P. J. Tracy
P.J. Tracy answers some delving questions into the writing of Want to Play?
Want to Play? features some great characters who readers will identify with and indeed, everyone will have their favourite. Do you have a favourite character in the book, and if so, why have you chosen this character?This is a bit like asking a parent which of their children they like best. In the early stages of pulling the story together, Grace McBride was the centrepiece and a clear favourite, primarily because she could earn my admiration and pull at my heartstrings at the same time. She could also wear English riding boots all day long, which in my opinion puts her in the superhero category. But as the writing progressed and other characters became more developed, I found myself switching loyalties, fickle sort that I am, becoming emotionally attached to whatever character I was writing at the time. An obvious case of ‘love the one you’re with’, I suppose.
The book is obviously very well researched, and there is a lot of in depth knowledge about how police utilise computers to track down criminals. How much research did you have to do before beginning the book, and how much information did the police let you access?Research – from books, articles, the internet, and one very beleaguered computer wizard — was ongoing from the first to the last page. Nothing like writing a novel even loosely based on reality, to learn how very little you know about almost everything. I did see quite a bit of police procedure in the years I worked for both defence and prosecuting attorneys, which provided some background information and an invaluable opportunity to get to know the people beneath the uniforms. Although the specifics about the Minneapolis Police Department’s operation were conveniently fictionalized for the sake of the story, the bravery and decency of the officers depicted in the book certainly mirrors reality.
The novel features a very inventive and shocking computer game. What do you think of the proliferation of recent video games that feature ever more realistic and gory graphics? Are you a fan of these games yourself?Absolutely not. I admit a potential addiction to the early computer games, where a relatively harmless PacMan gobbled up dots or the player blasted asteroids before they could strike the earth – these were relatively non-violent challenges of eye-hand coordination – sort of like tennis in a chair. But I find the destruction of realistic representations of people an abhorrent, incomprehensible trend. In fact, the genesis of Want To Play? was actually the simple wish of a mystery-lover for a game in which you could utilize more intellect and less mouse-skill to solve murders rather than commit them.
The closing chapters of the book are an exhilarating climax that had my heart racing. What kind of situation frightens you?Sitting alone in a house in the country, well after dark, then turning around in my chair to see a face on the other side of the window. Also, other passengers on your airplane screaming. I absolutely hate that.
Do you have any plans to use any of the characters from Want To Play? in any other novels?Happily, many of the characters from Want to Play? will appear in the next three books of this series.
How does writing fiction compare to writing for the screen? Do you have a preference for one or the other, and do you intend to continue as a screenwriter?Screenplays are ultimately a visual experience, so you have to write from a completely different perspective – since you can’t be inside a character’s head, you have to find ways to demonstrate thoughts and emotions through actions and images, which can be very limiting. You also have to condense a tremendous amount of information into 120 script pages, leaving you little time to do much more than the basics of introducing characters, moving the plot along, and resolving the conflict. Fiction, on the other hand, gives you the luxury of time to develop more complex plots and to really explore your characters in depth. It’s so gratifying to create characters that you believe will inspire an emotional investment in the reader – and gratifying for the reader, too, if you succeed in the effort.
Were there any particular reasons for using Minneapolis and Wisconsin as the backdrop to the novel?I spent my high school years in a small town in Wisconsin, and now live in the country about forty miles north of Minneapolis, so the Midwest is home base for me, the people and places I know best.
The dialogue in Want To Play? is incredibly fresh, realistic and often very funny. Do you take inspiration from people around you, and are your characters based on anyone in particular?Every encounter and every conversation, whether I’m participating or eavesdropping, is a source of material, so my characters generally end up being composites of many different people. I try to create characters I’d like to know or befriend if they existed outside the pages of the book, and since I value a good sense of humour above almost all, I inevitably end up with a few wise-crackers.
Your novel is a fantastic thriller debut, gripping, chilling and incredibly well written. Who is your favourite thriller writer?Such a difficult question! There are so many great writers out there, but a few of my favorites are T. Jefferson Parker, John Sanford, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, and Nelson DeMille. The UK has so many terrific mystery-thriller writers, too, and I’m always looking for new ones. I’ve been reading Minette Walters and John Connolly for years.
Finally, why should our Penguin website browsers read Want To Play?I have always loved the idea of a book that combined various elements of thrillers, whodunnits, police procedurals, and character-driven fiction – in my opinion, the best of all worlds, and what a great read! You’d have a fast-paced book with lots of action, a labyrinthine plot that would keep you guessing until the end, and lots of lovable, quirky characters you could grow to care about, and maybe even love. That was my goal in writing Want To Play? – whether or not I’ve achieved it? You’ll have to read the book!
(This interview was reproduced by kind permission of BCA, with questions by Keishini Naidoo)