I’ve been writing romance novels since my first publication in 1983. I would probably still be writing romance novels if editors, publishers, agents and karma hadn’t roughed me up a little. But in a period of just a few years, my single-title publisher dumped me, my series-romance editor got laid off, my agent and I parted ways, a bunch of other agents declined to represent me, one agent did finally agree to take me on but failed to sell anything of mine, I left her, I teamed up with another agent who also failed to sell anything of mine, and I left him.
I’d been cruising along in a comfortable romance-fiction bus—smooth ride, beautiful scenery, no complaints. And suddenly, I found myself lying in the rutted breakdown lane, choking on the bus’s exhaust fumes as it continued down the road without me.
I had two choices: I could remain where I was, watching the bus grow smaller and smaller until it vanished from view, or I could move. I decided to move.
I wrote a mystery, and I wrote The April Tree.
The mystery, Still Kicking, was a hoot. It was a comedy, an affectionate satire of suburban mores. The victim deserved his fate. The heroine saved her own neck, solved the mystery, and enjoyed some great sex along the way.
The April Tree was not a hoot. It was a wrenching emotional exploration of fate and faith. The story of three teenage girls and a college boy whose lives are torn apart by a small-town tragedy, it addressed thoughts and feelings I’ve wrestled with since my own adolescence. I had approached this story many times over the years, from many different angles. Each time, I’d wound up running from what I’d written. But this time, I steeled myself against the fear and forced myself to keep writing.
By the time I’d finished The April Tree, I had sold (without an agent) a humorous women’s fiction novel to Bell Bridge Books. My editor wanted more books from me, and I had these two manuscripts: a funny, breezy mystery and a searing tale of friends learning how to recover from a devastating loss. I figured my editor would have no idea what to do with The April Tree—to be sure, I had no idea what to do with it. But I sent it to her, along with the mystery. I said, “Read The April Tree and be honest. If it’s crap, tell me. If I’ve just wasted a couple of years of my life on this book, let me know. I think you’ll like the mystery, though.”
It turned out she loved both books. The April Tree is out now, and Still Kicking is scheduled for release early next year. I’ve just sent my editor another mystery, a sequel to Still Kicking.
I never set out to reinvent myself. If I hadn’t been booted off the bus, I’d probably still be writing romances. But I did get booted off.
What do you do when you find yourself myself tossed to the side of the highway, bruised and covered with road dust? You stand up, brush yourself off, and start walking in a new direction. If you’re lucky, you’ll discover other roads that will take you to exciting destinations—and you’ll realize that riding a bus isn’t the only way to get where you’re meant to be.
USA Today bestselling author Judith Arnold still writes romance novels and novellas which she publishes independently. Her non-romance novels are published by Bell Bridge Books. Her new release, The April Tree, is available in ebook and trade paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. For more information about Judith, please visit her web site.