Horror Movies, Legal Troubles and Moving on: Tess Gerritsen Talks to RT

Tess Gerritsen's I KNOW A SECRETRizzoli and Isles fans, prepare yourselves! New book is nearly upon us! I Know a Secret — which our reviewer called, "unforgettable," will be out August 15 — and we cannot wait! To prepare for the release, we chatted with Tess Gerritsen about her new book, her family film project, her Gravity lawsuit and more. 

I Know a Secret is your 12th Rizzoli and Isles book. How do you keep their stories fresh and engaging? Do you find that having a new mystery each book invigorates your characters?

Jane and Maura are like real people to me. Their lives (and their friendship) continually evolve and grow, so we see them change through the years. We also watch the universe of people changing around them — the ups and downs of Angela, Korsak, Frost and Father Brophy. That’s the real reason I keep writing the books — I want to see what happens to these people next.

I also try to explore intriguing issues in every book. Over the years my stories have explored subjects as varied as Egyptology, leprosy and horror films. You never know what bizarre new subject will turn up!

Jane and Maura have an amazing friendship. Why do you think it's important to portray strong female bonds?

I never set out to specifically write about their bond – it simply happened organically as I wrote the series. Jane was introduced in The Surgeon and Maura was introduced in the second book, The Apprentice. At first they were merely colleagues, but by book four you knew these women had learned to trust each other, and by book five, they were ready to risk their lives for each other. Like real friendships, theirs has grown over time.

In I Know a Secret, you take on horror movies. Are you a horror movie fan? Which are your favorites (or what do you prefer to watch instead)? 

My mother loved horror films, and because she took me to so many of them when I was a child, I learned to love them too. I grew up in the golden age of monster flicks (Them, The Thing) but the one film that stands out to me as most disturbing was Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Although it had no gore or violence, it bothered the child in me, because it asked the question: “What if you woke up one morning and you knew your mommy wasn’t really your mommy, but no one believed you?”

You and your son recently collaborated on the horror movie Island Zero. Tell us about the project! 

It was an absolute blast! Josh and I were weeding the garden one day, talking about the movies we loved, and I said, “Let’s make a low-budget horror film together! I’ll write the script and you can direct it.” He was already a documentary filmmaker, and it seemed like a fun family project. Our prime objective was to have a good time, and to make an entertaining film. I wrote the script in four months, Josh brought in a high school friend as producer (she works in the film industry), and we launched this huge, crazy project with the blissful ignorance of newbies. But we had a terrific cinematographer and cast (our four leads are Screen Actors Guild), and shot the film in three weeks. In the freezing cold month of March, in Maine. Island Zero is now showing at film festivals (so far it’s been screened in Los Angeles, Boston and Maine), and has already received some nice reviews.

How is your process for writing a screenplay different from writing a novel? 

I love writing screenplays because so much story and character development can be telegraphed in a line of dialogue or an actor’s expression. Instead of having to write transitions, you simply cut to the next scene. The screenwriting process also means constantly paring down scenes, tightening dialogue, telling the story in as few lines as possible. When you only have 100-120 pages in which to tell a complex, multi-character story, you learn to make every word count.

You've spoken openly about your legal troubles with the movie industry. How are you feeling about the case now? Has writing about the movies and making your own movies helped you find closure/move on? 

My Gravity lawsuit really opened my eyes to the dark side of the film industry. Because I was very public with my struggles, I was contacted by a number of other writers (both novelists and established screenwriters) who had their own tales of woe. Most of these writers never dared to sue because they were warned of long-term damage to their careers. One screenwriter told me (after his screenplay was stolen): “I was advised to let it go because theft happens to everyone, and I should just learn to suck it up.” I think what most shocked me was how impossible it is to win a case in the Ninth Circuit. In the past few decades, fifty writers have sued studios for copyright infringement or breach of contract. Every single writer lost. That tells you how much power the studios hold. I think the only way to hold onto your stories is, indeed, to make your own films. And with more avenues for indie film releases, it might be possible to make back your budget.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on something entirely different — a paranormal suspense novel. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but I can tell you I’m having a lot of fun with it! Also, my son and I are filming an off-beat documentary about the centuries-old relationship between humans … and pigs.

I may be getting older, but I never run out of stories. I just hope I have enough years left to tell them all.

I Know a Secret will be out August 15, and you can preorder your copy here: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play. For more mysterious reads, be sure to visit our Everything Mystery page!