This July, World of Books was lucky enough to bag an interview with international bestselling author Tess Gerritsen!
Tess was born in 1953 in San Diego, California. The mother of two sons, she currently lives in Maine with her husband.
Despite early aspirations to write, she was encouraged by her family to pursue a more stable career in medicine. Graduating from Stanford University in 1975 with a B.A. in Anthropology, Tess then went on to study at the University of California, San Francisco, finally starting work as a physician in Honolulu, in 1979. Beginning first with Romance fiction, Tess’s debut novel, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT was published in 1987. It wasn’t until 1996 that Tess’s first medical thriller, HARVEST was published. Now, five years later, Tess Gerritsen is an acclaimed international author and a much-loved household name across the world!
Thanks for agreeing to talk to us here at World of Books. With your UK tour beginning you must have a lot on your plate!
Q: So first things first, you describe yourself as “a physician as well as the New York Times bestselling author of medical thrillers”. What made you concentrate more on being an author rather than continuing in the medical profession? Do you miss it?
– I was a storyteller before I became a doctor. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was seven years old! But my very practical Chinese-American father convinced me that I’d never be able to support myself in the arts, and talked me into going to medical school instead. I worked as a doctor for about five years.
While on maternity leave with my two sons, I went back to writing in earnest. Soon I was selling short stories and non-fiction, and finally novels. That’s when I finally felt I could leave medicine and go back to my first love, which has always been storytelling.
Q: What is an average day in the life of Tess Gerritsen like?
– On a good writing day, it starts off with coffee and breakfast, and then I sit at my desk in my home office and turn out at least four first-draft pages. That’s on a good day. But life is so unpredictable, and things get in the way! Phone calls, doctor appointments, issues with my elderly mother. Plus, there’s lots of travel because of my international market. Really, it’s hard to say what a ‘typical’ day is, anymore.
Q: Your stories are mostly described by critics as “chilling”, “visceral” and “gruesome”. It seems fair to say that your work is not for the faint-hearted! Is it difficult, writing such tense storylines, to keep your personal feelings separate? Have you ever thought- “This is too dark”?
– I was raised with dark stories as entertainment. My mother is a horror film addict, so as a child, I was taken to just about every scary movie Hollywood ever made. I grew up screaming in movie theaters, and loving it. Hollywood taught me all there is to know about building suspense and conflict. When I write, I can’t help but fall back on those scary experiences in theaters, where the height of entertainment was to make an audience scream in terror. However, there are some lines I will not cross as a storyteller. For instance, I avoid hurting children. I just don’t want to go there, because as a mother, it’s a nightmare that’s too close to home. Also, I tend to avoid overt violence on the page. I prefer suspense rather than gore, those tense moments when you anticipate that something bad is going to happen. I try to draw out that sense of dread as long as I can. Once the violence actually explodes, you lose that wonderful tension.
Q: You wrote romance fiction before your crime novels – is this something you’d consider working with again? Are you tempted by any other genre?
– I never say never. I loved writing romance fiction. I also loved writing historical fiction, which I did in THE BONE GARDEN. So I might do either again, if the right story occurs to me.
Q: What is the current book on your bedside table?
– THE ECHO MAN by Richard Montanari.
Q: Now, something we’ve been desperate to ask! For all the Rizzoli & Isles fanatics out there, what do you think about the new TV series starring Angie Harmon as Detective Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Dr. Maura Isles? You once described how you see these heroines as “real people”, is it strange to see strangers attempting to bring these characters you created to life?
– It was certainly a strange experience seeing characters I dreamed up brought to life — but looking quite different from how I’d imagined them. Jane Rizzoli in the books was always something of a scruffy, ordinary creature, a gal who didn’t care much about her appearance and who went through life with a chip on her shoulder because she felt so insecure about her looks. Now she’s played by the utterly gorgeous Angie Harmon, who has the attitude exactly right, but who will never be mistaken for ordinary! Maura Isles too has had a drastic re-imagining, and played by Sasha Alexander she’s now blonde, beautiful, and not at all as dark and moody as the book Maura. I understand completely the reasons for making these changes for television — cinematically, the actors are marvelous, and the emphasis on the female friendship is exactly what works. But I have to focus on my book universe, and not stray from it, because that’s how my readers have always seen them.
Q: What can you tell us about your ‘Million for a Morgue’ campaign?
– It’s an idea dreamed up by the intrepid Val McDermid, who has long been acquainted with the Dundee institution. Some months ago, she contacted me asking if I’d be willing to join their campaign to raise money for a new morgue facility where cutting edge research could be done on post-mortem science. I joined the campaign, and now it’s a reality! A number of authors have joined forces, urging their readers to donate as little as a pound ($1.62) toward the facility. For each pound you donate, you get the chance to vote for your favorite author. The author with the most votes will have the morgue named after them. It’s a cool motive for authors to beg readers for donations!
Q: Your new book THE SILENT GIRL is released in the UK July 21st. What can we expect from our favourite female crime-busters, Rizzoli and Isles?
– Another chilling crime that’s seemingly unsolvable. When a woman is found slashed to death on a Chinatown rooftop, the only clues are strange hairs found on her clothing — hairs that belong to a monkey. Jane soon learns that the only way to solve this crime is to understand the ancient Chinese legend of the Monkey King, a mythical creature who fights for justice. When Jane catches glimpses of a monkey-like creature lurking on Chinatown rooftops, she has to wonder if what they’re dealing with is human. And Maura, of course, will always provide the voice of reason.
Q: On a personal note, you’ve also mentioned the book being about yourself, about your childhood and your “experience growing up as an Asian American”. Can you elaborate?
– I introduce three Asian characters in the story. One is Detective Johnny Tam, who works with Jane and Frost on the case. Johnny reveals the Asian-American point of view: what it’s like to be a minority, to be seen as Asian first and American second, and to live with the burden of expectations on his shoulder. Another new character is Iris Fang, a female martial arts master who may — or may not — be the secret force behind the Monkey King slayings. The character of Iris is inspired by a real woman, a martial arts teacher in Boston named Bow Sim Mark, who is considered one of the best swordswomen in the world. So even though a Chinese woman warrior may seem like pure fiction, she’s actually based in reality.
Q: Lastly, here at World of Books we are dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. By sourcing a large amount of our books from charities, we are also able to support their cause, often sending books out to developing countries and recently to UK based Army barracks. Any book we can’t sell, we recycle; last year alone we saved 12,500 metric tonnes of waste from going to landfill sites. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– I think books deserve to be loved by multiple owners. So this seems like a wonderful way to keep them in homes where they’ll be cherished for generations.
Check out Tess’s new book THE SILENT GIRL, hitting British bookshops July 21s 2011!
You can see all of World of Books Tess Gerritsen Books, and the interview, here.