by Tess Gerritsen
Today, my new Jane Rizzoli thriller, THE KEEPSAKE, goes on sale.
It’s my twenty-first published novel. You’d think that after going through this twenty-one times, the publication of a new book would feel routine to me now. But no, watching a new book hit the stands is every bit as exciting and scary as it’s always been. I find myself doing the same obsessive things I did with my last five books. I check my Amazon index every hour, thereby guaranteeing lithium-league mood swings. I Google myself several times a day, looking for new reviews. I slip into bookstores unannounced to see if the books have arrived, and where they’re displayed. Every Wednesday evening (when the New York Times bestseller list is announced) I wait by the phone, hands sweating. I know this behavior is unhealthy. I know that obsessing won’t make the books sell faster. I know that this is wasted effort and it’s sapping my energy.
I wonder how many more years I’ll be doing this, and how many more books I’ll write before I kick the bucket.
It’s a morbid question, but every writer has probably asked it: What will my obituary say about my writing career? "Prolific author of fifty bestsellers"? or: "Was working on her second novel"? Life itself is full of too many variables, so you just don’t know. You could get hit by a truck tomorrow, ending your budding career at age thirty. Or you could keep on turning out a book a year until you’re ninety nine and you finally get that Mystery Writers of America award, if only because you’re the oldest guy in the room.
Or (and this is one of my nightmares) you’ll find the quality of your work slowly deteriorating as you endure ever-crueler reviews, until suddenly it’s announced that you’re suffering from Alzheimers. And suddenly everyone is nice to you again.
A baby girl is born with only so many eggs in her ovaries. That’s it, that’s all she gets. Throughout her lifetime, she will not make any new eggs. Once she grows into womanhood and reaches menopause, all her eggs are used up, and her childbearing days are over. She simply cannot produce any more babies.
Do authors have a similar limit? Is there such a thing as artistic menopause? Is there a point in life when a writer finally sets down his pen and says, "That’s it. All my ideas are used up. I have no more books left inside me"?
I know I haven’t reached that point yet, because I can still feel those future books lined up in my imagination, like eggs waiting their turn to gestate. But I also know that I’m not a prolific writer like Isaac Asimov or Georges Simenon or Nora Roberts, who together have written enough books to fill a library. I’m capable of writing, at most, one book a year. If I keep up that schedule of one book a year, until the demographics predict I’ll keel over from old age, I could theoretically produce another thirty books.
Thirty more books to write! So far I’ve only written a measly twenty-one. Which means I haven’t yet reached the halfway point in my lifetime oeuvre.
Egads, I’d better get back to work.