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Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Tip from Tess Gerritsen

I went to a presentation that New York Times Bestselling Author Tess Gerritsen gave today.  I interviewed her a few months ago for the paper; her books are the basis for a new drama on TNT called "Rizzoli and Isles."

She's a very intelligent woman, and the audience couldn't get enough of her.  Tess explained that when she's writing a story, she always asks herself, "What would surprise me most about this scene?"

The answers help construct the plot. It's an interesting technique that might help people avoid cliches.

Tess gave an example from one of her books about a scene that involved someone waking up in the morgue right before their own autopsy.  Tess asked herself, "What would surprise me most about this scene?"


As a result, she wrote that the person who came out of the body bag immediately grabbed a nearby gun and held the people in the morgue hostage.  The audience gasped at her suggestion.  Surprises like that keep readers interested.

She allowed plenty of time for questions, and it was then that I sensed a few kindred spirits among the crowd.

Would-be authors dreaming about their first books, desperate for the golden secret of how to score a  publishing contract.

At the beginning of the year, that was me.  Now my book is set to be published in early November, and I can't wait.

I'm a little nervous too.

With fiction, you can hide behind a screen of imagination. After all, the story is about some other character, in some other situation, dealing with some other issue.  "That's not me," you can always say, "That's just my imagination at play."

But I wrote a memoir, so that rule doesn't apply.  If people think the protagonist is a dope, they'll be talking about me.  Parts of my life will be on display for the world to see.

That fact didn't really hit me until just this month.  I should have realized it a long time ago, but I was so busy trying to make the story work that it didn't occur to me. I'm a little slow, huh?

But we're at the point of no return, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well.

I spoke to Tess after the event, and she remembered me from our interview, which was nice.  And as I left, I realized one thing.  Never again would I be that guy in the room, hoping for a chance to break into publishing, hoping for my first book deal.  Those things have already come to pass, and according to Tess, the next hurdle is to make sure my book stands out among the crowd.


  1. Great post Dan. I have been doing something similar to Tess's advice for a little while now. As I sit down to write a new scene I think about what do "I think" would be the most awesome thing to happen along with the most surprising, the most intrigiung etc. Very cool to hear about other authors doing the same.

  2. Thanks, David. Anytime you have something in common with a bestseller's writing process, that's a good thing. Plus, Tess doesn't care how many people give her story two stars.

  3. Congratulations! Maybe because you put yourself out there on display that will make your book stand out among the crowd! Thanks for visiting my blog, Dan. : )

  4. That's my hope, Kbrebes! Thanks for following me. I'm still a newbie at this blogging stuff.