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Talking with Perri O'Shaughnessy

Perri O’Shaughnessy is the pen name of two sisters, Pamela and Mary O’Shaughnessy, whose series featuring Lake Tahoe attorney Nina Reilly is now nine novels strong. Pam is a lawyer living in Hawaii. Mary, who lives in northern California, is trained in writing and has worked as a multimedia producer. “There’s nothing like the warmth of a human voice telling a story,” Mary tells us. “That’s the great pleasure of audiobooks. It’s something adults can enjoy just as they did listening to their parents read them a book in the old days.”

Brilliance Audiobooks has been publishing the Nina Reilly novels from the start. “We’ve developed a really good relationship,” Pam says of Brilliance Vice President and Publisher Eileen Hutton.“She does great by our books.”

Mary adds, “One of the things they do really well, brilliantly, at Brilliance is abridgments, every writer’s bugaboo. They do a wonderful, thoughtful job.”

Pam adds, “In the early years Mary and I were appalled that such a thing could exist. We couldn’t believe that abridgments could work into anything good. But we’ve come to enjoy reading the abridgments. They’ve gotten so good with our stuff that they’re cutting out a lot of dross that we probably should have cut ourselves.”

“How dare you!” Mary exclaims with mock outrage. “My preference would always be the unabridged version. That’s the integrated piece of work that we put together and did the best we could on. I like the in-depth experience. That’s why I like novels. That’s why I like to write novels.”

“For my part, I prefer the abridgments,” says Pam with a smile. “I don’t have as much patience as Mary.”

Mary is a longtime audiobook listener. “I listen to them whenever I’m in the car on a long trip. They’re a wonderful entertainment. An audiobook is a very different experience from reading a book. It’s storytelling. It’s like sitting around the fire listening to someone tell you a story.” And listening to their own works read by narrator Laural Merlington? “I love it. It’s as though someone else had written it,” says Mary. “It can be jarring, occasionally, because I have in my mind the way certain things should have been interpreted, and, of course, she doesn’t necessarily read it that way.”

“That’s true,” says Pam. “I think the writer has a voice in her head when she’s writing. I certainly do, and I think Mary does too.”

“We don’t exactly know who Nina is anyway,” laughs Mary. “So we always get a kick out of how other people interpret her. We’d like to know exactly who this woman is.”

Like their fictional protagonist, the O’Shaughnessys have a strong Irish heritage. When asked if the Irish fondness for blarney influences their skills as writers, Pam suggests, “It’s quite stereotypical, but perhaps because of our ancestors, we tend to look at ourselves as having two very different sides at work. We’ve decided that our German and Irish ancestry is a good mix. Sometimes the German takes over, and we get really careful with the plot and everything is linear. Then the Irish takes over, and we’re off on an interesting but wild tangent, changing characters, inserting music or humor. We attribute the German side to Grandma, and the other is basically our dad, a very creative character and much more willing to experiment.” Readers and listeners will agree; whatever these two women bring to their writing, the recipe is a good one.—Steven Steinbock

AUG/SEPT 03

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