Here’s to having imaginary friends!

One Saturday morning while we were still living on the farm in South Dakota, my family set off on a trip to town. My folks were in the front seat with my dad at the wheel. (At that point my mother could drive a tractor like nobody’s business, but she couldn’t drive a car.) My two older sisters and I were riding in the back seat. We hadn’t made it all the way out to the county road when I let out a blood-curdling scream. My father jammed on the brakes, spilling us three girls onto the floorboard. Then he turned around and demanded, “What in the world is the matter?”

“You forgot my Lamby,” I sobbed.

Since my little Lamby was visible only to me, it made perfect sense why no one had bothered to load him into the car. And although that story is the stuff of family legends, it’s also an interesting glimpse into my future because, for the last forty years, some of my most constant companions in life have been an army of completely imaginary folks.

I realized recently that when Beaumont #25, Nothing to Lose, hits the shelves in February of next year, it will be forty years since Beau first walked into my life. I started working on the first Beau book, Until Proven Guilty, in the fall of 1982. For six months that story withered on the vine, so in March of 1983, I sent my kids to Camp Orkila for spring break, and sent myself to Portland on a train to spend a few days with a friend from my days in the insurance business.

I boarded the train with a fistful of ballpoint pens in hand along with a stack of blue lined tablets. As the train pulled out of Seattle’s King Street Station, I thought to myself, “What would happen if I wrote this book from the detective’s point out of view?” I immediately pulled out both tablet and pen. As the train gained speed, I wrote the words, “She might have been a cute kid once. That was hard to tell now. She was dead.”

And just like that, the story that wouldn’t come to life did. I was at the crime scene on the back side of Magnolia Bluff, walking around in J.P. Beaumont’s shoes, seeing what he saw, and hearing what he heard while, at the same time, hearing what was going on in his head. In that single scene he came to life for me as a living, breathing creature, and he’s stayed that way through 25 books and counting. So if I happen to mention that I met J.P. Beaumont on a train, Agatha Christieish as it may sound, it’s the also the God’s truth! By the way, during those five days in Portland I wrote 30,000 words by hand and had a solid blister on my writing finger.

Years later, when I wrote Hour of the Hunter, I used what I had learned while standing on the sidelines of a serial homicide case from the early seventies to craft the character of Brandon Walker. Physically and personality wise, Brandon resembles a fellow named Jack Lyons who was Pima County’s chief homicide investigator back in 1970.

In the late eighties, when my editor suggested I start a new series, I decided that I would use a female protagonist and put the action in a place I knew well—southeastern Arizona. Hence Joanna Brady came into being. In crafting the first scene of the first Joanna book, Desert Heat, I encountered not only Joanna, but also her mother, Eleanor Lathrop, and her daughter, Jenny. In the course of a few paragraphs, I and my readers as well, learned that Joanna and her husband of ten years had a shotgun wedding and that Joanna’s mother has been on the warpath about that ever since. Those beginning pages laid the foundation for an ongoing mother/daughter/granddaughter dynamic that has been a major component of the back story in that series ever since.

In the early 2000s, when I was tired of all my characters and searching for a new one, KVOA TV in Tucson inadvertently came to my rescue when they fired their longtime newscaster, Patty Weiss, who also happened to be my favorite newscaster. As a general rule, it’s a bad idea to make mystery writers mad, and within a matter of days I was writing a story about someone named Ali Reynolds whose career as a newscaster in LA comes to an unanticipated and very abrupt end.

So that’s the core group of my imaginary friends. A good segment of the population will most likely tell you that someone who regularly communes with people who aren’t there is someone who should be institutionalized. Maybe those folks are right and I really am completely nuts, but right now I’d better get back to Ali Reynolds because she and I have a bit of unfinished business of our own to attend to.

And speaking of unfinished business, I passed the 14,000,000 step mark on Monday morning at nine AM!

Onward and upward.

41 thoughts on “Here’s to having imaginary friends!

  1. We owe a huge debt to Lamby! As your first friend down the path of “imaginary friends” he has served you well.
    Thanks for sharing not only your imaginary friends but also your talent with us.

    …and of course Beau holds a special place in my heart since I live in Beaumont!

  2. I don’t know which impresses me most, your cadre of imaginary friends or 14 million steps.

  3. While on a family trip many years ago we we driving through a Revolutionary War battlefield. My youngest niece (age 4) yelled “stop”. So the car stopped and she pointed out the window and said “That’s where Eddie died.”) Eddie had been her invisible friend since she could talk. Strange thing is she never mentioned Eddie again.

  4. I loved reading about your imaginary friend, Lamby. When my son was about three years old, he had a bunch of imaginary little pigs. He kept them in the knee hole space under my desks. They sometimes got loose and he had to rescue them before they would be stepped on.
    Sixty years later he went to a costume party dressed as a little pig.

  5. I’m sooo glad you have imaginary friends, J! I just finished DESERT HEAT for the first time, having read the more current Joanna Brady ones earlier. I love discovering new little tidbits about your characters I hadn’t known before. You are a grand story-teller.

    I have a few older Beaumonts left to read, and hopefully many more not-yet-written Beaumont, Brady and Reynolds ones. Love ‘em all!

  6. Love reading how your characters came to life. I had no idea that Patti Weiss was your inspiration for All. I really liked her. Looking forward to new stories!

  7. Your imaginary friends have become mine and treasured ones at that. Looking forward to more adventures with you and your friends

  8. Yesterday, as Margaret & I were watching the end of another Downton Abbey episode, I commented to Marg about the wonderful writing done by Julien Fellows and how he imagined all those characters! And then I wondered how you ( and other writers ) managed to come up with terrific characters, put them into sometimes bad situations and then find ways out of those situations! Remarkable! I have grown to love all the characters you so ably write about. I always look for your books first and then I look for Jack Reacher!

  9. My wife Carol and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary plodding around Seattle following Beau. We discovered you 30 years ago and both of us were avid Beau followers, we celebrated 53 years of marriage in September. I think we have all of your books. We are avid readers of several genres of books including biographies and quite frankly YOU are our favorite writer. (WEB Griffin and Tony Hillerman are close seconds for me but both of them are deceased and I miss them.)
    You have a way of communicated that transcends the written word and your characters are believable people. I can see in my minds eye their activities and their lives. Thank you for creating such a wonderful group of people. WELL DONE. WELL DONE!!!!

  10. WOW! You took the words/thoughts about imaginary characters right out of my head too! Best you never end any of your series, because I’ve been mourning my five primary characters for literally MONTHS! They are all still sure I’ll write another book with them in it, and are determined not to quietly fade away! (So I’m considering a sequel in about 5 years to see what they’re all up to after I write the three books that have been patiently waiting while I wrote the 6-book series!) And as for all guise steps? ATTA GIRL! I know how tough it is to keep the weight off!

  11. Your imaginary friends in your competent hands are real to me. I even think I know what they look like! I wish I could draw…. I would do portraits of them! Would be interesting to learn if what I “see” is the same as you do!

    Congrats on all those steps!!

  12. I recently started re-reading the Beaumont series. I am ready for Taking the Fifth. I missed some over the years so it will be fun to read them all in order.
    I need to start reading your blogs regularly too!

  13. I’m very glad you share your imaginary friends with all of us!

    I broke out of my “not-a-poetry-person” mindset long enough to read After the Fire this week. I found some of the insights profound and plan to share some of the poems with a family member who is divorcing a person with an addiction. So, thank you!

    I have a question about the dedications: I’m guessing that the first edition one is your daughter, and the second edition is your husband. But who is Alice? The only Alice I can find in your blogs is an aunt.

    I found it interesting that your poetry evolved over the years. The early poems are free verse, but meter/rhythm appears and then rhyme. I wonder how that shift happened? I may not think of myself as a poetry person but I am married to someone who is, and we both count music as a major hobby, so I am attuned to rhythm and rhyme.

    • I did have an Aunt Alice, my mother’s older sister and now long gone. My kids have an Aunt Alice, too, by choice rather than blood. She’s Alice Volpe who has been my agent since she was unable to sell my first manuscript in 1983. Tossed the book; kept the agent, and she’s still my agent all these years later.

      I hope After the Fire is a help to the person you mentioned. S/he’s probably feeling pretty alone right now, and that book will demonstrate that’s not the case.

      • I loved your poetry book, After the Fire, which I read and reread often. You are a gifted poet, and your way of making through hard times with poetry was very inspiring. That book you autographed, and it is never very far away from me. I write a lot of horrific poetry but love it..especially when I am feeling down or annoyed or needing to entertain or any one of the various emotions that prompts my poems.

  14. I love reading your blogs and how your relate your characters to people you know or have known. I believe I have read all or darn near all of your books over the years. I started with JPB and went from there. Having lived in Az and in Spokane I am familiar with the places you mention. I love that,thank you. Keep on writing those books.

  15. Congrats on the steps. You go girl. Thanks for making Imagination ok and useful. Chuck from Tacoma.

  16. “…I was tired of all my characters and searching for a new one…”
    I love the addition of Ali but I NEVER get tired of the other characters!

    Congrats on your step-achievement!

  17. Walking all those steps is an enviable achievement! Congratulations to you. What’s your next goal? I’ll be waiting for your next book to hit the bookstores.

  18. Loved your story of your “imaginary friends.” It’s good to hear how they came about.

    I never had any imaginary friends, but I was once an imaginary writer. I wrote stories about computing projects that failed, and since some of them were about my employer my publisher suggested I use a pseudonym, so for a brief time I was “Miles Benson.”

    Robert L. Glass

    • I love your comment about being an imaginary writer. If you published you did well. Did your stories about computing projects that failed ever get published? I’d love to read one.

      • Yes to those books having been published. The first was called The Universal Elixir, and Other Computing Projects Which Failed. It was originally published by the newspaper Computerworld, and when it didn’t sell well enough (!) they let me self-publish it in a slightly different form. I went on to self-publish several more, and then I started writing more serous books about computing and computing failure, and a leading publisher came out with them. Google Robert L. Glass, or go to your favorite online bookseller. Many of them are out of print by now. Good luck, and thanks for your interest!

        Robert L. Glass

  19. Love Beau and Joanna….but suspense is really hard for me to read. I haven’t ventured to Ali. What would be a good one to pick up?

    • At the age of 89, I’m vastly too old for imaginary friends, and in fact i have been for decades. it’s hard enough holding onto the real ones, at this age! Robert L. Glass

      • I love your comments about being too old for imaginary friends. I am 78 about to be 79 shortly, and am checking into an Assisted Living Facility thanks to several scary falls. I commented in a recent post that I had an imaginary friend who I wrote about some years ago. She was a victim of domestic violence who survived and helped others. I write some and paint a lot, but I needed to be reminded that writing fiction when things get dicey is a great way to climb out of a rabbit hole in one’s mind.

  20. I agree with many comments already – we owe a debt of gratitude to Lamby! Your “imaginary friends” have served you well, and I for one, hope you have many many more. You are such a gifted writer, and my only regret in reading a new book, is that I cannot put the book down, and I finish so fast that I have a long wait until the next book. 🙂 Sending hugs…..THANKS

  21. You wrote some of the most suspenseful stories when in 2 or 3 Beaumont books you made a slight reference to Ann with no explanation. It stirred my curiosity so much that I could just barely wait until your next J. P. book.
    Those several books were some of the best mystery books I’ve ever read. You are a wonderful author. And thanks for these interesting blogs. I look forward to them.

  22. I was introduced to your Brady books during a particularly difficult time in my life by a dear friend since passed. I lived in Sierra Vista at the time. I have read all of your books in order and I too wait impatiently for a new release then finish it in record time. I do enjoy each and everyone. Thank you so much for bringing them to “life”.

  23. Judy, I never tire of hearing how & where your characters have come from. I truthfully don’t recall ever having an imaginary friend although there were many times I wish I’d had one that I could confide in or share my secrets with.

    You more than amaze me with getting in so many steps so early in the day! You must wake up each morning exploding with energy!

  24. Any Imaginary Friend of yours is a friend of mine! One thing I have noticed and really appreciated in all your Beau, Brady, and Reynolds books is your wit, your wry sense of humor- I have “Dined out” on some of Edie Larson’s jokes,
    and laughed inwardly at many of the descriptions of characters and their surroundings in Cochise Country and Seattle- Here’s to Lamby and his wonderful successors!

  25. Patty Weiss interviewed my husband and myself for our 30th wedding anniversary in 2000 for KVOA-TV, along with two other couples celebrating their anniversaries. We were all on TV. Later, we all had dinner with her and her husband, Alan Gelenberg, at El Corral. Part of the celebration was tickets to see Miss Saigon at Centennial Hall. She was one of the nicest people we had ever met. We were heartbroken when she was forced to leave KVOA-TV, and Alan was forced out from UA. Sometimes, bad things happen to truly nice people. Thanks for the memories…and for basing Ali Reynolds on Patty.

  26. Good morning! I look forward to reading your blogs whenever they appear..and I keep them. I generally do not comment but I loved this one about your imaginary friends. I particularly like how you burrow into a new character…I remember your writing about J P Beaumont’s mother, who came to life some years ago and who I appreciate even more today. At the end of this month I will be moving to an assisted living place, thanks to several scary falls. This morning my imagination has taken a nasty nosedive, and I needed a refresher. I write as well as paint (my paintings sell, my writings not so much) so I am going to create a new character who will help me through this scary moment in my life.

  27. This is a continuation of an earlier comment.I had created a great character some years ago who was the victim of domestic violence…and who fought back. I abandoned that story and that character after chapter seven, but I think I relate to her more today than ever before. I am attending a series of lectures on victims of domestic violence, and the pain of relieving some of those days has really taken its toll. Anyway, love your posts!

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