Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Interview with Lisa Gardner

Lisa Gardner is the critically-acclaimed #1 New York Times bestselling author of over two dozen novels, and the recipient of the 2010 Thriller Award for Best Novel. Her latest, Love You More (the latest in the D.D. Warren series), is in bookstores now. "Compelling and unexpected, this tale of mystery and maternal devotion shows Gardner at her very best." (Booklist, starred review) "Gardner sprinkles plenty of clues and inventive twists to keep readers off-kilter as the suspense builds to a realistic, jaw-dropping finale." (Publishers' Weekly) Lisa was kind enough to take a break in her national tour to field a few questions from members of the ITW Debut Author Program.

Chevy Stevens: How do you prepare to write--do you have detailed outlines, character sketches, timelines? Do you do your research upfront (and do you tape record your interviews with expert sources?)

Lisa Gardner: When I first started out as a writer, I'd prepare very detailed outlines, almost mini novels covering the major story arc and central "lesson learned" for the main characters. Ironically enough, I've gone from super anal retentive to an almost completely out of the mist writing style. These days, I spend the first three months of my writing process on research, which generally provides key plot points. Basically, I spend quality time with real world detectives explaining how they would investigate my fictional crime, and that becomes main plot points. Often also some plot twists, as detectives are very clever and generally complicate my crime along the way, just to amuse themselves. Oh, I never tape record detectives. They don't seem to like that, I want them to feel comfortable.

So that helps me with bare bones plot. The characters, on the other hand, I leave completely amorphous. Everyone is a bit good and everyone is a bit bad and I wait to see what they'll do to surprise me. I think it leads to more natural character development and I don't know...I feel like ironically enough, the less I plan, the better I plot. The book has a chance to shock me all on it's own, which is my favorite kind of writing day. Something happens I never saw coming but know immediately is exactly right. These are the moments that keep us all churning away. Because twenty years later, the process remains mysterious and magical and mesmerizing.

Carla Buckley: Lisa, what would you say has been the biggest change in the industry since you first began writing? What one piece of advice would you give a writer about to launch their first book into the current climate?

Lisa Gardner: Wow, I feel like a newbie again just from the past six months. I mean, distribution changed fundamentally fifteen years ago, when we went from tons of distributors to basically half a dozen. Then the independent bookstores started to fail. Then the mass merchadisers rose up. Now, the brick and mortar chains are on the auction block, while e-books are taking over the world. I guess what I think about it is that publishing has weathered major growing pains in the past. And each time people said the industry was dead and each time it emerged once again, different but still breathing. People do read. People do love books. As long as that's true, there's hope for us.

As for major advice for an author launching their first book in this industry--ironically enough, that advice hasn't changed in twenty years: write your second book. That's your job. Never forget it. Publishing is for publishers. Writing is for authors. You want a career, write your first book, then your second, then your third, then your fourth, then your fifth. That's how it's done, just like that.

Julie Kramer: Do you ever watch the TV show CASTLE and would you play in the author poker game if asked?

Lisa Gardner: I've never gotten to watch the show CASTLE, but I've heard it's excellent. I'm addicted to Glee, and believe Sue Sylvester is one of the best villains ever written, right up there with Hannibal Lector and Cruella De Vil. You hate her, you're shocked by her, sometimes you do cheer for her and often you even feel for her because every nasty thing she says contains a kernel of hard truth that's impossible to ignore. What can I say. I love a good villain.

* * *

Thanks for answering our questions, Lisa! We hope you have a great tour.


Tracey Devlyn said...

Thanks for the great interview!

Chevy, Carla and Julie--great questions!

John M. Wills said...

I like her advice about writing that first book: writing is our job, publishing if best left to publishers. Good job.

Chevy Stevens said...

Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Lisa! Very interesting.

Tracy March said...

Hi, Lisa.

So nice to see you here. Thank you for your sage advice about actually writing. As a debut author, writing the next book seems to get shoved aside in favor of, well, everything else.

Thanks, too, for all of the good reads you write. I look forward to each release!

Adrienne Giordano said...

Great interview, Lisa. I always enjoy your books. Bobby Dodge is my one of my all-time favorite characters. The things you did to that poor man!

Pamela Callow said...


I enjoyed meeting you last year at Thrillerfest. It's good to hear that the process is still a bit mystical for you, I've noticed that the experience of writing each book (I'm on my third) has been different. Also love your perspective of all the major changes the publishing industry has experienced over the past twenty year. Food for thought! And excellent advice.


Carla Buckley said...

Lisa's on tour right now, and I had a chance to meet with her after her Thurber House appearance. For LOVE YOU MORE, she went on ride-alongs with a female patrol officer, and visited The Body Farm. It was a fabulous talk--boy, is she funny!

Julie Kramer said...

I am also addicted to GLEE.

Rochelle Staab said...

I'm addicted to Glee and Castle. But I agree, Sue Sylvester is one of the best villains ever written because of her depth.

Wonderful interview, thank you so much, Lisa. I love hearing about process and yours is one of the most interesting yet. Asking a real detective how he'd solve your fictional crime - brilliant. That alone was worth the price of admission.

M.E. said...

Thanks for the interview with Lisa - probing her mind for tips, eh? Her writing process is inspiring.