Q&A with Pamela Wechsler, Author of Mission Hill

Pam Wechsler spent several years as a criminal prosecutor in Boston, MA before moving to Los Angeles to write for television—most notably Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Law & Order: Trial by Jury. Now, Ms. Wechsler is trying her hand at crime fiction with her first novel, Mission Hill. She was kind enough to answer some of CrimeHQ's questions about her writing inspirations, her first novel and its protagonist Abby Endicott, and what it's like to write for television and film.

What authors have inspired your foray into crime writing? 

The inspiration for my first novel, Mission Hill, came from a mix of writers, including Robert Parker, Jane Austen, and my mother.

I’m a longtime fan of Robert Parker’s Spenser series, particularly his economical prose style, sharp dialogue, and his use of Boston as a character. These are all important ingredients in Mission Hill.

I grew up reading, and rereading, Jane Austen. I was drawn to her strong, independent female protagonists. I hope that Mission Hill readers will find a hint of Elizabeth Bennett’s indomitable spirit in Abby Endicott.

My mother used to write book reviews and personal essays for our local newspaper. Her articles taught me how to create stories by drawing from my own life experiences.
 

Tell us about Abby Endicott. Where did your inspiration for her come from?

Abby Endicott was inspired by my years as a homicide prosecutor in Boston.

She is a Brahmin, who grew up on posh Beacon Hill. She went to the elite Winsor School and graduated from Harvard Law. She is fashion-obsessed, adrenaline-addicted, and street smart.

Abby could work anywhere, but she chose to work in the district attorney’s office. She spends her days with victims and witnesses in crack houses, courtrooms, hospital emergency rooms, and the morgue. She spends her rare off-hours at home with her musician boyfriend and with her family at black tie affairs.

How is writing a novel different from writing for a television show?

Television writing runs at a faster pace. I started writing Mission Hill in January of 2014, I sold it in October of 2014, and it will be published on May 3, 2016. That’s about two-and-a-half years from start to finish—in the world of fiction, that’s very fast. Scripts for one-hour TV dramas can be written and produced in a month.

Another difference is that television writing is a collaborative effort, while writing a novel is a solitary, often lonely, endeavor. Television writers often spend much of their time in writers’ rooms, where they develop storylines and character arcs. When the story is ready to be produced, television writers interact with producers, directors, studio and network executives, and actors. Often, writers are on-set while the episode is being filmed, so they can make necessary adjustments to the script. Novelists, on the other hand, can spend an entire workday in their pajamas without talking to anyone.

How much of the storylines that you worked on for Law & Order were taken from current headlines? Do any specific ones come to mind?

One of the things that audiences loved about the Law & Order franchise was that so many of the episodes were ripped from the headlines. Writers would search for interesting news stories and research novel points of law, and then twist them into something unexpected.

I wrote a story for Law & Order: Criminal Intent, called “Identity Crisis.” It was inspired by the Clark Rockefeller impersonator who made headlines after it was discovered that he had been posing as a member of the Rockefeller family. The real case was prosecuted by a former colleague in Boston.

How was your experience working on the film The Judge? Do you have any upcoming films that you're involved in? Was working on a film different from working on a television show? 

I was the on-set legal advisor for The Judge. I had never worked on a big-budget Hollywood movie before, and it was a great experience. Everything about the production was exceptional—from the directing and writing to the lighting and set design. And, it was such a thrill to work with Academy Award winning actors.

There are a lot of differences between television and movies. Since feature films have bigger budgets, everything is done on a larger scale. There are more crew members, more equipment, and more options for locations, props, and set decoration. It can also take days, rather than hours to rehearse, set up, and shoot a single scene.

I don’t have plans to work on any upcoming films, but I have been consulting on a couple of television pilots. Fingers crossed that one of them gets a pickup!

What TV show are you currently binging on? Or what was the last show you binged on?

Most recently, I binge-watched Making a Murderer on Netflix. Before that, I binged on The Fall, a British crime drama about a serial killer. I’m excited about watching the upcoming season of House of Cards.
 

What are you currently reading?

I just finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and rereading Strangers on a Train by Patricia HighsmithEvery Secret Thing by Laura Lippman is next on my list.

Read an excerpt from Mission Hill here!

 

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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Pamela Wechsler grew up in the Boston area and is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston University School of Law. After spending years as a criminal prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels, she moved to Los Angeles, where she spent seven years as a legal consultant and writer for network television shows, including:Law and Order; Law and Order: Criminal Intent; Law and Order: Trial by Jury; Conviction; and Canterbury's Law.

Comments

  1. mary anne english

    why was your book titled “mission hill’? The only brief scene in that local, was the funeral parlor on Tremont Street. I was in business ( Travers’ Tavern } for twenty years. I also couldn’t place the location of the book cover. Thank you for allowing me to put forth my questions. Mary Anne English

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