Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interrogation Room Suspect #8: Linda Gerber

This week our detectives Laura Ellen and Diana Renn have hauled Linda Gerber in to face the glare of the Interrogation Room spotlight. She's been accused of being a Serial Mystery Writer.

The Linda Gerber File:
Linda Gerber is the author of the Death By mystery series for young adults: Death By Bikini, Death By Denim, and Death By Latte; a new middle grade series coming in March 2012: Lights, Camera, Cassidy; the paranormal thriller Trance; two international adventures: Now and Zen and The Finnish Line, as well as several short stories in anthologies.

She grew up in a college town in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. While her dad worked as a professor at the University and her mom played activities coordinator and chauffeur to Linda and her five siblings, Linda allegedly spent a lot of time avoiding homework by making up stories and daydreaming.

According to Linda, college took a long time because she kept skipping out every few semesters to move somewhere or travel – and she hasn't stopped. She's lived in Utah, California, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Washington D.C., Finland and Japan, and has traveled through Europe and Asia, Mexico, Australia, Hawaii and Micronesia. For the time being, she is back in Ohio… but plotting her next adventure.

Here's the Interrogation transcript:

Linda Gerber, you've been accused of being a Serial Mystery Writer because of your popular Death By mysteries and your new series Lights, Camera, Cassidy, but you've also written standalones as well as short stories. Tell us a bit about series writing.

Do you find series harder or easier to write than standalones? Is there anything about writing a series that you find particularly challenging? 
Lights, Camera, Cassidy

**blinks in the bright light**  Interrogation Room? Serial writer? I don't underst-

Answer the question. 

Which one?

Do you find series harder or easier to write than stand-alones?

Oh. Well, they both have... Wait. Laura? Is that you? And Diana...?
Death By Bikini

Don't make us use the hose.

No! No. I got this. **shifts on uncomfortable chair** 
I'm one who likes writing series, but I couldn't say it's clearly harder or easier than tackling a standalone. See, with a series, you get to know your characters in the first book. You come to understand their nuances, their speech patterns, what makes them tick. So working with them again and again after book one is like hanging with old friends. Also, usually you've got an overarching goal and conflict throughout the series, so elements of each book are already set when you start writing, which is a plus. 

On the other hand, it can be challenging to make sure you can work in character growth in each installment, and to keep the plots and mystery of each book fresh. But that's one of my favorite things about writing series. I love to torture, er, challenge my characters a little more with each installment. I like to see how they'll build on their previous experiences to solve the problems I throw at them. There. I think I actually may have just answered more than one question with that answer, right? Can I go home now?

Death By Latte
Not just yet. Tell us, when you write, do you plot everything out or just have an idea and go with it? Is it any different when you write a series/Do you approach them any differently?

I'm a pantser at heart. I'd rather just start writing and see where it takes me. But I've found that - for me - this isn't a very efficient way of writing. It's better if I have some kind of plan. This is especially true when writing a series - especially a mystery series - I find that I really do need to have at least a rough idea of the plot going in. At least the main things, like where it begins and how it's going to end. Then I can just go with it (and I often find that the plot veers quite a bit from what I originally envisioned as I go along.)

I equate this kind of writing with using the navigation system in my car. I have a starting point, I know where I need to go, and the journey is mapped out at the beginning. But I may find a roadblock along the way, or decide I want to take a more scenic route, so I veer from the set path, and the navi simply recalculates. The destination is the same, but I make more discoveries along the way.

According to your bio, you have lived in many places and the exotic settings in your novels – a tropical island, Seattle, France, Japan, Finland - reflect this. Did you live in all the places you set your novels in (or had traveled to them before) or did you have to travel to these locations to do research?

Death By Denim
I have been to most of the places I've written about. I lived in Finland and in Japan, and I've traveled through Europe and around the States. I wish I had the resources to take dedicated research trips for each new location! The only real research trip I took was to go back to Finland when I was researching for The Finnish Line, and I did it backwards for my upcoming book Paparazzi (it's set in Greece, and I didn't actually get to go to Greece until the book was already completed and turned in. So, okay, I confess, Greece wasn't really a research trip - but it sure was fun to walk where my character had walked when I got there!) 

How does setting factor in to your writing process – do you think of a place first and then the characters and circumstances? Or vice versa? Or all at once?

Oh, for me setting is huge. It's like another character to factor into the plot. With the series books, I already have the set cast, so I come up with a new setting to throw them into for each book, and out of that combination comes the circumstances.  
So, um... do you think I could have some water? All this talking is making my throat feel really...  **Eyes rusty bucket in the corner** Um, never mind.

Your standalone Trance had a paranormal thriller aspect that was very different from the espionage vibe of your popular Death By books. Did you find fans receptive to the novel despite that genre change? Did you ever consider making Trance a series?

Yeah, Trance was kind of a departure for me. But since it has similar elements of mystery and romance, a lot of my Death by Bikini Mysteries fans picked it up and from the feedback I've gotten, they seem to have liked it. I don't have plans to make it a series, but I do have a followup book hashed out. Which will have to wait until I'm done with my current projects...

Your first two books Now and Zen and The Finnish Line were also different from your later books -- sort of contemporary, international adventures. Do you have a favorite genre to work in?

Now and Zen
Yes and no. And before you go shining that light in my eyes again, let me explain. I love writing mysteries, but I also love exploring other genres, like contemporary and supernatural. No matter what I write, though, I do always seem to have some sort of mystery element running through it. It's what I do.

Is your new series Lights, Camera, Cassidy shrouded in mystery at all?

I don't know that I would say the Lights, Camera, Cassidy series is shrouded in mystery, but besides getting into a lot of trouble, Cassidy does have some kind of mystery to solve in each episode. (She's the daughter of travel show hosts and becomes an international reality TV star by mistake as the result of stumbling onto her first mystery.) It's mystery lite, you might call it, and geared to a younger audience than my other books (this series is MG, grades 4 through 7-ish.) I do have more YA mystery books planned after that, and you'll be the first to know when I get to them. **smiling. kind of. that light is really bright** 
The Finnish Line

We have a lot of budding mystery writers who read this blog. What is the most important tip you can share about mystery writing?
Let yourself be surprised. It's more fun that way, and really? Your first solution is probably the one your readers could come up with anyway, so make a game of exploring other, less expected options. Or, leave a main plot point up in the air until the very last minute. (I did this in Death by Latte, and it turned out to be really effective - not to mention lots of fun. I wrote the book with two possible culprits in mind, and I didn't decide which one was the bad guy until the reveal scene. That way, all their actions in the scenes throughout the book supported the possibility that either one could be the baddie.)

What do you find is the hardest part about writing a mystery?
"Conformity By Design"

The whole being surprised thing? Yeah. That. The fun of reading a mystery is trying to piece together the clues to find the solution before the narrator does. (For me, anyway.) The hardest part of crafting that for me is to find the unexpected and approach from that angle so the reader isn't like, "Right. I saw that one coming a mile away."

What books influenced you as a writer?

"Dancing with Wolves"
So many! I'm a complete and total book geek. I read across genres and devour as many books as I can, and I'm sure even on a subconscious level all those books influence me in some way. One book in particular always stands out to me, though: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. It was the first book I stayed up all night to read. I knew then I was hopelessly (and happily) in love with books.  And, given that I read that book in, like, the third grade, my love affair has been going on for *mumble* years. I firmly believe that a writer has to be a reader first, so that book - and all those that came before and after it - had a great deal of influence on me finding the path I wanted to follow.

Before we let you go, are there any books/authors you'd recommend as 'must-reads' for an aspiring mystery writer?

"Bushido Bear"
John Green. (I know, right? He's not the first guy you think of when you start naming mystery writers, but he did win the Edgar for Paper Towns, a book that is nothing short of genius. Do read that one.)

AS King. (Please Ignore Vera Dietz was brilliant, a Printz winner and Edgar nominee. And Amy is made of awesome.)
Matthew Kirby (Icefall is nominated for this year's Edgar. Read it.)
Beth Revis (I've not read A Million Suns yet, but Across the Universe was an expertly-crafted mystery.)

Thank you, Linda Gerber. You're free to go, but beware, we'll be watching your website for any further Serial Mystery offenses!


  1. Sigh. I love Where The Red Fern Grows. Except I didn't have to read until a Kidlit class in college. I remember absolutely bawling in the snack shop when finishing the book!

  2. Have Linda's books on the way from the library! Thanks for the feature...looking forward to reading the Death By series. And yay for the MG series coming out...looks great!!

    1. Deb, that is so awesome! Glad you were inspired to go get her books. Thanks for reading :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. What a fun interview! I adore the idea of having 2 possible villains throughout the book and not knowing until the reveal scene. Brilliant! I can absolutely see how their actions throughout the book would not be contrived. Adding your book recs to my reading pile.

  5. Awesome books, and awesome interview! I hope Linda was able to get a drink of water ... eventually. :-)

    Thanks for the great information!

  6. *slams open door*
    *sweeps room with laser-sighted Desert Eagle*
    *signals "all clear" over shoulder*

    Linda Gerber? We're here to break you out.

    *kicks rusty bucket and tosses Linda bottle of water*

    You did a great job giving your captors just enough information to show what fabulous books you write, without divulging the secret identity of -

    *pauses, presses finger to ear and listens to incoming communication*

    Right. Let's go, Gerber. The rest of SEAL Team Sweet SIXteen is waiting in the mini-van and we've got to get our grease girl to the orthodontist by 7 for a tightening. Let's MOVE!

  7. I love your advice about leaving some plot point or element up in the air while writing a mystery! I'm a pantster too, so mystery writing has always intimidated me because I feel like you have to know everything ahead of time. It's nice to know that you don't! :-)

  8. Jen … your reply still has me laughing out loud. PRICELESS!!

  9. I devoured mysteries when I was growing up and figured that when I started writing books "for real", they'd be mysteries. But I'm a panster, too, and I couldn't figure out how to plot the whole thing and still have the resolution be a surprise. I love the idea of having 2 culprits throughout and not even deciding until the end whodunit! What a great way to surprise yourself, the reader AND the main character!


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