As the NHL lockout drags on with no end in sight, we’re all getting our hockey fix through other means. It’s a perfect time to pick up a book and read about some fictional hockey players and the guys they fall in love, and in bed, with.
This time out I’ve got two stories from J.M. Snyder. One is a full length novel, Power Play, and the other is a short story, Playing the Field: Faceoff
Power Play (360 pages, JMS Books) opens with star college hockey player Ryan Talonovich getting severely injured during a practice. As a result he’s in a wheelchair and out of commission. While he’s not paralyzed, he needs a lot of physical therapy to just walk again. Nineteen, stuck in a wheelchair and living at home again… Ryan is a shadow of his former self. His team tries to draw him back into the fold by getting him to work on the team’s website. He doesn’t exactly want to, but it does get him back to the rink. After watching the team practice, he watches the local skate club take to the ice.
Dante Espinosa catches his eye… Dante sees Ryan too.
From there it’s all about the romance—the stolen looks, wondering if the other one feels the same, getting confirmation, the first tentative kisses, being the first to say “I love you,” finding out about each other’s pasts, intimate exploration (and these two have some very hot times in bed, as you would expect of two young guys), meeting the parents, and talking about their futures. Ryan and Dante falling in love is a delight to read. Their initial hesitation with each other evolves into a wonderful look at young love.
Beyond their love, the two navigate other issues too. Dante is out to several people, including his mom. Ryan, on the other hand, is not out to his family and only sort of out to any of his friends. Dante also has a boss who is very jealous and wants Dante for himself.
Of course, there are things happening outside the romance too. Dante is a short track speed skater with dreams of the Olympics. His first stop is to qualify for—and win—the state championships. Dante’s biggest competition is a rich brat who tries to use news about Dante’s new boyfriend against him—after all if he’s not a better skater than Dante he might as well cause a huge distraction or two. Of course, for Ryan, there’s the physical and mental anguish of physical therapy to get through.
Snyder builds the story beautifully, alternating chapters between Dante’s and Ryan’s viewpoints. It’s a great method for this story so that we are constantly aware of what these characters are thinking as the relationship grows. I also liked that neither boy had demons about being gay. They were both completely okay with it. Dante’s also out to his mom while Ryan’s mom knew more that he thought she did. Yes, Dante tried to keep it quiet in the skate club, but given this book was originally published in the pre-You Can Play era it’s not too surprising.
My only problem with this book is that I couldn’t read it fast enough. I was so caught up in the characters I had to force myself to slow down to make sure I wasn’t just skimming the pages because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. It’s not a problem with Snyder’s pacing, which is excellent, I was just an over eager reader.
Playing the Field: Faceoff (39 pages, JMS Books) is a different kind of story. This takes place during the season opener between the Bedford Blizzard and Richmond Rebels. For Christian “Magic” Magdzuik it’s his first time back in Richmond since he was traded to Bedford and since he left his teammate and boyfriend Ronnie Nidermeyer.
Tension on the ice runs high as Christian leads his team to a victory. The exception is Ronnie, where he’s aloof at the start of the game, as the minutes tick by he starts to look at Christian more and ultimately slips Christian a note to meet him after the game.
For Christian, the game reminds him of the previous year when he’d arrived on the Rebels after trouncing the competition at try-outs. The plan was for the Rebels to be the first stop on his way towards the AHL, the NHL and maybe even the Olympics. He hadn’t plan to pick up a boyfriend, much less one of his own teammates. Christian and Ronnie, however, quickly fell for each other and started spending a lot of their off-ice time together.
Christian’s trade, one that he wanted since it was a good move for his career, threw them into turmoil and it’s all come flooding back to them both as the new season opens.
Faceoff is a very quick read that combines some solid on-ice action with a great look at how Christian and Ronnie’s relationship got started from just hanging out to their good natured battle over who the top is going to be. The story also begs for a sequel to find out what happened next in the career of Magic.
This story is also available as part of the Playing the Field: Volume 1 anthology, which also features stories about soccer, volleyball and golf.)
I recently caught up with Snyder to ask about the origin of these stories.
Power Play was conceived during the 2002 Winter Olympics when she became a fan of short track speedskating. “The hockey element of that story came about because I needed someone who would be interested in the ice as much as a speedskater but I wanted a different sport,” she said. “Because everyone in my family are such hockey fans, I went with that.”
Yes, you read that right. Snyder’s not a hockey fan herself. “The only sport I really like is short track. That said, I love watching the Olympics and I love going to see local teams play—mostly baseball and the Richmond Flying Squirrels. I haven’t been to a local hockey game since the Renegades (an ECHL team from 1990-2003) became the River Dogs (a UHL team from 2003-2006). Everyone else in my family are hockey fans—my parents love the Flyers, my brother is into the Devils and my sister liked the Ducks.”
Speaking of the Richmond Renegades, Faceoff came about because of a game Snyder attended. “I was inspired by a play I saw on ice during a game, probably in 1999 or 2000,” she said. “Something about the aggression between two opposing players made me wonder if there wasn’t more to it that what the fans saw on the ice.”
And for someone who isn’t a true fan, Snyder writes some great hockey scenes in Faceoff. “Before I write a story, I see the action play out in my mind like a scene from a movie. So when I sit down to write it out, I do so play-by-play. This is the way I always write and it translates well for action scenes… as well as sex scenes.”
What of sequels? I had to ask since I’d like to read more about where these Ryan & Dante and Magic & Ronnie end up. “For a few years now I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a bunch of short stories based on my early novels, including Ryan and Dante from Power Play,” she said. “Unfortunately, I haven’t really given the story much through, though I do have a starting idea if I ever decide to pursue it.
“As for Faceoff, it’s part of a series of sports-themed stories, each involving different characters participating in a different sport. I’m not really interested in following up with any of the characters because, for me, their stories are complete. I have other stories planned for the Playing the Field series, but not are hockey since I already did that one.”
While there are no hockey stories in Snyder’s immediate future, she’s working on several projects simultaneously: post-apocalyptic novel, a transgender science fiction novel, a Vic and Matt superhero novella (as a side note, the Vic and Matt series is great fun to read!), and a book of writing prompts for erotic romance
Lastly, a bit of editorial disclosure: I am a published author with Snyder’s JMS Books. However, I’ve been a fan of her writing far longer than I’ve been published with her and my published status doesn’t change the fact that Power Play and Faceoff are two of my most favorite gay hockey related reads!