“Some secrets are worth killing for.” That’s the setup for the highly anticipated thriller, The Guilty Dead, (Crooked Lane Books) the first solo novel by Traci Lambrecht since the passing of her mother P.J. Lambrecht. The pair wrote as P.J. Tracy, and that tradition carries on with one of the most addicting installments of the award-winning The Monkeewrench Series.

Traci always dreamed of becoming a spy before finding her true calling as an author, alongside her best friend, mother and writing partner. In this BookTrib interview, she discusses The Guilty Dead, her writing process, writing about murder, and some of her challenges, including the nuances of creating characters of the opposite sex and having to write from their point of view.

BookTrib: How did you get the idea for The Guilty Dead?

P.J. Tracy: I’d been considering the concept of justice and the many ways it can be either subverted or achieved. If you think in those terms, there are a lot of gray areas, and portraying them has always been a mainstay of the Monkeewrench series. And I’m always thinking about secrets, which fascinate me because everybody has them, big or small. I wanted to explore some doozies. Those musings set the course.

BT: This is your first solo novel. How did your writing process differ this time around?

P.J. T: It was crazy, and the most intense writing experience I’ve ever had. I started this book two weeks after PJ’s passing, truly wondering if I would want to keep writing the Monkeewrench series without her. The only way I was going to find out was to dive in, and boy, did I. I was a woman possessed, I could not stop writing.  Novels take a year or more, but the first draft of The Guilty Dead was complete in an unprecedented five months. I realize now it was a way to stay connected to PJ – writing will always be an enduring tether to her – and this novel helped me work through my grief.

BT: A lot of authors have trouble writing about the opposite sex, yet you write about Gino so flawlessly. What is the most difficult part about writing your opposite gender?

P.J. T: The biggest challenge is abandoning who you are and fully immersing yourself in an alien mindset. Writing is much like acting – you have to literally become a character in order to portray them effectively. I just act in my head instead of on a stage.  This has become my very favorite part of the job.

BT: You’ve written so many thrillers in the past. What drew you to become so involved in this genre?

P.J. T: I have always loved thrillers, so it was natural for me to gravitate toward the genre as an author. A good thriller will elicit visceral reactions, so I suppose it satisfies the inner adrenaline junkie in me. There have been many times reading or writing when I’ve been terrorized into a borderline panic attack. That’s good stuff!

BT: What was the hardest part about writing The Guilty Dead?

P.J. T: In my experience, all books are agonizing to write (in a good way), but executing the intricate plotting without PJ was a true vision quest.

BT: Everyone has his or her limits. What can’t you write?

P.J. T: Anything I haven’t tried, which means I’ve intentionally stayed away from it.  For instance, I’ve never been tempted to dip into horror or science fiction, because I know I’d be horrible at it, as much as I enjoy reading novels in those genres.  My perception of personal limitations is that they are a good thing, they keep you focused.

BT: What’s your preferred method of murder when it comes to your characters?

P.J. T: I’m equal opportunity when it comes to killing people, the methods set the mood of the book and reveal something about the murderer or murderers the detectives will pursue throughout.  But I shun explicit gore or violence and never go into detail, it seems exploitative and unnecessary.

BT: Who is the one famous literary character to whom you would compare yourself?

P.J. T.: Pollyanna.  I’m an annoyingly positive, optimistic person.

BT: What book is currently on your nightstand?

P.J. T.: I always have a couple.  Right now, it’s The Nordic Kitchen by Magnus Nilsson (I’m a total cookbook geek and read them for fun) and Anna Godberson’s Luxe.  I don’t read in my genre when I’m writing, so I go for non-fiction or total escapism.  Nilsson’s book is almost 800 pages, so when I get sick of culinary anthropology, I dive into the historical romance.

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PJ Tracy was the pseudonym of mother-daughter writing duo P.J. and Traci Lambrecht, winners of the Anthony, Barry, Gumshoe, and Minnesota Book Awards. Their eight novels, Monkeewrench, Live Bait, Dead Run, Snow Blind, Shoot To Thrill, Off the GridThe Sixth Idea, and Nothing Stays Buried have become national and international bestsellers. The Guilty Dead, the ninth installment of the Monkeewrench series, will be released in the US and the UK in fall of 2018.

PJ was a long-time resident of Minnesota until her death in December 2016.  Traci remains in rural Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis, and continues writing about the Monkeewrench gang.