We have different answers for how we came to be writers: We both always used writing as an outlet, to vent and to be creative, and always had, at the backs of our minds, the idea that we would write novels. Pam, who was working full time as an attorney and raising a toddler during the time we began writing our first novel, was looking for something more satisfying to her soul. At the same moment, Mary was discovering that going back to work with three kids under five years old could reduce what used to be a satisfying and even desirable family life into stupefying and exhausting midnight raids on the diaper and frozen food shelves at the supermarket. That’s how we got started – we knew the time had come to get serious about pursuing a writing life. We wanted more creative fulfillment and freedom.
But to answer the question of why we write, it’s necessary to go deeper. A few years ago Pam got interested in finding our family roots. We had Irish forebears, but they stayed stubbornly enigmatic, out of reach. We wanted to know everything. How did they come to America? What were they like as people? What keys did their lives and personalities hold to who we had become? The quest took her all the way to an old fellow in St. Louis, a distant cousin.
She put the question to him.
“How did our great grandfather get here?”
“The story is, he stole a sheep, sold it, and used the money to buy passage to America,” our cousin told her. Okay, a slight disappointment there. Ol’ grandpa was the black sheep among the innocents. But hey, Pam thought. There’s romance in that. Picture him skulking into a green, grassy field, absconding with a bleating animal, engaging in skullduggery with a crooked grocer in the town, jumping a ship in bad weather, waving to Miss Liberty… But even with embellishment, she found the story thin. She wanted more. She wanted to unfurl the knotty line between that thieving rascal and us. She wanted to draw a straight line from his psyche to ours.
“What else do you know about that side of the family? What kind of people are they?”
“I do know something about that,” St. Louis said. “Oh, yes, the O’Shaughnessy legend lives on in these parts.”
Here it came, a real clue. Had her search finally paid off? Was she about to discover the thing, that which would finally connect us irrevocably to a string of family going back centuries?
“What legend would that be?” she asked.
He didn’t hesitate. “They were great bullshitters,” he said.
So we’ve got that going for us, apparently.
Maybe that is why we write.
There are external resemblances between us and our characters. Pam practiced law in South Lake Tahoe for years as a sole practitioner, as does Nina Reilly, our protagonist. She worked in the same building, the Starlake Building, and lived in the house on Kulow near where Nina now lives in fiction.
Mary used to strap her kids into the backseat of the car and brave blizzards to visit Pam, ski, gamble and absorb ambience, so the local settings are familiar territory for both of us.
We both have sons (who are close friends) that bear remarkable similarities to Nina’s son, Bob. Unlike Bob, they insist that we tell you, they never deceive us or keep secrets or indulge in forbidding mood swings.
Our father was an Irishman who golfed, like Nina’s father, Harlan. Our late brother was an attorney who was always eager to offer strongly worded opinions on the deepest desires of our character, Paul van Wagoner. We also have a sister who is a psychologist and is, in some ways, he inspiration for Nina’s insightful sister-in-law Andrea.
In each novel, some characters are close to Pam, some belong more to Mary, but we both get the opportunity to mess around with anything that is written. As a result, eventually all of the characters end up more like Perri than either one of us individually.
Still, when either one of us puts fingers to the keyboard, she is Nina, the smart, impulsive attorney who is always embroiled in controversy, or maybe Sandy, the stolid Native American voice of reason who wears paint off the doorway to Nina’s office. Or maybe Paul, the macho dream detective who encourages Nina to behave so very, very badly. In Move to Strike we invented Nikki Zack, Nina’s wild, cyberpunk teenage client, calling forth memories of who we were, and who we never got to be…
In that way, we are our characters. We have dramatic adventures daily, brushes with death and malignant villains, lovers galore…
Please don’t say we didn’t give you plenty of notice about the genetic BS…
We have developed a couple of techniques to aid us in our collaboration. Pam, will you show the people the simple method we use to resolve our differences? (Pam reaches over and strangles Mary.)
Actually, to go back a little, we started writing together somewhat by accident. Mary wanted to finish a book, but had no plot in mind. Pam had a beginning of a novel, but no ending and no desire to create one. Years of typing away at night after work or after the kids were in bed ensued — a book came out of that, and it launched our partnership.
A few standards have emerged:
1. She who cares most (or shouts loudest), wins.
2. If you wince, it must go.
3. If you love it, it will be changed and you will hate it.
4. Bust your ego at the door.
We sometimes juggle the writing back and forth, scene by scene. We did more of this in the beginning. Then we had the hilarious idea that we might not have to write so many drafts if we did a detailed outline together, and set one sister loose on the first draft. We thought that way we could avoid continuity pitfalls. As it turns out, we write too many drafts anyway. We are chronic tinkers, who have gone so far as to change the murderer in the fourth draft during the writing of our first published novel. In addition, although we always develop a story time line, we are incapable of following one regardless of how we break the work up.
The main thing that works about our collaboration is that we have come to trust and respect each other as writers. We like to think Perri takes what’s best in both of us and puts it into the finished draft.
That boils down to the fact that our first publisher wanted just one name on the books, a female one. We wanted a name that had some meaning to us, so Perri seemed perfect. Perri is a condensation of both our first names, Pam and Mary, and it hearkens back to Perry Mason, the last century’s most successful and long-lived series attorney. Of course, the last name is real and belongs to both of us.
Our mom, a great reader and also an attorney, collected every single novel by Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and Agatha Christie, so it’s not too surprising we write an attorney series like Gardner’s; collaborate like Ellery Queen (two cousins); have action and conundrum-solving take place in the confines of Nina’s office, as Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout’s character did; and try to include puzzles and mysteries along the way, as Christie did.
Yes, Perri is the best of us both, we hope…
Pam, Mary and don’t forget, Perry Mason, Nina’s honorable forebear who stole no sheep.
The Nina Reilly novels:
2. Invasion of Privacy (first NY Times bestseller. Thank you, readers.)
6. Move to Strike (first NY TImes bestseller in hardback. Ditto.)
10. Unlucky in Law
11. Case of Lies
12. Show No Fear (prequel to the Nina Reilly series) You could call this number 1 when it comes to Nina’s story.
13. Dreams of the Dead (Publication July 2011).
The books are also listed in order on the bottom of the page and on the book page. You can also deduce the order by looking at the publication date. We publish roughly one book per year, although we’ve slowed down recently, and the most recent publication date is the most recent book.
We suspect everyone’s sick to death of these lawyers and their amoral shenanigans. Yeah, we nevertheless cast our movies regularly, but mostly we are happy that Nina reposes in our novels, fully realized by us alone.
Neena, as the Spanish say.
We don’t do the extensive touring we used to do. However, check the news section of this website when a new book is coming to find out where you might order a signed copy. If you contact the booksellers we will list there in advance, we can probably even personalize a copy for you or your friends. If it’s off-season, you can write us an e-mail, including your snail mail address, and we will attempt to send a bookplate or card to you eventually. We get behind when we are writing.
This isn’t feasible for us. Sorry.
There are a number of internet sites that offer rare, out of print, autographed books, foreign editions, etc. such as alibris.com. Go surfing. Have fun out there!
We don’t have any. If you must, you can download the idealized, photoshopped photos from our website, which are not copyrighted.
Well, we do our research and include what we understand to be accurate at the time…but don’t bet the house on it.
Our collection, Sinister Shorts, is available in paperback and as an e-book, if you have a reader or Kindle.
We do make mistakes, yep, although we work hard to be accurate. Our books are read numerous times by numerous people, but still we mess up. The horror, the horror. Sometimes, we get to make corrections in future editions, so keep those comments coming.
Nah. Our characters are inspired by, but never based on real people. They are all completely imaginary, although we gossip about them like family.
Online. Click on the book image on the book’s page for a link to purchase it. You can also always try our first publisher, randomhouse.com, amazon.com, or our audiobooks publisher, brillianceaudio.com or our current publisher, Pocket Books at simonandschuster.com. Most of the novels and Sinister Shorts are available through Amazon for the Kindle, Iphone, and various other readers. For some reason, our second novel, Invasion of Privacy, is not available through e-books or audiobooks. Funny thing, since that’s our first book that made the New York Times list.
Our mother and father both read all kinds of fiction when we were growing up. Our father especially enjoyed spy novels by Ian Fleming and detective novels by John D. MacDonald. Our mom read mysteries, especially those by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, and Rex Stout. Our series owes a lot to the novels of Gardner that featured Perry Mason, including the pen-name Perri. Because of the success of the Perry Mason novels, we hoped we might have success with a series about a female attorney. Since reading those early books that were laying around the house, we now read just about everything. Pam favors poetry at the moment. Mary’s immersed in mainstream bestsellers.
Gertrude Stein and Lawrence Durrell are among Pam’s top classic authors, although she has many. Mary loves the Brontés along with Dostoevsky and more contemporary authors Grace Paley and Alice Hoffman. However, we both read so much, our loyalties shift daily. (Mary’s recent favorites: One Day by David Nicholls, and anything by Marian Keyes. Also, author James Grippando. He’s good! Enjoyed A Killer’s Kiss by Lashner, and was enthralled by Trouble by Jesse Kellerman, yes, of the infamous Kellermans who must never find time to speak to each other, they are all so busy churning out bestsellers.)
Mary has a study in her home with a view of water and hills, Up in Tahoe or elsewhere, she uses a laptop. Although she has a desk, Pam mosies around with her laptop and has become a big fan of her local coffeeshop with airport access.
When we are writing a book, we write from about ten in the morning until three daily, five days a week. When deadlines are pressing, or when we are feeling especially inspired, we stay up late or start early, and work through weekends. A major part of our writing day is a long conversation on the phone in the morning to talk about where the book is, what the characters are doing, and what we should do that day to shake things up.
Even though we hoped to be published or we never would have gone through the arduous process of writing a novel, we never expected much success. The day we were told that several publishers wanted our first novel qualifies as our Everest summit.
We won second place in the world in the Mystery Writer’s of America’s 50th Anniversary Golden Mysteries contest for our first short story, “The Long Walk.” That story was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1995, and republished in our collection, Sinister Shorts in 2006. How we’d love to see that one as a film.
Starting up right after Case of Lies ends, our latest novel, Dreams of the Dead begins with Nina needing to seek a declaration of death for a man she feared and loathed so that the family can move on. Paul’s involved, and he’s back, and things with Kurt are…well you’ll just have to read it to find out.