Fast-paced and brilliantly unpredictable, J.T. Ellison’s breathtaking new novel invites you to a wedding none will forget—and some won’t survive.
Jutting from sparkling turquoise waters off the Italian coast, Isle Isola is an idyllic setting for a wedding. In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets.
From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife.
Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins…
J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 25 novels, and the EMMY® award winning co-host of the literary TV show A WORD ON WORDS. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 28 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.
Explain the difference between police procedurals, thrillers and psychological dramas.
The differences are subtle but meaningful, for sure.
Procedurals focus generally on the police/private investigators/law enforcement as the main characters, and the stories are about their day-to-day involvement with the plot, their relationships to one another, and to the suspects and victims.
Mysteries are often procedurals, with the general focus on the “who” done it. The reader and the hero often learn the solution to the puzzle at the same time. The challenge is intellectual.
Thrillers, on the other hand, are more “why” done it, or “we need to stop them” from doing it. The reader often knows the solution to the puzzle well before the hero, and the reader often knows the identity of the villain early on and the fun of the story is watching the hero (protagonist) and the villain (antagonist) match wits, with a few twists along the way. The challenge is physical.
Psychological dramas are usually more focused on a non-law enforcement main character. It’s an extraordinary event happening to an ordinary person, and the story is about their interaction with the plot, suspects, and victims. Often, they are the victim themselves. Storylines can pull from either mystery or thriller formulas. The challenge is emotional.
I like to think of these stories in terms of your house front door. In a suspense novel, the main character is inside the house. In a thriller, the main character is about to knock on the door.
There’s also one more element that separates them––immortality versus mortality of the main characters. In my mind, a thriller has a hero that is invincible, and can’t be killed. In a psychological story, the main character is truly at risk, and might not survive.
Which is the most fun to write?
Oh, that’s not fair. I love them all. The procedurals are usually series and the characters generally immortal. They are easier for me to write because the world is already built. The psychological suspense books are usually standalones for me, and much more complicated.
Think of it this way – a series title is like making dinner with access to a full pantry. You can open the doors, pull out the ingredients you need, and get to work on making dinner.
A standalone is like making dinner without the ingredients at hand. You have to make a list, go to the store, shop, then unpack the groceries, put them away, then cook the meal.
I love a good series title, but the freedom that comes with a standalone is intoxicating. I am in control of every ounce of the story, and don’t have to worry about pulling threads from other books or leaving a trail for the next one.
We've read your series with Lt. Taylor Jackson and Dr. Samantha Owens. Who would you cast for TV or Film?
That is a moving target, because those books have matured past my original inspirations. I always thought of Charlize Theron when I wrote Taylor. Now, I’d love to see Blake Lively play her, and maybe even Florence Pugh in a few years.
Sam is different. She has morphed in my mind as she’s matured. Such a wide range of actresses would be perfect. If I were casting today, I’d like to see Teyonah Parris in the role. She’s so gorgeous and has such intensity!
What's it like to work with another writer, such as Catherine.
Two heads are sometimes better than one! It was great to build a story with another author. Novelists are rare in the creative storytelling world because we work alone. TV and movie writers are used to having a number of heads at the table. It was quite nice to have a partner to bounce ideas off of, and work with day to day. And of course, working with Catherine was a masterclass in writing. She knows exactly what her readers want and expect from her stories. It was illuminating.
So your new novel is another stand alone. Tell us why we want to read it. Elevator pitch?
Claire Hunter, an up-and-coming large format oils artist, is about to marry the man of her dreams, Jack Compton, son of the Compton computer family magnate. Their wedding is about to take place on his family’s private island, Isola, and things go wrong from the start. Claire and Jack are both hiding some hefty secrets from one another–and why won’t he talk about his first wife, and her suspicious death? It’s a will they, won’t they gothic thriller set in an isolated, creepy villa on a remote Italian island in the midst of a terrible storm…with a killer is on the loose.
Which one of Her Dark Lies characters was the hardest to write and why?
Honestly, my main character, Claire. She didn’t want to give up her secrets, and I had to force them out of her. Once she admitted her sins to me, the whole story fell into place. I understand why she didn’t tell me, and when she tells the story of her past in the book, that’s exactly when she let me know, too. Wow, she made it hard on me!
Which character in (Her Dark Lies) is dearest to you and why?
Katie, Claire’s best friend, is a total spitfire and so dedicated to Claire’s happiness and well-being. They’ve been friends since childhood and she’s seen Claire through every stage of her life. She’s a great chick and a lot of fun to write. I have been blessed with several Katie’s in my life. Everyone needs that friend who is loyal to you and loves you no matter what.
Where did the inspiration Her Dark Lies come from?
I was in Italy on a family trip for a big birthday. We were on Lake Como, in a beautiful room with a terrace, and a yacht pulled up to Comacina Island, across the water from where we were staying. A wedding party got out and proceeded to have a huge party. At dark, fireworks went off. I knew immediately I wanted to write it as a story – with a dark side, of course. Imagine being stuck on an island, in a storm, with a killer on the loose. Yep. Boom. Story.
What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
I actually had a pretty rough time writing HER DARK LIES. I had two knee surgeries back-to-back while I was drafting, and it messed with my head and with my storytelling. I felt completely blocked, and the story just wouldn’t cooperate. When I emerged from that fog, the work got much easier. So assuming there isn’t something organic behind a block, or a life event that gets in the way (cough pandemic cough), I generally treat it as my story trying to tell me it’s going in the wrong direction. Almost every time I’ve been blocked, when my word counts start to dwindle and I find myself doing non-fiction instead of writing, that’s a sign I need to step back and see where I’ve gone off the rails.
Favorite Season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)?
Oh, I love Spring, especially after the winter storm we’ve just had, but my heart is all Fall. I love the colors, the crispness in the air, the leaves drifting to the ground (though that first one always makes me melancholy), the scent of burning leaves, the sense that things are wrapping up for the year and preparing for renewal. It’s a moment of inevitability that I cherish.
What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?
Honestly, the hardest thing are the business expectations. There’s so much that goes into writing a novel that has nothing to do with writing. But the most fun – that’s almost impossible to narrow down. Getting fan letters from people who genuinely loved a story, seeing the cover for the first time, finishing that first draft when you’ve been at it for months, meeting someone you’ve inspired to start writing themselves, or have returned to reading and chose your book to start… all amazing moments!
What advice would you give budding authors?
For the inspiration answer: Read everything you can get your hands on and write what you love to read. Don’t worry about the market, don’t worry about your friends or family and their reaction to what you write. All good books find a home, so write with passion and excitement. On the practical side, respect your time. Find the time that’s best for you to write, carve it out of your day, and protect it like your life depends on it. A daily writing habit creates a long-term career.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Ashley Audrain’s THE PUSH which was delicious and creepy and touching, and am about to dive into Lisa Jewell’s THE INVISIBLE GIRL, Allison Brennan’s TELL NO LIES, and Adele Park’s JUST MY LUCK.
If you could have your books adapted would you want them to be adapted into Movies, a Short Series on HBO/Netflix, a Stage Play, or a Melody?
A series, I think, so there’s time to get to know each character and reveal their true motivations. Though I’m not going to say no to a movie…
Are you a morning bird or a night owl?
I am a night owl forever in training to be an early bird. At some point, though, I think it’s important to celebrate what sleep schedule works for you! I try and try and try to get up early and write, and it simply doesn’t happen. But from 2-5 in the afternoon? Watch out!
What does the act of writing mean to you?
It is a sacred contract with myself while I’m drafting, to honor the muse, honor the spirit of the story, and give life to the voices in my head. To show up for my work, to allow the words to flow through me to the page. Storytelling is in my blood, and I get very cranky when I’m not writing. It’s something I love, and I respect the work and the process of creation tremendously.
But once I’m revising, it becomes a sacred contract with the reader. I want to take you on a journey, for you to be excited to pick up the book and regretful to set it down. I want to get in your head and live there,r long after you close the pages. I want to take you away from your troubles, at least for a little while, and to give you entertainment that makes you happy. So every word, every line, ever paragraph, page, chapter, is designed to excite and delight you.
Did you have a hand in designing the book’s cover?
I did a bit, but the art team at MIRA is so astounding they need very little help from me. I gave them some photos the cliffs and fortress/villa I used as inspiration, and they created the most brilliant cover ever. When they sent it I yelled in delight. It’s so perfect for the story and exactly what I imagined the setting to look like.
How did the book’s title come to you?
Funny you should ask that. This title was attached very early on. The original working title was THREE DARK NIGHTS, but my team felt like it needed to change, and I knew I wanted three words and dark in the title. HER DARK LIES came to me, I ran it up the flagpole, everyone loved it, and off we went. It’s not usually that simple, but this one was!
How could you describe this book in five words?
What if Rebecca hadn’t died?
Did COVID-19 hinder the release of this book?
Actually, I was the hindrance on this one. I had to have two knee surgeries a few months apart and that pushed back my deadline by a few months. I did almost half the book and all of the revising during the early months of the pandemic when we were in complete lockdown, and the final revisions over the summer and fall of 2020. I got very, very lucky, I think. GOOD GIRLS LIE came out December 31, 2021 and I was just finishing up my tour when we went into lockdown. That freed me up to write like the wind.