My First Time

By JT Ellison

Now, don’t blush or turn away based on the title of this blog. We’ve all had a first time. It’s that special moment in our life which will always, always be with us. It changes us, alters our perspective. We feel more beautiful, taller, thinner, wittier, more glamorous. I’m talking, of course, about my first… book signing.
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I’m not a huge fan about talking about myself on this blog. My post theme is “A Newbie’s Perspective” and I oftentimes feel like that’s a misnomer, because in order to share the experience of being a newbie, I have to talk about myself in terms of career. This may not make sense to you. This blog is always about me, in some way or another. My feelings on books that influence me, or situations that make me write the things I do. But I’ve steered clear of what can only be termed BSP, the dreaded blatant self promotion, because that’s not what this blog has ever been about. But to tell the story of my first time, I’m going to have to go there a bit, so please forgive me in advance.

I was thrilled to receive that phone call a couple of months ago inviting me to come to BEA to sign galleys of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS. My publisher has started a very cool promotion called THE DEADLY SEVEN, and ATPG was chosen to be a part of the program. They decided to do a Deadly Seven hour at BEA in the Harlequin booth, thus the glee inducing phone call. This promotion is so exciting because they are coupling several debut authors — myself, Jason Pinter and Michelle Gagnon — with the more established authors — MJ Rose, Alex Kava, Chris Jordan and Paul Johnston. Smart, smart, smart, those Mira folks. The signing was arranged, with MJ, Alex, Jason, Michelle and me all confirmed.

I should have been nervous. I should have been petrified. Instead, the closer we got to the date, the more excited I became. I didn’t tell a ton of folks, just my intimate circle, and they were their usual super-supportive selves. Only one little problem. I woke up Tuesday last with the most vicious head cold you can imagine. All I knew was in two days, I had to fly to New York for the most important moment of my young career. I stopped moving entirely, invested in industrial strength boxes of Musinex, Comtrex and Advil sinus, went on a Z-pak, drank orange juice, put Zicam up my nose every three hours, and drank Airborne twice a day. By Thursday morning, I still couldn’t breath, but I was alive. I packed the drugs in my bag along with a box of tissues, crossed myself, praying for adrenaline, and off we went.

We met up with my fantastic editor Linda McFall Thursday night for a quick dinner before she left town for the weekend, then headed to our lovely hotel/motel for the night, getting in around 1 a.m. Went right to bed and got up at a leisurely 9 a.m. to shower, curl, primp and dress for the trip to the Javits Center. Clothing in place, hair not doing what I wanted it to but livable, cute shoes on, we headed out.

Cue nerves.

You know that train is leaving the station, you can’t turn back now sort of feeling you get right before something major is about to happen? Yeah. That feeling flooded through me as we sat in horrendous Manhattan traffic. But the strangest thing happened. Hubby pointed out the window, to my right. We were stuck in traffic directly in front of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street. If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what would be. The nerves vanished.

We arrived a little early so I could get the lay of the land and immediately ran into my awesome agent, Scott Miller. In a crowd of 30,000 booksellers, sales people, buyers, and a guy dressed like God, how does that happen? Regardless, in this huge mash of people, there’s Scott, with a big smile that made me feel pretty good. Then I run into our most divine Alex Sokoloff, who kindly came to bear witness on this event so I won’t be alone with no one to sign for. I’m thinking I might get four of five folks, bleed off from the big dogs I’m signing with, so it’s great to have a familiar face there. MJ is there now, the booth starting to fill with fans who’ve come to see her and take a signed copy of one of the biggest buzzed books of BEA, THE REINCARNATIONIST.

Have I mentioned that as I’m getting ready to do the signing, I still have not seen my galley? Ever? That this moment will be the very first time I’ve seen my work as a book? Hubby manages to filch on off the stacks that are being piled up on the table in front of my chair. He hands it to me and I feel this enormous sense of relief. It’s real. It’s a book. All the time and effort and… oh my God my throat is getting a little constricted and I feel the prick of tears… and they say “JT, we’re ready for you,” and I have to turn it off. I look to my right and there are people waiting for me. A line of them.

I signed for forty-five minutes. Straight. Person after person after person. In the middle of signing, I did an interview with a Canadian film crew who were doing dual purpose interviews and podcasts. It went well. I was much more comfortable that I ever imagined I’d be. I met librarians, and readers, and people who were just wandering by and saw a line and got in it because it was a free book. There was a publisher from China and a girl named Taylor. Even a librarian from my mom’s part of Philly. I signed and signed and signed. They kept opening boxes and handing me books, then they told me I was down to the last four. I had to step away from the table so I could keep a couple galleys for myself. It was, in a word, surreal.

That first time I crossed out my typeset name and signed mine underneath I realized that this was exactly where I was supposed to be. I’ve fought hard to get here. I’ve had a lot of rejections. I haven’t exactly suffered, but I’ve stumbled a few times. But the moment I sat down and smiled at the first woman in line, it all just clicked for me. These are going to be my readers. They may love me, they may hate me. But they are going to read me. And I’ll vow right here that no matter what, I will always do my best to provide the most entertaining, well written read I can possibly give you.
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The rest of the weekend was a bit of a blur. We threw ourselves into the hands of the Gods of New York, had an amazing dinner at Remi’s, partied, met people from all corners of the world, ran around town until the wee hours of the morning. Saturday we got up and did it all again, capping the weekend with the Harlequin party. The vibe there was incredible, the champagne flowed, and I must tell you, my publishing house is full to the brim with some of the classiest people you can ever hope to meet.

I’m going to be riding this high for a while. I’m working hard on my third book now, trying to get a first draft done by Thrillerfest. I’ve just gotten the Thrillerfest schedule, where I’ll be on two panels, the debut author breakfast on Friday morning, and the 11:00 Sunday morning panel with CJ Lyons, Derek Nikitas, Dave White and Emily Benedek. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it. I’ve got Southern Festival of Books lined up for October, a Lakeland, Florida event and another possible literary festival. The schedule is starting to fill. The website is interactive now, with a newsletter section if you’re interested in learning more about what’s happening in JT land.

The train has truly left the station. Thanks for being a part of my first time.

Let’s talk about first times. If you’re a writer, tell us about your first signing. If you’re a reader, tell us about your first signing. The perspectives should be fascinating.

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Wine of the Week: We cheated at Remi’s. The wine list was over thirty pages of the most incredible wines, but we chose a bottle of Tenute Silvio Nardi Rosso di Montalcino to celebrate. Why mess with a good thing, right?

And a P.S. to combat the nausea I’m experiencing from this blog entry being all about me…

1. Look to the links at the right side of Murderati. We’ve added some great new blogs, including the very cool and informative CRIME NEVER PAYS by Irishman Declan Burke (I dig the author’s name, the blog title, and all things Irish this week. It must be that Connolly’s THE UNQUIET is beckoning me and I’m atwitter with anticipation because I’m meeting Mr. Bruen in July.)

2. I’m reading Toni McGee Cauey’s debut novel right now, and I tell you, this girl has not missed a step. BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY is funny and explosive, full of energy and laugh out loud funny. If you haven’t read it, go get it. Right now. The comments can wait until you get back.

3. Brett Battles and our own Robert Gregory Browne have started a series of podcasts discussing writing, breaking in, and advice on the industry. See the new Battles and Browne website here.

13 thoughts on “My First Time

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    I was there and it was quite a thrill! Our girl looked stunning, of course (“cute” doesn’t even begin to describe those shoes) andit really was pretty surreal that she was waiting to go on and still hadn’t even seen a book. When Randy grabbed one about two seconds before she had to go over to the signing table, she did, in fact, tear up, and that choked me up, too. Then she blinked it all back and put on an electric smile and went out to knock them dead.

    Randy and I watched her signing from a table (bless them, Harelequin has the cushiest “booth” in the show, with real seats…) and she looked like she’d been doing it her entire life.

    Baby’s all grown up, now.

    Reply
  2. Naomi

    Wonderful report! And I’m so glad you were there to witness it, Alex. In this business, it’s so nice to have cheerleaders, and, J.T., it looks like you have your share and then some.

    BTW, spectacular white jacket/suit. You look very commanding.

    I have yet to have my first experience at Book Expo, but hope to next year, when it’s in L.A.!

    In terms of my firsts, I remember my cheerleaders the most–the family and friends that came out and supported by buying books, making food, asking questions at author talks, and just being there to witness something new that I was experiencing. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. pari

    J.T.,This post is supposed to be about YOU, baby. This is your first ride. Grab on and enjoy every single second of it.

    Mega congrats!

    Reply
  4. JT Ellison

    Thank you, guys. I think Jason hit the nail on the head. I was surrounded by friends, fellow authors who I’ve worked with a lot over the past year. I’ve been traveling this road WITH people, not solo, and I think that’s what made this all so amazing.

    If I can offer any advice to new writers, it’s to join a group. Be it ITW, Sisters in Crime, MWA, your local writers group — don’t work this in a vacuum. You’ll have a richer experience if you can share your triumphs and failures with friends.

    Naomi, the jacket looked good, but I was so hot. I assumed the conference ceter was going to be cold, like a hotel conference. WRONG… I hope to see you in LA next year : )

    Alex, darling, having you there meant the world to me. xoxo

    Pari, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. You took a chance on me first, and I’ll never forget it. xo to you too!

    Reply
  5. billie

    JT, what a wonderful story. You deserve to be in the limelight today and every Friday!!

    And guess what? I’m reading Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day too!! I am loving it. Dreamed all night last night about adventures with CIA black ops fellows. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  6. JT Ellison

    Oh Simon, she was so easy to be with.***ALERT***Michelle Gagnon’s debut novel THE TUNNELS is in bookstores today! Go get it. It’s been one of my most highly anticipated reads this year.

    Billie, you are a doll. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. toni mcgee causey

    Aw, JT, thanks so much for the kind words on Bobbie Faye. I’m really sorry I missed seeing you at your signing. I really must grow a clue next time and coordinate better!

    Reply
  8. Declan Burke

    Hi JT –

    Just a quick line to say thanks a million for bigging up my blog … I’m fairly new to this blogging malarkey, and the hospitality of the blogging community never ceases to amaze me. Here’s hoping your ‘newbie’ status is soon a thing of the past and you quickly become a veteran of the biz …!

    Declan Burke

    Reply

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