Tales from the A List Trail

I’ve been on the road for the better part of a week, most of it battling either allergies caused by pollen (which is rampant in Arizona this spring) or a sinus infection. Not fun, so I’ve been advising attendees with suppressed immune systems to give me a wide berth. As per usual, I’m seeing lots of familiar faces on the road, but lots of new ones, too. So here are some of the high points.

On Saturday I arrived at the Sierra Vista Library parking lot early, so I pulled out my iPad to check my mail. There was an e-mail from one of my blog readers who, much earlier, had commented about losing a sister to opioid addiction. I had written back to her suggesting that she might find comfort in reading my book of poetry, After the Fire. She sent me a note saying that on that morning, she had come home from visiting her husband in the hospital and found her copy of After the Fire waiting for her. She sat down and read the whole thing from cover to cover. Her husband of almost fifty years is in the hospital in the last stages of dementia. He’s non verbal and no longer knows who she is. She told me that although the circumstances of our separate losses were very different, I had no idea what a comfort that book was to her that morning.

There is nothing that means more to a writer than knowing something you have written has had an impact on someone else’s life. So that morning, when I was feeling under the weather and being blue because I was on the road without Bill, her note to me was a real gift. We’ve exchanged several notes since then. She says that it hurts her to know that her husband has lost everything. It’s probably not nice to tell a new friend that she’s dead wrong, but I did. I wrote back and told her, “Your husband hasn’t lost everything. He still has YOU!” And it’s true. She visits him every day. Months from now, when readers of this blog encounter a particular scene in Sins of the Fathers, please know that my writing of that scene preceded our e-mail conversation by several weeks. Sometimes art imitates life.

I left Sierra Vista and went to Benson where I stopped in at the Horseshoe Café for cup of coffee and a piece of key lime pie between gigs. The Horseshoe still has wonderful horse murals on the outside of the building, but the ones that used to decorate the interior walls are long gone. I ordered my coffee and pie. When I went to pay for it, the waitress told me that the gentleman in the next booth had paid my bill. The “gentleman” in question, happened to be a Harley driving guy wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I went from the café to Cochise Community College. One of the people there, the last one in line, was named Lester. He was 95 year old tall drink of water, a World War II vet wearing worn fatigues, who told me that he had been unloading bombs from a ship onto Okinawa when Tokyo Rose announced over the radio, the name of the ship and where it was docked, along with the name of the ship’s captain. That night a single bomber showed up, but instead of hitting the big ship, it took out their supply ship and blew a whole load of cigarettes and food into the water. Everyone on board figured the kamikazes would arrive the next day. Instead, Hiroshima happened and no more bombs fell on Okinawa. Lester was a farm boy from Alabama. He didn’t have much education but he knew how to put things together and make them work. After the war he was back home getting ready to open a tool and die company with his brother when someone from the federal government showed up and asked him if he’d come to New Mexico and work at White Sands. “I had to do it,” he said. “I owed those guys.” And we all owe Lester!

But why was he at the signing? He came carrying a worn copy of Second Watch, one he had gleaned from a Friends of the Library book sale. That’s the book that honors Doug Davis, a school mate from Bisbee who didn’t come home from the Vietnam War. “I wanted to thank you in person for writing this book,” Lester told me, shaking my hand. “It meant so much to me.” And meeting Lester meant so much to me!

On Sunday it was the Nanini Library. In the front rows were the usual suspects, including my favorite Tucson stalkers, Frank and Janice Molina. But in the back of the room was a whole group of Tohono O’odham from the reservation. (By the way, I never refer to the Reservation as the Res. I don’t feel as though I have the right to take that liberty.) So I noticed these folks sitting at the back of the room, and when I spoke briefly about my years of teaching at Sells and Topawa, they smiled, laughed, and waved. I used to tell 26 stories a week in k-6 classrooms, and because I’m tall and often wore a green dress on those days, the kids called me “the Jolly Green Giant.” On Sunday I told a few anecdotes about my life back then and my experiences on the reservation.

When the talk was over and it was time for the signing, I expected the TO group to slip quietly into the background. Instead, they came up to the table to chat, have their books signed, and take pictures. Rather than being shy and reticent, as I would have expected, they were anything but. One woman had left her daughter’s soccer tournament to drive 150 miles round trip to see me. I was truly honored. It’s been close to fifty years since I left the reservation, and yet my influence there lingers. What more could a teacher ever want?

Then came Monday. One of the things I like about the Tucson Festival of Books is the mixture of people on panels so that attendees have the opportunity to hear from established writers as well as emerging ones. One of those emerging Arizona writers is a retired Latina cop from Phoenix, Isabella Maldonado. We met two years ago at ThrillerFest in NYC and hit it off. She has three books out featuring a Latina cop named Veranda Cruz. When I knew I was going to be doing an event for Sun City Oro Valley, I suggested that Isabella and I do a joint appearance. Isabella is where I was back at the beginning, writing books with a young child—a nine year old son—at home. She couldn’t hang out after the event to visit because her son was coming home from school. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that!

Isabella Maldonado and J.A. Jance. Photo by Kate Cusumano.

But why would I propose a joint appearance? Back when I was starting out—when I was the writer with one or two books out and two young children at home—who reached out to me? Two already very established writers whose names you’ll recognize—Ann Rule who wrote The Stranger Beside Me and Jack Olsen, the author of The South Hill Rapist. They were both true crime authors who were always careful to be seated with their backs to the wall and eyes on the entrance. The fact that they found it necessary to do so may have steered me away from writing true crime, but their help was greatly appreciated. And by giving Isabella a hand up, I’m thanking Ann and Jack. What goes around comes around.

It was a fun presentation. Our lives are very different and yet we share the basics. Isabella and I were both voracious readers as kids. I knew I wanted to be a writer the moment I encountered Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. For Isabella the tipping point was Madeline l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. We both did other jobs to keep food on the table before starting to live our separate dreams. I taught school and sold insurance. Isabella was a police officer. We both appreciate hearing that the mysteries we write have made a difference for someone undergoing chemo! And when our talk was over, the 288 people in attendance that day, left the auditorium laughing and smiling. It was fun for us, yes, but it was also fun for the people in attendance.

So these are the high points so far. I just discovered that while I was writing this, I lost track of time and missed breakfast. So now I need to get on the road and find some breakfast on my way to Mesa. I’m not going to attempt to do the Red Mountain Library on an empty stomach!

34 thoughts on “Tales from the A List Trail

  1. I’ve learned to never miss a blog from you! This time I’ve got several new books to read and yes, three of them are from Isabella Maldonado.

    And my aging husband is beginning to change – signs of losing the man I love and married. I was told that part of me is in mourning (already???) I’m going to find your book of poetry.

    And the story of the vet? My husband is retired career Navy. He will love the story. And he’s used to me reading bits and pieces of your blogs to him. 🙂

    This was an exceptional piece this morning. Thank you!

    Praying for safe travels for you along your current road trip.

    Kat L

    • I always like to read your weekly blog so interesting. I absolutely loved your book about the vet and I have read all your books except the poetry one. Please don’t stop writing books or a blog. Thank you for the name of a good new author.

  2. What an interesting read. Eventful, meaningful week for you!
    I met you at a book signing in Chelan, WA years ago, a personal highlight. I truly enjoy reading your books and wait patiently for each new one.
    Safe travel, have many more memorial moments.
    I have now retired, after 43 years of nursing, so am now reading even more than before.
    Thank you to you and all writers! I will look for Ms. Maldonaldo’s books!

  3. As always, look forward to your blog. I had the thrill of meeting you at the reservation a few years ago and believe me, I have shared that with my sweet librarians at the local library. They put me on top of the list to read “A List” which I am halfway through, and enjoying every page. Best of luck on the rest of the tour.

  4. Enjoyed the blog very much. I hope you have a driver! That said, I am half way through the AList. Enjoying it very much.

    Realizing that it has been so long since the beginning of the Beaumont series, I have decided to start all over! So happy that a long time favorite is still publishing.

  5. I’m always so appreciative when people tell me they consider my books worthy of rereading. Thank you.

  6. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation yesterday at the Red Mountain library in Mesa. He worked for the USGS making topographic maps around Sells, Tubac, and Willcox and enjoyed your references to Arizona names and places. We look forward to seeing you again!

  7. I love stories of “pay it forward” – such as the Harley rider, and you with helping Isabella. The recognition and appreciation are well deserved, and to have the experiences you are having this trip (sadly without Bill) must be making it so much nicer.
    I classify as an Indie Author, retired Revenue Agent for the State of Washington, and have seven self-published seven books so far. I love writing stories, short, long, and my blog. I have two books in the works right now. But when I read your blogs and comprehend everything you go through to bring us your wonderful books I just want to shake your hand. You are truly an inspiration.
    I will see you at your book signing in April at Mill Creek. I am looking forward to meeting you after all the years of trying to get to a signing…lol. I have your book After the Fire (currently and safely tucked in storage due to traveling) as well, it helped to understand your drive, and focus mine. I received my copy of The A List, which I will bring to the signing. I am so excited to finally meet you.
    Cecily (CJ) Vermote

  8. I read

    I read “After the Fire” in one sitting also. I found it full of things to think about.

    In the photo with Isabella I’m not sure if that is a black bow on top of your head or sun glasses. If glasses, that is a good place to put them.

    Sounds like you are having a good tour.


  9. Dear fellow blog readers,
    If After the Fire or testimonies to its helpfulness have touched you, please consider keeping a copy (0r more) on hand when it’s appropriate to pay its message forward.
    In giving and sharing we make ourselves feel pretty darn good!
    Ms Jance, thank you for including Leisure World on your busy schedule. Hoping a future blog relates the up and down week of your talented grandson! And we missed Bill, too.

  10. We have been readers for decades, and got to meet you at a signing at Vroman’s in Pasadena, CA. Thank you for the blog posts and the stories you share. I remember to read them, thanks to the links via Goodreads that I get every Friday.

  11. Let us know when you’re coming to Denver! When “Sins of the Fathers” comes out maybe you’ll consider a book signing here…? (fingers crossed)

  12. The 5th paragraph down you describe our beloved patron, Lester Woodyard, as a “95 year old tall drink of water.” I wasn’t sure he’d find his way to the college for your event, but we helped him buy a ticket and went over the map with him twice. I’m so glad he got to talk to you. He asked me if you would and I told him it was likely. He must have been thrilled. And now we have to track him down for his 5 overdue J.A. Jance books!

  13. I’ve read and reread all of your books……….so glad there is another coming!! I consider my favorite writers my friends………you are my best friend J.A. Jance!!

  14. Loved the entire blog, so many wonderful and interesting stories.
    Just wanted to pay respects to a World War II hero who has since passed on. He was a survivor of the USS Indianapolis. Jim told me his story one night at dinner. There is a reason they are known as the greatest generation.
    Keep your great books and blogs coming. We love them all.

    • When I was a librarian on the reservation, I purchased a copy of Abandon Ship, the story of the USS Indianapolis which sank seven minutes after being torpedoed. The captain was vilified for not giving the order to abandon ship sooner.

  15. Thank you so much for your wonderful books, blog ang you! I’m excited to check out our new Arizona author!

  16. I was at Desert Foothills Library today
    for your book signing. I enjoyed it very
    When you started talking about Bill I
    knew what was coming next. My husband
    passed away from kidney failure and related
    symptoms 4 years ago this May. I’m glad
    you’re sharing your story. I hope doctors
    start doing more studies about it being
    I wish you and Bill the best.

    • Dear Linda,

      So very sorry for your loss. And yes, I know we dodged a bullet. I can’t help but be grateful to that App Fat Secret for saving the day.

  17. Thank you for the tears. You often do that to many. And thank you for the smiles, you do that too; in fact often those tears are accompanied by smiles. In fiction and in fact, you touch my heart.

  18. A few years ago I was in Reno, NV with a sister-in-law when a lady told me about your books, when I returned home I purchased one of you books and I was hooked. I have since read everyone of your books and my husband reads them too. The newest one is here in my home and I decided to let him read it first, don’t worry I’ll get my turn. We are both avid readers and we both have that in common, that is why he got first shot. I had the privilege to have met you at a book signing in Vancouver, Wa, so I’m waiting to be able through the area again in the future, so I can be able to travel for another signing. Thanks so very much for writing the books that you have, so it keeps someone as myself to read when in the hospital off and on for the last year.
    Take care and keep well.

  19. I just finished Reading the ‘A List’ & liked it very much. Very interesting cast of characters, & highlighting the issues of children inheriting defective genes, from unknown parents when doner sperm is fascinating.

  20. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening with you at Barnes & Noble in Tucson. It’s fun to meet another who can say “ya sure, ya betcha” in the correct way. After the Fire is a book I shall cherish for many a year to come and it shall be the perfect gift for many of my fiends. The A List was another book I “just couldn’t put down” so I read on into the wee hours of the morning until Ali was safe from forearm of Eddie. Praying you will soon be back home and rested and your loving husband is feeling much, much better.

  21. Hi, Mrs Jance. Was so glad to meet you and listen to your talk in Sun City West on Friday.
    Have enjoyed your books for several years now. Looking forward to reading The A List.
    I was the guy who told you I came from Ohio to see you. And also for my granddaughter’s Birthday, also. Lol !! Safe travels to you.

    Kevin from Ohio

  22. Hi,
    My wife and I attended your talk in Prescott Valley and enjoyed it immensely. We have read all your books, up to the one we purchased today. (We have kept them all, as they are too good to get rid of).
    My favorite Jance character is JP Beaumont but enjoy them all.
    Thank you for the opportunity to meet you and hear about your experiences.
    Bud and Karen Sargent

  23. I love reading your books, your blog and the many reader posts. I think I have read all of your books and love all of your “families.” I am not so patient as some readers … I am constantly checking to see when your next book will be out, even when I know very well. I want you to know that “I” am somewhere in every book you write. Thank you.

  24. Yesterday afternoon I herd you speak at Panorama City in Lacey.

    This afternoon I eas thinking bout ”The A List” and was reminded of he similarities to my story. My birth mother was a native of Kentucky, married there and had a son. Sometime during WWW II her husband joined the Navy, was sent to Seattle before going overseas. When their son was healthy enough to travel, they moved to Seattle. Sometime during her residency she had one (maybe more) affairs and became pregnant with me.
    When her husband came home and discovered that his wife was6+ months pregnant, he immediately filed for divorce. I was placed in an orphanage sand adopted at age 10 months. When I was in my late 40’s I attempted to locate my family of origin to learn bout health issues. My mother was no longer living and I’ve never been able to locate my “father or his family.

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