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Author Talk: June 19, 2009


June 19, 2009

Lisa Gardner's new novel, THE NEIGHBOR, marks the return of D. D. Warren, a Boston PD Sergeant who was also featured in previous works ALONE and HIDE. In this interview, Gardner explains why she chose to continue Warren's story, and discusses the real-life cases that inspired the plot of this latest book about the disappearance of a young wife and mother whose secretive husband is suspected of her murder. She also describes the most fascinating and most challenging aspects of researching and writing about sex offenders, provides insight into the complex characters and their relationships, and hints at what's in store for Sergeant D. D. in future installments of the series.

Question: THE NEIGHBOR features Boston PD Sergeant D.D. Warren from ALONE and HIDE. Why did you bring her back?

Lisa Gardner: D.D. is one of those cameo actresses who totally steals the show. I never intended her to be anything other than a single-scene character for ALONE. But something about her --- the attitude, the killer boots, I don’t know --- she ended up becoming a major character. At the end of ALONE, she didn’t get her man. In HIDE, same problem; Bobby Dodge chose the other woman. So D.D. has stayed with me, my favorite hard-assed detective, still searching for more out of life than a great all-you-can-eat buffet.

Q: What inspired the plot of the novel?

LG: The Petersons. Scott Peterson. Drew Peterson. Is it just me, or are way too many men solving their marital woes by killing off their young, beautiful wives? I’m fascinated by the inherent drama. From the woman’s point of view, what’s it like to be sleeping with the man most likely to kill you? From the husband’s point of view, how do you go about the day after, looking for your missing spouse, caring for your children, balancing work and home life, when you have half the cable networks camped out on your front lawn? If you’re a psychopath, I suspect the attention’s gratifying. But if you’re an innocent man, the good guy just trying to do right by your traumatized child…

Q: The novel opens with the disappearance of a young wife, Sandra Jones, told from her point of view. What was it like to write a novel where one of the most important characters is off stage?

LG: I’d like to say I was brilliant and had this dynamic figured out from the start. In reality, I learned as I wrote. Sandra had to have a voice, because if you don’t care about her, what’s the point? So I started the book from her point of view, and I liked that so much, she kept on providing her voice to the novel. Then it turned out there’s a lot more to pretty little Sandy than I first imagined. Wait till you get to the spa weekends. My husband read that chapter, and told me I was never allowed to go to a spa again.

Q: THE NEIGHBOR also features a four-year-old girl, Ree. What was it like to write from the perspective of a small child?

LG: I love Ree. Probably, in no small part, because I had the world’s most adorable team of four-year-old consultants assisting me with Ree’s development. Team Diva, I called them. I’d load them up with Cheddar Bunnies, and they’d supply the movies Ree should watch, decorations for her room, her favorite dolls. We had a blast.

Q: Jason Jones, Sandra’s husband, is definitely suspicious. It’s clear he’s a man with a lot to hide. How do you create a character that appears simultaneously guilty yet likable?

LG: The trick with Jason is that he genuinely loves his daughter. His feelings for Sandy are much more complex, and as you learn about the marriage, you can understand that. But his complete and utter devotion to his daughter is established from page one. In fact, he and Sandy both are committed to their child. It’s the lengths they will go to in order to protect Ree that make this family so complicated.

Q: You’re known for your research --- what was some of the most fascinating things you learned while researching THE NEIGHBOR?

LG: The research into sex offenders was the most interesting. Probably because the experts I interviewed, from parole officers, to court officers, to counselors, genuinely had nice things to say about them. One person, who assesses sex offenders for their risk of re-offending, likened them to bad people now on their best behavior, versus the parents he assesses for custody hearings, who are good people now on their worst behavior. Not that some sex offenders aren’t monsters, but the majority rehabilitate better than the media would have us believe. Fear sells papers. Success stories do not.

Q: THE NEIGHBOR has a lot to do with intimate secrets and internal fears, how you never really know anyone, not even the people you love. What was it like to write a novel where danger literally lurks everywhere?

LG: I’ve always been fascinated by the notion that danger is closer than you think. My first novel, THE PERFECT HUSBAND, was about the handsome charming husband who moonlights as Ted Bundy. THE NEIGHBOR picks up on that theme, but is more equal opportunity. Sure, Jason definitely has something to hide. But Sandy…my, my, my does that girl have some secrets worth killing over. Let alone the registered sex offender, plus the overeager student who adores his missing school teacher, etc. etc. We all have a capacity for violence given the right set of circumstances. THE NEIGHBOR is all about finding that set of circumstances...

Q: What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing THE NEIGHBOR?

LG: Writing as a first person male sex offender. I’m known for my complex characters, and I didn’t want to disappoint. On the one hand, Aidan’s definitely done something very bad. On the other hand, he’s a young guy still trying to figure out life and how to make better choices. I don’t think you have to like him, per se, but I want you to understand him. He has a story to tell, and it’s worth listening to.

Q: Will we see Sergeant D.D. again?

LG: Yep.

Q: What are you working on next?

LG: Sergeant D.D. returns in my next novel, where she investigates a string of family annihilations. All over Boston, fathers suddenly seem to be killing off their entire families. Coincidence, or something more sinister at work? You’ll find out in 2010.

© Copyright 2009, Lisa Gardner. All rights reserved.