Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Guest Interview: Tess Gerritsen



Sunday Guest Blog: An Interview with Tess Gerritsen

I met international bestseller Tess Gerritsen nearly a decade ago when I decided to teach one of her novels and invited her to speak to my students. She drove five hours, spoke to my classes, and then made a public presentation for community members all for an appearance fee that probably barely covered her gas expenses. The next morning, Tess and her husband Jacob (a doctor in his own right) came over breakfast. I remember coming down the stairs to find Tess feeding pancakes to my then 2-year-old Audrey.

For a string of four years, we signed new releases together each fall at the Borders store in Bangor, Maine. At each signing, people would walk to our table, glance at my books, and begin to move on before realizing Tess was seated beside me—then stop and gush. (One woman literally screamed.) Tess, ever engaging, would sign one of her books. But then she would make a passionate sales pitch for her fan to buy one of mine, too. Picture it: a top-five NYTIMES author hand selling one of my PGA Tour novels to her medical-thriller fans. This is who Tess Gerritsen is.

And she has been on quite a run. She has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, in more than 37 languages, and recently her series featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the current TNT television series “Rizzoli & Isles.”

I hope you find the following Q@A interesting.

TYPE M: How did you come to writing from the medical profession? Could you talk about your start?
TESS: I started off as a writer first. By age seven, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller. But the practical matter of making a living made me head off to medical school instead. It took a few years to get back to my first passion, and I was finally able to write my first book while on maternity leave from my hospital work. I think truly passionate writers will manage to find a way to write – no matter what.

TYPE M: Could you talk about the details of your writing process?
TESS: Story ideas come from all sorts of sources. I find it absolutely necessary to read lots and lots of newspapers and magazines. Sometimes that germ of an idea will be found in a true-crime story, or something I encounter in the National Enquirer. The idea must evoke a strong emotion in me – fear, anger, fascination – or it just won’t make me want to write the book. From there I start to sketch out a bit of plot, and I do it all in longhand for the first draft. I don’t feel I need to have the plot 100% figured out before I start writing. In fact, sometimes I’ll know only about a third of the story. All I need is a good starting-off crisis and I begin to write, feeling my way through the plot as I go. After the first draft, I’ll type it into the computer and print it out. But all the subsequent drafts still end up getting worked out on paper.

As for where I write, I find it easiest just to do it at my desk at home. But early on, before I had a home office, I would write in the kitchen, at my kids’ swimming practice, anywhere I could be left alone.

TYPE M: You have shifted from stand-alones to a series. Why the change? Do you prefer one over the other?
TESS: It wasn’t at all planned out. I had written a book called THE SURGEON, and one of the characters was a homicide detective named Jane Rizzoli. She was just a minor character, but she stood out so vividly for me that I wanted to know more about her. So I wrote another book about her, THE APPRENTICE. Without ever intending to, I ended up with a crime series that features not just Jane but also a medical examiner, Maura Isles. Over the course of the series, these two women have become friends as they work together to solve crimes. As for which I prefer, series or stand-alones, there are advantages to both. With the series, it’s very nice to know these people and to follow the ups and downs of their lives, which I now know intimately. But I do long for a bit of variety every so often, which a stand-alone provides. I’m hoping I’ll be able to return to those ever so often.

TYPE M: How did the TV series come to be? What is your role in the TV series, if any? Has it impacted sales? Do you like the casting?
TESS: A producer named Bill Haber optioned the characters a few years ago. When he called me, he said that he was bound and determined to make this TV show happen. Naturally I didn’t believe him, because things in Hollywood so seldom come to fruition. But over the months, Bill kept calling to let me know his progress. Even after the option expired, he was still passionate about the characters and renewed the contract. He hired a screenwriter named Janet Tamaro, who wrote a terrific pilot script. TNT was very enthusiastic, and suddenly it all came together. The speed astonished me – when it happens, it happens fast! I have no role in the TV show, except as a “consultant,” but Janet is really the one in charge now as executive producer. I’m not sure if it’s impacted sales, although I do hear from readers who tell me they didn’t even know about the books until they saw the TV show. “Rizzoli & Isles” has been a huge hit for TNT, and I have to give credit to Janet as well as to the two terrific actors, Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander, who bring incredible charisma to their parts.

TYPE M: What were your early influences? What are they now? Authors?
TESS: As a kid, I was a huge fan of the Nancy Drew mystery series. As I got older, I moved on to Tolkien, Arthur Clark, and Isaac Asimov. So I guess you could say that I was a big SF, fantasy, and mystery fan. Nowadays, I’m a fan of anything that’s well-written, whatever the genre. And I’m always on the lookout for great debut authors, which means I try to pick up a lot of unfamiliar names. But on vacation, when I’m sitting on the beach and just want to fall deeply into a book, I’ll go for historical novels – Philippa Gregory, for instance.

TYPE M: Where do you see publishing headed? E-books? Do you own an electronic reading device?
TESS: E-books are definitely on the rise. I own a Kindle, and while I love taking it on vacation, I don’t use it much at home if I can read a real book instead. But I do see a huge upsurge in e-book sales of my own books. I predict that within a year or two, e-books will comprise 50% of sales of bestselling new releases.

TYPE M: Any advice for new writers?
TESS: Read a LOT. See what other writers have done. And when you do sit down to write, give yourself permission to write badly for your first draft. Just get the plot down until you know what the book is about. It’s during the second draft and beyond where you’ll have to hone your words and make it perfect. But that first draft? That’s meant to be playtime.

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3 comments:

Kate said...

Great interview! Two years ago my book club picked The Surgeon for our book of the month, and since then I've read the entire Rizzoli and Isles series, and am working now on the standalone novels. Tess Gerritsen's wonderful books led me to start reading mysteries again (previously Mary Higgins Clark was about as mystery fiction as I got), and I've discovered so many good authors and series. Thank you!

Donis Casey said...

Wonderful post, from a wonderful author. Like you, Tess, I find that the newspaper is an invaluable source of ideas, even for someone like me who writes a series set a hundred years in the past. Human nature doesn't change, it seems.

Anonymous said...

Love the interview! I found your books, Tess, when someone told me that the subject of one of my manuscripts is similar to the subjects you write about. That's when I bought Harvest, and I've read every one of your books since.

Thank you!
Debbie Piccurelli