Sunday Smatterings: Extended Edition

Sunday Smatterings 1.21.18

Hey, chickens, how's it going? We're thawing out in Nashville, thank goodness, at a balmy 60 degrees. We had snow on the ground two days ago—talk about weather whiplash!! That's the South for you, though. The seasons are constantly at war, no matter what time of year it is. 

Except for summer. Then it's hot for ten thousand years until we all melt into a puddle of salty sweat.

Last week was an interesting work week. I'm waiting for edits from my editor and suddenly figured out... I've turned in two books in less than a month, and I'm starting a new novel in two weeks, and I didn't quite know what to do with myself. So I slept, a lot, then began a new secret project. (Don't you just love when I dangle that carrot? It wouldn't be fun if I didn't surprise you every now and then, would it? 🥕) You and I know each other pretty well by now—I can't sit still for more than two seconds. 😂 I guess it's not the worst trait to have.

I did sit still for some great videos, though. All thought provoking and, in some cases, life-changing. It was a week of strong women begetting stronger women for me and the nation, and I'm feeling quite full of roar right now. #girlpower

Lots to cover this week (including an EBOOK SALE 🎉), so let's get cracking!

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Anything is Pawsible for These Literary Pups. Sometimes you need a gripping read. And sometimes you just need a cute puppy that gives you a happy ending. Which literary pup is your favorite? 

The Manual of Southern Know-How: When to Write a Thank-You Note. The wonderful author of AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE and DEAD ENDS contributor Helen Ellis dishes on thank-you note etiquette in her wry and witty way. I love her. 

Romantic Times Announced the Reviewer's Choice Award Nominees. And THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE made the list!!!!!!!! 🎉 And in such great company, too!

Backwards books on shelves are becoming a thing. I love me some minimalism, but I wonder: is this too much?

Don't be like me, the passport idiot. If you're a world traveler, read this article. We ran into this non-expiration expiration problem once, too. If you don't have a passport office closely, you're in trouble. Nashville's closest is Atlanta. Also an issue...

Delightful artist drew a portrait of him and his girlfriend in 10 different cartoon styles and they're all perfect. Boyfriend of the Year material right here. 

Best opening lines from contemporary authors. I love a good opening line, don't you? Something that clutches your attention and doesn't let go throughout the entire novel is the best way to escape. These might give you some ideas for your TBR pile...

And here's your #girlpower:

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold is magnificent, and this essay from the New Yorker does it justice. The documentary is illuminating, sad, surprising, and inspiring. In a winter of discontent, Didion's work might just be the ticket to understanding our world's many cycles. At the very least, it's a great primer on what it takes to be a writer—a desire for passionate observation.

What all writers should learn from Wonder Woman. A ten-minute watch, and well worth your time. It explores  the concept of Bathos, which is important to your storytelling skills.

Ellen Pompeo, TV's $20 Million Woman, Reveals Her Behind-the-Scenes Fight for "What I Deserve." I could gush for hours about this interview, for a thousand reasons! But I’ll make a single point: women have to approach their creative self worth differently.

Shonda Rhimes' TED Talk: My Year of Saying Yes to Everything. If you click on one link this week, let it be this one. I don't care where you are in life, this is applicable to you. It will stop you in your tracks and ask you to evaluate where you are and where you want to go. Utterly captivating and necessary.

And closer to home: DISCOUNTED EBOOKS!!!



Bargain Shoppers: the stars have aligned and given us not one, but two killer ebook discounts. Stock up on your binge reads, chickens! The winter is long, and your easy chair is calling.

LIE TO ME – $2.99

This USA TODAY bestseller chronicles the disintegration of a marriage as grief, jealousy, betrayal and murder destroy the facade of the perfect literary couple. 

ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS (Lt. Taylor Jackson #1) – $1.99

The novel that started it all. Revisit Taylor, Sam, and Baldwin in their first tale as they race to catch the sadistic Southern Strangler. If you're looking for a book with a badass female hero, this is for you!

That's it from me! Y'all be good this week, pop some popcorn and watch The Sinner (my current TV binge—so good), rub a kitten behind the ears, and we'll talk again soon.


Sunday Smatterings

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Hey, chickens, what's shaking? Are you snowed in like I (happily) am? We didn't get much snow in Nashville—most of us are stuck at home because of icy roads—but we got enough of the white stuff to turn everything into a winter wonderland for a bit. And even though they're cooped up inside, my girls enjoy how easy it is to spot cardinals in the snow. It's their version of Kitty TV!

Just because we're iced in doesn't mean we haven't been productive. Guess what? I celebrated the Snowpocalypse by turning in Novel the 20th—aka my new standalone, TEAR ME APART! 🎉 I think that's reason alone to break my dry January, don't you? My brilliant editor has it now, and there's more work to come, of course, but I always breathe a huge sigh of relief when the first draft is out of my hands. It's someone else's problem for now. 😜

And without further ado, here are your links for the week:

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

The man who read the world: David Bowie's son launches an online book club in his honor. I just love this. Can't believe he's been gone for two years.

Why time management is ruining our lives. A fascinating but important long read. We need margin to breathe sometimes.

You Need To See This Ice Hotel's "Game Of Thrones" Rooms. GoT nerds, you've got to check this out for the Hall of Faces alone!

Authors reveal their dream retreats. I'm always curious how other people go through the creative process and where they fill their wells. There's a reason we go on a creative retreat to Colorado every spring.

11 Literary Holidays You Need To Add To Your Calendar If You're A Book-Lover. Now we have almost a dozen more excuses to celebrate stories. Cue my excitement!

Why surprise Golden Globe nominee 'The Sinner' is a must watch. This was my favorite stream of 2017. The Sinner is superbly written and acted—I highly recommend it!

Woman Locked in Bookstore Overnight. She even had her own bed to read in. Best. Night. Ever.

And closer to home:

Sunday Reads: SMALL TOWN TROUBLE by Laura Benedict (Familiar Legacy Series #5). My BFF has a great new book out this week. SMALL TOWN TROUBLE is a sweet murder mystery featuring Trouble the cat, who, I might add, completely steals the book from his human counterparts. A great read and a great author. Have a go!

That's it from me! Y'all enjoy your week, stay warm, check up on a neighbor or two, and we'll talk again soon.


Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 1.7.18

Hey, chickens! How you doing today? Thawing out, I hope? No more bomb cyclones raging in our backyards?

If you're a U.S. chicken, I don't need to tell you that it has been so cold lately. My fingers stay frozen if they aren't wrapped around a tea mug. The kitties can't go on the porch. Thankfully Nashville wasn't swept up in the bombogenesis, but my deepest sympathies to you if you were. Yeesh. Old Man Winter is sure a grumpy fellow sometimes.

This week I put in lots of edits and new words for TEAR ME APART. I'm at a point where I'm honing the story, upping the tension, making things tighter, discovering more dark and twisty corridors inside of my characters. This is the good stuff of storytelling, when I can start pulling all the threads together. It makes this writer very, very happy.

Anyway. Without further ado, I give you links.

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

The simple structure to attaining your goals. Essential January reading, especially for those who want to keep their resolutions.

Jocko Willink on the power of discipline. We all know I'm a fan of Cal Newport's work, and I read his blog religiously. This article featuring former-Navy-Seal-turned-leadership-consultant Willink ran in December, but I thought it would be a perfect read as we ring in the new year. We're all looking for more freedom in our lives, and Willink uses a surprising tool to find his: discipline. 

How to use money to buy back your time. Creatives, take heed. Your time is so valuable. Where can YOU turn over your work to someone and buy back some creative time?

I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel Lawhon - a Winter 2018 Okra Pick. I had the pleasure of reading this beauty early. Fans of historical fiction: y'all need to run to your bookstore in March when this hits shelves. Such a great story!

Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan on How They Found the Voice of "Lady Bird." 2018 is going to be a powerful year for women in entertainment, both in front of and behind the camera. Long overdue!

Triple-Acting Diabetes Drug Reverses Memory Loss in Alzheimer's Disease Mouse Models. This is huge, y'all! An accidental find, and a promising start.

How Americans of both political parties can come together to support the Iranian people. When I joined Twitter, we turned our avatars green in support of the Iranian people. It’s time for another bold statement. #freedom

And closer to home:

My 2017 Annual Review. 2017 was one of my most exciting, crazy, thought-provoking, and frustrating years ever. At the beginning of the year, I predicted I'd more create consistency and contentment through staying home more. How well did I do? You be the judge.

Sunday Reads: YEAR ONE by Nora Roberts. This apocalyptic read is quite a departure from Nora's usual fare...

Also, an important thing I must tell you before I go:


Saturday nights tights. #myhusbandisagenius #crazycatlady

A post shared by J.T. Ellison 📚🤓 (@thrillerchick) on


They make sexy tights with kittens on them. You're welcome.

That's it from me! Y'all stay warm, make a snow angel or two, and we'll talk again soon.


On A Nashville Memory

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Nine Mile Hill, so creatively named because it was exactly nine miles from the heart of downtown Nashville, the Cumberland River, afforded Taylor a lovely panoramic view of the city. The sun was setting behind her, catching the reflection off the Lifeway warehouse. The skyscrapers and the Capitol building that made up Nashville’s skyline were bathed in a rosy copper reflective glow, shimmering like an urban mirage. Taylor had lived in Nashville her entire life, but had never seen this vision. It was gorgeous and filled her, making her feel whole and drowsy. She was tempted to pull over and watch until it disappeared, but the sun did the trick for her, shifting slightly in its evening zenith. The mirage faded, and the downtown Taylor knew reappeared.
— Excerpt From: J.T. Ellison. “Judas Kiss.”


Today marks the end of an era for Nashville. The Lifeway complex was demolished this morning to make way for the new area of town that will be called Nashville Yards. Change is inevitable, especially in a city like ours, that’s growing faster than many of us can keep up with, but it’s always hard to see icons disappear.

Watching this piece of Nashville history implode into dust, I reminisced about a phenomenon few have had a chance to see — and now, never will again — the Lifeway henge. It happened so quickly I wasn't even able to take a photograph. It was an experience that made it into the Taylor novel I was writing at the moment. I’m so glad to have seen it, and to have recorded it for posterity in Judas Kiss. And now it fades into the fabric of our ever-changing city. 

2017 Annual Review

2017 Annual Review

Oh, 2017. You will go down in history as one of my most exciting, crazy, thought-provoking, and frustrating years ever.

Looking Back on 2017 - The Year of Flow

After purposefully pulling back from external commitments, 2017 is the year I give my art my full attention again by staying home and working on my writing habit. Consistent writing brings me great contentment, and that is my goal for 2017 — contentment through consistency. This applies to more than just writing; it is my personal goal as well. Staying home allows for regular habits to grow and thrive — not just writing, but yoga, golf, friendships, minimalism for the house, and lots of regular, protected deep work time. This deep work practice will create great flow, allowing me to focus and challenge myself in my work.


When I read this, I started to laugh and wrote Ha—not even close. But... as I thought about it, while I wasn't able to stay home and nest all year, pouring out words as quickly as I do my morning tea, I do believe I achieved my goal of contentment through consistency. I'm rather surprised by this revelation, as I spent weeks on the road this year, had my schedules shift around several times, ran around with my hair on fire meeting new deadlines, remodeled the house, and otherwise spent a lot of time freaking out.

And yet... The crazy remodeling of several rooms to make them exactly what we wanted resulted in us decluttering the house to the point of austerity—a long-time goal achieved. It feels so good now. Another goal met: I spent a lot of time with the people I adore the most—friends, family, and business teammates, at home and on the road—deepening those relationships. With all the chaos, I managed to meet all my deadlines, read almost 80 books, took an actual unplugged vacation, wrote 275,000 fiction words, launched an anthology and recruited another, taped 6 episodes for A Word on Words, and found a comfortable writing habit. I even lost ten pounds in the process. Maybe I didn't fail as much as I thought I did! Then again, my golf handicap did go up because I only played 8 rounds this summer. 8! This must change. 


Well, everything and nothing. Professionally, the year-long campaign for LIE TO ME was a massive success. The book was a big hit, and allowed me to travel all over the country, meet a lot of readers, and put me on the radar of some very influential book bloggers and Instagrammers. My publisher got behind me big time, with major future commitments, and really, you can’t ask for anything better. Catherine and I wrote a new book that I think is wildly unique and fun, I finished a new standalone novel that is dark and different, wrote some short stories I’m very proud of, and grew Two Tales Press to its next level. Assistant Amy worked her tail off all year to allow me more margin for creative work, and when you see the numbers below, you’ll see exactly how well that worked. 

Personally, I found a great deal of contentment toward the end of the year once all my deadlines were met. The changes to my schedule and focus worked well, and I absolutely love my new interiors. I nearly exceeded my writing goals, nearly met my reading goal, and had a very good year in general. I committed to handling the holidays early and did, which brought a surprising amount of joy. Like so many others, the holidays are sometimes hard for me, but this year, having everything dealt with Thanksgiving weekend allowed me to enjoy instead of fret. So there’s the key — planning, and executing the plan. Who knew?

I also asked for and received an Apple Watch for Christmas. I can already see how this tool is going to be very useful in helping me meet my physical goals this year. I am so excited by it — it’s very clever, and I was able to import all 5 years of my Fitbit data using a cool app, and can track my sleep, too. Winning! I also upgraded my laptop to a Mac Touch Bar, and I LOVE it. The keyboard alone is worth the price. So much better ergonomically.

We also did a great job decluttering, emptying closets, turning the bonus room back into a game room instead of using it for storage. We have no house projects on the horizon; it’s time to settle into our bones and enjoy what we have. 


If I say everything and nothing again, you’re going to smack me and call me dramatic. You know the saying, still waters run deep? That was this year.

On the surface, everything looks stunning. But trust me when I say there was a lot of behind-the-scenes chaos, fear, freakouts, emotional collapses, self-doubt, and just plain too much to handle. Were it not for the support of friends, family, teammates, a very compassionate husband, and a brilliant assistant, I would have run away to a little town in Europe and not looked back. It’s interesting, I seem to have a cycle going. Every few years, I lose it completely and struggle for a couple of months to find my footing again. Why is this? Perhaps because I take on too much and it all catches up at once, perhaps I care too deeply about the work and am holding on to it too tightly, perhaps the natural physical changes as I’m growing up affect my emotional state (chick hint: it does). A combination of all these things? Regardless, I’m committed to lowering my stress levels in 2018. Something has to give. I don’t know what yet, but to start, I have canceled all travel and conferences save two I’d already committed to. I really need to step back and take a breath so I can focus on my work.




2017 Word Total: 919,881
Fiction Total: 274,410
Non-Fiction Total: 78,571
Email: 566,900
Fiction Percentage: 30%
Books Read: 75 (
of a goal of 80)

2016 Fiction Total: 217,228 (Fiction 25%)
2015 Fiction Total: 203,749 (Fiction 28%)
2014 Fiction Total: 291,114 (Fiction 36%)
2013 Fiction Total: 270,000 (Fiction 34%)
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000 (Fiction 34%)
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300 (Fiction 35%)
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383 (Fiction 32%)
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738 (Fiction 27%)

The most important takeaway from the 2017 numbers is this: my fiction total went up by over 57,000 words, and my non-fiction dropped by 48,000 (as compared to 2016). That in and of itself makes the year a raging success. I’m back into my 2013/2014 output levels, which means I can stock my magic bakery with more titles, and I’ve converted non-fiction words into fiction words for the very first time. A very good thing.

2017 was an insanely good year for my creative work. So many great things happened, some of which I can’t even talk about just yet! I released three original titles: THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE with Catherine Coulter, my second standalone, LIE TO ME, and my first anthology under my Two Tales Press imprint, DEAD ENDS. I wrote and published two short stories: CATWOOD and THE ENDARKENING, and started two more that will come out in 2018. THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE hit #2 on USA Today and The New York Times, and #1 on The Wall Street Journal. It received a starred Booklist, too. LIE TO ME hit The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star top ten lists, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and continues to do well. Target chose NO ONE KNOWS for their Emerging Author shelf, and LIE TO ME as a Target Select Read. FIELD OF GRAVES was nominated for a RITA® Award for best Romantic Suspense, and both NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES were long-listed for the Southern Book Award in the Thriller category. I went to ALA and BEA in support of LIE TO ME (OMG, that banner!), as well as toured all over the west coast, which was a blast. And of course, a huge exciting highlight of the year, A WORD ON WORDS won a regional EMMY®! And I managed to throw in another standalone novel, that I’m revising now, which will be my 2018 solo release.

Now if I could just write faster…


2018 - The Year of Change

It’s time to apply all the changes I’ve made over the past several years into a single, overarching habit that encompasses my work, my current life, and my future work. Putting my own needs first will allow me to grow both as a writer and as a person. Being selfish with my time, only applying my energy to work I love and believe in, will help me reconnect with my creativity in new and exciting ways. I vow to try new things, to read new-to-me authors, to regularly unplug and decompress, and enjoy life without pushing so hard all the time. Most importantly, I will set work hours, and step away from the screen when the day is done. “Mischief Managed” will be my new end-of-workday mantra, giving me permission to shut down until the next day. A shutdown ritual coupled with an 8-week modular work plan will lend structure and cohesiveness to my days, and drop my stress levels exponentially. 

I’m not even pretending to have a zen word for this year. 2018 is going to see some serious life changes for me work-wise, and I intend to shift several of my personal goals as well. I’m closing in on a major birthday in 2019, and I want to lay the foundations this year that will carry me through middle age (gulp). This includes the usual culprits: exercise and weight loss, a sustained yoga practice, and more vegetables than meat. And golf is a priority. But this year, I’m going deeper than changes to my physical being. 

I want to change how I approach my creativity. I feel like it gets stifled with all the pressure that exists in our current environment. I stepped away from social media several times in 2017, and this will continue into 2018. The psychic cost isn’t one I’m willing to pay anymore. I’ve found a comfortable pace with my networks, and my focus is on deepening those relationships instead of trying to grow, grow, grow. I’ve always said quality is more important that quantity. 2018 is the year I prove that to myself. 

I want to push myself creatively, too. You’ve heard the term “leveling up” — well, I want to find a way to be focused enough to level up every book instead of every five to ten books. That’s going to take an overhaul of my systems. Deep work is paramount, no distractions, no panic. I've learned how to say no when something doesn't enhance my life or work, and will continue to do so. My daily habit is in a good place, reinforced by scheduled Freedom sessions: Read during breakfast, write from 10–12, read during lunch, write from 1–3 (or 2–5 depending on the day), then a workout. Dinner, read or TV. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

I want to read more and consume less. As always, I want to read more of what I already own instead of buying new books. I want to read with intention, work with joy, and put myself first. I want to continue mentoring, continue broadening my horizons with A Word on Words guests, and dig deep into my mental wellbeing. 

I also ran across a very cool concept recently about breaking the year into multiple 8-week segments. The idea is 6 weeks of deep work, 1 week of wrap up, 1 week of vacation/rest. Looking at my word trackers, I do something very similar to this already—the bulk of my books are almost always written in the last 6 weeks of the project’s timetable. I spend the first 8 weeks or so on the first 25,000 words, making the set up works perfectly. I will be analyzing this new method and applying it to my annual creative planning, and see where it takes me. Plus, that week of rest is paramount. I took a real vacation in 2017, and I need to do it again.

As far as work plans: I want to write three short stories, and finally wrangle the non-fiction project I’ve been circling for the past several years, which means instituting a non-fiction day every week. I’m choosing Fridays, to echo my many years blogging at Murderati. Catherine and I will be writing the sixth Brit in the FBI, which is due in late summer, and I will tackle another solo book. I'm not sure if that's a standalone or a Taylor/Sam yet. I might toss in a secret project if I have the time and energy.

I have three original releases this year: THE SIXTH DAY, A Brit in the FBI #5, comes out on April 10. TEAR ME APART, my new standalone, releases on September 18. And we have a cool new anthology coming from Two Tales Press in November. I can’t WAIT to tell you all about it.

There’s even more incredible news to share, projects that will be taking my creative time, and I will release those details as soon as I’m able. Exciting times ahead!

Honestly, I don’t know that I ever imagined my career would be humming along like it is. I am blessed, and I know it, and so much of that is thanks to you. 

All in all, I’m faced with an interesting moment in my creative life. I hope I can meet it with aplomb, meet my new goals head on, and accomplish a lot. Thanks as always for being a part of my journey. Many blessings for a splendid, productive, happy, and safe 2018. Peace out!


The Deets - 2017 Writing

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For the past several years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year. Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait. 

And if you're interested, here are the links to my previous annual reviews for 200920102011, 201220132014, 2015, and 2016.