Good morning everyone. Today Coffee Time Romance has the pleasure of speaking to Jill Elizabeth Nelson. Jill, this is an honor, welcome. Sit down and share a cup of coffee and let’s get to know about Jill.
Can you believe this month is almost over? January certainly brought some cold weather into many homes. I hope it didn’t get too cold for you. Now let’s talk books, Jill. I must say I read Reluctant Smuggler and really enjoyed it. The characters are refreshing and lively. I love the characters of Desiree and Tony. Once I started reading, it was hard to put this page-turner down. I notice that The Library Journal reviewed Reluctant Smuggler and had this to say,
"This is a smart, fast-paced suspense title with enough relationship drama to please both fans of thriller and romance genres."
~The Library Journal
Congrats on the review, Jill.
Thanks, Cherokee. I’m so pleased to be featured on Coffee Time Romance. I love to give books away, so for those who read this interview I have an offer at the end which will make you eligible for your choice or even ALL THREE of the To Catch a Thief books. Read on!
Do you write with an outline or go with the flow?
There’s a friendly debate among writers as to what is the “best” plotting method. Some swear by charts and timelines, graphs and spreadsheets. A dear writer friend makes a good bit of income each year by teaching others his “Snowflake Method” of plotting. He’s a physicist, as well as a writer. ‘Nuff said about his comfort level with micro-plotting. Another friend just starts with a few characters and a scene and lets the story whisk her away with no idea where it’s going to take her. She’s a bestseller, so who can argue with her method?
I am neither seat-of-the-pants nor “Snowflake.” I guess you might categorize me as a middle-of-the-road plotter. When I start a book, I know the beginning and where I need to end up, as well as several of the high points in between. The route from here to there is often filled with surprises, and I like it that way.
They say authors sometimes draw upon their personal lives when they write books. The fact that Desiree is using her work to try to cover her grief over the loss of her father, did you enact upon any part of that storyline in your life?
Life has handed me numerous opportunities to work through the challenge of loss that faces Desi. My father passed away suddenly when I was eighteen. There are still times when I feel like I’m processing the loss. Also, just a few years ago, two of my husband’s brothers were killed in a vehicle accident. Talk about devastating for a family!
In Reluctant Smuggler, museum security expert Desiree Jacobs buries her grief over her father’s murder (which took place in the first book of the series, Reluctant Burglar) beneath the busyness of work. It’s actually a natural human reaction to skirt what hurts.
My retreat is usually my imagination, as I concoct a new story to tell. The process gives me relief and keeps my mind from churning continually on unpleasantness. The avoidance can be healthy for a time as we subconsciously process the blow that inflicted the pain, and when we are ready, we can confront the issue with fresh perspective. Usually this process repeats itself multiple times, each cycle healing more and more of the wound. The avoidance becomes unhealthy when we refuse ever to deal with the issue and our emotions. The longer we bury the hurt, the more it festers and begins to negatively affect every area of our lives—particularly relationships. Desi finds that out as the story progresses.
Healthy relationships are forged between people who are mature enough to let the wounds of life make them stronger and more compassionate. Not by withdrawing into a shell or keeping the pain in a box, but by allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable with trusted others who can aid the healing process. I hope I illustrated that concept in a poignant way in Reluctant Smuggler.
Jill, I believe this is book 3 in the To Catch a Thief Series, where did you come up with the idea for Desiree and Tony, and Reluctant Smuggler?
The catalyst for the whole series was a literal sleeping dream. I woke up in the wee hours one night all tense from a dream where a woman in black sneaked into an estate. She took a painting off the wall and replaced it with an identical-looking painting. Straight up theft, right? Wrongo! I was aware as I watched this scene unfold that the woman was stealing the forgery and returning the original. What a bizarre thing for a thief to do! I was also aware that if she didn’t get away with her act of reverse larceny that disaster would follow for many innocents, not just her.
After I woke up, my waking mind played with this odd scenario. I had to decide what sort of career the woman could have that would give her cat burglar skills without making her a thief. Museum security expert fit the bill. I also asked myself what dire set of circumstances would force her to take such outrageous action. The answer to that question became the plot for the first book, Reluctant Burglar.
The sequels, Reluctant Runaway and Reluctant Smuggler, were birthed in my quirky imagination as natural progressions when you throw a strong-willed, impetuous museum security expert into drastic situations with a skilled and intense FBI agent. Smuggler contains the culmination of many character and relationship issues introduced in the first book. Maybe that’s why it’s my personal favorite.
Your stories are fast-paced, fantastic and full of suspense, romance and humor. Where do you continue to come up with these great elements in your storyline and keeping yourself interested as much as the reader?
First of all, I love my characters and am passionate about telling the stories of their lives. Secondly, I write what I like to read—tales of adventure, pathos, and intrigue spiced with humor and faith. If an author writes her passion, the enthusiasm will spill onto the page and affect the reader.
Specific plot ideas come from many sources: news reports, personal experience, people watching, magazine articles, etc. The violent gang issues in Reluctant Smuggler came right out of the headlines. Gangs are becoming more and more organized and some, like the group on which I based my fictional Brotherhood of the Claw, are international. The federal government has held meetings on how to deal with this bunch. They’re powerful, widespread, and utterly without fear of the law. This is the kind of force my hero and heroine are up against. What’s not to get excited about!
What would you say is your hardest part in composing a book, the beginning, the middle or the ending?
Probably the middle. As I said, when I start a book I know where I need to begin and where I’m going, but only the high points in between. I can and do paint myself into plot corners where I have no idea how I’m going to get my characters out of the fix they’re in. Those are times when I pray for inspiration and go put a puzzle together to give the creative side of my brain a rest.
There are also times when my characters stun me with new facts about themselves that change the storyline. Tony, my FBI agent hero, has been particularly good at that. He tends to play everything so close to the vest that even his creator doesn’t know what’s up with him until the last minute! Also, there are times when characters stubbornly refuse to go in the direction I intended. So I listen to my characters and end up with a better book.
Do you have any special rituals to help you get in the mood to write? Listening to music, watching television or lighting candles?
Not watching television and not reading a book, either, though that’s one of my favorite activities. When I need to write, it’s best if I don’t have someone else’s story line running through my head.
I like to have a beverage at hand. Writing can be thirsty work. My preferences are straight water or a steamy cup of herbal tea. Oh, and an occasional nibble on some dill pickle potato chips. Strange combination, I know.
Then I put on one of my glorious Celtic worship CDs. Mmmm-hmmm! Those put me in the mood to create. A teacher in our church researched the affect of music on the human spirit, and one of the findings was woodwind music, which is prominent in Celtic compositions, stimulates creativity. I could be the poster child for the study!
Are there any other upcoming projects that you are working on?
Oh, goody. I get to talk about my work-in-progress. Evidence of Murder releases from Harlequin’s Steeple Hill romantic suspense line in February of 2009. Here’s a teaser: When a new business owner discovers on her property photos of a decade-old multiple murder, she and the surviving son of the massacre become targets of a desperate and powerful killer.
Anyone want to read that? I hope so, because I’m jazzed about the story. It’s set in my home state of Minnesota, which helps immensely with setting research. Evidence of Murder will be followed in June 2009 by a second romantic suspense novel for Steeple Hill that hasn’t been titled yet.
You must stay very busy with your day job then come home to your home job and writing stories. Do you ever find any alone time just for Jill and, if so, what do you do for relaxation?
I love to spend weekends camping in a wooded park. Of course at our age, my husband’s and my idea of “roughing it” is our elderly but well-preserved motor home. Waking up to the serenity of birds singing in the trees soothes my soul. It also helps that I adore walks in the woods, eating grilled food, and relaxing in a lawn chair with a book in hand.
In the winter time, when camping becomes less than enticing in Minnesota, my husband and I watch movies together. Can anyone say popcorn and cocoa?
Oh, and as I mentioned before, I like to put puzzles together.
As a writer, have you ever had a surprised moment in your life you will never forget?
I was astonished and delighted when it dawned on me that the publisher that had bought my To Catch a Thief series was the same publisher I vowed many years ago to write for. This did not happen by my own design, because my agent submitted my debut novel, Reluctant Burglar, to numerous publishers before it sold. It was, however, a lovely irony—a God-thing, if you will—that my first books went to Multnomah.
Well before Burglar was even a glimmer in my eye, I read the incredible Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, and I remember closing the last page and checking to see who had published this wonderful book. Then I stood to my feet and said out loud, “One day, I’m going to publish with this company.” Years later, that vow all but forgotten, my dream was fulfilled.
It is good seeing lasting marriages; can you give the readers some pointers on keeping the marriage going strong and the love never ending?
Actually, my marriage has been valuable training to succeed as a writer. Perseverance through the rough patches, the dry times, the rejections, the revisions is a must. Fast-food mentality won’t cut it in writing or in marriage. You need a covenant mentality. Webster’s defines “covenant” as “a formal, solemn, and binding agreement.” You don’t love your spouse just when you like him (or her). In fact, true love shines best when you respond to your spouse gently just at the moment when a part of you would rather shoot him. Kindness, unconditional acceptance, and open communication keep those love fires burning.
Just for fun questions: You wake up one morning and learn you are a farmer, what crop would you plant and harvest?
My husband farmed for about fifteen years of our married life. The common crops in our area are wheat, soybeans, and corn. However, since I revel in doing something different, I would probably plant flax. When I was growing up, flax was also a common crop around here, but fell away when the market for this crop narrowed. I loved driving down the road when the fields were ripe and seeing the vivid blue heads ripple in the wind. It was like watching waves of water on dry land. I think I’d enjoy creating my own lake of flax.
You get a phone call from your editor stating she will be arriving at your house tomorrow with sixty guests to discuss your next book. You are to prepare a meal for the guests. Do you panic, or just go with the flow and prepare something fantastic?
I go with the flow and prepare something easy and fast. Gourmet cook I am not, but marriage to a former farmer, has taught me how to whip up a simple, hearty meal for a herd of hungry mouths. Besides, out here in rural America, folks should be treated to a country meal. I’m thinking beef stew and biscuits or perhaps chicken soup and dumplings or even scalloped potatoes and ham. Naturally, the cow, the chicken, or the pig was raised locally and went straight from hometown butcher to household freezer. But then, I could always make a hot dish, the staple food of church basement socials. (Most of the rest of the world calls this thing a casserole, in case you’re scratching your head over “hot dish.” That’s a free lesson in how to talk Minnesotan.)
If you could go back in time what period would you go, and what would you take with you?
I’d be very interested to go back to the 50s in my hometown area and observe first-hand what things were like for my mother growing up. The community was quite a bit different then, and it would be fascinating to see. Besides, I’d get a kick out of seeing Mom in a poodle skirt, giggling with her friends.
A little family history here: My mother was raised on a farm only a mile or so from the town where I’ve now lived all my married life. She met and wed a pastor that came to serve a local church fresh out of seminary, and then they moved five times to various communities in Minnesota and South Dakota while my siblings and I were growing up. However, we regularly returned to her hometown to visit her parents. I never thought I’d end up living where my mother was raised! But a temporary (I thought) job in the community led to marriage to a local farmer, and the kind of roots to a community my transient childhood never allowed to develop.
As for what I’d bring, I think I’d tuck my camera in my purse so I could take lots of pictures to bring back to the present. Yes, the digital technology would be an anachronism in the 50s, but so would I!
Is there anything in your household closet that you can’t bear to part with?
I can’t think of anything. Pretty lame answer, but stuff doesn’t have much of a hold on me. Maybe it’s because I moved a lot growing up and went through quite of bit of weeding out possessions. The only things around the house that I never want to lose are the family photos and videos. Oh, and my laptop computer! My writing life is on there!
Jill, I cannot thank you enough for sharing time with us today. I have enjoyed our time together and look forward to more great works from you. Keep those stories coming our way.
I plan on it, Cherokee. Thanks for hosting me!