Just Say No

JT Ellison

A new phenomenon has permeated my household. I’ve uttered
words that have rarely, if ever, crossed my lips.

I Can’t Do That.

I’ve always been blessed (cursed?) with the inability to say
no to whatever request comes my way. Be it a friend who needs a ride, a fellow
writer who needs input, Hubby needing an errand run, whatever – I always find a
way to accommodate. And 99% of the time, I’m more than happy to do so. Yes,
there have been times that I’ve bitched and moaned about having to do something
for someone else; I’m not a saint. But in general, if you need something done,
I’m your woman.

Until now. Suddenly, I seem to need a hell of a lot of time
for me, and not so much time for other people.

I say suddenly. Three years of hard work, writing,
networking, getting an Internet presence, getting my name out there – and I’m
still constantly surprised when everything falls into place.

I spoke with my editor this week, who I must say, “Gets” me.
I have a slightly offbeat sense of humor (Noooo, you say) and while I have a
good idea of where my books are going, I don’t always articulate that as well
as I could. She “gets” me. I don’t have to do the copious and detailed
explanations of my plot that I inflict on strangers and friends. It boils down
to this. SEX. BLOOD. ROCK & ROLL.

Meaning I need to focus on character relationships,
mutilations, mayhem and murder, and a Nashville centric series that really lets
my adopted hometown shine. I can do that.

My agent “Gets” me too, which is a blessing. I’m not so
scared of him anymore. He used a bad word the other day and became a man, not
just this mythical creature called “My Agent” who lives in a far off land,
weaving magical deals from his tower. As I was giggling (Dear God, no – giggling
to my agent) I realized that this is all very real. These people in New York
are just like you and me – they have lives, family, hobbies. They care what kind
of weather you’re having, warn you of possible pitfalls in the coming days,
laugh with you (at you) when you say something funny. After so many years,
demystifying the personnel is heartening.

Sorry, off on a tangent. Hey, it’s Friday.

So, my point is…

I had to say no the other day, and it broke my heart to do
so. A good friend asked me to look over a submission from a neophyte writer
(not a newbie, mind you, someone who’d never written anything before). Whoever
you are, if you ever read this. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t add one more thing
to my workload at that moment.

And I realized that this is going to happen more than I’d
like it to.

It’s something that I never expected, and it’s
still a little mind-boggling. By getting a book deal, I’ve suddenly moved to
the other side of the fence. The WANTED side of the fence. A side of the fence
that I’d never anticipated. People have actually contacted me and asked ME to
do things, like interviews, and Writing Seminars, and blogs, and short stories
for inclusion in multiple author works. It’s mind-boggling. Frightening as
hell. And a big wake up call.

The other side of the fence means I need to go to
conferences and sit on panels. I have to promote myself and my work in a
pleasant manner, (ie: JT, don’t throw up on the guests). Oh, and there’s that little niggling thing, back of my mind….
yeah, I almost forgot. I have to write two new books. Now.

Do you think John Sandford
ever had this discussion with himself? Did you guys? Am I the only one?

A massive housecleaning is in order. A shift in priorities.
A new way of thinking. I’m a writer now, and it’s a career, a business. If you
don’t want that, you might as well hang it up now. I’m learning that being a
successful writer is a lot more than writing good books.

My new mantra will be – Just Say No.

It started with scaling back my obligations to Reviewing the
. Sharon Wheeler and Barbara Franchi are two of the greatest women in
mystery, and they kindly opened their doors to me. I loved reviewing. But when
I realized that I hadn’t read a book in over 2 weeks because I hadn’t had time,
I knew I needed to step away. So thanks, Barbara and Shaz! You guys have been

I usually open my email in the mornings and have daily
digests from over 14 yahoo groups. No more. I left several, went no mail on
others. The people who supported me on my quest for publication understand.
They know that my time is no longer my own.

I’ve winnowed myself down to four major areas.

  • Writing, of course.
  • Murderati, of course. I love you guys much too much to ever
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Short Stories

I feel lighter, easier, like life isn’t going to be so hard.
Yeah, right.

As far as Marketing and Promotion goes, I have wonderful
news. I’ve banded together with three other amazing writers, and we’ve started
KillerYear – The Class of 2007. You may have seen a brief comment on it last
week. The founding brothers and sisters – Jason Pinter, Brett Battles, Sandra
and myself – will launch a comprehensive blog on Monday, June 19th. We
have about 15 of the best and brightest novelist debuting in 2007. We’ll
introduce you to the Class, talk about our dreams and desires, tour schedules,
promotions, etc. This will be your one stop shop for all things mystery and
thriller in 2007. As Pinter so succinctly pointed out – Be Afraid. Be Very

Internet networking is a beautiful thing. The discussion
comes up on list serves all the time – How can you truly market yourself on the
Internet? I’ll tell you. I met Brett Battles here at Murderati. He very kindly
made a great comment on my first post. I sent him an email to thank him, and a
friendship grew out of that. My spectacular editor at MIRA Books, Linda McFall,
also edits Jason Pinter. We touched base when I got the deal and have been
talking ever since. Sandra Ruttan attracted me to her blog months ago with her
irreverent take on the world, and I never looked back. The Class of 2007
concept was Jason’s brainchild, and a very logical progression for a group of
young writers who found loads in common. Through the Internet. So tune in,
watch us grow, and hopefully, we’ll teach ourselves the way.

Whine of the Week – My time is no longer my own

Wine of the Week – I’m in the mood to hit the Ellison Wine
Cellar, where we keep the good stuff. How about a Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello
de Montalcino
? That’ll get your
tastebuds rocking. It tastes like liquid gold. Decant and let it breathe for at
least 2 hours before drinking. And some little known trivia – Nardi is my
family name. (Rock on, Anacarsi ) So we’re related, somehow, to the owners of this amazing vineyard.


10 thoughts on “Just Say No

  1. J.B. Thompson

    Excellent insight, JT. It’s hard to say no – I suffer from that syndrome myself, and like you I had to weed a few things out (like my old job -grin-). Sometimes folks just don’t understand how much of ourselves we have to pour into our writing while still making time for family and other things we love – things that don’t make the list because they’re a given. So I say, good for you that you’ve learned to say no! It’s liberating, and you’ll be glad you’ve done it.

  2. Sandra Ruttan

    Great post, JT. I’ve found myself struggling with the need to say no, and it kills me. It’s very flattering to have people ask you for advice or feedback on their work, because it means they think you know something. And it’s very hard to think that, before the first book even comes out, you’re letting people down.

    I try to remind myself that, if I fall short with the book or can’t stay on top of Spinetingler, I’ll let even more people down. Some days, it helps me put it in perspective. Some days, I feel crummy, no matter what.

    Can’t wait for Monday!

  3. Neil Nyren

    Short answer on the Sandford question: Yes, he did. But don’t forget that he’d been a journalist for a long time before he started writing books — for him, the books were actually a chance to step back from the daily grind, to spend more time at home…and the golf course.

    I’m looking forward to the new blog. I’ve actually known Jason since — well, I can’t say since he was small. Jason was never small. (Anybody who’s met him will know what I mean) But to see him rise so rapidly has just been a delight.

    And, yes, we in New York — the OTHER other side — we’re very real!

  4. Allison Brennan

    JT, I am so with you, but I still have a hard time saying no. I had to turn down blurbing a book because she wanted it in a week and didn’t want me to read the whole thing (which I can’t in good conscience do.)

    BTW, when I sold my treat was hiring a housecleaner. She comes in once a week and does the big cleaning (mopping, bathrooms, etc) and it saves me so much time and headache. My older kids earn their allowance by doing chores (picking up after the little kids, clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry–which is my least favorite chore. God, I love having minions, er, kids 😉

    It’s hard to keep up with everything, but as long as the writing comes first then I try to stuff in as much as possible.

  5. Naomi

    Wise words, J.T. I still like doing pro bono stuff now and then, so my husband suggested that I quantify the hours that I spend on such work. So I have a limit for the year (there’s some wiggle room). After I reach that limit, I just tell people that my schedule is filled up. The following year, I’m ready to commit to something else.

  6. JT Ellison

    Now if being on the other side of the fence means I might someday, somewhere, have a chance to play golf with Mr. Sandford, all that work was worth it. Though my handicap is off about 4 strokes.

    I am so impressed with y’all because I know many of you have kids. I haven’t gotten there yet, and I salute you for managing to be writers and parents.

  7. Elaine

    Now that you’ve ‘climbed over the fence’, be ready to find more demands on your time. And yes – you have to learn when to say ‘no’, but I’m certain you will do so with grace, and will do your best to ‘pay it forward’ whenever you can.

  8. Pari

    J.T.,I still haven’t figured out how to balance it all . . .

    Saying “no” has become easier, but the guilt still remains sometimes.

    Re: climbing over the fence — boy, do I know what you mean. It’s very different once you realize you’re “published.” It’s like crossing the River Styx (sp?) or something; you can’t go back and you’re not quite sure what’s up ahead.

    Great blog as usual. Congrats on Killer Year, too.

  9. angie

    I know it feels kinda weird, but doesn’t it feel good to know that it’s okay to set healthy boundaries/limits? I’m with J.B. – leaving my old job was my first big “I can’t do that anymore.” Miss the money sometimes, but don’t miss the stress one little bit.

    Many, many congrats on your forthcoming book – the fun’s just starting on the other side of the fence!

  10. Tenbrooks

    TWO new books? You have carte blanche to say “no” to everything. Do you have deadlines for both already set?


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