Terry (Tess) Gerritsen knew she wanted to write when she was a little girl growing up in San Diego, California. With a Chinese immigrant and a Chinese-American seafood chef as parents, she dreamed of writing her own Nancy Drew stories. According to an interview in the July 15, 2021, New York Times, Tess thought Nancy Drew had everything a seven-year-old girl could want; she was clever, fearless, and she drove her own car.
But like many parents, hers had a different idea for their little girl. They were worried about how someone could make enough money writing. Sounds like common concern.
So Gerritsen put off her writing and went to college. First, she went to Stanford University to study anthropology. Then she went on to study medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where she graduated in 1979 to become an internist. She started practicing medicine in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Beginning of a Dream
It was when she read “The Woman Warrior”, by Maxine Hong Kingston, that she realized that “Asian-Americans could be writers and they could be successful at it. So maybe I could be, too.” She left her practice to focus on being a mom and a writer. They subsequently moved to Maine. ( From San Diego, to Hawaii, then Maine? I would love to hear that story.)
Gerritsen enjoyed reading romance novels while working as a doctor, so her first novels were romantic thrillers. After finishing two unpublished manuscripts, “Call After Midnight” was bought by Harlequin Intrigue in 1986. She changed her first name to Tess to feminize her name for the romantic novels.
In 1996, her first medical thriller, “Harvest” came out. It was inspired by a conversation she had with a retired homicide detective who had recently visited Russia. He told her about orphans who were vanishing from the streets of Moscow and were believed to be used as organ donors. “Harvest” was her first hardcover novel and her debut novel on the New York Times bestseller list.
In 2001, Gerritsen published “The Surgeon”. It was notable because it was her first crime thriller and won the 2002 RITA award from the Romance Writers of America for Best Romantic Suspense Novel. But, maybe even more important, it was the first appearance of one of her secondary characters, Boston Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli. Later, Rizzoli went on to pair with Dr. Maura Isles in their own TV series, “Rizzoli and Isles”. The series ran from 2010 through 2016.
My wife and I enjoy watching “Rizzoli and Isles” on the many different channels they air on now in syndication. Rizzoli’s family and the banter between Jane and Maura are fun to watch. And watching Dr. Isles study a body either on site or in the morgue, while wearing the latest haute couture, gives the character her own uniqueness.
In 2006, “Vanish”, the fifth in the Rizzoli and Isles series, won the Nero Award for best mystery novel, and was nominate for both an Edgar Award and a Macavity Award.
She Nearly Quit
In another interview for The Free Lance-Star April 3, 2021, “’I love what I do’: Tess Gerritsen shares journey from avid reader to doctor to novelist”, with Rick Pullen, Tess tells how, after years of struggling, she was finally published and received a $6,500 advance for “Call After Midnight”. But no royalty checks followed. Like many writers, she thought about quitting because it didn’t seem worth it.
She finally contacted Harlequin directly and learned that they have been sending regular checks to her agent. She had her lawyer, who was also her cousin, send a letter and the royalties began arriving. And that agent became a former agent.
In the interview, Gerritsen says she writes about one novel a year. She considers her first draft as an outline and, then she goes through six or seven rewrites before she’s satisfied. She said the hardest thing to master was developing in-depth characters.
Even though Gerritsen has found huge success with her novels and TV series about Rozzoli and Isles, that has not stopped her from exploring other fields. She has been published in science fiction (“Gravity”), historical fiction (“The Bone Garden”), and now, she is working on an espionage novel.
Outside of her novels, she has co-written the screenplay and story for a CBS Movie of the Week, contributed essays to several anthologies, and composed a musical piece for violin and piano that was recorded by violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou.
And drumroll please, she has recently worked with her son on a documentary that is now in post-production.
Gerritsen’s latest novel, “Choose Me”, came out July 1, 2021, It is the first book she has ever cowritten, and she chose Gary Braver to work with. It is a murder mystery about the murder of a college co-ed who was having an affair with one of her professors. It looks at the different ways men and women see the world.
From the New York Times article, “If I have a burning desire to write something, I’ll just write it… I’d hate to reach the end of my life and think: “If only I’d written that book I was dreaming about.”