MysteryPeople Q&A with Traci Lambrecht of PJ Tracy

  • 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. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Danya Kukafka

Danya Kukafka’s Girl In Snow is an impressive debut, especially when you consider she was only 19 when she began the novel while at NYU and 24 when she finished it.The thriller, set in a small suburb of Broomsville, Colorado, begins with the discovery of the dead body of Lucinda Hayes, a popular high school freshman.

Suspicion immediately falls on Cameron, a boy known to be fascinated by her and to follow her around. Cameron also has erratic behavior and sometimes can’t remember important details. We all know Cameron can’t have done it because it’d just be too predictable…. But who did?

The book shifts from the perspective of Cameron to Jade, who went to school with Cameron and Lucinda and may know secrets about both folks, and Russ, a police officer who had a close relationship with his former partner, Cameron’s father. Cameron’s dad left the police, his family and the town during some suspicious circumstances, which may tie in to the town’s recent murder…

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Danya Kukafka: This book began with the idea for Cameron’s character. I had just read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and also The Virgin Suicides, and I took so much from these books about tone and perspective. I started to wonder—what happens if you have a young boy who truly does not know if he has killed someone? Can you find it in yourself to love him anyway?

SB: Why did you want to, to quote the back of your book, “investigate the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory”?

DK: This is such an interesting topic for me—love vs. obsession. Especially in adolescent lives, the line between the two can become blurry, even dangerous. At that age, we feel so much, and in some sense we’re unable to distinguish what is true and what is not when it comes to our feelings, romantic and otherwise. It’s so volatile!

SB: What do you say to those marveling at such a mature novel written by a 24-year-old? And that you began it while just 19?

DK: Oh, people have been very kind about this. Some assume that I got lucky on my first try—which isn’t quite true. I wrote a young adult novel before Girl in Snow that was rejected by dozens of literary agents. So I am always very grateful. 

SB: How did you go about researching this book?

DK: At first I didn’t research it, which was a terrible idea. My editor’s initial notes sort of said, “I don’t think this is how police systems work. Have you talked to any officers?” And I hadn’t! So I did the research far too late— I spoke with police officers from my hometown in Colorado about procedure and ways to get around it—then I had to go back in and rewrite all those details. I did do some research on childhood psychopathy, though, and mental disorders that people can mistake for psychopathy.

SB: What character do you most identify with and how? 

DK: I probably identify most honestly with Jade, and her specific brand of teenage angst. I went through a phase in middle school where I wore fishnet sleeves and begged my parents for a skateboard and listened to a lot of Green Day. It was really fun to pull some of Jade’s character traits from this time in my life.

SB: In this book are you trying to say something about perceptions?

DK: I am— what we see is not necessarily true, especially now that social media exists. I set the book specifically in 2005, when perceptions in a small community were still based on what you physically saw about other people, in your world, every day. And even then, there is so much we can never know about the inner lives of the people around us. 

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

DK: There are varying levels of good and of evil, and nothing is black and white. None of us are “normal.” And— even once we understand that we’ll never know how it feels to be someone else—  human connections still matter.

SB: To readers hearing about this book the topics may sound dark, deterring some. What would you say to readers wondering just how dark this may get?

DK: It gets pretty dark, yes, but not devastatingly so. It’s not gratuitous. I like to think I’ve been kind to all of my characters!

SB: What do you wish interviewers would ask you? Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.

DK: No one has asked yet about my immigrant characters, Ivan and Ines— I wanted to talk frankly about power, about race and social status, especially from what I observed growing up as part of a small majority-white community in the suburban Mid-west. It certainly was not easy to write about, but I tried to do so carefully because I wanted to recognize that privilege can make you blind to a certain type of domestic atrocity (as seen in the imbalanced relationship Russ and Ines have). I wanted to give Ivan and Ines power, and also to acknowledge how much harder it is for them to gain it. 

SB: What’s next for you?

DK: Another novel! Eventually.

Check out Scott Butki’s bloghttp://thinkingandtalkingandacting.blogspot.com/2015/11/an-index-of-my-interviews-with-authors.html  for more interviews with great mystery writers. 

You can find copies of Girl in Snow on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Reavis Z. Wortham

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

For the last last several years, Reavis Wortham has been delivering tales of the men and women who uphold the law in 1960’s Central Springs Texas. Hawke’s Prey, his first thriller to feature contemporary Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke, reads like a cross between The Last Picture Show and Die Hard. Reavis will be joining us this Tuesday, August 1st at 7 PM here at BookPeople. We caught up ahead of time to talk about the new book and the different tract he took in writing.

MysteryPeople Scott: You said with Hawke’s Prey you were asked to write a thriller, something you hadn’t done before. How did you take on the challenge?

Reavis Wortham: It was my agent’s idea, along with a strong suggestion from my friend and mentor, John Gilstrap. My next step after getting the first book published, getting a series, gaining positive reviews, traveling with writers, and winning an award or two, is to now hit the bestseller lists. It’s harder than you think, and both Ann and John said the best way was through thrillers. John says the Red River books are borderline thrillers anyway. Historical mystery thrillers. Thought the Red River books are well-received, and Unraveled, the newest RR novel, is up for an award this summer, the publisher simply isn’t big enough to put me in the running with the big dogs.

I like thrillers, too. Writing mysteries was an accident, and though I love them, I want action, but writing them is dramatically different from the RR books. My historical mystery thrillers move much slower than a thriller, and the setup is paced much differently than today’s thrillers. When I wrote the first draft of Hawke’s Prey and sent it to John as my Beta Reader, he came back with one dramatic suggestion.

“Cut the first four chapters. Your thriller begins in Chapter 5.”

He was right. Chapter 5 is now Chapter 1, and all that setup and information is now scattered throughout Hawke’s Prey. Then there’s the pacing. Thrillers have to maintain a fast pace, all the time building up pressure toward the end. It took a couple of months to get that idea into my head, but after it locked in this first novel in the Sonny Hawke thriller series is a rollercoaster ride to the end.

MPS: Since Hawke’s Prey moves at a faster pace than most of the books in your Red River series, did the tempo effect the story telling at all?

RW: The tempo of this thriller didn’t change things at all in terms of the story arc, but it didn’t lend itself to those lazy curves where the Red River books slow down. In those you see the slower pace of life in small town northeast Texas, and the humor comes in the form of stories or anecdotes. In Hawke’s Prey, the humor is there, but in a completely different form one of frustration, fear, and in the way we think.

We’ve all been involved in situations where we either couldn’t think of what to say at that critical moment, but after the event is over and we turn it over in our minds, the perfect sentence, comeback or word pops up. Sonny Hawke doesn’t have a lot of time for has a lot of time for conversation, so we see his actions and are privy to the thoughts that go through his mind. That’s where you see who he is and what this Texas Ranger is made of.

MPS: One thing of your previous work that carried over into this and made it fresher was the ensemble feeling and your cast of characters. Sonny is the hero, but others do heroic things and we see them from their point of view. How does having these other strong characters help you tell the story you want?

RW: You’ll be glad to know there’s an ensemble cast in these thrillers as well. Of course my fictional Texas Ranger is Sonny Hawke, but he’s married to Kelly, a school teacher who shows her strength when her class is taken hostage by terrorists in the county courthouse. Herman’s dad, a retired Texas Ranger is the family touchstone who, along with his hired ranch hand Gabe Nakai, help coordinate Sheriff Ethan Hawke’s plan to rescue the hostages. Then you have Sonny’s high school twins, Mary and Jerry, the half-cocked ranching Mayo Brothers, and a dozen of the town’s quirky characters.

This series contains the same DNA as the Red River books, only on steroids.

MPS: Was there a particular reason you chose a Texas Ranger as your series character?

RW: That was nothing but a thought that popped into my head in the heat of desperation. I was on the phone to my agent, pitching a series idea that I loved, and so did Craig Johnson, John Gilstrap, and half a dozen other authors who heard it one snowy night in a Colorado Springs Hotel. They pronounced it brilliant, but my agent had reservations about the subject matter at the time. So I pitched her a second idea, which she shot down like a clay pigeon. My third suggestion didn’t far any better, and I was out of time on that conference call.

Grabbing at straws by then, because I sure didn’t have a third idea in mind, I glanced down to the cover of a book I was reading titled, One Ranger. “How about a contemporary series featuring a Texas Ranger?”

“What part of the state? We don’t need another series set in east Texas.”

I was in my office and we’d been planning a trip to the Big Bend region. The map was open on my desk. “How about west Texas…in Marfa.”

Though Ann is in New York City, she’s spent time in Texas. “I love it! That’s your series! Keep going. What happens there?”

“Well, it sure won’t be about the Marfa lights. How about the snowstorm of the century shutting the town completely down? I’ll rename it, and have terrorists take over the county courthouse at the same time.”

And a series was born.

MPS: Like Larry McMurtry and Elmer Kelton, I think we would know we were in Texas even if you never stated it. What does the state provide for your writing?

RW: For a fourth-generation Texan, it’s everything I need. This first Sonny Hawke, and the next, are set in the Big Bend region of Texas, the last frontier in the Lone Star State. It’s still pretty western out there, but after Hawke’s War (2018), my Texas Ranger will move across the state dispensing the old-fashioned justice that people are longing for. The bad guys go down so they can no longer hurt or kill any longer.

I hope this new contemporary series shows the true spirit of Texas and Texans. We live in a state with sweeping landscapes, five geographical regions, mountains, prairies, deep canyons, beautiful rolling hills, and 367 miles of coastline. It’s rich in history and opportunities for my Texas Ranger to range, as Mr. McMurtry said in his Lonesome Dove saga.

You can find copies of Hawke’s Prey on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Reavis Z. Wortham joins us to speak and sign his latest this upcoming Tuesday, August 1st, at 7 PM. 

 

Man on the Run: MysteryPeople Q&A with Rob Hart

 

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Woman From PragueRob Hart’s latest novel to feature series character Ash Mckenna, has the unlicensed PI in the middle of a Eastern European spy tale when he is coerced by a mystery man (claiming to be a government agent) into intercepting the hand-off of a thumb drive. When the plan backfires, Ash finds himself on the run with Sam, his target, and the eponymous woman from Prague. The book is a slam bang action store with the same hard boiled heart we’ve come to expect from the series.

We’re happy to bring you this Q&A with Rob the day before he joins Bill Loehfelm and Jordan Harper at BookPeople for our New Voices In Noir discussion. Join us for one of the year’s most intriguing panels, this Wednesday, July 26th at 7 PM

MysteryPeople Scott: What made Prague your choice of setting for Ash’s latest?

Rob Hart: I visited Prague a few years ago and was just completely infatuated. I knew right off I wanted to set a book there. And by the fourth book in the series I was feeling like it was time to put Ash in a situation where he was thousands of miles from home, completely unfamiliar with everything around him, and totally outmatched. Ash thinks he’s pretty tough, and it was time to dissuade him of that notion.

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Noir is to Literature what the Blues is to Music: MysteryPeople Q&A with Bill Loehfelm

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

In The Devil’s Muse, Bill Loehfelm puts his New Orleans patrol woman Maureen Coughlin into a mystery that takes place over one long night when a shooter cuts loose during the Mardi Gras parade. A great take on the procedural, The Devil’s Muse has a strong sense of immediacy and presents an insider’s look at New Orleans.

Bill will be returning to BookPeople for our New Voices In Noir Panel, this upcoming Wednesday, July 26th, at 7 PM, but we were able to get some questions to Bill before the event. He’ll be joined by Rob Hart and Jordan Harper for the panel discussion. 

MysteryPeople Scott: I know you said you were wary about doing a story set around Mardi Gras since it’s a cliched backdrop for authors to use when writing about new Orleans. What did you see as the in to making the story fresh?

Bill Loehfelm: A couple of years ago, a friend and I were discussing writing about New Orleans, talking about avoiding clichés and the postcard version of New Orleans that we’re constantly selling. I told him I had a list of rules, of things I’d never write about, and one of them was Mardi Gras. But instead of agreeing with me, he challenged me, pointed out I had a lot of experience as a waiter and a bartender, a lot of inside experience with Mardi Gras that others didn’t have. That comment put the idea in my head of a Mardi Gras story told from the inside out, a story from the point of view of someone inside the infrastructure of the holiday. It gave me a fresh take on the subject.

When the opportunity for a Maureen Coughlin one-off came, it seemed to perfect time to take up that challenge.

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Short and Sharp Words: MysteryPeople Q&A with Jordan Harper

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Jordan Harper’s She Rides Shotgun is one of the most exciting full-length novel debuts to come down the road in some time. It concerns an ex-con on a crime spree road trip with his eleven-year-old-daughter. Over the course of their journey, both are targeted by a White Supremacist gang. It is a tough, uncompromising book, with a heart that is hard-won.

Jordan joins us at the store for our New Voices of Noir panel this upcoming Wednesday, July 26th, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined by Bill Loehfelm and Rob Hart. We got ahold of him by himself for this pre-interrogation.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for She Rides Shotgun come about?

Jordan Harper: I recently prowled through my DropBox and found an early draft of She Rides Shotgun that was dated 2014. It’s been in the works for a long time now, and just how I got the initial idea is a little murky to me. But I know the initial idea came from me noticing that there was a very small subgenre of crime story, that of the criminal and child on the road together. It’s a subgenre I’ve always loved, even if I’d never noticed it was a genre at all. I was inspired to add to the canon that includes Lone Wolf and Cub, Paper Moon and The Professional.

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Brimstone and Potpourri: MysteryPeople Q&A with Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie follows a man just out of prison after a twenty-five-year stretch for killing a bully back in his mid-teens. The victim’s father, a mob captain, doesn’t think he’s paid enough. This a hard-core crime novel with a beating heart. We caught up with Mr. Pluck to talk about it.

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for Bad Boy Boogie come about?

Thomas Pluck: Bad Boy Boogie is a story I’ve been kicking around for at least ten years, inspired by events in my hometown, and how the place has changed since. It’s an odd suburb, Martha Stewart sprang from one side like a decorating demon in a cloud of brimstone and potpourri, and I grew up on the other, literally across the tracks, in a zoned industrial dump between a truck repair shop, a quarry filled with trash and capped that we called “the Fields”, an and abandoned paint factory we used to explore. The part of town where my old Italian grandmother, when she went to the town hall to ask the mayor to replace our streetlamp light bulbs, was told, “if you don’t like it, move.”

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