Where I get my ideas, part infinity: the Mini

Meg & MINI

If anybody who’s read Phantom Instinct (or, as it’s called in the UK, The Burning Mind) wonders where heroine Harper Flynn got her love for the Mini Cooper she drives, here’s a clue.

To answer your questions:

  • It drives like a go kart. Yes, it’s economical, and can be parked in a space the size of a sofa. It’s fun.
  • I don’t have Harper’s advanced driving skills. Most of what she does in the book — evasive maneuvers, handbrake turns, donuts in an airplane hangar — I learned from online research, while sitting at my desk. So if you’re looking for a getaway driver, I’m not your woman.
  • Like Harper, I have taught a teenager to drive in a Mini. Granted, we didn’t do J turns while shouting profanities in Russian. But whipping along English country roads with a seventeen-year-old who made car chase sound effects every time we rounded a curve — that was fun, even at 30 mph.

This has been today’s look at the story behind the story.

And the real life seventeen-year-old passed his driving test in that Mini. Manual shift, first time.

Question Time 2015: Answers Part IV

DJ Paterson asks:

The publishing landscape seems to have changed significantly in recent years, with the rise in popularity of both e-readers and self-publishing. There seem to be more books than ever released each year. In addition, I’ve noticed an increased expectation that e-books should be cheap (there are plenty of people who bemoan paying more that 99p for an e-book, when they shell out two or three times that for a coffee!). As a ‘traditionally’ published author of top-quality thrillers, what’s your take on this?

It’s opportunity, it’s chaos, it’s freedom, it’s messy. It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.

This is a wonderful time to be a writer. E-books offer opportunities authors haven’t had in centuries. But the publishing industry is in flux. How will it all shake out? I don’t know. This topic occupies thousands of column inches and blog arguments and conference panels and publishing meetings. All I can tell you is: Write. Write like hell and focus on the work.

As for the devaluation of books, I’m with Taylor Swift: Art has value, and should be paid for.

Danielle asks:

What will your next book be about? Also have you considered writing another book with some of your characters from one of your stand alone books.

My job involves keeping readers in suspense. So, to answer your questions: a thriller. And yes.

Claire Marie O’Brien asks:

Are you Irish?

Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Chickasaw.

(And DJ: As a Brit, you might not have seen the Saturday Night Live skit about “Shimmer” — the dessert topping and floor wax.)

Question Time 2015: Answers Part III

Today’s Q&A features Evan Delaney and seditious monkeys.

First, two questions about Evan.

From Anne:

I just started your Evan Delaney series and I just love her. Will you write another Delaney book? Or did you have a reason to stop with the 5th book?

And from Susan:

Me too. Still waiting for the next Evan and Jesse episode. But I can understand if you’ve moved on. (Maybe though, just a hint of an epilogue?)

Guys. I’ll never move on from Evan and Jesse. They’re the characters I’ve lived with the longest and love like hell. I took a break from the series because I had other stories I wanted to write, and because my publishers were eager to publish the Jo Beckett novels and my stand alones. But I haven’t forgotten Evan. In the past few years a lot has been going on in the background. The novels were optioned for development by Fox TV. I spent time with the screenwriter working on the pilot script. The series wasn’t picked up (nothing new there; it’s Hollywood) but the project is still out there. And I have a folder on my computer titled “Evan Delaney: Novel 6.”

In the meantime, Jesse makes cameo appearances in several other novels, and Evan is featured along with Jo Beckett in The Nightmare Thief. I hope that’ll hold you for now.

Next: In my original Question Time 2015 post, I said, “Ask me anything — about my books, writing, publishing, how to train an army of monkeys to infiltrate the White House — whatever’s on your mind.”

From Bill Malloy:

Hmm, how would you train an army of monkeys to infiltrate the White House?

Smartass. I’ve been training these monkeys for years now. YEARS. If you think I’m going to reveal my techniques, you’re nuts. Get your own monkeys and get to work.

Or, you know, you could take them on the White House Tour.

Question Time 2015: Answers Part II

AliceAnn Steward asks:

As a Library Page, I was wondering if you often have to fix the placement of your books at any bookstore or library you browse. I often find your books shelved as if your last name was Gardner, rather than Gardiner.

Also, when you’re traveling around promoting your current book, do you find it extremely difficult to concentrate on your current WIP, or do you channel all your energy into one activity?

It’s great to hear from someone who appreciates alphabetization. I don’t often find my books misplaced because of the spelling of my name. If I do, it’s generally a sign that the entire shelf at the bookstore or library will be an alphabet free-for-all. (The Eason’s in Cork, Ireland, shelves books by the first letter in the author’s last name and no more. I asked whether they had a Faulkner novel, and they said, “It’ll be somewhere on the F shelf.”)

A more common issue is readers — and booksellers, and reviewers — thinking my name is spelled Gardner. That can lead to confusion. At a signing once, a reader handed me a copy of my novel The Shadow Tracer, explaining that she usually never bought hardcovers, but had enjoyed the paperback of The Neighbor she’d picked up at a second hand store, so was willing to give my new book a try. She thought I was Lisa Gardner. When I explained that I wasn’t, she nearly panicked — I could tell that she wanted to grab the book out of my hand and take it back for a refund, but was too embarrassed.

Later, I told Lisa Gardner that story. She laughed. She said that readers frequently confuse her with Lisa Jackson.

As for travel, I’ve trained myself to work on trains, planes, and in hotels. Deadlines provide terrific inspiration.

Question Time 2015: Answers Part I

You ask. I respond.

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From Rob:

Several questions. What did it feel like to look at something you created as it sat on the book shelf?

Now that you are a seasoned writer, does opening the box with a new book have the same thrill as it did the first time?

At what point will you consider yourself a successful author?

The first time I saw one of my novels on a bookshelf — China Lake, at a Waterstones in London — I stood stunned. The light seemed intensely bright. I think I heard “Circle of Life,” from The Lion King, about how we “blinking, step into the sun.” I probably giggled. I wished my dad was still alive to see my dream come true. I realized that the bookstore was crowded with people who had no idea who I was, and who were buying Jane Austen and Dan Brown books. Who cared? It was fantastic.

That first novel — with the cover in the image above — still makes me smile.

After writing twelve published novels, it’s still a thrill to open a box and see the book itself for the first time. I love books for the worlds they contain: universes of imagination and enlightenment. But damn, I do love books as objects. I love the feel of the cover, and the text and color and atmosphere that it creates. I love the feel of the paper, and the smooth, enticing look of a great typeface and layout. Sure, the first time was special. But I never tire of it. And I always skim the book with a whiff of trepidation, because an overeager and grammar-obsessive proofreader once changed the last line of a chapter — in an intense first person action scene — to keep the sentence from ending with a preposition. The result was stiff and ridiculous and nearly caused me to throw that precious book across the room.

My editors now know that I insist on getting the final look at the manuscript before it goes to the printer.

I consider myself a successful author. How could I not? I’ve had a dozen books published, by the likes of Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton. My books are translated into more than twenty languages. My writing has paid the rent and put food on the table. China Lake won an Edgar Award.

That’s not to say that I can’t do better. World domination would be nice. But to ignore the success my novels have already had would be neurotic and ungrateful. I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

Congrats Susan Daly — friend of the blog & published mystery author

From the earliest days of Lying for a Living, Susan Daly has been a loyal reader and wonderful commenter. She’s the person who inadvertently created the blog’s Grammar Geeks Unit. And she won my first ever contest, by coming up with my favorite verb name. UnknownHer prize was to become a character in my novel The Dirty Secrets Club — a television reporter with a past. Her character had a history as a porn star who dressed up as a nun. Susan took it with good grace. As for what happens to her character… sorry, no spoilers.

Susan has been writing for a while, and now she has joined the ranks of published mystery authors. She has a short story in The Whole She-bang 2, an anthology of stories published by Sisters in Crime Canada.

From the book’s page on Amazon.com:

This is the second collection of mystery stories by Canadian members of Sisters in Crime… The stories have a variety of characters: shop owners, children, a thief, vengeful women, unhappy wives, a poet, police officers of both sexes and more… The stories are set mostly in Canada, in a wide variety of locations, including British Columbia, Northern Ontario, Alberta and Quebec!

Of course it’s also available from Amazon Canada.

Congratulations, Ms. Daly. It’s wonderful to share shelf space with you.

Question Time 2015

As I usually do around this time of year, I’m opening the blog to your questions. Ask me anything — about my books, writing, publishing, how to train an army of monkeys to infiltrate the White House — whatever’s on your mind.

I’ll answer to the best of my ability.