Most second graders have lofty aspirations of becoming astronauts, veterinarians or movie stars, but it was an early encounter with Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series that prompted New York Times best-selling author, J.A. Jance, to dream of being a writer. A few obstacles, lots of early morning writing sessions and 40 something published works later, it’s safe to say that her dream has been realized. Jance’s latest book, Fatal Error, hits shelves February 1 and DLT had a chance to interview the incredibly successful author herself. Get the full Q&A after the jump.
Raised in Bisbee, AZ and a graduate of the University of Arizona, Jance now splits her time between Seattle and Tucson. We caught up with Jance as she was in between updating her blog, answering emails and personally writing fans about her upcoming book release. She was sweet enough to switch gears and shoot the breeze. Her warm voice and candid nature made her a true pleasure to interview and it felt as though we had known each other for years. Here, more or less, is what we covered.
What can readers expect from Fatal Error, the latest in your Arizona-based series featuring police investigator, Ali Reynolds?
Ali Reynolds is always someone who goes to the mat for her friends, but they’re not all created equal. The friend in this book is troubled, to say the least, and gets involved with an internet stalker. I’ve been asked before “do you think the internet is a dangerous place?” and my answer is “yes”. On the internet, people can wear masks and say whatever they want. This novel is actually dedicated to a friend of mine who had a run-in with a cyber-stalker. He pretended to be a bachelor over the internet to a number of smart women, smart women because he knew it would be difficult for them to admit it later. I was floored that she would marry someone she had never met, but she was ultimately the inspiration for this novel.
Do you often draw inspiration from real life for your stories and characters?
Have you ever seen the musical Sunday in the Park with George (Inspired by the famed impressionist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” aka the ‘Ferris Bueller’ painting)? Well, there’s a song in there that goes “bit by bit” and, much like the style of impressionist painting, it’s about putting together pieces of things I know and bit by bit they get woven together into a story. The character of Ali Reynolds is actually based off long time Tucson newscaster, Patty White, who was booted off the air unceremoniously. They didn’t give a reason as to why, but it was understood that it was because she was getting older.
Ali is such a strong female character, do you consider her to be a reflection of you?
There is some of me in all of my characters. I would like to think that what I share most with Ali is that I am a good and faithful friend … with almost no ability to mind my own business. Actually, my mother is the model for Ali’s mother and she is very similar to both Ali and myself in that we have a tendency to meddle. My mother’s name is Evelyn and husband has this joke that whenever I get too involved in other people’s business he’ll say “You’re Evy-ing it up again.”
While attending the U of A you had a creative writing professor refuse your admission over his idea that women should be teachers and nurses, while your first husband similarly held you back by telling you he would be the only writer in the family. What’s the best part about your success regarding those difficult situations?
Living well really is the best revenge. I actually based the truly evil character in Hour of the Hunter off those experiences, but both my husband and that professor died before my first book was published and I’d like to think they know.
I see you also interact directly with you fans now on your “For Whom The Bella Tolls” blog. What type of things do they write?
I personally answer all my email and it’s amazing what some people will say. I get some truly mean fan mail from people who wouldn’t dream of saying something like that to my face. There are two sides of that same coin though, some spill their hearts out in those emails because they need a friend. I had a woman write to me last week and tell me that my books are what is helping her through her husband’s stay in the hospital. In those difficult times sleep is hard to find and it’s nice to have someone to talk to.
Do you use writing to get through difficult times?
I wrote “After the Fire” (Jance’s first book of poetry) in the wee hours of the morning as a way to cope with what was going on in my life. That’s really what that book was about.
When you’re not promoting a book and answering fans, personally (we still can’t get over how cool that is) what do you do with your free time?
In my “spare” time I play golf, badly and spoil my grandkids. Trust me, I do that well!
What inspired you to write mystery novels?
I loved murder mysteries from the moment I cracked open my first Nancy Drew, John D. McDonald‘s Travis Magee books showed me that it was possible to write a series for adults. I know there are other people out there who did the same thing–the Perry Mason books, for example, but Travis MaGree is the one who spoke to me.
Have more questions? Jance will be signing copies of Fatal Error February 1-4 around the Valley before setting off on her national book tour.
February 2- The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale: 7 p.m.
February 3- Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe: 7 p.m.
February 4- Costco, Oak Street, Phoenix – 12 p.m.