UNSUB reviews: LitHub, Boston Globe, Journal-Sentinel, and more

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UNSUB will be published June 27th. Reviews are coming in, so I want to round some of them up. (YES, read the book!)

In LitHub, Lisa Levy has a wonderful essay about UNSUB and Karen Dionne’s new novel, The Marsh King’s Daughter: The Daughters of Crime Fiction Are Getting Tough on Bad Dads.

“Unsub is a really frightening book, in large part because of Gardiner’s deft use of close third-person narration. It put me in mind—though the subjects could not be further apart—of the work of Henry James.”

I will take that. All day, every day.

More reviews:

“An adrenaline-fueled rush… Shades of “Silence of the Lambs’’ and the Zodiac Killer.” — Boston Globe (Hot for a Summer Read?)

“I love a good serial killer novel, and Gardiner has written one of the most accomplished ones I’ve read in a while. Gardiner has created the perfect balance of vulnerability and violence in her main characters, all of whom are damaged in their own ways. When the killer becomes a “hot knife through the center of (Caitlin’s) head,” “Unsub” will already have a cold grip on your heart.” — Carole Barrowman, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Paging Through Mysteries: 5 thrilling choices for summer reading)

“Scary-good… Meg Gardiner knows how to get readers’ hearts pumping, and she brings plenty of thrills with this one. UNSUB is a first-rate crime thriller that’s well-written and carefully plotted. Just when readers think they’ve zeroed in on the killer, Gardiner delivers one devilish twist after another.” — The Real Book Spy

“Bring on the nightmares.” — PureWow (7 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in June)

And the Vallejo Times Herald talked to me about writing the novel: Author of new Zodiac-inspired novel and planned TV series, holds Bay Area events.

And a reminder: You can preorder the novel today!

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Amazon | iBooks

Book People | Murder by the Book

UNSUB book tour: Dallas added

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Here’s the latest on my book tour schedule for UNSUB. I’ve added July 5th in Dallas, where I’ll be talking to the amazing Don Winslow, discussing his hugely anticipated new novel The Force. 

UNSUB Book Tour:

June 26: Book People, Austin, Texas – 7PM
Moderated by Jeff Abbott

June 27: Murder by the Book, Houston – 6:30PM

June 28: Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, Arizona – 7PM
In conversation with Spencer Quinn

June 29: Orinda Books, Orinda, California – 11:30AM

June 29: Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco – 7PM

July 5: Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park, Dallas — 6PM
With Don Winslow

July 6: Best of Books, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — 6PM

ThrillerFest XII
July 14-15, 2017
Grand Hyatt New York City

I hope I’ll see you along the way!

Writing writing writing… and UNSUB is coming

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My new thriller, UNSUB, will be published June 27th. This week I’m getting ready — planning my travel for the book tour, writing articles, doing interviews, and honing my ninja skills to a high level. As you do.

I’m also working on the sequel to this novel. So I’ve been editing a fight scene. Which means I asked the Husband to teach me how to take down a knife-wielding home invader, using only a leather belt and some momentum. As you do. Unlike a few years ago, this time I managed to act out the fictional fight without scaring the neighbors or my children. That’s a win.

And after going for my husband with a wrench (standing in for the knife), I feel confident that in real life he would have disarmed me and laid me out flat in less than a second. I’m glad I have him in the house. And I re-confirmed my decision never to take up home burglary.

The fight scene I wrote today will be published in 2018. In the meanwhile, you can preorder UNSUB.

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Amazon | iBooks

Book People | Murder by the Book

Book Page picks UNSUB as one of its books of the summer

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Book Page has named its 13 most anticipated books of the summer, and I’m delighted that my upcoming thriller UNSUB is on the list.

Book Page 2017 Summer Reading Preview

“Gardiner shines, as usual, with character development, building her grisly psychological thriller around detective Caitlin Hendrix, whose father failed to catch the killer decades earlier. Suspense fans should grab the opportunity to meet Caitlin on her first outing, since she’ll likely make many return appearances in print and on the small screen (CBS has announced plans to adapt Unsub as a TV series).”

I’m thrilled that my novel joins books by Stephen King, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, David Sedaris, and other amazing writers on the list.

So, yeah. Check it out. Preorder. ‘Scuse me while I run around whooping for a few minutes.

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Amazon | iBooks

Guest Post on Mystery Fanfare — UNSUB: When Cold Cases Kill

I have a guest post today on Mystery Fanfare, about the writing of my upcoming novel.

(Mystery Fanfare is an online adjunct to Mystery Readers International, whose members vote for the Macavity Awards.)

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UNSUB: When Cold Cases Kill

UNSUB is about a legendary killer and the young cop who hunts him. In my thriller, the UNSUB—an unknown subject in a criminal investigation—starts killing again after twenty years, and Caitlin Hendrix must decipher his coded plan before he drags more innocents to the abyss.

The novel was sparked by the unsolved case that has haunted California for decades, and me since childhood: the Zodiac. That infamous UNSUB shot and stabbed seven people in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Zodiac sent dozens of messages to the police and media, including cryptograms that have never been broken. The terror wrought by the killings still lingers today.

Head on over to read the rest.

And don’t forget — UNSUB is published in June, but you can preorder it now.

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Amazon

Read an excerpt from UNSUB

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Over on Medium, my publisher has posted an excerpt from my upcoming novel, UNSUB. The excerpt includes portions of three scenes from the first chapters of the novel. Here’s the opening:

April 1998

The yelling woke her, the rough voice of her father, shouting into the phone.

“Listen to me. We don’t have days. We have hours.”

The black sky poured through the bedroom window. Shadows crawled the ceiling.

“Don’t you understand? It’s in his message — Mercury rises with the sun.”

Caitlin curled into a ball, hugging her bear. She knew what Mercury meant. It meant flashing lights and BREAKING NEWS and everybody so scared. A body bag sliding into the coroner’s black van. KILLER CLAIMS EIGHTH VICTIM. It meant you could never close your eyes or turn your back. Because he could get you anytime, anywhere.

Click to check out the rest. UNSUB: excerpts.

And remember: The book’s out June 27, but you can pre-order today.

Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Book People | Murder by the Book

Questions about writing: Beginnings, middles, ends… and tension

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Today I’m re-posting more of the Q&A with my students in this year’s ITW Online Thriller School.

1. I wonder if you have a sense of Beginning/Middle/End markers in your books and the relative proportions given to each?

Beginning/middle/end: There are no hard and fast rules for when one of these turns into the next. But if you consider them the first, second, and third acts in a drama, you probably won’t go wrong by thinking in terms of the beginning as first quarter of the book, the middle as the next two quarters, and the end as the final quarter. Your mileage will vary according to the needs of the story.

2. Although a 200 page Middle has many scenes, do you think a small number of locations is okay? David Corbett says that tension, not action, keeps readers reading, and through the earlier scenes of my Middle the hero is in one place, ‘safe’ from immediate danger, gathering information, but with a sense of a ‘gathering storm’ beyond.

A small number of locations can work perfectly well if the suspense and level of conflict continues to build. That’s the whole idea behind the “crucible” of the story — the characters are in some sort of cauldron that limits their ability to escape the conflict. Limiting the setting can accomplish that.

3. And what do you think tension actually is? Is it different to suspense? Lee Child says suspense arises from unanswered questions. Is tension similarly about questions? Is it about danger? About twists and turns? About peaks and troughs, the rollercoaster? And is conflict different to tension, conflict really about the opposing forces in the crucible?

Tension is distinct from suspense. Tension means to draw something tight or put it under strain. For thriller-writing purposes, consider tension equal to excitement. It comes in brief bursts. Danger, confrontation, friction; time running out; deadlines approaching. Suspense can be sustained over an entire novel. Tension is felt in seconds or minutes.

4. You talked about ending chapters with questions. You didn’t mention ‘cliff-hangers’. I’m thinking that questions and cliff-hangers may be a bit like tension and action. Lots of questions good. Too many cliff-hangers not so good!?

Use cliffhangers whenever, wherever, and however you can. Always end a chapter on some kind of cliffhanger. Just remember, they can be emotional as well as physical.

5. You talked about the antagonist thwarting the protagonist’s desire. Do you think sometimes the protagonist’s desire is simply to stop the villain, a desire that didn’t exist until the villain appeared? You also mentioned the cliché of a hero’s family being threatened, but in many thrillers the hero must rescue those close to him. Do you think sometimes cliché vs not cliché is a fine line?

Stopping the antagonist can certainly be the core of the protagonist’s desire. That’s how almost all police procedurals work. But remember that the protagonist is trying to stop the antagonist from doing something awful. That’s what adds resonance and tension, in a lot of cases.

6. I’d wondered about plot and story and concluded that plot was ‘contrived’ by the author, while story was driven by the characters… and the more you let the characters do what they do rather than try to control them the better. I’d almost decided plot was a negative thing! Your podcast helped me realize that plot and character together make a story. And perhaps plot is in every thriller, but it’s the degree of ‘plotting’ that varies from author to author? I wonder if you draw a distinction between plot and story?

Plot is the series of events the author chooses to portray on the page to tell the story.

What you’ve clarified is that plot is the series of events or storyline, connected by causality, used to tell the story. And that plot develops from what the characters do, so in effect they create the causality, they do drive the plot, so as you say plot and character are two sides of the same coin. I hope that’s a fair understanding? And I think you’re saying it’s ALL story (what has happened), and plot is what we use to tell it (how it happens, whether or not we devise that plot beforehand or it develops as we write)?

You’ve got it.

Stories are metaphors for life. In stories, we recognize ourselves — our struggles, our striving, our quests. As a writer, when you create fiction, you’re designing how you’ll present your story to readers. That’s plot.

And you’re right: Don’t overthink it. Know that there are classic, archetypal ways to tell stories, and figure out if the tale you’re writing fits with any of them. But don’t tie yourself in knots. Plot is what the characters do, and how you choose to depict their journey on the page. Some writers create a detailed itinerary ahead of time; others have a sense of where they want to go, and strike out, breaking trail. You need to know what works best for you.

And always enjoy the trip.