Category Archives: JT Ellison

6.17.14 - On Shitty First Drafts

By JT Ellison

This is one of my favorite quotes, because it is so very true. I know writers who are done with their work when they type The End, but for the vast majority of us, The End means the real work is just beginning.

Which is why I was reluctant to send pages north. Of course, yesterday I realized I needed to make changes to one of the chapters I’d sent. And so it goes – note to editor, changes made in manuscript, the damn autopsy chapter finally written, and the sudden realization that now, with this “tweak” — because it wasn’t as big of a change as I thought work wise — the book has altered tremendously, in ways I don’t even understand yet.

It’s days like today I enjoy writing so much, when a story twists in on itself, when something unexpected happens. This is also why I don’t like outlining. I like to write shitty first drafts. I like to make mistakes, to realize I’ve given too much information, that it would be best to pull back, layer in what I know later. I can’t imagine doing it all right the first time.

1000 net today, plus finished the critique of a dear friend’s manuscript, and did a nice interview with a magazine here in town. Listened to a little Rachmaninoff, read some on A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES during my lunch break. Talked to BFF and was encouraged to get over myself and write the damn scene already. (Which I did, so there.) Off to see Malificent with the DH tonight, which means… popcorn for dinner!

Also, Catherine has a giveaway for 5 advanced reader copies of her new Savich and Sherlock book, POWER PLAY. It’s a stunner! Enter here.

Via: JT Ellison


6.16.14 - On The Business of Mondays

By JT Ellison

Ah, Monday.

I started with the best of intentions today, and ended up with exactly zero words on the WIP, because other pressing projects took precedence. I know, I know, NOTHING should take precedence over my writing, but sometimes, the business of writing does get in the way.

I am reading a manuscript for a friend, and I want to give her a tight turnaround. I talked about the secret project at length with another. Mum needs a bit of extra attention now that she’s home. There is an interview waiting in my inbox, a website reboot underway, and I tweaked the fonts on my own site today, trying to get it to look just so. Had two calls with NY, and of course, kittens…

The truth is, the business of being a writer can sometimes become overwhelming in its many forms. It would be lovely if we were simply sent off into the hinterlands to produce words of impact, but that rarely happens in the modern publishing world.

It’s not all bad. Sitting at my dining room table signing tip sheets this weekend, I had one of those utterly surreal, I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d be doing this moments. I do so love my job.

But … without a daily word count, the books don’t get written. So the good, the bad, the ugly about the business end doesn’t matter a whit if I don’t accomplish the other part. The creative part. Which, truth be told, is kicking my ass at the moment.

I sent the first 100 pages of Sam #4 to my editor Friday. I’m not waiting for her to get back to me, but am soldiering forth – and today ended up being a day of thinking, trying to decide how best to do so. I think I came up with something, so tomorrow, with my schedule cleared, I will attack the idea and see where it takes me.

Also, I promised a photo of my now completed office wall — I love the way it all came together, and there’s just enough room for a few more book covers…

Via: JT Ellison


6.13.14 - On Being Creatively Satisfied

By JT Ellison

The Winter of our Discontent

I’ve been wanting to write a long form piece on creative satisfaction, but since I haven’t gotten around to it, I’ll delve in here briefly. An interviewer asked Merlin Mann if he was creatively satisfied. I loved the question, and asked it of myself. The answer was a resounding no, for all the reasons I spoke about yesterday.

With deadlines and multiple series and rushing all the time, I still don’t feel like I’ve hit my stride, found the perfect character, the right story. I have too many books I want to write. And time, she is a ticking, you know? My creative biological clock has been on fire recently. I feel oddly like time is running out. I’ve hit middle age (not sure how the hell THAT happened) and while I feel twenty-seven, reality is, I’m not. I won’t be able to do this forever. And the amount of story in my head that needs to come out, well, everyone tells me I need to slow down, but if I do, I won’t get them all down.

It’s that lost eight years, when I quit writing entirely because of my boob of a teacher, coming back to haunt me. I’ve written fourteen novels in eleven years (ten in the past eight). So say I’d written a book a year during that lost time, and a book a year since, then I’d be at twenty-one now.

So I guess I’m only seven behind. Well. That changes things. By the end of 2016 or early 2017, I should be caught up to where I should be.

A relaxing thought.

Silly, huh?

200 words only today, but edited a large chuck and sent off the first 100 pages to my editor. Working this weekend, I’ll make up for it, I’m sure.


6.12.14 - On Being Present

By JT Ellison

I am a huge fan of Dani Shapiro. I love her blog, I love her new book on creativity, I love her deliberateness, her mindfulness, her patience. I also realized we title our blogs the same way, with an On prefix. With so much admiration for the woman, you’d think I’d do all in my power to emulate her.

And I do, in so many ways. I’m trying to be more deliberate, more mindful, more patient with myself. But today I read this piece and simply couldn’t relate.

What next? she asks herself. She has been on book tour, traveled, taught, done all the things that sap our creativity. And now she needs to know what to work on next.

And I suppose this is a great failing of mine, why I am not as deliberate as I’d like, because I have an inability to stop and wonder, what next?

Since I signed my very first book deal, I have been on deadline. I’ve done four deals with Mira, each for three books. Written two books a year, minimum, since 2006. The deals with Catherine and Putnam are for two books at a time, too. Between Samantha books and Nicholas books, I’m scheduled out through 2016 right now.

That means there’s always a deadline, a need to think ahead, to anticipate when a proposal is due. To be coming up with ideas for what’s next well in advance of when I’ll have to share said ideas. I’m usually thinking what next when I’m about 50K into a book – then again, I write series, so it’s easier to be in the moment for the characters storyline, to see where they need to go in their arc, than if I were writing standalones.

And it’s been an incredible blessing. I function better this way. I can’t imagine writing being any other way.

That said, it’s very hard to stay present when you’re always living in the future.

I have so many books I want to write, so many ideas and proposals and stories that need telling. So many genres I want to try. People ask where do I get my ideas — my problem is, I get them everywhere, all the time, and I don’t have nearly enough time to write them all.

What next?

I look forward to the day I can truly ask that of myself.

2228 words today. Moving the story forward. (she says, smiling…)



By JT Ellison

I haven’t been posting much lately, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ll be honest, I turned my daily journaling here private after an uncomfortable run in with someone who made me realize nothing we say or do on the internet is private. And I of course ran the other direction screaming, because I am at heart a rather private person, and, and, and….

But, I miss blogging. I miss the interaction, the examination of my work, the insights I gain when I try to put things I’m doing and thinking into words. Doing it for myself is a journal, which we all know I dislike. Doing it as a blog feels, somehow, more constructive. And damn it, it’s not right that I let a stranger chase me away from something I generally like doing.


1200 words today on Sam #4 – WHAT LIES BEHIND – taking me over the 21K mark. This book has been giving me fits, as they all do until I hit the magical 25K/100 page point. That’s when things suddenly start making sense, the little subconscious breadcrumbs I’ve left behind begin to show themselves, and I get an idea of what the story is about. But this one – wow. Nothing works, the story won’t coalesce. Yesterday, I finally realized I needed to have myself a little come to Jesus with the story, see what was wrong, let my mind make some leaps.

My biggest problem: I tried to outline this one before I started writing. Enormous fail. It knocked me off my game for a month, the book suffered, and that was a month I didn’t have to lose. I’ve been kicking around the first 70 pages for three weeks now, two steps forward, three steps back. Procrastinating and dribbling words onto the page and all the amateurish things I do when I’m stuck. (It is not writer’s block. Well, actually, it is, but it’s my story telling me I’m off on the wrong path. Story is always right!)

And then… this morning, after taking a deep breath and rolling up my sleeves and putting on the Deathly Hallows soundtrack with the express intent of either making it work or throwing it out, an idea came.

I think I’m on the right track now – it’s been a day of enormous breakthroughs, which makes me feel much better about making the August 1 deadline.

So help me, chickens. Cheer me on. Tell me what you’ve been up to. Ask questions. Let’s get things back on track here, shall we?

My favorite link today: Elizabeth Gilbert on Craft (via the divine Ariel Lawhon) which is a perfect jumping off point for tomorrow.


On Ole, Ole, Ole and the Creative Process

By JT Ellison

“‘Ole!’ to you, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer – and that’s saying something, as there are too many cool things to count (Working in pajamas! Reading! Cats!) is sitting down with other writers and discussing the creative process. It is the one topic that transcends all others. Numbers matter not a whit when one is faced with the cosmic opening that comes when another writer explains HOW THEY DO IT.

We seek out tomes on the subject, gobble up blogs, tweet our heroes, take friends to lunch, searching for nuggets of wisdom. I call it Seeking OPP — Other People’s Process.

OPPs are always shiny, exciting, logical. Everyone else’s process looks so gloriously awesome, so intrinsic and organic. We listen at conferences, smacking ourselves – Why didn’t I think of that? How come I don’t have that level of understanding of my work? This must be why it takes so long to write a book, I need to be doing X, or Y, or Z.

I am a huge fan of the “How I Work” series on Lifehacker. Even though the vast majority of the people don’t work in my industry, seeing them drill down into what works and what doesn’t give me hope that one day, I too will figure it out.

I have a long and varied list of things I do and own because of OPP. To name a few I can’t seem to live without:

  • Clairefontaine Notebooks
  • Levenger Circa Planner for research
  • Blackwing Pencils
  • Lamy Fountain Pens
  • MacAir
  • Scrivener
  • Evernote

These are just the OPPs I use for myself now. I did a piece a while ago on my writing tools. You’ll see all the fun things I do and use and can’t live without.

But what does any of this really mean?

I’ll tell you what. Nothing. It means nothing. Tools are camouflage for the real work. All you truly NEED is your brain, and a way to write down the story. No one elsee’s schedule or notebook or writing program will give you that secret, magical moment that turns ideas into a book. Only you can do that.


Because, the truth of the matter is, when we look each other in the eyes, and bare our souls, one thing becomes self-evident. We don’t know HOW it all happens.

Yes, yes, we know empirically. We can quantify our work in a million ways: numbers of words and pages written in a day, the pride we take in our habits — the daily habit of sharpening the pencil or opening the laptop lid at the same time — the tea we consume by the barrel-full, the incense and candles we burn, the multiple lares and penates needed in our writing environment to properly compose. We sit across tables and text messages and emails and blogs and share our methods, ever fascinated by the other. We laugh at each other’s random needs, sit in awe of levels of productivity, commiserate on the darlings that must be murdered.

But the HOW of it? HOW does an idea take form, spill onto the page, and become a story? HOW does a proper name, created by stroking keys or laying down lead, become a living, breathing person, to whom millions can connect though out the ages? HOW do we do this?

Leads us to WHY? Why were we chosen? Why are we given this particular gift. From whom does it come? God? Monkeys?

Well, Elizabeth Gilbert (along with many others, surely, but this is the best example I’ve seen in a while) thinks it’s God. I can’t recommend watching her TED talk highly enough…

I am always interested to see the word God these days. We seem to think religion has become a line in the sand, something we aren’t ever allowed to discuss. And yet, and yet, and yet…. God is everywhere around us. I am not big into organized religion of any sort, either from my Episcopal upbringing or my buddhist study, but I am a very spiritual person. I don’t feel the need to sit inside a building and listen to someone else talk to me of God, because I can step onto my back deck and see the majesty we live within, and know.

And maybe that’s part of my gift as well.

But I’m with Ms. Gilbert. I truly think what we writers, all artists, have is a gift, something we were blessed with. Something not everyone has, and not everyone wants.

OPP, God, whatever… if you want to be a successful writer, there’s only one thing you really need.

To just do it already.

Ole, Ole, Ole, to all of you today!


7 Minutes with…Laura Benedict

Ah, Laura Benedict. I could write thousands of words about this girl. I’ve been a fan for years, since her incredible debut, ISABELLA MOON, then a long weekend conference in Chicago many moons ago cemented for life an already burgeoning friendship. Over the years, she has been editor, confessor, friend, golf partner, cheerleader, and so much more. She’s all class and sass, and a very gifted writer.

When I first read BLISS HOUSE, I was floored. The opening page sets the scene so perfectly, captures the voice of the book impeccably, and I knew I was in for a ride. Laura’s writing has only improved with time. Always smart, it is now so polished and sophisticated it takes my breath away. BLISS HOUSE is the book of the summer, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I love it so much I’m giving away a copy today – just leave a comment to be entered.

So. On to the interview with my darling friend and sister-in-arms, Laura Benedict.


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

Julie London singing Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer’s “Blues In the Night.” It’s a classic, and I love London’s velvety, swinging take on it. (it was followed by Elvis Costello’s “(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea.” Talk about a strange juxtaposition.)

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

I’m coming in on the end of a short story about a woman whose husband has thrown her out of the house because he’s come to believe she’s a murderer. Unlike my novels, it’s a straight crime story and has no supernatural elements.

What’s your latest book about?

BLISS HOUSE tells the story of Rainey Bliss Adams, who has brought her daughter, Ariel, to live in the Bliss ancestral home in Old Gate, Virginia. While at first the house seems to help Ariel heal from the tragic accident that badly burned her and killed her father, it begins to reveal its true nature and horrific past after Ariel witnesses a spectral scene that results in a very real dead body in Bliss House’s grand front hall. The house has secrets that it—and the residents of Old Gate—are reluctant to reveal. But only their revelations will save Rainey and Ariel.

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

I can’t bear to be tied to my desk all day. It’s one of the reasons I left the corporate world and never looked back. I compose fiction on my laptop, for the most part, and usually park myself on the couch or even in bed (I know. It’s totally decadent!) after everyone is gone from the house in the morning. But I edit my fiction and type blogs, interviews, research questions, etc. on my desktop iMac in the afternoon. I do my plotting and daydreaming in big hardcover spiral journals using a plain old pencil. Never mechanical pencils though. My kids love them, but they seem too fragile, too impermanent for me.

What was your favorite book as a child?

The Poky Little Puppy was my first favorite. I know he eventually had to fall into line to get dessert, but I secretly loved his rebel nature. I never have been good at respecting authority, even though it meant I was often in trouble. I’m convinced he was ADD, like me. Also, I loved the implication at the end that puppies could read the sign: “NO DESSERTS EVER UNLESS PUPPIES NEVER DIG HOLES UNDER THIS FENCE AGAIN!”

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

“All writers know you must hurry to your work in the morning before being derailed, seduced, entranced by another, irresistible “voice.” –Joyce Carol Oates

I took this quote from her twitter feed. I’m especially attracted to the “All writers know…” admonition, which implies that we’re all as single-minded as she is. I very much wish I were. Perhaps that’s why I find it so motivating.

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

If I’m stuck I’ll pop outside for a walk with the dogs, or take a catnap. Either really clean out the cobwebs and let me move on.

What would you like to be remembered for?

My rapier wit. (Subject to opinion, of course!)

I can attest to that! Don’t forget to leave a comment for Ms. Benedict to have a chance to win her book – I’ll draw a winner Friday evening, so don’t delay.


Laura Benedict’s latest dark suspense novel is BLISS HOUSE (Pegasus Crime), praised as “Eerie, seductive, and suspenseful,” by Edgar award-winning author, Meg Gardiner. Laura is also the author of DEVIL’S OVEN, a modern Frankenstein tale, and CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS and ISABELLA MOON, both originally published by Ballantine Books. Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, PANK, and numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads (Oceanview), and Slices of Flesh (Dark Moon Books).

A Cincinnati, Ohio, native, Laura grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and claims both as hometowns. She currently lives with her family in the southern wilds of a Midwestern state, surrounded by bobcats, coyotes, and other less picturesque predators.

Visit to learn more about her and her books.

More about BLISS HOUSE (Coming June 15th, 2014)

Death never did come quietly to Bliss House…

Amidst the lush farmland and orchards in Old Gate, Virginia, stands the magnificent Bliss House. Built in 1878 as a country retreat, Bliss House is impressive, historic, and inexplicably mysterious. Decades of strange occurrences, disappearances and deaths have plagued the house, yet it remains vibrant. And very much alive.

Rainey Bliss Adams desperately needed a new start when she and her daughter Ariel relocated from St. Louis to Old Gate and settled into the house where the Bliss family had lived for over a century. Rainey’s husband had been killed in a freak explosion that left her 14 year-old daughter Ariel scarred and disfigured.

At the grand housewarming party, Bliss House begins to reveal itself again. Ariel sees haunting visions: the ghost of her father, and the ghost of a woman being pushed to her death off of an upper floor balcony, beneath an exquisite dome of painted stars. And then there is a death the night of the party. Who is the murderer in the midst of this small town? And who killed the woman in Ariel’s visions? But Bliss House is loath to reveal its secrets, as are the good folks of Old Gate.


7 Minutes with . . . Jennifer Brooks

By JT Ellison





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I’m so delighted to have Jennifer Brooks here today! Jennifer has been my first editor for many years, and she has just released her latest novel, WHISPER OF DARKNESS, a wonderful contemporary romantic suspense that you must add to your reading list. Her first book, NO EVIL LOST, was a winner as well. It’s as exciting for me to see her books for sale as it is for her, I think.

Without further ado, I give you my adorable sister from another mister, Jennifer Brooks!

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

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Billy Joel). Can I just comment on this? Since we’re talking about writing, it’s too perfect an allegory to let slide—it’s a story within a story: Two old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while meet for dinner, order a bottle of wine; the POV character catches his friend up on what’s been going on in his life, tells her how great she looks; they reminisce about old times, old friends; and then it’s time to go and it’s sad to see the evening end, knowing that it may be years before they see each other again, even though they agree to try to get together more often . . . all within the setting of Joel’s brilliant musical style, varying tempos, killer piano licks. One of my favorites. Sigh.

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

The next book! It’s a contemporary romance, a fish out of water tale about a young Chicago attorney, orphaned at a very young age, who finds the key to his past—and his future—on a Texas ranch. I wrote the original manuscript a few years ago, so it really just needs some dusting off and a bit of upgrading/tweaking/polishing. And a new title (to be revealed at a later date).

What’s your latest book about?

WHISPER OF DARKNESS is a romantic suspense about widowed author CJ Moore, who leaves her quiet life in Vermont for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to help a private production company adapt her most cherished book to the silver screen—and the psychotic fan who follows her there, intent on making sure the film is never made. It’s been called Nora Roberts meets Agatha Christie, and it has a bit of everything—intrigue, sex, humor, and a whole lot of tension, both romantic and suspenseful.

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

Ten years ago my husband and I were very fortunate to find a house that would accommodate our family of five so that each of us had our own “space”—mine is a 10 by 12 office, full of everything you’d expect a writer’s den to have: bookcases crammed to the hilt with all kinds of books, a couple of filing cabinets, a recliner, and two desks. This is my workshop, and these are my tools. The recliner is my reading space (when the kitten’s not sleeping in it). I use one desk for writing, on my laptop. The other desk has more books, mostly a collection of how-to’s on writing, reference books and such, as well as my CD player and music collection. (I have to have some kind of orchestral music playing while I write, always, or the Muse deserts me.) I generally write in Word, just because it’s been my friend and my crutch for about 25 years, although I do occasionally use Scrivener, which is the coolest program on the planet for getting your thoughts organized.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Oh my goodness I read everything when I was a kid—but my favorites were mysteries, mostly anything Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie. It seems funny to say a ten-year-old’s favorite book was And Then There Were None, but I thought it was the most brilliantly written thing I’d ever read in my life. If we’re going back further than that, my favorite children’s book was probably Ferdinand, the story of the bull who didn’t want to fight matadors but was more content to sit under his favorite cork tree and smell the flowers. Or Angus and the Cat. So precious.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

I think Stephen King came up with the most sound advice I’ve ever heard, even if it is the most simple—“Read a lot. Write a lot.” (I may be paraphrasing, but that was the gist.) I try to do at least a little of both every day, and would encourage other writers to do the same.

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

I have to take a break when that happens, and do something that stimulates and recharges my brain. Puzzles—of both the word and jigsaw variety—are my favorite vice. And hidden object games. But I read, too, to keep my finger on the pulse of the creative process. Once my cerebral palate is cleansed, I go back to the writing, and generally spot right away what the problem was in the first place. A very wise friend of mine (I won’t tell you her name, but her initials are J.T.) once said, “Writer’s block is your story’s way of telling you something’s wrong.” (Again, paraphrased.) But I’ve found that staring at the words on the page doesn’t give me the perspective I need to solve the issues.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Having raised my children well. And being the kind of woman that when my feet hit the floor each morning, the Devil said, “Oh crap, she’s up.”

Thanks for being here today, sweetie! Good luck with WHISPER OF DARKNESS!


Jennifer Brooks was born in Tucson, Arizona, the “quintessential Air Force brat” of a USAF fighter pilot and a stay-at-home mom who to this day is never seen without a book in her hand. An insatiable reader with an overactive imagination, Jennifer’s passion for literature manifested itself early in her youth, and she discovered her talent for writing during high school. In a career spanning 20+ years, Jennifer has written, edited and/or published a fairly lengthy list of books, novellas, short stories, essays, articles, interviews, and book and movie reviews, covering a wide range of genres, authors and topics in both the fiction and non-fiction realms.

Jennifer holds a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Indiana University. After a brief stint as a paralegal, she began working in the healthcare field and has now been there for almost 25 years. A bona fide Yankee transplanted to the South, she lives near Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and a small menagerie of cats and dogs. They have three adult children.

About WHISPER OF DARKNESS: Acclaimed mystery author CJ Moore has strayed out of her regular genre and written a gripping love story based loosely on her own life. After six years, CJ is still grieving the loss of her husband, and unlike her novel’s heroine, she has yet to find someone to mend her shattered heart. Now one of Hollywood’s biggest stars wants to turn her most cherished book into a blockbuster film, and their whirlwind romance is at the heart of the deal.

Unfortunately, CJ has an overzealous fan who believes they are ruining her story, and his obsession drives him to eliminate those he feels responsible. When heartbreaking truths from the past come to light, CJ’s emotional strength is pushed to its limits—until she learns to let go of the past, embrace the present, and find her happily ever after in the most unexpected of places.


Win Naming Rights to a JT Ellison Character!

By JT Ellison

It’s that time of year again, when the indomitable Brenda Novak hosts her annual Diabetes Auction. And I am so excited to be included!

I’m giving away a chance to win naming rights for a character in my upcoming Samantha Owens novel, WHAT LIES BEHIND, plus a signed set of Samantha Owens novels! Bidding starts today – so hop on over to the site and support a fabulous cause.


Entries must be made on the auction site.

A message from From Brenda Novak About the Auction

Join me help my son and all the others out there who suffer from diabetes, which is the 5th deadliest killer.

This year, the money from my efforts will be donated to The Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami.

The Diabetes Research Institute (DRI)is a recognized world leader in cure-focused research. Since its inception in the early 1970s, the DRI has made significant contributions to the field of diabetes research, pioneering many of the techniques used in islet cell transplantation. From innovations in islet isolation and transplant procedures to advances in cell biology and immunology, the Diabetes Research Institute is now harnessing the power of emerging technologies to develop new cell-based therapies to restore insulin production.

By bidding you will not only win some exciting and unique items and/or opportunities, you’ll be supporting a very worthy research-based organization. To find out more about the Diabetes Research Institute, visit their website at


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