“Writing the first book? Most people can do that. But it’s writing the tenth and twentieth book that really gets hard.”
Fortunately, Tess Gerritsen, the critically acclaimed and internationally bestselling author of more than seventeen novels—and whose books have been published in more than forty countries with more than 30 million copies sold—knows a thing or two about embracing challenges. And the fruits of her creative labors will be on full display this fall.
Gerritsen’s eleventh novel to feature Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles, “Die Again” (Ballantine Books), was released in paperback on Tuesday. A New York Times bestseller upon its hardcover publication, the title also earned kudos from critics and contemporaries—including Karin Slaughter (“Tess Gerritsen proves that she is still at the top of her game.”), William Landay (“Tess Gerritsen always delivers, and this is Gerritsen at her dark, addictive best.”), and James Rollins (“Tess Gerritsen once again proves her masterful dominance in stories delving into the criminal mind and forensic sciences.”).
“Die Again” was inspired by a true life event. When Gerritsen and her husband were on safari in South Africa a few years ago, they encountered a leopard while having nightly cocktails “in the bush.” And while their guide was able to put himself between the cat and their tour group, the consequences could have been deadly. This scenario later sparked an idea: “We had to trust this man. But what if you trust the wrong person? What if you land in the bush in a remote area and the guy who comes to pick you up is not the guy who’s supposed to—and the most dangerous creature in the bush is on two legs?”
“I’m always asking myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” she laughs. “It’s the unfortunate part of being a thriller writer—you’re always seeing the dark side.”
But it’s not just Gerritsen’s fiction that draws inspiration from reality. And reality can be as dark as any tale conjured up within a writer’s mind.
“My father died of Alzheimer’s,” Gerritsen, a retired physician, recalls. “He was age eighty-three when he finally passed away but he had had it for a good twenty years, and so I was able to see the decline of this man I once knew who turned into something completely different.”
Then, contemplating her own livelihood, she reveals: ““That is probably for writers one of the worst fears we have: losing our intellectual abilities. I think we’re all terrified of it.”
Galvanized by her loss—and by the frightening statistics (more than five million people are currently living with the disease—a number that’s expected to triple in our lifetime)—Gerritsen began to consider using her influence to bring attention to the woefully underfunded cause of Alzheimer’s research.
“We as a country put so much money into other things—wars, for instance,” she muses. “We worry about Americans dying of terrorism while right this minute millions of Americans are dying of something that’s killing us right now and yet there’s very little that’s invested in it.”
So Gerritsen launched her first War on Alzheimer’s campaign in 2013 through GoFundMe—and she asked her readers, fellow writers, and members of the publishing community to join her. Three hundred and ninety five people did just that, helping to raise more than $50,000 to fund Alzheimer’s research.
Gerritsen’s current campaign will run through November, and she has once again pledged to match $25,000 in donations. All proceeds will benefit The Scripps Research Institute, which she calls “one of the best known and certainly most prestigious biomedical research institutions. They have a whole number of scientists who are working on Alzheimer’s research already.”
“When I talk about people donating to Alzheimer’s I don’t mean they have to donate to my charity,” Gerritsen continues. Rather, she encourages interested parties to use resources such as the Alzheimer’s Association and Charity Navigator to identify local organizations that are positively rated and whose proceeds are directed toward lab work as opposed to administrative costs.
There are, however, incentives for those who choose to participate in Gerritsen’s campaign. For instance, donors are entered into a raffle for a chance to win special prizes—including the opportunity to name a character in Gerritsen’s 2016 Rizzoli & Isles release. Other items up for grabs include a Rizzoli & Isles DVD Box Set, a signed collection of Rizzoli & Isles books, a signed hardcover edition of “Die Again,” and “Twelve Months of Tess”—a year-long mailing of autographed novels.
Though Rizzoli and Isles are on hiatus until next year—at least in their novelized form (the TNT drama is now in its sixth season)—Gerritsen will publish a standalone thriller, “Playing with Fire,” on October 27th.
“So much of this book came to me in dreams,” Gerritsen remembers. “I was in Venice for my birthday and I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I was playing the violin and there was this baby sitting next to me … her eyes glowed red and she turned into a monster. And I woke up and I thought, ‘There’s a book in here somewhere.’”
In “Playing with Fire,” violinist Julia Ansdell travels to Italy to uncover the origins of the Incendio waltz—an enigmatic composition that causes a violent response in her daughter each time it’s played. The story’s narratives alternate between Boston in the present day and Venice during World War II, culminating in an ending that ties the two together.
“The most powerful part for me was exploring what it was like to be Jewish in the 1940s in Italy,” Gerritsen offers, recalling that much of the story revealed itself as she walked through the Jewish ghetto observing memorials to the Holocaust. Appropriately, the novel’s release will coincide with Jewish Book Month (November).
Despite its depth, Gerritsen sums up the book’s essence quite simply: “[It] has to do with the power of music to tell a story and to transform people.”
The author, who studied violin as a child, had a transformative moment herself. “About halfway through writing this story I woke up and the melody was in my head … Over the next couple of weeks I composed the entire piece.” Gerritsen later collaborated on a recording of Incendio with internationally renowned violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou. That piece will be available on the audiobook edition of “Playing with Fire” and also excerpted in the eBook.
Through a storied career that has seen its moments of both darkness and light, Gerritsen has never lost her perspective—or her sense of humor. “I think that’s a great thing about being a thriller writer: your nightmares are really useful,” she enthuses. “I certainly welcome them!”