PW: What inspired The Killing Hour's depraved but environmentally concerned "Eco" serial killer?

Lisa Gardner: In thrillers right now, serial killers are kind of a dime a dozen and the majority of the books, the ones I've written included, are looking at the psychopath, the organized sexual predator. I was slightly inspired by Ted Kaczynski, who wrapped what he did in environmental trappings. That became one of the questions for me. If this guy is saying he's doing it all for the environment, can that really be true? There can be a disconnect between why someone thinks they're doing something and why they are really doing it.

PW: What was it like doing research at Quantico, the FBI Academy in Virginia?

LG: After 9/11, they've definitely gotten very intense on security clearance. I had to get written permission. For some interviews, the public affairs officer had to be there, too. They were very congenial about information, mostly because I wasn't looking for anything too specific. Quantico is one of the most beautiful grounds I've ever seen. It's like being out on a nature preserve with the exception of all the artillery fire in the background.

PW: Is it more difficult finding questions or answers?

LG: Questions and answers. I think it was Hemingway who said you have to learn about the entire iceberg to write about the tip. The hardest part for writers is not to get lost in the iceberg itself. You start with a few questions and that kind of generally reveals how much you don't know. I spent two days at Quantico, and I didn't begin to scratch the surface.

PW: Kimberly Quincy is a rookie agent enrolled in the FBI Academy who takes a leave of absence to join the hunt for the eco-killer. In reality, do you think she'd be allowed back in?

LG: Technically, she didn't break any rules. Politically? She went against what she was told to do. It's murky, though, because everyone backs a winner. If she had gone out and failed, that would've been it.

PW: You sold your first novel at age 20. Now 31, you've published six thrillers and 13 category romance novels as "Alicia Scott." What drives you?

LG: I think it's been a combination of luck and naïveté.

PW: What is the most challenging aspect of combining suspense with romance?

LG: Achieving the right balance. When I started my career, the focus was on the romance with the suspense as the subplot. Now the focus is on the suspense with the romance as the subplot. It depends on the story. With The Survivors Club, romance wasn't appropriate. With The Killing Hour, Kimberly was so mental. She needed a strong romantic interest.

PW: What authors or books have influenced you?

LG: I loved Stephen King and John Saul. My favorite King books are Cujo, The Shining and The Green Mile. My all-time-favorite book? The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, read when I was 11. The more I read books that just blew my mind, the more I wanted to see if I could do that. That's where youth was actually an advantage. It didn't occur to me that I couldn't.

PW: How do you think the romantic suspense field is changing to reflect contemporary women?

LG: We're doing books now with women being actively involved and not waiting for heroes to save them. We're doing much stronger female characters. Readers want to see other women taking control and winning.

PW: How will being a new mom affect your crime fiction?

LG: I have no idea. I'm kind of curious, but I can tell you one thing: until you become a mom, you do not know the true nature of fear.