Being in the public eye means you’re the topic of a certain amount of speculation. Fortunately I’m not nearly famous enough to be stalked by paparazzi or to be profiled in the National Inquirer, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain amount of ugly gossip out there.
Bill and I met in June of 1985, six months after his first wife died and two and a half years after my first husband’s death. Twenty some years into our marriage, a former employee at a bank branch we utilized back then told a good friend of ours that she didn’t read J.A. Jance books because, when Bill’s wife was dying, I’d come along to be his “side dish.” Excuse me? With a dying wife and three young adult children, the man was working two jobs, trying to keep the bills paid, health insurance in force, and food on the table. When the hell would he have had either the time or the energy for a “side dish?” In addition, Bill is a man of his word, an old fashioned straight-shooter, who wouldn’t have broken his wedding vows (either time!) no matter how many opportunities might have presented themselves. At the same time, I was a single mother with two little kids and a full time job selling life insurance who was spending nights, weekends, and the early morning hours trying to launch a career as a writer. It’s not easy to be a bar hopping, husband stealing side dish when you’re in bed and asleep at 8:30 at night, the moment the kids are in bed. So there’s that.
Then there’s the still persistent rumor that I don’t really write my books at all. This one surfaced soon after Until Proven Guilty, the first Beaumont book was published. Because the book is written in the first person through a male cop’s point of view, some readers swore up and down that a retired Seattle cop “writes these books.” As insulting as that may be, it’s also a backhanded compliment of sorts. My publisher had insisted I use my initials as a pen name because they didn’t think male readers would accept a police procedural written by someone named Judith Ann. (Obviously they never noticed that my next door neighbor on shelves in bookstores and libraries, was PD James—short of Phyllis Dorothy—who was forced to use her initials for the same reason two full decades earlier than I did!) But the truth is, back then, the publisher’s marketing people were probably right. In other words, using my initials was a ploy to conceal my … wait is the term “my sex” these days or is it “my gender?”) I forget what current approved terminology applies, but I’m sure you get the picture. In order to make sure the ploy of using JA only worked, there was no author photo or author bio on my early book covers. So the fact that someone assumed the author to be a retired Seattle cop writing under a pseudonym made sense.
I expected that once my photo started appearing on my books, that the Seattle cop rumor would go away. Nope! It’s still around. Now it goes like this. “A retired Seattle cop writes these books, and she’s just a front for him.” And you know what? As long as people are reading and enjoying my books, I don’t care what they think. They could call me a one-eyed, one-eared flying purple people eater, and it wouldn’t be any skin off my nose. (Boy, the songs we know really do date us!)
But this week a new rumor popped up, one that, as my mother would have said, really “garred my greet.” By the way, I just tried googling that phrase and came up empty, but when Evie Busk said those words, there could be no doubt about what was happening. It meant she wasn’t happy, and when Evie wasn’t happy, nobody was happy.” And I’m not happy right now, either.
This newly surfaced rumor would have you believe that I have a ghost writer. Grrr! This is one hundred percent false, and if you don’t believe me, all you have to do is look at my computer keyboard. Bill was rehabbing one of my old computers this week to pass along to someone else. “Of course the letters are worn off all the keys,” he said, “especially the J.” I remember a hunt-and-peck son, recently home from college, who was trying to use my computer to create a resumé. “How can you use this?” he demanded. “All the letters are missing.” I don’t believe a properly installed ghost writer would be wearing the letters off my keyboards.
I know writing teams who can create books together with one person doing the plotting and the outline and the other person filling in the actual scenes and dialogue. That is SO not me! A few years ago I co-wrote a novella for Thrillerfest’s fund raiser book project, Matchup. For me it was an incredibly challenging assignment. I’m no good on committees. I flunked out of PTA very early on, because fire-fights over Roberts Rules of Order drove me nuts. And during my years in the life insurance business, agency meetings sent me over the edge. At the end of each meeting, there was invariably one guy—I can see him now, clear as day—who would ask an amazingly dim question proving to everyone in the room that he hadn’t been listening to a word that was said. I always wanted to wring his scrawny neck. So with that kind of bad vibe group-grope history, is it any wonder that I’m self-employed and working alone in my family room?
Yes, I’m aware that there are ghost writers out there. I could name names, but I won’t. In some cases, the families of deceased writers have licensed someone to carry on someone’s literary legacy in hopes of carrying on his or her literary income as well. One young adult writer, V.C. Andrews, who died in the mid-eighties, continued to have books published decades after her death. I’m not privy to what went on there. Perhaps she had drawers full of written but unpublished manuscripts, or perhaps the subsequent books were written by someone else on her behalf. And I know there are living authors whose names pop up month after month with new books who clearly acknowledge that they utilize the services of co-writers. God love them, but that’s just not me.
I do not use co-writers or ghost writers. I publish two books a year and fifty-two blogs. All of them are written by me, on my keyboard, with my own ten fingers. I answer each and every one of the e-mails sent to me—again with my own fingers. I don’t have someone sorting the e-mails for me. No, I read them all myself and respond myself. There are times when dealing with particularly snarky e-mails—e-mals as I like to call them—that I end up having to grit my teeth while typing my reply, but reply I do.
For years one of my favorite poems has been Robert Graves’s, A Traveler’s Curse After Misdirection. I just now googled it and have discovered that I’ve been misquoting it for decades. I’m going to give you my somewhat shortened version:
With every step he takes
A bone should break,
And may it not, for variations sake
Now and arm and now a leg
But each and every time his neck.
So the next time someone tells you with a perfectly straight face that J.A. Jance has a ghost writer working for her, please do me a favor. You don’t need to break the guy’s neck, but do clean his clock, and let him know that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about.