Author Shevi Arnold shares her love of New Jersey, surprising supernatural creatures, and her new novel, Ride of Your Life.
New Jersey has influenced two of your novels: Ride of Your Life and Dan Quixote: Boy from Nuevo Jersey. What about the Garden State inspires you?
Ride of Your Life is set in a fictional theme park in an undisclosed location, so it could be located almost anywhere in North America where it’s hot in the summer and it snows in the winter. I was inspired to write Ride of Your Life, though, because of a tragedy that took place in the Garden State. Eight teenagers died in a fire that broke out in the Haunted Castle at the Great Adventure theme park in 1984. It’s one of the biggest tragedies to ever take place in an amusement park. I was a teenager myself when it happened, and I knew Great Adventure fairly well. My family lived in nearby Philadelphia and had a season pass there in the early eighties. I guess you could say the news of the fire haunted me, and in my mind, I wanted to give that horrible event a happy ending. Ride of Your Life was the result.
As for Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey, I live in a little Main Street town in New Jersey, and Dan Quixote reflects that. I love it here.
The crazy thing about New Jersey is that everyone thinks they know it, because they’ve seen a few TV shows based here, but that’s not New Jersey. Most of the country would be surprised to learn that there’s so much diversity here. This state really is a microcosm of the United States. The southern part of the state is a lot like the Midwest or the South. It’s very conservative. The northeastern tip is heavily influenced by its proximity to New York City, while the southwestern section is pretty much a suburb of Philadelphia. The northwestern section is mostly forests and farms. There are shopping malls everywhere, but there’s also a lot of greenery and wildlife. The tiny town where I live has two huge parks bordering on the Raritan River. I see geese and deer all the time. The people in my town come from all over the world, and 40% of adult residents have a master’s degree or higher. We have a very active arts’ community, too. The town supports its schools and its public library. It’s pretty much a perfect American small town, and I wanted to give Dan and Sandy in Dan Quixote that.
Do you have a favorite place in New Jersey?
I love the family-friendly parts of the shore, the shopping malls, and the public parks and gardens, but mostly I just love the little town where I live. Oh, and Red Bank. Red Bank is wonderful. I love the quirky stores and the ocean views.
Do you have a special writing spot?
Not really. I write wherever I can. I live in a tiny apartment with a husband and two kids, so there’s no space I can call my own. I dream of someday having a little room all to myself where I can write in peace and quiet. It could be an attic or a closed off porch. If we can ever afford to buy a house, that’s something I’m going to look for: just a little space I can call my own.
What is your favorite supernatural creature?
Dragons, I guess. There’s a dragon in Toren the Teller’s Tale, but it’s not a dangerous Tolkienesque dragon. It’s a symbol of Toren’s power, the power she refuses to accept. I also love mad scientists, witches, and wizards, although I suppose as humans, they’re precluded from the category of supernatural creatures. I love fairies, too. All supernatural creatures are great, as long as they’re not stereotypical. I like characters that surprise me.
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I would have the powers I gave Toren in Toren the Teller’s Tale. I’d love to be a magical storyteller with the ability to literally bring things to life and transport people to other worlds. It’s something I always strive for in my writing. If you read Ride of Your Life and it forever changes the way you look at roller coasters, then I have worked a bit of Toren’s magic on you.
About Ride of Your Life
Seventeen-year-old Tracy Miller met the love of her life . . . thirty years after her own death.
Tracy was working at the House of Horrors at the Amazing Lands Theme Park when the fire broke out. Instead of running, she lost her life trying to save eleven-year-old Mack. Now thirty years have passed, and suddenly everything changes with the arrival of two new ghosts: a little girl named Ashley and a cute seventeen-year-old boy named Josh. Josh would do anything for Tracy, but can he help her let go of the past and accept his love?
Ride of Your Life is a bittersweet, romantic, YA ghost story that was inspired by a true event: the Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire, which killed eight teenagers in 1984. It is a fantasy novel about undying love, and it won third-place in Smart Writer’s Write It Now (W.I.N.) contest in the YA category, which was judged by Alex Flinn, the author ofBeastly and Cloaked.
Hang on. Love can be as terrifying as a roller coaster, but it can also be the Ride of Your Life.
An Excerpt from Ride of Your Life
(From the end of chapter one. At this point, Tracy the ghost has desperately tried and failed to prevent a teenage boy and a young girl from getting killed on a ride at the Amazing Lands Theme Park.)
People continued to rush through her, but Tracy ignored the flashing of the sunlight and shadows on her closed eyelids, ignored the screams and the panic. She let her consciousness slip away from the scene, let it blur until it faded into nothingness.
She was in the ghost world now. Here everything was silent and still, and nothing real could touch her. Although there was nothing to see, Tracy kept her eyes shut. The darkness was comforting, like a soft blanket on a cool night.
The only illusion she held onto was her body. Letting go of that was difficult, like stepping off a high diving board when she couldn’t see the water below, like riding on a roller coaster with nothing under her feet. It was a freefall into the unknown. Her body was what she knew, even if it was no longer real. It was familiar, and it felt safe. Everything around her was quiet and peaceful and still. She was alone in her world. Completely alone.
Then Tracy felt something hit her in the chest, and she returned to the Amazing Lands Theme Park with a scream.
About Shevi Arnold
Shevi Arnold loves writing, illustrating, and making people laugh—and she’s been doing all three since 1987 when she started working as an editorial cartoonist for a newsweekly. She’s also worked as a comics magazine editor, as an arts-and-entertainment writer specializing in comedy and children’s entertainment, and as a consumer columnist.
Nowadays, though, she enjoys writing (and sometimes illustrating) humorous fiction, fantasy and science fiction, mostly for children and young adults. Shevi grew up in Philadelphia, and her family had a season pass to Great Adventure in the early 1980s. She was nineteen-years-old and studying overseas when a fellow college student asked her if she knew about the Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire. Eight teenagers had lost their lives.
Like many, Shevi was shocked by the news. In her mind, she wanted to give that tragedy a happy ending. Ride of Your Life is the result. Her previous books are Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey–a humorous novel for middle graders about individualism and friendship overcoming peer pressure and bullying–and Toren the Teller’s Tale–a YA fantasy about the magic of storytelling and one girl’s struggle to accept that magic within herself. Why My Love Life Sucks, the first in the Gilbert the Fixer, is a funny YA science-fantasy novel about the ultimate geek having to confront his ultimate fear–getting stuck with a gorgeous girl who wants to be his platonic best friend literally forever.