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Interview with Tess Gerritsen by Swirl and Thread

Swirl and Thread © 4 September 2017.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews · Uncategorized ).

I Know a Secret, the twelfth book by Tess Gerritsen in the Rizzoli and Isles series of crime thrillers, was recently published by Transworld/Bantam Press.

Tess Gerritsen, you are a woman of many talents – a physician, a musician, a writer, a mother and a grandmother. Now retired from medicine and a successful author of medical thrillers, how much of your own personality and experience finds itself into your books?

It’s inevitable that an author’s personality finds its way into every novel she writes. I think the closest I come to writing about myself is the character of Maura Isles.

In so many ways, she’s just like me: her belief in science, her desire for logical explanations, her strong sense of privacy.

I’ve started using my own life as a shorthand for Maura’s, so Maura went to the same schools I did, drives the same car, drinks the same wine, and also plays the piano, just like me.

Jane Rizzoli, on the other hand, is very much my opposite.

As a student of anthropology at Stanford University, you left with a fascination for the bizarre in ancient cultures. Can you share with us all one of the more unusual facts you discovered?

While doing the research for Keeping the Dead (The Keepsake in the U.S.), I learned a lot about Egyptian mummies, including the reason why so many are found with fractured legs. It takes about eighty days to turn a cadaver into a mummy, and in the meantime, a built-to-order coffin is being made. Sometimes, the craftsmen don’t take correct measurements and the finished mummy doesn’t fit into his coffin … so bones must be broken to make the body fit.

I also learned how the ancient Egyptians managed to evacuate the brain from the skull, through just a small hole punched in the nostril.

The explanation is both gruesome yet fascinating.

During a visit to Poland in 2016, you played a beautiful piece of music on the piano in the lobby of the Hotel Continental, entitled Incendio. What was the inspiration behind the composition of this piece and how important is music to your writing?

Both the story and the music came to me in dreams. While in Venice for my birthday, I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I was playing my violin while a baby sat nearby. I remember the music was something dark and disturbing, and the baby’s eyes suddenly turned red and she became a monster. That was the early premise of Playing With Fire: that a child is somehow transformed into a monster by music. That premise quickly bloomed into a tale about WWII, a violinist in Venice, and a haunted waltz called “Incendio.”

About halfway through writing the book, I had another dream — and woke up with the melody of “Incendio” in my head. It took me about six weeks to compose the piece for violin and piano, and the music was recorded by concert violinist Susanne Hou.

This was the first time that music has ever played such an important part in my novels.  While I am an amateur musician (piano and violin), I have never before used music in a story, and I prefer writing in silence.

So writing Playing With Fire was both a unique experience — and a gift from my subconscious.


When you initially began writing, your books were categorized as Romantic Suspense. It was Harvest, your first medical thriller, that marked your debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Since then your novels have been published and translated across the globe. As an author do you ever feel overwhelmed by your own success? How difficult is it to remain focused on your writing-in-hand at any one time?

I can’t say I’m actually overwhelmed by success because, as a novelist, I do my job alone at a desk, far from the sound of applause. It’s just me struggling to tell a story, fighting through writer’s block, and trying to avoid the temptations of the refrigerator.

True success is just getting paid to do what you love to do, and the hoopla of bestseller lists and TV shows feels a bit distant from where I sit.

Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles are now household names, with the series Rizzoli & Isles taking to the small screen for over one hundred episodes. What was it like seeing your characters on TV?

Quite surreal!

While they had the same names and the same jobs, the TV characters didn’t look the way I imagined them in my novels. It was as if my Jane and Maura got a makeover and emerged in glamorous versions of themselves.

But it was fantastic fun, and the best part of having a TV series was that people found out about the books.

Your latest novel, I Know A Secret, brings a new case to the desks of Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles. What is the premise of this book?

Jane and Maura encounter a startling crime scene: a woman whose eyes have been removed, but whose cause of death is a mystery. Then there’s a second bizarre crime scene, this one a young man with arrows in his torso, but whose cause of death is again a mystery.

Maura recognizes that these aren’t just random mutilations, but are staged depictions of the deaths of martyred saints. For answers, she’s forced to consult the man who broke her heart: Father Daniel Brophy.

How do you keep the subject matter and the characters of Rizzoli and Isles fresh in each novel?

I think of Jane and Maura as real people with real lives. As Jane and Maura grow older they experience the same trials we all do: falling in love, making and losing friends, parenthood, etc.

Every stage of life is a challenge, and that’s what keeps these characters moving forward and constantly changing.

Finally Tess, a question I’m sure you have answered many times – how do you feel about reviews? Is it difficult as an author, dealing with criticisms of your writing? I have read that many authors feel book reviews are for other readers and not directed at the writer. What would your view on that be?

When you’ve spent a year (or more) wracking your brain over a story, it’s hard to have rocks thrown at it by critics. One of the benefits of being in this business long enough is that eventually you develop tough skin and stop flinching at bad reviews.  Every artist, writer and filmmaker knows that critics come with the territory, and some of those critics can be cruel.

But hey, we’re the ones actually doing the creating — and we get paid for it!

© Swirl and Thread

About I Know a Secret:

In a house decorated with horror movie posters, a young woman’s body is found. She lies on her bed, two bloodied objects clutched in her palm. Detective Jane Rizzoli and Forensic Pathologist Maura Isles are called to the murder scene, but even faced with this gruesome sight they are unable to identify the immediate cause of death.
Their investigation leads them to a high-profile murder case that was seemingly solved years before. But when another body is found in horrific circumstances, the link between the two victims is clear. Was the wrong person sent to prison? Is the real killer out there right now, picking off new targets?
One woman knows the killer is coming for her next. She’s the only one who can help Rizzoli and Isles catch him.
But she has a secret that she has to keep . . .

Order your copy online here.

About Tess Gerritsen:

Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen is also a physician, and 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 she continues to travel the world driven by her fascination with ancient cultures and bizarre natural phenomena. She started off her writing career with romance novels, now published by Mira. But in 1996 she switched to writing thrillers with her novel Harvest, inspired by the anger she felt about the illegal trade in human organs. It was her first New York Times bestseller. Since then she has become an internationally bestselling author of crime novels, and her thriller series starring Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles is the basis for the hit television series "Rizzoli & isles." She lives with her husband in Maine. For more information on Tess Gerritsen and her novels, visit her website: www.tessgerritsen.co.uk.

About Swirl and Thread:

I started Swirl and Thread in February 2016.

My background is in sales and account management in the Telecoms sector, having a business & marketing degree (B.Comm) and a diploma in computer studies. When my kids were born I left this career and became a full time mother with all the challenges that that entails.

Over the years I have been involved in many groups and have done charity work but I felt I really wanted to do something new and exciting for me.

Currently my main content is very much book related. I really didn’t ever realise what a mad mad world the book blogging arena is. I have met so many amazing people, both on- and offline and I have been honoured to read some wonderful books.

I am married to a very patient man and have two wonderful kids, all who make me laugh and smile every single day. I count myself very lucky with them in my life and have always striven to be a good role model to them.

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