Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Puzzle Lady" author Parnell Hall in our hotseat! Meow!

Parnell Hall is a mystery writer.[ His works include the Puzzle Lady and the Stanley Hastings series, as well as the screenplay to the 1984 cult classic, C.H.U.D.[ He has collaborated with Manny Nosowsky for crossword puzzles and with Will Shortz for sudoku puzzles incorporated in Puzzle Lady stories. (Bio courtesy Wikipedia)

R:  Welcome to the blog, Parnell!  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

I must say, Rocco, I've never been interviewed by a cat before, and it gives me paws. I'm not sure how to answer these questions, but there's more than one way to skin a- Oh! Sorry. Lost my head. What was the question again? Oh, how did I become interested in writing? From reading.  I read a lot of mysteries, and I like them, and I thought, wow,  I could do that.

R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

I grew up reading Perry Mason mysteries. When Erle Stanley Garnder died, I tried to write one. I got about 150 pages into it before Gardner's widow made me cease and desist. Years later I finished thet book as a Steve Winslow courtroom drama.The Anonymous Client,is available now as a $0.99 eBook, quite a saving off the original hardcover price.

Another influence was Robert B. Parker. His Spenser novels inspired me to write my private eye series.

R: Tell us about your Puzzle Lady series. How did that come about?

I hit a spot in my career where, despite excellent reviews and Edgar and Shamus nominations, my private eye books weren't selling fast enough to attract a publisher. So I reinvented myself as a woman. I wrote a book about  a charming fraud called the Puzzle Lady. Cora Felton  has a nationally syndicated crossword puzzle column, but she can't do them. He niece Sherry is the real Puzzle Lady, and creates all the puzzles for her column. Cora has a knack for solving crime, however. This sweet looking woman whose benevolent picture graces the Puzzle Lady column, and who sells breakfast cereal to children on television, is actually a loopy hellion who can't remember how many husbands she's had,  and carries a gun in her purse. Reviews have described her as "Miss Marple on steroids," or, "Jessica Fletcher meets Groucho Marx."

I put a woman's name on the manuscript, and had my agent send it out as a new novel by an unpublished woman. Bantam snapped it right up.

R: Tell us about your current release, NYPD Puzzle.

Cora Felton lives in Bakerhaven, Connecticut, which has Cabot Cove syndrome to the nth degree. Not only are there an unusual number of murders , but they all seem to come with crossword puzzles. This is quite an embarrassment for the Puzzle Lady, who has to hide the fact she can't solve them.

In NYPD Puzzle, however, attractive young attorney Becky Baldwin takes Cora along a bodyguard/chaperone to call on a prospective client who wants to meet her in his Manhattan penthouse apartment. Naturally, they run into a corpse and a puzzle. Cora gets arrested, and falls hard for the investigating officer. If only he didn't suspect her of murder.

R: What adventures can we look forward to?

Thank you for asking. You know, for a cat you're a wonderful interviewer.

My private eye, Stanley Hastings, will be back in November in Safari. Stanley and Alice encounter elephants, leopards and lions on a walking/canoeing trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe, but wild animals are not the most dangerous game!

The Puzzle Lady in back in January in Puzzled Indemnity. A wife whose straying husband just took out a million dollar double indemnity life insurance policy hires Becky and Cora to see if he's planning to kill her, then hires them to defend her for murder.

And a year later (and I can hardly wait!) The Puzzle Lady is on trial for murder in Presumed Puzzled!

R:  Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share?

This first agent I gave my first book to rejected it. A few years later he was on a panel I moderated on how to get published. I mentioned that, pointed out the novel had been nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards, and said you couldn't believe what wish fulfillment it was to be standing there saying that. The audience, largely unpublished writers, went nuts.

  How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?

I didn't believe it. Even when I met the editor I still thought it was all tentative, like a job interview. It was only when we got two-book deal contract with dollar amounts that it slowly dawned on me it was real.

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

A pocket Dictaphone.  I wrote my first book longhand, in spiral notebooks, and typed it on an old electric typewriter. When I got published, I didn't quit my day job, which involved a lot of driving. My wife thought I'd have ideas on the road and wouldn't be able to write them down, so she gave me a microcassette recorder to make notes. It took about a week to realize I wasn't just making notes, I was writing the whole book!

R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?

I'd have loved to see Dylan Thomas on his American tour. I love the poems, love the play, love recordings of his live readings.

R:  If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?

I'd love to see a Puzzle Lady movie with Susan Sarandon playing the lead. Cora Felton is depicted as this sweet-looking older woman, but she's also a sexy older woman, and I think this would be a happy marriage.

R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

I used to work as a private investigator. My experiences are the basis for my Stanley Hastings series.

R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done? 

Aside from this interview? Well, it was supposed to be easy, but one of my first jobs as a private eye was to serve divorce papers on a guy upstate New York.  I staked out his house, waited for him to come out the door, walked up and addressed him by name. He pulled out a gun and said, "What do you want?" I wanted to quit my job, go home,  and never serve papers on anyone again. But I did it. So that's the craziest thing I've ever done. Served papers on someone at gunpoint.

R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

I hope they'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. I love to get letters from people pointing out a particular whimsical joke I came up with just because it amused me.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I'm a pantser. Watch out, or I'll sneak up behind you and pull your pants down.
I pick a premise, start writing, and see where it goes. I belong to the wouldn't-it-be-neat-if school of writing. It helps that the Puzzle Lady is such a loopy character she's apt to do anything. She surprises me all the time.
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
I make music videos. I write 'em, sing  em, record 'em, shoot 'em, edit 'em, and put 'em up on YouTube. They're all related to writing. Signing in the Waldenbooks struck a chord with writers, got featured on Huffington Post, a got 50,000 hits over the weekend.
King of Kindle has to be seen to be believed. It features dozens of famous authors from Lawrence Block to Mary Higgins Clark.
Kill 'em explains how writers kill characters using movie clips.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
You can also check out my Amazon author page. I've published 21 eBooks from my backlist for $0.99 - $2.99. And my publishers have nearly 20 other books available as eBooks, hardcovers, and paperbacks.
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Don't do it. I have enough competition as it is.

Thanks, Rocco. Nice job!

Thank you, Parnell!  Folks you can find Parnell at:

Your local independent mystery bookstore.
Your local library
On line

Now through August 31st only, DIE LAUGHING, featuring 5 comic mystery novels from authors Steve Brewer, Bill Fitzhugh, Paul Levine, Ben Rehder, and, yes, Parnell Hall, is available on Kindle for just $0.99.

And eBooks Detective, The Baxter Trust, and The Anonymous Client are 0.99 while they last!

1 comment:

  1. I'm nervous as a school girl! If there is any writer that I haven't met that I'd like to, (shoot,I'd love to have him have next door), it is Parnell Hall! I have a TBR list as tall as I am but once my niece told me to try the first Puzzle Lady book, I was hooked! I have inhaled the series.
    If anyone had not read these, do yourself a favor! Although I often figure out whodunit in most books and movies, I can easily get 'caught' with the endings in Puzzle Lady books,,,and laugh all the way there! I know I may be making a fool of myself, but I stand back after being swept up in Cora's world and think, "How the HECK does that man do all the women characters so well?" Always consistent, always in character, always believable, always fun...and I'm always in awe.
    Have I gushed enough?
    I have every intention of checking in with Parnell's other works, but bring on more Cora, et al!