Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Michael Palmer, Daniel Palmer, Meg Gardiner, the library, & Sleuthfest!

and did I mention Dennis Lehane?!!

I am just thrilled that these fabulous authors will be visiting our local libraries. They are all in town for Sleuthfest, the annual convention of the Mystery Writers of America. It starts Thursday and runs though the weekend at the Deerfield Beach Hilton. Go to the Sleuthfest page if you'd like to sign up.

If you can't go, then maybe you'd like to stop by one of our Boca Raton libraries to meet these terrific authors. On Wednesday, March 2, at 2:00 p.m. the Glades Road Library will be hosting both Michael Palmer, author of A HEARTBEAT AWAY, which just came out, and his son, Daniel Palmer, whose first novel, DELIRIOUS, came out a couple of weeks ago.

Meg Gardiner has made time out of her busy schedule to swing by the West Boca Branch Library this Thursday, March 3, at 2:00 p.m. This is a rare U.S. appearance for the American living in London.

If you'd like to sign up for either of these events, or for the Dennis Lehane cocktail party/fundraiser on Friday, March 4 at 6:30 pm at the Hagen Ranch Road Library in Delray Beach, it's easy & all online here: Writers Live!

I received this terrific interview with Meg Gardiner, courtesy of Sleuthfest - and if you are not familiar with her work, after reading this you will want to be!

Questions and answers with Guest of Honor Meg Gardiner
February 2011

Time is running out!
Register NOW for SLEUTHFEST 2011!
March 3 - 6
Deerfield Beach, FL

"Writers are troublemakers. It's our job to give readers heartburn."

A common question posed by aspiring writers is: How do I get published? Every published author has a story, but the plot to Meg Gardiner's "big break" story is as twisted and surprising as any you might read in a mystery novel.

In the second of our interview series leading up to SleuthFest 2011, Joanna Campbell Slan interviewed Meg and asked her, among other things, about her publishing journey. It's an interview you won't want to miss, and it's just a small taste of the great information you'll be privy to at SleuthFest. Haven't registered yet? What are you waiting for?

Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford law school. She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her novel CHINA LAKE won the 2009 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. THE DIRTY SECRETS CLUB won the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of 2008. Meg lives with her husband, Paul Shreve, and their three children near London. LIAR'S LULLABY is her eighth novel.

Q: CHINA LAKE has non-stop action. What's your process? Do you outline or use any format? Since it was your debut book, what did you learn by writing it that you now use regularly?

A: Nonstop action - glad it seems so. The characters actually go to a museum and play soccer on the beach in between being chased by violent religious fanatics. So if the action feels nonstop, I'll fist-pump that the plot succeeds in maintaining suspense. I outline because that's the only way I can keep from becoming hopelessly lost and entangled in a story. Outlining allows me to build a plot, to make it coherent, and to keep it from wallowing or wandering. What did I learn by writing China Lake? I was powerfully determined to get it published, so I wrote and rewrote and turned the plot inside out and, whenever I saw a straight, flat stretch of story, I attacked it again to twist it, layer it, or add surprises and emotional complexity. I threw everything in. I ripped out the kitchen sink and pitched it into the plot, then tore the pipes from the wall and tossed them in too. I don't feel the need to do that anymore. But in CHINA LAKE, it seems to have worked.

As for what I now use regularly: if I find myself writing a scene where a character mulls, reflects, ponders, or muses - while nothing else happens - I cut it. That's not actually a scene. It's place-holding, or self-indulgence. Out it goes. Back to the action.

Q: It's every beginning author's dream to be noticed by a big name. You were singled out by Stephen King. Tell us how that happened so we can fantasize about it more accurately!

A: It was serendipity. Several years back, Stephen King was packing for a book tour to the UK. Looking for a novel to read on his flight, he opened a box of books his British publisher had sent him. He pulled out CHINA LAKE. I wish I could say he read the first paragraph and felt overwhelmed by the prose. But he decided that the print was large enough for comfortable reading on a long flight. So he took the book along. And by the time he landed in London, he'd finished it. He asked our British publisher who published me in America. The answer was nobody. For me, at the time, this was hugely frustrating. After all, I'm a Californian. I happened to be living in London because my husband's job had been transferred there. And I was excited that a British publisher was putting out the Evan Delaney series. But as an American, I keenly wanted to be published in my own country. However, after five books in the series, and translation into a number of foreign languages, American publishers had said no to all of my novels. Over and over. And over.

Mr. King read my entire series, and liked it. Then, because he's extraordinarily generous and supportive of other writers, he posted an article on his website urging readers to seek out my books. And, to my everlasting joy and gratitude, he wrote a column in Entertainment Weekly saying I deserved to be published in the U.S. and telling people to read the Evan Delaney series. Within 48 hours, fourteen American publishers had contacted me. Two weeks later, I had a contract with Dutton. They signed up the Jo Beckett series, which I was just developing, and their Penguin sibling, NAL, published the Evan Delaney novels. CHINA LAKE was finally published in the U.S. in 2008. In 2009 it won the Edgar for Best Paperback Original.

Q: Jesse is the male protagonist in CHINA LAKE. He's in a wheelchair. Unlike Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme, you were very specific about how he could/could not have sex. You also cover how someone in a wheelchair is received in daily life. How did you research this? Why did you decide to make Jesse less mobile? How do you make sure that he isn't a passive character?

A: Jesse Blackburn is a young man who had the world at his feet: He was a world-class athlete, a star student, an All-American with a brilliant career laid out ahead of him. Then he was run down by a hit-and-run driver and left for dead. I did that to put an irreparable crack in the characters' lives, and in the story. I wanted Jesse and Evan to live with the effects of violent crime, in a way that would never disappear. They can't ignore it or forget about it. It's always there. So the story is about how they deal with the physical and emotional consequences. It's about how Jesse rebuilds his life, and they build their relationship, in the aftermath.

But the point is that life does go on. As Evan says, Jesse learns how to navigate the world without walking it. And, physically, he's not completely disabled - he can walk, with difficulty. He gets around. And there's no chance Jesse could be a passive character, because that ain't his personality - he's cocky and sarcastic, a hotshot lawyer who drives too fast and who hates to back down from anything. Plus he's young, strong, and determined to find a way to do whatever he wants. Where'd he come from? From the way I've seen friends and family handle tragedies and challenges in their lives. From the way that, after a heavy blow, people get back up and keep going. I not only did a lot of research and reading, but also talked to people about how using a wheelchair affects their lives (and how able bodied folks sometimes react to them). They were generous enough to share their experiences with me. Bottom line: living an active life is about character, not the ability to jump.

Q: Evan and Jo, your female protagonists, both have gender neutral names. Why? You chose very romantic names for your male protagonists, and the couples have a rich romantic life yet your books are clearly suspense. How do you juggle both the romance and the suspense elements?

A: Evan is a middle name - her first name is Kathleen - and Jo is short for Johanna. I chose gender neutral names partly because frilly names just struck me as silly for thriller heroines. Partly because they're girls next door, with a bit of tomboy and outdoorswoman in them, and I wanted that to come across. As for the guys in their lives - well, these are women who live to the full, and I wanted them to have partners and families. Evan and Jo aren't broken detectives. They're not alcoholic, or abused, or ruining their relationships by devoting themselves obsessively to their jobs. It's more fun that way, for me, and for them.

The novels are suspense, first and last. They aren't boy-meets-girl, or will-they, won't-they. The romance in the stories grows out of the characters' lives. So it's deep, sometimes risky, and worth fighting for. As it is for all of us.

Q: People look at Jo and wonder, "What is she?" Meaning, they wonder about her heritage. In Jo's profession, she looks into peoples' pasts and wonders, "Who were they?" That sense of identity seems to be very important to you. Tell us about it.

A: Jo performs psychological autopsies to find out whether a victim's death is suicide, accident, or murder. Her job is to unearth the victim's history, and to piece together a jigsaw of the victim's life into a whole picture that illuminates the circumstances of their death. She asks: Who was this person? What goes on in the human heart? In her job, this is more important than dry stains on a lab slide. Understanding the victim's identity is crucial to uncovering the truth. Learning "Who were they?" allows her to find out how they died. Jo happily calls herself "pure California mutt." She's got Irish, Japanese, and Egyptian ancestry. She loves all aspects of her heritage, even when her family's arguing during Christmas dinner. But of course she's aware that she doesn't look like a 1950s poster for Susie Wonderbread. And in America we're fascinated, for good and ill, by people's ethnicity and heritage. But Jo is the increasingly typical California girl. She's who I see, more and more, when I look at my own family.

Q: You are an ex-pat. How has that had an influence on your writing? Or has it? How do you balance writing and being a wife and mother? What's your schedule like? How do you keep your writing time sacred? Or do you?

A: Being an ex-pat has taught me that we live in a big world. What we consider to be "the way it is" sometimes turns out to be just a local attitude. When you get out of your own little neighborhood you meet people who see things from a different vantage point. And that's enlightening. In my writing, it's made me careful to explain American terms and customs for an international audience. I can't expect readers in Amsterdam to know that CHP stands for California Highway Patrol, or that "Red or green?" refers to my heroine's choice of salsa. The big thing I learned is that people in Britain consider California to be exotic. I thought Santa Barbara was an ordinary place to grow up, but my English friends pictured it as Baywatch - all bikinis and jet skis and automatic weapons. And hey, I was more than happy to write stories set in a world I love, and that they find fascinating.

As for my schedule, I write every day, come high water, snakebite, or my mother-in-law. Once my kids started school, it got simple: the school bus came at 7:55 a.m., and returned at 3:45 p.m. Those were the hours when I could write. I thought it was perfect. However, once, while under deadline pressure, I opened my office door to find that the kids had taped a note to it: "Warning - she eats her young."

Q: In CHINA LAKE, you captured the voice of religious extremism in a pitch-perfect way. How did you manage it without getting clich├ęd or too weird to be believable?

A: At the time I thought I was exaggerating for effect. But looking around now, much of what I wrote about the Remnant (the Bring-on-Armageddon sect in the book) could be dropped into a news broadcast without anybody batting an eye.

When I first imagined the story, I had in mind the radical violence of the Oklahoma City bombing. But today, when we hear "terrorist attack," we more or less assume it has been launched in the name of religion. Meanwhile, on the nasty 'n' wacko front, we've got the Westboro Baptist "Church" picketing the funerals of soldiers. There are billboards of a buffed-out Jesus ripping himself off the cross, like a WWF superstar, with the tagline: "You drew first blood, but I'll be back." And last week, a self-proclaimed "bible prophecy expert" joined Glenn Beck on his national television show, on what's ostensibly a news network, to warn America that we may be in the End Times, and that Islam thinks the Antichrist is a good guy. The phrase "wet my pants" was used. Too weird? What's that?

Q: There are a handful of attorneys who write suspense and mystery, including Jeffery Deaver, Jamie Freveletti, and Steve Berry. What is it about being an attorney that prepares someone for writing suspense and mystery?

A: Attorneys have experience writing persuasive documents. It's their job to convince the court, in the teeth of zealous opposition, that their client's case is just. And all legal cases are stories.

Every court case is a narrative. It's a tale of conflict - of something going desperately wrong between people. And it's the attorney's job to frame her client's case in the most compelling way possible, to convince a judge or jury of its merits.

Of course, in a novel, unlike a court case, the author can guarantee that the story ends the way she wants. Or maybe attorneys are natural fibbers. As my son said, aged four: "Lawyer, lawyer, pants on fire."

Q: Gabe has a daughter and Evan is devoted to her young nephew. Someone once told me there's a "rule" against having kids in mysteries because the kids should never be in danger. (I broke that rule, and you have, too.) Any thoughts about how children as characters? They certainly do humanize your other characters. Do you ever worry about putting them in danger?

A: I'm glad I never heard of such a rule. I wrote Luke, Evan's six-year-old nephew, into the heart of the story before I ever dealt with publishing do's and don'ts. And in fact my first editor told me the opposite - she encouraged me to include children in my novels precisely because they humanize the surrounding characters. And I'm a mom of three. With a house full of kids, it seemed completely realistic to include youngsters in my stories.

Sometimes I worry about putting children in trouble in my books - it can be nerve-racking, oppressive, or disturbing. I have never written about abuse or shown children suffering. But writers are troublemakers. It's our job to give readers heartburn, to keep them biting their nails and flipping the pages to see what happens to all these delightful characters who are at such risk. And I don't actually put children in danger. Only on the page.

Friday Guest of Honor Meg Gardiner will speak during lunch on Friday, March 4, in the Grand Ballroom and will be on several panels throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon at poolside, she'll participate in a book discussion moderated by Stephanie Levine of Murder on the Beach Bookstore about the award-winning China Lake. Don't miss it!

CLICK HERE to register for SleuthFest or, if you've already registered but would like to add Third Degree Thursday to your registration, contact Sharon Potts at sharonrpotts@aol.com.

March 3 - 6, 2011
Deerfield Beach, Florida at the Hilton Deerfield Beach/Boca Raton

CLICK HERE to go to the SleuthFest website.

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Rap Sheet Editor
Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter

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