I’m a creature of habit. I like my routines, my patterns, my ruts. I eat the same breakfast every day. I’ve had the same good-luck tchochkes adorning my desk for several decades. My aging computer is beginning to lose its bytes—I mean, its bite—yet I keep putting off buying a replacement. I’m used to this machine. I don’t like change.
For twenty-plus years, I wrote romance novels. I enjoyed writing them, I earned a nice income, and given that more than eighty of my romance novels were published, along with several women’s-fiction novels that had romantic plot threads running through them, I guess I had a feel for the genre. I would have been happy to continue writing romance novels until I retired or keeled over, whichever came first.
Sometimes, however, circumstances force change upon us. In my case, the circumstances included publisher issues, agent issues and—most significant—the realization that after 80-something romance novels, I had nothing more to say. I’d written every romance story I wanted to write. My muse said, “Enough!”
My muse is less insecure than I am, but much more temperamental. I’m generally mellow, but she rages and sulks and indulges in histrionics. I tolerate her because she enables me to write and, again, because she’s less insecure than I am. “Time to try something new,” she told me, and when I fretted that I might not have the chops to write anything but romance novels, she refused to listen. “We’re going to write a mystery,” she announced.
A mystery? Don’t mysteries have blood and gore and death in them? I don’t do blood and gore and death.
She insisted. So, rather than endure one of her tantrums, I settled down at my desk with all my good-luck tchochkes and wrote a mystery.
To my surprise, it came out pretty well. I submitted it to an editor who also thought it came out pretty well but didn’t want to buy it. I set it aside and asked my muse, “Now what?”
“Now,” she said, “you’re going to tackle that deep, dark, literary novel you’ve been trying to write for forty years.”
No. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. It’s one thing to transition from romance novels to mystery novels, but quite another to transition from popular fiction to a novel with a Capital-T Theme, a novel that invites debate and analysis, a novel that doesn’t follow a predictable story arc the way genre fiction does.
My muse howled. She wept. She held her breath and turned blue. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll write that book-of-my-heart.” And I did.
A couple of weeks ago, I signed a two-book contract with my current publisher. I’d sent my editor the deep, dark book-of-my-heart—but being insecure, I was sure she’d hate it. So I also sent her the mystery, which does have blood and gore and death in it but is a comedy. She didn’t hate the literary novel. She didn’t hate the mystery novel, either. She offered to buy both of them. And now, much to my muse’s utter delight, I’m working on a sequel to the mystery.
Somehow, I have evolved from a romance novelist into a mystery novelist who occasionally writes literary fiction. Not a difficult transition for some writers, perhaps. But for me, a woman who resists change the way children resist brussels sprouts, the whole thing is kind of unnerving.
It’s not a change I planned, not one I eagerly embraced. But my muse gave me a sharp kick in the butt and here I am, transitioning into an entirely new kind of writer.
My muse tells me she feels reborn. Happily, so do I.
Judith Arnold’s latest release is Goodbye to All That, which is not a romance although it deals with love and couplehood and relationships. It’s available in paper and ebook format at all the usual places as well as at the publisher’s web site: http://www.bellebooks.com/shopexd.asp?id=161.