Parnell Hall interview with David Alan Binder

posted Feb 12, 2017, 8:13 AM by David Alan Binder

Parnell Hall interview with David Alan Binder

Bio from his website:  Readers of my Stanley Hastings private eye series may be surprised to learn I was influenced by Robert B. Parker. I read his Spenser books, and was blown away by them. Shortly thereafter I saw him interviewed on TV. He was asked why people like his books. He said, “I think they like the way the words sound.” The interviewer was taken aback, but I looked at his books again and he was absolutely right. There was a flow, a cadence, the words jumped off the page.

When I started my first book, Detective, I wanted it to sound good. It must have worked. The book was nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards. Subsequent reviews referred to my “trademark, zippy, witty dialogue.”

Readers of my Puzzle Lady series may be surprised to find the books were written by the same person. The original manuscript even had a woman’s name as the author. Cora Felton, a charming fraud, who has been described as “Miss Marple on steroids” and “Jessica Fletcher meets Groucho Marx,” was voted the Best New Discovery by the Mystery Guild.

My Steve Winslow series came from a lifetime of reading Perry Mason. Indeed, The Anonymous Client, begun shortly after Erle Stanley Gardner died, was begun as a Perry Mason novel and completed as a Steve Winslow novel after Gardner’s widow refused to give up the rights.

Before turning to mystery writing I had several other careers. I was a stage and screen actor, a singer/songwriter, a screenwriter, and a private investigator. But I’m happy to be writing books



1.     How do you pronounce your name? 

My name is pronounced ‘par’ as if golf, ‘nell’ as in death knell, hall as in corridor. It doesn't matter. No telephone operator has ever gotten it right.


2.     Where are you currently living?

I live in New York City.


3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

Be flexible and learn to bounce. Just because your series character is getting good reviews doesn't mean that's what you should be writing. When your publisher drops you, don't try to sell the series elsewhere. No one will want it. Take your lumps and write something else. My private eye was dropped and I came up with the Puzzle Lady. I also put a woman's name on the manuscript as the author. Bantam snapped it right up.


4.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I dictate. Not just notes. I dictate everything. I have a pocket digital recorder, and I can write on a plane, driving a car, sitting in the park, even standing in the ocean. I have done all those things. It doesn't matter where you are, the words come out the same.


5.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

When kindle got hot I put my backlist on line. My wife was skeptical. She figured we'd never earn back the money we spent on the covers. We earned it back in one month. Granted, we put out eighteen books, but that's a lot of covers. The frenzy has died down, and my book limp along now, but the money trickles in and they're up there forever.


I had one manuscript, The Innocent Woman, the sixth book in the Steve Winslow courtroom series.  I'd had it in a box for fifteen years, since one of my publishers offered me such a small advance for it I declined publication. I'd taken my main series away from him, and he was mad. So I published that as an eBook. It sold about as well as the other books in the series. The only down side was it's not in print and no major publication would review it, despite the fact it was the sixth book in an established series.


a.     Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

My current publishers are St. Martins Minotaur, Penguin Putam, and Pegasus. They're all in New York.


6.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

My music video on that very subject, eBook vs Book: the Musical, is on YouTube. It features many mystery writers, some of whom sing.


7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?      

Getting a book published is like winning the lottery. It helps to write a good book, but that alone won't do it. My book, Detective, was rejected by several agents and nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards. I'm sure persistence helps. I don't have it. Faced with rejection, I stopped trying. I wouldn't be published today if my wife hadn't met someone she knew from high school. She said my husband's a writer and he said I have a friend who's an agent.


8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

When I started out I had no idea. Now I know there are conventions where agents talk on panels and prospective writers go to listen and get ideas and meet agents and pick up writing tips. I'm sure anyone reading this knows all that. The Bouchercons, and Left Coasts, and Malices, and Magnas, just to name a few.


9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

I can't teach you how to write. No two writers write alike. You have to find what works for you. Before I got published I read Robert B. Parker's Spenser books. They were terrific. I saw him interviewed on TV. He was asked, "Why do people like you books?" He said, "I think they like the way the words sound." The interviewer was confused. "What?" "Yeah," Parker said, "If the words sound good, people enjoy reading them, and I think they like my books because they like the way the words sound."

Frankly, I was with the interviewer. No one reads this stuff out loud. So I went back to the books, and started reading one, and Parker was absolutely right. The words sounded good. There was a pace, a rhythm, a cadence to everything he wrote. When I started my first book shortly thereafter I had no idea what the plot was, but I didn't care. I just wanted it to sound good. The book was Detective. It was nominated for an Edgar.

Anyway, that helped me. It won't help you. I'm sure you'll feel like the interviewer. The point is, find something that strikes a chord in you, and go with it.

10.                        What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

Just because a book gets good reviews doesn't mean anyone is going to read it.

11.                        How many books have you written?

44 have been published. 2 more are on the way.

12.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?


I already said I don't. But I would recommend William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade. It's about writing movies, but the process carries over. And if you write your book like you were writing a movie, you wind up with short, punchy chapters, that lead into each other and carry you along. My book, The Baxter Trust, was written first as a screenplay.


13.                        Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

I use the wouldn't-it-be-neat approach. I don't outline, so the story will be going along and I'll think, wouldn't it be neat if this happened instead.

14.                        What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

If I knew that, I could get off the midlist. If you figure it out, let me know.


15.                        What are some ways in which you promote your work?

I have music videos about writing on YouTube.  Check out Signing in the Waldenbooks.


16.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I used one-word titles for the books in my private eye series. I thought it would be clever. It might have been, if the books were well known. As if is, I'd have probably done better with catchy descriptive tiles.