Sunday, July 17, 2011
J.A. Jance at the Foothills Library
Arizona favorite, J.A. Jance, recently appeared at the Foothills Branch Library in Glendale. The introduction for New York Times bestselling mystery author J.A. Jance said she has 10 million books in print. Jance said she thinks someone at her publishing house doesn't do math. Betrayal of Trust is her 44th book, and there are 250,000 of each in print. That comes to more than 10 million.
Jance wanted to be a writer since she was in second grade when she read The Wizard of Oz. While other readers saw a wizard hiding behind a curtain, she saw Frank Baum hiding behind the words.
As an adult she applied to be in the creative writing class at the University of Arizona, but the professor said he wouldn't allow a woman in the class. Her husband was allowed in the class that was closed to her. In 1968, he told her there would only be one writer in the family. He died of chronic alcoholism at the age of 42, a year and a half after she divorced him. He worked hard at that, and he was good at dying. He was right about one thing, though. There was only one writer in the family. He never published anything. Both Jance's ex-husband and the professor who wouldn't allow her in the class were dead when J.A. Jance's first book was published. And, her latest book, Betrayal of Trust, debuted at #9 on the New York Times bestseller list.
J.A. Jance introduced her dachshund, Bella, to the audience. She pointed out that people had petted Bella for an hour while Jance signed books before the program, and she was friendly and didn't bark. But, an hour earlier they had been in the lobby at the Ritz-Carlton. A man reached down to pet her, and she went straight up in the air, barked, and turned away from him. Later the desk clerk told Jance and her husband that that man had been hanging out, and was really weird. Jance said she wrote a short shorty about a dog in Naples that started to bark at a couple. Bella is cut from the same cloth. She knew something was wrong with that man.
Jance admitted she's always referred to small dogs as "Wastes of fur." She's accustomed to big dogs, and she was not a dog person. That was until October of the past year. At the time, she had a thirteen-year-old Golden Retriever. She had been shopping with her daughter, and her grandson, Cody, in Bellevue, Washington. They were southbound when they saw a dachshund running northbound in the middle of the road. If you've ever seen a dog running after a car that left her, that's how desperately the dog was running. Jance's daughter got out, and started flagging down oncoming traffic to stop it from hitting the dog. And, Jance was out of the car, heading northbound with her grandson hollering, "Animal Rescue! Go Gram!"
Jance chased the dachshund the better part of a mile, uphill. She was fast, but short. Finally, two young men helped her herd the dog out of traffic, and then one handed her the wet, little, sad dog. They went straight to her daughter's vet, where she was wanded, and found not to have a chip. Jance and her daughter even went door-to-door in the neighborhood, thinking someone would recognize the dog. There was no luck. Then, Jance called her husband, Bill, to tell him they had a stray dog issue.
Jance didn't want to say any more to her husband. Many years ago, shortly after Noah and the Great Flood, Bill had a date with the woman who became his first wife. Those were the days when on a first date, the young man went to the house to meet the parents. And, in the house was the family dog, Moxie, a male dachshund. He took one look at Bill and thought, you are evil and attacked Bill's Achilles tendon, drawing blood, and wrecking Bill's socks and pants.
J.A. Jance went home and handed the dog to Bill. And, it certainly proved there is love at first sight. He said, "Well, you're not going to the pound." Colt kept talking about the dog as "Fella," and Bill said that's a boy's name. This is Bella.
Jance and her husband always took their dogs to the same academy for training. When they took Bella for her intake interview, they found out she had bad breath because her teeth were rotten. She only weighed seven pounds, and it probably hurt her to eat. She went through two weeks of boot camp, and when they picked her up, they had removed fourteen chips, and put in a chip. So Jance had a dachshund. Within two months, she was flying first class from Seattle to Tucson. A true rags to riches story.
Bella is terrified of most men, including the man who takes care of Jance's dogs, so they couldn't leave her at home. When Jance went on her January book tour, Bella went with them. She spent five days during the cold snap in January living at the Ritz-Carlton on Camelback. They decided Belle must have lived somewhere with an elevator. Most dogs are afraid of them, but she understands elevators. You face the wall; it opens; you get in and turn around. Then the wall opens again, and you get off.
Jance told us it's hard to find restaurants to take puppies. So, they were in the room enjoying room service when there was a knock on the door. The concierage stood there with a sweater for Bella, since it was cold.
Three weeks ago, Jance and her husband went to New Orleans for a convention. They thought they'd try leaving Bella at home. But, she wouldn't do anything when she went outside. And, she left what they can't call accidents. They call them deliberates. So, Bella is on this book tour, too.
Jance turned Bella over to Bill, and then said, that was the preview of the actual talk. Think of it as a trailer.
The first Detective Beaumont was published in 1985. J.A. Jance started it in 1982. They've been together as author/character for thirty years, way longer than she was with her first husband. Bill, her husband now, says his life is perfect since her life with her first husband was so bad. With Bill, it's happily ever after. But, she knew so much about her first husband, that, from the point of view of a novelist, she has a gold mine of material.
For six months, Jance tried to write that story from the wrong point of view. In 1983, she sent her kids to camp, and she went to Portland to visit a friend. She took her notebooks and pens on the train. She thought she'd try to write through the detective's point of view. She started to write, and after the first two sentences, she was at the crime scene, seeing it through J.P. Beaumont's eyes. They've been like that ever since.
In 1982, she was in Seattle, trying to write. She was a single parent with two kids, working full-time for an insurance company. She wrote every morning from four to seven because that was teh only time she had to write. When she hears people say they want to be a writer, but it isn't the perfect time, she knows they'll never write because writers write when life is imperfect.
Beaumont is told from a man's point of view. While Jance was trying to understand why her husband would rather be in a bar than home with her, she would go to the bars and listen to the men talk. It was research. She learned what made men tick.
They always say write what you know. Beau did the kind of drinking that Jance lived with for years. Jance was in Portland at a B.Dalton's, signing the fourth book, Taking the Fifth, when a woman came up to her. She said, J.P. Beaumont drinks every day. It's interfering with his work. Does he have a problem? She answered. "These are books." Jance said the author is the last person to know, but alcoholism is a disease of denial.
In the sixth book, Beaumont has his first blackout. He wakes up with splints on his hands, and doesn't know how he got them. In the eighth book, he goes into treatment. Now, J.A. Jance is in Glendale, Arizona in 2011, with Betrayal of Trust, the twentieth book. Beaumont has been sober for twelve books longer than he was drinking. Still there are people who say they liked him better as a drunk. Jance worries about them.
Years ago, Jance was at the Texas Book Festival, and she could see a young guy waiting in line with a little girl in a stroller, and he was grinning at her. When he finally got up to her, he said, "My name is Rob." He was in Rosehill Junior High when he first encountered Beaumont. He wanted to be a cop after he read the frist Beaumont. He went into the service, and served as an MP. He became a raging alcoholic, but he still wanted to be a police officer. He was hired, but knew he had to get sober. So, the day he graduated from the police academy, he went into treatment. He's now the police chief of that town. And, he introduced her to his daughter, Morgan. He said, "My wife wouldn't let me name her J.P." There are unintended consequences of books.
J.A. Jance said she always read murder mysteries. She read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. She read John D. MacDonald as an adult. He taught her it was possible to write a series of books for adults. But, even though she read John D. MacDonald, there was something irksome about Travis McGee. He never got smarter. He always went for the wrong women. He'd get into fights, and two pages later he'd be fine. That was irksome.
Jerry Janc was Jance's first husband. When his forebears landed at Ellis Island, the last name was longer, but it was shortened. The family got tired of people pronouncing it wrong, so in 1983, they went to court and bought a vowel for $400, and Janc became Jance. Four years later, when Bill asked her to marry him, she said yes, but she had just paid for a new name, and wanted to keep it.
When Jance took her first manuscript to her agent, she knew it was about a 40-some male homicide cop. She retyped it, and put the name J.A. Jance on the manuscript for Until Proven Guilty. When the publisher read it, he said that guy was a good writer. When the agent said, what if I said the author was a woman, he said, I'd say she's a hell of a good writer.
Jance thought she was writing a standalone until the contract came and it was for a series. Then marketing became involved. Jance's first name is Judy. Marketing said they wanted to keep the initials, J.A. Jance. She said, "God love them!" It's a gender-neutral name, and her real name is Judith Ann Jance.
The first six Beaumonts were published with no author photo/biography. In Seattle, a retired homicide cop was rumored to have written the books. When the seventh book came out with her photo, rumors were that she was just the cover for a retired homicide cop who had written the books.
In the next five years, Jance wrote two Beaumonts a year. By book nine, she was tired of Beaumont. In Until Proven Guilty, he makes a Travis-McGee like mistake and falls for the wrong woman. They're together just for days, and then he leaves his life changed. They married, and then she committed suicide by cop after the wedding, using Beaumont to pull the trigger.
At that time, Beaumont didn't trust his partner, Ron Peters. On the wedding night, after Anne Corley died, Peters comes back to the apartment, and finds the leftover wedding cake. He takes the wedding cake, and puts it down the garbage disposal. Beaumont knows they'll be good partners and friends. The problem with Anne Corley, though, is she didn't hang around long enough to be annoying.
Jance went to Bisbee High School, and Doug Davis was two years ahead of her in school. He was smart and athletic and handsome. From Bisbee, he went to West Point, and then Vietnam. He came home in a body bag.
After nine Beaumonts, Jance wrote Hour of the Hunter. Then the Beaumonts became fun again. Then her agent suggested maybe she wanted to alternate with Beau. She did know about being a single parent, and knew a lot about the desert. So, that became Joanna Brady's background. In Desert Heat, Joanna Brady's husband is dead. He's buried in Graveside Cemetary in Bisbee, the same cemetary where Doug Davis is buried. In Caifornia, someone read that book. A woman came up to Jance two years later at a signing, and asked, "Have you ever been to Bisbee?" When Jance said she went to school there, she asked her if she knew Doug Davis. Jance said she had. The woman said, my sister was engaged to marry him, and she was packed to join him for R & R when he died. When she bought Desert Heat, and read the scene at the cemetary, she thought the author might have known Doug Davis. She carried the book around with her for two years. J.A. Jance and Bonnie became friends. Bonnie didn't know any of Doug's Bisbee friends, so she was able to learn about his life there from Jance. She married after losing Doug, but the marriage didn't last. Her husband couldn't compete with the legend of a dead guy.
She tells this story because J.P. Beaumont couldn't let go of his wife's legend. He only had a brief relationship with her, but it hung on.
Jance told us Beaumont does talk to her. She'll be writing along, and he'll say something that makes her laught. She'll write it, but he said it.
In the last Beaumont book, Fire and Ice, he was attending a family reunion at Disneyland. He has a motion sickness problem, but he went on the Teacups. He ended up at the infirmary after riding them, and the nurse asked, if you know you have motion sickness, why did you go on the Teacups. His answer? My granddaughter asked me.
J.A. Jance had just fnished an Ali Reynolds book. She writes boooks, and Bill writes checks. She watches characters. He watches the cash flow, which can have peaks and valleys. She had just sent the manuscript off to her editor on a Friday afternoon. At dinner that night, Bill asked, is what he thought was an inoffensive fashion, have you given any thought to the next Beaumont book. She said, as a matter of fact, it's going to be about the Washington state governor. He wasn't impressed, but she started writing it on Monday. It's about the Washington state governor. It took her two months to write it. Don't discount the effect of a head of steam when mad. The next Ali Reynolds took her nine months to write. Betrayal of Trust took two.
Jance needed two points of information from Beaumont's past for this book. But, she had written nineteen books about him, and these were unimportant details. She writes a blog on her website, www.jajance.com. She writes about one a week. Think of it as Erma Bombeck for free. She put an S.O.S. on her blog. She needed Beau's mother's given name, and the name of his English teacher, and told the readers whoever answered her would become characters in the book. So, the book is dedicated to Joan and Rebecca, and they are also worked into the story in return for helping her.
The next Ali Reynolds book, Left for Dead, will be out in January or February. Nobody tells her since she's just the author. She's working on next summer's Joanna Brady. Writing four sets of characters in four locales keeps it fresh and interesting for her.
She said someone always asks if she outlines. She met outlining in sixth grade geography class, and hated it then. Nothing has changed. She has a terminal fear of Roman numberals, and you can't fear them and outline. She starts the books with somone dead, and spends the rest of the book finding out who did it and why.
J.A. Jance writes out deadline. She told us when she's hit by lightning, we can assume there will be no more books. There are no manuscripts piled up somewhere.
Jance ending by reminding us After the Fire is her book of poetry. It's her autobiography about the years with her first husband while he was dying of booze. It's published by the University of Arizona Press. When asked, she tells people that Hour of the Hunter is her favorite book. The main character wants to be a writer. Her husband is dead. He was allowed in the creative writing class she wasn't allowed in. And, a former professor of creative writing from teh University of Arizona is the crazed killer.
J.A. Jance's website is www.jajance.com.
Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061731150 (hardcover), 352p.