Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pro-File: Parnell Hall

Parnell Hall is the author of the Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mysteries, the Stanley Hastings private eye novels, and the Steve Winslow courtroom dramas. His books have been nominated for Edgar, Shamus, and Lefty awards. Parnell is an actor, singer/songwriter, screenwriter, and past president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

THE PUZZLE LADY VS THE SUDOKU LADY (The Battle of the Century!), is based on an idea suggested by my editor, Ruth Cavin, who thought it would be fun to meet her Japanese counterpart. The book features crossword puzzles by frequent New York Times contributor Manny Nosowsky, and sudoku constructed by New York Times crossword puzzle editor, Will Shortz.

It's the battle of the century when Minami, the Sudoku Lady, shows up in Bakerhaven, Connecticut to meet Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady, whose sudoku books have just edged Minami off of the Japanese Bestseller List. Before the rivals have a chance to square off, a killer strikes, and a sudoku puzzle is found at the scene of the murder. Now it's a fight to the finish to see who can unmask the killer.

Cora is eager to undo her Japanese counterpart. At least until the poor woman is arrested for murder and Cora realizes she's accidentally framed her for the crime. As if that weren't frustrating enough, the publicity of her arrest drives Minami's sales through the roof!

Now it's up to Cora to clear her rival's name, get her off the Bestseller list, and trap the real killer. Only, she better do it fast, before the cops find out what Cora did, and she winds up facing more jail time than Minami.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I've been working on my singing career. (pause for laughter). I have a music video, Kill em, on YouTube, and I just recorded a new song, Woodstock Generation, that I hope to have up soon.

Or did you mean books? I just finished CAPER, the latest Stanley Hastings novel. After getting hired by a contract killer and nearly getting shot, (in HITMAN), it's gotta be a welcome change of pace for the put upon PI when an attractive young mom hires him to find out why her daughter is skipping school. Fat chance. Faster than you can say Mann Act, Stanley is on the hook for kidnapping, abduction, extortion, and obstruction of justice. Worse, he finds himself the perfect alibi witness for an innocent murder suspect, only he can't testify without becoming a better suspect himself.

Now I'm working on The KenKen Killings. KenKen is the new rage, picking up where sudoku left off. KenKen puzzles are even in the New York Times, next to the crossword puzzle. So it's only natural that the Puzzle Lady would get involved in KenKen. What isn't natural is the fact that KenKen shows up with a corpse. But that's the way the Puzzle Lady likes it.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Having it. The odds against it are so great, just getting published is like winning the lottery. And for someone with no marketable skills whatsoever, being able to write for a living is like a miracle.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

Getting dropped by your publisher. When that happens, I have to reinvent myself and come back under another name. My Puzzle Lady books were originally written by Alice Hastings. Bantam even asked me for her bio. I wrote: "Alice was raised by English lit teachers with a fondness for the Sunday Times crossword and Agatha Christie. When not writing, Alice enjoys tennis, swimming, and coed softball." Bantam chickened out and put my name on the books when they learned I was arranging for the author photo.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Save the midlist!

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Erle Stanley Gardner and A. A. Fair. Who are actually the same person. I grew up on the Perry Mason books. The early ones, before the TV series, where Mason wasn't just a showman in court, but was always finding corpses, hiding evidence, planting evidence, spiriting away witnesses, etc, so the real mystery wasn't whodunit, but how in the hell will he get away with it? And the Donald Lam Bertha Cool books were a fun twist on the private eye. Lam is a lawyer who got disbarred for telling a client he knew a legal way to get away with murder. In his first adventure as a PI (The Bigger they Come) he pulls the trick on an astounded judge in a marvelous courtroom scene. I would love to see these books back in print.

Then there's J. P. Hailey, whose Steve Winslow courtroom dramas are the closest thing you'll find to the original lawyer as rogue detective early Mason novels. There's only five of them, but they deserve to be in print and - Huh? What do you mean, that's my pseudonym? So. What's your point?

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

When I wrote my first book, Detective, I went to Murder Ink and asked Carol Brenner how to get it published. She gave me the name of an agent, who read the book and rejected it. A few years later I moderated a panel on how to get your book published. That agent was on it. In my introduction, I said, "The first agent I gave my book to is on this panel. He rejected it. That book was nominated for the Edgar, was nominated for the Shamus, the fifth book in the series is in the bookroom now, and you cannot believe the wish fulfillment it is to be standing here saying this."


Cap'n Bob said...

Parnell is a pip. Long may he wave.

Trey R. Barker said...


Good interview. I especially love the answer to your first novel question. Hehehe, I'll bet that felt great for him to be able to say that. Parnell is a delightful writer and seems like a decent chap (I've only met him once or twice). But if nothing else, that's a great picture you've got of him there. Rough and tumble and ready for action.