An Interview with J.T. Ellison

WHAT LIES BEHIND begins with Dr. Samantha (Sam) Ownes awakened by a police investigation in her Georgetown neighborhood. Her friend, homicide detective Darren (Fletch) Fletcher, asks her to look over the evidence and help solve the murder/suicide case. Instead, she discovers hidden toxic substances, which turns the case upside down. As they try to figure out what is happening Fletch and Sam are summoned to the State Department. In typical Washington DC fashion, they find themselves up against red tape, smoke and mirrors, and a one-sided discussion. Sam and Fletch must navigate between the different agencies to thwart the terrorists and find the killers.

Elise Cooper: How did you come up with such a frightening scenario?

J. T. Ellison: I read a lot of non-fiction intelligence books. Having majored in political science this stuff interests me. The way I write is to figure out what scares me the most. Then I frame it in a hopefully entertaining story and make it somewhat educational.

EC: How did you do the research for this biological storyline?

JTE: After reading this story on hemorrhagic fevers I became fascinated with the subject. I talked to a virologist, Eric Mossel, PH.D who was instrumental in helping me develop the story and finding the right path between fiction and reality. Since I wanted to make the plot realistic I had him guide me through everything I was planning. He gave me the details on the creation of vaccines. I found out that it is not hard to taint them. I started the story about four months before the Ebola outbreak. I remember having to change things because I wanted to stay away from the headlines. It seemed every day something captured what I had written.

EC: You introduced a new character, Robin Souleyret. She will remind readers of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp. How would you explain her personality?

JTE: Robin is an awesome, incredible character. She completely takes over the story and resonates with readers. After disappointing her sister in the worst way she is attempting to redeem herself. Robin is a compelling character because she is a moral person doing immoral things for the greater good, killing people who need to be killed.

EC: Can you explain this powerful quote, “We are all alike inside. Everything is meant to work together. So if we’re all alike inside then there’s something that makes us individuals. Whether it’s an id, or a soul, or a spirit there’s an ineffable something inside that make us unique…”

JTE: That is a direct response to my experience with autopsies. I viewed four of them and remember in the beginning standing twenty feet away and by the end having my head in a chest cavity. I challenge any atheist to go to one and tell me people do not have souls. We are all these perfect machines but something makes us individuals: to love and hate, have humor or not. This attitude bleeds into Sam quite a bit.

EC: Why the setting in Georgetown?

JTE: I grew up there. It is one of my favorite parts of DC. It has a view, eclectic people, the University, and lots of good restaurants. I love the energy of it and always found it a safe place to go.

EC: Can you tell us about your future books?

JTE: On July 1st as part of a fundraiser for juvenile diabetes the author Brenda Novak is putting out a ‘Sweet Dreams Box Set,” in which I contributed a story. The prequel to the Taylor Jackson series, Crossed, will officially be released in October. It has her first case as a homicide detective, how she met her future boyfriend, FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin, and has a plot of a madman trying to create his own end-of-days apocalypse.

In September The End Game will be released. I co-wrote this with Catherine Coulter and it brings back FBI agent Nicholas Drummond and his partner Mike Caine. They will be investigating the bombings of power grids and oil refineries.

In March a stand-alone will be released, No One Knows. It is a domestic-suspense novel about a woman’s last chance to find her husband who has been missing for five years. The story came to me in a dream I had where the author Harlan Coben and I were in the Opry Hotel and he was giving me advice. Then all a sudden he was gone. I woke up and started writing the story and finished it four years later.

I do not have a release date for the next Samantha Owens book. I know what it will be about, a duality with WHAT LIES BEHIND. I am making sure I have enough time to devote to this story and do not want to rush anything.