Monday, January 5, 2009

Q&A with J.T. Ellison

Last week, Lacey G. and I were doing some good old fashioned brainstorming. We were trying to distill what makes the Evening with an Author series unique. We came up with the below list:

1) It features local Nashville authors
2) It provides a behind-the-scene / non-scripted look at authors and their books
3) It's about promoting "smart conversation" between the attendees and authors
4) It's about building community / forging connections between book lovers in the greater Nashville area

We then took it one step farther by asking how LitMagic fit into the mix. It was clear that LitMagic was the perfect venue to do Q&As with upcoming authors. We see Q&As as teasers of sorts because they let you get into the mind of an author. As such, we sent the below questions to J.T. Ellison, author of Judas Kiss, J.T. who replied by email. J.T. will be the featured author on Thursday, January 22nd (6-7pm at Martha's at the Planation; see for more details). I cannot wait to hear more from her in person. Look forward to seeing you there.

--Ginna F.

Explain your path to becoming a writer. Why/how did you select mystery/thriller genre?
I started writing full-time in 2004. I’ve written all my life, the requisite awful poetry and shorts, even got my degree in creative writing. But I was wholly discouraged by a college professor and gave it up. There was a thirteen year gap in my creativity, and I’m grateful to have the muse back.
The Taylor Jackson series began when I was recovering from back surgery, and had a long slog through rehab. I was reading a lot during that time, anything I could get my hands on. I came across John Sandford’s PREY series at the library, and got hooked. The unique setting – Minneapolis/St. Paul –
his main character – half cop, half rock star Lucas Davenport – sparked an idea. What about a female Lucas Davenport, set in another unique location, Nashville? If he can do it, so can I. Ahh, hubris. But his influence is definitely the reason I took the leap back into writing. Taylor Jackson was born on I-40, as I was driving downtown to rehab. She popped into my head fully formed and started talking in that low, smoky drawl. I was hooked.

Explain how Judas Kiss fits in with your other books?
Up to now, all my titles have been serial killer thrillers, with the killer as a point of view character. Which also which means the books are “how-done-its,” instead of mysteries, which are “who-done-its.” JUDAS KISS is actually a departure for me, because it has more mystery elements that the previous books. The story revolves around a single murder of a young pregnant mother in Hillwood. But it’s all the same characters, and it’s still a thrill ride.

Did you know you were writing a series when you started?
Yes. I knew Taylor was a franchise character from the beginning. She fascinates me. I strive not to reveal too much about her in each book, letting her grow over the course of the series rather than over the course of the book. I also set the books seasonally instead of yearly, so that inhibits her growth even more. I wanted to be sure that she remains iconic.

When you sit down to work on a new book, do you have the ending already figured out like John Irving? Or, do you have a general idea of plot and its drivers and then see where it goes?
I’m a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t want to know all the details of a story, because if I’m surprised, the reader is surprised too. I have a general idea of what’s happening. I always know who the villain is, and their motivation. Every story grows from there.

How did you decide to make Nashville a main "character" in your book? Why not your hometown of DC? What fun facts have you learned about Nashville as a result of your research? Why should every Nashvillian read your series and in particular Judas Kiss?

Everyone writes books set in D.C., or L.A., or New York. I wanted to do something different. So that was my first thought. But I’ve fallen in love with Nashville, its dichotomies, the culture and the class structure. We have real, big city problems, yet the rest of the world only sees us as Music City, honkytonks and southern food. We are so much more than that, and I wanted to show the rest of the world the Nashville I see.
The books are as realistic a portrayal of Nashville as I can make them. Readers will recognize the settings; the crime scenes may be someplace they drive past every day. I think it’s fun to have a series set in your backyard. I know it’s fun for me to write them, to skulk around town looking for the ideal crime scene. Nashville is chock full of nooks and crannies that are the perfect settings for murder.

What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
I’m a big Ayn Rand fan, and a big Plato fan. I think my favorite must be Rand’s slim volume ANTHEM, which is a parable for Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – humanity is shackled in a dark room and only shown interpretations of what reality is. One man (Socrates) breaks out of the Cave and sees reality for the first time: the blue of the sky, a real chair, a real piece of grass, and returns to tell humanity that they are being lied to. Of course, they can’t handle that truth and murder him. ANTHEM takes this timeless story and creates love out of hate, beauty out of ugliness, and freedom out of horrendous captivity. It’s beautifully written and inspiring.

What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
I have a sign on the door to my office that reads: There are no rules except those you create, page by page. Stuart Woods said that to me in an email, and it freed me as a writer. I’d been so constrained by the “proper” usage of words and sentence construction that my writing was stilted. Once I quit following the rules, things improved dramatically. And John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker series, some of my all-time favorite books, once told me that all good books find a home. That kept me in the game to get published.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kip Gayden

(Lacey G. and Kip Gayden)

Tonight's Evening with an Author featuring Kip Gayden, author of Miscarriage of Justice, was great. Kip delighted us with stories and old clipping from The Nashville Banner which inspired the book. If you would like to hear Kip speak about the book, check out the audio file dated 3/30/08 from John Seigenthaler's A Word on Words.

On a personal note, it was a particularly fun to see so many friends from different parts of my life including school, WNBA, Breakfast Club and church come out to support the series. How fortunate we are to live in a community that values books and discussion. I hope you will be able to join us for the next event.

The event was also a Critics Pick in Nashville Scene (see below).

By Joel Rice

published: November 20, 2008

Kip Gayden's novel, Miscarriage of Justice, is a work of fiction. However, any resemblance to persons living or dead is not entirely coincidental. Though the book's plot--an early-20th century love triangle gone awry--sounds like a racy installment of Masterpiece Theatre, it has a strong basis in scandalous historical fact. The tale begins in 1896 with the courtship of Walter Dotson and Anna Dennis. He is a Vanderbilt medical student and counselor at a Christian camp in Boiling Springs, Tenn. She is a vivacious 16-year-old camper. They eventually marry and have two children. Yet as his medical practice becomes all-consuming, marital doldrums ensue. Enter town barber Charlie Cobb. It was vintage Tennessean articles about a slaying in Gallatin that first suggested the story to Gayden. Apparently the author's day job as a Davidson County Circuit Court Judge did not provide enough drama, but it's apparent that he has found plenty.
Thu., Nov. 20, 6 p.m., 2008

--Ginna F.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lecture Series: Madison Smartt Bell and William Lishman

Is it too early to plan for Monday night? Maybe, but these are two great lectures. As part of their Cay Harris Lecture Series, Montgomery Bell Academy is hosting author Madison Smart Bell and William Lishman. Both events are free and open to the public. Bell is appearing this Monday, November 17th at 5:30 pm in the Pfeffer Auditorium on the MBA campus. Lishman's lecture takes place the following week on Monday, November 24th at 5:30pm in Pfeffer Auditorium.

Bell is a Nashville native and the author of 12 novels including All Soul's Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and his latest, Charm City. Lishman is an artist of varied talents, among them sculptor, filmmaker,inventor, and naturalist. The movie Fly Away Home was based on his 1993 experiment leading a migration of geese from Ontario to Virginia, and he lives in a 2700 square foot earth integrated dome home. (I'm hoping for a slide show.)

Again, these lectures are FREE and all are welcome. Intellectual and entertaining? Definitely should be fun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sherlock's Books Loves Its Tennessee Authors

I have yet to check out Sherlock's Book Emporium and Curiosities over in Lebanon, TN, but I hope to soon. Real soon. Truly independent bookstores are rare around here, and Sherlock's claim to be the "largest independent book sellers in Tennessee." I believe them. Just check out the website at They will order anything you can think to ask for and they carry everything: books, classic movies, vintage games, comics, model cars, model planes, and the list goes on. There's even a private theater where they screen free classic movies. I can't wait to visit.

They're big dreamers and big supporters of local authors. This Saturday, November 8th, from 1:00-4:00pm, Sherlock's is hosting a true author extravaganza--the Tennessee Literary Women's Convention. Sherrilyn Kenyon (she of the celebrated Dark Hunter series)--along with 10 other authors--is the featured author, and yes, that is 11 authors on the schedule.

A listing of the authors is as follows:

Shannon Dauphin
, Carolina Hurricane
Elizabeth Haley Garwood, The Warrior Queen Series
Sherrilyn Kenyon, One Silent Night
Alethea Kontis, Beauty and Dynamite
Dianna Love, Phantom in the Night
Missy Lyons, 39 and Holding Him
Ellie Marvel, Secrets 22-Dark Whispers
Trish Milburn, A Firefighter in the Family
Ramona Richards, The Face of Deceit
Marie-Nicole Ryan, Love on the Run
Annie Solomon, Dead Shot

Monday, November 3, 2008

Frances Hodgson Burnett was an East Tennessean?

Why did none of you tell me that Frances Hogdson Burnett once lived in Tennessee? Why am I just now finding this out? How strange that the the author of The Little Princess, The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy (along with so many more novels and plays) lived in East Tennessee!

I put myself through grade school, high school and college with money made from babysitting and I was not afraid to call out my charges as Little Lord Fauntleroys. Example:

Me: "Sweet___ (insert name of child), please take your dishes to the sink."
Child: "I don't want to."
Me: "I don't want to, either."
Child: "I can't walk."
Me: "I didn't sign up for Little Lord Fauntleroy. There are lame children in Africa cooking over a fire pit for six siblings and herding goats at the same time. Please take your dishes to the sink."

Born Frances Hodgson outside Manchester, England, her father died when she was young. Burnett was a teenager when, in 1865, the family moved to New Market, Tennessee (outside Knoxville) on the advice of her mother's uncle. Two years later, her mother died, and Burnett was left to care for her siblings. She turned to writing to make money.

In 1873, she married Dr. Swan Burnett. Wikipedia says he was from Washington, DC while the Carson-Newman College library states his parents were neighbors to the Hodgson family in New Market and that only later did Dr. Burnett and Frances move to Washington. (They later divorced.)

A longer profile of Burnett is available here on I'm sure there are more scholarly articles, and I'd love to learn more. Oh, what trivia I've added to my Tennessee lore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Teacher's Halloween Horror

By way of Drexel University's online publication The Smart Set comes this article: The Term Paper Artist.

The title says it all; a freelancer who writes term papers for a living. He's made such good money at it that he was able to buy a house. Not sure what's more terrifying: the cheating, the fact that his "Dumb Clients" are being passed from one college course to another, or the idea of writing one term paper after another. (The idea of grading one term paper after another is also an experience never to be forgotten.)

Is a diploma really just a piece of paper?

To Do: Remember: You love learning. You love learning. You love learning for its rewarding sense of accomplishment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Evening with an Author--the recap

It was a full crowd at last night's Evening with an Author. Robert Hicks and Justin Stelter, editors of A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music's Greatest Songwriters, entertained an audience of 60 people. (Or terrified, as Hicks talked about the time his family accidentally ate his great-uncle Homer. Of course, to know the full truth, you have to read the book!)

Vanderbilt professor Dr. Robert Barsky even brought a class of Vanderbilt students to the event. Yes, they ventured off-campus to attend. Encouraged to ask questions, the audience didn't disappoint. (One question high on the list? "Why did you eat your great-uncle?") Evening with an Author's tag line is "books, wine and smart conversation," and last night Ginna and I wanted to emphasize the latter: conversation. It's in the dialogue between author and reader that some of the most interesting stories/anecdotes/information is gleaned. It's also really fun.

Next month's featured writer is Kip Gayden, author of Miscarriage of Justice. A true story of murder in a small Tennessee town, the book--and its author--are sure to intrigue and entertain all.

*Wondering who those beautiful people are in the picture? From L to R, that's Justin Stelter, LitMagic's Ginna, and Robert Hicks.