Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview with Author Lynn Gardner

Lynn Gardner traveled the United States for twenty-five years with her career Air Force husband and developed a love of exploring this beautiful country, discovering fascinating places to set a story, and weaving local history into intriguing mysteries. When her husband retired, they began traveling to foreign countries where she found more exciting venues for her suspense stories. They served a mission to Armenia and Lynn used the ancient monasteries and post-Russian politics as a backdrop for a book.
"There's a story and a mystery around every corner!"

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Lynn: When I was a child, I made up stories all the time, then as I got older, I made up stories as I baby-sat my siblings and other children. I started writing in grade school and won $7 in two different essay contests, and was hooked! In my senior class year book, I said I would one day write a novel. I didn’t even remember that until after my first book was published and a classmate reminded me. (Who goes back and reads year books to see what we wrote??)

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Lynn: I wrote a lot of essays for others in high school (mostly football players who didn’t want to do it for English class) and just kept writing. One of the assignments I turned in for English had a “To Be Continued” ending which my English teacher didn’t grade well but gave me a verbal appreciation for creativity. I attended BYU but with emphasis on Business and Home Economics instead of on writing. I always wrote the road show plays and Relief Society skits, and special programs for Sacrament for Easter and Christmas, but didn’t begin writing novels until my kids were all leaving the nest and I had more time.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Lynn: Having a story to tell! I have a vivid imagination and I can overhear a conversation in a restaurant and envision some mysterious background for it. I love books, I love history, I love to travel, and I just love life so when you combine those elements of my life, it is no wonder stories come out of me. Plus, I was disappointed when my favorite authors started peppering their books with offensive words, graphic violence and sex scenes and I figured there had to be plenty of people just like me that loved a good story without all the garbage!

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Lynn: I took two years writing Emeralds and Espionage while I played golf with my husband on this incredible golf course that had all the features described in the book on the estate in Santa Barbara (except the course was actually in Tehachapi. I moved it to Santa Barbara in the book.) When the book was finished, my daughter and I and a friend attended a writer’s conference at BYU Hawaii (that’s another story – a miracle we were able to afford the airfare and conference fee!) I connected with Darla Hanks (now Isaacson) who was an editor at Covenant. She asked to see the ms. so I sent it to her. In the meantime, I attended another writer’s conference and discovered I really didn’t know how to write a book. I could tell a good story – but there is a huge difference. So while waiting for Covenant to get back to me, I totally rewrote Emeralds. I think I rewrote it about three or four more times before it was good enough to be published – but it happened!

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Lynn: Actually, the most discouraged I ever was – well – I have to break that into two parts. The first discouragement came when, after working so very hard to get all the words just right, I had to condense each book for audio. Do you know what it is like to have to take 80,000 words out of a 120,000 word manuscript? It is excruciating! Then the second discouragement came with my 12th book. I totally rewrote it four or five times. I was given an editor – they would suggest changes which I’d make, then I’d be given a different editor and they’d want different changes. Very difficult – very discouraging. But you just keep editing and rewriting until you get it right.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like? How do you manage your time with church duties and all those beautiful grandchildren of yours?

Lynn: I’m an early riser. When I taught seminary, I got in the habit of getting up at 4:00 and my body clock got stuck there. So I get up early and write before anyone else is up to disturb me. My husband leaves early to go golfing (even in the winter!) so I’m alone in the house. I do have a terrible time ignoring the phone because I’m always afraid it is one of my kids needing something, or one of the sisters in the ward. When I’m intensely into the book, I have to put a sign on my door so my husband won’t stick his head in and tell me something he’s just discovered, or ask where something is, or want to know if he can get me anything. When that happens, I have to go back and read a couple of pages to get back into the story. Sometimes it’s easier to write when I’m traveling and I can hole up in a hotel and be uninterrupted that way. But that doesn’t happen often. It takes great self-discipline to make myself sit at the computer and write when I would much rather be doing something else like playing with grandchildren, playing golf with my husband, or making Shutterfly books with my thousands of pictures!

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?

Lynn: Amethysts and Arson came into being when I read a little ten line filler in the newspaper about an amethyst altar cross found in a stash of loot stolen from churches in the south. Robbers would steal the valuable altar objects, then burn the church to hide the robbery. Pearls and Peril was born when I went to Hawaii to that writer’s conference. By the way, the volcano scene in that book – where Allison falls into the volcano is not unreal. The Reader’s Digest featured an article in Drama in Real Life where a helicopter crew crashed into the volcano while filming it, so I just used their “sights, sounds, smells and experiences” for my character to experience. An idea for a book is just the germ – then the rest of it grows from that – with help from a fertile imagination.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Lynn: I want my readers to be entertained, educated and edified. I think we should all learn something when we read or it is a waste of time so I hope to educate my readers in something they may not have known before. I want them to be entertained because we all need to be refreshed from time to time. And I want them to come away from my books feeling good.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?

Lynn: I put my characters in a situation where they have to act immediately, they have to get out of their normal everyday life and react to the crisis. Then I just watch the story unfold and write down what my characters do – sort of like watching a movie and writing it down. I don’t outline, as such. I do know where my story should be heading and what the outcome should be, but sometimes my characters surprise me and take me down a different road than I’d planned. When someone asks me what is going to happen next or how the story ends, I can’t really tell them until I get there. Two great ways to propel the story are to ask “What if?” at every turn and I have even clustered to see what options were open for my characters. But the location of the story always plays a big part in it and frequently guides what is happening because of the locale and the history of the place.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Lynn: As I said, I ask “What if?” and come up with dozens of crazy scenarios and choose one or more. I know my characters so well (I do extensive character sketches before I start a book so I know how they will react when put in a situation) and frequently I simply have to ask – “What would she do in this situation, knowing her as I do?” and my block is gone.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Lynn: I prefer absolute solitude and quiet and no, I don’t write to music. I know the words to too many songs and it is distracting, and if I’m listening to classical music, I tend to be distracted by the instruments or melody. I multitask all day long, but not when I’m writing – then I become single-minded.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Lynn: I envision the location of the story, review the history and all the photographs I’ve taken, think about what kind of trouble I can throw at my characters, and go from there.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Lynn: Valerie Holladay. She was an editor at Covenant and she walked me through my first books, guiding and editing to show me how to write. The dozens of writer’s workshops I attended were extremely helpful in learning the craft, for it is a craft to fashion a good story into a book.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the characters in your books come to life?

Lynn: They need to have some interesting quirks and foibles – they can’t be perfect - and they need to want something in the worst way so they can overcome whatever they are up against.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Lynn: Raw almonds and black licorice.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Lynn: I love walking on the beach with my husband and beachcombing with my grandchildren. I’ve been making Shutterfly books to showcase our trips, family, life and history. I love to travel and take pictures. We spent 27 days in China, Cambodia Thailand and Singapore and I took 7000 pictures! I play the organ at church, although some in the congregation wouldn’t call it a talent. J More like a desperation calling, but I’ve been doing it for 12 years so hopefully I’m getting better. I enjoy playing golf with my husband and every year we attend the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City and Tuacahn to see the incredible shows they have. And I am into Family History.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Lynn: Write, rewrite, rewrite some more, then edit, edit, edit! Make your manuscript as perfect as possible. If you don’t have a critique group to read it to and help you edit it, pass the manuscript to knowledgeable friends who will be honest in their evaluation and not tell you it is wonderful when it may not be yet.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Lynn: In 1995 when Emeralds and Espionage had just been published and before I started writing Pearls and Peril, I started writing a ghost story. I put it away when I started Pearls, then pulled it out about five years later and worked on it a bit, then put it away to continue the gem series. I dabbled with it again – probably in another five years – and put it away. I decided after Pursued: A Maggie McKenzie Mystery was published that I was through writing. I had 12 grandchildren and 12 books in print. That sounded pretty good to me. But I kept thinking of this story. In May we drove to Louisiana to the graduation of one of our granddaughters, and we went so many neat places that fit perfectly into the story that I decided I just had to write it and get it out of my system so it would quit haunting me. An interesting side note: I booked us into an antebellum mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi which just happened to have four ghosts, and I had unknowingly chosen the room with the Confederate soldier who keeps looking for his amputated leg. Unfortunately, we saw none of the ghosts.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Lynn: Seagull, Deseret Books, Beehive Books, and Ensign Books all carry them and they can be ordered on line from as well.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Lynn: I think being a writer is kin to having a calling to entice people to read, to explore new worlds, to broaden their horizons and awaken imaginations. There is no greater compliment I can receive than to have someone tell me they simply were not a reader until someone turned them on to my books and now they love to read. That is the ultimate compliment.


  1. Great interview! I appreciated your take on writers block. ;D

  2. I loved the interview. I traveled for 18 years with my dad who was in the AF and another 17 years with my husband who was in the Army. I grew to love the mountains and camping. I also appreciate your 12 years at the organ. I have been a ward music chairman for the last 38 years while serving in either YW or Primary at the same time. I play the piano for my own enjoyment but not for anyone else's I assure you. I am now a RS secretary. I would someday love to write a book or even finish the piece of music I started several years ago. I just need to find the time between church callings and helping to take care of grandchildren during the day. Life, isn't it wonderful!!! Thanks again for the wonderful interview.

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  4. I loved reading Lynn's books back when my husband was in graduate school. I had to borrow most of them from my sister in law because I was too poor to buy them for myself, but my husband recently surprised me by buying me another one for my collection. Love. Love. Keep 'em coming Lynn! Great interview Deirdra!


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