Tess Gerritsen Interview
Posted by Michelle on February 14, 2008
Tess Gerritsen is a very sucessful crime writer, with 9 best-selling thrillers to her name so far. She has written 4 stand alone medical thrillers, starting with ‘Harvest’ in 1996, plus 5 books in the Jane Rizzoli / Maura Isles series, which starts with ‘The Surgeon’.
The latest book in that series, ‘The Mephisto Club’ takes a fascinating turn.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from.. are they sparked by real life events, or do they come purely from your imagination?
A. I’m a voracious and omnivorous reader, and I’m always encountering items that spark my curiosity. Sometimes, it’s a news article that intrigues me. VANISH, for instance, was inspired by an article in /NY Times Magazine/ about the frightening experience of girls from eastern Europe who are smuggled into the U.S. as sex slaves. I was so horrified, I started reading more and more about the subject – not because I thought “there’s a novel in this” but because I just needed to learn more. Then I came across information that there’s a link between the sex slave trade and U.S. defense contractors overseas. And all at once, the plot of VANISH snapped into place for me.
For THE MEPHISTO CLUB, it was my fascination with Biblical archaeology (I was an anthropology major) that led me to start reading pre-Christian religious texts. What I learned there became the premise for MEPHISTO CLUB (which goes on sale Sept. 12)
Occasionally, it’s a conversation that will inspire a book. THE SURGEON, for instance, came about because one of my readers said she really wanted me to write a book about “serial killers and twisted sex.” I hadn’t planned on writing a serial killer novel at all, but after thinking about it, I realized that I could give it a medical spin that would make it unique.
Q. How about your characters, are they modelled on people that you know?
A. Maura is very much like me – a believer in science and logic. Many of her biographical details re actually taken from my own life, e.g. where she trained as a doctor, what hobbies she has, what she believes in.
Jane, on the other hand, is so completely unlike me that I think of her as the anti-Tess: she’s brash, she’s courageous, and she’s not afraid to be blunt. That’s what makes her so fun to write. She says the things I’d never dare say!
Q. How does writing about the medical profession compare to actually being a part of it.. and which do you prefer?
A. I’d much prefer to be writing about it! I found practicing medicine very stressful, especially back when I was a mother of two young sons. Every time I lost a patient, it was hard on me, and autopsies almost always upset me. But when I can step back and write about the experience as an author, when I’m looking over the shoulder of a fictional character, I find that I can be much more of an objective observer and describe what I’m seeing, without all the emotional turmoil!
Q. Although you are a doctor and you write medical thrillers, is there anything that you’re squeamish about, either in life or in fiction?
A. I’m as squeamish as the next person. I avoid movies where there’s graphic violence on the screen, and I don’t really enjoy books in which graphic violence occurs on the page. You’ll notice in my own books that although I show autopsies and crime scenes, you very seldom see the violence on the page. Rather, you see the investigators who come in after something horrifying has happened. It puts just enough distance between me and the crime to make it more comfortable to write – and read.
Q. Are your family supportive of your writing career? Do they enjoy your books, or do they prefer something different?
A. My family is very supportive. However, crime thrillers aren’t really what they like to read. I have two sons who much prefer reading technical manuals for their various electronic gadgets!
Q. Do you get time to read for pleasure? If so, which books do you like.. do you read thrillers, or go for something completely different?
A. I’m always reading, but I find I seldom pick up thrillers these days, and if I do, they tend to be historical. My tastes run to nonfiction: history, archaeology, and politics.
Q. Which book do you wish you’d written?
A. ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver. That was an unforgettable book.
Q. Finally, your latest book, The Mephisto Club, asks whether there are subjects of Satan walking amongst us, in the form of Nephilim. Where did you first come across this idea / theory?
A. I’d been browsing in a bookshop in Oxford, England, when I came across a translation of an ancient religious text called The Book of Enoch. It’s one of the documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it was written around 200 years before the birth of Christ. It describes evil creatures called “Nephilim”, who are the offspring of human women and fallen angels. Descendants of the Nephilim are said to still walk among us, and they are the source of much of the evil and violence in our world. I got so fascinated by this pre-Biblical theory of evil (and they do appear in the Bible as well) that I kept searching for more information on Nephilim, and found that they appeared in other ancient religious texts. And I began to wonder: what if this wasn’t a fable?
What if there really is a subset of people – predators – who have always lived and interbred with us? What if that evil bloodline is the explanation for serial killers? That’s how THE MEPHISTO CLUB was born.
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