Tess Gerritsen is best known for writing the novels that inspired the TV show Rizzoli & Isles. But in talking to her via email about her new sexy psychological thriller The Shape Of Night (hardcover, Kindle), she revealed it was actually a different TV show — and a movie of the same name and plot — that inspired this ghostly novel.
I always like to start with a short plot overview. So, what is The Shape Of Night about?
Deeply ashamed of something in her past, Ava Collette flees Boston and rents an old seaside mansion called Brodie’s Watch on the coast of Maine. At first she dismisses the eerie sounds she hears at night, but when she glimpses the silhouette of a man standing on her rooftop widow’s walk, she realizes the rumors must be true. The house really is haunted by the ghost of Captain Jeremiah Brodie, who perished at sea a hundred fifty years earlier. Eagerly she welcomes the visits of her ghostly lover — until she learns that every woman who’s ever lived in the house has also died in the house. Is the ghost responsible, or is a flesh-and-blood killer at work, and circling ever closer to Ava?
Where did you get the idea for The Shape Of Night, and how, if at all, did the plot change as you wrote it?
I’ve always loved gothic novels. I’m also a fan of the 1947 film The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, a sweet romance about a woman who moves into a house that’s haunted by the ghost of a strapping sea captain. I wondered: what if they actually became lovers and he’s able to fulfill her every desire? Could there be any more perfect lover than a ghost who keeps all your secrets and understands what you need? Because my mind tends to veer toward the dark side, I also thought: What if this “perfect” lover might be the reason every woman who’s lived in the house has also died in the house?
That was all I knew about the story when I started writing it. My plots always evolve as I write them, and the biggest evolution was in my heroine Ava, who started off an enigma to me. Why has this attractive young woman chosen to isolate herself in a small Maine village? What has driven her there? I came to understand that Ava’s sense of shame is as damaging — and as haunting — as any ghost could be, and is key to what happens to her.
The Shape Of Night has been called a sexy psychological thriller. Is that how you see it?
It’s the perfect description. I could also call it a “modern Gothic romance novel,” a sexy twist on those classic tales of spooky houses and innocent heroines. Although in my story, Ava is certainly not an “innocent” heroine.
Now, The Shape Of Night is not your first novel. But are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on it but not on your previous books?
I must give credit to the many Gothic romance novels I read as a teenager, written by authors such as Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stuart.
How about non-literary influences; was The Shape Of Night influenced by any movies or TV shows?
The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, both the film and the television series.
Prior to writing The Shape Of Night, you wrote two books in your Tavistock series, as well as thirteen Rizzoli & Isles novels. But The Shape Of Night is a stand-alone story. What was it about this story that made you decide it would not be part of a series?
The huge character arc that Ava Collette travels in this story makes it a stand-alone tale, at least with her as a main character. She endures such a grueling journey of self-discovery (and self-judgment) that she deserves a happy ending, with no more crises! However, the village of Tucker Cove and the house Brodie’s Watch could very well be fertile ground for another story.
Speaking of Rizzoli & Isles, it was made into a TV series that ran seven seasons. Has there been any interest in making The Shape Of Night into a TV series? Or maybe a movie?
My film agent is now pitching it in Hollywood. Given the choice, I’d love to see it made into a limited TV series.
If that happened, who would you like them to cast as Ava and Jeremiah and the other main roles?
I have no idea!
And would you want to co-write the screenplay like you did for the 1993 TV movie Adrift?
I’m very happy writing novels. When I do write screenplays, they’re specifically for the indie feature films that my son Josh and I produce [which include last year’s Island Zero].
Finally, if someone enjoys The Shape Of Night, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?