The Sirens of Suspense

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An Anthony Award-nominated website on all things mystery.

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J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, including The Final Cut with Catherine Coulter, When Shadows Fall, Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITAŽ Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband.


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I’ve read about your childhood love of Perry Mason — would you say this was the major contributor to your eventual genre choice? If you could write another genre, what would it be, why?

Honestly, I don’t know. I read everything growing up, from romance to crime fiction to literature and poetry to science fiction. That said, I have a short story I wrote when I was ten, and my voice is unmistakable. I think our writing choices are an amalgamation of what we read as children, what we experienced, and our eventual, natural curiosity about the world. I’ve always been interested in psychology, that’s where the crime fiction angle comes from.

I’d like to write in YA, for sure. I think it’s an exciting genre, with so few limitations on style, and so many groundbreaking stories being told. I love that my fellow authors are capitalizing on the Harry Potter phenomenon to discuss real, serious issues in their work. We have such opportunities to resonate with the younger generation in ways we never could before. Or maybe I’m just being romantic toward what I think is a resurgence of literature that’s more than entertainment.


A teacher once told you that you weren’t good enough to be a writer — sadly, that happens to so many really talented students. Fortunately, rather than take it to heart, you decided to prove them wrong. What advice could you give to others experiencing this, and how did you overcome this setback?

Well, I wish I could say I did choose to prove her wrong, but the truth is, it affected me more deeply than anything ever had, and I quit writing for eight years. As I grow older, I see those eight years as lost time, and I’m trying to make up for them. But what stories could I have told if she hadn’t cut my legs out from under me? Would I be writing in this genre, with these characters, or would I have broken new ground elsewhere? I try to live a life without regret, but that is one huge one I can’t help – and my advice to anyone who’s experienced the doubt of an outsider to ignore them and follow your heart.

I found my way back through the work of John Sandford and a TV show called The Profiler. So I’d advise anyone who thinks they want to be a writer to find that one author or storyteller who really turns your crank and take apart why, then get started. Don’t waste any more time thinking you want to be a writer, just do it.


On May 25th, the NYT had a small piece about using pen names ( Though not particularly applicable since you use your own initials, it made me wonder. We always hear about the upsides of gender-neutral choices, but has there has been any downside for you?

The only downside is people getting royally pissed off when I won’t reveal my real name. Which blows my mind. I’ve been called JT all my life, it’s been my nickname since kindergarten. When my agent suggested it, I was relieved, and happy to give it a shot. Ten years in, I still get email to Mr. Ellison. It was a smart move for us, though it does bother me than female writers have to adopt masculine/androgynous names to gain male readers. As true as it is, it’s silly that in this day and age we have to do it.


WHEN SHADOWS FALL is the third Samantha Owens book, what’s coming next for you, and for Samantha?

I’m busy writing the next Sam book, WHAT LIES BEHIND, the 4th in the series. Sam has evolved so much over the past three books. She’s now an FBI consultant, and she’s working a whopper of a case in this book. Also, THE LOST KEY, the second Nicholas Drummond book with Catherine Coulter, will be out September 30. It’s a blast!


I’m on the Bouchercon 2014 Street Team, and wanted to ask what’s your favorite Bouchercon memory?

I love Bouchercon, but it’s the most intimidating conference for me. It’s so big, so frenetic, I never feel like I can see everyone and do everything, so I end up quietly tucked in the bar, people watching. Favorite memory: there are too many to nail just one, but I was rather impressed by the reader who was hell bent on showing us her brand new nipple piercing. The boys LOVED it.





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Book she wishes she could read again for the first time: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon. What fun!

Favorite sentence she's written: Can I have a paragraph? The first I ever wrote, when I finally plucked up the courage to sit down and try it. I wept when I hit that last period. I knew I'd come home. It's terribly purple, but it was a breakthrough moment.

"It might have become a perfect late autumn morning. The sky was busy, turning from white to blue as dawn rudely forced its way into day. Birds were returning from their mysterious nocturnal errands, greeting and chattering about the night's affairs. The air was clear and heavy, still muggy from the overnight heat but holding a hint of coolness, like an ice cube dropped into a steaming mug of coffee. The sky would soon shift to sapphire the way only Southern skies do — as clear and heavy as the precious stone itself."

What she's reading now: WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart.

Period in history she'd most like to visit: Italian renaissance in Florence.

Favorite online resource: I like a website called MIND, BODY, GREEN; the Quo Vadis blog; Minimal Mac and Zen Habits. I'm a firm believer that spiritual health and a calm approach to life leads to better creative output.

Thing she wishes she'd known when she started writing: Um, how to? Okay, that's cheating. But true. I wish someone had told me don't ever try to please people, because you'll always fail. Oh, and stay away from the negative people. They will drown you.

Favorite independent bookstore: East Side Story in Nashville — run by my friend Chuck Beard. It's a consignment store that only stocks titles from Tennessee writers. I love the concept, love the small, compact space, love what Chuck is doing to raise the profile of local authors. I wish all local bookstores would be as proactive with their neighbors.

If she could have one superpower: The ability not to sleep — then I'd have twice the daily writing time, and might make a dent into all the stories I want to write.

If she could invite four people to a dinner party: J.K. Rowling, Picasso, Hemingway, Rothko.