• Home
  • Guest Post
  • Guest Post: Ball-Sports for Dummy Writers by Anne Tenino

Jock weekI’m writing the following with a completely straight face: In high school, I lettered in football. I grew up in Oregon, the real-life land of Quarterback Princess (a movie from the 1980s about a girl who successfully fought for a position on the football team—you don’t need to see it, trust me, but here’s the link, just in case: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086161/), but my role on the football team wasn’t the stuff of made-for-TV movies. You know the waterboy? His job was more important than mine, at least to the team.

I recorded the statistics. I counted how many yards the team gained or lost (mostly lost, at my high school) on every play. I counted who carried or fumbled (mostly fumbled) the ball. I counted who got a touchdown or tackled the guy with the ball. Those were both fairly rare events.

So, fast-forward twenty-some years, and now I write about boys who play sports (and I’m not talking about water sports). I was very worried about this when I started Frat Boy and Toppy (Theta Alpha Gamma #1)—my Theta Alpha Gamma series revolves around members (and hangers on) of this fraternity which I identify as a “second-string sports frat.” I figure there’s no way out of eventually including a sport, in detail.

Let’s take a short break here, and discuss the definition of “sport.” For some reason, if it’s not a physical activity that involves a ball, I have to be reminded it’s a sport. (Moment of silence for the obvious joke here—just remember, that’s not an Olympic sport and never will be.) My father never played sports—he hiked, canoed, camped, and on rare occasions hunted, but he wasn’t into ball-sports. Same with my mother, sister, and myself (okay, you know what I mean). None of the cousins (I have a ton) I’m close to were into ball-sports (that I’m aware of . . .).  My husband? He skis, hikes, sails, etc (no hunting, but there is fishing) but no ball-sports (well, except that one he plays with me). My daughters (riding and gymnastics) are the same way. (Yeah, no ball sports there yet.)

Lament: I have no one close to me who plays a game involving a ball (*ahem*).

frat boy and toppySo, when I started Frat Boy and Toppy I found myself relieved Brad seemed like a football player.  Not only is football this quintessentially American sport, but I thought I’d remember the details of the game pretty fast, having written down all those statistics twenty-odd-years ago.

Uh, no. It actually turns out there are many details of the game I never even knew. Fortunately, Brad and Sebastian end up meeting and wooing during winter and spring terms—we’re on the quarter system in Oregon, for the most part, and the TAG series is set at the mythical Calapooya College, in or around Eugene, Oregon. Most of Brad’s thoughts about football are ruminations on how much he doesn’t actually care about the game.

Or remembering how hot his high school football coach was.

At any rate, my research on the matter largely consisted of checking out Football for Dummies from the library and going to pick up my friend Martha’s son from his flag football camp, arriving early and lurking in the car, trying to translate their actions into a language I understood.

Okay, this is like when I’m shopping a purse sale, and another woman and I see the very last completely awesome sling bag at the same moment, and we start out equidistant from it . . .

What I’m saying is, I dodged a bullet on that one when my muse decided it wouldn’t happen during football season.

love hypotheticallyWhen I wrote the next book in the Theta Alpha Gamma series, Love, Hypothetically (TAG #2), I was determined to include a sport, even if that meant copious research. I mean, I know it’s coming, and I thought I could just get it over with. I made Trevor a former pro baseball player and the Calapooya College Girls’ Softball Coach. I envisioned scenes where Trevor and Paul would be surrounded by baseball diamonds (are softball diamonds different? See, I don’t even know that) and softball players. I even wrote such scenes. I checked Softball for Dummies out from the library and flipped through it, considering future scenes. I emailed Kate McMurray with questions (thank you, Kate!)

None of those scenes made it into the final novella. They truly didn’t fit. What did fit? A series of scenes that take place on Trevor’s sailboat. Hey, man, it’s totally a sport. Just remember, before you poo-poo it, most sailboats over eighteen feet have cabins, and most cabins have berths (i.e., beds). Does a baseball diamond have a bed? No?

Bonus: I could do all my research by asking my husband, or recalling my limited experience on his past sailboats.

Another bullet dodged. The only thing I regret is that sailing is not a ball-sport. Well, the way Trevor and Paul play it, it is, but in the strictest terms: nary a ball in the sport.

too stupid to liveMy most recent release, Too Stupid to Live, is not part of the TAG series, but I put sports in it anyway. At this point, I had to ask myself, “Self, why do we keep doing this?”

Well, because even though the majority of men in my life don’t play ball-sports (snort), I can’t get over that idea that a defining characteristic of manhood is an interest in sports. I could go into the social politics of why “men like sports”, but I won’t because that’s a whole ‘nother blog post, and I’m not writing it at the moment. Let’s just accept that for whatever reason—right or wrong—men are seen as liking sports in our culture.

I buy into that belief. I think “men” and shortly after I end up thinking “sports.” (Stripping’s a sport, right?) Since I buy into it, I end up putting it in my stories, especially when I want to show a guy as being very masculine. And when I wrote Too Stupid to Live, Ian started out as very masculine in my mind. So what did I do? I had him first meet Sam while playing rugby.

Side note: scenes just come to me, I rarely have control over them. I’ve been lucky so far in that my characters tend to not want to actually conduct relationship- or plot-pertinent activities while playing a sport. But the scene where Ian and Sam meet is in the middle of a rugby game, and I wrote it as it came to me one day, regardless of the fact that I know very little about rugby.

This was an issue for me, because I needed to figure out something about the sport, since I was fairly certain it would recur in the book. So, I reached out to one of our few friends who actually does play ball-sports (heterosexual ball-sports, I feel it’s necessary to add). I asked our friend Tom, father of the seven-year-old flag football player. I figured Tom would know at least where to point me for research (since our library didn’t have a copy of Rugby for Dummies).

Lo and behold, I was blessed with a downright miracle—Tom played rugby in college. Like, for the official team and everything. This was the point at which I began to accept that I really could write guys who play sports, because someone out there will be able and willing to help me. As a matter of fact, when I showed Tom where I thanked him in the acknowledgements of Too Stupid to Live, he got all choked up.

(Let’s not mention to him that I shared that choking up thing.)

In the book I just completed, Sweet Young Thang (TAG #3, tentative release date July 22), I got completely ready. I worked out what sports both main characters played—or had played, in Eric’s case. Collin played soccer, but quit after his junior year, and Eric had played football in college.

Eric’s football playing—about fifteen years before—was mentioned once, in the following excerpt (Eric speaks first, Collin second):

“When I was in the frat, I showed up for the parties, moved things the guys in charge told me to move, and played football.”

“Mmmmm, football.”

Eric grinned over at him. “You like football?”

“I like football players.”

But Collin’s more recent soccer activities? Nada. I meant to include them, but it never seemed necessary.

My next work, Poster Boy, the fourth and last in the Theta Alpha Gamma series, features Toby—a graduate student with no interest in sports—and Jacques (or Jock, as he’s called)—a former Division I ice hockey player. I’m all but certain that there will be more sports in this book, so I sent out a call on Facebook for information on college hockey. I’ve already received one response (thank you, Leigh, Leigh’s husband, and their son’s hockey coach), and I’m assuming there will be more as I need them. I have learned not to fear sports-playing characters, because even if I know nothing, the books seem to have a way of working out.

Here’s what I’ve determined: If I write it, they will come—the characters, that is, because all of my heroes play ball-sports, if you know what I mean.


Raised on a steady media diet of Monty Python, classical music and the visual arts, Anne Tenino rocked the mental health world when she was the first patient diagnosed with Compulsive Romantic Disorder. Since that day, Anne has taken on conquering the M/M world through therapeutic writing. Finding out who those guys having sex in her head are and what to do with them has been extremely liberating.

Anne’s husband finds it liberating as well, although in a somewhat different way. Her two daughters are mildly confused by Anne’s need to twist Ken dolls into odd positions. They were raised to be open-minded children, however, and other than occasionally stealing Ken1’s strap-on, they let Mom do her thing without interference.

Wondering what Anne does in her spare time? Mostly she lies on the couch, eats bonbons and shirks housework.

All my links:

Buy links: