An Interview with Pamela Wechsler, author of The Graves

Pamela Wechsler’s new novel The Graves, the second in the Abby Endicott series, was published on May 2. It has garnered advance praise from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, with the latter writing: “Catnip for readers attached to Boston, believably strong women, legal intrigue, or any combination of the above.” The first book in the series, Mission Hill, was called “a Boston crime series to join the pantheon of Spenser and Patrick Kenzie” by Boston Magazine.

Pam spent over seventeen years working as a criminal prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels. She has also worked as a technical advisor, writer, and producer for network television and film, including the Law and Order franchise. Pam grew up in the Boston area and is a graduate of Tufts and Boston University School of Law. She was living back in Boston when she enrolled at GrubStreet and wrote most of her first novel, Mission Hill, in Sophie Powell’s Novel in Progress class. She later wrote most of The Graves in Lisa Borders’ Master Novel in Progress class.

Now living in Los Angeles, Pam is a writer and producer for the CBS drama Bull. To find out more about Pam and her work, visit www.pamelawechsler.com.

Lisa Borders: What was different about writing a second novel versus writing your first? Was there anything that surprised you about your process this time around?

Pamela Wechsler: Whenever I finish writing something—a script, a short story, or a novel—I feel depleted. I’m convinced that I have nothing left to say and I’ll never be able to generate another story. My experience with The Graves was no different. When I started thinking about it, I felt like I’d already used every good idea I had on Mission Hill. That said, once I got past the requisite self-loathing part of the process, I had a lot of fun. I realized that in writing Mission Hill, I learned a lot about the craft of writing a novel. I got a lot of instruction and helpful feedback at Grub Street, I did my own research, and I got notes from my agent and my publisher. I knew more about what I didn’t know, which has allowed me to continue to grow and hone my craft.

You wrote the first two books largely in Grub Street classes–mine and Sophie Powell’s–but you’re now living in Los Angeles. Are you writing the third book outside of a workshop structure now that you’re no longer in Boston, or did you find a Grub Street equivalent in L.A.?

I submitted a first draft of my third book to my publisher last week. I actually wrote most of that book in Grub Street workshops before I left Boston. My move to LA was fast and unexpected, and I’m so glad I had done most of the heavy lifting while I was still attending Grub Street workshops.

As soon as I got to LA, I started working on a television show, and I still had to do edits on my second book, so I put the third book away for about eight months. It was a struggle to pick up again. Now that I work full-time on a television show, I don’t have time to join a workshop for my novels. Finishing that third book without the structure, feedback, and community of Grub Street was tough.

Now that you’ve moved, are you finding it easier or harder to write about Boston?

I knew that moving to LA was going to make it harder to write about Boston. Before I left town, I drove around and took pictures of key locations in my third book. I also sat in coffee shops, listened to conversations, and took notes. Whenever I’m back, I talk to as many people, and visit as many places, as possible.

Some writers, myself included, find it hard to write about a place until they’ve left it—I think for me, nostalgia plays a role, but also, having the distance to examine a place from angles other than the day-to-day seems important. But it sounds like you’re the opposite.

Yes, I think I am the opposite. I guess I’m a skeptic, constantly analyzing and questioning everyone and everything. Plus, I have a really bad memory.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series of books with the same protagonist? I could imagine some of these being intertwined—for example, not having to start each new book with an entirely new cast of characters could be great, but it might also be possible to get a little tired of those characters or run out of fresh ways to explore them.

The advantages and disadvantages are definitely intertwined. I already know my setting, characters and basic plot structure—which makes it both easier and more difficult. I don’t want to keep writing about the same thing, but I have to maintain a certain level of consistency. The toughest part is developing the relationship between my characters, and making them evolve in a meaningful way. It’s also tricky to remind readers about important events in the earlier books, without adding a lot of exposition or rehashing previous storylines.

The Graves has a memorable villain at its center. How did you build his character? Were there any real-life cases you looked to for inspiration?

I always draw from real life. The Graves was drawn from a few cases that I found compelling. When I was in the DA’s Office, I had a serial rape case that was particularly disturbing and I also had a couple of cases involving fraternities. I also was fascinated by the case of a man who was posing as a Rockefeller. He married a prominent woman and moved in high-society, fooling everyone for decades. When his wife found out, she divorced him; he kidnapped his child and disappeared. I didn’t have any involvement in this case but I followed it closely in the news.

I found that Clark Rockefeller case fascinating, as did many writers I know. I’m sure part of your interest was as a former prosecutor, but I believe there’s also something in his story that taps into the writer’s psyche.

I’ve always been interested in people who live double lives. As a writer, I want to know what drives them, the lengths they’re willing to go to, and how they get away with it. As a prosecutor, I want to know how they get caught.

Now that you’re writing and producing a television series, how often do you write? What do your days look like?

I go to an office every day, where I spend a lot of time in the writers’ room. That’s where we come up with plot ideas, create character arcs, and break stories for upcoming episodes. When it’s my turn to write an episode, I go off and write alone. Once the script is finalized, I go through the production process. I spend a couple of weeks with the cast and crew for prep and filming of the episode. Then, it’s back to the writers’ room.

And how do you squeeze in working on your novels?

I can usually find the time. A lot of days, I drag myself out of bed at 4 or 5 a.m. and work for a couple of hours. During filming, I’m often getting ready to leave my hotel at that hour, so I bring my laptop and squeeze in writing in between scenes, when the crew is relighting the set. When I’m writing a script, however, it’s more of a challenge. I find it disorienting to move back and forth, from writing a scene about Bull and then one about Abby, in the same day.

Has Abby grown or changed from Book 1 to Book 2? If so, how?

Like most of us, Abby is a work in progress. She’s trying to learn from her mistakes, with varying degrees of success. She’s working on her relationship with her boyfriend, trying to find a balance between work and her personal life, and dealing with her parents expectations—all while chasing down her next killer.

What should we expect next for Abby in Book 3? Will you continue the series after that?

Abby and Ty move to a new apartment and Abby’s family goes through some changes. Abby is still an adrenalin-addicted workaholic and her career choices still put her and her loved ones in danger.

I’m not sure about my next novel. I’ve talked to my agent and publisher about writing a stand alone book, which could be next. But I’m not sure I’m ready to let Abby go just yet.

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