The writing process for Lisa Gardner begins the same way it does for many bestselling novelists: with procrastination.
“My favorite way to waste time is to surf the Internet,” she says. “All of those weird news items, I just have to click on them.”
But to Gardner’s credit, she can turn procrastination into productivity.
Consider the premise of Fear Nothing, her seventh novel featuring D.D. Warren of the Boston PD: One of the characters in the book, which comes out Tuesday, is a woman incapable of feeling physical pain.
The idea to create such a character came from, you guessed it, one of those crazy Internet articles.
“For the past 10 years, I have suffered with chronic back issues,” Gardner says. “When you spend a lot of time in pain and there is no remedy, you are envious of someone who has never felt it.”
But Gardner learned something during her research and she conveys it quite compellingly in her writing: Insensitivity to pain is hardly a blessing. It’s a curse.
A person who feels no pain literally can bleed to death from something as ordinary as a broken ankle or a ruptured appendix, because she receives no physiological warnings that anything is wrong.
Therefore, she must live cautiously, very cautiously.
This being a suspense thriller, there’s also a sick serial killer on the scene for D.D. to pursue.
But it isn’t the killer, it’s the girl who knows no pain and the collision course these two are on, that makes the story memorable.
In the book, the bad guy shoves D.D. down a flight of stairs, seriously injuring her. Although it creates an interesting counterpoint to the pain therapist who doesn’t feel pain, why do that to your hero?
As a character, professionally speaking, D.D. can handle anything. She is a bit of a super cop. But she is not a super person. It is her personal life that she is terrible at. And I think that is her appeal to readers. So with each new book, I like to challenge D.D. on the personal front.
In this case, here is a woman who is very confident in her physical skills. I could think of nothing that would throw her off her game more than maiming her.
Publishers tend to make a big deal out of the thriller writer who’s a former cop or former forensics specialist or former D.A. You don’t have that kind of background, yet it hasn’t stopped you from selling more than 22 million books worldwide. Do you think the ability to tell a good story trumps first-hand experience?
I am unique in publishing. Most people in this industry have had other lives before they became writers. Writing is all I’ve ever done. I wrote my first book at 17 and sold it at 20. I often joke that I have no other employable skills, so this job had better pan out.
But I think the No. 1 goal of a novel is to entertain. So the No. 1 skill set any writer must have is the ability to entertain.
How much research is required when you don’t have personal expertise?
I visit prisons. I interview police officers. I actually love the research part of it. Another thing I do is I bring my fictional plots to the experts and let them be the judge and I listen to them.
I ask, “What would you do if this were your crime scene? What evidence would you try to gather? What theories would you start to develop?”
A lot of people give me a lot of credit for my plots. But really, I get a lot of help from talking to people with much, much brighter minds than my own.
You hold a “Kill a Friend, Maim a Buddy” sweepstakes, in which readers nominate themselves and/or friends to be victims in your books. Do many readers want to become literary murder victims?
I started it close to 10 years ago, when authors were launching their own websites and everyone said you needed to offer a contest. I’m a suspense novelist. All I know is how to kill people. So it occurred to me that that’s what I’ll offer.
It has always been just good, clean fun. I haven’t gotten the kind of ghoul who was like, “I want to kill this person. Will you do it for me?” Last year, a wife nominated her husband. He was ecstatic. He couldn’t wait to die.
One of the neat stories from Fear Nothing is in the first chapter. Christine Ryan was the winner. She is blind, and she loves my novels. The friend who nominated her reads aloud to her. I sent them the book early and Christine was so excited to hear her name as a character in the book.
It was her Christmas present. She was nominated, but knew nothing about [winning] until hearing her friend read the story. And so far, so good. Nobody has turned this into a negative experience.