2018 Annual Review

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Hello, and welcome to my annual review!

I experienced a huge amount of resistance to putting together the annual review this year. Not the numbers—with my spreadsheets, that is actually the easy part. No, there was just so much that happened this year, so many things — good and bad, happy and sad — that I just felt overwhelmed at the prospect of revisiting the many emotions I experienced as the year progressed. 

It was a stressful year, to say the least. From staffing changes to deals falling through, from altered deadlines, shifting pub dates, way too much travel, and a secret project to launch which came with a monstrous learning curve, it felt hectic from start to finish. And hectic isn’t a good place for me.  Especially when, looking at the planning calendar, I *knew* the year was going to be busy. Sometimes knowing is worse, because the anticipation gets you every time. If I had a dollar for the number of times I said “just get through this month, and it will all calm down...”

A friend (rather bravely, considering) told me she was concerned I was overdoing it, that I was pushing too hard, and was in danger of having it all collapse around my ears. It brought me up short, and was possibly the most important conversation I had all year. When I took a step back and thought things through, I realized she was right, something had to give. I was driving myself to stress and distraction by trying to do it all. 

But get through it all, I did. I’ll even admit I’m kind of proud of myself for making it all happen.  And interestingly, as I was putting my review together, I realized that for every negative, I found myself writing “X happened, but it caused Y,” and almost universally, Y was a positive that outweighed the negative. Once I finally dug in, the year looked pretty dang rosy.

2018 was supposed to be the Year of Change — and boy, how, did it live up to its title. 

LOOKING BACK ON 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.

HOW DID I DO?

Well...I can honestly say that I did achieve 50% of what I was looking for when I set my 2018 goal of change. The first half of the paragraph above, especially.  I made several major changes to my writing habits, and I’ve done an excellent job putting my needs first. One of the greatest lessons we can all learn is how to let go of anything that doesn’t serve us in a positive way, be that work, people, habits (or the lack thereof). This year, I said no to things I truly didn’t want to do, and felt a new sense of freedom. 

Did my stress level drop because I planned everything so perfectly? Ha! Not a chance. At one point in the year, I was actually so stressed my doctor put me on a heart monitor. It was situational, happily, and once the stressor was removed, everything went back to normal. But recognizing I wasn’t managing my stress well, I started taking CBD oil, which has gone a long way toward helping me keep everything under control. I’m sleeping better, deeper, and waking more refreshed, which helps. I’m feeling much more capable of handling the day, and that’s been a lifesaver. I’d much rather take something natural instead of Ativan! 

By the last quarter of the year, when everything hit a fever pitch, I just kept getting up and tackling the day, over and over, and then, suddenly... it was all over. All the books were published, all the travel was finished, all the deadlines were met. I had room to breath, and the clarity with which to see the future again. I started thinking about 2019, and beyond, what I wanted from my career, from myself. I even went so far as to write a mission statement, my Jerry Maguire moment, to help clarify everything I was thinking about, where I want to go from here. It felt good. It makes sense. It’s achievable. 

Now that, my friends, is change personified.  

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

So many things! Honestly, as wild as all this sounds, many, many more good things happened than bad. A lot of them I can’t talk about publicly, but believe me when I say 2018 was a very good year.

TEAR ME APART’s reception in the world was beyond heartwarming. It was such a difficult book to write, and the notes I’ve received about it broke my heart and put it back together again. 

A THOUSAND DOORS was a wonder. From start to finish, it was an exhilarating process. Working with the amazing authors, watching the story come together, seeing it resonate with readers, learning how to publish the damn thing… it was a labor of love and I’m very proud of it. Plus, many new friendships sprang from its loins. What more can you ask from a project?

Something very important happened in 2018 — for the first time in many years, I developed and started writing an entirely new concept instead of digging into my archives for a story thread. That book, GOOD GIRLS LIE, is well underway and due to my publisher early 2019. And with that clarity came yet another idea, for the next book, which also hasn’t happened in a very long time. I am finding the flow again, and that is a very good thing. I also adapted a short story idea in progress to be the epilogue for GOOD GIRLS LIE — in that weird way of the subconscious, I couldn’t make the short story deadline, but the story must have been germinating anyway.

After finishing THE LAST SECOND, the 6th Brit in the FBI book, I immediately pivoted to a trip to England, the launch of TEAR ME APART, a brief tour, and then right into the launch of A THOUSAND DOORS, all without drawing a breath. These weeks away from writing torpedoed a lot of my good habits, so I decided to do a 4th quarter booster shot. 

I re-read (listened to) Stephen King’s ON WRITING and Twyla Tharp’ s THE CREATIVE HABIT, and both books really lit a fire under me in terms of my own creativity and writing habits. Not to do more, necessarily, but to do it smarter, and for the right reasons. I’ve been making tweaks to my writing day all year, but now I’m getting my words done in the morning, leaving me the rest of the day for exercise, reading, cooking, planning, and more writing. 

Even more importantly, I rebuilt my office from scratch to be a calming, Zen-like space that allows me to do all my creative work in one place. When I leave my office, I leave the work. When I step in, the creative juices flow immediately. (Plus, the cats LOVE the new rugs and chair.) Since I’m entering a new chapter in my life, having a new desk, a new office, is probably the most symbolic and constructive act I’ve done in years. 

And I read 100 books. 100! (I don’t count abandoned titles in this, of which there were at least 20, nor my own books, all of which get read a gazillion times each.) Last year I read 72. Adding audiobooks to my repertoire has seriously increased my reading time, something I was really hoping for.

Catherine and I (avec husbands) went to London and saw The Cursed Child, and then Randy and I went on to Cambridge and Oxford. So much fun, and so inspiring. I used a lot of the Oxford trip as the backbone for GOOD GIRLS LIE, too!

I published three books, wrote half of another, traveled all over the country and did two international trips. There were starred reviews, thoughtful emails, and great friendships made and deepened. We started a private facebook group called the Literati which is a wonderful, warm, funny place to spend time with like-minded readers. Instagram turned out to be a happy surprise filled with lovely bookstagrammers and yogis to follow, and I found a haven on Twitter of fun authors to hang out with, both online and in person. I learned how to do actual accounting, fulfillment, and billing (don’t laugh, MATH) and once the accounts receivable are set, the publishing house is actually in the black for the year, a massive accomplishment.

With my assistant Leigh at the helm, I am very happy with the way we’re approaching social media now, too. After some fits and starts with the Tao reboot, I’ve found a healthy balance with the Sunday Smatterings posts, regular check-ins on Facebook and Twitter, and a lot of fun, positive energy going into Instagram. We’ve abandoned schedules and are focused on enjoying the relationships we’ve built this year, especially on the Literati and Instagram, and of course, the newsletter continues to be my favorite way to communicate. If I have something I want to blog about, I do. If I don’t, I don’t. This takes off so much pressure, you can’t even imagine.

And of course, a major new secret project is well underway. Trust me when I say, it’s going to be astoundingly cool and a big, big surprise. 

My biggest takeaway: In learning how to let things go that don’t serve me, I found myself again.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

At one point in the year, it felt like anything that could go wrong, did... but it righted itself in the third quarter, leading to a fun fourth quarter. I didn’t hit my original word goal, revising it down by 50k... but I indie published a unique anthology to major critical acclaim. I had a mini-meltdown in September and decided to take the last 4 months of the year off... but quickly realized time off wasn’t the issue, it was what I was spending my time on that was the problem. My assistant quit... but I found a wonderful new one rather quickly, and the transition was practically seamless. A major deal fell through... but another presented itself the same week. I didn’t play nearly enough golf, nor did I take nearly enough time off... but I got to travel to England for research and Aruba for fun. I was stressed out of my mind for a while... but I found a great, natural solution. I was laid low by a major bout with the flu, and another round soon after of asthmatic bronchitis... but the time spent in fevered delirium absolutely made TEAR ME APART come together, and I kept off almost all the weight I lost. I did lose my yoga practice, and there’s no real but for balance... but I plan to fix this ASAP. Oddly, I haven’t heard my good luck song since 2017... but I hope this changes, too, and soon!

All in all, it was definitely a when a door closes, a window opens kind of year. 

Living a creative life — making a living from a creative life, I should say — is hard, but isn’t exactly digging ditches. Having this much work, this many expectations, is a major blessing, one I don’t take for granted.  

NERDOLOGY — THE NITTY GRITTY

2018 Word Total: 835,959
Fiction Total: 200,430
Non-Fiction Total: 105,529
Email: 530,000
Fiction Percentage: 24%
Books Read:  100 (of a revised up goal of 80)

2017 Fiction Total: 274,410 (Fiction 30%)
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%)


I wrote fewer fiction words due to the time I spent publishing A THOUSAND DOORS, and barely squeaked past my (revised down) 200,000 goal this year, mostly because I arrived at my parents for Christmas and promptly collapsed into a puddle of goo and didn’t get off the couch to do anything but walk or golf for a week. It was glorious, and well worth not blowing away my goal. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I did surpass 200k handily, but I only count each project’s finished words, not all words written, in my dailies. Still, 200,000 is nothing to sneeze at. It’s one of my lowest counts in years, but I am completely at peace about it. I’ve become much more interested in producing a specific kind of work, and if that means it takes me longer and I write less overall, so be it.

Here are some specifics on the year — and yes, the numbers aren’t wrong, there were 15 releases this year (not including any down price sales or contests). No wonder things felt so frantic!

Original Books Published:

TEAR ME APART, THE SIXTH DAY, A THOUSAND DOORS
All three novels were critically acclaimed, and THE SIXTH DAY hit all the major bestseller lists. Hurrah! 

Reprint/Repackage
: 7

The Sixth Day trade paperback
Samantha Owens Series digital repack
Suspense on the Edge of Romance Collection (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
Dark and Twisted Reads (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)

Two Tales Press:
7

A THOUSAND DOORS, NO ONE KNOWS German edition, NO ONE KNOWS UK edition, DEAD ENDS audiobook, STORIES OF THE NIGHT audiobook, CATWOOD

Conferences/Festivals/Bookstores:
10 

Bouchercon, SIBA, Murder by the Book, Parnassus, Chapel Hill Library, Charlotte Bibliofeast, Writerfest Nashville, Southwest Florida Reading Festival, Southern Festival of Books

Major Projects Worked On: 5

TEAR ME APART, A THOUSAND DOORS (both edits and 4 original short stories within), THE LAST SECOND (Brit in the FBI #6), SECRET PROJECT, GOOD GIRLS LIE

A WORD ON WORDS Shows Taped: 6

Books read: 100

More Awesome Stuff:

EMMY nomination for A WORD ON WORDS Season 3
PW Starred Review: TEAR ME APART
PW Starred Review: A THOUSAND DOORS
NYT List: THE SIXTH DAY
USA Today List: THE SIXTH DAY, LIE TO ME
TEAR ME APART made several major best of 2018 lists
Shhhh.....(sorry, but soon!)


2019 - The Year of Joy

After all the changes of 2018, I’m so looking forward to 2019. I go forth into the new year with joy in my heart, not the pervasive dread of “how am I going to do it all?” I usually feel at this time of year. I’m not worrying as much about what I’m going to accomplish, instead I’m focused on being present, enjoying my work, my family and friends, and my life. Being happy. Contentment and creativity are the primary goals. A big birthday is looming, and I plan to enjoy every minute of the transition into another decade, approaching this new stage of my life with gratitude instead of fear. 

If you’ve read my previous years’ annual reviews, you’ll see a trend. Accomplish goals, accomplish goals, accomplish goals. This is laudable, absolutely. But it’s also becoming counterproductive to my creativity. And I really, really need to scale back.

I want to start separating out my goals into two categories — what I can accomplish, and what I’d like to see happen. Need vs. Desire. It feels counterproductive to have goals on my list that are out of my control (options exercised, bestseller lists made, etc.) I can control how many words I write, and I can control how many books I read. I can control whether I walk on the treadmill and get on my yoga mat. I can control what I put in my body. Controlling the things I can control goes a long way toward creating joy.

To this end, I bought myself a gorgeous new notebook (William Hannah) and I’m very excited to incorporate some more specific calendar work with my to do lists, and notes. I’ve been tossing over this notebook concept for three years, so I figured, why not? My favorite Quo Vadis Habanas have gone exclusively to ivory paper, and I prefer the brighter, whiter paper that the William Hannah provides. Plus, I like the actual calendars, with pretty dates and perfectly drawn boxes — I am not an artist in this way; my BuJo is functional but rarely elegant. This new notebook has a monthly calendar, a weekly calendar, monthly planning, weekly planning, and plenty of room for to do lists, meeting notes, brainstorming, anything I want, because it’s scalable and customizable. All in one, and one for all. Pretty cool.

2019 is also the year I refocus my mental energy on my fiction. Everything is humming along nicely in the non-fiction realm, so there’s nothing more that needs to be changed there. I want to focus my energies on writing books that connect with readers, and feeling that elusive moment of creative satisfaction I’ve achieved a few times in my career.

I’m starting the year with a Dry January, mostly because I want to change my to sleep and to rise times, and my nightly glass of wine makes it harder to get up in the morning (hello, middle age). I’m excited about initializing some new habits, and refreshing my Italian skills for a trip later this year. 

As of now, there will be seven book releases in 2019 — two original titles, four backlist releases, and one audiobook. I don’t know about repacks and the like, but seven is a much more manageable number than 15.

March 26 - THE LAST SECOND Brit in the FBI #6 HC
March 26 - THE SIXTH DAY (Brit in the FBI #5) mmpb
April 9 - A THOUSAND DOORS Audio
April 23 - LIE TO ME mmpb
September 3 - GOOD GIRLS LIE HC
September 23 - NO ONE KNOWS mmpb
November 12 - THE LAST SECOND (Brit in the FBI #6) TP

I plan to finish GOOD GIRLS LIE and write another full-length novel, with a writing goal of 200,000 words. I don’t have any short stories on the horizon, but if one presents itself, I will certainly tap into the zeitgeist and make it happen.

I’ve also mentioned that I’m working on a massive secret project — because what fun would life be without secret projects?  I will share details as soon as I’m able. It is incredibly fun, and I am very excited about it. 

I’m scheduled to attend both Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. Because of my deadline, I sadly had to pull out of a January conference, but I’m hopeful to make it in 2020. I have Southern Voices ahead, and a few other trips planned. Nothing crazy, but fun stuff that I’m really looking forward to, including one major research trip.

And speaking of deadlines... I’d like to work on revamping my writing year, too. My perfect year (assuming two books a year) sees me starting a new book in January, finishing in May, starting another new book in July, finishing in early December. That gives me May and December off (it takes me a solid month to get one book out of my head and another into it) and gives me plenty of space to attend conferences and tour. 

And speaking of conferences... The relationships we build in this industry are so vital, and spending quality time with writer friends is on the top of my list this year. I’d like to do at least two writing retreats, and take advantage of the opportunities I’m offered.  

I’m very excited to be a part of the Brenda Novak Book Club this year, too — GOOD GIRLS LIE is their October selection.

I’m setting a reading goal of 80 books. I will admit, toward the end of the year, I was feeling a bit frantic trying to hit that elusive 100 book goal, and that’s silly. Reading is for pleasure, and goals like this really don’t mean anything outside of a commitment to spending time with books, and THAT is what’s important, not the number of books read. 80 is a comfortable pace for me. This way, if I exceed it, I’ll be pleased instead of revising up, like I did this year.

As for the rest, there are a number of personal goals that are directly related to how I structure my day. After all these years of goal setting, I’ve learned that while a habit is a good thing for me, trying to schedule myself too specifically backfires. I’d like my day to see 1000 words written, an hour of exercise, and at least a few pages of a book read. The *perfect* work day has those 1000 words written by noon, the exercise done by 2, and the reading done both before and after dinner, but since this is the Year of Joy, not the Year of Striving, I’ll settle for getting writing, exercise, and reading into my day. Also, working in my office, not drifting from room to room, will allow me to shut off when I need to.

Good plans, all. We’ll see how I do.

Thank you, as always, for joining me on this journey. I hope you find these reviews as helpful as I do. What you see is often the tip of the iceberg, and this year is no different, but my planning is just beginning, and I’m trying to go with the flow a bit more rather than scheduling myself down to the last moment of every day. Wish me luck, and I wish the same for you — along with health, happiness, and tons of good books!

THE DEETS
May 7

2018 Annual Review Writing Totals.png

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 2009 (Too Damn Much), 2010 (Evolution), 2011 (Depth), 2012 (Simplicity), 2013 (Pencil), 2014 (Making Do), 2015 No), 2016, (Lent), and 2017 (Flow).

J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.

WHEN SHADOWS FALL has a new cover!

Welcome to the bright and shiny new digital edition of WHEN SHADOWS FALL! My publishers are repackaging the series in fabulous new covers, and I’m so excited to share them with you. For your enjoyment, here’s a peek inside the origins of the novel!

__________

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but my eleventh novel will be born into the world soon. WHEN SHADOWS FALL is the third Saman­tha Owens novel, a sem­i­nal book in the series, as it decides the course of action for the next several books.

Every series has a path, planned or unplanned. When I started writ­ing my Tay­lor Jack­son series, I had no idea it was going to be a series. I hadn’t thought about extended story, struc­ture, char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. I cre­ated a finite char­ac­ter in a finite world, and it was dif­fi­cult to see where to take the books.

With Sam, it was the oppo­site. I knew I wanted a char­ac­ter who could grow and change remark­ably. I knew I wanted to allow her the free­dom to move around the coun­try, the world, with rel­a­tive ease. As my then-edi­tor and I were plan­ning the first book in the series, I men­tioned I wanted Sam to be the Indi­ana Jones of foren­sic pathol­ogy. The idea stuck.

What hap­pens in this book wasn’t sup­posed to hap­pen until book 4 in the series. It’s funny, the same thing hap­pened to me in the Tay­lor series. The third book, JUDAS KISS, was sup­posed to be the fourth. I made men­tion of my idea for it, hop­ing to entice my edi­tor to buy the book when I was fin­ished with the third I had planned. Instead, she jumped on the idea and told me in no uncer­tain terms this was the ONE.

So when I found myself in the same posi­tion this time, I knew what I needed to do. Aban­don the story and move the next book into its place. I couldn’t let Sam lan­guish in her sor­row any longer. It was time for her to move on. To start anew. Insert res­ur­rec­tion clauses here.

Of course, Sam wasn’t aware of the change her life was about to take. She wasn’t par­tic­u­larly ready to move on, not really. And I had to tell her, Too bad, sis­ter. I’ll let you have some onscreen sex to make up for it.

I think its one of the most part of the fun being a writer, this game you play with your char­ac­ters. I once asked a very famous writer about how char­ac­ters some­times do their own thing, and he looked at me like I was a recent escapee from an insane asy­lum and declared his char­ac­ters would never do such a thing because they only did what he told them to do.

I find that so sad. I like that my char­ac­ters and I have this sort of push and pull rela­tion­ship. They give me some of what I want, I give them some of what they want. In the end, we’re all happy and mov­ing on to the next adven­ture. At least, that’s the plan. After wrestling alli­ga­tors with them for 500 pages, they damn well bet­ter be ready to move on. Cause if they’re not, they often end up dead. Or maimed. Or mar­ried off, or on the run.

Poor char­ac­ters. Poor, poor char­ac­ters. Bet­ter behave, or I’ll make your life hell.

But Sam behaved, and she was rewarded with many excit­ing things, all of which set up the rest of the series. I’m not one-hundred per­cent sure where we go from here, but I love that book three has become this sem­i­nal turn­ing point for the Sam. And as such, for Xan­der and Fletcher too. The whole cast is being thrust into a new world because I got impa­tient. I hope they con­tinue to behave!

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The Why Behind TEAR ME APART

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God bless National Geographic.

I have had a subscription for decades. I used to keep all the old magazines until it became an issue (stacks and stacks and stacks - all donated, finally), so I switched to the digital version. I always knew I’d find an idea in one of them that would give me the key to a really cool book. 

Enter the July 2016 issue. I was reading it on a plane, and I read a story and felt that incredible tingle all over when I see something I want to incorporate into a book. It was about a new forensic technology called phenotyping. The uses are endless — with a DNA sample, forensic analysts can generate facial features of a suspect. Eye color. Hair color. Ancestry.

I got excited by the possibilities of this new technology. To start, think of the people accused of a crime who are wrongly convicted. Phenotyping will cut down on these cases, for sure. Nothing is infallible, but it’s a cool leap forward. And there’s also a program that can take the DNA and build a 3-D face out of it. Not admissible in court…yet. We’re about to enter the brave new world of criminology, for sure.

When I read the story, I knew immediately I wanted to have a character use these skills to solve a crime. 

But what crime? How about DNA from the crime scene of a missing, day-old baby? Cool, but… What if that baby was now 17 years old and famous? OK, now we’re getting somewhere. You see how this works. This is my process. What if? How about…? Hmmm…..?

I took this concept, married it to the idea I’d been carrying around with me for years about a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice—her life—for her family, and boom—I had the beginnings of a story. 

In TEAR ME APART's first draft, the book was narrated by a dead woman in heaven. It was very cool, but it wasn’t right. Then I was challenged by one of those Facebook memes where you’re supposed to post the first seven lines of your work in progress (WIP). I took a look, and felt like my first seven lines weren’t shareable. I don’t like to discuss the WIP as it’s being created—you give away the magic when you do that, in my mind. So I cheated. I wrote something totally unrelated to my real opening. (Hey, don’t judge. People pay me to make things up for a living… 😉)

This is what I wrote, tossed off, really, just to satisfy the guilt of a meme:

I remember the day she arrived so clearly. What quirk of fate led her to me? I wondered about this for years. If only I had stepped right instead of left at the corner, or taken the stairs instead of the elevator at the hospital, perhaps ordered chicken instead of steak for my last meal with my father before his death, the principles of chaos—the butterfly effect—would have altered the course of my life enough that she wouldn’t have appeared. But I did step right, and I took the elevator, and I had the steak, and she did appear, and I will never recover from her. 

I posted it, and walked away. When I logged in again, there were a few comments from people who really liked it and wanted to see where the story went.

And I started to think. Who is she? Where DID this story go? Maybe this WAS the real opening of the book. It was a totally new voice, an undiscovered character. I knew one thing. It was a woman speaking. 

And suddenly, there it was. A new frame. A new setting. A new situation. A whole new story.

Magic. The sort of mental razzle-dazzle our creative brains do when we let them.

I love chaos theory; it’s the basis for a number of my stories. With my new frame in place, my new voice, the book… became. Without the meme challenge, would I have found my way into this story? I don’t know. But I am so grateful I did. (Thanks to fellow writers Bryon Quertermous, Allison Brennan, and Brian Tracey who all tagged me. Smooch!)

One last thing about TEAR ME APART: please read the Author’s Note. I was compelled to discuss some pretty dark, scary topics in this book, specifically depression, self-harm, and suicide. All have deeply affected my family, and I hope and pray we can have more open discussions about mental illness, remove the stigmas, and help ourselves, our family, and our friends live a better, happy, joyful, hopeful life. 

I leave you with the symbol of that movement, the humble semi-colon. Look it up. You won’t be sorry.



For every book, I create a soundtrack. This one is dark and evocative. I absolutely love it and hope you do too.

EDGE OF BLACK has a new look!

EDGE OF BLACK has a new look!

I was indulging in an age-old female tradition the other day—getting my nails done—when I overheard two older women strike up a conversation at the dryer. I listened with fascination as they circled each other, looking for that commonality that would allow them to have a meaningful exchange. One had children, the other didn’t. Strike one. One went to First Baptist, the other attended First Presbyterian. Strike two. They’d both discovered the nail salon about a month ago, and agreed it was one of the best they’d been to. And then came the home run: “Well, what did you do for work?”

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A DEEPER DARKNESS has a new look!

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A DEEPER DARKNESS has a new ebook cover, and I absolutely LOVE it. I think this is the first time the cover really evokes the story perfectly. Since many of you are new to me, and don't know the story behind my Samantha Owens series, I thought I'd share her inception with you.

WARNING: If you haven't read the Taylor series, there's a major spoiler ahead, so you may want to avoid this one. 

_______ 

Adapted from original post in 2012

Several months ago, my team and I made a decision to let Taylor take a long vacation, and focus on a new lead character, Dr. Samantha Owens. Sam is Taylor's best friend, and Nashville's head medical examiner. She features prominently in all the books, but she hasn't had her own tale, not yet.

Suffice it to say, starting a new series was scary for me. After seven (eight, including FIELD OF GRAVES, which wasn't yet published) books with the same lead character, I was in a groove. I knew how every character would react. It was simply a matter of creating a dynamic plot and a cool villain to confront them with.

But Sam had been knocking on the doors and windows of my Muse’s hamlet, begging to strut her stuff on the page. When at long last I relented, and decided to spin off her character, changes needed to happen.

To do the new series justice, it needed to be different. To start – a new setting. I settled on Washington, D.C., my former home of many years. And Sam needed to be unmarried, and unencumbered by children. I debated long and hard. Divorce? Custody arrangements? Multiple scenarios, but they all kept her tied to Nashville. There was only one choice.

Her husband and children had to die.

I fought against this reality for weeks. I couldn’t do that to her. And there are rules in writing. You can’t kill animals, and you can’t kill children. Except you can. And I did. The question became not if they died, but how. Car accident? Been done. Plane crash? Been done.

And then it hit me. The flood.

Nashville was stricken with a flood of biblical proportion in 2010. As it happens, A DEEPER DARKNESS released on the second anniversary of that fateful weekend, that moment in time where we lost so much. Synchronicity at its finest. I was able to both honor those hurt and killed in the real flood and give Samantha a chance to recover with everyone else. Recover we did. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re back on our feet.

Another challenge was finding the right tone, the right mood, to express Samantha’s loss without suffocating the reader in her grief. I needed to get in her head, and live there, trying to understand how hard it must be to lose a husband, and to lose her twins. How, and if, that sadness could be overcome.

I used a lot of music to guide me, mostly the mournful, melancholy cover of “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. (It's on the A DEEPER DARKNESS playlist.) The song makes me weep, and the video tears a hole in my heart. Imagining the loss of my own husband, how frightened and alone I would feel, helped me mine Sam’s grief.

With grief comes hope. With hope comes possibility. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and for a young, dynamic, intelligent widow, simply surviving her loss makes her invincible. Samantha stares into the abyss, acknowledges its presence, and somehow, some way, pulls herself back from the brink. And is rewarded for her strength. Yes, she's overwhelmed with OCD that manifests in excess hand-washing. Yes, she won't autopsy drownings. Yes, she runs away from her pain, starting a new life. But there are seeds of hope scattered throughout her story. Seeds of possibility.

Ironically, without realizing it, I was unwittingly writing my own story. My husband and I struggled with infertility for a decade. Multiple pregnancies resulted in multiple miscarriages. IUIs and IVF didn’t solve the issue. Over and over, I lost my own children.

I thought I was fine. Normal. Nominal. That I’d dealt with my own grief, my own loss. But it wasn’t until I read A DEEPER DARKNESS in galley form that I realized I’d used the book as therapy. All of Sam’s losses mirror my own. Her strength, her hope, her will to continue on gave me the strength to do the same.

A DEEPER DARKNESS isn’t a sad book. Samantha Owens is all of us: our hopes and fears, our determination and our weakness. For the first time in my writing career, I’ve put bits of myself on the page. And that’s possibly the most terrifying thing of all.

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Whew! So now you know where my girl comes from. To celebrate our new look, I'm giving away one ebook. Enter on the Rafflecopter!