J.A. JANCE – Pays Homage to a Lakota Hero

Over the course of the last forty years, I’ve written and published one book after another, all but one of them murder mysteries.  Blessing of the Lost Girls, due out September 29, 2023, is number 66.  In order to produce that many books, the writing process generally takes six months from beginning to end.

That tradition came to a grinding halt in 2021 when I started work on the most recent Ali Reynolds book, Collateral Damage.  That one took a whole year.  As I struggled to bring that book to order (I’m definitely a pantser as opposed to an outliner!) I kept thinking that maybe I had lost my mojo, and that would be the last book I ever wrote.  Eventually, I finished it, and the handwork paid off because my readers loved it.

But in the meantime, when I was only a couple of months into the Collateral Damage ordeal, a friend called and told me the following story:

In the nineties, a serial killer roamed the West—a guy who happened to hate Indians.  His version of hate crimes before “hate crimes” became a thing. His deal was to ride boxcars and push Indians under moving trains.  He became known as the Boxcar Killer and is still, at this time, serving life without parole in prison.

Around that time, a Lakota named James was working in the rail yard of a small city in Oregon. That’s when he had his encounter with the Boxcar Killer.  James was pushed under a moving train and dragged for a mile and a half before the train was able to stop.  Cops were called to the scene.  They declared him dead, zipped him into a body bag, and had him transported to the local morgue, which was located in the basement of the community hospital. A nurse who worked there and who was also Lakota happened to know James.  That night, when she got off shift, she went down to wash his hair—a time honored Lakota custom.

When she unzipped the body bag, his arm came out because he wasn’t dead. He was immediately transported from the morgue to the OR for the first of the countless surgeries it took to duct tape him back together.  He was in the hospital for months on end. He ended up being a paraplegic.  He lost the use of his dominant hand. He had to learn how to speak again as well as how to read and write.

One of my friends and fans, a woman named Loretta, has children who are half Lakota.  She was also a volunteer at the hospital where James was treated.  During his many hospital stays and before he learned to read again, she went to his hospital room and read books to him.  And because she’s a fan of my books, she read my books to him, including her favorites—the Walker Family books set on Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Reservation. James loved them.

Once he recovered enough, he spent the next twenty years of his life working with disaffected urban Indian youth in the Portland area, helping them “find the right path.”  The last time my friend spoke to James was shortly before his death in the spring of 2021. On the phone, he told her, “Tell your friend she needs to write another Walker book.  There aren’t enough Indian heroes in books”.

After James passed away in the spring of 2021, although his case will never come to court, his autopsy report says that he died as a result of homicidal violence, and he is counted as one of the Box Car Killer’s victims.  After his death, he was transported back to the reservation, not in a casket but wrapped in a buffalo robe.

I grew up as one of seven children.  Our mother had plenty of rules.  At dinner, you had to eat a little of everything on your plate or no dessert.  I’ve taken that rule into my writing career in that I’m not allowed to think about the next book until I finish the one I’m currently working on.  So, the remainder of the time I was working on Collateral Damage, I didn’t allow myself to think about writing the book James wanted me to write. Still, once I cleaned my literary plate, it was time to write Blessing of the Lost Girls, and I did so, beginning to end, in two months flat!

The story flew together, in part, I believe, because writing it was a sacred charge given to me by a powerful Lakota warrior.  And if you read Blessing and meet a character named John Wheeler, you’ll know at once that although James said there weren’t enough Indian heroes, now he is one.

J.A. Jance’s Website is www.jajance.com

Autographed books will be available from Mostly Books in Tucson, Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, Washington.

15 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    I’ve been a JA Jance fan for years but haven’t read anything of hers lately. This post will change that.

    Reply
  2. John G. Bluck

    Those of us who write fiction are storytellers, and what an interesting tale Ms. Jance tells us in her account of the bad stuff that happened in real life to the Lakota man named James. Fiction is made up, but then again it isn’t. It comes to life from the stories we hear and from our life experiences. So, fiction isn’t just entertainment. It’s a way to pass on knowledge and how we think about ourselves in this chapter of history.

    Reply
  3. Francelia Belton

    Great story! I’m adding your novel to my TBR list. Thank you, JA Jance and George!

    Reply
  4. Paty Jager

    I also bring up MMIW in my two murder mystery series. It is a topic that has been kept quiet for too long. Just like other injustices against the first people.

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    What a powerful story of survival! I can’t wait to read Blessing of the Lost Girls!

    Reply
  6. Marilyn Meredith

    Congratulations to J. Al. Jance. I met her at a Sisters in Crime meeting in Fresno years ago. I bought a copy of each book she’d brought with her. Have been a fan ever since.

    Reply
  7. Victoria Kazarian

    What an amazing story of someone who survived to help others. I’ve loved your books for years, and now I know I need to get this new one.

    Reply
  8. Donnell Ann Bell

    Amazing story. I grew up near the Navajo reservation. This story touches my soul. And I absolutely respect your philosophy of cleaning your literary plate.

    How sad that it was counted as homicidal violence, and he is counted as one of the Box Car Killer’s victims. But I love that he was transported back to the reservation, not in a casket but wrapped in a buffalo robe. Will check out your novels. Best wishes on a fantastic sell through.

    Reply
  9. Margaret Mizushima

    Ms. Jance, as you know I’ve been a huge fan of your work for decades. Thank you for writing this book on such an important topic. I’m excited to read it and must have a signed copy, which I’ll order from the Poisoned Pen. I hope to see you again sometime soon. Here’s wishing you all the best!

    Reply
  10. Alec Peche

    What a great way to honor a fan and an amazing man.

    Reply
  11. Michael A. Black

    Wow, that’s quite a story about James. I’m glad you were able to write the book about him. My good friend, David Walks As Bear, was a great guy also who has passed. He was one of the smartest guys I ever knew and always helped me with information about American Indians and their culture. I’ve been able to pay homage to him by using characters based on him in several of my books. My yet to be released latest book as A.W. Hart (Concho: Border Blood) deals with missing Indian or Native American girls and women.

    Reply
  12. John Schembra

    Very interesting post. The issue of missing and murdered indigenous women is no longer a hidden problem, thanks to authors like Ms Vance and Tony Hillerman (Leaphorn and Chee, mysteries, Dark Winds tv series).

    Reply
  13. Jim Guigli

    One of the many fine films about crimes against Native Americans is Wind River.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Amen to that. Thanks for sharing the title of this outstanding movie.

      Reply
  14. George Cramer

    In Blessing of the Lost Girls, J.A.. Jance brings light to the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. As Ms. Jance reminded me: It’s an important topic, and tackling something like that requires different points of view.” We need more authors like Ms. Jance to tackle and share what we should know about the violence experienced by Indigenous women.

    For more information, visit these websites as a start:

    National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center – https://www.niwrc.org/policy-center/mmiw

    Bureau of Indian Affairs – Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Crisis https://www.bia.gov/service/mmu/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-people-crisis

    Reply

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JUDY PENZ SHELUK – The road to publishing is paved with good intentions—and horror stories.

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide, as well as two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries, both of which have been published in multiple languages. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited.

 

Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario with her husband, Mike, and their Golden Retriever, Gibbs. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com.

Tell us about Finding Your Path to Publication. The road to publishing is paved with good intentions—and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way. For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book and are ready to share it with the world but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?

Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process from start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore and where to begin your author journey. Find it at your favorite bookseller: https://books2read.com/FindingYourPathtoPublication

Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you a pantser? For my mystery novels, I’m a total panster. But for the step-by-step guides, I followed an outline based on PowerPoint presentations I’d developed for my then-local library. Of course, outlines are just that. Once you get writing, things change and evolve. Finding Your Path to Publication, for example, required a lot of research and getting permission from various sources for surveys and the like.

When writing my mystery novels, I aim for a chapter a day—no more and no less—and I try seven days a week. I tend to write short chapters, though the odd one will be longer. I also try to leave each chapter with a hook or a question to be answered. I figure if I’m surprised, the reader will be too. And not knowing (since I’m a complete pantser) makes me want to come back the next day. I love the way ideas can percolate while I’m walking my dog, golfing, or in the middle of the night. I even have a lighted LED pen and notebook on my bedside table to jot down notes should inspiration strike while I’m in bed. Trust me, you will not remember those great ideas in the morning, and turning on a lamp will wake you completely.

What are you currently working on? Finding Your Path to Publication, which covers five publishing paths (Big 5 traditional, independent/small press, self-publishing, hybrid/assisted, and social), has been really well received. Still, I’ve heard from several authors who would really like to know more about the self-publishing process. I’m now in the editing stage of Self-publishing: The Ins & Outs of Going Indie. I’ve covered what an author must do to get their book ready for retail, how to upload to various retailers (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.), advertising and promotions, conferences, business basics, social media, and more. Basically, it’s a handbook to self-publishing for the clueless! The publication date is tentatively scheduled for November 1st.

How do you come up with character names? I always watch the end credits of movies and TV shows; lots of interesting names to riff off. For example, in Yellowstone, there is a character named Colby, played by Denim Richards. I loved the name Denim, so in Before There Were Skeletons (book 4 Marketville), I named a new character Denim Hopkins (the Hopkins a nod to a friend who passed away from cancer a few years ago). My Denim is female, and she has a brother named Levy.

In the same series, the protagonist is Calamity (Callie) Barnestable. When I started writing Skeletons in the Attic (book 1), I was the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal. I’d been sent a press release about a cabinet card depicting Calamity Jane. I thought, Calamity – perfect – and Callie for short. I initially thought of Barnes (remembering Cliff Barnes nd Pamela Barnes Ewing from Dallas) but wanted something longer. Adding a “stable” seemed to fit.

In my Glass Dolphin series, the protagonists are Arabella Carpenter (I just loved the name Arabella), and heard The Carpenters on the radio when trying to come up with a last name. The other protagonist is Emily Garland. Emily for Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery – the book that made me want to grow up to be a writer – and Garland because I was named after Judy Garland.

I could cite lots of other examples, but you get the idea!

What kind of research do you do? I’m a meticulous researcher and a stickler for details – that probably comes from being a journalist for about 15 years (2003 to 2018). For A Hole in One (book 2 in my Glass Dolphin cozy series set in Ontario, Canada), I needed a gun that would make sense for an antique picker to own – but one that could also be a murder weapon. I know absolutely nothing about guns, so I called my local police station and explained who I was and what I was trying to accomplish. The officer on duty referred me to a gun shop in Ottawa, Canada, that specialized in antique firearms. The owner was great, walking me through options and suggesting a gun that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would have used in the early 20th century, then sent me pictures of it. I spent the better part of two days on that gun research, and the reference didn’t amount to more than a couple of paragraphs in the book. But I knew if I had that wrong, it would ruin the book for someone who did know about guns. I’ve often been told that people learn from my books, and that makes me happy. Just because a book is a light read doesn’t mean it can’t teach us a thing or two.

How do our readers contact you? https://www.judypenzsheluk.com/contact/

3 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Good interview, Judy. Your research and writing ethic will certainly take you over the rainbow, like the lady you were named after. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Judy Penz Shleuk

      Thanks so much Michael. I appreciate that! Here’s hoping I don’t meet the same bad end as my namesake!

      Reply
  2. Judy Penz Shleuk

    Thanks so much for hosting me today George. Readers: if you have a question on publishing paths, please leave a comment and I’ll respond. No question is too silly — and if you don’t know, chances are someone else won’t either. Don’t be shy!

    Reply

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MAUREEN BOYLE – Journalist – True-Crime Author

Award-winning journalist Maureen Boyle is the author of two true-crime books. Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer was published in 2017, and The Ghost: The Murder of Police Chief Greg Adams and the Hunt for His Killer (Black Lyon) was published in June 2021. Her next book, Child Last Seen: The Disappearance of Patty Desmond (Black Lyon), is set for release in May 2023.

Maureen was named New England journalist of the year three times and has been honored for her work covering crime, drug issues, and human-interest stories. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and a master’s in criminal justice. She is now the journalism program director at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.

Do you write in more than one genre? After decades as a cop/court/crime reporter, writing true-crime feels natural to me. That might change, but the research needed for this genre aligns with what I had been doing for years working on newspapers in New England.

What brought you to writing? I can’t imagine doing anything other than writing. In the second grade, when the teacher was going over sentence structure and how to use quotation marks, I remember thinking: “Pay attention to this. You will need to know this when you write.”

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? After working in noisy newsrooms, very little distracts me. I have a very cluttered home office surrounded by stacks of notes, books, and digital recorders. Some might consider it chaotic; I call it being surrounded by work. I shut the door and just write. I’m pretty focused when I’m at the keyboard.

Tell us about your writing process: I generally write as I research while the information is still fresh in my mind. I do this so I don’t forget scenes, the tone of individuals, and other bits of information that might get lost over time. Of course, this also means I need to rewrite a number of those early sections as I gather more information.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Making sure every fact is correct is always challenging when writing true-crime. Writing about crimes involving communities in states you are not familiar with can be extra challenging. For example, in New England, there are cities and towns, not townships or boroughs. Making sure I understood the different local governments and the different levels of law enforcement in other states was crucial in my second and third books. I couldn’t rely on what I already knew. However, the most challenging part is always making sure the victims’ stories shine through and that the families of the victims feel comfortable talking to me. The bottom line in this genre, at least to me, is making sure the victims’ stories are told.

What are you currently working on? My latest true-crime book, Child Last Seen: The Disappearance of Patty Desmond, was released June 1, 2023. I discovered this case through retired Pennsylvania State Police investigator Danny McKnight while working on my second book, The Ghost: The Murder of Police Chief Greg Adams and the Hunt for His Killer. I have two other true-crime projects in the research phase. One is about a murder during Prohibition. The other is about the abduction-murder of a teenager by a sex offender, the decades of court appeals before the killer was finally convicted, and the effect the case has had on a small community.

Who’s your favorite author? My favorite author is always the one I’m reading at the time. I read a wide range of writers and across genres, looking at how each crafts his or her work. Good writing is good writing, whether it is true-crime, thriller, mystery, horror, science fiction, romance, or anything in between. I have been a huge Stephen King fan since the 1970s and am always amazed at how he can turn a phrase. I read Erik Larson for the way he crafts detail in his non-fiction. I read Laura Lippman for both how she structures her novels and her unique stories. I read Hank Phillippi Ryan for the writing, structure, and story. Each author brings something different to the reader in each genre, so I am always open to reading everything that comes my way.

How long did it take you to write your first book? I like to say it took me thirty years to write Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer, but that would be an exaggeration. I covered that story in 1988 when I was a reporter at the Standard-Times of New Bedford in Massachusetts and always planned to write a book on the case. The delay? I was waiting for an arrest. Finally, I decided it was time to write the book and started re-interviewing investigators and victims’ relatives. I had stayed in touch with most of them over the years. Once I got started in 2015, things went pretty quickly.

How long did it take to get it published? The book was published in 2017 by the University Press of New England thanks to help from a friend, Elaine McArdle (who is also a terrific writer). Several agents at the Boston University Narrative Conference rejected the book proposal, and she suggested I contact her agent, who rejected me. However, that agent suggested I contact UPNE directly, and things went quickly from there. UPNE has since closed, but Brandeis University Press took over the list.

                                       

What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? William Faulkner was an author I couldn’t stand when I was in college. His run-on sentences drove me crazy. Since then, I’ve grown fond of his short stories and other works and can appreciate his fine writing.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I have one book coming out in May then it is back to researching and writing. I am bouncing between the novels, and the non-fiction works right now.

Do you have any advice for new writers? If you want to write, sit your butt in the chair, put your fingers on the keyboard, and do it. Pick a time that works bests for you but do it. Don’t wait for divine inspiration. The more you write, the better you get. Writing is an art, a craft, and a business.

How do our readers contact you?
I’m on Twitter (@maureeneboyle1)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maureen.boyle.710

TikTok (@maureeneboyle)

Instagram (maureeneboyle)

They can also reach me through my websites, www.maureenboylewriter.com or www.shallowgravesthebook.com

 

4 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Very interesting interview, Maureen. Good luck with your new book!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Great interview, Maureen, and thanks for continuing to tell the stories of the victims. They are too often forgotten. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  3. John Schembra

    Interesting blog, Maureen! Congratulations on your latest book!

    Reply
  4. Peg Roche

    Great blog, Maureen! I will definitely look forward to reading one of your books. Thanks for the introduction, George!

    Reply

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