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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Inside the FBI with Jill Elizabeth Nelson

I have the distinct privilege of sharing a friendship as well as a publishing house with another FBI writer, Jill Nelson. She's been a huge encourager to me in person and via email, and a great teacher though her page-turner books which have kept me up WAY TOO LATE! Be sure to check out both of her wonderful To Catch a Thief series novels: Reluctant Burglar and Reluctant Runaway.

And now, here's a story from Jill about a funny jaunt on the research trail for Reluctant Runaway...

"I knew I should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque!" - Bugs Bunny

"Wait! I did that last May! - Jill Nelson

And a fun time was had by me, myself, and I on the research trail for Reluctant Runaway, second book in the To Catch a Thief series. With Runaway set in Albuquerque, I realized when I signed up for a writers’ conference in Colorado, that I was only a bunny-hop away from that New Mexico city with the outlandish name. So I decided to take the fateful left turn.

My most fascinating stop was at the FBI office building, a modern stone fortress towering behind a tall iron fence. And only one dinky entrance enclosed behind darkened glass. Gack! Do they let you out if by some miracle they let you in?

Before we discover the answer, I need to backtrack to my telephone conversation the day before with the media liaison at the Albuquerque office. I phoned the receptionist to let her know this author person was going to stop by, and if there were someone whose normal duties would encompass speaking to such an anomaly, I’d be grateful. The nice woman actually sounded interested. She put me through to the media liaison. I got his voice mail, which was pretty interesting, too. He invited me to leave "a brief message or a detailed confession." Now, who says the FBI has no sense of humor?

But I will say they’re a bit cagey. About five minutes after I left my message WITHOUT my call back number, I got a call back. And the caller ID in my cell phone screen was all zeros. Yikes! So they get MY number without me leaving it, but I don’t get theirs? How fair is that? I suspect the man was in his office all along, but he checked my message to see what I wanted before he bothered with me. The fact that he did bother with me made up a little for the totally cool sneakiness. He then gave me some info that saved my bacon on a plot twist for Runaway. Major for me, minor for him as he went back to his duties.

If I had to characterize my interaction with the personnel, I’d say cordial but reserved. They’re not big on warm fuzzies and guarded about details of their jobs. Understandable. They’re pitted against gentlefolk with guns and bombs and other quaint methods of destruction. I do NOT want their job; I just want to write about it.

Questions occur to me about author/fed relations. (Is there such a thing?) Novels, TV shows, and movies about the FBI abound. We’re fascinated with them. Do agents ever watch the shows or read the books? Do they laugh their heads off at the inaccuracies? Or are they glad we don’t know all their business? Would they like to prosecute the more bubble-brained writers and even throw away the key on the insulting ones? Agents are people, too, but what do they think about authors? Do they think about us at all?

The morning of my Big Day in the Southwestern city with the outlandish name, the hotel van took me to the New Mexico Museum of Anthropology on the university campus. After I toured the museum, I called a cab and gave the driver the address. He shot me a puzzled stare, studied a city map, and leveled another stare. Finally, I admitted it was the FBI headquarters.

"Are you with the FBI?" His grin gleamed.

Yeah, right! Moi? I should have told him I was a criminal profiler on the trail of a serial killer and step on it. But my innate honesty kicked in before I could think of something that entertaining.

"No," I said. "I'm too plump and laid back for that job."

At least he thought my answer rated a chuckle. We arrived at the FBI headquarters without incident--well, okay, he made a wrong turn once, but who's counting? Just goes to show the place isn't along the beaten path.

About the time we pulled into the lot, I’m questioning my sanity. Why am I about to waltz into an office where they deal with national security issues as a way of life? For little old me from deep rural Minnesota, a speeding ticket is a big deal. Here, they want "a brief message or a detailed confession." Gulp!

We got to the building and immediately manifested ourselves as clueless civilians by driving up to the guardhouse. The nice uniformed gentleman with the burly muscles patiently directed us to park in the visitor lot. I was to leave my camera and cell phone in the cab, then step up to his window on foot. Once I proved myself a genuine Jane Citizen with proper photo ID that matched my matchless mug, he'd let me in.

Did I want to get in? Would I get out? Well, since I’m writing this, I obviously did make a getaway, and they didn't even interrogate me. Nuts! But I got my share of assessing looks. The first one came from the uniformed guard that stood up from his desk as soon as I walked through those darkened glass doors. His station was right beside a full body metal detector similar to those at the airport.

The vestibule was completely walled in and very small. If I wanted to venture further inside, I would need to get past the guard and the metal detector. Cool! But rats! I took care of my business with the agent via the telephone the day before, so I didn't have any excuse to press onward and upward. But one of these days, I'll get that opportunity. I'm awaiting the engraved invitation . . . any day now . . .

One of the receptionists came to the bullet-proof window, and I gave her my card and a brief note of thanks for the media liaison. She, too, gave me an assessing look. I imagine I was a true oddity in their world. Ah, well, maybe I gave them something different to talk about. Maybe not, but I can dream!

Find out more about Jill, her books, and art theft at and


Sally Datria said...

LOL!! My life is SO boring in comparison!!!

Amy Wallace said...

Mine too! But boring is better than being locked in an FBI fortress! LOL

Rel said...

Thanks Amy :)Plenty of fun here!!!!

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