Category Archives: JT Ellison

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

By JT Ellison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, create your quantifiables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, my dears, it completely up to you.

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

And with that, here endeth the series.

Via: JT Ellison


6.5.16 – Sunday Smatterings

By JT Ellison

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

On to the links!

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

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

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

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

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

And on the home front:

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

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

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

A last thought….

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

Via: JT Ellison


6.3.16 – 7 Minutes With… Daniel Palmer (Part Two)

By JT Ellison

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your latest book about?

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

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

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

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

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

What was your favorite book as a child?

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

What’s your secret talent?

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

Ed. Note: See Part One for more!

What book are you reading now?

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

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

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

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

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

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

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

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

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

Are you creatively satisfied?

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

What would you like to be remembered for?

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

Now for the really important questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Via: JT Ellison


6.2.16 – 7 Minutes With… Daniel Palmer (Part 1)

By JT Ellison

I have a special two-part interview with my friend Daniel Palmer today and tomorrow! Daniel is a brilliant thriller writer whose new book, FORGIVE ME, came out this week. But he’s also a talented musician, and I wanted to look behind the curtains with both his song writing and his book writing. Here’s Part One: Daniel Palmer the musician!


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

Uh oh, that’s a bit of a problem. See, I needed hard disc space for my work laptop, so I had to move my iTunes library to an external device. Wait…let me back up. I first had to take all my CDs, (because my laptop doesn’t have a CD player anymore) and rip each disc to digital MP3 format. Hours of effort later, I had thousands of tracks that I had to put on an external hard drive. To add them to iTunes (so I could hear them) meant filling up my hard drive with data again. Basically I have an empty iTunes library. To get my music fix I use Spotify and Sirius XM, none of which has a good shuffle feature. I miss albums, even though you can’t shuffle those either and they get dusty and all scratched up.

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

I’m trying to figure out how to fit a chorus to a verse I haven’t written yet. The song, Only Making Sparks, is about managing expectations. The chorus lyrics are pretty solid I think.

On my way home from my favorite bar
Laughing with my friends the back of a car
And I’m wondering where you are
I’m wanting fire, but I’m only making sparks

The verse has been elusive for a while now. Sometimes it comes quickly, other times you just have to wait for the right words to find you.

What’s your latest album about?

I’ve made two albums, ALIEN LOVE SONGS and HOME SWEET HOME. Both reflect a specific stage of my life. ALIEN is about finding love and figuring out who I am, what I have to offer a partner. In a way it’s a very robust Tinder profile. HOME is about being married, starting a family, and coming to terms with choices and tradeoffs. It’s about expectations, but also about the power of love to help overcome virtually any obstacle. One of my favorite tracks on that album is a tune called Nice to See You Smile. I wrote it when my wife and I were dealing with some difficult stuff. The song was my way of telling her that I’m there for her no matter what happens.

The times you find the most trying
Are the ones when your strength seems to fade
But from somewhere inside you
A little light guides you
And slowly it eases your pain
So, it’s nice to see you smile.

I have a third album of material ready to record. Thematically, it’s about getting older, striving, losing loved ones and trying to keep an optimistic outlook despite the pain. It’s not a depressing album, but it reflects the difficulty of forging a life and overcoming obstacles that get in our way of being happy.

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

I write in my office. The only tool I use is my guitar. I’d love to learn how to properly record music, but that’s an art form unto itself. For now, I’m going to stick with chord patterns, lyrics, and melodies because those are my strengths.

What was the first album that struck a chord with you? (pun completely intended)

I guess it’s got to be Endless Summer by the Beach Boys. Eventually I found my way to The Beatles, but the Beach Boys showed me the way.

What’s your secret talent?

I play a mean harmonica. I’m an okay rhythm guitarist, but I can solo on the harp and turn more than few heads.

Which album or artists have been pumping through your headphones lately?

I’ve been listening to the new Radiohead and Bowie’s last album Blackstar a bunch. Also Cautionary Tale by Dylan LeBlanc is amazing. My good buddy, Don DiLego has a new album coming out in a few weeks, Magnificent Ram A. It’s an incredible set of songs. Don produced my two albums and if I get to make a third, he’ll produce that one as well. He’s an amazing producer, musician, and songwriter.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

Never wanted to be a musician. I just was a songwriter. I did it naturally, instinctively. I tried to study piano, but instead of practicing what was on the sheet music, I spent my time writing songs. This was back when I was 10 years old. Songwriting is in my soul, it’s just a part of me, but very few people have ever heard my songs. I’m okay with it, too. I think the tunes I’ve recorded are pretty timeless. I can listen to Alien Love Songs, which I made almost sixteen years ago, and it still sounds good to me. It still sounds authentic and that’s what matters most.

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

My idols are John Lennon, Neil Young, and David Bowie. Sadly, I’ve only got one left. Haven’t met any of them. I would LOVE for Neil to hear my tunes, just to know he listened. Probably won’t happen, but as long as he is around there’s always a chance.

What’s your favorite bit of performing advice?

Don’t do what I did when my band opened for John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. I’ll give you a hint: it involved acid washed jeans, a lot of hair gel, and different colored bandanas tied around my legs.

What do you do if your creative juices aren’t flowing?

I put the guitar down. My living doesn’t depend on getting down a tune.

Are you creatively satisfied?

I’m happy with the albums I’ve recorded. I’m happy with the songs I have to record. I would like to make a third album and for more people to hear my music, but I’m cool if neither happens so I guess the answer is yes, I’m pretty darn satisfied.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Being a good friend, father, and husband.

Now for the really important questions:

· Beach or mountains? Beach

· Coffee or tea? Coffee

· Skydive or bungee jump? Barf bag

· Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla

· Winter or summer? Summah (that’s how we say it in Boston)

· Cake or pie? Pumpkin pie (had to be specific)

· Cats or dogs? Dogs! Mine is asleep at my feet.

· Pens or pencils? Pen, though I want to pencil guy

· Truth or dare? I’m a songwriter…all about the truth.

· Mp3’s or vinyl? See above. I miss my vinyl!

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

Alien love songs

Alien love songs

home sweet home

home sweet home

Via: JT Ellison


5.31.16 – 7 Minutes With… Alissa Moreno

By JT Ellison

Alissa Moreno‘s voice will break your heart and put it back together again. I’m not kidding. I first saw her play at a Nashville East Side Storytellin’ event, and sat entranced through her set. Of course, I had to introduce myself (something I NEVER do to celebrities), and we struck up a lovely friendship. She’s now part of my tribe, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I think she’s one of the most talented songwriters in Nashville. A lot of other people do, too. She’s also a yoga-loving, clean-eating freak like me, so we’re having a lot of fun sampling Nashville’s finest wares. It’s so incredible for me to see a completely different side of writing creativity—songwriting and performing are similar but so very different from books. I know you’re going to love her as much as I do.

Take it away, Alissa!


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

Well, embarrassingly, the first song that came up was my song “Get Back U”‘ but that is because I didn’t actually turn Shuffle on correctly the first time, and I was sending files off for mastering earlier today. So . . . once I overcame my computer challenges and correctly turned Shuffle on, “Still Sane” by Lorde started playing. She’s outrageously talented.

Oh, this is so fun! Rascal Flatts just came on—it’s their version of my song “Every Day” which I haven’t heard in years! Okay, I don’t focus well when I’m listening to music, so I’m going to come back to you when this song is done. Damn . . . Gary can sing!

Ha!! You crack me up! Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

Today (Friday) is a wild card day for me (my Fridays always are), which means I don’t have a consistent co-writing session. The focus today was on Easter and all the outrageous colors and art we can come up with for our Easter egg dyeing this year. I spent my day toting my adorable three-year-old son around, and I asked him if he wanted to hear my new song I wrote yesterday. He’s a great A&R guy, and he loves a pretty small percentage of what I write and record. I trust him. His reaction to this new song was so good, I called my co-writer/producer and gave her my edit ideas straight away.

You just released a new album called GETAWAY CAR. Congrats! What’s it about?

Thanks! Getaway Car is mostly about overcoming. And a little bit of straight-up surviving. It’s a more mature reflection on love and loss than my first album, In Your Wake, and it’s interesting to see the changes in perspective the last eight years have brought me.

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

I write everywhere. I write in studios and publishing offices around Nashville with grand pianos and a plethora of cool guitars. I write in airplanes with my MacBook and terrible tiny little headphones to a track a producer sends me. I write in my bed at three in the morning with my voice and my iPhone. The really fun writes are on boats and in exotic getaways designed by our publishers, labels, and management to keep us inspired. IT WORKS! Last summer I was in South Beach working on a project, and we discovered that we had a certain magic in one specific hotel room at the W, and another magic entirely on a tiny private island a few miles away.

What was the first album that struck a chord with you? (pun completely intended)

The Cure’s “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”. Something about Robert Smith’s vulnerability when he sings, paired with guitar and synth sounds that were so unique. Then add the melancholic and sometimes even tragic sentiment to the mix with catchy, intelligent melodies and hooky musical interludes . . . I can go on and on . . . . . .

What’s your secret talent?

Identifying people’s ayurvedic prakrutis (genetic make-up) and vikrutis (imbalances)

Which album or artists have been pumping through your headphones lately?

I have been on a listening fast—I do this from time to time to “clear out” and let my mind follow new paths to its own melodies, and to let the muse send in fresh ideas and concepts. The neat thing about this exercise is that it lends itself to my theory that there is a creative consciousness that many artists tap into. It’s as if we tune in to the same “station”, so to speak, because when I come up for air, there is usually a song out in my songwriting community or even on radio that is eerily similar.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

At about age 5. For the next 12 years, I vacillated back and forth between actor and musician, but music came very easily, and it seemed more immediate. I pictured myself reciting monologues at parties, and then I pictured myself playing guitar and singing around a campfire. Music won. I’ve always felt that actors face SUCH a challenge in finding the right script, getting through casting, having a great director, having chemistry with their fellow actors . . . the list goes on. But I can sing and share the gift of music ANYTIME I want. Anywhere. I’m grateful for that.

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

That’s a hard one! I have quite a few. Tori Amos, Trent Reznor, Sheryl Crow, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Ani DiFranco. I had the great pleasure of attending the U2 concert in Nashville a few summers ago and I got to meet The Edge backstage. He kissed my cheek and congratulated me on my song, and my life felt as if it had circled around and come back to me in a matter of seconds. It was bizarre and settling all at once. I was at the show with Bob Ezrin, a wonderful mentor and friend whose album, The Wall, defined my 7th grade experience. It was the soundtrack to my life, and it walked me through a lot. It was very surreal to think I was in the company of such amazing, accomplished, incredible musicians and human beings. We were backstage because of the friendship Bob and Edge have formed in creating their charity, Music Rising

What’s your favorite bit of performing advice?

Spend time getting to know your venue and the crowd before you go on, if at all possible.

What do you do if your creative juices aren’t flowing?

Write a song anyway.

Are you creatively satisfied?

This week? Extremely.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Being kind. Making people feel better. Fragmented sentences.

Alright, now for the really important questions:

  • Beach or mountains? Beach.
  • Coffee or tea? Lately, tea. High Garden Tea to be specific!
  • Skydive or bungee jump? Skydive!
  • Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla.
  • Winter or summer? Summer.
  • Cake or pie? Cake.
  • Cats or dogs? Dogs.
  • Pens or pencils? Pencils.
  • Truth or dare? Dare.
  • Mp3’s or vinyl? Vinyl.


Alissa Moreno was born on a small Navajo reservation then grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She co-wrote the Grammy-nominated hit “Every Day” for Rascal Flatts; her song “Far From Here” was the show ID for the Lifetime series Army Wives; and she co-wrote/co- performed ABC’s Hope and Faith theme song. Her music is featured in television and film with numerous songs licensed to The Vineyard, The Hills, Laguna Beach, How I Met Your Mother, Guiding Light, Will and Grace and many others, including the film Paul Blart: Mall Cop. She was the vocal coach to Ben Affleck for his award-winning role in Hollywoodland. Alissa currently lives in Nashville, and has written with and been recorded by artists such as Colbie Caillat, Alex Da Kid, Kina Grannis, Street Runner, JoJo, Chuck Wicks, Mallary Hope, Kate Voegelle, Javier Colon, Nikola Rachelle Bedingfield, Fast Ball, Big Al Anderson, Vince Gill and Vertical Horizon.

You can find Alissa’s music on:


Google Play

Alissa’s Website

Via: JT Ellison


5.29.16 – Sunday Smatterings

By JT Ellison

Welcome to Memorial Day weekend, chickens! It’s been a quiet one at Chez Ellison, as the mister and I contracted some sort of plague which includes a lovely low-grade fever. Which is okay, actually, because we’ve been going so hard and fast the past few months, a weekend off is agreeable to us both. The renovations are done too! We have new floors throughout the house, and finally have some peace.

Anywho, off to the Smatterings!

Here’s what happened on the ‘Net this week:

It’s no secret I am a fan of Steven Pressfield, and his blog this week, “The Blitzkrieg Method” on writing first drafts is stellar. Just vomit them out, people. You can fix the rest later.

I love the short form, and was excited to see the awesome list of 17 Stellar Short Stories You Should Read Online This Month.

This list of resources on furthering your education, called How to Make the Time to Learn, is priceless. I joke that I get a new Ph.D. every book, but it’s true — and now, here are some seriously awesome links to get you started on yours!

Because what is Smatterings without talking books: What Your TBR List Says About Your Personality. Full disclosure, I am adventurous. I know, you’re shocked.

And since we all need a little zen in our lives, I highly recommend a cuppa and ten minutes ruminating on this lovely, peace-filled essay: Calling on the Muse: A Meditation for Writers

And on the home front:

There is 1 day left to Win 11 Signed Thriller Novels PLUS a Brand New Kindle Fire! ENTER NOW!

I was blown away to hear NO ONE KNOWS on Modern Mrs. Darcy podcast, and then even more excited to learn it had been chosen for her exceptional 2016 Summer Reading Guide. You’ll find it in the Gripping Novels section!

On the Tao, I hosted my friend and fellow thriller writer Tosca Lee.

From The Wine Vixen: 9 Wines for Barbecues & Beaches This Summer Because it’s that time of year, peeps.

And we’ve got a sleek, exciting new newsletter coming your way next week. If you’re not a part of the list, join us!

That’s it from me, darlings. God Bless our fallen heroes, and be safe out there!



Via: JT Ellison


7 Minutes With… Tosca Lee

By JT Ellison

I’m so pleased to welcome my friend Tosca Lee to the Tao today. Her new book, THE PROGENY, kept me up way too late one night. A fabulous premise, I know you’re going to love it, and love her. And… she’s a newlywed! So give her some love! Take it away, Tosca!


Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?
Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer” 😀

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?
Edits for the sequel of The Progeny, Firstborn. And eating my way through half a rack of ribs. :>

What’s your latest book about?
A 21 year-old named Emily Porter, who is starting over in the North Woods of Maine after erasing her memory of the last two years . . . and soon learns she’s a descendant of the infamous “blood countess” Elizabeth Bathory—and that she’s being hunted. Now everything she erased to protect she needs to rediscover to stay alive.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
I spend most of my time writing at the farm where I live with my husband, three boys, a cat that drools when you pet her and a dog that drinks out of the toilet. I use Word to write in, but Scrivener to organize my notes and research. I think it also does a lot of other stuff like wash your dishes and organize your taxes, but I can’t figure it all out.

What was your favorite book as a child?
Green Eggs and Ham. Though I was very disturbed that the pictures weren’t in full color and so colored them in myself.

What’s your secret talent?
I can levitate peas. Okay, just one pea at a time. I can levitate pea. Ask me to amaze you next time I see you in person.

What are you reading now?
The Fifth Wave. I stole it from my 15 year-old.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Not until college. I had been talking with my dad about how my favorite books take you on this amazing ride, and how cool it would be to make a ride like that for others. And then I blurted out: “I think I want to write a book.” My dad made me a deal: if I spent the summer writing a novel, full-time, he’d pay me what I would have made working at the bank as a teller. So I took the deal and wrote my first novel—a historical novel about the Neolithic Stonehenge people. It’s still in my basement with the rest of my skeletons.

Who is your writing idol? Have you met him/her? If so, did you completely nerd out or keep your cool?
I stalked, met and took a picture with Lee Child last summer at Thrillerfest. I look like a complete grinning idiot.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
One I tell myself all the time: write like no one will ever read this. It keeps my first drafts honest and me sane.

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
Eat and watch TV.

Are you creatively satisfied?
Not yet!

What would you like to be remembered for?
Being a great mom.

Alright, now for the really important questions:

Beach or mountains? Beach

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Skydive or bungee jump? I broke out in a sweat just reading this question. Please, I want to live.

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate

Winter or summer? Summer

Cake or pie? Bacon

Cats or dogs? Dogs. (Sorry, Misty.)

Pens or pencils? Pens

Truth or dare? Dare me. Except to skydive or bungee jump.

Print or ebook? Print, every time.


Tosca Lee

Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Iscariot, The Legend of Sheba, Demon: A Memoir, Havah: The Story of Eve, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker (Forbidden, Mortal, Sovereign).

A notorious night-owl, she loves watching TV, eating bacon, playing video games with her kids, and sending cheesy texts to her husband. You can find Tosca hanging around the snack table or wherever bacon is served.

And here’s a little bit more about Tosca’s new book, THE PROGENY.

I’m twenty-one years old and my name doesn’t matter because it’s about to be erased forever.

When you wake up, you remember nothing. Not your name, or where you were born, or the faces of the people you knew. Just a single warning written to yourself before you forgot it all:

Emily, it’s me. You.

Don’t ask about the last two years… Don’t try to remember and don’t go digging. Your life depends on it. Other lives depend on it.

By the way, Emily isn’t your real name. You died in an accident. You paid extra for that.

You start over in a remote place with a new name, a fresh life. Until the day a stranger tells you you’re being hunted for the sins of a royal ancestor who died centuries before you were born.

You don’t believe him, until they come for you. Now you’re on the run.

Every answer you need lies in a past you chose to erase. The only thing you know for sure is that others are about to die and you need those memories back.

But first, you have to stay alive.

THE PROGENY is now available wherever books are sold!

Go get you a copy!

Via: JT Ellison


5.22.16 – Sunday Smatterings

By JT Ellison

Hello, dear chickens!

How are you this fine Sunday? I’m riding high this weekend because I finished my writing on the next Nicholas Drummond book!!!!!!!!!

Current Mood

This is how I feel now that the book is in Catherine’s capable hands. It’s a fun, epic adventure I think you guys are going to dig.

On I go to write Sam #5!


Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

Cat Astronaut Backpack

Fulfill your kitty’s wildest dreams, and let them become a tiny astronaut.

How to order wine

This is how to order wine like you know how to order wine. Impress all your dining mates!

Briana's Bookshelf

Oh, my fellow book nerds, LOOK at this Etsy shop! Literary candles and original fiction? I am so there.

Diana Gabaldon Process

Y’all know that I basically worship the ground Diana Gabaldon walks on. So imagine my sqee when I read this article she wrote about her process—because this is very near how I write.

silent reading party

This is the stuff introvert dreams are made of: How to Host a Silent Reading Party.

noncompete clause Kris Rusch

For those of you who have or are thinking of selling your creative efforts, this piece on non-compete clauses by Kris Rusch is a must-read.

Brain Pickings Maria Popova Commencement

There’s so much to love about Brainpickings every week. Maria Popova knows how to scour the zeitgeist and find some interesting food for thought. This week, she shared her commencement address to her alma mater, the school of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. There are so many stand-up-and-shout, “YES!” truths in here, it’s so worth your time. Here’s one especially good bit:

You are the creators of tomorrow’s ideas and ideals, the sculptors of public opinion and of culture. As long as we feed people buzz, we cannot expect their minds to produce symphonies. Never let the temptation of marketable mediocrity and easy cynicism rob you of the chance to ennoble public life and enlarge the human spirit — because we need that badly today, and because you need it badly for the survival of your soul.

Seriously, go read the rest.

And closer to home:

Casal Garcia Vinho Verde

This week, Amy the Wine Vixen brought us a zingy white wine you’re gonna take on all your beach trips this year (mark my words).

Positive side of perfection

I continued my perfection series on the Tao this week, giving a positive spin on striving for perfection. Because striving for excellence isn’t all bad, y’all!

That’s all I have for you, my darlings. Be well, and we’ll talk again soon!


Via: JT Ellison


5.19.16 – The Positive Side of Perfection

By JT Ellison

For the past two weeks, I’ve focused on how a life-long pursuit of perfection has created issues in both my creative and personal lives.

Today, I’d like to turn all of that on its ear.

Because, honestly? Striving for perfection has created great success for me.

The term success in and of itself is subjective. The traditional definition—the accomplishment of an aim or purpose—seems less than the word’s current connotation. Success means so many things to so many people. What is your measure? Is it wealth? Fame? Book sales, reviews, touring? Or something more intrinsic to your happiness—the accomplishment of your aims?

We all measure ourselves by different yardsticks—yardsticks we hold next to someone we’d like to be or emulate, instead of our own shadows.

Think about that for a moment.

When is the last time you looked inward and said, “Hey, I’m pretty awesome!” What did you hear instead? “So and so got a better review/better coop/sold more books/landed that spot in PW…” Or is that just me?

Because I admit it. As much as I try to stay focused, my yardstick does creep away sometimes, to mock me from afar.

I preach—PREACH—to all my writing friends that you absolutely cannot compare your path to another writer’s. Everyone’s publishing journey is different. Unique unto them. So your yardstick can only be used to measure yourself. It’s mano e mano—in this case, you against you.

I believe in the individual’s path. But I also understand that without a little healthy competition, sometimes you don’t push yourself hard enough. And there’s a difference between competing and coveting. A huge one.

Competing makes you stronger. Coveting makes you weaker.

And here’s where the relentless pursuit of perfection comes in. Every book I write, I try to improve on the last. Stronger writing, better structure, deeper characters, scarier villains. I don’t want to do the same thing twice, so I experiment. I push myself. I write things and allow them to stay on the page because I know if I trust my subconscious, it will all make sense in the end. I force words onto the page, even when I’m not feeling it.

I create. No matter what—good, bad, mediocre—I create.

And then, in competition with myself and with writers I admire, I push myself to up my game.

I edit the wee word beasties into submission. I push them around like a coach facing an unruly and recalcitrant football team. I scream at them, beg them, cajole and woo. Whatever it takes to get them perfect.

Am I a perfect writer? Hell, no. No way. Not even close. But my personal drive for perfection, to top my previous best, makes me come to the page, day after day after day, and find ways to make it all work. I might drive myself crazy in the process, but I’m all over it. I am living this path. It’s mine, and I love it.

That drive to create, to better each book, to perfect the process, find easier paths to better work, is why I feel like I’m having some success. Do I feel like I AM a success? Not yet. But I am having a decent measure of success in my career now. It’s taken a decade of showing up to the page, Sisyphus with his rock, pounding out the words, for me to feel like a real writer.

There are other people who do this so much better than me. Writers I so greatly admire, because their pursuit of perfection leads them to something I like to call intentionality.

I know several intentional writers. They are not waiting for the writing to come to them. They aren’t letting their careers unfold as they will. They enter into this business mindfully, purposefully, intentionally. They are in complete control of all aspects, from what they write to how they write it, and for whom.

The first who comes to mind is one we all know and love—J.K. Rowling. Look at how she planned out the Potter books. Look at how she took complete control of her career when those books took off. How she held back rights because she knew somewhere down the line, she was going to need them as a negotiating tool. Audio, digital, film—she was careful and deliberate every step of the way. She make the choices that were right for her and her work, and no one else.

Now, JT, you say, Rowling isn’t a good example, because she has so much money she had the power of choice.

OK. I’ll give you that. But I still assert she’s an intentional writer. Come on, she put out a book under a pseudonym to get the story out there unfettered by her success.

Still don’t buy it? All right. Let me give you a case that might strike closer to home. A young writer named Elizabeth Heiter.

I met Elizabeth at a conference last year. We shared a panel, and as always happens, the questions evolved into the typical, How did you get published? At the time, I remember being rather awestruck at how knowledgeable, how intentional, and how focused she was. She knew things as a debut that I’d only learned after several years in the business. You can always tell when a new writer is going to make a career at this. There’s something in the way they talk, the way they approach their career, their work. They’re intentional. Elizabeth is intentional. Read this piece she did about her journey. It will explain what I mean.

I posit that the pursuit of perfection drives us to succeed. While there may be pitfalls, and it’s certainly easy to fall into them, without this desire, without this impetus, there would be no success.

If we didn’t try to top ourselves, to be intentional toward our work and our lives, we’d never create another piece of art.

Last week, I mentioned the scene from the movie Burnt, where the protagonist Adam and his therapist discuss how Adam feels the apocalypse bearing down if he doesn’t achieve perfection. Sometimes, the fear of the impending apocalypse does help us. The good that comes from the drive to perfect—the work product, the personal goals met, the ceilings we set for ourselves shattered—are Janus twins, aren’t they? They can crush us, or they can make us.

If you’re lucky, you can use this desire and drive to make your career.

Next time, I’m going to dive into the tangibles of how I set goals and how I reward myself when I achieve them. Until then, I’m curious to hear whether you think the pursuit of perfection is a positive or a negative in your creative life.

Via: JT Ellison


5.15.16 – Sunday Smatterings

By JT Ellison

Hi, Chickens!

Whew, it’s Sunday! Are you getting much relaxing done? I’m writing away on the next Nicholas Drummond book, making up for lost time, because instead of writing…

I spent this week at Book Expo America (BEA) in Chicago, one of the biggest publishing events of the year. Industry folks come together and talk about the biggest books and trends in the market. I always like to see what other genres and houses are up to, it’s such a cool convergence of creative minds. I love it! I signed 300 copies of FIELD OF GRAVES, met a lot of incredible people, talked tons of business with my team, and generally made merry. *

Anyway. You came for links. So here you go.

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

18 confessions only book lovers will understand

These are 18 confessions only a book lover will understand.

Shakespeare Quiz

QUIZ! Can you spot the real Shakespeare words? (this is harder than it appears)

Should I help others be an artist? -Ask Polly

“Should I help others be an artist?” An astounding answer, one I think we all need to hear.

Stunning Images from a 747

This is stunning: “I fly 747s for a living. Here are the amazing things I see every day.”

And closer to home:

Thrills & Chills Sampler

Oh! Wanna read the first chapter of FIELD OF GRAVES? It’s in the Harlequin Thrills & Chills sampler, along with some work by other fab authors. (Mary Kubica, Tess Gerritsen, and Heather Gudenkauf, anyone?)

Belle Ambiance Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

If you’re looking for a cheap and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, try this one (brought to you by The Wine Vixen).

On What Happens If We're Not Perfect (Perfection Series Part II)

I’m doing a Perfection series on the Tao and aired Part II, on the lies we tell ourselves about perfection, this week. (Did you miss Part I? Find it here.)

* While I was at BEA, yours truly got to see a bunch of her Harlequin/HarperCollins team and some of her author friends! As you can see in this video, I wasn’t having fun at all.

Alright, favorites, that’s all I’ve got this week. Be well, enjoy some sunshine, and we’ll talk again soon!


Via: JT Ellison