Allison here: I met J.T. Ellison first online in 2006, then in person at the first Thrillerfest in Arizona. She’d asked me to blurb her debut novel, All the Pretty Girls, and I remember sitting at a bar in Sacramento when my flight was delayed heading to the 2006 RT conference in Daytona Beach. I was completely and totally hooked and finished the book on the plane. J.T. can write. She writes what I love to read, great characters, dark and suspenseful with a hint of romance. I’ve been so lucky to earn her friendship over the years and am pleased to have J.T. as a guest here at Murder She Writes — and I hope she’ll return soon!
What do you do when faced with a life-changing decision? Do you jump off the cliff and go for it, heedless of the consequence? Do you agonize, write lists of pros and cons, worry yourself into sleepless nights until the decision is made? Or do you use entropy, edging toward the decision through the path of least resistance, not deciding, but not walking away, either?
I’ve always been a bit of a cliff jumper myself. I make up my mind on things quickly, and move forward decisively. Sometimes too decisively.
So when my main character, Dr. Samantha Owens, was faced with a life-changing decision at the beginning of WHEN SHADOWS FALL, I thought she’d be like me – make the decision and move on. But she didn’t. She fought against what she knew would be best for her, and it took her a whole novel to decide.
It’s a tricky thing, changing a character’s world. Whether they get married, have a child, get divorced, meet a lover, start a new job, deal with a loved one’s death – these catalysts drive our narratives, giving our character’s depth, and making them relatable.
I’ve been throwing changes at Dr. Samantha Owens for several books now. She’s had to face the death of her husband and children in the Nashville floods, the death of her ex-lover, the surprising love of a new man, a move from Nashville to Washington D.C. and a new job running the brand-new forensic pathology program at Georgetown University. And in WHEN SHADOWS FALL, she’s faced with even more decisions – whether to accept a consulting position with the FBI, whether to accept a ring from her lover, whether to investigate the murder of a man who clearly committed suicide.
What is it the French say? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Stasis is the death of novels. Change, not for the sake of change, but for the sake of challenge, is the only way to keep a series alive, to keep the characters interesting, to keep their story moving forward. It’s a careful balance, and it’s where the novel’s conflict comes from. Too much change, and you lose the things that make readers love the character. Too little change, and things get boring.
Sam’s facing the biggest decision of her life in WHEN SHADOWS FALL. The question is posed in the first chapter, and she doesn’t decide fully until the last. Her decision changes the course of the series, sending it in a new direction. It gives the series real legs, sustainability, reason and meaning. Sam can move forward now, unfettered by her past.
At least, we hope she can.
Allison again: What about you? Are you a decisive decision maker? Jump first? Plan methodically? Is it easy for you to change in mid-stream, or are you like an ocean liner, straight ahead at a steady pace and any turns slow and with purpose? … Or what about books? Do you like it when your favorite characters are forced to make a major change or decision?
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J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of ten critically acclaimed novels, including The Final Cut with Catherine Coulter, When Shadows Fall, Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband. Visit JTEllison.com for more insight into her wicked imagination, or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or Facebook.com/JTEllison14.