Today H&H welcomes author Julie Cross. Julie's Letters to Nowhere is the story of a budding gymnast who moves in with her coach for training—and her coach's extremely attractive son. Jule talks today about blending sorts and romance in a perfect combination. Thanks, Julie!
First off, I have to say that I love, love, LOVE when romance and sports come together in that chocolate and peanut butter kind of way. I love it in movies like For the Love of the Game with Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston, and don’t even get me started on The Cutting Edge—my ultimate guilty pleasure movie—and I love sports-infused romance in YA, NA, and adult fiction novels. Because of my love for this romance + sports hook-up, I tend to read any sports-themed YA or NA that I can get my hands on, therefore, for the sake of this post and establishing audience credibility, I’m going to call myself a “scientific” expert on the subject. That’s right, I graduated with a degree in the statistical analysis of bats, rackets, and balls (pun intended) and their appearance in romantic fiction.
I’ve collected stats and analyzed data from the past few publishing seasons where NA and mature YA novels are dominating the playing field, and the conclusion is that there are two main paths authors often take in writing a sports-themed love story.
1) I Don’t Do Jocks—this type of sports romance typically includes a non-sporty heroine who has a chance meeting (cute-meet) with an athletic hero and while her inner Goddess is screaming, “Ew, jocks!” much like Dorothy landing in Oz, said heroine steps into this odd world of men (or boys as applicable) in uniform, sweating and running and often tossing balls (pun intended) and she spins around, confused by her surroundings, what is this place? What are these people doing here? She’s horrified/petrified with the idea of leaving her world of academia or literature or whatever her opposing passion may be (you know, ‘cause opposites attract), but she’s also in lust and eventually, in love so she can’t help herself. And then slowly, as the story unfolds, our athletic hero will usually reveal some layers the heroine never would have expected him to have. In order for them to get their HEA, the heroine usually needs to find a common denominator between her own passion (outside of the boyfriend) and his passion for whatever sport he’s involved in…and then she gets it.
I haven’t yet read a romance of any genre where she’s the athlete and he’s a complete non-athlete (but there’re plenty of novels that I haven’t read yet). That would be an interesting twist. The NA novel, Rush Me by Allison Parr is a perfect example of this story in the NA world. Another variation of this, a sort of type 1.5, that I would love to read is the athlete hero + the non-athlete girl who knows his sport backwards and forward, lots of room for clashing and clever banter. Maybe she has a relative who plays his game or comes from a family of players. Just figuring out the root of her obsession is a beautiful plot element in itself.
2) I Need To Stay Focused—this type of sports romance is what I like to nick-name “sporty girl” books, though it could easily be the hero who has his eye on the big trophy/scholarship/pro-sports contract/championship title. It doesn’t matter which of the two are the athletes or if it’s both, only that the sporty one(s) narrates at least half of the book. This type of story requires pulling the reader into that athlete mindset. Though I will almost always pick up any YA or NA romance with sports as a backdrop, type 2 is my absolute favorite. As a reader and a writer, especially with a female narrator, there is something amazing about jumping into a story with an extremely driven character who knows exactly what she/he wants. And then watching them deal with being thrown off balance when the love interest comes into the picture, and then asking that question—maybe this is too hard? That can mean contemplating quitting the sport or avoiding or quitting the relationship—there’s no room or headspace to let someone else in. These conflicts are so believable and when written authentically to the particular sport, they’re almost never clichéd.
And then there’s this whole element of literally being in the heroine’s head as she’s running the race or leaping in point shoes across the stage—hearts pounding, adrenaline pumping—it creates an amazing parallel to the love scenes that you know will be included under the blanket of romance fiction. Even a harsh, anti-social heroine can be likable to readers if we can see inside her head and feel what she’s feeling while competing or performing. As far as mature YA romance goes, Miranda Kenneally does this spectacularly in both Catching Jordan and Stealing Parker. I also loved Bunheads by Sophie Flack and of course the forthcoming Wildcards by Simone Elkeles hits this type beautifully. All three of these titles are mature and edgy enough to please NA lovers and fans of adult romance.
Which Type is the Best?
With type 2, the author really needs to know the subject matter well, but present it in a way that doesn’t alienate readers who aren’t familiar with the sport, and that might be why it’s rarer than type 1.
The advantage to type 1 is that having a non-expert heroine as the narrator means basic rules of the game can be organically inserted into dialogue and narration to help the reader connect if they, as a reader “don’t do jocks.”
Another advantage to type 2, specifically in YA, is that you could potentially snag readers interested in the sport itself and “trick” them into reading a love story. YA readers are typically the most willing to shift around within the sub-genres than any other target reader group—they’ll devour Vampire Academy (another good example of a sporty girl narrator, btw) one week and sink into a contemporary YA love story the next week. As far as New Adult goes, I’m dying to read more college-aged sporty girl books. A female collegiate athlete discovering love for the first time would be AMAZING to read, right?
Regardless of whether the sports romance is type 1 or type 2, athletes are passionate, risk-taking individuals and those character traits can make for one hot, sexy and emotional love story.
Which is your favorite? Type 1 or type 2?
Julie Cross is the International Bestselling author of the Tempest series, a young adult science fiction trilogy which includes Tempest, Vortex, and the final installment, Timestorm (St. Martin’s Press). She’s also the author of Letters to Nowhere (8/13), a mature young adult romance set in the world of elite gymnastics, as well as several forthcoming young adult and new adult novels with publishers like Entangled, Sourcebooks, HarperCollins, and St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books.