Thursday, May 31, 2012

Interview with J.T. Ellison and review of A Deeper Darkness

Interview with JT Ellison

JT is a very favorite author of mine, I’ve been reading her for years and I’m happy that she agreed to spend the month with us while we read and discuss the first novel in her brand new series starring Dr. Samantha Owens. So without further ado please welcome JT to the forum.

Debbie - Tell us what led you to this new series, was it Sam herself or something else.
J.T.- First off – thank you for having me! I’m thrilled to be here.
Samantha is a recurring character in my Taylor Jackson series. She’s Taylor’s best friend, but she’s also the series’ conscience, the lodestone. When in doubt, go to Sam. But she had never been a point of view character until Where All The Dead Lie (TJ #7) Her voice was so strong in that book that I dedicated a small subplot to her, and she was so much fun to write I knew she needed her own book. My publisher and agent agreed, so I went about spinning her off. But when you have a spin off, you need a different environment, a different set-up. Hence the loss of her family and her move to D.C. It gives her a clean slate, and she is a fascinatingly rich character because of her loss.

Now tell us how a nice financial analyst and marketing director like you wound up writing crime dramas?
Well, to start with, I’m just not that good at math. I can balance a fifty million dollar budget, but I can’t balance my checkbook. I went into aerospace marketing from finance, but when we moved to Tennessee, that all went away. And thank goodness it did. It wasn’t ever the right fit for me. I always had a little voice in the back of my head saying, “This isn’t what you’re meant to do. This isn’t right.” Turns out that was the Muse, calling me.
I’ve always been interested in forensics, and greatly admire our law enforcement and the FBI. But it wasn’t until I read John Sandford’s Prey series that I knew I wanted to write crime fiction. My earlier work is heavy on the violence, but I’ve moved away from that into a more psychological suspense realm. It fits my personality better, and wow, is it ever easier to talk about in public!

Researching novels must take a big chunk of time, how much time do you devote to research in your novels and what’s the farthest distance it took you.
I do a lot of research. I’ve spent time with Metro Nashville homicide, patrol, talked to the FBI at Quantico, bought more books than you can count, utilize the Internet to fill in the gaps. I do a lot on the fly, now, since I have most of the basics down pat. But I still need a few weeks of hunting and gathering per book to get my ducks in a row. The farthest afield I’ve gotten is autopsies. Four in one morning, and wow, does that change your perspective. It was at once both the most horrifying and most spiritual experience of my life. I dare anyone who doesn’t believe in some sort of higher power to attend an autopsy. There’s no question about the existence of the soul, because I’ll tell you, we all are the same inside.

Were you a reader, are you now, what are some of your favorite authors
I’m a huge reader, always have been. My list is too long to give justice, so I’ll give my inspirations instead: John Sandford, who inspired the Taylor Jackson series, John Connolly, who inspired my ever-evolving writing style, Lee Child, who’s friendship and guidance has been invaluable. The thriller chicks: Catherine Coulter, Tess Gerritsen, Erica Spindler, Alex Kava, Karin Slaughter and Allison Brennan, for showing me how not to compromise my subject matter just because I’m a woman. Diana Gabaldon, for teaching me how to create worlds. J.K. Rowling, for teaching me to follow my heart. Sharon Penman, Karleen Koen, Danielle Steele and Mary Stewart, for helping me move from children’s books to adult books (ie: teaching me the differences between love, romance and sex. I guess I better include Judy Blume’s FOREVER in there too, for that very reason.) Ayn Rand’s ANTHEM changed my life, Book VII of Plato’s REPUBLIC got me into graduate school, and my all-time favorite, LOLITA, by Vladimir Nabokov, showed me it’s possible to have lovable monsters.

Walk us through a typical day in the life of JT Ellison
It depends a bit on how far into a project I am - the closer to deadline there’s less business and more writing - but the bones are the same: I get up around 8-8:30 (a luxury, definitely, but if I don’t sleep a lot, I don’t work) check my email, maybe do a quick run through the news or my social networks, make a cup of tea, then get to it. I used to write from 12-4, but I’ve flipped my day: now I wrote from 9:30 – 11:30 or 12, take a lunch break, then either read or write from 1:00 – 3:00, when I go to Yoga, or take a walk. I intersperse all of that with mini breaks to go online. I wish I could just cut myself off completely, and I do many days, using Freedom to turn off my Internet in 120 minute chunks. It’s a bastardization of the Pomodorian method of productivity. But I like to sneak online and check things out. Sometime in the afternoon slot I’ll put together a blog if the spirit strikes me, to be posted the following morning. After yoga I work until my husband comes home, mostly business stuff, then we eat, watch TV, read, crash and start all over. I work 6 days a week, try very hard to take either Saturday or Sunday off. But rarely both. 1000 words a day is my goal. I must average that, or I get really cranky. When I’m closing in on a deadline, that can rise to an average of 4000-7000 per day. (1000 words is about five pages…)

What are you working on now?
I’ve just turned in the December Samantha Owens book, and have submitted the proposal for the third Sam. I’m in love with the title, so I’m hoping it’s accepted along with the story idea. I’m also working on a massive secret project that is very research intensive, and with any luck, sometime during this month I’ll be able to talk about it a bit.

Do you belong to a writer’s group?
I do, or I should say, I did. I’m on a sabbatical right now. But I’ve been with the same ladies for eight years or so now, and they’ve had their eyes on every book I’ve written. We meet twice a month, bring ten pages to read aloud, and gently critique one another’s work.

Do you still get butterflies before a release day?
I do. Absolutely. Though I’m more of a wreck in the few weeks leading up to the first reviews than anything else. The worse I think I’ve done with a book, the better it’s received. I’m not a good judge of my own work. I do read my reviews. But I feel if you believe the good, you must believe the bad, as well. It keeps me balanced.

You have a pretty large internet presence, do you feel that social media is important to getting name recognition.
I do, to an extent. It’s certainly changed publishing. I think it’s wonderful to be able to communicate directly with readers. For me, it’s a fun thing, not a marketing thing. I do it because I enjoy it, enjoy talking with readers, checking in with my friends, etc. That said, I think it can be very overdone. I’m constantly trying to find the right balance. Hitting people over the head with Buy my book, Buy my book gets really old, really quick. I’m moving a bit of my focus away from the networks and onto my mailing list, upping my newsletters to once a month instead of quarterly. That way, we’re all still talking, but it’s not as in your face as Facebook and Twitter.

JT Thank you for taking time out of your schedule not just for the interview but in advance for spending time with us in June while we read A Deeper Darkness.
Thanks for having me! I hope everyone enjoys the book!

My review of A Deeper Darkness

Dr. Samantha Owens has lived the last two years of her life in a fog of tragedy, only surviving by focusing on her work as the Chief Medical Examiner for Nashville, but not really living since the waters of a cataclysmic flood stole her entire family from her. Sam gets a call from the mother of a former love Eddie Donovan, a love that is now also lost to tragedy but his mother is not convinced of the circumstances of his death and calls Sam to perform a second autopsy to be sure. Needing an excuse to escape from her self imposed prison for awhile Sam answers the call to help even though she hasn’t heard from Eddie since they broke up after his decision to join the service. When she arrives in DC she’s not welcomed by everyone, Eddie’s wife isn’t at all happy to be hosting a former girlfriend and the detective on his case sees her as a distraction at best and a hindrance at worst. This does not deter Sam as she goes about her business letting the dead tell their secrets and this death is no different it also has secrets to tell, secrets that are pointing in the direction of murder especially as further evidence comes to light and another murder is committed that has ties to Eddie and his time as an Army Ranger serving in Afghanistan. The more Sam digs the more questions arise and with the help of detective Darren Fletcher who’s come to welcome her help they start putting pieces together, but the answers are still just out of reach and the terrain is getting very hazardous as the body count is piling up. But being here a part of something bigger than her, Sam realizes that a partial healing is taking place and is realizing that the human heart is much more than mere valves and blood flow and much more resilient than she first thought. The question is will she survive this new threat long enough to find out what else her heart is telling her or will she become just another victim of a different kind of flood.
JT Ellison has once again gone above and beyond what I expect and done it beautifully. She’s taken fact and fiction and together she’s woven an intricate patterned drama filled mystery. She uses the very real Tennessee flood of 2010, some call it the thousand year flood where very real lives were lost and some of those exactly as was depicted here. She also brings light to life after combat for our homebound men and the real healing they must also go through. Her storyline is imaginative, it’s illusive, it’s brilliantly filled with twists and turns and kept me from closing the pages until I either found out what happened or fell asleep trying to. Her narrative is that of the profession shown, the cop-speak and doc-speak fluently mixed with the everyday dialogue of everyday people. Her characters are all so well defined that I knew them intimately by the end of the novel, some I came to care for and some I hoped to stand under a large falling tree. Is this a mystery, very definitely but it’s so much more, it’s a love story, past present and future, it’s a drama with an edge and it’s a story about one woman’s weakness, her strength and her will to live on.
If you’re lucky enough to have read JT’s Taylor Jackson series then you already know Sam, if this is your first foray into the vivid mind of Ms. Ellison you will learn all you need to know and yet at the end you might be itching to find out what else this talented author has written while you’ll also get to know Sam a little better as well.
Please join us in our month long discussion of A Deeper Darkness with J.T.

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