New England Writers at Work

Tess Gerritsen writes in a room with a view

Tess Gerritsen writes in a double room above the garage in her home.
Tess Gerritsen writes in a double room above the garage in her home. Greta Rybus for The Boston Globe

The physician-cum-bestselling novelist Tess Gerritsen is perhaps best known for the characters Dr. Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli, a medical examiner and Boston homicide detective now portrayed on the small screen by Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. In “Die Again,’’ her latest book which was released in December, the duo solves the murder of a big-game hunter clawed to shreds. Gerritsen lives in Camden, Maine.

ROOM WITH A VIEW: I write in a double room above our garage. It’s got bookshelves everywhere; it’s in a state of orderly disorder, and I know where everything is. I can see the ocean from my desk. In the other direction, I can see the driveway so I can see who’s coming to my house. I have two desks. One has my computer, and the other desk is where I put my papers and do most of my creative work.


DOCTOR’S SCRIPTS: I write my first drafts in longhand. I can type faster than anybody else I know, but I can’t compose on a computer because I feel this compulsion to edit what I see onscreen. I always write on unlined typing paper. Because I’m a doctor, I use shorthand. People would have a hard time reading my handwriting, but it’s just messy enough so I can’t see the flaws while I’m writing, and I keep going forward.

AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS?: Starting every book is really hard, since usually all I have is an idea that makes me wonder what happens next . . . “Vanish” was inspired by an article in the Globe about a woman who was found dead in her bathtub from an overdose; they put her in a body bag and took her to the morgue, and she woke up. I thought that was a frightening thing to happen to somebody. I knew the plot wasn’t just a body waking up in a bag, but that she would do something that nobody expects. So she goes to the hospital, kills the security guard, and takes hostages. While I knew that much in advance, I did not know why she was doing these things. She remained a blank until halfway through the story, and then it came together. That’s usually how my books go: I have this emotional momentum at the beginning, I get blocked halfway through, and then I have to figure out what the book is really about. I don’t recommend this way of writing . . . I have learned that I have to give myself permission to write badly, or I’d never write at all.


Writer Tess Gerritsen's desk is covered with reference books, drafts, and notes.
Writer Tess Gerritsen's desk is covered with reference books, drafts, and notes. Greta Tybus for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

ON THE ROAD: Taking a long, boring drive helps me figure things out. The drive from Camden to Boston is three and a half hours, and it’s done a lot for me. I figured out “Vanished” on a drive through Texas. I have solved plot issues in the UK on a train. In transit, you’re relaxed. Your brain goes to sleep and it’s working when you don’t realize it. I also lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling.

DRAWING ON LIFE: I draw the themes of my novels from my life. At the moment, I’m finishing up a book about the Italian holocaust. I was in Venice on vacation for my birthday when the idea came to me. I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I was playing my violin. There was a baby sitting next to me, and the baby’s eyes glowed red. I probably had too much wine that night. I woke up and was gripped by the idea of music turning someone into a monster. After a day of walking around Venice, the whole story came together.


THE RIGHT STUFF: Verisimilitude is very important to me, and I try to be as realistic as possible. I sometimes get letters from people telling me I got details wrong. The vast majority of readers don’t care, but I do.

Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached ateugenia.williamson@ gmail.com.