Another author caught misbehaving

I am so saddened by this latest news about Jonah Lehrer.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a glowing review of his book IMAGINE, in which he explores creativity and the brain. I was enchanted when I read it, because so much of it rang true for me. I mentioned it to everyone I met. I praised it in a number of talks I gave.

Now it turns out that Mr. Lehrer made up a few things. Such as, really stupid details like quotes from Bob Dylan –who’s still very much alive and able to complain that no, he didn’t say those things. What on earth was Lehrer thinking? He had such fascinating material already; why contaminate the stew by throwing in a few poison pills?

Count me as disillusioned. I don’t know why he had to do it.

It looks like such a glamorous life in Hollywood …

… but it’s work. Damn hard work.

Last week in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of visiting the “Rizzoli & Isles” set on the Paramount lot. The cast and crew had no idea I was coming (only my good buddy Janet Tamaro knew) so when I walked onto the set, I wasn’t initially noticed. The cast was in a huddle, talking, and I didn’t want to interrupt. So I just hung around for a few minutes, and then Lorraine Bracco turned and stared at me, and so did Sasha Alexander, and suddenly there were squeals of “Tess is here! No one told us she was coming!”

Immediately, Angie Harmon grabbed my hand, pulled me over to the crew, and yelled: “Here’s the writer who created these incredible characters!” It was such a warm, wonderful welcome, by people who greeted me like part of their family, that I felt like crying.

We all posed for their traditional “point at the body” photo, which is apparently the way they welcome every newcomer to the show:

Followed by the “hanging out together photo”

(L-R: Lorraine Bracco, Sasha Alexander, me, Bruce McGill, Angie Harmon, Lee Thompson Young, and Alan Rachin)

Then the cast got back to work filming. If you’ve never been on a film set, you probably imagine that the actors just walk on, say their lines, and head back to their comfortable trailers. Not so. The actors, the film crew, everyone, is putting in long, exhausting hours as they scramble to put together fifteen TV episodes in only a few months. A lot of the hard work is behind the scenes, starting with the creative ferment going on in showrunner Janet Tamaro’s office, where the stories are crafted and polished. And once Janet finishes a script, her job is far from finished, because she’s also keeping an eye on the production from beginning to end. In truth, I have stamina for only a few hours on set, and then I get sympathetic fatigue from watching the cast and crew running around, and I have to stagger away for sustenance.

Also, those film sets are freezing. It was warm outside, and inside it was, oh, about fifty degrees. Lorraine Bracco saw I was shivering and she actually handed me her fleece jacket! How cool is that? I wore Lorraine Bracco’s fleece!

I got the chance to chat with Bruce McGill (Korsak) and Lee Thompson Young (Frost), whose hilarious back-and-forth on the show always makes me laugh. I want more Korsak vs. Frost, please!

I also got to spend time with actress Tina Huang, who plays Susie Chang, Maura’s assistant in the morgue. I asked her if her Chinese parents had a problem with her going into entertainment and — no surprise — they wanted her to be a doctor or a lawyer instead. Tell me about it, sister!

(Here I am with Tina, and I’m wearing Lorraine Bracco’s fleece jacket!)

After my visit to the set, it was off to do some touristy L.A. things. And, no surprise, one of the big things on my agenda was to visit the La Brea tar pits and the Page Museum, where millions of ancient animal bones are displayed. For those unfamiliar with the tar pits, here’s what they look like today:

Yep, right in the middle of Los Angeles, there are bubbling, stinky pools of tar which continually belch methane gas. Tens of thousands of years ago, mastodons and giant sloths and wolves and ancient horses would wander into the tar, get trapped, and starve to death. The tar pits are an amazing repository of skeletons, but I can’t imagine the hot, filthy, stinky work it takes to dig them up.

After the amazing tar pits, and visits to the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it was on to Anaheim and … RizzlesCon! The giant Twitter universe of Rizzoli & Isles fans have been an online community since the show began, and this was their chance to get together, party, and celebrate the show.

Organized by Joy Thomas (who comes all the way from the UK) and Liv Moreno (above), the con turned out to be a nonstop party, along with workshops taught by some fascinating law enforcement folks, including a coroner, a homicide detective, a crime scene photographer, and a firearms expert.

I gave a talk about the creation of Jane and Maura as characters in my books series:

and hung out with some happy attendees:

Of course, a visit to Disneyland was called for on the last night, when the fireworks and music and crowds completely blasted out my eardrums. So I’m happy to be back in quiet Maine. Not so glamorous maybe — but a whole lot calmer!

A brand new “Rizzoli & Isles” short story!

“John Doe” is a new e-short story available in both the US and the UK.

In “John Doe”, Maura meets an attractive man at a cocktail party, accepts a glass of champagne… and wakes up the next morning with no memory of what happened in between. When a man’s body is found with her address in his pocket, Maura is the number one suspect. And she can’t remember if she killed him.

In the US, you can buy an e-copy of John Doe at:

Barnes and Noble

iTunes bookstore

Other retailers.

In the UK, “John Doe” is available at:

iTunes and

Other options.

Think your books would make a good TV series?

Today, in the newsletter, I read this interesting observation by Carol Fitzgerald, who was visiting Comicon:

Yesterday morning, at a panel where authors were talking about their books being adapted to screen, I heard this nugget about the difference between what works on the big screen and what works as a television series — it’s all about characters. You continue to build the characters that you have on a television show. If you just have a story to tell, that is a book or a movie. The example given was THE DA VINCI CODE. That was a movie; it was not a series for television. Now think about “The Firm” failing as a television show while it was a great book and movie, and it makes sense. Most television, and here I include cable programming, revolves around interest in the characters for a prolonged period, whether it’s comedy or drama. Think about that the next time you think a book would make a great movie.

And it’s absolutely true. In a television series, what matters is characters. They’re the ones who keep a series going.

I never imagined, when I first created Jane Rizzoli in THE SURGEON, that she’d one day be half of a duo who’d someday be featured in a TV series. I wasn’t thinking about TV at all; I was just trying to tell a good story.

When I created Dr. Maura Isles in THE APPRENTICE, I never imagined she’d be part of a bestselling series; I just needed a medical examiner in the scene, and I needed a character named “Maura Isles,” the winning name in a charity auction, where the highest bidder got to name a character.

By the time I’d written THE SINNER, the third book with Jane Rizzoli, I realized something was happening between these two women. They’d started off as secondary characters in their debut appearances, and they’d grown into people with vivid personalities. Jane was the smart-alecky, aggressive, instinctive cop. Maura was the cool scientist with a deep, dark streak. But more than that, they were starting to rely on each other. They respected each other, and even though they had nothing in common, a bond was forming. In the books that followed, their friendship deepened, went off the rails, and reaffirmed itself. The way real friendships do.

Then they ended up in a TV series.

During my first phone call with producer Bill Haber, what he said was: “I love your girls and I think they belong on TV.” He didn’t say “I love your plots” or “I love your mysteries.” He said I love your girls. That startled me a bit, because I never envisioned the books as a TV series. I thought that VANISH or THE SURGEON would make a good movie, but a series featuring Jane and Maura’s friendship? Huh?

But that’s precisely what executive producer and writer Janet Tamaro has focused on during the first three seasons — the friendship and loyalty between two very different crime-fighting women. She put her own distinctive mark on the show, injecting a wicked sense of humor, and keeping her focus on that relationship above all.

The result? “Rizzoli & Isles” has been renewed for a fourth season. I give all credit to Tamaro, because she (and Haber) were the ones who understood what makes a TV show work. They understood that it’s character that counts.

And so, apparently, do the show’s fans. They’re throwing the first “Rizzoli and Isles” fan convention next weekend in Anaheim. An event I wouldn’t dream of missing.

So how weird is it, to see “my girls” celebrated at a fan convention? Very, very weird. And fun. And mind-bending.

I’ll take pictures and report back when I return from Rizzlescon!

Creative Torment



Those who don’t write for a living probably imagine that a novelist’s life is one of gleefully typing stories that flow easily out of our brains. Lemme tell ya, there’s nothing easy about it. At least, it isn’t easy for me. The past four months have actually been pretty darn miserable, as I struggled to finish my newest Rizzoli & Isles book, LAST TO DIE. I’ve mentioned before that my writing process is pretty much along the lines of “take a leap and see where you land.” My deadline was June 1.

The book started off well enough. Three orphans, survivors of family massacres in different cities around the world, are living with foster families. And now, two years after the first massacres, the foster families are murdered. Once again, these three children are the only survivors. What ties these orphans together? Who wants them all dead? To keep them safe, the police move the orphans to the mysterious Evensong boarding school in Maine, set in a remote castle surrounded by forest. (Evensong is the school where Julian “Rat” Perkins, the sixteen-year-old boy who saved Maura’s life in ICE COLD, now lives.) But at Evensong, things are not what they seem. And when dead bodies start turning up there, Jane and Maura wonder if the killer is already inside the castle gates.

I loved the premise, loved writing about the three plucky orphans, loved seeing Rat together with Maura again.

But by mid=March, I was 3/4 finished and still had no idea where the story was going. I didn’t know whodunit or whydunit.

I woke up every night with a pounding heart, sweating and panicked that the book was a disaster. (Yeah, you’ve all heard that before.) I sat at my desk 12 hours a day, fighting with the pages. I kept glancing at the calendar, seeing that June 1 deadline roaring at me.

And then, in the midst of all that stress, I packed for my two-week Germany/Netherlands book tour.

This is the point where (as usual) I decided my career was over. I’d finally been defeated by The Book That Refused To Be Written. I would fly home from Germany, confess to my editor that there was no manuscript, and then I’d disappear into a cave.

During that German book tour, I ended up on a train ride through the countryside. The trip was a few hours, and I spent it staring out the window at the passing landscape, feeling utterly defeated and depressed. And that was when it hit me: the solution to my plot problems. How to make all the puzzle pieces fit together. How to tie it up in a thrilling way that made sense. I remember looking at my husband during that train ride and saying: “I’ve got it! I’ve figured it out!”

Yes, I had that blessed Eureka! moment. And it was the train ride that did it.

I came home from Germany and eight weeks later, LAST TO DIE was written and turned in right on deadline.

It’s my 24th book, and like every book I’ve written before, it caused me no end of misery. Because, as Jonah Lehrer says in his book IMAGINE, the creative process is hard work. A good writer makes it look easy; sometimes the clearest writing takes the most skill to pull off.

But once a book is finished, how quickly we forget the misery of the process, the sleepless nights, the anxiety attacks. Instead, all we want to do is pick up the pen and write: Chapter One

A must-read book for writers: IMAGINE by Jonah Lehrer

Now that I find myself between writing projects, I’m reading a ton of books that I’ve been hankering to dig into for months. And the most remarkable of my recent reads is a nonfiction book called IMAGINE:HOW CREATIVITY WORKS by Jonah Lehrer. I’ll just come right out and say it: this is one freaking great book! Every chapter I read, I wanted to shout out: “Yeah, this is exactly what works for me!” It’s as if Jonah Lehrer got inside my head and dissected everything I do.

Over the years, I’ve blogged (or spoken about) the importance of curiosity, about how my creative sparks often come from connecting two disparate pieces of information, and how I often get my “ah ha!” moments while driving long distances. Lehrer discusses each of these points and more, using real-life examples from people in business, science, music, and just about every occupation.

Take curiosity. It’s long been my belief that you need to have a variety of interests and a wide breadth of knowledge to be a writer. For that reason, I encourage young writers to read many different subjects, to indulge their curiosity, and to acquire random bits of information because you never know when it will lead to some new and original idea.

Many of my books, in fact, sprang from connecting various data points, or bits of information. My SF thriller GRAVITY came about because I had been reading about scientific experimentation in orbit, and learned that bacterial cultures behave differently without gravity, growing in three dimensional shapes rather than in flat sheets. I had also read an article, perhaps a year earlier, about newly discovered single-cell organisms called Archaeons, which are found in some of the most hostile environments on earth. That got me thinking: what if Archaeons were actually extraterrestrial organisms that survived entry into earth’s atmosphere aboard a meteor? What if we sent some Archaeons up to a space-based laboratory? What if those Archaeons, minus the effects of gravity, suddenly began to behave in new — and nasty ways? Because they are, in fact, hostile colonizers meant to wipe out any native planet life, to make way for future aliens?

That book would never have been born if I hadn’t connected two separate bits of information, 1: Archaeons and 2:microgravity research.

Likewise for my book LIFE SUPPORT. I’d long been interested in mad cow disease, and had wanted to use it in a medical thriller, but didn’t know how to turn it into a plot. Then I came across a bizarre little research paper about scientists who manipulated fruit fly genes so that the flies were born with multiple eyes or wings. That was just the weird piece of information I needed to come up with the premise for LIFE SUPPORT.

So writers: curiosity counts. So does acquiring random information. Harboring a wealth of data in your gray matter means you have more information to work with.

Lehrer also talks about the Eureka! moment, that wonderful flash of inspiration that can suddenly solve all your plot problems. And boy, do I have plot problems. It happens because I don’t plan my books out in advance, and I feel my way through a story … until I get stuck because I don’t know how to make the mystery fit together. With every book, I’ll suffer from “plot block” about 2/3 of the way through the first draft. It stops me from writing for days, even weeks, while I struggle to come up with the answers. From long years at this, i’ve discovered that I can often achieve that Eureka! moment by getting behind the wheel of a car and driving. Something about the act of driving seems to open up my mind to answers.

It turns out I’m not alone. Lehrer says what we need is to get our brains into alpha mode, to relax the tension and let our brains start to make random connections. He says that hot baths or going for a long drive are often mentioned as helpful for creative breakthroughs. He even pinpoints the specific anatomical spot in the brain that lights up on EEG when that Eureka! moment occurs.

And travel. Everyone who’s read my blog knows how much I crave the sights and sounds of new countries. You know I’ve been to Turkey and Libya and South Africa. What I may not have talked about is how vital I’ve felt travel is to a writer. What you pick up abroad isn’t just a new language or a new cuisine — you also pick up a new way of looking at the world, and it makes you question your own experiences. Travel refills your creative well, and I think it’s vital to staying fresh as a writer.

Lehrer, too, discusses the importance of travel to creativity, and uses as an example the creation of the Barbie doll, which came about only because the wife of a Mattel executive was traveling in Germany and completely misinterpreted the meaning of a voluptuous doll she spotted in the window of a bar.

Seriously, read this book. It needs to be on every writer’s shelf.

UPDATE: It turns out Jonah Lehrer fabricated more than a few things in his book.