Tuesday, April 6, 2010
A Conversation with J. A. Jance
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 her dogs, Aggie (with the white face) and Daph, named for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier.
Judy, when did you first know you wanted to become a mystery writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer 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.
Tell us about Fire and Ice and Trial by Fire.
Fire and Ice is the second pairing of my two detectives, Joanna Brady in Arizona and J. P. Beaumont in Seattle. They are working seemingly separate cases but, by the end of the book, they find the two are definitely connected. Beau's parts of the story are told in his first person voice. Joanna's parts are told in the third person.
Trial by Fire, Ali number 5, has her working as a newly appointed Media Relations Officer for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department. 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.
How did your J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady and Ali Reynolds series come into being?
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 in 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.
What in your background prepared you to write grisly crime and horror novels?
I have the dubious honor of having spent sixty days of my life in the early seventies being stalked by a serial killer, someone who is still in prison as I write this. 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.
Where do you do your best writing, in Seattle or Tucson, and why?
I write in both places. 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 color are red and gray.
Who are your favorite authors and which one most influenced your own writing?
I started out reading Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene. But I read John D. McDonald and Mickey Spillane. Those were the people who showed me it was possible to write a series of books for adults.
What’s your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day?
Since I'm on a two book a year schedule, I write every day. I don't have a set number of words. I'm also a wife, mother and grandmother. I like having a life.
What are the basic ingredients for a bestselling novel? How long did it take you to reach the list?
I don't know the basic ingredients. I guess I'd say characters and plots. As for when did I make the list? Fifteen or twenty books ago probably, but making the lists is entirely arbitrary 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.
When did you begin donating a percentage of your bookstore earnings to charities, and which ones?
Very early on. I don't remember exactly. I've been involved with the YWCA, the Humane Society, the Relay for Life, ALS research.
Advice to fledgling writers.
When I bought my first computer--1983--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 5 of the next Ali book.
J. A.'s website is www.jajance.com. She also has a blog there as well as at www.Seattlepi.com in the City Brights section.