Arts and Culture | Local

Brandeis authors to delve into mysteries, histories and science

Tess Gerritsen
Tess Gerritsen
Arlene Weintraub
Arlene Weintraub

When international best selling writer Tess Gerritsen writes a mystery, she is sometimes as surprised as her readers and the characters in her story at who did the dirty deed.

“Very much when I write a murder mystery I don’t always know who the killer is from the beginning,” she says. “I’m working on a book now where I’m two thirds of the way through this book and I’m still trying to decide between two killers. I haven’t made up my mind yet.

“It’s just a function of the way I write, which is I don’t outline stuff or plan stuff out ahead of time. I just start writing and see what happens. The characters really figure it out themselves. Sometimes I’m surprised and sometimes I think, ‘Oh, that was there all along, I just didn’t realize it.’”

Lesley Poling Kempes
Lesley Poling Kempes
brandeis david o stewart
David O. Stewart

Gerritsen is the creator of the characters Rizzoli and Isles, now a TV series on the TNT network, as well as more than 15 stand-alone titles. She will discuss her work and her latest mystery, “Playing with Fire,” when she makes an appearance at the 20th annual Book & Author Event, sponsored by the Tucson Chapter of the Brandeis National Committee. Participants will have the opportunity to dine with Gerritsen and three other well known writers at the Western Chic Dinner at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9, in the Crown Room at Skyline Country Club. The next day the writers will talk about their work at a luncheon and sign books beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the dining room at Skyline Country Club.

The annual event raises money for the Brandeis University science for life research program, which investigates causes of neurological degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. It also helps fund an endowed scholarship for a Tucson-area student who has been accepted to Brandeis. The current recipient is Catalina Foothills High School graduate Paulina Kuzmin.

Although Gerritsen is known for suspense and murder mysteries, her first novels were actually romances with an element of suspense, published by Harlequin Intrigue. She is a retired physician and it was while she was an intern that she discovered romance novels.

“I read my first romance when I was training as a doctor,” she says. “One of my patients gave me a bag of [romance novels] when she was leaving the hospital. I really enjoyed them and here I was working 80 hours a week as an intern and I was reading romances in an exhaustive state but it was at the end of the day when you’re so tired of death and sickness and tragedy. You pick up a romance novel and it’s like eating chocolate. It was a comfort to me.”

She also admits to being an unashamed, avid reader of the National Enquirer.

A writer with local roots will also be sharing her work. Arlene Weintraub, an award-winning health and science writer in New York City, is the daughter of Ron and Diane Weintraub of Tucson, both members of the BNC. She was raised in Tucson, where she graduated from University High School. She got her Jewish education at Temple Emanu-El and Hebrew High. She has written for The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report and Business Week, among many other national publications.

Weintraub’s most recent book, “Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures,” details how veterinarians and cancer researchers are now working together to not only cure cancer in people but also in dogs. It turns out dogs are susceptible to many of the same cancers people develop and finding a cure for dog cancer has implications for cancer cures in humans. Weintraub says she became interested in the subject because of her personal experience with cancer and her family’s love of dogs.

“At the time my family was going through a horrible cancer experience with my sister, who had gastric cancer,” Weintraub says. “She died at age 47 and that just made me more fascinated with the idea that dogs can help us come up with better therapies and, in fact, gastric cancer is one of the cancers that is similar in dogs and people.”

The research does raise certain ethical questions, although Weintraub has thought this through.

“The bottom line is, in talking to ethical experts who look specifically at animal research, this is not animal research. It’s not happening in a lab. We’re not giving these animals cancer. They’re developing it naturally and the decision to enroll them in a clinical trial should be personal. People should think of it as if they were enrolling a child in a clinical trial.”

There’s an additional aspect to dogs and cancers. It turns out that some dogs are very good at accurately sniffing out some types of cancers.

“There’s a whole movement underway to train dogs to sniff cancer and to be able to tell the difference between cancerous tissues and healthy tissues and the whole idea is to translate this [ability] into some sort of diagnostic device, like a breathalyzer test or a blood test that might be able to detect cancer before it produces symptoms,” Weintraub says. “That’s considered to be very important because often times the best cure for cancer is early detection and surgery. There are many, many cancers that are called silent killers. They don’t produce symptoms until they’ve already spread, at which point it’s often too late, too far advanced to cure them and gastric cancer is one example.”

Weintraub’s first book is “Selling the Fountain of Youth,” an expose on the anti-aging industry.

BNC’s other featured authors are Lesley Poling-Kempes and David O. Stewart. Poling-Kempes wrote several award-winning fiction and non-fiction books about the American Southwest. Her latest is “Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest.” It documents the true story of women who left the security and comfort of Victorian society and journeyed into the Southwest in search of a wider view of their world.

Stewart, a lawyer who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, has written award-winning biographies of some of America’s Founding Fathers. His latest is “Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America.” He also writes historical fiction, including “The Lincoln Deception” and “The Wilson Deception.”

Tickets for the Western Chic dinner are $85 for non-members and $75 for members. Tickets for the luncheon are $80 for non-members and $70 for members. A ticket for both events, which includes seating with one of the writers at the luncheon, is $175. For more information or tickets, contact Sheila Rothenberg at 232-9559.