The New York Times bestselling author of forty-eight novels, Jance is celebrating both the publication of the latest entry in her long-running J.P. Beaumont series, Second Watch (William Morrow, $26.99), and the re-issue of a poetry/essay collection, After the Fire (William Morrow, $15.99), today. In addition to the Beaumont books, her series characters include Joanna Brady, Ali Reynolds, and the Walker Family; Jance has also published several short stories. Born in South Dakota and brought up in Bisbee, she and her husband now split their time between Seattle and Tucson.
Second Watch is the twenty-first book to feature Seattle investigator J.P. Beaumont. Publishers Weekly noted that “plot and pacing … kick into high gear. In a memorable afterword, Jance relates the heartbreaking story of the real Lennie Davis, a high school friend of her back in Bisbee, Ariz.” Further, Booklist praised, “Jance’s success, not to mention the longevity of the Beaumont series (more than 20 years and still going strong), lies in the strength of her characters and the craftiness of her stories.”
From the publisher:
New York Times bestselling author J. A. Jance delivers one of the most dramatically thrilling and powerful novels of her career—an emotional and resonant mystery that takes us deep into Seattle detective J. P. Beaumont's past and raises challenging questions about duty, honor, and the debt that is owed to those who sacrifice their lives for their country
Getting old is hell. J. P. Beaumont is finally taking some time off to have knee-replacement surgery. But instead of taking his mind off work, the operation plunges him into one of the most perplexing and mind-blowing mysteries he's ever faced.
A series of dreams takes him back to his early days on the force with the Seattle PD, and then even earlier, to his days in Vietnam, reminding him of people and events he hasn't thought about in years. Are they just drug-induced hallucinations? Beaumont isn't so sure. When tugging on those threads from long ago leads to present-day murders, Beau's suspicions are confirmed. Some bodies from the second watch just won't stay buried.
A masterful demonstration of J. A. Jance's superb craftsmanship, Second Watch is a thought-provoking novel that is also a poignant look at one of the most painful and divisive moments in our history—Vietnam—and a reminder of the staggering cost of war and the debts we owe to those who served then . . . and those who do now.
Now, J.A. Jance reflects on her new book and storied career …
1) SECOND WATCH is, in part, a prequel. What are the unique challenges of writing such a story – and how do you suppose that this undertaking might influence the series as it continues to progress?
In order to figure out what happened to Beaumont BEFORE I met him, I had to go back and read what I said about him in Until Proven Guilty, a book written more than thirty years ago. That meant researching what I put in that book and in many of the ones in between. Readers who start with this book and then go back to the beginning may find a few dropped stitches along the way, but in writing more that 2,000,000 words about J.P Beaumont alone, that's something that's bound to happen. And I'm sure my readers will let me know. But I can also say that I learned things about Beau in writing this book that I never knew before.
2) In addition to exploring new stylistic choices (such as employing the prequel aspect), how do you endeavor to keep a long-running series fresh, both for yourself and the reader? Have you found the key to mastering “the same, but different” or do you approach each book with a unique goal in mind?
One of the things that helps keep me fresh is the fact that I'm not ALWAYS writing about the same character. That means when I go back to a character's story after an absence I'm usually glad to see him or her and the characters are usually glad to see me as well. The other thing I've learned is that just because I'm not working with a character doesn't mean they're standing still in the meantime. Sometimes things happen to them between books that I don't learn until I revisit them.
As for approaching each book, I try to start with the beginning and get to the end. Since I write murder mysteries, I often start with someone dead and spend the rest of the book trying to figure out who did it and how come.
3) This particular book draws upon Vietnam, which is still a divisive topic, for inspiration. Please tell us about the personal experiences that motivated you to choose this as a backdrop for the story as well as what you hope the book will contribute to the national conversation about war and its aftermath?
In thinking about Beau's early years, I realized that he would have been a year younger than one of my schoolmates, a young man by the name of Doug Davis, who left Bisbee High School as the class valedictorian in 1961, graduated from West Point, and then died in Vietnam on August 2, 1966, weeks before his 23rd birthday. I decided to use my literary license to have Doug and J.P. meet and interact in Vietnam. In writing the book, I worked with Bonnie Abney, the woman who was engaged to Doug at the time of his death. Doug was one of the unsung heroes of that war, and Bonnie's loss was one of the unsung tragedies of that war. I wrote Second Watch as a tribute to both of them.
The service men and women who came home from that war weren't met with brass bands and balloons. They were derided and called vile names rather than being honored for their service. I think it's high time this country said thank you to those men and women--the ones who came home as well as the ones who didn't. I'd like Second Watch to be part of that thank you conversation.
4) William Morrow will also be re-issuing your collection of poetry, AFTER THE FIRE. How do you think that this book might change readers’ perceptions of you, both as a writer and, more generally, a person? Also, why did this form of creative expression appeal to you and how has it influenced your approach to writing fiction, if at all?
I believe readers of my fiction will see the origins of some of my fictional story lines and characters peeking out at them through the poetry. At the time I was writing After the Fire, jotting short poems was the only form of artistic expression that was available to me. My first husband had told me early on that there was only going to be one writer in our family and he was it. Writing poetry in the dark of night while he was passed out in his recliner, I convinced myself that I was being true to my art. It wasn't until much later that I realized I was using words and poetry to deal with the grim realities of my life at the time. What I do find amazing is that more than forty years after I wrote them, the poetry still resonates with me. The poems were my story, but it turns out they also reflect the experience of all too many other people.
5) What do you view as having been the most dramatic changes within the publishing industry throughout the years and how have those factors impacted your own career? Also, what do you see as the importance of bookstores within the community – and what do you hoped that your continued touring might contribute to the reader/writer/bookseller relationship?
Booksellers are my heroes. They're the ones who hand sold my books back in the early days when my books were all original paperbacks. They're the ones who put me on the map and made my current success possible. Yes, the emergence of e-books has had a huge impact on booksellers, but they are an incredibly important community resource, and if my touring helps keep them in business, I'm all for it. E-books do make it possible for new readers to go back to the beginning and find the backlist stories in order rather than being limited to whatever books they can find in second hand stores on a hit or miss basis.
With thanks to J.A. Jance for her generosity of time and thought and to Megan Swartz, Publicist at HarperCollins, for facilitating this interview.