Monday, February 16, 2015

Tess Gerritsen at The Poisoned Pen!

In her weekly email, host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters told us she was going to talk about her recent trip to South Africa. Having already heard a few things about it, and knowing that the evening's guest was going to be Tess Gerritsen, author of the popular Rizzoli and Isles mystery series, Denis and I knew we'd better get to our favorite bookstore in plenty of time to grab our seats.

We were right. The Poisoned Pen was already buzzing when we walked in, and a fellow book buddy who'd driven all the way from Tucson was there. It wasn't long before we were sitting and talking books-- and I'm very pleased to say that, with my recommendation,  my friend bought the first Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery by Elly Griffiths before the event started. (Fingers crossed that she likes it!)

They need a stupid motorist law....

Barbara had had her husband enlarge some of the photos he'd taken on their trip, and they certainly came in handy. 

Barbara Peters telling us about her trip to Africa.

She couldn't stress highly enough the importance of staying in the vehicle while out looking for wild animals. Evidently, as long as all your body parts are inside the vehicle, the wildlife perceives the metal box as a large animal, and they don't mess with it. Now getting out of the vehicle, or even sticking an arm outside the window is a different story. As Barbara related some of the things that had happened on various safaris, I began to think that Africa needs a Stupid Motorist Law like we have here in Phoenix. 

As you might imagine, there are much higher fatality rates on "self-drive" treks through the bush. A Japanese couple on their honeymoon took one of these, and stopped when they saw a lion. The woman wanted a photo of her standing by the king of beasts. She hopped out of the vehicle, went over to the lion, and became lunch. The man tried to save his wife. The outcome? The lion got two for one. (Barbara's words, not mine.)

"Ladies, there are no bathroom facilities on these safaris," Barbara said. "You can leave the vehicle to look for a bush, but I've already told you what happens when you get out of the vehicle!"

She also explained that there are high fences around the game parks. This isn't to protect the people; the fences are to protect the animals. An elephant somehow managed to get out of one park, and it took a mere two hours for the elephant to be killed, butchered, and completely disappear. An elephant!

Unlike South Africa, Botswana has a kill law, and they enforce it, sending helicopters out to patrol their parks. If they see poachers, they will shoot them. Species like the rhinoceros are moments away from extinction due to poachers killing them for the Asian aphrodisiac market.

One of the things that seemed to stun Barbara the city girl? "We saw more animal sex on this trip!" While we were laughing, Tess Gerritsen made her appearance.

"You've been saved from the ignominious fate of..."

Barbara Peters and Tess Gerritsen waiting for a microphone check.

In Gerritsen's newest Rizzoli and Isles mystery, Die Again, Jane and Maura find themselves in Africa to solve a crime. Naturally Tess and her husband went there to do research. 

"I don't know what this says about the Chinese, but they're the #1 nationality to die due to getting out of their vehicles out in the bush," Gerritsen said. "Our group stopped for cocktails while out on safari. My husband had to pee and started to head over to a bush. He was advised to choose a bush in a different direction because of a recent leopard sighting. No sooner had he disappeared in a new direction than a leopard came out from behind the bush he'd originally chosen. Our guide got between us and the leopard, and the leopard finally decided to leave. When my husband reappeared, I told him, 'You were saved from the ignominious fate of dying with your fly open!'"

Yes, it was a close call, but Gerritsen became intrigued by a what if. What if the most dangerous thing in the bush was on two legs? An idea for a novel was born. She was also fascinated by something she came across in her reading. Human evolution is intimately tied to leopards. Leopards put their kills up in trees, and early humans learned to go up in the trees to steal those kills. Eating meat killed by leopards was probably our ancestors' first shots of protein, which led to our brain development.

A bit of background on Die Again...

Available Now!
In Die Again, seven tourists decide to fly to Botswana to go on safari. Everything is booked online. They don't know who's picking them up. They arrive in Botswana... and they disappear. Six years later, clues left at the scene of a murder in Boston leads Maura Isles to believe there is a tie-in with the missing safari group.

Gerritsen spoke of one of the characters in the book, a London bookseller named Millie Jacobson and her thriller writer boyfriend. Gerritsen was conducting a charity event for Alzheimer's research, and everyone who made a donation became part of a drawing. The winner would have a character in Tess's next book named after him. When the winner was announced, he chose to have the character named after his mother-- Millie Jacobson. "I want to see her live again," he said. 

Khaki Fever and a Television Series

Gerritsen then went on to tell us about a very common occurrence on safaris: Khaki Fever. Khaki Fever refers to women falling in love with their guides. A honeymoon couple went on safari. While their guide was taking them through the bush, the newly married woman fell in love with him and left her husband. She came back to follow the guide around, and it took a while before he could finally convince her that he wasn't interested. Guides travel around a lot, and it sounds as though they have some very interesting adventures of their own!

A brief description of Gerritsen's characters, Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles followed for the newbies in the audience, which I won't go into here. The television series has just been renewed for a sixth season and is now in syndication. The author believes that one of the reasons why the television series is so popular is because it's the first series since Cagney and Lacey to show two females who work together and who are best friends.  

When asked how closely the television series follows the books, Gerritsen told us that the pilot episode was based on her book The Apprentice, and one short story has been used. Every other episode is original, so people can enjoy watching the series and reading the books.

"In the books, Jane Rizzoli is not an attractive woman, and Maura Isles is a Goth Catherine Zeta-Jones," Tess said. "What the television series really captures is that feeling of female friendship. The producer once told me, 'I know what you're doing with Rizzoli and Isles-- Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock!'"

Another difference in the books that Gerritsen pointed out to us is that Jane's mother is a convicted serial killer, and that Jane makes some very dark choices.


Tess Gerritsen
Before the question-and-answer session began, Barbara asked Tess to talk a little bit about her lawsuit, which concerns the hit movie Gravity, a film that was based on Tess's book of the same name published in 1999.

Tess sold the film rights to the book to New Line and had even rewritten the first screenplay. Nothing came of it. Several years later Warner Brothers bought New Line, which meant they now had control of New Line's film rights and scripts. 

The man who was to have directed the original movie, Alfonso CuarĂ³n, then wrote his own screenplay. The 2013 film begins two-thirds of the way into the book, at its crisis point. It wasn't difficult for Gerritsen to see very definite similarities.

All Gerritsen wants is the "Based upon the novel Gravity written by Tess Gerritsen" credit that is due her. The lawsuit is alive and well. If Warner Brothers wins, it would mean that they can make anything they want from the properties New Line contracted for without honoring any of the original contracts.

"Something like this could conceivably happen in the publishing world," Peters told us. "The Random House and Penguin merger could mean that Random House feels it doesn't have to honor Penguin's contracts."

Q & A

Tess Gerritsen knew she wanted to be a writer since she was seven years old, but coming from an immigrant family meant that she went to medical school to please her father. "It all worked out because now I have all this other experience to draw on," she said.

She began her writing career in romantic suspense. When Harlequin received the manuscript for her first book, Call After Midnight, they scheduled a meeting. The editor had counted thirteen bodies in the book-- a record for Harlequin. "They published it anyway!" Gerritsen said with a laugh.

Tess Gerritsen
She wrote four medical thrillers before her first Rizzoli and Isles mystery, and she enjoyed the process because she liked being able to cover topics in depth.

Her next book concerns a woman's dream birthday celebration in Venice, Italy. She's a violinist, and is thrilled when she finds a handwritten music manuscript in an antiques shop. However, every time the music is played, her three-year-old daughter freaks out and does something violent.

The book's title is Playing With Fire, and has ties to the Holocaust. Gerritsen was fascinated with some of the results of her research. "When Italians don't believe in a law, they ignore it," she said. "In researching the Holocaust in Italy, I learned that there were Italian policemen who would call Jewish families to tell them, 'I'm going to come arrest you in the morning.' When morning came, the families to be arrested had wisely disappeared." 

Gerritsen has composed the piece of music her character finds in that antiques shop, and she wants to find a way to include a link to it so that the buyers of her book can actually listen to the music.

Referring to Die Again, the latest Rizzoli and Isles mystery, Barbara Peters observed, "This is a book about hunting."

"Written by a doctor," Gerritsen replied with a smile.

Tess then went on to tell us about doing a stock signing at a bookstore when a man approached the table where she was sitting. "I don't read female authors," the man haughtily informed her. Tess looked at the book he was holding in his hand. Although the author's name was male, she knew that the book had been ghostwritten by a woman. She looked up at the man, smiled, and didn't say a word.

When asked about her writing process, Gerritsen told us that she writes in ink, in longhand, on unlined typing paper. Not having lines on the paper makes her feel free to write whatever she likes. 

Fan: What do you read for fun?

Tess: I read non-fiction for fun.

Fan: Do you have any recommendations?

Tess: I loved Marilyn Johnson's Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. And Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World made me realize that we are corn's servants.

Barbara: Would you care to elaborate on that? (To everyone's laughter.)

Tess: We have modified corn so much that it can't grow without us. If we want corn, we must do whatever it takes to make it grow and thrive.

And you thought we only learned about crime fiction at The Poisoned Pen!


  1. Cathy - Glad as ever that you had such a great visit to PP. And I'm glad that Gerritsen has had so much success. Oh, I love that idea of the stupid motorist law...

    1. Yes, if people are dumb enough to attempt to cross a well-signposted flooded wash here in Phoenix and they get stuck and need to be rescued, they're going to have to pay for their own rescue. Makes sense to me!

  2. So glad you reported on this event. We had planned a trip to Scottdale and I was going to be there. But, hubby's work had a conflict and we had to cancel the trip. Nice to hear what happened. Guess we won't make it to AZ this year. Maybe next spring. Loved all the Africa talk.

    1. I do hope you'll be able to make it next spring, Kay. I'd love to be able to sit and chat with you a while!

  3. What a fun time at Poisoned Pen -- as always! And that was quite a discussion.
    The story about the dangers of going outside the vehicle reminded me that two friends of mine, a couple, went to South Africa last year with their adult daughter who had a work-related trip. They accompanied her and went on their own vacation.

    While out in the bush and in a vehicle, the guide had told them not to move out of the vehicle or even put a limb outside of it. One person wanted to take a photo and asked her partner to move some leaves out of the way right in front of them. He put his arm out of the car and moved the leaves -- and then he saw a leopard -- with a cub, no less -- glowering at him. He quickly pulled his arm back into the vehicle.

    The guide said "I told you so."

    There's nothing like a mama animal protecting her offspring.

    1. I've observed enough wild animal behavior to know that when an expert tells me to keep all my body parts inside the vehicle, that's EXACTLY what I'm going to do!


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