The mother-daughter team, who write under the pseudonym "P.J. Tracy," spoke in the Buntrock Gold Ballroom Saturday to a full room of students, professors, and visitors.
In a discussion moderated by professor Diana Postlethwaite, the two authors answered questions about their writing inspiration and the dynamics of working as a team.
"We got the idea [for Monkeewrench] when we were bored," P.J. Lambrecht said. "We thought, 'What if there were a computer game about solving crimes?'"
Monkeewrench, published in 2003, centered around the idea of a computer game gone wrong. To the horror of the characters who designed the game, a mysterious perpetrator began to commit the exact crimes depicted in the game.
The novel features a wide swath of characters, from police to computer hackers, in a quest to find the criminal. Monkeewrench is set in the Minnesota's Twin Cities with one of the characters named after a St. Olaf professor.
The popularity of the book spawned a mystery-thriller series, including Snow Blind, Dead Run, and Live Bait.
Saturday's visit was the first time either of the former St. Olaf students had returned to their alma mater in almost two decades. Traci Lambrecht described her time at St. Olaf fondly, but P.J. Lambrecht, who left St. Olaf before completing her degree, had mixed feelings. "I didn't like it here because they expected me to work," she said with a smile.
P.J. Lambrecht began her writing career to make money when Traci was eight years old. She found a niche writing harlequin romances under a variety of pseudonyms. P.J., however, disliked the restrictions that came with writing harlequins. "It had to use only two characters and be solid romance from beginning to end .I could only do that before menopause," said P.J.
When the Lambrechts joined up to create a novel together, they knew they wanted to write a thriller. "We sat down with purely commercial interests," said P.J. "We wanted to make a lot of money."
To sell so many copies, the Lambrechts asserted they had to be aware of what audiences wanted. "Entertainment is what it's all about," Traci said. "We owe readers a good story, and we think we know one when we see one."
Traci added that the most important ingredients in a story are good characters. "If you don't care about the person, you don't care about what happens to them."
P.J. also noted that the characters usually guide the plot in ways the authors don't expect. "We've never ended with what we planned in any book," P.J. said
The Lambrechts attribute part of their success to foreign markets, totaling 27 countries. Both asserted that people overseas tend to be avid readers. "They're more focused on reading than on the media," P.J. said.
Proceeds abroad are far higher than they are domestically. "We might get 17 percent profit on a hardcover in the U.S.," said Traci, "but we'd get 80 percent profit on the same hardcover sold abroad."
The Midwestern setting of the novel also proved to be an asset, as the Midwest was new to foreign markets. "They thought we made up Minnesota," said P.J, who also stated that their books inspired six journalists to come to the Twin Cities to learn more about the area.
Both authors expressed a positive working relationship. "Philosophically, we're 100 percent on the same page," P.J. said. Traci added, "Our personalities mesh so perfectly, even though we are different."
The next novel is in the works, and may potentially be titled "See No Evil."