We’ll start today with two bits of caution. If you have come to live events, you may have heard parts or all of this story before. That’s caution numero uno. As for number two? What you’re about to read is based on what I believe to be true and may or may not be accurate. In other words, there’s a possibility that parts of the following post may be fake news, so read it at your own risk.
We’ll begin with what I know to be true. My first husband’s last name was Janc. The part of the story I don’t know is the origin of that name. I believe his father’s family originally immigrated to the US from somewhere in Eastern Europe. These days that belief could either be verified or disproved by a DNA test, but almost forty years after his death, that’s really none of my business. My kids may choose to sort that out one of these days, but it’s not up to me.
I also believe that when those immigrating forebears arrived at Ellis Island, whoever was doing the paperwork may have hacked off the part of the name that was either difficult to pronounce or difficult to spell. Jancovich, maybe or maybe even Jancowitz? The part that remained, however, was the Janc bit, and the pronunciation of that has always been a bit of an issue. Janc was supposed to be pronounced with a soft C–Janc like Jance, but it was mostly mispronounced with a hard C–Janc like Tank. It was annoying, but as long as it was my married name and for some time after that, I shut up and lived with it.
After Jerry Janc died at the end of 1982, I had to hire an attorney and go to court to be declared my children’s legal guardian in order for them to receive the death benefits from his union pension fund. To say that made me furious would be an understatement. QFC didn’t ask if I was my kids’ legal guardian when it came time for me to buy their groceries. I complied but with grit in my gears. Before my hired attorney and I went to court, however, it occurred to me that as long as I had to pay for an attorney, I could just as well go ahead and fix my name so people would say it properly.
When I brought that up with the lawyer, however, here’s what happened. He gave me a lecture saying that yes, I was still angry with my deceased ex-husband (Do you think?) but this was my children’s heritage, and I shouldn’t go messing with that. So I shut up about it, and we went to court. And here’s what happened: When the clerk called us up to the window, she said, “Mrs. Jank, Mrs. Jank.” The attorney looked at me and said, “Hmmm. I see what you mean.” Then when it came time to be called into the judge’s chambers, another clerk said, “Mrs. Junk, Mrs. Junk.” And the attorney said, “I’ll get right on it.” A month or two later, for the cost of an additional $400, I had that very necessary vowel, and Janc became Jance. That’s how much King County was charging for vowels in 1983. Please alert Vanna White.
A year and a half later, in 1985 when Bill asked me to marry him, I told him fine, but I just paid four hundred bucks for my name, and I’m not changing it.
By the time of that court appearance, I was already writing murder mysteries. When I sent that first manuscript to my literary agent, it went with a title page that said: Until Proven Guilty by Judith Ann Jance. Knowing something about the realities of publishing, my agent changed the title page to read: Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance. The second editor saw it called my agent and said, “The guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty is a good writer.” “What if I told you the guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty was a woman?” she asked. His reply? I’d say she’s a hell of a good writer.” And he bought the manuscript as book number one in the series.
A good eighteen months passed between the time the manuscript was sold and when it appeared on the shelves. Sometime in 1984, the marketing team at Avon Books got hold of the manuscript and hit the roof. Their position was that male readers wouldn’t accept police procedurals written by someone named Judy, so Judith Ann became J.A., and that’s been the same ever since. By the way, marketing made sure with those first original paperbacks, there was no author photo on the cover and no author bio, either.
Am I grateful for that? You bet! JA is a whale of a lot easier to sign than Judith Ann. Since I always autograph books in red, shortening my signature by that many letters has saved me miles of red ink over the years.
The real irony, of course is that, for all this time, my next door neighbor on the shelves in bookstores and libraries, has been P.D. James. Phyllis Dorothy James had to use her initials on her books for the same reason I did, a generation and a half later.
I know that, in the beginning, that little bit subterfuge from the marketing department worked, and people assumed the guy behind J.P. Beaumont was actually a guy. Now though, from what I’m hearing from my many male readers, that no longer matters. J.A. Jance readers are J.A. Jance readers, regardless
And am I ever glad to have them!