This week I met an author whose series of novels inspired a successful TV drama that spanned 7 seasons with a total of 105 episodes. The author was Tess Gerristen, and her series of medical crime thrillers inspired the TV show, Rizzoli and Isles. Gerristen shared thoughts on what has inspired her writing and how she’s turned these sparks of inspiration into compelling stories.
During Gerristen’s talk, she spoke of getting inspiration from reading newspapers, exploring her interests, and exploring things outside of her area of interest. When something intrigues her in one of these settings, she asks herself “what if” questions. She then turns her creative answers to these “what if” questions into fictional books that have sold over 25 million copies in 40 countries. Here is a three-minute video snippet from her talk as she shares the inspiration for her newest book (and perhaps the last in her Rizzoli and Isles series), I Know a Secret.
Gerristen’s success with medical crime thrillers proves the validity of the admonitions to follow your dream and to write what you know. It also validates authors’ experiences of writing out of their pain. As a child, Gerristen dreamed of one day writing her own Nancy Drew novels. Her Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American parents, however, prompted her to choose a medical career. She graduated from Stanford with a BA in anthropology and then studied medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Afterward, she established a successful practice as an internist. While on maternity leave, Gerristen entered a statewide short story contest and won first place and $500 for a story that focused on a young man reflecting on a difficult relationship with his mother. Gerritsen claims the story allowed her to deal with her own childhood turmoil, including the repeated suicide attempts of her mother.
Gerristen’s first published books were romantic thrillers published by Harlequin Intrigue. Her writing career really took off, however, after she wrote her first romantic medical suspense novel, Harvest, marking her debut on the New York Times bestseller list at number thirteen. Five years later, she wrote The Surgeon, introducing the detective Jane Rizolli. Her next ten novels paired Rizolli with the medical examiner Dr. Laura Isles. The final episode of the TV Rizolli and Isles series aired September 5, 2016, hinting that the medical examiner, Maura Isles (played by Sasha Alexander) will take a break from the medical field and try her hand at writing. Gerristen makes an appearance in this final episode as a writer who helps Maura Isles establish herself in the literary field.
Gerristen shared that a possible eight-episode TV series may surface in the near future featuring Maura Isles as a writer (once again played by Sasha Alexander) who becomes involved in a medical mystery while writing a mystery story when vacationing in Italy. Alexander’s husband, Edoardo Ponti, son of Sophia Loren, will direct the series. Gerristen shared that she’s written what’s called the “Bible” for all eight episodes, and one show includes an appearance by Sophia Loren.