J.A. Jance On Her Mystery-Writing Origins

In honor of her new release, Queen Of The Night, mystery author J.A. Jance shares her path to publication, the true-life mystery that inspired her to start writing and details of the original novel that held the title Hour Of The Hunter.

 In the mid-Sixties, I spent five years working as a school librarian on an Indian reservation, the home of the Desert People, now known as the Tohono O'odham Nation. During that time my first husband and I encountered a serial killer and ended up being stalked by him for sixty days before he was finally apprehended. He was imprisoned for murdering three people and is still in prison to this day.

I had always wanted to be a writer, although I wasn't allowed in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona in 1964 because, as the professor told me, I was a "girl." All of which goes a long way to explain why I became a librarian.

Years later, when I finally tried my hand at writing in the early 80s, I used what I had learned on the reservation as background for my first manuscript, a 1200 page monster that has never been published, and deservedly so. It was a thinly fictionalized version of our encounters with both the killer and with the homicide detective who eventually solved the case and arrested the bad guy. Although the book was never published, it was important for me to write it. The process of doing so provided me with invaluable on-the-job training for becoming a writer. In the course of creating that never-published book, I taught myself how do to pacing, how to write descriptive passages, and how to create believable characters and dialogue. That first manuscript went into the "bottom drawer" where it remains to this day while I went on to write the first nine books in the J. P. Beaumont series. In 1989, when I was given the opportunity to write whatever I wanted as my first hardback, I was drawn back to what I had learned while working on the reservation -- the people I had met, our encounter with the serial killer, and the stories I had heard as well as the stories I had told in K-6 classrooms.

Without taking that initial manuscript out of the drawer, I appropriated the title, Hour Of The Hunter, and went on to write a completely different book, one that is entirely fictional. In a bit of literary payback, the crazed killer in the new version of that book turned out to be a former professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. (The real one was long dead by then.) The leading lady in the book, Diana Ladd, is a teacher on the reservation who always wanted to be a writer. And the homicide cop, Brandon Walker, is . . . well . . . a homicide cop.

I loved writing about those characters. I loved being able to relate to the rest of the world what I had learned about living in the desert and about coming to know the Desert People--their legends, their culture, their wry humor and age old wisdom.

The problem with characters, though, is that sometimes after I finish writing a book, some of the people I've written about refuse to sit down and shut up. They won't go away. I've learned that the only way to get some of these folks out of my hair is to give up and write another book. And that's what Queen Of The Night is -- the fourth book in the Walker Family series.

The first book, Hour Of The Hunter, belongs to Diana Ladd and to Brandon Walker, the homicide detective determined to save her and her son from a crazed killer. The second book, Kiss Of The Bees, belongs to Lani Walker, the Tohono O'odham child Diana Ladd and Brandon Walker adopted. The third book, Day Of The Dead, belongs to Delia Chavez Cachora, a young woman who has strayed from the reservation and who is brought back home and groomed to become a leader by a medicine man named Fat Crack Ortiz. This book, Queen Of The Night, belongs to the Brandon Walker's foster son, Brian Fellows, and to Lani, who together set out to save another orphaned Indian child.

I've been writing about these folks for twenty years now. They're fictional creations, but they are also people who walk around in my head at night when I'm trying to go to sleep. They seem like old friends to me, and I hope my readers regard them as old friends, too.

- J.A. Jance

Want more J.A. Jance? Pick up your copy of Queen Of The Night today!