Q&A With JA Jance
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Q&A With JA Jance
Today I’m doing a Q&A with New York Times Bestselling author J A Jance whose full name is Judith Ann Jance. Jance is the author of many mystery novels. Her mystery novels are in different series which are the following, J. P. Beaumont, Ali Reynolds, Joanna Brady, & Walker Family Series.
Q: I love reading mystery novels. What drew you to writing mystery novels? When in your life did you realize that writing was your calling?
A: My second grade teacher at Greenway School in Bisbee, Arizona, was Mrs. Spangler. Under the windows in her room were shelves filled with book. If you finished your work early, you could select one of those books and bring them back to your desk. It was among Mrs. Spangler’s books that I encountered the Oz book by Frank Baum, not just the Wizard of Oz but all the other ones as well. I wasn’t especially smitten by the Wizard. What struck me was the realization that a living, breathing person put those words on the page. From then on that’s what I wanted to be and do—the person putting the words on the pages. Years later, while doing TV interview for the Tucson Festival of Books, I learned that the cameraman was Mrs. Spangler’s grandson, the guy who had inherited all her books. It was wonderful to be able to tell him what an impact having his grandmother as my second grade teacher had made on my life.
As to the mystery question. I loved mysteries from the moment I read my first Nancy Drew book, and I’ve never gotten over that love affair.
Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to write great mystery novels and on how to keep a series going without it going stale? What is your advice to anyone dealing with writers block?
A: My advice for writing a great mystery is to love what you do. That applies to all genres. If you don’t love mysteries or romances or sci-fi, don’t try writing one of those because you think that’s an easy road to getting published while you embark on your real goal of writing the great American novel!
How not to go stale? I have more than one series. Originally, I wrote nine Beaumont books in a row. When I threatened to knock him off, my editor suggested I write something else. The result was the first Walker Family book, Hour of the Hunter. When I went back to writing Beau, it was fun again. So I have four completely different sets of characters who operate in different locales. When it’s time to start a new book, I get to go visit someone I haven’t been around for a while.
My advice for dealing with writers block is to write. In most of my books, the crime happens off screen. When a book stops cold and just won’t move forward, I’ve found it often leads back to the supposed bad guy not having any real motivation for doing the crime. That means it’s time to change the most difficult thing any writer ever has to change—his or her mind!
Q: What is your advice to new authors on how to deal with negative feedback whether it’s from bad reviews on the internet, online trolls and family and friends who are not supportive of their writing goals?
A: Take negative feedback from your editor or your agent. When I wrote the first book, my agent said that one the characters, namely Anne Corley, was too tough. She suggest places where, by changing a word or two of dialogue, I could make her more sympathetic. When people write to say that Anne is one of the most haunting fictional characters they’ve ever encountered, that’s due entirely to taking my agent’s advice.
I once delivered a manuscript for a book told through six different points of view. My editor didn’t like three of them. I had to take the manuscript apart and then duct tape it back together, putting dialogue back in through a different point of view rather than the original one. The final product was the first of my books that hit the NYTimes list.
So yes, take editorial advice from professionals, not from friends or relatives. By the way, I wasn’t allowed in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona in 1964 because, as the professor told me, “You’re a girl.” I married a guy who was allowed in the program that was closed to me. He got a good grade in the class, but never published anything despite the fact that he told me in 1968, shortly after we married, that there would only be one writer in our family, and he was it.
Did I stop writing. No. Did I mention my first husband had a serious drinking problem, so I wrote under the dark of night penning bits of poetry under the dark of night when he was passed out in his recliner. Thirteen years later, he died of chronic alcoholism at age 42, a year and a half after I divorced him. When I stumbled across those bits of poetry, reading through them was like seeing my life in instant replay. Although I hadn’t consciously recognized the seriousness of his drinking in those early years, the creative part of me obviously recognized that that our marriage was ultimately doomed. Eventually the poetry was published in a book called After the Fire. The title poem goes like this:
I have touched the fire.
It burned me, but I knew I lived
It seared me, it made me whole.
He called me .
I went gladly though I saw the rocks,
Fell laughing through the singeing air.
I have known the fire.
I’ll live with nothing rather than with less.
The flame is out, there’s nothing left but ash.
People who have read the early Beaumont books will instantly understand that I drew on that part of my life experience to create that Beau’s character. The really interesting thing about that is this: I had experienced life with a problem drinker, and that’s the character I created for Beau, but when the fourth book came out, readers started asking me if Beau had a drinking problem. Just like with the poetry, the creative part of me understood that while the conscious part had to play catch-up.
As for reading on-line review? I don’t. For one thing, the book is written, and done to the best of my ability. I can’t very well go back and change it. Besides, many of the folks handing out those one-star reviews have their own person axes to grind, and what they think of me is none of my business.
Q: Is it fair to say that the characters and places in your novels are based off of people you know and places you’ve been in real life? I love it when authors can create fictional places and people from real ones.
A: I guess some of the previous answer addresses that questions. I write a lot of books, but I’m essentially lazy. If I wanted to create a whole universe, I would be Frank Herbert writing Dune! It’s simpler to have my characters walking and talking and riding around in places I know well. That way, I can report on the weather, the scenery, and the traffic in the background all the while keeping my eye on what’s going on in the story.
When I started writing the Beaumont book, he was a Seattle native, and I had lived here less than a year at the time. That meant I had to do a lot of research to get the details write. Setting the Brady books in southern Arizona where I grew up was literally pressing the Easy Button.
The only “real” person I’ve ever deliberately used in the book was Doug Davis, valedictorian of Bisbee High School’s class of 1961 who, after graduating from West Point and Ranger School died in Vietnam months before his 21st birthday. I missed his funeral because I didn’t find out about it until after it had occurred. I wrote Doug into a book called Second Watch in which I cast him as J.P. Beaumont’s commanding officer. I wanted to make sure that his life and death were not forgotten.
A few years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Doug’s death, Bonnie Abney (also in the book and who was engaged to marry Doug when died) spent the day at his grave site in Bisbee’s Evergreen Cemetery where she discovered that people who had read the book, had made their way to the. Cemetery and to his grave, where they had left behind tokens of their esteem. Doug Davis isn’t forgotten, and neither is Bonnie.
Q: If you’re writing a new novel now, is it part of any of your series, a beginning of a new series or a standalone novel?
A: I’m at the very beginning of Beaumont #26. It doesn’t have a name yet. I started writing Beaumont # 1, Until Proven Guilty, forty years ago. (It’s still in print, by the way. At the time I was focused on writing a single book, and I was surprised when Avon Books offered me a two book contract with UPG as book number 1.
Sue Grafton set out on a path to write 26 books about a single character, Kinzie Milhone. Sadly she only made it to Y. So when I created the new file and realized it was Beaumont #26, I was surprised. But as I said earlier, the reason Beau is still around has a whole lot to do with the presence of the rest of my cast of characters—Joanna Brady, Ali Reynolds, and the Walker Family.
Q: If you were to write in a completely different genre which genre would it be and why?
A:I have no desire to move to another genre. As Tony Hillerman told me once, “Literary fiction is where not much happens to people you don’t like very much.” I’m a storyteller, and the ancient sacred charge of the storyteller is to beguile the time. What time is more in need of beguiling than time spent in hospital waiting rooms, and when people tell me that’s where they encountered my books, those words go straight to my heart.
I write to entertain. I’m not interested in creating the Great American Novel. What I take as high praise is hearing from readers who have found themselves fighting back tears at the conclusion of one of my books. That means I created character they really DID care about.
Writing mysteries gives me carte blanche to write about things I regard as important—family relationships, good versus evil, child abuse, domestic violence, and many other things.
Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your novels? Hollywood could use originality especially good mystery shows and movies.
A: The people who from Hollywood who have come calling, often want to pay a pittance for the rights to corral the character. My answer to those folks has always been NO! At some point in the distant future, someone may want to produce J.P. Beaumont, the Musical, but my grandkids will be the ones signing over the rights to that because I won’t be around to offer an opinion one way or the other.