By Tracy March
Reader to Reader Reviews calls award-winning author Leslie Parrish “a romantic suspense genius.” Her latest novel, Cold Sight, is the first in her eXtrasensory Agent series.
After being made a scapegoat in a botched investigation that led to a child’s death, Aidan McConnell became a recluse. Still, as a favor to an old friend, Aidan will help on the occasional XI case. But under his handsome, rugged facade, he keeps his emotions in check–for fear of being burned again.
Reporter Lexie Nolan has a nose for news–and she believes a serial killer has been targeting teen girls around Savannah. But no one believes her. So she turns to the new paranormal detective agency and the sexy, mysterious Aidan for help.
Just as the two begin forging a relationship, the case turns eerily personal for Lexie–and Aidan discovers that maybe he hasn’t lost the ability to feel after all.
I spoke with Leslie Parrish about her latest work and many talents.
In your highly acclaimed Black CATs series you brought to life the Cyber Action Team.Cold Sight is your first book in a series featuring Extra Sensory Agents. What inspired you to make the leap from computer experts to paranormal detectives?
One thing I loved about writing the Black CATs books was getting to go at the serial-killer-romantic-thriller novel from a different angle. Instead of being standard FBI agents or cops, my characters were members of a Cyber Action Team, and they used their computer savvy to go after Internet criminals.
When I decided to branch out in another series, I wanted to find another skill-set my core group of characters could use to solve their cases. I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal, and psychic phenomena, so it seemed a perfect time to try writing about a group of paranormal investigators.
Tell us about the research you did into psychic/paranormal phenomena when preparing to write your new series. What did you learn that fascinated you the most?
I did a lot of reading–articles, biographies and true-crime novels–and I think I must have watched every episode of Psychic Detective! Lol!
Probably what most fascinated (and disappointed) me was to learn that there is really no conclusive proof that any psychic detectives have been instrumental in solving crimes. While some police departments admit to receiving tips from psychics, none credit those tips for any significant findings; nor does the FBI admit to having any successes with paranormal investigators. Even the most famous (some might say infamous) psychics have more detractors than supporters and very little rock-solid proof that they’ve done what they claim to have done.
But that’s why it’s called fiction, obviously. I wrote the eXtrasensory Agents series so I could explore a group that is successful. Playing the “what if” game is what being a writer is all about, and just as readers are aware when they read a vampire novel that vampires aren’t real, hopefully they will willingly suspend disbelief when it comes to the psychic phenomena explored in my books.
News reporting is traditionally fact-based. In Cold Sight, what motivates reporter Lexie Nolan to consider the assistance of a paranormal investigator? What reservations does she have about consulting Aidan?
Lexie turns to Aidan out of desperation. She’s a pariah in her own hometown, the “girl who cried wolf.” After writing a series of articles about girls who have gone missing, nearly everyone in town has turned against her. They don’t want to believe it and tell themselves she’s a sensationalist trying to drum up a story where there is none.
But then another girl goes missing…a very special girl, and Lexie has run out of places to go. Her boss–and only ally–tells her he thinks Aidan McConnell can help, not necessarily because of his abilities, but because of his background as an investigator. So, shoving aside her skepticism, she turns to someone she doesn’t really believe in.
Actually, though, the trick isn’t getting Lexie to believe in Aidan. It’s getting Aidan to allow himself to get sucked back into a world he has firmly rejected, one to which he has no intention of returning. He’s definitely the character with the most to lose in this situation.
You are the mother of three daughters. How difficult was it to write about teenage girls being brutalized and murdered? What emotions did you draw on when writing about the girls and the twisted villain capable of such crimes?
That was the hardest part about writing this book. I had touched on the issue, writing about a brutal crime against a teenage girl in Fade to Black, but that was a minor, secondary character who appeared in only one scene. I didn’t expect readers to connect with her–nor did I want them to–that wasn’t her role in the story.
Cold Sight is an entirely different matter. In it, there are three strong, vivid teenage girls who are alive and real and richly developed from the very start of the book. So the difficulty was twofold: First, I had to turn off my darkest imaginative fears about my own daughters in order to let the story play out. Believe me, as a writer who sees life in terms of the developing story, my mind has always gone places other moms’ don’t. So “the worst thing that could happen” is always a fear in the back of my mind, not just when I’m working on a book like this. I’ve just become used to it…as have they. (Fortunately, they humor me and pretend to listen to every cautionary word or warning I offer.)
Secondly, though, even aside from my own parental fears, the characters became so real to me, I found myself wanting to protect these fictional girls. I cared about them, just as I want readers to care about them.
Cold Sight is not a sugar-coated, sweet story, and not every character comes out the other end of this long, terrifying ordeal safe and whole and well. It truly grieved me that they didn’t all find their way out of the darkness and I cried my eyes out while writing a few of the scenes. I’ve also heard from early readers who’ve been a little shocked. But I had to be true to the story, and the truth is, when a serial killer is killing teenage girls, then teenage girls are going to die. Even ones readers have grown to love.
Perhaps it was because I was so personally affected by what happened to the characters that the villain was just about as twisted and evil as I could possibly make him. In my mind, he would have to be, especially given his motivation for his crime spree.
You are well-known as Leslie Kelly, author of more than 40 romantic comedies. You have said that you indulge the darker side of your imagination when writing romantic suspense as Leslie Parrish. How do you juggle the dark and the light sides of your writing personality and what are the benefits of writing both genres of romance?
I think having that strong love of both the dark and the light has helped me in both genres. When I was writing single-title length contemporary romantic comedies, there was often a bit of murder or larceny to be found, though it was handled in a black-comedic way. And now, in my Parrish books, there are definitely lighter elements when it comes to some of the characterization and dialogue. Hopefully the blend works for readers!
At some point, though, in every book, I find I have to completely shut out my other persona when writing, lest too much of the other side creep in. While I am able to work on more than one project at once, I couldn’t ever work on both a Kelly book and a Parrish book at the same time.
As for the benefits–well, I don’t know that either career will prove to be more successful, but I do know that being able to go in two such diverse directions is refreshing to me as a writer. I need the mental break. I have written a lot of light, sexy books, and believe me, serial killers and slaughter tend to look pretty easy compared to writing yet another sex scene.
What is in store for readers in future eXtrasensory Agent books?
Book 2 in the series, Cold Touch, comes out next April, and features Olivia Wainwright. Olivia’s character fascinated me in the first book, because her ability is, quite simply, awful. She can touch human remains, and relive the last two minutes and ten seconds of that person’s life. She experiences it all–every sensation, every hint of pain. She has died a thousand deaths…but it isn’t until she’s confronted with the memory of her own that she can actually move on to a life of happiness with a sexy Savannah detective.
Leslie Parrish has a long and successful career writing romantic comedies under the name Leslie Kelly. In 2009, she delved into the world of dark romantic suspense with her highly acclaimed Black CATs series (NAL-Signet). Those books have earned her numerous nominations for awards in romantic suspense. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three daughters.
Visit Leslie online at http://www.authorleslieparrish.com.