Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Review and a Giveaway

Today I'm pleased to host on the blog Jill Elizabeth Nelson's Reluctant Smuggler, book three in the To Catch A Thief series.

A little about the book:

Looting of archaeological sites is big business in a thriving art and antiquities black market. When a desperate foreign government hires Desiree Jacobs’s security company to stop the hemorrhage, she runs afoul of a deadly art-for-drugs operation. Tony Lucano risks his rising career in the FBI to dive into the international underworld after her. Before either of them can come up for air, they must navigate through a deepening murk of ruthless looters, hair-trigger DEA agents, crooked government agents, and innocent bystanders caught up in an illegal trade beyond their understanding. Even if a miracle delivers Desi and Tony from evil, will their love survive the test?

Complete with a reader’s guide, this third book in the To Catch a Thief series explores the power of hope in the darkest of circumstances.

A little bit about Jill:

Jill Elizabeth Nelson graduated with a degree in literature and creative writing from Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. She served for three years as the senior inspirational reviewer for Romantic Times BOOKclub magazine and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Christian Writers Group, and Christian Authors Network. In 2004, she served as a Christy Award judge in the romance category. Nelson and her husband have four children and live in Madison, Minnesota.

My take on the To Catch A Thief Series:

I love Jill's voice. It is light-hearted, quirky, sprinkled with humorous pop-culture (past and present) references, and quick-paced. The characters, Tony and Desiree, are different enough to strike sparks off one another, but not so opposite you can't see them having a happy future together. But one of the aspects of this series that I enjoyed the most is Jill's development and use of secondary characters. I asked Jill if she would be willing to guest blog on how to create and use secondary characters, and she graciously agreed. Read on!

Secondaries that Sizzle!
Jill Elizabeth Nelson

I love creating secondary characters—those special people who under-gird the main characters or annoy them, or sometimes a healthy dose of both. In my To Catch a Thief series I have two secondary characters that play prominent roles in the books.

Effective secondary characters need several characteristics:

1. They must have distinctive personalities and quirks of their own that make them three-dimensional people, not mere cardboard backdrops to the hero and/or heroine.

2. They must have their own character arcs—i.e. internal and external issues that require addressing and which cause visible growth or regression in their personal development.

3. The issues surrounding secondary characters should create subplots that either help or hinder the goals of the main character(s).

4. They must play roles vital to both plot development and the personal development of the main character(s). They cannot be mere window dressing.

5. They must accomplish all of this without stealing the limelight from the main character(s) or the central plot of the story.

Tall order? Absolutely. But creating such secondary characters is both fun and rewarding, since they add wonderful texture to the story. Let me give you examples.

The main female protagonist in the To Catch a Thief series is Desiree Jacobs, a strong-willed, sassy, and daring museum security expert. Her counterpart in legal crime (you’ll have to read the books to find out what I mean by that) is an electronics genius wife and mom with West Texas gumption named Maxine Webb. By turns, Max facilitates Desi’s capers, confronts her with truths she doesn’t always like to hear, and stands by her in sticky situations.

Yet Max’s role is not merely a foil for Desiree. In the first book of the series, Reluctant Burglar, a major crisis erupts in her personal life that places her and Desi’s lives on the line and deepens the poignancy of the black moment in the plot. This heartrending issue continues into book two, Reluctant Runaway, challenging both women to make pivotal choices. Then in book three, Reluctant Smuggler, resolution begins to unfold—not that the situation has changed, but that the women have changed. All of this taken together makes for a strong, emotionally gripping subplot that continues throughout the series.

FBI agent Tony Lucano takes center stage as my main male protagonist and Desi’s love interest, but he has a grouchy, misogynist partner who grates on both Tony and Desi. He’s a “sandpaper person.” In other words, he tests their spiritual fruit big-time. Consequently, he’s loads of fun to write. Authors are awful creatures—we love to torment our characters. And a secondary character like Steve Crane helps us in that worthy endeavor.

But, oh no, we can’t leave matters static and continue to show Stevo in the same old mold every time he shows up. Steve must have more than one side to him, and he must develop in some way in each book, and especially over the course of the series, or he will not hold reader attention. In Reluctant Smuggler, we see a particularly vital culmination of gradual shifts that have taken place inside him and inside the main characters over the course of the series. So once again we have a poignant subplot that adds new dimension to the story.

Both Steve and Max are particularly useful in creating moments of comic relief to offset the high action and suspense of the majority of the plot. They are quirky and fun in themselves, and I’ve set them up to play off the main characters in ways that sometimes goad and sometimes aid them.

Whether you are reading or writing, make note of secondary characters and ways that they enhance or detract from the story.

Thank you for hosting me on your blog, Erica. I enjoy this topic and hope your readers come away enriched.
Erica here: Thank you to Jill for her guest blog, and for her excellent teaching. I can assure you, the To Catch a Thief series is great fun, exciting, enjoyable, and entertaining. Reluctant Smuggler is a very good capstone to the series.
Even more fun? Jill and her publishers have graciously agreed to provide a copy of Reluctant Smuggler for On The Write Path. Yeah! Thanks Jill and Multnomah!
Please leave a comment with a viable email address to enter to win a copy of Reluctant Smuggler. You'll be glad you did.


  1. You said: The issues surrounding secondary characters should create subplots that either help or hinder the goals of the main character(s).

    I never really thought of it like this. Light bulb moment. :) Thanks

  2. Sounds like an intriguing story.

  3. I'm glad my comment could help, Jess. The plot will feel more cohesive to the reader, and the tension will increase if you make the issues going on with the secondary characters also impact the main characters. Many sequels to novels turn secondary characters into main characters, and that is the time to introduce issues that are unique to them.

    Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Erica!


  4. I like that idea about secondary characters too. Sounds like a fun book and I'd like to read it.

    What's a viable email address?