- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Nothing Stays Buried, written by the mother-daughter duo P.J. Tracy, puts the Monkeewrench gang of crime-solving programmers in rural Minnesota for a missing persons case that leads to more than a few bodies. It is also the last one co-written by P.J. Lambrecht, who passed away right before Christmas of last year. Her daughter Tracy, who will be joining Mark Pryor and James Ziskin, for our Scene Of The Crime discussion at BookPeople on August 26th at 6PM, talked to us about the book and how it was tied to her mother.
MysteryPeople Scott: Nothing Stays Buried is an odd book in the sense it has at least three kinds of stories that the plot snaps together by the third act. What was the seed of the idea for the latest in the series?
Traci Lambrecht: Initially, it started out with a news story about a lion that had escaped a wild cat rescue and rehabilitation center near PJ’s farm, but ultimately the book became cheap therapy. We sketched it out several years ago during a time of some deep personal losses for both PJ and I, one of which was her diagnosis with severe heart failure, so we explored the theme of loss in different ways against the requisite backdrop of murder. We wanted to incorporate some hope and a little magic into the book as well, which is how the multiple storylines came about. Things were just a little too raw for us emotionally at the time, so we shelved it and wrote Shoot to Thrill instead. When we revisited the partial manuscript a couple years ago, we found the passage of time had given us the objectivity we needed to finish it.
MPS: This is one of the books where the Monkeewrench gang goes to the country. What does the more rural setting allow you to do as a writer?
TC: There is a whole world outside any urban environment and more than anything, exploring it provides grounding in an entirely different life perspective. We’ve always found that writing about rural settings and people is a way to reconnect with basic values and work ethic. Lots of revelations can come from the simplicity of lives that still have deep connections to the land.
MPS: Did Grace being pregnant effect writing for her in any way?
TC: It really did. Grace is such a tough cookie, so it was both fun and challenging to envision a gentler side while trying to stay true to her core character. And the pregnancy was unexpected – for both the characters and for us! But it seemed right – we wanted some positive forward movement in Grace’s and Magozzi’s relationship and this opened up so many possibilities. I jokingly blamed PJ for this impulsive decision, and she jokingly blamed me, but we were very happy with the opportunity to expand the development of those characters.
MPS: In writing for an ensemble do you and your mother have any technique to make sure each character pops?
TC: We just focus on fully immersing ourselves in the lives and minds of each character, which makes it easier to speak with their voices. And in a long-running series, that becomes more effortless with each book as the players become frighteningly real to you. It’s kind of like flirting with multiple personality disorder.
MPS: Due to the passing of your mother last year, fans have been wondering what the fate of the series is. What can you tell them?
TC: Monkeewrench is alive and well – the ninth Monkeewrench novel is completed and in edits, and I’m working on the tenth one now, along with a stand-alone novel. I’m also considering a spin-off of the Monkeewrench series featuring Iris Rikker, the rural sheriff from Snow Blind who endeared herself to a lot of fans. PJ is still a part of every word I write, a constant presence and inspiration, because PJ Tracy was an entity and voice we created together, not the sum of separate parts. We had our own language and we were both fluent in it.
MPS: There is a Christmas book coming out that both of you did. What can you tell us about it?
TC: Return of the Magi is a quirky, uplifting story of redemption about two elderly, mentally ill sisters who fervently believe they are two of the three wise men. With the reluctant help of a career thief who is doing community service at their care facility outside Las Vegas, the three of them escape and cross the desert to search for the baby Jesus in the city of sin. This is probably the most meaningful bit of writing PJ and I ever did together and was a beloved side-project for many years. On the morning she died, I got the good news that it would finally be published and was able to pass this news along to her before she began her journey to someplace new. Knowing her, I suspect that journey was in-step with the characters as they crossed the desert, and she kept them laughing all the way.
You can find copies of Nothing Stays Buried on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Traci Lambrecht joins us Saturday, August 26th at 6 PM to speak and sign the latest PJ Tracy novel, Nothing Stays Buried.