Itís been a while since we last spoke to the prolific Tess Gerritsen,
who publishes her
Rizzoli and Maura Isles detective thrillers with Transworld
Publishing while her earlier work is published by MIRA UK. On her
promotional trip to Waterstones Charing Cross Road with Dennis
Lehane, she kindly agreed to talk to Shots Ezine about her work.
information available from
If youíve yet to read Gerritsen itís time you did because her work
is remarkable. But beware, it is also very disturbing Ė Ali Karim
Ali Tess, you have a very successful series featuring
Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles of which your latest
novel, Keeping the Dead, is the seventh; but you have changed
genre several times in the past [romance, techno-medical thrillers,
and crime]. What reaction have you experienced from your readership
when youíve switched genres?
Tess They get very confused, very confused. I know that some of
my crime readers occasionally come across one of my earlier romance
books and they are completely flabbergasted to find out that I used
to write romance. On the other hand some of my crime readers come
Gravity and are surprised to discover that I wrote
of your SF was in the late
Michael Crichton mode Ė a writer who also wrote in
other genres, such as his mysteries under the names
John Lange and Jeffery Hudson, amongst others.
Tess Precisely. I think basically I write whatever I feel like
writing, and wherever it takes me.
novelís location is often key to the telling of a tale and you set
much of your work in Boston. Your 2007 bestseller
The Bone Garden was set in historical Boston, and the
Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles novels [which started with The Surgeon]
are also set in that city. Considering you live in Maine, whatís
your fascination with Boston?
Tess Partly because
I have a couple of characters who are homicide investigators, and
quite honestly the state of Maine has one of the lowest homicide
rates in the country, so it would start to feel rather unrealistic
if I were to have serial killers running around rural Maine. So I
wanted to set my crime novels in the nearest large city that you
could have serial killers operating; I chose Boston as it is the
nearest metropolis to us.
Ali Both you and Dennis [Lehane] have carved a very loyal
readership with your series characters. How much do you attribute
your success to these characters? And where did they come from?
Tess I attribute a
great deal of my success to the characters, particularly Jane
Rizzoli, who I think is the one readers have the most fun with.
Sheís not a lovey-dovey person and perhaps, to answer your question,
Iíll have to reveal something that many of my readers may not be
aware of. Jane first appeared in the first book,
The Surgeon, and a lot of people told me ĎI donít like her,
she is quite a bitchí. The explanation for her appearing that way
was that she was never intended to survive that book. You see I
never planned to write a series, but when I got to the scene where
she was supposed to die, she refused to die. So when she survived
that book, I became really interested in her and wanted to find out
what happened in her life. When I wrote the second book [The
Apprentice] she appeared again and suddenly I had a series.
It was totally unplanned.
Ali So is Maura you, Tess?
Tess Very much; we
both have backgrounds in science, both studied medicine, both like
to believe that there is a logical explanation to why things happen.
So whenever there is any biographical detail required in Mauraís
life, like what wine does she drink? what car does she drive? I just
take it from my own life.
Ali Iím very interested in the differences in covers between
your US and UK editions. Your UK covers [Transworld] are very
distinctive in terms of design. For instance your UK cover for
The Surgeon was very minimal, a white sink basin with three
drops of blood, whereas your US cover is much busier and more
colourful, featuring a rear-view image of a surgeon holding a
scalpel behind his back Ė far less subtle.
Tess I love my UK
covers Ė they are stark and clean and very distinctive. At the time
I would go as far as to say that Transworld were revolutionary in
their design. I donít think anyone else was making such minimalist
imagery work in the crime fiction world. As it turned out, it was
the covers that really caught peopleís eye when I was published in
the UK by Transworld. I think the difference is a cultural thing:
Americans like more colour, we like a lot of sex on our covers,
female form, faces Ė a lot of this has to do with the art director
at the publishing house and their taste. To be honest, I donít
really know what makes a cover work or not work. So I leave it to my
publisher as they are usually right.
Ali You have some very interesting points that you raise in
your blog[s] at both
also your own website.
After a short hiatus, you are back blogging Ė can you tell us why
you enjoy blogging, and what are the down sides?
Tess I blog,
because I have a very solitary profession. I sit in my office all
day, and something will occur either in the business of writing or
in the process of writing that makes me want to write about it, and
I blab. I like the sense of sharing with others what I am dealing
with, and I really didnít think anybody cared until I discovered
that I have quite a few blog readers, especially a lot of other
writers who can identify with what I am talking about.
Your latest work is called
Keeping the Dead
in the UK,
but in the US is was released as The Keepsake. Can you tell
us your feelings when a publisher suggest retitling a novel for a
Tess I always worry
about confusion amongst readers as some donít realise that both
titles are the same book. In my latest book, both my US and UK
editors had very strong opinions about the title[s]; neither liked
the otherís title. So to make everyone happy we decided to go with
the two titles.
of confusion, I was amused
to see that much of your backlist has recently been reissued by
MIRA UK, and the covers do look rather similar to the Transworld
style. How does it feel seeing much of your earlier work repackaged
and back on shelves?
Tess Well, again
Iím a little concerned about the confusion this causes as much as I
am very happy to have my early romance novels rereleased. But what
happens is that my current crime-fiction readers think they are
crime novels and I get a lot of angry emails from readers Ö
Tess Yes, really. I
get some upsetting emails from people: ĎWhat is wrong with you? Your
style has changed. Iíll never read your books again!í Nasty stuff!
Ali Bizarre. Arenít these people bright enough to read the
Tess Well, in a
word, perhaps not, and I end up responding nicely by telling them
that the next time they pick up one of my books, they should check
the copyright page and date. If itís before 1997, it may very well
be a romance novel. I am, however, concerned that I may have lost
readers who never told me this, who never realised about my backlist
being re-released with covers that accentuate the crime-fiction
angle, when in reality they are romance novels.
Ali Is this just a UK issue or are your romance novels also
being reissued in the US to look like crime novels?
Tess Itís all over,
not just US and UK, but all over the world. MIRA has re-released my
older work in a number of countries.
next after Keeping the Dead Ė a standalone or another Jane
and Maura thriller?
Tess Well, my next
contract specifies three more Jane and Maura novels. I love doing
the standalones, but what Iíve noticed is that they just donít seem
to sell as well as the Jane and Maura series. I think readers get
very attached to the characters of Jane and Maura, and want more.
Saying that, The Bone Garden sold very well. I have plenty of
ideas for standalones but Iím not sure if Iíll be doing one just yet
as I am working on a Jane and Maura book right now.
Could you tell me how
much time is spent being away from your garret working with
publishers in promoting your books? And what are your feelings about
this time taken away from the actual writing process?
Tess It has become a more and more critical part of establishing
a career as a novelist. I do love going on tour meeting readers like
today, but the problem is you do have to turn out a book a year;
thatís what my publishers want, so that combination of having to
tour Ė not just in the US but internationally Ė plus turn in a book
a year has made writers lives pretty insane. If it was up to me, Iíd
turn in a book every two years, and do a leisurely tour. But the
problem is how much a writer can manage these days of promotion and
writing without going insane?
prolific and bestselling author with a loyal readership, what is
your take on the current economic turmoil as related to publishing?
And what are your thoughts on anyone mental enough to think about
embarking upon a fiction-writing career today?
Tess Well, from
what I understand it is very hard for a debut author to sell a book,
simply because readers donít know what to expect from that author in
future work. Whereas if youíre an established author, youíll still
be selling books as you have a readership. Looking at book sales in
late 2008, they have held pretty steady compared to other retailers,
so letís hope this year that book sales are not going to be hit as
hard as other sectors.
Ali Well, letís keep our fingers crossed, Tess, and thank you
for your time.
Tess And to you,
Ali, for some fascinating questions.
Tess in Borders Charing Cross Rd
Shots Ezine would like
to thank Patsy Irwin for organising this interview and Borders Charing Cross Road for providing an interview room.
An edited version of this interview first appeared at