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Jill Elizabeth Nelson Interview

by Rel Mollet

"I want the story to show readers that a sense of hope is vital to the health of the human spirit--in fact to the health of any society or people group." -- Jill Elizabeth Nelson


Jill’s writing journey has taken her in many different directions. She’s worn the hats of journalist, columnist, essayist, poet, story teller and book reviewer. Her current chapeau is the one she’s coveted all along—novelist. Her Guide and Mentor in all her travels is her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory!

Rel: Why Christian fiction?

Jill: My faith comes out naturally in the stories I write and probably a bit too plainly for secular publishers. Christian publishers offer me the freedom to open my heart and let what’s in there spill onto the page. I trust that believers will be enriched and perhaps challenged by the stories, and that non-Christians who are ripe for the Gospel can pick up my books and find Jesus in them.

Writing is not your only career - tell us a bit about your day job?

By day, I manage an apartment building for seniors. I enjoy my job and love the people I work with and the elderly tenants I serve. Currently, we’re planning a major renovation to the building, which is requiring extra time and effort. By night I throw off my mask of conformity and turn into a wild and crazy writer who can hardly wait to jot down all the cool things my characters are telling me, so I can share them with my readers.

Writing is obviously in your blood - was there a particular person who encouraged you to nurture your gift?

Oh, yes, my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Waltz, is largely responsible for my life’s direction as a writer. Despite the fact that her students were old enough to read by themselves, each afternoon, she would pull up a stool and read to us from the most wondrous books. I was already an avid reader, but somewhere in the process of listening to the stories, I realized that I didn’t want to be just another person who received pleasure from the tales, but one who gave that enjoyment to others.

What writing project are you working on now?

I have a two-book contract with Steeple Hill romantic suspense. The first one will come out in February of 2009 and the next one in June 2009. I’m nearing completion of the manuscript for book one, Evidence of Murder, and I’m really jazzed about the story. Here’s a teaser: When a new business owner discovers on her property photos of a decade-old multiple homicide, she and the surviving son of the massacre become targets of a desperate and powerful killer.

Your first three books are romantic suspense ~ will we see you try your hand at other genres in the future?

I hope so. I have several complete manuscripts in other genres—namely, contemporary women’s fiction and fantasy. As a sound business decision for an author just starting out, I will probably stick with romantic suspense for a while and build readership.

The Reluctant Burglar by Jill Elizabeth NelsonTell us the inspiration behind your characters Desi and Tony.

I dreamed Desi—literally. One early morning I woke up all tense from a dream about a woman in black who sneaked into an estate. She took a painting off the wall and replaced it with an identical painting, only she was stealing the forgery and leaving the original, which is a really bizarre thing for a thief to do. I was also aware that if she didn’t succeed in this act of reverse larceny many innocent people would suffer. That was when I suddenly woke up. Nuts!

The dream was so vivid that in my waking mind I toyed with the scenario, asking myself two main questions. First, what career could this woman have that would give her cat burglar skills without making her a thief? My answer was museum security expert. And second, what dire circumstances would cause her to take such drastic action? The answer to that question became the plot of my debut novel and the first book in the To Catch a Thief series, Reluctant Burglar.

The character of FBI agent Tony Lucano arose naturally from my need to get law enforcement involved and to give Desi a love interest. Desi’s best friend and sidekick calls Tony “tall, dark, and intense.” My readers repeatedly tell me they’d love to meet him!

A stolen Cezanne painting has been valued at $91 million. Why do such paintings command such a price?

The FBI calls art theft and desecration “crimes against cultural property.” When art and artifacts are stolen or destroyed the whole of society suffers the loss of heritage. The most valuable works are done by acknowledged “masters.” As a rough definition, I’d say masters are those artists who consistently display the highest skill in their medium, as well as that indefinable ability to touch the human heart. As to why these works come to be worth millions, I have no idea other than good old supply and demand. Art works by masters are rare and collectors are avid; therefore, the value skyrockets.

What was your favorite scene to write in Reluctant Smuggler?

Hard question. I had so much fun with many scenes. I particularly enjoyed the believer/unbeliever interaction between Tony and his ex-partner. I was thrilled to bring about some developments in that relationship that have been building throughout the series. And any scene that Desi can be her sassy self in is a blast to write. But then there’s the romantic interaction between Desi and Tony. Major developments there. I guess I had the most fun getting my twosome through the ultimate danger at the end.

How do you go about choosing names for your characters?Reluctant Smuggler by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Oh, very scientifically. If it sounds good, I use it. LOL. My main characters’ names are intuitive. I’m sure it’s a highly subjective call based on my own life experiences, but I think of a name that seems to suit the character’s personality. Secondary characters get pretty much anything that doesn’t sound too much like the main characters’ names.

In Reluctant Smuggler, Desi and Tony both have to face their darkest fears and deal with some buried emotions from their pasts yet there is plenty of action and fun ~ how do you find the right balance?

Again, my writing is largely intuitive based on years of developing in craft and working with many different forms of writing. Good storytelling is as much a sense for rhythm and balance as composing a symphony. A writer or a composer can learn technique all they want, but the art will be sterile without heart.

Any ideas who you might cast in a movie of this series?

I picture Desi as a petite, dark-haired version of Geena Davis, the actress who starred in The Long Kiss Goodnight. Do you know any leading ladies that fit that description? I’ve got Eddie Cahill, the guy who plays Detective Don Flack (the tall, dark cop from CSI: New York) picked out for Tony. Otherwise, I’m wide open to suggestions.

What impact do you hope this book has upon the reader?

You used the right word: hope. I want the story to show readers that a sense of hope is vital to the health of the human spirit—in fact, to the health of any society or people group. Without hope, people spiral into despair. They don’t care about themselves. They don’t care about anyone else. Therefore, they can commit any atrocity. Youth gangs in our cities are bred in this cauldron of despair. The greatest offer of hope in the universe is the salvation freely available through Jesus Christ!

Do you read much yourself? If so, some favorites please?

For three years prior to Multnomah contracting the To Catch a Thief series in 2005, I was the Senior Inspirational Reviewer for Romantic Times magazine. I read and reviewed 12 – 15 books a month. This gave me a great finger on the pulse of what was hot in inspirational fiction. Now I’m too busy writing to read more than a book a month! My To-Be-Read pile grows faster than I can whittle it down.

Brandt Dodson is a favorite author of mine. He writes wonderful mysteries. I enjoy Melanie Wells’ supernatural thrillers, and Wanda Dyson writes suspense that’s right up my alley. I pick up most of James Scott Bell’s legal thrillers. But I also adore Sharon Hinck’s Sword of Lyric fantasy series, Virginia Smith’s zany lit books, and Donita K. Paul’s Dragon Keeper Chronicles. There are lots of excellent authors out there who write Christian fiction.

Reluctant Runaway by Jill Elizabeth NelsonWhat are you reading at the moment?

I just started Echoes by Kristin Heitzmann. This one is full of relationship drama and surprise twists and turns in the family saga.

Favorite movie and favorite line from a movie?

I have lots of favorites. A recent top pick is The Ultimate Gift. Some golden oldies are The Frisco Kid, Quigley Down Under (Tom Selleck and Laura San Giacomo are a pure delight together), and Holes.

Favorite line? I don’t think I have one, but I’ll toss something out anyway. “It’s all the fault of your dirty, rotten pig-stealing great, great grandfather!” If you were expecting something profound, you didn’t get it. You’d have to watch Holes to find out why that zinger is such a hoot.

Piece of art?

I don’t know that I have a favorite piece of art, but I deeply appreciate the wildlife art of Terry Redlin. Mr. Redlin is a native of a town less than an hour’s drive away from my hometown. He has a fabulous museum there. I also enjoy the flowing harmony of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings. Her work features largely in the second book of the To Catch a Thief series, Reluctant Runaway.

Who inspires you?

Humble, teachable folks with servants’ hearts!

Please tell us a little about your family.

My one and only marriage to a wonderful, Godly man is going on 27 years. We raised four children—two boys, two girls—in rural Minnesota where we enjoy the quieter pace of life, minus traffic jams and endless lines at the grocery store and post office. I love to go camping with my family, though our idea of “roughing it” is our elderly but well-preserved motorhome. I also enjoy reading, going for walks, watching good movies, and putting together puzzles.

Please share some of your faith journey...

I answered the Holy Spirit’s call to faith at Bible camp when I was twelve years old. Foolishly, I drifted away from the Lord during my teenage and college years, but early in my 20s I slowed down long enough to hear the Spirit calling me back. I wised up and came home. My husband and I have been to Christ for the Nations Bible School in Dallas, Texas, and we are now part of a warm and wonderful local church family near our hometown.Jill Elizabeth Nelson

When/if you make the trip Down Under what do you want to see first:~ A platypus or a koala?

Both for sure, but I’d probably start with the platypus because it’s such an odd looking critter.

Barrier Reef or Uluru (Ayers Rock)?

Hmmm. Probably the Barrier Reef, but I’d certainly want to see them both.

A cricket match or a game of Aussie Rules Footy?

I’d have to satisfy my curiosity about what Aussie Rules Footy is before I could sit still for a cricket match.

Any last words…

Hah! Am I about to face a firing squad? No, don’t answer that!

I’m a writer. Of course I have last words.

Check out the International Justice Mission. I dedicated Reluctant Smuggler to that organization that ministers to the victimized and downtrodden around the world. You can find out more at http://ijm.org.

Also, you’re invited stop by my web site and play an art matching game for a chance to win a signed copy of Reluctant Smuggler. I draw a name monthly, so people can enter each and every month for a fresh chance. There are lots of other things to see and do at my web site also. http://www.jillelizabethnelson.com

Rel MolletRel Mollet is a lawyer, wife and mother of three young daughters and lives in Melbourne, Australia. Reading has been her passion since childhood. She is a Book Club Co-ordinator and has her own website ~ relzreviewz ~ dedicated to reviews and author interviews with the sole aim to support authors writing from a Christian worldview. She believes Sir Francis Bacon's (1561 - 1626) creed, "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body".