Books by J.A. Jance

J.P. Beaumont Mysteries:

  • Until Proven Guilty
  • Injustice for All
  • Trial by Fury
  • Taking the Fifth
  • Improbable Cause
  • A More Perfect Union
  • Dismissed with Prejudice
  • Minor in Possession
  • Payment in Kind
  • Without Due Process
  • Failure to Appear
  • Lying in Wait
  • Name Withheld
  • Breach of Duty
  • Birds of Prey
 

Joanna Brady Mysteries:

  • Desert Heat
  • Tombstone Courage
  • Shoot/Don't Shoot
  • Dead to Rights
  • Skeleton Canyon
  • Rattlesnake Crossing
  • Outlaw Mountain
  • Devil's Claw
And:
  • Hour of the Hunter
  • Kiss of the Bees
 

 

 

 

 

 

"My agent said: This is your first book. She didn't even open the box. She said: Cut it in half. So I did. I slimmed it down to 600 pages. And then she started trying to sell it. The editors that turned it down said that the stuff that was fictionalized was fine and the stuff that was real was stupid: nobody would ever do it like that. So Alice, who never sold my first book, but who is still my agent, said: Well, why don't you try writing something that's totally fictional? So I wrote the first Detective Beaumont book, which was bought by the second editor who saw it."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She is a storyteller. She tells stories the way other people breathe. And when she's telling them, you barely notice: her voice lifts and falls, occasional laughter bubbles, her eyes flash expressively and the tale she's building comes to life, right there at her elbow.

I ask her how many children she has, a question that, to almost anyone else, would provoke a simple one word numerical answer. Not from J.A. Jance. It launches her into a lengthy, though interesting, dissertation that begins prior to meeting her husband and finishes with the loving blending of their two broods. The story she tells has a beginning, a middle and an ending. It has vivid characters and even a compelling plot. What that means, I guess, is that J.A. Jance never really stops being J.A. Jance, weaver of tales and connector of complicated dots. The proof of her success as a storyteller, if such proof is required, is that every book she writes seems to bring with it an even larger audience for the stories that she tells.

Even the story of Jance's storytelling is complicated: not obvious. She was not, it seems, born telling stories. At least, she did not always know that she would be a writer. Her first marriage was to a man who told her that "There's only going to be one writer in our family and I'm it." He forbade Jance to write and, as much as she was able, during the 18 years of their marriage, she complied. She wrote, however, on the sly. A brook that could not be entirely stilled, Jance wrote poetry that "when I was writing it, I thought I was doing art." However, after her husband died, "I could see very clearly that I was using it as a journal and using it as a survival mode." A poetic journal of her life and her personal challenges, which, at the time, were many.

When she finally left him and moved her children from Arizona to begin a new life in Seattle, Jance was ready to write even if the world wasn't quite ready for her. Her first book was 1200 manuscript pages long, a huge unwieldy monster of a true crime book based on an event that had touched her life several years before. "The editors that turned it down said that the stuff that was fictionalized was fine and the stuff that was real was stupid: nobody would ever do it like that." Her agent encouraged her to go with that and write straight fiction. Jance plunged right in and wrote Until Proven Guilty, the first novel to feature her now well-loved Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont, which was published in 1985.

Jance's most recent book, Birds of Prey, is the 15th novel to feature Beaumont, a character who, in the intervening years, has gone through nearly as many changes as the writer who created him. Beaumont's changes include a near-death experience that the character is most likely unaware of: Jance came close to bumping Beaumont off a few books back, then gave him a last minute reprieve that has included a bit of reform for the homicide detective.

Birds of Prey is set on a cruise ship bound for Alaska: a cruise -- as anyone who has read a Jance mystery would guess -- bound for all sorts of trouble. Lucky for everyone, homicide detective J.P. Beaumont is onboard on a sort of command vacation.

While the Detective Beaumont books are set in Jance's adopted home town of Seattle, Washington, her other series -- the Joanna Brady Mysteries that include Outlaw Mountain and Devil's Claw -- are set in Jance's original hometown of Bisbee, Arizona. She's also written two books outside of her major series: Hour of the Hunter, published in 1990 and the book hardly anyone knew was a sequel, Kiss of the Bees, published in 2000 and Jance's bestselling novel to date.

Jance lives in Seattle with her engineer husband ("my second husband, the nice one") Bill. She writes two books a year -- one for each series -- and, by all accounts, enjoys every minute of it.

 

Linda Richards: How long have you been writing?

J.A. Jance: I started writing in the middle of March, 1982. This is my 25th published book. My first book, which never sold to anybody, was 1200 pages long. [Laughs] Even though it might count for three -- but that one never sold. So Birds of Prey is my 25th published novel.

1200 manuscript pages?

Yes.

Wow!

Well, I didn't know that there was stuff you were supposed to leave out. [Laughs] I put in everything. I'm a woman with a husband, five kids, three grandkids and two dogs, so I write on a deadline. For the past however many years, I've done two books and two book tours a year: written two and promoted two. That's hard work.

But I understand you do even more than that because you work pretty far in advance, don't you?

Well, the book for September [2001] is done and I'm working on next year's book right now. So I know that there is a date certain by which time I must start writing a book.

I was on tour for Devil's Claw last July and I knew that when I got home on the 1st of August, I had to start writing the Beaumont book. So I'm sitting in the Club Lounge at the Ritz Carlton in Kansas City, Missouri at four o'clock in the afternoon. I'm having a cup of coffee, getting ready for my signing that night and all of a sudden J.P. Beaumont starts talking to me. Not only is he talking to me, he's on that cruise ship, heading for Alaska. The Beau I know turns green and pukes at the very thought of water. I thought: What the hell is he doing on a cruise ship? And I thought: Well, if he's ready to start the book, I'll go get my computer and start it. And that scene -- the cruise ship dining room scene -- is almost word for word the way I wrote it that afternoon in the lounge at the Ritz Carlton. So, by the time I got home that book was already started. It was easy to finish it then.

That was how Birds of Prey got started.

And you'd think that sitting in a lounge in Missouri wouldn't necessarily evoke the ocean.

Well, no. And I was really surprised because I had no idea he'd be on a cruise ship. I don't plan the books. I know which book I'm supposed to write and we sort of agree on a title and then when I start I try to find out who's dead -- I write murder mysteries so you might just as well find out who's dead -- and then spend the rest of book trying to find out who did it and how come.

So you don't know going in who did it?

No. I met outlining in Mrs. Watkin's sixth grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then, I hate it now. I do not outline.

You say you work backwards that way. Is it difficult to figure out people's motivations?

In each book there is a point where you get stuck and you either go on or you stay stuck. If you stay stuck it means there's a problem with the motivation. What I used to do is just throw away the book and that made my husband despair: he's an engineer and he doesn't like to see work just get thrown away. But now I've figured out that if I run into that -- I call it my 11th chapter wall -- I was at a soccer field with one of my kids and one of the soccer moms said: Judy how are you doing? And I said: Well, I'm having a lot of trouble with chapter 11. And she said: I didn't know you were having financial difficulties. [Laughs]

But I figured out that if I reach that point and can't go beyond, it's because I have a problem with the motivation of the characters. There's some people who you think would kill somebody and they just won't. So, what I've learned to do is go back and tweak the motivation instead of throwing everything away. And because in the mysteries the murder hardly ever happens onscreen, all I have to do is the hardest things authors ever do which is change my mind and decide somebody else is the killer.

The first time that happened to me was in the second Beaumont book. I was 50 pages from the end of the book when I found out that the guy I thought was the killer didn't do it. I was arguing with him on the computer screen: What do you mean you didn't do it? And people asked me if I had to go back and change the clues? No: he was innocent the whole time. [Laughs]

That's fun. And it must explain at least part of why your novels are so compelling. I mean, if you don't even know...

I write to get to the end and find out what happened. I write for the same reason readers read. I think one assumes that when a book stops, it stops. But that is erroneous -- at least it is for me -- because my characters go on living their lives and I don't know what they've been up to until I turn on my computer and find out what's been going on. It's like getting a Christmas letter once a year from an old friend. And so at the end of Breach of Duty Beau comes in to the kitchen to find his newly widowed grandmother doing K.P. duty with his A.A. sponsor Lars Jensen. Well, by the time Birds of Prey started they were on their honeymoon. [Laughs]

You know, Judy, it sounds like you really like what you do.

Well, that's the thing. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in second grade. I read The Wizard of Oz and I thought: Whoa! Somebody put those words on that page. I want to do that! How do I get to do that?

So I went to the University of Arizona. I signed up to be an English major and then, in 1964, when it was time to sign up for the upper division courses, I said: OK, where's the creative writing class? The professor said: You're a girl. I said: So? He said: Girls become teachers or nurses, boys become writers and he wouldn't let me into his class.

So I became a teacher and then I became a librarian and married a guy who was allowed in that course that was closed to me because I was a girl. My first husband, coma, the rat, coma, he imitated Faulkner and Hemingway primarily by drinking too much and writing too little. Never had anything published, but that didn't keep him from telling me, in 1968: There's only going to be one writer in our family and I'm it.

I put my writing ambitions away and I never touched them again for 12 years until I was a single parent, divorced with two little kids, no child support, a full-time job selling life insurance and I wrote from four o'clock to seven o'clock every morning. But as soon as I started writing, even before I was making any money, even while I was writing that 1200 page manuscript that nobody ever bought, once I got into the process I felt like someone had put this wonderful down comforter around my shoulders and I was doing what I had always been meant to do.

My new editor -- she's relatively new, we've done six books together -- she'd never read any of the books that came out before. She loved Kiss of the Bees, but she'd never read the first book. Hour of the Hunter came out in 1990, that was my first thriller. And Kiss of the Bees takes up with many of those characters 20 years later.

It's 20 years later in the characters' lives?

Yeah. Twenty years has passed. And in Hour of the Hunter you learn about the character's previous lives, before then. And in Kiss of the Bees, the book takes place over about 72 hours and you learn about the intervening 20 years in flashbacks.

So in some ways it's a sequel?

It isn't in some ways. In my heart it is a sequel to Hour of the Hunter, which is my favorite book. And why? Well, let's see. It's a story about a teacher on an Indian reservation but she really wants to be a writer. She too has a husband who tells her there's only going to be one writer in their family. He's dead at the beginning of the book. And as for the crazed killer? He turns out to a former professor of creative writing from the University of Arizona. [Laughs] I love it!

Is your first husband still alive?

My first husband died of chronic alcoholism at the age of 42 a year and a half after I divorced him. I spent 18 years trying to find out what made the guys in the bars more interesting than I was. So I went to the bars with him and I listened to how those guys talked and I really tried to understand what made them tick. It's research that has served me in very good stead because when it's time to write a Beaumont book, I put my head into all of that stuff I learned and I write those books in the first person: through a middle-aged male homicide cop's point of view. And it must work because to this day I have people who tell me: A retired Seattle homicide cop writes these books and you're just a front for him. [Laughs]

Is there a police connection for you? Or lots of research?

The police connection is this: In 1970 when my first husband and I were teaching on the reservation, we lived 30 miles from town: 30 miles in either direction. I had to stay late to decorate for a prom on the 22nd of May of 1970. We were having company and my husband hitchhiked home and when we went into town that night to have dinner with our company we got stopped at a roadblock. The deputy said: There was a homicide on the reservation. And we said: Was it an Indian or an Anglo? He said it was an Anglo and we said: It's nobody we know, then.

We drove to the trading post to get gas. At the trading post I heard the clerk talking to a deputy and she said something about two little kids and something about a man in a green car. So when I got back out to the car I recorded that conversation and my husband said: You know, I wonder if that's the guy that gave me a ride home this afternoon? So we went back to the trading post and told them that my husband had been given a ride home that afternoon by a man in a green car. At 6:30 the next morning a guy named Jack Lyons, who was Pima County's only homicide detective, was at our house. He told us that the previous afternoon a woman who was on her way to Mexico with her two children for the weekend had been forced off the highway at gunpoint, shot, raped and left to die.

About two hours later some Indian miners came driving along the road and they saw these two little Anglo kids -- a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old -- walking along the highway, 70 miles from Tucson at the end of May -- it's hot, it's summer in Tucson. So they stopped and said: What are you doing? And the little boy said: We're walking on the beach. And they said: Where's your mommy? And the little boy said: She's over there. She's dead.

She wasn't dead then, but she died before they got her to the hospital. So Jack Lyons interviewed my husband from 6:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. And I listened to the entire interview. He got him to remember these interesting, telling details. For instance, on the seat between my husband and the driver, was a personal check that had been shredded. He recognized the check stock, because we used the same bank. But [Jack] got him to remember the woman's name: it was Carol. Actually, her name was "Caroline" but "Carol" was all that showed up on the signature. That was on Saturday.

On Sunday we went in and looked at cars until my husband could say he'd been given a ride home in a green Maverick. On Monday he did a composite drawing of the guy who gave him a ride and the little 4-year-old boy said: That's the man who killed my mommy.

On Tuesday Jack Lyons went to Union Bank. He interrogated for all joint accounts with the name "Carol." Then he took that list, went to the Department of Motor Vehicles looking for green Mavericks and by Wednesday he had the killer. But, when he started investigating, he realized he was dealing with a serial killer who killed people at 20 minutes after two on the 22nd day of the month. So he didn't want to make a premature arrest, but as we got closer to July 22nd, Jack was really worried because the incidents had been compressing so they picked him up on the 20th day of July. When they did, he admitted to having been to our house on three separate occasions in the intervening 60 days. We could very well have been July 22nd.

That's what I wrote the 1200 page book about. And it was a very thinly fictionalized true crime book.

And one day you're going to go back to it.

No, I'm not. I'm not! I'll tell you why in a minute.

I got an agent. My agent said: This is your first book. She didn't even open the box. She said: Cut it in half. So I did. I slimmed it down to 600 pages. And then she started trying to sell it. The editors that turned it down said that the stuff that was fictionalized was fine and the stuff that was real was stupid: nobody would ever do it like that. So Alice, who never sold my first book, but who is still my agent, said: Well, why don't you try writing something that's totally fictional? So I wrote the first Detective Beaumont book, which was bought by the second editor who saw it.

What year was that?

I wrote it in 1983. It was sold in 84 and came out in 85.

In 1985 I went down to Tucson to do a signing of the first Beaumont book: Until Proven Guilty. I arrived at the [bookstore] and there were three people waiting there for me that I never expected to see. The widowed husband and the two little kids of the woman who was murdered on the reservation 15 years before.... they came to the signing thinking that book was going to be about their dead wife and mother and looking at their faces I could see that their lives had been irretrievably shattered. I stopped writing true crime on the spot. I put that book away.

When, after writing nine Beaumont books, I was thinking about knocking him off. My editor said: Oh remember that book you wrote that nobody ever bought? How about if you work on that book and we turn that into your first hardback?

Well, two things had happened. Number one: I didn't want to write a book that would bring that stuff up for that family. Number two: That killer, who is still in prison in Arizona, had been an exemplary prisoner. In the feel-good 80s they were thinking about letting him out. And I didn't want to write a book that he'd be able to say to his pals: Hey you guys, this is a book about me. So I said: OK, I will sell you a book called Hour of the Hunter on the condition that I totally rewrite it.

Here I had a contract for a book. I had a paycheck: that was very nice. I had a deadline and that wasn't so good because I didn't have a bad guy. This created my worst ever case of writer's block. It was so bad that when my University of Arizona alumni magazine came I read it from cover to cover. Right at the back -- right before the obituaries -- was a little box article that said the newly reconstituted creative writing program at the University of Arizona was just doing swimmingly. So I said to Bill -- my second husband, the nice one -- I said I graduated from there and I have all of these books out and all this time has passed. Maybe all is forgiven and they would like me to come down and be writer in residence for a semester in the sun? And he said: Well, call them up. Ask them.

Well, I sold life insurance for 10 years. I'm not afraid of doing a cold call. So I called them up, I told them who I was, when I graduated, what name I graduated under and I had all of these books and would they like me to come teach creative writing? And the young man I spoke to on the phone -- and this is a direct quote [She pitches her voice into a good approximation of a well-educated young male with an attitude]: Oh. We don't do anything with genre fiction. We only do literary fiction.

It was a miracle! I was cured of writer's block on the spot and Andrew Philip Carlisle went right into Hour of the Hunter. [Laughs]

The stories and legends in both Hour of the Hunter and Kiss of the Bees are the real stories and legends I learned as a storyteller on the reservation. I didn't change them. But the wonderful thing about legends is they have applications. In Hour of the Hunter Diana Ladd wanted to be a writer so badly that she was neglecting her son. And then I discovered the legend of the woman who loved field hockey so much that she neglected her baby. I thought: Whoa! These are the same stories! That was when I decide to weave the legends in.

When it was time to start Kiss of the Bees the book didn't have a title, I didn't know anything about the book. The only thing I did know is when I was on the reservation you hear some stories and -- I don't know -- they just haunt you the rest of your life. There was a little girl who had been abandoned by her birth parents, left in the care of an elderly relative and she was the only child in the village. When school started, the other kids would get on the bus and she was there by herself. One early September she nearly died from being stung by ants when she fell into an ant bed and her elderly relative was deaf as a post and didn't hear her screaming. I wanted a character like that.

When I was writing Hour of the Hunter my husband found this wonderful book by Harold Bell Wright called Long Ago Told that had some of the legends I had learned on the reservation and a lot I hadn't heard. When I was writing Hour of the Hunter there was such magic and when I was going to write a sequel I felt: Well, what if the magic doesn't come back? What am I going to do then?

The night before I knew I had to start -- because deadlines come and you have to start on a certain day -- the night before I went into the bedroom -- Bill was in his office working -- I got down my copy of Long Ago Told and it fell open to the story of a woman who in a time of terrible drought was saved from death by the beating of the wings of the little people: bees and wasps; butterflies and moths. And when the drought was over and she was still alive, she went on to become a great medicine woman. I got goose bumps! I had them then and I still have them now. I leaped out of bed and I went running into Bill and I said: The magic is back! I can write this book. And that's how the book came to be called Kiss of the Bees.

And, in many ways, that was your breakthrough book. Because it seems like the typical overnight sensation: and here you've been plugging away for 20 years. Kiss of the Bees was fairly huge. Has it been your biggest selling book so far?

It was. I think it would have made more of an impression if they had gone ahead and, well, they were concerned that not enough people had read Hour of the Hunter that they could afford to call it a sequel. But I do wish they had made some reference to the previous book, because...

Yeah, but up the road, I'll bet they'll start marketing them together and they'll sell all over again.

Particularly when they get the iguana off the cover of Hour of the Hunter. When they showed me the cover of that I did point out that there hadn't been iguanas in Arizona since the great flood.

Which great flood?

The Noah's Ark great flood! [Laughs] You know, that one.

Birds of Prey will likely be huge.

I think so. But I'm worried about people who haven't read me before. Because you're walking into a series 15 books along the way and writing a book like that is always sort of walking a tightrope. You have to introduce the characters in this book, but you also have to introduce the ongoing characters and you have to do it in a way that a new reader will feel like they've gotten a whole book, but your regular readers won't be bored silly.

I wanted to tell you, there had been sort of a three year hiatus in J.P. Beaumont's life, so when Breach of Duty came out, in Seattle we had what we called the Beau's Back Ball. We had a dinner dance, we had a live band, it was a benefit for the YWCA and their women's shelter program. We had a J.P. Beaumont lookalike contest.

Who got to judge? You, I guess.

No. We got three ladies from the media to come in and judge.

But who else knows what he looks like? Just you.

That's right. He actually looks a whole lot like Jack Lyons from Pima County in 1970, but that's another story.

At that event, we announced in advance that if anybody came and wrote a check for a $10,000 donation to the YWCA they could be a character in the next book. Not only did somebody show up with his checkbook, he donated to the endowment fund, which promptly turned it into a $20,000 donation.

And that was for this book? Birds of Prey?

Yes. Marc Alley. He is a real person. And a couple of years ago -- four years ago now -- he was having two and three grand mal seizures a day.

That's true?

That's all true.

And he's an important character in Birds of Prey.

Hey! [Laughs] For 20 grand he better be in the book from beginning to end.

So, the next thing that happens is Breach of Duty is out. I get on the phone with my mother. Have you read any of the Joanna Brady books?

No.

Well, if you read any of the Joanna Brady books when you encounter Joanna Brady's mother you will have met my mother. And my mother said: You know, I really like that [character.] She's the first character in fiction I ever met who really knows how the world works. [Laughs]

So now, we'd just had the Beau's Back Ball. The tickets were $75 a piece and over 100 people came. We raised over $25,000 for the Y that night. So, I'm on the phone with my mother. My mother lives in Bisbee, Arizona where the Joanna Brady books are set. She lived there until a month ago when she and my dad moved to an assisted living facility near Phoenix, but they'd lived in Bisbee for 50 years. They both belong to Kiwanis and the hospital in Bisbee, Arizona didn't have a helipad. If somebody needed to be airlifted in and out of the hospital, the first thing that had to happen was the fire department had to go over to the elementary school across the street from the hospital, they had to scrape all the kids off the playground, then they had to water it down with a hose, then the helicopter landed and the patient would be transported by ambulance.

Now this is sort of a cumbersome process when you're dealing with someone in critical condition. The Kiwanis Club decided that they were going to see about installing a helipad. They went out to a contractor and they got a bid. This contractor said: For $104,000 I will build you a helipad and this bid is good for two years. They had two years to raise $104,000. Now there are 6000 people in Bisbee, Arizona. Many of them falteringly elderly. But they had bake sales. They had rummage sales.

At this point, I'm talking on the phone to my mother and I said: I'm going to be down in Arizona on tour with this book. I went to the Greenway School where the kids couldn't have the playground day after day. And I said: How about I do a book signing and a speech at Greenway School and call it "Going Back to Greenway" and it'll be a benefit for the helipad project?

My mother said: How much would you charge?

And I said: Well, we just had this big party in Seattle, and the tickets were $75 a piece.

She said: This is Bisbee. I don't think you can charge more than three bucks. [Laughs]

So eventually I got hold of somebody else and they raised the ticket price to $15. I mean, it was a benefit, after all. Even so, I could see we were a long way from $104,000. So I called my mother back and I said: Look. At the Beau's Back Ball we auctioned off the right to be a character in the next Beaumont book. And I understand what you told me about the Bisbee economy. But how about for $1000 somebody could be a character in the next Joanna Brady book?

She said: I don't think it would work.

Well, I found somebody who did think it would work and that's what we did. And 11 people paid $1000 bucks. [Laughs] They're all in Devil's Claw under their own names! So, a week after the event, which raised within a few dollars of $14,000, the superintendent of the mining company for Bisbee called the president of the Kiwanis Club and said: How much money do you have right now. And the guy from Kiwanis said: Well, with the $14,000 we made last week, we've got $34,000. The guy said: Done. You give me $34,000, I'll build you a working helipad. And he did. So that's how my name is on a plaque at the hospital in Bisbee, Arizona!

When you put real people in a book, how much research do you do on them?

I interviewed Marc and learned about his struggles. With the people from Arizona, I had each of them send me a bio. So they ended up under their own names, doing stuff they would be doing in their regular lives.

That's fun! Do you think anyone exaggerated?

It doesn't matter. It's fiction.

And Bisbee has a helipad.

But I guess you could tell I have fun with this job. The grand opening signings are always benefits for the YWCA. I had a good education. I had a good job. And I still spent 18 years with a man who was dying of booze because, if I left, I was afraid of what might happen. I finally divorced him when he showed up at my 6-year-old son's T-ball game so drunk at five o'clock in the afternoon that when the game was over he crawled on his hands and knees from the bleachers back to the car. I was there with my children and my children's friends and my children's friends parents. And there was my husband on his hands and knees. And I thought: You know, if loving him for 18 years would fix him, he'd be well by now. I'd better bail. And that's when I moved him out of the house and got a divorce.

You were with him for 18 years!

Yes.

You are so strong.

Well he was hospitalized nine times for chronic alcoholism. [Laughs] I'm just a slow learner! Don't give me too much credit.

I think I'm really lucky success didn't come all at once. I think for the people who hit it big the first time and don't have any sense of gratitude for the long climb. The reason I always do benefits for the Y is for so many women stuck in tough situations, the kinds of shelter programs that the YWCA has are some of those women's only way to out. I had a good education, a good job and a supportive family and I still didn't leave.

How old are your kids now?

OK. This is another long story. I don't write short stories! When my husband -- the first one -- forbade me to write he would pass out around seven o'clock at night. So I wrote poetry and hid it away. And when he died I had to go to the strong box to get out the marriage certificate and the birth certificates and all of that and in there was all of this poetry I had written over the years. And, when I was writing it, I thought I was doing art. But, reading it after he died, I could see very clearly that I was using it as a journal and using it as a survival mode. By looking at it as art I could be more dispassionate about my life and sort of gain some perspective. That poetry ended up being published as a little chapbook 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,
But 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.

He died a few minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve of 1982/83. He went into DTs Thanksgiving Night. He was hospitalized with no kidney or liver function and he lingered in the hospital for a month before he died. And his mother and I were both with him when he died.

After the Fire came out in 1984. In 1985 I was asked to do a poetry reading at a widowed retreat. And I went with a great deal of trepidation because I was divorced when my husband died, all of these other people were still married so I felt like I hadn't quite had my ticket punched. When he died, I was upset, but people said: What are you upset about? You got a divorce, didn't you? So I was sort of stuck.

I got to that widowed retreat and the people there said: Well, that's what this is all about. If you feel like grieving, do it here. That night I went to my first grief workshop and we were in this large room. I was seated next to the facilitator, because I was still very nervous. We were supposed to say our name, our spouse's name, when they died and what they died of. I said my name was Judy, my spouse's name was Jerry, he died of chronic alcoholism on New Year's Eve of 1982.

A third of the way around the room was a guy who said his name was Bill, his wife's name was Lynn, she died of breast cancer on New Year's Eve of 1984. This was an incredible coincidence, so I waited to see what he was going to say and when it was time to talk I said I'd been on my own for five years, nobody was ringing my bell, so obviously my life as a woman was over. I was raising my kids, writing my books and making the best of a bad bargain. Then I waited to see what that guy was going to say. He didn't say anything. Nothin'. So by the time the grief workshop was over, I was pissed at him. Because I had shared and he had not shared.

They had a bonfire outside with marshmallows and all that stuff. I went striding up to him with a chip this deep on my shoulder and I said: Well, what are you? Strong, silent type? And he said: Well, no. It still hurts too much to talk about. Within five minutes I was literally crying on his shoulder and I was thinking: Oh my God, how stupid, but it sorta feels good. And he was standing with one hand around my waist trying to figure out what he should do with the other hand.

That was on the 21st of June. On the 21st of December we told our five kids: Well, you're not the Brady Bunch. And we got married.

The youngest is 26 and the eldest is 36. They were 11 to 21 when we got married.

And I understand you have a couple of interestingly named dogs.

Aggie and Daphne. For Agatha Christie and Daphne DuMaurier.

Not every writer continues their work from book to book. What do you think it is that makes you do that?

Well, part of it is the care and feeding of the creative person. If I were Sue Grafton and had painted myself into a 26-book series where I always had to write about the same people I would have killed myself and my detective. But by being able to move from series to series and locale to locale, I think it helps keep it fresh. And I think you'll notice that with Beau in this book, it's like: Oh, I'm glad to see him and I get to spend some time with him again.

The "J.A." was imposed on you, wasn't it?

Yes it was. Because, Alice, my agent, when I gave her my first manuscript -- the manuscript for Until Proven Guilty -- she retyped the title page and changed it from Until Proven Guilty by Judith Ann Jance to Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance. And the editor [she sent it to] called her back and said: The guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty is a good writer. And she said: Well, what would you say if I told you that guy was a woman? And he said: I'd say she was a helluva good writer. When they bought the book, when it came time for a marketing meeting he said: Well, nobody will read a police procedural written by somebody named "Judy." So that's where the J.A. came from. | February 2001

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, is published by St. Martin's Minotaur.