Jeff & Will welcome debut author Ari Baran to talk about their enemies-to-lovers, age gap, hockey romance Game Misconduct. Ari discusses how the story evolved as they worked on it, why they created a co-ed pro hockey league, and the story they wanted to tell with the characters of Mike and Danny. Ari shares their deep love of hockey, and how that has lead them to take such a deep dive on learning about the sport. Ari also has some book recs, and a few details about their next book.
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Jeff: Coming up on this episode. We’re going to head to the rink as we talk about debut author Ari Baran’s “Game Misconduct.”
Will: Welcome to episode 422 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will and with me as always is my co host and husband. It’s Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance reader. It is great to have you with us as we continue our super summer bonus episodes. As always, this podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. If you’d like more information about what we offer to patrons, including a monthly bonus episode that you can find nowhere else, and the opportunity to ask questions to our guest, just like RegencyFan93 does in this very episode, go to patreon.com/BigGayFictionPodcast.
And let’s get right into the interview. As soon as I saw the cover and read the blurb for “Game Misconduct,” I knew I had to read it as soon as I could get my hands on it. And once I read it, I knew we had to have Ari Baran on the show to talk about it. Ari tells us how this came to be their debut novel, how they became a hockey fan, and how deeply invested in the game they are, and how they decided to build their hockey league in the way that they did. Truly an impressive thing that they’ve done there. Make sure to stick around after the interview too, for my review of “Game Misconduct.”
Ari Baran Interview
Jeff: Ari, welcome to the podcast. It’s so wonderful to have you here to talk about “Game Misconduct”.
Ari: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
Jeff: I love this book so much. I just was like, “This is like one of the best things I’ve read in hockey romance.”
Ari: Thank you.
Jeff: But before we get in and make you tell us all about the book from your point of view, I’d like to know a little bit more about you. This is your debut novel.
Jeff: What got your writing journey started?
Ari: So, I’ve always been writing. My mom still has these little notebooks that she would write. Like when I was like two or three years old, even before I could hold a…like really hold a pencil, I would dictate little stories about animals and princesses and all kinds of knights and stuff to her and she would write them down for me. And I’ve just always been writing since then. Once we got our first computer, I would type my own stories and then I… This is probably pretty embarrassing, I shouldn’t admit it. I started writing “Redwall” fan fiction as a pre-teen, and I’ve just always, always had stories. And when I went to college, I was an English major with a writing concentration. Yeah. And so, I’ve always been working at my craft, I guess. And “Game Misconduct” is my first published novel, but I have a lot of other ones sitting in the drawer, put it that way.
Jeff: And your bio mentions that you’re also very into fantasy, and I think the fantasy side came out when you were talking about some of the stuff that you were writing as you very first started out.
Jeff: How did you land on contemporary hockey romance versus something with the fantasy kind of angle to it?
Ari: Well, I have a couple of fantasy novels in the drawer as well, but the hockey romance… I’ve always been a huge hockey fan. My mom grew up going to Flyers games and I grew up watching them with her. One of my first like big sports memories was like the Eric Lindros draft drama. And so, I’ve always been interested in it. And I had written this book. I had started writing “Game Misconduct” in… Well, actually, I had started writing the… I guess Bee’s book was the first one that I started with. And that was in like 2017 or 2018. For various reasons, I didn’t end up finishing that book, but I did at the same time, I skipped ahead and finished “Game Misconduct” because it was just easier to finish. And then I kind of sat on it for like a long time. And I had picked it back up again last year and started editing it just because it was one of my most complete works and one of the ones I thought I had maybe a chance of getting a bite from an agent.
And then through hockey and writing Twitter, I befriended Cait Nary, who was kind enough to offer to look at the manuscript for me and see what she thought. And then everything sort of ended up falling into place where I ended up submitting to Deidre Knight and she wanted me to revise and resubmit. So, I did that. And then pretty much once we went on sub a week later, I had the offer, and it was just…all sort of happened really fast. So, it was just…I had taken a detour away from fantasy and I was like, “I wanna write about some hockey messes. Like this is really fun.” And then I just sort of stepped away from it for a long time and came back and it all just worked out and I was still sort of like flabbergasted that it went the way it did.
Jeff: I’m glad it went the way it did.
Ari: Thank you.
Jeff: What led you to go from having all of this writing, sitting in your drawer, to I’m going to give a go at this?
Ari: I’ve friends with a lot of other writers, and I’ve watched them all go through their writing journeys, and some of them have had like super frustrating experiences. I had one friend who had one pen name and ended up having to completely abandon it and pick another one because her experience with her publisher had been so bad. And then obviously, Cait, I watched her, you know, getting her novels out there. And I’m always like super excited for my friends. And then I’m like, “Why aren’t you trying to do this too?” It’s just I had gone through the querying process with two prior novels, and it was really tough. And granted, they were not great novels probably, the sort of books that, like, they have their moments, but overall, I could see why nobody picked them up. But I was just watching all my friends having this success, and I was getting frustrated with myself because I’ve wanted to do this for such a long time.
And I’d been afraid to try to do it, I guess. And so finally, it was just like, “For your new year’s resolution, you know, get your rear in gear, just try it again. If it doesn’t work out, it’s fine, but at least you’ll know that you took a concrete step towards doing something.” And then when I took the concrete step, it was sort of like falling off the cliff and everything just like snowballed from there, which is probably a good thing because I probably would’ve chickened out and then like ended up waiting another 20-something years or whatever it was before.
Jeff: You mentioned your mom and the interest in the Flyers. What is it about hockey for you that makes it like the sport that you’re following and the sport that you’re into?
Ari: Well, so originally, it was just because the speed really appealed to me. Like baseball always struck me as way too slow. Basketball always struck me as like way too fast. Like it was way too back and forth. And hockey just was kind of like the right medium for me to like get my interest. And just the appeal of a bunch of guys on the ice just moving so fast and how physical it was and just some of the level of like play really appealed to me.
And then as I got older and got more interested in other aspects of the sport, it was the culture and just kind of how screwed…I hate to say screwed up, but how screwed up it was that really started to interest me even more. And so, I was reading a lot of biographies and articles from players talking about their experiences, and especially their experiences with their mental health, both during and after the game ended, like when they had to retire. And so, there was sort of a unique combination of the sport is so much fun to watch. The culture is so messed up. And there’s so many interesting aspects as somebody who’s interested in like the psychology of characters that you can just sort of like dig in there to really explore what makes these people tick.
Jeff: And you’ve done a lot of exploration on that. Your website has seven pages of hockey bibliography, which is incredible.
Ari: It’s a little bit insane, I know.
Jeff: But insane in the best way, I think, because it really shows that you’re really invested in the sport. And I heard that comes through in the book too, which is nothing against hockey romances that I’ve read where I know that the authors only have passing, like, enjoyment of the game. But you could tell you’re like mega into it, which I just really loved.
Ari: Thank you. Yeah, I’m just the kind of person that like when I get really interested in something, I get like hyper fixated and I just wanna know everything and understand everything. And if I don’t, then I end up doing a lot of reading .
Jeff: And I have to ask, it connects to your bio. There’s a line in your bio that says you might spend your non-writing time researching incredibly niche interests.
Ari: Yeah, so…
Jeff: Beyond hockey, I have to ask what some of those might be.
Ari: I’m going to rattle off a list. And again, this will probably sound like kind of nutty. So, like, medieval history generally, but especially like hunting and falconry and peasant rebellions, epics and epic histories with the Kalevala and the Heimskringla and like the Icelandic sagas, Jewish folklore in history. And like specifically, I’m really interested in like Jewish gangsters from like the ’20s to the ’40s. There’s a lot of really cool writing about that. Failed polar explorations, like 1800s whaling, history of punk music and heavy metal, like black metal specifically, cults, forensic psychology. Like anything that’s like weird space stuff like quasars or ice moons or oceans.
And then last one I had was, like, Victorian history, but specifically like the development and modernization and deployment of their police force, and the social stratification and like horrific poverty in London. Like there’s this guy, Henry Mayhew, who wrote this multi-volume journalistic thing called ” London Labour and the London Poor.” And I was like obsessed with those books in college, but then also like the gay subculture of the time and like how all of those things intersected. So, this is the kind of person I am. My external hard drive is just like a tree trunk ring of PDFs. Like you can see what I was interested in at any given year.
Jeff: That is such an image that forms in my mind of the hard drive being the tree ring.
Ari: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: Those are wildly diverse. I kind of love that, that it’s not just down any one thing, but there’s historical and space and…
Ari: Yeah, like if there’s something that catches my interest, I am gonna learn about it.
Jeff: Can give you a fodder for a ton of books, that’s for sure.
Ari: Yeah, yeah, it definitely does. And I will tell you this, I have at least one book idea for almost everything in that list.
Jeff: Can’t wait to see how you evolve and grow from this first novel and what comes after.
Let’s dig into “Game Misconduct”. Tell everyone what your elevator pitch is for this book and what Mike and Danny are all about.
Ari: Yeah. Okay. So at its most base and like basic level, this book is about two lower level hockey players who fight every single time they meet on the ice. And one of them is really young and sort of struggling to establish his career. And one of them is hockey-old, because he’s not really old, but hockey people talk about anyone over 30 as like they’re off to the glue factory. And he’s at the end of his career. But it’s also about hockey culture and toxic masculinity and the ways in which like hockey culture really screws hockey players up emotionally and physically, and I guess to some extent, sexually. And I didn’t talk about all of their, like, junior’s experiences, but that whole history is just sort of why you end up with a character like Mike who’s just like bottled up rage and pretty much no other emotions at the start of the book, because that’s the only way that he’s ever been allowed to express himself.
Jeff: It’s very interesting in the age gap that sits between Mike and Danny because you’ve got Danny who feels his body as I think he says at one point, eating itself, especially late in the season towards the playoff run. And Mike, who is so eager and wants to please but has all that bottled-up rage, but yet wants to play better, which doesn’t necessarily include the rage part of it. The mental health and psychology, I thought, was, for me, as compelling to read as the romance itself.
Ari: Thank you. I mean, that’s what really… I mean, I think with a lot of romance, like, the really fun romances to read are the ones where the characters are kind of screwed up, I guess. Like it’s really fun for me to read and to write when a lot of the conflict comes from within more than external, and where you’re maybe like yelling at a character, like why are you doing that? But you can also like really understand at that point like why they’re doing that. And even if you hate it, you’re just like, “Oh, well, of course he would do that.”
Jeff: What were kind of the nuggets of inspiration for what brought Mike and Danny to the page?
Ari: So, Mike kind of showed up fully formed. Like I had mentioned earlier, I was originally working on Bee’s book as the first book in the series. And for various reasons, I ended up scrapping it. Bee was the first of the cons that I came up with. And then I needed a roommate for her, and it was somebody who had to also be like an outcast and like a little bit different, somebody who would really understand her and like what she was going through. And Mike sort of just showed up in my head and was like, “Hey, I’m here. Like, I’m this punk, angry, closeted gay guy. And I’ve also always been like the outcast at the rink because I’ve been small and not white and just had to fight for everything.” So, that was Mike. And I always knew he was going to have his own book when I started writing.
So, I was trying to think about what kind of a person would be interesting to play him off against. And of course, it would have to be somebody that he was fighting because that was what he was doing on the ice. That was all he thought he was good for. And Danny sort of came naturally from that. He had more of an inspiration in some real life players like Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador and Rick Rypien, all of whom were like more old school enforcers than you see nowadays. Like you still have guys now who fight and fight often like Ryan Reaves or Nicolas Deslauriers, but they’re not like only fighters, they have to do other things. But Danny came from like that background of like, these are guys who have…their bodies have been put through the ringer. They’re sort of at the end of their career and just tired and hurting.
And like specifically, there was this one article that I had read from Nick Boynton who had written about his experiences with concussions and his mental health. And he had written this paragraph that was basically talking about how when he would get hit, he would completely black out and not remember playing the rest of the game. He wouldn’t remember getting home, and it was scary. And then he says, “But by that point, I honestly didn’t even care anymore. I was gone, man, straight up I didn’t feel anything. I was a dead man skating.” He was killing himself for a paycheck. And I was like, “That’s my guy. Like, that’s Danny.” But from there, then it’s like, “Well, he’s not just this kind of a guy. He loves his family, and he just feels too ashamed to talk to them.” And everything sort of just came from there. It just sort of builds naturally on itself.
Jeff: It’s interesting you mentioned that just playing for the paycheck because I don’t think…unless you’re really researching and paying attention to the sport like you do, that while these guys are playing a game, that at least at one point in their life they probably loved at some point, it can just become playing for a paycheck, and it does kind of just break you down. I mean, we think of soul-sucking jobs in the white collar and the blue collar space. But it can be pretty rough in sport too.
Ari: Yeah. And really like a lot of… Not for everybody, but definitely for some players, they’ve had the bad luck of having the injuries and… Or they’ve been traded to places that they don’t like and at a certain point, you’re just forcing yourself through it. And that’s always been, like, I hate to say interesting to me, but it’s always been really interesting to me.
Jeff: You mentioned the family aspect too, especially for Danny. Both of these guys have interesting takes on their families, and interesting family dynamics in play. And I really felt for Danny’s family because they worry about him a lot, because they know what’s going on.
Ari: Yeah. So, they suspect, but they haven’t… Especially his older sister, she suspects, she doesn’t know and hasn’t confirmed. And that’s partially because he’s been pulling away. He doesn’t want them to know because he’s so embarrassed by how bad things have gotten and he’s too proud to ask for help at first anyway. And so, they’re all sort of hovering around the edges like something’s going on, but we don’t know what it is and he won’t let us in to know. And they’re trying to be respectful of him as an adult but also as people who really genuinely love him so much, it’s just like torture watching this. And yeah, I felt kind of bad for putting them through the ringer like that, but his whole extended family were some of my favorite characters to write too.
Jeff: Yeah, I loved his sister and the fierce love that she has for her brother. The other thing that intrigues me with what you have here, because Mike and Danny are on different teams. I mean, they’re big rivals and have been for a long time, but being on different teams means that they’re not in the same place a lot. So, you had to build a romance where your primary characters don’t get together a lot, and when they are together, they likely don’t have a whole lot of time because they may have to travel to the next place. How did you look to deal with that to kind of give us what we want? Because we wanna see the guys together, but then also create these amazing conversations between them when they’re not.
Ari: I kind of really handicapped myself there with that one. And so, when I was planning out the book, for my hockey books, especially when I’m outlining, I do it by month. So, I’ll start with like the off season. And basically my outline is just like literally month by month, and I’ll put in all of the things that I think are going to happen. And so, the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia teams, since they’re divisional rivals, they play each other more often than like you would play a team outside of your division or conference. So, I knew there they’d play at least like three or four times a year. So, those were a certain amount of meetings I could pencil in. And then I was looking towards the holidays. So, okay, well, clearly, something has to happen at the Christmas break because that’s time that they’ll have.
And then the other big break is the All-Star game. And so, there were like five or six meetings that I had, and that was it. And then everything else had to be long distance. And so it’s just, well, they’re talking to each other, so I either have to… But it’s hard too because I can’t write out every single conversation that they had, because it was already a long book. I could have done that, but it would’ve been like 130,000 words instead. So, it was just really like balancing of like the physical and in-person stuff is so important. But some of the bonding stuff, long distance is so important. And it was just really like trying to thread the needle too of the pace of the season and how it would have to unfold with basically like a long 82-game season in playoffs.
Jeff: As a writer of hockey romance myself, it’s like, “Well, look at this pacing. Wow.”
Ari: It’s tough.
Jeff: Because I’ve never tried to put my people on different teams, for this very reason.
Ari: Yeah. No, it’s definitely not easy and I cannot say for sure that I would do it again. I’ll say the next book are guys on the same team and the book after that, which I have not sold yet, but that’s coaches on the same team. So, definitely easier to have them spend more time together.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. So, we’ve gotta talk about Bee. I absolutely love, love, love her. I love that you’ve written her book. I hope we get to see it someday as something, whatever that is.
Ari: Maybe a newsletter short.
Jeff: Newsletter short, whatever it is, I’m there for it.
Ari: Thank you.
Jeff: I love so much that you’ve created this pro-hockey league where a woman is a star player on the team. What led to that? Because, I mean, in the world of contemporary romance, usually we’re inside leagues that we all know and the structures that we know. And you took it, tweaked it, and even more, I love the fact that you didn’t tell us why the league was that way. It just is.
Ari: Yeah. So, I wasn’t allowed legally to say NHL. It’s basically the NHL. So, her book was the first one that I was conceiving, and I just really wanted to write about a female hockey player. And I was trying to think about ways I could get her in there. And what I had come up with was… And female hockey players like Manon Rhéaume has played in a preseason game, but it’s almost always goalies because the size differential and the strength differential isn’t as marked there. But I really wanted to write a skater and I really wanted her to just be like this gigantic, like, really strong, really tough like super talented woman. And I was thinking like she’d have to be so good to even squeak getting into it. And maybe it’s not realistic, but that’s what I wanted to write and that’s what I wrote.
And even though she’s this amazing player, she’s drafted in the fifth round and everyone is like, “Oh, it’s just a publicity stunt. They’re the worst team in the league. They’re only doing this for the attention.” And then she just comes in and blows everyone’s socks off. And, like, maybe some of that is like some wish fulfillment. But it was really fun to write.
And her character was just like really fun for me to conceive like how as like she was always so self-contained, having to control her reactions because she wanted this so badly, and so many things were stacked against her. And she knew if she stepped like one foot out of line, then there goes the dream. And how would that like shape someone’s personality? And so, that was sort of where Bee came from. And for a variety of reasons, I didn’t end up fully finishing her book. And it was easier to market a new series as like just male-male romance instead of being like, “Well, the first one is a straight romance, but then we’re going,” because there’s not always like a ton of crossover between audiences. But she kind of just showed up there and was like, “Write about me.” And I’m glad I was able to keep her in “Game Misconduct” as well because I really just…I love her too.
Jeff: She’s a great sounding board for Mike. She doesn’t suffer any of his foolishness. She’ll put him straight, but she’s also there for him too. It’s a wonderful friendship they’ve got on page.
Ari: Thank you. Yeah, I really enjoyed writing that as well ’cause they’re both like very different people and very like…she’s very stoic and serious and he’s just kind of like a…well, he starts off as like a very angry, secretive mess. But from the beginning, they had that like…they both understood each other on like a very fundamental level as people who had been really outcasts for most of their lives and fighting to make it. And then the fact that they were able to make it together, I think, really cemented their bond and I enjoyed…I really enjoyed writing those scenes too.
Jeff: Yeah, I have to say that Mike’s growing self-awareness as he gets more in touch with his emotions really broke my heart sometimes. Like when he’s going through these things of like, how do people deal with this feeling thing all the time? Like, “Oh, dude, I just want to put you in a hug for a minute.”
Ari: I know. He probably wouldn’t have appreciated the hug at first, but like a little bit of a spoiler, there’s a scene in the next book where he has to comfort somebody, and does like an awkward like they’re there, like, pat hug to them, and he’s the one hugging somebody else. And I was like, “He’s made it that you come full circle.”
Jeff: That is some additional growth for Mike. I can’t wait to read that. The last thing I’ll say about Bee too that I love so much is that she’s in love with the team’s goalie, and you get little snippets of them. It’s just like, “Awh.”
Ari: Yeah, no, they’re definitely…they’re both like very weird, like serious people. And they bounce off of each other in like such fun ways. Like from the beginning, Zachary was just in awe of her. The first set they had, she was shooting at the net and like hit him in the cage. And basically, it just like knocked him over and he never really recovered. And he was really good because he let her grow and like be herself but also really was a very steady presence at her back when she needed somebody to support her. And for his part, he’s just like fascinated by her because she’s just unlike anybody he has ever met. But it was definitely like a fun dynamic to write, for sure.
Jeff: What an amazing meet-cute that you just pop a goalie in the mask?
Ari: Yeah, right? Definitely don’t recommend it because head injuries are a serious thing. But yeah, that was their first like major interaction.
Jeff: The diversity in this book is amazing. I mean, you mentioned initially, you classified Mike as small and not white. None of the characters, none of your lead characters in this book really mirror hockey, which is very much predominantly even in 2023 a very white sport. You’ve got Mike, Japanese American, you’ve got Danny who’s Latino, you’ve got Bee who is black.
Ari: Hockey is a predominantly white sport, but I did wanna… Like there are players out there and more and more of them every year. There’s black women like Blake Bolden and Kelsey Koelzer and Sarah Nurse, all of whom have been doing amazing things both on the ice and off. Like Kelsey Koelzer is now coaching. She’s like the youngest female head coach of a college hockey team. And then you get players like Quinton Byfield who was drafted second overall. And, you know, Nick Suzuki, who’s the captain of the Montreal Canadians. And Auston Matthews is…his mom is Mexican. The players are out there. And part of what frustrates me so much about hockey is how monolithic the culture is. And so, when I was writing, I really wanted to highlight and emphasize like the facets of the game that aren’t like that because it’s slowly, slowly changing, it’s there and it’s happening. And I really wanted to like celebrate and dig into that.
Jeff: What’s a favorite scene that you’d put in to “Game Misconduct”?
Ari: Oh boy. What is my favorite scene? I really liked pretty much the moment that Danny realizes he’s actually in love with Mike, which is the Christmas dinner where Danny’s little niece, Josie, is drawing all over Mike’s tattoos. I just really liked the break from some of, really, the angst stuff. And here’s Danny, he’s back in his family, and like Mike is the reason that he’s back there. And Mike who’s been this messy rage ball, like, kind of jackass is just fitting right in and playing with his toddler niece. And it all just kind of like hits him right then. And I love that and I also love that he’s like, “God dammit, I really screwed this up.” At the same time, I just feel like that whole dichotomy is like very Danny and it’s like a very fun moment to write.
Jeff: I’m so glad you picked that. I love the Christmas scene, not only because of that moment where Danny’s like, “Hmm, okay, I love this guy.” But also it’s a completely different side of Mike. Letting this toddler draw on him and fill in his tattoos, I kind of laughed, but I also had all the feels in my chest at the same time.
Ari: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it was really… And I knew from the beginning that when I was writing it, I was like, “Okay, well, he’s got this empty space, it’s like the Chekhov’s gun. She is gonna drop something there.”
Jeff: We’ve got a question from one of our patrons. RegencyFan is curious about setting the book in the NHL, or obviously not calling it the NHL as we mentioned, but it’s the pro league. And using that level instead of something like minor league or college hockey.
Ari: Yeah. So, I guess part of it is just the breadth of kinds of players that you can get. In the NHL, you have superstars, and you don’t really get that in the minor leagues unless they’re really, really young. And the older I get, the less I like writing about really young people. So, like Mike is a novel one for me. And so, in the NHL, you can have like the superstars. You have just the regular middle six guys. You have the guys like Danny and Mike at the beginning of “Game Misconduct” who are at like the very bottom of the lineup. There’s so many options for skill level and experience that you don’t necessarily get elsewhere. And yeah, like I said, like the older I get, the less I wanna write about college.
Jeff: RegencyFan also noted that they were very impressed with your hockey bibliography and they actually added some books from that to their own TBR as they went through it as well.
Ari: Excellent. Yeah, there’s some… Like I said, I can’t recommend everything out there, but it’s comprehensive of what I’ve read.
Jeff: You kind of teased us a little bit about book two, and not yet sold book three. What can you kind of tease us more about what might be coming in this universe?
Ari: Okay. So I always have a lot of pots on the stove. So, “Delay of Game,” tentatively called that. I don’t know if they’re gonna make me change it or not. That one is the second book that’s Singer and Reed’s book. And that one is coming out November 2023 as of right now. We’ll see how the edits go. I actually just started edits on it this weekend. And then the third book, which I have not sold, but which I have finished is about coaches. And that one is set in Boston. And then I have, like, probably six books, including “Game Misconduct” and “Delay of Game.” I have about six books in the series, like, sketched out. So, if I get the opportunity to sell, there’s more where that came from. And then I also…hopefully you’ll be going on sub with like an urban fantasy set in like the punk era in London at some point this year. And then I’m also working on an epic fantasy, which is nowhere near finished, but it’s been really fun to write.
Jeff: I really like how you spread cross genre, and not just sub-genres of like romance, but moving all the way over to epic fantasy, which I feel like flexes different writing muscles than a contemporary romance would.
Ari: Yeah, I will say that the epic fantasy is an enemies to lover punk because I really do enjoy like the antagonism, and also attempted murder. Yeah, I sort of fell into romance accidentally, but I always consider myself like primarily a fantasy author. So, yep, I just like to keep busy, keep the brain going.
Jeff: What was it about romance that drug you into it to be the thing, or a thing rather to write?
Ari: I don’t know. I mean, I really like digging into characters, like, into their heads and psyches. And romance is a really fun way to explore how screw… Like, well, in “Game Misconduct” sense, like how really screwed up people can sort of transcend, like learn and grow with each other. And you can do that in other books as well, but it’s really the focus in romance. So, I kind of was like, “Oh, I’ll give it a try.” And I really enjoyed writing it. And then that just happened to be the first thing that I was able to sell. And so now, I guess I’m primarily a romance author, which is sort of a little bit weird. Not something I thought I would ever say. My mom is heartbroken. She’s not allowed to know my pen name or brag about me to like anybody.
Ari: Yeah. It’s just…
Jeff: Although I totally get it, but still…
Ari: Yeah. Oh, my mom would do that.
Jeff: I envision her somehow going out and finding every hockey romance that she can, if she could figure out which one might be yours.
Ari: Well, thankfully… I mean, this is the only time I would ever say say thankfully, it’s not in print, but she’s not very familiar with e-books. So, the likelihood of her actually finding it was maybe a little bit lower.
Jeff: Okay. That’s fair. That’s fair. There’s an advantage here to being ebook-only. You mentioned the antagonism in enemies to lovers is something you like a lot. Are we gonna see kind of similar enemies to lovers kind of play out in some of the other books, or are you gonna use some other tropes in there?
Ari: Well, so, for Singer and Reed’s book, I saw a couple of reviews people had picked up on whatever like weird codependent thing they had going on in the background. And so, they are best friends to idiots to lovers romance.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Ari: Yeah. So, it’s like a very different vibe from “Game Misconduct”. And then the coach book, it’s not quite as antagonistic as as “Game Misconduct” but definitely more of a like, well, one of ’em really hates the other one and the other one is sort of like, “Hey, we’re all gonna get along now. I have all these like big ideas and we’re gonna make it work, and it’s gonna be great.” And then they end up like butting heads. And so, I really hope I shouldn’t sell that one because I think it’s actually one of my favorite things I’ve written so far, but I just have to wait and see how “Game Misconduct” does first.
Jeff: The coach’s book sounds fun, especially when you start to work in not only the romance elements of it as they have to come together when they’re butting heads, but also the workplace element too, that they’re stuck there.
Ari: Yes, they’re stuck there and they definitely… Yeah, there’s no getting away from each other. And definitely, that was a really fun… I came up with the idea and I think I wrote that in like two and a half months. Like, it just sort of was like… I was like seized by a sleep paralysis demon or something. I was just like, “I gotta write.” My spouse was like, “Can you stop writing for five minutes? Like, can we watch ‘The Mandalorian’ together or something?” I was like, “No, I need to do this. I’m on a roll. I can’t stop.”
Jeff: Sometimes you just have to get the story out of your head.
Ari: Yeah, sometimes you just gotta do it.
Jeff: We love book recommendations on this show. What have you read recently that you think our listeners should be checking out?
Ari: So, unfortunately, I have not had a chance to read a ton of stuff just because I’ve been either writing or editing, but KD Casey’s “Diamond Ring” was really lovely second chance romance. And I know nothing about baseball, but I still really enjoy every single one of KD’s books that I’ve read. And so, I would definitely recommend that one. And I have been reading for like the last six months Maya Deane’s “Wrath Goddess Sing,” which is a retelling of the Trojan War, and the Achilles myth, but like transgender and just like really imaginative and beautiful. And it’s one of those books where I’m just like, “I am not fully smart enough to understand everything.” And that’s partially why it took me so long because I was just like determined. It’s just like I need to really digest this, and give it my full attention. And it was really just… I haven’t read anything quite like it and I would highly recommend it.
And then also I’ve been rereading John Branch’s “Boy On Ice,” which is a biography of Derek Boogard. And it’s really a very sad book, but really, like, very well written, one of the best hockey biographies I think I’ve read in a long time. So, definitely, that’s worth checking out if you’re interested in some of the issues that end up coming through in “Game Misconduct” as well.
Jeff: Oh, excellent. And where can people keep up with you online to know everything that’s happening as “Game Misconduct” comes out and then what’s coming in the future?
Ari: Yeah. So, I am Aribaranwrites at Twitter and Instagram. My website, aribaran.com. And I have a substack that’s linked there. I promise I won’t spam you, but if you’re interested, there’s also a 16,000-word short story that you get access to for subscribing. So yeah, those are pretty much it. I’m not like a big social media guy, but I will occasionally be there posting about heavy metal and “Game Misconduct” news.
Jeff: It’s a good combination. Some music, some books. Well, Ari, it has been so great talking to you about “Game Misconduct”. I hope you find all the success with it and really can’t wait to see what comes next.
Ari: Thank you so much. It was really nice to talk to you.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. We’ve got links to absolutely everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Book Review: Game Misconduct by Ari Baran
Jeff: And thanks so much to Ari for coming to talk to us about “Game Misconduct.” You got the idea in the interview that I loved that book so much, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to sit down with Ari to get to talk about it a little more in detail.
I want to take just a few minutes to tell you a little bit more about this book. You know, I always love to read hockey romance. And it’s kind of interesting that lately it’s the hockey romances that have provided me some of my more angstier reading with Rachel Reid’s “Game Changers” series, as well as the collaboration between L.A. Witt and Anna Zabo. This debut from Ari fits perfectly on my shelf alongside those authors.
“Game Misconduct” is a great enemies to lovers age gap romance that as you heard takes place in a hockey league that I really wish existed in the real world. Mike and Danny fight. This has been true since the very first time they met on the ice, which of course happened in Mike’s first game with the Philadelphia Constitutions.
Mike was looking to prove himself and going after the league’s biggest enforcers seemed the perfect way to do it, even though Mike lost big time that fight. Now every time the Cons meet up with the Hornets, a fight between the two is a given. The summer after Mike’s first season though, had that unexpected twist when he encountered Danny off the ice while Danny was outside of the restaurant smoking a cigarette.
The encounter went from trash talk to a quickie hookup. Much more of a meet hate than a meet cute. But that moment in that alley, put those two on a trajectory that they could have never imagined.
Not only is this book enemies to lovers, Mike and Danny have a lot of internal baggage to overcome too. No matter what he accomplishes, Mike never feels that he’s good enough and that he’s got to always prove himself in some way. It’s part of why he fights. Mike’s got some family issues too.
Danny battles, depression, plus some drug and drinking problems, that have a root in an injury he had some years ago. He is desperate to make it through to retirement age. Neither Mike or Danny feels like they’re relationship material, either as all the feelings that they have are just a bit too much for them.
Yes, this is a lot of angsty material, and I would advise you to read the content warnings for the book to determine if you’re in the right head space for this book. What I’ll say though, is that Ari managed everything with a perfect touch. They dig deep on Mike and Danny and why they are the way that they are.
One of the things I loved about this book so much is the amount of time Danny and Mike talk, as they slowly move away from being enemies. There’s a lot of texting phone calls, FaceTime. It’s not easy, and sometimes they say the wrong thing and then have to sort out how to apologize. There’s also the realization that they have strong feelings for the other.
And they’re not really sure what to make of that or how to act on it. This is one of those spots that the internal monologues these two have are so great. And just as good as what they actually say to each other.
On their way to saying, I love you, there’s a strong desire to help the other. It’s not about fixing, but about giving support and encouragement. Danny worked with Mike, even though he’s an opponent, to help improve Mike’s game and show that he doesn’t have to fight all the time. And Mike nudges Danny towards getting help with his addictions along with working on some of his other physical and mental health issues. Watching these to become better versions of themselves while falling in love was absolutely beautiful. I love so much how Ari brought readers complicated, bruised and battered characters and gave them a wonderfully satisfying story.
Like I mentioned while talking with Ari, I love the world they created. I love the quirky, interesting side characters they bring with Mike and Danny’s teammates. In particular, I’m all for presenting a pro hockey league that is co-ed. One of Mike’s best friends and teammates is Bee and I love the representation in the book that Ari brought here. Hockey is still very much a white sport. So to see these diverse characters in this book was great. Plus to have the leading score on the Cons be a black woman was absolutely outstanding. More of that in the real world, please.
I look forward to what Ari does next in this series, and in other books, because this is an outstanding debut. If hockey romance is your thing, or if enemies to lovers is your thing, I highly recommend ‘Game Misconduct” by Ari Baran.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next Monday, Anna-Marie and Elliott McLemore will be here to talk about their latest, “Venom and Vow.”
Jeff: This is a terrific fantasy novel, and we’re going to hear all about this first time collaboration for these two. You won’t want to miss this conversation that we recorded live at Capital Books right here in Sacramento.
Will: Thank you so much for listening. And we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.