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An Interview with P. M. Terrell About Her New Book Ricochet

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I had the opportunity to talk with P. M. Terrell about her latest novel Ricochet. This book is a wild adventure novel. Smuggling, terrorism, and illegal immigration all play important parts in the plot.

You are the second author this month that I have reviewed who uses initials rather than their actual name, what is the reason for the somewhat mysterious P.M.?

When my first suspense/thriller was published (Kickback), I was living in Richmond where Patricia Cornwell was a famous resident. My publisher was concerned about comparisons being made between us, particularly since we share the same first name, and she suggested that I use my initials. She also instructed the graphics artist to place my name in all lower-case letters. When the book was released, the publisher hated the lower-case but I loved it – and I’ve found it helps to set me apart from other authors.

I know my readers want to know this, so what does the P. M. stand for?

Patricia McClelland (first and middle names).

I am firmly convinced that writing is addictive. Ricochet is your third book, and obviously you are hooked. What made you become a writer? A long-time urge, or some pivotal event?

My father was an FBI Agent and in 1967, he was transferred to the Mississippi Delta. One of his major tasks was solving civil rights murders and violations, which involved some high-profile citizens. As a result, we were discouraged from having friends in school. The principal of my school observed how lonely I was, and encouraged me to write a story. She later encouraged me to enter a poetry contest, which I won. When I received my award on the school stage, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to become a writer. However, it would be almost 40 more years before I could devote the time to becoming a full-time novelist.

Your heroine Sheila is a computer whiz, and my experience with authors is that they base bits of their characters on themselves. Are you a computer whiz? And what did you do before becoming a writer?

Although my first love was writing, I became involved in computers when the original Apple computer was invented in the late 1970s. By 1984, I had started one of the first computer companies devoted to personal computer training, called McClelland Enterprises. Twelve years later, I started a second computer company devoted to programming and application development (Continental Software Development Corporation). My clients have included the U.S. Secret Service, CIA, and Department of Defense, and the knowledge has found its way into my writing.

Obviously it is a timely subject, but you managed to put a twist on it that I must admit I would never have thought of, the idea of joining illegal immigration, I.D. theft, and terrorism into a single plot. Where did you get the idea for the plot from?
I am a news junkie, and I enjoy taking stories out of the headlines and asking, “What if?” and weaving several threads together into one suspense story. I also use the technical expertise of many in law enforcement, including two FBI Special Agents and six police officers. Chief G. Mitchell Reed served as a technical expert throughout the writing of the book, providing information on cigarette smuggling, illegal immigration and sleeper cells. After my book’s release, I noted an August edition of Newsweek magazine, in which the writer provided details of Pakistanis purchasing cigarettes in Virginia and North Carolina at warehouse stores and reselling them in Illinois and New York at huge profits, which then funds terrorist activities. Cigarette trafficking now rivals drug trafficking as a fund-raising method used by various terrorist groups.

Ricochet is a fast and furious story. I must admit that what went through my mind was that it would make a great movie. I could see it fitting nicely in 120 minutes of action. Have you given any thought to moving in that direction?

Yes, I traveled to Hollywood last November and met with two movie producers. Neither was interested in a movie on terrorism, thinking it was too close to the truth right now — but one is interested in an earlier work, The China Conspiracy, which has been compared to both The Manchurian Candidate and Three Days of the Condor, and the other is interested in an historical suspense scheduled for release this fall entitled Songbirds are Free. I am a visual person, and I write my books with the same action-packed sequences as we see in the movies.

Sheila and Steve are well-developed characters. Are they destined to re-appear in a future book?

Sheila made her first appearance in my debut suspense, Kickback. I had not intended to write a series but so many people liked Sheila and wanted to see her return in a future book that I decided to write Ricochet as a sequel (although I also wrote it to stand on its own, in case readers were not familiar with my earlier work). The only reason Sheila and Steve did not have more of a romantic involvement was because my FBI technical advisors told me Steve would lose his job if he fraternized with one of his Academy students. Now that Sheila has graduated, though, the future is open for Steve and Sheila to pursue a romantic involvement.

The topics in Ricochet touch on some fairly delicate areas, (also some potentially dangerous areas). Was research difficult? How did you do your research?

I go straight to the experts when writing my books, so Ricochet relied heavily on law enforcement advisors, including several Police Chiefs and FBI Agents. I also depended upon a famed pathologist’s recommendation regarding carbon monoxide poisoning and tobacco poisoning. With the explosions, I read newspaper accounts of past explosions and watched video available on the Internet.

The themes that you use in Ricochet are somewhat haunting. Could you see this as a reality?

I was initially concerned that I could be giving terrorists ideas so I broached the subject to each of my law enforcement advisors. They all said exactly the same thing — that they knew the terrorists had already thought of this scenario (with the malls) and Homeland Security had been working on the issue. The recommendation from each person was to go ahead with the book.

I mentioned earlier that I have a theory about authors and their characters. My guess is that P. M. Terrell has an Aunt Jo – she is too cute to not exist. Am I right?

Aunt Jo was actually named after my mother, who was always called “Jo.” My mother was the feistiest person I ever knew. She passed away in January 2007 and I miss her tremendously. The house is an actual house that my Aunt Florene lives in, in Sunnyside, Tennessee. My father and my uncle built the house with their own hands around 1940. My aunt was born in the house at the top of the hill and the land at its base was given to her by her father when she married, so she has never lived anywhere except that hill… and she is in her 90’s now.

Postscript: This is an author that you should keep your eye out for, in my opinion it is only a matter of time before we see P. M. Terrell on the best seller lists.

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About Simon Barrett

  • http://nukapai.typepad.com Nukapai

    Writing is definitely addictive, in the way that scratching a scab is addictive. ;)

    More seriously: it’s quite chilling to think that mystery and crime novelists may have to face the moral dilemma of whether there will be copycats.

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