As a second-grader in Mrs. Spangler’s Greenway School class, J.A. Jance was introduced to Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series. She read the first one and was hooked and knew, from that moment on, that she wanted to be a writer.
Jance’s aspirations to become a writer were frustrated in college and later, first because the professor who taught creative writing at the University of Arizona in those days thought girls “ought to be teachers or nurses” rather than writers. After he refused Jane’s admission to the program, she did the next best thing: she married a man who was allowed in the program that was closed to me. Jance’s first husband imitated Faulkner and Hemingway primarily by drinking too much and writing too little. Despite the fact that he was allowed in the creative writing program, he never had anything published either prior to or after his death from chronic alcoholism at age 42. That didn’t keep him from telling me, however, that there would be only one writer in our family, and he was it. Well, all I can say is… Jance proved him wrong.
Judith was kind enough to take some time out of preparing to hit the road for this chat. She is an absolute ROCK STAR! Enjoy!
What was the most memorable research trip you’ve made?
Doing research for Rattlesnake Crossing, we drove through the back streets of Tombstone where we saw an EAGLE taking a bath in a back yard bird bath. We thought it was hilarious, but after all, he was a bird and it was a BIRD bath.
Please share with us the most interesting stories law enforcement or forensic professionals have told you.
A woman sent me a packet of information on a 75-year old unsolved homicide that I was able to use in one of my books.
Anything that changed your real life or that made you write a story you never thought possible for you to write?
Crossing paths with a serial killer in Tucson in the early seventies led me to write the Walker books. I rewrote the story so it doesn’t at all resemble the real case. The killer in that instance is still in prison in Arizona.
Are there any stories that have made you cry, laugh, stunned you or rendered you speechless when you heard it, that you had to incorporate them in your fiction?
While my husband was at a business meeting in a Bellevue Denny’s in the ’80s, I was busy observing the people around us. In the next booth was a female real estate agent waiting for clients. I knew she was a real estate agent because these were the old days when real estate agents lugged multiple listing books with them to appointments. I knew that her clients were late, because the agent kept sighing and looking at her watch. When the customers finally showed up, it was a tall, good looking guy in his late forties or early fifties. On his arm was a piece of barely thirty-something arm candy. She was there to buy a house. She only wanted the high-priced ones. The guy, on the other hand, understood how much he made, how much he already owed in alimony and child support, and he could also see how much this new house was going to cost. He was not a happy camper. I went straight home and put him into a book as a detective in Pullman. Or maybe Moscow, Idaho. Right this minute, I can’t be sure which.
What is the most disgusting fact you’ve woven a story around?
Child molestation is something that always bothers me. I know the statistics, and they are appalling.
You write about some very disturbing subjects indeed. Do the images you invoke with your writing ever bother you? Or are you able to put them out of your mind, after a day’s writing is over?
The characters bother me more than the images. It’s trying to understand how characters interact that keeps me awake at night.
How would you say you have evolved as a writer over time?
I think I’ve become more confident. I now can be sure that, once I start writing a book, I’ll be able to finish it. I’ve also become more assured about my “voice” as a writer and being able to keep the characters true to themselves.
When you’re not writing, what are your favorite ways to relax and have some fun?
I play golf — badly. I do stuff with the grandkids — I’m currently reading Harry Potter to my grandson long distance. And I read OTHER people’s books.
Of all the books you have written, do you have a favorite? If so, which one and why?
Hour of the Hunter, the first Walker book, was the first time I stepped away from the first person point of view of J.P. Beaumont. It allowed me to use some of the things I learned during that serial killer case to good effect. It allowed me to weave in some of the stories and legends of the Tohono O’odham people that I had learned as a storyteller during my years on the reservation. But best of all, I got to make a little literary revenge. As a college junior at the University of Arizona, I wasn’t allowed in the Creative Writing program because, as the professor told me, I was a “girl.” So it’s no accident that the crazed killer in Hour of the Hunter turns out to be a former professor of Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.
Some of your books have recurring characters. For those that are new to your books, can you tell them which are stand-alone titles and which should be read in order?
From my point of view, they should ALWAYS be read in order. That way the readers can come to know the characters as the writer has come to know the characters.