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Meet the Author
 
J.A. Jance author photoOvercoming adversity has been a keynote of this writer's life-- as well as the inspiration for her best-selling mysteries.
by Jeffrey Marks

For years no one knew whether J.A. Jance was a man or a woman. They didn't know from the novels either, because the protagonists-- male detective J.P. "Beau" Beaumont and former insurance agent-turned-Sheriff Joanna Brady-- speak in voices true to their character and gender.
Perhaps part of the key to Judy Jance's success lies in her knowledge of how to work through adversity and turn it into something positive. She was married to, and divorced from, a chronic alcoholic who died when he was forty-two. She raised a family as a single parent. Now she has more than 3.5 million copies of her books in print. Like J.P. and Joanna, Jance is a survivor.
Jance's detective J.P. "Beau" Beaumont has appeared in fourteen bestselling mysteries. A homicide detective, Beau solves his cases in and around Seattle, Washington, where Jance now lives with her husband Bill. Jance's own past resonates through Beau, a recovered alcoholic who triumphed over the addiction that afflicted his life. The latest J.P. Beaumont mystery is Breach of Duty (January, 1999).
Jance's newest character, Sheriff Joanna Brady-- whose mysteries are set in the sun-baked Southwest of the author's childhood-- has also made her mark with readers. Brady is an insurance agent-turned-sheriff who struggles with the challenges of her job and of single motherhood in Bisbee, Arizona. The newest Joanna Brady novel, Outlaw Mountain, goes on sale in July 1999.
Recently, Jance took a break from her busy writing and touring schedule to answer questions about her life and work.

MysteryNet: Why did you decide to use initials? Did you find an advantage in using a gender-neutral name? What is your full name?
 
Jance: When my agent submitted the first Detective Beaumont book, Until Proven Guilty, she did so using my initials because the book was written in the first person through a male detective's point of view. She believed editors would be more inclined to accept the book if they thought it was written by a man rather than by a woman named Judith A. Jance. It worked, too. Once Avon purchased the manuscript as the first book in a series, the marketing department reached the same conclusion my agent had. They were convinced male readers would be more likely to read the book if they were under the impression that it was written by a man. The first six Beaumont books were written with no author photo and no biographical information of any kind.

MysteryNet: What elements of your childhood are used in the Brady series? Where did you grow up? How did that affect your writing?
 
Jance: Selling Girl Scout cookies outside the post office in Bisbee, Arizona; dragging the cookie boxes around in a Radio Flyer wagon; being almost washed away in a flash flood in Skeleton Canyon; searching for arrowheads barefoot in the summer desert; smelling the rain; loving the sun; having a father who sold life insurance; having my braids whacked off by a vengeful "beautician" when I was seven. Those are just some of the things from my childhood that inform my work.
I believe being a writer is a lot like being Rumplestilskin. Every night someone brought him a pile of straw and it was his responsibility to spin it into gold. That's what I do, too.

MysteryNet: After twenty books, how do you keep the series fresh?
 
Jance: I approach each book with an open mind. I remember what's gone before because those are the things that make a character respond in certain ways to new and different circumstances. I try to make sure that pieces of characterization remain consistent from book to book, but mostly I turn on my computer and ask my characters what they've been doing while my back was turned. And, if I listen very carefully with my fingers poised over the keyboard, eventually they tell me.

MysteryNet: Do you find it easier to write J.P. or Joanna? Both have some elements of your past. Do you relate more to one than the other? Is it more difficult to write in the voice of the opposite sex?
 
Jance: I like both Beau and Joanna, and I like Diana, the main character from Hour of the Hunter as well. I relate to all my characters because, as you pointed out, they all contain recognizable pieces of my past.
After being hospitalized nine times, my first husband died of chronic alcoholism at age 42. J. P. Beaumont's battle with sobriety and the continuing effects of alcohol abuse on family members are, unfortunately, all-too familiar territory to me. I was left alone as a single mother with small children. So were Joanna Brady and Diana Ladd. I sold life insurance for a living, and so did Joanna.

MysteryNet: Where do you see both series going in terms of character? Will Joanna age and retire as the series progress? Will J.P.?
 
Jance: I met outlining in Mrs. Watkins' sixth grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I didn't like outlining then, and nothing that's happened to me since has changed my mind. As a consequence, I don't "see" my books in advance of writing them. I know there are three more Beaumont and three more Brady's that are sold but not written. Just stay tuned.

MysteryNet: Your husband, Bill, recently retired. Do you plan to keep writing?
 
Jance: He retired five years ago. He's having fun and deservedly so. But I'm having fun, too. I've been doing this job for sixteen years now, and I still enjoy it. Starting to write a book is never a walk in the park, but once a book starts working, writing it can be downright exhilarating. And I still very much enjoy my interactions with readers, both in terms of signings as well as responding to fan mail.
The guy who works downtown handing out parking tickets doesn't have people who come up to him on the street or in the grocery store to spontaneously tell him how much they enjoy what he does. Having people do that is a substantial form of psychological payment for my writing that has nothing to do with dollars and cents.

MysteryNet: I understand that you have raised almost a quarter million dollars for charities such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Red Cross and the YWCA.. How have you done this?
 
Jance: Part of it has been by doing fund-raising speaking engagements. Another has been by auctioning off the right to be characters in my books, but that's something I don't do often because I've learned it can cause all kinds of complications. My husband and I also auction off dinners in our home, some of which have sold for as much as $2600 for dinner for six. People come to the house, eat, and listen to an evening of storytelling. In the course of the evening they have their questions answered and their books signed.

MysteryNet: Now that your children are grown, I'm sure it's easier to find time to write. How did you manage to juggle single parenthood, raising a family, earning a living and writing?
 
Jance: With family, job, church, and civic responsibilities, juggling is something most women do most of their lives. The first three books I wrote were written in the mornings between four a.m. and seven a.m. when it was time to wake my kids up and get them off to school. After that I got myself ready for a day of selling life insurance.
After Bill and I married, I added three more children and several dogs to the mix, but it was no longer necessary for me to sell life insurance and I was able to be home every day. I used to take my computer to the kitchen counter to work so I could keep track of the laundry while I was writing away.
It's not necessarily easier to find time to write now that the kids are gone, because there are more demands on my time to do speaking events, library grand openings, etc. I've also developed a new vice, chasing a little white ball around on a field of green grass. I called golf a vice, but that's not entirely true. Learning to play is also a way of remembering to stop and smell the flowers.

MysteryNet: What is your writing schedule like?
 
Jance: After coffee, newspapers, and breakfast-in that order, I try to spend the mornings writing. That's easier to do after a book is started than it is at chapter one, page one. At the beginning of a book I'm lucky to put in two or three hours. When I reach a sticking place-- one where I don't know what's going to happen in the next scene or the next chapter, that's when I go shower and get dressed. Later on in the book, once things start to roll I can become totally absorbed in the story. My best days of writing turn out to be the ones where I look down at 3:30 in the afternoon and discover, to my dismay, that I'm still wearing my nightgown and robe.
There are people like Sue Grafton who don't go to work writing until after they're properly attired for the office down to and including mascara. That's not me, and I'm grateful writing is a job that accommodates all different kinds of ways of doing it.

MysteryNet: Anything else you'd like to talk about or tell your readers?
 
Jance: Some of my readers prefer Beau to Brady and vice versa. I'm pretty much fifty-fifty with a healthy dose of Diana Ladd tossed into the mix on occasion. Like Agatha Christie with Hercules Poirot, I might be looking for a way to knock Beau off. Being allowed to move back and forth from one series to the other has been really important for keeping my creative juices flowing.
I see myself as a storyteller more than I do as a writer. The ancient sacred charge of the storyteller is to beguile the time-- to hold the cold of winter, the dark of night, and the pain of hunger at bay. I always feel wonderfully complimented when someone tells me that they've used my stories as a means of getting through some terrible health crisis. I regard there comments as high praise. It also lets me know that I'm doing my job.

Jeffrey Marks, of Cincinnati, Ohio, is the editor of Canine Crimes, the author of numerous mystery short stories and a lifelong fan of crime fiction.

 


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