Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 9.2.17

Hey, y'all, welcome to Sunday. You doing okay? I've been thinking especially about you, Texas peeps. Nashville knows the devastation that floods can bring. Please know you're in our hearts.

I write to you from Decatur, Georgia, near Atlanta, the first stop on my LIE TO ME tour. It's a banner day – I'm on a panel with the stellar Tess Gerritsen. This is a full-circle moment for me. When I was a publishing newbie, a mere three weeks after I got my deal, I committed one of my biggest faux pas with the gracious Ms. Gerritsen... so I'm looking forward to sharing a stage and keeping my excitement buttoned up to a professional level this time. 😜

Without further ado, I give you today's links.

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Learning From the Feynman Technique. I'm a big fan of this when building a book. But what do I know?

Louise Penny: By the Book.  Lovely, classy—this is how it's done.

A Debut Novelist’s Descent Into Darkness. Gabriel Tallent's debut novel, MY ABSOLUTE DARLING, seems like a masterpiece wrought out of thin air. But Tallent, a waiter who just quit his job, has been working on this novel for much longer than anyone would realize...  

BookBub's 19 Thrillers to Read Before Summer's End.  Lots of goodies in here, and a few familiar faces... 😉

Developing Your Creative Habit. Actionable steps included... the most important part of creativity, in fact.

Seven Habits That Are Killing Your Creative Growth. Preach!

Goodreads' 21 Big Books of Fall.  For our ever-expanding TBR lists!

Rules For My Son.  A wonderful read. I love this!

“Wearing a uniform is also a way of asserting your status as a protagonist. ” On the virtues of finding a uniform—this appeals to me in so many ways...

And closer to home:

Before you dive into LIE TO ME's marriage from hell, I present to you... my own love story—and why I think it works. A certain book we all know about releases on Tuesday (ahem). And you're going to see a lot of promotion around it. But here's a piece that falls close to my heart: the story of my own marriage. 

That's it from me! It's a big week coming up, so you may see me around the Internets more than usual. Nashville, Minneapolis, San Francisco—come see me this week, I'll be in your neck of the woods and I'd love to say hi. Y'all be good!


Daily Tao ☯ 5.19.17

Back in 2016, when I was working on the book now known as LIE TO ME, I was struggling with my work. I knew I wanted to really tap into the creative universe, try something new and different, but something was holding me back. I have been doing this long enough to know that fear is resistance. 

I decided to really hit back at this resistance that was proverbially tying my hands behind my back. I printed three labels with the following reminders:




I taped them on my laptop so they could inspired me daily, and put a starred reminder in my To Do List: Be willing to take one more step with TMA...

Today, I gifted my dad the laptop that wrote the book, as I have a new one that’s smaller, faster, and easier to write on. After we got it all set up for him, I peeled off the labels and put them in my bullet journal, so I’d never forget the inspiration they gave me. 

We writers take inspiration wherever we can get it. My Instagram account is dedicated to this sort of inspiration; that’s me trying to spread it out to the universe (remember, what you seek is seeking you). But I receive inspiration from you, daily. You read my work, you share it with your friends, you tell me when you love (or hate) something, you cheer the successes and comfort the failures. You are as important a part of my daily writing process as the little reminders I leave for myself.

As I sit here today, plowing through a synopsis, watching the snow-capped peaks and the flitting hummingbirds, I am struck by how much you help me on this creative path. So thank you!

Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you Monday. 

(Also, see our gorgeous new branding for these little dailies? Big kudos to The Kerr for keeping everything so gorgeous around here! She's up for Sunday Smatterings this weekend, too!)

On Finishing What We Start, and Other Writerly Myths

This first appeared on Women Writers. If you don't follow their awesomeness, go do it right now!

I often joke with friends that if you don’t finish what you start, you’ll end up with a trail of half-eaten sandwiches around the house.

I don’t remember where I first heard this analogy for unfinished work, but it’s such a vivid image that it’s stuck with me all these years. Can you imagine how messy your home would be if every discarded idea lay on the floor, cluttering up your space?

I know for me, it would mean trudging through mounds of detritus, some tiny specks of dust, some true dust bunnies. Others would be larger, mean and angry, like broken furniture, all sharp and crooked, just waiting to catch my leg and leave a deep gash.

We don’t want that.

So I’m careful with what I entertain. When I have what I think is a solid idea, I open a Scrivener file, give it a title, and create a book journal. This journal is important: I use it to explain what the thought is about and why I’m writing it down. Manifestation is a powerful thing—I don’t do this unless I feel like the idea has real legs. I save this new project to a folder called—quite originally, I might add—Ideas. Every once in a while, I run through them. A good 75% of the time, when revisited, the idea has faded away. Which tells me it wasn’t that good to start with. The ones that are still as vivid and exciting as the day I put them in the file, those are the ones that I think long and hard about starting.

Because if I start a story, I finish it. I refuse to allow myself to abandon a project once it’s underway.

That sounds harsh, I’m sure. That I’m lashing my Muse to the prow of the ship and heading into dark waters with hurricane warnings ahead. And yes, sometimes, that’s how starting feels to me. A journey into the heart of darkness, with no idea of whether what lies ahead will be good, bad, or something in between.

But when I sit down to write a story, be it a short or a novel, I do so with a commitment to finish paramount in my mind.

Starting is hard. Finishing, though, is sometimes much, much more difficult.

I’ve been planning this blog for several days. I didn’t want to start it until I had a solid hour ahead in which I knew I could get it drafted. Today was the day. In one of those odd universe-timed moments, a friend wrote me right before I started with a question. She’s been balls to the wall on deadline for the biggest book of her career. All she’s wanted for weeks is to Get. It. Done. Already.

And today, the day she’s going to finish, she woke up and had the most jarring thought—that she didn’t want to let it go.

This, I believe, is why finishing is so hard.

Her emotion is one I am intimately familiar with. Every time I’m nearing the end of a story, I have the same sensation. For days, months, even years, in some cases, all I’ve wanted it to get the book done and off my plate. But when the moment presents itself, suddenly finishing doesn’t feel good. It feels too big. Too scary.

Finishing means your work will no longer be your own. To me, that’s a thousand times scarier than starting.

I believe this is why so many ideas are abandoned. Because when you finish, you have to let your work out into the world, where it will be judged. We’re writers, and this is a subjective industry. Some people will love your story. Some will hate it. That’s the nature of the beast.

The trick is to not let the beast slay you before you’ve even put the food in its maw.

All well and good, JT, you say. So tell me how to finish.

You just do.

You throw away your fear, you swallow the bile that rises at the thought of someone else reading your words, and you finish. And I don’t mean just putting an ending together and calling it done. You’ve spent all this time creating a brilliant story, why would you rush and throw something together so you can type The End? You won’t be happy, and neither will your Muse, and she won’t hesitate to let you know it.

No. Never that. You must be brave. You are a hunter. You must march deliberately into the darkness, your torch held high, and tap into your reckless abandon. That is the bait for the monster you must slay. Because all endings are monsters, and they do not like confidence, or excitement, or serenity.

When you find that perfect (or not so perfect) ending and wrestle it onto the page, crushing the biggest monster of all, two things will happen.

1 — You will have the incredible satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best (which is the psychological component you must overcome when finishing, because I heard the voice in the back of your mind say—But if this is my best, and people don’t like it, I will shrivel up and die in a corner—to which I say, bosh, no you won’t).

2 — You will experience something I like to call “creative satisfaction.”

Creative satisfaction is elusive and shy. She won’t come when called, and she will never show up willingly. She only pokes out her head when you’ve exhausted yourself, a balm for your wounds. She nestles next to you like a loving cat, tells you how fabulous you are for being brave, and gives you a sweet kiss on the forehead, one you’ll feel when the next new idea comes along. Real creative satisfaction fills you up, and gives you the strength to do it all over again.

But if you don’t finish, and finish strong, you’ll never find her.

Finish what you start. Find that ritual that tells the world you’re finishing (mine is donning my ragged old Harvard T-shirt. When I have it on, that’s a signal to the universe that today is finishing day—and I do it for every project!) and just get it done. Because I know you can do it, and do it well.

Write hard, my friends.

Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 2.12.17.png

Hello, lovely readers, happy Sunday! How's the weather in your neck of the woods?

I traveled to Florida this week to see family. My mom turned 80, my brothers and daddy and I threw her a lovely small party, and a good time was had by all. I have to be honest, I haven't gotten a ton of work done, but family is a very important part of my life, and I was excited to spend time with all of us under one roof. Something that doesn't happen often. And... the weather's been pretty fabulous. With all things green and sunny, I can't wait for spring to come back to Nashville. We're this close, I think; surely Punxsutawney Phil missed the mark this year—the South is seeing green things returning three weeks early.

A girl can dream...

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

This week I found an app I would've loved as a kid. For only $4.99/month, Epic! gives subscribers unlimited access to 20,000 children's ebooks. Kids can read the books as many times as they want, whenever they want. Can you imagine having The. Whole. Library. at your fingertips when you were a kid? Bliss.

And when you feed the mind of a child, you feed her creativity. Kids are less inclined to have inhibitions (a lesson we can re-learn), so they can create some of the most fantastic art. Here is what a few children's book authors and artists created when they were young.

Have you found yourself scrolling through social feeds lately, only to click away with a sigh and a heavy heart? It's a strange time we're living in. We writers don't have a typical means of dealing with hard times in the zeitgeist. Most of us consider words our means of change, though I'd wager most of us want to help our fellow humans in a more tangible way. Leave it to the wise Kris Rusch to tell us how to write in the most difficult times, when it feels like your world is on fire. (Spoiler alert: your work isn't trivial, and there are things you can do to help.)

This is a nerdy publishing industry post, but! If you're in the business, here's what I and a few other publishing peeps think you should do to reach your readers this year.


And closer to home:

Y'all know I am a minimalist. I strive to live simply, to cut out the clutter in my home and my work. But I noticed a habit of mine was clouding my brain and stealing my attention, so I've decided to change it. It takes zero time to do, but adds hours to my day. I think you might find it handy, too.

The Wine Vixen ponders a very important question—stemless wine glasses: yea or nay?

Don't forget: there's still time to enter the Harlequin Secret Valentine giveaway on Goodreads! I'm offering a paperback copy of FIELD OF GRAVES, along with my favorite romance novel of all time...which will only be revealed to the winners. Go put your hat in the ring! 💕


That's it from me! This week, show somebody you love them, send some homemade Valentines, sip hot chocolate in front of a fire, and we'll talk again soon.


P.S. I LOVE YOU!!!!!

maybe you just need one person.

On Creative Satisfaction and Book News

On Creative Satisfaction and Book News

I interview writers. I do it here on the Tao, I do it on television. I’m not a professional by any means, I’m just a writer who’s curious about other writer’s process and mindsets. 

One of my favorite questions: Are you creatively satisfied?

People interpret the question in different ways, and the answers vary widely.

My own answer has been very elusive for the past few years. I love the work I do. I love my characters. I love being with them, spending time in their heads.

And yet… There’s been something hanging over me. Something holding me back. 

I’ve never truly been able to put a finger on it. And I’ve thought about it a lot lately. 

For the longest time, I chalked it up to good old-fashioned envy—seeing other authors write stories that look effortless, look like fun. I’ve read outside my genre almost exclusively for the past few years. Fantasy worlds, books that are truly creative and have no basis in actual reality, but are worlds unto themselves, with rules inherent to the culture. Dystopian stories of reluctant heroes. Young adult coming-of-age tales (I especially like ones set in boarding schools. The kids always seem inches away from morphing into Lord of the Flies.)

Crime fiction isn’t what people would call fun. It’s dark and brooding, tears apart the soul in many ways. To examine how and why people do terrible things to one another isn’t a recipe for unicorns and rainbows. After I stopped the Taylor series, and moved away from the darkness, I felt better, but, ironically, that’s when this lingering dissatisfaction started. 

Interesting, right? 

The Sam series has been incredibly hard for me. I always thought I was much more like Taylor than I am Sam, because Sam’s books were so much harder to write. Turns out, I poured a lot of my heart into Sam, and it was very cathartic for me. I finally did find a stride, and Sam is a woman I am proud to write about, a woman I think readers can truly identify with. 

But I’m a writer with a LOT of ideas. And I have still had that sense of wanting to try something new and different. NO ONE KNOWS was a product of this desire. I love that book. It took forever to write, and I just kept plugging away at it for years, and it finally saw the light of day. I’m proud of it, and I’ve been proud of myself for committing to it and letting it out in the world. 

So when I had the option to write another standalone, I jumped at it. I’d been playing with an idea last summer, then had to put it on hold to write Sam and a new Nick and Mike book. Once I finished, I came back to it and sold LIE TO ME in June. It had about 30,000 words, most of which needed major reworking. I’ve been writing like mad all summer to get it finished.

And it is dark. Probably as dark as anything I’ve ever written. But it’s not dark in a macabre or bloody way. It’s about betrayal. Which is really the darkest crime of all, don’t you think?

Since I was in sort of a hurry to get it done by the end of summer, while I was writing it, I started to take chances. Strange voices came out of the woodwork of my mind. I began utilizing POVs I’ve never tried before in long-form fiction, new settings, new topics. Even so, I saw the wall looming. The wall I approach time and time again, fearing that at the last second, I might flinch, and turn away, instead of crashing into and through it.  

Now, I don’t flinch in my work. I go for it, always. Some of the themes and storylines in my Taylor books and Sam books are truly intense. But sometimes I feel like I could do better with the story, better with the resolutions, better with the characters. What I realized is I’ve been approaching all of this intellectually rather than… I don’t even know what the right word is. Spiritually? Organically? Some combination of them both?

When I realized I was holding myself back on this new book, and the wall loomed bigger and thicker than ever before, I made myself a note in my To Do list, and kept it front and center, for the last month of writing. It said: 

Be willing to take one more step with LTM

It’s simple advice. Logical advice. And powerful in ways you can’t imagine. 

I discarded everything I knew about writing. All the rules I normally follow, all the little sequences I normally use. I discarded advice from trusted sources. I reshaped the concept, moving away from the proposal. I just went for it. And the result is a book that’s totally and completely different than anything I’ve ever done. New style, new format, new language and pace, everything. It feels very avant garde for me. Very fresh and exciting.  

I know nothing’s truly original, and everything’s been done before, blah, blah, blah. Voice is going to make a story your own, yes. But genres have conventions. They have formulas. The stories that seem to be rewarded aren’t necessarily deviating from those tropes, only finding new ways to approach the path. Writers spend a lot of time writing to the market, to the idea of success. It’s a natural thing. Someone writes a kick-ass vampire story, and suddenly, the market is glutted with vampires. Someone writes a kick-ass domestic suspense, and the market becomes a feeding frenzy of people trying to glom on.

I’ve fallen into this thinking, though happily I feel like the stories I’ve told up to now haven’t fallen into convention entirely.

But this one… it feels different to me. I took an extra step. It wasn’t immediately after I typed The End, but when I finished, really finished, I experienced something I haven’t in a very long time.

I realized I was creatively satisfied.

So no matter how it does, how readers feel about it, how sales go… I have that feeling in my gut, the expansiveness and satisfaction of knowing I created something unique unto me. And that’s refilled my well in ways nothing has for years. 

And I want the well to stay full. So I’m going to try and do it again. I have another book due in mid-April. I’ve decided it will be another standalone. Sam and Taylor will stay on vacation for the time being, while I run with this new creative flow that I’ve found. Don’t worry, I swear on all that’s holy they will be back. But I’ve started another standalone crime fiction story, and I hope it will bring me the kind of joy LIE TO ME has.

Thank you for standing by me, and indulging me. Your support makes this possible. I truly, truly appreciate you!

P.S. for my writer friends: I strongly suggest trying this. Do something totally alien to your style, and see what happens!