D-Lit Questionnaire: JA Jance

J.A. Jance's Downfall, image used with permission from HarperCollins

When I think of mysteries, I think of JP Beaumont, MacNaughton's and The Dog House. I grew up in a Jance household and was about 12, when I read her first book, Until Proven Guilty. The sense of place her stories have and the complex personality of JP Beaumont have kept me hooked for decades.

Jance has written close to 60 books in the last 31 years. Most recently, she penned Downfall, the latest addition to her Joanna Brady series set in Arizona, published last month by HarperCollins. I was thrilled when Jance agreed to be the first author to take part in the Devour Lit Questionnaire. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Find Downfall here: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062297716

DL: If you could sum up the reason you became a writer in one word, what would it be?

JAJ: Desire, but I really need two words—burning desire

What do you prefer to read fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction, definitely. I love stories.

What is one bookstore you enjoy visiting, and why?

The Seattle Mystery Bookshop. They’ve been partners in selling my books for the last twenty-five years.

What books or other mediums have been particularly inspirational to you? Did they directly or indirectly affect your work? Why?

I grew up listening to my father read poetry from the Treasury of the Familiar. The stories in those old poems stuck with me—Horatius at the Bridge, The Wreck of the Hesperus—taught me the importance of storytelling.

What emotion do you find is the most difficult to write and why?

Writing emotion is easy. Writing the middle of a book is hard.

What do you believe are your responsibilities as a writer to your readers?

To give my readers the best possible story I can produce each and every time.

Are you a disciplined writer or a habitual procrastinator? If the former, how do you keep yourself focused? If the latter, what are your favorite procrastination tactics?

I write two books a year, so I am definitely on the disciplined end of the writing spectrum. I am also an expert at Solitaire.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer and why?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from the moment I read The Wizard of Oz in second grade. Other kids read that book and were fascinated by glimpsing the wizard behind the curtains. I was fascinated by glimpsing Frank Baum behind the words. From the moment I realized that a person put the words on paper, that’s who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

J.A. Jance, image used with permission from HarperCollins

If you could be a character in someone else’s book, who would it be?

I would show up in one of Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia books as a guest author visiting a local book club.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you?

Starting a book.

What is the most rewarding part of writing for you?

I started to write finishing writing a book, but that wouldn’t be true. For me, the most rewarding part is hearing from readers who have used my books to get through tough times like the woman who wrote to me this week saying I saved her sanity when she was laid up for four months with a badly broken leg. That’s rewarding.

Should the Oxford comma live or die?

I’m an English major who has also been a published writer for more than thirty years. My initial reaction to this question was “What the hell is an Oxford comma?” So I Googled it. Turns out I’m for Oxford commas all the way!! It’s what I learned from my grammar teachers at Bisbee High School in the Fifties and Sixties, and nothing that has happened in the intervening decades has changed their minds or mine! Long live the Oxford Comma!

How do you feel when you look back at your early work?

I’m gratified to know that my early work still holds up. Because I write four different series, new CRs (Chronological Readers) who come to my books usually start at the very beginning. The first Beaumont—Until Proven Guilty—features Seattle as it was in the early eighties. I believe it’s safe to say that book now qualifies as historical fiction.

What are you 5 favorite words?

Squeehawed, particularly, indubitably, regardless, actually.

Is there a genre you haven’t attempted, but would like to? If so, what is it and why?

I am perfectly happy in the world of mystery. It’s what I read and what I write.

What are the best conditions for you to write in?

Where I am right now—sitting on my back porch, fountain running in the garden below, dogs sleeping peacefully at my feet.

Who is the favorite character you’ve ever written?

J.P. Beaumont is my literary firstborn, and I guess he’ll always be my fair-haired boy.

What are the last three books you read?

I Am Pilgrim, The Martian, Miss Julia Inherits a Mess

What is a quality you prize most in a character?

Being a believable person—someone who is more than just words on paper.

Would you describe yourself as a diligent writer or a do you work best under pressure pushing the limits of your deadline? Why?

I am a diligent writer but I also push deadlines because sometimes books don’t necessarily come to order just because I said so.

Is there a character that you have created that you simply cannot stand?

Yes, Andrew Philip Carlisle from Hour of the Hunter.

What pushes you to be a better writer?

Constant practice. I’ve written more than fifty books in a little over thirty years. Practice counts in writing the same way in counts in playing the piano.

What author’s work speaks to you?

C. Day-Lewis’s poetry.

What are your least favorite words?

Like at the beginning of any sentence. Me when used as the subject of a sentence: Me and Bill went to the movies. I when used as the object of a preposition: It’s between him and I. So I guess I don’t dislike the words so much as I hate bad usage.

Is there one trait that all of your main characters have in common? If so, why?

They all have mothers who, living or dead and for good or ill, continue to influence the way the characters live their lives. As for why? It’s a reflection of how my mother influenced my life.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

That would be courage. To quote that old song from Camelot—Take courage, now there’s a sport, an invitation to a state of rigor mort.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Actually, I’m pretty sure I overuse actually.

If you could sum up the reason you became a writer in five words or less, what would it be?

It’s what I always wanted to do.

What is next?

Finish the book I’m writing. Go on a book tour. Start writing the next book. And so it goes.


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