Someone once told Kristina Mathews, a self-professed “sports fanatic,” that romance novels about athlete heroes wouldn’t sell. It’s good she didn’t listen to the naysayers. “I knew deep down that I wasn’t the only woman who loves sports, and I probably wasn’t the only woman who wanted to read about athletes and how hard it is to have the kind of personal success they enjoyed on the field,” she said.
In this Q&A, Mathews talks about “Making a Comeback,” the latest in her series of baseball-themed books and how joining the Romance Writers of America and other writing groups has helped her writing career.
Q: What is “Making a Comeback” about?
A: With a divorce in the works, Annabelle Jones heads out to Southern California, the land of sun and starting over. She wants to prove to herself and her young daughters that she still has what it takes to turn heads as a swimsuit model—that she doesn’t need a man to take care of her. Until an accident forces her to rely on the hunky, yet mysterious man next door.
Nathan Cooper is trying to revive his own career. Once a top left-handed relief pitcher, he tried to get over a hidden injury with the aid of banned substances. Not only was he caught and suspended, he was traded and missed out on winning the championship. Now he’s a free agent without a contract, and that means life is ready to play ball.
Q: How did you come up with this story?
A: I came across a photo of pitcher Barry Zito standing against a backstop with his guitar leaned against the fence. I knew I had to write a ballplayer who was also a musician.
I had a secondary character from “Worth the Trade,” Annabelle Jones, who was divorcing her team-owner husband after he was involved in the company providing steroids to players. I knew the worst person for her to fall in love with would be a player who had done steroids.
Nathan Cooper had been suspended in the beginning of “Better than Perfect” and after being traded, he had surgery to repair his shoulder. He doesn’t know if he can make it back to the game, or even if he deserves the chance. He also believes he isn’t good enough for his neighbor, the former swimsuit model and mother of two precious little girls.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: I have always written—volumes of journals and bad poetry got me through high school. I attempted my first romance novel shortly after I got married, but the Internet was still a new thing and I would have had to go to the library for research. Jobs, kids, mortgages took priority and it wasn’t until I turned 40 that I got serious about writing for a career. I joined my local chapter of Romance Writers of America and four years later I had my first book contract.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in publishing so far?
A: The business of publishing is rapidly changing. When I first started out, I was told that athlete heroes wouldn’t sell. Now it’s a rapidly expanding sub-genre. I knew deep down that I wasn’t the only woman who loves sports, and I probably wasn’t the only woman who wanted to read about athletes and how hard it is to have the kind of personal success they enjoyed on the field. I wrote my first book in the “More Than A Game” series knowing it might not sell, but I wrote it because it was a book I wanted to read. The following books just evolved out of the first book.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A: My first advice would be to find a writing community. I would still be flipping through five-year-old copies of Writer’s Market and not quite having the courage to actually send out my manuscripts if I hadn’t joined RWA. Having a chapter within an hour’s drive helped me get to know some amazing writers and women who have helped me on this journey. I also belong to some online groups, such as Contemporary Romance Writers, an online RWA chapter and Savvy Authors, a group that offers some great workshops and pitch sessions. I found my first editor through an online pitch session.
Get your work out there. Enter contests, if they come with critiques, they can be especially helpful. Just know to take the critiques with a grain of salt. I had one who complained about my choice of hero’s name. Often two critiques of the same manuscript offered opposite advice. But I did get one early contest judge who took the time to write up a one page summary of my book’s strengths and weaknesses.
Learn as much as you can, take online workshops, read craft books, read in your genre and see what works for you and what doesn’t. But ultimately the best way to learn how to write is to write. Finish a manuscript and start on the next.
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