I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome bestselling author J.T. Ellison to Crime by the Book today! Ellison’s forthcoming domestic thriller LIE TO ME (on sale September 5th, 2017) is one of those purely addictive, all-consuming crime reads that you just won’t be able to put down. If you missed my review of this upcoming release, you can read it here!
Before we dive into the Q&A, a little bit about the author: J.T. Ellison is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who writes standalone domestic noir and psychological thriller series. It’s an honor to have this accomplished author on CBTB today, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading this Q&A as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together! Many thanks to J.T. Ellison for taking the time to answer my questions.
Plot Summary: LIE TO ME
They built a life on lies.
Sutton and Ethan Montclair's idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.
Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.
Crime by the Book: Let’s start at the beginning: what inspired you to write LIE TO ME?
J.T. Ellison: I hate to embody the cliché, a writer in Paris, but on a trip for my birthday, I sat down with my notebook, started people watching, and mentioned to my husband how fabulous it would be to live there for a while. Almost immediately, an idea hit me, about a broken-down writer who’s moved to Paris to save herself by writing a novel and gets embroiled in a murder. There are several passages in the book that were written in the cafés of Paris, or sitting by the Seine, or in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Lots of verisimilitude. But as you know, that’s not what the story is about. It’s fun to see how far it came from that initial lightning bolt.
CBTB: If you could describe LIE TO ME in three adjectives, which would you choose?
JTE: Visceral. Cruel. Compassionate.
CBTB: There’s a special place in my heart for crime books that involve the literary world. Why did you choose to write a thriller about writers?
JTE: Mine, too! Writers are so deliciously screwed up in so many ways. And I love writing couples––reading about how they share their work, and their lives, on and off the page. I’ve always imagined it would be hard if one was more successful than the other, and am struck by the grace with which the lesser known author handles their spouse’s fame.
So I decided to give Ethan and Sutton very different career paths and play on the literary-genre divide a bit, just for fun, which means there is a massive conflict between them at all times because of their writing journeys and experiences. They have their own personal creative hells, which are driven in part by the other’s successes and failures. And a bonus—little to no research on my characters, since I had the writing part down.
CBTB: LIE TO ME is an utterly addictive read—it has interpersonal drama, secrets, a little bit of glamour, and a whole lot of twists and turns. How do you go about plotting a book with so many moving parts? Do you know the story’s big reveals from the outset, or do they develop as you write?
JTE: Very carefully. The chapter headings were signposts I used to build the story. I use a program called Scrivener, so each chapter had the title head and a brief description of what needed to happen, so I was able to manipulate the scenes around without having to change chapter numbers. What started as sheer laziness changed rather quickly when I realized this was a device I had to use for the story itself, a way to flip back and forth through time, and through the characters’ lives. I wrote out of order and pieced things together in ways I’ve never done before; I’m usually a very linear writer. I knew some of the big twists, but this book was very organic after the 75% point. I knew where it was headed, but not how I was going to get there.
CBTB: One of my favorite elements of LIE TO ME is its foray into the city of Paris; readers are along for the ride as one of the story’s main characters makes a trip abroad, and delves into the culture and atmosphere of the city with an authenticity and vividness that I just loved. What inspired you to add this element into a domestic thriller?
JTE: Honestly, I wanted something different and unexpected to happen, and it fit the bill. After that first trip, I was so entranced I made my husband take me back for our anniversary later that year. The second time, I literally sat in the cafés and gardens of Montparnasse with Hemingway’s ghost and wrote. It was a different kind of writing for me, more literary, but also more intense, and vivid. Paris does lend itself to vividness. The second time I knew more of the story, so I was able to flesh out some specifics.
CBTB: Now, I intend to rectify this immediately, but I’ve somehow never read a JT Ellison book before LIE TO ME! What do you think sets LIE TO ME apart from your previous books? On the flipside, are there any common themes or topics that you like to explore in your crime writing?
JTE: Oh good—I hope you enjoy the rest! LIE TO ME is its own creature in so many ways. Most of my books center around cops, and I tried very hard not to do that with this one, but of course, it had to happen. I loved the idea of an ingénue instead of a seasoned vet, and Holly fit the bill perfectly. She’s the only one who believes Ethan is innocent, and when he loses her trust, all hell breaks loose.
So fewer cops, more real people. But it was also a structurally demanding novel, balancing multiple points of views against our less-than-pleasant anonymous narrator, who is speaking directly to the reader in a “fourth wall” break that was a little too much fun to write.
My themes can be distilled to this: justice, honor, and integrity overcoming evil. I’m big on redemption, and I’m a fan of the roads less traveled, so every book is slightly different structurally and thematically, even though many are series titles. Plus, mythology plays a big role, especially in the Taylor Jackson novels. I also really dig the Byronic hero, especially in female form. I also like to explore the ravages of mental illness and the concepts of hidden lives.
At heart, my books are about very cool chicks fighting crime and all its vices, and sometimes, some of them get paid to do bad things to bad people. Characters who do the wrong thing for the right reason fascinate me.
CBTB: When you’re not writing crime fiction, do you also read crime fiction? If so, what are some of your recent crime reads that you’ve particularly loved?
JTE: I read widely, and I favor female-driven stories, especially epic fantasy and crime fiction. I love the trope of the ordinary girl finding a previously unbeknownst power and proceeding to kick ass. It fits perfectly in both genres, be it cop, spy, assassin––or fae queen. I’ve been on a Sarah J. Maas tear—she’s f-ing brilliant. As I mentioned earlier, my other love is the Byronic hero in all its forms. I’m currently reading Daniel Silva’s HOUSE OF SPIES; he’s really kicked it up a notch lately and Gabriel Allon is one of my all-time favorites. BLAME by Jeff Abbott was awesome, and BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley, too—both will be in my top five of the year. I have so many books to read this month, Kaira Rouda’s BEST DAY EVER, A.F. Brady’s THE BLIND, Mary Kubica’s EVERY LAST LIE, THE GOOD DAUGHTER by Karin Slaughter, I WAS ANASTASIA, which I have a galley of, coming out next year from Ariel Lawhon… my list is endless.
CBTB: What are you working on next?
JTE: Well, I managed to draft another standalone, so it’s waiting to be edited while I work on a new Brit in the FBI novel with Catherine Coulter (I switch back and forth, one of hers, one of mine). I need to finish the newest Samantha Owens/Taylor Jackson novel, and then… suffice it to say, the ideas are coming fast and furious right now. See Byronic hero, above.
Many thanks to J.T. Ellison for answering my questions, and to her publisher for facilitating this Q&A!
READ CBTB’S REVIEW
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: MIRA (September 5, 2017)
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