Following the release of her latest novel, EDGE OF BLACK, bestselling author J. T. Ellison took time out of her busy schedule for an interview with The Big Thrill:
EDGE OF BLACK is the latest book featuring Dr. Samantha Owens. Tell us about the new book.
EDGE OF BLACK is the second Dr. Samantha Owens novel. Sam is convinced she needs a break from being a Medical Examiner, so she has moved away from Nashville to D.C. and taken a job heading up the new Forensic Pathology Department at the Georgetown University. Part of her new job is handling the D.C. summer forensics joint university, so she’s teaching at George Washington University when a student falls ill in class. Sam rushes her to the hospital only to find there has been an apparent terrorist attack on the D.C. Metro subway system. The story takes off from there, leading into the wilds of Colorado on the trail of a killer.
Dr. Owens is a complex character with a lot of emotional baggage. Tell us about her and how you crafted this compelling character.
Samantha is a recurring character in my Taylor Jackson series – she’s Taylor’s conscience in the books. It made perfect sense to spin her off into her own series. Unfortunately, she had a lot of backstory – namely a family. They didn’t fit with the new story line, the move to D.C., any of it. I fought hard against the inevitable, but in the end, they had to go. So when the first book opens, Sam is completely broken by the loss of all the people she’s loved. She’s in a very unhealthy stasis, and is confronted with the ultimate choice - stop, or go on. She’s not living until she’s drawn into the intrigue in D.C., and it helps her start putting the pieces back together. In EDGE OF BLACK, she’s not entirely whole, but the seams are patched. She’s found someone to love, and as always, love heals.
Will readers need to have read the previous novel, A DEEPER DARKNESS, or can they jump in here?
They can jump in. All of my books are written as standalones, though the storyline is enhanced if you’ve seen the character’s growth.
Will we see the return of your other heroine, Lt. Taylor Jackson? And will Jackson and Owens ever share another adventure?
I adore Taylor and can’t possibly let her go. I’ve just finished a Taylor Jackson novella that will be out at Christmas in the ebook original STORM SEASON, with Alex Kava and Erica Spindler. I definitely have a few more Taylor books in me – there’s a lot of her story, and John Baldwin’s, that hasn’t been told yet. It will be fun down the road to bring Sam and Taylor back together again for a book – I definitely see that happening.
Do you have a dream project that you haven’t gotten to yet?
Absolutely. About 20 of them. One is finished and waiting for me to revise, two more are near and dear to my heart and screaming to be written: a YA paranormal trilogy and a standalone that will take a few months of immersion research to pull off. I keep having to stuff them under the couch cushions to muffle their cries. I don’t think I’ll ever get to all the books I want to write. I’m not suffering from a dearth of ideas, simply time to execute them all.
You’re all over the Net and very active in social media. What tips can you share with new writers about using these resources to build their careers?
I think it’s very important to remember that the best thing you can do for your career is write kick ass books, and every moment you spend on Facebook and Twitter is a moment that could be spent writing. Add up those moments across a year’s time span and that’s at least one more novel you could add to your backlist. It’s far more important to be creative than to be social.
That said, we writers live our lives in isolation, and the instant connection to readers can be quite gratifying. I have really fun readers who I enjoy talking with, and I was playing on social media long before I had an audience to play to, so I have to be careful not to tip over into socializing too much. It’s a huge distraction and also a lovely boon. I’m quite schizophrenic about it, to be honest. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. The big plus: I’m an introvert, so having the chance to think about what I say before I share with the masses is helpful. But it does pull me away from my creative world, and I struggle with that all the time.
How has winning the Thriller Award (for 2010’s THE COLD ROOM) impacted your career?
Aside from being the biggest thrill since that first phone call that I’d sold? It gives me confidence when the going gets rough. Every book hits a patch where I think it’s terrible, that no one will ever buy this tripe, and then I look up and see the award on my shelf and remind myself that I’ve done it before so I can do it again. It’s also a motivator to improve each book. You always want a second shot, you know? To write another book good enough to be nominated.
You worked in The White House and the Department of Commerce. How do you draw on those experiences for your novels?
I was such an idealistic little puppy back then. I’m much more cynical now, much less concerned with pleasing people. Looking back on the puppy, I see it was all about power. That allows me perspective on how to use power in my books – some people use their power for good, some for evil. All stories rise out of conflict, and conflict comes from power struggles. I can always tap into a way to raise the stakes after seeing it firsthand. And if I ever write a political thriller, I’ve at least got the geography in the back of my mind.
You’ve also made a significant mark in the short story market. Talk about the difference between writing short and long form fiction.
I look at my short work as my Johnny Depp moments. He’s so unafraid, willing to take on any role if it pleases him. That’s what my shorts are, a fun way to step away from my normal writing into another world. Many are horror driven, some are first person, some delve into themes I can’t put in my novels. They’re my little experiments, and thankfully, people generally like them. It’s always nice when you’re in a long slog on a novel to step into a quick and dirty side story. It rejuvenates me.
Romance plays a strong role in your novels. Where’s the balance-point between suspenseful romance fiction and a thriller?
To be frank, sex. When you’re on the hunt for a sadistic killer or a terrorist and the pace is whipping along, your characters don’t normally pause to drop trou. I only put sex in when it’s integral to the story, whereas romantic suspense relies on the relationship between the characters to drive the story in addition to the thrilling chase. My last Taylor book, WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE is a romantic suspense. Sex is very important to the story. But all the rest have been thrillers.
What’s next for J.T. Ellison? What can we look forward to?
I’ve just inked a deal co-writing with Catherine Coulter – our first book together, JEWEL OF THE LION, should be out late summer/early fall of 2013. It’s an absolute blast writing with Catherine – she’s brilliant and funny and has already taught me so much. I also have STORM SEASON releasing at Christmas, and will start work on Sam #3, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, in the spring for a January 2014 release. It’s all good here right now. All good.