File this author away in your memory -- J.T. Ellison's first book will hit shelves in Nov. 2007. Ellison is one of the founding members of The Killer Year, a group of debut mystery and thriller writers who banded together to help each other out.
WN: Since "All the Pretty Girls" comes out 12 months from now, what should readers know about this book so that they remember to pick it up next year?
ELLISON: ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS is the story of a reluctant serial killer, one who has the best intentions and motivations for his actions, and introduces Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson and FBI profiler John Baldwin. I’ve just begun sending the book out for some preliminary blurbs, and I’ve gotten two doozies. Robert Fate, the author of my favorite book this year, BABY SHARK, says that I "wrap white knuckle moments in impeccable, seductive prose."
That’s the kind of endorsement that rocks a writer’s world. Add to that another from Tasha Alexander, author of AND ONLY TO DECEIVE, who writes, "ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS could well put Ellison and Taylor Jackson on the track to become to Nashville what Laura Lippman and Tess Monaghan are to Baltimore."
I hope this is the case, not simply because Lippman is such a talented author, but for the longevity of the series. The setting of the book, Nashville, Tennessee, is unique, and I hope Taylor Jackson resonates with readers. She is a tough young cop who is walking the edge of darkness, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Couple the characters and setting with a murderer who leads them on a heart pounding chase, and I hope I have created, as Mr. Fate so eloquently put it, "…mystery magic."
WN: What was the process like for you from having the idea for "All the Pretty Girls" to getting it picked up by a publisher?
ELLISON: I had a dream. No, I’m serious. I woke up from this convoluted dream about two characters in the book, identical twin sisters, and realized I should write it down. I wrote the entire plot synopsis at 3 in the morning, then went back to bed. When I woke up, it was still fresh in my mind. I wrote 50,000 words of the story in a month, then put it aside. I had another novel featuring these characters under submission by my agent, Scott Miller of Trident Media Group. Scott and I met on Publisher’s Marketplace, where I’d built a website and declared myself in search of an agent. He was shopping the first book, yet it didn’t sell. He told me to write him a new one, so I used the chunk of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS that I’d started, gutted most of the story, and finished it. Scott gave some great editorial advice, I made the changes and he submitted it around New York. Mira Books showed excitement about ATPG immediately, and I was thrilled to accept their offer. The whole submission process took about a month.
WN: You're a part of the Killer Year - What is this group and how has it helped you as a writer?
ELLISON: Ah, Killer Year. We are 14 debut suspense novelists who’ve banded together to help promote each other’s work. At the beginning, it was simply that a few of us were coming out in paperback, and since it is sometimes difficult to get reviews for mass market, we wanted to find a way to get the word out on our books. Suddenly, there were 14 of us, all very exciting novelists. When it became apparent that the industry was interested in us, we ramped it up a notch. Through MJ Rose, International Thriller Writers kindly offered to "sponsor" us, setting us up with mentors including such authors as Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver, Gayle Lynds, Tess Gerritsen, Duane Swierczynski and many more. Having the community behind us is immeasurably exciting.
It’s still shocking to me that no one has done this before, and in 2007 there are three such groups that I now know of – Killer Year, The Debutante Ball, led by Kristy Kiernan and featuring 6 women’s fiction authors, and a young adult group. It is so difficult to get on the radar when you’re a debut author. By working together, we all benefit.
For me personally, the camaraderie and support has been amazing. We’re all experiencing the same growing pains, learning the ropes, and feeling our way. Each of us has an area of expertise, and we work together to create media campaigns, our website and blog, promotional material – all the accoutrements that we would have each been doing individually.
And today, our efforts have come to fruition. We’ve sold an anthology of our short stories to St. Martin’s for publication in winter 2008. Lee Child will edit the anthology, and it will feature 14 original stories for the KY Members, stories by Ken Bruen, Duane Swierczynski, Allison Brennan, and introductions from MJ Rose and Laura Lippman. It’s very exciting news.
WN: When you're not writing, what else do you do?
ELLISON: I’m a big reader. I find my writing improves when I’m reading, so I try to get a few books a week in. During the warm months, I’m often found on the links. I began golfing when I was five and have been addicted ever since, though you’d never know it from my scores. I have a wonderful husband, and we try to sample Nashville – lots of great concerts and clubs here in town, good food and wine. I’m trying to build a wine cellar, and am always on the lookout for a good red wine.
Then there are the writing related activities, like Murderati.com, a blog of 7 mystery writers that I write for on Fridays, the Killer Year blog, and various other marketing and advertising "stuff" that I dabble in. I’ve gotten a little busy these past few months.
WN: If you got stranded on a desert island with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
ELLISON: Hmmm, that one is actually easy. Dr. John Baldwin, my FBI profiler, is quite the handsome man, has a brilliant mind, speaks several languages, is a student of human nature and a psychiatrist to boot, so he could deal with whatever lingering emotional issues would arise if one were stranded in the middle of nowhere. I know I should say my protagonist, Taylor Jackson, because she’s tough and feisty and a very down to earth woman. But she has a major drawback – she’s afraid of spiders. And since overly large arachnids populate most island getaways I’ve ever seen, she’d be useless. So Baldwin it is – he could keep me safe, and satisfied intellectually.
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
ELLISON: I’m a big Ayn Rand fan, and a big Plato fan. I think my favorite must be Rand’s slim volume ANTHEM, which is a parable for Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – humanity is shackled in a dark room and only shown interpretations of what reality is. One man (Socrates) breaks out of the Cave and sees reality for the first time: the blue of the sky, a real chair, a real piece of grass, and returns to tell humanity that they are being lied to. Of course, they can’t handle that truth and murder him. ANTHEM takes this timeless story and creates love out of hate, beauty out of ugliness, and freedom out of horrendous captivity.
It’s beautifully written and inspiring.
WN: What is your favorite word and why?
ELLISON: All of them. But there’s a few that stand out – Defenestration, serendipity, onomatopoeia, callipygian, juxtapose, persnickety, balderdash and kerfuffle. I think kerfuffle tops the list because it’s easily used in every day conversation. And love. It just can’t be misinterpreted.
WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
ELLISON: I have a sign on the door to my office that reads: There are no rules except those you create, page by page.
Stuart Woods said that to me in an email, and it freed me as a writer.
I’d been so constrained by the "proper" usage of words and sentence construction that my writing was stilted. Once I quit following the rules, things improved dramatically. And John Connolly, author of THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, once told me that all good books find a home. That kept me in the game to get published.