Book City: 48 books and J.A. Jance still isn't tired

The best-selling author dishes on her prolific career, her favorite characters and the Wizard of Oz.
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New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance

The best-selling author dishes on her prolific career, her favorite characters and the Wizard of Oz.

J. A. Jance is a New York Times best-selling author. She’s sold more than 20 million copies of her paperback mysteries, including the popular Joanna Brady and J.P. Beaumont series. Jance grew up in Arizona, where she worked as a teacher and a librarian before moving to Seattle after a divorce and starting to write mysteries. Now she lives with her husband in Tucson, Ariz., and in Bellevue, Wash., where her garden has words of poetry engraved on stones and arbors.

Valerie Easton: What books are lying open on your nightstand right now?

J.A. Jance: “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson. I’m really enjoying it. … It’s set in England, a story about the generation gap. I just finished “The Sign of the Book” by John Dunning.

Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?

“Breaking the Code” by Karen Alainz. It’s a daughter’s attempt to understand her father’s experiences as a code breaker in the Pacific during World War II and to deal with some of the confounding emotional issues stemming from that history that still resonate in her family to this day.

How many books have you written to date? How many series, and how can you be so prolific?

I’ve been telling stories, essentially writing fiction, since I could talk. As of this weekend, I just finished the next Ali Reynolds book. That will be my 48th book. The Beaumont book due this September, “Second Watch,” will be No. 47. I have four separate series: J.P. Beaumont, Ali Reynolds, Joanna Brady and the Walker Family.

Do you have one series hero or heroine you prefer spending time with? Do you have favorites among your books?

After spending decades with all of them, they’re like a group of comfortable old friends who periodically walk through my life. They’re part of our family’s conversation. As a character, Beaumont is my literary first-born and I still like him, 21 books later.

For years, my favorite book has been the first Walker book, “Hour of the Hunter.” HOTH, as we call it in our family. Once “Second Watch” comes out, however, HOTH may well be displaced. Since Beaumont is getting a little long in the tooth, “Second Watch” is a prequel to the first Beaumont book. It takes place, in part, in the Vietnam era of the early 1970s. I often use real places and pieces of real life in my books, and the new Beaumont book has really gotten into my soul with pieces from Vietnam. It’s a literary thank you to all who served.

Have any of your books been sparked by something you’ve read?

The use of sodium azide as a poison in “Partner in Crime” grew out of reading an article written about that dangerous stuff in my University of Arizona alumni magazine.

What were your most cherished childhood books? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

“Smoky the Crow.”… I have no idea who the author was. All of the “The Wizard of Oz” books by L. Frank Baum. I loved the 'ꀨNancy Drew and the Hardy Boys books, and Albert Payson Terhune’s books, starting with “Lad, a Dog.” I read every one of the The Black Stallion books.

Mostly animal books?

My book, “Partner in Crime,” is dedicated to all of the dogs I’ve owned. Animals and books are a lifetime thing for me.

Can you recall a specific book or author that inspired you to become an author yourself?

I was in second grade in Bisbee, Ariz., when Mrs. Spangler introduced me to “The Wizard of Oz.” Other kids might have been struck by the thought of a wizard hiding behind a green curtain. What I glimpsed was Frank Baum hiding behind the words. As soon as I realized that, I wanted to be the person putting the words on paper.

When I was older, John D. McDonald’s books showed me that it was possible to write series books for adults. Of course there were plenty of others out there, including the Perry Mason books by Erle Stanley Gardner. But it was McDonald’s character Travis Magee who really spoke to me.

Can you think of a particularly powerful passage from a book that’s stuck with you? That you return to?

“Walking Away” is a poem C. Day-Lewis wrote about his 23-year-old son at a soccer match. When the match ends, the boy is torn between going with his father and going with his friends, finally choosing the latter. The poem ends with the following:

“I have had worse partings, but none that so gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly saying what God alone could perfectly show — how selfhood begins with walking away, and love is proved in the letting go.”

Have you read a well-reviewed or popular book lately that you felt didn’t live up to the hype?

Yes. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn.

Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years?

Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café,” and Bernard Weber’s “An Anteater Named Arthur.”

Do you read mysteries by other authors? If so, which are your favorite authors and/or titles?

John Dunning, Lee Child, Dan Silva, Michael Connolly, Tana French, Jo Nesbø and Harlan Coban.

When and where do you settle down to read? To write?

I both read and write in comfy chairs — either in my family room or, depending on the weather, on the back veranda with a view of the garden. Because we now have heaters there, it can be comfortable even when the weather isn’t all that warm.

What book do you plan to write next?

'ꀨI’ll be writing Joanna Brady No. 16.

Read next?

John Dunning’s “The Bookman’s Last Fling.”

What Val’s Reading This Week: Dan Pearson’s “Home Ground: Sanctuary In the City” is the very personal tale of how this famous garden writer created his own little sanctuary of a garden in the heart of London. Sure, it’s about plants, but it’s more about seasons and the solace of nature. And how, after he finishes up one garden, he decides to move on to the next.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.