us about the father that abandoned him, his estranged siblings, his adopted cat and of course, his interest in the female attorney we introduced in Thicker than Water.


DC: Do you have any advice for the aspiring writer?

PJ: First of all, write toward your goal at every opportunity and don’t give up. But more importantly, either before or during that process, do your homework. Read the type of book you want to write and digest every element of what makes that book or author successful or enjoyable. For aspiring writers with little or no writing background, don’t waste time typing away in the dark. Invest first in some basic books on structure, dialogue, plotting and anything else you can get your hands on. Learn the common beginner mistakes so you can avoid them. Treat your writing as a profession, not a hobby. Most people seek out training, management books, conferences, business publications and even mentors for their day job so they can improve their marketability, get a raise or be promoted. But the same doesn’t seem to hold true of some writers. It seems a common mistake to think that writing a mystery is a natural talent that requires little or no previous experience to be successful.

Thicker Than Water
By P.J. Parrish
Pinnacle Books - January, 2003
ISBN: 0786014202 - Paperback

Buy a copy

Reviewed by: Dennis Collins,

     Louis Kincaid returns for this fourth book in the series. His life is still in flux as he bides his time as a private investigator. He seems to grow in each episode. I have no idea how many novels are planned in this series but I’m sure that I will read them all.

     Jack Cade has just been released from prison after serving twenty years for a rape and murder when the attorney who represented him long ago is found shot to death. Jack is charged with the killing and his son hires Louis Kincaid to help establish his father’s innocence. Susan Outlaw, the public defender, resents the intrusion of Kincaid and they get off to a rough start.

     An old nemesis of Kincaid’s, Sheriff Mobely, also threatens to hamper the investigation but then seems to experience a metamorphic shift and becomes a solid ally.

     The cast of characters in this story is made up of a mixture of new faces as well as some holdovers from earlier Louis Kincaid adventures. It’s a blend that works well: a complicated plot with a lot of strange twists and turns. Surprises come at the reader from all directions, but the author has skillfully put the story together in logical progression and the plot line is easy to follow. Author P.J. Parrish has provided another winner.

     P.J. Parrish, with only four titles in print, has already been nominated for an Edgar, one of mystery writing’s top awards and has made the New York Times Best Seller list. Seems as if I’m not the only one who’s noticed the talent.

2003 Past Columns

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