A Sad Tale from the Missing and Endangered Trail

Fans are important to me. Early in my career while participating in what I’ve come to refer to as a group-grope signing (a signing with multiple authors) I had the honor of being seated next to Ann Rule. Naturally there were dozens of people standing in Ann’s line and very few in mine, so I had the opportunity of observing a pro at work. When she was signing someone’s book, she was fully engaged with that person—looking him or her in the eye; listening to what her readers had to say.

I personally didn’t sign many books that day but I walked out of the event with an invaluable take-away: Fans are important, even to what I considered to be a big time author. And Ann Rule’s lesson is one I’ve carried with me ever since because, for authors, readers are literally our bread and butter business. Each one is important. That’s why I personally respond to each and every email. It’s why I do book tours and why I write my blog entries and my newsletters. I don’t have a team of people going through my emails sorting out the “important” ones because, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all important.

In 1985, for my first original paperback I did 30 signings, despite the fact that I was told by folks in New York, “Nobody signs original paperbacks.” Well I did, not only for that book but for the ten more original paperbacks that followed. In the process I started keeping track of my fans in what is now my newsletter database. That way, when a new book is on the way, I can let readers know.

In the years since then, with the exception of last year, and unfortunately, this one as well, I’ve done approximately the same number of signings per book—25 to 30. If you multiply the signings by 63 books that totals out to almost 2000 events, not counting writers conferences and book festivals. That also amounts to a lot of author/fan interaction.

Over time, lots of those folks have become known entities. Most notable is Terry House from Colorado. So far she hasn’t ever been able to attend an in-person event. She tried once—driving 300 miles round trip to make it happen only to be turned away at the door by a librarian who said the room was too full. If I had known about it, I would have sent Bill outside and let Terry in. She’s an inveterate reader of my books and blogs, and someone I hear from on a regular basis. You’ll also find her name on the dedication page in Missing and Endangered.

Some of the faces at all those the various venues have not only emerged from the crowd, they’ve also morphed into friends. Off the top of my head I can name several: Loretta, Annie, Janice, Marianne, and Valerie among others. Some, like Terry, have become friends without ever attending a live event: Rosemary, Faith and Michelle, maybe? Some share happenings in their own lives that end up impacting the stories I tell, like the Christmas Tree Grandma whose tree from last year is still up fifteen months later, awaiting a time when her granddaughters will be allowed to come to her house to retrieve their gifts.

Among my regular event attendees, two standouts were always Rusty and Kathy Miller. Although they lived in Vancouver, Washington, for years they followed me to events all over southwestern Washington and northwestern Oregon—Longview, Olympia, Chehalis, Vancouver, Portland, Cannon Beach, Salem. Wherever I turned up, there they were, not as stalkers, mind you, but as genuine readers and fans.

By virtue of Rusty’s standing Kindle order, he would usually receive his book at midnight of pub day and stay up late finishing reading it. That way, on pub day his would be the first actual reader review in my in-box.

Last summer, when I was in the process of writing Missing and Endangered, he wrote me a heartbreaking note about the progression of Kathy’s Alzheimer’s and his long struggle to find a good care facility for her. That was when I decided that their names, along with that of Terry House, would be on the dedication page of my upcoming book. Later, when he wrote to say that he’d finally been able to locate a suitable placement for Kathy, I was deep into writing this book and was about to introduce a new character—someone who steps up in the story to help heal a fractured family. And then a brainstorm hit. Why not use Rusty? So I did.

I included him in the book without ever letting him know that not only were he and Kathy on the dedication page, he was also IN the book. The last I heard from him was just before Christmas when he wrote to say that although Kathy no longer knew who he was, he visited her often. He also mentioned that the restaurant where he was ordering his take-out meals for one was bringing him a free Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve.

Pub date came. I fully expected to hear from Rusty first thing that morning because I knew he’d be delighted to find himself in the book, but being preoccupied with concerns about the upcoming Poisoned Pen event, his absence from my in-box didn’t really register. Then, late that evening, with Poisoned Pen in my rearview mirror, an email came in from his address. Instead of being from Rusty himself, however, it came from Rusty’s and Kathy’s daughter, letting me know that he had passed away on December 30th.

Rusty and Kathy Miller

Damn! Why didn’t I send him an advance copy? Why didn’t I tell him? Because I wanted it to be a surprise, and now the surprise has arrived too late. I have to say, it was a very sad ending for the M&E pub date, and I tossed and turned about it late into the night, wrestling with all kinds of regretful wouldas, shouldas, and couldas.

Their grieving daughter has now received a signed copy of Missing and Endangered, personalized in honor of her parents, but that doesn’t get me off the hook. Or you, either, for that matter.

If there’s someone out there you want to honor or even if you just want to say hello, do it now.

Tomorrow may be too late.

And since I’ve just passed along some excellent advice, I’m going to take it. Penny and Wally, for some reason there seems to be a beloved Aunt Penny and Uncle Wally in the next Beau book, Nothing to Lose.


56 thoughts on “A Sad Tale from the Missing and Endangered Trail

  1. Thank you, thank you thank you! Great advice to speak now because you never know when the one who will be there to listen may not be there. I so appreciate your blogging.

    • Thank you for that kind and heart warming blog. As one who lost her husband last year (not from Covid) and a TRUE fan of yours in my own rite, I appreciate your kind remarks regarding your audience and fans. What a great tribute.

  2. S blog is yet another reason why I love you! You are such an authentic and real woman. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. I have to say that you are my favorite author. I enjoy the Joanna Brady series and the Ali Reynolds. They are my favorites. I read both immediately when they come out. I just finished M&E and the latest Ali Reynolds. I now can’t wait for a new book from both series. May God keep you and yours safe and well during this trying time. ‘Your Faithful Reader
    Kay Claborn

  4. Yes, I agree, tomorrow is always too late. Like you, I too have regrets.
    I am finalizing a book about my dogs and their show careers and talk about the people – by name – who were a significant part of that journey.
    I was looking for a picture of one of my dogs and couldn’t find it, so I called an old friend (someone I call a “relative by dog”) to see if she had a copy. Her number was no longer in service. That doesn’t bode well as she runs a boarding kennel. No sign of an obit which is good news.
    We had talked at Christmas and she had not been doing well.
    I had hoped to send her a copy of the book since she figures so prominently in those early years.
    Tomorrow is always too late.

  5. I am a fan of Ann Rule’s and have read most of her books. She also wrote a newsletter for her fans. Her ending was sad.

    On the subject of contacting someone, I had the feeling the last week of January that I should call my former husband. We had renewed a friendship in recent years. However, I didn’t. On Sunday, the 2nd of February, he was found dead in bed. Had had a heart attack several days before. I’m sorry that I put off calling.

  6. The only way to have no regrets is to not take the step to reach out in the first place. We are all vulnerable. ESPing you yesterday as we drove thru Chiricahuas and Cochise County looking for cranes, etc.

  7. Cogent advice that is moving me to action today to contact some friends just to check in with them. It’s a hard lesson to learn and unfortunately sometimes needs to be re-learned much to one’s sorrow. Thank you for sharing this and honoring your friends.

  8. Thank you so much for your blog….I’ve read all of your books and now am listening to each series as I do my 5 mile walks down in Tucson. I live in central Oregon but, we winter in Tucson. I love each series… thank you for writing all of them.

  9. How timely your message! In 2008 I left my life of 40 years to move to another city in order to help my elderly mother. While living in a new place I made friends with a lovely lady who in age was between my mother and me. So she was friends with both of us. After my mother’s death, in 2015 I returned to my former home. However, I stayed in touch with my friend….usually by email. Recently, I realized I had not heard from her in a while so phoned her. Much to my dismay I quickly found out she has either dimentia or alzheimer’s. This lady never married and for her entire life has had a tremendous giving heart to folks all over this world. Her only family lives on the west coast (we are on the east coast). I got in touch with one of her neighbors who let me know that she was keeping an eye on our friend as well as taking her food. Living too far away to be any daily help, I promptly made arrangements to have a nearby restaurant deliver food to the neighbor who will then take it to our friend. While I am not doing much for an old friend, I know that I am contributing to her care. And I am glad I learned of her condition in time to be of help!!

  10. There are faithful readers, but there are also kind, caring, faithful authors of which you are the best. Have a dear long-term friend in Paris, France that I have not heard from in several months. Will give her a call this afternoon. Thank you!

  11. What a heartfelt message. I don’t know of many authors who take their readership/friendships so personally, but maybe I’m wrong? Anyway, it was certainly a wake up call, especially in these precarious days, to take nothing for granted, especially tomorrow. Thank you. My Kindle copy of M&E is waiting: I won’t put it off any longer.

  12. What a wonderful tribute to Kathy and Rusty. Their daughter will treasure the book. And as I sit here tearing up a bit, I am making a list of several friends I am going to be in touch with today! There are some fences to be mended and some that have simply dropped off the radar. Thank you so much for the nudge. I also want to thank you for caring enough to sign paperbacks for those of us who can’t afford the hardcover. I also put my name on the hold list at the library but you can imagine the number of people waiting for your new books!! Wishing you loads of inspiration for your upcoming books. Time just can’t go fast enough between them!

    • Linda, I read in bed a lot because of a back problem. I like paperbacks as they are easier to hold. Sometimes the print is too near the spine and it’s hard to read the print, but I manage. The point is to read no matter what form the book is in.

  13. I thoroughly enjoy your weekly blog. I’m also very impressed with the way you care for your fans. I love your books and have been reading them over the last 20 years.

  14. Judy, this bit of advice is not new. We all hear it all the time, but because of your words, here and now, I am vowing to call all 5 people on my “to-do” list. Every morning when I make my list of things to do, I write down the names of people I need to touch base with. These 5 people have had their names on my daily list for 2 weeks now. It’s way past time for me to let them know I care about them and I’m happy we are friends. I’ve let my busy daily schedule get in the way of the truly important things. Thanks for the reminder. And thanks for your wonderful books!

  15. So touching. In all your blogs it’s plain to see that you’re such a caring person.
    I pre-order all your books on kindle now. I’ve read every one you’ve written, hardback, paperback and kindle and look forward to each one. Never disappointed in your books!
    I also look forward to reading your blogs. Thank you for taking the time!

  16. Now dedication in M&E can be seen in new angle. By the way, loved the book.i May mistaken but my ebook seem to have two errors, chapter 25 when Jenny finds the phone for some reason Joanne name appears. In epilogue there is a minor typo. I may be mistaken . If so forgive me.

    • The Jenny/Joanna problem has been spotted and will be fixed as will pouch instead of porch. Please send along the typo in the epilogue so I can pass it along to my editors. Send it to jajance@me.com.

      • I will have to look again, it was very minor. On last page of epilogue, I think. When I get to my copy I will let you know.

  17. What a wonderful lesson and so true. Thanks for all your wisdom and wonderful treasures with your books.

  18. I have been to a number of your book signings. I was at one in Chehalis at the museum. My Mom who was a huge fan was ill that day and I brought her books that she wanted to have signed. You not only signed them but you put a very nice message that said you were sorry she was ill. That made my Mom’s day! Thank you so much.

  19. This is one fan, and I know there are innumerable others who appreciate your thinking of us and valuing us. I also appreciate your heads up on keeping people in mind. It is even more powerful in this craziness. Thank you so much.

  20. I’m glad the daughter got in touch with you. I assume Kathy is still alive. And, what a nice gesture on your part. My husband is good about going through his phone list and calling friends he hasn’t talked to for awhile.

  21. I was wondering who Terry, Rusty and Kathy were on your dedication page as you usually mention them at in-person book signings. Thanks for writing about them on your blog.

    • Terry is the lady who drove 300 miles and wasn’t allowed in the event because the librarian told her the room was too full.

  22. Wow, thank you for sharing this, so true and a good reminder to us all to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Life is short and you never know when it will end.
    I had a dear friend, in her 80s, I would visit usually every couple of weeks. We would have tea, exchange books (including yours) and jig saw puzzles. Last time I saw her she was doing well, but 10 days later her daughter called to let me know “Mom” had passed away peacefully early that morning.
    Two months later still miss her.

  23. Ah, don’t worry. Rusty knows. He’s somewhere smiling down at you and reunited with his wife. But lesson taken. Never put off telling people that you care.

  24. That is such a wonderful reminder to all of us. When my husband was suffering from metastatic prostate cancer, his doctor figured he had plenty of time. We went on several short trips and had so much fun. Around the 1st week of December I got a text from him saying he felt so much better. One week before Christmas he had a stroke and died on Christmas day. We just never know what will happen. Tell your loved ones how you feel, don’t save the good china, don’t wait for that special trip. I have so enjoyed all the JP books…..love your writing and have been so fortunate to have seen you in person twice. Thank you!!

  25. Oh dear, some lessons are hard to hear about! This one made me weepy, although it was a great kindness to the daughter to share the story with her.


  26. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. I found it sad that he was not able to see the tribute you gave him. I really hope his daughter appreciates what you did and it least gives her some comfort in her grief.
    I can attest to the fact that you respond to all your emails. I sent you email not really expecting for it to be replied to when not only did you respond but you did only a few minutes after I sent the email. Not only that but it was still very early where you lived. I really appreciated that and just wanted to say thank you for all you have done.

  27. Thank you for sharing this today. It’s something I think all of us have experienced, and need at times to be reminded of. And we don’t always get to do what we intend, sometimes for very good reasons; other times just because we don’t take the time. As writers it helps to have an outlet for expressing what we didn’t get to say. Thank you so much for doing this today, as my own lethargy and exhaustion sometimes keeps me from taking the time to do just as you suggest. So sorry, but what a lovely legacy for his family.

  28. I enjoyed meeting you at a book signing in Yuma several years ago. I love your books, especially Joanna Brady because of the Bisbee setting. I spent time there as a teenager so recognize many of the places mentioned.


  29. Excellent advice in the weekly blog and you obviously struck a chord based on the number and type of responses. Looking forward to an electronic Judy at the Tucson Festival of Books next weekend. Now I have to go make a couple of calls.

  30. I seldom make comments on your postings. But, I want you to know how much your writings (books, poems, blogs) have helped me through tough times. But even more than that, I THANK YOU for helping make the last days of Larry’s (my now dead husband) life better. He wasn’t much of a reader till he met Joanna Brady. I think he fell in love with her. When he got to ill to read, he had me read your books to him. I can never repay you for what you have done. Blessed Be.

  31. I feel as though I’ve missed so much. Until the pandemic, I didn’t take time to read. A friend recommended a “Beaumont” book. I was hooked and went back to read all the “JP” series along with Joanna Brady.
    I LOVE the weekly blogs. I find something to identify with in each one and feel as though I can share and contribute “in kind” with each one.
    What I have missed is: the book tours and signings, the guest appearances, and other personal interactions with the author. The blogs are personal and allow the reader to spend quality time with a person who is more like a friend than a favorite author, only known through her books.
    In the spirit of Ann Rule, it gives us the opportunity to have a fully engaged visit. Had I not spend my time working, I’m sure I would have been like Rusty and Kathy Miller or Terry House. Traveling anywhere to give support and gratitude to someone who has enabled us to escape the confines of our “world” and lose ourselves in adventure!
    Hmmm, I see I have used the third person – the author. Do we say : “J.A. Jance” ? I’m not sure of the protocol. I need an editor!

  32. So sad to hear of the passing of a beloved friend. Of course he is in God’s hands now.
    I love reading all your books. Have read most of them through the library on my Tablet. Can’t wait to read your new books. Please keep writing to give us all some excellent things to keep us occupied in this crazy time.
    May God bless you and your family.

  33. I have read all of your Beaumont books because for 20 years I lived in Tacoma, WA and could relate to so many of the places that Beau went to that those books made them even more fascinating for me. Places I could relate to if you will.

  34. I read your blog every week, but have never written a comment before.
    I was deeply touched by the way you spoke about Terry House, Kathy and Rusty Miller I have to write.
    This week blog personalized the way you remember your readers by name and dedicate books in their honor.
    I enjoy reading your books and look forward to reading your newest one.
    Thank you .

  35. On Friday, February 26, 2021, a dear friend was laid to rest after a battle with brain cancer. I am so glad that I made special food for him and his family during the horrible year that they dealt with his disease. The last time I took food, his wife brought us into the house to visit for a while, and it was the last time I would see him alive. I will be forever thankful that I spent a little time with him just a few days before he was gone.

  36. I want to thank you for doing what you do. You came to Austin about 8 years ago because we had our first formula 1 race here, and your husband is a fan. You agreed to do a free talk at the library – no sales involved, and you came in a teeming rain on a night where we had tons of rain and only about 10 of us showed up to hear you. Some were from a distant branch. You did it because you were a librarian and you believed in the public library. I really cannot tell you how much that impressed me. I was so disappointed in the showing.

    For some reason, I find so much in your books. Maybe it is because you humanize your heroes with their faults, and yet they keep on keeping on. Thanks for that. I listen to a great deal because of my job, and I thank God that you allow that to happen as I am able to read more.

    Again, thanks for not going for the money at a bookstore and supporting our local library, even if that did not work so well. Two of my friends, other fans, were going to come but the rain scared them off.

  37. Thank you for showing up in Austin at the local library because as you said you are a public librarian (school). Only about 10 of us showed up because we had a teeming rain, the first in ages, but ya’ll had come for the first formula 1 race we had here. I was impressed that you, the author, showed up when we could not get a good turnout. I may have posted this earlier, but I think it might have kicked me off.

  38. Ms. Jance. I have sent you emails after the last 2 blogs and one today about your book making the top ten reader list. You usually reply to my emails. I just want to make sure you are getting them. I hope all is well with you

  39. I’m Rusty’s niece. It is a shame he never knew, but it meant a lot to the family to see this lovely posting. God bless.

  40. Your blog hit a still painful spot in my heart. I lost my mother in 2016 unexpectedly I will always regret not being able to talk to her one last time. Since then, I have tried to tell my friends and family how I feel. My mother was an avid reader and by watching her, I became one also. We each had some different authors that we read, but we also had our list of always reads and you were at the top of the list. Thank you for the wonderful books that we got to share.

  41. A sad and loving message! I’m sure Rusty knows and he has read your comments and book! I have been to several book signings and have always felt your fans were special to you! I have read and reread all your book and look forward to Future book signings. Stay safe and well.

  42. This is so sad. We never know how much time there is left to let someone close to us know how we feel and tell them something important that we think can wait until a later date. It’s so wonderful though that this couple meant so much to you by being such avid fans. So much so that you actually included them in your book plots. Your blogs mean a lot to me and I enjoy reading them every week. You’ve even answered a few emails that I’ve written and that really is something. I count you among my good friends, though we’ve never met. I feel close to you mostly because I love your books so much and they make me feel like if I were a writer, they are the plots that I’d definitely write if I had that talent. I’m counting the days until I can read the new Ali and Beau books. Thanks so much J.A. for being YOU!

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