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.

53 thoughts on “What’s In A Name

  1. I think I love Beau because of all his human weaknesses and his struggle to become who he has become. Those weaknesses make him the perfect person to reach out and honestly understand the good, the bad and the ugly.

  2. For some reason, Harry I. Ball stuck in my mind a couple of days ago as I was mopping the kitchen floor! What a day-brightening essay to get me going this morning-hank you! I am looking forward to JP #26, as I do each book you write! I am all caught up reading each book you have written, which was first on my list when I retired three years ago. I may go back and re-read each one, they are that good.

    • My husband and I drove through Winkelman, Arizona today. I thought of you and Twink.

  3. Your shelf maté, P. D. James, has written that when her first book was published in 1962 she wrote out her name several ways and decided on P. D. James. Her given name was Phyllis Dorothy James. She said she never thought of using her married name. She’s glad she settled on P. D. James instead of Phyllis D. James when she attended book signings.

    I miss phone books, too.

    • PD James and JA Jance have been next door neighbors on library and bookstore shelves for decades.

  4. I adore Beau, which is why I have read every single one of ALL of your books, many more than once. I always look forward to the next, no matter who is the main character. And where I live, we DO have phone books; a new one comes out every year.

  5. I have enjoyed your books for many years and thank you for the pleasure they bring. I first picked up one of your books because as I was scanning authors I thought your name was the same as mine (Janice). So glad my eyes played that trick on me because I have spent many happy hours with you since.

  6. Ain’t technology wonderful…I still use the slim phone book we get in Tucson, but avoid calling because of “your call is important to us”. I have been known to physically visit a place when I needed an answer. Sometimes, email works, sometimes not. And don’t get me started on those “helpful” Chat features on some sites. More often than not, the automated system cannot or will not respond to my question, and transfer me to a live agent. Maybe AI is the answer…

  7. Great blog!
    The variety of acronyms around the country and worth are enough to make one chuckle.
    Have a great weekend!

  8. I love that Beau showed up. I have read all of your books since you started writing. Thanks for continuing to have characters show up.

    • You have read my autobiography in weekly installments but not exactly in chronological order.

  9. Oh, for the simple good ole days when you could actually pick up the phone and talk to a real person, instead of beating around every bush to find answers! Bet we’ve all spent too much time doing that! Thank you again for a wonderful Friday morning story – I look forward to them every week. Enjoy this beautiful PNW (we live in Puyallup)! Can’t wait for the new book ??

  10. Oh I get you! Our computer systems these days are making life miserable for us lowly regular people. We need answers and all we get is a computer patting our hands saying just wait a little longer (all day usually). Then we get folks on the line (well MAYBE) who can’t answer the question and can’t refer us to anyone who CAN. Computers these days just add up to wasted time and frustration.
    Sure they help for looking up information (sometimes) but in most ways they take the human element out of it and leave us – well – again FRUSTRATED. SIGH!

  11. Your blog is very important to me. Press one, and I will send you flowers. Press two, and I will send you chocolates. Press three, and I will renew your auto warranty for five years.

  12. Brilliant… absolutely brilliant!!! A perfect laugh out loud blog… made hubs say.”What?!?!?” And so now reading it to him.
    Gonna grin all day!

  13. Of course I was laughing! You frequently light up my Friday mornings with laughter.

    I’m afraid I frequently find that bureaucracy has become less friendly in many ways. I used to be able to pay my copay and schedule follow-up appointments while I was in the office of whatever medical practitioner I was visiting. Now, the person who checks me in doesn’t do that; I get follow-up phone calls at inconvenient times to schedule the next appt. and an e-bill that doesn’t agree with the paper bill, resulting in confused phone calls and my being unable to track payments easily. Except at my doggedly independent dentist (love him!) and independent vet (love them, too!). I hate corporate takeovers!

    Your fictional names are wonderful! The only one that doubles with a real life and famous human isn’t your fault; Jennifer Brady the tennis player was born after the first Joanna Brady book was published.

    My extended family is expecting a new member in about 6 weeks, and since the parents are not sharing their own thoughts, the baby shower host asked the party guests to make suggestions on a poster. Of course those ranged from serious to ridiculous, and sparked lively conversations about everything from honoring ancestors to the susceptibility to teasing. Frankly, I’m glad I’m done with that, except possibly for future pets. Naming can be a minefield.

    • Oh yeah! I love my optometrist office! PEOPLE answer the phone! When I get there I am immediately ushered into an inner room. Rarely do I wait more than a minute or two before the doc comes in. Then he actually LISTENS to me and takes his time and explains anything I ask. What a breath of fresh air. Dr. JENSEN – less your heart and all your very special crew!

  14. Well, I would probably be SCAREd if I needed to call Seattle 911. Particularly since I live in SoCal. Or maybe I would be too SCAREd to call a place called SCARE. I hope someone points out the acronym to the Seattle mayor before all the stationary is printed.

  15. Can’t wait for #26 J.P. Beaumont book. My favorite character if all. Tremendous family history of my father etc. In LAPD and relatives in other SOCAL police Departments. We have lived in Bellingham, WA for 46 years now. Our Grandson is in his fifth year of law enforcement here. I am so glad Beaumont has lived on after retirement and I will mourn his passing when you let him go. Keep on Ms. Jance. I appreciate your writing and your weekly emails.

  16. DAMN, Judy! Life DOES imitate art more often than we know! In 2015, when my first cozy mystery was published, I had needed a local restaurant where my characters could enjoy a meal while meeting to discuss clues, or celebrate success.

    My (now deceased) fiancé suggested Chinese, as the meal could be served “family style.” I was leaning toward Mexican, as we have a number of Hispanics in our coastal community who work in the oysters and other seafood industries and might like to work indoors, or at least have a good meal to warm up to.

    After kicking around a number of ideas, we laughingly settled on “Cinco Amigos Chinese Cuisine!” AND HERE’s WHERE THE STORY REALLY GETS GOOD:

    It’s now 2023. The brothers who operated a great Mexican restaurant in Long Beach in 2015 have expanded. One bought an established breakfast and lunch place in Ocean Park. The other remodeled a motel unit in Seaview and opened a Mexican breakfast and lunch place. AND THEN, he went on to buy a full-service seafood place, also in Seaview. So now these guys have FOUR restaurants, of varying specialities, all on the Long Beach Peninsula!

    I approached one of them and suggested that if they ever decide to buy the local Chinese restaurant, I’ve already advertised the name “Cinco Amigos Chinese Cuisine” in six locally-set cozy mysteries and he was welcome to use that name. He laughed like crazy!

    But you never know, now, do you? LOLOL

  17. I had to laugh when I saw your sentences about SHIT. Seattle city is still not thinking things through when it comes to naming things. I reference the South Lake Union Trolley. Locally know as The SLUT.

  18. Again out of the park.you make my diaphragm hurt. Because of laughter. Maholo from Chuck in Tacoma ..

  19. In a blog a few years ago, you recommended a Mexican seafood restaurant in downtown Phoenix. I wrote down the name and address for future reference. My husband and I went to a movie and afterwards realized we must be fairly close, but I couldn’t remember the address ( or find the note) so we walked to a nearby beauty supply store we’d patronized before the movie and asked to use it’s phone book. The same pleasant clerk got a look of horror on her face, leaned across the counter, did a tiny shake of her head, and said slowly, sotto voce as if we’d asked for porn, “We don’t keep those…”
    After we thanked her and left, we laughed at her reaction until the tears ran down our legs. Not the end of the story…just the funny part.
    Thank you for every Friday’s day-brightener and looking fwd to Blessings.
    xx Annie

  20. Not about your blog…
    Judy, I hadn’t remembered that your first Beau book was so late in my WSPCL career. I left the lab in 1985. I had a medical problem where I slept for 12 hours a night and took a 2 hour nap – every day. They treated me for depression for 19 years which was the worst think they could have done since most depression meds calm you down. They finally sent me to a neurologist who cured me that very day. I took one pill and have been my usual self since. I had extremely low BP and pulse. BP usually 80/60, pulse never over 60 and as low as 37 when I wore a heart monitor. He said my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen from the little blood that pumped up that far. Anyway, I couldn’t work outside the house so I opened my own crime lab (Forensic Services) and was able to do fairly well for the next 20 years before I retired. Just thought that might interest you. I enjoy your blogs.

    • La Piñata. I don’t go through Phoenix without stopping there at least once.

  21. Just wanted to say that with Bellingham, Seattle, Sedona, and Prescott, your post included some of the greatest all time cities and towns!!!

  22. I get so frustrated with initials I can’t figure out. Dave has to have a KUB x-ray. Finally I Googled KUB to find out it stands for Kidneys, Ureters, Bladder x-ray. Why couldn’t the person at the other end of the phone simply say what KUB stood for when she said he needed it?

    Hope the mayor sees your blog!!

    • Yeah – I agree with you. Everyone abbreviates everything and if you are not intimately acquainted with that particular medium you are left out in the cold! GRRRR!

    • I have had many KUB x-rays thanks to my wonderful kidney stones and wondered what made them different from normal x-rays. I just learned something I was too lazy to look up…lol. Thanks Marianne!!!

  23. Your use of acronyms, especially SHIT, is brilliant satire of modern society’s love of incomprehensible short-hand seldom explained to the public-
    While working for the New York City Board of Education as a School Psychologist,
    I opened the office door one afternoon to a friendly young woman who introduced herself as “Your ISS-” I had absolutely NO idea of what that signified, but I did not
    want to betray my ignorance- I assumed that she was some sort of bureaucratic authority who was checking up on me and my colleagues ( I was the only one there at the moment) so I grabbed some document or other ( I don’t recall which) and tried to make a show of our efficiency and professionalism- She looked bewildered but still friendly and left shortly after- I never did learn what her visit was about-

  24. Beau remains young. While we age graceful and full of wisdom. Wisdom comes with age. Your writing has become something I look forward to reading. I am friends here with many Some Texas Rangers. They have good stories. One writes articles and I do research for him. Ma’am a friend of mine passed away at 92. He was sharp as ever. A living history book. I pray that you have many more years and can keep writing. Have a good un. Larry

  25. Just read your April blog regarding your past as a librarian which also mentioned your stay in Pe El. I just returned from a scrapbook retreat at nearby Falls Creek retreat. You might enjoy a stay there one of these days. They have a waterfall that you might enjoy a hike & to further increase your steps to! It has recently closed due to a slide but will hopefully reopen soon. The property around Falls Creek is beautiful & relaxing!

  26. Judy Ann I will read anything u give me. I love your books. I am Maria Rosario Davison and I have a son William Glyn Davison as of now he has a mrw cancer scare is pantractic
    I know is misspell. I would love u to use my name in any of hour books. I live in Palmdale California. I am my son caregiver. He is a good man he is 46 years old. He has been fighting cancer since he was 18 years old. My ex husband went to Vietnam and he got agent orange and showed in William. I thank u, I have been following u for a long time
    God bless u always

    • Sorry things are so very tough for your family right now. Sending thoughts and prayers.

  27. For me, names are hard to remember.
    Befriending many ‘alliterate couples (i.e.Keith and Karma) over the years has helped. Quite hilariously, I’ve stumbled upon another memory device : Pam + Rick = PRick and Cynthia + Rusty= CRusty. Gosh, I hope my neighbors do not read your blog.

    Word play is so fun!

  28. My friend Linda and I cannot wait for your next Beaumont book. We love this character.
    We both love all your books and have read them all.
    I recently was on a cruise and met a lady from Bisbee who knew you. Highlight of my day!
    Keep them coming……

  29. You’re AMAZING…& I’m still laughing! Thanks so much for your blogs, your books, and, ….simply: YOU! (I guess that, technically, should go to your parents, but…). I’m so glad I’ve just found this way of reaching/responding to you! I want to thank you for CALLING ME!!! It was a year or so ago that you called me (time flies!, especially as we get older, which is the opposite of what I expected). Your Trainer is also the Trainer for a friend of ours (Victoria Meissner, who gave me an autographed hardbound copy of “SINS… “!). When you called I was so FLABBERGASTED! I could only sputter & spurt nonsense for which I’m so sorry (also for all the exclamation marks!). My husband (now deceased) & I heard a radio interview with you when driving from our Wenatchee home ; (I was a school librarian there, now retired) to Colville to visit our son, Jeff, (also an avid fan) & family. The book you were sharing about was Desert Heat, so this must have been 1983/4. We were hooked! Just this week a friend gifted me with an autographed! copy of Desert Heat. We’re all so glad you have tenaciously kept on writing! (& I’ll quit writing now). Sincerely, Lindy Jones

  30. Ahhh for the good ol’ days when phones were taken seriously and attended to with respect for the caller. Now a-days we get phone trees and if we actually get through that multi-step process of irrelevant options, we land in a “please leave a message” sink hole.
    I really MISS City Directories/Phone books, so was thrilled the first time I walked into the Sherman Library (and Gardens) library in Newport Beach, to see quite a collection of old California directories. The library is dedicated to the history of the Pacific Southwest, but is rather small, so probably contains quite a bit less than the Huntington Library in L.A.. Still, this one, unlike that one, is open to the general public. I thought it would be fun to go back and peruse the directories for my parents names before they knew one another, but haven’t had the chance.

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