AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tess Gerritsen, part one

Continuing with this month’s focus on authors of high-octane thrillers, we bring you the first of a two-part interview with internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen. Now known for her page-ripping medical mysteries, Gerritsen broke into print writing romantic suspense. She transitioned from a successful career in medicine to pursue the craft of writing, and her training as a physician has given her medical thrillers that prized level of authenticity that allows readers to enter a world that both fascinates and horrifies.

Her latest title, THE BONE GARDEN, is a departure from her previous work. A historical novel set in early 19th century Boston, it delves into the sordid world of graverobbing and pre-hygienic medicine. I lost another two nights of sleep reading it, and it stayed with me for a long time.

We are pleased to present our interview with Tess Gerritsen.

Q: You broke into publication in the romantic suspense genre and transitioned into medical thrillers. Was that a difficult decision to make? What should writers consider if they wish to change from one genre to another?

TG: It wasn’t any sort of career planning that made me switch. Rather, it was an idea that took hold of me and wouldn’t let go, the idea that later became HARVEST. Instead of choosing to switch genres for business reasons, it was the genre that chose me. I’ve learned that when a premise grabs me and affects me emotionally, I shouldn’t ignore it. I should write that book, because it’s what I’m meant to do.

Q: I’ve read on your blog that you prefer to “fly in the mist” in terms of plotting, which can lead you to blind alleys. Do you ever wish sometimes that you were more of a plotter, or do you think that flying in the mist leads to a better book when all is said and done?

TG: I wish I could be more of a plotter! It would make writing the books so much easier. But whenever I try to plot things out ahead of time, I invariably stray from the road map and end up writing a completely different book anyway, so I’ve given up trying to plan out my books. I’m not sure that flying into the mist leads to a better book. I just don’t know any other way to do it. I do think it leads to more surprises in the storyline, and if I’m surprised, then I suspect my readers are surprised as well.

Q: You’ve written a screenplay (ADRIFT) which was made into a t.v. movie. Do you think learning the bones of screenplay writing helped you with writing novels? Do you have any plans to write other screenplays?

TG: I don’t think it necessarily helped. What it taught me was to appreciate the total control I have over my novel writing. Screenplays are so often done by committee — yes, the screenwriter comes up with the bones of the story, but there are other voices who throw in their suggestions, and you end up trying to make everyone happy, and sometimes veer away from your original vision. As a novelist, I have complete control over the world I’ve imagined, and my editor usually respects that vision. I don’t think you could say the same for moviemaking. I have no plans to write any other screenplays. I’m much happier as a novelist.

Q: The hallmarks of your novels are of blistering pace coupled with graphic medical details. What are some of the things you are mindful of in terms of pacing and how to give the reader a taste of the world of medicine without resorting to the dreaded info dump?

TG: It takes a lot of craft and talent to avoid info dumps! Especially when you’re working in a genre that requires you to convey large amounts of technical information. I’ve learned to emphasize information that’s interesting or has emotional content. Which means my details are gross and chilling, or that have direct impact on my characters. For instance, in GRAVITY, I had to explain Boyle’s law, which is the relationship between pressure and volume. So I couched it in terms of what goes wrong when Boyle’s law works against you and you have a decompression accident. I described boiling blood and popping lungs and all the gruesome details of a death in space. I suspect that made Boyle’s Law a lot more interesting!

Q: Recently you’ve been on a book tour in Germany and Switzerland. Can you tell us what it was like to realize you had a huge international following?

TG: It was quite an eye-opener, to realize how huge the international market is. Here in the U.S., I knew I was selling comparatively well, but most of the time I didn’t see it during the book tours. I’d often walk into a bookstore and the clerks would have no idea who I was and wouldn’t recognize my name at all. But in Germany, I encountered fans who were so excited about meeting me they were shaking and sweating. It made me feel both uneasy and ecstatic. These readers acted as if I were a rock star, while I’ve never felt like anything but the struggling and solitary writer.

Click HERE for Part Two of our interview with Tess Gerritsen.


About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.


  1. says

    Interesting to read Dr. Gerritsen’s comments on how hard it is to write a medical thriller without doing a “techno-dump.” She does it extremely well. Thanks for such an informative post.