Visitors to the Tucson Book Festival this weekend will see many recognizable inspirational landmarks around town, but one that they might not classify as a literary landmark is Tucson Medical Center. It’s a place that not only delivers care and compassion, but also delivers a reoccurring location for medical scenes in the books by New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance.
J.A. Jance, who grew up in Bisbee and now lives between Washington state and Tucson, will be revealing her latest book, Man Overboard: An Ali Reynolds Novel at the book festival this weekend. It is in her Joanna Brady books, set primarily in Cochise County and Bisbee, that you can find yourself transported to locations including TMC, which will seem very familiar to Tucson and Southern Arizona residents.
We caught up with Jance recently to investigate how she creates an environment for her storylines and why she thinks the Tucson Festival of Books is so important to our community.
How does the Southwest landscape inspire you?
I love the stubborn endurance of the creatures who thrive in the desert. Chop down a grove of cholla and months later, tiny cholla shoots will come up from the remaining root structure. I love how the trunks of saguaros puff up after monsoons, creating reserves of moisture that allow for survival during the dry months to come. But my absolute favorite? The ocotillo, which leafs out with new greenery within hours of each passing rainstorm. The ocotillo can grow and shed leaves time and again in the course of a single year. In the plant world it’s saying, “Here I am. I’ll do whatever it takes, but water helps.”
Do you scout locations?
If a location turns up in my books, you can pretty well guess I’ve been there and done that.
The various settings of the different series are wildly different, lush Washington versus the desert Southwest.How do the very distinct geographic locations impact the story lines?
I am not Frank Herbert and am too lazy to create my own universe. For me it’s simpler to set my stories in places I know well. Because I’m familiar with the various landscapes – the distances, the weather, the flora and fauna, I can report on those things in the background as my characters travel through those places while, a the same time, keeping my focus on what the characters are doing and saying in the foreground.
I grew up in Bisbee and spent much of my early adulthood working and teaching in and around Tucson and Phoenix. I moved to the Seattle area in the early ’80s and have spent most of the last 20 years as a snowbird with homes in both places. It turns out that I’m as bi-regional as my books are. Arizona will always be my home, but because I began my writing career shortly after my move to Seattle, Washington state will always be my creative home.
What day trips from Tucson in Southern Arizona would you recommend to Joanna Brady fans?
A trip to Bisbee is a must. The Lavender Jeep tour can give you an insider’s look at the Bisbee I grew up in. A meal at the Café Roka on Main Street or Santiago’s at the base of Brewery Gulch can be counted on as reliable taste treats. Drive down to Naco and out past the Turquoise Country Club and take a look at the remains of a real Buffalo Soldier outpost. And when you look at the hole in the ground that is Lavender Pit, look around at the surrounding hillsides and remember, when I was a girl, that hole in the ground was a mountain that same size with little neighborhoods of houses – Jiggerville, Upper Lowell and Lower Bisbee tucked into the Canyons.
If you go to Tombstone, by all means go to Boot Hill. That’s fun. But take the time to go to the real cemetery, too, and see how young those pioneers were when they died and what they died of. And then go out to the Ed Scheffelin Memorial north of town, and imagine being a lone prospector traveling on foot with a mule and looking for gold and silver in a hostile territory in which the Apaches still ruled supreme.
For natural wonders? Visit the Chiricahua National Monument or, as it was called when I a girl, the Wonderland of Rocks. Go to Kartchner Caverns. And by all means, visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and gain some insight into the varied landscapes and wildlife that exist all around us.
In many of the Joanna Brady books there are scenes at TMC. What is your relationship with TMC?
Most of my experience with TMC came years ago when one of my friends, suffering from a very debilitating illness, spent much time receiving impressively caring care.
At this year’s Festival of Books you will be releasing your latest Ali Reynolds book and you’re on the panel of several sessions. Why do you think the Festival of Books is an important event for Tucson?
For me, going to China was a very real lesson in learning how it feels to be entirely illiterate. The Tucson Festival of Books supports literary efforts for both children and adults. Literacy Connects is one of the entities the festival supports, and I’ve had the honor of meeting a Literacy Connects client who, at age 58, decided to fight back against her lifelong dyslexia, by learning to read – using my Joanna Brady books as textbooks. As a result, she has transformed her life. She’s no longer stuck in a dead-end job. She can read aloud to her grandchildren. That’s one woman’s story, but is it important for the city of Tucson? You’d better bet it is, especially when you realize that story is being repeated, time and again.
TFOB is a rather large and potentially overwhelming event, what sessions would you suggest attending to one of your readers?
Go to as many as you can, but book your tickets beforehand online rather than waiting in a long line and missing out on seeing someone you want to see.
On your blog you mention the 10,000 steps a day you make toward wellness, something our TMC Wellness team also loves to encourage. What is your favorite Tucson walks that you would recommend to TFOB visitors and Tucson locals?
My neighborhood in central Tucson has been plagued with packs of coyotes and herds of javelina, so walking solo or with two little dogs is not necessarily recommended. I tend to walk inside my yard – in the back garden or around the driveway. When it’s too hot, I march up and down the hall with detours into the dining room and living room. I routinely walk four to five miles a day and have done so for close to two years now. For someone who was formerly primarily sedentary, this is a real change of lifestyle and focus. It takes time and energy – an hour plus a day of walking. But it also means that, by adjusting eating habits, I’ve lost 75 pounds. And by doing workouts with a personal trainer, I am no longer a 70-something who, in the case of an unexpected fall, would not be able to get up on my own. (I used to be one of those but not anymore!)
Tucson Medical Center is pleased to be a presenting sponsor of the Tucson Festival of Books. Like J.A. Jance we believe that literacy matters and the festival, along with the funds it raises for literacy groups within our community help support the health and well being of our community.