Tess Gerritsen published her first novel in 1987 titled Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller. Since then, she has published over 40 books, been published in 40 countries and has sold more than 30 million copies around the globe.
Tess wrote a series of novels, starting with the Surgeon, about a homicide detective in Boston named Jane Rizzoli and her friend, medical examiner Maura Isles. This series of novels inspired the hit TNT show Rizzoli and Isles, which just completed its sixth season.
(Danniel Slade) Tess, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Please start off by telling our audience about yourself?
(Tess Gerritsen) Although I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old, my first career was in medicine. I worked for about 5 years as a medical doctor. When I was at home on maternity leave with my two sons, I wrote my first novel. A few years later I’d sold it (a romantic thriller). By the time I sold my third novel, I decided to leave medicine and devote myself full-time to writing. I’ve never looked back.
(DS) How has the television show success changed how she writes the characters since they are so different to the characters in the book?
(TG) The TV show hasn’t changed the way I write my characters. In the books, they’re the same as they’ve always been. Many of my readers will never watch the TV show, and I wanted to keep the universe I’d created consistent for them.
(DS) Which character in the books is your favorite? Or which character do you most identify with?
(TG) I most identify with Maura Isles. She’s the closest to my own personality — quiet, logical, and a believer in science.
(DS) Do you have a favorite author in the crime mystery genre?
(TG) That’s a tough one to answer because there are so many fine writers. I’m a fan of two Lisas: Lisa Gardner and Lisa Unger.
(DS) If you could write for another genre, which would you write for?
(TG) Historical. In fact, I’ve dipped my toe in the genre with two of my novels: BONE GARDEN and PLAYING WITH FIRE. Both books delve into history.
(DS) What gave you the idea to have two female leads for your stories?
(TG) It evolved organically. My book THE SURGEON introduced Det. Jane Rizzoli, who was merely a secondary character in the story. But as the book progressed, she seemed to be such a dominating force, she took over the story. By the end of the book, I knew I wanted to write a story with Jane as main character, so I wrote THE APPRENTICE. That’s where I introduced a minor character, Medical Examiner Maura Isles. She was so mysterious and secretive that I wanted to write a book focusing on Maura, so I wrote THE SINNER. Suddenly, I had a series, with two women — something I’d never planned to do. It just happened!
(DS) Being a physician, what inspired you to start writing novels?
(TG) When I was a kid, I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series, featuring a gutsy girl detective. I suppose Nancy was my inspiration to tell stories of my own, and I had always planned to write, but assumed it would be as a hobby. I didn’t think I’d ever be as successful as I’ve been at actually selling my stories.
(DS) With Jane Rizzoli starting off as a secondary character in The Surgeon, then becoming the lead, did you connect with her more when writing?
(TG) Jane is so different from me, with her drive and her aggressiveness, but she and I have one thing in common: we’re both outsiders, fighting for respect. I’m Asian American, and I’ve never felt as if I fit in, so I deeply identify with Jane in that regard. That’s the one aspect of her that makes me connect with her.
(DS) We know the mystery and crime aspects of your books are inspired by your job but where do you get inspiration for the personal sides of the characters?
(TG) For Maura, I draw a great deal from my own life, from where she went to school to which wine she drinks. We even drive the same car. Jane was inspired by some of the female cops I’ve met, women who do what it takes to get the job done. But sometimes, characters just come to life on their own, and I can’t explain it.
(DS) You grew up and went to school in California, what made you decide to set the Rizzoli and Isles books in Boston?
(TG) I’ve lived in Maine for the past 25 years, and Boston is the nearest big city to me. It’s a fascinating town steeped in history and academics, and a center for medical research, so it feels like just the right place to set medical-type stories.
(DS) Is there anything coming out that we should be watching out for?
(TG) I’m finishing up my 12th Rizzoli & Isles book, STRANGE GIRL. It should be out in 2017.
(DS) Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Please let our audience know how to find out more about you.
(TG) My website is: tessgerritsen.com. I’m on Facebook and Twitter (@tessgerritsen)