Beth: Tell us about your life, where you grew up, your interests and hobbies.
Jill: I was born in Minnesota and grew up in several small towns in Minnesota and South Dakota as a PK. That means Preacher’s Kid, if you didn’t know. My dad passed away suddenly when I was 18, though, and my mom moved back to her home area. Lo and behold, after I finished college, I stayed there temporarily (I thought) and met and married a wonderful guy. We’ve raised four kids in rural Minnesota and love it. No lines at the grocery store or post office and no traffic jams.
My main lifelong hobby has been reading, which along about sixth grade, morphed into the burning drive to write. I’ve been writing in one capacity or another ever since. Nowadays, I still read a lot, but not as much as I used to. Moving from hobby writer to professional writer, as well as continuing to hold down a day job, takes up a lot of time.
As a family, we love to go on camping trips in the great outdoors. I don’t fish, but I enjoy hiking in the woods. My husband and I have a passion for short-term mission trips. So far we’ve been to Jamaica, New Orleans during Mardi Gras (that’s one weird adventure), and Thailand.
Beth: Tell us about your writing journey. Did you always want to be a writer?
Jill: As I mentioned above, the writing bug bit me while I was in grade school. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Waltz, used to pull up a stool every day and read to us from the most wondrous books. J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three were among my favorites. Somewhere along the route of listening to these wonderful tales, I realized that I wanted not only to receive pleasure from good books, but to be the one to give that enjoyment to others.
That year, I penned—er, penciled my first book. It was a ludicrous mystery novel about a group of kid sleuths, but I did finish it. Not until later did I realize that completing a book is a huge milestone in the writing life. All too many unfinished manuscripts molder in desk drawers or on hard drives.
Since then I’ve worn the hats of journalist, columnist, poet, essayist, and book reviewer. My highest writing goal was always to become a published novelist. God has graciously brought that dream to fruition in His time and in His way. When I speak to groups, I like to share with them that if God can bring a dream to pass for this middle-aged nobody from nowhere special, He can do it for them too.
Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?
Jill: J. R. R. Tolkein and Lloyd Alexander (the authors of the books I mentioned above) were major sparks to my imagination in my youth, along with the Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown books. I’m still enthralled by great fantasy, adventure, and mystery tales. More recently, Francine Rivers has inspired me with her deft handling of deep themes presented in rich and moving stories. I want to be like this prolific author when I grow up.
Beth: I feel the samew ay about Francine Rivers. In fact, I think I gave a similar answer in an interview. What is your favorite movie? Favorite book?
Jill: My tastes are pretty eclectic, so to designate one movie isn’t possible. I watch It’s a Wonderful Life—the Jimmy Stewart version—every year at Christmas time, so that’s one of my lifelong favorites. I also love The Wizard of Oz, The Frisco Kid, Quigley Down Under (Tom Selleck and Laura San Giacomo are marvelous together), The Shawshank Redemption, Holes, and believe it or not, a fairly new release, The Transformers. Not that I’m on board with whatever erroneous theology might have crept into any of these, but I’m delighted, and sometimes challenged, by the stories themselves. Oh, and I need to mention Facing the Giants. This one I have no reservations about in the theology department. It’s a must-see for Christian movie-lovers.
I also have an array of favorite books, but I’d have to name Redeeming Love as my top contender. I mentioned the author, Francine Rivers, as a major influence on my writing, and this book is a stellar example of her mastery of craft, theme, characterization, and riveting plot.
Beth: Loved The Frisco Kid and Transformers too! Now it’s time for you to tell us about your novel.
Jill: Reluctant Smuggler is my most recent release from Multnomah Books, one of the Christian imprints of Random House. This is book three in the To Catch a Thief series of romantic suspense and my favorite so far. My heroine, museum security expert Desiree Jacobs, and her fiancé, FBI agent Tony Lucano, are caught up in a spine-tingling duel with a vicious south-of-the-border gang of slaver traders. Unless they find the truth in a hurry, they’ll have no hope of saving themselves, much less many innocents caught in the snare of calculating evil.
The book transports readers to exotic locations in Mexico, such as the mysterious Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (pronounced chee-chen eetza, emphasis on the last syllables, not like chicken pizza.) I had a lot of fun writing this book and did a lot of research, not just on setting, but I needed input from medical doctors, a dietician, law enforcement officials, and I even exchanged emails with a former naval intelligence operative.
Beth: I’m reading Reluctant Smuggler now and loving it! What is the message you hope to get across?
Jill: I’d like people to see how vital a strong sense of hope is to a healthy individual and a healthy society. The gang mentality is born from a social climate of despair and helplessness. Nobody can truly have a good future without hope, and the ultimate hope is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Beth: What does your typical day look like?
Jill: Up at 6:00 a.m., shower, get dressed, eat breakfast while watching The Believers Voice of Victory, then go to the day job at 7:00 a.m. and work until 3:30 p.m. When I get home, I can start my other work day, which generally consists of a mix of household chores, book marketing, and writing. I head for bed around 10 p.m. usually, unless deadline looms, and then I could be up all hours of the night and even take some vacation days to fulfill my commitment. I’m very serious about meeting deadlines.
Beth: What would you say was the toughest part of the writing craft for you to learn? Any tips for others who struggle with this same element?
Jill: Figuring out what works for me in putting together story plots was major. There are a lot of methods, but what works for one writer can be a bust for another.
I’m a middle-of-the-road plotter, as opposed to either a seat-of-the-pants plotter or a detailed plotter. I don’t do charts because they bog me down. But I don’t just start somewhere and see where the story takes me either. I know writers who live on both ends of that spectrum, and that’s where they flow best.
When I approach a story, I need to know my starting point and where I’m going to end up, as well as the high points along the way. However, the twists and turns to get there often surprise even me, and I’m supposedly the author. Mostly, my characters write the story. Everything that happens has to be true to their personalities, motivations, and goals. Sometimes this method paints me into plot corners that I don’t have a clue how to escape. Those are the times I hit my knees big-time, because only the Author of the universe can jumpstart my creativity to get the story moving again.
No one can tell another writer what kind of plotter they are. That’s something everyone has to figure out for themselves, and then run with it.
Beth: Any marketing tips?
Jill: First of all, write the best book you possibly can. If readers love your stories, they’ll tell others without being coaxed to speak up. Word of mouth is without dispute the best form of promotion, and it’s free. Be openhanded about giving away copies. The more people who read your books, the larger readership you will develop for future titles. Take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way to connect with potential readers and build name recognition.
Beth: Thats some of the best marketing advice I’ve heard! Closing thoughts you’d like to share?
Jill: Thanks for this opportunity to share a little bit of myself. Good questions, Beth. Storytelling is a time-honored. Jesus himself used stories as His main teaching tool. It’s a privilege to be a novelist and wrap Truth in a package that touches hearts with both pleasure and enlightenment.
Thanks for joining me Jill! Blessings to you and I wish you great success with your series.
You can find Jill at: