June 12, 1953 |
San Diego, California, United States
|Occupation||Author, medical doctor|
|Education||Stanford University, University of California, San Francisco|
I was an anthropology major in college, and I've had a lifelong fascination with Egyptology, mummies, and all sorts of bizarre cultural practices.
Fans are always asking me where I get my ideas from. The answer is that I'm very curious, and I get inspiration from everywhere. I read the newspapers voraciously, so I know what's going on in real crime. I pay attention to the strange stories people tell me, and I also read a lot of scientific and forensic journals.
Medicine is probably one of the best backgrounds for a writer to find stories. I always think cops and docs have the best background because we see so much of human behavior, such a range of human emotions.
Because I never plan anything out ahead of time, I'm always in the process of learning about my characters. Without a biographical sketch to guide me, I discover things about my heroines as the stories unfold. Only in 'Body Double' did I discover that Maura's mother was a serial killer.
I have hidden my race for 22 books. I have hidden behind my married name, which is very Caucasian, because I didn't feel safe coming out with it. I didn't feel that the market would really accept me. I think I felt it's time to start bringing in an Asian-American point of view.
I have minor characters who are Asian-American, and I've been using them throughout my career, but they've never taken center stage, they've never been really powerful, they've never expressed some of the experiences I had growing up in the U.S. Johnny Tam is the first one.
I raised two sons, and I know that even though they're bigger and stronger than I am, they're still little boys inside. They still cry, they still hurt. So whenever I write a male character, no matter how 'heroic' he may be, I think of my sons. And I remember that every man was once a little boy.
I organise jam sessions every month. We have an open session, so everyone knows about it, and we can get as many as 30 people showing up at the house. Somebody will play a tune, and everyone will pick up on it. My best friends are all musicians.
My father said writing was a nice hobby. He strongly encouraged my brother and me to become doctors.
While the TV show 'Rizzoli & Isles' may have been inspired by my books, show runner Janet Tamaro has total control over where the TV characters go from there. As Janet once put it, I'm the birth mother, but she's the mother who adopted them, and now that Jane and Maura are living in her house, they have to do what she tells them to do.
I shy away from showing cruelty on the page. A lot of the violence in my books actually happens off stage. The police come on to the scene after the event has occurred.
I was a writer first, and knew I'd be a storyteller at age seven. But since my parents are very practical, they urged me to go into a profession that would be far more secure, so I went to medical school.
I think what medical training does is it gives you the language, the tools to look up facts. I think medical training gives you a sense of how to approach a problem, how to look at symptoms and go down the list of what it might be.
Throughout most of my life, I've tried to downplay my Chinese heritage because I wanted so much to be an American. I was the only Asian kid in my elementary school, and I longed to be like everyone else. I insisted on American food; I was embarrassed by my mother's poor English.
The hunting of monsters is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for those who feel bound by such trivial doctrines as law or national borders.
My brother often complains to me about the 'angry Asian male' in the United States. As a female, I haven't encountered this, but Asian-American men are angry. They're angry because, for so many years, they've been neglected as sex symbols. Asian women have it much easier, I think; we're accepted into various circles.
In China, the dead are not forgotten – my relatives cheerfully pointed out all the niches of deceased friends and family, as if gesturing at the homes of the living.
My dad's cooking was magic in the kitchen. But eventually over the years, his personality changed and his ability to remember recipes failed. He became paranoid and thought people were stealing from him, when often he was just misplacing things.
Since my romance novels had all been thrillers as well, it wasn't such a leap for me to move into the straight thriller genre. The most difficult part, I think, was being accepted as a thriller writer. Once you've written romance, unfortunately, critics will never stop calling you a 'former romance author.'
Alzheimer's is literally killing us, and the only way to fight this 'crime' is through a groundswell of people who continue to raise their voices and funds to ensure it gets the attention it deserves.
'Ice Cold' is the eighth in my 'Rizzoli and Isles' thriller series. It was inspired by a true occurrence in the 1960s, now known as the 'Dugway Incident,' in which 6,000 sheep mysteriously died overnight in a remote area of Utah. I thought, 'What if it happened instead to people? What if the inhabitants of an entire village vanished overnight?'
I think that, for physicians who want to become writers, they have the material, the smarts, they have the logic, they know the stories; it's just a matter of being able to connect with their emotional sides – that's the key to writing good fiction.
Mom and I often talked about the trip we'd someday take together to the 'city of eternal spring' where she was born. In Kunming, she said, the fruits are sweeter, the mountains look like Chinese paintings, and the weather is always perfect.
In 'Last to Die,' three children living in different cities are the only survivors when their families are slaughtered. Two years later, their foster families are murdered, and these three orphans are once again the only survivors.
I think of myself as a fairly logical, scientific and somewhat reserved person. Maura Isles, the Boston medical examiner who appears in five of my books, is me. Almost everything I use in describing her, from her taste in wine to her biographical data, is taken from my own family. Except I don't have a serial killer as a mother!
Even if I never sold another book, I'd keep writing, because the stories are here, in my head. Stories that just need to be told. I love watching a plot unfold, and feeling the surprise when the unexpected happens.
The best ideas are those that really affect me emotionally – those are the ones you never forget. You think to yourself, 'I want to write that book', for years; those are the ideas that I love to work with, and 'The Bone Garden' was one of them.
I'd been writing stories since I was a child. I wrote little books for my mom and bound them myself with needle and thread. Mostly, they were about my pets.
Because my dad's Chinese-American, and they're very concrete, he said, 'There's no money to be made in literature.' So he told me to go into the sciences. And I was a good girl. And I did what Daddy said. And that's how I ended up being a doctor. But you know, you just can't stamp out that desire to tell stories.
For years I've wanted to write a book about mummies, and had been following the science of mummy CT scans when the premise for 'The Keepsake' occurred to me: what if an 'ancient' mummy turns out to have a bullet in its leg? How does a modern murder victim get turned into a mummy?
I sold my first short story while I was home on maternity leave, then began working on novels. Since I was reading and enjoying romance novels at the time, the first two unpublished manuscripts I wrote were both romances. I sold my third novel, 'Call After Midnight,' to Harlequin Intrigue after submitting it unagented.
My dad was Chinese-American and very conservative when it came to his family's futures. He said if I wanted to have a secure job, I should go into science. So I did what Dad said and went to medical school, but the writing bug never left me.
My mother is an immigrant from China, and she filled my head with stories about ghosts and fighting monks in China, so the world of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' was a very familiar one.
There is no better test of character than when you're tossed into crisis. That's when we see one's true colors shine through. So I try my best to make my characters personally involved in the plot, in a way that stresses them and tests them.
I spent my childhood watching every scary movie that Hollywood ever made. And I think that gave me the best education for storytelling. It also made me want to reproduce the scary moments that I felt, sitting in a theater at the age of 5.
It's what all writers dream of, that our work finds a measure of immortality that long outlives the words of any critic.
After twelve years of living in Hawaii, I'd gotten a serious case of 'rock fever.' I just couldn't live on an island any longer.
I'm Asian-American, and I was the only Chinese girl growing up in a white school in San Diego. So I understood what it was like to be different, to always want to fit in and never feel like you ever could.
'Lonesome Dove' by Larry McMurtry and 'The Poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver have stuck with me throughout my life, and I think that says a lot about an author's writing.
My brother and I spent our childhood in movie theaters screaming. I decided early on that that was the epitome of entertainment. I'm always trying for that same level of adrenaline in my books.
The hardest part of writing is the first draft, and the closer you get to your deadline, the messier your workspace becomes – but that's the same with any creative outlet.
I was always meant to be a writer. I've felt that way since I was a child.
Writing is very much an emotional process; it requires you to be very in touch with your feelings. That is the opposite of what you're taught as a medical doctor. We're supposed to be detached and logical. Maybe because I started off as a writer and then became a doctor, I'm able to integrate those two.
My most successful books, the ones that I feel the strongest about, are the ones that started with a premise that for me was deeply emotional.
I always write on unlined typing paper and write the first draft in longhand, using cheap Bic pens. I try to write about four pages a day, which usually yields a first draft in six months. I don't plot ahead of time, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants for the first draft.
I think fiction, for me, is a way of trying to understand why people do the things they do – and trying to explain what is, at heart, illogical.
My father was second-generation Chinese-American, born in 1923 in California. My mother emigrated to the States from China when she was in her early twenties, in part to escape the political turmoil in China.
A project like 'Rizzoli & Isles' is something you can't pursue. It's something that comes to you… I like to call it 'fairy dust.' And it happened without my having to do anything.
Only with maturity did I come to appreciate my own Chinese roots: not just the food and the ancient history, but also the philosophy of child-rearing and the respect for education and knowledge.
I'm trained in science, believe in logic, and like to think there's an explanation for everything. And I'm truly not really at ease with other people.
One of the best Christmas presents I ever got was the globe that I now keep right beside my desk.
I think of all media, television is the most powerful when it comes to selling books, because when you have a feature film, yeah, there's a rush. But then after that month is over and the movie goes out of release, that's it.
Aside from the Rizzoli & Isles books, there are many other stories I want to write. The question is whether I'll live long enough to write them all!
I devote most of my day to writing, and try to turn out at least four pages a day. As for what triggers the creative process, it's a mystery to me! Characters often just walk on the page, and I wait to see what they do and say while I'm writing them.
I met my husband, Jacob, in medical school. We married and went to live in Hawaii where his family lived. It was very beautiful, but I wasn't used to being on an island and needed wide open spaces. Eventually we moved to Maine, New England.
'I am a bad mother.' Every Christmas, this is what I think because the holiday season fills me with such anxiety. I'm sure that other mothers are happily baking cookies, decorating trees, and finding perfect gifts for everyone.