She may be a mega-best-selling author, but J.A. Jance enjoys talking about her personal journey as much as she does writing fiction.
Jance, who has published 45 novels, with more than 23 million copies in print, opened her latest book tour at New Canaan Library on Monday, Feb. 4. Her latest Ali Reynolds book "Deadly Stakes"-- one of four continuing series she writes -- was due for release on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
The business of book publishing, Jance said prior to her talk, involves both writing and promoting it.
"I am fortunate in that I like doing both," she said. "I have a lot of fun. I find audiences give me energy."
A resident of both Tucson, Ariz., and Seattle, Jance published her first book in 1985.
"When I knew I was going to be published," she said, "I invested a year in going to Toastmasters and teaching myself to be a public speaker, and it has really paid off."
Jance recounted the remarkable story of how she and her first husband were almost murdered by a serial killer in 1970 in Arizona -- a man who had given her husband a ride two months earlier and later confessed he was planning to kill them two days before he was arrested. The event inspired her first attempt at fiction at age 38.
"Sometimes people say, `Where do you get your ideas?' Ideas are out there," she said. "The trick is to gather up an idea that can keep your attention for six months while you're writing a book."
"She's also a great blogger, too," said Ron Tuell, who drove down from Lawrence, Mass., to hear Jance speak.
Jance said her blog serves as her ongoing memoir, where she talks about everything from her first husband -- "the jerk" -- who died of alcoholism, to her adopted granddaughter and her early days with the family.
"I'm a big fan," Lucretia Ryan of South Salem, N.Y., told Jance before she spoke. "I was stunned when I learned you were going to be here."
"She really gets into the character," Ryan said, "and you really empathize with the character ... . You care about her life, and each book kind of builds on her life."
She added, "And it's very good mystery. It keeps you on the edge of your seat."
Born in South Dakota and raised in Bisbee, Ariz., Jance said the pivotal moment in her writing history came in second grade.
"God was smiling on me and I got (placed in) Mrs. Spangler's class. Over by the window she had bookshelves, and if you finished your work early, as I always did, you could choose any book from her shelves and read."
Jance discovered Frank L. Baum's Oz books, but she didn't see the story as being about a wizard behind a curtain.
"I saw Frank Baum hiding behind the words," she said. "From the moment I saw a person put the words on the pages, that's what I wanted to be and do."
Jance won a scholarship to the University of Arizona, where she majored in English "because I wanted to be a writer." But when she tried to attend the creative writing class, "the professor said, `You're a girl. Girls become teachers or nurses. Boys become writers,' and he wouldn't let me into his class."
Jance had the last laugh, however, when she wrote her book "The Hour of the Hunter," she made the murdered person a writing professor from the University of Arizona.
"If you have friends who are mystery writers, it's a good idea not to make them mad because we have ways of getting even," she said.
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.