Have It Your Way

Several years ago at an International Thriller Writers conference in New York City, I met a fellow mystery writer, Isabella Maldonado. After wearing a gun and badge for 22 years (including attending the FBI National Academy at Quantico) she retired as a police captain and has embarked on doing what she always wanted to do—be a writer. Sound familiar?

Between then and now, Isabella and I have become friends. Earlier this year, she sent me a review copy of her third book, The Cipher, which I read, enjoyed, and even blurbed. I don’t blurb anything I don’t like. It’s darker than my books, but sometimes dark is just what the doctor ordered.

The Cipher went on sale a couple of weeks ago. Now emails from readers are coming in, and last night she sent me a note asking for advice in how to deal with one of them—a note from someone who decided it was his job to point out everything he thought was wrong with the plotting of her book. In my experience folks who do that are often people who would like to write and who know that, if they did so, what they produced would automatically be better than what his or her targeted author has written. Isabella wanted to know how to deal with the know-it-all. I suggested that she send my standard MYOB reply which goes as follows: Thank you for writing. Your input is appreciated. Regards, JAJance.

In other words, wham, bam, thank you, ma’am! The first time I used that reply was in the early 2000s when I received a note from someone calling herself “Melissa G.” who, after seeing my photo on the website wrote to tell me that I was so ugly she hoped I wore a bag over my head when I went out in public so I wouldn’t “frighten” people. My website says I respond to emails, and if I didn’t respond that was a response in itself. So I sent the reply mentioned above. If you happen to send me an email and receive that in response, you’ll immediately know you’ve plucked my last nerve!

At the time I received that missive, I was writing the first Ali book. Some of you may recall that in Edge of Evil Ali receives a very similar message at her website, cutlooseblog.com from someone named Melissa G. All of Ali’s blog followers wrote in to tell Melissa G. exactly what they thought of her, so I didn’t have to. That, by the way, is something I call Writerly Revenge.

But back to the need for authors to tell their stories their way. I’ve hinted that J.P. Beaumont makes a cameo appearance in my next Ali book, Unfinished Business. I may be making publishing history here in that a character from my HarperCollins books is able to show up in a Simon and Schuster book. The whole idea of writing a crossover is to bring readers from one series to another and vice versa. The first time I did that was in Partner in Crime, an attempt to bring my two separate sets of readers—the Beau readers and the Brady readers—to the same book. It worked like a charm, and suddenly they were all reading both series in equal measure.

Ali is a relative newcomer to the game—nearly twenty years as opposed to close to forty. It turns out that readers who prefer J.P. continue to be the most difficult to bring along to something different. Hence my decision to have Beau show up in Unfinished Business.

From the very first scene in Until Proven Guilty, when I walked around a crime scene on the back of Magnolia Bluff, seeing things through Beau’s eyes, hearing what he heard, and being privy to his innermost thoughts, he has come to me in first person. That’s who he is. Since the Ali books are written in the third person, I automatically assumed that Beau would show up in that book in the third person as well. Boy was I wrong! When it came time to write about him, there he was in all his curmudgeonly first-person glory.

I finished the book and sent it to my editor. When she sent back the line-edited manuscript, she sent a note explaining that she had changed Beau’s parts from first person to third. It occurred to me that maybe, if someone else did the changeover, it might just work. Boy was I wrong about that! I was rocking and rolling along with the editing process right up until I hit the first Beau segment, and it was like crashing into a brick wall.

That happened about four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, and there was close to a pyroclastic blast around here. It was very similar to the one that occurred with a previous copy-editor. While working on Man Overboard, he had blithely gone through the whole manuscript changing timeline notations with wild abandon. Then, near the end of the book when he suddenly discovered that Arizona doesn’t do daylight savings time, he added the following notation: “I didn’t know that. Please fix.” A good deal of ungrandmotherly words escaped my lips right about then, and the same thing happened this past Saturday when Beau suddenly did a jolting switcheroo from I and me to he and him.

My longtime readers know Beau the same way I do—in the first person. He’s not just a pronoun to them. They enjoy his little internal asides that speak directly to the reader. They like his dry sense of humor, and those things just didn’t come through in a third-person version. My Simon and Schuster editor, who doesn’t have decades of history with reading those books, had no problem with Beau suddenly showing up in third person, but I did. And I’m pretty sure my longtime Beaumont readers would react the same way. Not only would they not try any more Ali books, I was afraid they might give up on J.P. as well.

So I took the Beaumont portions of the book and put them back in first person. Once I did so, Beau came off life support and bounced back into the picture. It was the difference between reading about a paper doll cut out and a living breathing human being. And that’s the way Unfinished Business will be published—MY way—with Ali’s parts in third person and Beau’s in first.

I usually take my editors’ advice. Eventually I was able to convince my editor that Beau’s voice was essential to the story and that I needed to be true to my character. As for what happens if, once the book is published, I have a bunch of literary Monday-morning quarterbacks taking issue with the way I wrote it? I just happen to have an email response all queued up and ready to send: “Thank you for writing. Your input is appreciated. Regards, J.A. Jance.

Or I could just send them my shorthand version of that: WYODB—Write Your Own Damned Book!

59 thoughts on “Have It Your Way

  1. Good morning and thank you. I needed a reason to smile. I read all of your series though I started with Beau. He is one of my favorite characters. I look forward to reading the newest book. When I think of Beau I tend to hear Frank Sinatra singing, My Way. Each of your characters come alive in their own way as I read. Thanks for letting your editor know that your readers expect certain things from your books.

  2. Do not concern yourself with what theMelissa’s of the world think. Met you in person & believe you are beautiful inside & out.

  3. What a wonderful message today. I think there will be a special place in Hell for folks who write nasty emails to authors. They must be very unhappy people. I love the reply you send them.

    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. It’s almost time for lefste.

    • I misspelled lefste. There is no t in it. Praise the Lord that I won’t be eating it ever again. Once in 1953 was enough! A college friend brought some back after Thanksgiving. I was amazed to watch her spread it with butter, roll it up and eat it. Her family was Norwegian.

      • I don’t know what in the heck you are writing about. Lefse is delicious. Incidentally you spelled it wrong the second time too. It is a flat potato pancake that you can spread butter and sugar and cinnamon. There is nothing disgusting about that. I think that you are confusing it with Lutefisk which is dried whitefish, or dried and salted cod, pickled in lye. It is gelatinous in texture after being rehydrated for days prior to eating. NOW THAT IS DISGUSTING. I have a good friend Norwegian descent who makes both of those things. I ate the disgusting lutefisk once as a child. But at every holiday I hope to get some lefse.

        • Kristin, I’m sure you know there is a friendly rivalry between Swedes and Norwegians. We make fun of each other. My folks are Swedes and we had lutefisk once a year on Christmas Eve. It smells bad, but is served in a cream sauce over mashed potatoes. I only ate one bite of it then.

          I think lefse would taste better warm, but won’t try it. 🙂

      • I’ve read all your books and enjoyed them all. Each character stands strong on his or own right. I have no problem going from one to the other. Thank you for years of great reading!

  4. I love all your books. I miss Beau. I had read all the book out at the time about Brady then discovered Beau. At one point I sent you an email because I had not read the book when Beau kills his wife on their wedding day. And you very nicely wrote and told me what book to get. I was so impressed that you wrote back. I even made my husband take me to Bisbee Arizona after getting hook on Brady lol.

  5. You are a breath of fresh air in dismal times. I have enjoyed and treasured your books for years and especially now when I am hunkered down due to Covid. I just recently signed up for your blogs and always feel better after I read them.
    Please continue writing your wonderful books and blogs.
    You are the author. You decide what the story is. Thank you.

  6. Prefect, Judy. Thank you for my chuckle today. You brighten my day! ??????
    Jeannie from the Mesa library crowd

  7. I vividly recall Ali receiving that horrid message on her blog. Upon encountering this in the book I had a visceral reaction. I still remember how my blood pressure shot up. So your writerly revenge actually improved that particular scene in the book in my view. So in a really wild roundabout way melissag for all of her insecurities, faults and perhaps even mental issues led to a positive outcome. That’s what I call making lemonade out of a big fat lemon

  8. I love the Ali and Joana books, not so crazy about JP. I just realized it was because it’s written in first person. I’ve just never cared for stories in first person. Two of JP’s books were on sale this week and I did buy them. Keep writing. I love your books.

  9. Not only is JP first person, his audio voice is Gene Engene’s, no other!!!
    I’m so glad he’s coming back!
    And I’m on the hunt now for Isabella Maldonado!! Thank you!!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  10. Thank you for your blogs 🙂
    J.P. is J.P. 😀
    Finally I could preorder Unfinished Business from amazon.
    Altho, I haven’t checked if I could, for a month or so?

  11. You’re so right, JAJ. Your readers have come to EXPECT Beau told in first person. Somehow, I think Beau in third person would come across as a pale imitation of the real character. When I think of Beau, I hear him speaking in the vocal tones of Gene Engene, who narrates the Beau audiobook I’m “reading” right now (Without Due Process), and imagining Beau in third person feels like the “core” of the character is missing somehow.

  12. When done right – as YOU do – a crossover is a joy. DTRs are invested in your characters and having another friend (Brady for instance) react is like having a good friend introduce you to one of their friends. To me, it’s all personal contact.

    And, let’s face it, during this pandemic, personal contact has been extremely limited. Crossovers make me feel a little less isolated and I thank you.

  13. Love your reply! Here in the south, we’d either say “Bless your Heart” or “That’s nice”

    I didn’t need a crossover book. Once I read the first J.P. Beaumont, I was just looking for anything you had written. I’m hooked on every series.

  14. You are still a teacher… I learned something new from the second paragraph “blurb”. Thank you Google!!
    In simple terms, a blurb is the short yet descriptive account of the book that goes on the back cover. The blurb should include any information that represents the book best and intrigues the readers.

  15. Editors! I quite understand. The same thing happened to me. The second edition of one of my books had gone to a different publishing house and a different editor. I was talking about taking notes on 5×8 cards (I know, I know – this dates me – but we didn’t have computers and smart phones then). The editor went through the entire book and changed them all to 8×5 cards. No matter how much I protested the edited version was published. I got my revenge on the next edition and changed them all back to 5×8’s. Editors!

  16. I started with J. P. years ago and slowly got drawn into Joanna Brady this last year. For some reason Ali didn’t appeal to me but then I read one, then another, and my free time has been used up recently living in Ali’s world. Dreading the day I’ve read the last one, but then I’ve been reading out of order so I can always go back and do it all the “right” way, including J. P. since it’s been so long since I’ve read many of them. I had detached retina surgery last December and I don’t know if my vision will ever be back to what it was. I’m so grateful for Large Print and for your books.

    • Barbara,
      My eyes are not the best either. My salvation is audiobooks available through my area library.
      Feel sort of guilty not purchasing the books and hope the compensation to the authors is decent. Is it?

      • Yes, Lorna, I use my local library all the time. I’m retired so don’t drive as much, which is when I listened to audio books. I worked in the public library in Portland Oregon for 25 years and learned what a great resource libraries can be. Thanks for the suggestions.

    • Barbara, my wife and I love all Judy’s books, and have read most of them, although like you, not necessarily in order. We also listen to them on CDs when we travel. Although there is nothing like holding a book and feeling the pages, if your eyesight does go you can always listen. The people who read the books do a good job and it is fun sometimes to hear the voices of the characters.

      • Thanks, Tom! When I worked I listened to audio books on the bus or in the car. For some reason when I listen sitting or working, my mind wanders and I lose track. Listening to audio books is one thing I miss now that I’m retired and don’t make daily trips in the car. I use my phone now for reading using Libby and check out electronic books via my library. Never ever thought I’d enjoy digital books but I guess we’re never too old to learn!

  17. Drop your S&S editor a note that says HDYTP? (How do you top perfection?) Stick with Beau in the first person.

  18. I guess if I were a copy editor, I might be familiar with the successful series of books by a best selling author. If I were not, I might think about it before changing the “voice”. As for attacking someone’s looks, way off limits. When I met you at a gathering in Cypress CA years ago, I was impressed with your height. I was 5’11”. Your age as well. I am almost 83, and have enjoyed your books forever. Glad you were able to restore the first person in the latest. I am looking forward to the next Brady novel due out in Feb. Stay safe. Happy Thanksgiving.

  19. I love all your books. I had heard of your writing and was told that I would enjoy them, I first pucked up Exit Wounds, I was in love with Joanna, I learned long ago that when I read from one author that I need to read books in their order just in cas ye there is a crossover. I was then on a quest to find and read all your books. You never disappoint. Looking forward to a new Ali book. Your characters are all like family to me. Keep up the good work.

  20. It always amazes me when a reader thinks they know better than the author or even that their opinion is important. If you don’t like the book, stop reading it! I’ve dropped lots of authors when the writing loses its spark and seems to be “phoned in” or when the violence goes over my tolerability limit. I don’t like social activism or political activism either. I prefer my authors to keep those opinions for their private lives so I can continue to enjoy their books and the characters they created. Writing is a business so insulting half your readers doesn’t seem to be an intelligent financial move to say the least!

  21. Hi Judy. Sue and I read and/or listen to all three series, and like each of the characters as they are. As I recall, when Beau and Sheriff Brady met Beau was first person and Joanna was third…am I correct? It worked then, and it should work with Ali as well. Keep on keeping on…See you next time you are in AZ.

  22. At one of your book signings in the Los Angeles area, you introduced your husband Bill “he writes the checks” and yourself “I write the books.” I join the others responding to today’s blog, “Keep writing your books (your way) I will read them.” Although I do prefer holding a dead-tree copy, my bookshelves are full so I am now reading books on my Kindle. Thank you for making them available in an e-format.

  23. I’m certainly not going to WMODB (I think that’s the acronym, anyway
    not as long as I have J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady and Ali Reyonolds to look forward to. I’m a “newby” as they say. I’ve only read the Beaumont novels.
    One thing I’d like to say is that I’ve been so please with the fact that J.P. has aged!
    While I personally am consistently reminded that I’m getting older, I find it comforting that J.P. has as well. I have read several author’s “series” where their recurring character never ages. To be honest, it didn’t become so obvious until I read the Beaumont novels.
    Secondly, ( the prior was a “Firstly” if you will”. I am happy that J.P. has “infiltrated” into the Brady series. I have only read the first one and I am starting the next series, but I find it so comforting that the friendship they fostered during their overlapping case in Arizona hasn’t been abandoned. I have only read Desert Heat so far but I’m happy to anticipate maybe hearing a word or two from J.P. Beaumont.
    I’m happy being in the stands cheering. I’ll let others be the Monday Morning quarterbacks!

  24. I love hearing your writerly advice (even if you weren’t intending on writing this blog entry as such) I’m taking notes on all your experience and it’s much appreciated!! I especially liked the MYOB comment and the WYODB! 😀
    Suzann in Colorado

  25. I love your polite MYOB responses to the wannabe critics who think they can do a better job of writing your books than you do. I doubt I could refrain from arrogant three and four syllable word responses. I save my “eloquence” for mad letters. Much more fun than the 4 letter words I am thinking. I enjoy your books. As a lifetime book-a-day reader for most of my 77 years, I don’t bother to spend time with characters I don’t like or would not enjoy knowing. Keep up the good work! Judy

  26. It seems odd that your editor was not familiar with your other books – surely that was a disadvantage to her in doing her work (not to mention a deficit in her life generally). The good news is that now she can read them all – what fun that will be!


  27. Thanks for the laugh! I’ve read, enjoyed and recommended all your series. That said, I absolutely adore JP. I began today to “read” the series again, My reading is via audio book, and Gene Engene is JP’s perfect voice. I’ll look forward to JP’s visit with Ali. Thanks for keeping him true to character – and for all the fabulous characters I’ve come to know and love.

  28. I enjoyed your comment about people who are know it alls writing to you! I had lunch once with Kathleen Woodiweis (author of Flame and the Flower,ect.) after an author signing and a ‘fan’ corrected her about something that she had written in her book (boy were those fans aggressive) and I asked her why she didn’t correct her and she said what would have been the point she wouldn’t have believed her anyway, I thought true but I admired her calmness and I admire yours about rude readers!

  29. NO WAY should Beau EVER be in third person. Glad you are sticking to your guns. After all, you’re the talented writer, not your editor. I was worried that if you didn’t go along with the editor’s suggestion you’d be jeopardizing your association with him/her. I don’t know how these things work but it seems too often anymore our hands are tied in so many areas that are so unjustified. I have the date on my calendar when the new Ali book will be available.

  30. Another reason I love you and your books. I really like the WYODB comment. I have read all of your books, and it doesn’t matter to me who you put where I know I am going to enjoy the ride. Keep on keeping on.

  31. “an attempt to bring my two separate sets of readers—the Beau readers and the Brady readers—to the same book. It worked like a charm, and suddenly they were all reading both series in equal measure.” This certainly worked for me!! You keep on writing and I will keep on reading with NO complaints!

  32. I really loved your responses to unwelcomed comments on your books. They should put those people in their places. Keep up the good writing.

  33. I look forward to all your blogs. Some make me laugh, some make me cry, some encourage me to think. I like that you have the moxy/moxie to put people in their places (politely, of course). As you said several years ago at a meet and greet book signing (and in this blog), you use your writer’s prerogative to put “nasty” people in their places. Yay for you!

  34. I really like your blogs. I laugh & cry. You are so good with words.
    I fell in love with the Brady books, because I was from AZ. Then Ali, from The Sedona Area. I recognize a lot of the places in her books. & Beau is another person that comes alive in your books. I love when you crossover your characters. Can’t
    wait for your next books.
    & I love reading about your personal life.
    Good health to you & your husband 🙂

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