I have known author Jill Nelson for several years and I was absolutely thrilled when I'd heard she sold a three-book romantic suspense series to Multnomah. Her first novel, Reluctant Burglar,
released in August 2006. Now I'm honored to share an interview with Jill for Keep Me In Suspense. Jill is a great example of a writer who studied her craft, worked hard, and applied what she's learned.
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What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book?
Aaaaah! That was the sound I made on the inside. In my most intense moments, I’m likely to be stone quiet on the outside and a cyclone on the inside. Of course, after the initial shock wore off, I thanked the Lord profusely for opening this specific door and babbled to anyone who would listen.
There’s a back story that goes with this moment. Around five years ago, I read Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, and was so moved that I checked who had the Godly guts to publish this novel. It was Multnomah. I remember getting to my feet in my kitchen and saying out loud, “Some day I’m going to publish with this house.” Lo and behold, Multnomah is the publisher that gave me my first contract. Obviously, God was listening when I spoke. How divinely cool is that!?
Can you tell us a bit about that experience and tell us about your series?
In the fall of 2005, my cell phone rang during the awards banquet at the Christian Writers Group conference. (I was naughty and left it on because I was expecting to hear one way or the other.) I dashed into the hall, clutching the phone. My also naughty agent began the conversation as if she was preparing me for a let-down, then she announced, “And they’re offering you a three-book contract!” I had my Aaaaah! moment and everything else that followed. But an intriguing God-incidence stood out to everyone when my news became common knowledge—the conference theme was “Answer the Call.” Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
The To Catch a Thief series has a lot of juicy elements that made it attractive to a publisher and, hopefully, to readers—a spitfire heroine righting a wrong in an outrageous way, mortal and moral danger, the unique angle of the high end art world, and a hero that even my winsomely conservative editor describes as—ahem—“hot.”
The spiritual theme of Reluctant Burglar, the first book that released in August, is sorting out what to do when it looks like any choice will invite disaster. It’s a story illustration about learning to trust God’s higher knowledge, not our own wisdom and understanding.
Reluctant Runaway, which is about ready to head for the typesetter, comes out in March, 2007. This one delves into the world of cults and outlaw motorcycle gangs. Interwoven themes are the need for belonging, discerning the truth in a deceitful world, and generational consequences to people’s actions—for good and for evil.
In Reluctant Smuggler (releasing August, 2007), our heroes take on a drug lord engaged in a deadly art for drugs scheme. The book takes readers south of the border to explore Hispanic art and culture. Each of the books has a specific art focus. Burglar spotlights the European masters, and Runaway exposes readers to American and Native American art.
What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?The Lord has a specific writing path for each of us, all unique and yet with common elements that help bind us writers together. The where, when, and how we make that fateful step over the threshold into Published Authordom is prepared with loving care. Since we’re not puppets, our choices have a bearing on how quickly we reach that moment and how completely the Lord is able to bless us with His joyful plan, but we can count on it—He has our best interests at heart. We can trust him totally with this writing life that is so dear to our hearts. In due season, we shall publish if we quit not. (Nelson paraphrase)
Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share?
Keep writing novels that stir readers’ hearts and enrich their lives.
I have a couple of other manuscripts that I’d like to see published eventually, but I wouldn’t mind continuing to write more of Desi and Tony’s adventures, if that’s the route my publisher would like to go.
Can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?
Finish what you’re writing, whether it’s a poem, an essay, a short story, or a novel. Then start another one and finish it. You need to know that you can complete what you start, and publishers will demand the proof.
Tell us about your best resource for writing mystery/suspense.
My twisted imagination. LOL. Oh, and my dreams. I literally dreamed the premise for Reluctant Burglar. One night I woke up, my whole body tense, after dreaming that a woman had sneaked into a home in the middle of the night to return a genuine painting that had been stolen and replaced by a clever forgery. I knew little about her except that she was an expert at what she did, and if she were caught, disaster would follow for many people, not just herself. My imagination played with the nugget after that, and Reluctant Burglar was born.
Extensive reading in the genre and watching mystery/suspense TV and movies has probably been my biggest tutor to get a feel for pacing and tension-building. I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan from childhood, and forget talking to me if a Colombo rerun comes on television. As you can see, I’m partial to the classics. The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite examples in the suspense genre, even though many people might not think of this movie in that light. The way the screws tighten on poor Dorothy and her friends is exquisite. And the plot wastes no energy on offensive language, titillating sex scenes, or gore.
Who are your favorite mystery/suspense writers?
Hmmm. I have a fair number of them and won’t be able to mention them all. In Christian suspense fiction, Colleen Coble and Brandilyn Collins come to mind. I want to be just like them when I grow up. In the secular realm, Tony Hillerman has an intriguing Native American mystery series. And I adore Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody historical suspense series. In fact, Desi and Tony remind me of a modern-day Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson in some of the dynamics that characterize their personalities and relationship.
What has been the easiest part about writing mystery/suspense?
I love the genre and seem to have a knack for creating scary adventures with a dash of humor thrown into the mix.
What has been the hardest part?
Finding the time to write with all the demands on my attention. I work full time, and writing competes after hours with a husband, four children (mostly grown, thankfully), extended family, and church commitments.
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