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Acceptance of Differences In All People

Jeffrey Sotto Author Interview

The Moonballers follows a gay tennis star that feels threatened by a straight player that joins their organization. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

I’ve been part of a queer tennis league in Toronto, Ontario, Canada since 2003. Back then, we only had queer members, and I always thought it would be funny to see how the league would react when straight people started to join. I then put the idea aside as I worked on my first book. Then in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president, I thought about this premise again, and started to imagine what my main character would be like – a president who wanted to keep certain types of people out; in this case, keep straight people out of a queer sports league.

Stefan wants to be the best, and when someone tries to take that spot from him, his worst side comes out. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Stefan is toxic masculinity personified; he’s the ugliness of the ego that comes out in all of us when we feel inferior to others, and must compensate by bullying. As I mentioned, I looked at Donald Trump as for inspiration for Stefan; I feel his actions are a response to a threat of being replaced as the “queen bee”; he is driven by his ego and need to feel worshipped as president of the league and the best player. In all his villanry, I tried to make his antics as ridiculously absurd and funny as possible.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

I wanted to highlight the consequences of the ego’s response to feeling inferior. But I “flipped the script” by having Stefan, and the league, queer. I wanted to challenge the idea that toxic masculinity is only associated with heterosexual men. There’s sometimes a stereotype that gay men are supposed to be softer, effeminate, and ultimately weaker than straight ones. But as I’ve witnessed in my almost 20 years as part of a queer tennis league, when the competitive juices for superiority — the “need to win” — rears its ugly head, the toxicity that manifests can come from anyone despite their gender, sexual orientation, and all other parts of their identities. In other words, we are ALL toxic as*holes. Lol. Further, there is a message about the need for the acceptance of differences in all people, and the pervasive bias and intolerance in everyone, including those who insist they are “woke.”

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Similar to the tone of my first novel, Cloud Cover, which was a lot more serious and dramatic than The Moonballers, I want to do a modern retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. In this version, the Adam character will be a middle-aged, gay, HIV-positive asexual, and the Eve character will be a young, bisexual and polyamourous woman. Being inspired by Eve’s liberated way of living, Adam will re-enter the dating world in hopes of finding love and connection. Considering the political events unfolding in the United States right now, I want to show their journey together in coming to terms with the outcomes of pursuing their own empowerment and personal freedom, despite what institutional or ideological constraints are placed upon them. This book is still in very early stages, but I’m hoping to publish it by 2026.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

“MAKE TENNIS GAY AGAIN!”

Winter 2016. The Toronto Torches—aka the Toronto Gay and Lesbian Tennis League—had come to a crash under mysterious circumstances.

Spring 2020. A new queer tennis organization has been created in the nearby wanna-be-downtown suburb of Torpedo Valley. Proud and out Stefan “Steffi” Porsche relishes in his dominance as both the President of the league, and—coincidentally—the league’s best player. That is, until strapping and super talented Khalid Adam arrives. But differences threaten to disrupt the order of the gay institution: Khalid is … STRAIGHT, sending Stefan into a neurotic tizzy.

Will the hyper-competitive and heterophobic Stefan maintain his invincibility, or will Khalid dethrone him? Can Khalid—and all those outside the queer majority—be kept from invading the sacredness of the gay tennis league? Or will President Stefan succeed in his quest to “MAKE TENNIS GAY AGAIN!”?

With a colourful cast of characters, campy humour, and dramatic twists à la Pedro Almodóvar, The Moonballers: A Novel about The Invasion of a LGBTQ2+ Tennis League … by Straight People (Gay Gasp!) is an action packed and wacky sports parody about intolerance, love, and the absurdity of socio-political extremes that will hit you like a hard shot straight to the face!

All Roads Lead to Lawrence

All Roads Lead To Lawrence, by Craig Leener, is a lively science fiction story that follows the life of a young man named Zeke, his friend and their lives; which revolve around the game of basketball. Everything starts to go terribly wrong as they approach their summer break. Someone dies, his girlfriend Rebecca makes a decision that will change the course of their relationship, and one of his friends is in a terrible accident. Zeke is forced to grow up and take responsibility for his life and how he affects those around him. Then things begin to get really strange when an unusual character starts to cross his path. Being no stranger to weird happenings, Zeke knows he needs the help of his friends, especially his autistic friend Lawrence, to try and figure out what is going on.

From one of the very first lines, “My name is Zeke Archer, and that’s where this strange tale begins.” the author establishes the point of view, sets the level of intrigue, and prepares readers for the extraordinary things that are about to occur. I enjoyed this opening from a technical perspective, but this also shows the sharp writing of author Craig Leener. From here readers will be engaged with the first person narrative, and feel more involved in the story. This is important since this is the second book in the series. You don’t necessarily have to have read book one to pick this book up, you can enjoy it on it’s own, but you may way to read book one just to get a full appreciation for the character and story arc over the series.

Many themes are touched upon throughout the story which offer advice for young readers, especially teenage readers who may find themselves in a similar situation (minus the science fiction parts). For example the subject of the death of a loved one or having a sibling in the U.S. Marine Corps is explored in the story in a delicate and respectful way. Telling this story from the first person perspective allows the reader to get an insight into how someone in this situation may feel. Furthermore, by following the characters facing pivotal life lessons such as getting their first job, it makes the tale more relatable and provides useful tips that the reader can apply in their own lives.

I was amazed by the level of imagination that is infused throughout this story and the clever way in which young adult science fiction and basketball is woven together throughout the book. Having read other stories in this series, it is nice to gain further details about the characters and I am sure they have so much more to give. I would definitely recommend this read to others as the short chapters make it easily digestible and the fun plot make this an entertaining story from start to finish.

Pages: 334 | ASIN: B07XL91FZG

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The Moonballers

We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it and stay out of our space! This is the unofficial slogan of the Torpedo Valley tennis organization created by queer people for queer people. The league president is Stefan Porsche, an ace tennis player who is out and proud of his sexuality and superior tennis ability. When Khalid Adam joins the league, Stefan is immediately threatened. Not only because he is a great player but also because Khalid is straight as a board.

The Moonballers: A Novel about The Invasion of a LGBTQ2+ Tennis League … by Straight People (GAY GASP!) written by Jeffrey Sotto is a unique take on how ridiculous it is to harass someone because of who they are. Turning it upside down and showing Stefan Porsche actively trying to push Khalid out of the tennis organization simply because he is straight forces the reader to think. They must grapple with how unfair such behavior is.

Sotto has delivered this message in such a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek way. He does a great job of balancing every person’s negative and positive traits. Sometimes you will despise some characters, but that’s what makes them so believable. Stefan’s behavior is beyond aggravating and downright criminal. He does have some redeeming qualities that readers will discover as they read through the entire novel.

Sometimes, you need to parody the issue to make people see their hypocrisy. People respond to humor more than anything, and Sotto tapped into this factor to deliver this humorous and charming novel. The Moonballers is a delightful, witty, no-nonsense book that is excellently written and is one read you will not want to put down.

Pages: 290 | ASIN : B09VTFQ42P

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It’s Always Been A Dream Of Mine

M. K. Lever Author Interview

Surviving the Second Tier follows a female college athlete and her team who rebel against a greedy coach and a system that cares more about money than the players. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

I had a couple sources of inspiration for my story. My first is personal experience as a former Division 1 athlete who navigated the college sports system myself and had some of the best and worst times of my life during my athletic career. College athletes are under so much social, personal, and external pressure and that’s really hard to understand unless you’ve been there yourself. Although I was a successful runner who loved my sport (until injuries derailed me) I struggled immensely with feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt, and anxiety. I was also in an emotionally abusive relationship with one of my coaches and I needed a way to make meaning of that. Surviving the Second Tier was an outlet for that experience as well as a way to educate readers about these dynamics and the problems that college athletes face in the real world.

The second source of motivation is my research. I’m a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas where sports policy is a huge part of what I study. The policy issues I research are important but frankly, policy can be boring to talk about even if it’s fascinating to me. Academic research is also very inaccessible because of paywalls and jargon so I needed an interesting and accessible way to discuss my research because, given the current climate, I believe the stakes of it are high. I started telling people “the NCAA is a dystopia” whenever they asked about my research as a way to create conversation. The metaphor really stuck with people and became a great gateway for discussing the ways bad policy negatively impacts college athletes. I wanted to give the college sports industry the 1984 treatment and give people a thought-provoking book that hit close to home and fiction turned out to be an effective vehicle for my academic work. Plus, it’s always been a dream of mine to write a book!

Did you create an outline for the characters in the story before you started writing or did the character’s personalities grow organically as you were writing?

I’m a terribly disorganized writer so I didn’t outline my characters so much as I outlined the issues I wanted to cover. They’re all stuck in a system that was never designed to benefit them but they’re also dealing with personal struggles like anxiety, injuries, burnout, identity crises, discrimination, poverty, abuse, and masculinity. Once I had a concept of the issues that I wanted to address within the real-world college sports industry, I had a good idea of how I wanted my characters to develop and they sort of had minds of their own once I started the writing process (which I loved!).

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

Identity was a huge one for me. College athletes tend to get really wrapped up in who they are as athletes and fixate on their performances, statistics, rankings, and so on as measures of self-worth. It’s a form of self-objectification that is hard to stop, and fans and coaches also dehumanize college athletes by viewing them solely in terms of their productivity. A big goal of Surviving the Second Tier was to humanize college athletes because they’re so often viewed in terms of production instead of personhood.

As the title implies, I also wanted to focus on themes of surviving a corrupt system. When we think “survival,” we tend to think of things like food, clothing, shelter, and basic necessities. For some athletes (like Sis and Striker), their sport is a ticket out of poverty so it truly is life or death, but sometimes athletes are surviving other things like abusive coaching relationships, mental health issues, crippling media pressure, and life-altering injuries. There’s a lot of pressure on athletes to be tough and gut through these things without showing weakness so I wanted to explore all of that through my characters, their work, and their relationships with each other.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’ve very tentatively started my sequel but I’m also finishing up my Ph. D so it’s hard to juggle creative writing with my academic obligations. If I had to guess, I’d say I could be done with that in a few years (fingers crossed!). I’m also currently working on my dissertation which addresses many themes from my book so I’d love to publish a non-fiction book about college sports as well. The problems college athletes face are a great civil rights issue and writing about them matters a great deal to me.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

“Sicily “Sis” Jones is the only undefeated college athlete in the Amateur Fighting Association (AFA), but her spotless record is running her life. She’s living on pennies and nursing a debilitating injury. Her teammates have their share of struggles, too. Striker fights to support his struggling family. Rip has a secret. Cal harbors a grudge.

Topping it off is their cut-throat coach who pushes them beyond their limits for the sake of his own career.

It’s a new order in the world of college athletics. After a financial crisis, the AFA had to salvage its profits. Fighting became the only sport, a brilliant and violent solution to the economic collapse. But at what cost to the athletes?

Sis and her teammates have made it through nearly four years together at their little second-tier university. But all bets are off when the AFA puts Sis against one of her own. Will the Association survive the aftermath?”

Fore Play

Linda Sheehan’s Fore Play is a book that explores the beauty of golf and the intricate lives of those who play it. Set in a fictional Los Angeles sports club called Bellstone, the book’s storyline revolves around three main characters – Jody, Mandy, and Newt. It particularly focuses on the life of Jody – the granddaughter of the club’s founder – Forrest Wheeler.

Traumatized after the death of her grandfather, Jody stops playing golf. But her husband convinces her to try out the sport by joining the Bellstone club. Here, they cross paths with Mandy, Newt, and a host of other characters that significantly affect the couple’s life trajectory.

As Jody gets more involved in golfing and her work as a scientist, she becomes closer and closer to Jackson – a reserved caddy. Moreover, she begins to notice some of her husband’s unpleasant qualities. Ultimately, she, like the reader, comes to realize that all that glitters is not gold.

If there’s one thing that this book does well it’s that it highlights how far some people will go to gain social acceptance and praise. Using the lives of characters like Mandy, the author highlights how important it is for some people to appear rich, beautiful, and successful, regardless of who they hurt to achieve that. On the other hand, characters like Jackson remind us of how society overlooks anyone who seems different, poor, and unwilling to participate in posturing.

Another theme that is deeply explored in this book is the propensity of victims to become oppressors down the road. For instance, Mandy is bullied as a child and grows up to be a bully herself. On the other hand, Father Norm is abused as a child and grows up to manipulate people and the system to do his bidding. Ultimately, their stories parallel so many real-life ones, making them believable and relatable.

The author creates characters that are layered and interesting, making it easy to believe that this book could be inspired by real events. Even the way that the different golf games are described seems so real. It also helps that the book is written in simple language and even includes verses to popular songs that the characters listen to in different scenes.

Fore Play provides a unique and captivating look at life through some intriguing characters. This is a riveting and easy to read sports fiction novel that uses humor to assuage the darker moments of the human drama unfolding in this absorbing story.

Pages: 273 | ASIN: B09WCT3VHV

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Run to Win

Windrew Haynes has finished his last year at college. After getting second place in the Cross-Country Nationals, he has decided to pursue a career in teaching. His Honor, Judge Haynes, would rather see his son become an upstanding lawyer, but Windrew is determined to help teach underprivileged African American kids from Douglas High School. Douglas High School is an educationally deprived institution. To the people running the show, all that matters is if you can play basketball. Basketball is what has kept this school open for years. So, when Windrew marches in, looking to invoke change, the principal and athletics department are unhappy. Windrew has to dodge conspiracy after conspiracy to keep his job intact and not be railroaded by those with hidden agendas.

In Run to Win, by author Eric Johnson tells the story of what it means to have a dependable adult helping nurture young kids to be more than what they are, what they could be, and not letting where they come from define their future. This story touches on many significant societal issues like race, sexuality, and socialism. Windrew’s background is interesting. Being from a mixed family, he feels like he doesn’t belong entirely to either culture. He feels he has to prove something to his family and himself by working with underprivileged children in an economically challenged neighborhood. This societal conflict is highly relatable for this demographic, and I would have liked for it to be explored more throughout the book.

The chapters are long at times, but this is necessary for building the plotline. Johnson adds context to the main character’s internal conflicts through his story building, imparting the heavyweight of the expectation he feels from others. The author uses strong tension and suspense to engage the reader and keep the story interesting.

There are multiple points of view in the novel, allowing readers to experience the action from different vantage points and gain further insight into the situations. The author’s use of profanity is mild initially, but as the story’s action ramps up, the students’ and teachers’ profanity increases. Profanity can add to the character’s relatability and be used to give readers a feel for the environment and setting. Given the amount of profanity used by the author in this novel, I think it is appropriate for mature audiences.

Run To Win is a riveting sports fiction novel about a teacher’s efforts to enact positive change in the lives of underprivileged children. Focusing on many societal issues, this is a relatable story for many.

Pages: 252 | ISBN : 1499021828

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The Surprising Potential Humans Have

Douglas Farrago
Douglas Farrago Author Interview

Noki follows a boxer with Autism, he wants to use his skills to help his father but encounters people that do not have his best interest at heart. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

The story of Noki was stuck in my head for over ten years. I couldn’t shake it. I just fell in love with the character and felt I needed to share him with the world. I believe the book does a great job showing the limitations we, as a society, place on people, knowingly or not. Even more importantly, it shows the surprising potential humans have. This is something I saw in my thirty-year experience as a doctor treating autistic patients. People with autism, like Noki, may have some social and communication difficulties, but it doesn’t mean they are without aspirations, goals, love, thoughts, or purpose. I hope this book shows the reader this.

What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

We all need to be aware that when you meet one person with autism you meet one person with autism. Everyone is different. Everyone deserves basic respect and nonjudgment from others, autism or not. That being said, autism is a spectrum and this has to be acknowledged. There is a pivotal point in Noki where there is a hearing to decide whether he understands the consequences and risks of boxing. Understanding the differences between each autistic person provides a learning opportunity for characters in the book and should do the same for those who read it.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

I definitely wanted to explore the deep dark secrets of the boxing world. I know it all too well. No one really talks about it and it hasn’t changed much in a century. Putting someone like Noki in that environment was exciting to me. I wanted to also make a social worker a hero (heroine) because normally they are portrayed negatively. Lastly, the surprise ending in Noki is critical in realizing what you may have just read is something you have seen many times before.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am writing another business book now but will probably start on a book about Taddy Roosevelt (yes, that is spelled right).

Author Links: Amazon | GoodReads

When a highly skilled boxer with autism wants to take part in the corrupt world of professional fighting, whose decision is it to make?

A bankrupt boxing gym, a down-on-his luck drifter, and a desperate father grapple with an opportunity that could solve all their problems, but at a tragic cost. 
 
Noki has grown up in his father’s gym, around the seedy world of boxing his whole life, the fighters there calling him a “man-child.” A young Black man with autism with a penchant for wearing Disney t-shirts, Noki is gifted with incredible boxing skills, considered by his inner circle as unbeatable. But when the unscrupulous boxing bigwigs see dollar signs, his gym family is torn: Are they permitting Noki to pursue his passion or are they taking advantage of someone with a disability. Noki, a new young adult fiction novel by Douglas Farrago, is a masterfully written coming of age story of loyalty, grit, and self-discovery in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.  

A Universal Fantasy

Mike DeLucia
Mike DeLucia Author Interview

Born for the Game follows a man that has worked hard for all he has in life, now he wants to create the perfect baseball player. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

The original idea grew from a story I heard in the 1970’s about a blind man who tripped over his dog’s dish, hit the wall with his head and was able to see. I thought that there are tremendous possibilities within the brain. I played a lot of ball as a kid, so I originally thought of a baseball player who hits his head in a car accident and becomes the greatest ballplayer of all time, even though he was well past his prime. The story changed over the past 40 years, but the concept of being the greatest of all time and the challenges accompanying that lofty goal, remained the crux of the story. What does it take to be the greatest at anything? This is a universal question and dreaming about it is a universal fantasy. Someone has to be the best. Why not me? Why not you? The possibility of it, albeit slight, exists, and that’s what makes it so much fun to imagine.

Ryan Stone is the result of Phineas’s plan for the perfect player. What were some driving ideals behind her development?

When I was looking at a story with all-male characters, I thought it was in desperate need of a strong female presence, so I thought that the challenges facing a female to be the greatest baseball player adds so much more fuel to the story’s fire. Once I decided on that concept, I began thinking what a female would have to do to be better than men. Just because it’s never been done before doesn’t mean it cannot be done. Those who lived before the Wright brothers could have never imagined that a ton of steel and fuel could fly through the air to deliver people and goods all over the world or that picture and sound could be transmitted through airwaves into space and then shot down into your phone or TV. Just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it cannot be done. I had to build a story where this idea was feasible.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The pursuit of dreams, love, betrayal, gender roles, and how choices drive our life’s journey.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

It’s hard to say at this point because I decided to work on getting a literary agent this year. I’d like to see my books as films. First, I write the screenplay and then I write the novel. Writing one book for me is writing two. I have several ideas for other stories and none of them are in the sports genre. I’ve written four books and a short story in the sports genre… although I really do flip genres during my stories, so this next one will be a whole new platform. I have seven or eight ideas scribbled on a piece of paper, but I won’t even begin until at least a year from now.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

What do a 4 foot 5 inch eccentric billionaire, a Japanese karate master, and a rogue Hall of Fame pitcher have in common? They create the greatest baseball player of all time… And her name is Ryan.

Multi-award-winning author Mike DeLucia is back with new and exciting characters, and a story about the pursuit of dreams, love, betrayal, and how choices drive our life’s journey.

Phineas Stone’s life as a dwarf and a product of the foster-care system mold his dogged determination to rise above his meager circumstances and build a financial empire. But even his magnificent wealth and influence cannot buy his lifelong dream of playing baseball for his beloved Los Angeles Greyhounds.

Together with Rollie Rollins, a former Major League knuckleballer with a penchant for mischief, and his longtime friend, Ito Hachi, Phineas effects a brilliant, yet unorthodox plan of creating an elite athlete under a veil of secrecy and pretense.

The characters in this story are driven by their dreams, but ultimately realize that chasing them brings with it the possibilities of both rapture or insufferable tragedy.
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