The Silence of the Lambs - Act I story breakdown and analysis

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

My Silence of the Lambs breakdown is turning into a dissertation, so I figured I’d better start mailing it out act by act or I’ll never get through it!

As I talked about here, I will not be posting full story breakdowns on the blog anymore – I’m asking that you join my free Story Structure Extras list to get the story breakdowns.

If you haven’t joined the list, you can do it here, and get a full breakdown of The Wizard of Oz and the full Act I breakdown of Silence. Then I’ll mail the rest of the Silence breakdown in segments as I work through it.

I did an intro to the movie here, if you didn’t catch it – and anyone who is not familiar with story breakdowns will probably want to review the Elements of Act I.

And I’m posting the first sequence breakdown here, so that we have a place to discuss!

The GENRE is a cross of psychological thriller, police procedural, and horror—in fact, it’s the only horror film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar —and one of only three films in cinematic history to win what’s known in Hollywood as the Big Five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (adapted), Best Actor, Best Actress.

The KIND of story it is: a mentor story, a therapeutic journey, a deal with the devil story, and a fairy tale: a twist on the “peasant boy rescues princess from evil troll” story. In this story, it’s a peasant girl who rescues the princess from an evil troll.

The Silence of the Lambs

Screenplay by Ted Tally

Adapted from the novel by Thomas Harris

Directed by Jonathan Demme


SEQUENCE ONE: The case and Lecter

All of the following is under the CREDITS. In the olden days, before ADHD, filmmakers used the opening credits sequence to establish all kinds of thematic information, and to get the audience right where they wanted them emotionally before the first line of dialogue was spoken. Now credits sequences go at the end of the movie, apparently because audiences won’t sit still for them. It’s a tragedy.

The OPENING IMAGE is a misty lake, seen through trees, just at dawn. (Water, clouds and mist are all images of the subconscious. Dawn is of course a symbol of enlightenment. All very thematic.) The music underneath is dark and haunting (a fantastic score by Howard Shore, reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s scores for many of Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers). We hold on these images long enough to slow our heart rate, and then a tiny female figure emerges from a misty chasm, pulling herself up a steep hill via a thick rope.


Her breathing is labored, which effectively puts us inside her, breathing with her – it’s a very subjective point of view. As she reaches the top we hold for a moment on Jodie Foster’s exquisitely sculpted face… she is sweating and panting, which activates our own senses… then she runs on in the mist, the moving camera following her slowly. All in all a very dreamlike opening. This is a classic horror movie technique, to put the viewer inside a dream from the very beginning. The very worst things we can imagine can happen in dreams – it’s a very vulnerable state for the audience to be in. And we’ve all had that dream of running, running, running…

The running is also a thematic clue: Clarice is running away from her past – a past that her unlikely mentor and this case will force her to confront and resolve.

Clarice is negotiating a wooded obstacle course on the grounds of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. But throughout, the scene is more dreamlike than real. She approaches a rope barrier that she climbs, an image reminiscent of a spider web and the first of many insect and arachnid images. (VISUAL AND THEMATIC IMAGE SYSTEM). Director Jonathan Demme and his production team very, very successfully found visual images to create the same thematic resonance that Thomas Harris creates in the book.

The scene also serves to show Clarice’s daily TRAINING as an FBI agent, and visually demonstrates both her special skills (strength, stamina, endurance) and her fragility (she is so very small…)

A voice calls her name “Starling!” and then almost out of nowhere a man runs up behind her – another dreamlike and disorienting moment. He says “Crawford wants to see you.” This is a HERALD – summoning her to a task. (It adds import to the CALL TO ADVENTURE to have a Herald character come to the protagonist first, and lead her to another person who will actually deliver the CALL. See Raiders of the Lost Ark for another great example of this double call.)

Clarice turns and runs past a tree with signposts that read HURT PAIN AGONY – LOVE IT. Real signs from the Quantico training course that have a lot of thematic resonance here!

She runs toward and into the concrete FBI Academy building, where other trainees, all male, are working out (visually establishing Clarice as the unique outsider she is in this environment.)

I’ll stop for a moment to note that is a story about a protagonist with a big WOUND (or GHOST), and the casting of Jodie Foster was an extra stroke of genius. In real life, Foster suffered relentless and intrusive public attention after her stalker, John Hinckley, shot then-president Ronald Reagan to get Foster’s attention when Foster was just nineteen. Throughout her career Foster has maintained an almost reclusive privacy. Certainly this brilliant actor could have played the part regardless of her background, but for this excruciatingly psychological movie, in which the key internal character struggle is the painful reveal and resolution of a childhood wound, it added an extra layer to the character to have Foster’s wounded energy and deep reluctance to share anything personal about herself.

Now we see Clarice cross a glass bridge (directors love to use bridges as symbols of transition, of crossing into another world) and briefly meet ARDELIA, her roommate, on the stairs (MEET THE ALLY) then wend her way through the ballistics lab (setting up more FBI training).

In the elevator we see how tiny Clarice is beside her male classmates (all dressed in red shirts, while she is in gray) which establishes her as an underdog, an outsider and terribly, terribly vulnerable - all in in just a few seconds’ visual.

END CREDITS SEQUENCE as Clarice walks into the Behavioral Sciences Services department and is told by two suited agents to wait in Crawford’s office.

While Clarice waits, we and she get our first glimpse of the ANTAGONIST as she looks over the white board with newspaper articles about a serial killer, Buffalo Bill (“Bill Skins Fifth”) along with bloody and heartbreaking crime scene photos of the young female victims, and a map showing the locations of body dump sites. A HORROR moment that registers in Clarice’s face. These are the STAKES: life and death. And it’s the first moment of layering in the FEAR we will have for Clarice – that she, too, will be killed. She is a young white Southern woman, like all of the victims.

(This is also a PLANT: In the final scenes, we will see an almost identical map and collection of news articles in the killer’s basement. The bookended images will give the action a feeling of coming full circle.)

Note how quickly we are introduced to the antagonist by name and with visuals of his terrible crimes – it’s very important to introduce the opponent as quickly as possible, at least by reference.

And no, Lecter is NOT the antagonist in SOTL. Lecter is the MENTOR.

We meet Jack Crawford, who will serve as Clarice’s law enforcement MENTOR. Crawford quickly sketches out Clarice’s backstory as he reads out her education and training from her file (“double major, psych and criminology” – these are some of the HEROINE’S SPECIAL SKILLS). We also learn Clarice’s OUTER DESIRE: After graduation she wants to come work for Crawford as a psychological profiler in Behavioral Science.

Crawford delivers the CALL TO ADVENTURE (also known as the INCITING INCIDENT. This is also her first TEST), telling her he has “an interesting errand” for her. She’s to go interview convicted serial killer Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter, ostensibly for a FBI research study. Clarice immediately shows her insight (SPECIAL SKILLS) – she asks if there’s a connection to Buffalo Bill, the serial killer from the news articles, who has been kidnapping young women, killing them and skinning them. Campbell dismisses the idea, saying “I wish there were,” then diverts Clarice from the topic as he warns her that she must not tell Lecter anything personal about herself: she does not want Lecter inside her head. (SET UP – because what’s Lecter going to demand of her?) Crawford tells her she must never forget what Lecter is:

[8:20] The scene cuts to a visual of the foreboding brick prison (for the criminally insane), and Dr. Chilton finishes Crawford’s sentence:

“Oh, he’s a monster. A pure psychopath.” (As I always say, just SAY it!)

Dr. Chilton is the slimy little head of the prison asylum, a SECONDARY OPPONENT. He clumsily flirts with Clarice (such a refreshing scene, this is, to see this numbing sexual harassment portrayed so bluntly!). Then when she politely rebuffs him, he turns cold and vindictive.

Chilton now takes Clarice INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD. It’s a descent into the underworld: he leads her down an Escher-like set of stairs to the basement where the most dangerous inmates are kept. (The basement recalls dungeons, and also is a favorite location of psychological thrillers: in psychology, “basement issues” are our deepest fears.)

As Chilton leads her down to the cells he gives her a rundown on Lecter, including a brutal description and photo of what Lecter did to a nurse recently (establishing more FEAR in us for Clarice).

Having other characters talk about a character before we meet them builds anticipation and makes them more powerful. This introduction gives Lecter almost supernatural power. (“His pulse never went above eighty-five – even when he ate her tongue.”)

This scene is a prime example of how a really great SETPIECE SCENE is a lot more than just dazzling (and that a setpiece doesn’t have to take place on some epic, multimillion-dollar set. You don’t need a cast of thousands – two great actors and a great script will do the trick). A great setpiece is thematic, too. This is much more than your garden-variety prison. It’s a labyrinth of twisty staircases and creepy corridors. And it’s hell: Clarice goes through —count ‘em— seven gates, down, down, down under the ground to get to Lecter. Because after all, she’s going to be dealing with the devil, isn’t she? And the labyrinth is a classic symbol of an inner psychological journey, just exactly what Clarice is about to go through. And Lecter is a monster, like the Minotaur, so putting him smack in the center of a labyrinth makes us unconsciously equate him with a mythical beast, something both more and less than human. The visuals of that setpiece express all of those themes perfectly (and others, too) so the scene is working on all kinds of visceral, emotional, subconscious levels. There are many visual HORROR elements at work in this scene as well: a medieval dungeon/insane asylum, gates of hell, stone walls, cages, hissing monsters. Chilton is a gnome.

Now, yes, that’s brilliant filmmaking by director Jonathan Demme, and screenwriter Ted Tally and production designer Kristi Zea and DP Tak Fujimoto… but it was all there on Harris’s page, first, all that and more; the filmmakers had the good sense to translate it to the screen. In fact, both Silence of the Lambsand Red Dragon are so crammed full of thematic visual imagery you can catch something new every time you reread those books.

Chilton leaves Clarice at the last gate, and there prison guard Barney is a calm, kind GUARDIAN AT THE GATE who lets her through the last gate with warnings but also a blessing: “I’ll be watching you. You’ll do fine.” It’s very important in a story about good and evil to show powerful, ordinary good at work as well as powerful evil.

Clarice must pass the cells of other human monsters who ogle and harass her before she comes to Lecter’s cell. (It’s interesting to compare and contrast this overt sexual harassment with the way male FBI classmates are constantly looking Clarice and Ardelia over, and the more aggressive ogling that Clarice encounters with the West Virginia deputies, later. I truly appreciate Demme’s understanding of that fact of feminine life.)

[12:42] In the last cell, Hannibal Lecter is standing, very still and pale, waiting for her behind a thick glass wall (a cinematic choice which allows Clarice and Lecter to seem to be in the same room with each other.) INTRODUCTION TO MENTOR.

Lecter forces her to step closer with her credentials, establishing dominance… but interestingly, when the two are in close up, eyes to eyes, it is Lecter who looks away first from Clarice’s clear and steady gaze. Almost as if evil can’t bear to directly confront good… (THEME).

Lecter conceals the moment and immediately disparages her for being just a trainee, but she says, “I’m a student. I’m here to learn from you.” (which precisely sums up the story). And then she adds a challenge: “Maybe you can decide for yourself whether I’m qualified.”

Lecter obviously admires this rejoinder – a point to Clarice. He begins mentoring her almost immediately: when she segues too clumsily into the questionnaire, he admonishes her, telling her precisely what she’s done wrong, like a professor with a student. He asks her almost immediately about Buffalo Bill and challenges her to analyze why Bill removes his victims’ skins. We are also getting a sense of Lecter’s SPECIAL SKILLS: he has an extraordinary sense of smell and can and identify her skin cream and the perfume she usually wears. The cell walls are covered with his fine sketches of the Duomo in Italy (he says sketches because he has no view – an early statement of his DESIRE: a view of the outside).

Lecter toys with her and taunts her, but she impresses him, passing a TEST by winning their sparring match to get him to look at the questionnaire Crawford sent her in with. Lecter looks it over and throws it back to her, with a blistering assessment of her personality. “You’re so ambitious, aren’t you?” Lecter purrs.

And here we learn Clarice’s OUTER DESIRE is for advancement in the FBI. It’s a brilliant storytelling trick to have Dr. Lecter tell us so – brilliant because it makes Lecter all knowing, but it also clearly spells out Clarice’s desire, which the audience/reader really does need to know to commit to the character and relax into the story. I’m a big believer in just spelling it out.

In Lecter’s brief, scathing monologue, we learn of Clarice’s desperate teenage years and her struggle to escape rural West Virginia. Though it clearly pains her, she admits he’s right, but then challenges him to “point that high powered perception” at himself. “Or are you afraid?”

He shoves the questionnaire back to her with a warning (now one of the most-quoted lines of film history): “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” The message is clear – “Cross the line with me and I will kill you.” STAKES and FEAR.

And then Lecter dismisses her: “Fly back to school, little Starling. Fly fly fly.”

Also note this thematic bit of business: the questionnaire they’re playing hot potato with is a symbol for psychological analysis – this is a story about a therapeutic journey, and they’re both challenging each other to unmask.

And I’ll stop again for a note about Lecter. Here we have a devil character, my absolute favorite. Thomas Harris created a monster for the ages by turning a serial killer into a mythic archetype (although for my money he should have stopped with The Silence of the Lambs.) But what really does me about Lecter is the magician/mentor aspect of him. Here’s this evil, psychotic genius —who sees something in Clarice that makes at least part of him want to mentor her, even protect her. More than that, he understands her, better than any other living soul. That to me is the ultimate seductiveness of the devil: that he gets you — right down to the core of your being. In a way, there’s no greater intimacy. And that dynamic gives the relationship between Clarice and Lecter a very subtle erotic tension that is key to this movie (and that Harris completely destroyed by making it overt in Hannibal.) In Jungian psychology, Lecter could also be said to be Clarice’s animus, the inner male.

After Lecter’s dismissal, as Clarice starts to walk back down the corridor, we see the prisoner in the next cell, Miggs, is jerking off on his cot. He throws semen on Clarice, igniting crazy ranting from the other prisoners. Lecter shouts to Clarice, calling her back.

As the prisoners babble and shout, Lecter apologizes for Miggs’ behavior and Clarice seizes the moment to ask again that he do the questionnaire for her (her AMBITION comes through even under the circumstances). He refuses, but then gives her a clue toward “What you love most: advancement.” He tells her to “Look deep into yourself” and seek out an old patient of his, Miss Hester Moffat. Then he shouts at her to go and she runs from the dungeon. (Another TEST. In a mentor story, much of the early action will consist of testing of the hero/ine.)

Note how the sudden speed of dialogue and the cacophony of the inmates contribute to the feeling of CLIMAX (well, literally…) to this tense and claustrophobic scene.

As an emotional tag to the sequence, outside the asylum, Clarice has a flashback to herself as a child and her sheriff father returning home (showing another INNER DESIRE: for a father figure and explaining her desire for a law enforcement career). Then, in the present, she breaks down and weeps against her car. [20:40]



Join my free Story Structure Extras list to get full story breakdowns.
Books 1, 2 and 3 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers, Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, and Cold Moon are available now from Thomas & Mercer.
I very strongly recommend that you read the series in order, starting with Huntress Moon.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


5.26.15 - To Celebrate Release Day - a Contest!

By JT Ellison

a Rafflecopter giveaway

It’s launch day!!! WHAT LIES BEHIND is now available wherever you buy your books, print or digital. I’m so excited to present the next installment of Sam’s story, and hope y’all have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

But here’s your chance to beat me to the punch: in your opinion, what would the biggest twist to Sam’s story be? The 25 most creative answers win a signed page of the working manuscript! Think about it for a minute, and fill in the form above.

Thanks for being the greatest readers on the planet!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million

iBooks | Indiebound | Kobo | Powell’s Books

Via: JT Ellison


It’s a Baseball Mystery!

By Alafair Burke


I know you love mysteries. Here’s the set-up. I had the honor of kicking off the Memorial Day Weekend by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the New York Yankees’ game against the Texas Rangers with Mary Higgins Clark, my extraordinary co-author of THE CINDERELLA MURDER and the upcoming ALL DRESSED IN WHITE. Mary could have launched a fastball from the mound, but I asked to be a little closer to home plate. Video of our epic pitches to come, but you can see from these photos that we had a grand time.

IMG_0445 IMG_0451 IMG_0456

Were my shoes the first hot pink sneakers to touch MLB grass? I wonder, but, no, that’s not much of a mystery.

So where’s the mystery? Mary and I were each permitted to choose our jersey numbers. Mary’s “40” celebrates her 40th year in publishing. But what’s up with my “58”? Enter your best guess here by June 12 for a chance to win signed copies of ALL FIVE BOOKS in the Ellie Hatcher series. DO NOT enter your guesses in the comments below the blog. CLICK ON THIS FORM to enter.

Good luck! And stay tuned for video of the pitch!

Via: Alafair Burke


I'm chatting live tonight, 9pm ET

By (Alexandra Sokoloff) Just a quick note to let you all know – I’m chatting live tonight in the WriterSpace chat room, 9pm ET

It’s 1 am for me so I’m not always coherent (!) but I’ll happily answer any questions you might have about the Huntress series, my concern over escalating violence against women in the media and in life, and, um, story structure.

All welcome, and there’s an audiobook giveaway, too!

YES, I am working on the Silence of the Lambs breakdown. Some family issues and a spate of traveling and the Cold Moon launch have slowed me down a bit….

– Alex

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


5.17.15 - What Lies Behind the Book (see what I did there?)

By JT Ellison

On July 24, 2013, I read a story about a young med school student named Paul DeWolf who’d been killed in his apartment. No motive, no witnesses, no suspects. By all accounts, DeWolf was an exceptional young man. He excelled in everything from school to his military training to sports and his faith. He was perfect. Everything about him foretold a brilliant future. And here he was, his promising young life cut short. I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I read everything I could find on the case. And there was a single conclusion to be drawn.

It was a perfect murder…

That became the first line of WHAT LIES BEHIND. I let my imagination run, wrote up a somewhat outlandish proposal. By August 12 I had a title, one that fit beautifully with the idea of a locked room mystery, and the futility of a life lost too soon. The title comes from the Thoreau (or perhaps Emerson, no one knows) quote:

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us

are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

Oddly enough, the day I decided on the title, I was in Ace Hardware looking for plants, and saw a plaque with beautiful birds on it. Up close, I realized it was the very quote I’d used to title the book. (I snatched it up, and it resides in my office in a spot of honor.) I knew then I had something special. Sometimes, the universe tells you when you’re on the right track.

In October, I submitted the proposal, which my agent and editor loved. I shelved the story until April 2014, when I was finished with my six months of the year I dedicate to Catherine and could think about it.

I started writing April 3. My publisher needed an excerpt for the paperback of WHEN SHADOWS FALL, so I wrote an opening. Cobbled it together, really. And in so doing, realized the story I thought I was telling wasn’t the story that wanted to be written.

It happens that way sometimes. You think a book is about one thing, but it surprises you, takes on a life of its own, and suddenly, you’re left with a completely new story. The characters dictate the story, obviously. And a lot happened between October 2013 and April 2014. Weird things, and good things.

Several wonderful people gave money to charity to have their names appear in the book. When I accept these kinds of commissions, I don’t just toss in a name. I want the donor to get their money’s worth. I create real characters, with real purpose to the story. Tommy Cattafi became my dead medical student. Robin Souleyret was his contact, also dead. (There’s another character name I can’t share, because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. You’ll see that one in the acknowledgements.)

And then the story decided it didn’t want to be about dead people. It wanted to have live people, who did amazing things. Every day, while I watched, it wove itself into a completely different entity. Tommy Cattafi wasn’t dead, but gravely injured. Robin Souleyret was very much alive, and a former CIA agent. What? She had a sister who was FBI, and her name was Amanda. She was murdered and Cataffi injured in what looked like a murder suicide. Their names became so intrinsically involved that, because of these character names, the story itself changed. It evolved. It became about Sam and Robin, the push and pull of the investigation, and the power of love.

There were other issues with the story as well. At its heart, WHAT LIES BEHIND is about a bioterror attack on the U.S. using an Ebola-esque hemorrhagic virus. Yeah. Topical much?

I was more than halfway through the writing well before the African outbreak, and as the virus, and the story, continued to spread, I kept having to change the book so it didn’t look like I’d stolen the story from the headlines. Because I, apparently, am simply too prescient when it comes to writing about current events.

And then we have Sam and Xander and Fletcher. The backbone of these books. Vital, one might say, to their longevity. Samantha really comes into her own during this investigation. It was such a blast to watch her take over. She’s always been a smart cookie, but now, she’s smart and tough and isn’t about to sit back when she sees injustices. To put it mildly, she kicks ass.

It took five months to write this book, because the story was a moving target, day after day. When I finished the book, I was almost afraid to turn it in. The synopsis I’d given my editor months before was unrecognizable outside of a young man cut down in his prime. Completely different from the finished book. Happily, she loved it, and here we are.

It’s always fascinating to me to relive the writing of a book. WHAT LIES BEHIND was possibly my most challenging to date, simply because it did not behave. It didn’t do what it was told. It’s fitting WHAT LIES BEHIND was the thirteenth novel I’ve written. It seems I’ve just given birth to my first teenager.

Via: JT Ellison


5.14.15 - 7 Minutes With... Tracy Grant

By JT Ellison

Meeting the lovely Tracy Grant was another benefit to my relationship with Catherine Coulter. We got to know one another at one of CC’s lunches a couple of years ago, and I’ve been entranced with her work ever since. She’s a very interesting woman – I mean, come on, how many people do you know who studied fifteenth-century British history at Stanford, co-wrote with their mom, and love opera? Tracy is now writing in the fascinating vein of fellow favorites of mine, Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig, whose work come alive on the page as history mixed with a dash of romance and a lot of suspense. I can’t recommend her enough both as a person, and a writer. She’s the bomb.


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

“Children will Listen” from Into the Woods. The original Broadway cast, though I also listen to the movie version.

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

A scene set at the London docks involving a runaway child. It’s from my as yet untitled WIP, the next book in my Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch Regency/Napoleonic historical mystery series.

What’s your latest book about?

THE MAYFAIR AFFAIR, which comes out tomorrow (May 15) begins with Malcolm and Suzanne woken in the middle of the night by a friend who is a Bow Street Runner. The powerful Duke of Trenchard has been murdered in his St. James’s Square house. And Laura Dudley, governess to the Rannoch children, was found standing over the dying duke. Laura has been a minor character in the series. It was fun exploring her story – and her secrets.

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

At home curled up in an armchair. In Peet’s Coffee & Tea with a latte or a cup of Earl Grey. Or in the play park or Pottery Barn Kids while my daughter plays. I write on a MacBook Air using Scrivener, but sometimes I take notes by hand. I’m very attached to my Cross pen.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Different books at different ages, but THE GRAND SOPHY by Georgette Heyer was a favorite from about 10 on.

What’s your secret talent?

I’m good at seating arrangements. Would come in handy if I found myself in one of my novels.

What book are you reading now?

WHO BURIES THE DEAD by C.S. Harris. Love this series!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I actually can’t remember not wanting to be a writer, but the first I remember consciously thinking about it was in 3rd grade when we were assigned a story in school and characters and scenes poured out of me. From then on I was always writing something.

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

Jane Austen and Tom Stoppard. I suppose it’s conceivable I could meet Tom Stoppard someday. I think I’d be starstruck to the point of incoherence.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” My mom, Joan Grant, with whom I wrote 8 books, had it taped to her computer.

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

Tell myself I just have to write 100 words and then I can take a mini-break, check email, look at Facebook or Twitter, read a few pages. Then another 100 after the mini-break. I can nearly always come up with 100 words (and usually when I read them over they aren’t as bad as I fear).

Are you creatively satisfied?

Yes very. As long as I’m working on a book!

What would you like to be remembered for?

My writing. And, by my daughter, for being a good mom and inspiring her to be creative.

Alright, now for the really important questions:

Beach or mountains? Beach.

Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning. Lattes or Earl Grey tea while I’m working.

Skydive or bungee jump? I like to create adventures for my characters rather than have them myself, but if I had to pick probably bungee jump.

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate. Though I love vanilla lattes!

Winter or summer? Winter. Good writing weather.

Cake or pie? I have to pick? Cake.

Cats or dogs? Both, though right now we have 3 cats.

Pens or pencils? Pens.

Truth or dare? Probably truth. Of course I might change my mind if I heard the question…

Print or ebook? Both. I still love print books and buy them. But I got an iPad to read out-of-print research books and found I love reading on it, so that’s actually how I do most of my reading now.


photo credit: Raphael Coffey Photography

photo credit: Raphael Coffey Photography

Tracy Grant studied British history at Stanford University and received the Firestone Award for Excellence in Research for her honors thesis on shifting conceptions of honor in late-fifteenth-century England. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her young daughter and three cats. In addition to writing, Tracy works for the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, pianists, and stage directors. Her real life heroine is her daughter Mélanie, who is very cooperative about Mummy’s writing time. She is currently at work on her next book chronicling the adventures of Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. Visit her on the Web at

And here’s a little more about THE MAYFAIR AFFAIR, in stores everywhere tomorrow!

In the elegant environs of Mayfair, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch live a seemingly charmed life. Malcolm, a former diplomatic attaché and intelligence agent, is a rising Member of Parliament. Suzanne is fast becoming one of London’s most sought hostesses. But even their closest friends don’t know that the Rannoch’s marriage is still reeling from the revelation that Suzanne was a French spy when she met British agent Malcolm and that she married him to gather information on British plans. Malcolm and Suzanne are hoping for private time to repair their marriage. But their peace is shattered by a late night visit from a Bow Street runner. The powerful Duke of Trenchard has been found murdered in the study of his St. James’s Square house. And Laura Dudley, governess to the Rannoch children, was standing over the dying duke.

Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced the woman they trusted with their children is not a killer. To prove Laura’s innocence, they are drawn into an investigation that will test their wits and the fragile truce between them. But whether or not she murdered the Duke of Trenchard, Laura Dudley is certainly not what she seemed. Revelations about her identity cut dangerously close to Suzanne’s own past. Malcolm and Suzanne realize more is at stake than Laura’s life and liberty. The investigation into the Duke of Trenchard’s murder will either prove the resilience of their bond–or snap it in two.

Via: JT Ellison


5.11.15 - A Sneak Peek of WHAT LIES BEHIND!

By JT Ellison

The countdown continues! Here’s another insider treat for you – a sneak peek at the first chapter of WHAT LIES BEHIND.

Sam is coming….


Chapter One

Washington, D.C.
Tuesday morning


They’d drunk too much, gotten too loud, too boisterous. Mr. Smith’s kicked them out a few minutes past midnight, and they stumbled into the Georgetown night, dragged themselves up Wisconsin, and loped across M Street, tripping and clutching each other to stay upright, cackling hysterically, their heels an incoherent tattoo on the sidewalks. People watched them, their antics greeted with amusement or derision, depending on the mood of the observers.

“I can’t go on, I can’t. Stop, Emma, please, stop.”

Emma, ponytailed, blonde and lanky, fiddled with her tights with one hand, tugged on Cameron’s arm. “I gotta pee. We can’t stop now, Cam, it’s just a few more blocks.”

“My feet hurt. And my head.” Cameron slipped, landed hard against the plate-glass window of Starbucks. “Bump!” That set them off again, the giggles turning into guffaws.

Emma yanked on the door to the darkened store. “Nuts. They’re closed.”

“Why are they closed?” Cameron whined.

“`Cause it’s midnight. The witching hour. And you’re not a witch, you’re just a bitch. Tommy’s place is just ahead. Can you make it there?”

Cameron squeezed her eyes closed, chanting the rhyme under her breath. “Not a witch, just a bitch, not a witch, just a bitch.”

“You really are screwed up, aren’t you? Come on.” Emma dragged her to her feet, off down the darkened street.

Georgetown never truly sleeps. Even when the bars close, there are still people about—joggers, the ubiquitous construction workers, musicians and homeless, dog walkers and students, lovers and mistresses. A stew of incessant liveliness, perfect for the college-aged, and the cuckolded. The romantics and the hardened.

They made it a block before Cameron stopped dead. She grabbed Emma’s arm, nails digging into the soft flesh.

“Did you hear that?”

Emma strained, but one block up from M Street and two blocks over, all she heard was the tittering of the night birds and the whooshing of tires on pavement, maybe some faint, masked music. “Hear what?”

Cameron shook her head. “I thought I heard something. Someone shouted. I’m drunk. Where are we?”

Emma glanced at the sign on the corner. The numbers and letters weaved together. She shut one eye and the familiar N floated into range.

“We’re on N Street. One more block up. Come on already.”

They started off again. “How are you going to get in? I thought you two broke up. Didn’t he take back his key?”

“We’re not broken up. Just on a break. There’s a difference. He’s so busy now, with school and working. He just took on another new project. He needed some space. I understand.”

“Oh. I see. You understand why you’re not important to him anymore. Big of you.”

“Bitch.” But there was no heat behind the word.

She heard footsteps. Straightened in time to see a jogger cross the street in front of them, legs pounding out a steady rhythm. Chick could move. Emma wasn’t a runner. She played tennis, quite well, but the idea of running for the sake of running was boring to her. At least on the courts there was a tangible goal.

She realized she was alone, looked over her shoulder. Cameron had stopped again, was leaning woozily on a trash can.

“Come on,” Emma said, her tongue getting stuck on the words. She bit back a giggle and held out her hand. “We’re almost there.”

“Gotta rest.”

“Fooocuuuus, Cameron. Don’t make me leave you behind in the dark, all alone. Whooooo. Big nasty dark gonna eat you alive.”

Cameron flipped Emma the bird and stumbled back to her feet. “Lesgo.”

A car turned the corner, engine purring as it disappeared behind them. Now they were truly alone.

One block, turn right. Twenty steps more, then the basement apartment railing appeared on her left. Emma fished the key out of her bra. She’d known they were going to be drunk tonight. Thought a little booty call would be appropriate, even though she and Tommy had, in essence, broken up. Not because he didn’t dig her; he did, she knew it. It was just school was tough on him.

She knew Tommy would be home studying, late into the night, working on some random epithelial cell or DNA splicing theory, as he always seemed to be. Medical school was hard. Hell, undergrad was hard. Harder than she’d expected. Life was hard, too, especially for a pretty young thing with just enough smarts to make it into Georgetown, but maybe not quite enough to stay there. Her parents would freak if she failed out.

Tomorrow, I’ll stop drinking and partying and really study.


But for tonight, everyone needed to blow off some steam, get a little nookie. Sex was good for the brain. Raised the levels of oxytocin, serotonin, melatonin, all those tonins Tommy liked to talk about.

Emma shook her hair free of its ponytail so it would fall in a sultry mass about her shoulders, sloppily freshened her lip gloss, licked her lips and shot Cameron a look. Cam seemed like she was about to pass out. Her eyes were half-shut, the smile on her face dreamy and stupid.

Emma slipped as she went down the five stairs to Tommy’s front door. She grabbed the railing with both arms, clung on, the metal biting cruelly into her rib cage. She managed not to drop the key, but one sky-high platform peep-toe clattered toward the door, hitting it with a thump.

“Whoops,” she said, laughing. Cameron hooted like it was the best trick she’d ever seen.

Emma put a finger to her lips. “Shhh. God, you’re gonna wake the whole street.” She righted herself with dignity, squared her shoulders and put the key in the lock.

“Aren’t you going to knock?” Cameron asked.

“Why?” Emma replied, jiggling the key, then turning the knob. The door swung open into darkness.

“Darn it. He’s asleep,” Emma said, looking back over her shoulder. “Better be quiet, Cam. Can you be quiet?”

“Go in, for Chrissakes. I need a drink.”

Emma took off her other heel and stepped inside, the straps looped on her index finger. It was dark, so dark she couldn’t see anything. She ran her hand along the wall by the door, found the light switch. The lamp in the foyer cast its yellow glow into the hallway. Tommy’s bike was leaning against the wall. Careful not to knock it over, she pulled Cameron inside and shut the door. Made her way down the hall into the living room.

Turned on the light. Saw red, and it took a moment for reality to penetrate her margarita-fogged brain.


Not red.


Blood, everywhere. The sofa, the floor, the wall by the two-seater bar.

Emma stood frozen, unable to move. Cameron was busy getting sick behind her, gagging and choking. Only then did the smell of the blood hit her, meaty and raw, like steaks left too long in the refrigerator, their surface shiny and green.

Want to run, want to hide, want to go away.

Something kept her rooted to the spot. “Tommy?” she called.

There was no answer.

“Stay here,” she told Cameron, an unnecessary direction. Cam was on her hands and knees, moaning, trying and failing to scrabble backward away from the living room and the vomit. She bumped up against the hallway wall and ducked her head into her hands, eyes squeezed tightly shut. She wasn’t going to be of any help.

Careful to avoid stepping in the blood, Emma moved along the edges of the living room. Tommy’s bedroom was down the hall. It was dark. There were no sounds but Cameron’s low keening, which sent shivers down Emma’s spine.

“Please,” she said, uncertain to whom the plea was directed. Please don’t let this be Tommy’s blood. Please don’t let him be hurt. Please don’t let him be dead. Please please please please please.

His door was shut. She steeled herself, took two deep breaths. The smell was worse here, tighter, fresher. Almost alive in its awfulness.

She opened the door, flipped on the light.


Over and over and over again.



Don’t forget, if you pre-order WHAT LIES BEHIND, you get more treats. Send your receipt to and you’ll receive classified material from my top-secret author files, downloadable to your e-reader or other device.



Via: JT Ellison


5.8.15 - Pre-order WHAT LIES BEHIND, Get Classified Material

By JT Ellison

Want a special “director’s cut” (okay, editor’s cut) of a chapter in WHAT LIES BEHIND? When you pre-order the book and send your receipt to, you’ll receive classified material from my top-secret author files, downloadable to your e-reader or other device.



Via: JT Ellison


5.5.15 - A DEEPER DARKNESS e-book sale!

By JT Ellison

Wanna prep for the release of WHAT LIES BEHIND, Sam Owens #4, later this month? Some of your favorite ebook retailers are here to help you out. A DEEPER DARKNESS, Sam Owens #1, is only $0.99 now until May 11! Find your favorite e-retailer below:

Amazon Kindle:
Amazon Canada Kindle:
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Via: JT Ellison


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