She is also the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter.
Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband.
J.T. Ellison Interview
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Books by J.T. Ellison
J.T. Ellison Transcript
Tim Knox: J.T., welcome to the program.
J.T. Ellison: Thank you so much for having me.
Tim Knox: I’m very excited about having you here. We have been trying to get together for a while now and we’re going to have a good call today. Before we get started, if you will, tell the audience a little about you.
J.T. Ellison: I have my 12th book coming out tomorrow, September 30th. The Lost Key comes out, which is the second Nicholas Drummond book with Catherine Coulter. Right now I am wrapped in both starting a new book, editing the book I just finished and doing the promotion for The Lost Key. I’m a little frazzled. If my mind starts wandering just pull me back on topic. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.
Tim Knox: I bet it has and congratulations on the new book.
J.T. Ellison: Thank you.
Tim Knox: If you don’t mind let’s kind of go back in time. We are going to talk about the new book and what you’re up to now but I always like to start at the beginning and the first question I usually ask is did you always want to be a writer?
J.T. Ellison: Yes I did.
Tim Knox: Even when you were younger, a little girl?
J.T. Ellison: I have a chat book that I wrote. It was around the Tom stage of David Bowie’s career. I was about eight or nine and I had written this short story called The Samaritan, Part 2. It’s really funny because you can hear the tone. You can hear the voice. I had it even back then. I had the exact same kind of voice. I got my first rejection letter when I was 10.
Tim Knox: Did you really? You wrote something and submitted it.
J.T. Ellison: I didn’t submit it. My grandmother did. It was a little short poem that won a couple awards and everything in the local newspaper. So she took it and submitted it to True Confessions Magazine. It wasn’t exactly the right venue. It probably broke all their submission guidelines. I got this lovely little note. “Thank you so much for submitting your poem. It’s not right for us but we wish you the best of luck.” I’m like what the hell is it? It took a while to figure out how that happened.
Tim Knox: So your grandmother submitted it on your behalf to, what’d you say, True Romance?
J.T. Ellison: True Confessions.
Tim Knox: That’s hilarious.
J.T. Ellison: Yeah, it was great.
Tim Knox: I take it your grandmother is not your agent today.
J.T. Ellison: No, no. We lost her but she was a writer as well. She wrote for the Gainesville Newspaper and she didn’t really do fiction; she was more of a reporter of local news interest stories and stuff. I definitely inherited the writing gene from her I think.
Tim Knox: Did it thrill her soul that you wrote?
J.T. Ellison: You know, we lost her quite a while ago so she doesn’t know. I wrote all through elementary school, junior high, high school, requisite poetry, all that kind of stuff. I went to college and got a double major in politics and creative writing. I was going to get an MFA. That was the path I was on and my professor told me, “You aren’t good enough to get published.”
I had two thesis professors. One gave me back my thesis and said, “It reads too much like B-grade detective fiction.” I’m like alright. Then the other one tells me I’m not good enough to get published. I was devastated. This is my life’s dream and they shattered it and they shattered it rather completely because I just said, fine, I’m going to go the other route and I’m going to go get a Masters in politics, and I did.
I didn’t write for years and it wasn’t until we moved back to Nashville that I picked up the keyboard, because I’ve always been a computer girl, and tried again. This time it stuck.
Tim Knox: Do you send these professors of your books now?
J.T. Ellison: One of them passed quite a while ago but the other one never got tenure so I figure karma took care of that.
Tim Knox: I love that story. The thing that I get out of that though is you had this dream and they pretty much kind of squashed it so you went into another direction. You were in politics and actually worked at the White House for a while?
J.T. Ellison: That’s right.
Tim Knox: Tell us about that. Was that almost as much fun as writing these books?
J.T. Ellison: Oh sure. It was a blast. I mean I was working in the White House. It was the coolest thing ever. You get to do all these crazy things and they’re incredibly generous with the young people. We were Presidential appointees. We served at the pleasure of the President. It was just an absolutely wonderful, fun, crazy experience.
I moved off from there to the Department of Commerce and got to do some speech writing and economic policy and really had a thirst for politics. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s where I wanted to be.
When we moved there really wasn’t a lot of Presidential politics. We had lost the election then as well so I had moved, transitioned to working for Lockheed Martin, which is an aerospace company. I was in marketing and finance for them. I actually ended up being a Director of Marketing in a small aerospace firm.
All of that really has helped for the business side of publishing for me, not for the creative. It was soul sucking.
Tim Knox: Even though you didn’t write for those eight years, what effect did that have on your writing today?
J.T. Ellison: I don’t know. I don’t think it does. I have a small, skewed example of what life in DC was like. If you’ve ever watched Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, I mean that’s it.
Tim Knox: Is that really pretty representative, other than the pushing people off the train thing?
J.T. Ellison: I don’t know how many Congressmen are murdering people but I’m sure it’s happened. I wouldn’t put it past anybody. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. DC is the perfect example of you either leave or your soul is turned into a different thing. I saw it and saw it and saw it and just couldn’t handle it anymore.
Tim Knox: What brought you to Nashville?
J.T. Ellison: My husband. He’s from Nashville. He grew up here and he came to DC to go to graduate school and we met the first night of class. So we got our degrees together and got married. We got engaged after that and then got married. He wanted to move back home and be closer to his family. My parents had moved away from the DC area at that time so we decided to come to Nashville.
A series of just horrible things happened. My cat died. My 18 year old cat died. I wasn’t thrilled with where we were living and I hadn’t made any friends and it was just kind of an awful transition from DC to Nashville, similar to the transition when I moved from Colorado to DC. It’s just a culture shock, the change, the difference.
I had a really hard time so I decided I wanted to go work… I didn’t decide. The cat got sick. It was a kitten and we took it to the vet and they were looking for somebody. I thought, hey, this will be great. I’ll sit behind the desk and meet people. I love animals. It’ll be fun. It will be a great transition for me.
I was aghast to learn he didn’t want me behind the desk. He wanted me as a tech and I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the other side of the door at the vet’s office but it is not a pretty place.
Tim Knox: I have many times. We do small dog rescue. I spend most of my life at the vet.
J.T. Ellison: So you know. Three days into that I already knew I was going to quit on Friday. I picked up a golden retriever and blew out my back and had to have back surgery. Again, one more reason why if you move to Nashville.
When I was recovering I was reading because that’s all I could really do and the librarian at my local library gave me… I went in and asked for the best b-grade detective fiction she had and she gave me John Sandford’s Mind Prey. I read the whole Prey series and I was three books in when I realized this is it. This is what I want to do.
My character came to me. She was kind of a female Lucas Davenport, half cop and half rock star, tall and blonde and the savior of Nashville and all of that. It was just eerie how it happened and it was just lightning strike all over again.
Tim Knox: So you went back to that professor who told you this was b-grade detective fiction and you went, “Yeah and I can write it.”
J.T. Ellison: I never really understood why they had a problem with that. I didn’t understand how the academia literary world worked. I still don’t. I mean MFA programs are kind of like the military. They break you down and then they build you back up in their own image. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m really glad that I didn’t have that formal structure because when I started I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be doing it. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be writing fast and I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be writing genre and all of that.
I was just writing what I loved, rediscovering the craft and having so much fun doing it. Then when I finished, my husband read it and thought it was good. He says, “You should have someone else read this,” and they liked it. The next thing I know I’m trying to get an agent. It all just kind of happened. It wasn’t something that I necessarily even set out to do. I just love to write.
Tim Knox: You came up with that character and then you came up with the plotline for the first book.
J.T. Ellison: Yeah, I actually dreamt the plot.
Tim Knox: Did you really? Tell me about that.
J.T. Ellison: I did, the entire thing start to finish. There’s only change. I got up in the middle of the night and I wrote 13 pages of notes and then went back to sleep. I got up the next morning and was like, wow, I really got a story here and I started working on it.
When I found the notes a couple years later I looked through them and it was exactly the story. I had taken out one character. It would be so easy if it happened like that every time. The muse said, “Congratulations, you’re back. I’m going to give you a freebie and you do with it what you will.”
Tim Knox: How did you got about getting an agent? Did you do the standard query? Tell us a little about that process.
J.T. Ellison: I did. So before this I had written a novel that didn’t get published and it was called Crossed. I’d written a novella as well that I thought was a book and I had no idea – again, totally didn’t know anything about writing. I thought it was a book and this was the one that everyone said they liked. Nobody else knew anything about publishing either.
So I packaged it up and mailed it to 30 New York editors not knowing I needed an agent, not knowing that was how you did it. I did my research and found the people that edited the people that I liked to read and sent them the book. I got 30 very polite rejection letters and realized something’s not right here.
In the meantime I was starting to get involved in the local Sisters in Crime Chapter and I met a woman at a John Connolly book signing who was part of a critique group and she invited me to the critique group. John Connolly, God bless that man, gave me unbelievable amounts of advice and just really was very open and very kind and kind of pointed me in the right direction.
So I finally got everything back together throughout the novella, took it and wrote a full length novel and then when about it the appropriate way, which was deciding who I was going to have as my agent and who I thought would be best for it. Then I started to set about querying them.
At the same time, I’m sure you’ve heard of Publisher’s Marketplace. Publisher’s Marketplace has a neat little function where you can setup your own webpage. I built that and made it my website. I put a little query, a little synopsis of the book and I check marked the box that said this writer is looking for an agent.
I had decided who would be the best agent for me. His name was Scott Miller from Trident Media Group. He was in the news selling crime fiction everywhere and they were calling him the ‘it boy’ of crime fiction. I’m like that’s who I want. He’s Harvard and this is Trident. They represent the Pope and Paris Hilton. They’re kind of a big deal in a quite literal way.
So as I was writing him a query letter I got an email from his office asking to see the manuscript. They had seen the synopsis online and they were interested. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was one of my friends but it wasn’t. The next day they wrote back and asked for an exclusive and two weeks later he called and offered representation. We never looked back.
Tim Knox: He’s still your agent today.
J.T. Ellison: Yeah he is. He’s awesome.
Tim Knox: So it’s almost like the fates were lining up to pay you back from that crap you got from those professors.
J.T. Ellison: Yeah, it really was kind of a stars aligned kind of setup. I just got so lucky so fast. There were a lot of things going on behind all of this. I was on a group blog called Murderati, which was an amazing experience and I was able to really use the blog to explain my journey. I go back and read that and it’s absolutely the journey that I went on as I went through this process of being in a critique group and joining the organizations and getting an agent and getting a deal and getting published and all of this. It was certainly awesome and it raised my profile in a way that I’m absolutely positive I wouldn’t have gotten the deal that I got if I hadn’t had that.
Tim Knox: Did you ever ask Scott what it was that attracted him to your work?
J.T. Ellison: Well what it was is his assistant was from Nashville. She read it and said, “You’ve got to read this. This looks cool.”
Tim Knox: So it’s a good thing your husband dragged you to Nashville.
J.T. Ellison: She’s a rather major agent in her own right now, Holly Root. We give Scott props but we give Holly a lot of props too because she discovered me.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that relationship. You signed with Scott. He takes the book out and how long did it take to get a deal with the book?
J.T. Ellison: Well the first one didn’t sell.
Tim Knox: Tell us about that.
J.T. Ellison: Oh it was awful. It was awful. We got seven rejections and he stopped and said, “That’s as far down as I want to go. I think you’re a big book author. I think you’ve got a really promising career ahead. I don’t want to just sell you to anyone. I want to get you a big deal so write me a new book.”
I was working on the next book. I had written 60,000 words of the book and so I was pretty close to having the next one finished when he asked for this. I did finish it and had a bunch of people to read it in my critique group and everything and got it all setup and gave it to him. He came back with a nice, big, meaty revision and I did that. Then he took it out and that night we had an email saying, “Don’t sell this to anybody else.” That was Mira and they were just starting their thriller program and they snapped me up on a three book deal.
I’ve had a lot of rejection before I had a lot of success, which really is helpful. Not only did it teach me a lot about the industry, which I still learn something new today. I’ve been in this for 10 years now and I learn something new about it every single day and it changes on a dime. You can’t keep up anymore with what’s happening in publishing.
It was really good that that first book didn’t sell because it wasn’t quite good enough. It was good. It was really good but it wasn’t good enough to be my debut.
Tim Knox: Did it ever sell? Did you ever do anything with it?
J.T. Ellison: I have it and I’m going to be doing something with it.
Tim Knox: That’s an emotional rollercoaster and I’ve heard this from other authors who are of your stature, who have been around for a while and are doing extremely well. They talk about you get an agent and in your mind you think, “That’s it. The world is my oyster.” Then the book doesn’t sell. Talk a little about that rollercoaster you were on.
J.T. Ellison: It’s very hard. It’s very hard. It’s kind of terrible to say this but my agent kind of really likes to play with me. He often calls with very good news but couches it as if it’s very bad news. So I have little mini heart attacks and he goes, “Ha ha, I’m kidding.” It’s so mean.
The first time he called with the deal offer, he’s like, “Listen, there are times in every author/agent relationship when you have to have a very serious conversation about what’s happening with your career.” I’m like oh my God, he’s firing me.
Tim Knox: That’s it.
J.T. Ellison: He’s firing me. This is not good. He’s like, “But this isn’t one of those times. Congratulations! You’re going to be published.” You are awful.
I have felt that heart stopping moment of everything’s flushing down the toilet and it wasn’t just that. I mean that was a funny joke and everything but several times. That first rejection letter, the 30th rejection letter. The first time I gave him a proposal for a book he didn’t like and didn’t think would work. It’s a series of heartbreaks and you just need to learn how to roll with it. It’s not something that ever gets easier. It never doesn’t suck to have somebody say something negative about your work. It never is easy.
The deal is, if you believe the good you’ve got to believe the bad and if you believe the bad you’ve got to believe the good.
Tim Knox: It helps to have an extremely thick skin and a good sense of humor.
J.T. Ellison: Yeah. I had a one star review from someone who was just vehemently nasty. Sometimes you kind of check and see, gosh, did they hate everything? Before she reviewed my book she had reviewed a carton of milk.
Tim Knox: I think I’ve been reviewed by that same person.
J.T. Ellison: So how seriously do you take that one star review, whether it’s a serious critic or someone that was just having a crappy day and decided to lash out or someone who didn’t get the deal that they thought they should have and have lashed out? You just can’t let those things affect you. It’s easy to say you can’t let it affect you but you can’t. With the good comes the bad.
Tim Knox: And you really have to be flexible and you have to be able to take the feedback that you’re given and do something constructive with it.
J.T. Ellison: Sure.
Tim Knox: If it’s feedback from someone who didn’t just give a carton of milk one star. But if it’s your agent…
J.T. Ellison: Yeah, if he comes back with something serious, that you’ve got an issue that he thinks is a serious issue. Your editor comes in with a line edit or editorial letter that wants you to throw out the character that you’re in love with. There are these things that happen that you just have to… my editor got to the point where she understood was my first initial reaction was, “No, I don’t think that’s right.” Then after a day or two I’m like, “God, did you have to be right?” She was always right.
Your initial response is always, no, I know better. This is my story, my book. You can’t possibly be right but 90% of the time they are, and sometimes they’re not. It’s a really big art in this industry to be able to learn when you’re receiving good, constructive criticism and when it’s going to derail what you’re doing and derail you as an artist.
Tim Knox: When that book was sold to the publisher, let’s talk a little about that process. I think you made such a good point there. As authors our books are our babies and sometimes our publisher will tell you that we have an ugly baby. You have to be able to take that. What was that process like for you?
J.T. Ellison: I’ve been really, really lucky because every editor I’ve had has had a really soft touch and has known how to approach me about things. I do have a really thick skin and I’m interested in putting out the best possibly story that I can so I don’t have a lot of negative pushback for them, and I also have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing so if it’s something I really, truly don’t agree with then I won’t do it. It’s my book.
That works out just fine. It’s all in how you want to approach it. My first copyedit was possibly the most eye opening experience I had because it was a brilliant copyeditor. I’ve not had one that was as comprehensive. I’ve often wondered if for debuts they do give them just a whopping copy edit.
That really taught me a lot about writing, about things I didn’t realize I was doing, about the redundancies. You have an exclamation point followed by ‘he yelled’. Guess what? You don’t need them both. It was these kinds of little things. I’m still to this day deleting redundancies, taking out ‘said’ where they don’t need to be there. It really taught me so much and I think that’s pretty much how I’ve approached everything in this industry.
I have a lot to learn. If I ever stop learning it’s probably time for me to quit because somebody always has something really, really valid and helpful to give you if you’re willing to open yourself and accept it.
Tim Knox: All the Pretty Girls was the first book?
J.T. Ellison: Yeah, All the Pretty Girls. It’s Taylor Jackson and Taylor is a homicide lieutenant with Metro Nashville. She is a very iconic hero. She’s not your typical female heroine. I wrote a piece a while ago about how we victimize our heroines and how much I hate that because I think it’s okay to have a strong woman be a main character because she’s a strong woman, because that’s just who she is rather than having been born in blood. They’ve been raped or their sister’s been killed or their parents were killed or they’ve butted up against some sort of horror and that’s why they’ve joined the police force.
That’s not who Taylor was. Taylor’s a debutante and had a great upbringing. Her dad was a white collar criminal but she had everything and she chose to be a cop because she has a very distinct sense of right and wrong. She wanted to go and see that exercised.
I kind of approached the whole thing a little bit differently and it worked out well but it also had its limitations. When you have an iconic hero they don’t change. When you’re writing a series the character has to grow and change. So finding the shades of grey in that character was what the entire series was about. It was trying to find shades of grey for her to dwell in.
Tim Knox: Talk a little about the fact that she is a Nashville detective. You make great use of your adopted hometown and your work.
J.T. Ellison: I love it here. So after those first few disastrous months when it seemed like we had made the biggest mistake ever, I started to settle in and I started to make some friends and I started to write again. The world just kind of righted itself and Nashville has been incredibly, incredibly great for us.
I wrote the first book almost as a little love letter to the city because it had just brought us so much. It improved our marriage, improved our lives. We were making a little bit of money for the first time as a young, married couple. We weren’t eating Ramen Noodles every night now. We could actually afford to go out to dinner. The cost of living in Nashville is a lot different than in a lot of places so that helped. What we could do in Nashville we couldn’t necessarily do in DC.
I would drive down Broadway and say, gosh, that would be a great place for a murder. My husband was from here so I could ask him, hey, I need a strip club that used to be a church and I need it to be downtown. He’d be like, “Oh, Al’s Show Place.” He was my institutional knowledge and between the two of us we kind of mapped out all these neat places to have the crime scenes.
When the book came out, Nashville as a collective readership loved it because here’s their backyard on display.
Tim Knox: I love that. I do another podcast for a website called PlacingLiterature.com and basically what you can do there is the author or readers can go there and actually using a Google Map type thing, map actual locations in a book. I’m always fascinated when I’m talking to authors on that podcast about how when they’re passionate about their location as you are, how it almost becomes a character in the book.
J.T. Ellison: Absolutely.
Tim Knox: It becomes a big part of the book.
J.T. Ellison: Absolutely and that’s what I set out to do when I was doing this. I wanted Nashville to be a character. There were a few series that had been set here. Cecelia Tichi and Steve Womack come to mind.
I really wanted it to be as important as New York and Chicago and LA. I wanted the readers to feel like they could find their way around. I’m a huge Diana Gabaldon fan and I went out to Scotland the first time with her books in the back of my mind and used that as a map. I would hope that people can do that with Nashville as well. They can come and see the things that they’ve seen in the books.
We do have a little section on the website that is called Taylor’s World that lists out all the different restaurants, all the different sights, everything. If people want to go look at that they can.
Tim Knox: I know when I interviewed Diana about that, about Scotland and that sort of thing, she said, “I write about places I like and places I want to visit.” Nashville, I’ve been there many times and it’s a wonderful town.
Talk a little about your partnership with Catherine Coulter. You and Catherine have teamed up on some really successful books. How did that come to be?
J.T. Ellison: Oh gosh, we were having so much fun. It was the scariest thing in the world. My agent called and said, “Catherine Coulter’s looking for a co-writer. Would you be interested?” I had just had a conversation a week before with a friend of mine that I would never co-write. It just wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was just starting to get some traction really with my career and in my characters. I was just starting a new series and I just didn’t think that was something I wanted to do.
But this was Catherine Coulter and I’ve been reading Catherine since I was a kid. I have paperbacks from when I was 10 that are upstairs in my paperback pile. She is a legend. She’s an icon. She had switched to thrillers and I read all the thrillers. I mean I just thought she was the greatest.
I said, alright, let’s put my name forward knowing that there was no way. I almost felt like he did it as a courtesy, you know? Like I would have been upset if he didn’t offer it is the way I looked at it. We didn’t hear anything for months so I assumed that was not going to happen and I did a new deal with my publisher for three more books. We closed that deal on a Friday and Monday morning the phone rang really early. It was my agent and he said, “You’re about to get a phone call.” “Are you kidding?”
It was Catherine. We weren’t even on for 10 seconds before she was laughing and I went, wow, I can work with this woman. I like to laugh and life is serious enough as it is. I like it to be fun. I could tell immediately that it was going to be fun. She flew me out and we sat down and we talked about it. She had created an entire world with this new series and we hashed out some characters and went back and started working. Now I’ve just started the third one. I’m on the first chapter of the third book. I do half the year with her and half the year with my stuff.
Tim Knox: Wow.
J.T. Ellison: It’s so far working really great, knock on wood.
Tim Knox: What is that process exactly? You both write and then get together and meld it together? What is the process? I have a friend who is writing a book with Clive Cussler and it just fascinates me how this whole thing works.
J.T. Ellison: It works differently for everybody. What we did on the first book is different than what we did on the second book. She’s very hands on and this is a very collaborative experience. I’m writing the base. I get it as far as I can and then we sit down and… we talk every day. We email in the morning and the evening, every single day. We talk a lot on the phone. I go out there a lot. We’re both very immersed in the story and I keep her up to date. This is what’s happened today and if I’ve gone off the wrong track, she can say, “Oh wait, no, let’s not do that. Let’s try something else.”
Then I give her a completed manuscript. This is what happened last time. I gave her the manuscript, she did a massive edit on it, gave it back to me. I did a light edit on that and then she looked that over and made a few changes and we sent it in. That worked great. It was very smooth. It was smoother than the first one because we were building the characters and series are so dependent on the characters and their backstory and their lives and how you’re going to create this world for them.
The first book in a series is always the hardest I think. Now that we have the characters it’s just about the story and the characters’ reactions to the story. It’s just so much fun. She’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve gotten a PhD in writing. My own writing has improved in addition to the writing that I do for her. We’re a hell of a team. She’s a hell of a woman and I’m just really blessed to be able to work with her.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing I was going to ask you. Working with someone of her caliber, even though you’re quite accomplished, are you learning a lot from her? Have you raised your own standards to meet what you think are her expectations?
J.T. Ellison: Sure, sure, absolutely. I mean I have pretty high, lofty aspirations myself but you can only get so far. Somebody else’s input, somebody else’s style, somebody else’s approach… I like to call it OPP – Other People’s Process – because I’m kind of fascinated by it and I’m always looking to people I respect to see how they do it.
I think it’s an undefinable gift, the ability to tell a story but there’s common denominators to every writer, and that is the process. Everybody’s process is different. There are many ways up the mountain but being able to tap into somebody of her caliber… I mean, she has been doing this for a long time. She knows what she’s doing. She knows how to craft a story. She knows how to write dialogue. She knows when it needs a break. She knows when it needs a punchline. She knows when it needs a fight scene. We’re both Pantsers, which makes it a little difficult for us because we’re both, you know, just going by the sense of the story. Okay, it’s lagging here so it’s time to pick things up.
The things that she’s given me, this insight, and she’s really brilliant with dialogue. The dialogue, I’m more introspective with mine. There’s a lot more internal monologue. Hers is much more dialogue driven and that’s been my biggest adjustment is learning how to tell the story in dialogue instead of telling it from my character’s point of view.
Tim Knox: Do you find that when you have two authors like this with somewhat different styles, when you come together it actually creates almost a third style?
J.T. Ellison: I don’t think so. I feel like this is definitely in Catherine’s style. We have a very different style. Hers is very dialogue driven and it’s short and staccato. Mine is a little more poetic and a little bit deeper and more focused on the point of view of the character and their internal monologue. So it’s a big adjustment for me. I’ve been learning how to write and have the story explained through the dialogue, rather than through as much internal monologue.
There’s just no way to get around that we are from different generations and we have different vocabularies. So things that I would never say, she would, and things that she would never say, I would. Inevitably, some of those slip through so there are some spots in there where it’s going to be my word instead of hers but we try very, very hard to make it in her style and in her voice.
Tim Knox: In the last couple of minutes that we have left, let’s talk a little about your process and let’s get some advice. The audience for this show primarily are authors who would like to do what you have done. They would like to sell books, maybe get an agent, maybe get published. You do a lot of advice on your website and your blog. Give us just a couple minutes of what is your best advice to these authors who want to replicate what you’ve done?
J.T. Ellison: You have to read. You have to read. I get people who come up to me and say, “Oh I’m going to write a book,” and I ask, “Well what’s the last book you’ve read?” “I haven’t read books in 13 years.” You’re never going to be a writer. Every single writer is first and foremost a reader. You need to know what you like so you know what to write.
Everyone says write what you know. That’s all fine and good. I think you should write what you’re interested in. I think you should write the story that you want to sit down and read. I’m not a cop. I was in marketing. I have absolutely no experience with being a cop but that was what I wanted to write about.
I called up the police and told them I wanted to do some research with them and they started having me in to do ride alongs. You can’t go by what Law & Order does because that’s not right. You have to actually go boots on the ground and do your research and get your hands dirty.
The other really, really important thing is you have to write. You have to actually write. Anybody can say they want to be a writer. You have to sit down with your notebook or your computer, turn off the internet and you need to immerse yourself in the manuscript, whether you write 100 words or 1,000 words or 10,000 words in a day. You have to write every day. You have to touch your work every day. Touch your idea.
It’s a very tactile kind of thing the way your mind works with your stories. If you’re not present with it, if you’re not there every day then the story can start to atrophy in your mind. Just like if you were an athlete. I’m a golfer. When I don’t golf for a month then I go out, my muscles are sore, I don’t hit the ball as well. After a couple of rounds things start coming back together. Writing is the same exact way. You will atrophy if you don’t do it on a regular basis.
Learning the discipline, setting your own deadlines and meeting them, taking yourself seriously because if you don’t take yourself and your craft seriously nobody else will. You can go to a dinner party and say, “I’m writing a book.” “How often do you write?” “When the spirit moves me.” That’s not going to work. You have to harass and hassle your muse to teach her how to come to you. The only way you do that is by sitting down and doing the work.
Tim Knox: Your thoughts really quickly on self-publishing?
J.T. Ellison: I’ve done it. I’ll probably do it again in the future. I think that we’re in a really interesting time right now. There’s obviously a massive debate going on. I think it’s important for us to step back and look at the big picture, which is writers and their readers out there who want to read our stories.
We need to decide what the best delivery mechanism is. If that is going through an agent and through a traditional New York publishing house where they do the work for you and all you’re responsible for is writing and then sitting back and crossing your fingers and hoping everything gets done right and that it’s a success, which can be a little nerve wracking or you want to do it yourself.
If you want to do it yourself then you have to take it really bloody serious. You have to be a business person. This isn’t just, oh, I’m going to write a story and put it out. You have to get it edited and get decent cover art and learn marketing and learn pricing. You have to learn these things.
I’m 100% behind whichever path someone wants to choose as long as they take it seriously and do it right.
Tim Knox: How involved are you in the entrepreneurial side of things – in the marketing and all the social media and everything that is involved with being an author these days? You and I met on Twitter actually. How much time do you spend doing that sort of thing?
J.T. Ellison: Quite a bit. At first I really bristled against it because I’m an introvert. I don’t particularly enjoy that kind of world but I find that doing it through the computer is a heck of a lot easier than going to a cocktail party, and the internet’s just one giant cocktail party. It really is. I have made some unbelievably great friends through Twitter, through Facebook. I have the most awesome fan page. They’re incredible and it’s so much fun. It’s an honor to come and say something and have the dialogue with them.
I do think it killed the book tour and that has its pros and cons. I think it hurts bookstores when the authors don’t come to do book signings but why go to a book signing when you can meet your author in person through the internet, when you can talk to them directly and email them? I mean it really has changed the entire reader/writer dynamic. There’s an expectation that we will be there for them.
A lot of people just hate it and like I said I used to bristle against it because I am a really private person and I don’t particularly like to share everything but I’ve learned what I’m comfortable sharing, what I’m comfortable talking about and I’m much more comfortable talking about them than me.
This month leading into the book launch has just been all about me and I’m just about to kill myself. I’m sick of me so I’m really anxious to get back to normal and be able to ask peoples’ opinions and ask what they’re reading and share some funny things online. I think you pick the thing that you’re good at and you work hard at that. If you’re good at Facebook, stick with Facebook. If you’re really good at Twitter, stick with Twitter, whatever works for you.
If you have a brilliant blog… oh, I wish my blog had the kind of effect and response that Murderati had and that other writer’s blogs have because I really love that forum. I love the longer essays. We’re kind of a drive by society now. The shorter stuff seems to get better, faster, quicker attention.
Tim Knox: Tell us really quickly about the new book that’s coming out. Give us a quick plug on that.
J.T. Ellison: It’s called The Lost Key and is the second Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine book. Nicholas has accepted an offer to join the American FBI. He is American. A couple of people are like, “Wait, he can’t be in the FBI.” Yes he can. His mother’s American so he is American.
He’s been assigned to the New York field office and his boss wants to get his feet wet and start getting him out in New York so they assign him a murder. He and Mike go to the murder scene and they end up unraveling an international conspiracy that no one could possibly have imagined was going to come from this small murder, if there’s any small murders.
Tim Knox: Very good. J.T. Ellison, the author of so many wonderful books. Tell everyone how they can find out more about you and your work.
J.T. Ellison: You can come to my website, which is JTEllison.com. I’m on Twitter @ThrillerChick and my Facebook fan page is Facebook.com/JTEllison14 and there are links to all those on the front page of my website.
Tim Knox: Very good. We’ll also put links up on our website. J.T., this has been a pleasure. Good luck on the book coming out tomorrow. You’re going to have a big day.
J.T. Ellison: Thank you so much, Tim. I really appreciate it. This was really fun.