Interview with Tess Gerritsen
Literatopia: Hello Tess! Why and when did you start writing? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Tess Gerritsen: I wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old. But my father thought, it was not a way to make a living. So he told me to go to medicine instead and that´s how I became a doctor. But after a few years being a doctor, I wanted to go back to what my first love was, which was writing. And I wrote my first book when my child was born and i was on leave on a hospital.
Literatopia: So medicine was not your first choice.
Tess Gerritsen: No, I always wanted to be a writer.
Literatopia: Are there any authors that were important for your writing style?
Tess Gerritsen: Oh, I´m not sure. I read a lot as a child. I read a lot of mysterys, I read a lot of science fiction, so I think that everything you read, you know, is just an influence on your future writing. So I read. More recently I think I´ve been reading a lot of Stephen King. I think he really develops characters very well.
And when I was younger I read this Mysteries Series called the Nancy Drew series. Do you have that in Germany?
Literatopia: No, not really
Tess Gerritsen: It´s about a girl detective, And when I was a really little girl, she was a role-model. Everyone, all the girls, wanted to be Nancy Drew. She was smart, she solved crimes and she helped the police and she also had a boy-friend and she drove her own car. Her father let her stay out late at night. She was every girl wanted to be.
Literatopia: Was your working life an inspiration for your writing?
Tess Gerritsen: It more informs the work. When I started writing I didn´t do medical novels, I did romantic suspense novels. Harvest was my very first medical thriller and I couldn´t have written that, if I was not a doctor. So being a Doctor helps me describe all these medical scenes, it helps me understand how doctors think, that´s really, I think, what it´s done for me, that´s help me understand who Maura Isles is.
Literatopia: Did you ever used situations from your working life?
Tess Gerritsen: I do. I mean, I remember some of my medical cases get woven into the storys. My memorys. What it´s like to, you know, have a dying patient or what you do as a doctor in an emergency room. So a lot of my experiences end up in the books, but not the plots. We never had any murders in hospital. (laughing)
Literatopia: How many time do you spend on research?
Tess Gerritsen: It depends on the book. Like, you know, with Playing with fire, that took a lot of research, because it was about something I didn´t know anything about. Italy and fascism, that was a new subject for me and a book like, you know, most of my crime novels only take a couple of weeks of research. The medical thrillers don´t take that much of research, but if I do a book that is very different like Gravity, that took me two years to write and research that book.
Literatopia: Do you have any help for research?
Tess Gerritsen: No, no. I call people. I Mean, I want to talk to the people themselves, but I get a lot of ideas just from the research, so I need to do it myself.
Literatopia: What makes a good story?
Tess Gerritsen: For me a good story is: things feel unbalanced. Something feels wrong. Every single chapter I write, I want the reader to feel like something's wrong, but you don´t always know why. And with things aren´t right you want to find the reason for. Maybe it´s a murderer maybe somebody has gone missing, but it´s something that makes you feel uncomfortable and I think storys are all about that tension finally going away. So the end of a good story is, you finally make the bad thing going away.
Literatopia: What is more important the characters or the plot?
Tess Gerritsen: They both are. I don´t know how you want to do the one without the other.
Literatopia: Sometimes you read a book that´s very character driven and sometimes you have just a plot and the characters are not well developed.
Tess Gerritsen: Yeah, you need both. You have to have both, otherwise if it´s all plot you don´t care about who these people are and if it´s all character sometimes they don´t do anything interesting. You have to have people you care about. They have to be involved in a good story.
Literatopia: For Playing with fire you composed music. Did you ever do this before?
Tess Gerritsen: Yes, for my musical friends. I have a number of friends who are Scottish and Irish musicians. So lot violins, lot of guitars and if we get together to play, some people bring their own tunes. So I composed some jigs and reels, Irish kind of music, and few waltzes.
Literatopia: What is harder for you, writing or composing? What is more difficult?
Tess Gerritsen: They are both hard in their own way. The trouble with composing is, I really need to have a tune in my head and then it´s easy. But coming to that tune, coming to the idea what that melody is, it takes a while sometimes and sometimes it is, you know, ...you doing something completely different and you hear music in your head and then … if you don´t have a tape recorder, you don´t have a piece of paper and pencil you loose it. I think music in a way depends on inspiration, writing not so much.
Literatopia: Like a craftsmanship?
Tess Gerritsen: Yes. Writing is more craftsmanship, for me music is more inspiration.
Literatopia: Are you listening to music, while you are writing?
Tess Gerritsen: No, I don´t, because when I´m writing, I have to hear voices. I have to hear the characters talking and music gets into the way.
Literatopia: I Know some authors who listen to music and one of them said, that he only listens to music when it has no...
Tess Gerritsen: No Words. I understand that. I Like silence, cause I want to hear what they are saying.
Literatopia: Are you sitting alone in your roomwhile writing?
Tess Gerritsen: Alone in my room. The door is shut. My husband has learned not to come and bother me, when I´m working.
Literatopia: And when he does it? How do you react?
Tess Gerritsen: Go away! (laughing)
Literatopia: How difficult was it to find a rational explanation for the things happening in Playing with fire?
Tess Gerritsen: Oh, I had that right away. I knew immediatly that the child was not really, I mean, I didn´t want the child actually to be evil. I want it, I want it to be a question of who do you trust. Who do trust Julias story. I mean, is she telling the truth or maybe she is not seeing the truth and so that was all about. Because she is the narrator, you have to listen to her, you have to believe her, but what if you are wrong.
Literatopia: So you play with some kind of illusion.
Tess Gerritsen: It´s a kind of a trick on the reader that you know you should not trust the narrator, because she doesn´t even know what´s real.
Literatopia: You said you got the idea for Playing with fire in Italy. Are Places and travelling the most inspiring things for you, or are the little things more important, like reading the newspaper?
Tess Gerritsen: Well it all does. Sometimes I get storys from the newspaper, I have a couples of storys from true crime. Travelling, I think, helps a lot, because you´re not working, your mind is open, it´s open to all kinds of new ideas. So I got the idea for Playing with fire in Venice. I got the idea for my earlier Rizzoli & Isles book Die Again when I was on safari in Africa. So I think, I´m always looking for the idea that gives me an emotional thrill. So in Africa, you are in the middle of the bush and the only person keeping you alive is your guide, because it´s very dangerous out there. And I thought, what if the most dangerous animal out in the bush is actually your guide and that´s gonna gave me this great idea, that´s how Die Again came.
Literatopia: As you mentioned Rizzoli & Isles. What do you think about the TV-Show? They changed a lot. Are you satisfied with the changes?
Tess Gerritsen: Well, it´s not the changes, that I would have done. But, you know, it is successful. They added glamour, now they have beautiful actors, beautiful characters and they added some humour, which I liked. I liked the humour. And they changed a number of things with the relationships, but, you know, it is successful, it sells books, so...I´m just glad that it´s on the air for seven years
Literatopia: So you can say, that´s one thing, and what I do is another?
Tess Gerritsen: I write my own books and the TV Show doesn´t influence my books. Because a lot of people read the books, but never watched the TV Show, so I have to be loyal to that.
Literatopia: You never pick up something from the show for your books?
Tess Gerritsen: No, ohm, I mean, the only..., no I haven´t actually, maybe I have, maybe the show has influenced me to make Jane and Maura a little closer. Better Friends. Because when the show began the still were mainly colleagues, two professional women who trusted each other, but they weren´t like best friends and after watching the show I thought, well that´s really an important reason for why people love these characters. That they see, they´re best girlfriends. They see that two women can be very powerful partners. So that probably influenced me a little bit making them better friends.
Literatopia: Which of them do you feel emotionally closer?
Tess Gerritsen: I identify with Maura. Maura, she is a doctor. She is logical, she wants an explanation for everything, hmm, she is very quiet and I put a lot of my own life into her, into her biography like she went to the same college, I went to. She studied anthropology. You know, a lot of things that come from my life are in Mauras.
Literatopia: You can say, your Characters sometimes reflect your own personality?
Tess Gerritsen: Maura does. Jane is like the opposite.
Literatopia: Is their a special relationship between you and your characters? Are they in some way real for you?
Tess Gerritsen: Ohm, some of them are. Certainly I feel I know Jane and Maura so well, if they walked in, I would recognize them and in lot of ways because Maura is so much based on my life, I feel probably most close to her, even though I never dated a priest. (laughing)
Literatopia: Do you enjoy your tour around Europe?
Tess Gerritsen: Oh yeah. We had, especially, had fun because we´ve been able to play music. That´s been, I think, what´s made a very different tour.
Literatopia: Normaly you don´t play music? Even in the US?
Tess Gerritsen: Well for this book, because this book is about music, that´s becoming an important part of the presentation. But I mean, in the US I have only done...., it´s hard to find a good violinist, that´s the real problem. So some citys I was able to find a good violin player, but you can´t always and this piece is very difficult. So it takes somebody who is quite pretty much a professional to perform this piece of music.
Literatopia: Are there any differences between the audiences in Europe and the US?
Tess Gerritsen: I think the audiences in, certainly, in Germany are younger. My audiences in the US tend to be much more older women. Here I see a lot of young people as well. And I think I´ve seen a few more men here, certainly in the US it is almost an all women show.
And in the US, I´m not sure they have the patience to sit through an hour or an hour and a half of reading. Here it is more attentive.
Literatopia: Do the audiences like other things?
Tess Gerritsen: Usually in the US I just get up and I give a talk. I talk for half an hour and take questions for fifteen minutes and that´s the end. It´s a forty-five minute presentation unless I have a musician with me and then we play music. In the US one thing I´ve done, because I can´t always find a violinists, I have little slideshow and so they have a projector then we play the slideshow that has the music, a short version of the music, with some photographs of Venice and some scenes of the Jewish Ghetto.
Literatopia: You said you are interested in history. Do you have the time for sightseeing on tour?
Tess Gerritsen: No, not this tour. I have been so busy. I have only seen the insights of hotels and train stations. It´s a pity, Europe is so full of history. There is just no time.
Literatopia: Why do people like hard and brutal thrillers? What do you think?
Tess Gerritsen: Oh, I like them and strangely, I think women really like them. So women love mysteries and really really scary thrillers. I don´t know, I think we all like to be scared a little, we all want to feel like there is some excitement in our life. We get it from fiction, because it´s safe.
Literatopia: Are you sometimes a little bit scared by yourself, regarding all the things your imagination gives birth to.
Tess Gerritsen: Oh, not really, I think I always had a curiosity about the dark side, about what makes people do strange things, what happen in their life to turn them in that way. So I never scare myself. But you know it´s a little bit like you try to tickle yourself, you can´t do it, because you are in control.
Literatopia: Is there an advice you can give someone, who wants to write a novel?
Tess Gerritsen: Read a lot of books that you understand the basics of storytelling and pay attention to your feelings everytime something happens. Because books, real good books are all about emotions and about tension. So everytime you create a tense situation remember how you were feeling, because that´s what your characters will feel.
Literatopia: Thank you for the interview.
Photos: © Derek Henthorn
This interview was done by Markus Drevermann. Copyrigh @ Literatopia 2016.