Sports Romance Is More Than The Score

 

This post originally appeared on Romance University, May 2016

It had to be her.

In 2002, Susan Elizabeth Phillips released a funny contemporary romance starring a party-girl heiress who inherits a pro football team, only to butt heads, and finally win the heart of the team’s chauvinistic coach.

“It Had to Be You,” was the first book in Phillips’ long-running “Chicago Stars” football series.  Not only is it one of her biggest books, it launched a new type of romance.

Today, sports romance has exploded into one of the most popular subgenres. Not only are there contemporary sports romances, but fans of NA, YA, multi-cultural, LGBTQ and even historical romance can find books that feature athletes and the games they play.

Why do we love it?

Let’s start with the obvious reason—athlete heroes!

They’re big, strong, and in perfect physical shape. They’re larger than life superstars. Many are fabulously wealthy.  In short, they’re the perfect Alpha heroes, which make them irresistible to romance heroines—and readers.

But as the author of a sports romance series that bends the rules a little, I don’t think it’s the only reason.

Pairing OffThe inner qualities which help athletes succeed– dedication, courage, commitment, perseverance and mental toughness– aren’t just for heroes. They’re the backbone of strong heroines, too.  In my novel “Pairing Off,” an American pairs figure skater refuses to give up her dream of competing in the Olympics, even after her career is destroyed by a scandal of her ex-partner’s making.  Her last chance at gold means moving to Russia, though she doesn’t speak the language, and knows no one besides her demanding coach, and handsome new skating partner.  Carrie’s courage and determination, as well as her talent, put her dream in reach—and help her find new love with an old flame.

There’s also the sport itself, which provides a compelling backdrop for the romance, and takes readers behind the scenes, into the locker room and out on the field. With team sports, there’s a built in tribe of friends, and often foes. There are rivalries, drama, career ups and downs, and to borrow the classic phrase, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

With so much to love about sports romance, it’s no wonder more authors are writing them. If you’re interested in writing sports romance, how do you begin? And how do you choose which sport to write about?

According to a poll by Heroes and Heartbreakers, hockey romances were the favorite among readers, followed by football, MMA and baseball.  Hoops, soccer and golf were further down the list, while motorsports and the Olympic sports didn’t make the cut at all.

So obviously, hockey and football are the best sports to write about, correct?  But what if you don’t know a puck from a ping-pong ball?

Take heart. And if you’d rather write about fencing…or figure skating… than football, go for it!

As with any setting, the sport in your sports romance must ring true.  Writing about a sport you love will help you avoid cringe-worthy mistakes that can pull genuine fans out of your story.  Know the correct terms for positions, equipment, scoring and whether games are divided into halves or quarters, periods, innings. As much as I love “The Cutting Edge,” it always bugs me that the Doug and Kate’s competitions are skated on darkened rinks, under spotlights.  That’s how it works for Disney on Ice, but not U.S. Nationals or the Winter Olympics.

Another way to find great details that bring your sports romance to life is to write about a sport you’ve played, even if it’s not at a professional level.

Getting It Back CoverI’m only a recreational figure skater, but I can describe the peculiar feeling of stepping onto the ice for the first time, and the unique aroma of rink stink. Unlike the skater hero in my new release, “Getting It Back,” I’ve never done a quadruple Salchow, but I have taken my share of falls, and know what it’s like to wake up sore and bruised the next day.

Another bonus of writing about a sport you play or follow, is that you may have an opportunity to talk with athletes and former athletes, which can make the sports details you do use that much more authentic.

But like chili powder and lip gloss, a little goes a long way.

Just as you wouldn’t load your story with minutia about the job of a pilot hero, or tax accountant heroine, you don’t need to do so with an athlete, either.  Exhaustive details about rules, training and even drawn out play-by-play scenes, aren’t necessary and can bog down your story.

Your sports romance is first and foremost a romance, which means the focus belongs on the relationship between the leads.  Nor does your story have to be all about the sport. Athletes have lives off the field, and its fine to center your story on other things, such as family issues, or to write about an athlete who is no longer competing because of injury or retirement.

Turning It On  In Turning It On, a former ice dancer turned male stripper struts his stuff on a steamy reality TV show, and finds love with a shy heroine, who sees the good man beneath the sexy swagger.

The best way to understand what sports romance is all about is by reading it.  Sport by sport, I’ve listed some suggested reads. If the book is part of a series, in most cases, I’ve listed book #1.

 

Football

It Had to Be You- Susan Elizabeth Phillips                                              

The Perfect Play- Jaci Burton

Rush Me- Allison Parr

Hockey

Simply Irresistible- Rachel Gibson

Body Check- Deirdre Martin

Pink Pucks & Power Plays- V.L. Locey

 

Baseball

Double Play-Jill Shalvis

Calling It- Jen Doyle

The Winning Season- Alison Packard

 

MMA, etc.

Causing Havoc- Lori Foster

Knock Out- Michelle Mannon

 

Olympic sports, motorsports, and more

Chasing Perfect- Susan Mallery (cycling)

Pairing Off- Elizabeth Harmon (figure skating)

Crossing the Ice- Jennifer Comeaux (figure skating)

Flat Out Sexy- Erin McCarthy (NASCAR)

Knowing the Score- Kat Latham (Rugby)

Running Interference- Elley Arden (women’s football)

So dive in and play ball. Here’s hoping your sports romance knocks it out of the park!

 

Elizabeth Harmon loves to read and write romances with a dash of different.

Visit her website, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

 

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Trope-tasticLove On Ice

This post originally appeared on Read_Love_Blog, March, 2017

pair skaters2.png

Readers love sports romance, and since Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Chicago Stars series kicked off the subgenre in the early 2000s, we have sports romances about all the major ball-chasing sports (yes, I know how that sounds., 😉 ) and just about everything in between.  MMA, pro wrestling, cycling?

There’s a book for that.

Figure skating…not so much. Which in my book, was a shame. One of my all-time favorite movies is The Cutting Edge, and during the Winter Olympics, I watch every figure skating competition I can.  I know I’m not alone in this.  So that inspired me to write a contemporary romance set in this beautiful, exceedingly difficult and often dangerous sport.  And while books and movies about figure skating focus almost exclusively on female skaters, I also wanted my heroes to be figure skaters. The real kind, not hockey players recruited at the last minute. (Sorry, Cutting Edge!)   Because Russia has more than its share of talented (and handsome) male figure skaters, and I think Russian accents are seriously sexy, the Red Hot Russians series was born.

But I also wanted to venture outside the rink, and put my red hot couples in a completely new setting. Since my books are stand alone stories with recurring characters  they can be enjoyed in any order, so if a reader is interested in something not-so-sportsy, like say, a sexy reality TV show or an Antarctica adventure… well, there’s a book for that, too.

I’ve discovered some great series reads because one story’s trope was my personal cat-nip.  Since my series is designed for readers to jump in wherever they like, here’s a trope-tastic run down of the Red Hot Russians series.

Pairing OffPairing Off– Disgraced American pairs figure skater Carrie Parker moves to Moscow, to pair up with smokin’ hot Russian pairs champion Anton Belikov. Together, they set their sights on the Winter Olympics, in a partnership that tests their loyalty to family, country and each other. Tropes: friends to lovers, fish out of water, disguise, forbidden love, tortured heroine, workplace romance, marriage of convenience, athlete hero and heroine.

Turning It On– When shy book editor Hannah Levinson becomes a contestant on a sexyTurning It On reality TV show, she discovers that the man she thought she loved isn’t what he seemed, and that the show’s villain, former ice dancer turned stripper Vladimir Shustov, could be the one to help her believe in love again. Tropes: wallflower/bad boy, opposites attract, sex worker with a heart of gold, friends to lovers, tortured hero, fish out of water, show business, workplace romance.

Getting It Back CoverGetting It Back-Athletic trainer Amy Shepherd agrees to help her ex-boyfriend and former Olympic medalist figure skater Misha Zaikov return to competition after a catastrophic injury. Can she help Misha reach for his dream, even though a new injury could not only jeopardize his career and their future, but also his life?   Tropes: athlete hero, second chance romance, redemption, tortured hero, workplace romance, protector.

HeatingItUp_1600pixFINALHeating It Up: A Red Hot Russians Novella– Widowed American artist Nora Bradford and Russian adventurer Alexei Zaikov must work together to save their close-knit Antarctic community, from being shut down. But with the truth about Nora’s role in Amity Bay’s demise doom their romance? Tropes: small-town, fish out of water, workplace, stranded, disguise, friends to lovers, opposites attract.

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What I Learned My First Year- A Q&A with Shannyn Schroeder

This post originally appeared on The Verbs by Pronoun, August 2016

As a new author I’ve experienced my share of highs and lows, and learning to ride the roller coaster is as much a part of becoming a professional as mastering Deep POV.

One of the best things about this job is the constant discovery, and authors who are willing to share their experiences are the best teachers.

Shannyn_Shroeder

Contemporary romance author Shannyn Schroeder’s debut novel, “More than This” was published by eKensington in January, 2013.  She has since released seven novels and six novellas with Kensington and her current release “Under Your Skin” was published by Kensington’s Zebra line in June, 2016.

From first cover love to realistic expectations, Shannyn shares a few lessons learned.

The Verbs: Tell us a little about your path to publication

Shannyn:  “More than This” was the third manuscript I completed. However, I wrote it in 2009/2010 when contemporary romance was in a downswing, and no one wanted it because the market was so poor. Then people like Marie Force and Bella Andre started self-publishing their contemporaries and found a huge audience. I signed with my agent in the fall of 2011 and had an offer from eKensington in January 2012.

The Verbs: What were your initial thoughts following your first sale?

Shannyn: My initial thought was “What next?” Publishing is a process of hurry up and wait. Everything moves sooooo slowly. Although I did lots of homework to understand what to expect, you don’t really understand how slow it is until you’re in it.

The Verbs: What did you enjoy most about the lead-up to your debut? What was most difficult?

Shannyn: The best—and I mean absolute BEST—thing was getting my first cover. To this day, it’s still my favorite. What was most difficult was not knowing what to do or who to ask about things. I knew as a debut author, I wouldn’t get a huge promotion push from my publisher.  I’m realist, but not knowing what they were going to do so that I could plan my end was frustrating.

The Verbs: When your book was released and in the year that followed, what surprised you?

Shannyn:  It sold more than I anticipated as a new author. I made enough with my first royalty statement to join PAN (published author network of RWA).

The Verbs: What were the things that lived up to your expectations? What didn’t?

Shannyn: I kept my expectations very realistic. Because of this, I can’t think of anything that didn’t live up. As far as promotion goes, I figured it would all be on me. I had to learn what to do and how to do it. That’s not to say that my publisher did nothing, but they certainly weren’t holding my hand.

The Verbs: If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?

Shannyn: I would’ve asked more specific questions earlier. I had no real point of contact at my publisher except for my editor, who wasn’t in charge of any marketing/promo. I ended up going to him for a lot of things. While it worked, it wasn’t the most efficient way of doing things. I also wish I had more reader interaction. This is something I still struggle with because I’m not very good at social media.

The Verbs: What are you glad you did?

Shannyn: First, I’m glad I learned everything I could before I sold. I knew what to look for in a contract and what to expect for royalty rates. After I sold, I’m glad I kept my expectations realistic. I had no real thoughts of hitting a best-seller list or making gobs of money. So when I got that first royalty check, it was an awesome bonus. I approached promotion as a means to get my name in front of people more than to sell books. So a lot of the time, I wrote posts and did interviews and sold nothing. In my mind, it was all about building my name and my brand. I’m also glad that I kept writing even though I didn’t have a second contract yet. It allowed me to be ready when they did offer me the next contract and I never felt overwhelmed when staring at deadlines. And finally, I’m glad I turned to other writers in my RWA chapter for support. I asked questions and they shared their experiences. Sometimes that’s all you need so you don’t feel like you’re going crazy.

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Warm hearts, cold nights, Southern Lights

HeatingItUp_1600pixFINAL

Toni Morrison’s great quote perfectly describes why I like to write contemporary romances featuring unique characters and settings.  It’s what inspired my Red Hot Russians series of sports romances, which star sexy male figure skaters.

My new release, Heating It Up: A Red Hot Russians Novella, features a rugged Russian hero, and a sophisticated American heroine, who find love in a surprising  place.

Nora Bradford and Alexei Zaikov must work together to save Amity Bay, their small, close-knit community, though Nora’s secret role in the town’s demise could doom their romance. What makes Heating It Up unique is that Amity Bay is actually a research station in Antarctica.

Despite its extreme climate, Amity Bay is a warm-hearted, welcoming and slightly whimsical place. Cozy up to the bar at the Hut, the town’s favorite gathering place, and you’ll meet wise-cracking barmaid Francine, brave fire-chief Will and Dylan, a guitar-playing Texan who’s sweet on Shelby, the nurse. Just outside town, there’s breathtaking wilderness, green icebergs, an old cabin and a luxurious lodge—both of which might be haunted, and a mysterious creature swimming in the icy bay.

I hope fans of the Red Hot Russians series, and fans of small-town romance will feel right at home in Amity Bay!

Enjoy an Excerpt!

Slowly, Nora crawled from beneath the bed, then sat with her back against the wall, too stunned to go any further. She was alone. A squatter in Antarctica.  Well, she’d wanted to break some rules. Do something rash. Here was her chance. She might even make history. Assuming she survived.

The thought made her laugh, but as her laughter sputtered to an end, the oppressive silence of the huge empty lodge settled all around. She buried her head in her hands. Oh my God, what have I done?

The answer was the creak of footsteps on the stairs.

Nora gasped and swallowed. Her heart raced and moisture oiled her palms. She called out in a trembling voice. “Herbert? Mark? Is that you?”

Without waiting for an answer, she raced from the room. They were still here! It wasn’t too late! She could put this ridiculous scheme behind her, and go back to San Francisco like a sane person. Thank God!

“Hello! Hello! It’s Nora! I changed my mind! I’m coming with you!”

No one was on the stairs, or in the lobby. Shit! They must have gone outside. She could still catch them, if she hurried. She dashed across the lobby, slipping in her socks on the polished wood floor.

“Wait! Don’t leave without me!”

Nora burst out the front door, and onto the veranda. A blast of frigid wind sliced through her sweater and stopped her in her tracks.

She stared down at the bay. Night was falling. And the yacht was gone.

* * *

This post was originally published on Just Contemporary Romance, March, 2017

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January#TBR Challenge: We Love Short Shorts

Since I didn’t have a proper holiday read for December, when I saw this little New Year’s themed release pop up on my Facebook feed, I grabbed a copy. It’s the latest installment in Debra St. John’s “Holidays at the Corral” series, and while I haven’t read the others, I liked St. John’s “Wild Wedding Weekend.” NYE at the Corral seemed like a good bet…especially at 99 cents.

 

Shorter than a novella, but longer than a short story, it fit the criteria for January’s short read. NYE at the Corral is a cute friends-to-lovers story about a bartender and a waitress who are attracted to one another, but don’t want to risk ruining their friendship

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As Nick and Tina prepare for The Corral’s big New Year’s Eve bash, another co-worker teases them about being in love. They are of course, though neither is sure how the other one feels. Throughout the evening, they try to keep things normal and fail miserably.As midnight approaches, do they risk revealing their hearts?

 

The cover gives a big hint about how things turn out, and since it’s a romance novel, rest assured that neither Nick nor Tina end the night crying in their coffee at the local Denney’s. But the private angst each go through to work up the courage for that midnight kiss feels genuine. The ticking clock plot device works beautifully. 

 

St. John is a skilled writer and gives us two likeable characters and a believable conflict. I would have enjoyed a bit more info about the setting—I have no idea where The Corral is located—but understand that in a short book, there’s not room for a lot of detail.

 

It’s a quick, fun read with likeble characters, and I’ll probably drop by The Corral (wherever the heck it is) for another holiday party.

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December#TBR Challenge: Holiday Reads

My TBR pile had no holiday reads so for December’s challenge, I chose Murder On Ice by Alina Adams. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a figure skating judge electrocuted under mysterious circumstances and a cable TV researcher intent on finding out whodunit.
I was drawn to this cozy mystery series after I was a guest on the author’s blog, because we both write books set in the world of figure skating. My skaters fall in love, hers are murder suspects, but sports are sports.
This book, the first in Adams’ Figure Skating Mystery series was published in 2003.
Murder On Ice begins with Russian skater Xenia winning gold at the World Figure Skating Championships over perky American teenager Erin. Before you can say “wuz robbed,” the Italian judge whose score put Xenia atop the podium turns up dead. TV researcher Rebecca “Bex” Levy’s boss assigns her to do a story on the murdered judge, and while she’s at it, to find the killer.
Adams worked as a figure skating researcher and included a lot of great behind the scenes detail about figure skating broadcasts which I really enjoyed. I also liked the colorful cast of characters, from Erin’s obsessed fans, to the vaguely sinister Russians, whose suspicious behavior may simply be because everyone quickly assumes they’re guilty, and the bickering, bitchy skating commentators on Bex’s 24/7 Network.
The story relied heavily on Y2K tech, such as multi-colored floppy discs, travel printers (wired, naturally), dial-up Internet and flip phones. Characters use pay phones, and talk about being on the “world wide web.” One suspect’s alibi rests on the fact she doesn’t know how to print an email.
Technology wasn’t the only throwback aspect to Murder On Ice. Bex’s narration is full of random asides which were sometimes humorous, but had a rambling quality far different from the lean and mean style more prevalent today. It wasn’t bad necessarily, but it was a little odd.
And while Bex is an extremely amateur sleuth, it surprised me that she would openly confront her suspects with potentially incriminating evidence. I’m not a big cozy mystery reader, but I don’t recall Nancy Drew playing so fast and loose with clues.
So overall, the skating and prehistoric tech were fun, the sleuthing confusing, and I’m undecided on Bex. But if another Figure Skating Mystery finds its way to my TBR pile, I’ll happily give it a read.

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November #TBR Challenge

truepretenses_cover

True Pretenses by Rose Lerner

This is going to be a short one, as I just finished my NaNoWriMo project and oddly enough, don’t feel much like writing today. But to check the last item off my November to-do list…here goes.

Rose Lerner has been on my TBR list for a long time, as she writes historical romances featuring characters outside the aristocracy.  I burned out on Regency-era titled heroes and the ton a couple of years ago, and for a while, read no historical romances at all. Lerner writes Regency, but isn’t afraid to feature characters that the genre unfortunately shies away from.

In True Pretenses, the hero, Asher Cohen, is a Jewish con artist from the East End of London. Heroine Lydia Reeves is a 30-year-old politically active spinster desperate to marry, not for love, but to get her hands on her sizable dowry in order to fund her numerous civic and philanthropic endeavors.

The two strike a bargain that they will marry so that Lydia can get to her money, and give Ash the 3,000 pounds he needs to help his younger brother purchase a military officer’s commission. Once the transaction is complete, the two will go their separate ways. Plans go awry when Ash and Lydia fall in love.

I’ll keep this brief. I loved this story and these characters, especially Ash. His life as an orphan in London’s seedy East End, his work as a child grave robber was fascinating, if at times, gruesome. Lydia knows all of this, is intrigued by this rough-around-the-edges, yet deeply caring man. Lerner is a wonderful writer who brings her world to life and I definitely look forward to reading more of her work.

FYI, this book sorta-kinda qualifies as a holiday read, in that it takes place in mid-December amid the Christmas festivities in Lydia’s small town of Lively St. Lemeston. Had I known, I might have saved it for my December TBR, as my holiday selections are a bit sparse.  But I didn’t.  So if anyone is looking for a holiday season read that’s a little different, I highly recommend True Pretenses.

 

 

 

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