Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School.
She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original and drew the attention and praise of Stephen King.
Ransom River is her tenth novel.
Meg met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about law and memory.
How has your experience as a lawyer influenced your writing?
Every court case is a story. It’s a tale of how things went wrong between people. And the lawyer’s job is to present her client’s side of the story persuasively. An attorney has the duty to “zealously” represent the client. So as a lawyer, you’d better learn to tell a story clearly and compellingly. You’d better learn to support it with evidence — and to anticipate and rebut the other side’s arguments. You must know how to grab a judge and jury with the power of your client’s case and to convince them of its justice.
All that carries over into writing fiction. Though if a novel goes wrong, nobody’s going to jail. Which is a relief.
My new thriller was published on July 5th. It’s about a juror on a murder trial who finds herself fighting for her life when gunmen storm the courthouse and take the courtroom hostage.
Rory Mackenzie is a juror on a high-profile murder case in her hometown of Ransom River, California. It’s a place she vowed never to visit again, and her return dredges up troubling memories from the childhood she spent as an outsider. But in the wake of the desperate attack on the courthouse, Rory realizes that exposing these dark skeletons has connected her to an old case that was never solved, and bringing the truth to light just might destroy her.
Who are your literary influences?
James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Wallace Stegner, Annie Proulx, Sue Grafton, Carl Hiaasen.
I know what it was: the print was big enough to be easy on his eyes during a transatlantic flight. He chose the paperback from a box of books his British publisher had sent him, hoping it wouldn’t strain his eyes on a flight to London. Luckily for me, he really liked the novel. He liked all my novels. And because he’s a generous person who supports other writers, artists and musicians, he told people about my work.
Is there a particular event that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
Not one event, but an environment. I grew up in a home that encouraged reading, writing, and creativity. My parents told me I could do anything I wanted to, and that I should strive for excellence. That changed my life. Above my desk I keep a quote from the late Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
“You know what date is on this coin?”
What do you make of Anton Chigurh’s philosophy in No Country For Old Men?
Chigurh’s coin-flip philosophy is an attempt at absolution. It’s a way for him to claim that he isn’t deciding the fate of the person he’s about to murder – that they’ve brought it on themselves. That he isn’t responsible. It’s of course bogus. Chigurh is nothing but a walking, breathing embodiment of intent. He kills. He is ready and willing to murder at all moments, and not only those he’s hired to kill. Anybody who crosses his path becomes a target.
God, he’s a horrible, wonderful villain.
Lawyers use evidence and question it to secure convictions and defend clients, and in this way influence a jury’s perceptions. To what extent is memory a useful means of undermining a reader’s certainty in your narratives?
In court the credibility of a witness’s memory will always be an issue. Attorneys can attack that credibility from several directions: Has the witness’s memory faded with time? Is a perceived memory inaccurate? Is it confused, or confabulated, or just plain off the wall? All those techniques can be used in fiction as well. Though in fiction we talk about the unreliable narrator, instead of that liar on the witness stand.
What advice would you give to yourself as a younger woman?
Don’t fear failure. Give it all you’ve got. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some. But you’ll never fly until you’re willing to take a leap off a cliff.
What are you working on now?
A new thriller about going off the grid and disappearing.
What do you make of the E Book revolution?
E-books are a boon to readers. More books are available at the snap of your fingers than ever before. We’ll see if the revolution helps writers to make a living.
Thank you Meg for an informative and perceptive interview.
“‘Ransom River’ is everything you want in a blockbuster thriller: multiple plot twists, thoroughly creepy psychotic villains, danger at every turn…. Gardiner’s conclusion to ‘Ransom River’ leaves open the possibility for a sequel, and to that may I just say: yes, please.” Associated Press
Read more about Ransom River and all Meg’s books here where you can also download PDF and audio
excerpts and find all online store buy links.