Tess: I was living in Hawaii and feeling the effects of “island fever,” a condition where you feel trapped, constricted, and cut off from the world. Although Honolulu is a gorgeous place, after 12 years, I needed to be part of the wider world. We came on vacation to Maine, stopped for a few days in Camden, and I stood on the town landing and thought, “This is where I’m meant to be.” The town has a wonderful library, multiple bookstores (for a town of only 5000!), and a year-round community. There are writers everywhere. Plus, I loved the idea of changing seasons, and the local schools were good. Luckily, my husband has a portable job (he’s a doctor) so we picked up and moved here. And I think it was the best thing that ever happened to my career.
Were you already writing when you moved to Maine?
Tess: Yes. I had already published two romantic suspense novels with Harlequin Intrigue when I moved to Maine. Little did I know that Maine would turn out to be an amazingly creative place that would inspire me to write many more books.
Your earliest books are romances. We know that writing romances is a very disciplined exercise, as you usually have to write to your publisher’s very specific genre requirements. What was it like to transition from that to writing medical thrillers? What did you learn from writing romance that served you well in the thriller arena?
Tess: I found the transition from romance to be very freeing. Suddenly there were no restrictions, and I could explore a whole range of topics without concerns about length, language, subject matter, or that required a sex scene halfway through the story. But Il will always be glad that I did write romance, because it made me a better writer. The romance genre teaches you to focus on relationships and characters, which are really what readers care about. It’s the characters that bring readers back to a book series.
At some point, you made the transition from medical thrillers to your Rizzoli and Isles mysteries. Most crime writers seem to go from series to stand-alone. Why did you go in the other direction?
Tess: I never planned to write a series at all. I was happy doing stand-alones, and The Surgeon was intended as just that. But Jane Rizzoli popped up as a secondary character in that book—a character whom I intended to kill off by the end. Somewhere during the writing of The Surgeon, Jane decided she had other plans. She was not going to die. She was not going to obey me. She was going to take over the damn story and close the case. So she survived The Surgeon—and then wanted her own book. Just for her, I wrote The Apprentice, introduced Dr. Maura Isles (again, a secondary character), and the Rizzoli and Isles series was born. I write the books because I want to know what’s going on in their lives and their careers. They’ve matured through the series. They’ve become friends. Jane has married and had a child, and Maura has gone through some romantic travails. I never know what’s going to happen next, which is why I write the books. To find out.
As your popularity shows, readers just love these characters. Given that you write very strong, very dark books that expose your central characters to a lot of violence, how do you deal with the challenge of allowing them to go on without getting serious cases of PTSD?
Tess: Oh, they do have PTSD. Jane does, anyway, and she has physical scars to go along with it. But like any real person who has a high-stress job, these women survive the crisis and move on. They’re strong that way, and that’s why I admire them.
We know you’ve been asked this question a lot, but we’re just as curious as your other readers. How do you feel the TV version of your Rizzoli and Isles books has influenced her career? Has it influenced your writing?
Tess: I’m thrilled about the TV show, even though there are obvious differences from the books. On TV, Jane and Maura are already established as best friends. In the books, their friendship is wary at first, based on mutual respect that has grown into something deeper over nine books. The TV show has a lot of humor, and quite a bit more glamor. The books are, I’m afraid, lacking in much humor since I’m not brilliant enough to be funny. And as for glamor, the extend of my knowledge of high heels is what I see in People Magazine. What really matters to me is that the show is bringing me new readers. It’s acquainting people around the world with Jane and Maura. It hasn’t influenced my writing much, because I’m trying to stay true to the world I’ve created on the page.
The characters in the TV drama, especially Maura Isles, are quite different from those in your books. Have you sold more books as a result? Have you been tempted to change your books to match the TV characters?
Tess: I’m sure I’m selling more books thanks to the TV show. I can’t ask for a better way to spread the word than TV. Eight million U.S. viewers watch “Rizzoli & Isles” every week. That’s a lot of eyes, and I’m hoping they’ll be tempted to check out the books.
What is it like to have someone reinterpret your vision for a TV audience?
Tess: When I first saw the pilot, I had to get used to the physical differences from the books. Book Jane is plain and a bit frumpy. TV Jane is Angie Harmon (!) Book Maura is serious, dark-haired, and intense. TV Maura is blond, sprightly Sasha Alexander. But I consider them variations on a theme. It’s a bit like hearing a jazz version of a Beethoven melody. Save melody, but a different variation.
What are you working on now?
Tess: The tenth book in the Rizzoli & Isles series. It will be called Last to Die.
What is one question about your writing, or you as a writer, that you’ve always wanted to be asked, and never are?
Tess: What’s the hardest part about sustaining a career? I want to be asked that question because no one really points out how hard it is to consistently write book after book, year after year. We give all our attention to the debut novelists, the huge first books. We honor the literary novelists who turn out a blockbuster every five or ten years. I think the act of turning out a book every single year is a tougher trick!
And now, some questions about you.
One of the things your fellow writers know is that you are incredibly generous toward, and
supportive of, other writers. We appreciate it, but wonder—do you have a philosophy of generosity? Do you remember how it was starting out? And how do you find the time?
Tess: I remember how generous other writers were to me when I first started out. Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen, Michael Palmer, even James Patterson gave me quotes for Harvest. It meant a lot to me, and I try to match that spirit of generosity. Unfortunately, I can’t keep up with the demands. There are so many first novels being published, and I am already swamped with dozens of galleys. It makes me sad that I can’t read them all, and sometimes I just have to go by which editor has sent them to me. Some editors seems to know exactly what my tastes are and they’ll consistently send me really great books.
Speaking of time, you’re on a very tight writing deadline, and you also do a lot of touring, and now you have the TV series. Do you have any time for fun? What do you do for fun?
Tess: Time for fun seems to be vanishing! This year has been a real push, and I’m trying to pull back on the commitments. I’m asking for 18 months for the next book and I’m declining speaking invitations and conferences. I’ve come to accept that a lifetime is limited, and this is when I should be exploring the world for fun—not business.
You now live in the gorgeous town of Camden, Maine. Since so many of our readers follow this blog because of their interest in Maine, can you tell us some of your favorite places around your area? Places to eat, or hike, or other treasures they might also want to discover?
Tess: My favorite place is the top of Mt. Battie. I walk up that road almost every day, for the exercise and the views. When visitors come, we always take them to Beauchamp Point, in Rockport, and to the Children’s Chapel.
And here’s one you probably aren’t asked very often. Your family (your mother?) ran a restaurant, and you are a wonderful cook yourself. Would you share a recipe or two with us, and our readers?
Tess: My mom’s Chinese chicken curry
2 T. peanut oil
3 lbs. chicken thighs
3 cloves minced garlic
1 large onion, sliced
1 large potato, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
1 ½ c. chicken broth
2 tsp. corn starch
2-3 T. curry powder
Chili pepper flakes (to taste. I add about a tsp.)
Salt (to taste)
In a small bowl, combine broth, cornstarch, and curry powder into a slurry
In a large pot, sauté chicken thighs in peanut oil until browned. Add garlic and onions and sauté until onions are soft. Add potato cubes, then the slurry. Add chili pepper flakes. Simmer for 45 minutes, until chicken and potatoes are tender. Serve over rice.