Gigi Pandian interview with David Alan Binder

posted Sep 10, 2019, 6:05 PM by David Alan Binder

Gigi Pandian interview with David Alan Binder


USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood traveling around the world on their research trips, and now lives outside San Francisco with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories.










1. How do you pronounce your name?

Gigi is pronounced with hard “G”s (not like the French movie), and my surname Pandian is a South Indian Tamil name, the first syllable is pronounced closer to “pond” and “panda.”

2. Where are you currently living?

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in a cozy house with built-in bookshelves lining the walls and a vegetable garden in the backyard.

3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

Writers shouldn’t compare their experience to anyone else’s. Every author I know has a different writing process and has had a different publishing journey. It’s easiest to keep having fun and stay in this profession for the long run while celebrating in the successes of others rather than comparing yourself.

4. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I can’t start a new project on the computer. If I try to do so, my mind freezes. I have to get started writing in a paper notebook to capture my ideas.

5. Insights on self-publishing or using a publisher?

I’m glad to have both self-published and worked with traditional publishers of different sizes, because it’s enabled me to see the upsides and downsides of each type of publishing. I recommend writers think about their goals of publishing to see what’s the right choice for them.

a. Who is the name of your publisher?

My Accidental Alchemist Mysteries are published by Midnight Ink, and my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries are published by Henery Press. I’ve also published many locked-room “impossible crime” mystery short stories published in various anthologies by different publishers.

6. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?

I met my agent at a writers conference, though I didn’t pitch to her there. I was impressed when I heard her speak, so I introduced myself briefly, looked her up online once I was home, and then sent her a query when my novel was ready.

Attending writers conferences with agents is helpful not only because of the opportunity to pitch in person, but also so you can make personal connections. You want to find a partner who you’ll feel comfortable working with for the long run. So when you receive an offer or representation, remember that you’re interviewing an agent as much as they are you. I know it can take a while to find someone. Don’t take it personally if an agent doesn’t connect with your work, so keep going.

7. What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

I thought that after writing ten novels, the process would go more quickly. It doesn’t! My first novel, Artifact, took the longest to write, but since then I’ve learned to trust my process that I need to brainstorm in a paper notebook and write a detailed outline before I can write the book, and that I need to set it aside for a chunk of time after each draft. Although I haven’t become a faster writer, I’m becoming a stronger writing over time.

8. How many books have you written?

I’ve written ten novels that are published, one book that’s a collection of my locked-room mystery short stories, and two novels are in the drawer.

9. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be so specific that this most likely will not have been seen elsewhere)?

Find what works for you, and don’t worry if writing advice from successful authors doesn’t ring true for you.

Here’s what works for me: To stay motivated, I connect with other local writers in person and with other mystery writers online. To learn craft, I study the novels of favorite authors and attend workshops, and I’ve also learned a lot through books on the craft of writing. There are so many to choose from, that you can check them out at the library first to see which ones resonate with you, before you get your own copies to underline and scribble in the margins.

10. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

Be open to surprising yourself. When you get in the flow of a story and let your characters take over, they’ll often surprise you.

11. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

Books that begin with the constraints of a familiar genre (setting up reader expectation for a satisfying experience), that are very well written (characters, plot, and style), and that do something different that goes beyond the expected.

For my own books, when I started writing I wanted to write novels like the Vicky Bliss romantic adventure mysteries by Elizabeth Peters, but with characters who reflected my own life. So I created Jaya Jones, a professor with one parent from India and one from the U.S., just like me, who I could send on globe-trotting cozy treasure hunts in the tradition of those Elizabeth Peters novels I loved as a kid.

After I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer at 36, I wrote the draft of a novel I didn’t think would sell, because I thought it was too far away from fitting into mystery genre expectations, but I wanted to write the book for myself because I didn’t know what the future held. But it turned out that it was precisely because I’d followed my passion when writing The Accidental Alchemist that I accidentally created a series that both fit within the mystery genre I love and also stood out. 

12. What is one unusual way in which you promote your work?

There’s a chef character in my Accidental Alchemist Mysteries, so one thing I do for each new book is create a promotional card that has a recipe on the back.

13. What saying or mantra do you live by?

I love this Chinese proverb: The best time to plant, a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Sure, it would have been great if I’d thrown myself into my writing even earlier. But no matter when you get started, if you want to write a book, go for it.