The Heroine’s Journey Today: The Heroine’s Journey of Tess Gerritsen

The Heroine’s Journey of Tess Gerritsen

What mystery authors do you feel have most influenced your work? “I’m a big fan of science-based thrillers, and writers like Michael Crichton and Aaron Elkins really showed me how to weave in facts with the thrills. I also have to give a nod to writers that inspired me early on — Stephen King for his character development, and Patricia Cornwell for demonstrating that a book can be graphic and fascinating without being gratuitously violent” – Tess Gerritsen

What advice would you give starting writers? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently when you were starting out? And what do you think was the best thing that you did at the beginning? “I would advise them to write the first draft all the way to the end, without any attempts at revising. Too many first-time authors get stuck with repeated revisions of the first few chapters, and they never get beyond it. I find that I don’t know what my book is about until I finish the first draft. Only then do I go back and start revising, because only then do I know what needs to be fixed. I wish I had known this when I was just starting out. I ended up writing a number of partial novels that were never finished because they seemed so utterly wretched halfway through. I’ve since learned that first drafts are always wretched — and that you just have to ignore their defects and forge ahead. Because they can be fixed. ” – Tess Gerritsen

Some of the more eccentric characters in your books seem amazingly true to life. Are they based after real-world models? I confess, I often use eccentric people I meet in real life as models for my characters. Perhaps that’s why they seem real!

The newest book of Tess Gerritsen is “Listen To Me”.

Tess Gerritsen has mastered many different genres throughout her career, but it’s always special when she returns to the Boston area for another Rizzoli & Isles novel.

In LISTEN TO ME, the highly anticipated 13th installment in the series, homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are working what appears to be a senseless murder. However, it somehow will be tied to an issue going on in the suburban neighborhood where Jane’s mom, Angela, lives — and the consequences could be deadly.

With chapters told from the perspectives of various characters, readers get to put together the pieces of the mystery as the crimes keep occurring. Early on, we see college student Amy Antrim leave the library in the middle of a wintry mix when she is struck by a vehicle while stepping off the curb. Months later, Sofia Suarez, a widow and nurse, is bludgeoned to death in her apartment as the result of an apparent robbery. Jane and her partner, Barry Frost, get the case, which hits home because Sofia was a friend of her mother’s. As they dive into the investigation, Jane and Barry will soon discover a link between the homicide and the hit-and-run incident.

Gerritsen then shifts our attention to Angela Rizzoli. She has a reputation for being the neighborhood busybody, which has been a point of humor in the past. Lately, though, she has been zeroing in on some new neighbors who she simply does not trust. Jonas, the elderly bodybuilder who lives next door to the Greens, has been feeding her paranoia by allowing her to spy on them from his backyard. Angela does not think they are the nice couple they claim to be, but she is having a hard time getting anyone to believe her. However, there may be some legitimacy to her suspicions as Jane’s investigation crosses paths with an old case involving the murder of a college professor.

It’s difficult to go any further without revealing the exciting twists that are in store for readers. What I can say is that LISTEN TO ME is a fast, fun read with characters we have grown to love and root for as they deal with one of their most personal cases to date.

The Heroine’s Journey in “Deadwind”

The Nordic noir Deadwind (Karppi) returns for a second season on Netflix. If you were a fan of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) or The Bridge (Broen), there is a good chance you’ll like this series from Finland. The first twelve episodes were a hit in its native land. The series was also nominated for the Best Nordic Screenplay at the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize at the Göteborg Film Festival in 2018.

The second season only has eight episodes, compared to the twelve in the first season, but is just as atmospheric and slow-burning with plenty of subplots to keep you guessing until the very end.

The first season of Deadwind introduced Helsinki police detective Sofia Karppi (played by Pihla Viitala), who, upon her first assignment months after losing her husband, must investigate the murder of Anna Bergdahl, whose body was found on a construction site. Grieving, Karppi buries herself into her work, almost to the neglect of her two children, her stepdaughter Henna and Emil. Clearly used to working out her investigations alone, she is at first pretty hostile towards her new partner, detective Sakari Nurmi (played by Lauri Tilkanen), freshly transferred to the homicide unit.

In this new second season, detectives Karppi and Nurmi are back working together on a sensitive case, after two bodies are found, and the police chief is killed, leaving a cryptic message for the detectives to decipher.

Created and directed by Rike Jokela, with a co-written script by Jokela, Jari Olavi Rantala, Kirsi Porkka, and Harri Virtanen (for episodes in the second season), Deadwind is a series that resembles many others of its genre. It seems even to make direct references to them. Viewers and fans of David Lynch’s cult series Twin Peaks may be reminded of Laura Palmer when the body of Anna Bergdahl is discovered enveloped in a tarpaulin and holding calla lilies, by the way this scene was shot in the first season.

Much like its predecessors in the Nordic noir genre, Deadwind has as its central character a strong female lead. Sofia Karppi is visibly grieving for her dead husband, but she remains a tough and headstrong policewoman, slapping and fighting with suspects, and bossing her colleagues and even chief at times. She very much seems a cross between Lund, from The Killing, and Saga, from The Bridge, with her obsessiveness in the cases she investigates. She even wears big wooly jumpers like Lund famously does.

Like The BridgeDeadwind also has a great duo of detectives in Karppi and Nurmi, which grows from animosity to friendship. There is enough chemistry between Viitala and Tilkanen to make their characters’ relationship interesting. In the second season, they become a real team, working together, even though Karppi still has the tendency to run after suspects on her own.

It may take some time to get into the first season as it is a very slow-paced thriller, with many subplots that stand as red-herrings at the end. However, the slow tempo enables the series to fully develop the two leading characters, and especially Karppi. The series takes time to show us, for example, her relationship with the children, moments when she is more tender and has less control.

Deadwind has an all-too familiar plot format, but it is a very well-written one, even though it does have some far-fetch, less credible, moments (I’m thinking specifically of when Nurmi knows conveniently how to dive and has no trouble finding the gear at the last minute in another country).

If you’re in the mood for a Nordic noir thriller, Deadwind is a great fit. And you’ll learn that “moi” (pronounced “moy”) means hi, and “moi, moi”, bye.

The Heroine’s Journey of Loretta Lynn

“When something is bothering me, I write a song that tells my feelings.” – Loretta Lynn

Loretta didn’t think she was any big deal. She just scratched a phrase on any scrap of paper, hotel bill or whatever and then hummed it to herself until she got a song. The themes were mostly the usual, two people falling in love, one party cheating or both, someone left hurtiing or both. Because that was life, wasn’t it? That was the truth.

The Heroine’s Journey in “The Good Nurse”

Amy Loughren (Chastain) is a nurse at an average New Jersey hospital, trying to balance being a single mother with her high-stress job. This gets even harder when she’s diagnosed with a cardiac condition that could kill her if she doesn’t get a heart transplant in time. She keeps the diagnosis from her bosses, staying on at work because she hasn’t been there long enough to get the health insurance needed to deal with it. The heart issue adds a ticking time bomb aspect to “The Good Nurse” in that if the tension of what’s about to happen causes too high a heart rate in Amy, she could die.

She thinks the opposite is going to happen when she meets the kindly Charles Cullen (Redmayne), a new nurse who befriends Amy and offers to help her with her patients, and even with taking care of her children. At first, Charles seems like a lifesaver, a colleague who knows Amy’s secret, and wants to be there to help. Amy has no idea that the hospital, led by an icy Kim Dickens as its callous representative, has alerted the local authorities to a concerning situation involving the inexplicable death of one of Amy’s patients. With little warning, a woman coded, and an abnormal amount of insulin was found in her system. She was clearly double dosed, and the hospital really only let the cops know so they could be prepared for any legal liability. The investigating officers, played by Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha, start digging a little deeper and find a disturbing work history for Mr. Cullen involving nine other hospitals, all of which he left with rumors swirling. And then another one of Amy’s patients dies

Would Charles Cullen, who it is confirmed killed at least 29 people—though it’s suspected the total may have been in the hundreds—have ever been caught without the courage of someone within the system? The truth is that the lawsuit-terrified operations that hired and fired Cullen didn’t come close to performing their moral duties, shuffling a serial killer off to his next victim. And as long as that kind of business-over-ethics principle was in place, Cullen could have continued. Lindholm was clearly drawn to the hero arc of this true story, the one person who broke the pattern by helping authorities, even though she had so much to risk to do so.

And that’s about where the development of these characters ended. We learn so little about Amy and Charles beyond the facts of the case. Amy is a mother with a heart condition. That’s pretty much the extent of it. Yes, there’s something to be said for a thriller that focuses so intently on its true crime story that it feels like it almost traps you in it, but this movie doesn’t do that either because it’s too languid. It’s a two-hour version of a remarkably thin screenplay, one that often mistakes slow for subtle. And maybe it’s a Netflix thing where so many new shows and movies have to look like “Ozark,” but I was begging someone to turn on a light once or twice. Some filmmakers mistake low lighting and speaking quietly for important drama, and it’s just silly. But it speaks to how performative too much of “The Good Nurse” is in the end. 

The Heroine’s Journey in Descendant

History is written by the victors, who are only concerned with covering their asses and mythologizing their glory. This is why the oral histories that have been passed down from generation to generation by African-American families remain so important. Black history is American history, but so often it has been corrupted, miscategorized, bowdlerized, or flat-out ignored in schoolbooks and classes. Erasure cannot be done to oral traditions, so long as there is someone alive to tell the tale and pass it on.

I thought about this while watching director Margaret Brown’s excellent documentary, “Descendant.” My beliefs were supported when I read Brown’s comments about the Clotilda, the slave ship that is her film’s narrative focus. “The story of The Clotilda was not a ‘myth’ or a ‘legend’ as it was often referred to by white people,” she wrote, “but an already present history, just one that was not told or accepted as the dominant ‘American’ narrative.” The ship, built and financed by wealthy Mobile, Alabama resident Timothy Meacher around 1856, was used to bring the last slaves acquired in the international slave trade to America in 1860. Since this type of slave trade had been deemed illegal in America, and was punishable by death, Meacher burned and sank The Clotilda afterwards to cover up his crime.

The descendants of the 110 victims of Meacher’s treachery settled in Africatown, a section of land now incorporated into Mobile, Alabama. The denizens there, past and present, were privy to the first-person narrative of Cudjoe Lewis, once believed to be the only living survivor of the Clotilda. Lewis told his story not only to his kin, but also to author Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote it down for her 1931 book, Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo. We hear Hurston singing some of the songs she learned from her research, and the film acknowledges that she is perhaps the first Black female film director. Written in Lewis’ vernacular, Barracoon was rejected by publishers and didn’t see the light of day until 2018. Meanwhile, everyone who lived in Africatown knew their ancestors’ stories, because oral traditions remain unaffected by the approved narratives peddled by the majority. Many Africatown residents held hope that proof of the Clotilda would someday be found.

“Descendant” begins with comments from a member of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. There’s a possibility that the Clotilda has finally been located. We learn that its use as a slave vessel came from a bet Meacher made with another wealthy White man about whether he could pull off violating the 1807 ban on the international slave trade. The Clotilda’s captain, William Foster, sailed to what was then Dahomey, after Meacher heard that kingdom was selling its enemies into slavery. This puts “Descendant” in an intriguing conversation with the recent Agojie warrior film, “The Woman King,” which also takes place in Dahomey and mentions, though doesn’t explore fully, this aspect of the kingdom’s existence. (Full disclosure: I thoroughly enjoyed “The Woman King.”)

Several prior attempts to locate the Clotilda yielded erroneous results or none at all, due to location information that may have been purposely faulty. Reporter Ben Raines and business owner Joe Turner are attributed with locating the actual ship in 2019; their findings are certified by divers and National Geographic. Raines and Turner appear in “Descendant,” as do NatGeo archaeologist Frederik Hiebert and Slave Wrecks Project member Kamau Sadiki, who also works for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Professor and folklorist (and the film’s co-writer) Dr. Kern Jackson, who studied the stories and lore surrounding the ship, is also on hand to provide important information to the viewer.

The most interesting talking heads are the descendants themselves. We meet several of them, including Emmett Lewis, a direct descendant of Cudjoe Lewis. Once the ship is found, these people have different things to say about how this historic find should be used. Some point out the historical importance and success of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, located in Montgomery, Alabama and visited by many tourists. Others don’t want this to just be an attraction; they believe its potential success as a historic site should also benefit the Africatown community.  Indeed, one interaction between Emmett Lewis and a visitor to Cudjoe Lewis’ grave felt a bit too much like the guy was visiting a theme park attraction instead of someone’s grave. Lewis’ enthusiasm as he spoke proudly of his ancestor’s perseverance guided me through my mixed emotions and discomfort. “We’re still here,” he says proudly, and the claim resonated.

While “Descendant” shows the Africatown residents’ joy at finally having proof that the Clotilda is no legend, it also tells another story about systemic and environmental racism and how the Meacher family still benefits from the exploitation of the descendants of the 110 people Thomas Meacher stole and sold. Due to redlining and other corrupt zoning laws, Africatown is surrounded by factories that spew out toxic chemicals. It turns out that much of the land where these industries are located was leased or sold to them by Meacher family members. Even the bit of water where the Clotilda was found was the only part of the area owned by them and not by the Alabama government. Local environmental activist Ramsey Sprague explains that several residents correctly believe that their cancer or a relative’s cancer was due to years of living in the shadow of pipelines and smokestacks that billow chemicals into the air day and night.

No Meacher would go on record for Brown’s camera, but Michael Foster, a descendant of Captain William Foster, appears at the commemoration ceremony for the Clotilda findings. He is admittedly surprised by the lack of hostility and warm welcome he receives from the Africatown residents. He also takes a trip out to the area where the ship was sunk. During that excursion, Brown includes a conversation that drags out the tired and offensive idea that the “slaves were treated well” by their enslavers. That misguided excuse by descendants of slave owners might count as a form of an oral history if it hadn’t also been regurgitated in print for decades, if not centuries. The idea is politely shot down by another person on the boat.

Thankfully, “Descendant” doesn’t end with that scene. Instead, the film heads to the MNAAHC at the Smithsonian to spend time with one of the museum’s curators, Mary Elliott. Elliott curates the Slavery and Freedom exhibit, and tells her own story about an ancestor. It’s here that the full emotional brunt of “Descendant” hit me. On its own, this is one of this year’s best films, a superbly crafted and edited history lesson that benefits from letting its titular characters tell their stories. But what drew my tears was the kismet of my having finally gotten a ticket for the NMAAHC the week before my screening of this movie. I had been waiting six years to get in, and the experience was life-altering because I’d never been that physically immersed in Black history before. The closest I’d been to that feeling was when I was being told the stories of my own ancestors by family members.

“Descendant” is worth seeing no matter who you are. For viewers like me, however, it engenders the reality that, no matter how hard anyone tries to whitewash history, our stories will forever continue to be told in full, by us and for us.

Virgin Woolf’s Heroine’s Journey

“And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem. The Angel in the House………. It was she who boterhed me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her …… She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She was sacrified herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in – in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathise always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all – I need not say it – she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty – her blushes, her great grace… And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room ” – Virginia Woolf

Having killed the Angel in the House, what was the woman writer to do? She need only be herself?

“Ah, but what is herself? I mean, what is a woman? I assure you, I do not know ….. I do not believe that anybody has known until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill” – Virginia Woolf

Despite the world’s inhibitions, Virginia Woolf found in herself the resource for her creations. Her birth, her father’s library, her female loves and the circle of leading male intellectuals all helped.

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