I love to chat with debut writers. They’re so filled with energy and optimism – so ready and eager to offer their stories – stories they conjured night after sleepless night – stories they knew might never see the light of day. But they kept on – realizing that dedication and perseverance – even after facing countless rejections – was not for the faint of heart. I guess you could say that ‘strong heart’ is what I appreciate and admire about them. We won’t tell them that was the easy part. They’ve all got a new battle ahead – finding readers – hoping for great reviews – setting up signings that may only draw a handful of people, deciding which of the dozen or so mystery conventions they can continue to afford to attend, acceptance from their peers – maybe even a nomination – or – gulp – just ‘selling through.’ Oh, yes – and add to that the pressure to join a blog to keep your name alive – being an active participant on the scores of listserves – and in between – get the next book ready! Phew, huh? Like I said…not for the faint of heart. Just surviving all of the above is daunting in itself. Even stepping over the dead bodies along the way takes some doing…
You will note that I’m not replying today with my usual inane comments. Debut writers have enough to contend with…
So let’s all wish them luck – and we’ll start right here, right now – with our own J.T. Ellison.
J.T. ELLISON http://www.jtellison.com
EE: As one of the main founders of Killer Year 2007 – tell us how this innovative cabal came about?
JT: It all started as a conversation among friends about how we could get reviews for our paperback novels. It’s hard enough to get reviewed as a debut author. To be in paperback makes this feat a bit of a double whammy. After a few well-placed comments by some industry biggies, like Sarah Weinman, we realized we had something that would help us not just with reviews, but with one of the most important aspects of marketing – promotion. Thus, KY was born, and we’ve been enjoying the ride since last summer. We’ve got authors in each medium, paperback, trade and hardcover, and the reviews so far have been stellar.
EE: If you were planning a multi-city book tour, which writers (two) would you love to have join you? And why?
JT: That’s easy. Tasha Alexander, because she keeps me sane, and people flock to her, and Stephen King, because he’d bring out a huge crowd and could teach me about writing better afterward. Both authors are our of my immediate genre too, which means I’d get good crossover exposure.
EE: What is your greatest indulgence – before and after you got your advance?
JT: Hmm, that’s a hard one. I’m a sucker for a good pedicure, so I’d have to list that as my before. As for after – well, I did the wisest thing I could possibly do, and didn’t go crazy. We were finishing a remodel of our master bath, so I used a tiny bit for that and invested the rest. I’ll get a new laptop one of these days, and I need a new truck (mine has seen better days), but since I only drive to bookstores and Starbucks, it’s not that pressing. I guess I’m just a little too practical for big indulgences. How boring am I?
EE: How about sharing your thought when your agent told you your series had been sold.
JT: I’m pretty sure there were dogs three neighborhoods over cringing. I was very, very excited. It was one of those odd moments, too, because my parents don’t live near me, and they were driving through and spending two days. We were watching THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE when the phone rang and I saw that ‘212’ area code. My heart took off; I just knew something was up. I actually uttered a very bad word. I answered, listened, stopped my agent and made him repeat everything because my brain wasn’t processing. I kept quiet, managed to call my husband, then broke the news to all three of them at once. It was the second greatest moment in my life.
EE: What do you see as your greatest challenge now that your first book will be out this fall?
JT: Balance is first and foremost on my mind right now. There’s so much to be done to launch a career in this industry. The marketing, getting my name out there without being too pushy, hoping that people buy, read and enjoy the book, and continuing to write at the pace I’m going is daunting. But I have a wonderful support system. Between family, writing friends and non-writing friends, I’ve got some amazing people who help keep me grounded and sane. Once the balance is achieved, I’m going to have to deal with the whole public speaking issue. I’m nervous, but I keep asking myself, what’s the worst that could happen? I flub. Life will go on, right? The people who love me will still love me. I know I’m going to make mistakes, I make plenty every day. The crime fiction readers are so generous, I hope they’ll forgive me a botch here and there.
EE: I understand you have two more books in the series ready to go – and they will be published in rapid succession – six months apart -rather than the traditional one year system. Is this a pace you feel you can continue, or is this something new your publisher is experimenting with?
JT: It seems to be a trend in publishing in general. Allison Brennan got it kick-started in crime fiction, but there are plenty of writers who do more than one book a year. I know Mira has two of us on this schedule, and Harper is debuting an author next summer with the same model. Happily, I write fairly quickly and consistently, shooting for at least 1,000 words a day no matter what. It takes me about 4 months to do a draft of a manuscript. Then I get it out to my readers, let them make comments and I do a big rewrite before turning it in to my editor. I like the pressure. It makes me reach for goals I wouldn’t normally set for myself. Can I keep it up? For a while. Forever? I don’t know the answer to that yet.
EE: So, J.T. – with Nashville being the home of country music – is it true that bumper stickers are being made to publicize J.T. Ellison as being the first writer to change that to ‘the home of killer fiction’?
JT: Ha! I actually did my first face-to-face Nashville interview last week, about both my books and Killer Year. I’ll wait to see if anyone wants those bumper stickers after that comes out in April. I don’t write about country music, and I don’t glamorize my town. It’s a living, breathing entity in my books, a strong character in it’s own right, full of flaws, and there’s none of the fluff sometimes associated with Music City. The real Nashville can be very dark, and I try to capture that essence on paper. I want people to know that there’s more to Nashville than country music and the Swan Ball.
EE: Rumors are rampant that Willie Nelson wants you to write him in as a new character – but you had to tell him you’d already settled on Sheryl Crow. So, is Willie still calling?
JT: Good old Willie. I remember my mom playing his albums when I was a kid, and loving that track ‘Always On My Mind’. Other than that, I don’t know the man well enough to write him in. But since all the big rock stars are moving to town, Sheryl might get a slot. Or Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. Nicole’s just so stunning, and really engaged in the Nashville lifestyle. Ashley Judd might be in the running too.
EE: What book do you wish you’d written – and why?
JT: I don’t think I could have written anything but what I’ve done. I’ve got my own little niche, my own style and voice; I’d ruin anyone else’s effort. If forced, I’d say Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’. Brilliant use of unreliable narrator, something I’ve always wanted to try. In epistolary form, of course.
EE: Time for your Walter Mitty Dream. Besides being published that is.
JT: Anything vaguely heroic I leave to my protagonist, Taylor Jackson. Me, I’d like to have a nice little farmhouse in Castel Rigone or Castiglione del Lago, on the Tuscan-Umbrian border, someplace where hubby and I could escape for a few months out of the year. An hour to Florence,two hours to my famila in Pinarolo, that would be pretty much perfect. I’ve also always wanted to own a bookshop in a small Colorado mountain town, the kind where everyone knows your name and there’s nothing to do but read, ski, and socialize.
EE: If you weren’t writing – what would you be doing?
JT: I tried to envision this the other day. I’ve worn a lot of career hats, and if I had it to do over again, I’d become a writer. I’ve never been so content, so fulfilled. But I did have a missed opportunity – I should have tried to go go Q school for the LPGA and attempt to make the majors. I thought going to college was more important. D’oh! I could be playing golf year round and getting paid for it. Teenagers are so dumb sometimes.
EE: What is your least favorite sound? Or word?
JT: I cringe every time I hear the word ‘moist’. I just don’t like it. It’s icky. And I’m not a big fan of my next-door neighbor’s dog. There’s a possum living in the woods behind us, and the nasty little creature teases the dog, who rises to the bait every time. Which means endless days of barking.
EE: Give us three wishes.
JT: That there were no more flame wars, no ill will, no jealously among writers. Controversy is a fact of life, if there was a way to have it without being personal, that would be lovely.
For readers to enjoy my books.
For us to win the lottery so hubby can sit around and eat bon-bons all day.
EE: Suppose you were moderating a panel – who would be your ideal panel mates?
JT: Lee Child, for the gravitas. Diana Gabaldon, because she knows how to engage an audience. Barry Eisler, for his immense innuendo skills. Miss Snark, so I could publicly thank her for the laughs. And Tasha, of course, so I wouldn’t throw up.
EE: And last – which writer would you love to have all to yourself in a secluded corner of the bar at ThrillerFest this year?
JT: There are so many people I’m looking forward to seeing in New York this summer, the list is too long to post here. You and I certainly need a quiet moment or two.
Thanks for playing with me, Evil. This was great fun!
Uh, J.T.? This last comment? Your closing? It’s mine, okay? Capice? 🙂
NOTE: ON THE BUBBLE WILL BE – FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS – TWICE MONTHLY. WHILE I’VE GOT A SLEW OF INTERVIEWS WAITING IN THE WINGS – I’M A BIT CAPTURED THESE DAYS WITH REMODELING AND A NEW FAMILY ADDITION. A TEN WEEK OLD SHIH TZU WHO GOES BY THE NAME OF ROCKY DROPPED IN ON MY BIRTHDAY. IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I’VE HAD AN INFANT AROUND AND…WELL…I’VE GOT TO BRUSH UP ON MY PARENTING SKILLS. SOME TERRIFIC GUEST BLOGGERS WILL BE FILLING IN – SO STAY TUNED, OKAY?