A Word of Advice

Several blog readers have commented about the writerly content in my blogs, but since writing is my life, that’s not too surprising. I’m either writing, thinking about writing, or editing something already written.

One thing I almost never do is talk about writing a book at the idea stage. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do book proposals. The only time I did was with Kiss of the Bees. The original editor, at a different publishing house turned it down, said that it didn’t line up with the proposal, and demanded the advance back. I found out later that the whole problem had far more to do with conditions inside the publishing industry at the time than it did with the content of my book, but having the head of a New York publishing house tell me that I couldn’t “write my way out of a paper bag” was incredibly hurtful. I actually took to my bed for for a time after that disturbing phone call. Later, when my regular editor at HarperCollins took on the manuscript, she made fewer changes in that one than in any previous manuscript, but I digress.

So why not talk about a book when it’s at the idea stage? At that point, they’re very fragile. Think of a bubble floating along and encountering something as harmless as a blade of grass. What happens to the bubble? It vanishes. So if you mention a possible storyline and the listener says, “That will never work.” or “That’s a terrible idea.”, then chances are the idea will vanish, too.

Today, I’m making an exception to the “idea stage” discussion rule because, if someone wants to write in and tell me it’s a terrible idea, I don’t care. Because I already KNOW it’s a good idea.

The idea stage book I’m going to discuss is the next Beau book. No, at this time it doesn’t have a name or a proposed pub date. What it does have is a file name—Beaumont # 25 along with a few paltry notes about the characters involved in the name file.

In several of my more recent books, the stories have harkened back to characters who appeared in previous novels. Why not? If I’ve already created someone—given them character, history, and context, it makes no sense to let all that work go to waste.

Since the character(s) I have in mind turned up in Breach of Duty, I’ve spent the last several days reading and re-editing that book. In the past my publisher has released new editions of older books to precede the upcoming one. For example, Payment in Kind featuring Maxwell Cole was reissued prior to the publication of Proof of Life, and Taking the Fifth with Alan Dale was re-released prior to Sins of the Fathers. Now I’m lobbying for a reissue of Breach of Duty prior to the publication of Beaumont 25, and no, I am NOT going to tell you which character(s) will reappear. You’re perfectly welcome to call me a spoil sport on that one. Again, I DON’T CARE!

By the time a book has been written, line-edited, copy-edited, and given a first and second pass reading, I’m usually sick and tired of it. As a consequence, I seldom, if ever, reread my books after they’re published. Breach of Duty came out in 1999. That means it was probably written in 1997 and being edited in 1998, and that’s the last time I looked at it—until three days ago.

Overall, I think the book held up fairly well. I believe I was a little heavy-handed when it came to the foreshadowing part of the story, and I know way more about crime scene investigation now than I did back then. One of the DNA issues that was impossible then is possible now—so I let that be, but there were a few things I did change. For instance, “post traumatic stress syndrome” is now, twenty-two years later, firmly in the lexicon as PTSD—disorder not syndrome. And my tendency to write echoes—repeating the same word several times in rapid succession—is very much in evidence. I removed several of those.

But those were just the words. The story itself still worked. The characters still walked and talked, and, even now, after all these years, some of what they did had the power to give me goosebumps. So rather than throwing those folks away and leaving them moldering on the literary rubbish heap, I’m putting them back to work.

When I first started writing, I joined a Seattle area writers group called Seattle Freelancers. One of the founding members was Betty McDonald, the author of The Egg and I. When speaking to the group once, she mentioned that one important lesson she learned over a life-time’s worth of writing was not to throw anything away.

I think Betty would be happy to know that I’m still following her advice.

30 thoughts on “A Word of Advice

  1. I was glad to see the mention of “The Egg and I” written by Betty McDonald and more importantly you met her. This was one of my most favorite books when I was young. If I was unable to find something to read I would check it out of the library and read it again. Great writing just holds up even with time. Thank you for your writing talent to tell a good story. Will there someday be another Walker family book.

  2. Good morning. I only know rereading from the readers point of view and I think of it as visiting old friends. I appreciate it when you let us know what book we could reread before we read the newest book in your series. Your writing world is a mystery for me and I enjoy getting an idea about how books are written and published. Thanks for sharing this with us. It has been years since I reread the Egg and I by Betty McDonald. Life in the 1940’s would certainly be a lesson in histroy today.

  3. A small world, My sister married into the relatives of Betty McDonald on Vashon Island. I believe her MIL was Betty’s sister? It took me a long time to begin reading your work, but, I am hooked, got Pattie hooked, Pattie got her Mom and her sister hooked. Cannot wait for a new Beau…my favorite. Thank you for all you create.

  4. Personally, as a writer trying to break into the world of published authors – published by legitimate publishing houses and not self publishing or writing a text book – I appreciate your sharing your life as a writer. I would love to find a writers group where I live, but the lock down makes that problematical. Not only do these groups provide support but also wisdom from experience. So thanks for your refreshing self-revelations about your writing life. Much appreciated!

  5. I hope you bring Maxwell Cole back. Beau’s problems with him were always fun to read. He sounded like such an awful person.

    I think it is wise not to talk about works in progress.

  6. Look what you’ve done, given us all something positive to think about and prepare for. I’ve learned over the years that I’m a “lazy” reader. When old characters show up in new books, I remember them but I’m not one of the readers who can quote you book, chapter and verse of where I’ve seen them before and I don’t pick up on timeline oddities like some folks do. I’m glad you didn’t stay in bed otherwise I would have missed out on many hours of enjoyable reading.

  7. I am so excited to hear that a new Beau book will be coming out. I can’t wait!!!!
    This still being the Thanksgiving weekend I want to thank you for the years of enjoyment you have given to me.
    I also want to thank you for your blog. I look forward to reading these every week. It gives us all a glimpse into the life of JA Jance and the mind of a writer. The likes of which I know next to nothing.
    I’ll stick to what I know best and that is reading and you will forever be at the top of my list.

  8. Kiss Of The Bees was my favorite of all your books. I fell in love with the Tohono O’odom Nation. I have family down there and have spent a lot of time there. I never went in to the reservation. Wish I would have.

  9. My niece, when she was in college, passed that bit of information on to her brother. She would do one paper and would use that as the basis for the next one expanding it as needed to fit the sizing required. She said that saved her lots of work! Talk about a lightbulb moment 30 years late!

  10. I am soooo happy just to learn that Beau #25 is under way even if not on paper yet. I was introduced to your books at about Beau #7 or so by my daughter-in-law. Then I had to go back and start from #1. Beau is still my favorite but don’t get me wrong. I enjoy all and am currently rereading all Ali books and am on The A List now. Thanks for the holiday treat of the knowledge that another Beaumont book is on the way.

  11. Interesting blog. Again, this is what makes you one of my favorite authors. And the fact that I have another JP book to look forward to….I just want to THANK YOU!
    I hope you had a good Thanksgiving.

  12. The book writing process just amazes me. Years ago when I was much much much younger I wanted to write a book. Didn’t know what I wanted to write about, although it was going to be a mystery, I just wanted to write a book. In my mind I thought I would just sit down and write it, find somebody to publish it and that would be it. Reading your blogs these last few years I’ve realized how naïve I was. So it’s best to leave it to those who know what they’re doing and they do it really well. Thank you so much for all of your stories! I love them.

  13. I can’t believe you knew Betty McDonald! She was one of the authors my sisters and I read all the time! The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books! No wonder I have read all your books and look forward to each one coming out. Your characters are like members of my family!

  14. Thank you for another great blog. I look forward to them on Fridays. They always seem to trigger something for me to write about in my post here on Facebook. I’m an avid blogger that I started about two years ago after a lifetime of thinking about writing something but never doing it. I always thought I had to write a book and could never get an idea or plot for one. I joined an online marketing group PBS and we had to modify over 100 marketing pages in their training. It was tedious and dreadery until I realized I could write my own pages with my own ideas. I now have over 200 pages in my website. Most are not marketing pages but my life’s memories. I am 85. I don’t think I am much of a marketer. I don’t sell much. But my friends and family have my stories written down for them to read after I am gone. And I have a wonderful new hobby to fill these olden years when I am not reading the latest Jance book. I’ve read the all. Thank you.

  15. I just finished re-reading Sins of the Fathers. Now I’m looking for the next Beau book. I’ve read all of your books, in all the series. Love them all. Enjoy getting to know the characters.

  16. I’m loving the J.P. Beaumont series. I am getting close to being caught up, so I guess I’d better slow down and read some more Joanna Brady (whom I also love!). I’m thrilled that you are still creating them – I look forward to Beau #25!

  17. I frequently return to your books, especially when I am anxious or sad – they are so real and so different from my real life. The great thing about it is its almost like you have written countless books. I’m sure I haven’t read all the Beau books if you are currently thinking about #25, they were the series I found it most challenging to get into. Excellent news, I can start back at the beginning!

    You are something to be thankful for indeed.


  18. Thank you for a wonderful insight into the ‘writer’s craft.’ It is very illuminating, and it provides a great perspective for all your readers. I am glad you persevered in the face of the company problems and poor people skills of the one editor that got you down. Well done.

  19. Please don’t listen to those who tell you you can’t write or they don’t like your characters. Your readers KNOW you can write and we all love your characters, well at least most of them. (not the bad ones) So just keep writing the way you always do and we’ll keep reading. thank you for all the wonderful books you have given us.

  20. I enjoyed thinking about the next Beau book having recently read Breach of Duty. Your mention of Betty McDonald brought back some great memories-my cousin and I read and laughed our way through her books one summer long ago (we were in high school)-I may re-read her again!

  21. My sister, former head of the Librairies at the U of A, got me started on your books. I am so thankful she did!

  22. I’ve enjoyed all your books and have reread then again and again . I will reread the bees . It’s nice to know that I do reread the stories when you have repeat characters. But I have to go thru each summary . As for suggesting from the peanut gallery please don’t kill anyone off . Losing Joanns mom and step dad put me in a spin along with the Ross and company … if you must put Beau on tv like the detective from Denver . Otherwise I’m in favor of you writing anything you want . I’m not a judge you do what you do so well … isn’t that a song . Hoping your stay healthy and safe . Have a great week … Jan

  23. As a Native American, I enjoy the background, meaning, etc. when you insert it in your b00ks. Although my Tribe is many miles away, I still feel that
    “especial connection” in your storytelling.. Thank you! (Beau is my favorite character — as a former Seattleite, I enjoy recognizing the area in the stories).

    • It was as a Librarian/Storyteller on the reservation that I learned a story must end where it began. I keep that tradition in mind as I’m writing.

  24. I don’t know what I would have done without you and J.P. Beaumont during the Coronavirus! I was introduced to your two “ladies” by our local librarian and I loved them! I read everything they had before 2020 started. But a pinched nerve in my back stopped me from sewing or doing much of anything except sitting in my chair. I didn’t think I would like the Beaumont books and the library didn’t have any. But I needed something to read so I ordered the first 3 and was immediately hooked. My husband and I are both almost 80 and have health issues so our family has a fit if we go anywhere these days. My husband is an avid reader like I am and Mr. Beaumont has helped keep us out of trouble and entertained for months now. Thank you so much!

  25. I am a reader and Beau is my all time favorite. I have read them in order several times, cause, I can do it and my memory, well, as I tell everyone I can’t remember everything, and the most important thing to remember is my mom’s name, Mom.

    O.K., Alyce.

    So, I will look forward to your next J.P. Beaumont book, but I will be surprised when it arrives, cause I can’t take time to remember that you are really early in the book.

    Thanks for so many many hours of wonderful adventures with Beau and Joanna.

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