Life Imitates Art

When I open my e-mail in the mornings, there’s usually some good news and some bad news. Someone has a problem with my word usage, for example, and since what my characters say and do don’t measure up to the reader’s idea of political correctness, she’s out of here. Or someone sends me a note letting me know that a long time reader has passed away so I can remove them from my mailing list. Or someone has stayed up way too late because they couldn’t go to sleep without finishing the book. I answer them all—good ones and bad ones. Then, occasionally, I receive one that gives me goosebumps. This is the story of one of those.

If you read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, what you must understand from the beginning is that “Marley was dead: to begin with.” And in order to get this story, what you need to understand is that I write fiction. I make things up. I do not use real cases in my murder mysteries because I’m well aware that real murders affect real people and the families and friends who are left behind never “get over it.”

You also need to understand that I DO NOT OUTLINE! That goes for my individual books and for my series as well. Unlike J.K. Rowling who laid out the whole seven book plan for Harry Potter before she ever put pen to paper, I start with someone dead or dying and spend the rest of the book trying to figure out who did it and why. As for my main characters? I meet them when I meet them. Beau was in his mid-forties in Until Proven Guilty. Joanna was in her late twenties in Desert Heat. Ali in her early fifties in Edge of Evil. They all had lives before I came along, and I’ve learned about their various histories and foibles right along with my readers, book by book and word by word.

Joanna’s journey begins innocuously enough. She’s waiting for Andy to come home so they can go out and celebrate their tenth anniversary. He’s late. Joanna’s nine-year old daughter, Jenny, is on the scene as is Joanna’s mother, Eleanor, who is there to babysit. In the course of the conversation Jenny drops a bombshell. She’s just had a bit of Sex-Ed in her Health class at Greenway School. She’s a bright little penny so, after counting up the months between her birthday and her parents’ wedding anniversary and realizing that there aren’t enough months, she innocently asks the question, “Was I a preemie?”

Of course, she was not a preemie. She was right on time. It was her parents’ wedding that was … well … slightly delayed, and the fact that Joanna and Andy had a shotgun wedding is something Eleanor has held over her daughter’s head every day since. Happy Anniversary indeed! And that scene is indicative of the problematic relationship that exists between mother and daughter, before the first book started and through all the subsequent books.

But then the third book came along. In Shoot/Don’t Shoot, Joanna is in Peoria, Arizona, attending police academy training. She’s sitting in a hotel lobby when a man who looks to be the ghost of her long dead father comes sauntering into the room. Except the man isn’t a ghost at all, and there’s a good reason the newcomer, Bob Brundage, resembles D.H. Lathrop because he is in fact Joanna’s brother—the baby her parents, D.H. and Eleanor, were forced to give up for adoption. Since Eleanor was under age, they threatened to send D.H. to jail unless surrendered the baby. Eleanor knuckled under to their threat, but as soon as she was old enough, she left home, came back to Bisbee, and married the man. By the time Shoot/Don’t Shoot comes around more than forty years have passed, and that scene in the hotel lobby is the first inkling that Joanna has about her mother’s own story, and it’s not a happy realization. She spends several books fuming about Eleanor’s blatant hypocrisy, and it’s only in the most recent book that she finally comes to understand her parents’ full story. I think that ’s the way it is with kids. We never fully understand what made our parents tick or what made them be the people they were and are.

So now we go back to this week’s e-mail. It came from an 86 year-old woman named Betty living in southeastern Arizona. In 1960, when she became pregnant out of wedlock, the boyfriend cut off all contact, and her parents forced her to give the baby, a boy, up for adoption. The rules of the Catholic Charities Home at the time were that there would be no further contact—ever. Years passed. Frank, the son she had been forced to relinquish, grew up to become first a fireman and later an arson investigator. And a few years ago, he reached out to her through Catholic Charities, to see if she would be interested in meeting him.

After apprising her husband of almost fifty years of the situation and telling her two sons from that marriage, they met, and it’s been a happy coming together. Frank told me that last year, the three sons arranged to be together for the first time ever on their mother’s birthday. I would imagine for someone celebrating her 86th birthday, that was quite the celebration!

Because of the Arizona connection, Betty has read my books for years. Recently she passed some of her books along to Frank to read and this week he encountered Shoot/Don’t Shoot. As you can imagine, that scene in the lobby really hit home! He said, he felt as though “someone had been looking over my shoulder.” Who knows? Maybe I was.

I write murder mysteries. My books aren’t “serious” enough to appeal to the literary snobs who wouldn’t stoop to reading “genre” fiction on a bet. And there’s not enough sex, “blowie-uppie” stuff, and Tom Cruise-worthy action to attract the attention of Hollywood, but you know what? Sometimes magic happens. My books are about relatable characters living relatively ordinary lives. Sometimes, purely by luck, my stories intersect with the stories of real people. And when that happens, and they let me know about it, as Betty and Frank so generously did this past weekend, that interaction leaves me with a profound sense of gratitude.

As Tiny Tim would say at this time of year, “God bless us everyone!”

34 thoughts on “Life Imitates Art

  1. It is amazing how out lives, our written stories, and the lives of others intertwine. Love your books, enthusiasm, and honesty. God bless you, too. Hope you write many more interesting books.

  2. Wow, chills indeed! At the time that I first read about Joanna’s meeting with her brother and so on, I remember thinking that her mother’s anger was fueled by a desire that her daughter not suffer as she had, and also a bit of resentment that times change and her daughter would not be punished as she had – your presentation of this complex relationship was masterful throughout the series and I think I better re-read the books just to enjoy it again. Lots of real life relationship learning there.


  3. Your books are the best. Real and wonderful. I can never put them down until I am finished. You are my favorite author. Keep up the awesome work.

  4. Wow…that is quite the story. I love your books because they are real, but to hear about a connection like this story truly must have been a good moment for you. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  5. I really enjoy your books because of the way you handle the issues of sex and violence. You write books that show human emotion but in a lighter way. I don’t want to have nightmares about a book I am reading. I read to escape and relax
    Have a very Merry Christmas, enjoy your family,eat until your full and just play.
    See you next week … Jan

  6. I was an early baby. My parents were married in April and I arrived in September. I didn’t know there was something different about that, but picked up vibes that my grandmother didn’t really like me. It was many years before I figured it out.

    I like the way you work real situations into your stories. It helps me realize my story isn’t that unique. I am just another girl who grew up in the Midwest (Iowa) many years ago.

  7. Your writing is so real. Just finished Field of Bones, and as usual it was wonderful. Thanks for so much enjoyment, and keep them coming.
    Your biggest fan, Jan

  8. This blog hits home today for my husband. He knew that he was adopted at age 6 by the man his mother married. Through the years, she would never give him information about his “birth” father. She passed this year at age 97+. This fall, he was contacted by a woman who is his biological half-sister (23andme confirms). The story: his mother got pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption before my husband was born! What a story.

  9. Love your books – can’t get enough. Enjoy all of the series and love the settings.

    In working my Ancestry (and hubby’s) – have found a few of those short spaced marriage/birth details – and a few others. All of us are so human.

    Merry Christmas!

    • In my little hometown of approximately 800 souls in the middle of Iowa as soon as a couple married folks started looking for a pregnancy. If it came soon the hope was that the child looked like man the woman married. If the woman didn’t get pregnant during the first year that was cause for talk to. Was there a problem?

      It was hard to keep things private and secret there.

  10. Thank you for your weekly visit, I love your books, can’t wait for a hard-copy and now download and e-read the day they are released. I was once told, “most pregnancy’s last 9 months, that first pregnancy, you just never know”. Merry Christmas to you and yours, jan

  11. I agree with Ceci above. Time to start from scratch and start re-reading all your books. It will refresh the history of your characters in my mind. By the way, I have a strange reading technique. I read slowly and savor every page. When there is a “pause” I pause! LOL Keep up the wonderful the wonderful fiction, but you will never convince me your/my characters are not real!!! They certainly are in my mind!! Hugs

  12. There are always complainers, always! I personally love your books and look forward to every one. My reading started with Beau through a friend and has continued to date. I’ve also gotten my sister hooked and she looks forward to the new ones as well.

  13. Being a big fan of audiobooks, I’m gratefully confidant the language in your books won’t offend anyone around me. Or me.
    Thank you and greetings of the holiday searson to you and yours. ?

  14. I love all of your characters and it doesn’t bother me if sometimes they are not “politically correct” that’s okay too!
    Keep writing from your heart and listen to those characters as they talk with you!
    Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to you and all of your family.

  15. Merry Christmas
    I am in Boise with my 95 year old mother. I am recovering from a knee replacement.
    I am lucky that I have a friend from high school in New Jersey who has been taking me to appointments. She has read some of your books.
    I am glad that you are doing well. Hopefully you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year

  16. I love all of your books and look forward to all of them. Am partial to the Brady ones but read them all. Have a blessed Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year.

  17. I truly enjoy all of your books. Only problem is waiting for the next one. Everyone has a story to tell but not everyone has the talent to put it into words. You obviously do and Thanks for keeping the characters lives interesting!

  18. I feel for Betty. I, too, was a 7 month baby but I didn’t know it. My mom told me the wee married in 1938 and it was years before I was told the truth. My dad also told me he would never had married if I hadn’t come along so I never felt really wanted. It makes a lot of difference in the latter choices in life I made. I married at 20 and my dad died three months later of a heart attack. I never was able to have kids so we adopted a boy and a girl as babies. The are ?50 and 48 now. My first husband died 30 yrs ago and I remarried 8 yrs later. Your books about Joanne www very interesting to me and I love Beaumont and Ali also. Keep writing I’m 79 now and love your books. Carols

  19. Merry Christmas, J A Jance! I love all of your stories and I don’t have any issues with any of them. I love the Beaumont series because I used to live in Seattle and can relate to places and things. I love Ali because she’s interesting and because her first husband reminded me of mine – and her struggle as a woman in a workplace dominated by men. Sheriff Brady I enjoy but can’t relate to as much. Maybe they are my escape and maybe I learn a few things from your books. But the bottom line is – they are ALWAYS a good read!!!!! Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! KatL

  20. That’s a wonderful connection. I think it’s interesting that you learn the characters as you go along. Which is why I’m fully expecting that strong young woman from Field of Bones to show up again. I can tell she’s just the kind of person you’d like to get to know better.

  21. “not enough sex, “blowie-uppie” stuff, and Tom Cruise-worthy action to attract the attention of Hollywood” . Maybe not. How about Hallmark Movies and Mysteries?
    Maybe your writing is too involved for 90 minutes. Would be fun to find out.
    (PS: we sold our place in Oro Valley. dang!)

  22. I’m a big fan of your books and think they would make great movies especially the Walker series. I’m glad they are not Tom Cruise worthy because I’ve given up one author whose movie starred him.

  23. Life and art imitating each other over and over. I enjoy reading books without pages of descriptive sex, violence, nasty language, and just plain ugly behavior. If I wanted that crap I’d listen to the news and read horror. I appreciate that you tell a clean story with characters who have personal standards and integrity. I hope you continue writing for many years to come, as long as you are able and still enjoy the process.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours and a healthy and happy New Year to you and your readers.

  24. We love your books! I am the branch manager of Sunsites Community Library and we have 20 of your books on our shelf. If you are ever in our neighborhood, please stop by!

  25. Thank you for all your hard work! Your books are a delight in every way. Each character has a welcomed reality to them. I feel Beau and Ali are distant friends that I am keeping in touch with by “hearing” their latest stories. Dear Joanna seems to be a beloved niece that I worry about from afar! They are indeed real to me, whenever I open their books it’s as though I am opening a long letter from them!!
    I just returned from an extended trip through Australia. Whenever I tried to explain my desert world of Green Valley, Arizona I would encourage them to read the Joanna books to get a real feel for southern Arizona!! Your descriptions are so much better than mine. I had many enjoyable conversations about your characters and their locales while traveling on long train trips across and up the continent. I explained to my new friends that they could learn a great deal about America through your books. Thank you again for all that you do for us, your grateful fans!! Happy new year with many best wishes!!

  26. My daughter and I love your books. And those who find fault with them, well, they don’t count. So, please, keep writing just the way you always have and we’ll keep reading them. Many thanks for all the hours of pleasure you have given us. Dorothy

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