The Passing of Ann Rule

We lost Ann Rule this past week.  Our paths crossed occasionally over the years, but we were not pals.  By the time my first book was published in 1985, Ann’s blockbuster, The Stranger Beside Me, had been out for five years. She was a big fish in the small pool of local Seattle writers, yet she was always gracious and kind—to everyone, not just to me.

Early on, we were both invited to a “group-grope” signing at a Fred Meyer store in Portland.  A group-grope is where a retailer invites a number of writers to come, sit side-by-side at folding tables, and sign books.  I was seated next to Ann.  There were people in her line—lots of them.  There were no people in my line, and in the long run, that turned out to be a good thing.  Sitting next to Ann for that long hour and a half gave me an opportunity to see a pro at work and to learn how to do book signings.

When a fan came to the head of her line and stood waiting to have a book signed, Ann Rule gave that person her undivided attention.  As far as she was concerned, that fan was the only person in her universe at that point. The person walked away feeling a very real connection to her.  That valuable lesson has stayed with me ever since.  When I do signings, I try to emulate her.  I don’t phone it in.  I give my fans my complete attention.

The two of us did other joint appearances over the years. One was at a library in White Center.  At the time, Ann was working on the Diane Downs case.  She had the librarians move our signing table so she could be seated with her back to the wall while still being able to watch the front door.  She needed to know who was coming in and going out.

Together or apart, we were always out there, laboring in the vineyards and meeting the people.  She told me once, “The two of us are the queens of Bartell Drugs grand openings.”  But we also did grand openings for various Safeway stores and QFCs and for one chain of drugstores that no longer exists.

Back in the eighties, when authors were still routinely invited to Seattle’s end-of-summer extravaganza, Bumbershoot, she and I were booked to do an event together.  I went on stage first and spoke about my not being admitted into a creative writing program at the University of Arizona in 1964 on the grounds that I was a “girl.”  When it came time for Ann to speak, she said that, between the two of us, she didn’t know who was luckier.  She had been admitted into the creative writing program at Oregon State, but half way through the semester the professor took her aside, told her she had no talent, and that she needed to consider some other line of work.

By my count, that makes the score two to nothing with “girls” winning hands down.  Creative writing professors?  Not so much.

Ann Rule wrote “true crime.”  I write “mysteries.”  Both are “genre fiction,” forms of writing those very professors would regard with sneering contempt.  When I write my fictional mysteries, I try to stay away from real cases because real cases affect real people.  Families and loved ones of homicide victims number their days by how their lives were before the homicide happened and how they are after it.

Ann did the opposite.  She worked for a time for the Seattle Police Department long enough ago that female police officers were required to wear pants and high heels but they were not allowed to carry guns.  Her writing strategy was to tell the stories of real crimes in a way that gave victims and loved ones of victims a chance to tell their versions of the crimes that devastated their lives.  In a world of plea bargains and innocence via legal loophole, grieving loved ones have precious little opportunity to speak their minds.  Ann Rule’s books gave them that opportunity.

In the mid-seventies, Washington State was transfixed by a serial killer who traveled the highways and by-ways in a VW, kidnapping young women with long straight hair, murdering them, and dumping them.  I was living in Pe Ell at the time, and when I drove by myself, I was wary.  One day, driving home from Chehalis, I remember seeing a VW parked along the side of the road.  Was that Ted Bundy?  Maybe; maybe not.  I had long blond hair at the time, but I also had two small children in the car with me which meant I didn’t quite meet his victim profile.

At the time, Ann was working the Suicide Crisis Hotline, and she was wary, too.  One night, after her late night shift, she asked her hotline partner to walk her out to the parking lot.  The partner, being a perfect gentleman, immediately complied.  As for the name of Ann Rule’s late night escort?  None other than Ted Bundy himself.  And, as they say, thereby hangs the tale that would become Ann’s first book, her blockbuster—The Stranger Beside Me.

Ann knew about real cases.  She followed them avidly and had connections inside police departments all over the country.  At the writers conference last week, one of my fellow panelists told about doing a signing with Ann a few years back.  It was deja vu all over again with plenty of people in Ann’s line and not many people in the others.  One of Ann’s fans, the last person in line, was just creepy.  The woman seated next to Ann thought she was having a weird reaction to the guy, but when he walked away, Ann turned to her and said, “Do you know who that is?  That’s Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer.”  And that was long before Gary Ridgway was taken into custody and arrested.

Recently, Ann’s name was in the news when cops were called in because her two sons were accused of bilking her out of her funds at a time when she was frail and vulnerable.  One of them allegedly stole money from her checking account while the other contented himself with merely bullying her into handing over the cash.  I firmly believe there’s a special place in hell for greedy relatives who want they what regard as “their” money, and they want it NOW.  I hope so anyway, because that’s the only place Ann Rule will find justice.

Writers write and then they’re gone.  I was just sitting here thinking of some of the ones that are no more:  Tony Hillerman; Vince Flynn; Robert B. Parker; Elmore Leonard.  The list goes on and on.  At some point, I suppose someone will be writing a post like this about me.  I don’t know if I’ll be in the middle of writing my last book when that happens or if I will have delivered it to the publisher, but I do have an idea of what I’d like it to say:

J.A. Jance was a good old broad.  She told a mean story.  She loved her family, her readers, and her dogs.  She walked 10,000 steps a day.

And last night, while I was walking the last 8,000 of those 10,000 steps, I was striding along and thinking about Ann Rule.

Vaya con Dios, Ann.  In my book, you were a good old broad.

33 thoughts on “The Passing of Ann Rule

  1. You learned your lesson well. I was at the OKC book talk and signing where the “gentleman” in the adjoining cafe was so rude and obnoxious. Your obvious contempt stemmed from your AnnRule lesson. You and Bonnie were intent on telling the story that we, your fans, had all come to hear. I gained even more respect for the difficulties of book talks in open settings. Thank you for always looking out for your fans. Now I am off to buy my first Ann Rule book as you give a great recommendation!

  2. I will surely write about you after you’re gone, provided I’m still here. Your mysteries, characters, and plots are so well written and intriguing. You are an inspiration to others of us working on our own writing.

    What is amazing about you and our times is the ability we all have now of having this kind of communication. And the kind of communication and connection that comes from writing, meeting, and observing other writers. To hear about your struggles and to laugh and cry along with you as you share parts of your life as a writer–well that is very special. Thank you so much.

  3. This gave me cold chills as I read it aloud with my daughter. Wow. I have not read Ann Rule’s books yet, but I will now, so thanks for that. As ever, thanks for the stories that keep us all so interested, entertained and contemplative.

  4. Thank you for being the ‘Good Old Broad’ you are. I have read all your books and have enjoyed everyone of them. I have read a few of Ann’s, which I did like, though I am a fiction reader. I get enough true life from the world around me…. I met you years ago at ‘Murder by the Book’ in Multnomah, Or… Portland really and have never forgotten that meeting. Thank you for being the Good Old Broad, who spends time with us other Old Broads…

  5. Thanks for writing this. I have read all her books over the years and followed what was probably one of the earliest author blogs. She wrote the stories about the crime, but it was really about the victims and how the crime came about. I felt so bad reading about her sons. I’m with you, I hope they go to a special place some day.

  6. That was a classy send off for Ann. But I must admit the Gary Ridgeway story gave me the creeps!

    always good to hear your blogs!

  7. Have always loved Ann Rule’s books–she really could cut right to the heart of the matter. I’m glad you and she–two of my very favorite authors–knew each other, and yes, you did learn her lesson on how to treat fans very well. You make each of us feel we really have had at least a small place in your life so that we can express our gratitude for your work!

  8. Thank you for your insightful and eloquent words about a fellow author. You surely learned her lesson well. My husband and I, both huge fans of your work, met you in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, some years ago. We were impressed by your friendliness and warmth. You are indeed a “good old broad.”

  9. I am not going to wait until you are gone. “J.A. Jance was a good old broad. She told a mean story. She loved her family, her readers, and her dogs. She walked 10,000 steps a day.” She treats her reader as very important people. She is family.

  10. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful author. Only you could write and make this persons life come alive .. Thank You.

  11. What an amazing tribute! Now I must read some of her books. I was in Tallahassee at FSU when Ted Bundy was there. I know she has an amazing story! And you are a good old broad. No need to wait to say it after you’re gone!

  12. Thank you for that wonderful tribute to Ann Rule. Usually when I hear a particular writer has passed on, I think “That’s too bad.” In the case of Ann I felt sad. As near asi can tell, I have rear every book she has written. I hzve never met her but feel like I knew her. I can only say that about a few authors. I will miss her and there will be a void in the literary world. I was not aware she was ill and had not heard of any problem with her sons. I totally agree with you, just as there is a special place in heaven for people like Ann, and there has to be a special place in hell for people that physically, mentally or financially abuse the sick or elderly people and animals.

    I feel like I know you even better than Ann. This is because you really bring the fictional characters in your to life. When I read about Jenny I can picture her in my mind. I feel like I know Joanne, her mother, the inlaws, Butch and his parents. They seem like real people as well as the animals. I have a good friend who found out he had a half Brother when was about 30 rears old. His relationship is similar to what you write in your books about Joanne and her half brother. Although they are siblings, it is more like the love good friend would have for each other..

    One thing on my bucket list is to attend one of your book signings. Since I live in Portland, Oregon, this is might be one item I can check off my list, at least I hope so.

    As near as I can tell, I hzve read every one of your books several times and have most of them in my book shelf. There are only a few authors whose books I collect, and yours are on top of my list.

    Should the time come when you pass on, I will definitely feel a big loss and get teary eyed. I doubt I will, say “She was a tough old brood.”. This is because I would never use the term “old brood” to describe any lady, except for maybe Ellinor or Marlissa. I would rather describe you as a wonderful Lady and friend, who showed love, concern and compassion for all those she served thtough her talented writing. This love and compassion is evident in how you portray different scenarios like Junior, and how he loved everyone, yet was looked down upon by people like Butch’s mother. I loved it when he heard her say something derogztory about him and hr responded by saying something like, “I may be slow but that doesn’t mean I am deaf!.” I felt sad when he passed away in a book, I recently read, especially since he was murdered by someone who took advantage of his disability and his love for animals.

    Take care, my Friend.

  13. This was an interesting blog. I was smiling when I read about the novelists that have passed.
    I always loved Tony Hillerman, since I lived for many years in New Mexico.
    Many years later a friend died and I started talking with her daughter and realized she was engaged to Tony’s grandson.
    Such a small world.

  14. What a beautiful way you have with words. Thank you for the respectful memorial for Ann Rule, another of my favorite authors.

  15. I’ve never read any of her books, not a fan of true crime. I have enough reality in my own life and get enough of it if I watch the news. Sad to hear how her son’s treated her. There’s nothing like the prospect of money to get the greed flowing. I worked for an internist and heard a lot of things and saw it in my own family after my mom had a stroke. I was stunned, never in my life would I have believed it if it hadn’t happened right in front of me. My suggestion is if you want someone specific to get an item, give it as a gift, don’t depend on your executor to do it, and the first thing you do is change the house locks, even before the death in some cases. Pretty sad state of affairs but it happens all the time.

    • Wanda, my mother had a bad experience when belongings of a relative were fought over. The relatives didn’t speak for 20 years. She told my siblings and I that we should take back the items we each bought her over the years and sell the rest. That’s what we did.

  16. What a beautiful tribute to Ann. I have read only two of her books, (I forget the names), the second one (about the Green River murders) was too graphic for me. I am an avid fan of yours, and think I have about 20 of your books. I have met you twice–the first time at Third Place Book Store–but was too awestruck to think of any questions. (I now have 1000 questions I could ask, or comments to make.) I love your books, especially the Beaumont series–I swear, I have been to every location you write about. The second time we met was in Yuma, AZ when you were doing a book signing, but the crowd was great and the line long, so no time for conversation.

  17. I’m so sorry for the loss of such a powerful writer and individual. She will be missed by many. Thank you for sharing the background on her interaction with you. It makes you even more human in my book, but one that is capable of touching lives and making them ‘feel’ through your writing.

    Keep writing I look forward to each new adventure so I can curl up in bed and be totally absorbed into the story.

  18. Sweet words for your fellow writer! I was stunned to hear of Ann’s passing. I was a huge fan of all her novels. She will be missed among the true crime genre.

    The abuse by her two sons is disgusting so I am with you on their special place of dishonor in hell.

  19. What a wonderful tribute to a fellow author. I have read all of her books and all of yours. Two of my favorite authors. I have met both of you and I think you both make your readers feel special. She will be missed

    • After reading the comments, I am wondering if women authors are more interested in their readers then men? I’ve never been to a book signing so don’t know how men react, but I can’t think of any who might be as friendly as Ann and Judy. Maybe Wayne Dyer or someone like that, but I can’t imagine Steven King being warm and fuzzy.

  20. Well, either it was natural to you or you learned well from her, but you have always been gracious to me when I have spoken with you at the Tucson Festival of Books…as an aside…my son entered Pima Community College very young…when he was about 13 or so he took a creative writing class. However, after a few classes he and I spoke with the instructor…apparently her idea of creative writing was using foul language and/or sexual situations and she was uncomfortable with my son in the class…That was fine with me…that is NOT AT ALL what I considered Creative Writing and he left the class.

  21. I’m positive Ann would have loved your tribute to her. I have read all her books
    and recently discovered your books. I am enjoying your writing. Thank you for your words about Ann Rule.

  22. Ann Rule has been one of my heros for many years. She was a smart writer in the same class as Celestine Sibley while she was a writer with the Atlanta papers.
    God bless them both!

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