How many New York Times best-selling authors do you know who were on official Girl Scout business when they held their first novel in their hands for the “I can’t believe this is actually happening, I wrote this and now the world will see this” time? First, as in the first of 47 novels, and first in a 28-year career involving totally unexpected acclaim in the literary field?
We know of at least one. That would be J.A. Jance.
She was on a boat with her Girl Scout Brownie troop, headed to Victoria, BC, when it hit her that everything she never knew was possible was, in fact, possible. Even more, it was now real!
“I sat on the boat with all my girls gathered about, and read my first paperback book,” she recalls. “It felt like a miracle. It was a miracle. It is a miracle every day. Every time a new book comes out, it’s still a miracle. The wonderful thing is I’m doing what I always wanted to do. I’m living my life. My life now is not like I’m living a dream, because I never dreamed anything this good.”
That’s how J.A.’s story turned out, but before she was on that boat with a gaggle of happy Girl Scouts, she was a girl growing up in Bisbee, Arizona, with, as she says, “no access to the kind of sophistication that ended up falling in my lap.”
What she did have was libraries. She took full advantage of school and public libraries, and learned about the world outside her small town. It was books that opened her mind, and books that gave her the courage to dream.
She earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona, where she got a degree in English and Secondary Education. When she was denied admission to the creative writing program by a male professor who told her that girls “ought to be teachers or nurses” rather than writers, it didn’t stop her from going on to earn a master’s of Education in Library Science. She filled her life with the study of books, and never gave up her dream of writing until her first Detective Beaumont book, Until Proven Guilty, was published in 1985.
In addition to a love of words, J.A. also carries with her a deep and long-lasting love for Girl Scouts. She was in Girl Scouts as a Brownie all the way through Senior (9th/10th grade) and, as she recalls with a laugh, “made the world’s ugliest sit upon.” She attended Camp Whispering Pines in the Catalina Mountains, and participated in the Girl Scout Cookie Sale – an experience so rooted in her memories that she often includes cookie references in her books. For example, in her Joanna Brady series, Brady’s photo in the Cochise County sheriff’s department is of her hauling a wagon-load of Girl Scout Cookies. And in her third J.P. Beaumont series book, Trial by Fury, an important photo is provided by the Girl Scout standing outside the QFC in lower Queen Anne, selling cookies.
“When I applied for a job selling life insurance, the district manager asked if I had done sales,” J.A. recalls. “I said I sold Girl Scout Cookies, and asked if that counted. It must have, because I sold insurance for 10 years.”
As a Girl Scout troop leader and cookie mom, J.A. watched proudly as her daughter paid her own way to Girl Scout Camp Robbinswold three years in a row by selling 1,000 boxes of cookies each year!
“Girl Scouting gave me confidence, and my daughter gained huge amounts of confidence selling those cookies,” she adds.
We are so proud to have J.A. Jance as part of our Girl Scout family! Her commitment to never giving up on her dreams – despite other people’s opinions – paid off in a big way. She encourages girls today to keep focused on their dreams, and has some great advice for girls hoping to one day become writers!
J.A.’s advice to future writers:
“If someone is interested in being a writer, then what they need to do right now is read. I was a reader the whole time I was growing up. People often write to me and say they want to write books, but they don’t read them. Why would they want to be a writer if they don’t read?
When you’re going through life, pay attention. Pay attention to the people around you, and to the people you meet. The things you do on the journey are what you make use of. I paid attention when I was going through different parts of my life, and I’ve been able to draw on those experiences to write books much later on.
To be a good writer, you need to be good at English, understand grammar and be good at spelling. Words should also have grammatical finesse. And don’t forget attention to detail!”