By Margo Greenman
New York Times bestselling mystery novelist J.A. Jance will be visiting South Puget Sound Community College’s Kenneth J. Minneart Center for the Arts on Friday, Feb. 28, at 1 p.m., to talk about “Moving Target,” the newest tale in her popular Ali Reynolds series. But, before she heads out to sign copies of her new book, she sat down with ThurstonTalk and told us a little bit about her new novel and why she writes.
Murder, mystery, trans-Atlantic travel, computer hacking and more all find their way into the ninth installment of the gripping Ali Reynolds series. After accompanying Leland Brooks to England to meet with his estranged family, Reynolds finds herself investigating two mysteries. A computer-hacking teenager back home in the U.S. who has found himself hospitalized after a malicious juvenile detention center attack sparks the attention of Reynold’s fiancé, B. Simpson, while Leland Brooks seeks Reynolds help in uncovering the mystery behind the decades-old murder of his father. Joined by her fiancé, B. Simpson, and friend, Sister Anselm, Reynolds sets out to uncover the mysteries surrounding these unsolved murders.
During our interview, Jance said she’s looking forward to her fans reading “Moving Target” and seeing how the book shows the way in which small incidents occurring decades ago can still resonate with us decades into the future. “We’re all a product of everything that happens to us,” she says, explaining how her relationship with her own past subconsciously influenced her first published book, “Until Proven Guilty.”
“An instance from my childhood resonated with the first Beaumont book that I wrote. I put that character into the book without really being conscious of the origin of that character’s history,” Jance says.
While exploring the theme that the past is always present, Jance is reminded of an incident from her days in college as she celebrates her 50th published book. In 1964, Jance was attending the University of Arizona. As an English major in her junior year, Jance attempted to get into the creative writing program at the university, only to be turned away when the professor for the program would not admit her because she was a woman, saying women become teachers. “But here I am, celebrating my 50th published book – it’s a surmounting of incredible odds,” Jance says, looking back on that time in her life and how she overcame it.
With fifty books under her belt, Jance has no intention of losing steam – but, that’s because she’s doing what she loves. Jance always wanted to be a writer. From the minute she discovered Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” series as a second grader, she knew she wanted to be a writer. Now, a bestselling author, Jance says, “Writing is what I always wanted to do. Although I’m working, it doesn’t feel like work. Finding your passion is the whole secret to living a happy life.”
And, at the rate she’s going, it’s a good thing she likes her job. Jance says it takes about 100,000 words to write a book, and she writes two per year. Fifty published books later, that’s five million words that she has written, professionally. As for writer’s block, the seasoned author says the only way around it is to push through it and keep on writing.
With as much experience as Jance has, she knows what her readers like. Jance describes herself as more of a storyteller than a writer, and says she attributes the success of her books to the characters that she puts in them. “The people in my books are pretty much regular, ordinary people. They’re not superheroes, but they’re ordinary people who do extraordinary things. There are people in my books that my readers can root for,” Jance says. Taking this approach in creating her characters, Jance is able to invent characters that people can relate to and get excited about. “I tried to create characters that people can care about. My characters are people first and law enforcement officers afterward,” she says.
As Jance celebrates her 50th book, she is reminded of the people in her own life that have inspired characters in her books. Whether it be physical, personality traits or both, she has entwined characteristics of real people into some of her characters, but that these characters take on their own personas and are an overall “outgrowth” of her imagination.
Jance says that imagination and creativity are key in writing, but that your expressive side can, at times, be more “aware” then you are yourself. “The creative part of you is sometimes in touch with things that you’re not aware of. That’s the magic part of writing. And no, I do not understand it. I know it exists, but I don’t understand it,” she says cheerfully.
To find out more about Jance and her new book, join her during her “Moving Target” Tour on Friday, Feb. 28, at SPSCC’s Minneart Center at 1 p.m. The free event is sponsored by Timberland Regional Library in partnership with South Puget Sound Community College. To find out additional dates she will be in the area, visit her website for a full list of tour dates.