She is the international bestselling author of the Rizzoli and Isles series, now a hit TNT series, and is likewise a former M.D. Tess took an unusual route to a writing career: she is a graduate of Stanford University and went to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. She began to write fiction while on maternity leave and published her first book in 1987. After eight romantic-suspense novels, she wrote a screenplay, Adrift, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week.
When I field questions from readers, I find many of them are fixated on the writing process: “Where and what time of day do you write? Do you outline? Do you use a computer?” But frankly, I find discussions of process uninteresting. When I talk with other writers, what I always want to know is: “Where did you get the idea for that story?” When I’m asked that question, my answer is very often: “While traveling.”
It needn’t be an exotic destination; simply getting stuck in an airport or on a train often leads me to story revelations. I’m forced to sit and daydream. I’ll spot a girl in a leopard coat or a man in a cowboy hat, and suddenly I’m imagining them in a story. I find that when I’m stressed or tired, I’m especially open to inspiration. One very late night, while sitting in the back seat of a cab on the way to my hotel, I had a chilling thought: All I can see of the driver is the back of his head. Who is he, really? What if he’s an impostor? That scary thought inspired my book The Apprentice.
A few years ago, while on safari in South Africa, my husband and I had a frightening moment. Our group of tourists had stopped to watch the sunset and we were all out of the truck, standing with cocktails in hand, when a leopard walked out of the bush and headed straight toward us. Our guide immediately reacted by using his body as a shield. The leopard chose not to attack and slunk back into the bush. That guide kept us safe and alive, but I couldn’t help thinking: What if you place your faith in the wrong man? What if the most dangerous creature in the African bush walks on two legs? A moment of fear in a strange place was all it took to come up with my story Die Again, about a group of tourists who go on safari in Botswana – and vanish into the bush, never again to be seen.
My upcoming book Playing with Fire is another story that sprang from foreign travel. While in Venice, I had a bizarre nightmare. I dreamt I was playing my violin, and beside me sat a baby who was suddenly transformed by the music into a monster. I had no idea where that dream came from, but I became obsessed by the idea of music having the power to channel evil. But what nature of evil? That same day, I wandered into the old Jewish quarter, and the entire story bloomed in my head. It would never have come to me if I hadn’t been standing in that square in Venice.
Writers are supposed to have boundless imaginations, but sitting at a desk day after day can drain the creative well. We also need to be travelers and observers. We need to leave behind what’s comfortable and familiar and look around the bend. As Bilbo Baggins says, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door… there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Or what stories you’ll stumble into.