The Problem with Being Prolific

Once upon a time, a new comer to Bisbee, a recently appointed minister’s wife, said to one of my six sibling—a teenager a the time, “Your mother is so prolific. Doesn’t she know anything about birth control?” If the woman had had nerve enough to address that question to Evie Busk herself, she would have heard—directly from the horse’s mouth—exactly which failed form of birth control each of us was. So whenever I’m being introduced in public and someone says, I’m prolific, I know what they mean—they’re saying that I write a lot of books. They don’t mean any disrespect, and they’re not necessarily implying that I pop books out in a hasty, indiscriminate fashion. I’m sure they don’t mean to sound insulting when they say that, but I have to unload a whole bunch of emotional baggage before I can recover from the introduction enough to go on with whatever I intended to say in the first place.

But the truth is, I do write a lot of books—sixty something so far, (But who’s counting?) and all of them still in print! If you think about every book containing approximately 100,000 words, give or take, plus the ones I threw away in process, that’s a whole big bunch of words—60,000,000, and that’s not including emails or blog updates. No wonder I’ve worn the tread off all my fingers and have fingerprints that no longer scan properly as far as CLEAR fingerprint readers at airports are concerned. And sixty books means not only a lot of words but but also a vast number of characters and storylines.

Occasionally I drop a stitch. For instance, in Beaumont number 9, Payment in Kind, there’s a moment when J.P., without a word of dialogue, has a three-paragraph long thought in which he mentions not having served in Vietnam. Then Second Watch came out which is totally based on … well … the fact that he DID serve in Vietnam. It took very little time for sharp-eyed readers to begin pointing out that discrepancy. Eventually my publisher allowed me to go back and revise the offending paragraphs in Payment in Kind. In other words, in later editions of the book, that correction has been made, but in earlier copies, it’s still there—and I STILL hear about it.

In the Brady books, Marianne Maculyea and Jeff Daniels have had three kids—two adopted daughters and a son who was born after the twins arrived. For a book or so I completely forgot about poor little Jeffy, and readers brought the problem of his absence to my attention. Rest assured, he turns up in Missing and Endangered. And for a time I forgot one of Jennifer Brady’s dogs—Tigger—and had to explain later, that he had passed away off screen during one of the pauses between books. (Yes, characters do continue to grow and change between books. After all, it was between Dead to Rights and Skeleton Canyon when Joanna Brady’s widowed mother hauled off and eloped with the medical examiner!)

And for a time, in at least one book, Beau’s son-in-law, Jeremy, inexplicably morphed into Jeffrey. So yes, these problems happen, and I’m happy when readers point them out to me. I do my best not to make mistakes like that to begin with, but they do occur. One of the things that keeps me from losing heart when those errors are pointed out to me is something I learned almost fifty years ago from a friend on the reservation. Loretta Ramon Garcia Hawk was a Quinault who ended up on the Tohono O’odham, and yes—a character by that name, Loretta Hawk, did indeed appear in the most recent Beaumont book— Sins of the Fathers. Some of the character’s dialogue bits are direct quotes from the real Loretta. But on the reservation, where most artisans were focused on basketry, Loretta did beadwork. One of her beaded necklaces is on the credenza next to our front door. She told me once, “Every piece of artwork—bead work, basketry, pottery making—has to have at least one mistake in it because only the Great Spirit is perfect.” Thank you, Loretta. Those words have buoyed me up many times over the years.

So now I’m busy starting the next Ali book which has been named Unfinished Business. That means I’m having to mentally sort back through the previous fifteen Ali books as I’m constructing this story in order to keep this book consistent with previous ones. How old is everyone now. Who exactly are they? Very early on, I encountered a stumbling block. Ali is B. Simpson’s second wife, and I needed to have some information concerning his previous one, but could I find it? Nope. I remembered that at some point in their early relationship, B. and Ali had been discussing previous spouses, but where that conversation occurred and in which book eluded me. I have PDF versions of all my books on my computer, but searches for the words former wife, ex-wife, and previous wife, all came up empty. Finally I went with what I thought that missing conversation contained and moved on.

I believe most of you know that my first task assignment each morning is to answer my e-mails. I disregard the fifteen or twenty “paid advertising” offers that show up each day. Those are all no-goes. I also toss out the ones from people who want me to pay them to write blog entries for me. (That’s not going to happen, either!). But emails from my readers—those I read through and answer—every single time.

On the sixteenth of July, I received an e-mail from a relatively new reader named Donna Tipton. She said that shortly before the Covid lockdown, she had been gifted with a box containing most of my books. She’s evidently an IOR (In Order Reader). She reported that she’d had to purchase a couple missing volumes along the way but that she had read all the Beaumonts and Bradys and was now working her way through the Ali Reynolds books. And what thought went through my head right about then? “Maybe she can help me find that missing conversation.” And she did!!! Only a few hours later, Donna sent me a screen shot of a page in question. It was in Chapter Ten of Cruel Intent, and it gave me exactly the information I needed. (Thanks for the help, Donna!) My remembrance of what I’d written wasn’t exactly on the money, but I was able to build on what was said and go on with the story I’m writing now.

So I’m sitting here today with the next of my “prolific” books sitting at the twenty-percent mark. That’s critical, by the way, because the first twenty-percent of a book is always … well almost always … the most difficult part to write. But I’m very grateful that I have devoted readers. (Dare I say prolific readers?) who help keep me on the straight and narrow.

As for the Great Spirit? I don’t think He’s going to be offended, because I’m pretty sure an error or two will slip into the finished book no matter what I do.

31 thoughts on “The Problem with Being Prolific

  1. The error rule applies to quilting too…. I finished a bed size quilt, sent it off to the long arm artist, and got it back. Took a picture of the finished quilt hanging. And THEN, I spotted the mistake I’d made in the very center of the quilt. I had many conversations with myself about “fixing” it by appliqueing a patch over the mistake. Then someone told me just what your friend told you and I let it go. I still see the mistake when I look at that quilt, but no one else does unless I tell them (or they’re too polite to point it out to me). Inconsistencies between books are just par for the course and yours stand even with some few errors. As for the minister’s wife, I’d have slugged her….

    • A dear friend teaching me to paint roses told me it’s o.k. to make mistakes, because then that rose is uniquely mine. There can never be another like it. Now I always deliberately leave a blank square on all my cross stitch to make them uniquely mine….just as your books are you and you alone. I love them and look forward to many more.

  2. What a fantastic story! As always, you keep things real and humble. You are a great woman and the Great Spirit has truly gifted you with beauty, despite (and maybe because of) the “flaws” Keep it real.
    Blessings from Colorado,
    SPW

  3. I first heard that saying about having at least one mistake in an art work from a Native rug weaver and have heard it from Native artists many times since. I’ve even said it myself with my own projects. I’m glad Donna Tipton was able to help you find that conversation between B and Ali. Remember – your fans are your de facto continuity research department! Just ask – someone will have the answer for you or will be more than happy to help you find it. Notice that I’m volunteering “someone”, but not myself? I’m currently occupied with re-arranging, re-organizing, remodeling, downsizing and packing for a 900+ mile move which includes selling one house and buying another. At this point, I’m lucky to be able to find floor space among the boxes and debris. LOL

  4. I enjoyed this post for so many reasons. The job authors do creating worlds and the people in them fascinates me. I try to imagine how you keep all of the story lines correct. Thanks for a look into that situation. Another of my favorite authors recently had an online question and answer chat with some of her readers. She was asked if a certain, casually mentioned character would have his own book. She mentioned that he was a “suit” and no he would not have his own book. This caught my attention because I remembered her mentioning him as a career military man, not a “suit”. Not a big thing but she apparently changed her mind about him after she wrote the book he appeared in. I sent her a message reminding her of the book, page and how he was originally described in the story line. Pesky characters and readers. Thanks for the work you do keeping all of your characters straight.

  5. So glad to hear that I’m not the only one that has trouble keeping track of characters and plot lines at times. I get so wrapped up in the story challenge/ writing. I have several ways I try to keep track of characters including card files, software program with Scrivner, and notebooks. Still despite my best efforts, get things mixed up sometimes.

  6. That explains ‘new comer’.

    Tell Donna if she has time – read the books in reverse order. I did that once ( although it was probabley 10 years ago so there were fewer books then ) and it was very intersting.

  7. I’m glad to see where Beau thought about not going to Viet Nam. I knew I had read it somewhere, but didn’t try to find it. I have the First Avon Books Printing dated March 1991 of Payment in Kind.

    I think as the author you can do anything you want with your characters. That’s what makes it interesting.

  8. Last night we had a guest who was a high school classmate of Frank’s. As she was touring our home she immediately stopped in front of my bookcase that held all of your books. Each character’s book’s, all in order. She said, “Oh, I just started reading the Jance books. I love them and it looks like you have all of them. I’ll be borrowing some from you when I get moved to Tucson”. I immediately told her that yes, I do have all of the Jance books and all are signed, but I DO NOT LEND my books. She looked rather startled for a second and I realized I had sounded pretty rough. I explained that I love and value these books and I have already had the experience of lending a favorite book to someone and it took 4 years to get it back. NO MORE! This schoolmate of Frank’s then said she can probably get your books from the library. I said, yes, and the bookstore.

    • My feelings exactly! Lending books is the same as kissing them good-bye.
      My feeling is I bought them, go buy your own. Besides the writer has to sell books to make a living, too.

      P.S. Ditto on the quilting snd hi from Colorado.

    • Old saying: “There are two kinds of fools — those who lend books and those who return them.”

  9. I don’t know which I enjoy more: Your published works, or your musings in your blog. OK, I love both.

  10. I am very glad that you are a “prolific” writer. I love your writing style and all of your series. Your characters are believable and very easy to care about. Thank you for many hours of enjoyment I have spent involved in the trials and adventures of the people you write about. I am so glad that you are continuing to add to the collection of books.

  11. Hi Ms. Jance!

    My wife and I love all your books, but at least for me I have somewhat of a preference for J. P., and I am waiting (im)patiently for the next one.

    Speaking of inconsistencies between books, I’ll bring up one you didn’t mention above: There is at least one book (and I kinda think two, though I’d have to go back and search the ebooks we have to be sure) in which Paul Kramer is referred to as Phil Kramer. don’t remember which book(s), but my recollection is that it(they) is(are) not books in which he actually appears, but is mentioned.

    Keep up the good work, we love your books here at our household!

  12. The error theory holds true with baking, too. You can tell my pie crusts and breads aren’t commercially made because they’re not perfectly shaped. They taste fine, though, I hope.

  13. One of the reasons I stopped reading Stuart Woods’ books are his really nasty comments at end of each – don’t tell me about plot, grammar, or spelling errors; no, I don’t want your plot ideas; pretty much “buy my books and leave me alone.” I admire your attitude as much as I enjoy all the books you write – and your blog. Thanks for all the enjoyable hours I’ve spent with Joanna, J.P., and Ali!

  14. I’ve always wondered about keeping all the character info correct. I was envisioning an outline type notebook for each character. It continually amazes me how some readers fuss over the smallest things. My opinion is “get over it!” You write three series, probably close to two years between each character ‘s new book. I think everyone should just be happy the book gets written so we can enjoy it!

    What really makes me happy is my favorite authors refusing to allow politics to be discussed on their blogs. Thank you for being one of them. I would really miss your characters but I decided after 2016 not to support any writer who was obnoxiously dismissive and insulting to my conservative viewpoint and I was pretty shocked at what some of them said. It’s hard enough to make a living as a writer but insulting half of your readers is not at all smart.

  15. If you have an error, it doesn’t effect the book. I love Beaumont best. But I am reading a book and I won’t name the author. Four people in room, President tells everyone to leave, but Carrie. Very next sentence the President speaks, “Carolyn, what do you think.” That is a major fail of author if you can’t spot an error from one sentence to the next.

      • In a romance novel published in the late 80s a woman came into a house for a visit and put her purse on the kitchen table. A few paragraphs later this is mentioned again altho a couple of different words are used. I don’t know how the editor missed it.

  16. I can’t even imagine how you’d remember EVERY detail of all the books and stories you’ve written. Being “of a certain age” I hadn’t even noticed any of these incidents of character inaccuracies. And even if I had I would probably think that I was remembering them wrong and no way would I mention them. I’m just in awe that you’ve written so many stories and that they are all SO good. I’m thrilled that you’re working on another Ali book. Something to look forward to FOR SURE. I’m hoping also that there’s another JP book in that intelligent, creative imagination of yours, but I imagine that’s a wait and see when the story reveals itself to you. Again, thoroughly enjoyed this blog. Thanks SO MUCH! Sue

  17. unless you have an eidetic memory, it would be very difficult to keep track of every single detail. Of course, if you didn’t write continuing series, not a problem, but where would be the fun in that. Many of my favorite reads – Jack Reacher, Lucas Davenport, Virgil Flowers, Dave Robicheaux, Matthew Scudder, Joanna Brady, Ali Reynolds, J.P. Beaumont, Temperance Brennan, Kate Shugak, Walt Longmire, Joe Leaphorn, Jesse Stone, Spenser- are continuing series and I believe better for it. The real challenge seems to be make the individual books different enough that they are not the same book over and over, while engaging with protagonists and characters that are real and intriguing, and believable. And if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way, you probably are not putting in the proper effort. It’s doubtful that Einstein arrived at E=MC² as a first iteration.

  18. I bought every book you have published d this far and I am pretty sure you will do a terrific job on your upcoming books also. I think it’s cool for you to make those mistakes as then you can see just how many people really get into reading every word of your books. I lent out my Joanna Brady series and when I got them back one was water soaked and I was really upset. I like going back and rereading just to see what I have overlooked the time before when I read them back to back for days and nights on end. It wasn’t unusual to see me with my nose glued to one of your books. You are my favorite writer of all time. Keep up the good work and relish the mistakes. Love always, Jade

  19. Thank you VERY much and bravo for being so “prolific”!! What would I do without you? (that is, all the wonderful, engaging, down-to-earth, keep me reading books and series you have written throughout the years and continue to write…just for our reading pleasure!)

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