Tucson Festival of Books Afterword

John and Marsha at the Tucson Festival of Books

The Tucson Festival of Books has two distinct purposes.  Number one is to promote literacy and number two is to support a love of books and reading.  At my Sunday panel, the Mysterious West, both of those purposes came together in an amazing way.

The three authors had been asked to come to the panel armed with a book to give away to the winner of what was called a truth or lie contest.  The authors were supposed to provide three little known facts about themselves—two of them were supposed to be the truth and one a lie.  I forgot to bring the book along.  (Saturday it was ninety degrees out; I wore regular flats instead of my trusty Sketchers; my back and feet were killing me.  What do you expect?  Of course I forgot the book!)

Nonetheless, I did have my little known facts all lined up and ready to be dropped into the conversation, except I soon realized none of them would work.  For me, TFOB is like old home week.  I quickly realized there were far too many people in that room who knew where all my bodies were buried and would know instantly exactly which of my “true” facts weren’t.  I was going to say I was once tied to a tree and left with a clothes pin on my nose. That one may have sounded like a lie, but it wasn’t. Dan Smith, someone from my old neighborhood, was in the audience.  As the younger brother of one of the ban of miscreants involved, he knew it was the gospel.  I had considered claiming I was an only child, but Dan could have called me out on that one, too.  I had considered saying my first paying job was working at the local newspaper, but some of the kids I BABYSAT when I was in high school (both of them now retired) were there, too, and they could have nailed me on that one.  Two of the kids who were in high school when I was a librarian on the reservation were in the audience as well as someone who knew me as a teacher at Pueblo High School in 1966!  The audience also included one of my life insurance clients from the mid-seventies, Susan Iazetta.  Old home week indeed!

The other authors did as requested and gave their books to their personal truth or lie winner.  I had a better trick up my sleeve.

You may have noticed that there’s a photo at the top of the blog—John Hudson is on the left, I’m in the middle, and Marcia Robinson is on the left. Is red a great color or what?

Regular readers of this blog have heard about Marcia before.  She grew up struggling with a combination of dyslexia and English as a second language, a combination that made reading impossible.  At age 58 she was illiterate and stuck in a dead end job as a jail guard where she was unable to apply for any supervisory positions due to her inability to read and write reports.  That was when she finally knocked on the door of Literacy Connects and asked for help. Literacy Connects happens to be one of the primary beneficiaries of funds donated back to the community by the Tucson Festival of Books.

Marcia’s Literacy Connects reading tutor, Trish, introduced Marcia to my Joanna Brady books, and that’s how Marcia learned to read—using my Joanna books as her textbooks. Because she was drawn into the stories, she found reading was something the wanted to learn to do and has now mastered.  In the years since, Marcia and I have become friends.  (By the way, she’s caught up on Joanna now and is working her way through the Beaumonts—“reading every single word,” as she likes to say.) She also has a new brand new and very responsible job that takes her all over the state of Arizona.)  

On the way into the Mysterious West venue on Sunday afternoon, I stopped off to chat with some of the people waiting in line, including Marcia and her new partner, Melinda.  They were in the “non ticketed” line and I was afraid they wouldn’t make it inside, so we visited for a time outside. Once the doors opened, I went into the auditorium and continued chatting with some of the folks in the front few rows.  That was when a Ginny White, a fan and a Festival visitor from Los Alamos, came up to me and said, “I just spent an hour standing in line with a man who, at age 61, has just read his first book ever—Judgment Call.” She pointed him out to me as the guy in the red shirt who’s sitting in the back row.  

How could I NOT go talk to him?  And since Marcia was a few rows in front of him, how could I NOT take her with me? And there we are together.

The above photo was taken with John’s wife’s iPhone. When Kris sent it along, she told me John’s story.  He was someone who struggled with reading both in school and out.  After the death of his father when John was 16, he moved out of the house and supported himself by driving a school bus.  He graduated from high school and joined the Air Force. Finally, he managed to land his dream job—that of being first a mail carrier and eventually a postmaster in several small towns in southern Arizona.  In all that time, although he read work-related books, he never once read a single book for pleasure.

Last year, in advance of a family trip back home to Mississippi, Kris gave him a copy of Judgment Call, one of the more recent Joanna books.  Suddenly, in reading a story about all those familiar Cochise county places, John found himself HOOKED for the first time ever!!!  He went back to the store and bought the entire series. He’s working his way through the Joanna books the same way Marcia did, one book at a time.  I arbitrarily declared him the winner of my part of the truth or lie contest and gave him an autographed copy of Downfall to go with the rest of the series.

So there you have it, John and Marcia—one who could read but wouldn’t and one who couldn’t read and now can. As for me? I had the distinct honor of bringing the two of them together.  For me it was the high point of the entire weekend.

As far as I’m concerned, what that means is this:  The Tucson Festival of Books wins again!

11 thoughts on “Tucson Festival of Books Afterword

  1. This whole encounter was definitely THE highlight of the festival for me. John, Kris, Marcia, and Judy, what a total delight it was to meet and connect with you. Hurray for reading! Hurray for Judy Jance! Hurray for our standing in line and talking with each other! Best to each of you …

  2. marvelous and of course they will be spreading the gospel. Reading is fun, fun, fun, and helps in life as well. Sometimes when I come up with an answer or weird fact, people look at me and ask how I know. Books. A mystery novel I was reading took place there. John loved to read because he was familiar with the area. When I went to England I was thrilled with areas I associated with books. Yorkshire Dales and James Herriott. Scotland with RL Stevenson, and Scott. Lands End are with Daphne Du Maurier. My favorite, the Cotswolds and Agatha Christie. Thank you for this wonderful story.

  3. If you read you never have to be bored! I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I could not read, scary. Actually, I might get more done but life would not be as enjoyable. Such a conundrum! Happy to hear your trip was great and I hope you take great pride in helping John and Marcia become readers.

  4. Ms. Jance, I am NOT surprised your books have turned more people into readers. You inspire, entertain, comfort, educate, and more with your books (poetry as well as mysteries). I don’t know what Larry (my husband) and I would have done without you. I probably would be sitting in a corner, crying and feeling pity. But, NO. I pick up a J.A. Jance book and go to fascinating places. Thank you.

  5. I am so happy for Marcia learning to read through your Momma Brady books and John, discovering to read for pleasure with Judgement Call! Personally, my favorite pastime is reading, especially your books! I remember first grade; kindergarten was not required way back then; and struggling to read. I was allowed to start school even though I did not turn 6 until the 20th of September. As a result, I was the youngest in my class and not as mature as my classmates. I also had a first grade teacher who was having mental issues. Needless to say, I did not receive a solid foundation my first a year of school and I had a lot of trouble reading. During the summer my parents took me to the public library where I picked out books and they taught me to read. I absolutely loved reading then and did so all the time. I have a large library full of books from my favorite authors. You are at the top of the list! I have always said that books are my friends! I cannot help but be happy surrounded by all of my books!
    Thank you for providing me with 4 different series of books. I always look forward to the next new book to go on sale!

  6. I think it was great to have so many folks in the audience who knew you from the old days and kept you in line. I have always loved to read and have a hard time understanding how a person does not.

    Yesterday I thought about shoveling some snow—had almost two feet on Tuesday—but was saved by “Second Watch”. Picked it up to check on a fact and ended up re-reading it. The snow will melt someday.

  7. Thanks so much for pointing me to this article this morning while you were signing the books for the Family Literacy Center of Lapeer auction. I didn’t have a chance to tell you (the line was way too long for me to take too much of your time) but I spent my career writing news stories for two Michigan daily newspapers. After my retirement I learned about the great need for adult literacy programs and became a board member of the FLC of Lapeer. Giving people the gift of literacy is the best thing I have ever been involved with. Thank you for what you are doing to advance the cause. Thanks again for signing my books, I know they will be a big hit at our spring auction.

  8. One of the reasons I love Beau is that he does things a bit differently. In “Second Watch” he plans to do something that is not quite police procedure. When questioned by his boss he says, “. . . we’re old and tricky.” The we is he and his wife Mel who are working on a case together.

    Old timers may be looked down upon, but they know all sorts of things that have worked before. They solved the case.

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