Tess Gerritsen Takes Medical Profession to a New Level

Born to a Chinese immigrant and a Chinese American seafood chef, Tess (real name Terry) had dreams of writing her own Nancy Drew novels. However, her family was doubtful about the stability of a writer’s life, so she was encouraged to pursue a medical career.

Which turned out to be a good thing as her novels often contain detailed medical information.

For instance, Dr. Maura Isles is a Boston Medical Examiner. Her work is often described in minute – if not grisly – detail as she performs autopsies. Boston Detective Jane Rizzoli investigates crime scenes – also often described in grisly detail. Which makes reading Gerritsen’s novels interesting, to say the least.

Gerritsen earned a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and a medical degree from the University of California. She soon after began her career as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Honolulu Magazine sponsored a statewide fiction contest. Gerritsen, on maternity leave at the time, submitted her story, “On Choosing the Right Crack Seed,” which won the first prize of $500.

But winning the contest only whetted Gerritsen’s writing appetite. Her first novels were romantic thrillers published by Harlequin Intrigue and Harper Paperbacks.

Gerritsen soon wanted to spread her literary wings. She began writing medical thrillers when a plot literally landed in her lap.

“I had dinner with a former policeman who’d been traveling in Russia” Gerritsen stated in an interview with Writers Write, “and he told me that orphans were vanishing from the streets of Moscow. The Russian police believed the children were being sent to other countries as organ donors.” [1]

Tess immediately contacted her brother-in-law, a Newsweek reporter, requesting that he investigate the situation. However, the brother-in-law was never able to track down any proof of the story.

But Tess could not forget about the missing Russian children. The story told to her by a complete stranger became the basis for her first medical thriller, Harvest, published in 1996.

Detective Jane Rizzoli made her debut in Gerritsen’s novel, “The Surgeon.” Dr. Maura Isles made her debut in “Apprentice.”

Gerritsen says she can identify with both of these characters.

She says of the character of Dr. Maura Isles, “The character I’m most connected to is Maura Isles, simply because she very much represents my own personality: Logical, science-minded, and reserved. Whenever I write from her point of view, I feel like I’m writing about myself.” [2]

But she also says of the character of Rizzoli: “Jane Rizzoli is actually the character I most identified with! She’s the outsider in many respects: the only girl in a family of brothers. The only female cop on the homicide squad. The plain jane who’s overlooked because other women are more attractive. … I do sympathize with her ‘outsider’ status.” [1]

It makes sense that Gerritsen would relate to both of her lead characters. Particularly since it is these two strong female characters which lead to the TNT television series “Rizzoli & Isles” on Monday nights at 10 p.m.

What is the greatest challenge Gerritsen has in writing a book?

“Maintaining the drive to finish it. It’s a terrible temptation to give up on a book and start something new. Over the years, I’ve learned to persist through thick and thin, even when the book is not going well. Only after you’ve written ‘the end’ can you truly evaluate whether you’ve been writing drivel or a masterpiece.” [1]

Books in the Rizzoli & Isles series:

The Surgeon (2001) Introduces Detective Jane Rizzoli
The Apprentice (2002) Introduces Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles
The Sinner (2003)
Body Double (2004)
Vanish (2005)
The Mephisto Club (2006)
The Keepsake (2008)
Ice Cold (2010)
The Silent Girl (2011)


[1] Writers Write

[2] Current Vine

Tess Gerritsen’s Offical Website

Tess Gerritsen’s Blog

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