Growing up, she took advantage of her mother’s connection with the nearby library to borrow as many books as she could read. She also looked to her father’s stories about the Philippines (a technician in a nearby sweat shop) for the inspiration she would later use in her novel When the Elephants Dance.
Tess holds a degree in accounting from Golden Gate University. Although she was raised to obtain a practical career, (which was either being a lawyer, doctor or an accountant) in her last year of college she enrolled in a writing class, only to find out she had a talent for writing.
The Five-Forty-Five To Cannes was published in 2007 and awarded the American Library Associations' 2008 Notable Book award, as well as named a 2007 notable book by the San Francisco Chronicle.
When the Elephants Dance was published in 2002 and won the National Best-seller award, crowned the #1 Bestseller by the San Francisco Chronicle, Book Sense Top Ten, Ingram Premier Pick, Barnes and Noble Discover, and Borders' Original Voices Selection. The novel explores the retelling of supernatural tales based on indigenous Filipino mythology and Spanish-influenced novels, told from the perspective of a family hiding in a cellar during the last weeks of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines.