In The Long Game (Atria, Sept.), Elena Armas introduces readers to a disgraced soccer exec who reluctantly enlists the help of a retired goalkeeper in coaching a children’s team. “It has a lot of Ted Lasso vibes,” she says, referring to the hit series that’s been praised for its portrayal of soft masculinity. Armas, the BookTok success story behind The Spanish Love Deception and The American Roommate Experiment, spoke with PW about the joys of writing sweet men and meeting fan expectations.

Who are Cameron and Adalyn, the leads in your new book?

The Long Game is about keeping your guard up and then finding the person who makes you comfortable enough to let it down. Cameron and Adalyn are very similar. It’s a grumpy-grumpy pairing. They both work in the soccer world. They find themselves in a small town in North Carolina and are forced to work together. It was a challenge to portray Adalyn in a way that would make her relatable. She’s a hot mess and not very likable at the beginning. She grows and evolves. Writing Cameron was fun; the novel shows his vulnerable side, which he’s scared to show.

How do you think about your characters in terms of masculinity?

I write heroes who can take charge and are also soft. In Spanish Love Deception, Aaron is a stoic character, but in the intimate scenes, he’s all about consent. Lucas, the hero of American Roommate Experiment, is considered a “golden retriever” or “cinnamon roll” character. In this novel, Cameron is a little bit rough around the edges. He’s clear that he is the one in charge in the bedroom, but he doesn’t cross any lines. A romance hero can have layers and depth and be alpha without being toxic.

How do readers respond?

I have a lot of teenage readers. They read so much romance. They tell me, “I will never find anyone like that!” And I tell them, “Don’t settle for anything less.” My job as an author is to give them standards and to help them understand that they should not settle for less than they deserve.

What else do you hope for your readers?

Authors are responsible for showing diversity in our novels because the world is diverse. There’s a lot of work to be done still, but we’re getting there. The gender roles and dynamics that have been portrayed for so long are not the reality. I consider myself lucky that I play a little tiny part in this whole thing. If I can get a small group of readers to open their eyes and be like, “You know what? I’m raising my standards and this is what I want,” then I’ll be completely happy.

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