Tess Gerritsen takes the phrase “character driven” very seriously.

The best-selling crime author from Camden doesn’t start any of her books with plot ideas. In fact, she doesn’t even do a plot outline.

She just comes up with the most interesting, inventive characters she can think of — with plenty of back story — and then starts to write.

“I always start with the character, never with the crime,” said Gerritsen. “I never plot things out. I never know exactly were the plot will take me.”

Gerritsen’s method has served her well. Her latest book, “Last to Die,” is the tenth in a series following the exploits of Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. It went on sale in late August.

The “Rizzoli & Isles” series of books are so successful, they have been made into a TV series of the same name on TNT, which has recently been picked up for a fourth season.

Gerritsen, who worked as a doctor before becoming a full-time writer, was in Atlanta on a book tour recently when she took time to answer a few questions.


Q: Do you worry you’ll run out of ideas for “Rizzoli & Isles” books?

A: I never run out of ideas. For this one (“Last to Die”), I came up with the idea of teenage detectives when I was at Husson University (in Bangor), and they were talking about forensics. So I thought, instead of college, I’d put them in high school. And then it just went from there.

When I was working as a doctor, I worked with head injury patients. Head injuries screw up your sleep and make you do spontaneous things. So I thought, why not put those things into a teenage girl? So she’s not only brain injured, but she’s got a teenage brain too.

So I started with this girl who had a bullet in her brain, and thought, what if I have two more girls just like her?


Q: Writing in that way, do you ever get writer’s block? Do you have times when the characters are in place but the plot doesn’t come?

A: There are days I don’t want to write, but I sit down anyway, because you never know when a creative breakthrough will come. I always have some writer’s block when I don’t know how I’ll finish it. Sometimes I’m three-quarters of the way through before I know who the bad guy is. Sometimes I stop writing for a couple weeks, and that can be panic-inducing.


Q: Do you have ways for overcoming writer’s block?

A: One of my ways is taking a long drive. I’ve read that sometimes it helps to not be thinking consciously about what you want to write. You want the drive to be as boring as possible, so your brain isn’t distracted by scenery. Usually, I just get on I-95 and drive up and down. I know it’s not an environmentally friendly way to write.


Q: Do you like the TV show “Rizzoli & Isles”? Do you watch it?

A: Yes. I like it. It brings people to the books. I watch it all the time. The real change is the humor. It’s much funnier than the books. They’ve emphasized the friendship between them more, which makes sense for TV. And they’ve made them prettier than my characters are.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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