Fans know Jaci Burton’s erotic romance Play-By-Play series for two main reasons: #1 the sexy sports heroes and #2 the even sexier covers. However, when I met up with the author at the RWA Conference for an interview, Jaci said that she can’t take credit for either one.
“I give [author] Maya Banks 100% credit for the sports setting of the series,” says the author. “I was brainstorming some new book ideas and Maya said I should do a sports series, and here we are!” As for the covers. “At my first cover conference with the editor, I told her to give me a hot guy that looks like an athlete. When I first saw the cover for The Perfect Play, I just stared at it for an hour saying ‘Oh, my God!’. I was giddy like a kid.”
What can this author take credit for? Her sinfully, sexy writing of course. However, even though her stories are extra steamy, Burton is also very careful to create complex characters that readers will love. “My primary focus is always the characters,” Jaci says. “In a relationship, intimacy is both emotional as well as physical.”
This balance between bedroom antics and character development is a hallmark of Burton’s Play-by-Play series. In 2011, the series starter, The Perfect Play, won RT’s Seal of Excellence Award for its realistic portrayal of single mother Tara Lincoln falling headlong into a relationship with famous football player Mick Riley.
The author’s series second, Changing the Game, is set in the world of baseball with a second Riley sibling Gavin. In Taking a Shot, readers get to know the Riley sister, Jenna, and her hot hockey player Tyler. The fourth in the series, this month’s Playing to Win, places readers back on the football field with Riley cousin Cole, whose superstar status is in jeopardy because of some bad press. Who is going to save him? None other than PR guru Savannah Brookes.
Part of the fun of the series is the variety of characters and situations that Jaci adds to her stories. Readers never know what sport they will find themselves reading about next or what dilemma will be plaguing these hunky men. Jaci says that she is also pretty much left in the dark when it comes to her characters’ next moves. “I write a book with no plotting done in advance. So what the characters do is a revelation. Crafting is the fun part.”
Here I actually have to disagree with the author because I think the fun part is reading about the larger-than-life sports heroes and the women who bring them down a peg or two. Huge muscles, and huge hearts, readers know why we love these guys, but what piques Jaci's interest in sports heroes? “Athletes have this level of perfection. They are just beautiful specimens of male perfection. But there is a lot going on under this. You can stare at their pictures and think ‘what’s wrong with you.’ I want to know about their personal lives, their childhoods. Maybe they grew up feeling like an outsider. They may have a perfect body, but their lives are far from perfect.”
This is especially true in Playing To Win. Footballer Cole is as strong and masculine as they come, but everyone, including the author, is aware of his flaws. Jaci says about Cole, “He’s a jerk, a real jerk. It was a struggle for me, but I had to be true to who he was which is somewhat unlikable at the beginning of the book.” So what does he struggle with? His temper. This guy is ready to explode at any moment, something that has put a damper on his football career.
“Cole has a lot of growing up to do,” says Burton. “He needs to accept responsibility for his own actions. His problems are his own doing.” So just how does his redemption take place? Through the heroine. Savannah is strong and self confident, a career woman that knows what she wants, which currently is making sure that Cole tempers his temper.
The author says that the dynamic between Cole and Savannah was new to her. “Cole is a lot more vulnerable than Savannah is. He has this ‘I don’t need anyone’ idea but the truth is he does lean on Savannah and he does need her.” However, as seemingly put together as Savannah is, she does have her own baggage including a fear of falling in love. This issue comes to the forefront after the couple spend plenty of time together in the name of fixing Cole’s image, and their hands-off policy just doesn’t work the way they think it will.
Readers that love a romance couple that tries to keep things between them strictly professional will be especially excited to know that Burton’s next Play-By-Play book, Thrown by a Curve, will feature baseball pitcher Garrett Scott and his sports doctor Alicia Riley. Sure there are a lot of reasons why this pair should keep a formal patient/doctor relationship, but I am betting nothing will keep these two apart.
With an expected release date of March 2013, Jaci is already ready for readers to meet this next couple. “Before, all of my heroes in this series are star athletes at the top of their game. But Garrett in Thrown by a Curve is injured. He has a torn rotator cuff and this can be the death of his career.” Sounds like he is in definite need of Alicia’s healing!
I did ask the author if we would be getting more Rileys after Alicia’s story. Jaci says while the Play-By-Play series is definitely continuing, she is hesitant to add more Rileys into the mix. “After a while,” she says, “it just becomes a little unbelievable.” Her solution? “I’m going to continue the series with friends that my heroes know from college.” And, as a special insight only for RT readers, Jaci ended our interview by letting me know that we will be meeting some new characters and we will be getting into a new game. Expect an upcoming book from the author to be set not on a sports field, but rather on a track — an auto-racing track!