6.23.16 - On Tours, Fear, and Everything in Between

By JT Ellison

Tonight I will return home after ten days on the road. There is one more airport to conquer, one more flight to take, and then I can collapse. I’ve been in Colorado for the past few days, finishing up the FIELD OF GRAVES tours, seeing my family, hanging with some friends. It’s been a nice mini-break, though I’ve worked every day. And though there have been times of silence and contemplation, I can’t seem to truly relax.

Something is bothering me.

Well, many things are bothering me. I’m furious and heartbroken over Orlando. I’ve had to stay off social media for the most part because seeing my friends yell at each other upsets me. From the vagaries of presidential politics to the excess of cilantro in guacamole, everything is up for debate now, for judgement, for all-out shout-fests and insults. It makes me lose faith in humanity.

I went out on the road the day after the attack. Was I nervous? Yes. But the moment I stepped through the doors of my airport, something shifted in me. It shifted in everyone, I think. Everyone who stepped away from their screens and actually interacted with the world.

People were quieter than normal, but the smiles were genuine. The airport is always a frenetic, intense place (one I love, but I’m odd) and this was no different… and yet it was. The people who were looking out for our safety, TSA and the police, seemed more engaged. The travelers were more patient. There was kindness: offers to help with bags, pleasant small talk, compliments, no complaining or bitching.

For a moment, I thought, Wow, everyone’s on their best behavior. And then I realized, no, that’s not it.

We are standing together.

We are standing together.

We are standing together.

Any lingering nerves disappeared. I felt brave and strong.

I saw this togetherness all week long. I was in five airports. I spoke in five bookstores. I was in four hotels. And in each place, this vein of kindness, of courage and selflessness, was open and overflowing. I had so much fun being with readers and booksellers. These are my people, yes, but it was a stellar trip on all fronts.

Fact is, there was something special about being with people this week.

We all know people will say things online they would never say to someone’s face. Likewise, great kindnesses abound. But the perpetual outrage that I see online was blessedly missing from my life as I shook hands, hugged, signed books, accepted drinks and food, keys and pens and soaps.

Everyone was just a little gentler with their strangers.

I try very hard to conduct myself online in a manner that’s not confrontational, not alienating. I respect that we all have our own thoughts about pretty much everything, and realize there might be 5 people on this earth that actually agree on all these things. And I rarely, if ever, discuss hot button topics, because as a regular Joe, my opinion on these matters are irrelevant.

But as an author, I do have a responsibility. And I try to live up to that responsibility in a slightly different way than many. My tool of communication is my novels. My social commentary is through my novels. My job is to tell a story. My job is to make you think, make you wonder, make you happy and sad, and do it in all the right places. My job is to entertain you, to help you escape, to give you a respite from the barrage of reality we’re all faced with, day in and day out. To (hopefully) make you lose sleep because you’re engrossed. To educate, to illuminate, to enrage. My job is to give you something you’ve never seen before, something that will linger with you long after the cover is closed.

I do my best.

The past few months have been rough, I won’t lie. It’s been a long few months for us all out in the real world, and it’s been a long few months at home, too. Launching two books and doing two tours in the span of three months has taken a lot out of me. I’ve put a lot into these two babies. I haven’t been writing nearly enough. (Though don’t worry, I have been. Without the writing, the tours don’t happen, after all.) But even with the copious amounts of help I receive from Amazing Amy and my husband and my publishers, the juggling of turning an introvert into a temporary extrovert named Author Girl has me pretty much whipped.

And so. Call it a social experiment, call it a battery recharge, call it a finding of oneself, but I’m going to take a small sabbatical from the interwebs. It’s well overdue. Normally I leave for Lent, but because of the release timing for NO ONE KNOWS, I had to come back early, and trust me, the time off that I did have was consumed with PR. And the machine didn’t stop spinning from then on.

But it’s more than wanting a little break from the online world. I’ve been very affected by the interactions I’ve had IRL—in real life—over the past couple of weeks. It reminds me that I spend much too much time staring at my screens, and not enough time in the living world.

What will I be doing on my enforced break? Well, I found my yoga practice again on the road—thank heavens!—so there will be lots of yoga. There will be some golf. There will be hugging, and drinking, and eating with friends.

And most importantly, there will be hours upon hours of deep work.

Amazing Amy will be running things whilst I’m away. Should an emergency occur, I will be reachable. But I won’t be checking in. I encourage you to join me in this summer sabbatical. Because we all need to be alone sometimes.

Via: JT Ellison


6.20.16 - Welcome, Summer! Let's get some Summer Reads, shall we?

By JT Ellison

Helloooooo, Summer!

‘Tis the season for lazy reading by the pool. Or in a hammock. Or on the couch. Or wherever you can catch some Z’s.

To celebrate summer and the release of FIELD OF GRAVES, I’m giving away a gift card to every store* who hosted me on tour.

*This includes Parnassus Books in Nashville, Murder by the Book in Houston, Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, and Barnes and Noble Lone Tree. They all ship, so don’t worry about geography! And they all have signed copies of FIELD OF GRAVES, too!

See below for ways to enter. Good luck, chickens!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Via: JT Ellison


It's first day of summer! So here's JAWS….

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Happy Solstice!! It’s the first day of summer, and naturally our minds turn to thoughts of shark attacks. I mean, of happy days at the beach.

I know that many of you are doing Junowrimo. And you know my advice at this point is JUST KEEP WRITING. But this is the point in a book that you may feel a bit, well, lost. And so I’m going to give you my best advice about how to get UNlost:

When all else fails, go back and take a look at the hero/ine’s PLAN.

What does the protagonist WANT?

How does he PLAN to do it?

What’s standing in her/his way?

Then once you’ve got your initial plan, you need to be constantly blocking that plan, either with your antagonist, or the hero/ine’s own inner conflict, or outside forces beyond her or his control. If the hero/ine were able to carry out the plan without a hitch, it wouldn’t make for very good drama, would it?

So throughout the second act, the antagonist has his or her own goal and plan, which is in direct conflict or competition with the hero/ine’s goal. We may actually see the forces of evil plotting their plots, or we may only see the effect of the antagonist’s plot in the continual thwarting of the hero/ine’s plans. Both techniques are effective.

This continual opposition of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s plans is the main underlying structure of the second act.

The hero/ine’s plans should almost always be stated. The antagonist’s plans might be clearly stated or kept hidden, but the effectof his/her/their plotting should be evident. It’s good storytelling if we, the reader or audience, are able to look back on the story at the end and understand how the hero/ine’s failures were a direct result of the antagonist’s scheming.

I’d like to demonstrate all of this by following a plan through a classic movie. And to celebrate the first day of summer, of course that movie is JAWS.

Book by Peter Benchley

Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottleib

Directed by Stephen Spielberg

When in Jaws, Sheriff Brody is confronted with the problem of a great white shark eating people in his backyard (ocean), his initial PLAN is to close the beach to swimmers. He throws together some handmade “Beaches Closed” signs and sticks them in the sand. Problem solved, right?

Yeah, right.

If that initial plan had actually worked, Jawswouldn’t have made a gazillion dollars worldwide, not to mention cinematic history. The whole point of drama (including romance and comedy) is that the hero/ine’s plan is constantly being thwarted: by the main antagonist, by any number of secondary and tertiary opponents, by the love interest, by the weather, or by the hero/ine him or herself (because you know, we’re all our own worst enemies!).

So almost always, the initial plan fails. Or if it seems to succeed, it’s only to trick us for a moment — before we realize how wretchedly the plan has failed. That weak initial effort is because it’s human nature to expend the least effort possible to get what we want. We only take greater and more desperate measures if we are forced to. And a hero/ine being forced to take greater and more desperate measures is one of the cornerstones of dramatic action.

Now, in Jaws, the primary antagonist is the shark. The shark’s PLAN is to eat. Not just people, but whatever it can sink its teeth into. (Interestingly, that plan seems to evolve….)

Brody’s initial PLAN of closing the beaches might actually have solved his problem with the shark, because without a steady supply of food, the beast probably would have moved on to another beach with a better food supply.

But Brody’s initial PLAN brings out a secondary antagonist: the town fathers, led by the mayor (and with a nice performance by co-screenwriter Carl Gottleib as the newspaper editor). They don’t want the beaches closed because the summer months, particularly the Fourth of July weekend, represent seventy percent (or something like that) of the town’s yearly income. The officials’ PLAN is to keep the beaches open, a direct conflict to Brody’s plan. So the town fathers obliquely threaten new Sheriff Brody with the loss of his job if he closes the beaches, and Brody capitulates.

This proves disastrous and tragic when the very next day (as Brody watches the ocean from the beach, as if that’s going to prevent a shark attack!), another swimmer, a little boy, is killed by the shark practicing its PLAN.

The town fathers hold a town meeting and decide on a new PLAN: they will close the beaches for twenty-four hours. Brody disagrees, but is overruled. Eccentric ship’s captain Quint offers his services to kill the shark —for ten grand. The town fathers are unwilling to pay.

In response, Brody develops a new PLAN, one we see often in stories: he contacts an Expert From Afar, oceanographer Matt Hooper, a shark specialist, to come in and give expert advice.

Meanwhile a new antagonist, the grieving mother of the slain little boy, announces a PLAN of her own: she offers a bounty for any fisherman who kills the shark that killed her son.

The bounty brings on a regatta of fishermen from up and down the eastern seaboard. One of these crews captures a tiger shark, which the mayor is quick to declare is the killer shark. Case closed, problem solved, and the beaches can be reopened. Hooper is adamant that the shark is far too small to have caused the damage done to the first victim, and wants to cut the shark open to prove it. The mayor refuses, and is equally adamant that there is no more need for Hooper. We see that Brody secretly agrees with Hooper, but wants to believe that the nightmare is over. However, when the dead boy’s mother slaps Brody and accuses him of causing her son’s death (by not closing the beaches), Brody agrees to investigate further with Hooper (PLAN), and they sneak into cold storage to cut the shark open themselves to check for body parts. Of course, they discover it’s the wrong shark.

Brody’s revised PLAN is to talk the mayor into closing the beaches, but the mayor refuses again and goes on with his plan to reopen the beaches (and highly publicize the capture of the “killer” shark).

The beaches reopen for 4th of July and the town fathers’ failsafe PLAN is to post the Coast Guard out in the ocean to watch, just in case. While everyone is distracted by a false shark scare, the real shark glides into a supposedly secure cove where Brody’s own son is swimming, and eats a boater and nearly kills Brody’s son. (And the timing is so diabolical that it almost seems the shark has a new PLAN of its own: to taunt Brody and menace his family.)

At that point the mayor’s PLAN changes: he writes a check for Quint and gives it to Brody to hire Captain Quint to kill the shark. But that’s not enough for Brody now. He needs to go out on the boat with Quint and Hooper himself, despite his fear of the water, to make sure this shark gets dead (NEW PLAN).

This happens at the story’s MIDPOINT, and it’s a radical revamp of Brody’s initial plan (which was always to avoid going in the water himself, at all costs). And it’s very often the case that at the midpoint of a story, the initial PLAN is completely shattered.

And yet, Brody is still not ultimately committed. For the next half of the second act, he allows first Quint and then Hooper to take the lead on the shark hunt. Quint’s PLAN is to shoot harpoons connected to floating barrels into the shark and force it to the surface, where they can harpoon it to death. But the shark proves far stronger than anyone expected, and keeps submerging, even with barrel after barrel attached to its hide.

And now a truly interesting thing happens. The shark, supposedly a dumb beast, starts to do crafty things, like hide under the boat so the men think they’ve lost it. It seems to have a new, intelligent PLAN of its own. And when the men’s defenses are down, the shark suddenly batters into the ship and breaks a hole in the hull, causing the boat to take on alarming quantities of water, and making the men vulnerable to attack.

Brody’s PLAN at that point is to radio for help and get the hell off the boat. But in the midst of the chaos, Quint suddenly turns into an opponent himself by smashing the radio — he intends to kill this shark on his own.

Hooper takes over now and proposes a new PLAN: he wants to go down in a shark cage to fire a poison dart gun at the shark. But the shark attacks the cage, and then as the boat continues to sink, the shark leaps half onto the deck and eats Quint.

Brody is now on his own against the shark, and in one last, desperate Hail Mary PLAN (the most exciting kind in a climax), he shoves an oxygen tank into the shark’s jaws and then fires at the shark until the tank explodes, and the shark goes up in bloody bits. As almost always, it is only that last ditch plan, in which the hero/ine faces the antagonist completely on his or her own, that saves the day.

I hope this little exercise gives you an idea of how it can be really enlightening and useful to focus on and track just the plans of all the main characters in a story and how they clash and conflict, especially how they FAIL. Because every time a plan fails, it requires a recalibration and a new action, which builds tension, suspense, emotional commitment, and excitement.

If you find your own plot sagging, especially in that long middle section, try identifying and tracking the various plans of your characters. It might be just what you need to pull your story into new and much more exciting alignment.

And here’s a hint: you may find it useful to put those huge failures of the plan at your Midpoint and at the Act Two Climax — the Dark Night of the Soul/All Is Lost scene. Every time your hero/ine loses big, it makes the reader wonder WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, and that’s what we’re after, here. You want your reader to be as desperate as your hero/ine is to win.

Now back to writing! Or the beach!

– Alex


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks. e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.


This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy – available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


6.19.16 - Sunday Smatterings

By JT Ellison

Happy Sunday, dear chickens.

And Happy Father’s Day to all you incredible Daddies out there, especially my own, who is one of the greatest joys in my life. I come to you today from the grand Rocky Mountains, as I am still touring cross-country for the FIELD OF GRAVES launch. I’ve so enjoyed getting to meet some of you, hearing your stories (sounds like you’re just as glad that I am that Taylor’s back!), and getting to say hi to bookseller friends old and new. It’s been a hard week for so many reasons, and in the midst of the darkness, I’m so glad to connect with my people, the reading community. Y’all are such a thoughtful, imaginative group, and I’m glad you’re mine.

And without further ado . . .

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

15 Things Book Nerds Are Guilty Of Doing During The Summer

How many of these can you fess up to? “15 Things Book Nerds Are Guilty of Doing During The Summer.”

Legalizing marijuana is a hazy question once you've seen addiction up close

Written by a dear friend of mine who has just been through epic hell, this is a fascinating read in the LA Times: “Legalizing Marijuana Is a Hazy Question Once You’ve Seen Addiction Up Close.”

Giant Bookshelf (!)

Take a peek at this giant bookshelf (!).


This may be the cutest town in the whole wide world.

If you’re interested in finding some simplicity this week, this lost of suggestions is absolute perfection. I felt peaceful just reading it.

And closer to home:

Freedom Interviews

My love for Freedom is no secret; I’ve written more than a million words using this distraction-blocking app. I talked to my friends at Freedom about how I use their app and loads of other tools to write, and you can read our chat here and here.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Also, book recommendation: I’m in the middle of SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler. Oh my, chickens—I am utterly entranced. It’s the real deal. Methinks you need to read this one.


On The Wine Vixen this week, Amy has a confession of sorts.

That’s it from me, y’all. I leave you with this quote, which continues to speak to me after I saw it earlier this week. Be well, my loves.


Via: JT Ellison


6.16.16 - In which The Poisoned Pen sticks me in the hot seat

By JT Ellison

I’m on the road this week, touring for FIELD OF GRAVES. I visited this indie last night, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. I love this store, and I loved the interview we did. Being “in the hot seat” wasn’t so bad after all!

J.T., welcome to the The Poisoned Pen’s blog. Would you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us about yourself.

Thanks for having me! Let’s see, I’ve been writing thrillers for a decade now, and have 13 books published under my own name, and also co-write with the divine Catherine Coulter. I’m a wine junkie (see http://thewinevixen.com) and love golf and yoga. And kittens––I have twin girls, silver mackerel tabbies, who are an absolute hoot. I love to travel and have been married for over 20 years to the love of my life. I live in Nashville, which is one of the best literary cities in the country. I also co-host a literary television series called A Word on Words, which was started over 40 years ago by the esteemed John Seigenthaler. Needless to say, I’m juggling a lot of balls, but I’m having a blast!

Why did you become a writer?

I’ve always been a writer, so that wasn’t a conscious choice. But after a college professor told me I wasn’t good enough to be published, I quit, went in a different direction, working in the White House and Department of Commerce before swerving into aerospace marketing. But the bug wouldn’t leave me alone, and after we moved to Nashville, I discovered John Sandford, and three books into the Prey series decided I was going to give it another try. That book eventually became FIELD OF GRAVES. So as to why––I couldn’t stop myself, really. I was compelled, called, driven to it by the muse.

Read the rest on The Poisoned Pen blog!

Via: JT Ellison


6.14.16 - The wait for Taylor is over: FIELD OF GRAVES comes out today!

By JT Ellison

Taylor Jackson is back, y’all.

Get all of your questions answered (How did Taylor get her scar? How did she and Baldwin meet?), and say hello to your old favorites (Sam! Fitz! Marcus! Lincoln!) as they track down a madman trying to create his own apocalypse.













To celebrate the day, I’ll leave you with this interview I did with ITW. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thanks again for being the best readers! xoxo

Tracking a Killer and Facing Down the Past

By Alex Segura

Even as a series pushes forward, there’s always an opportunity to go back to the beginning. Author J.T. Ellison manages to do both in her latest Lieutenant Taylor Jackson thriller, the menacing and intense FIELD OF GRAVES. With a serial killer on the loose in Nashville, readers are left to ride along with cops that seem just as damaged as the madman trying to speed up a nightmarish future. Jackson and some of Ellison’s most memorable characters join forces to not only defeat the killer—but to fight back their own haunted pasts. Ellison, a New York Times-bestselling author, keeps you on edge with stellar pacing and lively characters. Coupled with some surprising peeks into the history of some of her key characters and fans will not want to skip on the dark, haunting GRAVES. We had the pleasure of talking about the book and what’s next for the prolific Ellison.

What was the first thriller you ever read, and what about it made it memorable?

I read a lot of Tom Clancy back in the day, but the first thriller I remember getting really excited about was Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School. I loved the idea of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, a theme I explore over and over in my own work. Also, because of the imminent Russian threat to the U.S. (I actually took a class on global thermo-nuclear war my freshman year of college), I decided I wanted to join the Foreign Service and do my part to end the threat from abroad. I was on that path when I met my husband (who was, oddly, a CIA recruit at the time). Neither of us took it any further, though. So a life-changing read, indeed.

Definitely. What can you tell us about your writing process?

Schizophrenic, at the moment. Because of terrible scheduling on my end, I have my hand in several projects right now. I’ve given up on any sort of steady progress on anything and instead have been putting out fires, snatching whatever writing time I can. But when things are calm and normal, I keep shop hours. I do business in the morning and write in the afternoon. I am not a morning person, so this works well for my creative flow, which doesn’t hit its peak until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. When I open the manuscript, I reread what I wrote the previous day, edit it, fix any lingering issues, decide which scene I need to get out of my head, and go from there. I shoot for the whole scene, which generally is a chapter, or 1000 words, give or take. I research while I write, for the most part. I am a terrible taskmaster. If I stay on myself, I can write two books a year comfortably, three if I push it. I’m pushing it right now.

Tell me about FIELD OF GRAVESwhat was the inspiration behind it and why did you find you needed to tell this story now?

The inspiration—I wanted to write crime fiction like John Sandford (here we are again, being influenced by another life-changing thriller.) I wanted a female homicide lieutenant who was half cop, half rock star, and Nashville had to be very integral to the story. So I wrote a novella, which was awful, then wrote Field of Graves, which wasn’t horrible. It was my very first full-length novel. (And yes, this all happened a decade ago. Which is wild.)

Field of Graves landed me my agent but didn’t sell, so I put it in a drawer, jokingly called it “my 80,000 words of backstory,” and wrote the next book in the series, All The Pretty Girls, which was my official debut. Field of Graves introduces Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson, and the case of the University Killer results in Dr. John Baldwin, FBI profiler, joining the team. It’s the origin story for Taylor and Baldwin, and for Samantha—a prequel to both their series.

When I decided to publish it, I did a complete rewrite from top to bottom. Because it hadn’t sold, I had convinced myself it was terrible—so terrible, in fact, that I asked three beta readers to tell me if it stood a chance of working after a revision. They loved it and couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t been published. When I read it, I realized it wasn’t horrible. It needed work, a polish, but it was a solid tale. It’s amazing what rejection can do to an author’s psyche. All these years I felt like I wasn’t good enough, and it affected me greatly.

Why is Nashville a great setting for a crime novel? How key is setting to this kind of story?

In crime fiction, I think any time you step away from a major metropolitan area, your setting has to be a character. Nashville is a misunderstood town. The world knows it as the home of country music, yet it’s a much more complex, dynamic city than it first appears. We have the old South rubbing elbows with newfound fame and fortune. We have a serious dichotomy between the upper and lower classes, and a lot of crime. We have problems with gangs, with drugs, with the usual junk any city has to deal with. Add in that the city is fabulously beautiful, the food is to die for, and there’s a cosmopolitan air that many never hear or see, and you have a huge canvas to draw from.

I love writing about Nashville. This town has been very good to me.

What is it about Taylor Jackson that you find compelling to write?

She can be difficult to write, actually, because she’s so black and white. She’s an iconic hero, and there’s not a lot of change that happens to her over the course of a novel. Rookie mistake—limited narrative arc. She’s very single-minded: There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s nothing in between. She knows where she falls, and where everyone else should fall, too. She is insulted by the idea of crime, in many ways.

Having a character with a strict moral compass is a lot of fun. I love to put her in situations that have shades of gray and make her deal with them. And she loves her town. She loves being Nashville’s protector. I’ve always seen her as Athena, the warrior-goddess of Nashville.

How important is it to have a strong supporting cast for your lead?

Very. I love my cast of characters, they’re family. I was so happy to come back to them, to see them fresh and new, unchanged by what eventually happens to each of them as the series progresses. I think that’s the beauty of having a prequel that was already written: I didn’t have to try and rewind the characters to imagine who they were before. They were untouched. Story-wise, there were some organic problems, so I had to make changes to allow for things to set up properly in the subsequent novels. Samantha Owens, Taylor’s best friend, is vital to the stories, and Taylor’s team is newly assembled when this book opens. They’re finding their way through the case together. And that’s the thing about an ensemble cast—they’re dependent on each other to make it all flow.

You’ve written a number of bestsellers and received notable acclaimwhat keeps you motivated and challenged?

Fear. No, I’m serious. One of the beautiful things about this book—I wrote it in a vacuum. I didn’t have deadlines, I didn’t have deals, I certainly didn’t have readers. There was no expectation, no pressure. Nowadays, that isn’t the case (though 90 percent of the pressure I’m under is self-inflicted). I just want to keep swinging for the fences and hope people love my books as much as I love writing them. It’s funny, though, the deeper you get into a career, the harder it gets to stay detached from the work. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something very humbling and terrifying about people actually reading the books and wanting more of them.

What are you working on next?

I am writing the next Samantha Owens novel—it’s actually a Taylor Jackson book, too. All Fall Down sees the two working together to take down a serial killer targeting Sam, and a bigger threat is looming for them both. It’s the continuation of the story I started in What Lies Behind; the two are a duology. I ended on a rather large cliffhanger that needs to be resolved, STAT.

Which authors inspire you?

I am constantly amazed by how many incredibly talented authors there are out there. I mean, seriously, walk into any bookstore and run your fingers along the shelves, and there they are, the heroes of the literary world. I admire so many authors it would take years to list them all, but I’m truly inspired by those who are consistently creating excellent work year after year, and their craft gets better and better. Writers like Jeff Abbott, Harlan Coben, John Connolly, Lisa Gardner, Laura Benedict, Ariel Lawhon, Victoria Schwab, Meg Gardiner—they keep me up at night, both reading late and wondering how to get that good. We’re blessed, truly, by the number of incredible authors in our ranks.

Is there anything you’re reading or watching these days that’s particularly caught your attention that you’d like to plug?

I need great storytelling to refill my well, so I’m a big fan of excellent scripted episodic television. Game of Thrones and Outlander are high on my list, of course, but my husband and I just binged on The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s books. Think adult-themed Harry Potter. Outside of Quentin Coldwater’s character (who I think Jason Ralph has played to sheer perfection), the story is loosely based on the books, but they’ve done a magnificent job. The acting is wonderful, perfectly over-the-top, and the dialogue crisp and funny. I’m sorry it’s over for the season.

Great to be with you, Alex. Thanks for this, and good luck with your excellent books!

Via: JT Ellison


6.9.16 - On Planning, Tracking, and Rewards (Perfection Series, Part IV)

By JT Ellison

I’m wrapping up the series on perfection today. We’ve discussed how perfection can be paralyzing, and also how it can push you to great success. I think it’s also important to talk about HOW we beat this pernicious beast. Because in the end, the only thing that matters is finishing your manuscript.

All creatives experience fear and resistance. The professionals are the one who conquer them.

There are many ways up this particular mountain, all of them worthy. But I think there is an overarching functionality that can be applied to the process of finishing, regardless of which method you choose.

First, and most importantly, you have to find your time.

Whether you’re getting up 30 minutes early to write before anyone in your houses rises, staying up after your people go to bed, or you have all day to yourself, every creative has a sweet spot during which their creativity levels shoot through the roof. If you don’t already know when your creative sweet spot is, start experimenting. Work in the morning, the afternoon, the evening. See what feels right. Then rebuild your world around that time.

My very best time is from 2–6pm in the afternoon. I try to get going well before that, but I really hit my stride in the late afternoon. Knowing I work better during that time frame, I usually do business in the morning, then I turn on my Freedom app and block everything else out for some serious deep work time.

Second, once you’ve found your ideal time, guard it with your life.

No one will respect your time if you don’t respect it yourself. Create a proverbial lion’s den for yourself. Lock doors, make signs, whatever you need to do, but train those around you to stay off your creative lawn from X o’clock to X o’clock, and don’t allow anyone to deviate from this (including you) unless it’s a real emergency. It might be difficult at first, but people are malleable. They’ll come around.

Third, when you do have your sweet spot and you’ve created your lion’s den, don’t waste time inside of it.

Fifty years from now, which would you prefer to be known for: writing great novels (paintings, stories, sculptures, etc.) or having a fantastic Facebook page? Stay focused. Set a timer, use an Internet blocker like Freedom, hang a Sword of Damocles above your desk—whatever you need to stay on point, do it.

Fourth, create your quantifiables.

This is the reward system you have in place to keep you motivated. By reward I don’t mean a bucket of chocolate every 100 words. I mean a system for tracking your work. I use these spreadsheets. I love the detail I can create—from time served (ahem, spent) in the chair to how many words I get a day. I can set goals, track my word output from month to month, annually, every thing. I’ve been using this system for years, and it works great.

But for fun, I have added a second tracking system. Remember back in school, you’d get a gold star or a silver star on your paper when you’d done a good job? My friend Victoria Schwab has invented this means of reward, only for adult creatives.

Visual goal tracking is a huge help when you’re trying to stay on target. I’ve adapted this for myself, with a calendar I can bring with me everywhere, and slightly different measurables. It’s wonderful to be able to glance at the month view and see where you are.

Four steps to success: Find your time, create your lion’s den, do the work, measure the work. Simple. Straightforward. Doable.

I can hear some of you, right now, saying, “But JT, why do I need to track all of this. What a pain, what a hassle.”

To which I say, bosh. All professionals track their productivity in some way. If they don’t track it themselves, their bosses track it for them. In the professional world, if you don’t meet your goals, you get fired. Why is creativity any different?

Yes, you’re a creative, but you’re also in business.

The sooner you cast aside the dewy-eyed notion that you’re only in it for the exploration, the faster you’ll start to see success.

How do you measure your success? Is it word count, books published, sales? Reviews, followers? Money earned?

That, my dears, it completely up to you.

Whatever measure you go by, consistency is key. You have to hold yourself accountable if you have any hope of building a career in the arts.

And with that, here endeth the series.

Via: JT Ellison


6.5.16 - Sunday Smatterings

By JT Ellison

Welcome, my dears, to another edition of Sunday Smatterings! I’m very happy it’s Sunday, because my right hand, the adorable Amy, has been on vacation this week, so I’ve been holding down the fort. I’ve missed her dreadfully, and can’t wait to welcome her back tomorrow. I promise to give her a soft reentry to the working world.

On to the links!

My buddy Meg Gardiner debunked several well-known writing myths including the old canard that you need just the right setting and time to write. Trust me, chickens, you don’t have to buy your Muse dinner and give it roses.

I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear I’m excited by this great news, Outlander has been renewed for Seasons 3 & 4! I’ve enjoyed the show so far, though as a connoisseur of the books (that’s a nice way of saying I know most my heart) I wish they’d let Jamie be a little more… Jamie. You know, Jamie Fraser, King of Men…

If you think you don’t know someone who’s struggling or struggled with fertility, you’re wrong. It’s a pervasive problem, and I was so struck this piece. This is exactly what it’s like. Exactly. And even better, it comes from the husband’s point of view. I wish them all the luck in the world.

Did you ever wonder when Americans lost their British accents? Mental Floss has the answers, and it’s fascinating.

Lastly, I think we all need to ask for this umbrella for our birthdays, yes???

And on the home front:

The pre-game has started for FIELD OF GRAVES! I did a fun interview with the awesome Alex Segura in The Big Thrill.

It was a HUGE week on the Tao, where I welcomed two incredible artists with whom I’m lucky enough to be friends: Singer/songwriter Alissa Moreno and musician and author Daniel Palmer. Daniel’s is in two parts: One and Two.

And from The Wine Vixen, Amy and I covered some remarkable wines we remember fondly.

A last thought….

That’s all, folks! Have a great rest of your day!

Via: JT Ellison


6.3.16 - 7 Minutes With... Daniel Palmer (Part Two)

By JT Ellison

Here were are, back again with my friend Daniel Palmer, who’s switched to his writing hat. (I’m still astounded that he can successfully handle both careers, amazing, really!) Daniel’s work is incredible. He is a master storyteller, his standalones on par with Harlan Coben, so if you haven’t read him yet, you’re in for a treat. He also co-writes with his late father, who was also a friend. Michael Palmer gave a lot of good advice to a lot of young writers, and was always willing to stretch a hand out to help. Daniel’s picked up the banner, to which I say, bravo, my friend. Bravo. His brother Matthew is also a writer — talk about a talented family!

But today we’re talking about Daniel’s brand new standalone thriller, FORGIVE ME. Talk about chilling… take it away, bud!

Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

Present Tense from the new Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool.

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

I’m working on the third edit for the next Michael Palmer medical thriller, THE FIRST FAMILY. It’s about a family doctor who battles the chief White House physician as he tries to cure the President’s son who has symptoms of a never before seen disease. I need to start the next Daniel Palmer novel which I’ve titled SIMON SAYS. That one is about the most twisted love triangle I could dream up. Should be a fun book to write!

What’s your latest book about?

I have two books out. MERCY is the second Michael Palmer medical thriller I’ve written in the tradition of my late father. Because of his loyal readership, St. Martin’s, my father’s long time publisher, asked if I could continue his oeuvre. I wanted to honor his legacy and write the kind of books my dad would have written, so I jumped at the opportunity. In MERCY, Dr. Julie Devereux is an outspoken advocate for the right to die—until a motorcycle accident leaves her fiancé, Sam Talbot, a quadriplegic. While Sam begs to end his life, Julie sees hope in a life together. But then Sam suddenly dies from an unusual heart defect, one seen only in those under extreme stress. It appears that Sam was literally scared to death. As Julie investigates similar cases, she finds a frightening pattern, and becomes the target of disturbing threats. As Julie discovers more cases, the threats escalate, until she is accused of a mercy killing herself. To clear her name she must track down whoever is behind these mysterious deaths, but someone has decided that killing Julie is the only way to stop her.

My other novel (published by Kensington two weeks after MERCY came out) is FORGIVE ME. In FORGIVE ME Angie DeRose is a private investigator in Virginia, working to find and rescue endangered runaways. In the wake of her mother’s death, Angie makes a life-altering discovery. Hidden in her parents’ attic is a photograph of a little girl with a hand-written message on the back: “May God forgive me.” Angie doesn’t know what it means. Could she have a sister she never knew about? Angie sets out to learn the fate of the girl in the photo. But the lies she unearths drag the past into the present. Everything she holds dear is threatened by the repercussions of one long-ago choice, and an enemy who will kill to keep a secret hidden forever.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

I write in a little office above the garage. I use Word. That’s it. I’ve tried Scrivener, and note cards, and all sorts of productivity tools, but what I’ve found works best for me is outlining (in Word), writing (in Word), editing (in Word). These books (my life in general) are complex enough. I’ve got to keep one thing simple.

I do put the M-Brace on my wrist, and it works wonders for preventing carpel tunnel.

What was your favorite book as a child?

That would be The Phantom Tollbooth or any of the books in the Moominpappa series from Tove Jansson.

What’s your secret talent?

I’ll go with songwriting. I’ve recorded two CDs (ALIEN LOVE SONGS and HOME SWEET HOME). Writing a book is hard work, writing songs is work too, but for me it’s the relaxing kind.

Ed. Note: See Part One for more!

What book are you reading now?

THE ONE MAN by my dear friend, Andrew Gross. This book is a huge departure for Andy. He took a big risk writing it, and it’s going to pay off big time. It’s an incredible story and it’ll be a big time movie (a la Spielberg making it), mark my words. It’s fabulous.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was 29, and my dot.com career had come to an end. Somehow, I got it in my head that I could write romantic comedies from the guy’s point of view. Okay, blame High Fidelity and Bridget Jone’s Diary. I soon found out that women who read romance books didn’t care much about the guy’s point of view. By that point, I got the writing bug and switched to thrillers, which happened to be the genre that I read the most.

Who is your writing idol? Have you met him/her? If so, did you completely nerd out or keep your cool?

Without a doubt, Stephen King is my writing idol. I don’t write books like him (who does?), but I aspire to sweep someone away by the force of my writing the way his writing affects me. If I met him, I would absolutely pull a Chris Farley. “Remember when you wrote The Stand…that was awesome.”

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

My father kept motivational notes taped to his computer monitor. One read: This is hard. The other read: Be fearless. I still haven’t come across a more apt description of the profession, or a better encapsulation of what it takes to succeed. As for advice, I try to keep it simple: Don’t bore your reader.

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?

Write ‘em anyway. I’ve got deadlines to meet. You can’t fix a blank page.

Are you creatively satisfied?

I’m satisfied with what I do, but I’d like to expand my world by writing young adult and maybe more screenplays. I’ve got a few ideas percolating, but time isn’t on my side right now.

What would you like to be remembered for?

In part 1 of this interview I said I’d want to be remembered for being a good friend, father, and husband, and all that’s still true in part 2 of said interview. As a writer, I’d like to be remembered for telling stories that made people feel some sort of emotion and selling lots of books.

Now for the really important questions:

I’ll mix it up because I answered these in Part 1.

· Beach or mountains? Mountains if it’s winter and there’s snow on them.

· Coffee or tea? Tea if it’s green and all the coffee in the world has mysteriously vanished.

· Skydive or bungee jump? Skydive if the guy with a gun to my head says, “Jump or die.”

· Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate if it comes in chip form inside something vanilla.

· Winter or summer? Winter if it isn’t summer.

· Cake or pie? Cake if it’s my birthday and my wife says, “The kids are going to want to have a cake for you.” True story by the way.

· Cats or dogs? Cats if it has an incredible nose and can help me track down my missing dog.

· Pens or pencils? Pencils because the last time I gnawed on my pen it didn’t end well.

· Truth or dare? Even though I lie for a living, I dare myself to tell the truth with every book I write.

· Print or ebook? Which format is selling the most copies? That one.


DANIEL PALMER is the author of four critically-acclaimed suspense novels. After receiving his master’s degree from Boston University, he spent a decade as an e-commerce pioneer. A recording artist, accomplished blues harmonica player, and lifelong Red Sox fan, Daniel lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children where he is currently at work on his next novel.

Via: JT Ellison