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Meet the WritersImage of J. A. Jance
J. A. Jance
Considering J. A. Jance's now impressive career -- which includes two massively popular mystery series and status as a New York Times bestseller -- it may be difficult to believe that she was initially strongly discouraged from literary pursuits. A chauvinistic creative writing professor advised her to seek out a more "ladylike" job, such as nurse or schoolteacher. Moreover, her alcoholic husband (a failed Faulkner wannabe) assured her there was room in the family for only one writer, and he was it. Determined to make her doomed marriage work, Jance put her writing on the back burner. But while her husband slept, she penned the visceral poems that would eventually be collected in After the Fire.

Jance next chose to use her hard times in a more unlikely manner. Encouraged by an editor to try writing fiction after a failed attempt at a true-crime book, she created J. P. Beaumont, a homicide detective with a taste for booze. Beaumont's drinking problem was clearly linked to Jance's dreadful experiences with her first husband; but, as she explains it: "Beaumont was smart enough to sober up, once the problem was brought to his attention. My husband, on the other hand, died of chronic alcoholism at age 42." So, from misfortune grew one of the most popular characters in modern mystery fiction. Beaumont debuted in 1985's Until Proven Guilty -- and, after years of postponing her writing career, Jance was on her way.

As a sort of light flipside to the dark Beaumont, Jance created her second series in 1991. Inspired by the writer's happier role as a mom, plucky small-town sheriff Joanna Brady was introduced in Desert Heat and struck an immediate chord with readers. In 2005, Jance added a third story sequence to her repertoire with Edge of Evil, featuring Ali Reynolds, a former TV reporter-turned-professional blogger.

And so, the adventures continue! A career such as Jance's would be extraordinary under any circumstances, but considering the obstacles she overcame to become a bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist, her tale is all the more compelling. As she explains it: "One of the wonderful things about being a writer is that everything -- even the bad stuff -- is usable."

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Good to Know
Geographically speaking, Jance is equal parts J. P. Beaumont and Joanna Brady. She splits her time between Beaumont's big-city home of Seattle and Brady's desert residence of Arizona.

Before her writing career become truly lucrative, Jance made little more than "fun money" off her books, and on her web site, she wryly recalls "the Improbable Cause trip to Walt Disney World; the Minor in Possession memorial powder room; the Payment in Kind memorial hot tub."

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What was the book that most influenced your life?
As soon as I read The Wizard of Oz in second grade, I knew that someone had put those words on the page, and I wanted to be a person who did that.

Tell us about your favorite books.

  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg. It made me laugh out loud.

  • Key to Rebecca. I loved the suspense.

  • The Treasury of the Familiar. This is an anthology of poetry my father read to my brothers and sisters and me when we were kids. Some of the poems I can still recite by heart.

  • Hour of the Hunter. It was my first non-series book, and it's one that sucks me back into reading it whenever I pick it up, even though I'm the one who wrote it.

  • The Clan of the Cave Bear. While I was getting a divorce, I didn't read at all. This was the first book I chose once I started reading again.

  • Ladies of the Club. I loved the pace of this book, the way it took it's time to spin out all those connected but separate lives. It made me wish I had lived a more settled life.

  • The Death and Life of Bobby Z. This was an amazingly violent book yet there was a very real moral compass at work behind the story.

  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. I loved being lost in the magic of Harry Potter's world. I loved the plotting, the order, the outrageousness of some of the characters, and the fact that it really is a story of good versus evil.

    Favorite films?

  • High Noon
  • Oklahoma
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Chocolat

    Favorite music?

  • Mozart
  • Gentleman Jim Reeves
  • Patsy Cline

    Who are your favorite writers?

  • J. K. Rowling is right at the top of the list. For one thing, she's hooked millions of young readers back into the magic of reading books. But I love the way all the loose ends are tied up in her books. And, as I said before, the battles between good and evil are very clear in her books. Also, since they're not mysteries, I can enjoy them without being concerned about the dangers of cross-pollination.

  • C. Day Lewis came to the University of Arizona to read his poetry. His poetry, especially his retelling of the Baucis and Philemon myth, can still move me to tears.

  • John D. MacDonald. His Travis McGee books showed me it was possible to write a series of books with an on-going character.
  • Lindsey Davis. Her P.I. is a private informer working for Caesar. Reading her books teaches a whole lot about Roman history.

  • Michael Connelly. A pro.

    What else do you want your readers to know?
    The ancient sacred charge of the storyteller is to beguile the time. And that's how I see my book -- as storytelling. There's no higher praise than to be told that reading my books helped get someone through the long waiting-room hours of a loved-one's serious illness. But be advised -- people tell me that reading my books is like eating Fritos -- you don't read just one.

    My favorite way to unwind is to spend time with my two red-dog golden retrievers, Aggie and Daphne, after Agatha Christie and Daphne DuMaurier.

    I'm a woman with a husband, five children, three grandchildren, and two dogs.

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  • About the Writer
    *J. A. Jance Home
    * Biography
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    In Our Other Stores
    * Signed, First Editions by J. A. Jance
    *After the Fire, 1985
    *Until Proven Guilty , 1985
    *Injustice for All, 1986
    *Trial by Fury , 1986
    *Taking the Fifth, 1987
    *Improbable Cause , 1988
    *A More Perfect Union, 1989
    *Dismissed with Prejudice, 1989
    *Minor in Possession, 1990
    *Desert Heat, 1991
    *Payment in Kind, 1991
    *Hour of the Hunter, 1991
    *Without Due Process, 1992
    *Failure to Appear, 1993
    *Tombstone Courage, 1994
    *Lying in Wait, 1994
    *Shoot Don't Shoot, 1995
    *Name Withheld, 1995
    *Dead to Rights, 1996
    *Skeleton Canyon, 1997
    *Rattlesnake Crossing, 1998
    *Breach of Duty, 1998
    *Outlaw Mountain, 1999
    *Kiss of the Bees, 2000
    *Devil's Claw, 2000
    *Birds of Prey, 2001
    *Paradise Lost, 2001
    *Partner in Crime, 2002
    *Exit Wounds, 2003
    *Day of the Dead, 2004
    *Long Time Gone, 2005
    *Dead Wrong, 2006
    *Web of Evil: A Novel of Suspense, 2007
    *Justice Denied, 2007
    Photo by Jerry Bauer