Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tess Gerritsen at The Poisoned Pen

Unfortunately, my picture of Tess Gerritsen at the Poisoned Pen didn't turn out, so the picture is an internet image. There was a full house for Tess' appearance, so the only introduction needed was that she was the author of the new novel, Ice Cold, the latest Rizzoli and Isles book, and the books are now the basis for a TNT series.

Gerritsen reminded us that Ice Cold is the eighth book in the Jane and Maura series. As usual for Gerritsen's books, there is a true story behind it. She gets most of her ideas from stories in newspapers or the news. So, one of the major incidents in the book is based on an actual event.

In March 1968, a man working in his yard had an earache, and went into the house to lie down. When he got up, he went back outside, and there were dead birds all over his yard, and a dying rabbit. Then, farmers started reporting dead sheep, and by the time it was over, 6,000 sheep had died. No one claimed responsibility for the incident that became known as the Dugway (Utah) Incident. After thirty years, material was declassified by the federal government. And, that's all Tess would
say about the incident connected to Ice Cold.

Gerritsen has a medical background, so she was asked how she went from medicine to a career as a bestselling author. She said she actually started as a writer at the age of seven. That seems to be the universal age for writers to identify themselves as storytellers. But, she came from a Chinese-American family. Those families tend to be conservative and risk adverse. Her father said she'd never make a living as an author, and he wanted her to go into another field. So, she went into medicine, but stopped practicing when her kids were born. She started writing then, and never went back to medicine. She gets ideas by paying attention to shocking news that creeps her out. She's always curious about the world.

Tess Gerritsen had a great story as to how she started writing her series with Rizzoli & Isles. She had been writing standalones. But, she was on tour for the book, Gravity, a book about the space program. It's a book men like, but women aren't fond of. At one book signing, a woman stood up, and said, "I'm not interested in space. I want you to write about something I'm interested in." So, Tess asked the woman what she'd like to read about, and the woman answered, "Serial killers and twisted sex." Then, Tess asked this normal looking woman what she did, and the woman said she taught third grade. Tess was surprised to find that women want to read serial killer books, and they want women as victims. It reminds her of children who like scary books. Both women and children are in groups that are potentially vulnerable, and they like to read books that scare them.

So Gerritsen's novel, The Surgeon, had a serial killer in it. It featured a woman named Dr. Catherine Cordell. And, this character, Jane Rizzoli, had a small part in it. She was supposed to be an unlikable character, who didn't like her brothers, and had a chip on her shoulder. And, Tess planned to kill her by the end of the story. But, she learned to like her, and identify with her. Jane was an outsider, and, as the only Chinese girl in her elementary school, Tess knew what it was like to be an outsider. So, she let her live.

Maura Isles came about from a character auction. There is a real Dr. Maura Isles somewhere in the country. A man won the auction, and wanted the character named after his friend, Dr. Maura Isles. Tess identified with her. She is a character whose science gets in the way of her friendships.

How did the TV show come about? Three years ago, Gerritsen received a cold call from a producer who had optioned the rights for a series based on the characters. He said he just loved Tess' girls, and he wanted them to be on TV. But, that happens all the time, and the options run out without a show being made. His option ran out, but he renewed it. Then, he hired Janet Tamaro as the writer. Tamaro had been a crime reporter for the Washington Post, and she wrote the pilot. Then, it was cast contingent meaning it would be make into a film if they could get a big enough star to say yes. Once Angie Harmon said yes, it was a go. Then Sasha Alexander signed on for Isles. When Gerritsen watched the filming, she finally believed it would happen. They filmed the pilot in suburban LA, a stand-in for suburban Boston. But, it was supposed to be fall in Boston, and it was summer. So, they had to film around the palm trees in LA. Tess said she's a gardener, and there were beautiful roses in bloom in front of the house, that were cut down. Then, when the episode came out, it was a night shot so you never saw where the roses had been. She felt really bad, until she learned the man who rented his house received $35,000 a day for renting it, and, in California, if you rent your house to the film industry, it's tax free.

Gerritsen said she saw the opening scene with a man in his underwear, taped to a chair, who was killed, and later she saw him walking around. It was strange to see "dead people" walking around the set. There were 75 people working the episode she saw filmed, and it went so smoothly, in and out, that she commented on it. The response was, yes, the next time the U.S. decides to invade a foreign country, they should use Hollywood because they know how to get in and out efficiently.

Gerritsen is working on the ninth Rizzoli and Isles novel, set in Boston's Chinatown. It involves the legends her mother used to tell her about the Monkey King, who is supposed to have supernatural powers. Someone seems to have been killed by a monkey.

But, the writing is going slowly because she's been involved in publicity tours, first for the TV show, and then for the book. She's been on the road, because the stars were filming the show, so she was the designated celebrity for TNT. Then, she did her book tour for Ice Cold, and then she does her English book tour.

The first question Tess took from the audience involved the start of her career, writing as a romance writer. Why did she switch? She said she wrote nine romantic suspense books, eight for Harlequin Intrigue. A number of female authors got their start writing for Harlequin. And, she wrote romances because that's what she liked to read as a medical resident. She didn't want to read anything upsetting after a long day. Romances were what she enjoyed.

But, when she wrote her first romantic suspense novel, Call After Midnight, her editor told her she had thirteen dead bodies in the book, a record for them. With Harvest, she switched to medical thrillers. Gerritsen admitted she has an unplanned career. She writes the book she wants to write.

Asked if she had any control over the casting of the TV show, she said she had no control over the casting, or the show itself. She said the writer, Janet Tamaro, did call with a question about the third episode. She couldn't figure out a cause of death that would be so mysterious that Maura couldn't figure it out until Jane sees something in the suspect's house that gives her a clue. Gerritsen said she likes the show because it's female driven. She's the original author; the writer is a female, and it has two female leads.

Tess Gerritsen's goal is to get four pages a day written, if she can. She writes fairly complicated plots, sometimes three books in one. So, she'll often write one of those plots all the way through, and go back to the next one. For instance, the current book has a subplot about a polygamist cult. She writes the prologue at the end when she knows how the story worked out, and knows where to start it.

Asked about the television show, Gerritsen said they're writing their own episodes in their own universe. Jane won't get married on TV, so men can move in out and out her life. In the books, Jane marries in book three.

One man mentioned that Kathy Reichs had said once the TV show, Bones, came out, her publisher wanted her to put "Bones" in all of the titles. Was Tess feeling that kind of pressure. She said, no, but that earlier books in the series had been repackaged to mention the Rizzoli & Isles TV series.

Gerritsen said almost eight million people watched the show the first night, the most ever for a cable TV show's debut. Even so, lots of people are not connecting the books and TV, even at bookstores, so they have a lot of work to do to make the connection.

When asked why Boston as a setting, Gerritsen said she lives in Maine, and the state doesn't have a large enough crime rate. So, she picked the nearest city with a large police department that might deal with serial killers. Plus, she lives close enough to drive there and do research.

Was it strange to have someone else writing about her characters. Tess said no, because she knows the writer, and Janet Tamaro is just like Jane Rizzoli. She Italian, has had to fight to be where she is, and has a chip on her shoulder. Janet said she's a successful TV writer, but she still gets questions from the guard at Paramount as to whether she should be allowed to park in there.

Gerritsen laughed when Hollywood access was mentioned. She said she flew out to LA on a junket. TNT flew Gerritsen, along with 21 radio hosts, and their wives, put everyone up at the Four Seasons, and wined and dined them. There's quite a contrast between TV and traveling on the publisher's tour. The entire time she toured for the TV show, she flew first class, and, if there was a Four Seasons in town, they put her up there. Now that she's touring for the publisher, she's traveling in the back of the plane again.

I told her a friend in Texas wanted to know if the scene in Ice Cold in which a special school is discussed was intended to indicate a spin-off, or a potential YA series. She smiled as she answered, and said she would like to write a YA series, but her publisher has been discouraging her. She'd like to do a YA series involving Evensong School. She loves the idea of that story. In The Mephisto Club, there is a conspiracy theory involving Nephilim, and some people believe in fallen angels. The Head of the Mephisto Club opposes them. Evensong School was created for the children of Mephisto Society members who have been killed.

Asked again about the women who play Rizzoli and Isles, Tess said Jane Rizzoli is supposed to be homely, but no matter what they do, they'll never make Angie Harmon look homely. It's an ever bigger leap to see Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles, though. But, there had to be an increased contrast between the two women for TV. Angie Harmon has the perfect personality for the show, but it's early in the series, so the women are still feeling their way through the roles.

Rizzoli & Isles had the highest ratings on cable TV in the cable history for a debut show. It only dropped 4% in the second week, and it outperformed The Closer, which is unheard of. There are only ten episodes for the season, and then it will be rerun. Both stars are mothers, and that was the lure of a cable show, the shorter season.

What was Gerritsen's medical speciality? She was in internal medicine. Gerritsen said she left because she couldn't find child care. Her husband is also a doctor, and they'd get called to the hospital in the middle of the night, and they'd have to take a baby with them, and turn him over to a nurse, and ask her to take care of him. Gerritsen's husband just retired.

One of the last questions was about Gerritsen's father, and if he was proud of her as an author, since he wanted her to be a doctor. She said he was proud of her as a doctor, but he developed Alzheimer's, and never knew her as a an author. She said it's not uncommon in Asian American families for children to go into careers based on their parents' wishes. She gets so much email from other Asian Americans saying they're miserable every day for not following their own decisions, and they're glad she bucked the trend. One of the saddest was from an engineer who said he became an engineer because his father wanted him to be one, and he'd never get the chance to follow his own dream. He always wanted to be a fashion designer. There are lots of unhappy engineers out there.

Why Maine? They had lived in Honolulu for a number of years, but as a California girl, Tess was never happy on an island. So, they ended up in Camden, Maine after a vacation there. It's a tourist town on the water, and it's paradise in the summer. There are only 5,000 people, but three bookstores.

After the fascinating program, Tess Gerritsen signed books, and I had the chance to thank her for her guest blog about public libraries, saying I'd heard from a number of librarians who were so appreciative of her sentiments.

Tess Gerritsen's website is

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen. Ballantine Books, ©2010. ISBN 9780345515483 (hardcover), 314p.


Kay said...

Wow, that sounds like a fun event, Lesa. I'm glad that you were able to go. And thanks for the answer to the question. LOL

You know, I really enjoyed GRAVITY and I it was about a woman astronaut who is also a doctor. People go into space and bring something back. I thought it was good fun.

I hope she is able to eventually convince her publisher to let her write the YA series. I think that one sounds promising as well.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like she always meant to be an author.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Love a good serial killer ;-j

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Kay. You had a good question! I hope she can convince the publisher to let her do the YA series, too. Sounds like a series that could go over well. And, rumor has it that angels are the new vampires, so she needs to capitalize on it now.

Well, then there's one woman who liked Gravity!

Lesa said...


I think she was meant to be an author, too. At least she got to do it. It's sad that so many Asian Americans are pushed into careers by their parents.

Lesa said...

More than me, Charmaine! I'll settle for an old-fashioned mystery most of the time.

Cleo Coyle said...

Wonderful recap, Lesa, thank you. I so admire the very talented Ms. G. The ratings on R&I sound fantastic, too, which is great news. :)

Lesa said...

It is great news for those of us who enjoy the show, Cleo! Thank you, and thank you for the comments and link to my blog this week!

kathy d. said...

Thank you for a terrific write-up of the author's remarks. I felt like I was there.

Unfortunately, I got so scared that for three nights I wouldn't take out the garbage (and the compacter is right next to my apartment) after I read one of Gerritsen's books.

It was a riveting book. I couldn't put it down and stayed up all night reading. She really can write a page-turner.

I recommend her books to friends who like serial killers and women in horrible peril. She's a fine writer.

Lesa said...


I have a staff member who wants to know which one of those books it was. She wants to read it.

kathy d. said...

"The Surgeon," the one mentioned in the post. Between the thoughts of the psychopath and the terror to the woman doctor, it hit my limits.

How interesting that this intrigued your staff member.

I am always amazed at the gamut of taste that exists in mystery fiction, especially among women readers.

Some of my women friends skipped the violence in the Stieg Larsson books. (I did that sometimes.) Some won't read books with violence. (My mother wouldn't; she said any mystery is about a murder and she wouldn't go there, thought that was already too much violence.)(Even my uncle who was just 90 persists in saying not to give him any books with serial killers or a lot of violence, just detective work, "whodunnits," the puzzle.")

A woman I heard recently in a mystery bookstore wanted recommendations, but "nothing with a serial killer or opening chapter from a psychopath's viewpoint."

Other friends will read books with violence but can't see movies that contain it.

And yet I have a friend like your staff member. When I mentioned this book at a restaurant and how I couldn't take out the garbage for three nights, she said immediately, "send me the author's name and book title," which I did, of course, always want to help readers.

There is no telling for taste in reading but it sure is interesting! And I can rarely guess who likes what!

Lesa said...

I'm actually with your uncle, kathy. My favorites are detective novels, rather than thrillers. I'm not one of the women that actually like women or children as the victims. (Tess' comment doesn't fit my taste.) But, I'm going to pass it on to my co-worker that the book was The Surgeon. She wanted to know. Thanks!

karenk said...

a fabulous interview/posting lesa...thank you for sharing :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

kathy d. said...

Yes. I agree with you, Lesa, and my uncle, too. In fact, the mystery-reading side of my family--my dad's liked puzzles and my uncle and dad liked lock-room mysteries, such as by John Dickson Carr. Others, too, but these were favorites.

They got me reading Sherlock Holmes early on.

I like the whodunnit aspect of mysteries, the puzzle. And I like to follow and read about the solver--detective, police inspector, reporter, lawyer, writer, etc.--and learn what's going on from that character's point of view, not the sociopath's.

But there's no way to understand everyone's taste in reading, like music, art, etc.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Karen. And, thank you!

Lesa said...

I'm right there with you and your family, kathy. Those are my favorites. And, I loved John Dickson Carr's locked room mysteries. I also liked the Ellery Queen ones, when he'd stop right in the middle, and ask if you'd figured it out yet. Never!

kathy d. said...

Oh, my gosh, Ellery Queen. I haven't seen one of those in years but was thinking about my early years of mystery reading, when Ellery Queen books were around our house.

I'm going to have to find some John Dickson Carr books at the library and tell my sister, too, as she likes locked-room mysteries, too.

Any that you particularly suggest?

And one day I'll have to find out from a blog or conversations what draws some women readers to read about serial killers and brutal crimes against women. It's so out of my radar.

I'm reading a Michael Connelly book now. I like his writing and point of view but I still skip over some of the chapters about the possible psychopathic killer(s), even though I've found he does not use gratuitous violence.

Lesa said...


I just looked at the list of Carr's books on Stop You're Killing Me, and the books I remember best were the ones written as Carter Dickson. The Burning Court stands out, along with The Devil in Velvet. I couldn't even tell you what they were about, other than they were memorable. But, then, I read these when I was in my teens, so I don't know how they'd hold up today.

Well, let me put it this way. I can get through a book rather quickly when it's violent, because I skip those scenes. I can read a book with an appealing main character, but that doesn't mean I appreciate the violent scenes. I'm really much more a reader of traditional mysteries.

Kris said...

loved reading this one! I'm watching the show on far I love it!

Lesa said...

Kris, I really like Angie Harmon as Rizzoli, so I like the series, too.

Sandie Herron said...

Lesa, I so wish I could have been there with you, but you've recounted Tess's visit with such detail that I almost feel as if I were. Thank you.

Tess is absolutely one of my favorite authors. I read Harvest when it came out, and I've been reading her books ever since. Scary stuff. I'm already scared to take the garbage out ... maybe that's why!

kathy d. said...

Yes, scared to take out the garbage is one clue a book is scary. I've been there.

Also scared to go out at night is another one. Suspicious of noises in the hallway is another (when it's a neighbor throwing out garbage or a newspaper delivery, or my neighbor's cat saying "hi").

Lesa said...

Definitely a sign the book is scary. I agree. Mine is when the vertical blinds are blowing with the air conditioner, and I think I'm hearing things.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Sandie! Have you received Lisa Gardner's book yet? It's not the same kind of scary. Rizzoli and Isles isn't "I can't take the garbage out" scary.