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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Author Gerritsen scares up plots in some unusual places

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen addresses more than 40 noontime visitors to the Putnam County Library Monday. Following her comments, many of which focused on where she gets her ideas for her murderous mystery novels.
Murder, mystery, mayhem and the macabre quite often are where you find them, although many times disguised well beyond any simple identification or explanation.

Take, for example, bestselling author Tess Gerritsen who visited the Putnam County Public Library Monday afternoon.

A tiny, unassuming, soft-spoken 60-year-old Chinese-American woman who left behind a medical career as an internist to raise her children wouldn't seem the type to create stories intended to scare the bejeebers out of readers.

Searching for ideas in news stories, Internet reports and even the National Enquirer, Gerritsen told her "Brown Bag Lunch" series library audience that she likes to write "about what really freaks me out."

"As a kid growing up in San Diego, I practically lived in my local library, where I met Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes and Bilbo Baggins," Gerritsen said, noting that she knew she wanted to be a writer when she was just seven years old.

"I get to tell stories and work my own hours," she said after the presentation, "what's not to like?"

Gerritsen had her audience in the palm of her hand from the outset Monday, offering to share where her ideas have come from for such bestsellers as "Harvest," "Vanish" and "The Surgeon."

"That's the first thing Stephen King ever said to me," she said of her fellow Maine resident and author. "'Where do you get your ideas?'"

Gerritsen signed copies of her books for Greencastle residents like Kathy Custis.
She prefaced sharing specifics of the genesis of those ideas by relating how her mother, a Chinese immigrant, didn't comprehend the English language but understood the American horror film genre.

"We grew up watching horror films," Gerritsen said, adding that her mother would take her and her brother to the movie theater to witness about anything that would scare them silly.

Her mother would later prove to be the author's greatest critic as her reaction to most of Gerritsen's books was, "wasn't scary enough," she noted.

The idea for "Vanish," the story that introduced the character of Police Det. Jane Rizzoli and led to the TNT drama series "Rizzoli and Isles," came from Nantucket, Mass., following a year in which three people wound up in the morgue after a nearly deaf coroner had pronounced them dead.

"That kind of story gets my interest," Gerritsen said. "We're all afraid of waking up in a body bag or at the morgue, I think."

In her book, the near-corpse awakens, grabs a security guard's gun and takes hostages, one of whom is Rizzoli. Since Rizzoli is a patient and wearing a hospital gown, no one knows initially that she's a cop.

Rizzoli was not supposed to survive that story.

"It didn't matter to me that she was a bitch," the author said, "because she's supposed to die. But she ends up being such a force of nature ... not only is she smart but she's also determined.

"She's an outsider," Gerritsen continued, "and I identified with her (because) I was the only Asian kid in my whole school."

So when it came time to kill off Rizzoli, Gerritsen just couldn't do it.

"I wondered what happens to her next," she confided. "Do you ever get happy?"

So how did Rizzoli and Isles end up as a series of books and a TV success, now in its fifth season with a history of having been the No. 1-rated scripted cable channel series?

"The two characters wouldn't leave me alone," the author said.

A rough-and-tough Boston girl, Rizzoli was described by the author as "short and scruffy" and the type of woman no man would give a second look.

"Now she's (actress) Angie Harmon -- tall and beautiful," Gerritsen laughed. "But she nails the Jane Rizzoli personality."

Maura Isles, the medical examiner played by Sasha Alexander on TV, came in as a minor character in the book "The Apprentice."

"So Maura doesn't look like my Maura and Jane doesn't look like my Jane," Gerritsen said.

But Isles is much like Gerritsen herself, the author said.

"We both believe in the same things, play the piano, drink the same wine.

"One reason I kept writing books about them is because I wanted to know what happened to them next," Gerritsen said. "They surprised me."

The 11th book in the Jane and Maura series, "Die Again," is due for a December 2014 release, she told a rapt audience of mainly women.

Gerritsen came to the Putnam County Public Library as part of a 16-day, 23-library "Great Indiana Public Libraries Tour" that began the last day of September and ends next Monday.

While planning what was originally intended to be a one-time appearance at the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus, Gerritsen asked the librarian who invited her if any other libraries that would be interested in a speaking event while she was in the area.

Particularly interested in visiting public libraries in smaller towns that rarely get an opportunity to host authors (free of charge to the library and attendees), she received more than 20 requests from Indiana public libraries, as well as one Kentucky branch.

"I've always been grateful for our nation's public library system," Gerritsen said, thinking about those formative years in San Diego, "and I've never forgotten what it gave to me."

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