August 3, 2004
They sell whodunits by everyone from Sue Grafton to Agatha Christie. But in Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen bookstore last Wednesday night, the No. 1 mystery is: "Where do I find a seat?"
"Book signings can be strange experiences," author J.A. Jance tells more than 75 of her fans. But they seem to know that and chuckle amiably. She tells them about the crime victims she met at signings who recognize part of themselves in her books. She tells them about the signing at the Safeway, where a man burst in and said: "I’ve just been acquitted of seven murders! Will you write my story?"
The Scottsdale signing holds no such drama. Just readers — three-quarters of them women, mostly 45 and older — anxious to see a favored author in person, and share a word or two.
"She spins a good yarn," Anne Vandeventer of Tempe explains. "I like her Joanna Brady books, because there’s a woman character who takes the bull by the horns." Some come to Jance’s books through recurring characters like Brady, a single mother and Yavapai County sheriff, or Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont. Some are drawn by the familiar locales that inevitably play a major role.
Lee Matthews of Scottsdale appreciates the local history in the telling of each tale. "That’s why I enjoy books about the Southwest — they give me an insight into the areas I’ve lived in, and the places I haven’t visited yet."
For Jance, midway through a whirlwind tour, the signings give her a chance to share her own story, answer questions and offer updates on fans’ favorite fictional sleuths. "The next book is a J.P. Beaumont book," she tells them. Brady, the sheriff Jance left pregnant at the end of her last novel, has to hold on to that baby until 2006.
Signings are a two-way street. While fans enjoy meeting their authors, many writers — like Jance — savor the opportunity to chat with an audience they rarely ever see. The line for her autograph nearly reaches the street, but Jance signs every book.
"You don’t mind signing a few older copies?" a reader asks.
"I’ll sign anything you have," Jance tells her, "as long as I wrote it."
She personalizes autographs, or does simple signand-date, answering questions, accepting praise, referring those with further interests to research Web sites. If fans walk away with a fresh signature and a sense of the author, Jance feels she gains at least as much.
"It’s wonderful," she tells one reader. "It feels like I have this world of cheerleaders rooting for every book."