J.A. Jance is best known as a New York Times bestselling author. But she also has a passion for gardening that is showcased by the private botanical sanctuary flourishing in her Bridle Trails backyard. As the acclaimed author gears up for another book tour, she stops first in Bellevue to settle into her home where her impressive garden is in full bloom, ready for another summer full of mystery, family and fun.
Jance’s writing career began shortly after she moved from Arizona and planted new roots in Seattle. After enduring a failed marriage, a job selling life insurance and a string of other unsavory events, Jance hastily packed her belongings into a U-Haul truck, loaded her kids into the car and headed north to her new beginning in the Emerald City.
Since the first time she thumbed the pages of Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” as a second-grader, Jance knew she wanted to be a writer. However, that dream was stifled during her college years when the creative writing professor at the University of Arizona turned her away, explaining that writing was a profession reserved for men, and that she was better off seeking a career in education.
Though the obstacles that stood in Jance’s way never seemed to cease, her determination to write billowed, and shortly after settling into her new life and condo in the Denny Regrade neighborhood of Seattle, she released “Until Proven Guilty,” her first book, and the first installment in her popular J.P. Beaumont series.
Not long after her writing career took off, Jance uprooted herself once again — only this time, it was from her Seattle condo to a home in Bellevue with her new husband, Bill Schlib.
Now, with a happy marriage, rewarding career and a new Eastside house, she wanted her home to reflect her joyous life. “We spent a couple years fixing the house first, then we decided to do the garden,” says Jance. “The yard was a disaster. It had a go-kart track and putting green built over the septic field. There was hardly anything natural in the backyard at all.” Realizing it was going to be a big job, Jance and her husband sought help from Alan Burke, a landscaper from Woodinville’s Classic Nursery & Landscape Company.
When Jance and her husband sat down with the Eastside landscaper, Burke said he likes themed gardens. “You’re a writer; wouldn’t you want some of your words in the garden?,” he asked. Jance responded with laughter, exclaiming, “I write mystery novels!” Words from her books like “murder” or “bloody” weren’t appealing.
Though she wasn’t keen on the idea of having the cryptic words from her own works embedded in the garden, she loved the idea of scattering meaningful verses throughout the landscape and was instantly brought back to a poem she had heard during a reading she attended at the University of Arizona. The poem was Cecil Day-Lewis’ “Baucis and Philemon.”
“It’s the story of an old couple, how they live their lives together and how their biggest worry is that one of them will die first and the other will die later,” explains Jance. “The way Lewis tells the story is utterly charming, so when Burke asked, ‘Wouldn’t you like your words to be in the garden?’ I answered by reading that poem to him. He completely got it, and now pieces of that poem are scattered throughout our garden, carved into the rocks.”
In addition to the poem, which is engraved throughout the garden’s stonework, the landscape boasts ornate rhododendron bushes, colorful azaleas, leafy Japanese maples, a fish pond, a swimming pool and luscious, green grass. In her “outdoor office,” which consists of her laptop and a comfy chair, conveniently mounted atop the deck, Jance is able to look upon her garden while she works.
But Jance’s home and garden are more than just a beautiful work space.
“The garden is something Bill and I have built together. It’s really emblematic of our lives together. Being able to live in this home with this wonderful garden space that we worked hard to create is magical,” says Jance.
Jance says that it’s family that sustains her as she writes, and having a home outfitted with enough rooms to “stash the whole crew,” makes a welcoming place that’s always brimming with joy, laughter and love.
“I had been struggling with a dying marriage, selling life insurance in Phoenix for two years, and being a single parent. It was tough. When I came to Seattle, I started writing, I met Bill, and we got married. The next time we visited Phoenix, I took Bill to the office I had worked at for all those years. When we showed up, the people I had worked with didn’t even recognize me because they had never seen me smile or laugh.”
Acknowledging how the Pacific Northwest transformed her life, Jance appreciates every summer spent at her Bellevue home, and looks forward to sitting on the back porch looking at the garden through the columns.
After Jance completes the tour for her 50th book, “Moving Target,” she says she plans on spending the summer as she always does: enjoying time with her family, and working on her next book.