Category Archives: JT Ellison

A WORD ON WORDS with Helen Ellis

By J.T. Ellison

I think housewives are powerful and slightly deranged. But so am I.

Years ago I read a debut novel by a woman named Helen Ellis. Her book was EATING THE CHESHIRE CAT, and I loved it.

Then I heard nothing of Helen Ellis for sixteen years.

Until she resurfaced with a brilliant book of short stories last year called AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE (which you must read). And as you can see by my enthusiasm-runneth-over energy, I could not wait to interview Helen, to get a peek into her dark, humorous mind.

Helen Ellis is a powerhouse, y’all, and it’s time she become a household name.

In our delightful chat, Helen and I talk about living as a Southerner in “the Ultimate North,” whether the New York or South is a more sinister place, when it’s okay not to be nice, and why Maybelline lipstick may be the world’s most frightening fashion accessory.

Via: JT Ellison


Author Assistant 101: The Best Tool I Use to Collaborate with My Author

By J.T. Ellison

Hi, guys! Amy here, dreaming of all the tacos I’ll be eating tomorrow on Cinco de Mayo. 🌮

Like I’ve said before, I spend most of my days in the elastic waistband heaven of yoga pants.

It’s a great time to be alive, folks.

As an author assistant (or a “virtual assistant” as some might say), I can work remotely as long as I have a Wi-Fi/4G connection. My office has been a coffee shop, a doctors’ office, on the shore of a lake, on top of a mountain, and even the beautiful parking lot of a 7-Eleven (glamorous is the life I lead).

“But, Amy,” you ask, “how do you and J.T. stay on the same page if you’re working in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven and she’s . . . (hopefully) not?”

Fair question, dear reader. The simple answer is: the Internet is a magical thing.

The long answer?

During our tenure, J.T. and I have tried several organization tools and project management systems, programs of all sizes and stripes. Some were bare bones, some super robust. But only one has stood the test of time.

Look at kate spencer! She's organized on all of her platforms and winning at life.

Look at kate spencer! She’s organized on all of her platforms and winning at life.

I ❤️ you, Wunderlist.

Wunderlist is a cloud-based task manager on slight organizational steroids (and I mean slight in the best way possible). It’s an effective tool with enough bells and whistles to keep our business running, but not so robust that we’re spending all our time organizing tasks without actually doing the very tasks we’re organizing (a problem with other platforms we’ve used, but that’s a story for another day).

So why do J.T. and I use Wunderlist? A few reasons:

1. Wunderlist gives a birds-eye view of every single project we have in the works. At a glance, we can see the weekly and monthly to-do’s for each of us, look at each project’s workflow, or refer to our database of easy-to-access team information.

2. It updates in realtime. This helps us see changes the other may be making—along with notifications so that we know somebody has added or changed something if we don’t have our eyeballs directly on the app.

3. It doesn’t give us data fatigue. Wunderlist has three levels of organization that just happen to mirror our workflows: Project —> Tasks —> Sub-tasks. Through two years of trial and error, we’ve discovered that this is only as granular as we need. Anything more, and we start to lose things, and our brains turn to mush.

But perhaps more importantly:

How do J.T. and I use Wunderlist as Author and Author Assistant?

We divide our information like this:

1. Weekly tasks (for each of us)

2. Monthly tasks (for each of us)

3. Reminders/Database (good for information

4. Staff Meeting Agenda

5. Project To-Do’s and Workflows

At our weekly Staff Meeting, J.T. and I will go through our Staff Meeting Agenda (which we curate in Wunderlist—it’s our dumping ground for things to discuss every week that aren’t time-sensitive and would require more emails than we care to send). As we talk through each bullet, we can drag the task to the appropriate person to complete. Then we go through our task lists and workflows, making sure we’re each on track to complete our projects by deadline.

Behold, our organizational glory! This is one of our task lists. See? Robust, but not overwhelming. (and can you tell we love emojis? ❤️ 🙌 🌈 )

Behold, our organizational glory! This is one of our task lists. See? Robust, but not overwhelming.
(and can you tell we love emojis? ❤️ 🙌 🌈 )

Placing our meeting agenda in our task manager means fewer things will slip through the cracks. I can’t stress enough how useful Wunderlist has been here. Even if one of us is traveling and we have to meet via FaceTime, the format of our staff meetings still runs the same. And even if one of us moves to a villa in Europe (a girl can dream 🏰), as long as we have Wi-Fi, J.T. and I can still run our business virtually the same way.

Here are a few of my favorite Wunderlist features (I sound like a used car salesman at this point, but I don’t even care—this is how much I love this thing, and I’m not even paid to):

1. The notifications I mentioned earlier—you can receive an alert when someone else has added or changed an item

2. Star your high-priority items to ensure they don’t get lost in the shuffle

3. View all your tasks due today and this week, and even all starred tasks, thanks to Wunderlist’s handy view selection.

Bottom line, folks—Wunderlist is extremely flexible, can provide a birds-eye view of your business or a pretty granular one, whichever you need. Rest assured, J.T. and I will definitely keep this in our organizational arsenal for as long as we can.

Do you use Wunderlist? Which organizational tools are your favorites? Which ones should we try? Tell us in the comments!

Via: JT Ellison


Sunday Smatterings

By J.T. Ellison

Hi, chickens! How’s it going? Are you ready for April showers to give way to May flowers?

This week, I’m getting ready to meet up with the brilliant Catherine Coulter to plot Nicholas & Mike’s 5th (5th!!?!?) Brit adventure! Hanging out with CC is always a blast. We eat good things, we shop, we watch Harry Potter. Oh yeah, and we write. 😜 I couldn’t ask for a better creative mind to partner with, let along hang out with. I always look forward to these weeks!

Anyway, without further ado…

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

What are your mornings like? Are you running around, chasing kids who’ve transformed into banshees overnight, taking out the dog with a bursting bladder while burning the toast and praying, for the love of everything holy, that by some miracle you actually chose to put your keys in your purse instead of flinging them who knows where when you got home last night? Sounds like your morning routine may need a minimalist makeover. Here are 6 minimalist routines that will help you calm the morning chaos.

In the same vein: this woman has worn the same outfit every day for a year. Capsule wardrobe, uniform, whatever you want to call it: she’s brilliant.

Book-to-TV lovers, this one’s for you [spoiler police says to proceed with caution]: 4 things about HBO’s BIG LITTLE LIES that need to be addressed.

If this isn’t click bait, I don’t know what is: this 75-year-old Harvard study found one secret to living a fulfilling life. Curiosity abounds…

I’m in the middle of remodeling/redecorating my house, and I’m on the hunt for a new way to arrange my bookshelves. There are tons of beautiful bookshelving ideas in this article from British Vogue (those classy Brits!).

Important: you can now purchase your very own Hobbit hole! (jury is out on whether second breakfast is included)

How good are you with synonyms? After this quiz, you might realize you’re not as good as you think. (it’s a tricky one!)

And closer to home:

This week on the Tao, I wrote about why it’s important to finish what you start (I honed in on writers, but it’s applicable to almost any task or career, really).

Also on the Tao: my intrepid A WORD ON WORDS co-host Mary Laura Philpott takes the reins and chats with literary wonder Yaa Gyasi about her brilliant debut novel, Homegoing.

Oh. And LIE TO ME got its first review, and it’s glowing, and don’t worry about me, I just have something in my eye… (spoiler alert: it’s a detailed review, so steer clear if you want to be COMPLETELY surprised, but if you’re hungry for a few details, by all means, go read!)

That’s it from me! Welcome May with open arms, stop and smell a rose or two, and we’ll talk again soon.


Via: JT Ellison


A WORD ON WORDS with Yaa Gyasi

By J.T. Ellison

“If I had known how much research it was going to take when I started writing this, I never would have written it.”

This week, my intrepid co-host Mary Laura Philpott takes the reins and chats with literary wonder Yaa Gyasi about her brilliant debut novel, Homegoing. Gyasi’s novel tells the story of two half sisters born in Ghana in the 18th century. The girls grow up never knowing each other, then their lives diverge even further—one marries a British slaver, the other is sold into slavery—and the book follows their descendants to the present day.

Yaa and Mary Laura talk how this novel was born, the importance of family lineage, and about LeVar Burton. 🦋 Check it out!

Via: JT Ellison


On Finishing What We Start, and Other Writerly Myths

By J.T. Ellison

This first appeared on Women Writers. If you don’t follow their awesomeness, go do it right now!

I often joke with friends that if you don’t finish what you start, you’ll end up with a trail of half-eaten sandwiches around the house.

I don’t remember where I first heard this analogy for unfinished work, but it’s such a vivid image that it’s stuck with me all these years. Can you imagine how messy your home would be if every discarded idea lay on the floor, cluttering up your space?

I know for me, it would mean trudging through mounds of detritus, some tiny specks of dust, some true dust bunnies. Others would be larger, mean and angry, like broken furniture, all sharp and crooked, just waiting to catch my leg and leave a deep gash.

We don’t want that.

So I’m careful with what I entertain. When I have what I think is a solid idea, I open a Scrivener file, give it a title, and create a book journal. This journal is important: I use it to explain what the thought is about and why I’m writing it down. Manifestation is a powerful thing—I don’t do this unless I feel like the idea has real legs. I save this new project to a folder called—quite originally, I might add—Ideas. Every once in a while, I run through them. A good 75% of the time, when revisited, the idea has faded away. Which tells me it wasn’t that good to start with. The ones that are still as vivid and exciting as the day I put them in the file, those are the ones that I think long and hard about starting.

Because if I start a story, I finish it. I refuse to allow myself to abandon a project once it’s underway.

That sounds harsh, I’m sure. That I’m lashing my Muse to the prow of the ship and heading into dark waters with hurricane warnings ahead. And yes, sometimes, that’s how starting feels to me. A journey into the heart of darkness, with no idea of whether what lies ahead will be good, bad, or something in between.

But when I sit down to write a story, be it a short or a novel, I do so with a commitment to finish paramount in my mind.

Starting is hard. Finishing, though, is sometimes much, much more difficult.

I’ve been planning this blog for several days. I didn’t want to start it until I had a solid hour ahead in which I knew I could get it drafted. Today was the day. In one of those odd universe-timed moments, a friend wrote me right before I started with a question. She’s been balls to the wall on deadline for the biggest book of her career. All she’s wanted for weeks is to Get. It. Done. Already.

And today, the day she’s going to finish, she woke up and had the most jarring thought—that she didn’t want to let it go.

This, I believe, is why finishing is so hard.

Her emotion is one I am intimately familiar with. Every time I’m nearing the end of a story, I have the same sensation. For days, months, even years, in some cases, all I’ve wanted it to get the book done and off my plate. But when the moment presents itself, suddenly finishing doesn’t feel good. It feels too big. Too scary.

Finishing means your work will no longer be your own. To me, that’s a thousand times scarier than starting.

I believe this is why so many ideas are abandoned. Because when you finish, you have to let your work out into the world, where it will be judged. We’re writers, and this is a subjective industry. Some people will love your story. Some will hate it. That’s the nature of the beast.

The trick is to not let the beast slay you before you’ve even put the food in its maw.

All well and good, JT, you say. So tell me how to finish.

You just do.

You throw away your fear, you swallow the bile that rises at the thought of someone else reading your words, and you finish. And I don’t mean just putting an ending together and calling it done. You’ve spent all this time creating a brilliant story, why would you rush and throw something together so you can type The End? You won’t be happy, and neither will your Muse, and she won’t hesitate to let you know it.

No. Never that. You must be brave. You are a hunter. You must march deliberately into the darkness, your torch held high, and tap into your reckless abandon. That is the bait for the monster you must slay. Because all endings are monsters, and they do not like confidence, or excitement, or serenity.

When you find that perfect (or not so perfect) ending and wrestle it onto the page, crushing the biggest monster of all, two things will happen.

1 — You will have the incredible satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best (which is the psychological component you must overcome when finishing, because I heard the voice in the back of your mind say—But if this is my best, and people don’t like it, I will shrivel up and die in a corner—to which I say, bosh, no you won’t).

2 — You will experience something I like to call “creative satisfaction.”

Creative satisfaction is elusive and shy. She won’t come when called, and she will never show up willingly. She only pokes out her head when you’ve exhausted yourself, a balm for your wounds. She nestles next to you like a loving cat, tells you how fabulous you are for being brave, and gives you a sweet kiss on the forehead, one you’ll feel when the next new idea comes along. Real creative satisfaction fills you up, and gives you the strength to do it all over again.

But if you don’t finish, and finish strong, you’ll never find her.

Finish what you start. Find that ritual that tells the world you’re finishing (mine is donning my ragged old Harvard T-shirt. When I have it on, that’s a signal to the universe that today is finishing day—and I do it for every project!) and just get it done. Because I know you can do it, and do it well.

Write hard, my friends.

Via: JT Ellison


Sunday Smatterings

By J.T. Ellison

Happy Sunday, my lovely chickens! How’s it going? It’s exciting times here in the Ellison house. This week I had the pleasure of wearing my old, battered, torn, Harvard T-shirt— the T-shirt I wear for a particular special occasion.

Wearing Mah Finishing Shirt

Wearing Mah Finishing Shirt

What’s that, you ask? I FINISHED A NEW BOOK!!! ✨🎉🙌😎 My 19th novel. I can hardly believe it. This is the 19th time I’ve hauled that shirt out of the chest, and it worked again. I admit, it’s tradition. This shirt is my lucky charm, seriously. If I’m not wearing it, I simply can’t finish! There was much rejoicing and tears and queso post-finish. But. The very next day, I was back at it, editing my 18th novel, LIE TO ME, coming to your hot little hands September 5.

No rest for the weary, folks. Even when you have the best job in the world.

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

Okay, y’all, here’s one of the most important things you’ll read: fix the internet by writing good stuff and being nice to people. This is a wonderful, thought-provoking clarion call to get away from posts with only 140 characters, hostile trolls, and video ads that play unprovoked (WHY??) and back the days of thoughtful discourse, long blogs, and creative/independently-owned content.

Every time I read a post from Modern Mrs. Darcy (and look at her gorgeous photos), I take a deep breath and sigh. She always has a lovely thought with the pictures to match. This post is no different: 6 mini-resolutions keeping me healthy and happy and sane this spring. (ranunculus! 🌸)

Some food for thought for your money today: 7 Pieces of Financial Advice That Forever Changed My Life (the advice about the car is particularly insightful)

This is what I looked for when I hired #TheKerr: someone who knew different things from me. Together, we have a wider breadth of knowledge and skill set. Win.

If you need a good cry today, I give you 37 of the most heartbreakingly beautiful lines in literature. You’re welcome. 😭

And if you need something to pick you up from the depths of sorrow from the previous post, here are a few mistitled books and pitches imagined for them (I mean, who could argue with Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Scone? I’d read that… if it were gluten-free.)

I swear to you, if you saw Jack Kerouac’s house in St. Petersburg, FL, you would never believe he lived there (or maybe you would). In any case, it’s up for sale—but fans are trying to turn it into a museum.

And closer to home:

Gardeners, I need your help! I’m doing something different in the gardening realm this year and would relish your expertise in the comments.

We debuted a new episode of A WORD ON WORDS this week! I talked to local author Robert Hicks about his poignant historical novel, THE ORPHAN MOTHER.

Did you get the April newsletter this month? No? Sign up here, and get all whole inside scoop: fun news, exclusive contests (newsletter chickens got their own LIE TO ME ARC giveaway this month…), yummy recipes, and all kinds of tomfoolery. You even get a free ebook as a thank-you gift!

That’s it from me! Y’all have a nice week, open the windows, put some flowers in a vase, and we’ll talk again soon.


Via: JT Ellison


On Making Things—and Making Them Grow

By J.T. Ellison

True confessions time: I am a wanna-be gardener.

Wanna-be, because while I technically try to put in a garden every year, I’ve only had success exactly once, when my tomatoes wouldn’t stop producing fruit, and I made batch after batch of marinara sauce until I had to start giving it away. The remaining three years, they alternately died from a blight, were eaten by bugs, or simply didn’t produce any fruit at all.

The one thing I seem to grow without issue is sweet basil. I love nothing more than to whip up a fresh batch of pesto before your eyes and send it home with you while it’s still warm in its Tupperware, ready for dinner. Thankfully, the basil complies.

As for the rest… honestly, I suck at it. Should the zombie apocalypse come to pass, I fear we will most likely starve if I’m in charge of growing our food supply.

This year, I’ve decided to try something different. I’m going to put in a butterfly garden.

Why butterflies? Well, I have a deep, personal relationship with the whole concept of transformation. I have a butterfly tattoo on my left shoulder, and I will stop whatever I’m doing when one crosses my path, simply to watch its ethereal beauty. I love them, love how they symbolize growth and change, and I would love to provide a home for them.

I wasn’t aware that Nashville is on the Monarch butterfly migration path until last year, and decided there and then I needed to create a safe haven for the beauties in my backyard. I’ve been studying placement, have bought my seeds, and will be breaking ground in the next couple of weeks if it stays warm, in order to get it all built and ready for planting. I’m hoping I have better luck growing flowers than I do food. 🍅 🌿

Have you built a butterfly garden in your yard? Any and all suggestions welcome from you, fellow gardeners. Please drop a pearl of wisdom in the Comments section below! 🦋

Via: JT Ellison


Sunday Smatterings

By J.T. Ellison

Hello, my darlings. I am BACK from my social hiatus! Every year when Lent arrives, I take a break from social media, embrace the silence of the season as a way to re-center myself as the world wakes up and comes alive again, and me with it. When Easter comes, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated, having accomplished many things in the silence, namely the joy of having ritual in my life again, a quiet space to listen to the still, small voice inside of myself, whispering that all is okay, I am enough, go to the page and the words will come.

And they do. They always do.

I admit, I miss you when I’m on hiatus. I like chatting with you, catching up, seeing what’s new and what you’re into these days. Some days the silence doesn’t come as naturally as others, and I feel restless when I can’t pop in for a quick hello, how are you?

But. Easter is here, and spring with it, and here I come bounding back into the energy of the world. It’s good to be back again.

Anyway. On to the links!

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

This article, right here. The name alone is compelling enough: What If All I Want Is a Mediocre Life? (To be fair, I don’t think “mediocre” is the word I’d use. Maybe just… normal. Quiet. Content.) There’s something to be said for a life with less striving and more being. It’s a wonderful, thought-provoking read.

Also this, because life is messy, and life is hard: Here’s to All of You Trying to Make the Most of a Bad Situation. I agree with the idea that we should celebrate the heroes among us who are finding ways to get by, instead of ways to get glory.

In that vein, here are 50 Ways to Live Life on Your Own Terms. Because self-empowerment is a beautiful thing. This read has really realigned the way I’m approaching most everything in my life.

Something lighter, all told in Gilmore Girls gifs, because Gilmore Girls: 15 Things All Book Lovers Fight About. (I guarantee you’ll find a couple that make you go 😡)

Oh, and Peggy Noonan won the Pulitzer, which I just love, because I love her (and have for decades). I don’t always agree with her, but she was the most powerful female voice in D.C. when I Iived there, (she’s a writer, remember. The pen is mightier than the sword… 1,000 points of light… shining cities on hills, you know, the idealistic view of life and politics, the one I fled from with great sadness?) and she stuck with me.

Aspiring thriller writers, are you stuck? Don’t worry—this is the best way to start a book. Even Neil Gaiman says so.

And a last little lovely for your brain: these are the writing retreats from some of our favorite authors. (LOVE.)

And closer to home:

Gymnasts start at age three or four. So how do they really know what they really want, and how do the parents know when their [own] desires have taken over? –says the wise and über talented thriller writer Megan Abbott in this week’s A WORD ON WORDS episode.

We touched on her latest book, YOU WILL KNOW ME, and why genre distinction doesn’t really matter (a good story is a good story, y’all).

Are you looking for more good things to fill your ears? I found a few podcasts I really, really enjoy… and invent errands to drive around town for so I can listen.

LIE TO ME ARC contest

Big news: my 2017 standalone, LIE TO ME? It has a cover—and it is GORGEOUS!!! You can learn more about the book here. (FYI: I think it’s the best one I’ve ever written. Dead serious.)

Guess what? Three of you won’t have to wait until the book comes in September to read it. Oh, no. Because three of you can win an ARC!!!!!! Click here to learn how to enter to win.

That’s it from me, y’all! Enjoy your Easter Sunday (maybe you found the prize egg??), or your Passover, should you celebrate one or the other, pick a few flowers and put them in a vase, bring cookies to your elderly neighbors. We’ll talk again soon.


Via: JT Ellison


A Word on Words with Megan Abbott

By J.T. Ellison

Gymnasts start at age three or four. So how do they really know what they really want, and how do the parents know when their [own] desires have taken over?

I had a blast talking with one of the most talented novelists of our time, thriller writer Megan Abbott. We touched on her latest book, YOU WILL KNOW ME, a fascinating look into the life of a gymnastics prodigy and who the ambition for greatness really belongs to—child or parent? We also touched on why genre distinction doesn’t really matter (a good story is a good story, y’all).

Via: JT Ellison