Old is New

Last night it got down to freezing in Bellevue for the first time this winter. Today while I was out walking, there was still one bright blue hydrangea up on the bank. All the others have turned a rather depressing shade of purple. Reminds me of the poem our father used to read to us out of the Treasury of the Familiar—

Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone
While all its companions
Are faded and gone

But it was a good walk—sunny and brisk—7500 steps in 72 minutes. Picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down.

Getting my steps wasn’t all I did today. I also did a Zoom presentation to a senior citizen book club from Sammamish, Washington. Interestingly enough, the book under discussion was an old one rather than a new one—old as in forty years, because they had all just read Until Proven Guilty, Beaumont # 1, which was written in the fall and spring of 1982 and 1983. It wasn’t actually published until 1985, and it came out as an original paperback, and was the first book in several two book contracts.

Going the paperback route was a deliberate choice, by the way. At the time, my agent asked me if I wanted to go after a hardback house where my initial print run would probably be in the neighborhood of 5000 copies, or would I prefer a paperback house with an initial print run of 30,000. Hardbacks are the books that garner the most reviewing attention while original paperbacks are generally ignored by the literati. While earning my CLU designation in the insurance business, I was exposed to the law of large numbers, and 30,000 potential readers seemed like a better bet to me than 5000. So original paperback it was, despite the fact that the initial advances were pitiful.

By the way, back when my daughter was selling 1000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies a year, we applied the law of large numbers to that, and figured out that Thin Mints were the most popular and Short Breads and Lemon Creams close to the bottom. After adjusting our order accordingly, she would arrive at the last day of the cookie sale with a full assortment for people to choose from. But, as per usual, I digress.

Several years and two more two book contracts down the road after UPG was published, several of the Good Old Boys in the world of Seattle’s writing establishment took me to task and told me I needed to wise up. “Original paperback mysteries have a ninety day-shelf life,” they told me. “What you need to do is get away from those two book contracts and go to a publisher who’ll pay you some real advance money.”

They all followed their own advice, and as soon as they jumped ship from their original publisher to someone else, their backlist titles simply vanished. I disregarded their advice, sticking to my original house through thick and thin. That’s why, forty years later, as opposed to ninety days, that first book and all my others remain in print. And that’s why members of that senior citizen book club were all able to lay hands—and ears (one Audible reader) on Until Proven Guilty.

What surprised me was how many of the details of that book are indelibly imprinted in my brain: Anne Corley, clad in her red dress, striding down the hill in the cemetery on Queen Anne Hill. Beau punching Maxwell Cole’s lights out. Ron Peters stuffing the remains of the wedding cake down the garbage disposal. That was the scene that told me for sure that Ron Peters was a good guy.

There were any number of gratifying comments. Someone mentioned staying up late at night reading the book. Someone else said that it could have been written yesterday. As an aside, this week I heard from someone who emailed me about having just read both Until Proven Guilty and Nothing to Lose. She said that she felt like every word in UPG was deliberately crafted while in NTL the story simply flowed. I guess that’s what writing several million words in between will do for you.

They asked about how I go about laying in the clues and red herrings. My answer? “I have no idea.” As I write, I’m not thinking about clues. I’m thinking about the story—about what the characters are thinking and doing and how they interact with one another.

They wanted to know, if UPG was ever made into a movie, who would I want to play Beau’s part? My answer? “I have no idea.” There have been some queries about movies over the years but nothing substantial. Furthermore, I’m blissfully unaware of most of the current crop of movie stars, so I don’t really have an opinion. Tom Skerritt, the guy I originally thought would make a good Beaumont, has obviously aged out of the role. So all of you movie buffs, don’t hold your breaths for a movie deal. Someday maybe someone will film J.P. Beaumont, the Musical, but my grandkids will be the ones selling the rights to that one.

I talked about how events in my life intersected in UPG without my being consciously aware of it. Some of those turned up in a previous blog, My Life as an Open Book, part 2. But I failed to mention something else, and I meant to. In that previous blog post, I talked about doing a high school assembly in honor of my 50th birthday. When I was invited to the Ballard High School reunion as J.P.’s stand-in, someone there told me that he attended that assembly as a teacher, and he counted that event as the high point of his teaching career. Talk about high praise.

If you’ve read the above, you may be shaking your head and wondering, “So how the hell does she do it?” And my answer to that is, once again, “I don’t know.” I understand that in the world of physics, bumble bees aren’t supposed to be able to fly. I’m not sure how I go about putting books together—it sure as hell isn’t by outlining!

Next year I’ll be talking about two new books, but it was fun to spend some time this morning talking about that old one. It reminds me of that old Virginia Slims commercial—“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

And I have. It’s a lot of years later, and Until Proven Guilty is still alive and kicking. By my estimation that accounts for about 160 sets of ninety-day shelf lives.

Not bad for a girl who was told by a Creative Writing professor, “Girls become teachers or nurses. Boys become writers.”

I think it’s safe to say, “She who laughs last laughs best.”

58 thoughts on “Old is New

  1. Enjoy reading your blogs and for some reason your thoughts are so similar to what I would write if I did a blog–not that I write as well as you, but because the thoughts just remind me of me and my perspective on things. I remember the first time I read one of the Beaumont books, I liked it, but it wasn’t UPG and when I realized it was not the first, I went back and started with UPG and continued then in order. Whether you know how you write your stories doesn’t matter to me, it’s the fact that your characters come to life and the situations are believable. I have now read all the Beaumont books probably three times and Alli Reynolds, too. You have a wonderful talent for these books and I am glad I discovered them and have enjoyed them over and over.

  2. As usual, you have us all laughing with that last comment. Now I’m thinking I need to start reading all of your books all over again, staring with the first of each series. And I wish I had the discipline to go walking early on these chilly mornings. I’m a wimp if the temps go below 60. So, you can see I admire you for many reasons.

  3. I am so glad you chose that paperback option. I have re-read Until Proven Gulity and all the other Beaumont, Brady, and Reynolds books at least once a year. They are always still fresh, as though they were written last week. Except of course for the technology, which is a real treat to track the changes in the way we communicate over the decades.

    • Yes, a number of years ago, someone wrote to say, “Why is Beau always looking for a pay phone and a quarter? Why doesn’t he use his cell?” I told him to check the pub date.

  4. I was fortunate enough when I moved to Arizona in the year 2000 that I was introduced to your books from one of your avid fans. She gave me a large plastic bag filled with your paper backs, and suggested strongly that I read them in order, I was hooked from your first book and again was fortunate enough to meet you in person in one of your book sellers stores. I know I may be prejudiced, but it seems to me that your books and writing have only gotten better over the years! Thank you for being you.

  5. I read UPG many years ago. I came across the book by accident and loved it. It is my favorite series that you write, and I have read them all. I always tell people they need to read that book first so you know how Beau came to be. The way he has changed over the years it’s so fascinating because people do change. Keep on writing, your books are one of the very few I will buy in hardcover. Being on a fixed income I have to pay attention to how I spend my money. Your books are well worth it

  6. Tsk, tsk! Will you ever write the word “outlining” without making it sound like a dirty word? It’s not all about Ronan numerals any more! I free write 15-30 pages simply to have a rough lesson plan to refer to. It’s flexible as hell, and in 4 of my 8 mysteries my books ended differently as I had first written. My “outline” is simply a lesson plan, a map, a solid “think through” all that could happen. Some does, and some doesn’t, but I’d never start the car without knowing where I was headed! We’re not all as gifted as you… but we still tell good stories! ?

    • It’s not my way or the highway. Writing doesn’t come in one-size fits all. To each his own. I guess I’m still smarting from the guy who told me that if I’d just use outlines, my books would be better. By the way, the one time a publisher insisted on an outline, they ended up turning down the book!

  7. Don’t worry about who out there in Hollywood could play JP or any of your others because they’ll never match what is in my head from reading the books. You’ve painted a picture with words that can’t be copied onto film. Thank you for that!

    • Agreed!
      We all have the ideal Jance characters in our minds and no one could portray them om screen to our satisfaction. Even several actors have depicted Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond. There is one actor, however, I would like to see as Sheldon Minck in the Toby Peters series – Richard Kind.

    • Yesterday when reading the blog I didn’t think much about who’d play your characters in visual media, but it must have been percolating in my brain, because I woke up this morning knowing that Tyne Daly, at the age she was while starring in Cagney and Lacey, would have been a perfect Mel. Then I looked up all three guys I was considering in my dreams for Beau, and they are each 10 years too old for the role currently.

      It isn’t the first time Jance books have showed up during my sleep….

  8. I’ve recently re-read “Until Proven Guilty” and enjoyed it again. I can’t imagine any actor playing Beau so I hope no one ever attempts. The only detective I think has made the transition is Sherlock Holmes.

    I have mostly paperbacks of your books. I like them as they are easy to carry in my bag when I am out and about. I’ve learned to always carry something to read when going to appointments.

  9. I have always enjoyed your books. There is nothing like a good book to allow you to forget about life for a while.

  10. YES, INDEED!!! Life for many of us was simply one foot in front of the other, believing that each decision would work out for the best, solve that day’s challenges, and get us to a better place. Looking back at the days that made up my 85 years, and how I made it from my working class neighborhood at Slauson and Hoover in Los Angeles, to my beach home, steps from the ocean….I do tell myself: YOU CAME A LONG WAY, BABY!!! Loved your blog (as always) but, your admission that you have no idea how your wonderful creative choices were made confirms what got many of us to much better places: do what seems right even on very tough days, listening to that innate voice within, one foot in front of the other

  11. I don’t care where you come up with your ideas as long as you keep doing it. My husband and I have read every book in every series (in order) and loved each one!
    Thank you for all the enjoyment you have given us and for your Friday smiles 🙂
    I watch a TV show called Chicago PD and actor Jason Beghe who plays Sgt Hank Voight reminds me of how I would picture Beau. Just something about his tough/gentle no BS style I guess. I agree Tom Skerrit would have been good in the role too.

  12. I’m not sure exactly when I first read UPG. I was.first introduced to JA Jance books pre Ali Reynolds but post Joanna Brady. I think there were 2 or 3 Brady books out and I’m not sure how many Beaumont books. So I proceeded to read everything that was available at the time, not necessarily in order. After that I bought the new books in hardback. Then at some point I went to ebooks. So I bought the new.books on my kindle.unless I was.going to a book signing in which case I bought the hardback. A signed bookmark just doesn’t match up to a signed dead tree book. But I really have gotten to where I Much prefer reading on my kindle for variois reasons. So if I wanted to reread a book, instead of just reading the DT version that I already own, I.just might buy the electronic version. During the pandemic, I started listening to audio books. So now I have bought audio books that I may have already bought twice in other forms. All that to say that I fairly recently listened to UPG after a number of years since first reading it. The early books have held.up well and. Could happen now except for one thing, cell phones. Really brought home how much cell phones have changed our lives.

  13. I have read “Until Proven Guilty” several times – I am sure that I will read it again in the future – It is that GOOD. I have wondered many times with that excellent storyline why it has not been made into a movie. I have lent my copy out several times and had to replace it a least once – a used copy can be found.

  14. If I were in your shoes, I’d package the movie, TV, video game, and other rights into a separate entity, and do an IPO. With your tens of thousands of fans, you’d sell the initial offering. With the capital raised, there would be no problem in finding the appropriate people to put JP and the Sheriff of Chochise County on the screen.

  15. I recently gave a friend the kindle version of Until Proven Guilty. She wanted to be able to read on backpacking excursions and JP seemed a perfect choice. I always make sure new readers start with UPG, since it is the foundation of who Beau is and how his life works.

  16. There was a service change on our website last night and the blog title ended up turning into a number. I’ll see if that can be changed.

    • Thank you for explaining and for fixing the issue. I was going to ask but decided to read the comments first.

  17. I tead most of the Beaumont books again in order this year. That would make at least 4 times for each. Still so enjoyable.

    Thinking of my favorite veteran today.

  18. My question is, in which of your Joanna Brady books was TUPPERWARE mentioned.
    I was introduced to the JA Jance books at my Book Club when a member gave a hilarious reading from a Joanna Brady book about Tupperware. After the meeting I ask her about the book. She suggested that I start my reading “Until Proven Guilty” in the JP Beaumont series and then move on to Joanna Brady. I did and have now read every one of your books.
    Reading your last book, you mentioned Anne Corley. So I decide to go back to “Until Proven Guilty”. I enjoyed it so much the second time around, for a fleeting moment I wanted to rereading the whole series again.
    Keep on writing. You are the best.

    • I believe the scene you were talking about was actually in Injustice for All, and rather than Tupperware it’s where Beau crosses path with a Mary Kay Cosmetic convention. I’m also amazed that, after all these years I still knew exactly which book that was in. I guess the little gray cells are still alive and well.

  19. Bravo. Your blogs are most wonderful. I enjoy them also because I live very near Bridle Trails too. Keep up the great work here and with your books!!

  20. Reading this post jarred me, because five years ago today (11/11) was my dad’s memorial service, and we used the funeral home attached to that cemetery on Queen Anne Hill for his cremation. I had to go up there a couple of times, and both times I got lost coming back, even with a GPS. My dad was a WWII vet and his memorial service was very appropriately on Veteran’s Day. I believe you’ve used that cemetery in a couple of your books, and now I need to go back and reread them all again!

  21. So, if I ever talk my book club into reading a Jance, you’ll come to a meeting? (We’ve stuck with Zoom meetings because several members who had moved rejoined us during the pandemic.)

    I’ve almost filled in the gaps in my Jance collection. Perhaps I can get Santa to put the last few into my stocking? At least a couple of times a year I go on a re-reading binge and immerse myself in one or another of my favorite series. It’s nice to have those special books already in the house.

    My recent reading has been modern history special topics. I am amazed at how little I noticed of things like the civil rights movement as I was growing up. Learning a lot! Ready for some escapism, though.

    Today is our wedding anniversary. We took a day trip to the Oregon coast. A happy day for me.

  22. Just as you were giving a Zoom discussion of UPG I was loaning out my copy of UPG to a very busy lady who brought it back to me two days ago after reading it in about three days. As I said she is very busy but already wanted book 2. So you can tell those “experts” your paperback’s shelf life is still growing. I hope you never listen to those “experts”.

  23. I reread UPG a couple of months ago- I thought it was comletely new to me-
    I realized in reading it that you have a keen understanding of cults and the damage the abuse with in them can cause-
    I realized that I HAD read it before, years ago, and remembered the scene near the water at the end-

      • Speaking of actor for J.P. Beaumont, for sure each of us has a different vision of him in our imagination. When Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch appeared in the series, I thought: “no way… not at all as I imagined Harry Bosch all the years reading. So, bet it would be same for J.P. Beaumont. Will maintain the image I’ve created starting w/ first book.

  24. What I like about Beau is how he resisted having an answering machine and a FAX, but joined the club. I believe having a phone in his car has been a real help. He moves with the times. I think he has a problem with rental cars, but carries on.

    I also like how the Peters girls have grown up over the years. Good stories about them.

  25. I totally agree…all the JP BEAUMONT books seem current to me. Another reason you’re my favorite author.

  26. One of your top posts! I am sharing it and e-mailed it to another writer friend who wasn’t sure she liked her book coming out immediately in paperback.

  27. P.S. to comment just posted: I often quote the last line of that song: “Oh, who would inhabit this bleak world alone?” Friends, family, dogs, and BOOKS keep me going! Thank you!

  28. Just wanted to tell you once again how much I enjoy your blogs. It’s been a while since I read Until Proven Guilty; I may have to listen to it again. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

  29. You put a smile on my face with every email. Thoroughly enjoy them. Keep up the good work. By the way, the reason you remember everything is because you love what you are doing. If you did not enjoy it, it would be pure torcher for you to write each book.

  30. I’ll never forget that you killed off Ron Peters in an early draft and some of your proof-readers (me included) said you couldn’t do that. We all loved the character. You’ve done a great job with him, too.
    Carol Murren

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