Busy Writing Mysteries 

J.A. Jance's forty-plus novels make up for lost time.

It takes a certain amount of confidence for a writer of suspense novels to reveal, right away on page one, who the perp is. After all, the standard primary source of suspense in suspense novels — surely they teach this in Thriller Fiction 1A — is keeping the readers wondering who the killer is. Introduce the victims, the sleuths, the probably innocent suspects, but as for the killer's identity: Keep 'em guessing. Yet in her new novel Cruel Intent, in which a stay-at-home mom's murder pulls ex-TV journalist Ali Reynolds into the investigation, J.A. Jance reveals and even names the actual killer on page one. Jance has that confidence, and as the New York Times bestselling author of forty-plus novels, she's earned it.

Nor did a writing career come easily to the Arizona native. After Jance graduated from high school in 1962, "my ambitions to become a writer were frustrated in college ... because the professor who taught creative writing at the University of Arizona in those days thought girls 'ought to be teachers or nurses' rather than writers," Jance remembers bitterly. "After he refused me admission to the program, I did the next best thing: I married a man who was allowed in the program that was closed to me. My first husband imitated Faulkner and Hemingway primarily by drinking too much and writing too little." Raising kids while working as a teacher and librarian, she found time to write only between 4 and 7 a.m.: "The first book I wrote, a slightly fictionalized version of a series of murders that happened in Tucson in 1970, was never published by anyone. For one thing, it was twelve hundred pages long. Since I was never allowed in the creative writing classes," she explains, "no one had ever told me there were some things I needed to leave out." But some of the editors who rejected that initial effort offered good advice that helped her complete her first published novel, 1985's Until Proven Guilty. Many, many, many more followed.

"One of the wonderful things about being a writer is that everything — even the bad stuff — is usable," avows the author, who will discuss Cruel Intent at Clayton Books (5433D Clayton Rd., Clayton) on December 8. But the best thing of all is "when I hear that someone has used my books to get through some particularly difficult illness either as a patient or as they sit on the sidelines while someone they love is terribly ill. It gratifies me to know that by immersing themselves in my stories, people are able to set their own lives aside and live and walk in someone else's shoes. It tells me I'm doing a good job at the best job in the world." 7 p.m. ClaytonBookshop.com

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