19 August 2014

J. A. Jance and the Oz Books

I’ve been hearing about the mystery writer J. A. Jance’s appearance at the Moravian Bookshop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, so I decided to highlight how she became a writer.

She’s told this story in many brief ways, but this essay for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to have the most detail:
I ended up in Mrs. Spangler’s [second-grade] class, and that, too, was a life-changing event. On a shelf under the window, Mrs. Spangler had a collection of books. If we finished our work early, we were allowed to go to the bookshelf and choose a book. I always finished my work early, and that’s where I discovered The Wizard of Oz–not the movie, but the book by Frank Baum. And not just that one book, either, the whole series, all of them. For me, it was love at first sight.

Some kids encountering The Wizard of Oz focus on the Wizard himself, the funny little guy hiding behind his green curtain. What I saw was Frank Baum hiding behind the words, and as soon as I realized someone had put those words on paper, that’s who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I wanted to write books; tell stories; put words on paper.
In another interview, Jance also highlighted John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee thrillers: “That was when I realized it was possible to write series books for grown-ups. There were of course other authors who wrote series books for grown-ups, but that was one that was readily accessible for me.”

I was struck by how the card page (i.e., the “Other Books by This Author” page) in Jance’s latest books, listing two hefty mystery series and a bunch of other titles, has the same sense of promise as the long list printed in some Oz books.

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