From Romance to Corpses: Tess Gerritsen’s Writing Life

Tess Gerritsen started with romance, but soon realized that dead bodies were where it’s at. At least, dead bodies handled deftly by the two most compelling female series characters in thriller fiction, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles. Her first books were romance novels, but after writing eight of them she switched to medical thrillers. The 25 million books she has sold prove that this was one plot twist she very much got right. The first of many, in fact. Tess is an absolute master at a particular kind of twist which does more than simply surprise the reader. Her plotting and pacing genius is such that each new element seems to set the actual book racing as fast as the reader’s pulse. I saw her at work in this way at a recent book festival in Dubai. At a social barbeque for the writers attending, we were chatting about an anecdotal incident from another writer’s student days. Tess took what had been a moderately disturbing moment for the writer and instantly rattled off enough nimble plot twists to structure the first quarter of a fast-paced thriller—so that those of us chatting around the roasted chickens were gasping and wishing for her to tell us how the story would end. That’s part of Tess Gerritsen’s tremendous gift. But once she has that idea, how does she proceed? Here’s what she has to say about her Writing Life:

You had a career in medicine before you published. But for how longbefore you became a professional writer were you interested in writing?

I knew I was a writer at age seven.  I wanted to apply to journalism school as a teen, but my father -- a very practical Chinese-American parent -- warned me that writing was no way to make a secure living.  As an obedient Chinese daughter, I followed his advice and went to medical school instead.  But a few years into being a doctor those old writing impulses reasserted themselves and while I was home on maternity leave with my sons, I wrote my first novels.  A few years later, I realized that I really could make a living as a writer – and I've been one ever since.

How long did it take you to get published?

I wrote two practice manuscripts before my third was accepted. That was CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller that was published by Harlequin/Mira books.  I wrote romances, and then wrote a thriller HARVEST, which was my first really big bestseller. I've stuck with thrillers since then.

Would you recommend any books on writing?

TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by<a href=""> Lawrence Block</a> is my favorite advice book about the craft of writing.  It's funny, it's snappy, and it's spot-on.

What’s a typical writing day?

Breakfast, coffee, exercise, and then four first-draft pages.  Only when I've written those four pages do I call it a day.  It usually takes me all day to produce those four pages.


Read the rest of this post on my blog The Man of Twists and Turns.

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