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Wednesday, June 24,2009

Tale of two writers

Best-seller, talented newcomer to visit Lansing area on same day

by Bill Castanier

It’s too bad authors Lisa Gardner and Kristina Riggle will speak in two different places in the Lansing area on the same night this week, since readers will have to choose between the two. On the bright side, either choice will be a good one.


Gardner, who has written 11 consecutive New York Times Best-Selling books, is best known for her complex, contemporary thrillers.



Since she began writing romance-suspence novels while still in college, she said she really hasn’t held another job. Except for a short stint as a process reengineering consultant, she said writing is all she has ever done. “I not qualified for anything else, so I better just keep killing people,” she said.


In her new thriller, “The Neighbor,” Gardner does just that, but the murders are almost secondary to the suspense she creates when a young mother disappears with only her 4-year-old daughter as a witness.



As is typical in these cases, the husband becomes the primary suspect, especially when he appears to be uncooperative and almost indifferent to his wife’s disappearance.

That’s what first intrigues Boston Police detective D.D. Warren as she attempts to unravel an increasingly complex case. Husband and wife have a cloudy, almost impenetrable past, which the husband refuses to reveal. Through some clever writing, readers slowly learn about this young couple’s unusual history. “The book was about hope,” she said. “Two people with dark pasts trying to build a future.”


Also in the mix is a young sex offender living in the neighborhood, who is tagged as a suspect after the disappearance. There are enough red herrings to keep even the most avid mystery and reader guessing at the culprit and the ending.

One hallmark of Gardner’s novels is the intensive research she does to get it right. “The Neighbor” required an indepth look at sex offenders and their lifestyles. Gardner said her interviews with a parole officer changed some of her commonly held opinions, which she said, “had to do with being a mom.”


Since a 4-year-old plays an important role in her new book, Gardner turned to her young daughter and her friends for advice.

“It was fun to write a book involving my child,” Gardner said. “I was able to find out what their favorite movie was, and their favorite doll and dinner.”

Michigan State University graduate Kristina Riggle will return to the Lansing area Thursday to discuss her debut novel, “Real Life & Liars.” Riggle’s first book (she has four other manuscripts in the queue, with one due to the publisher this week) is a very approachable look at a family in the throes of crisis.

Taking an unusual approach, especially for a first novel, Riggle mixes first- and third-person voices, as the characters reveal themselves to readers. Mother Mirabelle Zielinski, a pot-smoking exflower child, is at the center of the book, and she tells her story in first person. Her three children, Katya, Ivan and Irina — all quirky in their own way — are detailed through the third person, but each of their viewpoints are easily understood. Chapters alternate between the mom and the children, with the father, a successful author, only present in a supporting role.


What begins as a 35th wedding anniversary celebration in Northern Michigan becomes a group therapy session driven by the mother’s forthcoming revelation that she has breast cancer. Long-held secrets, individual frustrations, nasty grandchildren and unexpected guests keep the book fresh.

Daughter Katya and her family seem the most settled, but she needs to come to grips with her suspicion that her husband is having an affair; son Ivan is a frustrated songwriter who’s waiting for a breakthrough in his art and his love life; and daughter Irina shows up pregnant with the father in tow. Complicating the relationship is Irina’s new husband, who is old enough to be her father.

Riggle, who graduated from MSU in 1996 with a journalism degree, is a former writer for the Grand Haven Tribune, The Bay City Times and the Grand Rapids Press. She also worked at The State News in college. Riggle said she has been writing stories as far back as she can remember. “It was always in the Riggle back of my head I would write a novel,” she said.


That may be why she identifies most with Ivan, who in his early 30s and still looking for his career to take off. “He is an undiscovered, frustrated songwriter,” she said. “I always enjoyed writing a male voice.”

Riggle thinks the reason this novel was picked up by a publisher instead of her previous attempts is that in the past she tried to write a book with commercial appeal. “In ‘Real Life & Liars’ I forgot about the market and wrote with enthusiasm and sincerity,” she said. “I was having fun.”



Lisa Gardner


7 p.m. Thursday, June 25 Schuler Books & Music, Meridian Mall FREE (517) 349-8840 www.schulerbooks.com


Kristina Riggle


7 p.m. Thursday, June 25 Schuler Books & Music, Eastwood Towne Center FREE (517) 316-7495 www.schulerbooks.com



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