THE SHAPE OF NIGHT: my new book cover revealed!

 

I’m always a little anxious when my publisher tells me they have a new cover design to show me.  Will I love it?  Hate it?  I’m not a visual artist so I’m certainly not one to design my own covers, but I do know what I like, and I know if a cover captures the story I’ve written.  I’m delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover for my upcoming novel, THE SHAPE OF NIGHT, which perfectly captures the brooding, spooky plot of this gothic novel.

In SHAPE OF NIGHT, a troubled woman flees Boston and rents a house in Maine.  She soon realizes the house, Brodie’s Watch, is haunted by the strapping sea captain who built it more than a century ago.  Each night, she eagerly awaits Captain Brodie’s visits, but soon she discovers the house’s disturbing history: every woman who’s ever lived in Brodie’s Watch has died there.  And she may be next.

Watch for THE SHAPE OF NIGHT, coming October 1 in the US, and October 3 in the UK.  International release dates to come.

Don’t Kill The Dog

Henry, from the original cold open

Every thriller writer knows you must never, ever kill a pet in your novel. You can torture and mutilate any number of human beings. You can slice and dice women, massacre men on a battlefield, and readers will keep turning the pages. But harm one little chihuahua and you’ve gone too far. The readers will let you have it.

I learned that lesson the hard way when I wrote PLAYING WITH FIRE, about the fate of a Jewish-Italian family during WWII. What upset readers wasn’t the tragic fate of the doomed young lovers, or the fact the family perishes in a Nazi death camp. No, what really outraged them – and boy, did they vent their outrage in emails, reviews and reader forums — was the death of a fictional cat. In a novel about the Holocaust.

I was certainly aware that animal deaths are a trigger point in fiction, even for hardcore thriller readers, but I assumed horror movie fans were a tougher bunch. After all, they’re accustomed to zombie apocalypses and oozing brains and fountains of blood. Surely they can handle the death of a yappy little terrier.

Or so I thought when my son Josh and I made our low-budget horror film “Island Zero.” Set on a remote Maine island at Christmas, the movie’s about a small fishing community that finds itself cut off from the outside world when the ferry suddenly stops coming, and no one knows why. The phones are dead, the power’s out, and every fisherman who tries to make it to the mainland vanishes. When horribly mutilated bodies start to turn up along the water’s edge, the survivors realize that someone – or something – is hunting them. Without the budget for big-studio CGI or elaborate creature effects, we focused instead on a character-driven plot. Inspired by wintry Scandinavian films, “Island Zero” is very much about the villagers and their personal crises. The story is a slow but inexorable buildup to terror. Would a horror audience sit through a film where the blood doesn’t start spilling until the second half? How could we goose the scare factor early in the story?

We chose to add a cold open before the opening credits. This introductory scene is the equivalent of a prologue in a novel, and it gives the audience a taste of the scares to come. We had access to a sailboat and our producer found a scene-stealing terrier named Henry, who made his big-screen acting debut playing the very first victim. Henry happily dove right into the job, yapping on cue as we filmed his gruesome cinematic fate. Problem solved!

Or so we thought.

Not long after the film was completed, I got an urgent call from my friend Dan Rosen, a screenwriter who’d watched “Island Zero” at a film festival. “You can’t kill the dog! You’ll piss off the audience and they won’t sit through the rest of the movie because they’ll still be thinking about the dog!” He implored us to get rid of the cold open before we officially released the film.

I worried that Dan was right, but the rest of the “Island Zero” team adamantly refused to cut the cold open. They told me that horror audiences are tough, they want a jolt of adrenaline in the first three minutes, and a focus group who’d watched the film never raised any objections to the dead dog.

Reluctantly I agreed to keep the cold open.

A few months later, our distributor Freestyle Media released “Island Zero” on multiple streaming platforms. The very first week, it hit the top ten in horror films on iTunes, which was astonishing for a low-budget film by first-time indie filmmakers, and it picked up review attention from dozens of horror film critics. But it soon became clear that the dead dog was shocking viewers. Even gore-hardened horror audiences have trigger points, and one thing that really triggers moviegoers is dead pets. It’s such a sore point there’s even a website called DoesTheDogDie.com, which warns audiences which movies to avoid.

With our very first scene, we had broken one of Hollywood’s biggest taboos – a taboo so universally known that Blake Snyder’s classic book about screenwriting is called Save The Cat. When the fate of a dog named Boomer is unclear in the space-alien movie “Independence Day,” audiences sent an avalanche of angry letters in protest. (The alien attack wipes out entire cities and millions of people, but it was the dog’s fate that really upset them.)

While “Island Zero” was already available on multiple North American platforms, the DVD had not yet been released and it had not yet hit the international market. Could we somehow salvage the situation and save “Island Zero” from the eternal wrath of pet-loving viewers?

There was only one way to fix the problem: shoot a new cold open. It’s a desperate measure, akin to writing a new prologue after the book’s already out in stores, but we didn’t want one dead dog to sink our baby. Heading back to the drawing board, I wrote a new opening scene that wove in a crucial element from the main story. We dove back into the filmmaking process. It was like shooting an entirely new film and we started from scratch, scouting and securing a boat as the location, hiring new talent (actress Kelly McAndrew) and crew, collecting props and costumes, blocking scenes, and experimenting with special effects. For a crucial blood splatter, Josh and I spent days tinkering with corn syrup and dye to get just the right consistency and color to make a cinematic splash. What worried us most: our unpredictable Maine weather. The two-day shoot had to be scheduled a month in advance; would the seas be calm?

On the day of the shoot, the weather gods were good to us, Kelly was a dream to work with, and everything came together, right down to the blood splatter. The new cold open also makes the storytelling richer, showing a past event that is referenced multiple times throughout the film.

Two weeks later, the new cold open was ready for release, just in time for the DVD and Blu-Ray. We also insisted on having it replace the old version across all streaming platforms. Now if you stream “Island Zero” on iTunes or Amazon, the scene with the dead dog is gone. Instead what you’ll get is a dead woman. (Which audiences apparently find perfectly acceptable.) The new version will be on all other streaming platforms soon.

Sometimes, the best way to learn filmmaking is to simply dive in, do it – and make mistakes. And one of our mistakes was forgetting that the principles of storytelling are universal. Whether they’re reading a book or watching a movie, all audiences want their emotions tweaked by a great plot and engaging characters. Give them drama or comedy, thrills or tears. They’ll forgive you if you kill the hero or heroine, if you level cities or wipe out mankind.

But never, ever, kill the dog.

Watch the new version of ‘Island Zero’:
on iTunes
on Amazon

“Written in Blood” teaser for my episode

Here’s the teaser for the episode of “Written in Blood,” where Simon Toyne and I explore the true-crime case that inspired my R&I novel, BODY DOUBLE. it will air in the UK on 10/23, and I’ll be live-tweeting during the episode, answering all your questions!

WRITTEN IN BLOOD_S2_EPISODIC 2 – TESS GERRITSEN_TUES 10PM_20

UK readers: my episode of “Written in Blood” airs October 23

I’ll be appearing on the UK reality TV series “Written in Blood” October 23.  For those unfamiliar with the show, the series has a truly cool concept: ask novelists about the true crimes that inspired their stories.  My episode focuses on the bizarre case of a family of killers.  Fellow crime writer Simon Toyne and I visit the state of Oregon, where we probe the real killings that inspired my novel BODY DOUBLE.

For the trailer, visit the CBS Reality Facebook page.

 

“Island Zero” Reviews are In!

Screeners went out to two dozen horror film reviewers and the early reviews are back.  As a debut horror film writer/producer, working with a very limited budget, a large cast, the complex topic of climate change, and — yes — a sea monster, I’m thrilled that “Island Zero” is getting a nice reception. And especially thrilled that our “rock-solid” cast (Laila Robins, Adam Wade McLaughlin, Teri Reeves, Matthew Wilkas, Elaine Landry, and Annabel Graetz) is getting such praise!

 

“One of the best combinations of horror and science fiction this year, and it’s a supreme mix of old school creature feature elements and modern action-thriller troupes.” – MGDSQUAN, Horrorsociety.com

 

“A spectacular job … It’s a well-paced bit of frightening fun and well worth a view.  Rating: 9.2 / 10.” — Tara Cuvelier, Geekisiphere

 

ISLAND ZERO is the Fun, Low-Budget Creature Film We’ve Been Waiting For… while it has its budget-related faults, (it) does more with less than many of the high-dollar monster outings we have seen in the past. Do yourself a favor and check it out.”–  Tyler Liston, Nightmare on Film Street

 

“ISLAND ZERO represents the best kind of throwback horror — it displays plucky indie resourcefulness at every turn… just pass the popcorn and the shotgun, sit back, and enjoy.”

— Peter Gutierrez, DailyGrindhouse.com

 

“Director Josh Gerritsen and Writer Tess Gerritsen … can both pat themselves on the back for doing what few horror movies can incite in a viewer, much less a reviewer- the kind of terror that drives us to barricading the doors and crying to our parents.” — Muertana, Sinful Celluloid

 

“With plenty of intense situations, a blood inducing action, Island Zero stands out and rises above mere genre convention. As a plus, the strong cast, grounded writing and a piercing score contribute mightily in boosting the thrills and chills.”  — Rick Rice, MXDWN.com reviews

 

“Director Josh Gerritsen delivers a fun, well-crafted creature feature in the independent offering Island Zero, a made-in-Maine movie that is destined to surprise viewers. Though elements of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and 1950s monster movies are evident, the film builds a dread-filled world all its own…It’s a taut suspenser that creature-feature fans should find to be a fantastic discovery.”

— Joseph Perry, Ghastly Grinning

 

“Truly, the writing is where this film excels. There is a natural twist in the second half that you don’t see coming, the characters are for the most part well delineated and three dimensional, and the foggy atmosphere of the fishing island where the action takes place gives an eerie quality to all the proceedings.”

–Holly Interlandi, Famous Monsters of Filmland

 

“ISLAND ZERO may not have the biggest budget in history and may also be a throwback to the creature-features of the 70s and 80s, but it does deliver. Something else that it does – and does well – is reflect an anxious contemporary society’s fears about a myriad of things including isolation, the exhaustion of natural resources and governmental disregard for the individual.”

— Maria Olsen, Scare Tissue

 

“Providing a good amount of scares and unsettling tension, Island Zero is a well-paced and strongly developed low-budget horror. Making great use of its Maine location and local scenery, this homegrown film punches well above its weight to deliver a tense and smart thriller.”

— Robert W Monk, Flickering Myth

 

“Island Zero is cleverly written and the direction is flawless.  Josh Gerritsen does a great job keeping the film moving at a steady pace while building on the atmosphere and mood as it moves along. This is a scary and thrilling horror, a gem of an indie.”      — Patrick Ricketts, Video Views

 

“Island Zero has a lot going for it, including excellent writing and direction and some stellar performances, especially by Laila Robins as the local doctor, Maggie…As in the best of creature features, the creatures of “Island Zero,” in all their strangeness, push us beyond the boundaries of our known world.”

— Dawn Keetley, Horror Homeroom

 

“Island Zero” is a slow burn of a film.  It keeps the menace off-screen for most of the film while it builds up suspense bit by bit until the final act. Then it unleashes a few twists along with its creatures for a suitably tense finale.”  — Jim Morazzini, Voices From The Balcony

 

“Punching well above its weight, this is a film unashamed of its own smallness and willing to take risks in service of the story. It’s a fantastic calling card for the Gerritsens, and genre fans may find themselves enjoying it a great deal.”  — Jennie Kemode, Eye for Film (UK)

 

“A fun ride, with rounded characters to root for and a well-structured script that leads to a gratifyingly credible denouement.”  — William Cutshaw, Forces of Geek

 

 “Adding to the strength of the picture are rock-solid acting, a nice slow-burn storyline fraught with mounting tension as the isolation begins playing on an ever more desperate populace.”   – Dan XIII, Horrorfuel.com

 

“A fun creature feature… it hits the marks it needs to and keeps everything entertaining for the audience.” —  Darren Lucas, Moviesreview101.com

 

Island Zero is reminiscent of a lost film you’d see late at night flicking through channels, it brings a 70s type feel with it (despite not being a 70s set film) and whilst you may think that I am deriding the film for this, in fact it is the opposite – I kind of fell in love with the style, the film just had me with its low budget charm and it is an indie film through and through.” – Ryan Morrissey-Smith , HaddonfieldHorror.com

 

“Josh and Tess Gerritsen have focused on building their atmosphere of dread rather than on bombastic, balls-out horror and spectacle, and this makes all the difference.  While it has the vibe of an 80s Carpenter flick, it also manages to define its own personality, which makes it stand out from other mid-to-low budget fright flicks.” – Ernesto Zelaya Minano, SCREENARCHY

 

“Island Zero works because on a basic level, it is a story about people.  Certainly there are monsters and enough gore to satiate the appetite of gorehound viewers, but as with every story of its kind, the island can be saved only when islander and outsider work together. That’s why these stories are so effective, and Gerritsen ultimately proves that he has what it takes to tell this kind of story which bodes well for whatever his next project may be.” – Waylon Jordon, IHORROR

 

 

 

 

Horror in Maine: “Island Zero” releases May 15!

A few years ago, on a lovely summer day, my son Josh and I were weeding the garden when I confessed a secret: “I’ve always wanted to write a horror film.” Josh had worked as a documentary filmmaker, and had never made a narrative film, but he was game.  “You write it, I’ll direct it,” he said.

I had several goals in mind when I wrote the script for “Island Zero.”  First, I wanted to honor the fun B-film creature features of my childhood, the era of “Them” and “The Thing.”  And I wanted to give the genre  a modern twist.  Instead of featuring a classic hero or a bevy of nubile teenagers, in my story, mature female characters would take center stage.  When the going gets tough, the older women take command — one woman in particular, who has  a tragic past and a backbone of steel.

It took me a few months to write the script. Then Josh brought in his good friend from high school, Mariah Klapatch, as a producer, and she guided us through the process of casting, hiring, and cutting my over-ambitious script down to low-budget size.  (I had no idea how expensive it is to break a window or shoot on the water.  Not to mention building a sea monster.)

A little over a year later, a team of actors and crew assembled on a very cold March in Maine to film “Island Zero.”  Working with a low budget, with costumes gleaned from Goodwill stores and a cast that was 75% local, Josh shot the film in a lightning quick 18 days.  They endured rain and sleet during outdoor scenes, and one actress (who had to pose outside for hours as a corpse) said she could feel her eyeballs freezing over. They shuttled back and forth by ferry to the island of Islesboro (the story, after all, does take place on an island!) and some nights the craft service team, which catered the food, found their delicious salads freezing as soon as they set them out.

Yet somehow, our small but mighty team managed to make a movie.  And we even managed to burn down a house. (On purpose!)

The premise is simple: What if the ferry that supplies a remote Maine island just stops coming?  What if the phones are dead, the power’s out, and every boat the islanders send to the mainland fails to return?  The hardy band of survivors, left with a dwindling supply of food, must find out who — or what — has cut them off from the rest of the world.  And soon the dead bodies start turning up…

On May 15, “Island Zero” will be released in North America on video-on-demand through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube Movies, and through cable on DirecTV, Dish, InDemand, and other cable outlets.  In June, it will come out on DVD.

It’s now available as a preorder exclusive from iTunes.

It’s been a long journey, we’ve learned a lot as first-time horror filmmakers, and we can’t wait to do it again!

For more info, check out the Island Zero website.

 

Read the book that launched my thriller-writing career: HARVEST.

23 years ago, I got a startling call from my literary agent, Meg Ruley.  Up till then I’d been writing romantic suspense novels for Harlequin Intrigue and Harper Paperbacks, but I was hoping to branch out in a new direction.  I’d submitted about 150 pages of the new medical thriller I was writing, and Meg thought those initial pages were strong enough to attract offers from publishers.  A few weeks after she sent out my partial manuscript, Meg called to say that Pocket Books wanted to buy my novel.  They planned to release it as a hardcover, and they were willing to put every effort into marketing it.

That book was HARVEST, and it marked my debut on the NYT Bestseller list.

Now, almost a quarter century later, HARVEST has been re-released as a trade paperback.  Here’s your chance to read the book that launched my career as a thriller writer.

My interview of Lisa Gardner

Lisa has a wonderful new thriller out, and she and I had the chance to chat with her about her book, how she writes, and what it’s really like to be a bestselling author.  Read the interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Thrilled to be the 2017 recipient of the Robert B. Parker Award

It will be presented December 7 at the annual Mystery Night Gala at the New England Mobile Bookfair. If you haven’t visited this legendary bookshop in Newton, MA, definitely drop by that evening. You can meet many other mystery authors, buy autographed books, and instantly take care of your Christmas shopping list. Hope to see you there!

And another lovely review…

from: Criminal Element:

“Gerritsen continues to surprise with the depth and range of her storytelling ambitions…  there’s complex villainy, a distortion between appearance and reality, and a third-act plot twist that will both surprise and satisfy. This one’s a tasty treat with substance—and minus the calories of popcorn.”

https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/08/review-i-know-a-secret-by-tess-gerritsen