P.J. Parrish

P.J. Parrish

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
August 20, 2005

Q.    Who is P.J. Parrish?

A.    P.J. Parrish is two sisters, Kristy and Kelly, who teamed up in 1996 to begin the Louis Kincaid mystery series. We live in separate states (Mississippi and Florida) and do most of our writing alone, then we trade chapters over the internet and talking on the phone.

Q.    What made the two of you decide to write books together?

A.   Kristy is a former romance writer, with four books published during the 1980's. When the demand for romance cycled to a low, her agent suggested she try a mystery. Kristy, who had barely read mysteries up to that point, called Kelly, who was an avid true crime and mystery fan, once married to a police officer and at the time, struggling to write her own first mystery. We feel were very fortunate to find our individual experiences and talents blended well.

Q.    Have either or both of you written a book under your own name(s)?

A.   Kristy's has her romances, but no, neither of us has published a mystery by ourselves. Kristy has a completed short story called "One Shot" that will appear in the Mystery Writers of America anthology "Relationships Can Be Murder (edited by Harlan Coben). It will be published late this year. We have also started two other short stories that are unfinished at this time. We have made attempts to complete something longer on our own, but find our efforts are strangely frustrating. We have come to rely on each other so much, working on a story alone is much like working with a half a brain. It's very hard for us to make the mental adjustment that is no one there to help straighten out a plot twist or add a new viewpoint to the story.

Q.    What inspired you to write Island of Bones?

A.   Our book ideas seem to spring from the strangest places. Kris has a favorite song called "Monkey Island" by the J. Geils Band. It is a haunting song with very evocative lyrics about a mysterious deserted island:
No one could explain it
What went on that night
How every living thing
Just dropped out of sight
We watched them take the bodies
And row them back to shore
Nothing like that ever
Happened here before.

Kris had wanted to write the answer to this riddle for years and finally called Kelly and asked her "What the heck do you think happened on that island?" The story seems to flow out of us.

Q.    How did you come about the idea of the del Bosque family?

A.   After we decided on the island theme (see above) we had to figure out what exactly was going on there and why. We were talking about this one day at a book signing in Fort Myers when a woman came up to meet us. She told us she was writing a non-fiction book about multi-generational families living together. Kelly and I just looked at each other; we knew that was it. We knew our family had to be insular and inter-dependent, so we decided then to make them foreign-born, perhaps with an odd dialect. Since the Spanish were the prime early settlers of Florida, we centered on them. Kris did research on the internet and found out about Asturia, a region in northern Spain that still retains many of its ancient Celtic-inspired customs and traditions. In isolated villages, remnants of a type of Latin are still spoken today. Oddly, a year after "Bones" came out, Kris was able to visit Asturia and found it to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful places she has ever seen.

Q.    How did you come about Louis' character?

A.  Louis was born of Kelly's experiences in rural Mississippi during the early 1990's. It was the same time some of the civil right trials of the 60's were finally being prosecuted. Kelly's second grandchild, Charlotte (who is biracial), was also born during the same period (1996) and together with the forming of our partnership as writers, Louis emerged. At the time, we simply let him come alive, but as we have taken him on various journeys we have also found that the traits we gave him in Dark of the Moon (his young age, his race, and his childhood experiences) have allowed us to explore his complexity and give him room for growth. We frequently get letters from readers who recognize the fact that we are maturing and molding him, and that is satisfying for us as authors.

Q.    How did you come about Landeta's character?

A.   As a PI, Louis frequently needs a law enforcement contact in order to have access to the case file and initially, Mel Landeta was simply meant to be just that: a faceless side-kick that Louis needed in order to solve the crime in Island of Bones. So, Mel Landeta walked on the "page" as just another bitter detective. Even we didn't like him at first and considered getting rid of him early. But as he grew with the book, we realized he had far more potential and we knew by the time we finished, he would be a recurring character.

Q.    How long have you two been writing?

A.   Together, since late 1996 or 1997, but we didn't submit until 1998. Our first book was published in 1999.

Q.    How many books have the two of you written?

A.   Our seventh, An Unquiet Grave, will be out in February of 2006. In An Unquiet Grave, we take Louis back to his home state of Michigan where he comes to the aid of his foster father Phillip, who has found that the grave he has been tending for 16 years -- that of his childhood sweetheart who died in an insane asylum -- is empty.

Q.    What type of message would you like readers to receive from reading ISLAND OF BONES?

A.   That the line between good and evil is often razor-thin and that even the good-hearted can find themselves balanced on that edge. Mystery writer S.J. Rozan said it very eloquently when she wrote of "Island of Bones.: "The sins of generations past haunt Louis in this beautifully evoked, darkly moral tale set in the coastal territory where even the elemental distinction between land and sea can be as blurred as that between good and evil."