Q&A With Joss Walker

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Q&A With Joss Walker 

Another Q&A to start off June is with award-winning fantasy author and the alter ego of New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling mystery thriller author J.T. Ellison. Until today, I did not know that these two women were, in fact, the same person. Her fantasy series includes Jayne Thorne, CIA Librarian, and the spin-off The Guardians. Joss’s stories are magical, especially for those of us who enjoy books, libraries, romance, and magic. 

Q: Joss, would you please give a brief description of each of your series?

A: Delighted to! Years ago, I saw a job opening for a librarian…and the employer was the CIA. I immediately sent it to my husband and assistant with the headline “Jane Bond, CIA Librarian.” It seemed like a fabulous idea for a lighter thriller series that wasn’t quite as serious and intense as my current books, with wit and charm aplenty. But I couldn’t get it off the ground until I realized it might be an opportunity to write fantasy, which I’d always wanted to do. With the help of my friend, the amazing bestseller Alisha Klapheke, I renamed the character (Agnes Jayne Thorne), reimagined her backstory and the series, and made it magical. Five books later, the war for good and evil is underway, and the end of the series is in sight. I’ve always seen this as a six-book arc, and I’m getting close to wrapping things up.

The Guardians, which include the stories Betrayal of Magic and The Eighth Road, are a spin-off series of short stories that explore the backstories of many of the characters in the books. It turns out that the magical world was already at war long before Jayne came into her powers, and it is so much fun to meet these amazing magicians outside of the pages of the main series. 

Q: Until today I did not know that you wrote under two names. I know it is common for authors to have pen names. Why do you write fantasy under Joss Walker & mystery thrillers under J.T. Ellison? Which genres would you experiment with writing in next? 


A: It’s two-fold: one is practical–many of my readers of thrillers are not readers of fantasy, too, so to not cross-pollute the algorithm, a pen name was necessary. The other is the joy of writing fantasy without the pressure of it being under my main writing name. Since this is fun writing, it’s an escape from the stresses of traditional publishing. Writing these books is a delightful side gig that helps clear my head and makes both sides of my writing personality stronger.

I’ve always threatened to write a romance. Like a poignant rom-com. And I really want to write a full-blown epic fantasy trilogy. Still noodling that idea. 

Q: What’s it like knowing that your books are all New York Times & USA Today Bestsellers? It’s so exciting that your books have made not just one list but two bestsellers list! What qualifies as having a book in any Bestsellers List? 

A: Well, let’s be honest, not all the books have been made on the lists! Some do, some don’t. It really depends on the kind of distribution you get and how the book lands with the only audience who matters–the readers! The bestseller lists are something I don’t have a lot of control over (read: ANY), so I try not to use it as a bellwether. My goal is to finish as many projects as I can and try to level up my craft with every book. If they hit the list, all the better. It’s always a moving goalpost, though. Some weeks, you can get on the New York Times list with fewer copies than other weeks, and a lot of books that sell plenty don’t get chosen. USA Today is at least a clearer picture of bestsellers according to actual sales, versus the NYT which has a subjective component as well as numbers. 

Regardless, it’s an amazing moment in any author’s career. It feels like success and is clearly an outward sign of such. But it doesn’t change the fact that every book is a challenge, and every book matters. You have to write the best book you possibly can every time, and it’s never easy. My career looks like an EKG, ups and downs, and I think that’s true for every long-term author.


Q: Would you say that the fictional characters and worlds within both your fantasy and mystery thriller novels are taken from bits and pieces of real people and places?

A: Oh sure, though I’m not the type to kill an ex-boyfriend or anything like that. I think we can’t help but be influenced by our lives and the people we meet. By the books we read, the places we travel, the dramas and harms that befall us. Most of my books are set in the real world, with only a few being fictional settings, even in the fantasy series. I think it’s fun for readers to see places and scenarios they might have come across in their own lives, their own travels. It helps them connect to work in a new way.

Q: How long does it take for you to write a book?

A: Well, that’s a good question with a very open answer: It depends. For my thrillers, it’s usually around six months – a month of research and prep work, four months of writing, a month of revision and editing, before it goes to the publisher and starts through their process of revision and editing. Six months on my end, 4-6 on their end. Sometimes even a year, for big books that are going to be put forward as a lead title. 

The Jayne books are different, because I’ve been working with co-writers, but they follow the same sort of schedule. I allot a month for prep and outlining, three months for writing, and then two months or more for revision because, as I’ve learned doing my own co-writing for a brand, there’s no way to make the book into that person’s vision from the get-go, nor do I want that. I just need a fleshed-out draft of our outline to jumpstart what I want to do with the book. So, we brainstorm and outline together, they do a short draft, then I take over entirely and do multiple revisions to get the book where I need it to be. I generally add 30-40k to the original drafts. This system works well for me and my multiple deadlines.  

Q: Have you ever had to deal with self-doubt when you are writing? If so, what are healthy ways you deal with it, so that it may help others?

A: Goodness yes, all the time. I’m currently working on a few short stories and books 31, 32, and 33: A J.T. thriller, a non-fiction about said thriller, and the fifth Jayne book. On any given day, I’m banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out why one or the other isn’t working. I try to stay away from my reviews but sometimes that’s just not possible, and I have always said if you believe the bad you MUST believe the good, too. I try not to compare myself to other authors and what they get, too. We’re all apples in a huge warehouse, and none of us are exactly alike, so comparing is a slippery slope. It’s really important to remember you are on your own journey, and that there’s room for everyone, and a book for every reader. 

Q: What are healthy ways you have dealt with negative reviews, online trolls & family and friends who aren’t supportive of your goals that may help aspiring authors who deal with those same issues?

A: First, get offline. There is absolutely no reason to engage with people who do anything but lift you up. You have to have a thick skin in this industry because not everyone will love what you do. That’s natural. But to engage with people who are actively trying to subvert your work or the industry isn’t something I recommend. Spend all that creative energy writing the next book. If you do the very best you can, that will get noticed, and if you piss some people off in the process…too bad for them. Spend your time holding your peers up, putting positive energy into the world, watching the rising tide lift all boats, and ignoring the naysayers. They simply do not matter to your creative life.

Q: On your website it says your books were optioned for television series. I’m sick of seeing remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spin offs. We need new original content again. Have they done any casting and filming yet? 

A: I mentioned earlier that the lists are out of your control…well, Hollywood is that on steroids. I’ve had books optioned, lost those options, been days from a deal and lost producers, all sorts of things. I am very careful about who I sell to now, so there’s a better chance of things being made—but of course, talking about what’s happening behind the scenes isn’t allowed. So nothing at that casting stage at the moment, but fires burning on all fronts. 

It’s always exciting to get optioned, though. You just never know what will make it to the screen!

Q: Can you reveal any details about what you are currently writing right now? 

A: Sure. As Joss Walker, I’m revising the fifth book, THE BOOK OF SPIRITS, which has just gone up for pre-order, and outlining the sixth. As J.T., I’m in the PR stage for my next thriller, A VERY BAD THING, and halfway through the next thriller on the contract, which I’m also live writing on my blog for those who want to follow along. I realized there are 22 Steps to the process from concept to pub day, so it’s been a lot of fun to talk about them in real-time. 

Q: What lessons do you hope readers learn after reading your fantasy and mystery thriller novels?

A: That there might not be justice in the real world, but you can always find it between the pages of a book. That you can always find yourself on the page. And that magic exists if you let it.