Strangers on a Train

How’s this for a plot line?  Two strangers meet on a train.  The moment they do, there’s an almost magic melding of their minds and spirits.  They understand each other completely.  They can read the other’s thoughts.  It’s as though they were always destined to be together.  Still, in the beginning, it seems like only a passing fancy–that they’d simply meet, spend a little time together, and then move on to someone or something else.  But they don’t.  In fact, they’ve stuck together through thick and thin for the next thirty plus years.

Does this sound like something you may have read in a book?  It’s actually the story of my life, not my life with my husbands.  I met the first one of those in a college dormitory vestibule in October of 1962 and the second one at a widowed retreat in Washington state in 1985.  No, the stranger I met on a train in March of 1983 was homicide detective J.P. Beaumont, and he’s been my constant companion ever since.

In 1983 I had spent the previous six months working on what would become the first Beaumont book, Until Proven Guilty.  The problem was, the story wasn’t going anywhere.  I realize now that I was trying to tell the story through the wrong point of view.  That year, when it was time for Spring Break, I sent my kids to Camp Orkila on Orcas Island for five days and I sent myself to Portland to stay with a friend I had met years earlier while working in the insurance business.

I got on the train with a stack of blue-lined notebooks and a fistful of pens.  As the train pulled out of Seattle’s King Street Station I thought, “What if I tried to write this book through the detective’s point of view?”

I pulled out one of the notebooks and wrote these words:

She was probably a cute kid once, four maybe five years old. It was hard to tell that now. She was dead. The murder weapon was a pink Holly Hobbie gown. What little was left of it was still twisted around her neck. It wasn’t pretty, but murder never is.

In that moment, I was suddenly inside Beau’s head, listening to his thoughts, walking around the crime scene in his shoes, seeing it through his eyes.  You’ll find that those handwritten words made it from the blue-lined notebook stage into the original paperback that was published in 1985.  How do I know that?  The handwritten manuscript for Until Proven Guilty still exists.  That notebook, along with my other papers, are part of the Women of Mystery Collection at the University of Arizona Library.

In Portland that week, I was suddenly one fire.  I wrote 35,000 words by hand and had blisters on my fingers to prove it.  The book had constructed itself in my head.  What I had to do, once I had the right point of view, was to get the story down on paper.  (I had already bought my first computer by then but I still hadn’t learned how to use it, and in 1983 there was no way I could take my Eagle PC with me on a train.)

It’s been more than thirty years and twenty one books between that first book and Second Watch. In the course of writing the stories, Beau and I have lived through plenty of adventures together.  Amazingly enough, he can still surprise me.  We’ve visited lots of places together.  In Partner in Crime it was interesting to see Bisbee, Arizona, through the eyes of a born and bred Northwesterner.  I still laugh at the start of Failure to Appear where Beau is awakened by a telephone call from his first wife’s second husband calling to let Beau know that his daughter, Kelly, has decamped with her boyfriend.  And being a mouse in the corner when J.P. visited the Twelve Step Biker Bar on 85th was an experience to be remembered.

Even now, more than twenty books into the series, Beau still does things that surprise me.  The way he looks at the world and the things he says can make me laugh.  And cry.  As Sancho Panza would say, “I like him.  I really like him.”

As for my husband?  Bill, and I have lived in this peculiar ménage á trois arrangement with that stranger from the train for twenty-eight years now.  I can tell you, and Bill likes J.P., too.

12 thoughts on “Strangers on a Train

  1. Sorry, I missed the book signing in Scottsdale last night. I don’t get back to AZ for two more weeks. I’m about half way through Second Watch and thoroughly enjoying it.

    It’s strange how these fictional people feel like long time friends. A real Comfort Zone.

  2. I was reading a review on Amazon this morning where the reviewer wondered just how old Beau is. I commented that I didn’t remember seeing a year or even a birthday mentioned. I wondered if I missed it. Have you ever given him a birthday? What sign is he? 🙂

  3. Does being a part of the Women of Mystery Collection officially make you a mysterious woman? 😉 Is Beau your favorite character and the one who most reflects your perspectives? Beau and Ali have grown on me, but Joanna remains my favorite. Looking forward to reading Second Watch very soon.

  4. I’m always thrilled to read your blog. You share so much of yourself in them, it helps us to know you, and your characters much better. Got “After the Fire” Saturday, completed it Sunday last week. It was somewhat of a shock to see that we walked some of the same paths, some in different ways. It was an emotional experience for me as well as some of your poetry touched me to the core of my soul, and did ‘lite it on fire.’ Your passion shows through in your work. I love Beau and his experiences, Ali and her growth and challenges, but Joanna still remains my heroine. I’m trying to gain her strengths and pattern some of my life after her. Thank you so much for even beginning these books and pray you continue for many years to come. Hope to see you the 24th.

  5. Marlayne,

    I agree that “After the Fire” is the story of so many of us. I married a man with the old-fashioned mind set as Judy’s first husband. He made the decisions, I was expected to go along quietly. It lasted 16 years. The poems in this book are wonderful. I read all of the bio parts first and then went back and read them with the poems. Powerful words.

  6. I have re-read Until Proven Guilty several times. Doesn’t it have a new name now? What always struck me is how clever it was about the phone number and how it played into solving the crime. Thinking like a child, I still shake my head when I read that portion and I know it is coming.
    reeter

  7. I loved Second Watch. I have grown to love the “Beau” books. I didn’t like him at first because of his drinking. After he joined AA, I became his fan too. I still love Joanna Brady and family and the Ali Reynolds, and all the stand alone books too. All of these people seem like friends to me, and I am entertained and fascinated by all the things happening to them. I hope it stays on the Best Sellers list for many weeks to come.

  8. I like the character of Joanna and I haven’t yet read the Ali series however Beau is my currently my favorite. He is kind and sensitive and often argues and rationalizes with himself. He has high moral standards. I’ve loved him from the beginning and now love the relationship he has with Mel. Keep the stories coming!

  9. I just started Second Watch and I know it’s going to be another winner. I love hearing what J.P. Beaumont is thinking and feeling. Thanks for giving us J. P. Beaumont.

  10. Kudos to Ms Jance!! I have read all your books and look forward to reading Second Chance. My favorite character is also Joanna Brady. She’s a sensitive, gutsy, sweet, tough modern woman! She has a wonderful family who loves her, a fantastic husband who would do anything for her…….Wow…..AND she is the sheriff! Can’t get much better than that!!! Can it? LOL Thank you for all the great reads that you have published. Hope you keep them coming for many, many more years as you do SUCH a tremendous job on them all!! Thanks–your hard work and imagination are much appreciated! 🙂 You never disappoint, that’s for sure!!

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