Pedal-to-the-metal

Okay, what’s happening is this: I am pedal-to-the-metal trying to finish VANISH! That’s the reason for this long silence. That plus we had a huge snowstorm up here in Maine a few days ago, which knocked out my power and internet for about four days. It was fun to finally get back online and find all the nice notes some of you have left in the guestbook. Now back to banging my head on the keyboard as I try to figure out how to pull Jane Rizzoli out of the fire yet again…

What Happens on a Book Tour?

I’ve been playing hooky for far too long, and now it’s time to tell you what happened on book tour: lots and lots of serious eating! Toad in the hole, bubble and squeak, Cornish pasties, roasted Swedes (translation: rutabagas) — I sampled it all.Well, I never could get myself to order “spotted Dick” but maybe next time.

High points? The spicy fried mackerel at Mela Indian restaurant on Shaftesbury Ave, London. The incredibly fresh grilled plaice at the Lamb Inn in Marlborough. Sipping wine in the cozy Haunch of Venison in Salisbury. Sharing one of my lamb chops with a bookseller at Christopher’s restaurant. (He’s since dubbed me “two-chop Gerritsen”.)

But wait — I was there on business, wasn’t I? So I guess I really should talk about the book tour.

Why do we authors bother to go on the road, anyway? Why do we drag ourselves from city to city, bookstore to bookstore, when only 30 people at a time show up for a signing? (And that’s if we’re lucky; most times the audiences are far smaller. )

The reason we do it is media attention. With one or two good radio shows, you can reach an audience of millions, and in the UK, it’s all made simple because many of the stations are part of the BBC network. You can sit in one building and talk to radio hosts from around the country, without having to leave your chair. And I’ll say this for UK radio — the interviewers have almost all done their homework. They’ve read the book, they ask thoughtful questions, and don’t resort to just parroting the press release, as so many hosts in the US do.

But they can also play a little rough. How’s this for a nightmare scenario? You’re trapped in a studio with three young hotshot reviewers who each proceed to critique your work ON THE AIR. And then they all sit back while you try not to disintegrate into a blubbering mess ON LIVE RADIO. (Now I understand why “The Weakest Link” originated in the UK. Those Brits do seem to love the spectacle of public humiliation.) I spent the show sweating in my chair, obsessing about that scene in “Galaxy Quest” where these cuddly little aliens suddenly sprout fangs and attack. My three reviewers, thank heavens, never showed even a glint of fang.

Then there was a photo shoot for EVE, a UK women’s magazine. The theme was “Secrets of best-selling authors” and there I was, professionally coiffed and made up, posing with three gorgeous women novelists, Joanne Harris and Freya North and Lauren Child, who shared their their own author photo stories. How a photographer once asked Joanne to pose nude in a tub of melted chocolate. How another photographer asked Freya North to pose nude on horseback. (Are you starting to sense a common theme here?) So now I’m wondering why no photographer has ever asked me to pose nude for my author pics. Should I feel miffed about this?

Off to the UK

I’m off to London for my UK book tour, so for the next two weeks, I won’t be able to answer my emails or respond to my guestbook entries for awhile. But I promise — I’ll be answering every one of them when I return.Although authors may tell you that book tours are grueling affairs, I have always enjoyed them. My secret? I try to enjoy at least one great meal every day. This doesn’t mean it has to be expensive or even elaborate. Just a tasty meal, prepared with care. Even something as basic as a piping hot platter of frites can make me deliriously happy. Spoken like the daughter of a restauranteur! (which I am.) I think that people who don’t enjoy their food are probably not very enjoyable company as people, either. If that makes me a superficial bonne vivante, well then — I guess I am!

Maybe this blog is a bad idea

Maybe I shouldn’t be blurting out the truth for everyone to read. Heck, I don’t know if anyone will even be reading this, but for what it’s worth, here it is — the unvarnished truth about what it’s like to be a novelist these days.

To copy a phrase from W., “it’s hard, hard work.”

Right now, I’m finishing up VANISH, my next book in the Jane Rizzoli / Maura Isles series, and I’ll tell you now it’s been a difficult birth. But then, all my books have been difficult. Whenever someone blithely tells me “oh, you just churn them out,” I want to strangle them. No, I do not just churn out these stories. I labor hard over each and every one. I spend many sleepless nights, worrying whether I can pull my characters out of the fire. Since I don’t plot out my books ahead of time, and instead allow each one to organically develop in its own way, I never how they’ll turn out until the words are actually on the page. My method is unpredictable and, in some ways, chaotic. But it’s the way I’ve always worked, and I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks.

I figure, if I’m surprised by the twists and turns, then maybe my readers will be surprised as well.

Do I ever just turn in the books because I’ve run out of time?

No. Never. The endings you read in my stories are precisely the endings I wanted. If all the loose ends aren’t neatly tied up, it’s because I think you the reader are clever enough to figure out what happens next. (Do I REALLY need to show you the wedding of Abby and Katzka? Come on, people. You KNOW they’re gettin’ married, and that they’re gonna adopt Yakov!!!)

A question that I often have to answer in interviews is this: “You seem like such a nice person. Why do you write such horrifying stuff?”

It’s because of my mother. And I say that in the nicest way. Those of you who’ve seen my photos know that I’m Asian American. My mom was an immigrant from China — specifically, Kunming. When she came to the U.S., her command of English was a bit spotty. The one thing she understood, and enjoyed, was American horror films. No need to understand English in a horror film. You see Frankenstein or the Mummy coming after you, and you don’t need English to understand that this is a bad thing.

My mother dragged me and my younger brother to every horror film that came to San Diego. I grew up cowering in fright in movie theaters. My girlhood was fraught with nightmares of “Body Snatchers” and “Them” and those alien ships from “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”. If you want to understand where my books come from, all you need to do is watch a few horror films from the 60’s.

Yeah, Mom, thanks a lot. And I really mean that. Because she awakened my imagination. She (and Hollywood) made me think: “What’s the worst that can happen?” And that’s exactly what goes on in my books. I’m always thinking: “What’s the worst that can happen?”

And then I try to make it happen.

If you have any questions, just email me. I’ll try to address them next time I blog!