Fiction Versus the Outside World

In the mid-nineties, while I was working on the second Joanna Brady book, I was invited to take part in a writers’ conference in Portland. The book I was working on didn’t yet have a name, so I said yes to attending the conference and walked away from the writing.

When I’m doing panels, I try to read the latest books from my fellow panelists before appearing with them.  One of panelists that time was Pierce Brooks, a former LAPD patrol officer and homicide detective. The book of his that was available at the conference was “officer down: code three…” Naturally I picked up a copy and read it late into the wee hours on the night before our appearance together. It’s an accounting of the ten fatal errors that police officers make. The book may have been new to me, but it turns out that book has been used as standard textbook material in police training academies for decades.

Of the ten fatal errors, the one that struck home to me was “Tombstone Courage”—failure to wait for backup. Reading through that section, my legs were covered with goosebumps, because that’s exactly what Joanna Brady had done in the scene I had written just before Bill and I left home. While chasing after a bad guy, she had gone up a mine-tailings dump in Bisbee without calling for backup. Fortunately she didn’t die of it. (That would have made for a very short two-book series!) But it did get her attention, and that’s why, in the next book, Joanna Brady number three—Shoot/Don’t Shoot, she sends herself to Phoenix for an official stint of police academy training.

By the time Bill and I drove back home from Portland, the second Joanna Brady book had a title—Tombstone Courage. Since the Joanna Brady books set in southeastern Arizona, I’m sure a lot of people expected the book to be all about Tombstone. Boy were they wrong!

All that is to say that, when I’m writing a book, things that happen in the world outside my computer do tend to impact my story. Occasionally, however, it’s the other way around and it seems as if what I’m writing has an impact on the outside world. I wrote Dismissed with Prejudice in the late eighties. The murder weapon in the story turns out to be a Samurai sword brought to the States as a kind of trophy in the aftermath of World War II. Two weeks after the publication of that book I learned from the local newspaper that a pair of Japanese businessmen had set up shop in the lobby of what was then Bellevue’s Red Lion. They were there in hopes of buying back some of those trophy Samurai swords.

Today, I awakened to similar issue. Don’t you just love it when something you’ve known about for decades is suddenly headline news? And that’s what showed up on my Internet newsfeed this morning:

FBI releases names of 170 missing Indigenous people in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation

Excuse me, this isn’t exactly news. As it happens those are the named individuals missing from only ONE reservation! There are lots more and lots missing people. In terms of human trafficking, I was already well aware that young Native American women are the most frequently victimized. One of the reasons those cases go unsolved is the bureaucratic tangle of law enforcement agencies involved—federal, county, municipal, and tribal—and they all too often simply pass the buck and make it someone else’s problem. I’m pretty sure I mentioned this issue several years ago in a book called Sins of the Fathers.

As it happens, I’m taking another crack at it in the book I’m writing now—Blessing of the Lost Girls. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve figured out a way to deal with that messy bureaucracy problem. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a brand new federal agency—a fictional one. It’s called MMIV—Murdered and Missing Indigenous Victims, an investigative agency operating under the aegis of the Department of the Interior. You’ll also be happy to know that field officers working for them are able to cut through all the countervailing red tape and get to the heart of the problem which is this—someone has to PAY ATTENTION! Someone needs to CARE.

I didn’t bother reading the article that came after the headline. The FBI has at least gone to the trouble of acknowledging the problem. Now let’s see what, if anything, they’re prepared to do about it.

In the meantime, my MMIV field officers will be out there working away.

34 thoughts on “Fiction Versus the Outside World

  1. As I happens, one of my friends from SD is very much concerned about missing people. She often posts about missing people, and I’m struck by how many are indigenous people, usually teen girls. Maybe the feds will take a hint from your book.

  2. This was actually the main story line of a movie that came out a few years ago called Wind River.

  3. Live in Pennsylvania but have been to the areas you write about & that is why I love your books. When I visited the Navajo nation, felt it was terrible the way the people were treated & my heart goes out to those..

  4. When your book is published, hopefully someone in the FBI (or someone else with power to change the situation) will read it and get some good ideas. It seems that a lot of times, nothing is done about something until the media gets hold of the story, but maybe in this case it will be your book that is the catalyst for change.

  5. From your book to God’s ear – or at least the Dept of Interior’s ear. We need a group of legislators to stand up and be counted on this issue!


  6. You say, “All that is to say that, when I’m writing a book, things that happen in the world outside my computer do tend to impact my story.” but I have found it to be “my reality is impacted by the world inside your computer.” I will always remember reading “Second Watch” while volunteering on a project titled “Welcome Home Brother” – an event finally recognizing and honoring our Texas Vietnam Veterans. It’s not as if two worlds collided but more like two worlds meshed into one. That story and the stories I was hearing from our vets made such an emotional impact on me and brought into such a clear vision the value of “Welcome Home Brother”.

  7. Great idea, wrong department. No way should Interior be involved. Let DOJ handle it.

      • It is a sad commentary when people have to debate which Federal department or agency can best handle Native American affairs.

  8. Right on again. while doing research for land Sales I was appalled by the Numbers of members of Pulallup,Small tribes of Western WA ,Stilliguamish ,Talalip. That were listed on Found dead along the Millwaukee Road. Rail lines . with the monicer if anything AS DRUNken Indians found dead Along RR. this is Documented in TNT newspaper archives on MICOFISH,another term that Millinials do not think are useful. The above occured well on to the fifties from the early editions of the Tacoma News Tribune in 1800’s. Appalling but real. If MMIV needs help with this info Have them contact ME. Chuck in Tacoma. 79 years old for TWO more days..

  9. I read your email just now after a morning walk with a neighbor who told me of the journey she is on looking for a 40+ year old daughter missing over four years and suffering mental illness She received a report of her being found and released Now dealing with all kinds of obstacles between various police jurisdictions and states.
    She has now found a sympathetic law firm that is getting the legal matters taken care of so when she is found again, she will get the medical help she needs.
    I look forward to reading your book.

  10. Can’t wait for the book. I have always been interested in Native Americans. I mentored two girls on the Navajo Reservation. It was such a rewarding experience.
    My husband and I traveled to Many Farms, AZ to meet one of them and her family.

  11. We can only hope a top echelon official hears about your agency creation and does the same??

  12. Several years ago, my son was vacationing in Arizona. While out for a ride on his bicycle, he was hit by a hit-and-run driver. A passing motorist was able to get the drivers license number. My son was taken to the hospital by the people that had witnessed the accident. Fortunately, his injuries were less than expected. However, his expensive bike was totally damaged. The police checked the license number and it was registered to a person living on the reservation.
    Then it became a pass-the-buck adventure … city police, county police, and reservation police. And no communication between them. Apparently, as long as the driver stayed on the reservation, he was safe from the outside world. No one was willing to take responsibility. Oh, well.

  13. Craig Johnson’s last book and the next one are about that subject or close to it anyway. Great minds think alike!

  14. Every time I read about someone, especially a young girl, disappearing I feel sorry for the parents who are left wondering where she can be. You read of folks waiting for years and never hearing anything. That must be so awful.

    I hope this new group of investigators has some success.

  15. Locally, in the Pacifc Northwest of Washington State, where there are several indigenous tribes, the issue of missing, especially women, Native Americans is being brought to the public’s attention via local newspapers and action groups, as you probably know, J.A. I am proud that our area cares and is trying to do something about it. I’m glad you are addressing it from the Southwest, too. This problem has been buried way too long. We also had horrible “Indian Schools” locally as well and this abomination is coming to light as well.

  16. Thanks, Judy – You are way ahead of the rest of us in knowing about the crimes perpetrated against Indigenous people past and present- I have to admit that I had no idea how vulnerable young women on the reservations are- The combination of poverty and ethnicity is clearly deadly in too many cases-
    Now that the Department of the Interior has a Native American woman at the top, hopefully she can make a difference-
    Speaking of the” Top Ten Mistakes,” a friend of mine is married to a retired NYPD Detective- Some years ago on Staten Island (The smallest of the five Boroughs of New York City) two undercover detectives were murdered as they attempted to bust illegal gun-sellers- During the Trial, recordings of the two men pleading for their lives, for the sake of their young children, were played, breaking many New York City hearts- Julia’s husband said that these days NYPD cops are required to have two years of college, but do not always have the kind of training in the basics needed to operate safely on the street- The mistake these detectives made was to allow the criminals to sit BEHIND them in the car as they were wrapping up the “Deal-” It was a preventable tragedy-

  17. Your creativity always amazes me which is why I have read your books with such abandon and enjoyment through the years. Real life situations, honest and fair attention to detail are such great attributes which I admire in any author. You are by far my true hero as an author. I especially am enjoying reading your weekly blog!@

  18. Talking about missing people, I read bout those a lot I see people who look like their lost in in life or don’t know. I think more folks would be found. If there was a tv channel that did nothing but broadcast pictures and info of people who have disappeared. We need to see more info about these folks missing. Especially children. More folks would be found. I would watch it some everyday. Who knows how many kids could be United with loved ones. These are just my thoughts.

  19. Let’s hope your MMIV agency provides the inspiration for a REAL such agency/task force. It’s MORE than high time!

  20. Part of having a calling which you express in your writing so well is to have your ear to the ground. I appreciate your idea of reading the other person’s book before the panel. I live in north Dakota where there were 5 reservations. I grew up in Florida where there used to be 18 tribes, now the Seminoles who never signed a treaty.
    I keep trying to get through the Walker series. I can because of the voices of the people. i wonder if their are recordings of the stories.It is haunting as the foreshadowing and the sad picture knowing what will happen; the characters are so real. They have been raising the ex trafficking issue here in the news with a woman who survived (escaped) and was adopted leading a group. My father walked me around downtown Miami before I started school and showed me the row of saloon across the street from the row of churches on Tamiami Trail. He told me of sex trafficking then. With each new school as we moved I saw someone disappear. No discussion. Just gone.

  21. WOW tell it the way it is… it. Can not wait for this new book to be out.

  22. I remember the early Joanna books, and still got goosebumps recalling the mine tailing chase as I read your blog post. I am intimately familiar with “Officer Down, Code 3″and how those issues wove themselves into your fiction. But your fiction is close enough to real world to make your work so worthwhile and enjoyable. I am re-reading “Hour of the Hunter” and had forgotten just how deliciously scary Andrew Carlisle was. Thank you!

  23. Tombstone Courage was the very first J A Jance book I ever read. I was immediately hooked. It is still my favorite series , but I do read and collect all of your works.
    I’m willing to bet that “Blessing of the Lost Girls” will be a smash hit. Let’s hope your fictional agency will inspire someone to create an actual agency.

  24. If I am remembering correctly, an Indigenous woman is in charge of the Dept. of the Interior, so maybe it could happen.

  25. I was so happy to read this blog about missing and murdered indigenous women. It is awful how they and their families may be treated. I look forward to reading this next book!

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