Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
J.T. Ellison Interview
9/11/2011 9:00:46 PM
International award winning writer J.T. Ellison discusses her novels and the writing life!
LTS: Today’s guest blogger needs no introduction, but for those of you who had been hiding under a rock for the past few years, I’d like to introduce you to the international award-winning author of seven critically acclaimed novels, the lovely and talented J.T. Ellison. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
JTE: Hi Lorna! Thanks for having me. My favorite non-writing things to do: Read, golf, find awesome restaurants, drink good wine, and travel. I just returned home from a series of trips that meant months of being on the road – it feels so good to be home, to unpack, to sleep in my own bed. I’ve been a golfer since I was little, that’s my biggest stress reliever. And I try very hard to read a few books a week, though I don’t always hit that goal.
LTS: Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
JTE: Writing has always been a part of my life, yes, but when I was younger, I never in a million years dreamed of being published. I actually quit writing for several years after a professor told me I wasn’t good enough to get published. But writing is in my blood, and when I circled back to it in 2003, I felt like I’d finally found my place. I got very serious about it in 2004, and everything fell into place rather quickly for me.
LTS: I understand your debut novel ‘All the Pretty Girls’ has received great reviews. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Taylor Jackson?
JTE: The story was actually a dream I had. I woke up and wrote it down because it seemed so very strange, and so very real. But Taylor existed well before that dream. I was reading John Sandford and decided I wanted to have a female Lucas Davenport – half cop, half rock star – and have her be a former debutante from the enclave of Belle Meade, Nashville’s toniest neighborhood, who’s eschewed her parents lifestyle to become a cop. She is a hero, in the very best sense of the word. I see her as Athena, the warrior goddess of Nashville. Taylor is incredibly black and white – there’s good, there’s evil, and she knows what side she lands on. Putting her in gray areas is where all the fun is. And of course, she’s in love with an amazing man – Dr. John Baldwin, FBI profiler extraordinaire. At least, we think she’s in love with him.
LTS: Since the release of ‘All the Pretty Girls’ in 2007, you’ve published about a novel a year. What can you tell our readers about your upcoming release ‘Where All the Dead Lie’?
JTE: I’ve actually released 7 novels in 4 years, so I’ve been a bit busy. WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE is a major departure from the six earlier books in the series. Taylor has suffered a grievous injury at the hands of a suspect, is suffering from hysterical dysphonia, and agrees to recuperate at the Scottish ancestral home of James “Memphis” Highsmythe, the Viscount Dulsie. There are no murders, no serial killers, just Taylor pitted against herself and a haunted castle. And of course, finally exploring the forcidden emotions she has for Memphis. Naughty girl.
LTS: Seven novels in 4 years? That's incredible! Now, what is the most striking difference between your debut novel and your latest one?
JTE: Probably the freedom I had to write unfettered, without a deadline, and with the future of the characters in front of me. Seven books into a series, you have to make sure everything works in concert with the six books that came before – but this one is written as a complete standalone. It was part of the plan from the beginning, to have something unique. It’s also in trade paperback, so I’m hopeful it will reach new audiences. But there’s more – the first book was a serial killer novel – very catchy and grabby, and this one is a gothic suspense. A marathon instead of a sprint.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
JTE: I was blessed to have the planets align for me rather quickly, but I struggled at the beginning to find the right path. I sent out a novella I thought was a novel, pretty much broke every rule out there. It was ignorance. I stepped back, learned the industry, scrapped all but the first paragraph of the novella, doubled it in size and then came back to market. I had my agent within a few weeks. You must learn the industry – it helps you play the long odds better.
As far as advice - John Connolly told me that all good books find a home. It is so true. You have to have faith in that, in your writing, your story. You also have to look at your situation with a clear head. Have you gotten nibbles, but no big bites? Revise, revise, revise. Are you hearing crickets? Maybe your query is off. Constant nos? Then find a critique group and figure out what’s wrong with your book. You are in control, so you have to take the cues you’re given and apply them. This is the time to check your ego and be open to criticism.
LTS: Can you share that moment when your agent told you he/she sold your story to Mira Books?
JTE: Of course. What made this event so incredibly amazing, aside from the fact that I got to hear the magic words – three-book deal – my parents witnessed THE CALL. Twice a year they pack up their SUV and drive between homes, stopping to stay for a few days in Nashville along the way. They’d been at the house for about half an hour, just gotten settled into chairs with drinks, and the movie A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE going, when the phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID, saw the 212 area code and said something, well, rude. Along the lines of "Oh f**k". I knew this was something big.
I don’t remember too much of the conversation, unfortunately. My agent teased me a little in the beginning, and since I’m the eternal optimist, I’m thinking, “Damn it, I’ve blown it. It’s over.” My heart was thudding so loudly that I didn’t even hear what he was saying until the words “three book” popped into my consciousness.
I made him go back and repeat everything he’d said. I managed to get through the conversation, half acknowledged when he said congratulations, you’re a published author now, go call your husband. I got Hubby on the phone and told the three most important people in my life the most important news I’ve ever received. And promptly cried my eyes out.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
JTE: That you absolutely cannot compare yourself, your career, and your trajectory to other writers. Everyone is on their own path, their own timetable. Comparing yourself, getting upset when they get a review you coveted, or make a list when you don’t, is the very best way to shoot yourself in the foot. Also, paying it forward not only gives you good karma, it is incredibly rewarding. There is nothing better than seeing a new author who you believe in succeed.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
JTE: I set goals, and try very hard to meet daily word counts, (usually 1,000 per day) but I can be bulimic in my writing sometimes, especially during heavy travel times. I sit down and gorge on words, throwing them on the page, clocking 5,000-10,000 word days. The healthier method is the 1,000 words a day, but those frenzied days are kind of fun too.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
JTE: I am a Beethovian (pantser) versus Mozartian (plotter) for sure – I like to sit down and let the muse take over, no real plan in place, just me and the story. I think writing is like all great art, so you have to stay in shape and prepared, have your tools at the ready, and always be willing to open the doors and let the magic flow through your fingers. Too much planning makes it boring for me – I like to be surprised.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
JTE: I really don’t. I used to have to have everything in its place, the pad of paper and pencil next to me just so, the work lamp lit, all that. But it’s about the writing, not the prep work, so now I just get that manuscript open, read what I wrote the day before, editing as I go, and then start cranking.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
JTE: I don’t believe in writer’s block in the way some think of it – I think if you’re stuck, it’s your story telling you you’re headed in the wrong direction. Close the manuscript, grab a book, take a walk (go play golf) and don’t think about it. By the next day, you’ll almost always have a solution. If that still doesn’t work, then maybe you’re telling the wrong story. Put it aside and try something else. Because inactivity breeds inactivity. When you lose your momentum, it can kill your writing career.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
JTE: I have several favorites, but my seminal go to writer is John Connolly. I think he’s one of the brightest minds in fiction. He melds crime fiction with the supernatural and lashes it all together with a literary bent that makes reading his books something akin to a gourmet meal in which all of your favorite foods are served, cooked to perfection. Whenever I get lost, or stymied, I go back and reread his books. Diana Gabaldon is another author that I use when I get stuck, but for different reasons. Her ability to take minutae and make it fascinating is something I strive for.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
JTE: I’m always blown away by the idea that I can write something in my chair in my living room, and a year later, a complete stranger will pick up the finished product, read it, enjoy it, and send me a note. Touching people’s lives is amazing. I write escapist literature, something that you can take to the beach and disappear into, so when I get notes from people who don’t read, or always hated to read, who happened upon one of my books, and loved it – that’s the coolest. I am so grateful for every note, ever reader. It’s humbling, to say the least.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
JTE: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan. It is fantastic, completely masterful. I love books that break rules, and Egan does it with the best of them. It came so highly recommended that I saved it for vacation. I’m sipping it because I don’t want it to end.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from crime thrillers into other genres? Can your fans expect to read ‘Where All the Dead Lie’ in the near future?
JTE: Where all the Dead Lie release September 20, 2011. The next book to come out will be in May 2012, and is the beginning of a new series. It is a slightly different genre – more suburban thriller than anything else. I do like to play with genres, so I hope I have that freedom going forward. You have to balance what you want, what the fans want, and what the publishers want – but I’ve been incredibly lucky so far.
LTS: Thank you for taking time from your crazy hectic schedule to share in your novels and your writerly wisdom!
JTE: Thanks so much!
For more information about J.T. Ellison and her novels, check out:
Follow J.T. Ellison on Twitter: .thrillerchick
Where to buy the book: Wherever books are sold!
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