Sneak peek: Into the Black Nowhere

IntoTheBlackNowhere

Who wants a sneak peek at my next novel?

Into the Black Nowhere — the sequel to UNSUB — will be published on January 30, 2018. I can’t wait. Here’s a teaser:

On Saturday nights, women in Texas are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI’s serial crime unit discover the first victim’s body in the woods. She’s laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest’s darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style — posed like Snow White awaiting her prince’s kiss.

To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology–that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy–dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin’s profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people’s trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.

I’ll be talking more about the book as we get closer to publication. But for the moment, you can pre-order.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Hurricane Harvey: How to help

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Since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, messages of worry and goodwill have been pouring in. I’m immensely grateful for your concern.

My family and I are fine. We’re in Austin, which escaped the full fury of the storm. Our neighborhood got only 6.5 inches of rain over the weekend. The city is up and running. The sun rose on blue skies this morning.

But in the photo above, you can see a low line of cloud on the eastern horizon. Everybody under those clouds, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico two hundred miles away, is still at risk. The Texas coast suffered catastrophic damage. Towns down the highway from us are covered with flood water. And Houston is bracing for more devastating rain.

If you want to help, here are a couple of great articles with links to organizations providing rescue, shelter, food, and help to the hundreds of thousands of people who need both immediate lifesaving assistance and longer term help to rebuild. Check them out.

Hurricane Harvey: where you can donate to help with disaster relief and recovery

Here’s How You Can Help People Affected By Harvey

Thanks!

Writing outlines: Do what works for you

I was recently asked a question about outlining a novel:

“I’m now working on an extensive outline in hopes that doing so will better help me see a novel through to the end. It sounds like doing so made all the difference for you. I am wondering if you could respond and further explain your outlining and writing process and maybe even include some images from the Unsub outline. Do you plot down to the chapter and scene level or is it more of the acts of the story and major plot points? Do you sketch these out on a pad or are you strictly working on Word files? I’d love to see what that actually looks like when done by a pro.”

Here’s the gist of how I responded:

When it comes to outlining stories: Do whatever works. Over the years I’ve found it most helpful to write an outline that’s like a story summary—it will include the beginning, major turning points, and ending. That’s what works for me. The more I can come to understand the characters before I dive into a first draft, and ramp up their motivations and conflicts, the better grasp on the story I’ll have—and the more ideas for how to develop the plot to a slam-bang ending.

I don’t format the outline with Roman numerals or anything that stringent—I write it up as if I’m telling the gist of the story to a friend. I’ll include a quick precis of major scenes, and emphasize the twists and turns in the plot, with particular emphasis on the protagonist and antagonist.

That’s just me. Whatever helps pull ideas from the air (or the unconscious)!

Crafting a novel is a discipline that simply takes time and practice. We all careen along the trail, hoping there will be a brass band at the finish line.

__________

I promised the querier that I would expand on these thoughts in a blog post. So: 

Over time, I’ve come to outline my novels in greater detail and at greater length. For example, for The Shadow Tracer, I wrote a two-page outline. Here’s a screen shot.

Shadow Tracer excerptI hadn’t read that outline for several years. When I did, I was struck to see that it’s mostly summary and backstory.

Actually, I was taken aback. I mean, the outline continues: “Sarah has a desperate secret. Zoe was placed in her care by her dying sister, Beth, who sacrificed her own life to protect her. Beth had unwittingly been put in danger by Zoe’s dad. He was a good-hearted young man who’d fled a nightmarish upbringing.” And it goes on like that for several more paragraphs. It’s almost all setup. The outline doesn’t even reveal the ending.

Since then, I’ve come to understand that getting the central conflict on the page, and explaining it in terms of the push-and-pull between the hero and antagonist, are incredibly helpful. What matters is to tell the story in the outline with as much drive and verve as possible. So now when I outline, I write the summary the way I write the book: I dive straight in. The action comes first; any explanation or backstory comes later. What counts is to dig into the heart of the characters’ emotional lives and excavate what’s at stake in the story.

So I’ve moved toward writing what are essentially story treatments for the novel. These are longer documents that include some mini-scenes and bring the story more immediately to life.

Here’s the opening of the UNSUB outline.

UNSUB excerpt

The UNSUB outline runs to almost twenty pages. Writing it took me months. And months, and more months. But when I finished it, I knew who the characters were. I knew what they meant to each other. And what they would do to each other. The UNSUB outline put all the elements of the plot on the page, with every major twist and turn, from beginning to end. And, importantly, it did so while delving into the emotional connections between the characters, and highlighting every major conflict, surprise, and revelation in the story.

Because of that, it took much less time to write the first draft of the book than to write the outline. And that first draft didn’t meander or require extensive cutting. When it came to plot and character development, I’d done the heavy lifting already.

Your mileage may vary. You may decide not to outline a single word of a story or novel. But if you get nothing else from this blog post, take this away: Even after writing thirteen novels, I’m still learning how to do it better.

New: Order signed, personalized books

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Thanks to Austin’s terrific independent bookstore, BookPeople, readers can now order signed, personalized copies of my books.

Yep — if you order one of my novels from BookPeople (or all of ’em, because, come on) — you can now get a copy that not only features my signature, but one that includes a personal message.

Just order online. The bookstore will ship the copies to you. A pretty good deal.

Here’s how:

Order signed books by Meg Gardiner.

What are you waiting for?

UNSUB book tour wrap-up

UNSUB Chauffeur

The UNSUB book tour spanned several weeks, seven thousand miles, and was accomplished via car, plane, subway, phone, and foot. It included radio interviews, book signings, talks, podcasts, and seminars. And a 100-mile drive through a crazy thunderstorm to Houston. It even featured a driver who greeted me at the Oakland airport, wearing the appropriate chauffeur’s hat and sign. Of course, it helped that she was my daughter.

In all, it was productive, invigorating, and uplifting.

SiriusXMI got to talk to readers across the United States, and do events with wonderful writers including Jeff Abbott and Spencer Quinn. I got to meet one of my literary idols, Don Winslow, who has been incredibly supportive of my work. Don shared an evening with me at Barnes & Noble in Dallas, and the event was as fun and inspiring as I could have hoped for.

I got to visit the Sirius XM studios in New York City, where I recorded a segment for Entertainment Weekly’s radio show, Off The Books, with its host, Tina Jordan. I got to speak on a panel at Thrillerfest with writers I worship, including the great Walter Mosley. What a privilege.

Thanks to the Husband for going on a road trip with me across Texas and Oklahoma. And thanks to everyone who came to my events: my bridesmaids, friends from England, dedicated mystery readers, fellow writers, former federal agents, cousins, and the Husband’s college roommate… even though he attempted to confess to being the Zodiac killer. (Fat chance, Pete — Ted Cruz is higher on my suspect list than you are.)

NMM@TBSThanks especially to the booksellers — from Austin, Houston, Phoenix, Orinda, San Francisco, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Manhattan, and Brooklyn — who welcomed me and opened their doors to help launch UNSUB.

Thanks once more to the readers of Oklahoma, who have again made both UNSUB and China Lake Top Ten bestsellers this week. This native daughter of Oklahoma is elated.

Thanks to the Daughter and Son-in-Law for driving me around the Bay Area and being my People for a day. Thanks to the Sons for hanging with their mom in New York City, and for taking me to the Every Time I Die / Taking Back Sunday concert at Webster Hall. To quote my son after the concert: “Nobody can believe you actually came. Literally not one person I know can believe you came to this concert.” Mom for the win!

So, to conclude my UNSUB summer tour, have some celebratory music and stage confetti. Here’s Taking Back Sunday opening their show with “Tidal Wave.”

UNSUB reviews: Boston Globe, Providence Journal & Oklahoma bestseller list

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I’ve been up and down I-35 to Dallas and Oklahoma City, back to Austin, and off to New York City. Doing the UNSUB book tour, teaching at Thrillerfest, and hanging out with my kids. I’ll have a tour roundup soon, but for now, here’s the latest news about the novel.

First: Have I told you how much I love Oklahoma? My home state has come through in a stunning and exciting way this week. UNSUB is Oklahoma’s Number 1 fiction bestseller. And China Lake is Number 5. Thank you to everybody in the state! (And thanks to Joe Hight of Edmond’s Best of Books, for the photo.)

Second: While I was on the road I got a couple of gratifying reviews of the novel.

“Gardiner’s heebie-jeebies-inducing thriller, which CBS is adapting as a television series, shimmers with Hitchcockian elements.” — Boston Globe

“In the deft grasp of Meg Gardiner all that’s old feels new again and especially terrifying in “Unsub” (Dutton, $27, 384 pages) which introduces us to new (potential) series hero Caitlin Hendix. Gardiner makes Caitlin’s debut a stunner, pitting the novice detective against a Hannibal Lecter-like monster whose taunts nearly destroyed her father… This is psychological suspense of the highest order, as Gardiner elevates herself to the level of Jeffery Deaver, Thomas Harris and Lawrence Sanders.” — Jon Land, Providence Journal

I will take those reviews all day, every day.

UNSUB Book Tour — Tonight: Dallas

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Today the UNSUB book tour hits the road again. Tonight I’ll be in Dallas, speaking and signing at Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park.

But wait, there’s more! I’m privileged to be sharing the evening with Don Winslow, whose epic New York crime novel The Force is one of this year’s biggest books. Don has been a huge supporter of my work (check out the quote on the cover of UNSUB) and I’m beyond excited that I’ll be able to get my copy of The Force signed by him.

So if you’re in North Texas, come on down. Hope to see all y’all!

Don Winslow and Meg Gardiner
Wednesday, July 5th
7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park
7700 West Northwest Hwy. Ste. 300
Dallas, TX 75225
214-739-1124