If you’re looking for an interesting read this holiday season, look no further than Professor Asher Ellis’s '06 latest thriller novel, Cracker Jack.
The book tells the story of ex-safecracker Jackson Phillips, who has abandoned his life of crime to work as a cab driver. But when his girlfriend’s ailing son Tommy is denied insurance coverage, Phillips gets desperate. Given the opportunity to burgle the insurance magnate that denied Tommy, Jack is back in the saddle, but he soon discovers that this particular safe contains something far scarier than money.
The initial spark for Cracker Jack stemmed from — of all things — the trailer for the movie Trespass. In the trailer, burglars hold a gun to Nicholas Cage’s head and demand he open his safe. He refuses. “I immediately stopped the trailer, and I was like, that's awesome,” Ellis said. “Why would a guy not open his safe when his life is... you know, like, what would stop you?” He didn’t even finish the trailer. “I didn't want to know their answer. I just kind of took off and I was like, I'm gonna figure out what's in that [safe].”
Trespass wasn’t the only work that inspired Cracker Jack; one of Ellis’s previous books, Pet, is its thematic “sister novel.” Both books feature an extremely wealthy antagonist, something that Ellis has noticed is a common theme in his stories. “I do find wealthy, upper-class antagonists to be worthy villains,” he says. “I find them to be scarier, because they are more powerful in real life.” Following Pet’s publication, Ellis realized he was not quite done with that story.
Before he was a published novelist, Ellis graduated with the Colby-Sawyer Class of 2006 as an English major and communications minor. He served as the official film critic for the Colby-Sawyer Courier and co-hosted the public access TV show Reel Talk with Professor Pat Anderson. These jobs were “super, really sick, because [he] got to watch films for free.” He wrote a play that went on to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, and he regularly petitioned the college to offer more creative writing classes. Ironically, the creative writing major was established the year after he graduated.
After completing his MFA through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program, Ellis was hired as an adjunct professor at Colby-Sawyer. He has since taught fourteen or so classes, including Scriptwriting, Writing 101, and a plethora of film courses. Next month will mark his ten-year anniversary here. “It's kind of a cool story, because I stayed here as a student... because of the faculty. And now I keep coming back every year as a faculty member because of the students,” he says.
Ellis gives this advice to aspiring writers: do not be afraid of rejection. “What's more concerning to me are yeses, because that's when the work begins,” he says. “It's just so illogical and silly to me to be afraid of no, because it didn't cost you anything… So yeah, don't be afraid of no. No's good. No makes you better.”
Cracker Jack is available for purchase here.