My Life as an Open Book, Part 1

For years I’ve told people that writing the blog is like writing my autobiography in weekly installments. Last week I heard from someone named Jan who evidently isn’t a fan of weekly installments. Instead, she sat down and mowed through all the blog posts going back to 2012! Then she sent a long email discussing what she’d just read, and I’m taking the opportunity today to address some of her concerns in today’s blog.

She began by saying that if she could paint, this is how she would put me on canvas: “Wearing a red blouse and black slacks – hair blown back by a slight breeze – pulled off your face by glasses on top of your head – you are standing on a low desert rise – surrounded by saguaro and ocotillo. With you chin slightly lifted and your arms widely outstretched. People in the distance walking towards you. I’d call it: ‘In-gathering of the Fans’”

Based on that alone, I’d say she had me dead to rights!

As I read on, I was astonished by about how much she had learned about me, my family history, and my writing process. One of her areas of concern was the total absence of movies or television versions of my work. Various Hollywood folks have come calling over the years, but they’ve mostly been all hat and no cattle. They wanted to have first dibs on all the books in one series for remarkably tiny amounts of money. Or they wanted to take what I regarded as unauthorized liberties with my work. For instance, one of them was interested in having Beau be African American. When I mentioned that to my friend Ed James, he said, “Mickey is a mouse, Goofy is a dog, and J.P. Beaumont ain’t Black.” I declined that offer. Someone else wanted to take Joanna Brady out of southern Arizona and move her to North Carolina. I said no to that one as well.

A few years ago, back when people actually watched the Oscars, a movie based on one of Jane Austin’s works was in the running. During a TV interview, the director said, “Yes, it was really easy to do this film. The author is dead.” Indeed. Authors, the people who write books, have one idea about their characters and stories—an up close and personal point of view. I’m not altogether sure that screen writers actually read books. I suspect they make do with Cliff Notes or maybe even the flap copy on book covers.

At some point, years from now, someone will come up the bright idea of doing J.P. Beaumont, the musical. Trust me, I’ll be long gone by then. The option for that will have to be signed off by my grandkids.

One of the things Jan wondered about was this: If my father’s health situation hadn’t necessitated our move to Arizona from South Dakota, would I have become a writer anyway? There’s no way to know, of course, but somehow, I doubt it. Growing up in Bisbee, the impact the surrounding landscape had on my storytelling is undeniable. And if we’d stayed living on the farm, would I have spent five years living near and working on an Indian reservation? I doubt it. That would have made writing the Walker books impossible. Besides, someone else already wrote Little House on the Prairie!

Each week, before I post the blog I read it aloud to Bill. When he heard that last paragraph he said, “You’re a born storyteller. You would have become a writer anyway. Your invisible Lammy when you were three years old being a case in point.” So say-eth my favorite member of the peanut gallery!

Another thing Jan wondered about was why my forebears came to the US. She asked if they were escaping some kind of “prosecution.” I suspect she actually meant to use the word “persecution” and autocorrect got the better of her, but in actual fact, “prosecution is entirely accurate. According to family legend, my great grandfather on my father’s side was a colonel in the Danish army when he deserted. Although his name was originally Christiansen, by the time he reached the US he had changed it to Busk, supposedly a name that had something to do with the hedge that surrounded the family farm back home.

My mother’s father, AG Anderson left Sweden at age nineteen with a price on his head due to game poaching. He claimed that he had shot a deer well outside the king’s game preserve. Unfortunately said deer crossed into the preserve before dying. That story may or may not have been true. Once in New York City, he somehow dodged immigration, and then headed West, most likely by rail, to where many other Swedish immigrants had settled—namely the Upper Midwest.

Once AG arrived in North Dakota–Bismarck, I believe—he got a job driving a dray wagon from the railway station. In the course of that job he met a young woman named Cecelia Fromm who worked as a maid in the main hotel. She caught both his eye and his heart. They married and had five kids—four girls and one boy. In later life Cecelia developed congestive heart failure. In the summer of 1956, my mother was determined that we go to South Dakota to visit. My father demurred. In fact, one of the only quarrels I ever overheard between my parents was about whether or not we’d make that trip. His answer may have been no, but shortly thereafter Evie packed five of us kids into our Dodge Coronet, and off we went.

Soon after our arrival in Summit, Grandma Anderson ended up in the hospital in Sisseton, some twenty-five miles away. At the time, my grandparents didn’t have a phone, but the next-door neighbors did. One morning the neighbor came over and told Grandpa that he had a phone call. My brother and I were outside playing on the swing, when Grandpa returned, having just learned that Cecelia had passed away over night. His hair was literally standing on end, and the look on his face was one of utter devastation. Incidentally, my father was in the construction business at the time, and one of the reasons he didn’t want to make the trip had to do with an upcoming deadline on a big job. While we were out of town, a scaffold collapsed under him and he fell, breaking both heels. Once he heard about Grandma Anderson’s passing, however, even though he was on two crutches, he caught a train and made his way to Summit. The train no longer stopped at the station there, but the conductor pulled the emergency brake and let him off. That was the only South Dakota trip ever, where Evie drove home with Norman in the front passenger seat.

Sometime in the Sixties, my mother invited Grandpa Anderson to go on a trip back to the old country to visit his surviving brothers. His answer was a resounding NO. Some sleuthing on my mother’s part got to the bottom of his refusal. He had been in the US for decades without ever becoming a citizen, and he ended up making the trip on a Swedish passport. My aunties made sure his US citizenship status was rectified before his death. AG came to this country in search of the American dream—and he found it. No, he didn’t become rich and famous, but he lived a rewarding, successful life in household that was full of song and laughter. My whole life has benefited from the fact that he did so.

One of Jan’s concerns was that, although she had developed a very clear picture of who Evie was, she thought my father had been given short shrift. That’s probably true. Like Grandpa Anderson’s citizenship issue, that’s something I’ll attempt to correct in a future blog, but for right now, I need to sign off and go back to my real job—writing the next book.

As a consequence, the next installment of my life as an open book will just have to wait, most likely until sometime next week.

45 thoughts on “My Life as an Open Book, Part 1

  1. Dear Judy! You do not indicate whether the writer of your life’s critique gave you a last name, but rest assured IT WAS NOT ME!!!
    Love you!

  2. Some time ago I watched an interview in which you were asked about your books not having been made into movies, and you answered something to the effect that movie producers like more graphic sex and violence than your books include. I’m not sure I’m remembering totally accurately, but I do remember thinking that part of the reason I will read every book and blog you write is that very thing: I don’t have to worry about being faced with pages of bedroom scenes or obscenities, nor is there a fresh murder every day of the story.

    • I agree with you, Faith. Judy writes so that we can imagine things. We don’t need graphic descriptions. Also I would rather imagine how characters look. I don’t want to see an actor trying to be a character.

  3. Each word and line you write gives more insight into your life. It’s like finding a lost piece of a puzzle and you can now finish it and move onto a new puzzle. Was not much of a recreational reader until being introduced to one of you books and was hooked…..and then finally meeting you……I was one seriously hooked fan an reader! Well enough for now…..your “Northern Arizona Stalker” ??

  4. Love all of your series’s especially JP. Brady comes in second. Allie in Sedona is evolving immensely after the addition of her A. I. So interesting. After living most of my adult life in Longview Washington we spent ten years in Prescott Valley Arizona. So I’ve visited everywhere you written about to include JO’s cruise?. I enjoyed meeting you in PV. I look forward to each and every book you gift us. Retired LEO.

  5. When a friend who is also a dedicated Jance reader suggested this blog, I took about a month to work through everything from 2012 as well. At this point, there are some recurring themes, but usually a tidbit or two of new information. Always a smile!

    Keep resisting the movie and television people. I’ve never seen a movie or show that was as good as the original book. I will be a book person forever! That said, JP the Musical, never, but I could see Ali doing it. Barely :-J

    I agree with Bill that you were born a writer. Had you grown up elsewhere, the books might have looked different, but there would still have been books. Looking back, I see the roots of my family members’ paths in their childhoods. My son found his calling at age 4. My own strengths were clear in childhood, though their application wasn’t clear till I was in my late 20s.

    The numerous examples of people helping others in this blog — neighbors with a phone, train conductor making a special stop — warmed my heart today. I see our society losing that and it makes me sad.

  6. comment sent from 1+ cellphone via Gmail. several minutes ago. Keep on keeping on. Chuck from Tacoma. EXperiencing IT issues in life.

  7. If I were a painter, I’d paint your laughter on silk.
    I don’t know why Netflix hasn’t come calling for Brady. Has your agent talked to them?
    Your genius lies in your intimacy with the reader. This is a gift shared by few. In fact, off the top of my aged head, I can’t think of anyone else.

  8. Movies can be different from novels even when written by the same person ! Alistair MacLean wrote the screenplay for ‘Where Eagles Dare’ before he wrote the novel, It’s too bad that what I consider the best line in the story was put in after the movie. The book ends with the Clint Eastwood character saying that he could eat a horse. Another character asks ‘Do you eat horses in Wyoming?’ to which he declares ‘ I fall off horses. Everywhere’. I think the movie audiences would have roared with laughter !

    • I think I had every book Alastair MacLean wrote. When I moved in 2014 I limited myself to what would fit in one bookcase. Many boxes to the library, jails, and the local prison but because all those books were hardcovers (not allowed in jails) those went to the VA home. I sincerely hope they enjoyed them as much as I did. I think all the Jance books went to the jails as they were paperbacks and the library had them. Hopefully my favorite authors picked up more fans.

  9. I hated the television series “Little House on the Prairie.” I loved the books when I was a kid, and I often pretended to be Laura or Mary. It was great. The television series added folks that had not been in it. One time watching was enough!

    I loved the PBS series of Anne of Green Gables. However netflix started a new series based on the book about three or four years ago, and I hated it. It got into today’s social issues which I have not problems with exploring, but it was not part of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s wonderful set of books.

    Disappointing to me last year was PBS doing a new series on James Herriot’s books. Their old series back in the 1980s was wonderful and true to the books. Not the newer series. Sob.

    Can’t win them all I guess, but I love the way the authors wrote them. Thanks for not allowing the changes to your characters.

  10. I will fight for the authenticity of one J.P. Beaumont with my last breath for you. But I will probably not be around either. Hopefully some young soul will take up the cause for Beau.

  11. I recently saw a Hallmark movie based on a book by Diana Mott Davidson. The storyline was similar but the characters were beautiful Hollywood people. Instead of a single mom with a mop of curly golden colored hair with a pre-teen son, a best friend who ate everything in sight, and a portly police officer that took several books for them to develop a relationship, they had a thin gal with straight bleached blond hair, a teen daughter, a thin best friend, and a very handsome actor as the officer who – true to Hallmark fashion – kissed the female lead in the last minute of the movie. (By now my English teacher would have said my sentence was too long!)
    Fight the folks who want to turn your books into TV series or movies. Your fans would be upset as well with the changes made to the characters and the locations.
    I enjoy your books and have talked a few others to get started on them as well.

  12. This is all fascinating reading. I grew up in a small town north of Bismarck, ND (yes – it has a “C” in it.) I bought bad gas in Sisseton, South Dakota and had to stay overnight while the car was cleaned out. I lived in Seattle when I first got married. So I know about the places you write about. Everything but Arizona. My family came from Sweden as well and I am amazed you know as much as you do about their lives. My family didn’t want to talk about theirs. I enjoy all your books as my husband and I read all of them until covid hit. Now I am catching up after he has passed away. I am happy your editor did not let you kill Frig! 🙂

  13. WOW, for not being a fan of weekly installments, Jan had plenty to comment on. If she didn’t secretly enjoy them, I doubt if she would have been such a keen observer .
    I am a “newbe” to the weekly blogs (spell check doesn’t like the term). My first reaction to seeing them appear is: “Holy Cow, is it Friday AGAIN?”, then I put aside my “pressing chores” and get immersed in the fascinating development of the Busk family. I wonder each week how the family dynamics can get any more interesting and fascinating than the week before.
    That being said, what the blogs have done for me is tapped my “inner writer”. I received an invitation from my son last year to participate in what’s called “Story Worth”, an exercise for children to find out about their parent’s lives growing up.
    Last week, I received the compilation of these “stories” in the form of a book. Mine happens to be 211 pages, titled and bound, which I doubt I would have even attempted if I hadn’t been able to enjoy your weekly trips into the experiences which shaped you (Judy)! And, I thank you for your weekly “shares”.
    BTW, I entitled my book “Becoming me”.

  14. Of course, I read the works of other authors. And the one thing I dislike about what they have done to the Joanne Fluke books is that they have changed the characters and even the cat!!! Not much good stuff on TV so I have watched these portrayals and grimmest. Surely they could have found a cat with a torn ear. They have the main character’s hair color wrong. What is wrong with red hair? I love your weekly installments. It gets me through Friday.

  15. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE! Don’t ever let someone make movies of your books!!! I’ve read every Beaumont & Brady book and working on Ali. I have a very clear picture of all the characters and would not want anyone to mess with them.

    By the way, not only do I love your books, but I look forward to every Friday when I get your email. Keep them coming, please

  16. Personally, I am grateful you never gave permission to have any of your books turned into a film.
    My imagination is never the same as that of a scriptwriter or photographer when it comes to how people look or how incidents work out. What can be in a book, frequently never makes it into a film.
    Derek Jacobi talked about the making of Cadfael and having to soothe the author when changes had to be made in the script.
    I liked both the books & the scripts although they were different. The same goes for J K Rowlings books/cum movies.
    Maybe Beau could be made into a movie but I doubt Johanna could.

  17. I agree with everyone about not letting your books devolve into dribble. Only book and movie I have liked equally well was Jaws.

    Peanut Gallery reference was great. Bill doesn’t look a bit like Buffalo Bob, but I guess Buffalo Bill was already taken.

  18. I just love this blog and all your books! Thank you for doing what you do best!

  19. So nice as usual. Makes my Fridays. Love your books. Besides your great writing I have to tell you thank you for being so gracious to my daughter. She had just published her first book and was on a panel with you. You were so gracious and had good conversations.

  20. Stayed up late to read the second Walker series book. I am truly hooked on the stories of the medicine men and women. I purchased some references you mentioned. I lived in North Dakota 14 years while in the service. I did not make enough to go west in North Dakota except for a 1974 trip on Hwy 2. I am confused about the Bismark meeting of the two who then married and then the rush by your Mother to South Dakota. Somehow they moved from North Dakota to South Dakota to have the children?

    • Yes, AG and Cecelia met in North Dakota but married and had a farm in northeastern South Dakota.

  21. There have been a number of novelizations of TV shows. Monk comes to mind. Graham Greene wrote the novella, The Third Man, as preparation for writing the screenplay. Might be interesting to see what happens if you were to write a screenplay for Brady before writing the novel. That way, you could control the content.

  22. I love these glimpses into your life. I’ve been gathering information about my ancestors. It can be so interesting. Looking forward to hearing more of you family.

  23. I have been a fan of your weekly blogs for years and appreciate that you have never sold out to Hollywood.

    I’m sure many of your lifelong readers are also avid fans of Janet Evanovich. Her one and only Stephanie Plum Series (Bk. #1) movie was a disaster! The actors selected to represent the novel’s characters were so far off in physical looks and personalities that there was no need to continue watching the movie. I’m glad there were no more movies that followed from any of her various series.

    Keep on writing and sharing you remarkable life with us. It is truly amazing and stimulating.

  24. Thank you for not letting Hollywood destroy your books. I absolutely refuse to watch movies based on books that I have loved. You are one wise woman.

  25. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about screen writers. Hold on tight to those strings that save your characters from a screen writers grip! Keep Beau, Joanna and Ali safe and sound as the people we know they are!

    • There is no end to the damage Hollywood can do to good books. As a devout reader, I could cite numerous examples. As a result, I have sworn off movies based on books. Too often disappointed. Stay strong and don’t let them ruin the characters we love.

  26. I know you have many friends and don’t need more but I’ve always’ learning about your life’s been struck by the similarities we have in common. Beyond our shared birth year, the nearly identical first husbands, you actually being a writer and my only amateur attempts, now I find we share a common ancestry. My great grandparents also came from Denmark. They came and worked bringing one child at a time as money allowed. And my mother was an Anderson! Had we ever met’ I think we might have been good friends. As an aside, I have kept your emails on my computer and loved when you answered my comments.

  27. Sue Grafton who wrote the popular alphabet books featuring detective Kinsey Millhone worked in Hollywood for some years before her books became successful She told her children that she would come back to haunt them if they let Hollywood make films of her books. I hope it never happens.

  28. I truly enjpy your weekly blog.Sometimes itis my only time to enjoy my reading

  29. So happy you won’t let tv or the movies anywhere near your books. I just watched an episode of a series based on Tony Hillerman’s work and I actually cried it was so bad. I love Beau, Joanna and Ali and want others to love them as you wrote them…Hollywood could never even come close.

  30. I don’t think any of your books should be made into movies. I can visualize all your characters in my mind perfectly and having someone else decide what they look like would be extremely disappointing. I do like Jan’s picture of you!

    I enjoy your weekly autobiography. Keep on writing. And, JP is NOT black!!

    • I agree totally! I know the Little House series was very popular but I just couldn’t do it. Michael Landon may have been many good things but he wasn’t Papa to me!

  31. What a colorful legacy! I look forward to the next installment of your blogography!!

  32. I guess we don’t always know the true story of how our ancestors came to live in the US. My kids (in their 50’s now) are always digging around for information on their ancestors. They don’t get it from me as I grew up with a single mom who was the prime earner in our family of 3 (her, my sister and I) and mostly just trying to give her two daughters a good life by working full time, keeping us well fed and trying to make it through to the next day. Talk of ancestors was not on the to do list as conversation so I guess that’s why I don’t have much to contribute on the subject. I love your books and live vicariously through your telling of your interesting and hard working family; and of course the life that led you to be such a terrific story teller today. Enjoyed this blog. Please keep it up, along with your wonderful story telling!

  33. On the topic of books into movies, I’ve never gotten over the disaster that is the Acorn production of Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher. She was still alive when it was done and allowed it to be pillaged and the main character’s character totally altered.
    So I am very grateful to be able to envision Beau, Allie, JoAnna as I choose. Thanks for not giving in to Hollywood.

    • Ms. Jance should write the scripts. A disguise as a cancer victim and a journey via eighteen wheelers from the Berkshires to Arizona is so right for the movies.

  34. I have read your Joanna Brady series and loved them all. I just found this blog while I was trying to find out why there are no longer any Brady stories. I love being able to read books without foul language or sex scenes. I am sure you have already addressed this but I am curious. Thank you for the many hours of enjoyment you have given me.

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