Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lisa Gardner for Authors @ The Teague

It was a pleasure to welcome New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner to her first ever appearance in the Phoenix area. Actually, she was scheduled to do a TV show on Tuesday morning, but inclement weather in the east meant Lisa's plane was delayed getting into Phoenix. So, I had the pleasure of introducing her to the first audience here when she appeared for Authors @ The Teague.

Gardner jumped right into the program, telling us she's one of the few suspense authors who have had no other career. She's only written books. She wrote her first book at seventeen, and it was published when she was twenty. Lisa grew up in Oregon, and she didn't know that it was supposed to be difficult to write a book and get published. She had always been a big reader, checking out tons of books from her local library. One summer when she was waitressing, she decided she wanted to write a book. So she said she's proof that crime does pay.

Gardner finds inspiration for her books in real life situations. The summer she was seventeen, she became interested in the number of homeless teens in Oregon. There's actually a loop for teens, from New York City to Florida, and then to Portland, Oregon for the summer since the city has mild summers. Since Lisa was from a middle-class family, she was interested in what it would be like to be a homeless teen. There's a high homicide rate for that group. So, she created a woman who works at a homeless shelter at night who witnessed a murder. She wrote Walking After Midnight, and then put it under her bed. She had written a book, but didn't know anything about submitting it or getting it published.

Then, her freshman year in college, while everyone talked about what they had done over the summer, Gardner said she had written a book. Finally, a friend of hers showed her a book at the library, How to Write and Sell a Novel. Twenty years ago, you didn't need an agent to get published. You could submit work directly to a publisher, but they wanted a one-page query letter How hard could that be?

Now, anyone interested interested can go to for the Writer's Toolkit, and learn how to write a query letter. Publishers want to know word length, where the story is located. And, they also want to know credentials. So, at seventeen, Lisa wrote that she had been a news editor at a major paper; she just didn't say it was her high school newspaper. Six months later, she received permission to send the entire manuscript. It took three years for the book to get published. In the meantime, she wrote two more books while she was in college. She just kept writing.

Then, she received the notice that they liked the novel, but they wanted her to make some revisions. Gardner thought, oh, just as in school, there were a few corrections she needed to make. Then, she received the list of revisions, twenty pages of them, single spaced. So, Lisa sold her first book, but every word was changed. She received a $1500 advance for three years of work, but her book would be published. So, she cried to her mom. Moms are good for that. And, she baked brownies. Chocolate is always good. It was only after her book was sold that she found out about organizations for authors, such as International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America. She recommended that anyone who wants to be a writer find an organization, and join it.

After college, Gardner worked as a research analyst. She discovered there were three things she hated - pantyhose, her job as a research analyst, and bosses. She was great in the corporate world. While working, Gardner had been writing small genre books, under the name Alicia Scott. She told her agent she wanted to be a full-time writer, and her agent said maybe it was time for her to write a mainstream suspense novel. Lisa's first suspense novel was The Perfect Husband. And, those bosses she hated? There might be a few of them killed in the book, as the serial killer is getting revenge against them. And, if you'd like to nominate someone to be killed in one of Gardner's books, her last "Kill a Friend, Maim a Buddy" sweepstakes has just closed, but if you watch her website you can nominate someone, even yourself, to be killed in a future novel.

Lisa Gardner reminded us she had no background in the law enforcement or as some other authors do to write suspense novels. But, she's enjoyed interviewing people from the FBI, SWAT teams, ex-Marines, and the Massachusetts State Police. Lisa said she was raised by accountants, which is totally worthless as a job when writing suspense novels. But, pre-9/11, it was easy to get the FBI to take calls. If you contacted them, you just had to be professional and polite. They were gracious in their responses. They found it fun to assist with fictional serial killers.

For her second suspense novel, Gardner wanted to deal with a Health Care Fraud Squad. So, she contacted the Boston office of the FBI, and when she went to meet them, they had the entire Health Care Fraud Squad team there, all eight or nine members. They only had three requirements before they'd help her. They told her there would be no FBI profilers in the novel; they were to be the heroes; and they get the girl at the end. Lisa said after three days, she told them she had enough ideas. Law enforcement can brainstorm crime ideas forever. Gardner told us her themes are inspired by true crime. She loves doing the research, and talking to people.

Lisa Gardner's latest novel, Live to Tell, deals with a crime involving the Boston Police Department. With family annihilation a family is killed when, usually the father, finds life is too hard, and it's in the best interests of the family for everyone to die. Gardner's book starts with a puzzle. D.D. Warren is pulled away on date night. Anyone who has read previous D.D. Warren novels know she should not go on a date because the crime rate in Boston rises then. D.D. arrives at the crime scene to find a family dead. Usually, when the entire family dies, and the father is the suspect, it just means a closed case with a great deal of paperwork for the police. But, the next night, it happens again. What is the likelihood that two entire families would be murdered two nights in a row?

The police find a common thread, a locked down Pediatric Ward, and a nurse whose entire family, except her, were killed by the father twenty-five years earlier. Gardner said she loves a good puzzle. Live to Tell is a thriller involving social issues.

This theme has a personal connection for Lisa Gardner. She has a good friend whose son tried to kill them when he was eight. At five, he was diagnosed as mentally ill. He heard voices. So, the book is based on a real story. The family fought and tried to help their son. He was put on medication at the age of five. But, he had a paradoxical reaction; the medicine made him even more psychotic. Then, he was kicked out of school for stabbing a classmate, and he didn't even know what he did. The whole family life became watching for episodes.

Gardner said her books address the question, what is the nature of evil. She was able to visit a hospital with a pediatric locked down ward. It's an issue we don't talk about. There are no funds for the study of mentally ill children, and no answers. But, there are dedicated caseworkers and families. In Live to Tell, Lisa shows families with experiences beyond what most of us know. Gardner's friend's family believe traditional means and a spiritual healer have helped their son. He's learned to meditate and is more self-aware. Families such as this have faced the worst thing that could happen to them, and came out the other side.

The planning of Lisa Gardner's novels starts with an idea, even ideas that may be three years old. For instance, Gardner found an online support group for mothers of serial killers.

The stories start with a puzzle. She finds the germ of an idea, and then says, let's go to law enforcement and refine the crime to make it twenty times worse. The books are police procedurals. D.D. Warren examines the crime scene, and determines the logical next step. Then, there are complications.

Lisa doesn't like to nail down characters. She likes to see how a book develops ad whether the characters turn out to be bad or girl. Gardner just won thriller of the
year for her novel, The Neighbor. The book began with a different premise than it ended with. A schoolteacher disappears in the middle of the night. The logical suspect was the husband. Gardner had been upset about female teachers who slept with younger students, and only received a slap on the wrist, so the teacher was going to be the villain. However, part way through writing the book, Lisa fell in love with the woman's four-year-old daughter. And, she couldn't make Bree's mother the villain. Then, the mother ended up as the hero of the story. Gardner went on to say it's a wonderful fifteen pound trophy that would make a good weapon.

When she was asked if she misses her characters when she writes another book, Gardner said both series were unintended, but she liked the characters, and wanted to stay with them.

Three of Gardner's books have been made into movies. Two were CBS Movies of the Week, one with Roma Downey.

Asked if she read, or who she read, Gardner said she reads all the time. She said she was a reading slut. She does read suspense. Recently she read Lee Child's 61 Hours. She was touring with Tess Gerritsen for a while, and liked Gerritsen's Ice Cold. She read Karin Slaughter's Broken. But, the book she raved about was Chevy Stevens' Still Missing. The book has the best villain. Stevens is a new author. A real estate agent is held captive for one year. But, she survived, and the story opens with her telling her therapist how she survived. However, it's a story of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, how she never actually escaped, and can't get away.

The audience loved Lisa Gardner. I forgot to give her the gift of her Authors @ The Teague mug, but, since I was heading to the Poisoned Pen that same evening to hear her and Mike Lawson, I'd have a chance to present it later.

So, check back tomorrow for the recap of the Poisoned Pen program with Lisa Gardner and Mike Lawson.

Lisa Gardner's website is

Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner. Bantam Books, ©2010. ISBN 9780553807240 (hardcover), 388p.


bermudaonion said...

You have the best author events! I find it fascinating that writing is the only career she's ever had.

Ingrid King said...

Thanks for this detailed write up - your accounts of author events are the next best thing to being there!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kathy! I have a good time hosting the Authors @ The Teague events. I'm very lucky that Poisoned Pen is willing to share. Interesting, isn't it? Not many suspense authors started when they were 17.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Ingrid! And, tomorrow I'll have pictures along with the summary of Poisoned Pen's event.

Christinabean said...

Fabulous post! It's so interesting to hear about how Lisa got started in the business and how she goes about researching now. Thanks for so much detail! Love it!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

What an amazing story! Maybe NOT knowing what she was in for with the publishing process helped her to be more confident and to pursue it. And she's had so much success!

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Christina. It was interesting, wasn't it? And, she loves meeting with the teams, and doing the research.

Lesa said...


Oh, Lisa definitely feels she pursued it BECAUSE she didn't know what she was doing. It certainly worked out for her.

Anonymous said...

This was wonderful. I love the fact that she has been doing this for all her life practically. I love the fact that she hates pantyhose (who doesn't?). I love the fact that being an accountant doesn't really help with writing suspense and mystery novels. I knew there was some reason why I haven't become a successful mystery writer yet. I need to further shed that BBA in Accounting that possess! LOL

Great writeup, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Well, now, Kay, it was her parents who were accountants, but she said they were useless as help for her novels. Maybe that BBA will still help you. (grin) It was a fun program.

kathy d. said...

Well, one could write about a larcenous or murderous accountant. Accounts do have tons of information about people, may know more than anyone. A bit of blackmail, perhaps?

Lesa said...

There. Thanks, kathy. Kay should get some ideas for a mystery. That's true. Just think what kind of information accountants know about their clients. And, it might take time to link the dead clients to an accountant. How's that, Kay?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

She's so terrific! Smart, talented, original, and incredibly generous. Wish I could have been there..but reading your blog is the next best thing. Thanks, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Thanks, Hank! And, if you check back tomorrow, I cover the joint appearance with Lisa and Mike Lawson at the Poisoned Pen. (But, I got to take them out afterward, which was really nice.)

And, if you ever get to Phoenix, can I convince you to appear for Authors @ The Teague?

Sandie Herron said...

What a fabulously detailed recollection of the events with Lesa Gardner! I feel as if you came home and told me all about it over the kitchen counter as we shared something chocolate while the cat slept on a chair. Thank you. I almost feel as if I'd been with you.

Lesa said...

Oh, great, Sandie! What a nice compliment. That would have been so much fun, sharing a book and chocolate in the kitchen with a cat nearby. Talk about comfort! And, your book is on its way.

Anonymous said...

She fibbed when she said she has had no other career. She was initially a waitress and then a business consultant.