What’s In A Name

People who have seen me out on the stump may have heard this story before because it’s the one I tell when people ask me if J.A. Jance is my “real” name or my “pen” name.  The answer to that question is actually yes times two.

My maiden name growing up in Bisbee was Judith Ann Busk/ aka Judy.  That was fairly straight forward until my younger brother, Jim, married someone named Judy and brought her home to Bisbee to live.  Suddenly there was the “old” Judy Busk, the tall blonde one, and the “new” Judy Busk who was tall but dark haired.  That confusion went away when Jim and his Judy divorced and she married someone else.

But of course, by then, I had married as well.  My first husband’s name was Jerry Janc—Jerry Joseph Teale Janc.  His last name was supposed to be pronounced Jance like Dance but it was mostly mispronounced Jank like Tank.  In 1983, after my first husband’s death, the kids and I went to court in King County and bought a vowel to put on the end of our name so people would say it correctly.  So I went from being Judith Ann Janc to Judith Ann Jance.  By the way, buying that vowel cost me $400 in 1983.

Later on that same year, when I submitted the manuscript for Until Proven Guilty (UPG) to my agent, the title page read:  Until Proven Guilty by Judith A. Jance. My agent, who hailed from New York City, knew a little about the ins and outs of publishing.  Since UPG and the other Beaumont books are all written in the first person through a male point of view, my agent redid the title page before sending the manuscript off to potential publishers, revising it to read:  Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance.

Weeks later, John Douglas, called her and said, “The guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty is a good writer.”

“What would you say if I told you the guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty is a woman?” my agent asked.

To which John replied, “I’d say she was a hell of a good writer,” and he followed up that statement by offering me a two book contract, and that’s how John Douglas became my initial editor at Avon Books.

A few months down the road, John called to report that marketing had gotten ahold of the manuscript.  Worried that “male readers won’t accept a police procedural written by someone named Judy,” they wanted to use my initials instead, and that’s how Judith Ann Jance became J.A. Jance.  The irony here is that for the past thirty-plus years, my next door neighbor on the shelves of bookstore and libraries has been P.D. James.  Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James, who passed away in 2014, had to resort to using her initials for the same reason in the mid-fifties, thirty years earlier than I did.

And why am I reporting all this ancient history now?  Because today, I’ve just spent the last six hours of my writing life autographing tip-in sheets for Field of Bones.  Tip-in sheets are extra pages that can be autographed first and then bound into the books at the time they are printed so the books come from the printer pre-signed.  I’m sure this amounts to a special order for some retailer or other, and if it’s going to sell books, I’m going to do it. But I can tell you that every time I signed my name, all fifteen hundred times, I was incredibly grateful to be able to scrawl J.A. Jance rather than Judith Ann Jance.  Lot’s fewer letters there, and when it comes to signing autographs, having a short name helps.

The week before Until Proven Guilty was published in 1985, I met Bill Schilb at a widowed retreat, and the two of us hit it off.  A few months later, when he asked me to marry him, I told him, “Sure, but I just paid four-hundred bucks for this name and I’m not changing it.”

And now, with those tip-in sheets boxed up and off to UPS, I’m headed back to Ali #14.  Can’t give you a name so far.  The new baby still doesn’t have one.

14 thoughts on “What’s In A Name

  1. I think it is interesting that Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Ruth Rendell, to name a few, never had to use initials. The publishing business is strange. I don’t care what your name is. Just keep writing about Beau. 🙂

  2. Always enjoyable to read about your name. My full name is Cecily Jane, but since childhood, family and friends started calling me CJ. It has always been a struggle to get people to understand, let along pronounce my name, Cecily, correctly, so CJ has simply made it easier and less embarrassing for others to avoid pronouncing attempts. I used my full name throughout my career, and have been called many things…lol. Now retired I kept with the smaller version of my name. Though I may, someday, drop the CJ and reintroduce my readers to Cecily, that plan has not been put into place yet…not sure how I’ll go about it. I’m not famous so autographs are very minimal.

  3. I have been your fan from book #1. Thank you for providing me all of the hours of entertainment. Keep Beau, Ali and Joanna coming please.

  4. Exactly why I use the pen name “Lee King.”. S/ Betty Bonney. (Ridiculous name but it’s been mine for 66 years.)

  5. I’ve done the same thing for years. Catherine Jane is C.J. on just about everything. My philosophy is keep ’em guessing!

  6. What is that saying “A Rose is a Rose”
    All your fans ask is that you keep writing…
    We just relocated to Az. I spoke to a lady today about Bisbee Arizona. She asked if I had ever been there I said many times but not in person . Please take care and keep walking.. Jan

  7. I actually look for female mystery authors but at the end of the day it’s the story that attracts me – not the gender.
    I never wondered if J.A. Jance was a female or not.
    Same with C.J. Box.
    Finding out you were a woman a few years ago was a delightful surprise.

  8. My dad’s name was Francis Orville and he was put in the female( WAC) part of the ship. But, the head lady walked him out and got him to his area. He was named by an older brother as he was the twelve th of thirteen children. When I was born he went by his initials which were FO, but on the phone they always said Ethel. So he went by Mac, as his last name was McCann, my maiden name. Carol Ann McCann.

  9. I finally looked in P. D. James’ “A Time To Be In Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography” where she wrote about her name.

    She said when her first manuscript was ready to be sent off to an agent or publisher she practiced writing her name – Phyllis James, Phyllis D. James and P. D. James. She decided the last one would look best on the spine of a book. It never occurred to her to write other than under her maiden name.

    She mentions that she has been glad she had a short name when she signed books in American book stores. Long lines of readers waiting for an autographed copy of a book aren’t that common in Britain.

    • I meant to add that James and Jance have the same number of letters.

      It is hot and yucky here today. I am eating frozen blueberries like they were peanuts. Hit the spot.

  10. You are absolutely my favorite writer. Reading is my only escape in a very crazy world and I am so grateful to you. My husband needed something to help calm him because he has ADHD. He never felt he could concentrate well enough to sit and read a book and I made him start your books from the beginning, all the different series. He fell in love with you and stuck with it and is now an Avid Reader and he looks forward to each one of your new books in all the series as much as I do now.

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