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.