In what order were your books published?

(Note: all are in the Louis Kincaid series unless where noted)

  1. Dark of the Moon (2000)
  2. Dead of Winter (2001)
  3. Paint It Black (2002)
  4. Thicker Than Water (2003)
  5. Island of Bones (2004)
  6. A Killing Rain (2005)
  7. An Unquiet Grave (2006)
  8. A Thousand Bones (2007, Joe Frye novel)
  9. South of Hell (2008, Louis and Joe both appear)
  10. The Little Death (2010)
  11. The Killing Song (2011, standalone)
  12. Claw Back (2012, novella)
  13. Heart of Ice (2013)
  14. She's Not There (2015, standalone)
  15. The Damage Done (2018)

How did you come to write together?

Kris has been a professional writer all her adult life, first in the newspaper business and then when she had four women's contemporary fiction novels published. But with the romance marketing in a slump, she decided to try suspense. Meanwhile, Kelly had been trying to write a novel on her own with no success. She had been a closet writer, obsessed with murderous stories beginning as a teenager and running on for years on the pages of spiral notebooks. When not writing, Kelly was furiously racing through the pages of true crime novels or mystery fiction. Lacking the polish, but not imagination, Kelly was always on the verge of pouring out her ideas on paper, but was never quite able to refine the compulsion to tell stories properly. At the same time, Kris was stymied in her career as a romance writer and lacking general knowledge in the mystery genre. It was Kris's husband's idea for them to collaborate. One day Kris called Kelly and said "I have a proposal for you." Thus, P.J. Parrish was born.

Most writers can't imagine collaborating with someone. How does it work?

Believe it or not, it is not at all hard for us. In the early days of our career together, we had to do outlines for the publisher, so we would just brainstorm until we had the basic plot and characters figured out. It gave us a roadmap to follow, plus or more often, deviate from. But now we go to contract based only on short concepts, so our creative process is more freewheeling and scary. We start with an idea and usually a "what if" or a moment in a character's life, and then we talk talk talk until it starts to take shape as a story. From there, we literally take assignments for chapters or scenes based on which of us has a better feel for the work to be done. It used to break down pretty clearly: Kelly taking the technical action scenes, Kris taking the narrative, inner character dialogs and descriptions. But now we equally share all writing duties as both of us become stronger writers. Because we live in different states, we are in phone contact every day. But we work separately and exchange our results via AOL. Often, one of us will leave a chapter unfinished or without an opening with big read notes to each other like: ADD ATMOSPHERE or I DON'T KNOW HOW THIS SCENE ENDS! FINISH IT. We do a lot of rewriting...we are huge believers in the idea that it is in rewriting that books are truly created. The best compliment we have received (from both readers and reviewers) it that they can't see the seams of our collaboration. Strangely, we both are working on separate projects right now and finding it a struggle! We like to think of our collaboration as similar to that of great song-writing teams. Lennon and McCartney each had successful solo careers, but something magical happened when they collaborated to create the Beatles's songbook.

What about your pen name? Where did that come from?

When our agent was shopping around our first manuscript, she decided not to tell editors who (or what) we were. The editor who bought Dark of the Moon thought we were a black man (many people still do...90 percent of our mail comes address to Mr. Parrish). Unfortunately, there is still a bias against women crime writers, and since our books are rather gritty, realistic (hardboiled in the genre slang), our publisher did not want readers to come to us with any prejudices. So they asked us to come up with a pen name. We were traveling together in Europe while this was going on and sitting in an English pub actually after just flying in from Paris and with a couple drinks in us decided with great glee to use the last name Paris. Our agent tweaked it to Parrish and the initials were added only because they sounded right.

What are the pluses and minuses of writing as a team?

The best is the double insight you get into your characters, plot and overall story. To say nothing of the double dose of energy and imagination. What one doesn't catch, the other does. We have concluded that we each have very special qualities we bring to the books, qualities that seem to blend effectively. We had an interesting letter from a man who said had he known Dead of Winter was written by two people he wouldn't have bothered because he hates "writing by committee." The only real hard part is coordinating time.

Your protagonist, Louis Kincaid, is biracial—born of an African-American mother and Caucasian father. What was behind the creation of such a rich character?

The central part of Mississippi is rich in history, almost to the point of being able to feel the triumphs, tragedies and yes, ghosts in the humid, summer air. It is also a place that peacefully lingers several steps behind other parts of the country, comfortable in its traditions and slow life-style. It was this atmosphere, combined with the entry into the world of a beautiful child named Charlotte, that spawned the character of Louis Kincaid. Comments on his heritage are few compared to those who have simply found him a likable, refreshing protagonist. We feel that it is not so much his heritage that warms the reader's heart, but his humanistic approach to his job, his life and the world in general. We wanted to create someone different from the hardened, bitter detective who is drug back into the case by a fellow cop because he is the only one on the face of the earth who can solve it. We're pleased that the response to Louis has been overwhelmingly positive. We have gotten emails from African-American readers who relate to his struggles and search for identity. We even got a message from a teacher who used Dark of the Moon and the Langston Hughes poem in the forward in her class for Black History Month.

Your choice to set Louis's police work in the 1980's. To some of us, the 1980's seem like yesterday, but in terms of technical and forensic advances it's ancient history. Louis is without cellular phones, DNA testing and internet connection. Why?

For the first book, it was so we could step back a few years when the New South wasn't quite so new, and also to force Louis to solve a crime that still would've met resistance. But it was also a deliberate choice so we could focus more on our characters and their bare-bones ingenuity in their approach to their crimes. We didn't want the crime lab solving everything. We wanted the people to do it. DNA has radically changed some aspects of police work, and we wanted to avoid that. (We plan to deal with its advent in a future book, however.) In the third Louis Kincaid book, Paint it Black, which takes place in 1985, we have a female FBI agent who comes to help out with a serial killer case, and she is one of the bureau's earliest "profilers." So we get to introduce readers to the early days of what is now a routine part of investigations. But with our latest book, The Little Death, we are butting up against the advent of DNA and changing technologies. Look for Louis to adapt to these and other challenges in future books.

What do you see as a future for your character and the series as whole?

We have many plans for Louis, and have not reached the point where we feel he or the series is becoming stale. We try to strategically plan out Louis's personal journeys, and lay the groundwork for something that we expect to happen in book nine, in maybe book six. Some of the things we hope to find conclusions to in the next few books are Louis's long-awaited confrontation with the father who abandoned him, a meeting with his siblings and possibly even his stepping back into structured law enforcement. What do you think he should do? Drop a line!

Why did you decide to start a second series with a female cop?

When we switched to Pocket Books, they asked us if we would consider doing a second series featuring a female lead to run alongside the Louis Kincaid books. We didn't need convincing because—although we love Louis and know he's our franchise player—we thought we needed a break. And Joe was there standing in the shadows but all but begging us to tell her story. As our readers know, Joe Frye first appeared in A Killing Rain. But most of you don't know she was meant to be a cameo, a mere walk-on cop in one chapter. But the moment Joe came on stage, neither we nor Louis could ignore her. She stayed in the book to help him solve the crime. And then, well, she and Louis kind of fell hard for each other. And we fell for her. Our plan is to alternate the characters or have them appear in books together.