"Sit yourself down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and finish what you start. Write."
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Meg, You were raised in Santa Barbara, California. How would you describe your growing-up days? And how might they have influenced your writing?
MEG GARDINER: Santa Barbara was a wonderful place to grow up. It’s a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and beaches, and I spent much of my childhood outdoors. My parents were teachers—my dad was an English professor at the University of California—and both were classical musicians. They gave me a love of music, art, literature, and encouraged my creativity. They believed I could be anything I wanted to be, which gave me the courage to aim high. I’ve set six of my novels in Santa Barbara.
Of course, California also suffers earthquakes and wildfires, which I’ve written about. And the Santa Barbara area has just been devastated by mudslides. It’s heartbreaking. I’m relieved that friends survived and are digging out.
You attended Stanford and Stanford Law School and practiced law in Los Angeles. What was that like?
College and law school were challenging, exciting, and world-expanding. I studied my butt off, ran varsity track and cross country, made fantastic friends, and loved it all. Practicing law was intense, fascinating, and worthwhile every single day.
Then, you taught legal research and writing at UC-Santa Barbara. What made you decide to try your hand at teaching?
I was married, with three kids under five, and knew that continuing to work as a trial attorney would burn me out. Teaching gave me an opportunity to put my knowledge of the law to work in a new way—one that was immensely rewarding, and let me be home for dinner with my family every evening.
In the early ’90s you moved to the United Kingdom, for your husband's job, and were able to pursue writing full-time. How would you describe your first big break as an author?
When we moved to London, and all the kids started school, I finally had the time to write a novel. Or, rather, to write a miserable first attempt at a novel. And then to write a better, not-quite-there novel. And, finally, a publishable novel. My first break was selling that novel, China Lake, to British publisher Hodder & Stoughton.
Stephen King was one of your earliest fans, and he wrote high praise of you early in your career. What kind of impact did that have?
It blew me away. He’s one of my favorite authors, and learning that he loved my work was beyond anything I could have hoped for. When he wrote a column for Entertainment Weekly urging people to read my novels, it was the breakthrough that got me a US publishing deal with Penguin. My gratitude is unending.
Your latest book, Into the Black Nowhere, is set in Texas. It's the second book in the UNSUB series. So, can you tell us a bit about both books?
Into the Black Nowhere and UNSUB are psychological thrillers. They feature Caitlin Hendrix, a young cop who is swept into a major murder investigation and eventually joins the FBI. They’re fast-paced and full of twists. UNSUB—which stands for the Unknown Subject of a criminal investigation—was sparked by the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized California when I was a kid. Into the Black Nowhere opens with women disappearing on Saturday nights in Central Texas. It throws Caitlin into a cat-and-mouse game with a charming, devious killer much like Ted Bundy—a seemingly clean-cut, All-American who has a murderous dark side. Caitlin and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit must try to identify and capture him before the next Saturday night rolls around. And much of the novel takes place around Austin.
If I'm a reader who's never read one of your novels, which one should I start with, and why?
You could start with either UNSUB or Into the Black Nowhere. Or you could read The Shadow Tracer, about a skip tracer who goes on the run to protect her five-year-old daughter. Bonus for Lone Star types—it takes place partly in the Texas Panhandle.
What brought you to Austin in 2013, and how has living in Texas surprised you?
My husband’s job in IT brought us to Austin. (I can work anywhere in the world.) I thought I knew Texas—one set of my grandparents was married in Brownsville, and the other lived for years near Wichita Falls—but the true size, scale, and variety of the state have surprised me. I recently taught a writing workshop in Alpine. It took almost seven hours to drive from Austin—and I barely even touched the Big Bend area!
I understand that CBS bought the rights to UNSUB last year, and according to media reports, you will be a producer of the series, and a pilot is being written. Do you have breaking news on this project to share with our readers?
The pilot is being written by Liz Friedman, an Emmy-nominated screenwriter who has written and produced shows including Orange is the New Black, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, House, and Elementary. It’s fantastic to see my work adapted by such a brilliant writer.
Did you ever dream your life would turn out this way, and what advice do you have for aspiring authors who would like to do what you do?
I am privileged beyond belief to be able to write for a living. Aspiring writers: don’t let anybody dissuade you. Study, learn, grow, write the best work you can, then learn more, write better work, and keep reaching for excellence. Sit yourself down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and finish what you start. Write.
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Praise for Meg Gardiner’s INTO THE BLACK NOWHERE
“With a plot that moves at a breathless pace and a heroine with a history of her own issues, Gardiner’s gripping nail-biter will please fans of Alex Kava, Tami Hoag and even Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lechter novels. Be ready for requests.” —Booklist
[One of] “The Most Anticipated Crime, Mystery, and Thriller Titles of 2018 ... a fast paced thriller that also functions as a travel guide, with mouth-watering descriptions of taco stands providing relief from stomach-churning crime scenes.” —LitHub
“Gardiner once again does serial killing to a turn.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Excellent ... Gardiner expertly integrates the FBI science of profiling with a suspenseful plot and believable characters. It’s no wonder a TV drama based on this series is in the works at CBS.” —Publishers Weekly
“Her novels are, simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I've come across in the last twenty years.” —Stephen King
Austin author Meg Gardiner has written thirteen critically acclaimed novels. Her latest, Into the Black Nowhere: An UNSUB Novel, is the second installment in her new series of thrillers, soon to be a CBS television series. A native Californian, she now calls Austin home, and her latest book is set in Texas. If you love thrillers — and trust Stephen King’s judgment — you’ll want to get to know her work.