J.A. Jance talks about DANCE OF THE BONES
DANCE OF THE BONES’ plot has as an antagonist the evil character Ava Martin. She frames an innocent man that was arrested by Walker. Years later he and his daughter ask the retired Sheriff and The Last Chance organization to find the real killer and clear his name. It is in the style of a Colombo episode since the reader sees the case unfold, and how the initial crime shapes the present. Although the readers know the killer they become a part of Walker’s team and must get to the bottom of all the recent kidnappings and murders that are connected to the earlier case.
Elise Cooper: With all the political correctness today are you ever criticized about writing these Indian stories?
J. A. Jance: Sometimes. But the time I spent living on the reservation in the 1970s has so much impact on my life, as the librarian, I wanted to write about it. I was taken to heart by these people. I was recently asked by an interviewer if there is resentment since I have taken the Tohono O’odham culture and used it for profit? Absolutely not, because part of what I want to express in these books is their resilience and how they live in both worlds, in a world that incorporates the old belief system while accepting new belief systems. I was a guest of honor at the tribal museum where I got a standing ovation.
EC: Are the stories in the italics at the beginning of the chapters real Indian folklore?
Jance: Yes. They are real stories and legends of the Tohono O’odham tribe. Now other people know of their rich traditions. When I was a librarian some of the stories I told were the ones we grew up with, but I also learned and told the traditional ones. Harold Bell Wright had written a collection of these stories. For me, writing about these people was an organic process that leaked into my books. For example, the word Tucson named after the city comes from a Tohono O’odham word, ‘chukshon,’ meaning Black Mountain.
EC: This book is billed as a J. P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker novel but it seems J. P. only makes a cameo appearance. Correct?
Jance: Yes. I learned J. P. Beaumont does not play well with others. He kept walking in and taking over the book. He would not sit down and shut up. He was supposed to have a much bigger role but I could not get him to blend in. Sometimes characters just do not cooperate. People assume authors are in charge of characters but it ain’t necessarily so. The reason we did this is my editor thought J. P. readers could be brought into the Walker books. This is a way of cross-pollinating the audience. Finally I took his part of the story and turned it into a separate novella called Stand Down. After that I was able to get him under control.
EC: Is there any similarity between you and Diana?
Jance: Diana is patterned on my life experience since we have a connection to the Indian world, had a pill of a husband, and are both authors. She is not me, but her life experiences have real connections to mine.
EC: What about Brandon, is he based on someone in your life?
Jance: He physically resembles the homicide detective from a case I was actually involved with. That incident made it possible to write police procedurals because I used a lot of what I learned with the interactions of the detectives to create the different series. I never actually wrote a story about the case because I did not want the killer, who is still in prison, boasting I wrote a book about him.
EC: Can you tell us about the incident?
Jance: In the 1970s my husband and I encountered a serial killer. He was a man who murdered people on the 22nd of the month, shortly after two o’clock. My husband was hitch hiking and was picked up by this murderer about a half hour after he killed his third victim. We were living in the desert, seven miles from the nearest telephone and thirty miles from town. As he drove up to our house he asked my husband, ‘Do you leave your wife here alone much?’ That evening while going to dinner we encountered a roadblock. We found out they were looking for a man in a green car. It turned out he was the person who gave my husband a ride home. This man had forced a woman off the highway at gunpoint, shot her, raped her in front of her two children, and left her to die. After he was apprehended the killer admitted to visiting our house on three different occasions. I believe to this day if that guy showed up on my doorstep I would have plugged him.
EC: Why the reference to the disease MS?
Jance: I know of a young woman, a relative, who is dealing with this disease. I was thinking about her as I was writing it. I want readers to gain an understanding of the disease.
EC: Why did you dedicate the book to your grandson?
Jance: He wanted an Indian name like his mother who was born on the Indian reservation. We gave him the name of Red Feather because of his red hair. When he told his teacher, ‘I have an Indian name,’ she corrected him and said you have an ‘Indigenous Person’s’ name. I was proud of him when he responded, ‘no it is an Indian name.’ They call themselves Indians not Indigenous People.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
Jance: I hope readers realize that there is this whole culture that exists and they learn to respect it.
EC: Is your next book going to be a J. P. Beaumont novel?
Jance: No, first there will be an Ali Reynolds and then a Joanna Brady. I am writing two novellas where they will be in it together. I have said I always look forward to writing a book I am not writing now. I like each of my characters but I need time off from them too. Being able to move from character to character keeps me interested in the various stories. If I were only writing about Beaumont he would have disappeared a long time ago.