J.A. Jance did the math before hitting the road for her current book tour. She realized she’s just published book No. 56, the latest installment in her popular mystery series featuring TV-anchor-turned-investigator Ali Reynolds.
It’s an impressive tally, especially considering Jance didn’t begin writing until she was pushing 40. A divorced single mom raising two kids and selling life insurance full-time, she started getting up early in the spring of 1982 to write stories before work.
She never stopped. Now she publishes two books a year.
The secret to her productivity?
“I work every day,” Jance says.
The best-selling mystery writer divides her time between the Pacific Northwest and the Arizona desert. She comes to Spokane April 18 to visit The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club.
In an interview, she talks about her writing life, the nation’s most dangerous job and what surprises readers most about meeting her.
Q. What’s a typical day like for you?
A. Get up, do my commute – bedroom to kitchen for coffee and kitchen to my work chair in the family room or patio – I do not have a desk. I read my papers, have breakfast, get my steps, and go to work. First I answer email and then I go to work writing. This is a seven-day-a-week job.
Q. In “Duel to the Death,” Ali Reynolds gets caught up in a case involving bitcoin and artificial intelligence. What inspired you to tackle those topics in a novel?
A. When I read mysteries, I want to read about the mystery, yes, but I also want to learn – to visit new places and learn about things I may not have heard of before. AI is something that is coming at us and I thought this was a way to introduce the concept to my readers and myself. I learned a lot while writing this book. Ditto for Bitcoin. It’s so much in the news these days, that I wanted to know about that, too.
Q. What do you like most about Ali Reynolds?
A. Like me, Ali is someone who had to reinvent herself in middle age. We have that in common, and our lives have changed remarkably from our mutual low points – 13 books ago for Ali; 56 books ago for me.
Q. Where do you find your best ideas?
A. I find ideas in newspapers, in alumni magazines, in people I meet. Ideas are everywhere. The problem is corralling one that will maintain my interest for the six months I’m writing and editing the book – and for the time I’m out on the road promoting it.
Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to research a story?
A. Visit the elephant compound at the Woodland Park Zoo for Beaumont No. 5. That’s where I learned that being an elephant trainer, especially a substitute elephant trainer, is the most dangerous job in the country.
Q. If someone is just discovering your work, what book do you suggest to start?
A. That depends on where they are. If the new reader is from Washington state, I recommend the first Beaumont, “Until Proven Guilty.” For Arizona readers, one of the Arizona books. For people located in other places, I suggest starting at the beginning of a series so they can watch the characters change over time. The truth is, lots of people start with the newest book. If I’ve done the job right, they’ll then go back and read the others.
Q. What advice do you give others who want to write mysteries?
A. Don’t just talk about it – do it. Put your butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard, and go to work.
Q. What author most influenced you?
A. L. Frank Baum. When I encountered his Oz books in second grade, I wasn’t fascinated by the Wizard hiding behind the green curtains. I was fascinated by Frank Baum hiding behind the words. As soon as I realized a living breathing person put those words on the page, that’s what I wanted to be and that’s what I wanted to do.
Q. What other crime/mystery writers do you read?
A. Daniel Silva, Jo Nesbo, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lee Child
Q. What’s something about you readers may be surprised to know?
A. People who only know me from my cover photos have no idea I’m over 6 feet tall.
J.A. Jance’s Top 10
What are you …
1. Working on: “Field of Bones,” the next Joanna Brady book
2. Reading: Not reading. Writing. Can’t do both at the same time.
3. Watching: Loved “Victoria” and “The Crown”
4. Listening to: Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius
5. Planning: Two back-to-back Silverseas Cruises later this spring
6. Enjoying as a guilty pleasure: Have had two Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the last two months, one in Georgia and one in Tucson.
7. Inspired by: the Grand Canyon.
8. Imagining: Being able to dance. (I’ve always been clumsy on my feet.)
9. Challenged by: Getting my steps every day.
10. Adding to your bucket list: Seeing Niagara Falls.
Mark your calendar: Upcoming Northwest Passages events
April 11: My Town Poetry Night with Tod Marshall
Celebrate National Poetry Month with former Washington state poet laureate Tod Marshall in conversation with columnist Shawn Vestal. Guest performers include Spokane poet laureate Mark Anderson, “Power 2 the Poetry” leader Bethany Montgomery and Spark Central executive director Brooke Matson. Get tickets at www.spokane7tickets.com.
Poetry open call: Do you have an original poem about living in Spokane you’d like to share? Message email@example.com to share your work; we’ll publish a selection of reader poems during April.
April 12: Baseball in the Movies
Kick off the new season with Baseball in the Movies Night. Join Spokesman-Review Editor Rob Curley and the Spokane Indians Baseball Club for a lively look at the best baseball stories on film. Get tickets at www.spokane7tickets.com.
May 16: Jess Walter’s Stories
Spokane writer Jess Walter is the author of eight books, including “Beautiful Ruins,” a New York Times best-seller. Proceeds from this event benefits Spark Central, a local nonprofit that offers learning programs, technology and creative tools for kids and adults. Ticket information will be coming soon.
Donna Wares is a senior editor at The Spokesman-Review and runs the Northwest Passages Book Club and Community Forum.