Lisa Gardner was our Guest Editor in January 2011 - click here - to see the books that inspired her writing.
Lisa Gardner has made a name for herself writing very dark novels but the first books she wrote were romance novels – but she decided that she wanted to write suspense books ‘where she could kill lots of people’.
She had various jobs ranging from waitress to management consultant but loathed morning commutes, claustrophobic cubicles and unsympathetic bosses. The only good things were my coworkers and a fresh appreciation of Dilbert cartoons. Lisa now lives in New Hampshire with her husband, who loves auto-racing and black-diamond skiing, and their young daughter.
Author photo © John Earle
Below is a Q&A with this author.
What’s the first book you remember reading? I remember being twelve years old and reading M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. I was completely enthralled by that book, the way she made the setting, history, and characters come so richly alive. I reread it every few years, and every few years I’m entranced all over again.
Where do you live? And why? I grew up in Oregon, enjoying the luxurious landscape of the Pacific Northwest. When it was time to apply for colleges, however, I was ready for a change. I chose a school back east so I could experience a different slice of American life. It turned out I loved New England living as well. Great history, great beaches, great mountains. I still thought I’d return to Oregon someday, but then I met a particular New England man, and my fate was sealed.
What’s the greatest influence on your writing? Reading. I think that’s the only way to truly learn and digest popular fiction – you have to read, anything, everything, it all helps. I read cereal boxes, entertainment magazines, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning fiction. I love non-fiction, I love historical epics, I love fantasy, westerns, mystery and romance. Basically, I worship the printed word. If you’re going to be in this business, you might as well be passionate about it.
Where do you write? I’m blessed to have my own office. This is a nice change of pace from the days when I worked out of my bedroom. To work and sleep in the same place is to become a very dull person.
Typewriter, Word Processor, or pen? Definitely a word processor. If you saw my handwriting, you’d know why.
What educational qualifications do you have? Have you had any formal tuition in creative writing? If so, where and what? Did you find it useful? Since I sold my first novel while in college, most people assume I studied English. In fact, I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in International Relations. I did take some English classes, but the formal educational track for writing focuses too much on the literary world for my tastes; you study all the dead white men – Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. I love their work, but as a writer I’ve always been drawn to popular fiction. I didn’t want to be Hemingway; I wanted to be Stephen King. As a writing path, commercial fiction is something you must pursue on your own.
Did you always want to be an author? If not, what did you originally want to be and when and why did you change your mind? I’ve definitely always wanted to be a writer. I don’t think it’s something you do, but someone you are. In my case, it was always a little strange as I was raised by two accountants to pursue practical things in life. Starving for your art, living beneath the poverty line – not very practical in an accountant’s world. So I confess, I did the conservative thing and became a business consultant first. But writing continued to call to me, and I found I spent more time writing books than preparing presentations. So I finally gave in and took the plunge. I have to say, becoming a full-time writer is the best thing I ever did.
What were the first pieces of writing that you produced? e.g. short stories, school magazine etc. Growing up, I wrote a lot of really bad poetry. Then I joined the high school newspaper staff where I learned to craft short, well-disciplined essays. I feel as if I still use both skill sets – poetry helped teach me narrative drive, while newspaper articles helped me hone a concise logic flow.
How do you write each novel – i.e. do you block out the narrative first, take each page at a time, create the central character, build a cast of characters? Each novel develops in its own way. Some books come to me as a character first, some as a crime first. Either way works for me. I try to balance plot with character in my novels, so both elements are equally important.
In the case of my upcoming novel, Alone, I started with an idea for a character – a woman who is sympathetic but disturbing, alluring but cold, courageous but frightening. I basically concocted a series of crimes that made this woman either the unluckiest person in the world – or the most dangerous. I then came up with two plausible endings – one that convicted her, one that exonerated her. Then I started writing to see which ending would prevail. It was neat to work on a project that at any time could go either way.
Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books? Research remains my favourite part of writing. For The Killing Hour, I spent several days at Quantico getting to know the FBI Academy. I also converted a team of US Geological Survey members to evil. Yep, I literally met a hydrologist on an airplane, told him I needed all sorts of geological information to commit a series of murders, and he cheerfully lined up a team of experts to assist me. My husband and I then spent a week walking the wilds of Virginia with five strangers, looking at the best places to kill people while determining the most logical clues. The geologists were incredibly cooperative and we all had a blast. People really are nice…in a crafty sort of way.
Have any of your books been televised or made into films? Who by and when were they screened? I just had a novel, The Survivors Club, air as a TV-movie in the United States. It starred Roma Downey of Touched by an Angel fame. They did a fabulous job and I was very impressed.
Also, several years back, my first suspense novel, The Perfect Husband, became the German-made TV-movie, Instinct to Kill, starring Mark Dacascos. There’s a lot more nudity on European TV. Needless to say, my husband thought the movie was riveting!
What is a typical writing day? Get up, eat, grab coffee, head to the office. Stare at the computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike. Decide to check e-mail instead. Stare at the computer screen some more. Decide to play computer solitaire instead. Stare at computer screen again. Decide it’s time for lunch. Return to office, check more e-mail, check Amazon.com sales rankings, check e-mail one last time, really stare hard at computer screen now. Decide it’s time for tea. Return to office, check e-mail again. Finally glance at the clock, note the late hour and totally panic. Write furiously.
What is your favourite website besides your own and www.orionbooks.co.uk?
I love www.google.com. One of the best research tools around.
What do you do when you are not writing? How do you relax? What are your hobbies? I used to spend a lot of time gardening and hiking; I love being outdoors. A year ago, however, I gave birth to my first child who now dictates all my waking hours. In the good news department, she also loves being outdoors. In the bad news department, her concept of gardening is to rip all the pretty flowers off their stems. But we’re trying.
Have you started your next book? Can you tell us a little bit about it? I just completed my next novel, Alone, which will be available from Orion in February 2005. I’m horrible at summarizing my own books, but I’ll give it a try:
So there’s a hero, Bobby Dodge, who is a designated sniper with the Massachusetts State Police. He’s called out to a domestic barricade situation, where a father is holding his wife and son at gunpoint. In the course of events, it appears the husband is about to kill his wife, so following the guidelines for proper use of deadly force, Bobby shoots the man dead.
Immediately afterward, allegations surface that the husband wasn’t the threat that night – the wife was. She’s been abusing the son. The husband was only trying to save his child’s life.
That central mystery drives the rest of the novel. What was really going on that night? Who is the real threat in this family? And what does it mean to spend the rest of your life wondering if you killed the right man?
It’s kind of a fun novel. Bobby’s one very sexy man, while the women in the book are just plain dangerous.
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