Friday, June 12, 2015

Writers Born Today - Tess Gerritsen

It's the birthday of writer Tess Gerritsen, born June 12, 1953 in San Diego.  She wanted to be a writer from a young age, but her father "like Chinese dads all over the world," had other ideas. She studied medicine at the University of California after graduating from Stanford and received her medical degree in 1979. She practiced medicine in Hawaii, but the dream of writing never left. While on maternity leave she began writing and submitted a story to Honolulu's statewide fiction contest. She won first prize. Her first novel was published in 1987, a romantic thriller titled Call After Midnight.

She isn't the first physician to pursue a medical career...Anton Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle and Robin Cook have also switched from the stethoscope to the pen. Once she switched from romance to medical thrillers (a choice her agent applauded considering Tess's background) her career really took off. 

Some of the story lines were actually inspired by her reader fans. One suggested that Tess write about what really interested her, namely "serial killers and twisted sex." Asked what she did for a living, the reader replied, "I teach third grade." Although surprised, Tess realized there was a market for this type of thriller. The idea became the novel The Surgeon.

My favorite Tess Gerristsen novel revolves around a desperate victim of human trafficking, a plot line that led to Vanish, one of the best thrillers I have ever read. It was nominated for an Edgar and a Macavity Award, and won the Nero Award in 2006. 

This is the one she'll be remembered for, in my humble opinion (reading it is on my list of 101 Things To Do Before You Die - For Crime Writers).

Vanish was the fifth novel in the popular Rizzoli & Isles series, and if not for a twist in fate, it might never have been written. Jane Rizzoli made her first appearance as a secondary character in The Surgeon, and at the time Tess found her annoying. "When I introduced her, I thought she was going to die," Tess admitted in an interview. But the character grew on the writer. Eleven books and one very popular TV series later, Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli is still with us, along with Medical Examiner Maura Isles.

In 2011 Tess appeared at the Melbourne Writers Festival with Michael Robotham where she discussed "Plotting The Perfect Crime". According to the conference host, Michael and Tess may be guilty of  being "legal criminals who describe, with disturbing precision, the very crimes they commit." Sounds like fun to me! Enjoy.

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