Monday, June 26, 2017

Thrills and Chills! Meg Gardiner and UNSUB


When the planets align, and you find a fantastic book written by a wonderful author and person, that is a day worth celebrating.  That's what we're doing today, on the release day of Meg Gardiner's heart pounding page-turner, UNSUB.

Meg is an Edgar Award-winning author of international bestselling thrillers that have been translated into twenty languages.  She's a graduate of Stanford Law, a three-time Jeopardy champion, and her books have been lauded by USA Today, O, the Oprah Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, and the Guardian to name just a few.  Stephen King said about Meg's Evan Delaney series “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.”  And if that weren't enough, she is hilarious, gracious, and generous.

Meg was kind enough to send me an advance copy of UNSUB, and it's a nail biter.  I couldn't put it down!  I'm so thrilled she's stopping by JRW today.

INGRID THOFT: Tell us about UNSUB, the first installment in your new series.

MEG GARDINER: UNSUB is a psychological thriller about a young cop hunting a legendary killer. The UNSUB—an unknown subject in a criminal investigation—begins killing again after a twenty-year break, and Detective Caitlin Hendrix must decipher his coded plan before he wreaks more havoc. 

The novel was sparked by the Zodiac killings. That unsolved case has haunted California for decades, and me since childhood. The Zodiac killed and injured seven people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and taunted the police and press with dozens of messages, including cryptograms that have never been broken. The killer has never been caught.

In UNSUB, Caitlin Hendrix is drawn into the chilling world of the Prophet, who marked his victims’ bodies with the ancient sign for Mercury. The Prophet is Caitlin’s living nightmare. Her father, Mack, was the lead detective on the original case. The investigation shattered Mack emotionally and tore his family apart.

The Prophet is a master of mind games. To stop him, Caitlin must do what her father couldn’t. She must decipher both the Prophet’s old, taunting messages and his strange new rhymes. What does the Mercury sign mean? What’s the Prophet’s end game?

IPT: The main character, Caitlin Hendrix, is cop, as was her dad, and their relationship is pivotal to the story.  What made you tackle a father/daughter relationship?

MG: The action in the novel unfolds over ten days. But the case spans twenty-five years, and affects two generations. I wanted to tell it from the perspective of the cops working the case—who thread the line between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession. The most affecting way to do that was to make those cops father and daughter.

Mack knows the case better than anyone, but is a broken man. Caitlin desperately needs his help, but knows that drawing him back into the world of the Prophet could endanger them all.
I’m a sucker for family stories. What can I say?

 IPT: UNSUB is so suspenseful that, at one point, I was curled on the couch practically in the fetal position while reading it.  How do you get the rhythm and pacing right?

I plan. I rewrite. Then I add a countdown clock. I want my novels to be fast-paced. Action and accelerating momentum help put the thrill in thriller. But the action can’t be unrelenting.

In UNSUB, Caitlin runs 5K with friends, plays My Little Pony with a four-year-old, and gets a night of romance. I love it when readers tell me they find my books suspenseful. That’s not just because the pace is quick, or because the action is nonstop. The books can seem relentless because, even when the action stops, unanswered questions lurk in the background. The pace might let up, but the suspense never does.  

Each of the novel’s lighter scenes feed into the main plot. While Caitlin runs 5K, she talks about psychopathology. The My Little Pony playdate is interrupted when the Prophet delivers a video to a TV station. Caitlin’s night of romance starts out with a discussion of bomb making techniques. (Caitlin’s boyfriend, Sean, is an ATF Certified Explosives Specialist.) These scenes let the characters enjoy a moment of Zen, or ecstasy, or tequila. But unsettled issues continue to churn. Mysteries remain unsolved. Clocks tick down. The bad guy schemes, and sharpens his knives.

 IPT; Anyone who knows you, knows that you are a kind, thoughtful, funny (you have to follow Meg on twitter at @meggardiner1) person, but UNSUB has some dark, disturbing images in it.  How do you keep that stuff from seeping into your otherwise sunny personality?  Or is the sunny personality a ruse?!

MG: Aww, thanks. It’s a balancing act. I write about what scares me, because I figure it will also scare readers. But I keep emotional distance from what’s happening on the page. At some point, I have to throw myself fully into the scene—to feel what the characters are feeling, so I can express that—but I do compartmentalize. As a writer, I take what frightens me and turn it into gripping fiction. I put my demons on the page, and turn them loose for readers to experience in the most exciting and suspenseful ways I can create.

And we all have a shadow side. I follow Stephen King’s advice: “Go down to the basement.” Haul everything up. How else are you going to find depth?

IPT: You clearly know your stuff when it comes to law enforcement.  Whether it’s tactical strategy, explosives, or how various agencies interact with one another, it all rings true.  Do you do a lot of research? 

MG: I do. I love research. To write UNSUB, I delved into the digitized files from the Zodiac case. I read books by former FBI agents on criminal profiling. I rode along on patrol with the Austin Police Department. If I couldn’t learn something first hand, I watched videos. (Want to breach a building with a tactical team? Find training videos online.) Whenever possible, I talk to the people who do the job I’m writing about. There’s no better way to get things right, and—as important—to get a feel for what their lives are like.

IPT: CBS is developing UNSUB into a TV series, and you’re going to be a producer.  Can you tell us about that process?

MG: I’ll be involved behind the scenes. CBS and the production company, Timberman-Beverly (which also produced "Justified," and produces "Elementary") are putting things together. More details to come!

So readers, what really scares you?  Do serial killers make the list?  Meg is giving away a copy of UNSUB.  Just comment to enter!

Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?

Edgar-winning novelist Meg Gardiner writes thrillers. Fast-paced and full of twists, her books have been called “Hitchcockian” (USA Today) and “nailbiting and moving” (Guardian). They have been bestsellers in the U.S. and internationally and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

The Evan Delaney novels feature a feisty freelance 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 won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. Later it was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever. The Jo Beckett series features a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist. It includes The Liar’s Lullaby, The Memory Collector, and The Dirty Secrets Club, which was chosen one of the Top Ten thrillers of 2008 by Amazon 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. Meg’s stand alone novel The Shadow Tracer was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013. Her current title, Phantom Instinct, was chosen one of “The Best Books of Summer” by O, the Oprah magazine.

Meg was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University, where she lettered in varsity cross country and earned a B.A. in Economics. She went on to graduate from Stanford Law School. She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught in the Writing Program at the University of California Santa Barbara. Later she moved with her husband and three young children to London. There she began writing mysteries set in the California she loves. She hasn’t stopped. Writing thrillers is job she’s immensely lucky to have.

In addition to her twelve novels, Meg has published short stories in American and British magazines. She’s contributed essays to anthologies including Now, Write! Mysteries, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, and the Anthony Award winning Books to Die For.

Beyond writing, Meg is a three time Jeopardy! champion and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She lives in Austin, Texas.

From Our Closets: Stay or Go?

LUCY BURDETTE: I know we've talked quite a bit recently about decluttering and downsizing. But here's the problem I run into over and over: I have some items in my closet that I have not been able to throw out or recycle. Then I had a brilliant idea! I need some girlfriends to tell me the truth (OK can be boyfriends too) about these articles of clothing. And I figured the other Reds might have some items they want to model as well. So please, be kind, but be honest.

I heard last weekend that overalls are cycling back into style. I used to wear the denim kind in my 20s. I've saved this short pair for a long, long time. What do you think? Hold or go?

And here's one more. I know I wore these once to an Anthony awards brunch for which Six Strokes Under had been nominated for best PBO. I thought they were cute back then… And who knows when a pair of bright green silk capris might be needed again? Hold or go?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I love you madly, Lucy, but trash the overall things. You may be connected to them emotionally, but you have outgrown them intellectually.

 Green capris? Keep. Totally.  See? This is why it's a problem. I think the green pants are beautiful, with a crisp white tunic and chic sandals?  Gorgeous.

And now, checking my closet.  

And I know just what you mean. I am madly giving things away these days, but there are a few items I'm not sure of. Okay, how about these.  SO hip. And they were hugely on sale. (Often a preface to an unfortunate purchase.) These actual Chanel boots were such a steal that I couldn't resist.  (I will tell you the list price and the sale price if you are interested, but I fear the backlash.)  I have never worn them. I just look at them. I love them. Look at the colors, the quilted leather, the cool buckles, the soignée Parisian ultra-stylish style.  So punky and cool. (Can you tell from the photo?) But no matter what I do, I can't make them look right on me. If boot-cut jeans were in style, that might work. Hmm. So--I save them for another fashion swing. Should I just consign them?

HALLIE EPHRON: Lucy: Save the overalls. For Halloween. Actually those aren't overalls; they're rompers. And they look pretty cute on you. The pants? Too shiny. Weird length. Call Goodwill. Hank: Save the boots...just because.

I have very little in my closet that I don't actually wear. The oldest continually worn thing is probably a straw summer hat which squashes down to nothing in a suitcase. Once upon a time it was blue and purple and pink and red... now so faded. So useful. I will be sad when it gets holes.

I've also saved the hat I wore to my daughter's wedding. It does not squash and when I look at it, it screams CHURCH CLOTHES. Still, I keep it. What think? Is it time to give it the heave-ho?

HANK: Hal, that that does not say church clothes to me at all. I think I recognize the designer--but wear it to outdoor concerts, to shade your face on summer days, even wear it to the beach. Seriously!

JENN MCKINLAY: I don't have much that I keep as I LOVE decluttering. Truly, the Hub and Hooligans hide their stuff from me because I have been known to be a teeny bit overzealous in my hauling of things to Goodwill.
That being said, I have had this dress (that I never wear) in my closet since Hub and I honeymooned in Maui eighteen years ago. Yes, he has the matching shirt, which we also still have although he no longer wears it either. For some reason, I can not make myself part with this dress (or his shirt) even though the skirt is WAY too short for a woman solidly in middle age and his shoulders have become too broad for his shirt. Why am I keeping them? Sentimentality? How long does that last? Maybe I could make pillows for the patio furniture out of them...hmm.

HANK: Jenn! Wear his shirt over your dress. Tied at the waist. SO cute!  (And it is not way too short for summer. You look adorable.)

LUCY: Cute, Jenn! You could always add leggings. Or so I was told about a dress that is too short but I bought it anyway. And have worn once…

INGRID THOFT: Like Jenn, I generally don't have trouble getting rid of things, but the timing of this post is perfect since I just put this suit in a bag to go to Goodwill.  I don't want to keep it, but I certainly need more encouragement to get it out the door!  I wore this chocolate brown satiny suit at my rehearsal dinner almost 17 years ago.  It still fits, but unless I'm auditioning to be one of the Pips in Gladys and the Pips, I think its day has come.  I've known for about 15 years that it needed to go, but it was my rehearsal dinner!  I suppose that as long as I've decided to keep the husband, that's all that matters.  And Jenn, you look great in that dress.  You should keep it; you never know when you might get invited to a luau!

HANK: Ingrid—can you keep the jacket? Wear it open, with a white t-shirt, over jeans?

LUCY: This is hysterical! I have a brown satin 3-piece thing too, Ingrid, so we can both play Pips. Hank, you are not helping us throw things out!!

HANK: I know. I am part of the problem. Can't help it. xoxo But sometimes you have to think of clothing (like Hallie's hat, or Ingrid's suit. Forget about "suit") in another way. That's what friends are for. Or something.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I declutter once or twice a year, too, and had just done a big round last week. And once again I hesitated over this dress, which I haven't worn in ages (um, years...but I'm a good bit thinner now...) I just can't talk myself into giving it away. It's a gorgeous fabric, and I love the wild print. But it's awfully bare, so it needs a little something. Cardigan? Jacket? And it's a weird length, just below mid-calf. So what shoes? (It's also clingy so needs major no-line undies.) Maybe I'll try it on with some linen sandals I have on order, and, you know, I happened to see a cardigan in the shop last weekend in just that color blue... 

What do you think of our problem clothing, REDs? Keep or toss? And tell us about something you can't quite part with?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

This Just In: Jungle Reds Swoon over Spencer Quinn

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We are swooning at Jungle Red today!  You may know our guest as Peter Abrahams, the internationally acclaimed and bestselling thriller writer. (Seriously, one of the best in the world.) Or as Spencer Quinn, the internationally acclaimed and bestseller author of the adorable Chet and Bernie mysteries. And many other terrific books.  (“The Edgar-winning author of 36 novels” as his bio says.)

Yes, I am absolutely unabashedly gushing. He is one of my favorite authors ever.  

And now he (as Spencer Quinn) has a new book out in two days, THE RIGHT SIDE.  It’s a different incredible...well, now I am gushing again.  

HANK:  I'm in the midst of your wonderful book right now (oops, still gushing)--so don't tell me the ending. But I'm fascinated by what you said on your website--how  sometimes a character grabs you and won’t let go. you said: "This character – a figment of your own imagination but not wholly under your power – demands to be brought to life."  So that's what happened with your main character in THE RIGHT SIDE, LeAnne? Tell us about that. who is she, and where did she come from?  

SPENCER QUINN: Publishing - what a crazy business! On the outlet end, it's more and more data and numbers driven all the time, as though the product was sheet steel. We workers back at the inlet end deal in feelings, dreams, emotions, zeitgeist. Strange things go on in that pipeline. LeAnne Hogan came to me suddenly, out of the blue. The Chet and Bernie mysteries - and Bowser and Birdie for kids - which have been occupying me for almost the past 10 years are probably essentially comic in tone. And I love writing them! But what I think happened is that things going on in the world that are not comic came barging in and couldn't be ignored.

 LeAnne lives in this dangerous, baffling, violent world which I must have been grappling with subconsciously and when she popped up in my imagination I knew had to write about her. I'm not saying she's humorless - far from it, I hope - but she's been in terrible situations that brand you forever. In THE RIGHT SIDE, she is forced to solve two mysteries, one macro, one micro.

LeAnne's highly capable of doing that, or at least she was. She's a soldier and a warrior, beloved and respected by her comrades; but then her patrol wanders into a mysterious set-up in an Afghan village, and it all comes undone.

I've explored the idea of a highly capable person forced to carry on with suddenly diminished abilities once before in OBLIVION, but this turned out quite differently. And one of the reasons for the difference is the strange dog who enters LeAnne's life when she really needs her, even if LeAnne doesn't know it at the time.

HANK: But even though you’ve written riveting standalone thrillers, and the smart and (okay, adorable) Chet and Bernie mysteries, and the Bowser and Birdie YAs (and more--I adore your Echo Falls books) --but this book is so different. It has a different tone, and a different...aura. Did it feel different to write it? 

SPENCER QUINN: Good question. That aura thing came up in a conversation with my editor. He said reading the book reminded him of the feeling of getting swept along in a piece of music by Philip Glass. I'm no expert on Philip Glass, but chose to take it as a compliment. There were a lot of technical challenges in the writing - it's part war novel, part mystery, part road book, and moves back and forth in time - but I wasn't really aware of them until I was done. Thank God! Those challenges can be intimidating. Better not to know.

 As for the feeling of writing it - well, I'm not sure. There are always surprises. For example, when I made LeAnne a high-school pole vaulting champion, I had no idea there'd be that scene in Afghanistan where she tries to teach the schoolgirls in their burqas how to pole vault. And how, much later, she tries desperately to remember their names. One thing I do know is that the writing process never gets easier. That seems unfair. After a dentist has filled 1000 cavities or so, autopilot must set in. Why can't we have that?

HANK: Well, it’s good, really, isn’t it? Because to have the joy of a new idea, or a new insight. People have said to me—“After 40 years as a reporter, don’t all stories seem the same? Like how many ways are there to cover a fire?” And that’s so—wrong. Every situation is astonishingly different. In fiction, there are even more possibilities. And having a good idea is the best thing that could ever happen.

Speaking of good ideas...this sense you have about dogs, and their place in the world, and in people’s lives. There’s a dog on the cover of THE RIGHT SIDE—did the dog appear to you when LeAnn did?  (And we won’t tell the dog’s name.)

SQ: Well, I knew from the start that I wanted a dog in the story - but not a narrating dog! THE RIGHT SIDE is all third-person close. And this dog had to have been through something bad - although we never know exactly what - and like LeAnne, bears the scar. And like her, the dog is not in a cuddly mood, at least in the present. As for the future, I hope readers see the ending as an up note.
HANK: there’s such a layer of melancholy and sorrow and loss at the beginning of the book. Was that difficult—more difficult than writing always is anyway—to write?

SQ: The truth is the parts of a story with heightened emotions, like the beginning of THE RIGHT SIDE, and heightened action, are easier to write, at least for me. It's the getting to them that's hard, often a slog. In this book, I tried to simply jettison most of that slogging.

HANK: Jettison the slogging! Ah. My new mantra.  Talk about that title—so multi-layered! Did the story come first, or the title?

SQ: The moment I picked the side of LeAnne's face that would be damaged, I had the title; and all the metaphoric ripples got set in motion. 

HANK: And not to bury the lede, but you have reached blurb nirvana. Stephen King said “Brilliant. Deeply felt, but totally under control. I loved it.” Not to be sappy, but okay. How did you feel when you read that? The totally under control part is so fabulous. And, yeah, brilliant is good.

SQ: I was very glad to see this blurb. The implication is so right: simply having the deep feeling is not enough. Someone (and of course it's the same dude!) who's almost stern has to be at the controls. 

HANK:  That’s such a terrific image—flying high, but under control. Have a great time with the new book! So exciting.

 So, Reds and readers, who’s your favorite dog in fiction?  

And a copy of THE RIGHT SIDE to one lucky commenter!      


Peter Abrahams is the Edgar award winning author of thirty-six novels.  Among his acclaimed crime thrillers are Oblivion and The Fan (filmed starring Robert De Niro). Under the name Spencer Quinn, he writes the New York Times bestselling Chet and Bernie mysteries and the middle-grade Bowser and Birdie series. The Right Side – the story of a wounded female vet – comes out June 27, 2017.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Take the Jungle Red Seatmate Quiz!

Hank over Chicago without Steven Spielberg
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah well, traveling.  It can be wonderful, it really can. A fun window seat over a cool recognizable city like Chicago. Sitting by, say, Steven Spielberg. I mean, it could happen. It didn't, though. Yet. 
Oh, now, this isn’t what I was going to write, but hmm. Who would I love to sit by, more than anyone?  Not counting any of you, of course,  because that might really happen. But what if you got on the plane, sat in the widow seat, got organized and say (because this is a fun thing), you looked really great. And as you settle in,  you hear a little rustle. And you look up. And about to take the empty seat beside you is—WHO?
While you contemplate, say hi to our Jungle Red stalwart pal, the fab David Burnsworth! He travels. A lot.  And he can take the seatmate quiz, too. Right after he gets his luggage back.

DAVID BURNWORTH:  I travel for both my day job and my writing. And, as I’m sure with most of you who travel, I have some stories. Some of them good. Some of them not so good. I happen to be on a trip to South America as I write this, so the challenge of travel is fresh on my mind.
My first trip outside of North America, I was to meet a friend in Customs in the Brussels Airport. My departure was from Knoxville and he was flying standby from Atlanta. A problem for him, and soon for me, was this was the same time that the World Cup was being played. In France. And he was flying standby. See the problem here? So, my first time out of the country I had no idea what I was doing. As the first hour and then the second ticked by while sitting in the airport in another country waiting and he didn’t show up, I started to wonder that there might be something wrong. And there was. He was still in Atlanta. I had to figure out the phone system and make a few calls back to the states. Long story short, it was my first trial in travel and I had to figure it out on my own.
David's actual finicky toiletries
Fast forward twenty years to my current travel challenge. I thought I had everything covered: a four-hour layover in ATL before the long flight, a spare set of underwear in my carry on. Only, and this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this, Atlanta shuts down all ground activity because of lighting and heavy rain. Apparently they value the ground crews’ lives. (Kudos to you, ATL!) So, my fifty-minute flight from GSP (Greenville Spartanburg) took four hours thanks to a few loops over Atlanta and a two-hour stopover in Chattanooga for more fuel. Lucky for me, I walked off that flight, stopped for a quick restroom break, and walked right on my flight to Chile.
The challenge this time was while I made it, my bag didn’t. Turns out I can buy most of my finicky toiletry choices (ed. note: see above) in Santiago which is great. But transferring clothing sizes from US English measurements to metric isn’t so easy. My waist didn’t really just add fourteen units of measurement? Was it that extra pastry on the flight?
I love to travel. But I find that it requires patience and a willingness to be flexible.
My best experience? There’s two: Five years ago, my wife and I got a free upgrade to a suite in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The downside? She likes suites now.
The second great experience? Stuttgart to Atlanta, I got a first class upgrade.
The latest book in my Brack Pelton series, Big City Heat, Brack travels from Charleston to Atlanta to help a friend find a missing woman. He also faces some challenges, some of them a little bit more involved than missing luggage.
Do you like to travel? If so, what are some of your stories?
HANK: Or hey, Reds and readers—tell me your answer to the seatmate quiz! Only one choice.  I’d pick—Stephen King!

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Big City Heat (April 2017, Henery Press) is the third title in his Brack Pelton series. In It For The Money (September 2017, Henery Press) continues the story of Private Eye Blu Carraway from the cross-over novella, Blu Heat (March 2017, Henery Press). Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.