An Interview with Jill Marie Thomas: Writing from Experience
July 27, 2020
I had the pleasure of meeting Jill Marie Thomas in 2017 on the first night of a writers’ conference in Pennsylvania. As it turns out, our passion for writing was cultivated under difficult circumstances. We marveled at how similar our stories were and have been friends ever since. Her resilience and prolific pen impress me, and I’m honored to know her.
Jill’s work ranges a variety of subject matter, mostly nonfiction. Her writing engages the reader because she is funny, honest, and heartfelt. I hope you enjoy this interview with Jill Marie Thomas.
TGC: How and when did your “I’m a writer” moment happen? Was it a lifelong dream or something that evolved over time?
JMT: I never actually planned to be a writer. Though I grew up wanting to be a math teacher and trained to do so in college, I spent many years of my adult life as a stay-at-home mother, content to raise my four children and be involved in their school classes and activities as needed. Then, when my youngest entered ninth grade, I interviewed and landed a job as a college instructor of mathematics at the local college.
For ten years I taught math until a major judo injury sidelined me for two years. During those two years at home, unable to walk and recovering from a delicate surgery, I began writing. It seemed a way to stave off the depression that wanted to overtake me. Writing became my “thing,” and now I cannot imagine going back to my old career. God obviously made something good come out of the painful injury in my life. After I had a few published books in hand, I began to be able to state “I am a writer now.”
TGC: Congratulations on the release of three books in 2019! How long did your journey take from inception to bookshelves for those books?
JMT: First I wrote five Bible study booklets that I simply printed down at the corner print shop. I never thought of publishing them “officially,” and I used them with Bible study groups in local churches. Then I began writing the first of my “real” books. I obtained a literary agent for that book, and he pitched the book to publishers for a year and a half. While waiting as he was pitching that book, I wrote the other two books. All in all, from start to published books the process was about four years for the first book and a year each for the other two.
TGC: You are a nonfiction writer who often draws on personal experiences and family history for your work. I know you also write Bible studies. Tell me about your process for choosing and developing your books on these topics.
JMT: I began by writing my Bible studies simply for myself, to pull myself up out of a sad funk, due to my injury and inability to continue on in my mathematics career. Putting words down on a page was a healing process for me. Then, when I did private Facebook studies using my Bible studies, I realized there was value in the words I had written. I was helping other stay-at-home moms who had no other way of attending a Bible study each week.
After the first study was done, those gals asked for another and another. I had written five to date, and then started writing my first book, Risking It All: One Woman’s Adventure Giving Away Her Income. I felt strongly compelled to take that adventure following a time of prayer one night.
The Day My Son Fell from the Sky came about due to an unexpected life event. Immediately after a horrific accident my son had while flying his powered parachute, many people were asking us questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Wouldn’t it have been better if he’d died instead of all the suffering? Etc. Those questions compelled me to write the story of his accident and to include some commentary on trauma in general. Everyone has some sort of trauma in their lives, so it seemed good to let his accident give help and insight to others too.
My third book came about due to family pressure. Good pressure! As the great-great-granddaughter of the founder of America’s first commercial pretzel bakery, I have a lot to say about the world of pretzels and pretzel-making. The family had urged me for years to compile a book, and finally, I worked it into my schedule. What a delightful time of researching and studying old family photos and memorabilia it was! I think the final project, Twisted: Mindful Pretzel Consumption is a fun read for all.
TGC: Though you are primarily a nonfiction writer, I understand there may be a different kind of project in your future. Can you give us a sneak preview about what’s next?
JMT: Ooh yes! My current work in progress, Redemption Rentals, is fiction! It’s the story of four unique vacation rental properties– a cottage, a tiny house, a church, and a romantic treehouse–and the guests who come and stay in them.
The story takes place on two levels–one on the human earthly level. In the other realm, assigned angels work in cahoots with the local church folk to influence the lives of the protagonists, and of course, the local demon population does their best to hinder the work. In each case, the guests leave the properties with their lives changed.
Even though I promise a good, fun read, the tale will deal with some difficult, contemporary issues–addiction, abortion, homelessness, and marital trust.
TGC: Have you encountered any publishing obstacles or writing-related setbacks that ultimately helped you to grow in your journey as an author?
JMT: Yes, I have. When my literary agent was unable to find a traditional publisher to take on the Risking It All manuscript, I struggled with a drop in my confidence as a writer for quite a long time. Together the agent and I agreed I should proceed by self (indie) publishing the book. He assured me it’s a book that needed to be read, and the timing wasn’t right for those publishing houses.
For months afterward, I doubted my ability as a writer. I compared myself (please don’t do that!) to other writers who’d been traditionally published. It took many reminders from other authors that an agent wouldn’t have taken on the project if he didn’t think it was worthwhile and of good quality.
TGC: As a Christian writer, how has your faith informed your work and decision-making as an author?
JMT: I love this question! My faith affects absolutely everything about my writing. I don’t put one word down on paper without praying first. I want every story, every book, every blog post, every social media entry, everything I write to be His words. I am simply His conduit. Whatever message comes through is from Him.
TGC: Of all the books you’ve written, which one has been the most meaningful and why?
JMT: I would have to say Risking It All was the most life-changing to me. The year I spent giving away all my income and writing about it in the book taught me many things. Probably the biggest reality I experienced is that I cannot out-give God. You know how you hear people say a check miraculously showed up in the mailbox? I experienced those kinds of miracles, time after time, the more I gave away.
My eyes are more opened to the needs around me now. The words of Jesus compel me to act, even with what little I have, and I am the one blessed when I do so.
TGC: What advice can you offer aspiring writers as they develop a body of work and find their writer’s “voice”?
JMT: I would say just start writing. And then, keep writing every day after that. Whether it’s one hour every weekday or all day on four days of the week, make a reasonable schedule for yourself and stick to it the best you can. Doing that eventually leads to books in your hand and then your books in readers’ hands. We have the awesome opportunity to change lives with our words, and it would be a shame to waste that opportunity!
Thanks to Jill for her participation in this interview and willingness to share her process and journey as a writer. I hope you’ll check out her work and find it encouraging.
A bit more about Jill:
Jill Marie Thomas, a writer, teacher, and speaker, has published numerous Bible study booklets and several books. Twisted: Mindful Pretzel Consumption includes her recollections as great-great-granddaughter of the founder of America’s first pretzel bakery. The Day My Son Fell from the Sky is a memoir of her son’s horrific aircraft accident and a commentary on trauma. Her latest book is Risking It All: One Woman’s Adventure Giving Away Her Income, a one-year journal of her attempt to make a small difference in the world. When she’s not at her desk writing and munching on pretzels, she’s likely hanging out at a local coffee shop with a friend, visiting her beloved grandkids, or adventuring in some exotic place in the world. To find her books, visit jillmariethomas.com and Amazon.com. Jill’s Bible studies are available to purchase through her website bookstore.
Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.