It’s time to talk about Tough Guy!
This book was so hard to write. It was great in my head, but it was a battle to type each and every sentence. It was the first book I wrote that I knew would be published and that people would read it, which felt very different. I was also writing against a deadline for the first time, which is STRESSFUL and I think I want to avoid doing that again if possible. Despite all of this, I am very happy with out Tough Guy turned out.
Tough Guy grew out of a YA novel idea I’ve had for years about a junior hockey player developing a crush on the son of the family that billets him. (Quick explanation of Canadian junior hockey: players often live for free with families who volunteer their homes. These billet families offer the players, who are between 15-21 years old, a family away from home while they are playing elite hockey).
I decided I didn’t actually want to write a YA novel, and thus we have the love story of Ryan Price and Fabian Salah.
Ryan lived with the Salah family in Halifax for one hockey season when he was seventeen. Their son, Fabian, was the only member of the family who wasn’t hockey obsessed. In fact, he hated hockey, and resented having to live with the players his parents billeted each season. Fabian was also seventeen when Ryan lived with the Salahs, and Ryan quickly found himself to be quite taken by the unapologetically queer, stunningly beautiful young man. Not that he’d ever tell him.
Over thirteen years later, Ryan and Fabian reunite in a drug store in Toronto’s LGBTQ Village. Ryan has been playing in the NHL for nearly a decade and has established himself as one of the most formidable enforcers in the league. Fabian is a rising star in the Canadian indie music scene, and working part time in the cosmetics department of the drug store.
Some notes on this book:
This is pretty different from both Game Changer and Heated Rivalry. I was planning on going a lot darker with it, but decided not to because I don’t want any books in this series to be too angsty. Ryan is dealing with a lot: he suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, is afraid of flying, is socially awkward, and he has lost his passion for hockey. His body is also feeling the toll of the many years of playing and fighting, and he’s tired of relocating after being traded several times during his NHL career.
It’s not a coming out story, or a secret relationship story. The first two books dealt with that enough. I wanted Ryan’s story to be different. This is an opposites attract story for sure, because Ryan is a shy, awkward 6’7”, 260 lb hockey player with long, bushy red hair, and an unruly beard. Fabian is a 5’7”, very slim, femme, Lebanese-Canadian, confident, social butterfly. They seem like a very unlikely couple.
Ilya plays a minor but important role in this book. And there are events that will set up the Heated Rivalry sequel (that’s what the plan is anyway).
This book was more personal for me than the other two. Both of the MCs are Nova Scotian (though both are living in Toronto). Also, many of Ryan’s mental health issues and struggles are based on and informed by the same ones people in my own family are dealing with.
I hope you love Ryan and Fabian! I know January 13th is a long way off, but in the meantime you can listen to the Spotify playlist I made (and listened to a LOT while writing this book). You can try to piece together the story from that (hint: the playlists I make are always roughly chronological).