We had the honor of chatting with international bestselling author Tess Gerritsen when she was in Atlanta recently promoting Rizzoli & Isles, a new series on TNT based off her books. Tess chatted with us about how the series initially came to be, where her main inspiration comes from, and how closely the series will follow her books.
How were you approached to do the series? Did you approach them or did they approach you?
Tess Gerritsen: It was the producer who had been reading the books and said he loved the books. He called me up after he arranged for the option agreement and said, “I love these girls; I want them to be on television.” And he’s referring to my two main characters. So he said it was an unusual kind of book series where it’s two women who are cooperatively working together to solve crimes, and they’re very, very different, but they’re both interesting in their own way. He thought it was time for another TV show where you have women who’d be working together.
Where does your main inspiration come from, because they’re very different?
Tess Gerritsen: They are. It’s funny, because I don’t ever plan anything ahead of time. When they happen in the books, they happen because it just popped into my head from God knows where. Jane Rizzoli was first introduced in a book called The Surgeon. Now, in The Surgeon, she’s not the main character. She’s a homicide detective who works with the male lead in the story, and she wasn’t very likeable. In fact, a lot of my readers who read that book could not believe that she ends up being the star of the series because they just didn’t like her. She was a b*tch; she worked twice as hard as any man on the police force, and yet she was never really appreciated. And she just felt like she had to be tougher than any guy. She was not allowed to whine; she was not allowed to show any weakness, but she got the job done. So, by the end of the book, when she was supposed to die (I planned to kill her off), I had grown so attached to her in the writing of the book that I couldn’t kill her. So I kept her on and thought, “Well, now I want to write a book about her! She’s fascinating to me.” And that’s where The Apprentice, the second book in the series, came up. And that’s what the pilot is based on, that book.
With your other books, are there going to be episodes based on those? How closely is the series going to follow what happens in the books?
Tess Gerritsen: They are on independent tracks. So, I’m going to continue writing my books, and I don’t know what the TV people are going to do. They’re probably going to be drawing little biographical details from the books, but they’re going to be writing their own mysteries.
How involved have you been with the series thus far? Are you going to get to review future scripts and give them notes?
Tess Gerritsen: Every so often they’ll have a question—they’ll want a suggestion. “What would you do in this case? How would you solve this mystery?” And in episode three I gave them a cause of death that they used. Other than that, the head writer (her name is Janet Tamaro), she’s in charge of everything, and she’s a wonderful writer. She really does a good job of translating books to television, and I have complete faith in her.
Did you have any say in the casting?
Tess Gerritsen: No, I didn’t. Once you sign the contract, the really have authority to do what they feel is needed for television.
Your first novel was published in 1987, and I know you have a medical background, but how did you transition from that to writing?
Tess Gerritsen: Well, I wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old, but I was raised in a very practical family, and they said you can’t ever make a living as a writer. So, they encouraged me to go into the sciences, and that’s how I ended up as a doctor. But, after practicing medicine for a while, I got back to writing again, ’cause it never really left me. And my first book in ’87 was a romantic thriller. So, I started off writing romances, and then in 1996 I wrote my first medical thriller, and that was the first one to get the New York Times list. So, from then on, I’ve just been doing thrillers.
It’s obvious where the medical aspect came into the books [with your background], but with the crime, where did you gain that knowledge ?
Tess Gerritsen: Some of that’s research. I’ve been down to the Boston homicide unit twice. I got to know a couple of people there. I also do a lot from true crime. I will pull stuff out of true crime cases. In fact, The Apprentice—have you seen the first episode?
Tess Gerritsen: You know how he has the teacup on his lap? And he has that warming device? That’s on a true story out of California about a serial rapist. He would attack couples. And the way he would do it was he would tie up the husband and lay the husband face down and put a dinner plate on his back so that if he got out, he could hear the plate hit the floor, and he knew that he had to pay attention to the husband. So I thought, “That’s really creepy, but I think it’s even creepier if it’s a teacup and saucer.” And that’s what I used in the books. So I will take details from really horrific crimes that have truly happened. And a lot of people say, “Well, how do you come up with this stuff; you must be really dark or twisted?” And I just say I look up real life. Reality is really more horrifying than fiction.
It’s true. Has anything that you’ve come across been deeply disturbing to you? What’s the most deeply disturbing thing?
Tess Gerritsen: Well, you know, for me, the most deeply disturbing stuff has to do with children, and I don’t really write about that. I refuse to write about that because it’s too disturbing to me. A lot of people, a lot of critics, will criticize writers, thriller writers, for having so many female victims. And you’ll notice that a lot of crimes have to do with sexual crimes against women, or just women as victims. I came across this whole interesting psychological thing where it was a women who first asked me to write a book about—and she said this, “I love books about serial killers and twisted sex.” She said, “Why don’t you write a crime novel like that?” And I thought, “Well, OK.” So I began to talk to my readers, and I found out that all my women readers are only interested in serial killer books if the victims are women. And I said, “What if the victims are men?” And they would say, “We don’t care about those.” So I think that the psychological lesson from that is that when we read a scary book, we identify with the victims. And since women are the primary buyers of novels, if you want to find yourself a big audience you have to satisfy that, almost primitive, need to understand what it’s like to be a victim and to, at the end of it, have everything turn out OK.
If you had to describe your work in three words to someone who’d never read it before, what would you say?
Tess Gerritsen: Scary, edgy…I guess I’d have to say female based.
You mentioned the romantic thrillers, do you ever see that coming back or being a TV series?
Tess Gerritsen: I’m not planning it, although there are threads of romance that go in and out of the books. In The Apprentice, the book as opposed to the TV pilot, Jane meets her future husband. And that is kind of—there’s a romance there. She’s never going to get married in the TV show, because we want to keep her single for the TV show.
So Billy Burke and her aren’t going to be a…
Tess Gerritsen: I think he’s going to be in and out of the show. I think he’s going to be constantly there as a possible romantic interest. And for the readers that read my books, they’ll know that that’s the guy she marries. Maura is going to have a series of unfortunate romances. In the books she falls in love with a Catholic priest, and a Catholic priest is part of a case that they’re investigating. After four books, it’s just going nowhere, but in the process she’s had a lot of heartbreak. So, you know, there’s romances, but I try to keep them on a level that’s not happily ever after. These are real people who are going to have to struggle to be with the one they love, or walk away from it.
What kind of TV shows do you enjoy?
Tess Gerritsen: It’s funny, because I don’t really watch much television. I’m a news junkie, so I’ll watch every news channel there is, including CNN. The only TV—when I grew up, the only TV show I watched religiously was Star Trek. Oh! And X-Files, I used to watch…And nowadays, I watch The Office; that’s my favorite show on TV. There’s another reporter here who said, “That’s random!”
So, comedy at all in your future? Do you ever see yourself writing comedy?
Tess Gerritsen: No, I love to watch comedy, but I’m not a funny person. So, it would be hard for me to write comedy.
What’s next for you?
Tess Gerritsen: I’m working on the ninth Rizzoli and Isles book, and if I get it done in time, it’ll probably be for sale next summer. Right now, I’m doing a lot of touring. I’m finishing up with the tour with TNT this week. And then I start my book tour for Ice Cold, and then I go to London to do the book tour for the English edition.
Will you watch the series at all?
Tess Gerritsen: Oh! Absolutely! I will; I will watch the series, and it’ll be on Tivo. I’ve already seen the first three episodes, and it looks really good. There’s an advanced screening tonight; people who go tonight will see it without commercials, and it ends up being (when you take the commercials out), it ends up being even more intense.
Are you excited or nervous?
Tess Gerritsen: I have watched the screening in two other cities already, I watched it in Boston and in Philly, and the response has been tremendous. People laugh at the right places, they scream at the right places. There’s a scene towards the end that’s really scary and a real shock, and it was fun to hear everybody in the room scream at once.
Have any of your book fans been at the screenings? Have you got their responses?