While reading a new, highly anticipated book recently, I found it difficult to maintain my stream of consciousness—delicious thought bubbles interrupted my normal razor-sharp focus.

“This needs to be a movie!” exclaimed one bubble. Another chimed in, “Ron Howard should direct it.”

“No, Rob Reiner. Yes—Reiner.”

As I delved further in, another cacophony erupted: “This would make a magical picture book. Margarita Sikorskaia needs to illustrate it.”

“An early reader would be good too.”

“No wait, a graphic novel—what an incredible way to bring this story to diverse contemporary audiences!”

But isn’t that the way it is with timeless tales? You want to see them everywhere! And that’s exactly what I experienced with Return of the Magi: A Heartwarming Christmas Story by P.J. Tracy.

If you haven’t yet discovered P.J. Tracy—a pseudonym for the mother-daughter team, P.J. and Traci Lambrecht—now is the time. The duo has a long history together with the successful mystery series, Monkeewrench. Now, they’ve turned their lens to a project dear to both: Return of the Magi. Only, as it often does, life got in the way, and half of the P.J. partnership, P.J. Lambrecht, passed away from heart disease last winter, leaving her daughter, Traci, to carry forward the magic borne of their incredible relationship together.

Launches November 15 as an eBook on Amazon.

Return of the Magi has an ineffable quality about it. It exudes empathy. Hope. Trust. Kindness. And charity. It is warm, witty, and clever. It brings to us the best of humanity. And shows us not only what we are, but what we can be when we reach for something higher. And, as much as I love books, I probably love book people more. It’s no surprise to me that Magi would exude so much warmth and goodness after interviewing its author, Traci Lambrecht.

I have a special relationship with my mother, one not unlike the relationship Traci had with hers. I often wonder what mother will think of me when she’s gone. Will she be proud? Will she be okay that she sacrificed so much in her life for me? Was it worth it? And while many of us may never know what our loved ones truly think of us, I’m pretty sure I know that Traci’s mother is beaming with joy from above: “That’s my girl. That’s my Traci.”

Following is my interview with Traci Lambrecht. Her latest book, Return of the Magi: A Heartwarming Christmas Story, will be available soon online. (You can read a list of Traci’s favorite Christmas stories at Penguin Books online!)

From the left, authors Traci and Patrica Lambrecht.

Author Traci Lambrecht

Kristen Your new book, The Return of the Magi: A Heartwarming Christmas Story, features Emil Rice, an African-American thief—who doesn’t share too many characteristics with you. Or does he? Did you insert a little of yourself or another close to you in Emil? If so, what?
Traci Emil is all of us to one degree or another. Part of being human is being flawed, and I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t made a poor decision or faced challenges and hardships that tested their mettle. They can be obstacles as much as they can be paths to redemption, and it’s that journey that defines character. We tagged along with Emil on his trip.
Kristen Nowadays it can be risky for authors to write about diverse characters who appear removed from the author—the author’s life experience. It’s an authenticity thing—i.e., some people just get funny about that. What gave you the confidence to take on Emil?
Traci We just focused on the similarities between people, not the differences. Wherever we come from, we all have hopes and dreams and navigate struggles and these are unifying elements, a unifying voice. Authenticity for authenticity’s sake and as a criterion and basis for fiction writing stifles creativity and is antithetical to the purpose of fiction. That limiting approach can also be divisive as it unwittingly categorizes people as if we all belonged to different species. A lot of great works of pure imagination and empathy wouldn’t exist had the authors been restrained by what some people might think of their authority to write about a certain thing. Art of any kind should be fearless and from the heart.
Kristen The two sisters in Magi held a charming but fanciful belief. What is the craziest belief (the one that fewest educated people will agree with) that you hold? Why do you believe it?
Traci I’m not sure this is so crazy, but I believe that a smile or a simple interaction with a stranger can alter the course of somebody’s day for the better and consequently alter the course of many others’ day. Goodness and nastiness trickle down equally, so why not go for the positive? This is why I never chew out customer service representatives. I usually end up getting into a conversation with them about their family or where they live while they’re helping me fix my phone or my TV satellite. We end up laughing a lot and by the time I hang up, I feel happy because I’ve made a connection in this disconnected, anonymous world. And I always hope they feel the same way and take it home with them.
Kristen In the past, you have described the writing partnership with your mother as “magic.” Now that she has passed away, how do you or will you keep the magic alive?
Traci Magic resides in our hearts, and as long as mine is still beating, it will be there to inspire me.
Kristen Your relationship with your mother is special and well documented. What did your father teach you?
Traci My father is an artist and also an engineer and computer geek, so he taught me about duality. One day he’d give me chess lessons or show me how to wrench on a car or motorcycle; the next he’d teach me about painting or sculpting. He is also the mellowest person I know, so I absorbed some of his ability to relax, take things in stride, and handle challenges pragmatically.
Kristen Thrillers have been your focus for years. What crime have you considered committing?

The latest installment in P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench series.

Traci Honestly, I’ve never considered committing a crime. Even as a little kid, I understood that doing the wrong thing would negatively impact someone else. My parents weren’t strict, but they did instill a strong moral code. That said, there have been times when I’ve said, “I could kill that person!”? Yes, but I never meant it!
Kristen As a writer, you excel at asking and answering questions. What’s your unanswerable question—the question you always seem to be asking yourself?
Traci Socks. You all know what I’m talking about. How can it be possible that I put six socks into the dryer time after time and only five come out? Where do they go? I never find them. You wouldn’t believe my sock budget. Maybe that’s my craziest belief, that there is some sock pixie out there, maybe the tooth fairy’s evil twin, and she torments us all.
Kristen As you move forward as a solo writer, what must you leave behind? What will you take with you?
Traci I will take the wonderful experiences and memories of having an amazing partner and will grow stronger because of them. I have no choice but to leave behind the joy of being part of a team, but I still hear P.J.’s voice, and it will always inspire me, especially when writing books for the Monkeewrench Series.
Kristen You’ve written books in several genres. Where will the future take author Traci Lambrecht? Will she stay with thrillers? Tackle something entirely new? What can we expect as you embark on your next chapter?
Traci I continue to write the Monkeewrench series, but I’m also working on a standalone, and there are discussions about a spinoff based on some beloved characters that appeared early on in the series. I’m not limiting myself, and I’m anxious to see where my new road takes me. There is also some traction in the feature film arena with Magi, so I’ll be working on that as well.
Kristen As a successful suspense/thriller writer who’s made the transition to a family-friendly story, what advice would you give to a children’s book author who wants to move into thrillers?
…be fearless, write from your heart, and let the characters guide you, let them shine.
Traci Ultimately, we’re all storytellers, whatever the genre. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again—be fearless, write from your heart, and let the characters guide you, let them shine. They are the backbone of any book and even the most well-conceived, high-concept plot won’t make up for mediocre, underdeveloped characters that can’t carry the load. I think children’s authors understand this best of all—they have very limited page space to create compelling, relatable characters and they do it so well. Without great children’s authors, I probably wouldn’t be an author myself. That early inspiration was what let my mind run wild, and I still think about my favorites and how perfectly crafted they were with such a minimum of words.
Kristen We all have a special gift—something we do better than anyone else in the world. What’s yours?
Traci I’m a devoted, loyal friend. I wouldn’t profess to be the best of anything in the world, but I am pretty darn good at that.
Kristen What’s the one thing you want everyone in the universe to remember about your mother forever?
Traci Her wit and humor and big heart. Her ability to make everyone she met feel special and make them laugh. Sorry, but I just couldn’t pick one!
Kristen From one cat lady to another, what silly or endearing thing does each of your cats do that melts your heart?
Traci Oh boy, I love this question!

Ollie is 21 pounds and tries to jump on my lap to sleep while I’m working. My lap is not that big and a really poor choice for comfortable kitty lounging. But he keeps trying, even though he slides off every time. He also likes to lie on my chest at night and lick my face with his very rough tongue. Cheap exfoliating treatment. Come to think of it, maybe not so cheap—I spend more feeding him than I do on socks.

Sugar is my little princess and follows me everywhere. She stands up on her hind legs and makes cute chirping sounds when she wants to be patted, which is pretty much constantly.

Sweet Baby Butters (rest in peace) taught herself to piddle in the toilet. No lie!

Kristen What haven’t I asked you that you wish I would?
Traci You’re an excellent interviewer, I don’t think you’ve missed a thing, and I feel like I’ve learned some things about myself. Is it my turn now? I want to know what adorable things your cats do!

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Traci!

NOTE FROM KRISTEN: I have a 20-pounder, Thumper, who insists on sleeping curled up on my belly each night. Dewey scooches his cold, pink nose into my ear while he tickles and teases me with his whiskers. And The Magnificent One, Lily, sits inches from my face while bellowing loudly as if to say, “NOW! Love me NOW!” Of course, all the drama subsides when I pick her up and pull her into my arms. Sillies—all of them!

Kristen Heimerl
Kristen’s business career spans 20+ years serving the biggest brands in industry and the biggest hearts of start-ups and entrepreneurs. She holds a master of science in eCommerce from Carnegie Mellon University, an MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, & a BA from the University of St. Thomas. Learn more about Kristen!