Way back in 2010, I had a dream. My husband and I were attending a wedding weekend at the Opryland Hotel. He was with the guys, I was with the girls, and, as such, hopelessly bored—because when I’m not with him, I’m always unsettled. So, I went to find him.
I texted him and said, “Come meet me for a drink.” He didn’t reply, but a waiter came into the bar with a gin and tonic. Knowing it was from him, I smiled and sent another text. He still didn’t reply. When I finished the drink, I got directions to where the boys were meeting. I was worried.
As I stepped outside, Harlan Coben was there. We had a long conversation, talked about my career path, about good and bad decisions made. Knowing I had a real opportunity to glean from a genius, I asked him what the secret to longevity was, and he was just about to tell me when I woke up—not fully awake, but one of those bleary-eyed moments when you realize you’ve lost something precious to you, and your heart breaks. Remembering my dream, I realized that I’d lost my husband.
But that couldn’t be. Could it?
An early riser, his day starts well before mine. I grabbed my phone in a panic and called his mobile—relieved beyond belief when he answered.
Those few moments when I thought I’d lost him were the worst of my life. I got up right away and committed the feelings I was having to paper, knowing I’d just had a seminal experience that was going to change everything.
Once I calmed down, I remembered the other half of the dream. The conversation with Harlan about my career and what was going on.
My agent and I had long discussed me writing a standalone thriller. He felt it would be a real opportunity to “break me out” as the publishing lingo goes. I was eight books in to an accidental series by this time, and was burning out a bit on writing the same characters over and over. Ready to try my hand at something different, we took my sad, crazy dream, plotted and schemed, and came up with the outline for a book I called: Torments of Absence. (No One Knows’ epigraph is from Alcibiades: “As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.”)
Having turned a book in early, I had time in my schedule, and began writing the story of a young widow named Aubrey Hamilton, whose husband went missing five years before the book opens. In fact, in the opening chapter Aubrey receives a letter from the State of Tennessee declaring her husband dead.
It began as a story of loss and hope. It began to move toward women’s fiction, but my brilliant agent read pages and gently steered me back into the crime fiction genre. It took almost a year to write, but at the end of 2011, I had a draft done. It was, what felt to me, a wildly original story with an unreliable female narrator—my favorite kind of protagonist.
My agent loved it, but thought it needed edits. I was almost halfway through those when a job offer came my way to co-write with the esteemed Catherine Coulter. It’s the kind of offer you’d be nuts to turn down. I am not nuts. I put my dream book on hold and got to work writing a new series. It was challenging and exciting, just what I needed.
And then writer tragedy struck. A brilliant young woman published a little book called Gone Girl. You might have heard of it? Does anything about the two books sound familiar?
There really are no original ideas…
When I finally had a chance to return to my dream book, eighteen months later, I’d written a couple of books with Catherine and started a new series of my own with character Dr. Samantha Owens, a spin-off of my Taylor Jackson books. It was very cool returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and realizing the book I’d thought was so amazing really needed work.
Five years, four titles, and several (I’ve lost count of how many) revisions later, Abby Zidle at Gallery decided to offer on my book. It was a team effort, from my old critique group to current writing partners, from my agent to my very first editor to my current one. So many hands have touched this book—in person, and spectrally—that I feel like this isn’t just my first standalone. It belongs to all of us.
March 22, three years after I abandoned the book for other pastures, No One Knows will finally be on shelves. What started as a terrible nightmare combined with a practical dream about my career trajectory has become a book of loss and hope, of lies and deceit, a journey through time seeking answers, a story driven by several very unreliable narrators.
I absolutely love it, and I hope you do, too.
J.T. Ellison—New York Times bestselling author—writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.