Jennifer Iacopelli, author of GAME. SET. MATCH., chatted with our very own Olivia to talk tennis, teens, and what’s next for the Outerbanks Tennis stars!
Nestled along the North Carolina coast, the Outer Banks Tennis Academy is the world’s most elite training facility. In this pressure-cooker environment, futures are forged in blood and sweat, and dreams are shattered in an instant.
Penny Harrison, a rising female star, is determined to win the French Open and beat her archrival, Zina Lutrova. But when her coach imports British bad boy Alex Russell as her new training partner, will Penny be able to keep her laser-like focus?
Tennis is all Jasmine Randazzo has ever known. The daughter of two Grand Slam champions, she’s hell-bent on extending her family’s legacy and writing her own happily-ever-after…until her chosen Prince Charming gives her the just-friends speech right before the biggest junior tournament of the year, the Outer Banks Classic.
With a powerful serve and killer forehand, newcomer Indiana Gaffney is turning heads. She’s thrilled by all of the attention, especially from Jack Harrison, Penny’s agent and hot older brother, except he keeps backing off every time things start heating up.
With so much at stake, dreams—and hearts—are bound to break. Welcome to OBX: Where LOVE is a four-letter word, on and off the court.
Olivia with YA-Mag: Jennifer, welcome to Young Adult Magazine!
Jennifer Iacopelli: Thanks so very much for having me!
YA: Tell us more about how you first met Penny, Jasmine, and Indiana! What about them screamed “We’re your protagonists” enough that they needed to share the stage?
JI: Penny was the first character who came to me, of all places, in the shower! She popped up fully formed, with her family, friends, romantic interest and really her entire career laid out in my head. That had never happened to me before, so I knew I had to write it all down as fast as possible.
While I was fleshing out Penny’s life, Jasmine developed pretty quickly. She was, originally, the best friend of Penny’s brother’s girlfriend (I KNOW! Right?) and she somehow wormed her way into a fully fledged main character. The idea of an athlete chasing the dream that her parents’ conquered, but maybe not quite living up to those expectations right away has always intrigued me and so she demanded her fair share of the “screen time” early on.
Indy was actually two different characters. One night just as I was falling into a fitful sleep trying to figure out how to give them both the attention they needed, it occurred to me that neither was all that developed and thus could be combined into one very cool chica.
YA: What sets these bright young tennis stars’ story apart from other YA sports romances, like CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally or SHUT OUT by Kody Keplinger? What will readers find that they can’t find anywhere else in YA books?
JI: First, I want to say that I absolutely adore both of those books, but I think GSM stands apart because of tennis itself. Tennis is one of the few sports (if not the only) where men and women can achieve equal levels of fame and fortune (or not). Maria Sharapova is just as famous as Rafael Nadal. Serena Williams pulls in similar sponsorships to Roger Federer. Tennis fans are fans of one thing, good tennis, regardless of the athlete’s gender.
My characters aren’t girls trying to play a traditionally male dominated sport or looking for a college scholarship or even just out there to have some fun; they are professional athletes who’ve dedicated their entire lives to the sport and will continue to do so into adulthood. The stakes are incredibly high for them every time they step onto the court, even if it’s just to practice.
YA: You’ve said that you grew up loving writers like Laura Ingalls Wilder and L.M. Montgomery. What do you think someone like Anne Shirley would think about your heroines?
JI: I hope Anne would have loved my girls, even if their fashion choices have a distinct lack of puffed sleeves!
YA: What non-book influences (films, television shows, music, plays, etc) helped spark this story?
JI: I’ve always been a fan of sports related TV shows and movies. My favorite film as a little girl was A League of their Own. I grew up in NYC and used to play stickball in the alleyway behind my house with all the neighborhood kids and I always relished playing right alongside the boys, just like Penny does with Alex in GSM. More recently, the TV show Make it or Break it, which followed elite gymnasts training for the Olympics, was definitely an influence and Holly Sorensen, the show’s creator, was kind enough to provide a blurb for GSM.
YA: When you were a teen, what was your favorite book (YA or otherwise)? Now that you’re an author for teens, what is your favorite modern YA?
JI: Picking a favorite is almost impossible, but I was such a fan of Jane Austen during my teens. Pride and Prejudice was a particular favorite. My favorite modern YA is an easy one, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’ve always loved historical fiction and the unique perspective of that novel still blows me away.
YA: What’s the story on the title GAME. SET. MATCH. (and its unique inclusion of punctuation)?
JI: GAME. SET. MATCH. was the title that popped into my head as I started the first draft. I liked the tennis connection (for those who aren’t tennis fans, the umpire will say GAME. SET. MATCH. to end every match and declare a winner, because a player won the last game of the final set and thus, the match) and also the play on the last word, as in finding your romantic “match.” The unique punctuation is also a nod to the focus on tennis as that’s how you’d punctuate the actual results of a match.
YA: This is the first book in the OUTERBANKS TENNIS ACADEMY series. What can you tell us about what’s up next for our favorite tennis stars?
JI: Next up is a trip to merry old England for the Championships, more commonly known as Wimbledon. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride. Penny’s dealing with an injury; Alex is heading home, a very different man than he left; Jasmine and Indy have a lot of choices to make about their futures, both together and individually. Jack is still… conflicted. And Teddy? Well, Teddy is about to get the wakeup call of his life.
YA: GSM is sometimes listed as YA and sometimes as NA (New Adult). What about this novel will appeal to readers of either category? And how do you feel about the rise of NA novels, as an author of one?
JI: I think GSM is definitely what people would categorize as a crossover novel between YA and NA. The characters range in age from 17 to 24, so they fit the typical description of the New Adult category and their lives are distinctly “new adult” as they are all professional athletes, living lives mostly or totally independent from their parents. I know GSM has a lot of “YA” readers as well and I think that’s because while the characters deal with typical “NA” issues like sex and post-high school life, there isn’t any more explicit content than you’d find in a YA novel, and in some cases, a lot less.
YA: If you could cast the Dream Film Adaptation of your work, who would you cast as Penny, Jasmine, Indiana, Alex, Jack, and Zina?
JI: Ah! I love doing things like this!
Penny, Indy and Jasmine: Ready for this? I discovered it while I was in the middle of writing GSM, but my three main characters VERY CLOSELY resemble the three main female leads in Vampire Diaries, the TV show. Penny has very similar features to Kat Graham aka Bonnie (though Penny is MUCH taller), Jasmine would be Nina Dobrev or Elena and Indy, Candice Accola, the lovely Caroline!
Alex: Alex Pettyfer
Jack: Jesse Williams
Zina: Jennifer Lawrence
YA: Do you have any secret pet projects you’re eager to work on?
JI: Well, if I told they wouldn’t be secret! But I can say one word: pirates!
YA: All right, last one! With winter on the way, if you had to choose a girl you’d spend the Holiday with, who would you want to hang with and why? What would you tell her about her past and future?
JI: It would probably be Penny, mostly because the Harrisons are a totally kick-ass family and I’d want to spend it around them, plus who wouldn’t want Jack and Teddy Harrison sitting across from them at the dinner table?
The best advice I could give Penny would be to just trust the people around her. She’s used to depending upon herself for everything, but eventually that’s not going to be enough and you all will see why in the next book!
YA: Thank you very much, Jennifer! And again, from YA Mag, congratulations on GAME. SET. MATCH.! We look forward to hearing a lot more from you!
Readers, be sure to check out Jennifer Iacopelli at her website JenniferIacopelli.com. Or follow her on Twitter @JenniferCarolyn.
GAME. SET. MATCH., published by Coliloquy, is now available at your favorite online retailers.
Olivia Hennis is a transplanted New England girl dropped by a tornado into the magical Land of Jersey. For more info, follow her on Twitter!