Meg Gardiner: WRITERMOM, Chocolate Lakes, and Ransom River

I first met Meg at TerribleMinds, and was impressed with how unterrible her mind was. She’s quick and witty and humble and the kind of person you want for a best friend.
So then I did what any self-respecting fan does and started stalking her online. Turns out she’s just as awesome as she’s cracked up to be.
She’s raised children (I have to list this as one of the highest of accomplishments. Right now I have toddlers and it seems every other minute they’re trying to get in the knife drawer or throw themselves off a high precipice.)
She’s published ten novels.
She’s a hot cross country runner.
She’s a three time Jeopardy! champion (that’s right).
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.

So yeah . . . quite an impressive resume for anyone to have, but for a woman as gracious and funny and beautiful as her . . . let’s just say she got her fair share of awesome during her dip in the gene pool.

Even Stephen King backs me up on this one. He wrote a glowing review of her work at and made sure her books were published on American soil. So thank you, Mr. King, for letting us ‘merican folks get a hand on such quality storytelling.

And she’s here with me today in cyber space! That’s right. I rolled out the red carpet (my way of saying I vacuumed), and made my world-famous (a slight exaggeration there) home made eggrolls and asked her a few questions about life, the universe, and everything.

Without further adieu (which means none of you should go away now) may I introduce to you Meg Gardiner:

I’ve heard on the streets that your first novel was a tragic romance about Indy car racing. And there were lots of explosions and tears. It sounds GREAT to me. I love fast cars. Why didn’t it work? 

Aside from the fact that I was sixteen, and knew far more about Indy cars than I did about romance, the main problem was the “tragic” part. The heroine fell in love with a dashing race driver, who immediately drove into a wall at 200 mph, burst into flames, and died. She mourned, but eventually found the courage to love again… another race driver, who promptly drove his car into a wall at 200 mph, burst into flames, and died. By page 63 I had killed all the men in the novel. End of story.

Nothin’ says ROMANCE like a fiery car crash

You came from a house that encouraged both reading and writing. How can parents instill a love of reading/writing in their kids?
Read to them! Keep books around the house. Encourage them to create – on paper, in words, and by playing. Tell bedtime stories.
Name the book you’ve read the most.

The Black Stallion. Followed closely by Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing.

Name one of your favorite childhood books.

See above. And I don’t mean Stein on Writing. My friends and I checked The Black Stallion – and all the books in the Black Stallion series – out of the school library so often that our names filled the check out card.

I bet this picture makes Meg’s heart melt.

Speaking of children, I hear you have some. How on earth do you juggle being a WRITERMOM (you need a cape with that on it) and … does it perhaps involve duct tape, hiding in closets, or buying one of those boxes that display moving pictures? 

When the kids were little, writing was extremely sporadic. The longest piece I got published was 700 words. But once they were all in school, I knew it was time to put up or shut up, and write the novel I’d been thinking about for years. The school bus came at 7:50 and brought them home at 3:45. That’s when I wrote. Of course, once I got a novel published, and started working to deadlines, things got more complicated. The kids would instant message me from the next room – things like, FOOD? And I once came out of my office to discover they’d stuck a note to the door. It read, “Warning: she eats her young.”

When are you perfectly at peace?
When all the kids are home and everybody’s hanging out in the kitchen, talking, laughing, and getting dinner ready.
Do you have a favorite book you’ve written, or are they like your kids in that you like them all equally?
I don’t have a favorite book, but I have favorite scenes from various books I’ve written. Such as the scene where Evan Delaney finds an FBI agent hogtied to her bed, stark naked, in Mission Canyon. The wedding sequence in Jericho Point (which involves not just a wedding but a fight, an ice sculpture catastrophe, a car crash, and the marriage-shy heroine being literally pursued by a wedding band). The London chase scene in Kill Chain. The helicopter crash in The Dirty Secrets Club. The monkey revenge scene in The Liar’s Lullaby. All these involve moments of real satisfaction and were fun to write.
Click to read scene about hogtied FBI agent
Click to read about wedding fiasco scene.
Click to read about London chase scene
Click to read about the helicopter crash
Click to read about the monkey revenge scene
Okay, let’s pretend I’m your psychologist (I charge $500 fake dollars an hour, btw). Tell me your greatest weakness as a writer, and tell me about your biggest struggle.
I want my characters to be happy. I want them to love each other and live satisfying lives and rescue kittens and sing sweet songs on the beach as the sun goes down. Which would be great in real life – but in a thriller, it’s boring. So I have to stop protecting the characters and let the chips fall where they may.
You’ve said you used to write by the seat of your pants, but now you plan ahead. Tell me about the preparation process that goes on before you write the first word to the novel?

Two months of brainstorming the big idea for the story, plus research, character sketches, story development, better story development, revised story development, more research, and then… Chapter 1.

In your opinion, what makes a successful author?

The ability to grip readers and give them a deep, surprising, satisfying emotional experience through the story.

Tell me three authors I should know about:

Jeff VanderMeer (dark fantasy, SF, Weird, Steampunk – and he can write scenes that truly exhilarate.)

Megan Abbott (thriller/mystery author with a deft, dark touch and a beautiful way with prose.)
James Lee Burke (James Lee Burke. What else do I need to say?)

If you had to swim across a sea of any beverage, what would it be?
Melted chocolate. Because I’d never make it across an entire sea, and I might as well die happy.
What does your writing space look like?

A room with wall-to-wall bookcases, a good office chair, and our old kitchen table. Which looks as if a moving van dropped a 20 foot container of papers, pens, pencils, and random notes on it from a great height.

What does it take to be a good editor (whether self-editor or editor for someone else).

A sense of the story – the pulsing wire that should run through a piece from beginning to end. The ability to see the possibilities an author hasn’t spotted, or has only developed vaguely. An ability to sharpen a story in a way that amplifies the author’s own voice. An ability to explain all this to the writer in a way that makes the writer eager to revise.

Have any new projects? What are some things to look forward to on your horizon?
My next novel is a thriller called The Shadow Tracer. It’s about going off the grid and disappearing. On the run. With a five-year-old.
And . . . the final question to end all questions . . . if you had to choose between any apocalypse (solar, comet, environmental changes, zombie, robots, or alien) which would it be?! (and why)
Solar, because it has the best music. At least we’d go out singing the Beatles: “Good Day, Sunshine.”
Now go meet Meg herself, and pick up one of her novels. It will be one of the best decisions of your life. Right after that good decision you made about learning how to make French bread and watching the entire first season of LOST in one day. | Visit Meg on Facebook and Twitter | @MegGardiner1
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  1. You have been on Jeopardy? And won? And you are a prolific author? And a mom? Okay, I’m crushing on you right now. Wow, m’lady, are a powerhouse! Nice to meet you! ;-)

  2. My mouth is still hanging open from all those accomplishments. I suddenly feel like quite the slacker :) Thanks for bringing us a great interview, Ellie.

    • EllieAnn

       /  October 12, 2012

      Agreed! It’s not just that she’s done all that, either, it’s that she’s done it with STYLE. =)

  3. I’ve also read The Black Stallion more than any other book. And I had to laugh about your kids texting you and leaving that note on your door. My children would completely sympathize with them.

    Thanks so much for doing this interview, Meg. It’s a pleasure to get to know you a bit, and I hope I have the chance to meet you sometime. :)

    • EllieAnn

       /  October 12, 2012

      And husbands.
      “Dear wife,
      When is your book going to be finished? I miss you. We should schedule a date sometime. One that does not you gazing off into space, lost in your story.

      • Piper Bayard

         /  October 12, 2012

        LOL. So true. The gazing into space thing. I’m either writing or thinking about writing. I don’t know how they put up with us. :)

        Great interview, Ellie.

        • EllieAnn

           /  October 12, 2012

          *gazes off into space* Wait . . . what? Did you say something? ;)
          Thanks, Piper.

  4. Fantastic interview. I’ve been blown away lately by the diversity of interests and accomplishments among writers—Meg is certainly no exception! I’m off to see her out online and nab one of her books. Or maybe I’ll drink a cup ‘o chocolate melt first. YUM.

  5. When my kids lived here the summer before last, we texted in the house all the time!
    Loved this interview and the introduction. I will check out her books and blog. Who can beat a Stephen King endorsement! Wow!

  6. Thanks for all your kind words, guys. And many thanks to Ellie Ann for making the interview such fun.

  7. Accomplishments, Stephen King and chocolate. And all that with style, wonderful!

  1. The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Cocaine for Votes « Bayard & Holmes
  2. I get interviewed at Ellie Ann’s blog | lying for a living

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