Get A Taste For Alphabet Soup

In the March issue of RT, we investigate a new trend we've been noticing on books as of late — the initialed psuedonym! Enjoy this additional content from our "Alphabet Soup" article as the co-authors (and sisters!) who comprise P.J. Parrish give you a taste of what's to come.

RT: Why did you decide to use "P.J." instead of your names? Did it have anything to do with your chosen genre? Were you looking for a particular audience?

P.J. Parrish: There were three reasons behind the choice. First, practically speaking two names on a novel just don't look very good graphically. Second, readers tend to be a tad suspicious of collaborations, thinking that "writing by committee" just can't be very good. (We get a lot of reviewers saying they looked for the seams but couldn't find them. I guess that's a compliment!) And third, when we began our series back in 1999, there was a lingering prejudice against women writing hardboiled crime fiction. So at our publisher's recommendation, we decided to go with a neuter name using initials. When you are trying to crack into this difficult business, it is not a bad idea to cast the widest net you can for your audience. That said, I think readers are more sophisticated than publishers often give them credit for and are willing to accept gritty crime fiction from women writers. Still, we still get the occasional email from a male saying, "I normally don't read women, but I liked your stuff."

RT: Whose idea was it for you to use "P.J." instead of your names?

PP: It came to us in a moment of serendipity. We were under deadline to come up with a pen name and nothing was working. We tried Kris Kelly (using our first names) but the publisher said it "sounded too Irish." (Ah, aren't the Irish master storytellers?) We were traveling in England together, tooling around the countryside and ended up taking refuge in a pub during a bad storm. There was nothing to do but bend the old elbow, so after a couple wines, we decided our pen name would be "Paris" (because we were going to fly there in couple days). We ran outside to the red phone booth and called our agent to give her the news. Now, whether we were a bit tipsy or the phone line was bad, our agent heard "Parrish" and passed it onto our publisher. True story. But it worked out: It got us nice bookstore placement between Robert Parker and James Patterson.

RT: What does P.J. stand for?

PP: Absolutely nothing! It sounded good with Parrish. I wish I could say we came up with our name to honor a colorful old grandmother or something but it was pure "what sounds good?"

RT:  Does anyone call you both P.J. now? Do you answer to P.J. now, thanks to author appearances, book signings where that is what people call you?

PP: In the mystery community, we seem to have acquired the name "The PJ's." Which of course leads to all sorts of bad jokes in the bars of conferences. At signings, our fans usually know who is who ahead of time and call us by our first names usually. A couple times, we've shown up at TV interviews and the talking head's mouth will fall open and they say, "There's two of you!" Like we're some mutant or something. Whenever we have to wear a nametag, it is usually PJ PARRISH with our first names inked in below.  

RT: What is your favorite letter of alphabet? Why?

P.J. Parrish: Ha! Never thought about that one. How about "Y." My mom used to tell me it was the first thing I said as a baby. And it is the eternal unanswered question after all.

We hope this taste has you hungering for more! To learn more turn to page 10 in the March issue of your RT BOOK REVIEWS magazine for "Alphabet Soup."