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Interview: July 18, 2003

July 18, 2003

Lisa Gardner is the New York Times bestselling author of such suspense novels as THE PERFECT HUSBAND, THE OTHER DAUGHTER, THE THIRD VICTIM, THE NEXT ACCIDENT, and THE SURVIVORS CLUB. In this special interview with's Suspense/Thriller Author Spotlight team (Carol Fitzgerald, Joe Hartlaub, and Wiley Saichek), Gardner discusses the themes and characters in her latest novel, THE KILLING HOUR, as well as the writers who have most influenced her and the bone-chilling details of her next book.

BRC: The theme that seems to run through many of your novels strikes us as being somewhat Neitzchean in nature, in the sense that your protagonists --- who by and large are strong, though damaged women --- have evolved a philosophy that that which does not kill them made them stronger. To put it another way, while your characters are people who have had bad things happen to them, they fight to be survivors, rather than victims. From where does that approach in your writing come?

LG: I'm simply fascinated by survivors. Being a victim is a matter of luck --- bad luck. Being a survivor, on the other hand, is a matter of character. There is a lot of bad in this world --- boy, with all the research I do, don't I know it. And I think that gives everyone a fascination with heroes. How do they find the strength? What secrets have they learned about themselves? And how can we best steal that knowledge, wrapping it around ourselves like armor, so that we might be survivors, too? The world isn't going to get magically better anytime soon, so we could all benefit from more strength.

BRC: Kimberly Quincy, who had a prominent role in THE NEXT ACCIDENT, is featured once again in THE KILLING HOUR. Do you have any plans for her --- or for that matter, Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner --- in any future novels? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with continuing characters?

LG: I have no immediate plans for another book involving Kimberly, Rainie and Quincy. But having said that, I'm nearly certain we'll see more of them in the future. I enjoy writing books with continuing characters for the same reason readers enjoy reading them --- I genuinely miss the people and want to catch up on their lives. Rainie and Quincy, in particular, continue to fascinate me. I'm already wondering what life might be like for them now. Yep, definitely another novel somewhere down the road.

BRC: For Wiley, Quincy and Rainie were his favorite characters in THE KILLING HOUR. Off all the characters in your books, which is your personal favorite(s), and why?

LG: Rainie is still my favorite character. She's such a wise ass. She says all the stuff my conservative nature would never allow me to say. I get to live vicariously through her.

BRC: Your books are filled with fully fleshed-out, "real" characters --- to the delight of your readers. Who are some of the authors you keep returning to as a reader because of their ability to create vivid, three-dimensional characters?

LG: For characterization, I think some of the fantasy authors do it best. I absolutely adore Robert Jordan, as well as J.R.R. Tolkien. Fantasy novels hinge on the hero's journey --- a young protagonist learning what he's truly made of. By definition, the characters must be compelling and grow through the course of the novel. In my own way, I'm following that formula, adapted to a contemporary setting where the monsters are even more frightening because they don't hide under the bed.

BRC: You have said in interviews that research is one of your favorite parts of writing a book. Share with us some of your favorite "discoveries" --- of any kind --- when you were researching for one of your books.

LG: I had the most fun researching my current release, THE KILLING HOUR. As an avid outdoorswoman, I thought I knew a fair amount about hiking, nature, etc. I knew nothing. Once I started digging deeper on survival skills and outdoor basics, I was fascinated to discover that children have the highest survival rate when lost in the woods --- mostly because they listen to their own instincts. They sleep when they need to sleep and take shelter almost immediately, limiting their risk of exposure. Adults, on the other hand, walk themselves into an exhausted state, always convinced help is around the next corner. In other words, kids listen to nature; adults try to outthink it. Thus, a "helpless" child will last ten days and a strong adult will perish in three. Talk about irony!

BRC: In THE KILLING HOUR you did a great job of showing the tension between Quantico, NCIS, and Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Did the tension come in to play in "real life" as you were researching the book?

LG: Actually, when you interview law enforcement agencies, they are all very adamant about how well they cooperate with other jurisdictional agencies. And there's something about their very forcefulness on this subject that always makes me wonder. Promotions and budgets are based on performance. So by definition, no agency --- or agent --- wants someone else cracking a high-profile case. Of course there are some tensions. It would be odd if there weren't.

BRC: Good pacing is one of the most important parts of a thriller, and you do pacing so well in your books. Do you find pacing an easy or difficult part of writing a novel? Why?

LG: Pacing was the hardest thing for me to learn in the beginning, and the most natural thing for me to do now. I'm a speed-reader. So I finally figured out, if I'm skimming over all these words, why put them in at all? Trim the fat, get to the meat. In hindsight, duh!

BRC: You have had two novels adapted for film. Your first --- AT THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, under your Alice Scott nom de plume --- was released in 1995, while your second, THE PERFECT HUSBAND, was released in Europe under the title INSTINCT TO KILL. Were you involved at all with the scriptwriting for either movie? Have you seen either or both movies? And what is your reaction when you see your work translated into a different medium?

LG: I wasn't involved in the movie process for either AT THE MIDNIGHT HOUR or INSTINCT TO KILL. I got phone calls telling me they were making movies, then I got checks in the mail. As I like getting checks in the mail, I certainly can't complain.

BRC: On a related note, which of your novels would you most like to see adapted to for film? And do you have any idea who you would like to see cast in the starring roles?

LG: I'd like anything I've ever written to be turned into a movie if it would involve Brad Pitt. They can have my grocery list, just give me Brad Pitt. Then I'd have to serve as a technical adviser, of course. And the movie would definitely need a lot of technical assistance. A lot of technical assistance.

BRC: What writers, if any, have influenced your work in both genres? And what writers who have not influenced you do you continue to read solely for pleasure?

LG: I've been heavily influenced by Stephen King, as well as the great host of female suspense writers taking over the bestseller lists: Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen, Tess Gerritsen, etc. As an artist, everything I read influences me, so there really isn't an answer to your second question. I enjoy a lot of literary fiction and nonfiction, however. I loved SEABISCUIT, Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES and anything by Anita Shreve.

BRC: You have stated that true crime books and forensic television shows often inspire your fiction. Are there any subjects you feel you won't ever write about? Why or why not?

LG: Now that I'm a parent, it would be difficult for me to write about violence toward children. Of course, my next novel does involve a child in jeopardy, so I'm still walking the edge. I think to write a frightening book, you have to be frightened. Thus the most disturbing topics become the most compelling.

BRC: Congratulations are in order on the birth of your daughter, who at the time of this interview is two months old. Can you tell us what your work schedule was like before she was born, and how it has changed?

LG: Before my daughter's birth, I wrote each morning, maintaining a disciplined work schedule. Now ... Schedule? Discipline? Work? I'm lucky if I get bathed each day. Let's just say the new work environment is still being ironed out.

BRC: When will we see your next book, and can you share anything about it with us now?

LG: I'm hot at work on a new novel featuring a police sniper, Robert Dakota. One night, Dakota saves a mother and child by fatally shooting the father, who is holding them both at gunpoint. Or was he? By morning light, allegations are already starting to fly. Was it the father who was a threat to the child? Or is it the mother? And why exactly did Dakota take the shot? Every family has secrets, and what's going on with this one family may cost Dakota everything he's ever held dear.