Trained as a medical doctor, Tess Gerritsen built a second career as a thriller writer. Her 24 novels include the Rizzoli and Isles crime series, on which the TV show "Rizzoli & Isles" is based. Among her titles are The Surgeon, Ice Cold and The Silent Girl, and the upcoming Last to Die. Her books are translated into 37 languages and more than 25 million copies have been sold. She lives in Maine.
Circalit: Your new thriller, Last to Die, is coming out this August. How does it feel to be publishing your 24th novel?
Tess: I still get excited seeing my new book on the stands, even after all these years. What surprises me is how long my list of books now is. I don't feel like an old hand at this; I still feel like I'm learning the ropes and struggling with every story.
Circalit: To be a writer, you have always maintained that one needs to have “a variety of interests”. As an award-winning, best-selling author of 25 million copies in 40 different countries, what are your greatest interests?
Tess: Foreign travel. Archaeology. Food. But those are just my lifelong interests; it's also important to continually cultivate new interests, to always be curious, and to indulge in those curiosities.
Circalit: Your first taste of writing success came from submitting a winning short story to a Hawaiian fiction contest. What advice can you give to our short story writers?
Tess: Have fun with it, but do be aware that it's hard to make a living as a short story writer. If indeed you want to write as a career, you'll probably have to focus on novel writing.
Circalit:You dabbled in romance before writing medical thrillers. Did you find it hard to make this genre shift? Do you find writing in different genres makes you a better writer?
Tess: If anything, I found the shift to thrillers really easy because suddenly I could cast off the genre constraints that came with romance fiction. I could address a multitude of new topics, my characters could use more explicit language, and I could show violence on the page. But I truly value my time as a romance author because it taught me to focus on character above all -- and that's a focus you must have regardless of your genre.
Circalit: Rizolli & Isles just got renewed for a 4th season last month. How does it feel to have your own suspense novels turned into a hit US TV show? Are the characters on screen presented as you always imagined them in writing?
Tess: It's been a lot of fun watching my "girls" make it to the small screen. The TV show has deviated quite a bit from the books, primarily in Maura's character. But the show retains my books' theme of strong professional women who respect each other and rely on each other. I didn't realize how revolutionary that theme was until I realized that there've been no other female-duo TV shows since Cagney and Lacey.
Circalit: You have been publishing books since 1987, starting with Call After Midnight. How has the process changed over the past 25 years? Are you a fan of eBooks?
Tess: There've been enormous changes, and eBooks are the major difference. More than half my US sales are now in e-form, which has pretty much taken the air out of paperback reprint sales. But it means the books are always available, always "in print." It also means that marketing has changed enormously. In the old days, a big book would get print ads in the NY Times, etc; now a lot of the advertising is online.
Circalit: “Plot block” is something you admit to suffering from when writing the first draft of your novels. How do you eventually overcome this obstacle?
Tess: With a lot of whining and moping. I've discovered that driving long distances really helps me solve plot problems. It's something about getting your mind in that hypnotic state where you can make random connections and come up with a new plot twist. Last to Die caused me a great deal of angst because I'd written about 7/8 of the book and still didn't know how to tie up the story. It was only while I sat on a train in Germany, staring at the countryside, that the solution hit me. I also find that lying on the couch and staring up at the ceiling helps a lot.
Circalit: You have published different editions of your thrillers in the US and UK. What do you think about the different cover art, and sometimes even different book titles? Do you have a preference for one or the other? What are your thoughts on the difference between U.S. and U.K. readers?
Tess: I'm always surprised by how different the covers look. There are times I like the US covers better than the UK covers, and times when I prefer the UK covers. My UK covers tend to be far more visceral, which I like. But US audiences are apparently turned off by in-your-face images, so the American books are toned down a bit.
Circalit: You “feminized” your name from Terry to Tess when you first began writing romance novels back in the 80s. What was your reasoning behind that?
Tess:That's because I wanted to make it very clear that I was a woman, for my romance readership. When I moved into thrillers, I simply kept the pen name, so I could bring my romance readers along with me.
Circalit: Tell us more about your latest novel, Last to Die, which is hitting bookshelves soon?
Tess:It's about three orphans who are survivors of family massacres that took place in different cities. Now it's two years later, those orphans are now living with foster parents, and the massacres happen again. Once again, these three children survive. Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles must keep the children safe, while tracking down what ties these three children together. It takes place in the mysterious Evensong boarding school in Maine, and brings back Julian Rat Perkins, the 16-year-old boy who saved Maura's life in Ice Cold.
Circalit:Are you working on any new projects right now?
Tess: I have a new short e-story coming out July 23 called "John Doe." Maura Isles attends a cocktail party, accepts a glass of champagne from a charming man...and wakes up the next morning on her living room sofa, with no memory of what happened. The charming man, unfortunately, has turned up stabbed to death, and Maura doesn't know if she's the one who killed him.