An Interview with half of the mother-daughter writing team known as P.J. Tracy
Monkeewrench (titled Want To Play? in the UK) features some great characters who readers will identify with
and indeed, everyone will have their favourite. Do you have a favorite character in the book, and if so, why have you chosen this character?
This is a bit like asking a parent which of their children they like best. In
the early stages of pulling the story together, Grace McBride was the
centrepiece and a clear favorite, primarily because she could earn my
admiration and pull at my heartstrings at the same time. She could also wear
English riding boots all day long, which in my opinion puts her in the superhero
category. But as the writing progressed and other characters became more
developed, I found myself switching loyalties, fickle sort that I am, becoming
emotionally attached to whatever character I was writing at the time. An obvious
case of 'love the one you're with', I suppose.
The book is obviously very well researched, and there is a lot of in depth
knowledge about how police utilize computers to track down criminals. How much
research did you have to do before beginning the book, and how much information
did the police let you access?
Research from books, articles, the internet, and one very beleaguered
computer wizard -- was ongoing from the first to the last page. Nothing like
writing a novel even loosely based on reality, to learn how very little you know
about almost everything. I did see quite a bit of police procedure in the years
I worked for both defense and prosecuting attorneys, which provided some
background information and an invaluable opportunity to get to know the people
beneath the uniforms. Although the specifics about the Minneapolis Police
Department's operation were conveniently fictionalized for the sake of the
story, the bravery and decency of the officers depicted in the book certainly
The novel features a very inventive and shocking computer game. What do you
think of the proliferation of recent video games that feature ever more
realistic and gory graphics? Are you a fan of these games yourself?
Absolutely not. I admit a potential addiction to the early computer games, where
a relatively harmless PacMan gobbled up dots or the player blasted asteroids
before they could strike the earth these were relatively non-violent
challenges of eye-hand coordination sort of like tennis in a chair. But I
find the destruction of realistic representations of people an abhorrent,
incomprehensible trend. In fact, the genesis of Monkeewrench was actually the
simple wish of a mystery-lover for a game in which you could utilize more
intellect and less mouse-skill to solve murders rather than commit them.
The closing chapters of the book are an exhilarating climax that had my heart
racing. What kind of situation frightens you?
Sitting alone in a house in the country, well after dark, then turning around in
my chair to see a face on the other side of the window. Also, other passengers
on your airplane screaming. I absolutely hate that.
Do you have any plans to use any of the characters from Monkeewrench in any
Happily, many of the characters from Monkeewrench will appear in the next three
books of this series.
How does writing fiction compare to writing for the screen? Do you have a
preference for one or the other, and do you intend to continue as a
Screenplays are ultimately a visual experience, so you have to write from a
completely different perspective since you can't be inside a character's
head, you have to find ways to demonstrate thoughts and emotions through actions
and images, which can be very limiting. You also have to condense a tremendous
amount of information into 120 script pages, leaving you little time to do much
more than the basics of introducing characters, moving the plot along, and
resolving the conflict. Fiction, on the other hand, gives you the luxury of time
to develop more complex plots and to really explore your characters in depth. It's
so gratifying to create characters that you believe will inspire an emotional
investment in the reader and gratifying for the reader, too, if you succeed
in the effort.
Were there any particular reasons for using Minneapolis and Wisconsin as the
backdrop to the novel?
I spent my high school years in a small town in Wisconsin, and now live in the
country about forty miles north of Minneapolis, so the Midwest is home base for
me, the people and places I know best.
The dialogue in Monkeewrench is incredibly fresh, realistic and often very
funny. Do you take inspiration from people around you, and are your characters
based on anyone in particular?
Every encounter and every conversation, whether I'm participating or
eavesdropping, is a source of material, so my characters generally end up being
composites of many different people. I try to create characters I'd like to
know or befriend if they existed outside the pages of the book, and since I
value a good sense of humor above almost all, I inevitably end up with a few
Your novel is a fantastic thriller debut, gripping, chilling and incredibly
well written. Who is your favourite thriller writer?
Such a difficult question! There are so many great writers out there, but a few
of my favorites are T. Jefferson Parker, John Sanford, Harlan Coben, Michael
Connelly, and Nelson DeMille. The UK has so many terrific mystery-thriller
writers, too, and I'm always looking for new ones. I've been reading Minette
Walters and John Connolly for years.
Finally, why should people read Monkeewrench?
I have always loved the idea of a book that combined various elements of
thrillers, whodunnits, police procedurals, and character-driven fiction in
my opinion, the best of all worlds, and what a great read! You'd have a
fast-paced book with lots of action, a labyrinthine plot that would keep you
guessing until the end, and lots of lovable, quirky characters you could grow to
care about, and maybe even love. That was my goal in writing Monkeewrench
whether or not I've achieved it? You'll have to read the book!
This interview was reproduced by kind permission of BCA, with questions by