Closing the Circle

Over the years I’ve learned to categorize my readers.  There are DTRs—dead tree readers; ARs—audio readers; IORs—in order readers.  Today I’m adding another category to the list—GRs—geographical readers, some of whom only read the Seattle books and some who only read the Arizona books.  The most extreme version of a GR   came to light when I was at a long gone bookstore in Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill neighborhood.  I was signing my first hardback book, Hour of the Hunter, which happened to be my first non-Beaumont book as well.

A woman came up to the table and said, “Is this book set in Seattle?”

“No,” I told her.  “It’s set on and around an Indian reservation near Tucson, Arizona.”

“Well,” she told me archly.  “I only read books set on Queen Anne Hill.”

She did not purchase a book, and I remember thinking as she walked away, “She must have at least three or four books in her library.”

I’ve met lots of geographical readers since, but none that have been quite as adamant about it as she was.  And I get it.  It’s fun to read about familiar places.  It can be jarring at times as well.  A corrections officer used to drive “the chain,” a network of vans used to transport prisoners from one facility to another.  His trips often took him through southern Arizona and he admitted that, on occasion, while traveling from places in Texas or New Mexico, he’d stop off on High Lonesome Road to let his passengers have a pee break.  Once he started reading the Joanna Brady books and learned about her living on High Lonesome, he quit longer stopping there.

And then there was a woman named Bonnie Abney who picked up what she expected to be another Beaumont book only to find herself in Bisbee, Arizona, complete with a scene at Evergreen Cemetery where Bonnie’s beloved fiancé, Doug Davis, had been buried decades earlier after dying in a firefight in Vietnam.  That chance encounter between author and reader led to a now decades-old friendship between Bonnie and me.  For full details on that story, maybe it’s time to read or reread Beaumont # 21, Second Watch.

So, yes, geographical reading can be fun when you encounter one of those “ah ha” moments where you find yourself saying, “I’ve been there.”  Truth be known, being a geographical writer can be fun, too.  I love putting those little in-crowd touches into my stories, the small details that may only resonate with a few of my readers.  That’s as true for my Washington-based books as it is for my Arizona-based ones.

When I’m being introduced in public, the hosts often recount that I’m the author of three different series—the Beaumonts, the Bradys, and the Ali Reynolds books, as well as “five inter-related thrillers”—the books about the Walker Family.  To my way of thinking the Walker books are every bit as much of a series as the others, but why quibble?  Besides, I understand why publicists state it that way.  Life on an Indian reservation in Arizona is far removed from life in New York City, which is why both Tony Hillerman and I were told by early editors, “What you really need to do is leave out all that Indian stuff.”  But it turns out, in Hour of the Hunter, the Indian “stuff” is the whole point.

When I went to what was then the Papago Reservation as a school librarian in 1968, I had zero knowledge about the people I was about to meet.  There’s a low-lying pass in the highway as you drive west into Sells, and every time I crossed that pass on the way to school, I had the sense of being an outsider—a sense that came from me, because the Desert People welcomed me and over time became my friends.  The women I met there, the ones I counted as friends, lived with all kinds of adversities—poverty, physically abusive or cheating husbands, alcoholism, diabetes—and yet they taught me so much.  Rita Pablo, a basket weaver who worked in the cafeteria at Topawa Elementary, told me about being exiled to a job in California after graduating from boarding school. Her story became Rita Antone’s story in Hour of the Hunter.  Loretta Ramon’s sense of humor still makes me smile.  In fact I quoted one of her stories verbatim in Sins of the Fathers, and she was the one who taught me that every work of art—in beadwork, basketry, or pottery—must have a mistake in it, because only the Great Spirit is perfect.  Melissa Juan, my first library aide, got beaten up by her husband when she decided to try taking a nighttime college course at the University of Arizona, but she went anyway. When I drove her into town to register for the class, she was still sporting two black eyes, but she registered, took the class, passed, and went on to become one of a class focused on training Indian teachers that was offered offered by Arizona State University.

I came to love the people, the place, and the lore.  I came to treasure the Tohono O’odham legends I learned as a storyteller on the reservation, telling 26 stories a week in K-6 classrooms.  I often wore a bright green dress on storytelling day, and since I’m very tall and the kids were very short, and since I came for no other purpose than to provide fun, the kids called me the Jolly Green Giant.  One of the storytelling precepts I learned from the Desert People is that the story must end where it begins.  In other words, lives and stories both have to come full circle.

So I wrote the Walker Family books as a way of introducing people who would never visit the reservation to the people and traditions I had met there.  I wanted to make that life come alive for others the same way it had for me.

The summer after our daughter was born, my husband and I were invited to the wine dance.  The in question wine is made by fermenting the fruit from the saguaro, producing a beverage with the look and consistency of tomato juice but with the kick of tequila.  Guests sit around a bonfire in a circle (Yes, it’s summer, but it’s cold in the desert overnight and fires are necessary!)  The cup is passed from hand to hand, with each person in the circle taking a sip.  Over time enough wine goes down the hatch until people are sick—enough so that the wine ends up being barfed back to the earth, thus completing the circle.  Our tender Anglo sensibilities may regard this process as gross, but among the Desert People  it’s a sacred tradition, not unlike Christians sharing communion.

On the night of the dance, someone had to stay home with the baby. Guess who was elected?  As for my husband?  He went and was absolutely in his element, and from then on—until the day he died a decade later—he rubbed my nose in the fact that he had sat in the circle and I hadn’t.

Fast forward forty years. I had written four of the five Walker book by the, and Queen of the Night had just been published. That’s when the man in charge of the tribal museum in Topawa asked if I’d come to there to do a signing.  I agreed, but but I was very nervous about it.  I felt as though I had treated the people and their beliefs and traditions with respect, but I had no idea how they felt about my work.

When Bill and I arrived at the event on a blustery March Saturday morning, I was astonished to find all kinds of out of state licenses in the parking lot—vehicles from Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Idaho.  My Milghan (Anglo) snowbird readers had seen the event posted on the website and had driven a hundred and fifty miles round trip to see what it was all about.

The event started with the emcee introducing the medicine man who did an invocation in Tohono O’odham.  I know part of the time he was talking about me because occasionally he used the word “librarian.”  Evidently there is no Tohono O’odham word for librarian except … well … librarian.  When the invocation ended, the emcee introduced a group of young people who would be performing a circle dance.  “Please don’t take any photos during the circle dance,” the emcee cautioned, “but when we open it for social dancing, you’re welcome to join the circle.”

The whole time they were dancing, my mind kept going back to that wine dance I missed back in 1973.  “You know, Judy,” I told myself, “you’ve been griping about this for forty years.  Isn’t it time you put your money where your mouth is?”  So when the emcee opened it for social dancing, I stood up to go down and join the circle, and do you know what happened?  The Desert People who were there gave me a standing ovation.  As I stepped into the circle and joined hands with the people next to me, my heart was overflowing with joy, and it seemed as though nothing better could possibly happen.  But then a miracle occurred because something better DID happen.  Some of the Milghan folks from those out of state cars came down and danced in the circle with me.  It turns out II really HAD made the Tohono O’odham come alive for them.

That circle dance was then and still remains the high point of my literary career.  I can’t think about it without getting goosebumps on my legs.

So why am I mentioning that story this morning?  I just heard that for July only, Amazon is offering a Kindle edition of Hour of the Hunter for $2.99, and it occurred to me that maybe that price tag might appeal to a few of my GRs (see above)—the some other readers who limit themselves to one series or another without ever looking at the Walkers.  I’m hoping to them them into giving those stories a try.  In Hour of the Hunter, they’ll discover a remarkable piece of storytelling, one where the stories and legends of the Desert People—the ones I learned as a storyteller—are woven into the fabric of the book.

Caution, spoiler alert.  It’s no accident that the crazed killer in Hour of the Hunter turns out to be a former professor of Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.  Yup, it’s a tribute, if you will, to the guy who wouldn’t let me into his Creative Writing class back in 1964 because I was a girl.  Take that, you jerk!

Which reminds me of something my mother used to say:  He who laughs last laughs best.  That Creative Writing professor died before my first book was published in 1985.  I’m most certainly laughing, and the circle is officially closed.

37 thoughts on “Closing the Circle

  1. Thank you for sharing these stories with us. You open our eyes and our world. I live on the east coast but through you and your books I’ve been able to experience your worlds and your people. Separated by distance I still have a better understanding of a much bigger world. I found you and your writing through your Walker family series. Today I have read most of your books and for me they are filled with friends.

  2. While I don’t consider myself a geographical reader, I do have to admit that one of the things that I love about the Beaumont series is the Seattle references. Both sets of my grandparents lived there, so almost every summer we would go up there for a couple of weeks. Mentioning places that I can remember visiting takes me back to my childhood and all the fun I had there. Thank you for providing us with those wonderful books and making the geography as much a part of the stories as the people are.

  3. This was an especially enjoyable read this morning! Thank you for sharing your life with us. I don’t fall into any of your reader categories – I’m not picky or discerning; I read them all as soon as I can get my hands on them! Your Walker Family series was a wonderful surprise. I wasn’t sure when I started the first one whether I would enjoy it quite as much as Ali, Joanna, and J.P., but of course I did! You treated the stories and way of life with such respect and love.

  4. Loved this. I guess I’m an IOR since I’ve read every book you’ve published as soon as it came out!
    I got to hear you speak in person once on a cruise ship. Kind of funny, the night before they announced that you were on board, we were at a table next to the Captain’s table. I told my husband, “ I know that woman”, but could not figure out how. Funny how someone you’ve never met seems to be a friend in your own mind!
    Thanks for all the great hours of reading!

  5. I’m not sure what a DTR is, but I’m a combination of all the other types listed! I’ve read all your books in every series and can’t wait for the next to appear. I’ve only been to Seattle once, but love recognizing places I visited. For the others, you’ve introduced me to places and cultures I’d never have known. Thank you.

    • While I am not 100% certain, I think a DTR is somebody who will only read actual books. They will not do ebooks or audio books. In other words trees must be sacrificed for your reading pleasure.

    • DTR means we read books on paper. Such a funny way to describe those of us who still prefer to hold a book in our hands in traditional book form.

  6. How about binge readers, re-readers….. I consider myself a DR, devoted reader but of limited funds. I work an extra job, it was to support my addiction of reading and gardening but now sadly the money helps pay the house bills. You are still my one book credit a month top author which means as soon as your book is on Audible I’m reading it.
    As a DR I have read or re-read all of your books, own several in my e-book and audio library. When I first discovered you 8 years ago I created a checklist ok it was a spreadsheet I’ll admit it, that included columns of library hold dates for books and e-books, used books and eventually Audible, with “read”dates and separate tabs for each series. Sounds serious, hmmm but necessary when you have a serious addiction, read series books as you can get your hands on them and not necessarily in order.

    I love reading about other places and people, how they live, think and feel, (Normal people, not the rich and famous). But, I get excited when I find a book set in my neighborhood or find out an author lives or lived nearby (as with David Rosenfelt’s Dogtripping) reading about him living less then 10 miles away in a neighborhood I visit. Or reading one of my cousin, Robert Germaux’s books set in the Pittsburgh area where my father grew up. Or reading a author’s newsletter or FB post about daily like and struggles. Oh, I’ve been there, I’ve visited that town, I’ve done that before or my dad used to talk about going to see the Pirates… It’s the human connection factor, we want to feel connected to others in this world where people pull in their garages, close the garage door remotely and enter their houses not to be seen again till they drive away the next morning.
    It’s also a way for the shy or introverted to make comfortable connections.
    And now with COVID-19, as my friend messaged me the other evening, “I thought I saw you in the store, but with your mask on and mine fogging my glasses, from six feet away I wasn’t sure”.

    p.s. the Walker circle was too small. I’m still mourning the end of the series.

  7. I have never been a geographic reader, but I do really like the books by you and Jon Talton that have an AZ connection. The first book of yours I read had Beau driving down Invergordon Rd. thru my old neighborhood! It’s slightly out of date now since there is a small roundabout at Lafayette!

  8. Well, I admit to being a largely a GR reader, enjoying the Beaumont books about my beloved Central Puget Sound most, but have ventured forth in retirement to absorb a lot of your Southwest lore. The last laugh reminds me of my grandfather who fought in WW I (on the German side). He was buried alive in an artillery attack and when dug up was taken to a front line hospital. Twice the medics gave up on him and placed him with the dead bodies to be transported back home. Finally sent to his village in the Leipzig area where his doctor gave him but one year to live. That was in 1917 and he was telling me the story in the 1960’s and smiled when he said that the doctor died in the 1930’s. My grandfather vowed never to enter a hospital again and he died peacefully at home in his 80’s.

  9. I guess you would consider me an IOR. I discovered your books in January and completed the Beaumont and Brady series. Reading the Ali Reynolds series now. I especially enjoyed the Brady series and would love to read more of them. Is the series closed or will you continue adding more books? Thanks for the many hours of enjoyable reading!!

  10. Dear Ms. Jance, I believe you are by far an interesting and riveting story teller, and now (may be) I can speculate for that gift. You weave real life experience in to your stories to make them come alive. I am ,as you would say an IOR, I read a Ali Reynold book (unfortunately not the first in series) and got hooked. I have read all four series IO and through your blogs when you relate to events that were part of your books, I get amazed. Kudos. I should note that I have never lived either in Arizona or Washington (though now my son leaves in Arizona), but I look at maps, satellite images and likes to familiarize myself with locals, and to me that makes reading your books lot more fun (when I picture all events in my mind as watching movies). Thanks

  11. We were at that celebration! Love,love,love all your books. Just read your latest and loved every page! Thanks for all the entertainment you have given the world.

    • From Holcomb, IL! So you were one of those people. As far as I’m concerned, you were there to witness one of the greatest honors of my life. Thank you for making that trip.

  12. I believe that I have read all your books, the Walker series are my least favorite. Not because of the Indian stuff, because I know where of you speak. But, they seem to me to be the most frightening, and brutal of your writings. Darker and more sinister.

    • Those books grew out of a time in 1970 when my first husband and I crossed paths with a serial killer. Since they were planted with a dark seed, it’s not surprising that they became dark books.

    • Those books grew out of an encounter my first husband and I had with a serial killer in 1970. Since the books grew from a dark place, it’s not surprising that the Walkers turned out to be dark books.

  13. I believe it was February 2016 when I picked up my first Michael Connelly book — his 18th. I was sucked in in the first paragraph! At the end, I searched for a list of his books and was overwhelmed. And, for the first time ever, decided to read all authors chronologically. A supreme author will have enduring characters, and a caring reader can’t get enough of those characters (my opinions). I’m an AR / IOR. You and I’ve had a discussion about Gene Engene being not just a voice but BEING JP Beaumont to me and subsequent narrators falling far short (I’ve had that discussion with him as well). Your publishing company shouldn’t have messed with my characters! Well ok, your characters. Long story short, I love your characters, you for bringing them to life for all of us, and pray they will be coming for many more years. Love and thank you, J. A.

  14. I can’t imagine refusing to read a book because of its geography! How do you learn about new places if you don’t read about them? My sister has lived in Phoenix for 16 years now. I visited her at Christmas and we spent a night at the Surgeon’s House in Jerome. Driving through Cottonwood, I immediately thought of Ali Reynolds. Another time we went to Wickenburg and I thought of JP and his rehab. If it weren’t for your books, those places would have meant nothing to me. By the way, if you haven’t already done so, please use Jerome in an Ali book. If you have done so, please remind me which one, so I can reread it! Thanks for your books. I’ve read them all, even After the Fire. I’m a fan!

  15. Thank you for always sharing your reasoning behind how you write. You have done great honor to the Native people when you write.
    Happy 4th!

  16. I love all of the stories about the Tohono O’Odham people. The Walker Family series is my favorite.

  17. I love your books but they have suffered for my career. Good news- now retired and catching up. Enjoyed your thoughts on coming full circle.

  18. Thank you! I loved hearing how a lot of your real life goes into your stories. I am a DTR, IOR and GR. The first one of your books I ever read was a Joanna Brady book, Dead to Rights. Visiting a friend in Oregon I realized I hadn’t brought enough books to read after the only one I took so I visited her neighborhood library and found my first JA Jance novel. Immediately hooked I knew then I was going to need to read the rest of the series and in order. Took me a bit to find the first three books but not impossible. After that I waited for every Joanna Brady book that came out. Having lived in Phoenix for over 50 years I was well acquainted with Arizona as well as Tucson and Bisbee. It was fun reading about Bisbee and picturing all the places you mentioned and knowing exactly where they were. Same goes for the Ali books. I’ve been to Sedona and Prescott many times and knew the road she was on when driving between the two.
    No longer living in Phoenix or Arizona but I always think of them whenever I read an Ali or Joanna book and it puts a warm place in my heart.

  19. I guess I’m all of your categories except that world-narrowing lady you met. I’m a DR for sure, an IOL, an AR and a RR (repeat reader) which led to BR (binge reader). I have all your books, (in order of how it all began) paperback, Hardcover, and Audio. I started with Beaumont #5 and had to backtrack but IOL from then on. Last summer while imprisoned in the hospital and then the nursing home for over 10 weeks, JAJ was my lifeline. Thankfully I had my iPad and its library filled with all the JAJ books! My goal was to live long enough to get to September and listen to the new Beaumont. Now I am hoping the world won’t blow up before February so I can read the next Joanna Brady book. (September was hard enough but February?!!)

  20. I knew exactly what you were speaking of about the story coming back full circle. I noticed that of good stand up comedians, some time back. They can start, deliver a punch line, then go on with the act. At the end of the act they would always bring it around to the beginning punch line. Always consider those comedians as humor for the thinking person.

  21. I have never been to Seattle, but Beau is my favorite character. I love reading about his escapades which often end up with a car that is totally destroyed.

    I have visited my sisters in Tucson several times so enjoy the action there. I didn’t know anything about the Indians there and found what you’ve written about them very interesting. I think they were doing just fine until we came along. Keep well.

  22. You have always been one of my husbands favorite authors. So when I saw that you were going to be speaking at the Sacramento, CA library, I knew we had to go, for him, of course.

    But as soon as you started talking, sharing your life stories and characters within your books, I was completely drawn in with your fans. Somehow fans doesn’t seem to be the correct word to describe the audience that day. As everyone was sharing, it felt like a warm group of friends, catching up with happenings in friends lives, that weren’t able to be there, like Beau, Joanna, etc.

    There were so many unfamiliar books from which to buy. After a long time deciding, I ended up with your book of poems and Hour of the Hunter. I haven’t read any real mysteries not a thriller, but I was so interested in the stories of Toronto O’odham. As you were signing the books, you mentioned it was a dark book. Didn’t have a clue by what you meant, but now I know.

    I’m just about to finish Queen of the Night and am so anxious not knowing which series to read next! It’s going to be hard leaving the Walkers. Each person, surroundings and dialogue has been so real. I can hear the gravel under the car tires, feel the dry heat, smell the bacon frying and bitter anger brewing within me. Then in another chapter or book, I can feel the family dynamics and see the beauty of the night blooming cereus. In fact, as I was growing up my mom had the plant. In your storytelling, you have a wonderful way of helping the reader be a part of the happenings, good and bad. You truly are gifted, sharing fictional characters becoming real and the sharing of your life experiences.

    Thank you so very much for all your sharing, and I look forward to meeting “new friends” in another series. It will be with book in hand as a DTR! ?


  23. I read and love all of your books! I just read them so quickly and they end to soon! I re read them too! Sins of the Father was a favorite as is Beau! Thanks for writing!

  24. Your blogs are as wonderful to read as your books. I love books set in places I haven’t been, especially when the author has lived there. My husband has relatives that lived in Spokane and Tacoma and we have looked on Google maps for his grandparent’s home; I love the feature on the Kindle Fire that allows me to highlight a word or place and click Search Web. I have learned so much that way. I am both a DTR and ebook reader. Interestingly, during these long long months of shutdown, I reverted to buying the trade paperbacks if my favorite authors were on the grocery store or Target bookshelves. (2 of yours were.) It has been like a separate experience to read while physically turning the pages instead of touching a screen. On the other hand, the other benefit of Kindle is the ability to put the font and backlighting anywhere you want them. I am also 76 and marvel at your output and energy!! When I was working, my office was a block from the library so at that time I did try to read the Brady series in order. Then I found Beau when you brought them together and started reading those as well. Since I’ve been retired I don’t mind taking things out of order! That’s the way I read Ali. And now, I just bought the Walker first book thanks to your blog. I’m glad your editor and TH’s were wrong!

    [Btw, I have been burned by the author I love being the first name on the physical book, and after I get bummed by how it doesn’t meet my expectations as I read it, I go back to see the “and xxx YYYY” in smaller print under the famous name on the cover. I couldn’t finish either of the two like that I had purchased; in one instance I sincerely doubt whether the named author had even read the book.]

    Thank you for the many hours of enjoyment I’ve had and will continue to have from your writing. Take care of Bill, your puppies, your garden and your family!!

  25. I found J A Jance in Western Stories by Tony Hillerman. I was probably drawn by the setting in Arizona. Where I’m from. Now I am in ID.Then I looked in the library for more & got hooked. I have read each & every book. Of course the Ali ones, put me right @ home. Can’t wait for your next one.

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