Human Interest

On the cusp of the release of her 53rd novel, multiple New York Times-bestselling mystery author J.A. Jance has an important message to convey.

“Here’s a thing you should know about mystery writers,” she said to a packed room at Cottonwood Recreation Center Thursday, March 10. “It’s a very bad idea to make us mad.”

The danger is often overemphasized: Be careful when you talk to writers, you might end up in their next book. But in Jance’s case, the danger can’t overemphasized.

Her first husband — a drunkard and an abuser, according to Jance — has been maligned fictionally in a number of her novels. A University of Arizona professor who had told her that she would never be a writer ended up being the villain of Jance’s first published book.

“How dare he tell me I couldn’t write,” Jance said, and smiled. “He’s dead now, of course.”

In “Clawback,” her most recent novel and the 11th featuring former Los Angeles news anchor turned mystery solver Ali Reynolds, Jance took numerous fictional stabs at a financial adviser who she said stole $500,000 from her and her husband.

“I took that $500,000 loss and turned it into a million-dollar contract,” Jance said. “Don’t you just love how that happens?”

Of course, it wasn’t always this way for the author. By her late 30s, she had an agent but no salable book. She created retired Seattle Police Department Detective J.P. Beaumont after listening to men talking in a bar.

Published in 1985, “Until Proven Guilty” would mark the first of several decades-long relationships with characters.

The character who may resound strongest for Arizona readers is Arizona County Sheriff Joanna Brady. Intimately connected with the state since her upbringing in Bisbee, Jance adds regional touches whenever she can.

Her character Ali Reynold’s parents reside in Sedona. Much of “Clawback” takes place in surroundings familiar to Verde Valley and Sedona residents.

Personal touches are a big part of her writing, too. “I always wondered what it would be like to be short,” said Jance, who is 6 feet 1 inch tall. “For instance, I know much more about the top of Joanna Brady’s refrigerator than she does.”


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