A Dangerous Search for the Truth
By J. H. Bográn
A popular plotting device among authors is to ask, “What if…?” and then follow the rabbit down the hole.
So, what if while treating a personal injury you discovered you don’t share DNA with your parents? That question served as basis for New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison’s new novel, TEAR ME APART.
Competitive skier Mindy Wright is a superstar in the making until a spectacular downhill crash threatens not just her racing career but her life. During surgery, doctors discover she’s suffering from a severe form of leukemia, and a stem cell transplant is her only hope. But when her parents are tested, a frightening truth emerges. Mindy is not their daughter.
The search for the truth will tear a family apart…and someone is going to deadly extremes to protect the family’s deepest secrets. Publishers’ Weekly says that the plot of TEAR ME APART builds to a stunning conclusion, adding, “Ellison is at the top of her game.”
After the success of her book Lie to Me, Ellison needed a follow-up, and decided to take a stab at an idea she’d had in her file for a while. The result didn’t please her. “I felt it was too…nice…to be a J. T. Ellison book. I needed to find the dark edges, tear them open, and crawl inside.”
Out went the original structure and narrative, and within that new frame a whole different voice emerged. A voice that changed the story to exactly what Ellison was looking for. “I’ve always thought of it as Girl, Interrupted, if the girls were grown up. TEAR ME APART is dark, and dramatic, very focused on the ‘why’ behind the crime.”
Lauren Wright is, without a doubt, a layered protagonist. She’s desperately trying to keep 17-year-old secrets buried because many lives depend on it. Then there’s her daughter, Mindy, who’s literally fighting her own body with the leukemia. Mindy is somewhat based on Linsey Vonn. They share the same tenacity, showmanship, grace and beauty. “I was lucky enough to be doing a lot of editing during the Olympics this year, so it was cool to imagine Mindy’s future as an Olympic medalist alongside her heroes Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffren.”
A part of the research was easy enough. Ellison is a former ski bum.
“I grew up skiing the same Colorado hills I talk about in the book. I even tried racing for a season, and have a small bronze medal from a junior slalom competition in my box of prized possessions,” she says. To take skiing to the next level though, was too much of a challenge. To the joy of her readers, Ellison concentrated on writing, but still follows the sport. “I get really, really excited during the winter Olympics.”
Other aspects were incredibly difficult. The story delves deep into mental illness—depression and suicide specifically—something that has deeply affected her family. She says, “I’ve drawn on many conversations with doctors, visits to hospitals, and tapped into my own issues with anxiety to be as honest and real as possible. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t an easy book to write.”
As with any pro, she makes the hard look easy.
J. T. Ellison writes both stand-alone and series. Choosing which plot idea goes where is an artform in itself. “My conceptual ideas are either plot driven or character driven. For a series, the characters are already established, so it’s vital to have a great plot that challenges them and will propel the story. My standalone ideas almost always start with the character, or a huge question I need to answer, whereas series are more about how the character will react when put into a certain situation. I love them both; they are both equally harder than, and easier than, the other.”
Of course, Ellison also pens the A Brit in the FBI series with Catherine Coulter. The collaboration has brought unforeseen benefits, as she’s realized plotting ahead helps writing it go faster.
“I’m also much more aware of the proportion of dialogue versus narrative. We tend to go dialogue and plot-heavy for the Brit books, and I love a more introspective narrative voice for my own work. It’s great to indulge both styles, and my work has gotten tighter and more focused as a result. Plus, Catherine is such a pro. Her discipline has done nothing but positively affect my work.”
Ellison is currently working on the sixth A Brit in the FBI novel, The Last Second, due out next March. Then she’ll concentrate on a novel of her own series. “It’s time to revisit my girls,” she says.
In a strange confluence of events, her friend and fellow author, Duane Swierczynski, has a daughter Evie who is in a very similar situation to Mindy. Evie needs a stem-cell transplant, and you might be able to help — please visit Be The Match to learn more.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J. T. Ellison writes standalone domestic noir and psychological thriller series, the latter starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the international thriller series “A Brit in the FBI” with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the EMMY Award-winning literary television show A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.