boston globe arts and entertainment weekend

                                       boston globe

Over the weekend I had the privilege of sharing the stage of the Schubert Theater with three amazing authors, in a forum sponsored by the Boston Globe.  Joining me were Michael Palmer, Joe Finder, Matthew Pearl, and moderator Brian McGrory, for a 90-minute free-wheeling discussion about the art of writing mysteries and thrillers.  This was an event I was really looking forward to, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

I got into Boston the night before and met Michael Palmer for dinner.  Michael and I go back a long way.  We share the same literary agency, we’re both doctors, and together we teach an annual course for doctors who want to be writers.  Michael is one of the most generous people in the business.  Despite his success, he is disarmingly humble and funny and sweet.  In short, he’s a guy I’d hang out with even if we weren’t both in the same business.  (His new thriller, THE FIFTH VIAL, goes on sale February 20th.  Check it out!)  He brought his friend Robin, and with my husband Jacob, the four of us headed to Boston’s Chinatown for dinner.

As usual, I wasted no time chowing down.  Can you tell I’m the daughter of a professional chef?  (as an aside — my husband and I were going through our family photos and it occurred to me that a great number of these pics show me either about to eat, in the act of eating, or just having finished a meal.  It’s starting to get a little embarrassing.)


(You’ll notice that I’m the only one at the table who’s got a fork in her hand.)

The next day, it was off to the Schubert Theater, where I met up with the rest of the panel.  I already knew Joe Finder, whose superb thriller High Crimes has so many jaw-dropping twists, you get a shock every time you turn a page.  I’ll be honest — Joe scares me a little.  Whenever I’m around him, I think: “This guy feels … well, dangerous.”  (Please tell me it’s all an act, Joe.  And don’t kill me.)

I was really anxious to meet Matthew Pearl, author of the historical thrillers The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow.  Knowing some of his background (Harvard Law graduate!  Brilliant historian!) I was also a little intimidated.  And yes, he is brilliant – but also funny and down-to-earth and charming.  You’ll never guess what we ended up talking about.


Matthew is an activist for animal rescue.  I mentioned that we’d bought farmland in Maine, and he asked me whether we’d have space to take in some rescue pigs.  I’m actually kind of excited about the idea.  And no, I don’t plan to eat them. 

During the panel discussion, we talked about how we got into writing.  Matthew told us that The Dante Club actually started off as a university thesis, which he then turned into his best-selling novel.  Michael said he was goaded to write his first thriller because his sister told him he was “too dull” to be a novelist.  So he decided to prove her wrong — and boy, did he.  Joe was trained to be a spy (honestly!) but when he was pointed to a cubicle and told to translate Russian documents, decided he’d rather do something else.  Like write bestselling novels and make a ton of money.  And I told the audience that I’ve been a writer since I was seven years old.

Where it really got lively was when Brian McGrory asked us how we react to bad reviews.  Suddenly all four of us started to get agitated.  Matthew in particular gave such a passionate speech about how unfair the review process was, I wanted to hug him right there.  I ended up just giving him a pat on the shoulder.

At the end of it all, we vowed to see each other again — hopefully at Thrillerfest this July. 


 Michael Palmer, me, Matthew Pearl, and Joe Finder



19 replies
  1. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    it sounds like it was very interesting-one wonders if the critics have anything like the accomplished backgrounds of those they write about

  2. 5harmaine
    5harmaine says:

    Wow, sounds intense and FUN at the same time!… considering the backgrounds of the four of you, it’s a relief to be reminded that you’re not walking textbooks or the type to discuss the gory facts of life over dinner. (=

  3. Patricia Wood
    Patricia Wood says:

    What an interesting post. I find myself rarely influenced by good OR bad reviews. I find I will read a book if I find the premise compelling. I like to know what I am getting into. I also find that I rarely agree with most negative interviewers.

  4. Meeka
    Meeka says:

    I agree with Patricia. And in some cases if I read a bad review, I’m more inclined to want to read the book and decide for myself!

  5. Craig
    Craig says:

    Once again I am going to sing the praises of Book Notes. It is the most upbeat positive monthly collection of book reviews and interviews that I have ever encountered. It’s free and the ladies at my bookstore automatically put a copy in every customer’s sack. If you haven’t seen this review journal, ask your bookstore for it.

  6. Darwyn Jones
    Darwyn Jones says:

    Tess – somehow it seems right that you have so many pictures eating or about to eat. I trust people who love food. It’s a good thing.

  7. Chrissy
    Chrissy says:

    Oh wow, Pigs are so intelligent. I love animals, and I recently became a vegetarian. (October last year!) When I’m old enough I’d love to become a *real* animal activist. Volunteering at the SPCA, fundraising and collecting donations doesn’t count. I have always wanted to own farmland. With all my pets… I’m soon going to need a farm to take care of them all!

    My uncle was saying at our last family gourmet dinner (last year some time..) that so many of the photos of him are of him eating or at least holding some sort of food, even if he’s feeding his baby daughter. (He usually sneaks some for himself anyway) I think it’s great. =D

  8. SassyDevil
    SassyDevil says:

    I’d love to hear Matthew’s views on the reviewing process. I have my own opinions, but I’d like to hear from an actual author.

    I love that Michael’s an animal activist. I recently heard about the two cockfighting magazines at Amazon, and I’m not sure whether to accuse Amazon or the publisher of the magazines (or both) of breaking the law. I’d be interested in hearing Michael’s views. I love animals.

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    what Matthew (and Joe as well) said was that the review process sometimes involves personal vendettas or biased reviewers. Joe cited an instance of a reviewer who was a personal rival of his — someone who resented his success and of course wrote a devastating review. (The review editor didn’t even bother to ask the reviewer if he personally knew Joe.) Matthew spoke of reviewers who say “I hate this genre and would never read it!” And yet they’re assigned to review precisely that genre, and of course their disdain shows through in the review. What they should do is excuse themselves from the assignment because there’s no way they can fairly review such books.

    The most shocking review anecdote that I can recall was of Paul Theroux’s book — and the review was written by his OWN BROTHER. The brothers, it seems, had some sort of feud going, and the brother utterly slammed Paul’s book. The review editor who assigned that piece should have lost his job.

  10. Patricia Wood
    Patricia Wood says:

    Paul himself told me that you don’t look to your own family for validation. I agree with you Tess, face it, no matter what the result — Paul’s brother could not win. If it was a positive review people would have said he was biased and if it’s negative – it’s a feud?
    The guilty party is the review editor IMHO.

  11. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    Looks like you guys had a great time, Tess.

    I’m currently co-authoring a thriller (still in the concept stages) , so I wish I could have heard the panel talk about the “art of writing mysteries and thrillers.”

    Got a transcript?

  12. Ekiushi
    Ekiushi says:

    Pfft I’ve long given up reading reviews. They never seem to agree with me. I swear the guy that reviews movies and books in the local paper hates everything. I’ve never seen him like anything. Oh – not true. He liked the film ‘Water’ and that was it. I’m convinced he just writes bad reviews so he can use long words in his attempt to sound smart.

  13. Vanessa F
    Vanessa F says:

    The movie “Because I said So” apparently got horrible reviews. But my mom and I saw it anyway and loved it! It was also #2 in the box office. Apparently none of the reviewers who gave it bad reviews were mothers or fathers with daughters. I’ve learned not to pay attention to reviews. If a movie looks interesting/funny or a book sounds good, I don’t care what others say about it, I’m going to go see/read it 🙂

    P.S. My mom is an awesome cook so I have an appreciation for food as well. I LOVE to eat!

  14. JMH
    JMH says:

    Reviewers have a tough job. Most don’t get paid and simply donoate their time and hard work. Then they have to summarize an entire book in a few short paragraphs while simultaneously giving enough facts to say what the book is about without including spoilers. I’m always amazed at how well most reviewers accomplish this task. That said, reviewers with an agenda clearly do a disservice to everyone. They’re out there, but I haven’t seen them in any large numbers.

  15. Ekiushi
    Ekiushi says:

    The guy that reviews in my local paper gives big spoilers, in his attempt to sound clever. I can’t remember what movie he ruined for me, but it annoyed me. He doesn’t review any books I read, which is good. That said, I bet he’s going to hate Ghost Rider.

  16. wy82331
    wy82331 says:

    Hi again Tess,
    Been some time , but I enjoy checking back to see what is going on. I am no expert for sure but much of my reading is restricted to maybe 25 of my favorite authors. Yes, Tess, you are on the list. I have noticed by reading many books by an author that they grow and evolve. They just get better, I guess like old wine. No, they learn to make a sentence fuller, more interesting, and the results are a much deeper, more complete and more interesting book. I have found that some of the authors of many fields can and do put romance into their books. Isn’t romance a part of our lives? I mean, come on, we don’t have to go overboard like a few authors do, but a book , a story, is only as good and as true is those characters in the book. So the more real an author makes them the better the story. So Tess, you keep doing what you have been doing so well and the more you write the better your books will be. Just like all the “Big Guys” . And once again, you belong. Don’t ever forget that.

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