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Jackson author Lisa Gardner wins Best Novel of the Year

Local author wins international award at Thriller Writers Thrillerfest

Lisa in her writing office with her dogs. Rachael Brown. (click for larger version)
August 19, 2010
"People tell me I am diabolical, but I use real-life crimes,'' says Gardner. "I like, 'It is a dark and stormy night,' and things that go bump in the dark," she says.

Gardner's fascination with writing about and solving horrific, violent crimes has won her regular spots on the New York Times Best Seller List. She has written 26 novels with 13 currently in print. Her books have sold 20 million copies worldwide.

Here is her story

Gardner grew up in Oregon and penned her first novel at 17 years of age.

"I didn't know any better then. I knew nothing about the writing business, never knew an editor. I literally had no idea," she says. She wrote under the pen name of Alicia Scott, and though those novels are now out of print, it was her beginning. "I was an international relations business major in college. I tried that for a few years and didn't like it," she adds.

Writing suited Gardner better than international relations, and once she picked up her pen in earnest, her talent exploded. Gardner says she was drawn into serial killers victimizing females.

"As a female suspense writer, I want to create a certain level of awareness. Chances are the killer was not a stranger, but someone we welcomed into our lives," she says. "My ideas are ripped from headlines. A prominent crime captures my attention and I ask, 'Why did this bad thing happen?' Sometimes we never do figure out why or how," she says.

Recently, Gardner has devoted much attention to family annihilation.

"A father shoots his family and then himself. This has to do with poor coping skills and narcissism," says Gardner. She explains perhaps the father is in over his head, not able to provide for the family, fearful for the future. The father really wants to kill himself, but first kills his family, then kills himself, rationalizing that if he killed himself first the family would be better dead than without a father," says Gardner. This echoes the theme in her book, "Live To Tell."

The puzzles of crime

The fascination with the whys, the hows and solving the crimes have inspired Gardner.

There are three categories of her books in print: the FBI Profiler Series, Standalone, and the Det. D.D Warren Series. Perhaps it is the D.D. Warren detective series that holds local readers' interest the most. Oftentimes, Gardner uses the names of locals for cameo appearances in her works. D.D. Warren, a fellow Jackson resident and neighbor, (Warren was close by when Gardner's daughter was born), was intended only for a cameo, but Warren stole the show.

"I was looking for a female cop for one novel, but the readers wanted D.D. back," says Gardner. The author likes her, too. Gardner says she always wanted to be like detective D.D. Warren, so Detective Warren is back. There are four books in the series: "Alone," "Hide," "The Neighbor," and "Live To Tell."

"The real D.D. Warren has been very gracious about this. Her family thinks she has a double life," says Gardner.

Now with 13 books in print, Gardner will begin a new novel this fall. Writing a novel takes one year, she explains.

The first three months are spent researching. Gardner explains that she researches police procedures, forensics, interviews criminologists, correction officers and public officials.

"Accuracy for the process is important. Cops are smart, the main character has to be smart," she notes. Interviewing the experts is similar to the journalism interview process. "You look for someone you know, a lead, you search for any connection," she says.

Because Gardner is a fiction writer and not a journalist, sometimes the experts are more willing to speak with her.

"You have to be patient and always be gracious. They [experts] will get to me when they can. It reassures me as a taxpayer that officials have better things to do than answer my calls," she says with a grin.

Gardner also visits the body farm. The body farm is a facility which studies body decomposition and determines the time of death. Unclaimed bodies are brought to the farm for observation to see how long it takes them to decompose.

Gardner says everything makes a difference is determining time of death; for example, whether the bodies were clothed, unclothed or burned. There are only four such facilities in the United States. "One thing I like is that real life is more interesting than fiction. I use real life crimes," says Gardner.

Once the facts are collected and interviewing completed, Gardner begins the writing process, which takes six months. Then, the last three months are spent editing and revising. Finding the right editor makes a big difference. "My editor, Kate Miciak, is one of the best and well-known in the industry. We have been together for eight books," she says.

Gardner says she will turn in a draft and her editor may make four or five comments.

"Kate might say: 'I think you need a bigger surprise at the end.' When you write suspense, sometimes you can be too close," says Gardner.

The busy life of writing

Gardner's writing life is very busy. She only has a few hours a day in which to write, explaining that time is taken up with travel (about one quarter of the year), marketing, speaking engagements, attending conferences and running the business. "On the business end, it helps that I have a business background and that my husband is a very smart man," she says.

Gardner moved to Jackson from Rhode Island seven years ago. For the past four or five years she has been writing out of her Jackson Village office; no phones, no Internet, just peace and quiet and her two dogs by her side.

Gardner relishes walking the Jackson Loop. This helps her figure out her novels. "There is something about being in motion that works for me. I get in touch with the artistic process by walking the Jackson Loop. I also go for hikes to make time for flushing out a book," she said. "I have two ideas for a book beginning in September. I got a local tip for one. I'm not sure which one to write first, but the little voices in my head tell me the second idea is a better one."

Working out helps inspire Gardner, too. "I work out a lot. You [writer] don't have an internal editor. You have to figure out your own process. Writing is exercise for the mind; the more you do, the easier it is," she says. Gardner says that many of the big authors will complete a book and then begin another right away. "Writing is like always keeping in shape. If you take two weeks off the gym, you get out of shape; the same is true for writing.

"If I take a break, sometimes the first 100 words are hard, but then suddenly I am fit and am doing the marathon. The more you write, the more your writing muscles stay nimble," says Gardner.

For more information visit, www. lisagardner.com. Gardner's novels are available locally at White Birch Books and Borders Express.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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