I recently met with Tess Gerritsen, internationally bestselling novelist, for a chat at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Tess has written medical thriller novels and romantic suspense novels but is best known for her crime novels featuring detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles.
Tess was a medical doctor prior to becoming a novelist. She began her Rizzoli and Isles series, now also a TV series, as a standalone novel but wanted to write more about the characters. So she wrote a second Rizzoli and Isles novel, and with the decision to write a third novel came the realisation that the Rizzoli and Isles novels would be a series. Tess said the main differences in how she approaches a series novel, as opposed to a standalone novel, pertain to being faithful to the fictional story universe and the personal backgrounds of the characters.
Tess said she was very happy with how the Rizzoli and Isles TV series has turned out.The main differences she described between the novel series and the TV series as being that the TV series is “funnier and not as dark as the novels; like Sex and the City with murder.”
Tess described her approach to mixing romance and suspense in romantic suspense novels as having a roughly 50-50 mix of romance and suspense but, more importantly, so thoroughly entwining the romance and the suspense that they are inseparable. She gave the examples of a character who has to save their partner when their life comes under threat or characters on the opposite side of a conflict, such as a detective and a suspect, who are also romantically involved.
Tess’s novels have been published in 35 languages. She attributes much of the wide international appeal of her novels to the fact that people all around the world can relate easily to crime novels. This makes sense, since crime novels typically deal with issues such as justice, survival, the threat of physical harm, and trying to protect innocent people innocent people.
Tess said she enjoys reading crime novels. She listed some of her favourite novelists as Jeffry Deaver, Michael Connelly, Lisa Scottoline and Australian crime novelists Val McDermid, Michael Robotham, and Katherine Howell. She said she also enjoys reading historical novels and literary novels.
Tess shared her thoughts on what makes a great main character for a novel. She described great main characters as tending to be not perfect, having a high level of integrity, and being an underdog or outsider because everyone can relate to not fitting in or striving for something beyond their reach.
Tess recommended that writers starting out should not ‘get stuck’ editing their work as they write. She emphasised the importance of new writers finishing their first draft. She also advised that novelists, and aspiring novelists, should read lots of novels to help develop their knowledge of the craft of written fiction.
I gave Tess a copy of Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories as a memento of her Australian tour.
You can read more on Tess Gerritsen and her fiction at www.tessgerritsen.com.
The Australian Literature Review