My GRAVITY lawsuit and how it affects every writer who sells to Hollywood

Saturday, Jan 31st, 2015 @ 08:29 am

Yesterday, the court granted Warner Bros’s motion to dismiss my lawsuit against them. While Warner Bros crows victory, the judge has in fact left the door open for me to pursue my claim, allowing my legal team twenty days to revise our complaint and address the single issue of concern: the corporate relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line Productions.

For those unfamiliar with why I sued, you can find my original statement here:

A quick wrap-up of the facts:

In 1999, I sold the film rights to my book GRAVITY to New Line Productions. The contract stipulates that if a movie is made based on my book, I will receive “based upon” credit, a production bonus, and a percentage of net profits. The book is about a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded aboard the International Space Station after the rest of her crew is killed in a series of accidents. A biological hazard aboard ISS traps her in quarantine, unable to return to earth. While my film was in development, I re-wrote the third act of the film script with scenes of satellite debris destroying ISS and the lone surviving female astronaut adrift in her spacesuit.

Alfonso Cuaron was attached to direct my film — a fact I did not know at the time. My project never made it out of development.

In 2008, Warner Bros acquired New Line Productions. The takeover was rumored to be brutal, with numerous New Line employees losing their jobs overnight.

Sometime around 2008 – 2009, Alfonso Cuaron wrote his original screenplay “Gravity” about a female astronaut who is the sole survivor after her colleagues are killed by satellite debris destroying their spacecraft. She is left adrift in her space suit, and is later stranded aboard the International Space Station. I noted the similarities, but I had no evidence of any connection between Cuaron and my project. Without proof, I could not publicly accuse him of theft, so when asked about the similarities by fans and reporters, I told them it could be coincidental.

In February 2014, my literary agent was informed of Cuaron’s attachment to my project back in 2000. Now the similarities between my book and Cuaron’s movie could no longer be dismissed as coincidence. I sought legal help, and we filed a Breach of Contract complaint that April. Please note: this is not a case of copyright infringement. Warner Bros., through its ownership of New Line, also controls the film rights to my book. They had every right to make the movie — but they claim they have no obligation to honor my contract with New Line.

This is why every writer who sells to Hollywood should be alarmed.

It means that any writer who sold film rights to New Line Productions can have those rights freely exploited by its parent company Warner Bros. — and the original contract you signed with New Line will not be honored. Warner Bros. can make a movie based on your book but you will get no credit, even though your contract called for it.

It means that any parent film company who acquires a studio, and also acquires that studio’s intellectual properties, can exploit those properties without having to acknowledge or compensate the original authors.

This is alarming on many levels, and the principles involved go far beyond my individual lawsuit. Every writer who sells film rights to Hollywood must now contend with the possibility that the studio they signed the contract with could be swallowed up by a larger company — and that parent company can then make a movie based on your book without compensating you. It means Hollywood contracts are worthless.

But as I said, the door is not yet entirely closed on my lawsuit. My attorney Glen Kulik has issued the following statement:

The court issued a long, detailed, and very thoughtful opinion in which it noted that we need to include more facts in our pleading relative to the relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line — that was the only issue before the court on the motion. This happens quite often in litigation, and now we need to go ahead and file an amended complaint which corrects the technical deficiencies using the court’s decision as our roadmap. I do not think that will be hard to do as we have learned a great deal more information about the Warner Bros/New Line relationship since the original Complaint
was filed.

We will push on.


Tuesday, Apr 29th, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

Many of you have expressed an interest in my position on the film Gravity, whose story bears a strong similarity to the story of my novel Gravity. For my response, please see the following press release, issued on April 30, 2014.

gravityIn 1999, the feature film rights to Tess Gerritsen’s novel Gravity were sold outright to the motion picture company Katja Motion Picture Corporation and its parent company New Line Productions. While that project was still in development, Ms. Gerritsen wrote and submitted additional material, including scenes of satellite debris colliding with the International Space Station, the total destruction of ISS, and the surviving female astronaut left adrift in her space suit, alone and untethered. As far as Ms. Gerritsen knew, efforts to develop her novel into a film ended in 2002.

Years later, Ms. Gerritsen became aware of striking similarities between her novel and the then-upcoming film Gravity, to be directed by Alfonso Cuarón and produced, financed, and released by Warner Bros., which, since 2008, has owned and controlled New Line and Katja. Both Ms. Gerritsen’s novel and the film are set in orbital space and feature a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded alone aboard the International Space Station after a series of disasters kill the rest of the crew. Both detail the astronaut’s struggle to survive. Both are called Gravity.

At the time, Ms. Gerritsen was unaware of any connection between those persons responsible for the film and those who had worked to develop her novel into a film. Ms. Gerritsen believed that as improbable as it appeared, it was at least within the realm of possibility that an independent storyteller could come up with the same specific setting, character, situation, and give it an identical title.

Then, in February 2014, Ms. Gerritsen received startling new information from a reliable source.   She was told that Alfonso Cuaron had also been connected to her project while it was in development, and would have been familiar with her novel.

Ms. Gerritsen is now convinced the similarities are not merely coincidental.  Therefore, she has decided to pursue legal action.  She has engaged Glen Kulik, of the firm of Kulik Gottesman & Siegel LLP, to file a complaint against Warner Bros., New Line and Katja.  Please see the complaint.

Writing Gravity was the most daunting challenge of my career. Even with my background in science, it took exhaustive research, visits to NASA facilities, and interviews with scientists, engineers, flight surgeons, project managers, spaceflight historians, and numerous NASA personnel before I felt knowledgeable enough to write even a single page of this highly technical story. It is the novel I am proudest of.

While I cannot make further comments on this matter, I want to thank my readers and fellow writers for their kindness and support. If this happened to me, it can happen to any writer.

All media inquiries should be directed to Elevate Communications: Mary Zanor, 617-548-1107 –

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The evolution of a writer

Saturday, Feb 15th, 2014 @ 09:54 am

Those of you who are familiar with the grit and gore of my crime novels may be surprised to discover my secret past … as a romance author. I was first introduced to romances while I was working as a doctor, a high-stress job where, too often, I dealt with loss and grief-stricken families. At the end of the day, I needed to open a book where I’d find both entertainment and a happy ending — and I found both in romance novels. I became hooked on them, sometimes reading half a dozen a week despite my grueling schedule in the hospital.

It’s no surprise that the first novel I wrote was a romance.

In 1987, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT was bought by Harlequin Intrigue. My editor called to ask: “Do you remember how many people you killed in this story? We had an editorial meeting, and we counted thirteen bodies!” That was a record for Harlequin, but they published the novel anyway — and my career as a novelist was launched.

With that staggering body count, I should have realized that I was destined to be thriller author. But I stayed with the romance genre, eventually selling nine novels in which both love and mystery were intertwined. Those books are an historical record of my development as an author, and even though they are indeed romances, with every book you can see me learning to stretch my writing wings and explore new subjects.

One of those early novels was PEGGY SUE GOT MURDERED. The grittiest of my romances, it featured a tough-talking female medical examiner (no, she’s not Maura Isles!) whose morgue is suddenly overwhelmed with dead bodies. They appear to be drug OD victims, but it’s a drug no one has ever seen before. Yes, it’s a romance, but it’s also the first book in which I explore forensic pathology and medical examiners.

Now, 20 years after its first publication, an updated version is about to be re-released, under a new title: GIRL MISSING. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek at my early books, here’s your chance!

Adventures in Farming

Saturday, Feb 1st, 2014 @ 08:51 am

How does a farmer take a vacation? He asks his parents to take over the farm.

That’s how my husband and I found ourselves playing organic farmers for two weeks. Every day, at sunrise and sunset, we feed and water cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and guinea fowl. We collect, sort, and package eggs. On a balmy 30 degree day, it’s a lovely way to spend a few hours. When the temperatures dip below zero and the wind whips across the fields, it’s a challenge. The animals’ water flash-freezes, the eggs crack within an hour, and you wonder why the hell anyone would want to be a farmer in a northern climate.

What a change from sitting at a desk in a nice warm office.

Hanging out with the chickens

Hanging out with the chickens

But there’s a comforting rhythm to farming. Every morning, the cows stand eagerly at the fence, excited to see us bringing hay, and the sheep come stampeding like hungry children. Open the guinea doors, and the birds come flying out screeching, happy to be out and about. The chickens are already lined up inside their coop door, waiting to be released for the day. And what a pleasure it is to hold a chicken egg, still warm from just being laid. I’ve found out that I love hanging out with chickens. I’ve learned which hen leaves the flock every morning to hide out with the sheep, and which hen sneaks away to spend time with the outcast rooster. I’ve learned the secret places where those two lay their eggs. I’ve learned that the alpha rooster can be brutal with hens (and I’m going to talk to my son about turning him into coq au vin).

Farming teaches you patience, especially at sunset. You can’t rush birds into their nighttime coops. One night, we waited an hour for the last guinea hen to finally walk into the coop. Instead she decided to take an evening stroll. Leaving her out overnight meant she’d be exposed to the cold and predators, so we just had to wait until she was ready to join the rest of her flock. Only then could we close the door.

Thanks to my son, I’ve herded cows and sheep, gutted chickens, raked manure, and hauled hay bales. I’ve also been blessed with a bountiful supply of free-range eggs and chicken livers. Will all this turn up in a book some day?

Trust me, I’m thinking about it.

Check out the fabulous farm photos taken by my son and his partner Marya at Donkey Universe Farm.

The City of Eternal Spring

Tuesday, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 04:41 pm

During this holiday season, I’ve been thinking about my Mom. About all the things she’s missed seeing since she passed away last year, most of all the birth of our first grandchild. How she would have adored little Levina! This past April, the Wall Street Journal published my article about bringing my mother’s ashes back to China. I wanted to share it with you.

My mother flew home to China in checked baggage.

Worried that TSA would confiscate her cremated remains from my carry-on, I pack the urn with her ashes into a suitcase filled with gifts for my Chinese relatives and entrust her mortal remains to United Airlines. Mom and I often talked about the trip we’d someday take together to the “city of eternal spring” where she was born. In Kunming, she said, the fruits are sweeter, the mountains are like Chinese paintings, and the weather is always perfect. I promised that I would go with her when my life was less hectic, but the years inexorably slipped past and suddenly, it was too late. As she lay dying, I made that promise one last time. Yes, Mom. We’ll go to China.

The Kunming I encounter is nothing like the quaint town my mother described. Instead I find an eight-lane freeway and a skyline studded with highrises. I also discover dozens of excited relatives I’ve never met before, waiting to embrace me and my American family as we walk out of baggage claim. Both my parents were Chinese, but I can’t understand a word these relatives are saying. It’s my half-Caucasian son Adam who translates for me. Adam has passionately embraced his Chinese roots and he easily switches between English and Mandarin while I can only nod and smile as I berate myself for never learning Chinese. Growing up in California, I was so determined to be American that I refused to attend Chinese language school, and this is the sorry result. I’m just another clueless foreigner, humbled by my ignorance.

On the day of the funeral, the relatives drive us out of the city in a caravan of cars, and we arrive at a neighborhood of dirt roads and crumbling buildings. I’m bewildered when someone hands me a black umbrella. Adam explains that we’re bringing Popo’s ashes to visit her parents, but she must make the journey in shadow. As Adam carries the urn, I hold up the umbrella to shade my mother. We climb a half mile up a dirt track, past stray dogs and chickens, and wade into a cornfield. Unprepared for this hike, I slip and slide in my sandals, and my feet are coated in mud by the time we arrive at my grandparents’ tomb.

The Chinese relatives reach into the many bags they’ve carried up the hill, pull out gardening gloves and hedgeclippers to clear away the weeds, and set my mother beside the tomb so that she can visit. They burn incense, plant colorful paper flags to ward away evil spirits, and lay out fruits and cakes and cookies for the dead to enjoy. I’m startled to see them also place two cigarettes beside my mother’s urn. Her smoking was a habit I long deplored, and I almost blurt out: “Take those away, they’re bad for her!” I imagine my mother’s spirit merrily puffing away in the afterlife.

After the visit, we carry my mother’s urn back down the hill. Another hour’s drive takes us into cool and forested mountains, to a serene Buddhist mausoleum where her ashes will be entombed. The relatives cheerfully point out all the niches of deceased friends and family, as if pointing out the homes of the living. In China, the dead are not forgotten.

Buddhist monks lead the ceremony, and although I claim no religion, I find myself dutifully bowing and chanting words that I do not understand. It is my brother’s duty to clean our mother’s eternal home, so he wipes down the niche and places the urn inside.

It is my duty, as firstborn, to close the niche and lock it.

I hesitate, my hand caressing my mother’s urn. I think of her turbulent journey to this place. How she escaped war-torn China, leaving behind everyone she knew and loved, and never again saw her parents. How she struggled as an immigrant in America, endured an unhappy marriage to my father, and nursed a lifetime of regrets. Now here she is, back where she was born. Home at last.

I am sobbing as I lock the niche and shut her away forever.

There is one final ritual to perform. Before you leave a cemetery, someone must call out your name and say: “We are going home.” You must answer: “Yes, I am going home now,” so the spirits know you are departing the place of death. The relatives queue up, waiting for their names to be called, and one by one they leave.

At last it is my turn. My son calls out my name and says: “We’re going home.”

But it is to my mother I speak when I answer: “I am going home now.”

To my own home, in America.

The circle of life

Monday, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 04:12 pm

I first met Michael Palmer in 1999, but in truth I’d known about his kindness and generosity since 1996, when he gave my debut medical thriller HARVEST an amazing blurb. At our first meeting, I was overwhelmed by his happy exuberance and his larger-than-life personality. I’m a quiet Aspergian type; Michael was hands-on and affectionate. I’m no good at working a crowd; Michael could slap anyone on the back and become their best friend. He was my opposite, yet he became one of my dearest friends. And when he was asked to teach an annual course on Cape Cod for doctors who wanted to write fiction, he immediately invited me to be his co-instructor for the course.

With Michael Palmer in Hyannis

With Michael Palmer in Hyannis

Every autumn for twelve years, we met up in Cape Cod for our annual weekend course. Before an audience of 150 – 200 docs, Michael and I would share the stage as tag-team teachers, tossing thoughts back and forth about the creative process, publishing, and the ups and downs of the writing life. When you share the stage with a guy for 16 hours, every year, you get to know him. And in the evenings, when Michael and I hung out together, we got to know about each others’ families, too. I knew that Michael loved being a father more than anything else in the world. I knew he found writing books fun but also agonizing, and his #1 piece of advice to aspiring writers was this: “Don’t kid yourself, this job is hard. Writing is hard work.” He’d laugh about the time his sister told him he’d never become a writer because “Michael, you’re just too dull.” He adored his literary agent because from the very beginning she believed in his keen storytelling instincts (even though she also said he didn’t know the first thing about writing.)

What I found most endearing about Michael was his sense of humility, his ability to laugh at himself, to never be embarrassed. One day, while my husband and I were houseguests, Michael said, “Hey, let’s all go get facials!” My husband was horrified by the idea. So Michael took just me to his favorite spa, where we got our facials, side by side. He was the ultimate metrosexual, not afraid to embrace his feminine side.

Then there was the incident with the acute attack of gastroenteritis, the live lapel microphone, and the audience who heard every sound. As Michael reemerged from the bathroom, he was bewildered when the audience applauded. And when he found out why, he simply grinned and took a bow.

And finally, there was the rhinoceros. Michael loved the saying “writing a book is as easy as making rhinoceros stew. First, you have to find a rhino.” The rhino became his talisman, a creature he was so obsessed with that he eventually bought a huge bronze rhino sculpture for his garden. And I’m talking HUGE. (Did I mention that Michael was larger than life?)

Alas, our annual meet-ups in Cape Cod eventually came to an end when the writing course shut down. We still managed to see each other from time to time, but I missed our long weekends together. I missed laughing and grousing together about writing. I missed him. We’d email each other, intending to get together one of these days. He and his loving partner Robin had come through a difficult time together because of her surgery, and now that she was healing, he was excited about their upcoming trip to Africa. He just had to deliver his damn manuscript, and then he’d be off to his dream destination.

He did finish the manuscript on time. He did visit Africa. But upon his return, while waiting in the Customs line at JFK, Michael collapsed from a heart attack and a massive stroke.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. I can still hear his voice, his stories, his laugh. As long as I can still hear him, see him in my mind, Michael will always be alive.

I wanted so much to be at his funeral, but a certain family obligation sent me to Ithaca, New York. I heard that his memorial service was overflowing with friends and family, and no wonder; Michael was everyone’s friend.

Three days after Michael’s funeral, my first grandchild Levina came into the world. Life truly is a circle. Even on the heels of sadness, there can be joy. Michael once told me that the best thing in the whole world was a grandchild. He would have been crazy about mine.

With my new grandchild Levina.

With my new grandchild Levina.

#TessTourIndy Roundup

Monday, Oct 21st, 2013 @ 02:30 pm

Thanks to everyone who attended #tesstourindy live and in person – it was an incredibly memorable experience for me and I hope to do a tour like this again – and everyone who followed the tour virtually on my blog and social media. Below is a digital recap of the tour, highlighting some of that social sharing, interviews and media coverage, and blog posts from others. Even if you weren’t in Indiana for the tour, this may make you feel like you were!

Library Tour wrap-up

Sunday, Oct 20th, 2013 @ 04:04 pm

I’ve spent the last few days at home resting and reflecting on my time on the road. Here are the final numbers from my tour:

Days traveling (including RT air travel from Maine): 18
Days driving: 16
Miles driven: 1700
Libraries visited: 23
Total # people who came to see me: 1800

But those are just numbers. It says nothing about the lovely hours spent with friendly people, the pleasures of exploring new towns, the countless books I autographed, and the new readers who found me because of this tour. Again and again, people said: “I’ve never read you before, but when I heard you were coming to our town, I started reading your books. And now I’m reading them all!”

That’s exactly what a tour should do.

There are costs for an author, of course. I paid my own airfare and car rental and there were four hotel nights which weren’t covered by libraries. There’s also the time I spent away from my writing. But I can say now that a tour of small-town libraries is exactly the sort of book tour that authors should be taking. Unlike conventional book tours, which send you to major metropolitan areas where audiences are jaded and turnouts can be disappointing, this sort of tour sends you to places where readers are actually eager to meet you. In these small Indiana towns, I found larger audiences than I usually find in big-city bookstores.

Where else will you get a parade float with your name on it, but in a small town?

Where else will you get a parade float with your name on it, but in a small town?

The other great thing about a driving tour: driving from town to town is a lot less stressful than flying to a new city every day. For me, traditional book tours are fraught with the anxiety of: Will my plane be on time? Will my flight get cancelled? Will I lose my luggage?

This tour allowed me to enjoy the scenery, stop at local joints to sample the food (Steak and Shake! Barbecue!) and be assured that, yes, I will get to my next event on time. Assuming I can trust my GPS.

And then there’s the charm of small towns. Since I live in a small town myself (about 5,000 people), I wanted this tour to focus on small towns. After driving through farmland and cornfields, I’d always wonder if anyone would show up to see me. But they did show up, with out-of-the-way venues sometimes drawing audiences of more than 100.

I’d definitely do a tour like this again. I’d probably make it shorter because 18 days is a long time to haul around dirty laundry. It’d also be a good strategy for authors who travel in pairs, so you can keep each other company and split the cost of the rental car (which was our biggest expense.)

So here’s to libraries and small towns everywhere. May you start to see many, many authors walking through your doors!

Day Fourteen

Tuesday, Oct 15th, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

After a night in Louisville, we had a big chunk of free time today before the evening event, so we headed for just the sort of destination I love: Marengo Cave, about forty minutes west of Lousville, in Indiana. Caves have always attracted me, and if it weren’t for a bum shoulder, I wouldn’t mind crawling and slithering around in them. Marengo is a far easier visit, guided and well lit, with two different hour-long trails that take you to various formations, and even offer a glimpse of bats.

Marengo Cave.

Marengo Cave.

Then we were back on the road, headed west for another hour and a half to Owensboro. It’s my one stop in Kentucky. Soon after my tour to Indiana had been announced, Shannon Sandefur of the Daviess County Public Library invited me to include her town in my tour, so we extended the trip and extra day to include Owensboro. I was happy to find a lively audience of about 75 waiting to hear me speak.

with Shannon Sandefur and Jared McCarty of Daviess County Public Library.

with Shannon Sandefur and Jared McCarty of Daviess County Public Library.

Also happy to find Books A Million there to sell books.

Bridget and Charity of Books A Million.

Bridget and Charity of Books A Million.

Back in my hotel now, packing to go home, it’s hard to believe I’ve been on the road for over two weeks. It’s been an exhausting trip, and I’m still processing all I saw and all the people I met. Wrap-up to follow in the next few days!

Day Thirteen

Monday, Oct 14th, 2013 @ 09:29 pm

My belt is getting tight. After two weeks on the road, I’m afraid to step on a scale, and my breakfast this morning at the Tuggle’s Folly B&B in Rising Sun certainly didn’t help matters. Innkeepers Dean and Debbie cooked up the most lavish breakfast yet — ham and jalapeño omelets, homemade biscuits, fried peaches, and something we’d never tasted before: sorghum syrup. We’d seen sorghum growing in fields here, but didn’t stop to think what you did with the plant. So tasty, I think I’d rather have sorghum on my pancakes than old-fashioned Maine maple syrup. (Shh, don’t tell the Maine chamber of commerce.)

We had a little time before my noon speech at the library, so Hubby and I walked along the pretty Rising Sun riverfront, browsed in a local gallery, and sat watching the water.

Rising Sun riverfront.

Rising Sun riverfront.

Then it was off to the Ohio County Public Library in Rising Sun, which was officially closed for the Columbus Day holiday. But Director Cynthia Schid-Perry opened the building especially for my appearance, and about 35 people showed up on a beautiful holiday to hear me speak.

With Cynthia Schid-Perry, Ohio County Public Library.

With Cynthia Schid-Perry, Ohio County Public Library.

Among the patrons I met was a delightful 94-year-old WWII vet, Captain Bill McClure, who had a fascinating tale to tell about his war experiences. General Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army was Capt. McClure’s prisoner at war’s end, and despite the fact these two men had been enemies during the war, they became close friends. McClure said Yamamoto was a fascinating, intelligent man. McClure made a number of Japanese friends, and wished he’d been able to visit them in Japan in his later years. Wouldn’t this make a terrific memoir? I hope he writes it.

With Capt Bill McClure.

With Capt Bill McClure.

One more event to go, in Owensboro Kentucky. It feels like I’ve been away from home forever.

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