The book was Riding Heartbreak Road, and in it, I broke a cardinal rule of romance. Not only broke it, but made origami cowboys out of the pieces. Since then I've received loads of emails from readers, and they all ask the same question: Why?
The answer is simple. I did it because at the time I felt that in life, people don't usually end up riding rainbow-farting unicorns into the sunset. Shit happens. Nasty shit, the kind of shit that can make you cry. The kind that makes you gnash your teeth and wish you were never born.
What I failed to remember back then (no doubt because I was a rookie, and blinded by all the shiny new letters on my keyboard and how they formed words when I hit them in different combinations) was that I wasn't writing reality. I was writing freaking romance. The two are not interchangeable. In fact, they're usually not even very similar. One is real life, and the other, fantasy. In reality, people hope for a good ending, but the fact is, death comes for us all sooner or later. In romance, most people not only expect, but often demand a happily ever after, or at least, a happy-for-now ending.
Now, angst is fine; in fact, a little angst and a few obstacles are necessary elements of a strong plot, but to slam the reader without warning with an ending that breaks the rules after letting them fall in love with the characters and giving them hope is a no-no. A big one. And I did it. But good. Bam.
Remember when I said it was a love it or hate it kind of book? To my amazement, a lot of folks liked it. In fact, I have readers who tell me they read it over and over again, and that it's on their top ten list of all time favorites. They got it, understood why I did what I did.
Writing realism worked, at least in this one book. Would I try it again? Oh, hell no. I've never written another story that didn't have a happily ever after or happy-for-now ending.
I know many authors who write angst, and write it very well. I even enjoy reading angst from time to time. But I don't enjoy writing it. I don't enjoy making people cry. It's just not in me. I'd much rather make them laugh.
I still don't regret writing Riding Heartbreak Road, nor do I regret writing the ending. Whether you loved it or hated it, it was the sort of story and type of characters that stuck with you long after you flipped the final page. As a writer, I think that's something of which to be proud.
Riding Heartbreak Road was a trial by fire for me at the very beginning of my career. I learned a lot from the experience - still am learning in fact, since the darned book is still selling, even after all these years, and I still get emails on it.
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