Sunday Smatterings

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Greetings, salutations, and warm Sunday hellos! As you read this, I am winging my way home from Thrillerfest, so this is going to be short and sweet. I’m sure I will have many stories to tell and lots to share. 

Before I took off for NYC, I spent some time doing a bit of a digital detox. Awesome Assistant Leigh was here Monday to get Team JT squared away on social media for the rest of the summer. I love these quarterly get togethers. It’s a blessing to be able to do some work in person when you run things virtually. 

That’s the way I feel about Thrillerfest. Not only do I get to see friends, I also get to see my team. This year’s event was especially exciting because my longtime editorial leader Margaret Marbury received an award for her service to the genre. While I’ve had five brilliant editors over the thirteen years I’ve been with MIRA, Margaret has been on my team from day one. I met her the first time in Phoenix, at the inaugural Thrillerfest. She embodies everything that you think of when the words “New York” and “publishing”  are put together. Gorgeous, erudite, a lanky fashion plate with a wicked sense of humor, she’s utterly cool and unflappable.  She gives good advice, too. So cheers, Margaret! Congratulations on being named the 2019 Thriller Legend!

One thing I did treat myself with was leaving my laptop at home and bringing along my ARC of Erin Morgenstern’s THE STARLESS SEA instead. I have to say, this book is going to be a massive hit. It’s wildly imaginative, structurally brilliant, and so heartfelt. Sheer genius. If you like books, you’re going to love it - so yes, that’s ALL OF YOU!

Back next week with loads more... have a super rest of the weekend. Let’s take a look at the links!

What I’m Reading:

LAYOVER by David Bell

There is something inherently sexy about meeting a stranger at an airport, especially one you connect with on every level. But what if that someone might be a missing person? It's a great premise for a book, and David Bell's latest, Layover, captures all the excitement and terror of this exact situation. If you like Harlan Coben, you will love David Bell.

What are you reading?

That’s all for now. I’ll see you next week!

peace and hugs,

Sunday Smatterings

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Sunday blessings on you all! Independence Day has come and gone, and now we’re settling in for the dog days of summer. If you’re a curious sort, as I am, you may wonder where that term came from. It conjures images of hot, sweaty dogs panting and searching for shade to me, but the Romans, who coined the phrase dies caniculares, did so because the bright star Sirius—part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog—rose in concert with the sun for two months in the summer, and they thought it added to the heat. So now you know.

Because there was no way to safely managed the crowds with my unsteady but healing knee, we stayed home and watched the fireworks on TV. The Boston Pops had an extravaganza that was broadcast on Bloomberg, and I’m telling you, it was spectacular. From the music, to the guests, to the message of unity and inclusion, to the impressive fireworks, everything was pitch perfect. I was especially impressed with the inaugural national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman. Her poem, set to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, blew me away. Definitely treat yourself and watch it. I daresay she’s going to become a household name soon enough.

It was a good work week, too, though a bit jagged around the edges. I wrapped up my #1000wordsofsummer participation with 13,000 words in 14 days, which I was thrilled with. I settled on a solid idea and wrote up a few scenes, and retitled the book’s working title to match. I was feeling pretty good about things. And the next morning, I opened Publisher’s Marketplace to see a sale announcement—for the exact same story concept, and the EXACT SAME TITLE.


This happens more than you can imagine. With all these creative minds plugged into the zeitgeist, it’s hard not to generate the same sort of ideas. Granted, everyone’s take on this general concept would be different, but the broad strokes were just too similar to my idea, so I had to change it. Trust me, I wasn’t thrilled.

Y’all know I’ve been watching authors on the Master Class (leave me a comment if you’d like a discounted pass…). I put on Baldacci’s class, and DH and I started to watch. I got frustrated pretty quickly, because in the beginning sections, he was saying things I already knew. The problem was my story had just been yanked out from under me, not that I needed to do more research. This is no knock to Baldacci, the class is great and clearly helped. We hit pause about 50 times as I talked it out with DH and my notebook. I grumbled. I complained. I knew I was circling something, but I couldn’t land on it. We tossed around a couple of ideas that felt possible, and I slept on it.

Sure enough, I woke up with an even bigger concept, and the first lines of the proposal. How to tell the story. What the story really was. The underlying theme, the moral question, the villain’s motives, all of it. I changed the name of a main character, and boom went the dynamite. I wrote up the proposal, and will submit it tomorrow.

Listen, there are only 7 plots. Every story is derivative of these 7 plots. (Tangentially, there are only 10 types of female energy, per this twitter thread...) How you tell an original story is in your voice, your treatment, your structure, your characters. Settings, too, play a large role. Unless a concept has quite literally been done to death, a fresh take on a classic tale will always, always sell.

I’m off to Thrillerfest this week (assuming I’m cleared to travel Tuesday, of course.) I hope to see some of you in New York!

Let’s take a look at the links!

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

So stoked to see GOOD GIRLS LIE is a Publishers Weekly editors' pick for Fall 2019 titles!

A library of one's own: Meet the man who owns 12,000 books. Can you even imagine? This makes me curious about how many books I own…I’m going to guess I’m in the 4,000 range.

Barnes and Noble Bought by Hedge Fund. Major news, if you missed it. I’m curious to see what shakes out here.

Use Your Calendar to Record What Actually Happened. Superb advice that I follow regularly. It’s a boon at tax time, too, for deducing mileage.

What’s On These Local Author’s Summer Reading Lists. Including yours truly. I had a hard time narrowing down my list! Also, if you’re not reading the Nashville Edit, you should be.

The Norwegian island that abolished time: 'You can cut the lawn at 4am.' I kind of love this idea. Not necessarily sunlight 24/7 for three months, but the idea that time is irrelevant. Because really, it is.

We Asked 24 Fantasy Authors For The Book That Made Them Fall In Love With The Genre. Filling up my TBR…

What Makes The Perfect Book Club Read? We Asked 3 Experts. Great advice for anyone who is thinking about starting a book club.

Sarah Haywood Shares Advice For New Writers. A lovely, encouraging essay.

Wine of the Week at The Wine Vixen… a white, for once!

What I’m Reading:

LAST SUMMER by Kerry Lonsdale

Here’s the best beach read of the summer! LAST SUMMER is out Tuesday and it’s a captivating page-turner of a suspense. You need it! I think Kerry is a superb writer. She knows how to build characters.

What are you reading?

That’s all for now. Donate three things to your favorite local charity (don’t forget the animal shelter- they LOVE old towels!), cut some hydrangea for your kitchen counter, clean your desk, and I’ll see you next week!

peace and hugs,

Sunday Smatterings

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Happy Sunday! I hope this weekend’s missive finds you well.

To Do lists. They are both the glue that holds together my world, and the bane of my existence. Whenever anyone asks me to do something–professionally or personally–I open Wunderlist and pop it in. It gets a date. It goes onto the appropriate list. It, therefore, exists.

Wunderlist is my savior, my world. All of my assistants have worked in it. Every book, every project, has its own folder, plus weekly To Dos and upcoming lists, databases, etc. (all this dating back to 2012...) I even use it as a catch-all for concepts and projects I might do down the road. It is so ingrained into my workflow and life that I hardly ever thing about it. Until this week, when I got word that my beloved task manager was going away, and Microsoft To Do was taking over. Cue panic.

Y’all, I know I’m totally overkill on the organization side of things, as anyone who has worked with me can attest. There’s something so soothing about looking at my lists, plotting out tasks, matching them to my calendar, planning and planning and planning (sometimes to the detriment of my writing, I will admit.) Yes, I procrastinate by planning. It’s a thing.

So having to change this process is, for me, on par to packing up and moving to France with no notice, no job, no shelter, and no friends, and then being told I’m going scuba diving in the Seine without oxygen. It’s the kind of disruption that has a huge effect on me. And I am not a fan of mindless disruption.

When I heard of the change, I immediately looked at Microsoft To Do, and at first, it looked like a decent solution. While it’s easy to import things and looks pretty (though much too spread out for me – I need to see things at a glance and it’s a lot of white space and scrolling), it doesn’t have any communication or notification features, which means using it for a team is worthless. At least for now. I also tried ToDoist, but their importer won’t bring in all of my tasks, just the top level stuff. When I did the initial sync I saw upwards of 7500 line items importing, though many are archived. Seven years of to do lists is a LOT.

I’ve tried Asana and Trello in the past, but I’m not a Kanban board thinker. I’m going to take a glance at Things3 next, but learning an entirely new content management system seems… counterproductive. I do Bullet Journal this stuff too, and use a pared down Week Plan in my Day One app, just for good measure. Yes, I’m overdoing it. I like redundancies.

This is a serious situation, people. I HAVE to have my project management system work, and work well. It is the backbone of my business.

 Why, you might ask, are the words not the backbone of your business, JT? 

Well, they are. Without the words, without the books, none of this matters a whit. And I tell myself that every time I get wigged out about these things. The world will not end if I don’t have the tasks managed.

Ah... and now we hit the crux of it. I can focus on the words much easier if my tasks are neatly arrayed, emoji’d, color-coded, hashtagged, and in their appropriate spots. 

Some of my friends don’t need a clean office to write. When my inbox and desk are messy, it gives me hives. Same with my digital life. My desktop screen is empty. My folders are neatly labeled. There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. And when they aren’t, the wheels start to come off.

This, my friends, is my OCD on full display, and why one of my main characters, Samantha Owens, also has OCD issues. I found her fascinating as a character because of this... I don’t want to say flaw, it’s far from a flaw. A detail, that’s all, in her life. But it’s one that runs so much of her personality, so much of her existence. And it’s adult-onset, which I think makes it that much worse, that much more frustrating for her. A woman who is so in control of everything suddenly unmoored makes for excellent writing fodder.

All this to say – when you’re developing characters, give them something that makes them unique. A private detective with a drinking problem is a trope, yes. But if the struggles of a character are something we can identify with, it makes them endearing, and human. You can find deeper issues to give them than over-drinking, if you look hard enough.

I will continue fighting with my systems until I find a new solution, and I will keep this advice in mind as I build my new characters. I think standalones are harder for these kinds of foibles. Each new set of characters needs their own set of unique details that make them come alive.

Something for me to ponder today. Character development, and really streamlining my To Dos.

Thanks for listening. Off to the links with you…

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

A Precise Taxonomy of 64 Hairstyles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Probably the most fabulous thing you’ll read this week, and bonus: it’s written by an exceptionally talented Nashville author friend by the name of Lauren Thoman.

Sleep in a library at Naples' first book hotel. This looks and sounds amazing! What could be better, Italy and books.

An amateur sleuth helped authorities confirm the identities of the New Hampshire murder victims. More proof librarians are amazing.

On the Writing Life and Safeguarding Privacy. “In our era of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, notions of privacy are being shaped and reshaped by the hour, with some arguing that we live in a post-privacy world. The Internet yields all sorts of knowledge we are no better off for knowing.” An absolute need to read.

Misfits Market - Ugly and Imperfect Produce, Delivered To Your Door. What a great idea. I had no idea the produce had to look pretty to make it on the shelves. Amazing how much we waste.

5 Things I Want to See in the Talented Mr. Ripley TV Series. I am a fan, and this was super fascinating.

When James Your Baby Bat Is So Cute He Can Do Whatever He Wants. "James, you're supposed to be hanging!" OMG! 😮 Hat tip to my brother for this one…

Twist Endings, Librarian Stereotypes, and Nora Roberts Books as Projectiles. Great new series from Book Marks.

'There's no safety net': the plight of the midlist author. “I had got myself into that catch-22, where your sales figures aren’t as healthy as they once were or as good as retailers would like. So then your book comes out and it’s not stocked in as many places, so it doesn’t sell as well. Then you’re writing your next one and it won’t earn as much money, as they’re looking at what happened to the one before. You’re almost doomed to continue the pattern.”

We call this the law of diminishing returns, and I’ve experienced it too many times to count.

Review: Google Chrome has become surveillance software. It’s time to switch. This is getting ridiculous. I never cared for Chrome, thank heavens. But this surveillance state we’re living in gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Wine of the Week A delicious Bordeaux from The Wine Vixen…

What I’m Reading:

DEAR WIFE by Kimberly Belle

You’d have to have been under a rock not to see Kimberly’s new book out in the wild this week… Congrats, girl!

I loved this book so much! Subtle, insidious, clever... DEAR WIFE is spellbinding. I was hooked from the first page. You’re going to love Kimberly Belle’s latest outing. And you aren’t going to see it coming...which is the best kind of suspense!

What are you reading?

That’s all for now. Have a picnic in a park, wear a hat and don’t forget your sunscreen, mark a few things off that To Do list, and I’ll see you next week!

peace and hugs,

Sunday Smatterings

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Happy Sunday, blessed solstice, and welcome, Summer of ’19! 

Here we are, halfway through the year. Rather amazing, that. And a wee bit terrifying, as I have a hard stop December deadline for my next standalone. 

I always build my year around my deadlines. I have some strict rules—no appearances in the weeks prior to a deadline, a short vacation halfway through drafting, monthly word goals to keep me on track, built-in time for the inevitable I’ve finished a draft and caught a cold that happens with every book.

For the past several years I’ve been juggling the deadlines of two publishing streams. Now that I’m back to solo work, and technically writing 1 book a year, I can look at my calendar differently, schedule things more in line with the rhythms of my year. That’s not to say I won’t write two books in a 12-month period, it’s entirely possible that I will. But for now, I get to start looking at things on an annual basis. Which means finish a book December 1, start a new one January 1. And add some touring in for the most recent releases, which, for now, will be winter.

Best case scenario sees a finished book in June, giving me a few weeks off in July, and starting a new one in August, wrapping before Christmas, but we’ll see how that works. I want to throw some short stories in there, too. I have two brewing, and one promised, so soon enough there will be some more work to do on those, too.

(Feel free to jump ahead to the links, because I’m going to talk craft for a while…)


In the midst of last week’s very excellent new books news, I had an “all is lost” moment. I just could not figure out why the new book wasn’t working. I’ve had the concept and been excited about it since the end of March. My agent was excited about it. My DH was excited about it.

But when I turned myself to building the story, nothing would work. The characters just didn’t zing. And then I wrote a prologue that had exactly zero to do with the story I thought I was telling. 

I finally publicly lamented that I’d forgotten how to write books, which I think every author feels at one point or another, but an agent friend very kindly reached out and gave me a bit of bootstrapping support, which reminded me that even though the writing life can be quite isolated, and success therein isolating, we aren’t really alone. There are agents. There are editors. There are writer friends, partners, and other sounding boards available to us, should we care to crawl out of our holes and seek help.

So seek help I did. I spoke at length with a developmental editor friend at a party (poor girl, so sorry to have dominated your evening.) I listened to agent friend’s advice. I talked to my BFF, and my husband. And then I called my editor and talked to her. 

We pretty quickly hit upon the major stumbling block—the premise is cool, but my awesome characters were just plain wrong. The POV was off because the characters weren’t right. I have all the awesome elements for a great story, but I wasn’t connected to the characters. They were too old. Their motivations were wrong for the story I wanted to tell.

So I tossed them, and the 5,000 words I had. (Gulp) (and by “tossed” I mean moved them into a new folder inside the WIP Scrivener file. I NEVER actually throw out words.)

That same day, my BFF sent me a get well present, and in it was a note written on a Jane Austen postcard, with the following quote:

“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

It hit me light a lightning bolt. A—I had no epigraph for the story: me, the queen of epigraphs. And B—this quote was *perfection*. Hello, epigraph! (I also have a mediocre working title that I know will change, another weird stumbling block.)

And then I watched the James Patterson MasterClass, which I highly recommend for every level of writer. I was worried it was going to be too basic, but Master Class is the best name for this, because it wasn’t basic at all. Like many craft conversations, the more you know, the more you’ll take away. Plus, Patterson is a hoot.

Thinking about the story in terms of the craft gave me what I needed. I changed the main character’s name, which altered her totally and completely, and that started the ball rolling. After circling the opening for weeks, I finally, finally hit upon the right POV, the right characters, and the right setting, and it meshes with the prologue, and the epigraph, and the elements. Phew!

This all sounds SO messy, I know. I’m a very instinctual writer, finely attuned to my subconscious. My stories usually find me, I don’t set out to find them. I’ve learned an excellent lesson from this. When I try to hunt and kill a storyline, it doesn’t work. I have to let it develop organically. Push too hard, and I simply shove the ideas away, like two north pole magnets trying to connect.

So. Now I can happily participate in #1000wordsofsummer and get going on the damn thing! I will keep you apprised of my progress, natch.

And with that, onward!

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Harry Potter-Inspired Café, Steamy Hallows, Is Brewing in NY. Let’s go! Right now! (Or at least during Thrillerfest, if anyone’s in…)

The Hit Books of the First Half of 2019. See any favorites? I am continually astounded by the level of talent out there. Literature just keeps getting better and better.

What I didn’t know about the writing process.  A lovely introspection from Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Buy This Thing. So fighting with this... all the time. Apparently I am susceptible to good marketing.

The Silent Productivity Killer Nobody Talks About. So true… the “getting ready” plague hits us all from time to time, me included. It makes you feel like you’re accomplishing so much, and yet…

Weeding is Fundamental. Fascinating story about what happened at the San Francisco Public Library after the earthquake in 1989.

Advice for Millennials: The Case for Spacing Out. “We’re all in this miserable boat together...” Isn’t that the truth? Though I must say, we also have the power to switch boats.

A Time Capsule From The Greatest: PW Talks with Hana Ali. “I know my dad was not perfect. But I respect and love how we handled his faults.” 

This 10-Minute Routine Will Increase Your Clarity And Creativity.  I do this all the time. Again with the subconscious writer pro forma, I know…

Author Platform: How to Build Your Online Audience and Stay Sane. Good tips! One of my web threads just had the social media discussion. And the advice is always the same - pick what makes YOU happy and do that. To hell with everything else.

Wine of the Week from The Wine Vixen…

What I’m Reading:

THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER by Patti Callahan Henry

I am a huge fan of Patti Callahan Henry. Beautiful, nuanced writing; characters you are rooting for; deeply relatable situations; and fabulous settings; these are her forte. Her wonderful BECOMING MRS LEWIS, the story of Joy Davidman, wife of C.S. Lewis, was on my Favorite Books of 2018 list. And now Patti is back with a remarkable family drama that explores the vagaries of memory. It’s so good, I bought a second copy so I could share it directly with one of you. Enter the giveaway on Instagram. What are you reading?

That’s all for now. Thanks for hanging in this big huge blog this week. Refresh that cuppa, see if you can spend a week not buying anything, journal for a few, and I’ll see you next week!

peace and hugs,

Sunday Smatterings

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Happy Sunday, and Happy Father’s Day to all the awesome dads out there, of people and pets, especially my exceptionally cool daddy. I am blessed with a best friend in my father. From golf to books to movies to space, we are two peas in a pod. Love you, Daddy!

It’s been such a cool week! I got to announce the best news — a new three-book deal with my longtime publisher MIRA books, edited by my awesome longtime editor Nicole Brebner. I waxed poetic on Facebook about this, but truly, you — the readers — you are the reason this happens. Your continued support, buying the books, sharing the books, talking about and reviewing the books, is keeping me in a job, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it! And I really appreciate everyone at Mira for the huge vote of confidence. These folks have stood by me through thick and thin over the years, and never gave up, even when sales weren’t superb. So hurrah for all!

I also started PT on my knee. I got the stitches out Friday and got to see some seriously cool photos of what they found when they got in there. The good news is they cleaned everything up. The bad news is, there’s more extensive damage than anticipated, so I heard the dreaded word replacement. That’s down the road, so I’m not too fussed. By the time I need to do it, they’ll have it down to an easy surgery that’s no big deal. (She says, praying.)

I really have underestimated how much this would take out of me, though. I’m genuinely tired, genuinely sore, and genuinely sick of being tired and sore. It’s affecting my linguistic skills terribly, too. I’m working, but things aren’t going the way I want. I keep reminding myself I had surgery, with full anesthesia, so that’s playing a role. And I always forget how to write a book when I start one, which is a true writer phenomenon. Things are starting to click a little bit, so hopefully next week, I’ll see some progress and be able to start writing a proposal.

The proposals I do are sort of an outline, sort of a narrative structure, sort of a guide for where the story is going. It’s for my editor to see what I’m thinking. Characters are revealed, motivations explored, some overarching plot details fleshed out. Right now, I have a working title, a log line, an a X meets Y, and some characters. Now I need to make them all dance, and while I’d prefer a smooth tango or an en pointe ballet, I wouldn’t say no to a decent little shiggy.

One thing I don't want is too much detail. GOOD GIRLS LIE had an ending early on. It was one of the hardest books I’ve ever written because I knew the ending before I really knew the whole story. I am determined never to do that again. So no endings! I have a super vague sense of where this is headed, but I refuse to even let myself think in terms of the end. I don’t even know what the twists are yet. I’ll get there. Maybe.

On a totally different note—THE WINE VIXEN is back up and running! New posts go up at 5 p.m. Wednesdays. So if you’re into some cool wine suggestions, take a gander! It’s a 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷 suggestion this week, too.

With all that behind us, it time for the links!

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

40 New Thrillers Out This Summer That Make The Perfect Vacation Reads. Every. Book. On. This. List. WOW! The talent pool just keeps growing!

Best Gardening Books for Lazy Gardeners. It's like you see me.

Please, Let Me Be Alone With My Thoughts. Gotta say, the “nothing box” sounds so appealing. And might save some relationships...

10 romance novels that are perfect for summer reading. Nice list! See my latest romance read below…

What is Success? [insert laughing/sobbing] — Wendy Heard asks a tough question, and I couldn’t help but jump in and try to answer it. 

Ian Fleming Explains How to Write a Thriller. Superb advice and insights on how to write. Full stop.

Parker Posey Buys $1.49 Million One-Bedroom Chelsea Apartment. Lovely! I could do with a 1 bedroom in Chelsea. Just saying…

7 Book Promotion Trends & Tips from BookExpo 2019. Check out these marketing takeaways from #BookExpo #BookExpo19 — interesting info on debut promotion, working with indie bookstores, and packaging ARCs! 

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet. A deep philosophical thought for you today.

Step inside 'Leninka,' Russia's largest and oldest library. Beautiful and such an interesting history! 

What I’m Reading:


I know you’ve heard about this book and it is worth the hype. Absolutely adorable, sharp and funny and self-aware, this is the book for anyone who likes romantic comedies, who likes stories about hope, who needs some cheer in their lives. A quick and satisfying read. And now I need to go watch You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and While You Were Sleeping for the umpteenth time.

What are you reading?

That’s all for now. Watch your favorite rom com, get on your bike and get some movement in those knees, eat a Tootsie Pop, and I’ll see you next week!

peace and hugs,