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April 25, 2010

P.J. Tracy: A Mother/Daughter Suspense Duo

Posted by Anonymous

Writing is a lonely job, but writing together makes it a lot less so. Read on to find out how P.J. and Traci Lambrecht (writing together as P.J. Tracy) started and how their writing style –-- and work habits --- work for them. Their latest thriller, SHOOT TO THRILL, hits stores April 29th.

!P.J. Tracy.jpgWhat made you decide to write together?
P.J.: When it became evident that Traci was an independent, adventurous child who would eventually realize she could live perfectly well without me, I cleverly plotted to drag her into the family business so she would always have to boomerang home to make a living. She still hasn’t caught on.
Traci: We always made up stories and plays together when I was a little girl, so essentially, we were collaborators from the very beginning, and we just never stopped. PJ has a real gift for inspirinpj.JPGg imagination and creativity in tender, young minds – my favorite story is when I asked her what baby powder was made of. Dead-pan, she told her inquisitive five year old daughter that it was made out of ground-up baby bones.   I think she had to peel me off the floor, I was laughing so hard. In retrospect, her answer to my question, and my reaction to her answer were…uh…slightly unconventional? But that’s how our family’s always been.   And truthfully, writing is a lonely profession, so it’s great to have a partner --- especially one who keeps you entertained.
Share a story about one of the books you wrote together...
P.J.: On a family road trip to Traci’s grandparents’ house in Wisconsin, we noticed a small town that seemed utterly deserted. There were houses with well-tended gardens, laundry drying on clotheslines, tidy streets and parks and businesses, but absolutely no sign of life. No people, no pets, no moving cars on the road. Traci and I immediately decided that the residents had either been murdered in their sleep by nefarious killers, or sucked up by an alien spaceship. My husband Ted sighed and reminded us that it was Sunday, and everyone was inside watching the Packers’ game on television. Silly fellow. That town became our third book, “Dead Run”, and no one was inside watching the Packer game. They were all dead, just as Traci and I said. That’s where our plots come from.
Traci: When we were almost finished with MONKEEWRENCH, P.J. sent me part of one of the last chapters she’d been working on, where the killer is revealed. To my utter amazement, she had changed the identity of the killer at the 11th hour! It was a terrific surprise to both of us. If the authors don’t even know what’s going to happen, chances are good the readers won’t either. It was such an educational experience, about capitalizing on the potential strength of a partnership and respecting the dynamic nature of the creative process, we now regularly throw out unilateral plot changes to one another. They may not always work for the book in the end, but it keeps our imaginations in terrific shape. Our imaginations have six-pack abs and Brazilian butts, even if our corporeal forms don’t!
How do you share your writing responsibilities?
P.J.: When one of us falters, the other picks up the slack. 
Traci: It’s a pure 50-50 venture. We plot together, develop the characters together, and even though we both work alone while we’re doing the actual writing, we’re constantly providing each other with input and feedback. And if one of us burns out on a scene or a chapter, we just turn it over so the other person can finish it. This doesn’t speed up the process, but I think it makes the finished product richer.
Do you outline, or do you write as the story unfolds?
P.J.: We cannot outline. We are not that organized. We wake up in the morning wondering what will happen next, as if we have nothing to do with it, and the story gallops along on its own, surprising us both.
Traci: What P.J. said. We are truly incapable of doing outlines. Our brains simply don’t work that way. Even the thought of writing an outline gives us panic attacks, and kills all spontaneity and creativity in our writing. Some writers can work that way very successfully, but we’d end up with the literary equivalent of a bad paint-by-numbers picture of the Eiffel Tower. For us, not knowing how things will end is a big part of the thrilling carnival ride of writing a book, which absolutely mirrors the thrill and challenge of real life. We all have outlines of our ‘perfect’ lives, don’t we? And we try to execute them as best we can. But then the Tilt-A-Whirl always throws in an unexpected spin or two or three, and you have to re-adjust your equilibrium so you don’t get sick. There is no perfection in chaos, and life is chaos. 
Who has the final say? Does “Mom always rule”, or how do you handle writing conflicts?
P.J.: Mom has never once ruled. Ever. The kid tackled strange women on the street when she was 2-years-old, ripped the shoes from their feet and ‘traded’ them for her own. All over Michigan there are startled women wearing baby shoes, telling tales to their husbands about the toddler mugger with a shoe fetish. You can’t fight that kind of determination. Traci sets her mind to something, I obey. What’s a writing conflict?
Traci: We never have writing conflicts. If we run into a trouble spot where we might disagree on what a character is going to do next, or how they’ll react to a situation, we just talk it through. We’re essentially glorified shrinks for people who don’t even exist, but we always end up on the same page eventually. If we don’t, I steal P.J.’s shoes and she relents to my wishes. 
What do each of you bring to the table?
P.J.: Traci brings lively and light-hearted dialogue; I bring psychotic, dark introspection. She is the happy, smiley face; I am Virginia Woolf about to jump into the river.
Traci: Different perspectives and different life experiences.
What’s your favorite snack food/drink when you are writing?
P.J.: We drink ice water constantly while we write. We do not like sweets, snack foods, or anything unhealthy, except for that pesky cashew addiction. 
Traci: Cashews. They are the perfect protein bombs. I crave protein when I’m working, and cashews are less messy than tuna fish sandwiches. I only drink water (except at happy hour, which is whenever I say it is --- then I drink wine.) But unfortunately, there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to alcohol and writing, so I have to limit myself to half a case.
Do you have advice for anyone who would like to write a book with their mother or daughter?
Both: Enjoy it! If you’re writing with your mother or your daughter, you’re very lucky indeed.

P.J. and Traci have co-authored six suspense novels as P.J. Tracy with the latest, SHOOT TO THRILL, due in stores April 29th. For further information, visit their web site, Also, enjoy this recent interview with the authors courtesy of Shelf Awareness.