When New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance was living in Phoenix during the 1970s, she was an insurance agent raising two kids and wondering how to put food on the table.
At that time, she wouldn’t have envisioned becoming a writer, Jance told an audience of more than 300 people in events Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Jance is now the author of 56 novels, spanning series featuring such characters as Arizona Sheriff Joanna Bradley, Seattle homicide detective J.P. Beaumont, former television anchor turned sleuth Ali Reynolds and Tucson’s Walker family.
But, just like Reynolds, Jance reinvented herself. In 1980, she divorced her husband. She packed up her belongings and, in 1982, headed for Seattle with her children.
Three years later, Jance published her first novel, “Until Proven Guilty,” featuring detective Beaumont.
“Like Ali, I had to start over from scratch,” she said.
Jance was this month’s featured speaker for The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club, a community event that features local and nationally acclaimed authors.
“This is a different world out there that J.A. Jance has created,” said Rob Curley, editor of The Spokesman-Review. “She’s created these characters that you all love. These are old friends for loyal readers.”
Jance’s newest thriller, “Duel to the Death,” features a storyline with Reynolds, bitcoin and artificial intelligence.
Jance drew inspiration for Reynolds during a case of writer’s block. At the time, she said, she was an avid watcher of the evening news in Tucson, and particularly of her favorite anchor, Patti Weiss.
One evening, Weiss was off the air.
Tucson news outlets over the following weekend reported Weiss was ousted because management thought she was too old to be on the air.
“Within minutes, I was writing about Ali Reynolds, former Los Angeles anchor, but now mystery solver getting yanked off her news anchor desk,” Jance said.
Jance was born in South Dakota and raised in Bisbee, Arizona – the setting for the series of novels featuring Joanna Brady.
Jance attended the University of Arizona where she majored in English and secondary education. She wanted to enroll in a creative writing class – the same class her husband was in – but the professor told her that “girls become teachers or nurses, boys become writers,” she said.
After the professor denied her admission to the class and her husband said there was only going to be one writer in the family and he was it, Jance shelved her writing ambitions.
She was a teacher for two years at Tucson’s Pueblo High School and a school librarian for five years on the Tohono O’ Odham Native American Reservation.
When her husband was asleep, she would write poems, which she stored away in a box until his passing in the 1980s.
After rediscovering the poems, she turned them into a book of poetry titled “After the Fire,” which was published in 1984.
“Out of all my books, I think ‘After the Fire’ is the most important,” she said.
Jance said she’s always enjoyed mystery novels.
“I think you need to love what you write,” she said.
Jance, who has been on an extensive book tour, is looking forward to resuming work on her upcoming book, “Field of Bones,” the latest in the Joanna Brady series.