Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview With Author T. J. Ellison

It's my pleasure to welcome author T. J. Ellison to Murder By 4. Ellison is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series. Her novels have been published in 22 countries, and she was named "Best Mystery/Thriller Writer of 2008" by the Nashville Scene.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

I’ve always been a writer. I wrote poems, and short stories, and little books when I was a kid. I always did well in English, especially creative writing. I intended to get an MFA, but my college thesis advisor told me I’d never get published, so I went down the political path. I didn’t come back to real writing for a good ten years. And then I had no idea HOW to do it. So I read everything I could get my hands on, Cornwell and Patterson and Sandford, and finally found my voice.

2. Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?

My family, my husband especially, always supported my decision to write full time, from the very beginning. John Connolly was the very first author I ever met. He was invaluable to me – just simply giving me the encouragement I needed exactly when I needed it. When I was ready to bag it, he told me all good books find a home. And he was right.

3. Please describe the greatest difficulty you have faced in your writing career, why it was difficult, and how you resolved it.

I think the biggest thing I had to overcome was finding out there was more to writing a book than just writing a book. I had no idea about the publishing business, no idea that there were writers’ organizations, awards, magazines, a whole community. I was writing in a vacuum. Which isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen. Thankfully a few nice folks gave me a lot of good advice at the beginning, so I didn’t stumble and fall flat on my face.

4. What prompted you to write SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH and what do you hope your readers will get from of it?

So Close is the sequel to 14 – it took four books to get to this story. It’s a hugely vital part of the series, the resolution to an over-arching issue that’s been haunting my main character, Taylor Jackson. And it was so much fun to write – it’s fast and creepy and really gives a good look into everyone’s psyche.

5. Who or what influenced you in the development of this character?

Taylor is the embodiment of my own hero complex. She’s complicated, strong, driven, and dedicated. All the things I want to be in my life. She came out of reading John Sandford’s Prey series. I fell hard for Lucas Davenport, and knew I wanted a female version, with Nashville as the backdrop. Taylor leapt fully formed into my head, talking in that low, smoky drawl, and I knew I had to tell her story.

6. Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, and the setting, of this novel.

This is the story of the Pretender, a killer who made appearance in the previous novels. The Pretender has finally become the killer he set out to be. He’s a mimic, has never had a style all his own. That makes him incredibly dangerous, and hard to track. And now he wants to play a game, a game that leads to Taylor Jackson’s door. He’s turned the tables from his role in 14 – instead of being the apprentice, he is now the master. This book was five books in the making, and I’m excited that the showdown between Taylor and the Pretender has come at last.

But of course, unmasking him involves finding out who he really is. That was the fun part, finding out his underlying motivations, why he chose Taylor, why he’s a mimic. The why of the killer – it’s the reason I write these kinds of books. The psychology behind them fascinates me.

7. What impact would you say completing SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH has had on you personally and on your writing?

It’s nice to have it in the bag – and be able to help Taylor move on. He’s been a malicious omnipresent problem for her, and I’m hoping she can get past this. Hoping.
8. Please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the novel chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?

I’m not an outliner; I’m much more an organic writer. I never know where I’ll end up when I start writing for the day. This book is also a sequel, so I’ve known what it would be about for three years.

9. How much and/or what kind of research do you do prior to writing?

I do a lot of research. I’ve been on multiple ride alongs with the homicide team here in town, worked with the FBI, attended autopsies. I like to travel to the locales the book takes place in. It’s important to me to get it right.

10. What do you find the most difficult part of writing in general and what do you do to overcome it?

It’s not really difficult. I love writing. I love creating. It’s a wonderful blessing that’s come upon me, and I’m so glad to have found what I was meant to be doing early enough to really give it a go. If anything, I tend to overcommit myself. I do two books a year, plus a few shorts for anthologies, and fitting everything in can sometimes be difficult. It’s a good problem to have.

11. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?

I’m a full time writer, so this is my job. I work every day, pretty much 7 days a week. About 80 hours a week, all told. I shoot for 1,000 words a day. 12-4 is my best creative time, so the morning is usually spent doing business, and then I settle down after lunch to get my words done. Again, this is fun for me, so it doesn’t really feel like work.

12. What are you working on now?

I’m writing a new book in a new series, and not quite ready to go into detail with it. Soon. Very soon. Suffice it to say it’s a bit of a departure, and I’m loving it!

13. Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

Read everything you can, and write every day. Don’t worry so much about social networking until that book is in fine fettle. Revise, revise, revise, until it’s perfect, then let beta readers take a look and listen to their opinions. And read. Did I mention read? Oh, don’t forget to read.

Thanks so much for having me!

More about the author:
Ellison grew up in Colorado and moved to Virginia during high school. She is a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College and received her master's degree from George Washington University. She was a presidential appointee and worked in The White House and the Department of Commerce before moving into the private sector.

As a financial analyst and marketing director, she worked for several defense and aerospace contractors.
After moving to Nashville, Ellison began research on a passion: forensics and crime. She has worked with the Metro Nashville Police Department, the FBI, and various other law enforcement organizations to research her books. Her short stories have been widely published, and Ellison recently released an anthology of her short fiction called SWEET LITTLE LIES. This includes her award winning story "Prodigal Me" in the anthology Killer Year: Stories to Die For, edited by Lee Child, "Chimera" in the anthology Surreal South 09, edited by Pinckney Benedict and Laura Benedict, and "Killing Carol Ann" in First Thrills, edited by Lee Child.

She is the bi-monthly Friday columnist at the Anthony Award nominated blog Murderati and is a founding member of Killer Year, an organization that was dedicated to raising awareness for the debut novelists of 2007.

Ellison is a member of several professional writing organizations, including International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. She has an active following on Twitter under the name @Thrillerchick, and a robust Facebook community.

She lives in Nashville with her husband and a poorly trained cat.

1 comment:

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, JT! Thanks for being here on MB4 today. Just went to your site to check out the series - looks just like my wife's style (and I want to read them, too!). I ordered the first book in Kindle format and am anxious to start it. Best of luck with the new series, as well. ;o)