C’est fini

I believe Dorothy Parker is credited with saying something to the effect that there’s nothing worse than starting a book and nothing better than finishing one. That’s referring to writing of same. Reading one is an entirely different matter. In that regard, there’s nothing like opening a cover, inhaling the scent of freshly printed pages, and diving into someone else’s world. In other words the two experiences are closely related and entirely different! But I digress.

Sins of the Fathers is done, and I’m on hiatus from writing until the next set of corrections comes back to me. Once those are installed, the manuscript will be off to my editor(s) in New York. So what am doing in the meantime? Worrying, of course. Will my editors like it? Will my readers like it? I told the story I wanted to tell. It’s J.P. Beaumont as he is now. Yes, there are murders involved, but it’s also a character study—a study of Beau’s character as he is now and as he was before, because where we start determines where we end up. Those little pieces are all connected, and they lead from one place to another, like following a flagstone path into the great unknown.

This week I’ve had reason to revisit some of my bad old days. I’m surprised at how much it hurt to remember that challenging time of loving and losing someone who was hellbent on dying of booze. I could see the train wreck coming and there was nothing—not one thing—I could do to stop it or even slow it down. In the end, all I could do was get a divorce in an effort to save myself and my kids. My husband was dead of chronic alcoholism eighteen months later. My efforts may have served to hold off the coming disaster for a while, but it wasn’t sustainable. Eventually I ran out of energy. I also ran out of hope.

I didn’t start writing about Beau until years after my divorce. I may not have been allowed in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona, but I was smart enough figure out that you should write what you know, and it turns out that, after eighteen years, I knew a LOT about drinking. The Beaumont books are written in the first person through a male homicide detective’s point of view. Since he couldn’t work all the time, I filled in his spare hours with something I knew well—booze. To my way of thinking, that’s all his drinking was at the time —stage business.

Then the fourth book, Taking the Fifth, came out. While doing a book signing at a B. Dalton’s in Portland, a lady came up to the table and said. “J.P. Beaumont drinks every day. He has a drink of choice. It’s starting to interfere with his work. Does J.P. Beaumont have a problem?” I must have looked at her as though she was nuts before responding, “But these are books!” Yes, they were, and Beau was only a fictional character, but over the course of that set of signings six other readers asked me the same question. By sheer numbers alone, my readers finally got my attention. Four books later, Beau was in treatment at Ironwood Ranch in Arizona.

In a a way that was entirely invisible to me at the time, Beau’s creation grew out of my own experience. And through the years, I’ve had people tell me both in person and through e-mails that reading about Beau’s struggles with alcohol helped them come to terms with their own demons. And maybe the very fact that it was invisible to the writer is part of what made it so realistic when other people read about it.

One of my best friends in Phoenix during that difficult time was a woman named Estelle Dubose. One day we went to lunch. I was so deep in the weeds by then, that I told her I couldn’t even pray about it. In her wonderful east Texas drawl she said, “I’ll tell you what. You pray for the little stuff—for you to be able to get through whatever you need to each day. I’ll pray for the big stuff. I’ll see you in your perfect place.” Almost forty years later, sitting in this wonderful home with a wonderful husband and working successfully at my “dream” job, I have to say, Estelle Dubose was a real expert when it came to praying.

But she was also pretty terrific when it came to offering life lessons. A few years later, when I was visiting her in Phoenix, she had just returned from clearing out her mother’s home back in Texas. “I was bitten by a rattlesnake,” she told me, “and it was the best thing ever.” After the incident, she was taken to the ER of a small hospital where, because someone who knew all about snake bites was visiting on a temporary basis, he was able to use Estelle’s bite as a way to train all the ER personnel. A few weeks later when a five year old kid came in to be treated for snakebite, everyone was at the top of their game. And that’s why it was “the best thing ever!”

So maybe my writing about this week’s challenging trip down memory lane will provide a spark that will help someone else. For them, too, reading this blog may be “the best thing ever.”

After a cold, snowy winter in Seattle, the sun is trying to peek out from behind the clouds. They’re predicting temperatures in the sixties a few days from now. And with a little patch of sunlight on the floor by my feet, I can see that each step in that difficult journey of my previous existence led me to where I am now. What I am now.

It turns out that all steps are necessary. No steps may be skipped.

So Endeth the daily reading.

24 thoughts on “C’est fini

    • I just read this blog today and had to comment on how much I appreciated it, read the first comment and knew that was all that needed to be said!!
      Love your blog, love your books!!!
      It is often said, I know, “the test is not what happens to us , but how we react to what happens to us…that’s the test.” You are getting an A, lady!!!

  1. I cried throughout this whole post…so beautiful and meaningful. It touched my heart in such a profound way. I shared it with my husband. “You just never know,” he said and “She might have never known the results if people hadn’t shared (how her book had influenced their lives).”

  2. Thank you for always being willing to be vulnerable! I know you are an inspiration to many. My husband was an alcoholic too! He passed away at the young age of 68. I’m sure his drinking was at least part of the reason.
    God Bless you and keep on writing about those difficult topics!

  3. Beau is how I first found you decades ago and I have been a fan ever since. Though I have read all of your books, he remains my favorite. I look forward to reading it.

  4. You were and are strong: and by sharing all those difficulties, you help others be stronger and have hope. I am glad Beau went to rehab: because I like him sober…..thank you for sharing. I know people really admire you and to know that you had great difficulties and were strong enough to do something about it and survive, probably will help a lot of your fans. No matter what their personal problems are.

    As usual, looking forward to the next books. And it really is going to warm up in Arizona now, after a cold, wet spell. Come on Down!

  5. “Birds of Prey” is my favorite Beau book, but the book about him going to rehab in Arizona is a close second. I love all the crazy things that happen to him including the snake in his cabin.

    I’ve done some work with alcoholics and found that a lot of them are immature and blame their drinking on someone else.

    Thank you for this blog today.

  6. I always look forward to your blogs, but today’s seemed especially on target for this day at this time! Fun to think of you writing this in Seattle; I live here now, too, and so grateful I do.

    And now I’ve got a new J. A. Jance to look forward to!

  7. Reading your blogs is as compelling as your books. I appreciate the messages of inspiration, of hope and sadness as well. I am a recovering alcoholic and have been sober for almost 10 years. It is only through my faith in God and that organization that starts with the letter A , have I been able to stay sober. Yes, all of the steps are necessary and none are to be skipped. As a result of living these steps daily I have become a better person, A better father and a better partner to my wife.
    Hopefully I will get to see you in April

  8. I’m so glad you listened to yourself and became the wonderful writer you are. I’ve been missing JP. I can’t wait for the new book!

  9. What I marvelous post. Thanks for sharing your deeply personal story and how it influenced your fiction. I also divorced an alcoholic who died soon after, but not before savaging our daughter’s self-esteem. We’re both still working through the damage he’s wrought, and it may take years before I’m ready to tackle that issue in my fiction. So far, I avoid creating a character who reminds me of him. One day, perhaps.
    I look forward to reading the next Beaumont book.

  10. The thing is, Beaumont didn’t remind me of my first husband. That’s the invisibility thing. You might also benefit from reading After the Fire, my book of poetry. The poems in that were written during the journey, although they were published much later. I believe you’ll find we have much in common.

    • You indeed are an accomplished author… my wife and I have enjoyed all of your books… this is one of the first blogs I have read… I grew up with an alcoholic Mom… I sure can relate to your experiences as well as JP’s.

      Your books bring enjoyment, possibly some escape, as well as some life ‘food for thought’.

      Much appreciation and admiration.

  11. Thank you for sharing deeply personal “stuff”. It is true, we readers feel we know and love your characters and our hearts break for them. I hope you keep writing forever !!! Wishing you extraordinary good health… 😉

  12. I really enjoy your blogs, you are so frank about your life and I can identify a bit with the alcohol bit because although he isn’t an alcoholic (in my thoughts and his) he drinks more than I like but as you know you can’t make anyone stop if they don’t want to. Also love your books and look forward to the next.
    On another note, I watched “The Wife” with Meryl Streep and it sure made you think about authors and such. You mentioned that people thought you had a ghost writer when you really don’t. Amazing the double standard.

  13. I was going to send this to you in a private email, but thought maybe others would get a smile from it. A few years ago I volunteered at a rehab center for alcoholics. I helped out during recreation sessions.

    One day former US Representative Wilbur Mills came to give a talk about his problem with alcohol. He said he used to keep vodka in the freezer because he thought he might choke on ice cubes. Forget about what the alcohol was doing to him. Worry about ice cubes. Such was his crazy thinking while drinking.

  14. I love all your books and your blogs. You are so good at filling in the blanks!! Thanks for being who you are.

  15. I love your books and blogs.
    I understand about alcoholism.
    My husband died at 66,having been sober over 20 years but the effects killed him.

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