The University of Arizona professor who refused to allow J.A. Jance to sign up for a creative writing course because she wasn't a man infuriated and inspired the woman who today has 51 published books.
Jance, the author of several best-selling series including her most recent book "Dance of the Bones: A J.P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker Novel" (William Morrow, $26.99), realized early on that she needed to prove her chauvinistic teacher wrong.
"I was a junior, 20 years old. I was devastated. It took me years to understand that without that (incident), I would have failed as an author," she said in a phone interview from her home. "I needed to write. I knew I could write. It's probably the best thing that ever happened to me. That man has to be spinning in his grave by now."
Jance currently writes two novels a year, adding to her popular series with its title main characters of super sleuth J.P. Beaumont, detective Brandon Walker, newscaster Ali Reynolds and Joanna Brady, the wife of a murdered sheriff.
Each is a carefully and intricately woven story about real characters and tough situations, mysteries requiring research and detail and, in the case of "Dance of the Bones" intimate knowledge of Indian culture.
"They're complicated. It's more like French-braiding than writing," Jance said.
She said she writes the stories the way they come out of her head — with heart and realism, and a sense of fantasy interwoven.
The books like "Dance of the Bones" bring in the stories, songs and culture of the Tohono O'odham tribe, and respectfully teach the reader about Indian tradition. The little ministories of the Evil Giantess and Shining Falls and Beautiful Girl and her brother heading up each chapter are as fun and enlightening as the main story of the novel.
(One of the traditions is the rule about telling particular stories between mid-November and mid-March only, a rule so strict that some story CDs are made so they won't play at other times of the year.)
In her latest book, Jance brings a retired, restless Beaumont and Walker together to put together the pieces of evidence surrounding the murder of Amos Warren, now a cold case with evidence scattered on the desert sand.
Warren's foster son, Big Bad John Lassiter, is in prison for life for killing Warren, while the real murderer is living high and still getting away with hurting and killing others years later.
Lassiter's daughter, whom Lassiter has never met, has engaged a group of retired police officers, attorneys and medical examiners to look in the case and resolve the remaining questions.
That leads from the desert in Pima County, Arizona, to Seattle, until the bones of the dead dance again, reunited with the truth.
The book is intriguing and includes fascinating, authentic tribal songs and stories that have wonderful logic and lyrical beauty.
Jance said she was initially snubbed and then eventually welcomed into a Tohono O'odham Tribe, a tribe that lived for thousands of years west of Tucson, Arizona. It allowed her to join a circle of women who shared their stories with her for several years.
"I believe I came away a better person. I arrived knowing nothing. They took me in and made me part of their circle. From them I learned," she said.
"I'm now what they call a 'Big Toe' Indian," Jance said with a laugh. "I have my big toe in the tent."
Jance based one of the main characters, Lani Walker-Pardee, on a child she never knew but learned about from the Indian women. The child wandered out and fell into a nest of stinging ants before anyone noticed she was missing.
The child survived and grew up to be both a medicine woman and a medical doctor, healing and comforting as she went.
"It is magic that she survived. I knew I wanted her in the book," Jance said. She also discovered a story where small mythical creatures saved another through the beating of wings, which she also put into her story.
As Lani starts out trying to talk some sense into her teenage godson on a campout, he gets angry and storms away only to inadvertently become involved in a blood diamond smuggling scheme and come up missing.
The evil woman running the smuggling scheme feels like trouble from the very beginning.
Jance believes the answers and solutions in the novel came her way when she wasn't expecting it.
"That was truly magic for me," she said. "The ideas for the stories come from attending tub-thumping services at the Mt. Zion's Baptist Church where the boys and girls learned it was their responsibility to save each other."
Then words jumped off a page in a book she noticed written by novelist Harold Bell White. That prompted a resolution to one of her problems in the book.
The result is an engaging, well-paced book that manages to pull it all together.
In "Dance of the Bones" there are several cold-blooded murders, mostly shootings, some implied sex, some violence such as a prison shivving, a kidnapping and drugging. There is no foul language.
Her next book, an Ali Reynolds novel, is already underway, she said.