Sometimes I have ideas for books in genres I don’t read. For example, I read fantasy, science fiction, and all kinds of humor and comedy. I don’t read thrillers, but I have a great idea for a romantic thriller with a little twist of science fiction. Except for the science fiction part, I have no idea how to write it. I also don’t read serious romance. Bridget Jones is awesome, and so are the Georgia Nicolson books. But those are romantic comedies. Serious romance? I generally find it laughable, and not in a good way.
And yet I’ve written a mostly serious YA romance. I even won third place in a national contest with it. So how did that happen?
The idea for Ride of Your Life came for me soon after I heard about the Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire that killed eight teenagers in an amusement park in New Jersey on May 11th 1984, almost exactly 32 years ago. It was my way of trying to give a pointless tragedy a happy ending. I knew from the start that it was going to be the story of a love greater than death. But I didn’t want it to be a typical romance. That was never a genre that appealed to me. And it seemed wrong to write a book in a genre I didn’t enjoy reading. So what was I to do?
For a long time, I did nothing. The story was one that stayed in my head and gave me comfort when I needed it. It was a story where death was the beginning, not the end. And sometimes that’s a story I need to hear.
Skip ahead about 25 years. I had trouble deciding what to submit to the Smartwriters’ Write It Now contest for the YA category. I told the members of my critique group, Fantasyweavers, that I had this idea for a story about two teenage ghosts meeting and falling in love in an amusement park. I wrote out the first page, and asked them what they thought. They liked it and encouraged me to write the first chapters I needed to submit. So I did—and the first three chapters of Ride of Your Life won third prize.
I continued working on it, and a few months later, I submitted it for a critique at a conference. The agent I showed it to liked it, particularly how well I captured a male perspective in the scenes that were shown from Josh’s point of view.
I told that agent, “I have a hard time writing the romantic scenes.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because romance in books always seems so clichéd. It’s not real. I mean, those kisses in romance novels, no one kisses that way.”
And he told me something that I think about to this day. He said, “If you don’t like writing something, don’t write it.”
At first I thought, “Well, how am I going to write a love story without any of that romantic stuff in it?” But then I realized that wasn’t what he was saying. What he was saying was just because people have been writing romantic scenes one way for decades that doesn’t mean I have to write it that way, too. If it feels wrong to me‑‑if I don’t like writing it that way‑‑I shouldn’t. Instead I should write what feels right to me.
That was so freeing.
Instead of banging my head trying to write what I thought people expected a romance novel to be, I could just write the story I had in mind. It doesn’t matter if it fits someone else’s label. The only thing that matters is that I’m honest to the story I’m trying to tell.
So that’s why Ride of Your Life is probably different from any love story you’ve ever read. I gave up trying to write a romance novel and instead focused on telling the story of how two teenage ghosts named Tracy and Josh met and fell in love in an amusement park. I liked them. I liked their story. And I liked writing it.
I hope you like reading it, too.
Oh, and if you write romantic thrillers, contact me. Maybe we can write that great book together. I can help with the science fiction twist.