How my life experiences inspired story elements in A Heartbeat away from you
As writers, we often draw on our own life experiences when crafting a novel. Inspiration can come from anywhere—our childhood memories, our families, friendships, and situations we’ve encountered in our lives, both big and small. One of the things I love about writing is the chance to take things that have changed and shaped me as a person and use those elements in my stories. Such was the case when writing my YA sports romance A Heartbeat away from You.
Here are just some of the story elements in Heartbeat that were inspired by my own life experiences!
1.Baseball. The sport was the initial inspiration for the book. Having grown up in a family of baseball fans, I knew and loved the game. I’d always wanted to write a baseball-themed story, but I didn’t know what the plot would be. The first seed of an idea for Heartbeat was planted when I was watching one of my son’s Little League games a few years ago. A sixteen-year-old from the girls’ league was performing the umpire duties behind home plate. She was great with the kids, she clearly knew the rules of the game, and she was one of the few girls I’d seen working at the Little League games. I started imagining what she was like, what had led her to play ball, and what obstacles she may have had to overcome in a predominantly male-oriented sport. Over the next few weeks, a character took shape in my mind, and Ali Benton—a feisty, fearless ballplayer dealing with a heart condition—came to life on the page.
2. A brush with death and second chances. A major plot element in Heartbeat is Ali’s brush with death. While playing in a baseball game, she goes into cardiac arrest. Luckily, the paramedics are able to revive her. When she wakes up in the hospital, she discovers that she has a heart condition called bradycardia and that she was implanted with a pacemaker to regulate her slow heartbeat. Ali immediately realizes how lucky she is to be alive, and she vows not to waste a moment of her second chance.
When I was sixteen, just a year younger than Ali is in the book, I experienced my own brush with death when I was hit by a car and knocked unconscious. I had a skull fracture and a concussion—and the blow to my head caused almost complete hearing loss in one ear. I was taken out of school for the rest of the year on a medical bye. In the days and weeks following the accident, I remember feeling depressed. Lost. Confused. I remember desperately thinking that I just wanted things to feel normal again. But I didn’t have any kind of epiphany that I’d been given a second chance. It was only a few years later, looking back at the accident and the head injuries I’d sustained, that I realized I was lucky to have survived. And that realization made me extremely grateful for the second chance that I’d been given.
3. Planning and scheduling. The love interest in Heartbeat, Max Delaney, is a planner. In fact, if he doesn’t have every moment of every day accounted for in his agenda, he feels like he’s spinning out of control. There’s a little bit (or maybe a lot?) of Max Delaney in me. I have To Do lists everywhere—in my notebook, on the Notes app on my phone, in spreadsheets on my computer. Then there are my calendars. My Google calendar, my magnetic fridge calendar, my wall calendar. While I don’t have every hour accounted for like Max, I do plan and schedule and make lists to keep me on track. Knowing where I need to be and what I need to get done helps alleviate some of my anxiety. There are so many things in my life I can’t control, but I can control my own personal organizational process.
4. Moving on after a loss. In Heartbeat, Max is dealing with the loss of his father, who passed away ten months earlier. My inspiration for this storyline stemmed from my own experience with grief. My father passed away in 2014, and I lost my mother in 2019. I’m at the point now where I can smile or laugh at special memories of them, but it took a long time for me to get there. Coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is a process and writing about that process helped me heal. With Max, I wanted to explore the idea that holding on too tightly only makes the process take longer. It’s only when we learn to let go that we can truly move on.
5. Overprotective parents. In the book, Ali’s father, Mr. Benton, will do just about anything to keep his daughter away from baseball. He blames the sport for almost taking her away from him, and he’s afraid of losing her—for good this time. His fear is so great that he restricts her activities and even enlists the help of her childhood nemesis to steer her away from the game. I know what it’s like to have overprotective parents. I was the baby in my family, and my mom and dad sheltered me. Kept me close to home. Now that I’m a parent myself, I understand the need to keep your child safe. I understand the worry. You just want your children to be safe and healthy. But there’s a balance. While certain limits are important, you can’t bind your kid up in bubble wrap or they’ll never learn to be independent. Never learn from their mistakes. This is the kind of balance Ali’s father must learn, and it’s a balance I’ll continue to strive for in my own life.
6. The boy next door. I love a good boy-next-door story. When I was six, a boy named Nicholas lived in the house next to mine. We were the best of friends until his family moved away. He visited once a few years later, but then we lost touch. I always wondered where he ended up, and what kind of relationship we’d have had if he stayed living next door. Would we have remained friends? Would our friendship have blossomed into something more? I would never know, but I could imagine. In Heartbeat, Ali and Max were next door neighbors growing up. After living in another city for a few years, Ali moves back to her hometown, and she and Max are neighbors once again. The difference between my boy-next-door story and Ali’s? She can’t stand her boy next door. I absolutely loved exploring the tension and conflict between them. Not to mention the chemistry. 😊