By Ken Isaacson
Pam Wechsler spent more than 15 years working as a prosecutor at the local, state, and federal levels. She’s served as an Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney general in Boston, and she was a trial attorney for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. She’s investigated and prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, including murder, witness intimidation, sexual assault, drug trafficking, stock market manipulation, and political corruption.
About 10 years ago, Wechsler moved to Los Angeles to work as a legal consultant and writer for network television shows. Her credits include Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law and Order: Trial by Jury, Conviction, and Canterbury’s Law.
It’s no surprise then that Wechsler’s debut novel, MISSION HILL, features Abby Endicott, chief of the District Attorney’s homicide unit in Boston, where she investigates and prosecutes the city’s most dangerous killers. A graduate of the elite Winsor School, Harvard College, and Harvard Law, the prosecutor’s office is not the prestigious job that would have been expected of her. She’s been known to change into an evening gown amid bodies in the morgue. She loves her job and is committed to it, refusing all pressure to quit from her upper-crust parents or threats from the city’s most ruthless killers. But among Abby’s many secrets is her longtime affair with fellow prosecutor Tim Mooney, a married father of one.
One night, Abby is awakened very late by a phone call from her favorite detective, who reports that there has been a horrific murder but is vague about the specifics. When she arrives at the crime scene and discovers the identity of the victim, Abby knows that terror and tragedy are only beginning.
In MISSION HILL, Wechsler delivers a gripping and very human portrayal of a woman who will stop at nothing to find the truth, even if it challenges everything she believes about justice.
She kindly agreed to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
You spent over fifteen years as a prosecutor in Boston. What prompted you to move to L.A. to work in T.V.?
I loved being a prosecutor. The work was intellectually challenging, emotionally satisfying, and it gave me a sense of connection to my community. It was also stressful, and at times, scary. After fifteen years, I needed a change and wanted to do something completely different. Writing for television seemed like the perfect solution.
A lot of people dream of being a Hollywood writer. How were you able to break into that?
It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t know a lot about Hollywood, or scriptwriting, so I did a lot of research. I binged watched legal dramas, analyzed scripts, and studied the craft. I wrote a couple of spec scripts and sent them to an agent, who took me on as a client. Then, I waited. And waited.
When I was working for the Justice Department, I had a case in L.A., so whenever I was out there, I would check in with my agent. One day, he called—a new Law & Order show was looking for a technical advisor. That afternoon, after I finished presenting my witness in the grand jury, I drove out to Universal Studios, met with the showrunner, and he offered me the job.
And now, after 10 years in T.V., you’re moving into crime fiction in print. Why? Are you leaving T.V. or keeping that up too?
About four years ago, I returned to Boston for family reasons. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be here, so I went back to work in a DA’s office. A couple of years in, I was contacted by producers for The Judge, a movie that was being filmed in the area—they were looking for a legal advisor. I took the job, and while on-set, one of the actors—who also happened to be an Academy Award-winning writer—suggested that I write a book based on my experiences in the DA’s office.
So, I quit lawyering—again—and gave myself one year to write and sell the novel that has become MISSION HILL. I haven’t left T.V. at all—I’ve been consulting on a few television pilots.
How would you compare and contrast TV writing and novel writing?
There are tremendous differences. Writing a novel is a solitary pursuit—for me, that’s the biggest difference. Television writing is a collaborative effort; a group of writers work together in a writers’ room, where they break stories, develop plot lines, and create character arcs. T.V. writers also work with actors, producers, directors, and crew members. Novelists spend their days alone with their thoughts.
What is the most frightening thing that has happened to you while researching a WIP?
Because of my background, I didn’t really do much research while I was writing the novel; much of MISSION HILL is drawn from a real life experience. When I was in the DA’s office, one of my colleagues was murdered by someone he was prosecuting. The characters in the book aren’t based on real people, but the feelings are very real. I tried to capture the fear, grief, turmoil, and self-doubt that everyone in the office experienced.
Your protagonist, Abby Endicott, went to a prestigious law school, chose to work as a prosecutor, and is pressured by her parents to find a job that’s more suitable to someone of her background. How about your family? Have they been supportive of your decision to go into public service?
My family wasn’t surprised by my decision to go into public service. They were surprised, however, when I decided to quit my job as a federal prosecutor, move cross-country, and go work in Hollywood.
Name a few authors who have influenced you.
When I wrote MISSION HILL, I was influenced by a mix of authors, including Jane Austen, Robert Parker, and my mother. Jane Austen’s strong female protagonists always intrigued me, and I hope that MISSION HILL readers will find a hint of Elizabeth Bennett’s spirit in Abby Endicott. I’m a longtime fan of Robert Parker’s Spenser series; I’m particularly drawn to the sharp dialogue and use of Boston as a character, which are both important ingredients in MISSION HILL. And, growing up, my mother wrote book reviews and personal essays for our local newspaper. Reading those pieces, I learned how to draw from my own life as part of the creative process.
What’s next for Abby Endicott? Will she be back?
Yes, Abby will definitely be back. MISSION HILL is the first in a series of three. The second book is with my editor now and I’m working on the third.
Pamela Wechsler grew up in the Boston area and is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston University School of Law. After spending fifteen 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.