In Praise of Will Schilb

Last night Bill and I went to dinner at John Howie Steak. It was a three-pronged celebration.

For one, it was a way to take a victory lap over the fact that Nothing to Lose hit The NY Times Bestsellers List. For “a girl from a small mining town in the West,” making the list continues to be a big deal and a cause to celebrate. In the past we’ve had much larger gatherings with kids, grandkids, and any number of others along for the ride. Last night it was just the two of us.

Second on the list was acknowledging finishing the work on Collateral Damage necessitated by the editorial letter. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that the “editorial letter” is the publisher’s first response after an author delivers a manuscript. In it the editor lays out any changes needed before the next step occurs which is “Delivery and Acceptance.” That’s what triggers the next paycheck.

Collateral Damage was a tough book to write. I spent a full year on it, almost twice as long as on any of my previous books. The story seemed to move at a glacial pace and by the time I turned it in, I was pretty much sick and tired of it. Usually the editorial letter comes back within a week or two. In this case, the manuscript arrived just prior to my editor’s wedding. As a consequence, there was a month long pause before it was time for me to work on the book again. When I did, I was amazed. The story wasn’t glacial at all. It moved. There were parts of it that gave me goosebumps. In other words, it works. Now it’s back in New York, and the check should be in the mail.

But the third reason for celebrating is by far the most important, because this month it’s 37 years since Bill and I first met. Our initial encounter was at a widowed retreat where we discovered that our first spouses had passed away on the same day of the year, two years apart. That coincidence was enough to spark a first conversation. Many more followed, and six months later to the day, we married. Friends and relations wondered why we were in such a big hurry. Well, we’d both lost the previous loves of our lives, and, with the clear knowledge that life doesn’t last forever, we didn’t want to waste a single minute.

I was very much a beginning author at the time. In fact, our first official date was my inviting him to the grand opening party for Until Proven Guilty, my first Beaumont book. For the first ten years of our marriage, while I was making less than minimum wage, he supported the whole family—his kids and mine. My occasional paychecks went to fund oddball treats like a remodeled powder room, a hot tub, and a trip to Disney World. His income was what kept a roof over our heads and food on the table. That changed in 1994 when lightning struck in my career. At that point he was able to stop “working outside the home,” as it were, but he continues to work to this day. For as long as we’ve been married, he’s handled the business end of the writing business—paying the taxes, doing the bill paying, and making sure our finances are in order.

When people asks if he writes, too, I often say, “I write the books; he writes the checks.” That may be a quip, but it’s no joke, because I couldn’t do my part of this job and his as well. But he’s also an important part of the creative process. In his previous life, he was an engineer, and what do engineers do? They fix things. From book number two on, he’s been my first reader—the guy who reads the stories sometimes on a chapter by chapter basis as the words leak out through my keyboard. And then, brave man that he is, he lets me know what he thinks—for good or ill.

Early on, I was having trouble with Beaumont number five, Improbable Cause. The story was stuck and wouldn’t move forward. “You need a parrot,” he said. So I put in a parrot, one that had lived its life next to a TV set filled with police dramas. When Beau and Big Al enter a house and hear the chilling words “Freeze, sucker,” it was just the boost I needed, and the book began to come to order. Shortly thereafter, when fellow mystery writer named Stella Cameron was suffering a similar case of writer’s block, I passed Bill’s “you need a parrot” suggestion on to her. She put it to work with similarly salutary results.

When I finally finished the manuscript, I handed it over. Bill read it, thought about it, and said. “This last part reads like an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. You need to put the characters back in it.” As it happens, Bill was traveling to Vancouver B.C. on business the next day. I didn’t use laptops back then. We loaded my desktop PC into the back of his car and off we went. Believe me it was a dead silent drive as we headed north. Once we arrived and my computer was unloaded in the Westin, I went to work, and soon realized Bill was right. The first thing I noticed about the characters was that Big Al’s feet hurt, and once I dropped Beau in the elephant enclosure at the Woodland Park Zoo, Improbable Cause was a done deal. I finished the rewrite in our hotel room, working far into the night and keeping him awake with my clicking keyboard.

Years later, working on an Ali book, Deadly Stakes, I was down to the last few chapters when the story came to an abrupt halt. I turned to my resident fixer and said, “Please read this and tell me how to end it.” After the read, he looked at me and said, “Why don’t you do it the easy way?” I swear, that’s all he said, but it worked. I ended the book the easy way.

In the Ali books, he’s the one who suggested that I bring an AI into the picture. Frigg was the result of that piece of advice. In Nothing to Lose, Bill is the reason Twinkle Winkleman drives an International Harvester Travelall.

This year, when I was in the throes of writing Collateral Damage, I once again handed him an unfinished manuscript. He gamely took a shot at it but finally gave up in despair. “This is a mess,” he told me. “You need to time stamp each chapter so readers will know exactly where they are.” I’m here to report that once again his engineer propensity to fix things worked its magic, and that’s one of the reasons Collateral Damage flows as it is now, not as it was before.

So yes, as we toasted one another with Kier Royale’s last night, the writer and the engineer had a whole lot to celebrate. At thirty-seven years and counting, we continue to do so—every single day.

54 thoughts on “In Praise of Will Schilb

  1. Thank you for a wonderful message. I’m so glad all is going well for you and yours. The little girl from a mining town in Arizona —and also South Dakota—has made it!!

    • Congratulations! Your books are magic no matter who comes up with the plot. I’ve loved them all.
      I understand what it is like to be married to an engineer. I’ve been married to one for the last 52 years. He’s not only my “Mr. Fix-it, but pretty much fixes something (or tells the people how to fix whatever) everywhere he goes !
      Thank you to both of you for great books!!

  2. This is a lovely tribute to partnership and true love, as well as a great description of the writer’s and engineer’s crafts. Thank you.

    Ceci

  3. Ahhhhh that is such a good story especially when people marry and divorce a lot! So nice to have that engineer in your life for the long haul! 🙂

  4. Happy anniversary! This post is an eloquent testament to how he works with you to keep up the quality in your work and your marriage.

  5. Congratulations on hitting the best seller’s list so quickly
    Good for you
    And I thank Bill too for being such a talented betta reader
    I wish I had one

  6. I’ve enjoyed all of your books over the years and also your life stories since we are the same age. We have entirely different backgrounds and yet shared similar experiences. My 3rd husband was an alcoholic but AA kept him sober for over 42 years. Our marriage lasted 40 years until dementia sent him to heaven in 2020. Your characters are like my friends and I look forward to seeing what they’re up to in your books. Thank you for sharing your talent.

  7. I much appreciated her Travelall as we group up going camping in those, towing a trailer, playing road bingo in the back and saying “are we there yet”? Fond memories indeed, had not thought of that car in years….

  8. Happy anniversary, Bill! And you too, Judy.

    This wonderful collaboration is a gift to all of us readers.

  9. Amen……JA……. You and Bill are made for each other and miss you both. Hope all is well with you and your family in what still is some what untested waters with still is going on in the world. I always check book stands for you latest writings and when found and purchased I read from cover to cover and somehow I’m a little more at peace….your books have that affect on people. Well enough of my ramblings , again miss you guys and as always your number one fan and your “Northern Arizona Stalker”…..?????…Dann

  10. I love reading your blogs. This one in particular is very nice. What a combination you two are.
    Congratulations ? and hoping for many more
    Collaborations!
    Linda

  11. I appreciate hearing of the great partnership you and Bill share. Thank you for this window into your life!

  12. Thank you for sharing this and thank you to Bill, who has contributed so much to our ongoing enjoyment of the stories. I’ve read every book and it’s good to know who helps move the plots along. What a great partner! -your devoted reader, Judy.

  13. What a wonderful story. Congratulations on your 37 years together!
    I look forward to your books. I feel like the characters are old friends!

  14. Thank you. I and lots of others enjoyed your Night out. Thanks for letting us {your followers 47000 } enjoy your ramblings. I know the number is higher than that now because I am personally responsible for the addition of at least 7 new followers. Chuck from Tacoma Aloha. Enjoy life as you have been.

  15. This is my first blog I’ve ever read or received. I loved it!!!! It was like JA Janice was writing to me personally.
    I don’t do social media stuff, but when I was reading about her, there was an opportunity to subscribe to a blog. So I thought, what the heck!
    Can’t wait for the new book!

  16. Congratulations on a great, and lasting partnership. Many of the bits you attribute to Bill are among my favorites, including Frig. Stewart is my favorite supporting character and his interaction with her is good stuff. When a novel I read generates lots of internet searches and family discussion, you know that the author is doing it right. Thanks for sharing your celebration.

  17. VERY interesting! I noticed Bill’s input as I read these without knowing (of course) that they WERE indeed HIS input. They now help me understand how such simple assists can move a story along.

  18. I really enjoyed Twinkle Winkleman in Nothing to Lose. Dave’s cousin lives in Homer sent her a book. She enjoyed it so much that she is now a Jance fan also. Looking forward to when Collateral Damage comes out.

  19. Congratulations on finishing the new book AND on the fabulous partnership you and Bill have created. It’s obviously working! ??

  20. I, along with many other readers, are happy you have a resident fixer!!! Keep him well fed and happy!

  21. Judy, thank you for sharing exactly how you & Bill work things out in your family. It’s great that he can be honest and blunt about your writing without you having hurt or angry feelings. All married couples should operate that way, but I suspect your household is an exception . So glad you had a celebration, just the two of you. Sometimes it’s better that way. Congratulations on your anniversary, on making the Best Seller list, and on the way you spread joy to all your fans just by writing a weekly blog that makes us all feel like we are your best friend.

  22. After being married almost 52 years, my husband and I are very dependent on each other. Time does that. We complete one another and together we make one pretty good functioning human being! As we have grown older our strengths are evident as are our weaknesses and we mesh to fill in those spots in one another. Here is to longevity and love! I am glad you have Bill’s aid in writing!??

  23. What a story on so many levels! You and Bill are a real partnership- You create, he edits, and adds a jolt of inspiration to jumpstart the process when needed-
    It’s really wonderful when two minds are in sync in such a way-
    Congratulations on your 37th anniversary, and on your NYT Bestseller status-
    To you both-

  24. Congratulations on 37 years of marriage and moving forward. We were on the brink of 37 when my Bill passed away from Melanoma.
    I can’t wait to read “Collateral Damage” which will be, I am certain, another page turner as was “Nothing to Lose” and I will be reading until my eyes can’t focus trying to finish yet another chapter, or more, until I reach the end of another action packed J.A. Jance thriller with unexpected twists and turns. Thanks for keeping me entertained and energized about reading quality fiction.
    You are amazing and I am so grateful to have followed you through all your years of growing as a writer with a Bill by your side!

    • I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but my son-in-law, Jon Jance, passed away sixteen years ago at age 36 after a nine-year battle with melanoma. He was young and otherwise healthy when he was diagnosed at age 27. Jon signed up for every available protocol and was Patient #7 on Dr. Yee’s T-cell protocol, a treatment that has morphed into something that now allows some melanoma patients to actually go into remission. This came too late for Jon and for your Bill, but I’m glad progress is being made. Jon’s diagnosis is one of the reasons Colt, my grandson, is a bowler. No sunscreen needed.

      • Thanks for responding. I remember talking with you about your son-in-law who was also battling Melanoma at the same time as my BIll. I am greatful for the progress medicine makes and, I believe in many cases it is thanks to the treatments your Jon and my Bill were given that this progress has been made. Blessings to all of you.
        I am so totally proud of Colt for bowling as I, too, have bowled and actually coached junior bowling is my younger days – mostly because our daughter Melissa wanted to try it and they needed coaches. Who knew I would be up to that test. My coup for that time in my life is that I, a right hand bowler, taught a young left hander to bowl, quite successfully his mom said.
        Your story about coming to the Assistance League in Everett for a book signing event then not knowing that the bowling alleyColt was bowling at was directly behind them. Who knew life could be so simple.

  25. I loved the glimpse into both your partnership with hubby and the stories about your stories. Thanks!

  26. Congratulations to both of you. What a partnership, and it takes a partnership to make it work. My wife and I will be celebrating our 59th in a few days. I call it a two piece jigsaw puzzle. The colors may be a little faded, the corners rounded, and scratches showing on the surface, but the interlocking joints still holding strong. Blessings!

  27. Thanks so much for sharing the “behind the scene” story behind the stories. Congratulations on a beautiful partnership – here’s hoping for many more to come. Keep writing – I have loved all your books since the very 1st one and eagerly await each new one!

  28. Thanks for the insight into how you write. But you didn’t tell us how the restaurant was. I might add that I have read 15 or 20 of your novels and they are always of the right length. A rare quality. Too many writers stretch a short story or novella into a boring and wearying novel. I also might add that my wife has become a big fan, and she doesn’t read a lot of novels.

  29. Congratulations on your 37 year anniversary. I love reading how many years couples have been together. We were married 53+ years before my husband walked on. What a wonderful friendship you and Bill have. Thanks for sharing how he helps you unblock. I am fan of your books after reading The Sins of the Father.

  30. Congratulations on your 37 year anniversary. I love reading how many years couples have been together. We were married 53+ years before my husband walked on. What a wonderful friendship you and Bill have. Thanks for sharing how he helps you unblock.

  31. I like how you and Bill work together. It’s not always easy for couples to work together in harmony! The parrot comment made me smile. Years ago, when my late husband was stationed in Germany, they had to move some artillery pieces through the town. Driving tracked vehicles on those old cobblestone streets is tricky enough and it had been raining or was icy that particular day. Anyway, one of the drivers had a problem making a turn and the barrel of the tank (or howitzer – I’ve forgotten which) crashed through the wall of a German civilian’s living room! You can bet that the poor man was quite shaken up. My husband spoke German very well, and was appointed interpreter and go-between for the incident. They all got a laugh (civilians and soldiers alike) when the man whose home had been “invaded” told my husband that he had been watching a Western movie and just as the bad guy said, “Stick ’em up!” (in German, of course), the barrel of that big gun came crashing through his house! Of course, the Army made good and repaired the man’s home. I often wonder if he ever watched another cowboy movie after that!

  32. Hi ! Thank you!!!
    I continue to enjoy your books.
    Your blog today is a sweet and positive picture of your life. Thank you for that, also.

  33. What an encouraging and inspiring toast to commitment and mutual support! You certainly “found a keeper,” JAJ! Blessings on you both, on this special (in so many ways!) occasion!

  34. Congratulations to you and Bill on your anniversary! My wife Fran and I celebrated #38 in February. As the song goes, “…what a long strange trip it’s been…” And we have never regretted a single minute of the trip.
    It also takes a lot of perseverance to have people who can look at what you have written and have them help you “…find your way home…” to wrap up a story.
    Looking forward to more wonderful tales.

  35. I was in the hospital when your new book was released. A social worker asked me for authors and titles I’d like to read and she got a copy of “Nothing to Lose”. She had never heard of you, by the way. I read the book in two days and have donated it to my library as am down-sizing and clearing out books. Really enjoyed the book as Beau is my favorite.

  36. Meant to say that I enjoyed reading about Beau’s adventures in Alaska poorly prepared as far as a good winter coat and gloves from the comfort of my warm hospital bed!

  37. Congratulations on 37 happy and productive years together. I wish you many, many more.
    I enjoyed your story as usual. The glimpses in to your life are always fun to read.

  38. So look forward to your blogs. Now obviously looking forward to Collateral Damage! Thanks JJ and Bill?from AZ

  39. It was intersting to hear that Bill has valuable input in your books. And yes, you do have a lot to celebrate. You are not only a terrific author, you are also a kind and caring person who recognizes that by your wonderful husband, and family.

  40. So nice to read. Here’s a toast to you both. Happy Anniversary!! And many more.

    Being married to an engineer myself for 53 years, I know where you’re coming from.

  41. It is always heartening to me to hear of successful life partnerings, moreso when they belong to folks I tangentially know. Congratulations!

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