Lisa and I discuss her new mystery Before She Disappeared, the complexity of plotting a person’s disappearance in 2021, walking the streets of Mattapan for research and the delicious food item that she discovered there, and the real-life inspiration for Frankie.
Lisa and I discuss her new mystery Before She Disappeared, the complexity of plotting a person’s disappearance in 2021, walking the streets of Mattapan for research and the delicious food item that she discovered there, the real-life inspiration for Frankie Elkin, and much more.
Before She Disappeared can be purchased at Murder by the Book.
Lisa’s recommended reads are:
Thanks to Danielle Martin for sponsoring this episode. Her novel Glimmer As You Can can be purchased here.
book, lisa, frankie, read, disappeared, wrote, mattapan, life, cases, families, missing, live, research, haitian, people, author, woman, elkin, job, cindy
Lisa Gardner, Cindy Burnett
Cindy Burnett 00:01
This episode is sponsored by Danielle Martin's novel Glimmer As You Can, which is available now, and the link is in the show notes. Enter the world of the early 1960s through Martin's new book Glimmer As You Can. Glimmer As You Can tells the story of three dynamic women from different walks of life, whose lives intersect at a late night social club in Brooklyn, New York. Glimmer As You Can is the perfect book club read as a thought provoking novel that highlights the power of friendship. Glimmer As You Can is available now wherever books are sold. This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast where I interview authors about their latest works. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books. If you have any comments or feedback for me, feel free to contact me through my website thoughtsfromapage.com for more book recommendations, follow me on Facebook and Instagram at @thoughtsfromapage and on Twitter at @burn555555. Today I am interviewing Lisa Gardner. Lisa is a #1 New York Times Bestselling thriller novelist who began her career in food service, but after catching her hair on fire numerous times, decided to take the hint and focused on writing instead. A self-described research junkie she has transformed her interest in police procedure and criminal minds into a streak of internationally acclaimed novels published across 30 countries. For a bit of fun, Lisa invites her readers to enter the annual Kill-A-Friend, Maim-A-Buddy sweepstakes at lisagardner.com. Every year one lucky stiff is selected to meet a grand end in Lisa's latest novel. She lives in New Hampshire where she spends her time with an assortment of canine companions. Welcome, Lisa, how are you today?
Lisa Gardner 01:51
Good. Thank you very much, Cindy.
Cindy Burnett 01:53
Well, I'm really excited to talk about Before She Disappeared, and just have you tell me a little bit more about your inspiration and your research and everything. So why don't we start out with you just giving us a quick synopsis of Before She Disappeared.
Lisa Gardner 02:05
So in Before She Disappeared, we meet Frankie Elkin. She is a ordinary woman, a recovering alcoholic, and this is what she does now. She is obsessed with solving missing persons cold cases. And this brings her to the Mattapan neighborhood in Boston, where a 15-year-old Haitian female has disappeared 11 months ago. As Frankie quickly learns there are surveillance cameras everywhere, there are witnesses, they can track the cell phone, they can crack all the social media. And still, the police have no idea what happened to Angelique Badeau and this whole like how can you even disappear in a crowded urban jungle? Frankie's on the case to figure it out.
Cindy Burnett 02:49
Well, I love the way you depicted that, and that with the cameras everywhere and just everything, your phone, that it's virtually impossible to disappear these days.
Lisa Gardner 02:58
Funny, you know, I was doing a missing persons cold case. So my coat, I'll do a Haitian female in Mattapan because I know Boston and that would be great. Not even thinking about how she would disappear. I mean, of course she's disappeared. And then by the time I was done talking to the police, and all the tools and resources they could bring to bear. I'm suddenly like, Oh my god, I don't know the crime. Like I don't actually know how she disappeared. It's like that took me 200 pages to figure out.
Cindy Burnett 03:24
Well, it's really interesting. And obviously no spoilers, but I thought that way you did that was great. That had to be kind of hard to figure out a disappearance in this day and time.
Lisa Gardner 03:32
Yes. And I like thrillers where the police are doing their job. The answer can't be stupidity, because that's not fun to read. So yeah, I mean, they're getting warrants for Snapchat, so they can read all the dialogue. They are accessing surveillance cameras, there is license plate reading technology, they can tell you every car that was in the area, they can track the cabs and taxis and there's cameras in subways and their cameras and still three o'clock on a sunny Friday afternoon, Angelique Badeau exits school, actually, she goes in, back into school through a side door, and then is never seen again.
Cindy Burnett 04:07
I loved that, and it kept me thinking the entire story like - what happened to her? And I hadn't really thought through the license tag, like some of those things. Obviously, you think about cameras in stores and on street corners, but I hadn't thought about some of the other things you brought to bear in the story.
Lisa Gardner 04:21
It was great to research with the detectives and find out exactly how they would handle this kind of disappearance. And yeah, I, I live in a rural area so I did not know license plate reading technology at all. But the amount of eyes that are on any person, any vehicle in an urban environment is impressive.
Cindy Burnett 04:40
That's one word for it. Right?
Lisa Gardner 04:42
How anyone gets away with crime, you know?
Cindy Burnett 04:45
Yeah, exactly. Everybody should read your book that way maybe there'd be a lot fewer criminals out there. So I would love to hear more about your inspiration for Frankie Elkin.
Lisa Gardner 04:53
So most of my books have been inspired by a real world crime, a true crime. And this case, Before She Disappeared, was inspired by a real-life hero. I read an article on this woman, Lisa Yellowbird Chase, who was getting very frustrated by the number of women that were going missing on tribal lands, and the lack of resources for handling the cases. But also in her mind, the lack of interest. The women were written off. Oh, she must have ran away. Oh, she's an alcoholic. Oh, I'm sure she just took off. I mean, with no one even trying to find out what happened in these cases. So she took it upon herself to get personally involved, even though she has no training. She's just like you or me. And now this is what she does. She works missing persons cold cases in areas that are underserved, underresourced looking for the kinds of victims the rest of the world has forgotten. And that became the inspiration for Frankie Elkin.
Cindy Burnett 05:50
Well, I really liked Frankie. And I thought it was interesting, and it wasn't something I would have thought about ahead of time. But how suspicious everybody is when she shows up in a new place. Like is she wanting reward money or fame? Or like, what is it that's driving her, and I really liked the way you portrayed all of that.
Lisa Gardner 06:06
One of the things I got when I was reading about the people who do this is I mean, you're an outsider, and you're an outsider who's really stepping on toes. I mean, so what does Frankie do? She doesn't have a real job. She doesn't have a house, she doesn't have a white picket fence. She is a recovering alcoholic. And one of the ways she actually manages her addiction is through this - through kind of obsessively working these cold cases. She's kind of harnessing the obsession, parts of being an addict. And I think we could all argue she's harnessing the self-destructive streak in most addicts too. Coming to, you know, an inner city neighborhood where she stands out like a sore thumb. She's inserting herself in a official police investigation. And she is a professional bartender, which, as you can imagine, the police are absolutely thrilled. And then she's showing up on families' doorsteps. We've never met, you know nothing about me, but no worries. I'm going to find your missing loved one and your life will be just fine now. And they're like, yeah, okay, so crazy lady, you can keep on going down the block.
Cindy Burnett 07:10
Like, who are you again?
Lisa Gardner 07:11
Yeah. And that this goes on in real life actually is a marvel to me. But I love this idea of I mean, what is that like? I mean, who is Frankie Elkin? And I think that very much drives the story. And it's interesting to me, what she sees her mission. She's not even working for the families. Because I think as we all know in crimes, families often are part of the problem, not the solution. So Frankie's contract in her mind is with the missing girl, Angelique. And she's going to do whatever it takes to find her, even if that means unburying family secrets, stepping on toes and pissing off the neighbors.
Cindy Burnett 07:53
Which is another reason families probably aren't always thrilled to see her because like you said, often families are involved in disappearances.
Lisa Gardner 08:01
Yes, it is a high conflict job I call it
Cindy Burnett 08:04
Well, one of the fascinating things about your book to me was that this is happening in real life. Frankie finds the case through a Facebook group, right? Of these people who are looking for missing person cases, and then travel around trying to help solve them.
Lisa Gardner 08:18
There's various forms. And there's even now a great website I encourage for people, the Black and Missing Foundation (www.blackandmissinginc.com). And again, race, ethnicity, where you live makes a big difference in the kind of resources your case is going to get, and the Black and Missing Foundation is filled with all of these cold cases, and does talk about various efforts people have undergone to try to solve these cases, to try to bring attention to these cases, that kind of thing.
Cindy Burnett 08:42
Well, I know you've talked a little bit about talking to police officers. But tell me a little bit more about your research.
Lisa Gardner 08:48
I have to do some onsite research because I believe if you're going to set a location like Mattapan in Boston, you need to know it. So I spent some time in the neighborhood. It is a rough inner city neighborhood. Mattapan is nicknamed in Boston Murderpan for its very high crime rate, which is a statistic, but it also has the largest Haitian immigrant group outside of Florida, this rich Caribbean culture. So you have this kind of juxtaposition. When I was walking the streets, Mattapan itself reminded me as a character, as a person, like it had its rough edges, hidden gems, but the best part was for the sake of research, I had to try Haitian food. And that brought me to this absolutely amazing real-life bakery, Le Foyer Bakery in Mattapan, and Haitian meat patties, which are hands down one of the single best things I've ever eaten, and I had to continue to eat them because it was for the book and research and
Cindy Burnett 09:46
Lisa Gardner 09:47
It was some of the best research I've ever done.
Cindy Burnett 09:51
Have you learned to make them yourself?
Lisa Gardner 09:52
No, I look them up when I got home because I was just so fascinated by the flavors. It's kind of a sweet, spicy, like you can't put your finger on it. So you have to eat more of them. So I looked at the recipe and it's way, way beyond my paygrade. I'm not that good of a cook, and there were so many things involved. And I was like, I'm just gonna keep going to a bakery and ordering.
Cindy Burnett 10:16
Well, so you wrote a standalone this time? Why did you decide to do that?
Lisa Gardner 10:20
I've never intended for any of the books series I have produced. I wrote a novel with FBI profiler, Pierce Quincy, and I was so intrigued by him, I end up bringing him back. And then we met this great woman, and then they came back and then his daughter became an FBI agent, and she came back and the next thing you know, I had an FBI family series, so to speak. And then for a book I needed a Boston detective so I wrote up D.D. Warren. It was even just for a chapter, that was all she was ever meant to be in, this really hardass detective who would do anything to get her man and unapologetic about being a workaholic. And everyone loved her and she struck a nerve with me and okay, nine books later.
Cindy Burnett 11:00
So you're thinking we're gonna see Frankie again, is what you're saying?
Lisa Gardner 11:02
Yeah, yep, I started the next book.
Cindy Burnett 11:06
So it's really not a standalone. It's just a new series, right?
Lisa Gardner 11:09
Yeah, yeah, I never plan them. But I think we can agree by now I have a hard time letting my characters go, like they get under the skin. And then I want to see where their journey, where their next steps will take them.
Cindy Burnett 11:22
Well, Frankie certainly lends herself to that. I figured, by the way, it ended that probably there would be another one. But I'm glad to hear there is and she can go anywhere and follow the crimes.
Lisa Gardner 11:31
Yes, and so for the next book, it's another kind of interesting phenomenon in missing persons cases, which is the thousands of people that go missing on what we call national public lands, basically, the Park Services. Your lost hiker in the woods. There are so many places where again, you're so rural, we have a sheriff's department that would be heading up these kinds of searches in areas that can be the size of Rhode Island, that's your search area. It's $300,000 a day to launch that kind of search. That's the yearly budget for some of these police departments. So it's some of those areas again, where things start to fall through the cracks. So Frankie joins a search for lost hiker, heads into the woods, and let's just say nothing is as it seems, and much murder and mayhem ensue.
Cindy Burnett 12:17
Did you pick a national park for it?
Lisa Gardner 12:19
I haven't decided if I want to give it a named location or fictionalize it because of the amount of murder and mayhem
Cindy Burnett 12:25
Oh, got it.
Lisa Gardner 12:26
What I often do like Bakersville in the FBI profiler books, anyone who reads them knows that Tillamook.
Cindy Burnett 12:31
Well, the only reason I asked is because we go to Rocky Mountain National Park every summer. That was something that I had never really seen before, you know, missing people and trying to find them. And then I think it was last summer, when we were there, they had two people who had gone missing around November, and they still had signs up everywhere for them. They'd headed out when it was snowing and in kind of the heart of their winter, and it was June and neither one had still shown up. That was the first time I'd really ever thought about that. Oh, like you really could go missing here and not be found for a very long time.
Lisa Gardner 13:02
And it's so sad for the families because now no one's really looking at all or I mean, it has to be an organized effort. And yet this family still lack closure. I mean, they still want to know what happened, right?
Cindy Burnett 13:12
No, I agree. And I think actually, both of these men were eventually found because they had headed out in winter, and everything is so much more closed. By the time people really were getting out onto trails in the summer, they did find them. But they were not alive. You know, I mean, they had perished out there. But yes, it is. It's a kind of a different thing, just not something you think about regularly.
Lisa Gardner 13:31
Cindy Burnett 13:32
Well, do you have a favorite book you've written?
Lisa Gardner 13:34
Oh, that I've written? Oh, that's always such a hard question for me. It's like picking among children. Probably the one that stands out for me - Before She Disappeared is kind of up there because Frankie Elkin really grew on me. I mean, it's weird, because I'm her creator. But as a character like or as a person, I do want to see her again. Makes me sound kinda crazy. I wrote years ago a book called Love You More. And again, most of my books are based on real crime. And so the thought behind that book that I was researching was about women who killed their children; incredibly sad research. To the extent that the end of the day, it's the first time I couldn't write that. In the end, I think most parents would go to the ends of the earth to protect their child. So that became the book I wrote. It's Tessa Leoni, a state trooper who suspected of killing her own daughter. But of course, the truth unravels from there. And it was a great excuse to visit the Body Farm and do some really cool research.
Cindy Burnett 14:32
It is hard to imagine as a parent that you would ever take your own child's life, it's just unfathomable. Tell me about the Body Farm.
Lisa Gardner 14:39
Oh, that was so much fun and intimidating. So I mean, I'm an everyday person. I mean, people I know what people think about writers. Writers who write things as macabre as I do. By and large, I'm a working mom. I'm even a soccer mom. So I'm just like the rest of us and then to write this book for Love You More, I needed scenario for basically how to disguise skeletal remains, kind of create a red herring. And I wanted it to be forensically correct. Like this would work in real life. And the best place to learn how to play with bones is going to the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, where it's also called Death's Acre. There's bodies in various states of decomp. And they are studying them to learn forensics. And when you watch those shows, and the entomologist is saying, Oh, this bug tells us this person has been dead for 12 hours. That's the kind of stuff they actually learned at the Body Farm.
Cindy Burnett 15:36
Lisa Gardner 15:38
It was incredibly intimidating. I mean, I've not seen a dead body outside of a funeral home, but it was very much hallowed ground. They're incredibly respectful of the people who donated the remains for this kind of research. In the end, I don't know, it was one of the most amazing places I've been and talking to the forensic anthropologists on like, I'll burn a body, they're like yet no, we can, we can, we can figure that out in a heartbeat. I mean, just, again, real life, what they could do, even just glancing at like, the charred remains of the bone, blew my mind.
Cindy Burnett 16:15
It is amazing what progress they've made in those types of studies in the last, I don't know, 50-60 years it seems like.
Lisa Gardner 16:22
Cindy Burnett 16:23
Well, it sounds like you are working on something at the present so we talked a little bit about that. Do you know when it will be coming out?
Lisa Gardner 16:29
Next year, I mean, it's pretty much late January, early February, the new book comes out. So Before She Disappearedis available January 19the. I think you should run out and buy it and then read it slowly. Because you got a year. Take your time. Enjoy it. Like it's so interesting as an author, it takes a year to get a book out. And then so January 19th is a Tuesday, by Wednesday morning already on social media - I read it when your next book out? It's like, read it again.
Cindy Burnett 16:57
You're like, do you not understand this process?
Lisa Gardner 16:59
Yeah, yeah, read it. 356 more times.
Cindy Burnett 17:05
Yes, exactly because you've got some time. Well, what's the best thing about being a writer?
Lisa Gardner 17:09
I used to say working in my pajamas. But now you know, everyone's doing it. I kind of feel like this whole lockdown, pandemic lifestyle is raining on an author's parade. My family has no awe at all anymore. They're like, oh, this is how you live. Damn it you figured it out.
Cindy Burnett 17:29
I know it's sometimes hard and like, oh, I'm going to the grocery store today, I actually have to get dressed in something other than sweatpants and a t-shirt.
Lisa Gardner 17:36
I asked for today, if I needed to wear my good pajamas, just so we were clear on the interviews.
Cindy Burnett 17:41
Lisa Gardner 17:43
I would say traveling and getting to meet with readers. And that has made the past year sad. Next week, I will be doing a virtual book tour on Zoom. So you'll get to see digitally, virtually some readers but I miss I mean, a third of my job used to be traveling and all over the country. I mean, I'm sold in 30 different countries. And I miss that all very much.
Cindy Burnett 18:06
I work part time at Murder by the Book here in Houston. And so that's one of my favorite parts of my job, you know, in non-pandemic times is working the author event. So I was always like, Oh, I can't wait to meet whoever it was that was coming through and to hear their stories and just watch readers enjoy that interaction. Yeah, that is a great part of being an author. And hopefully in 2021, we're going to be able to get back to that.
Lisa Gardner 18:29
But Murder by the Book. That's such a great store.
Cindy Burnett 18:31
Oh, I love it. I was a customer there forever. And then about two years ago, I guess actually now it's three years ago, I started working part time. I haven't worked much during the pandemic, they haven't really needed as much and been closed off and on. But oh, it's just such a fabulous store.
Lisa Gardner 18:44
I often think if I retire from being a writer, I may have to take a job in a bookstore just to support my reading habit.
Cindy Burnett 18:51
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I always felt like I read so much until I started working there. Just the sheer number of books that come out every single week is mind boggling.
Lisa Gardner 19:01
And that is a big perk of being an author. I get mailed books all the time and debut books and new voices they want an author to read and rave about. And that's a really cool thing too, because I'm still a very passionate reader. And so just to have books arrive at my front door all the time and to get to discover some new and great talent out there is lovely.
Cindy Burnett 19:21
Well, before we wrap up, Lisa, I'd love to hear what you've read recently that you really liked.
Lisa Gardner 19:25
My favorite book of 2020. Well, I'll back up a little. For suspense, my favorite books last year were Home Before Darkby Riley Sager, Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger, and The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter. But this is, this is suspenseful; I don't know how what category this book is. My favorite book of the year by far, just because it was such a different, unique book, is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, about a woman who makes a deal with the devil, and it's like 17th century France, to be able to live forever but have no one remember her.
Cindy Burnett 20:02
I have got to listen to that; I have it on Libro.fm. I haven't had a chance to listen yet. But everybody keeps raving about how good it is.
Lisa Gardner 20:10
It makes you think so much. I mean, it's gripping. And it has this great puzzle because at the very beginning of the book, she's shoplifting from a bookstore, because no one can remember her so she could steal anything she wants, because no one will remember what she looks like or her face. And when she goes back to get a second book, the guy remembers her. They're kind of almost shared trauma. What is it like to live so long? And this lifestyle she's had to create because she has no identity. She can't have a bank account. She's always the stranger. And what really is it to have no one know who you are. I think part of Before She Disappeared is this notion of Frankie feeling alone and isolated and as an outsider, and that is very much a theme in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
Cindy Burnett 20:52
Well, that is interesting and you kind of wonder how she came up with that concept, definitely very different. Well, Lisa, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about Before She Disappeared. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Lisa Gardner 21:04
Oh, this has been great. Thank you very much, Cindy.
Cindy Burnett 21:08
Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you liked this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram and Pinterest at @thoughtsfromapage, tell all of your friends about the podcast and rate it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I also really appreciate everybody who shared the episodes on social media last week. It really made a big difference, and I am very grateful. Lisa's book can be purchased at Murder by the Book where I work part time, and the link is in the show notes. Thanks to Danielle Martin and her book Glimmer As You Can for sponsoring this episode. Thanks to K.P. Regan for the sound editing, and I hope you'll tune in next time.