Friendship, Fistfights and Fishnets: Tamara Morgan on the Appeal of the Derby Girl

The RT office is abuzz about Tamara Morgan's second in her Getting Physical series, The Derby Girl, out now from Carina. But who are these derby girls, we wondered — out loud, Carrie Bradshaw style — are they like us? Surely not! Well, we talked to Tamara herself, and she set us straight, derby girl style. 

The first time I saw a derby girl in real life was at my city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Wedged between the cement truck carrying the mayor and a group of Girl Scouts throwing candy were about a dozen fierce-looking women on roller skates. They skated around the crowd, handing out flyers in ripped fishnet tights, clunky knee pads, and short skirts — the whole derby package — despite the fact that it was about five degrees outside at the time. 

That should have been my first clue that roller derby girls weren’t your average sort of athlete.

The second time I saw a derby girl was at a hole-in-the-wall bar not far from where they hold their bouts (that’s what they call the games). The women must have just finished playing, because the entire team spilled in through the door, looking exhausted and bruised and absolutely thrilled to be out together despite the fact that they’d just lost. Watching them drink and laugh and recap the bout together, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to be best friends with each and every one of them.

I took the hint that time.

No, I didn’t put on skates and join the team (you’d be surprised how competitive it is, although anyone is welcome to practice with them). And no, I didn’t get a full sleeve of pin-up tattoos (though I was sorely tempted). But I did go to a few bouts, where I talked with some of the women and decided that I wouldn’t rest until I wrote a romance novel with a roller derby girl in it.

What I love about derby girls isn’t just that tough outer shell. Yes, there is definitely a super-sexy roller derby aesthetic, which each woman embraces in her own way. And yes, the collective pain threshold of a roller derby team is off the charts. But what I really loved was how very normal they were.

Roller derby girls are stay-at-home mothers and medical professionals and college students and athletes. Their daughters play in the junior league and their husbands cheer from the stands, and they stay out until eleven o’clock three nights a week for practice. And when they’re done, they take a shower and go to sleep and get up in the morning to go to work — maybe with a few more bruises than the rest of us, but otherwise unmistakable from the crowd.

And that’s what I find the most intriguing about roller derby. It isn’t the large, complex issues in life that interest me most. Those grand, sweeping events that change everything make for great stories, but they aren’t what define us. It’s the everyday decisions that build character and give people true depth. Skating until you’re fast enough and good enough to compete. Sacrificing the skin on your knees for a win. Pushing through the pain to do something you love with people you love even more.

Roller derby girls are just like you and me. And they’re awesome.

The Gotham Girls in NYC are great!

- Tamara Morgan

Are you ready to roller skate your way to derby girl glory? Or maybe you just want to check out The Derby Girl, available online now. And don’t forget to visit our Everything Romance page for more on all our favorite books.