An Interview with Cathy Clamp of The Big Thrill

You'll double-lock your doors after reading 14

By Cathy Clamp

Ten victims, each with pale skin and long dark hair. All have been slashed across the throat, the same red lipstick smeared across their lips.

In the mid-1980s the Snow White Killer terrorized the streets of Nashville, Tennessee. Then suddenly the murders stopped. A letter from the killer to the police stated that his work was done.

Now four more bodies have been found, marked with his fatal signature. The residents of Nashville fear a madman has returned, decades later, to finish his sick fairy tale. Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson believes the killings are the work of a copycat killer who's even more terrifying. For this monster is meticulously honing his craft as he mimics famous serial murders...proving that the past is not to be forgotten.

Big Thrill contributing editor Cathy Clamp recently sat down with J.T. Ellison, author of the upcoming thriller, 14, and chatted about this new episode in the life of her ongoing character Taylor Jackson.

Did your heroine work on the original files in the 80's that she never solved, or is this a case of having to dig up old files to figure out what originally happened?

Taylor was actually in junior high when the original Snow White murders took place. The case sparked her interest and she always vowed that if she had a chance, she'd try to solve the mystery. When she started with the Metro Nashville Police Department, she checked the files out of storage and memorized them. The case sat in the Cold Case files for thirteen years before bodies with the Snow White's signature began showing up in Nashville. Now, being the Homicide Lieutenant, she not only has the jurisdiction, but the team to solve the case. Hardly a dream come true, but a fulfillment of a desire she's had since she was a child.

Did you model the events or killings on any real cases that happened in Nashville? If so, were they ever solved?

Nashville has never had an egregious, famous serial killer, thank goodness. For the story to work, though, I needed to give us a killer on par with serial killers like the Boston Strangler, the Zodiac, the Son of Sam. A killer who has altered the culture of a city through their reign of terror. The Snow White killer became that man in Nashville's history.

You were a White House staffer in your "previous life" before beginning to write novels, which would be a really interesting job. What led you to Nashville, and what triggered the desire to write a thriller?

I went into politics after an English professor in college told me I'd never make it as a writer. I was out of the game, so to speak, for fifteen years, and just started writing again in 2004. My husband and I met, courted and married in D.C., but he wanted to come home to Nashville, and in 1998 I finally acquiesced. I had my doubts - but Nashville is an amazing city. I was intrigued by the contradictions - the class structure, the politics, the very southernness of the city. I was reading another great regional series - John Sandford's Prey books - and I thought it would be fascinating to have a Nashville version. We have the same kind of crime as the big cities, but we're perceived as a town overrun with musicians and songwriters. I wanted to give my readers a chance to see the Nashville I see, not necessarily the one they've become accustomed to.

You've mentioned you have a cat who runs roughshod over you. I've noticed that writers with pets who have "personalities" (myself included! LOL!) tend to also inflict similar animals on their protagonists. Does Taylor have a unique pet?

No, Taylor has been a loner for a long while. With her long hours and total dedication to the job, she would feel like she was abandoning any pet she left at home. But now she has Baldwin. He doesn't qualify as a furry friend in the truest sense of the word, but he is an addition to her life that makes her richer. I, on the other hand, have a very poorly trained cat who rules the roost in the Ellison household. She's got me wrapped around her little paws.

What surprised you when you were doing you research for the book?

I research heavily, spending time with law enforcement, talking to experts. But for this book, I needed a trip to New York. I hadn't been since high school, and I wanted a refresher course to see how it smelled, what it sounded like, where to place my scenes. The city quite literally blew my mind. I've been back five times now, and loved every trip. But that first visit as an adult will stay with me.

Did you originally intend any subplots or characters traits that didn't make it to the final edit?

Sure. There's always a trail that needs to be reigned in, or a character who isn't serving their purpose. My editor (Linda McFall) is fantastic, and she knows exactly what threads to pull. I'm lucky, I rarely have to cut much from the content. My stories are twisty, but still linear, and I tend to add as I revise. And add. And add...

Anything else you'd like readers to know about? Are you planning any contests or book tours to promote the book?

I'll be on tour starting September 3, and go for six weeks, wrapping up my out of town events in Baltimore, for my very first Bouchercon. I like the set up I've got for this book - for All The Pretty Girls, I covered thirteen states in six months. Fun, but exhausting. This is much more concentrated - in addition to my Tennessee stops, I'm going to Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Maryland and Nebraska, where I'm joining one of my favorite authors, Alex Kava, for a couple of stops on her tour. This schedule is more intense up front, but then it's over, and most of the rest of my dates are relatively local. I'm starting a new book as we speak that is due in March, which means I need more time at home on the computer. The tour dates are on my website,

Thanks so much for taking the time to give our readers some insight into your new book. It's due out September 1st from Mira. Right? It sounds like it's going to be a great read!

It is, and I hope everyone will love it. Thanks for having me!

Contributing editor Cathy Clamp is the co-author, with C.T. Adams, of two USA Today bestselling paranormal romantic thriller series from Tor Books. They were recently nominated for a Career Achievement Award in paranormal romance by RT BOOKreviews Magazine, which will be awarded in April, 2008. Their next thriller, TIMELESS MOON, hits the shelves in March, 2008.