Monday, July 03, 2017

Meg Gardiner & Spencer Quinn at The Poisoned Pen!

I think Denis has missed going to author events at The Poisoned Pen because he was ready to go before I was. The expected road construction had disappeared, and the drive across Phoenix to Scottsdale was uneventful. Denis reserved our seats, I bought some books (surprise, surprise), and we both settled down at the table in the back to read and wait for that night's authors: Meg Gardiner and Spencer Quinn (AKA Peter Abrahams).

Host Barbara Peters came out early to inform us that it was Spencer/Peter's birthday, and she passed around a birthday card for us to sign. Then when he came out to join us, we all sang a chorus of "Happy Birthday" as he was given his card and a celebratory cupcake. 

L to R: Meg Gardiner, Spencer Quinn, Barbara Peters

At first he seemed a bit embarrassed, but when he started asking for encores, I decided that he was just a big kidder. (Been a long time since I've heard anyone called that!) While Spencer was making us laugh, I kept looking at Meg Gardiner. This was the first time I'd been to The Poisoned Pen when she was there, and I hadn't read any of her books, but she certainly looked familiar. When I got home and looked up a few things online, I discovered that she is a three-time Jeopardy! winner. I've been a fan of that program since pre-Alex Trebek days, so that's why I reacted the way I did.

Barbara brought up the first book she'd read that had been written by Spencer (as Peter Abrahams-- henceforth I shall refer to him as Spencer!), Their Wildest Dreams. "That book got me interested in writing about Arizona and led me to set my Chet and Bernie series here," he said. "Speaking of Chet and Bernie, at the end of Scents and Sensibility Bernie wasn't in very good shape. I wish I hadn't done that. Not a day goes by where I don't get angry, wistful, annoyed, heart-broken emails-- a lot of them in all caps-- about it... especially since there hasn't been a Chet and Bernie book this year!"

Spencer knows how to keep us laughing.
"I thought you had a year without a Chet and Bernie book to allow Bernie to heal," Barbara said. 

"That's it! That was my plan!" Spencer quickly agreed. 

Barbara then welcomed Meg back to the United States. "Yes, my husband's job took us to London for a while, but now we're in Austin, Texas-- we just can't get enough of that humidity!" Meg laughed.

"Your new book, Unsub, taps into your childhood, doesn't it?" Barbara asked.

"Yes. I grew up in southern California where the Zodiac Killer was legendary. I also learned that there was a couple who lived within walking distance of my parents' home who were the victims of a serial killer. Things that scare me I tend to turn into fiction."

"I loved it [Unsub]," Spencer said.

"You can say that again and again and again!" Meg replied with a big smile.

"Along with Happy Birthday. We can just chant," said Barbara.

"Right, and let's do Happy Birthday again right now," Spencer joked.

After saying that she thought Gardiner and Quinn were a perfect pairing for this event, Spencer quickly agreed with his host. "Both of our main characters are strong females. Both are almost pioneers in their fields. And both have problematic fathers."

Available Now!
In talking about the ending of The Right Side, Quinn told us that he'd made it as happy an ending as he could and make it credible. Gardiner immediately said, "But it's a fair ending, a satisfying ending, a true ending. LeAnne is such an incredible character. So brave, so damaged, so out of control during part of the book and trying to figure out how to pull it back together, that if you'd made it, you know... If she'd had a cupcake at the end, it would've been false!"

"Thank God, I didn't think of the cupcake!" Quinn said, eyeing the two sitting on the table. "LeAnne is used to living in a country where strong women are advancing in so many fields. Then she's put into a medieval setting in Afghanistan. What really happens there is all about male and female.  

"I just kind of let LeAnne run. So this book is part mystery, part war novel, and part road novel

"The Right Side does not have a narrating dog. This dog is very different from Chet, very difficult to get to know, but crucial to what happens in the story.

"You've written about damaged characters before," Barbara said. "I still remember your character with the asbestos disease. That was one of your most hair-raising books, and it didn't have a happy ending."

Spencer Quinn
"No, it didn't," Quinn agreed. "The character was a sculptor of some note, and when you are a person of some note, the New York Times will already have prepared your obituary. After getting his diagnosis of mesothelioma, he found a way to get access to his own obituary, and there was a mistake in it about his own life. He pulls at this thread and learns that much of what his understanding of how his life had been was false."

"That's still one of my favorite books," Barbara said.

"Nerve Damage," Quinn said to all of us in the room wanting the book title. 

Talk then turned to justice, writing, and the endings of books. "In Agatha Christie's day, readers knew that justice would be done, that there would be closure," Barbara said. "How do writers today deal with that?"

"I like to write a satisfying ending, but not a tidy ending," Meg said. "I like to leave a few threads dangling."

"And that's life," Quinn said. "In my opinion, the best crime novel of all time is Crime and Punishment. The worst crimes can never be fixed. You've torn something apart that can never be put back together.

Meg then told us that Unsub is the beginning of a new series and that she'll be continuing the story of Caitlin Hendrix. The next book will not take place in California, as Unsub does, but almost everywhere except that state. "They do come through Phoenix!" she said. Caitlin's had a career change in book two, so there's quite a bit to look forward to.

Meg Gardiner
What's up next for Spencer? "There's a new Chet and Bernie coming up next. He's going to be okay-- it's a cheery book!" the author assured us. "I don't know what's going to happen with LeAnne. She is impossible to walk away from. I'm still considering what to do about her. My editor wanted a new series narrated by a cat and dog, but then she resigned. However, the new editor is very enthusiastic about it, too. I've gotten to know cats through being around my daughter's cats. So... first there's a new Chet and Bernie, then there will be a new kids' book.

Spencer had a question for Meg: "Was Caitlin's father a character in your book from the get-go?"

"Yes," Meg said. "Caitlin is the daughter of the homicide detective who couldn't break the case. She's brought in because they think she's the one who can drag all the facts and insights of the original case out of her father."

"When I started writing The Right Side, I used the form used by psychologists to diagnose PTSD, and I found that doing this made it easier to move back and forth in the story," Quinn said. "When you're writing, you don't want to hear the gears shifting like it's an old clunker. And I never know what I'll use in my books. One of my daughters was on the pole vault team in high school, and I went to many of the meets. LeAnne just happens to be a pole vaulter in high school, too...."

Available Now!
There's good news about Unsub. Gardiner told us that it's been bought by CBS as an hour-long television series. "The production team has also done Justified and Elementary. I'm just...giddy!"

Quinn's Chet and Bernie series has been optioned by Hollywood "since before Dog on It came out. It's still alive. I don't know what's happening, and I've found that it's best not to worry about it."

What about character research for their books? "LeAnne popped into my mind fully formed," Quinn said. "In Afghanistan, they were used to dealing with Afghanis as colleagues or informants, and it finally dawned on them that they were only talking to half the population-- the male half. I have friends in the military who've been great. One read the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, and another is at the top of clandestine ops."

When asked if she'd talked with any of the people involved in the Zodiac Killer investigation, Meg said, "No, but since the book has been published, I have been contacted by a few who did.

When talking about killers who stop and then start up again after years have passed, Gardiner said, "The BTK Killer was content to relive his memories when a journalist wrote a book about him. BTK said that the journalist got it wrong, and that made him start thinking again about all the murders he wanted to commit." (Excuses, excuses, eh?)

This was such an enjoyable event. Spencer Quinn's The Right Side is one of the best books I've read so far this year, and I'm really looking forward to reading Meg Gardiner's Unsub. I definitely encourage you to watch the Livestream event so you can experience every bit of these two authors talking and laughing and enjoying themselves. I'd embed the video here in this post, but it didn't behave the last time I tried doing that. Better I give you the link to click than antagonize any of you readers. I like you all too much to do that!

Last but not least, I'll leave you with my book haul from the evening---

A little something for everyone!


  1. Oooh, two for one! Sounds like a fantastic time, Cathy :-) You're very lucky to have such a place in striking distance.

  2. And am I ever envious. I'd even take a cab round-trip to spend an evening like this one.

    I am so glad you did a summary, and I will look at the link.

    Now I feel like adding two more books to that out-of-control TBR list.

    Hope that the Poisoned Pen will host this duo again.

    And you got a good haul. My budget is groaning as I contemplate buying books.


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