Originally Published: February 25, 2010 10:01 p.m.
Speaking "without looking at a teleprompter and nothing on my hand," bestselling author J.A. Jance entertained a packed room of fans this past Saturday with quips about her former deceased husband and vignettes about beloved dogs in her life.
Readers know Jance for her gripping, grizzly mystery novels, notably the Detective J.P. Beaumont and Sheriff Joanna Brady series, but they may not have heard that her path to success threw some hurdles at her along the way.
From the time Jance read "Wizard of Oz" in the second grade, she knew she wanted to be a writer, she said. But, a University of Arizona professor shut her out of a creative writing class because she was a girl and encouraged her to become a teacher or a nurse, instead. What did she do but marry a man in that class who told her, "There's only going to be one writer, and that's me."
Jance said she endured his alcoholism for 18 years before realizing that "loving him hadn't fixed him." Despite his early admonition to her, Jance secretly defied him by writing in the dark of night and scribbling bits of poetry that she hid in a strong box.
When she had had enough, she loaded her kids and a U-Haul trailer and headed out of Arizona to Seattle, Wash., and sold life insurance to survive.
A Dale Carnegie course became the pivotal point in her career. The instructor asked students to "write about an event that had changed their course in life." Jance put pen to paper and wrote about how her life had intersected with a serial killer in Arizona.
This launched her career, but with a bit of a hiccup. Her first attempt at a novel threaded fact among fiction and was too long, yet her agent noticed her talent for fabricating a great tale.
That was 40 novels ago and before Jance let readers know that she was a woman and not a retired law enforcement officer doing the writing.
Jance laced humor and pathos of her early career in a talk at the Prescott Resort to benefit the Yavapai Humane Society, donating her customary fee to the organization, which netted $5,000 from its Tea & Mystery event. The Worm Bookstore was also on hand to sell Jance's books and donated 10 percent of its profits to the Humane Society.
Jance said her first husband was a "bad idea, but in terms of writing murder mysteries, he was a gold mine." And, she warned, "If you have friends who write murder mysteries, don't make them mad. We have a way of getting back."
Now happily married to Bill for many years, Janice fed animal lovers in the audience stories about their dogs and how they have figured in their lives and her writing.
After her family left South Dakota for Bisbee, Ariz., when Jance was young, she carried home from first grade one day "an incredibly ugly puppy" and told her mother that the dog had followed her. As it happened, her grandparents were visiting and when they were sitting at breakfast, she noticed that her grandmother "began feeding toast to something in the arm of her sweater.
"My mom didn't have enough rank too say 'no,'" Jance said, so Daisy became a member of the family, with many other canines to follow in her household and books.
Two goldens, Nikki and Tesla, named after Nicolai Tesla, make a cameo appearance being walked by their owner when J.P. Beaumont finds himself lost in Bellevue, Wash.," in her book, "Taking the Fifth."
Rescued golden, elderly Mandy died of bone cancer after being with Jance and her husband for only six months but lived on for years as Beaumont's grandparents' dog. Pound puppy Bony appears "in tow" of the Walker family in her books, "Hour of the Hunter" and "Kiss of the Bees" as David Ladd's dog, Oho. Goldens Aggie and Daphne, named for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, appear as themselves in a Maddy Watkins short story, "Highest Best Use," and in a novella, "The Case of the London Cabbie." Daphne's "heroic barking alerted us to the presence of an intruder in our bedroom," Jance said, "and gave me the beginning of 'Damage Control.'"
Jance and her husband travel a lot, and she takes trips to book signings and speaking engagements, as well.
No matter what, "I write every day," she said. "My advice to writers is this: Published or not, a writer is someone who has written today."