Monday, May 3, 2010

A Visit with J. A. Jance

by Jean Henry Mead

Bestselling novelist J. A. Jance has two recently released novels, Fire and Ice from HarperCollins and Trial by Fire by Simon and Schuster. (She's pictured with one of her two dogs, which she named Aggie and Daph, for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. )

When asked when Jance first realized she wanted to be a mystery writeer, she said, "I knew from the time I was in second grade. I didn't specifically want to be a mystery writer but because I always read mysteries it was a natural fit."

Fire and Ice is the second pairing of her two detectives, Joanna Brady in Arizona and J. P. Beaumont in Seattle. They're working seemingly separate cases but, by the end of the book, they find the two are definitely connected. Beaumont's parts of the story are told in first person. Joanna's are narrated in third.

"Trial by Fire, Ali number five, has her working as a newly appointed Media Relations Officer for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department [in Arizona]. When eco-terrorists burn down a supposedly unoccupied house, Ali is part of the investigation that first must identify the victim before locating the killer."

I wondered how the J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady and Ali Reynolds series come into being. She explained that "Until Proven Guilty, the first Beaumont book, was published in 1985. When I wrote it, I thought I was writing a one-time book. I was new to Seattle, but the character was a Seattle native. I had to do a lot of research to make that work, and writing it from a male first person point of view was challenging. After writing nine Beaumonts in a row, I was growing tired of the character.

"My editor suggested I come up with some other character so I could alternate. When I wrote the first Joanna Brady, Desert Heat, I knew I was writing a series but I used my experiences of being a single parent, of living in the Arizona desert, and of working in a non-traditional job to create her character. Ali Reynolds grew out of seeing a longtime Tucson female newscaster pushed out of her job due to age factors."

I also wondered what in her background prepared her to write grisly crime and horror novels? Her explanation was that she had the dubious honor of having spent sixty days of her life during the early seventies literally stalked by a serial killer, someone who is still in prison to this day.

"During that time I wore a loaded weapon, and I was fully prepared to use it. I used some of what I learned from that investigation to create the background for Hour of the Hunter, Kiss of the Bees, and Day of the Dead.

She writes in both Seattle and Tucson. "It remains to be seen which writing is best. And I don't have to be in Arizona to write about Arizona. It was in trying to turn the landscape around Bisbee into words when I finally realized why, with the red shale hills and the limestone cliffs, that Bisbee High School's colors are red and gray."
Judy produces two books a year and writes every day. "I don't have a set number of words. I'm also a wife, mother and grandmother. I like having a life."

Her books first made the bestseller list fifteen or twenty books ago, "but making the lists is entirely arbitrary," she said, "and based on decisions that are made far away from the author's effort. I don't think the books I wrote before making the list were of any lesser quality than the ones that have."

Jance donates a percentage of her bookstore earnings to charities such as the YWCA, Humane Society, Relay for Life and ALS research. And her advice to fledgling writers involves a sign posted on her computer screen:

"When I bought my first computer in1983, the guy who installed my word processing program fixed it so every time I booted up the computer, these were the words that flashed across the screen: "A writer is someone who has written TODAY!" Those were words I clung to when I was a pre-published writer and that still resonate with me today. Today I AM a writer. I'm working on Chapter five of the next Ali book. "

Her website is She has a blog on her website as well as at in the City Brights section.


Morgan Mandel said...

I guess it doesn't matter where we write as long as we do. As writers, it's hard not to. Amazing how some writers realize the urge so young, yet others, like me, don't feel the compulsion until much later in life.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree, Morgan. Some of us write at the kitchen table, in the car at traffic stops, on planes and trains. :) Writing something every day is an important key to success.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

You are one of my favorite authors. Love the Beaumont series, but have been reading your latest series on my Kindle.

Years ago I met you at a Sisters in Crime meeting in Fresno and also talked to you in the hallway at either a Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime. Don't expect you to remember, but you made a great impression on me.

Count me as a fan.


Dana Fredsti said...

Okay, this has nothing to do with the writing (and I DO love the quote you had on your computer), but I am just so taken with your author photo! Your personality seems to shine right through.