Avon Calling

After two weeks of being off and running, I’m back home. This weekly blog is a window on my world, and that world has now shrunk considerably. Fortunately for me and for my blog readers, I’ve still got mail.

This week I received two notes of interest, one was from a relatively new reader who, after listening to her first J.A. Jance novel, was surprised to discover that J. A. Jance is a she as opposed to a he. The other was from someone who used the word “Avon” in her email address. When I wrote back to her I learned, unsurprisingly, that she has spent twenty years as an Avon Lady. She’s probably not the only one in my database, but she’s the only one I know about for sure. There are probably a few Mary Kay ladies lurking there as well, hopefully ones still driving around in their pink Cadillacs. In fact, just last week I saw a woman tooling down the road in a pink Escalade. She may not be a J.A Jance fan, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that she sells Mary Kay! I’m not going to touch on Tupper Ware.

So today I’m going to focus on the Avon Lady story and save the other one for another time.

In the early eighties when I was a beginning writer, I lived with my sister in Bay Vista, a mixed-use condo building in downtown Seattle. The residential tower goes from the sixth floor up. Floors five down contain office space.

At the time I had sold two manuscripts to Avon Books. The first, Until Proven Guilty had yet to be published, and I was working on number two. In preparation for the likelihood that one day I’d be hitting the road to promote my books, I joined a local Toastmasters Club to hone my public speaking skills. The group I joined met in an office building across the street from Bay Vista.

Our condo was on Floor Seven. The recreation floor with its running track, pickle ball court, and swimming pool was on Floor Six. At some point in 1983 or 1984, a television production crew showed up in Seattle to film an episode of the then very popular series, Murder She Wrote, and they ended up using the recreation floor at Bay Vista as a stand-in for a Seattle area hotel.

Once I stopped working in the life insurance field, I traded in my dress-for-success costume in favor of more casual attire, my favorite outfit being jeans, a pair of tennies, and the bright green Nike soccer shirt I splurged on at Costco when my first paycheck arrived from Avon—the signing payment for Until Proven Guilty. That shirt must have cost all of fourteen bucks at the time, but I loved it and wore it until it was completely threadbare. Now that I think about it, that may have been the shirt I wore in the author photo in the back of first edition copies of UPG. I doubt there are too many copies of those still extant, but I digress.

Late one morning, dressed in my signature writing costume, I left our condo and boarded the elevator on the seventh floor to go to my weekly lunchtime Toastmasters meeting. The elevator descended one floor before stopping on six. When the doors opened, several members of the TV crew stepped on board, pushing me to the back of the elevator.

In the silence that followed as the elevator continued downward, I decided to speak up. “You know,” I said aloud, “there’s a real mystery writer living in this building, that’s me” They all gave me dubious looks as though maybe I’d just emerged from a looney bin.

I’m six-one. At last, a little gray-haired lady who barely came up to my elbow, looked up at me and said with a distinct NYC accent, “Oh? So who’s your publisha?”

“Avon,” I answered.

Her snooty reply? “I didn’t know they did books!”

Almost forty years later, I’m still laughing about that, and I hope you are, too.