Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Interview with Parnell Hall

Parnell, how many book have you written?

I don't write any of my books. Other people write them for me. It doesn't matter. They all make the Best Seller List. This leaves me time for- Oh. Wait a minute. I had myself confused with James Patterson. Let me see. I've written 11 Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mysteries, 17 Stanley Hastings private eye novels, and 5 Steve Winslow courtroom dramas. I guess that's 33. I know some guy named J.P. Hailey claims he wrote the Winslows, but he's just an old sourpuss.

Tell us how long it takes you to write a book?

The Stanleys take 3 to 6 months, the Puzzle Ladys 6 to 9. The private eye novels are quicker because they're a first person narrative, which is great, because you only know what your narrator knows. So if your protagonist isn't very bright, you don't have to do any research at all. The Puzzle Ladys are in the third person omniscient, which is a royal pain, because if you don't know anything, it's hard to be omniscient.

What is your writing schedule?

In the morning I sit around in my underwear drinking coffee and reading what I wrote the day before. I have quite a reputation at Starbucks. Then I try to figure out where to go from there. I don't outline, so I never know. I dictate into a microcassette recorder, then type it up in the afternoon.

Tell us about the magic of being a mystery author.

The real magic is becoming a mystery author. Which is sort of like winning the lottery. There are a lot of good writers out there. All it takes is someone saying yes. Luck has a lot to do with it. An agent read my first manuscript and wrote me a nice letter saying he was semi-retired and wasn't taking on any new authors, but he thought it was worth publishing and I shouldn't give up. I immediately gave up, and didn't show it to anyone else, and if my wife hadn't bumped into an old school friend who happened to know an agent, who read it and said of course I can sell it, I wouldn't be published today.

Okay, we want to know all about your latest book

There's two of them. The Puzzle Lady takes on her Japanese counterpart in The Puzzle Lady vs. the Sudoku Lady (that battle of the century!) coming in February 2010. The book features crossword puzzles by Manny Nosowsky, and sudoku puzzles by New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz!

It seems Cora Felton's sudoku books have edged Minami, the Sudoku Lady's books off the Japanese Best Seller List, and Minami shows up in Bakerhaven, Connecticut to challenge her rival. Bad move. A body shows up, a sudoku is involved, Minami is arrested for murder, and it's largely Cora's fault. Now Cora has to save her rival, preserve her secret, and trap a killer, not to mention posing as a lawyer at a conflict of interest hearing.

Stanley Hastings has a much easier time in Caper, due in July. A young mother hires him to save her teenage daughter from a life of sin. Only the young lady doesn't want to be saved, Stanley has to drug her to bring her home, and faster than you can say Mann Act, Stanley is busted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and has to call his boss, negligence attorney Richard Rosenberg, to bail him out of the hoosegow. He should have stayed there. Then he wouldn't find a corpse, leave the scene of the crime, and become the perfect alibi witness for the man arrested for the murder, only he can't admit to being there. Oh. Maybe it isn't easier.

What advice do you have for beginning mystery authors?

Don't listen to advice. Every writer is different. What works for one person won't work for another. Find what works for you.

Give us a little background on you, your life and what we might find you doing when you don't have a deadline?

I wanted to be an actor. If I'd had any luck at it I wouldn't have to write. My problem is I couldn't get any work. If I had to point to the biggest single reason for the failure of my acting career, I would have to say lack of work. I did summer stock, regional theater, a few movies. I was in Arnold Schwarznegger's first film, Hercules in New York. I wore a leopardskin costume and ran down Broadway chasing a chariot. It's on YouTube. It's even more embarrassing than it sounds.I also had a failed career as a singer-songwriter. I sold a song to Peter Seeger when I was sixteen, never sold one since. But I still sing at mystery conventions, despite great opposition. When I sang at the banquet at the Bouchercon in Chicago, the Guest of Honor, Dennis Lehane, stood up and offered me $40 not to. I sang anyway, figuring if I held out, the price would go up.

However, my music career is taking off! I have a music video on YouTube. Kill 'em by Parnell Hall. It's a guide to writing mysteries, a must for any aspiring writer.

>Will you ever tie in your love of music with your series?

It's a frightening thought. But not out of the question. Donald Westlake wrote several songs for his book, Baby, Would I Lie? When he was Guest of Honor at Magna Cum Murder, in Muncie, I sang one of them, If it ain't Fried, It ain't Food, to him during his interview. It must have been torture.

>Can you tell us about being your character, The Puzzle Lady, at Malice?

The worst part was buying the bra. I explained very patiently that I was playing the part of a fictional character, but I don't think the saleswoman was buying it. Then they didn't have any falsies, and they sent me to Danskin. By the time I got to Malice I was a basket case. I think the panel went okay, but I was so busy adjusting my skirt and my wig and all that I don't remember much of it. All I know is no one hit on me, and I felt rather insulted. I don't know if anyone took pictures, but I'd be willing to pay to suppress them.

Last but never least what are your future writing plans for 2010?

KenKen is the new Sudoku. The New York Times now carries KenKen puzzles along with the daily crossword puzzles. KenKen, like sudoku, involve placing numbers in squares without duplicating any number in the same row or column. But any squares grouped by a thick black line will have to satisfy a mathematical function (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) indicated in one of the squares.

So the Puzzle Lady will have to solve The KenKen Killings!Squeeze, do not jerk, the trigger.


  1. I know I have pictures on the camera I havent developed yet - how much are we talking?

  2. Parnell,
    I forgot to ask one question for the interview so I am going to ask it now.
    "What is the most humorous thing that has ever happened to you?"

    Happy Holidays,

  3. Off to You Tube to see you in leopardskin---maybe we can play it on the big screen at Malice! All in favor...?

    xoox Hank


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