by | Jan 17, 2022 | Extraordinary Guest Bloggers | 5 comments

KJ Howe: #1 NYT bestseller Lisa Gardner has had a lifelong passion for the outdoors, exploring places that few of of us have been privileged to experience. But with that adventurous spirit comes a certain amount of danger. How does Lisa decide when she goes ONE STEP TOO FAR? Welcome, Lisa and congrats on the new novel!


By Lisa Gardner

My first memory of hiking isn’t even technically a hike.  As a kid growing up in the wilds of Oregon, I followed a deer trail through the woods in my backyard.  Then another and another, till I came to this clearing shrouded in mist so thick I could pick it up by the handfuls.  I remember the sheer awe at such beauty, followed by a sense of magic.  I had started out from my humdrum home, and in a matter of minutes, arrived in Camelot.

Already an avid book worm, I quickly realized that if reading transported me to new worlds, then hiking was a close second.  From then on, I was hooked.  Read, walk, read, which by the time I was eighteen, had become write, walk, write.   Plot problems?  March through the woods.  Daunting blank page?  Scale a mountain.  Uncooperative characters?  Traverse a ravine, contemplate throwing them off.  It all works.

Once I moved to the mountains of New Hampshire, my hikes became more adventurous, involving taller peaks, greater distances and more remote areas.  Being someone who loves to write about terrifying situations, but hopes to personally avoid experiencing them, I decided a wilderness survival class might be in order.  Hence myself and my two female hiking partners enrolled in an all-day course.

First bit of fun—we weren’t the minority in the room.  Outdoor adventures are an equal opportunity activity.  Anyone can put one foot in front of the other to venture into the woods, not to mention that survival generally comes down to brains, not brawn.  Don’t panic, clinically assess, coolly act and you just might make it.  In the course of the day, we learned how to build fires, craft a shelter, and find/filtrate drinkable water.  I personally loved torching Vaseline-coated cotton balls and playing with dual-edged tactical knives.  (It’s possible the instructor confiscated both the butane lighter and loaner blade from my possession, but that’s a story for another time).  By the end of the class, I not only felt more secure in my backwoods knowledge, but I had my next book idea.

In this day and age of ubiquitous cellphones, GPS tracking and at-the-ready emergency services, a true sense of danger and isolation is hard to achieve.  But not in the mountains, where there remain many areas with no cell service and limited rescue access.  You head out, you’re on your own. Which is both liberating and terrifying.

And perfect for my fictional missing persons expert, Frankie Elkin.  When I first introduced Frankie in BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED, I focused on an urban case and very sad real-world issue–the number of missing minority children who receive little police attention and no national media.  I established that Frankie knows how to live on the fringes of life—inner city neighborhoods, rural communities, lower-income trailer parks—but still modern living. 

There’s another underserved missing persons phenomena, however, and that’s the sixteen hundred people who’ve disappeared in national forests.  Once the immediate, volunteer rescue efforts have subsided, those cases fall through the cracks.  The individuals, including children, remain vanished without a trace, with little hope of closure for the families involved.

This provided the perfect excuse to bring city-slicker Frankie to the wilds of Wyoming, where she joins an eight-person search team led by a father determined to find his missing son.  Frankie has no idea what she’s doing, let alone the proper equipment.  But with a little help from cadaver-dog handler, Luciana and bigfoot hunter Bob, Frankie can gear up and learn the basics.

Of course, being a thriller, ONE STEP TOO FAR quickly moves beyond ordinary circumstances. 

What is survival of the fittest?  Because Frankie is about to find out.  But what I love best about her story, is that she is us.  She’s not particularly tough or physically adept.  Her superpower is being a great listener who is genuinely empathetic with the families she meets.  But she’s also comfortable with being uncomfortable which as bad thing happens here and worse thing happens there…  

How would you fare? Check out ONE STEP TOO FAR, where you—and Frankie—can gain fresh appreciation for Vaseline-coated cotton balls and dual-edged tactical knives.  Remember, it’s brains, not brawn.  Don’t panic, clinically access, coolly act and maybe, you too can survive.  Or not.

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  1. Rogue Women Writers

    Great article, Lisa — it’s so interesting to see how some of those outdoor experiences influenced your terrific novels! Can’t wait to read ONE STEP TOO FAR. Thanks for being our guest here today!…Karna Small Bodman

  2. Gayle Lynds

    I always knew you were an outdoors person, Lisa, but I had no idea you were so deeply involved. I love that you took the survival course, and that going out helps you figure out next steps in the book you’re writing. Looking forward to ONE STEP TOO FAR!

  3. Lisa Black

    I feel the same way about the woods. We had a small forest behind my house, and it was my hangout bar none. A few years ago I ran across a notice about rentable park cabins in the Smoky Mountains that are only accessible via a 5 mile hike and immediately thought, “Oh yeah. I’m doing that.” Unfortunately, though I had a reminder in my calendar to call twice every week to find out if reservations for the next summer had opened up (the only way to get one), then the pandemic hit and kiboshed the whole thing. Where’s my calendar…time to get back to it.

  4. Chris Goff

    I love this idea. I am a Colorado girl and have found myself in a few hairy spots while hiking in the backcountry. I just ordered my copy of ONE STEP TOO FAR.

    • Chris Goff

      Nevermind. I had already pre-ordered and it was sent on 1-17-2022. Anxiously awaiting my copy!