The Real Lives of Writers

Tess Gerritsen, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, and Michael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.
Tess Gerritsen, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, and Michael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.

Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, and Michael Koryta came together yesterday afternoon to share behind-the-scenes revelations and anecdotes in “Real Life: What did you make out of yours?” Even the self-proclaimed introverts onstage opened up bravely to let curious KWLS attendees in on the magic and the mundane in their creative lives, and what they would do if they weren’t writers. In this peek under the kimono, we experienced the same satisfied delight found in reading the Paris Review interviews series (George Plimpton’s exchange with poet Billy Collins is among our favorites). In its intimacy and humor, the candid conversation among these fascinating writers captured so much of what makes KWLS unique.

Tess Gerritsen and Michael Connelly. Photo by Nick Doll.
Tess Gerritsen and Michael Connelly. Photo by Nick Doll.

Tess Gerritsen

Alternate career: Botanist

On being the only Chinese kid in her childhood town: “My father said, they’re never going to accept you, so you have to be better than they are.”

On writing as a passport to amazing experiences—like viewing a hospital CT scan of an Egyptian mummy as research for one of her books: “It took months to arrange because the hospital attorney cited the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The museum said, ‘We’re the parents,’ and signed the form.”

On “the danger in getting too close to the dark side”: The actions of one of Tess’s characters resembled those of a real-life serial killer so much that authorities assumed a kinship, and her husband (briefly) became the subject of a criminal investigation.

Michael Connelly

Alternate career: Carpenter

On solitude: “I don’t like to be touched. I like to be alone. My family moved around a lot, and I was always changing schools, so I learned to be comfortable by myself.”

On his calling: “I knew I wanted to be a crime writer since the age of nineteen. I went into journalism as a means to an end, and that set me apart from other reporters. I always had an eye out for details to use in novels.”

On writing as a way to develop muscles of empathy and sympathy: “It’s something you can carry though life. I gave [my character] Harry Bosch the code, ‘Everybody counts or nobody counts.’ I try to live that way.”

MIchael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.
MIchael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.

Michael Koryta

Alternate career: Lighthouse keeper

On inspiration: “I have a lyric from the singer Josh Ritter posted by my desk: ‘I’m singing for the love of it—have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.’”

On writing: “Even if you connect with only one reader, day-to-day, it’s a sacred opportunity.”

On his experience working in “the ultimate outsider jobs” of private investigator and newspaper reporter: “It was always grist for the mill, but I was able to meet a wide range of people and consider their motivations. Why did this person under these circumstances make these choices?”

Alafair Burke and Michael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.

Alafair Burke

Alternate career: Architect

On telling her dad about the widespread diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder among writers she knows: “He said, ‘All writers have it, or you’d never finish your work.’”

On the therapeutic benefits of writing: “I’m happier and healthier than I was ten years ago. Back then, I compartmentalized parts of my life. Writing has helped me to integrate.”

On gratitude: “I feel so lucky. It’s like winning the lottery, being able to support yourself doing what you love.”

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