ON THE COUCH ... Tess GERRITSEN
MEET DR TESS GERRITSEN,
THE CRIME NOVELIST
Literary journalist TAN MAY LEE speaks with the New York Times best-selling author of thrilling page-turners
TESS GERRITSEN was a successful Maine physician before giving it up to raise her children and concentrate on writing romantic and crime thrillers. She brings to her novels her first-hand knowledge of emergency and autopsy rooms. But her interests span far more than medical topics. As an anthropology student at Stanford University, she catalogued centuries-old human remains, and continues to travel the world, driven by her fascination with ancient cultures and bizarre natural phenomena. She has since entertained her readers with her Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr Maura Isles series and 20 novels, winning the Rita Award (for The Surgeon) and Nero Wolfe Award (for Vanish) as well as making it to the New York Times’ best-seller list!
Gerritsen published her first historical thriller, The Bone Garden, in 2007, a story about a serial killer loose on the streets of Boston in the 1830s. She was busy promoting her new book in the United Kingdom when TAN MAY LEE of Quill magazine contacted her to find out more about her impressive writing career which she now does full-time.
Tell us about yourself and your heritage.
My mother is a Chinese immigrant, and my father (now deceased) was a second-generation Chinese American. I grew up in California, in a neighbourhood that was largely Caucasian, so I always felt very conspicuous. It was uncomfortable being the only Asian in my elementary school class, and I think that feeling of discomfort is still with me today, a feeling that I’ll never really “fit in” with any group. But it made me work harder, because I believed that if I could just be successful, maybe I’d be accepted some day. I think that reflects the experience of many Asian Americans—that they have to work harder than others to be accepted.
How do you feel about the mixed responses to The Bone Garden?
For the most part, the responses have been good. There’ve been some readers who simply don’t like historical novels. But those who do have been wildly enthusiastic, and I’ve never received such terrific fan mail for any of my other books. The important thing is that I myself believe this is my best book. I know it’s the most ambitious book I’ve ever done, and I felt I had no choice but to write it.
When you approach a writing project, do you look at the overall storyline, or do you focus on details?
I plunge into the writing process knowing how the story starts, but not knowing where it will end. I just let it take me where it will. The details develop along with the story. Every single sentence requires detail work. Writing, for me anyway, is a difficult process and I don’t approach it casually. I take it very seriously.
What kept you going with the eight romance novels? Did you have the confidence that you would one day hit the best-seller charts?
I wrote the romances because I enjoyed reading the genre. There’s no other way to write a convincing romance—you have to actually love the storylines. So I wrote those for love, without having any idea that I’d one day hit the best-seller charts. I just wanted to tell the stories.
Why do you write?
Because I have stories that I want to share, stories that I’m excited about. Stories that are only half-formed in my head, and I’m anxious to find out how they turn out. Writing is discovery for me. I meet new characters, and I want to know what happens to them.
Can you imagine yourself writing in a different genre?
I can imagine myself writing in any genre that interests me. I’ve written romance, thrillers, science fiction, and now a historical. I don’t see why any writer should be limited to a single genre.
What are your thoughts on writing books—to entertain, to inspire, or to provoke people?
My primary goal is to entertain. My secondary goal is to enlighten.
Do you have a muse?
No muse. Only hard-headed determination.
How much deeper can you go with a character like Boston detective Maura Isles and medical examiner Jane Rizzoli?
I don’t know. I’ll have to see.
You more or less produce a book every year and already have so much to write. How come you keep a blog as well?
Writing books is damn hard work, and it gives me gray hairs. In addition, I blog because sometimes I get frustrated or feel a need to vent, and the blog satisfies that need.
The book industry is finding it more difficult to get people to cultivate a reading habit. How would you encourage people, especially younger people, to read?
I’d tell them to read what they want to read. To not feel “forced” to only read what people tell you is good for you. Sometime during their school years, unfortunately, many young people seem to forget what it’s like to read for pleasure. We’re told that we must read the classics, or the prize-winners, or the worthy books, when many of us just want entertainment. It’s all right to read for entertainment! And once you’ve established a reading habit, you just might expand your reading to other books, more difficult books. The important thing is to get kids reading anything, and hope that the habit sticks with them into adulthood.
Look out for Tess Gerritsen’s new thriller, Keeping the Dead (U.K.) or The Keepsake (U.S.), in January 2009
Reproduced from the April-June 2008 issue of Quill magazine
Labels: Tess Gerritsen