7 Minutes With... Meg Gardiner

I have the distinct honor of having one of the coolest chicks in crime fiction on the blog today. Meg Gardiner has written twelve exceptional crime novels, and her latest, PHANTOM INSTINCT, simply blew me away The opening scene literally left me with my mouth hanging open, and the premise (against the backdrop of Fregoli Syndrome) is awesome. Her writing is sharp and intense and wildly descriptive, elements that are hard to find in a single title. Plus, she's smart, funny, gorgeous, and great company on panels, and now has Nashville ties, so we get to catch up. If you're not reading her, you need to rectify that immediately. 

I give you the divine Meg Gardiner!


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Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

“The Heart of the Matter,” Don Henley. Oh, man, is this a great song to come up. It’s world-wise, heartbroken, and hopeful. “Baby, I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter… and I think it’s about forgiveness… forgiveness…” When I was writing the ending of China Lake, I would put this on repeat, unleash an emotional typhoon, and let it all pour onto the page. 

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

I’m trying to come up with a nickname for a villain. Something sharp, memorable, and portentous. So, probably not Fluffy the Slayer. 

What’s your latest book about?

Phantom Instinct is about two survivors of a catastrophic shootout who work together to stop a killer. They have to, because nobody else believes he exists. 

Harper Flynn is tending bar at an L.A. club when gunman invade and open fire, killing her boyfriend. Aiden Garrison is the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. detective on the scene. He takes down two shooters before being severely injured. A third shooter escapes in the chaos—but only Harper and Aiden see him. The problem? Harper is an ex-thief, and the cops don’t trust her word. Worse, Aiden has suffered a traumatic brain injury that leaves him with Fregoli syndrome. This is a kind of face blindness that can cause him to think the person he’s looking at is actually somebody else in disguise. He can think his worst enemy is coming at him, camouflaged as a friend, family, or bystander. He can’t trust his own eyes. 

But the killer is back, and stalking survivors. The more Harper and Aiden learn about the shootout, the more dangerous things get. The more they’re drawn to each other. And the more each of them fears that the other might betray them. They have to choose whether to trust their hearts and their instincts. Because the killer is closing in, and wants to put Harper and Aiden—and those they love—in the line of fire.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

In an office looking out at live oaks and a southwestern sky. I use my MacBook Pro, with MS Word for Mac. And when I need to flesh out and connect fragmentary ideas, I write by hand on white typing paper. Using a Rollerball Fine Point pen, of which I have many. Many, many. My precious. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

Figure out what the chase is, and cut to it. This will help you (a) eliminate flab in your work, (b) yank backstory and infodumps from the start of your story, (c) speed up the pace, and, most important, (d) discover WHERE YOUR STORY STARTS. It should start in the middle of the action, and as close to the ending as possible.

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?

Read, hike, swim, eat, nap… let me rephrase that: meditate. Shutting out all distractions and closing your eyes in a quiet room allows submerged ideas to swim into focus.

And finally, vitally: sit my butt down at the keyboard and write anyway.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Being a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, and writing stories that stay with readers. Also: being the first person to walk on Mars. Might have to wait for my next life for that one.

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Meg Gardiner is the author of twelve acclaimed thrillers. Her award-winning novels have been bestsellers in the U.S. and internationally and have been translated into more than 20 languages. They’ve been called “nailbiting and moving… intelligent escapism at its best” (Guardian), “simply a fantastic story, told at breakneck speed” (Associated Press), “as fast-paced and nailbiting as a season of 24” (Florida Times-Union), and “riveting… a book you just can’t put down” (Chicago Sun-Times).

The Evan Delaney novels feature a journalist from Santa Barbara, California. Stephen King calls them “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.” China Lake, the first novel in the series, won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

The Jo Beckett series features a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist. The Dirty Secrets Club was chosen one of Amazon’s Top Ten thrillers of 2008, and won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of the year. The Nightmare Thief, featuring both Jo Beckett and Evan Delaney, won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. The Shadow Tracer was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013.

Meg’s new stand alone thriller, Phantom Instinct, has been named one of O, The Oprah Magazine’s “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School. Before writing novels, she practiced law Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. She and her husband have three kids. She lives in Austin, Texas.

About Phantom Instinct (out now):

In Edgar Award–winning author Meg Gardiner’s new stand-alone thriller, an injured cop and an ex-thief hunt down a killer nobody else believes exists.

When shots ring out in a crowded L.A. club, bartender Harper Flynn watches helplessly as her boyfriend, Drew, is gunned down in the cross fire. Then somebody throws a Molotov cocktail, and the club is quickly engulfed in flames. L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison sees a gunman in a hoodie and gas mask taking aim at Harper, but before he can help her a wall collapses, bringing the building down and badly injuring him.

A year later, Harper is trying to rebuild her life. She has quit her job and gone back to college. Meanwhile, the investigation into the shoot-out has been closed. The two gunmen were killed when the building collapsed.

Certain that a third gunman escaped and is targeting the survivors, Harper enlists the help of Aiden Garrison, the only person willing to listen. But the traumatic brain injury he suffered has cut his career short and left him with Fregoli syndrome, a rare type of face blindness that causes the delusion that random people are actually a single person changing disguises.

As Harper and Aiden delve into the case, Harper realizes that her presence during the attack was no coincidence—and that her only ally is unstable, mistrustful of her, and seeing the same enemy everywhere he looks.

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.