Sunday, August 19, 2007

Reluctant Burgular by Jill Elizabeth Nelson - Review/Interview

Reluctant Burglar (To Catch a Thief Series #1)
by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
softcover, 2006, Multnomah
ISBN 1590526864
335 pgs.

Desiree Jacobs schooled her breathing as she handed her ID to the museum guard. Relax. . .just relax. This guy has no idea what you are up to.

And so begins line one, chapter one, in book one of the To Catch a Thief Series. Reluctant Burglar, the spin-tingling, nail-chewing debut novel by Jill Elizabeth Nelson throws us into the world of Desiree Jacobs. A world that suddenly spins out of control when she learns of her father’s murder.

Add to the whirlwind Tony Lucano, a Special Agent with the FBI who’s hot on the trail of an art thief who he suspects is Desiree’s father. Toss in hidden codes, kidnaping, a hard case of trust, and international art thieves. The events that follow throw Desiree into a cat and mouse game that will have readers on the edge of their seats.

But inside this tornado of events, both Desiree and Tony learn that only God can calm their hearts and give them direction in a fast-paced world.

Jill Nelson does an excellent job of making real-to-life characters while giving us an exciting read and eager anticipation for Book #2 and #3 in the To Catch A Thief series.

Wonderfully done!


Paula: Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey.
Jill: I wrote my first novel (novella length, actually) in 6th grade. It was a ridiculous mystery tale involving a gaggle of kid-sleuths. Not a shred of the manuscript yet exists, and the world is grateful. However, I finished it—a major milestone for any would-be writer. Many manuscripts molder in desk drawers or PC memories that never get beyond a few chapters or even a few pages. In order to be a writer, you must write, and you must finish what you write! Since then, I’ve worn the hats of poet, journalist, essayist, short story-teller, and book reviewer. But my current chapeau is my favorite—novelist.

Paula: How did you come up with the idea for Reluctant Burglar?
Jill: I dreamed the story . . . literally! In the wee hours one morning, I woke up all tense from a vivid dream about a woman dressed in black clothing who sneaked into a mansion in the middle of the night. She took a painting off the wall and replaced it with an identical one. In the way of dreams, I knew that she was stealing the forgery and putting the genuine back. How odd! I also knew that if she were caught, disaster would follow for many, not just herself. She was just starting her escape when I woke up.

Two questions haunted me after that dream. What sort of career could that woman have that would give her cat burglar skills and yet not make her a crook? My answer was museum security expert. What bizarre circumstances would force her to do something so outrageous? The answer to that question became the plot for Reluctant Burglar.

Book excerpts, a video trailer for Reluctant Runaway (book two), and a monthly contest for free books are all available on my web site:

Paula: We’d like to know some of your personal tastes. What is your favorite book, author and movie and why?
Jill: My favorite book is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. After I closed the last page of that book, I checked to see who’d had the Godly guts to publish such a moving and disturbing novel. It was Multnomah. I remember standing up and saying out loud, "One day, I’m going to publish with this house." God must have heard and smiled. My publisher for the To Catch a Thief series is Multnomah!

Paula: Are you a seat of the pants writer?
Jill: To a large degree. I know my characters, because they guide the story from one event to the next based on their personalities and how they would uniquely react to situations. I also know the beginning, high points in the middle, and the place I want to arrive at the end. The other details flow as I go.

Paula: What was/is the hardest thing about writing - beginning with your idea for a novel to getting your first box of books and everything in between.
Jill: Writing. It’s hard work—work that I enjoy, but work nonetheless. Like I mentioned above about the incomplete manuscripts, the largest part of the writing life is finishing what you start. The polishing can come after, but a writer must write in order to be a writer. That sounds like a duh! comment, but with so much wasted talent around, it bears saying. Writing is not a discipline for the lazy or unfocused, especially when you have a deadline.

Paula: Can you share with us something embarrassing that has happened to you - and have you ever used that in a book?
Jill: At my first writers’ conference ever, I mistook the small bowl of mayonnaise in front of me for vanilla pudding and took a big bite. Ewwww! I felt like an idiot. Since I never had the courage to ask anyone at my table if they noticed my icky error, and no one ever said anything, I may be sharing an embarrassing moment that could have remained my secret. And no, I’ve never put this one in a book, but maybe I will one day. Dinner table foolishness can be pretty hilarious, and I always inject notes of humor into my books to temper the suspense.

Paula: You speak on a variety of topics from Art Snatchers and Thief Catchers, How to Treat Your Loved Ones Like Strangers, I Want to Be a Published Author–How Do I get There and more. Why did you choose these topics?
Jill: I have something to say from my heart and experience about these subjects. The answer is as simple as that. Writers must write from the heart. Speaking topics are the same. Next month, I’ll be teaching an on-line course for Sormag and am tentatively scheduled for an in-person class at the Northwestern Bookstore in Maple Grove, MN.

Paula: Reluctant Runaway was recently released and the third book in the To Catch a Thief series, Reluctant Smuggler will be available in January 2008. Will there be more titles to this series or will it end there?
Jill: At this time, the series is set to end with Reluctant Smuggler. However, if sales please the publisher and fans clamor for more Desi and Tony, that notion can be revisited. I’m working on proposals for other suspense novels at the moment.

Paula: We both live in Minnesota, so if we were to shop together at the Mall of America, what store would you want to go to first?
Jill: Barnes and Noble. ;-) Seriously, the MOA is not my idea of shopping bliss. Too big, too crowded, too much time wasted walking from one far-flung store to another. A couple of reasons I enjoy living in a rural community are no lines and no traffic jams. Both conditions exist at the MOA. And I am so not a fashionista. But, say, let’s head on over to the Terry Redlin Center in Watertown, SD, or some similar emporium that features great art or great books, and I’m right there with you!

Paula: Can you tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know?
Jill: Hmmmm! Well, here’s a quirk about myself that sends my family into stitches. When I get to laughing so hard I can scarcely breathe, I let out these squeaky, breathy snorts that sound like Muttley from the old Dastardly and Muttley cartoons. My husband says, "Here comes Muttley," and they’ll all yuk it up . . . at me, not with me!

Thanks so much, Jill!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Petticoat Ranch by Mary Connealy - Review/Interview

Petticoat Ranch (Lassoed in Texas Series #1) by Mary Connealy softcover, 2007, Barbour Books
ISBN: 1597896470
320 pages

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that I have agreed with the heroine as much as in Mary Connealy’s Petticoat Ranch. I even caught glimpses of my husband in the character of the exasperated hero. That is why this book has made such an impact on me while reading it. The characters thoughts and emotions so closely mirrored my own that I was drawn to them in a way that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Sophie Edwards has been fending for herself and her four daughters for what seems like forever. They work together like a well trained team, protecting themselves from the men, both good intentioned and bad, around Mosqueros, Texas.

In rides Clay McClellan, determined to seek vengeance on his brother’s killers, he decides it’s his Christian duty to marry his late brother’s widow and protect her and the girls from a hard life on the Texas frontier.

From Clay’s misunderstood proposal, his horror that little girls cry a lot, and the fact he has no clue what to do with five females. To Sophie’s and the girls’ frustration for being treated like delicate china, dealing with a man that’s sure his way is right, and trying to translate the manly grunts they hear from a new husband and father. Ms. Connealy’s book is seasoned with hilarious examples of the differences in the way men and women think and handle situations.

Pile on top four adorable girls who would over anyone’s heart, a ruthless outlaw bent on destroying anyone who stands in his way, and this book is a page turner that will keep you chuckling long after the last page has been turned.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS with Mary Connealy

Gail: I loved the sense of humor in your book, have you always been a writer with a flare for humor or was Petticoat Ranch your first?
Mary: I end up putting humor in everything I write. I just can’t resist having the heroine sass the hero. When it’s a choice, she ALWAYS mouths off.

Gail: The four adorable daughters in the story, do they resemble anyone you know?
Mary: I have four daughters and in the most general ways possible the girls resemble mine.
Mandy is the oldest, responsible, orderly.
Beth is the animal lover with the soft heart.
Sally is the tom boy, the daddy’s girl
And the baby, Laura, well, she’s pretty undefined.
Except for Laura they are similar to my girls but of course I went wild and deviated any time I thought it served the book, so their resemblance is minor.

Gail: I very much enjoyed the confusion that Sophie and Clay felt for the opposite gender and how they tried to understand the thinking behind each other’s actions. You were able to put it in a non-offensive way. What was the inspiration for this story line?

Mary: I think of Petticoat Ranch as my husband’s story. My husband, Ivan, is from a family of seven sons. Now we have four daughters. Sometimes, watching Ivan react to the girls, doing the very normal things the girls do, is hilarious. They just shock him. One time, during an extensive discussion of control top panty hose, Ivan shook his head and said, “This is a conversation we never had at home.” I used his well intentioned efforts to figure out women as the background for Clay, my hero in Petticoat Ranch. At least Ivan had a mother, girl cousins and classmates. Then we dated and married, then added the daughters one at a time. Clay came from an all male world, first in the Rocky Mountains, then in the war. He was dropped into his all-girl family with absolutely no preparation. Believing it is his Christian duty to protect and care for these women, he marries Sophie about four hours after he regains consciousness in her care. And then the shocks start coming. The giggling, the hair pulling, the tears. He handles it all as badly as possible all while being charmed and drawn to his wife and daughters. The man is wildly conflicted and the comedy of his confusion just floods the entire book.

Gail: What one character of Sophie’s do you feel you share with her?
Mary: I really don’t think Sophie is much like me. Instead, I think of Sophie as how I’d like to be. My role in my family seems to be the disciplinarian…so that’s a bit like Sophie, and the calm in the middle of the hurricane. So, I spend most of my life dealing with emotional girls and a husband who could be … oh, Italian maybe, for his inevitably noisy over-reactions to whatever is going on. What that amounts to for me is, I say about one tenth of the things I think of. Mostly I just keep my own opinions locked up because I just need to calm everyone else down and not add to the chaos.
But not Sophie. Sophie says exactly what she’s thinking. She isn’t afraid to get in Clay’s face and tell him how it’s going to be. That is so not me. I think the reason I write books is because of the opinions I have to keep to myself.

Gail: I see there is a 2nd book coming after Petticoat Ranch; can you tell us more about it?
Mary: Book 2 in the Petticoat Ranch series is Calico Canyon. Prissy Miss Calhoune, the schoolmarm from Petticoat Ranch and Daniel Reeves with his four unruly boys star in Calico Canyon. She expels his boys from school. He gets her fired. A completely innocent compromising situation sees them married the next day.
Five little boys are horrified.
Daniel is a trapped rat.
Grace is stuck in her worst nightmare.
She’d walk out on them all…with their fond farewell, except her past caught up with her in town, which is why she hid in Daniel’s wagon and ended up spending the night with him and the boys.
Coming Summer 2008 from Barbour Publishing
Calico Canyon is the flip side of Petticoat Ranch. A finicky woman who deals very poorly with men is trapped in a family with six of the most ‘male’ men and boys who ever lived.

Gail: What have you been working on recently?
Mary: I’ve been hard at work, Gail. I am going through Calico Canyon one more time before turning it into Barbour. It’s done but I want it to really sing.
I’ve just been informed that Golden Days, which came out with Heartsong Presents last May, is now going to be part of an anthology called Alaska Brides and will be released next September. Cathy Marie Hake and Kathleen Y’Barbo wrote the other books in the anthology.
I’ve just finished the third book in a cozy mystery series I’m writing for Heartsong Presents Mysteries. The first, Of Mice…and Murder, will be out Christmas ’08.
And I’ve been contracted to write a three book series for Heartsong Presents. I’m done with two of them, written before I was offered the contract, and am into the third. These are set in South Dakota and centered around a small town with a big buffalo ranch.
The first book in that series, Buffalo Gal is a vegetarian who dreams of the day her beloved buffalo can roam free on the Great Plains and a cattle rancher who is standing right in the way of her dream and has no intention of moving an inch. Of course it’s a mess that can only be overcome by True Love.

Gail: What do you feel the hardest part of getting published was for you?
Mary: Wow, Gail. Getting published is just so hard. The hardest part? Yikes.
Going back to writing after I got a ONE on a scale of One to Ten in the Golden Heart, for Petticoat Ranch which was winning almost ever contest I entered it in. THAT was hard.

Going back to writing when an editor has just sent you your zillionth rejection letter.
Staying in the game when I realized I’d been rejected for using language wrong for the historical time period. Trouble was, my book was a contemporary. Which told me I’d been rejected before the editor had read two full pages, because they were driving a pick-up truck on page two. That’s how long of a chance you get to impress someone. Very humbling.

The stacks of rejections. I remember one for Petticoat Ranch that was just particularly disappointing and I stared at that rejection letter and thought, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done, I put everything I’ve learned, every skill I know, every trick of the trade into this book, and it’s not good enough. What now?”

HARD is just…like…a synonym for Publishing. I tell people who really get down about rejection letters…I mean some people really take it badly, are devastated by it. I tell them to get out NOW! Grow yourself a rhino hide or GET OUT because dealing with disappointment and rejection is just LIFE when you’re a writer and if it hurts you this much, don’t do it to yourself.
About the last two years before I finally got a contract, I developed an attitude that really helped me through the tough times. Seriously.


I’d send out my submissions and just figure GUARANTEED REJECTION and go back to writing. The rejection would come, I’d think, “Of course” and go back to writing. It really helped me stay sane. I highly recommend hopelessness for unpublished authors.

Gail: Can you pass on any words of advice to budding authors?
Mary: My first reaction here is; if a budding author is taking advice from me, they are in big trouble. I’m still amazed that I got a book published.
I think, fundamentally, the way to become a published author is to write.
That’s it. Write, everyday if you can. Steady, keep at it. Write and write and write some more. You really do get better with practice.
I had twenty books finished when I got my first contract, and when I look back at the old ones, it is painfully obvious that I got much better as time passed.

Other advice. Enter contests; they are worth the price for the critique. Attend conferences; you make connections that will really help. Take classes. I belong to ACFW and they have, on their website, an archive of classes taught by scads of authors and the information in those archives is pure gold. Join ACFW, study those archives, connect with the other members, attend their conferences and take the classes and meet the editors and other authors.

A lot of people will tell you that in writing, “It’s all who you know.”
There’s some truth to that. It really does help to know people. But what isn’t included in that rather, sneering comment, “It’s all who you know.” Like it’s not about writing talent at all. What isn’t included is how easy it is to get to know people.

I belong to a critique group through ACFW, or did for a long time rather, I credit what I learned in that group with developing so many skills. We were all unpublished, four of us, and three of us are now published. We could see the mistakes in each other’s work but not in our own, isn’t that odd. We were a great team. The fourth member, who isn’t published, took a side trip away from writing into motherhood so she’s got a great creation on her hands, too.

Gail: When is your favorite time to write?
Mary: I’m an insomniac. I do most of my writing late at night. It’s kept me sane while the hours tick by and I’m still awake.

Gail: One last fun question – would you call yourself a shop-aholic or a choc-aholic?
Mary: This is so easy, Gail. Neither. I hate to shop. One step into a mall and my head starts aching and my feet start hurting and I start to feel POOR.
I love chocolate but it’s by no means an addiction. I’m far too much of an equal opportunity snacker to commit to a single food.
I think I’m a book-aholic. Honestly, if reading was beer, my family would be holding an intervention.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Revealed by Tamera Alexander - Review/Interview

softcover, 2006, Bethany House
ISBN: 0764201093
336 pages

The second book in the trilogy Fountain Creek Chronicles, Revealed captured my attention within the first few pages. This is Tamera Alexander first series, and a great introduction to a wonderful new author.
The story follows Annabelle Grayson, a woman whose husband had accepted her past and loved her in spite of it. Upon his death, she is left alone to fight the bitter memories of a previous life she can’t change.

Haunted by angry words said to a brother now gone, Matthew Taylor struggles to find his way. Wrong choices catching up with him, he’d do anything to leave it all behind.
Two people needing to accept God’s unconditional love, and each others’ shadowed lives.

With the people of Willow Creek knowing her past, Annabelle Grayson McCutchens is desperate to leave and start fresh. But she needs to find a guide to take her to her late husband’s land. Matthew Taylor’s contempt for his late brother’s wife is unmasked, but he needs the job.

Two unlikely people, with God’s loving mercy, embark on a journey of the heart.

Can Annabelle show Matthew that the person she has become is not the person she was? Can Matthew understand his late brother’s acceptance for a scarlet woman and discover the reasons he’d loved her, for himself?

Tamera Alexander weaves a beautiful story of God’s abounding love and forgiveness. Her characters come to life as each page turns. This story is an uplifting tale of forgiveness, acceptance and God’s power to change people.

Once engrossed in the characters I couldn’t put it down, I was wrapped in the story until the final page. I am very eager to read more of Ms. Alexander’s work.
Questions & Answers with Tamera Alexander
Gail: When did you begin writing?
Tamera: I’ve always loved writing, even as a young girl, and dreamed of being a writer when younger, but never thought I had any talent at it. So I tucked it away…until God unearthed it again a few years back.

The first novel I wrote in 1999 is one I targeted specifically for Bethany House and their historical line. It got to the final review board but then was ultimately “passed over” in early 2002. There were problems in that novel and in my writing that I needed to work on, so they were right to let that one slip through their fingers! After that experience, I realized that if I was going to have a good shot at this publishing thing, I needed to get serious about learning the craft and addressing the weaknesses in my writing.

I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (HUGE for me!), and began dissecting novels—books that I’d loved and read multiple times—with the goal of finding out what made them ‘tick’ for me. I prayed that God would bring people into my life who would help me become a better writer by telling me what I needed to change, how I needed to grow. And He did. I’m so thankful for those writing partnerships.
Gail: Your book Revealed deals with forgiving past actions and hurts, not only in others but also in yourself. What inspired the story for you?
Tamera: Revealed was inspired by some real events in my life. But to tell this accurately, I need to start with the people who first inspired me to write…

Several people, some of whom I’ve never met (other writers), have inspired me to follow this dream of writing. But one person whom I did know and who influenced me in a lasting way was my 7th grade teacher, Miss Debra Ackey of Idlewood Elementary School in Tucker, Georgia. In fact, I dedicated Revealed to her with hopes that a copy of that book will some day find its way into her hands.

I was sexually abused as a young girl (my perpetrator was not someone from my immediate family nor a blood relation), and I was dealing with a lot of guilt, doubt, and repressed anger during those years (7th grade). Writing served as an outlet for me. Looking back at the stories and poems I wrote during that time, it’s easy to see that I was obsessed with death, and the source of those feelings isn’t hard to understand.

With God’s strength and mercy, I’ve long forgiven the person who abused me, and I’ve thanked God often for placing Miss Ackey in my life at that time. She read so many (what I’m certain were) horrible poems on death and dying, and encouraged me anyway. She reached through the pain I was dealing with, past the ugliness I felt steeped in, and she breathed new life into my dry bones. I pray she’ll one day know just how much she did for me.

And I also pray that God will use the story in Revealed to breath new life into others who share a past similar to mine.

Gail: I know you are working on another series, can you tell us anything about it?
Tamera: I’m currently writing From a Distance, Book 1 in a new series entitled Timber Ridge Reflections.

Here’s a brief peek into the book:

When Civil War Sharpshooter Daniel Ranslett moved west, the strong, silent loner hoped to find solace following the devastation of his beloved South and a tragic and untimely death. Ten years later, he's not looking for love when he finds an unexpected, unwanted attraction to a Yankee photographer who is determined to get the picture and tell the story, as long as it’s not her own.

Elizabeth Westbrook believes some secrets are meant to be kept, but finds her own life in peril when her assignment to photograph the newly-discovered cliff dwellings takes an unexpected twist. A photograph she takes turns out to be the convicting piece of evidence in a murder trial—the murder trial of a man she would never have thought capable of the act.

For thirty years, Elizabeth has remained unmarried and untouched, waiting for her life to begin. Yet she’s accepted loneliness as a way of life. That is, until Daniel Ranslett. Now a Son of the South and a Daughter of the North must decide if secrets will come between them forever . . . or free them to love.

From a Distance releases in Spring 2008.

Gail: What is your favorite part of the day to write?
Tamera: Late at night. I write during the day too but I seem to get the most done during the hours of 10 p.m. – 2 p.m.

Gail: What are some helpful hints that you can share with us about the process of getting published?
Tamera: I would encourage writers who have a goal of being published in the Christian Bookseller’s Association (CBA) to join a professional writers’ organization such as American Christian Fiction Writers ( Iron sharpens iron and being in relationship with other writers—critiquing their work and having your own work critiqued—is crucial. Then…write, write, write. And read the genre in which you write. The best writers are great readers!

Gail: Is this series the first work you have gotten published?
Tamera: Yes, it is. Fountain Creek Chronicles (Rekindled, Revealed, Remembered) are my first books. I’ve still got my first novel that I wrote tucked in my desk beside me—right where it should be! ;)

Gail: Is there a certain book out of the Fountain Creek Chronicles series that is your favorite, and why?
Tamera: That’s like asking a mother which of her children is her favorite. I’d have to say that of the three, I love the married romance in Rekindled, the sarcasm and healing in Revealed, and the foreign flair and restoration in Remembered. But of the three, Revealed will always be special due to the nature of that book and its personal connection with my past.

Gail: Do you struggle with a certain aspect of writing?
Tamera: Yes, the entire first draft! Seriously, writing the first draft of a novel is flat painful for me. Yes, there are occasional moments of “yippee!” this came together, but most of it just plain hard work. However, I LOVE the rewrite stage!

Gail: What is your favorite part of the process of writing a book? From the beginning, to actually seeing the book in your hands?
Tamera: Rewriting, no doubt about it. The rewrite stage is when the book just blossoms in regard to character depth and in seeing how God has brought everything together for that particular story. Yep, rewrites. I love them!

Gail: Just one fun question to get to know you better. What is one of your worst habits, in any area, that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?
Tamera: Oh...let’s see…that’s actually easy to answer right now. I tend to overextend myself. I always think I can do more than I actually can. Or write faster than I actually do. Or juggle more plates in the air that I can actually manage.

This is NOT something I like to admit but I had to call my editor today and ask for another month with From a Distance. The story is coming together well and I’m loving Daniel Ranslett and Elizabeth Westbrook (the hero/heroine) but with our family’s move from Colorado to Tennessee in June, I’ve just flat gotten behind on everything in my life. So that’s my worst habit right now—overcommiting. That and eating Peanut M&M’s for breakfast.

Thanks so much Tamera, for your time, insight to writing, and a peek at your new series coming out!