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 Our Interview with Jill Elizabeth Nelson


What is your favorite Bible verse?

Many verses speak to my heart, and it can be different verses at different times and seasons.  However, I have a verse, or rather a composite of a couple of verses, that I use as an email signature line.   "Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season...fulfill your ministry." II Timothy 4: 2a and 5b. (NIV) 

What else could our highest calling be but to fulfill the purpose for which we were born?

What prompted your decision to become a CBA author?

I’ve been a writer since the sixth grade when I penned—er, penciled my first novel, a ridiculous mystery about a group of kid sleuths.  (The world is grateful that not a shred of that manuscript yet exists.)  I was hooked on writing ever since and have worn numerous authorial hats: poet, journalist, columnist, technical writer, essayist, book reviewer, and short story teller.  It has always been my dream to become a published novelist, and since my heart’s cry is to share the truths of God’s word with others, writing in the CBA was a natural fit.  In 2006, Multnomah Publishers released Reluctant Burglar, my debut novel of romantic suspense. Burglar was followed by Reluctant Runaway in 2007, and now Reluctant Smuggler in 2008.  Let me tell you, I love the writing life!  Sure, it gets hectic, and there are pressure and pitfalls, but I’m walking out my dream.  When I do speaking engagements, I love to point out to my audience that if God can make the “impossible” happen for this middle-aged nobody-in-particular from nowhere special, He can and will do it for anyone.


How did you come up with the concept for Reluctant Smuggler?

In Reluctant Burglar I explored international art theft rings linked to terrorism, and in Reluctant Runaway I exposed the dangers of pseudo-Christian cults, so I was looking for another meaty issue to tackle in Reluctant Smuggler.  The Bible continually cries out against injustice toward the innocent and helpless.  What could be more awful than the enslavement and exploitation of the poor and defenseless for immoral purposes?  Slavery and forced prostitution is a widespread international travesty in which gangs play a role.  Such an issue provides ample fodder for a taut suspense novel.  My choice of direction for Smuggler was confirmed when I met a fellow author who told me about the International Justice Mission, an organization that works tirelessly to free slaves and provide justice for the victimized. 

More information about this ministry can be found at

Is any part of Reluctant Smuggler factual?

As mentioned above, my scenario of young women kidnapped and forced into prostitution is a true representation of events that occur in real life.  The Fraternidad de la Garra (Brotherhood of the Claw), my fictitious international gang, is based on a very real and ultra-violent gang with active presence in the United States, Mexico, and many other South American countries.  If anything, I have portrayed them as less vicious than they actually are.  

How long did Reluctant Smuggler take you to complete?

I wrote Reluctant Smuggler in six months, including the research.  Deadlines pretty much dictate the writing schedule.  I want to thank all the wonderful people who willingly contributed information and honest critiques in the process of timely completion of the book.  

Do you have a favorite character in Reluctant Smuggler? Why?

Desiree, my main female protagonist, is always my favorite to write, with that sassy, spunky voice and her tough exterior masking a marshmallow heart.  Her crusader spirit and impulsive nature get her into all sorts of pickles that are fun to write. Tony, the male protagonist, is a close second.  I hear from readers all the time that they’d love to meet the big hunk.  In Smuggler, he’s particularly well show-cased.  I really put him through the ringer, so he has lots of opportunities to dig deep and prove what he’s made of.

How much research did Reluctant Smuggler take? Where did you get the facts for the gangs?

I have bookshelves groaning with books and articles on Boston, Mexico, FBI and police procedure, real cases of enslavement, security systems, medical conditions, Mayan culture, and various gangs—especially the one on which I based the Fraternidad de la Garra.  Of course, I also needed lots of input from experts in various fields.  I interviewed doctors, a dietician, firearms experts, law enforcement officers, residents of Boston, people who had been to locations in Mexico, folks who speak Italian or south-of-the-border Spanish, and I even got some specialized information from a former naval intelligence operative.  Any errors in these areas in the finished book are my own, because these people were terrific in answering my questions.


Do you prefer to write Suspense and Intrigue thrillers? 

Since a mystery was the first novel I tackled, I guess you could safely say that mystery and suspense-type stories are a preference of mine.  However, as my reading tastes are eclectic, so is my writing.  I have a women’s fiction manuscript and two fantasy novels completed, but as yet unpublished.  One day, perhaps, these books will find themselves in print.  However, for the moment, I plan to continue writing in the romantic suspense genre that I love.  I write what I like to read—adventure tales spiced with pathos, romance, humor, and faith.  

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

I have a full time day job outside the home, which can create issues with finding the time to write, especially since I’m committed to participation in my local church and to keeping strong family relationships.  The fact that my children are grown helps a lot.  Even so, I know there are deadline crunch times when my family feels the neglect.  My husband and four children are wonderfully supportive, though, so we get through it.

Another challenge is balancing writing time with promoting the published books.  An unfortunate fact of the publishing industry these days is that the author must devote many hours and dollars to promotion.  Publishers don’t have the man-power or the budget to do it all. 

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

I love research, and I also love talking about writing.  Getting the story out on the page is the hardest and yet most rewarding part of the job. Editing is work, but it’s a snap compared to that first draft.


Are there any more books coming in the To Catch a Thief Series?

Reluctant Smuggler is the last title currently scheduled in the series.  However, I have more ideas for Desi and Tony adventures.  Maybe one day the time will be ripe to write them.

Are there any other new projects on the horizon?

Yes, I have a two book contract with the Steeple Hill romantic suspense line.  My first title for Steeple Hill is Evidence of Murder, which will release in February 2009.  Here’s a little teaser: When a new business owner discovers photos on her property of a decade-old multiple homicide, she and the surviving son of the murdered family become targets of a powerful and desperate killer.

Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?

My sixth grade teacher, beyond a doubt.  Every day she would perch on a stool at the head of the class and read to us from the most wonderful books.  As I listened to her, the certainty grew within me that I wanted not only to be someone who got pleasure from books, but I wanted to be the one to give that enjoyment to others.  That’s the year I wrote my fledgling novel.

What message would you like your readers to take away from Reluctant Smuggler?

Guard your hope at all costs.  A sense of hope is vital to a healthy individual and a healthy society.  Despair is at the root of gang mentality and many social ills today.  When people see no future for themselves, they become capable of anything because nothing matters to them . A solid sense of hope promotes decency.

What is your greatest achievement?

Oh, my, I’ll have to let God determine that.  When I stand before Him, I’m sure He’ll tell me.  I would certainly count a successful marriage still going strong after over 26 years a major accomplishment, as well as raising four children.  As far as writing is concerned, every heart God can touch through the words He helps me write is another jewel in the crown I intend to throw at Jesus’ feet.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

My heart as a writer has come through several times in answering other questions.  To summarize, I want to draw people closer to God by wrapping His truth in a winsome package that brings pleasure and provokes honest soul-searching.

What do you do to get away from it all?

All my life I’ve had the ability to go to a secret place in my own mind where I concoct marvelous other realities, which now turn into stories that I put on the printed page.  The worlds of imagination have always been a source of escape for me.  Reading other people’s books work that way for me, too.  But if you mean, a physical “getaway,” my whole family enjoys camping.  We make good use of Minnesota’s state parks.  I don’t hunt or fish, but I take lots of pictures.  And I sure enjoy walks in the woods, or sitting beside a lake listening to the waves, or the scent of wood smoke from the camp fire in the evening.  Very relaxing.  My husband and I also have a passion for short-term mission trips. So far, we’ve been to Jamaica, New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and Thailand.

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