Here is the interview with Tess Gerritsen:
Daniel: What was the hardest issue for you, as a beginning author, to overcome - and how did you overcome it?
Tess: The hardest issue for me to overcome as a new writer? Just plain finishing the first book. I was new to the process and felt the need to perfect every sentence, every chapter, before I could move on. I've since learned that it's important to write all the way to the end and then to go back and revise and polish. It's the only way I'll ever finish a book -- by allowing that first draft to be imperfect.
Daniel: When you first published a novel, did you use a literary agent or submit directly to the publisher? At that time, how extensive were your writing credits?
Tess: When I sold my first book, I submitted it (CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT) simultaneously to both a literary agent as well as a publisher (Harlequin). They both said yes. But I would advise all new writers to
at least try to get a literary agent to represent them. It's the only way to get a really good contract.
Daniel: All writers love to read. In your case, what is your favorite genre (to read), and are there any other authors you'd like to recommend?
Tess: My favorite genre to read? History as well as historical novels. While I do read a number of thrillers, I find that I crave books that are not the genre in which I write. Maybe it's because writers need to take a break from their own work! Among my favorite authors are Robert Harris and Philippa Gregory.
Daniel: Are there any writing methods or concepts you'd advise beginning writers to avoid?
Tess: I don't tell beginning writers that there's a right way or a wrong way to write, because we're all different. I'm comfortable with my process of not outlining and not plotting out ahead of time, and it works for me. But it may not work for anyone else. The only thing I would suggest is that they not try to perfect their early chapters before continuing with the story. Too often, beginning authors will polish and polish the first few chapters and never finish the book.
Daniel: One thing I personally struggle with is character development, which is key in writing a novel. Any words of advice in adding "depth" to a character? How can we make the characters "real"?
Tess: When developing characters, I've learned to just relax and let the characters take form all by themselves. I don't do character outlines. Often, I know only the barest details about their lives. Getting to know a character is like getting to know real people -- at first, all you know is their age and sex. But with further conversations and contacts, you learn more and more about them. Their politics, their moods, what their families are like. It's the same with characters. As you spend time with them and watch them react to elements of the story, you understand who they are. By the end of the book, you'll know them very well. So as a writer, I just let them develop on their own and discover who they are through what they say and how they interact with other characters.
Daniel: You tend to writer thriller-style novels. Is that your favorite genre to write? If not, what do you enjoy writing the most? (Could include poetry, short stories, other genres, etc.)
Tess: I tend to write thrillers because it's simply the way my mind thinks. I always seem to veer toward dark and twisted plots. I always think: "What's the worst that can happen?" Maybe it's because I spent my childhood reading Nancy Drew and other mysteries. Even when I was writing romance novels (my first 9 books) I always had a mystery central to the plot.
Daniel: When writing the first draft of a novel, is there any method you follow strictly?
Tess: When writing my first drafts, I have no rules and no particular methods except to keep moving forward. I instinctively introduce conflict in every chapter. It's not something I consciously insert into the story -- I just find that I do it without even thinking. Conflict is important for pacing and drama, and I find that if characters don't get along, or are odds with each other, the story is a lot more interesting. I don't outline ahead of time, so I don't always know what's ahead for my characters. It keeps the story surprising for me.
Daniel: Where do you find your inspiration for writing? In other words, what motivates you?
Tess: Where do I find my inspiration? Well, I write because I feel compelled to. And because my deadlines always loom over my head! I'm under contract to write a book a year, so that's a very good motivator.
But even if I wasn't tied to a book contract, I'd still write simply because I want to see how the story turns out. I love the challenge of spinning a story out of nothing but my own imagination. As for where I
find my inspiration for stories -- I get them everywhere, from news reports to conversations to bad movies. There are story ideas everywhere. You just have to learn to recognize which ideas will turn into a great book, and which ideas are not all that interesting.
Daniel: Lastly, if there were only one idea or concept you could teach a struggling, unpublished author, what would it be?
Tess: What's the one concept I'd teach a new writer? Follow your emotions. Pay attention to what makes you angry, scared, and horrified. Emotions are at the heart of your story. When I'm fishing around for a new idea for a book, I always choose the idea that gives me an emotional punch. For instance, VANISH was based on a news story about a young woman who was declared dead and later woke up in the morgue. That horrified me -- which is exactly why I chose it as the basis for my VANISH plot.
Daniel: Any other comments?
Tess: My last comment: The longer I've been in the storytelling business, the more convinced I am that storytellers are born, not made. Some people just know instinctively in which direction to take a plot, and they'll almost always veer down the path that offers the most conflict, the most drama. That's hard to teach to writing students. I don't know how to teach a sense of drama -- it's something you have to know all by yourself.