What’s In A Name

Forty years ago in 1983 when I started writing the first Beaumont book, my intention was to write a murder mystery for one simple reason: I had always loved reading murder mysteries.

I was surprised when the first character to show up in the book, J.P. Beaumont, happened to be a Seattle homicide cop. What I didn’t know about police work back then has literally filled volumes ever since, but Beau is a very determined guy, and just because I didn’t especially want to write about a middle-aged, male detective, we’ve stuck it out together for a very long time.

When someone in the story needed to visit with Beau at the Public Safety Building, the old Seattle PD headquarters, I needed to know if visitors there were required to wear visitor passes. At the time, with Google decades away, I picked up the phone book (remember those?), tracked down the number for Seattle PD’s public information officer, and dialed away.

My call was picked up by a guy named Gary Flynn. His answer to my question? “No, but they probably should.” That exchange was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. When I finished writing Until Proven Guilty, I asked him if he would mind reading the manuscript, and he agreed.

When I started writing, I was a single mom who also had a full time job selling life insurance. My primary writing time was from 4 AM to 7 AM—the time when I had to get the kids up to go to school and get me ready to go to work. That meant that when the kids went to sleep at night, so did I.

A few days after giving Gary the manuscript, I was sound asleep at nine o’clock when the phone rang. When I answered, Gary was on the line. He had just finished reading the manuscript, and the first words out of his mouth were these. “You made me cry!” You have no idea what a boost that comment gave me.

A couple of years later, the marketing guys at Avon Books suggested that I needed to use my initials rather than my name because “male readers won’t accept a police procedural written by someone named Judy.” I knew they were wrong about that because Gary Flynn had already told me otherwise. Nevertheless, I went ahead and agreed to the name change. That’s how my pen name turned out to be J.A. Jance as opposed to Judith Ann. (By the way, when it comes to signing books, the former is far easier to write than the latter.)

Gary provided answers and guidance through any number of books until his retirement from Seattle PD. Once he and his wife moved to Prescott, Arizona, I saw him on a number of occasions there as well, the last time at the library in Sedona.He passed away a year or so later.

After Until Proven Guilty, Beau worked at Seattle PD for thirteen more books. When he left and my publisher wanted J.P. back, I had to think up a new agency—enter the attorney general’s Special Homicide Investigation Team, aka the SHIT squad. The moment that name came into my head, it made me laugh. That’s the same thing that happened years later when I hit on the name for Twinkle Winkleman. In both cases I knew those names were on the money. And when Beau’s supervisor at SHIT turned out to be a guy named Harry Ignatius Ball, aka Harry I. Ball, those two names paired together became a running joke throughout that whole set of books.

At the time SHIT was introduced, I explained that the people who came up with the Special Homicide Investigation Team moniker had failed to realize how the agency’s acronym would turn out, and by the time they realized it was a problem, it was already too late. The name was already established, and the necessary stationery and business cards were already printed. In other words, it was a done deal, so live with it.

Moving on to the present day, I’m working on Den of Iniquity, Beaumont #26. Although he is now a private investigator living in Bellingham, much of this story is Seattle based, with plenty of references to Seattle PD. Lots of things have changed since I began writing these books, making me wonder where Seattle PD’s homicide unit is based these days. Does it still operate out of one central location, or has it been split up into various precincts?

It was time to go looking for answers. Unfortunately, phone books no longer exist. The wikipedia article gave me no information whatsoever. When I tried calling the main phone number for Seattle PD, I got lots of advice about pushing number one if I wanted to know about reporting crimes on line, number two for turning in firearms, or number three for finding out who was in lockup. There was no number-pushing option for contacting media relations. I finally found a list that included email contacts for the various precincts and tried writing to them. Three days later, I finally got an email answer on that—the Homicide Unit operates out of the Police Headquarters building in downtown Seattle.

My next puzzler was about the location of Seattle’s 911 call center. I had a phone number for the guy who had answered the first question, but when I called, he said he was on leave and, as a result, couldn’t answer this one. He did however give me a number to call to reach Media Relations. I called and left a message. That was two weeks ago. This week, I called a second time. They assured me that my call was very important to them, and they would call back. They didn’t. Finally I sent another email purportedly to the people in media relations. A couple days later I received a reply telling me that, due to staffing issues, they were sorry it had taken so long to respond. They didn’t actually answer my question. Instead they gave me yet another name and email address.

By now I had figured out a way to get around the problem in the book altogether, but I went ahead and sent the message anyway. I finally heard back from that person last night. Turns out he had retired on June 30th, and my email was the last one he received before shutting down the account. Nonetheless, he answered my question by advising me where the Seattle 911 call center is located. He also told me that Seattle’s 911 Communications Center is formally known as the Seattle Customer Service and Communications Center—CSCC, but he went on to mention that Mayor Harrell intends to rename it the Seattle CARE Department.

I can hardly wait, but I can tell you I’m more SCARED about that than I am excited!

If you’re not laughing by now, it’s not my fault, and that’s all I have to say about life imitating art.