Planes, Trains and Automobiles

By JT 

I started writing my seventh Taylor Jackson novel this week. This is cause for great rejoicing on many levels, obviously, but the process of beginning a novel is only part of the fun. It’s not as simple as opening a Word file and starting to type. Oh, no. There are steps that must be taken, superstitions adhered to. Some would call this throat clearing, will admonish me to just get to work already. There’s something magical about this time, and I like to keep it sacred.

While the actual book writing started this week, the story has been brewing for quite a while. Since I heard this song on my radio September 14, 2009, to be exact.


I went home and downloaded it, wrote myself a note: “Welcome to London” Memphis Book. That was it. The page was turned and the idea went … not all the way away, but out of sight, into the wilds of my mind. It had a cozy home, obviously well nourished, because everything that happened in THE IMMORTALS and SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH lead to this story. My mind did all the work, subconsciously driving the gossamer threads of my Muse into a cohesive form. In other words, the idea stewed.

Books are strange beasts, and the concept of ideas even more fantastical. Whatever process exists in the creative mind that allows an author to hear a song and almost a year later realize that song forced itself into the very psyche of the stories that were being created and developed into a story in its own right… well, I’ve never been one to sneeze at our minds’ capabilities, that’s for sure.

So back to the process. I revisited the idea several months ago as I was finishing SO CLOSE, knowing I’d have to do a bunch of research to make it work. That research involved going to England and Scotland if I had any hope of the book playing out the way I envisioned. Plus, the book is a Gothic, so it needed all the correct elements to come fully alive, elements that can’t be readily found in my leather chair in my living room in Nashville. I broached the idea to my better half, who is always up for an adventure, bless him. And then serendipity appeared in the form of my debut novel, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, which was slated for an August 20 release date in the UK. At BEA, I mentioned to my publisher that I needed to go to the UK to do research for book 7, and they thought it would be a super idea to combine that trip with media for the debut.

Which is how Randy and I found ourselves standing at the top of Edinburgh Castle last week.

We had a brilliant trip. Following Thrillerfest in New York, which was amazing (Stephen’s post captured the spirit quite well – I’m just glad there wasn’t a full moon over Manhattan, the energy in that crowd would have turned erotic – and this was without our Alex!) we headed to London, hopped the train to Scotland, spent two days touring the countryside – all of it, from Edinburgh to St. Andrews to Inverness to Loch Ness and back, taking page after page of notes, over 600 pictures and three hours of video – then headed to London for the launch party, signings and radio interviews. The trip was only marred by the bronchitis that felled Randy when we arrived in London and followed us home (yes, I’ve caught it and am on antibiotics too. Major bummer.)

The London media machine is a little different than what I’ve experienced thus far in the US. Mira UK threw a Launch Lunch for Paul Johnston (MAPS OF HELL, a fabulous book!) and I that would be more aptly named a party. Wine and champagne flowed freely. We talked about books and life and constitutional Britain and Viscounts and more books. Old friends Ali Karim and Mike Stotter were there, which added to the celebratory atmosphere. There was no expectation of performance that I so often feel here – we were there to celebrate, and celebrate we did. It was very, very cool. Top it all off, we were lunching at The Luxe, which was literally catty-corner from Ten Bells, a Jack the Ripper haunt. Slick! Then we headed to Cambridge, to sign at the legendary Heffers. That’s where Zoë and I found each other.

That’s Henry Sutton in the background, of The Mirror, and a novelist in his own right – GET ME OUT OF HERE releases in the US in February, plus he’s got several other titles in the UK. How fun is that?

Back home, marginally recovered, I set about putting all that I had in order – marking up the pictures, uploading the video, pulling togther the remainder of the research, and building my box.

Yes, the book officially exists, because it has a box. It’s labeled with the title (one I really hope stands, WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE) I’m doing the Art Fact Sheet so we can have the perfect cover. Thanks to the fine folks at Exaclair, I have my purple Clairefontaine notebook, already full of notes, just waiting for more ideas. I pulled the stack of books that I need to read to get in the right frame of mind, I’ve started laying out the characters. I’m using Scrivener, and while I’m not outlining per se, I am doing a bit more planning, simply because I think I have 4 POV characters and I’m moving between countries again, and I find it easier to at least give myself a map if I’m going to do that.

I got so caught up in the excitement that I went so far as to take a quick try at an opening line – that’s when everything came to a screeching halt. It came out in first person. All stop. I don’t think I’m ready to conquer a Taylor novel from her POV in first. We’ll see what happens.

I’m keeping a book journal on this one, so I can see how I feel, what’s working and what isn’t. I’m curious to chart my course more fully than I have in the past – I look back on the previous six books in sheer wonderment. Did I really write them? Or was it some gremlin with blond hair who sits in my chair at night while I’m asleep and slings words onto the page? Sometimes that feels like a real possibility.

A few months ago, I also bought myself a Five Year journal so I can start keeping better track of what’s happening at any given time. I’m not good at journaling, but I think I owe it to myself. This blog has always been a journal of sorts for me, but I want to start keeping better track of what’s happening in my crazy life.

Do any of you journal? Book journal or regular daily journal? Do you have any tips to share that will help those of us lately come to the process?

Wine of the Week: Shared at a fine pub called The Queen’s Arms in Edinburgh – goes well with fish and chips – Perrin Cotes du Ventoux 2005

18 thoughts on “Planes, Trains and Automobiles

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    I am just green with envy! What a terrific trip. Thanks for sharing it. I also wish I were as organized as you are.
    I don’t journal, though I have done it. When I journal, it’s more of like a telephone call to the Universe, trying to find answers to whatever is going on with me rather than keeping track of my daily activities. I do have a blog everyday that should be more profound than it is. I think deep down I do it to keep my mom informed of what I’m doing so I can keep the calls to once or twice a week. 🙂
    That you’re keeping a journal is very cool. Down the road, should you care to share extracts from it, makes for interesting reading. I read PD James’ book that followed a year with her. We avid readers love to see the process of writing.

  2. Chuck

    Hey JT:

    Thanks for the introspective blog today. I’m also down with a bug that started as a sore throat, moved to my head, then down to my chest. Trying to power through without an AB, but thus far, no dice. (Is this a common TF occurance?)

    I don’t journal, unless I take a special trip. It’s always nice to look back, for pleasure and writing purposes, and remember the places I visited, the people I met, and the food and drink I consumed. I also try to make note of small things, such as smells and textures. Just writing it usually burns the memory into my brain.

    WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE. I like it. Catchy. Mysterious. Gothic.

    Good luck with those first pages! That’s pretty wild about the first sentence coming out in 1st. Did you keep it?

    Hope you’re feeling better!



  3. Barbara_NY

    I type faster than I pen, and I speak faster than I type. So, my journalling takes the form of e-notes and audio files.

    I realized a long time ago, if I limited my journaling to Moleskine and fine points my commitment to the process wained. With the volume of data I captured, journaling consumed me – to the neglect of other exercises like meditation, reading, and grocery shopping. For sanity’s sake, a more economic method emerged. Laptop on, mini, digital recorder pocketed, and yes, Moleskine with fine point nearby, I’m trigger ready to catch any dreams, ah has, and nuances of my life.

  4. Louise Ure

    What a wonderfully organized creative process you have, JT!

    I’ve never stuck with a journal, although it has often been suggested to me. I like the sound of your five-year version.

  5. pari noskin taichert

    I consistently kept a journal for about seven years from ages 15-22 — through my foreign exchange student stints to France and Hong Kong. Since then I’ve only used them off and on. IMHO they’re quite helpful in figuring out what’s happening in my life if I’m looking for patterns.

    Good luck with yours. Like Louise, I think that 5-year calendar sounds very interesting.

  6. JT Ellison

    PK, it was a fun, though exhausting 10 days, that’s for sure. I’ve spent the past few saying I really need to go back to Scotland ASAP.

    That’s an interesting idea about sharing the journal – I figure maybe after I’m gone, my literary estate can figure that out. ; )

    Chuck, you realize you’ve now become the scapegoat, right? We have caught it from you… definitely get thee on antibiotics ASAP before it turns into pneumonia, it’s bacterial. We had a blast in NY with you though!

    Barbara I struggled with the idea of an online or paper journal. I settled for online in my Scrivener file for the book, and paper for me. We’ll see how well it works, I’m not good at writing anymore. My handwriting has deteriorated to an illegible mess.

    Louise, I wish you had – your life, with all it’s facets, is fascinating, and you have such a unique analysis… I’ve always thought a memoir from you would be stellar.

    Pari, you too have a great facility for self-explanation. I like the idea of looking back and seeing the patterns. This particular five year only has room for about 5 lines, which keeps it focused and succinct. I like it!

  7. Alafair Burke

    I kept a journal for years but stopped around the same time I started trying to write a book a year. Funny how that works.

    Glad you had a great trip. Love the pictures. And I love Tori Amos. She may be the only musician whose complete collection I own.

  8. Debbie

    I went to write a prequel from the perspective of a minor character that would not actually end at the beginning of the next book in terms of timelines. I too was shocked when it came out in first person, but upon analysis, I realized that the character has a very isolated story. Don’t know if it’ll work though – it’s on the back burner, awaiting subconscious enlightenment.
    First person narrative can certainly be limiting but if you’re working from four POV’s it might just work! Have you been able to drop in so personally with any of the other characters?

  9. toni mcgee causey

    This Memphis book is going to be brilliant. 😉

    As for journaling… I do it informally. I always have a 5 subject notebook at hand, for brainstorming, working out plot knots, stream-of-consciousness meandering on subjects that might end up being relevant to the book. I always date it, and then whatever it on my mind gets thrown on the page. Sometimes, I’ll go a few weeks without jotting a note, but mostly, it’s a timeline of what’s up with me — briefly — before I launch into the book issues.

    I used to journal more, but the blogs have taken over a lot of that sort of ruminations. I’m lazy about writing down what’s happening to me, now. Mostly, I’m already tired of being in my head, which is why I am excited to get to the story. Mostly, I’m boring. 😉

    [Also, my daughter-in-law has strict instructions to burn everything in the event of my death. No one needs to see those ramblings, especially my family, especially if I was in a crappy mood one day and ranted. My sons would probably try to read it anyway, but I know Amanda will destroy them for me. She knows I will come haunt her. 😉 ]

  10. becky hutchison

    What a wonderful trip, JT! How lucky you are to be able to combine research, fun and a book launch. My son and daughter went to the UK in May and probably stood near where you and Randy are in that cute picture. What a delight it must be to see Edinburgh from the top of the castle.

    I have so many journals that I’ve started but not finished…dream journals, emotional release journals, daily life journals. I’m really enthusiastic at first, but then I just peter out. But I do have one journal that I keep with me so that when I think of an idea for a story, or anything else I want to record, I can write it down. So far I’m only half-way through and I started it two years ago.

  11. JT Ellison

    Alafair, it was great to see you in NYC – that lunch was a highlight of our trip, for sure!

    Debbie, strangely enough, I just might have figured it out. But now I’ve hit that stage that talking about it will ruin it. It’s been a big day here. : )

    Toni, you’re a love, thank you! Yeah, I’m reluctant to put my true soul on the page for just that reason. It’s no one’s business but mine.

    Becky, I’m blessed as hell, I know that. I’ve been to Scotland before, when I was 18, and it made such an impression on me – it’s crazy that it still had such a hold, one that’s now been rekindled. I must go back, and soon. And since I married into clan MacBean, I’m a lucky girl.

  12. Sandy

    Congratulations, J.T., on this beginning!
    Just curious. How will what you write for your book journal be different from what you write in that five-year (Levenger?) one — besides the latter being shorter, of course?

  13. JT Ellison

    Sandy – the 5 year is about me – not necessarily JT… the book journal will be specific to the book, the story, progress, happenings, breakthroughs. As schizophrenic as it sounds, I do keep the personalities as separate as possible, whenever I can.

  14. Barbie

    JT, you look SO tall.

    I have a lot of things written, but it’s in a private blog no one can see. NO ONE can know how messed up I really am — it’d make all my efforts to hide it useless. 🙂

  15. River Jordan

    Love this and the pictures are so beautiful. A peek inside the writers mind and a some great road tripping! I journal coming and going but have been considering a different type of journal – Letters to the Adorables to capture the good of life to leave to them when life leaves me.

    Your 5 year journal – I’m looking into it at your nudge. 🙂


  16. Allison Brennan

    Yes, I’m hugely jealous. I think that international travel will be postponed until the kids are older . . . and I won’t mind leaving them for so long! LOL.

    (Though I’ve told my daughters that I’d take them on a trip when they graduate from high school, just the two of us, anywhere they want–within reason. My oldest wants to go to Hawaii. Hawaii???? I’m thinking, pick Australia!! Please!! My #2 is thinking France, Italy or Ireland. I’m pushing for Ireland.)

    I don’t journal, book or otherwise. If I think too closely about my process (or lack thereof) I start to panic and I can’t write. So I just write the book (ha, wish it were that simple!) Write, delete, write, revise, edit, delete, swear, write, rewrite, drink . . . you get the picture.

    I am so, so, so excited about these books! I’m behind on the series, but hope to catch up before #7 comes out. My mom, however, IS caught up and eagerly awaiting the next installment.

    Great seeing you and Randy in NYC, it’s always fun, and we’ll see you next week at RWA!

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Ah, what great pix! I love that one of you and Randy, and the ones of you are just hot. Stunning.

    I journal a lot – write down my dreams in the morning, and go over past dreams for common threads. I often write "morning pages" (from that wonderful book, The Artist’s Way) to clear my head. Got into the habit of journaling on a Tarot card of the day while I was writing my fall book, The Shifters (heroine is a Tarot reader). I do a gratitude list every night. And collect quotes, lots and lots of quotes.

    I’m a better person when I journal, I’ve come to realize. More conscious of everything.


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