Writing Thrillers: Behind the Scenes with Author Jumata Emill

Have you ever wondered what it takes to write a YA thriller? We asked Jumata Emill, author of The Black Queen and Wander in the Dark, to take us behind the scenes and share how he writes such exciting thrillers. Keep scrolling to learn about his writing process.

How do you keep track of secrets and plot points?

I’m a dedicated plotter. Before I can write the first sentence of any story, I have to outline everything—the clues, character motivations, backstories, and the action. It’s kind of a must in mystery/thriller writing if you want to save yourself a lot of work later. So, I keep different notebooks for every story, where I scribble down all my thoughts, sometimes in hand drawn charts and graphs. There are usually bullet lists of the secrets and lies for specific characters. It helps me sort of visualize the story, especially ones that have a lot of moving parts.


How do you pick a setting?

I tend to lean toward fictional settings because they allow me to have full creative control of the landscape. But with Wander in the Dark, the story just felt like it needed to be grounded someplace real. New Orleans seemed like the ideal place. I wish I could say there was one specific thing that helps me zero in on the place I want to serve as the backdrop for a story, but usually a number of different things factor into that decision. My gut serves as the primary decision-maker. The minute it feels right, I go with it.


Do you ever surprise yourself with your own twists?

Given that I’m a notorious plotter, there aren’t many surprises that happen in the overall story once I start writing. But little surprises do pop up here and there in scenes once I put characters on the page. There are a lot of times where I’ll have a scene mapped out in my head, and then I start writing it and the characters sort of take over. Those writing days are always fun. When you allow your characters to be who they want to be instead of who you think they are, your story will be better for it.


Where’s your favorite place to write?

There’s a comfy chair in my living room that I call my “writing nook.” It’s crazy because I have an entire desk set up in my home, but nine times out of ten I curl up with my laptop in that chair, the lower half of my body covered with a blanket and all my craft books and notebook within arm’s length. Something about the chair just grounds me but also shuts out the world at the same time. I have to vacuum under the cushions every week when I’m in writing mode to clean up all the crumbs that fall in between them from my writing snacks.


Are there any behind-the-scenes anecdotes about writing Wander you’d like to share?

It was fun getting to incorporate a lot of the places my friends and I visit and hangout in New Orleans into the story. The parades and activities that Amir and his friends do on Mardi Gras day were the same ones I did growing up and visiting the city on Fat Tuesday. Amir also lives in the same neighborhood as my best friend. Marcel’s neighborhood is the place I used to daydream about living when I was kid. Everything about the story is much more personal. Familiar. Well, except for all the murder stuff.

For “all the murder stuff,” be sure to check out Jumata’s books!

The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

The Black Queen

The Black Queen

Nova Albright was going to be the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High—but now she’s dead. Murdered on coronation night. Fans of One of Us Is Lying and The Other Black Girl will love this unputdownable thriller.

Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High, is dead. Murdered the night of her coronation, her body found the next morning in the old slave cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating.

Tinsley McArthur was supposed to be queen. Not only is she beautiful, wealthy, and white, it’s her legacy—her grandmother, her mother, and even her sister wore the crown before her. Everyone in Lovett knows Tinsley would do anything to carry on the McArthur tradition.

No one is more certain of that than Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend. Duchess’s father is the first Black police captain in Lovett. For Duchess, Nova’s crown was more than just a win for Nova. It was a win for all the Black kids. Now her best friend is dead, and her father won’t face the fact that the main suspect is right in front of him. Duchess is convinced that Tinsley killed Nova—and that Tinsley is privileged enough to think she can get away with it. But Duchess’s father seems to be doing what he always does: fall behind the blue line. Which means that the white girl is going to walk.

Duchess is determined to prove Tinsley’s guilt. And to do that, she’ll have to get close to her.

But Tinsley has an agenda, too.

Everyone loved Nova. And sometimes, love is exactly what gets you killed.

Wander in the Dark by Jumata Emill

Wander in the Dark

Wander in the Dark

In this new pulse-pounding thriller from the author of The Black Queen, two brothers must come together to solve the murder of the most popular girl in school after one of them is caught fleeing the scene of her death.

Amir Trudeau only goes to his half brother Marcel’s birthday party because of Chloe Danvers. Chloe is rich, and hot, and fits right into the perfect life Marcel inherited when their father left Amir’s mother to start a new family with Marcel’s mom. But Chloe is hot enough for Amir to forget that for one night.

Does she want to hook up? Or is she trying to meddle in the estranged brothers’ messy family drama? Amir can’t tell. He doesn’t know what Chloe wants from him when, in the final hours of Mardi Gras, she asks him to take her home and stay—her parents are away and she doesn’t want to be alone.

Amir never finds out, because when he wakes up, Chloe is dead—stabbed while he was passed out on the couch. And in no time, Amir becomes the only suspect. A Black teenager caught fleeing the scene of a rich white girl’s murder? All of New Orleans agrees: the case is open-and-shut.

Amir is innocent. He has a lawyer, but unless someone can figure out who really killed Chloe, things don’t look good for him. His number one ally? Marcel. Their relationship is messy, but Marcel knows that Amir isn’t a murderer—and maybe proving his innocence will repair the rift between them.

To find Chloe’s killer, Amir and Marcel need to dig into her secrets. And what they find is darker than either could have guessed. Parents will go to any lengths to protect their children, and in a city as old as New Orleans, the right family connections can bury even the ugliest truths.

Did you enjoy this behind-the-scenes Q&A with Jumata Emill? Discover more fun author content here and get social with us at @getunderlined!

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