Tess Gerritsen is the author of 9 romantic suspense novels, 4 medical thrillers and 5 suspense novels in her current Jane Rizzoli (cop) and Maura Isles (medical examiner) series.
Book 6 in the Rizzoli/Isles series, The Mephisto Club, is due out in September. I recently asked Gerritsen to chat with me about her career and the new book, and she graciously agreed.
Wendy: Most writers have a rich job history, and at one point you were a practicing physician. What led you to write fiction? And when did you make the conscious decision to “quit your day job?”
Tess Gerritsen: Even though I went to medical school, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. I wrote my first book when I was seven years old. Through medical school and residency, I continued to write short stories and dream up plots, and always expected that one day, I would write a novel. I just didn’t realize I could make a career of it.The reason I finally quit my day job was purely practical. I had two young sons and I found that motherhood and doctoring was a difficult combination, especially since my husband’s also a doc. There were nights when we’d both be called into the hospital, and would have to haul our sleeping toddlers along with us. That was no fun. Plus, since our kids were in day care, they were getting frequent colds, which meant that either I or my husband would have to cancel our patient appointments for the day and stay home with them. So I decided to leave medicine and stay home with the kids for a few years.
That’s how I finally wrote the novel I’d been dreaming about. That’s when my new career as a writer was born.
Wendy: I think many people are surprised when they learn your writing career began in romance. You published several books for Harlequin early in your career (and better still, aren’t “ashamed” of them). What do you enjoy about the romance genre, and what led you to write in it?
TG: I loved reading romance, so it was natural that when I wrote my first novel, it’d have strong romance elements in it. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT (my first book published by Harlequin Intrigue) was also a thriller, so already I was leaning toward suspense as well. I love the romance genre simply because it’s so focused on emotions and characters, the very elements that make any book especially compelling. I think learning to write romance first has enriched my thriller writing.
Wendy: Harvest was the book that really launched your career. Was writing in a different genre (in this case, medical thriller) a conscious decision or did it just sort of happen?
TG: HARVEST came about because the premise practically landed in my lap. I’d heard rumors of orphans kidnapped in Moscow, and sent abroad as organ donors. I was so gripped by the idea that I wanted to turn it into a novel. But I knew it would be a novel unlike any I’d written before. This one was going to include strong medical elements that very few non-physicians can write about with any accuracy. It was going to show the operating room and the autopsy room and reveal what it’s like to watch transplant surgery. I didn’t think of it as launching a new career for me — rather, it was just a story I wanted to write. As it turned out, it was also a very commercial idea, and my being a physician was what gave it a special value.
Wendy: Your first few suspense novels were stand-alone books, then The Surgeon launched your current series that follows detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. When you were writing The Surgeon did you know it was going to be a series, and how did that decision come about?
TG: I had no idea THE SURGEON was the start of a series. In fact, I had another completely different book planned out after I finished writing THE SURGEON. But the villain (who survived THE SURGEON) kept talking to me, telling me his story wasn’t finished yet. And I wanted to write more about Jane Rizzoli, who actually started as a doomed character who was supposed to die, but didn’t. I suggested to my editor that there be a sequel, and she was enthusiastic about it.
That’s why I wrote THE APPRENTICE. And suddenly I had a series, because readers kept asking for more stories about Jane.
Wendy: I feel that the large appeal in mystery series is that readers can watch the same character(s) change and grow over the course of many novels. That has certainly been the case with Rizzoli! What do you think it is about her that appeals to so many readers?
TG: She’s a survivor. She’s not particularly attractive or likable, and in fact, she was never meant to be a continuing character. She was supposed to die in THE SURGEON! But there’s something about an ugly duckling that appeals to us, and Jane is certainly an ugly duckling.
Wendy: Tell us a little bit about your new book, The Mephisto Club, due out in September 2006.
TG: It’s the sixth in the Jane Rizzoli series. Jane (and medical examiner Maura Isles) walk into a murder scene where ancient symbols and Latin words are scrawled on the walls. Before long, they’re chasing down legends of Nephilim — an ancient race of fallen angels, whom some people believe are still living among us as killers. I’ve always been interested in mythology and biblical history, and this allowed me to explore the history of Satan and evil.
Wendy: And finally, the ultimate librarian question, what does a Big Time NY Times Bestselling Author like to read?
TG: I love to read history! Anything to do with Egypt and archaeology.
Thanks so much Tess for taking the time to chat with us.
Reader Advisory Notes: Gerritsen’s suspense novels (especially the Rizzoli/Isles series) are not for the faint of heart. The violence level is on par with other big name suspense writers (think Patricia Cornwell), and Gerritsen writes some particularly nasty villains. My experience with this author’s work (the Rizzoli/Isles series) has taught me that she writes her suspense lean. There’s not a lot of extraneous “stuff” mucking up the works, and there is nothing to distract (or bore) the reader from the main plot point at hand. That said, she allows time to delve into her characters a bit more than your run-of-the-mill potboiler. In particular, Jane Rizzoli has truly grown over the course of the series.
You can learn more about Gerritsen’s books, read her blog, and check out some creepy biological facts at her website.Note From Wendy: This interview originally ran on my work blog - which is "in-house" and cannot be viewed by the public. I thought it was of interest to the greater blogosphere though, and decided to re-run it here for that reason.