What’s your speed?

(from my 4/19 post on Murderati.com)

My husband says I walk too fast. He complains about this whenever we stroll together, even when we’re not late for any appointment but just seeing the sights. “What’s your hurry?” he asks. “Are you trying to make me feel like a slacker?” Really, I’m not; I just naturally walk fast. How fast? I think people in Manhattan should stop being so pokey.

Years ago, when I was working as a doctor in a Honolulu emergency room, I walked into a treatment room to sew up a cop who had a nasty laceration. Before I could say a word, the cop says, “You’re not from the islands, are you?”

“How the heck did you know that?” I ask, completely baffled. As an Asian American, I look like half the population of Honolulu.

“It’s the way you walk,” he said. “You look like you have to get somewhere in a hurry. Islanders don’t walk that way.”

Now that’s an observant cop.

Another memory: my husband and I are in London, on a double date for dinner with my UK editor and her husband. My editor and I walk together, and we both walk fast. We’re talking business while we walk, and we’re so engrossed in conversation that we’re not really paying attention to where our husbands are. Suddenly we realize we’ve lost them. They’re nowhere to be seen. We halt on the sidewalk, wondering if they took a wrong turn or ducked into a pub somewhere. A moment later the men appear, annoyed and grumbling about “these damn career women, always leaving their husbands behind.”

The thing is, I don’t think I walk fast. This is just my natural walking pace and if I slow down, I feel as if I’m wading through molasses. It’s something that’s inborn and not a conscious thing. We each have our own natural rhythms that determine how much sleep we need and how fast our hearts beat.

In the same way, I think I have my own writing speed, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t change it. I would love to write multiple novels a year. I would love to have a new book on the shelves every four months. The fastest I ever wrote was back when I was writing romantic thrillers for Harlequin, and one year I managed to write two books, but those were only 300-page manuscripts. Now that I’m writing longer thrillers, I have to work hard to meet my book-a-year deadlines.

Now, this may have something to do with my chaotic process. I don’t outline, I don’t plan ahead. I plunge into a first draft and it goes all over the place and it ends up a mess. Which means I have to spend the next five months cleaning it up. Oh, if I could just have a logical system with notecards that summarize every chapter ahead of time. If only I could approach it like an engineer with a blueprint. But even if I could do it that way, I think I’d still be writing only a book a year. Because of that natural rhythm thing again. I write four pages a day and I’m bushed. Whether those four pages are good or bad, they exhaust me.

And I have to wander off and make a martini to recover.

I’ve given up beating myself over the head about my pokey writing schedule. Just as I’ve stopped apologizing for how fast I walk. Too bad I couldn’t be a fast writer and a slow walker.

Then everything would be perfect.

A dark side of Boston

With many thanks to J. Sydney Jones, author of the Viennese mystery series, set in Vienna 1900!

A Dark Side of Boston: Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles Series
April 17, 2011 by Scene of the Crime
This week’s guest at Scene of the Crime needs little introduction to crime and mystery fans. Tess Gerritsen, former physician, is the author of eight books in the popular Rizzoli & Isles series featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, books that inspired the TNT television series. She has also written bestselling stand-alone medical thrillers such as The Bone Garden and Harvest, as well as a number of romantic suspense novels that she began her writing career with.

Of her most recent Rizzoli & Isles series installment, Ice Cold, the Chicago Tribune noted that Gerritsen “has an imagination that allows her to conjure up depths of human behavior do dark and frightening that she makes Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft seem like goody-two-shoes.” Salon.com noted that the pacing of that novel was done with “surgical precision,” while the Cleveland Plain-Dealer declared it “Amazing . . . another winner.”

Tess, thanks much for stopping by Scene of the Crime. It’s an honor to have you with us. How about we cut to the chase and talk about the setting for your Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles books?

My Rizzoli & Isles series is set primarily in Boston, which is a four-hour drive from where I actually live in Maine. Here in Maine, we have one of the lowest murder rates in the nation, so it’s not a very believable place for multiple murder plots. If I were to place a thriller series here, it would start to feel about as realistic as “Murder, She Wrote,” where eventually you’d have to kill off the entire population. When I wrote the first book in the series, The Surgeon (about a serial killer), I decided to set it in the closest metropolitan area where you might actually find multiple murders. I drive down to Boston quite often, and have developed a few contacts there within Boston PD.

What things about Boston make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

Not only does Boston have fascinating history and landmarks, it also has a great mix of wealthy neighborhoods and gritty neighborhoods. Geographically it’s a compact city, yet it has distinct neighborhoods, some of the world’s best hospitals and universities, a harbor, a financial district, and a Chinatown. So there are any number of settings that work for thrillers…

Read the rest of the interview here:

From romance to corpses

An interview with the ever-charming and talented Matt Rees.

FROM ROMANCE TO CORPSES: TESS GERRITSEN’S WRITING LIFE

Tess Gerritsen started with romance, but soon realized that dead bodies were where it’s at. At least, dead bodies handled deftly by the two most compelling female series characters in thriller fiction, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles. Her first books were romance novels, but after writing eight of them she switched to medical thrillers. The 25 million books she has sold prove that this was one plot twist she very much got right. The first of many, in fact. Tess is an absolute master at a particular kind of twist which does more than simply surprise the reader. Her plotting and pacing genius is such that each new element seems to set the actual book racing as fast as the reader’s pulse. I saw her at work in this way at a recent book festival in Dubai. At a social barbeque for the writers attending, we were chatting about an anecdotal incident from another writer’s student days. Tess took what had been a moderately disturbing moment for the writer and instantly rattled off enough nimble plot twists to structure the first quarter of a fast-paced thriller—so that those of us chatting around the roasted chickens were gasping and wishing for her to tell us how the story would end. That’s part of Tess Gerritsen’s tremendous gift. But once she has that idea, how does she proceed? Here’s what she has to say about her Writing Life:

You had a career in medicine before you published. But for how long
before you became a professional writer were you interested in writing?

I knew I was a writer at age seven. I wanted to apply to journalism school as a teen, but my father — a very practical Chinese-American parent — warned me that writing was no way to make a secure living. As an obedient Chinese daughter, I followed his advice and went to medical school instead. But a few years into being a doctor those old writing impulses reasserted themselves and while I was home on maternity leave with my sons, I wrote my first novels. A few years later, I realized that I really could make a living as a writer – and I’ve been one ever since.

How long did it take you to get published?

I wrote two practice manuscripts before my third was accepted. That was CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller that was published by Harlequin/Mira books. I wrote romances, and then wrote a thriller HARVEST, which was my first really big bestseller. I’ve stuck with thrillers since then.

Would you recommend any books on writing?

TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Lawrence Block is my favorite advice book about the craft of writing. It’s funny, it’s snappy, and it’s spot-on.

What’s a typical writing day?

Breakfast, coffee, exercise, and then four first-draft pages. Only when I’ve written those four pages do I call it a day. It usually takes me all day to produce those four pages.

You have a new book out soon, “The Silent Girl.” How would you describe what it’s about? And of course why’s it so great?!

When a dead woman is found on a rooftop in Boston’s Chinatown, the only clue are two mysterious hair strands that come from a non-human primate. The key to the mystery lies in the ancient Chinese legend of the Monkey King, a mythical creature who may — or may not – be lurking in the dark alleys of Chinatown. I love this story because it draws from my own Asian American experience and weaves in all the fairy tales my Chinese mother told me while I was growing up.

To read the rest of the interview, hop on over to Matt’s website!

I’m no Angelina

I’ve been working on my pectorals. Okay, maybe working is not the word for it. But every other day, for the past year, I’ve dropped down to the floor and done push-ups. I’ve worked up to a dozen. Unfortunately, they are only girl push-ups. My goal, one I’ve never been able to achieve, is to someday do boy push-ups. I’m pretty sure that Angelina Jolie could do boy push-ups when she was in training for her kickass Laura Croft movies, so I should be able to do them too, right? She’s a girl, just like me. I don’t have a personal trainer or a home gym, but sheer determination should be enough. And I am nothing, if not determined.

So now, a year later, I continue to drop to the floor every other day, even when I’m traveling. I huff and puff through my girl push-ups. I keep thinking I’ll get around to the boy version some day, that I’ll look as buff as Angelina, but you know what? I’m kidding myself. Every time I try to do a boy push-up, I end up collapsed on the floor, face mashed into the carpet.

My husband says it’s just a matter of genetics. “It’s not from lack of determination,” he says. “It’s your lack of a Y chromosome. Women don’t have upper body strength.” (Yeah, but what about Angelina?)

I’ve finally learned to accept that some achievements are beyond my reach. It’s a sad stage in life when you realize that the list of what you can achieve shrinks with every year you get older. I know I’m never going to be a champion fiddle player or a long-distance swimmer or an Olympic archer. It’s just not physically possible.

At least I can still turn out books. Count me grateful that my profession does not require pectorals.

The South African Market

I’ve posted about my trip to South Africa over on Murderati.com.

And check out my photos of the trip over on Facebook!