Tales from the A List Trail, Part 2

After three weeks on the road, sometimes doing multiple appearances in a single day, I’m pretty much brain dead this morning. I’ve thinking back over the Arizona segments of the tour and considering the things about that trip that were most meaningful for me. I’ll get to those in a moment, but first I need to congratulate Dottie Dantzler of South Carolina who won that presale contest and will be receiving an autographed set of Ali Reynolds books. I was delighted to know that someone in my new book notification list turned out to be the winner. Congrats, Dottie.

I suspect that many people see book signings as an opportunity for readers to touch bases with someone they admire at a time when they can obtain an autograph from someone they regard as “famous.” When my first book was published, my daughter bought me a pin that said, “I’m nearly famous.” And maybe as far as my readers are concerned, I am “famous,” but that’s not how I see myself. I see myself as an ordinary person who loves having interactions with other people.

In Sun City, I had the honor of meeting another bowling grandma. I’ve seen her grandsons, the Strothman brothers, bowl, and she’s seen my grandson, Colt, bowl as well. That was a fun encounter. There’s nothing like a couple of grandmas standing around with their buttons popping off, comparing notes.

Somewhere along the way I met a woman who told me that her brother, an FBI agent, said that I seem to make an effort to get the law enforcement details right. I told her to tell him that everything I know about interrogating perpetrators came from raising kids.

But the most meaningful encounter of the whole trip came at the Costco in Gilbert, Arizona, where the person in question most likely wasn’t even a fan. He was a wannabe writer, and although he bought a book at the end of our encounter, I doubt he had ever read any of my books prior to that.

Signings at Costco can be soup to nuts. There can be loads of people waiting in line—or none. At one Costco event a number of years ago, the manager pointed me in the direction of a table where my books were still in sealed cartons. Opening boxes in order to sign books wasn’t exactly a “celebrity” turn. At another one, where the warehouse was totally prepared for my appearance, they seated me in what was an office furniture display. While I was there, a female customer came by and wanted to buy … wait for it … the furniture. When I told her I was an author doing a signing and I couldn’t sell the furniture to her, she promptly went to the store manager and reported me for being rude. But the signing in Gilbert wasn’t like that at all. They were completely prepared, The books were unpacked and they had me set up with a comfortable desk and chair.

Costco signings are a lot like the signings I did at the beginning of my career—in mall hallways outside B. Daltons or Waldenbooks, or in the aisles at grocery stores and drug stores. Some genuine fans turn up to have books signed, but a lot of the people are what I call happenstance buyers. As they walk by, pushing their carts and totally intent on getting where they’re going, I try to flag them down with the question, “Can I interest you in a murder mystery today?” Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no. Sometimes, the person in question doesn’t even glance in my direction. Who knew that all these decades later my years of selling Girl Scout Cookies would still come in handy?

I was scheduled to be in Costco for two full hours. Half an hour or so into the designated time period, a middle aged man walked up to the table. I have no idea what his job is, but he was a regular looking chap who seemed as though he’d be totally at home on an athletic field coaching his son’s PeeWee League or Little League team. And rather than being a reader, he was a would be writer, a wannabe, coming to me to ask for advice.

He had written a couple of things that were published in Chicken Soup anthologies. Then he wrote something he regarded to be somewhat more serious. When he gave it to a friend to read, the guy said it was “cute.” Beginning writers generally haven’t developed a way to brush off dismissive remarks like that. It’s sort of like being handed someone’s precious newborn, looking down into that angelic little face, and saying to the beaming parents, “Hey, this little kid looks like he’ll grow up to be a serial killer.” The “cute” remark was enough to make the man at Costco walk away from writing completely. I gave him my standard, wannabe writer pep talk—A writer is someone who has written today! (By the way, today I don’t qualify!)

As we continued speaking, he told me that he had finally gone back to writing during his wife’s illness, but that now he had something in mind that he wanted to complete for someone who is apparently dying of a catastrophic illness of some kind. As soon as he mentioned that, I told him he had just given himself exactly what was needed—a deadline, no pun intended—and that knowing there was a timeline on finishing what he was writing would help give him the impetus to finish whatever it was. At that point, he was so overcome with emotion that he simply walked away from the table. I was pretty sure that was the last time I would see him, but I was wrong. Twenty minutes or so later, he came back.

“Now that I’ve composed myself,” he said, “maybe we can finish our conversation.” And what a conversation it was. He told me about his wife’s illness, and then he told me about his father-in-law. The man had been a welder who spent years working on the the twin towers, welding all those steel girders together, and building the towers in six story segments.

“On 9/11,” the man told me, “once the planes hit the towers, my father-in-law told me that they’re both going to come down in another hour.” And, of course, they did. Shortly thereafter, his father-in-law had walked away from welding. He just couldn’t do it anymore. “I believe,” the man in Costco told me, “my father-in-law died of a broken heart.”

With that, he did buy a book. I signed it and he walked away. But I’ve been thinking about that conversation. We all know about the people who died inside the twin towers. We saw their photos, we read their names, we grieved with their families. And we know about the first responders who rushed into the dust and debris and horror, intent on saving lives. We know about the ones who died that day, and we also know about the others, many of whom have incurred lifetimes’ worth of health issues from that dust-filled cloud of death and destruction.

But for me, this was a new kind of collateral damage. This was one of America’s workers, an ordinary builder who took great pride in the buildings he helped create, and who despaired at the wanton destruction of what he regarded as the pinnacle achievement of his lifetime’s worth of work.

I have a feeling there are countless other folks out there for whom the destruction of the twin towers may not have resulted directly in the death of someone dear to them, but whose pride of workmanship and accomplishment were utterly destroyed right along with the implosion of those buildings.

I don’t know who those people are. We will never know their names or what they did, but my heart goes out to them today—and to the man in Costco for whom the loss of his beloved father-in-law remains an ongoing family tragedy.

This morning while I’m writing this piece, I’m hoping he’s hard at work on whatever it is that he’s writing. My fondest desire is that I gave him enough encouragement for him to pick himself up and get back on the horse.

Time’s a wasting.

21 thoughts on “Tales from the A List Trail, Part 2

  1. I’m slightly younger than you are. That said, I appreciate your wisdom and decency when dealing with other people. When I have conversations with or watch other people interacting sometimes you can just see the wreck that’s going to happen. If you’re paying attention through the passing years and all of life’s happenings we earn our “been there, done that” stripes, hopefully experience brings wisdom.

    I am currently working as a home care aide and my client is essentially blind. She listens to tv and prefers the judge shows and Jerry Springer because they are “verbal” not sight oriented. It drives me crazy listening to these people. I find myself wondering if they have a working brain or if they just go through life on autopilot never actually analyzing why their life sucks or simply refusing to acknowledge all the warning signs flashing in their face. And then to go on national tv and let the whole world see how clueless and lacking in morals you are. Mind boggling!

    • We met in Brick and Mortar books in Redmond, I was the guy that was the sperm donor in the early 80’s. I mentioned that I was waiting for results from Ancestry.com. They came yesterday, 2 of my biological children showed up. Out of the 100+ I was told I fathered I knew at least 1 would be a boy (Raised 2 girls). Hit me a little harder than I thought it would seeing I did have a biological son. No idea if they will contact me, time will tell. Also, the daughter that showed results for has the same name as my daughter although spelled different. Told my 2 daughters, they thought “WOW,What a coincidence!” Enjoyed meeting you, love the Ali Reynolds series!

      • Yes, what a coincidence. When you first spoke to me, my hearing difficult made it difficult for me to understand what you were saying. Obviously you were the sperm donor those parents longing for children were searching for. Obviously DNA has been a huge game changer for everyone involved.

  2. I beg to differ!

    “A writer is someone who has written today! (By the way, today I don’t qualify!)”

  3. This was a particularly touching blog – thank you! I always look forward to reading your entries, and today’s was especially meaningful. And I chuckled at your description of your “adventures” when you were first starting out. I hope, as I write this, that man is writing away.

  4. It’d be a shame if you don’t publish a compilation of your blogs some time.
    I’ve found them inspirational.
    Your talks at signings are something I’ve been able to enjoy with my husband. A total surprise to me, but having heard an audio Beau book as we traveled, he was hooked. A 100% nonfiction reader converted! Thank you. He missed
    Bill this year.
    Mesa scooter lady

  5. I really enjoy your books and am thankful I can get them in audio form via my libraries’ Overdrive program. For some reason, I have listened to Exit Wounds repeatedly. I also bought the Second Watch to help me understand knee replacement surgery. In the end, I didn’t have the knee surgery because my body does not tolerate the meds they give you. I love all your characters and cannot pick which I like the most Joanna, Ali, or Beau. Find it fascinating that they all have a place where they can eat out!! I have food sensitivities and really cannot eat out. I did in the past. However, I am a great cook and love eating my own food. I feel like I know the areas you write about even though I have never been to any of them and it is unlikely I ever will. Can’t wait to read your next book.

  6. As one of the wannabe writers you have encouraged, I imagine your work in this area is a lot like teaching. You hope you’ve made a positive difference in the students’ lives, but you might not get to see the results. I hope you get to read Costco Man’s book, and maybe even mine too, someday! (soon)
    Thanks for being a great source of inspiration and encouragement.

  7. Darn, I am sitting in the doctor’s reception room with tears running down my face.
    The complaing CostCo customer made me laugh. Looking forward to the A List.
    Thanks for writing.

  8. Dear J.A. Jance, I can only hope to one day become a fraction of the wonderful woman you are. Your love of people and of their stories is what makes your books so realistic and moving, as is apparent from your blog post today. Your talent and your heart are such a loving gift to the world. <3

  9. You know I am always glad for Friday. I walk my Grands to school on Friday. They are two sisters who one week fuss and fume at one another and the next week are gossiping about classmates in 3rd grade and Kindergarten.
    After they are in school I walk to my car knowing that I have free time. It is like my little secret once I get home for another cupola and to read your blog. Thank you for the stories each week.
    P.S. If I ever saw you at Costco I am sure that I would hush like a young teen..how embarrassing

  10. Thank you for that story. It opened my eyes to a piece of the tragedy I had not considered. All the architects, interior designers, and all arenas of construction were also victims. As we come up to the date in September I will take a moment of silence to remember them as well.
    Thank you for the reminder that there are many sides to every story.

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed the A List. Also, I liked to see the growth Stu was making and the interactions with Frigg. The book was especially gratifying because the A List grabbed me from the first sentence this after I had just finished a book the was so mind numbing boring that after every page I struggled as to whether I should just give up. So thank you!

  12. At a high school reunion years ago, one of our star football players was there. He was very subdued and just seemed to keep to himself. Then the story got around that he worked in one of the towers but had taken that day off. Another casualty in a different way. I think of him every 9/11.

    Wonderful blog entry as usual. Enjoyed being at yor Lake Forrest Park signing. Hope your allergies are better.

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