The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Meet Tess Gerritsen

Where: Barnes & Noble, 1741 S. Willow St., Manchester
When: Tuesday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m.
Contact: 668-5557,,

Science, travel and reading
The inspiration for Die Again: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel

By Kelly Sennott

Die Again: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel began in writer Tess Gerritsen’s head when she and her husband were almost leopard lunch during an African safari.

Their tour guide had cautioned them against straying from the jeep — inside, you’re considered part of a large animal, while outside, you’re prey. They were glad for the advice when, part way through the trip, they came across the big cat.
“Our tour guide yelled at us to freeze, and he stared down the leopard, who decided he wasn’t going to attack,” Gerritsen said. “I realized how much we depended on [the tour guide] to keep us alive out there. He actually knew what he was doing. But it made me think, what if he was not who he said he was?”
For instance, what if this man had killed the real ranger, and he was there to take his place?
Gerritsen is often thinking about worst-case scenarios when brainstorming book ideas, and this was the thought that sparked Die Again, which follows Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles as they’re summoned into the wild after a violent killing “worthy of the most ferocious beast,” as described on Gerritsen’s website, “right down to the claw marks on the corpse.” They link the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country and around the world.
Sometimes Gerritsen’s initial ideas make it into the final copy. Sometimes they don’t.
“You get these inspirations, but you never know if your original idea will end up in the book. It’s something that gets the juices running,” Gerritsen said. “Every time I try to write an outline, it always ends up veering away from [the original idea]. My process is just to start writing and see what happens. The characters define where the story is going.”
Traveling is one of Gerritsen’s most sincere pleasures, and she’s often brainstorming during her trips. 
“I think [inspiration] slips in there because I see something that’s interesting when abroad,” Gerritsen said. “Something will spark my imagination. … But I also get a lot of my ideas from reading. Most writers I know are pretty curious people. … What influences my work is seeing characters so developed, so real that you feel as though you could recognize them on the streets. Stephen King, I think, writes the best children.”
Physician readers might also notice her writing is medically inspired; she knows how doctors think because for a long time, she was one. Gerritsen studied medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where she earned her M.D. and went on to practice in Hawaii.
“I have an understanding of how doctors think. ... My books use a lot of science, and I think that’s where my medical training comes in, too,” she said. “It gives you some stories, but it also broadens the number of topics you can write about. I feel very comfortable writing about science, and I think maybe that’s why I use so much of it in my books, because I have that background.”
It also helps in plot-building. Her characters’ workplace — a hospital — is a natural place for action.
“People go there to have babies, and they go there to die. It’s a very dramatic place to work,” Gerritsen said. 
Gerritsen, who lives in Maine, hasn’t practiced medicine since 1990. While on maternity leave in 1987, she sold her first book and soon after switched to writing and motherhood full time. When her family moved to Maine, she didn’t apply for her license. 
“I always wanted to be a writer. I did practice for five years, but my heart was always in telling stories,” Gerritsen said.
She regularly watches her series-turned-TV show, Rizzoli & Isles, on TNT Drama; it has recently been renewed for a sixth season. She can’t pinpoint exactly why the show and books have done so well, but she has a guess.
“At the time it had been picked up for a series, it was one of the few TV shows that had a double female lead team. I think that was fun for women viewers in particular, to see two women professionals working in a demanding field, backing each other up,” she said. 
As seen in the January 1, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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