Contest: The Rules of Love

We were so excited to welcome Melanie Hooyenga this month to the Sweethearts of YA site, and we are even more excited for the March 9 release of THE TRAIL RULES, the second book in her RULES series.

To celebrate, Melanie has offered to give away a print copy of the book (U.S. only) to a randomly selected winner. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment sharing one of your non-negotiable rules of love. What makes or breaks the deal for you? Bonus entry: Tweet a link to this post using the #SweetheartsofYA hashtag!

The contest ends at noon on 2/28; winner will be announced 3/1. Good luck! xoxoxo

Gloria Chao: Hugs, Cakes, and Panda Plates

Congratulations to this month’s guest author, Gloria Chao, whose debut novel, AMERICAN PANDA, released last week! In this YA romance — called “effervescent” by Publishers Weekly — 17-year-old Mei Lu’s parents want her to become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. Two problems: Germs freak her out, and dreamy Darren Takahashi is not Taiwanese. Ah, forbidden love! 

How did you come up with the idea for AMERICAN PANDA?

I wrote this book when I switched careers from dentist to writer and was having a hard time communicating with my parents. I wanted to write the book that I needed in that moment and also the book I needed as a teen. Just like my protagonist, Mei, I had a different vision for my life than my parents, and I needed to find the strength to pursue my dreams and communicate with my parents.

How did you find your agent and publisher? Was your manuscript an overnight success, or did you have to deal with a lot of rejections/revisions?

It took me a little over a year (and many, many rejections) to find my wonderful agent. I rewrote the book so many times because of the college setting and queried 3 different versions of the manuscript. After revising a few rounds with my agent, we went out on submission and sold the book in a week!

What is the significance of the title? Did you come up with it, or did the publisher?

AMERICAN PANDA represents Mei’s struggle with her identity, and the font on the cover even shows how they are in conflict with each other. Mei also starts the book with a black-and-white world view, and through the course of the book, she begins to see the gray. Hence the book’s tagline, “Unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.” There are also references to pandas in the book.

I came up with this title, and I’m thrilled that Simon Pulse loved it!

You were once a black belt … what could kung fu teach you about writing?

Kung fu taught me to grit my teeth to push through the pain. Also, the more I practiced, the easier it became. Both of these are very applicable to writing! And fun fact: my second book’s protagonist is a martial artist!

How did you celebrate your release?

I was honored to have visited South Elgin High School the morning of release to hold a writing workshop and give a presentation. The rest of the day was my husband and I driving around to Targets, indie bookstores, and Barnes and Nobles to sign stock!

It was surreal seeing my book on the shelves, and I’m grateful to have been able to share the moment with the person who helped me discover my love of writing. There was a lot of driving (and singing at the top of our lungs), and then that night we celebrated with a launch party at Anderson’s Bookshop! There was laughter, hugging, cake, and panda plates, and I couldn’t have wished for anything more. I am also so grateful for the love that AMERICAN PANDA received on social media that day! Thank you, everyone, for making my launch day so special!

What’s next?

I’m currently drafting MISALIGNED, which will be out fall 2019 with Simon Pulse. The book follows a teen outcast, Ali, who is the only Asian in her small, predominantly white Midwestern town. The book explores racism and prejudice, and when another Asian family moves to town, everyone believes Ali and the other Chinese boy belong together. Despite her initial resistance, she begins falling for him, only to learn that her mother forbids them from being together. As Ali searches for the reasoning behind her mother’s disapproval, she unearths dark family secrets that threaten her future.

Ah, who doesn’t love family secrets? And more forbidden love? Okay, on to the speed round!

  • Alpha males or sensitive types? Sensitive Types 110%
  • Morning glory or night owl? Night Owl 1,000%
  • Tropical island or mountain getaway? Ooh, tropical island relaxation.
  • French fries or cookies? COOKIES!!!!!
  • High heels or flats? Flats—I am all about comfort over style.

Thank you for visiting us, and enjoy the rest of your debut month! Readers can connect with Gloria here:

Website * TwitterFacebookInstagram * Goodreads

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

Everything Old is … Just Old

by Robin Constantine

One of the challenges of writing contemporary young adult is the ability to keep things fresh, current. Use a word or an action that’s out of date, and you’ll be sent down a shame spiral, or worse, called…old. And yet, if you use tech or slang that is too current, too new — you risk the chance of it being considered antiquated by the time your book comes out. What’s a YA writer to do if you don’t want your story to be as outdated as MySpace?

Before you order that crystal ball from the Internet, here’s a handy guide to things that teens of today might not know existed (or are on their way to extinction.)*

Phone Booths/Pay Phones. Remember these? Claustrophobic, right? Also, oddly mysterious and sometimes romantic. Granted, they were old when I was a teen, but the boys’ high school on the opposite side of town** was equipped with a wooden phone booth like the one pictured here. Once you closed the glass door behind you and the light came on, all you needed was a quarter and the number of your crush to escape for a few moments of flirty talk. (And okay, I’m partial since this did in fact happen to me during a basketball game — except he called me, no quarter necessary, so unlimited time!! 🙂 )

There’s actually more than just the advent of cell phones that lead to the demise of the phone booth/pay phone! Apparently, they were very conducive to criminal activity.

Also … I’ll try not to think of all the germs I was probably exposed to … blech, not to mention the broken heart when said crush fizzled out.

Passing Notes in Class. You think sending a clandestine text is hard? That’s nothing compared to the slight of hand required to pass a note. First, one must write said note … then fold it silently … then …the actual passing. What if your friend was across the room?

Was there a chain of people you could actually trust to pass it? Could you risk tossing it while the teacher had their back turned to write something on the chalkboard?***

Bonus points if your note contained some boxes that needed to be checked — then there would have to be a return. Oh the anxiety!

And if it ever got into the wrong hands … plot twist.

Mixtapes. Someone actually taking the time to record songs, in a specific order on a blank tape and dedicate it to you? Ah, be still my heart. This took effort. Mixtapes could be
friendly, or I’d like to be more than friendly, in a very non-threatening way. Is there a
better way to get to know someone than sharing music? What made it even more
intimate was the personal touches – hand writing the song titles in bubbly blue
inked letters on the little blank insert in the cassette and throwing in a song like
Personal Jesus to keep the recipient guessing your intentions.

Is there even a modern day equivalent? Somehow, a Spotify list doesn’t seem as
substantial.

Lockers. I know … how can this be? Watch any teen movie or show and I guarantee there’s a scene by a locker. It’s the perfect place to have a reflective moment, to find an anonymous note, to have a romantic convo with the one-hand-against-the-locker-lean move, to find out you’re not invited to THE party…

…and yet, with the advent of classroom Chromebooks and online text books, these too are becoming obsolete. Some schools are even getting rid of them so there’s more space. But what do kids do with all their stuff? And what about all that cute paraphernalia to decorate it? Will the locker chandelier be obsolete soon too?

Has anyone ever used one of those?

Bonus Lightning round:

Waiting for an arcade game — Remember walking up to Ms. Pacman and placing your quarter down to show that you were next? Um, yeah, me neither. Who needs to do that when you have an arcade in the palm of your hand?

Photo booths in the wild — No, not the ones with props that you can rent for a Sweet Sixteen. The old, old kind that made all sorts of noise as your pictures developed and how you would have to handle the photo strip very carefully since it could still be wet. There was no retake, unless you wanted to fork over the cash. No Facetune app if you had a zit or a crooked smile. This was a one and done. (And fun since if you were taking it with another person you had to get super, super close to fit into the frame of the picture!)

While this list makes me slightly nostalgic, I think there are great new ways to incorporate modern tech into your plot and setting. Out with the old and in with the texting, Skyping, and selfies!

*unless of course you are writing historical fiction, then ignore…

**I went to an all girl high school, our brother school was on the opposite side of town … talk about antiquated.

***which is also disappearing in favor of dry erase and smart boards!

Have I forgotten anything? What would you add to this list?

Sweet … and Tough

Before we get to this month’s “Ask the Sweethearts” question, we have a few major announcements.

First, we are very sorry to say goodbye to Darcy Woods. She is the sweetest of sweethearts, but as she mentioned in last month’s column, she has made a commitment to take care of herself and cut back on her obligations this year, and sadly for us, that includes her participation here. We know you all will want to keep up with Darcy and her books, so be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram and Goodreads.

On a happier note, we are super excited to welcome Sweetheart Melanie Hooyenga to the site! Melanie was our first ever guest author and is author of the very fun YA contemporary romance “Rules” series.

Finally, a huge congratulations to Melanie on the March 9 release of the second book in her “Rules” series, THE TRAIL RULES, and to Sweetheart Karole Cozzo on the May 15 release of her new novel, THE GAME CAN’T LOVE YOU BACK. Both are available for pre-order, so be sure to check them out!

Now, on to our question: “When the going gets tough, what gets you going?”

Melanie Hooyenga: I’m anxious by nature and always tend to have 15-too-many things going on at any given time, so when push comes to shove, I find making a list and prioritizing what REALLY needs to get done helps me stay focused. Being able to look at actual deadlines and know what order I need to do things makes it all a bit more manageable. But I’ve also learned to recognize when something has to give. Sometimes it’s cleaning the house, other times it’s exercising — but when the only way to get through my to-do list is to scribble a few things out, that’s what I do. Then I make sure to take a moment to celebrate before starting all over again.

Robin Constantine: Radical self-care — and not just as a reward but as needed. I can’t take credit for that term — that’s from Anne Lamott. For me it means slowing down, getting quiet and figuring out what I need in that moment to help me get over a creative hurdle. Sometimes it’s blowing things off and going to the movies or for a walk or taking a bath or doing something I’ve always wanted to do — like baking macarons! Anything that gets me away from writing for a while. If I let my mind relax into an activity where there’s no measuring my “success,” I always come back to a project with fresh eyes.

Stephanie Scott: There are a few kinds of tough in my eyes: the real-life-is-invading-all-of-my-creative-spaces and then zero artistic motivation. I’m currently battling both! When it’s a life issue getting in the way of my writing, I go back to my planner and get organized. What can I schedule, what can I set aside, what is easy that can be checked off today? When I lack motivation, that to me is trickier than just being busy. I tend to go back to what I wish I had time for when I’m too busy: cooking, art projects, or exploring my neighborhood. I like to play video games, and often don’t because it’s such a time suck. Sometimes that break can be really refreshing. Usually what gets me going again after a creative break is to read a really good book — not just a good book, but the kind of book that reminds me why I love stories in general.

Erin Fletcher: When the going gets tough, there are many things that get me going (including escaping between the pages of a good book in a bubble bath with a glass of wine). But the one that works best is to do something for someone else. Sometimes I bake cookies for a friend or volunteer at my church. Other times I send a hand-written “just because” card to a family member. Or go shopping for groceries to donate to a food pantry. Or find a Donors Choose project to support. Or offer to babysit for an overwhelmed single mom. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is for sure: When I focus on meeting the needs of someone else, my tough going goes right away!

Karole Cozzo: Wow, I don’t know if an answer has ever announced itself so instantaneously in my head! What keeps me going … what gets me going, when I feel like I could throw in the towel is most definitely my writing pallies. I can’t imagine what the writing endeavor would feel like without the supportive, reassuring, positive, and motivating writers’ community that I’m a part of. This group of people is always willing to listen to fears, anxieties, frustrations, and disappointments. They don’t always have the answers, but they certainly can provide understanding and perspective. There’s next to nothing that an author goes through that hasn’t been experienced by another author, and sometimes you just need to hear you’re not alone and be reminded how tough this business can be. My writing friends understand this in a way that only fellow authors can. They’re my sounding board, my punching bag, my cheerleaders, my rays of sunshine.

Linda Budzinski: Usually for me, life and writing get tough when I feel overwhelmed and have too much going on. If I’m being honest, my typical reaction is denial, followed by another dose of denial, followed by a whole lot more denial. When I finally get to a breaking point, I have to step away from it all and give myself a break. This can mean binge-watching a reality show on Bravo or a trip to Burlington Coat Factory or an afternoon spent browsing through my magazine pile.  Usually, that break is enough to clear my mind and make me more productive when I get back to my “to do” list. And often at that point I’ll realize there is one specific item on my list that has led to the feeling of being overwhelmed — something I’ve been avoiding. That is the one thing I need to tackle first, and then everything else falls into place.

How about you? When the going gets tough, what gets you going? Tell us in the comments!

Patricia Tighe: Bringing the Swoon

Welcome to Patricia Tighe, our first guest of 2018! Patricia is author of LIFE IN THE NO-DATING ZONE, LIFE IN THE LUCKY ZONE, AND LIFE IN THE DANGER ZONE (yes, you guessed it, that’s a series!). Her newest novel, ABOUT LAST SUMMER, is about a girl who assumes a fake identity on a dare, which is all fun and games … until she runs into the boy she dated (you guessed it again!) last summer!

What gave you the idea to write this novel?

For ABOUT LAST SUMMER, I was playing around with the idea of secret identities and what might happen if someone showed up who knew who you really were. And what if that someone happened to be your ex? From there it was just a matter of putting my couple in a setting where they couldn’t get away from each other.

How many books have you written, and how many have seen the light of day?

I’ve completed nine books — two middle grade that will probably never see the light of day, two YA fantasy novels that I still might do something with, and five YA contemporary romance novels published by Swoon Romance. Four are out now and the fifth will be out this Spring.

What types of characters are your favorite to write?

I love writing characters that make me laugh. If I can have at least one character that’s a little bit nuts or unusual, I’m a happy writer. It may be that I’m the only one who laughs at that character’s wit, but I still enjoy it.

Kissing scenes: Do you find them they easy or more challenging to write?

I’ve always found kissing scenes challenging to write, not because of the actual physical aspect but because of the emotional component. It’s so important to get that right. Well, at least as right as possible. There’s give and take and character growth to take into consideration. And within all that, you have to bring the swoon!

How did you find your critique partners?

The majority of my critique partners came from the time I spent at Seton Hill University where I earned a master’s in Writing Popular Fiction in 2008. Having worked together for so long, I know I can trust them. Each individual will point out a different aspect in my work that I need to address. It’s wonderful.

What is a typical comment you’d get from your critique partner?

Ha! In almost every manuscript I’ll see: “You’ve got a cluster of passive sentences in that paragraph. Maybe rewrite.”

Ah, yes. Active sentences are definitely better! And on that note, let’s move to the speed round!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Sensitive types with a sense of humor!
  • Red roses vs. blue violets: Blue violets.
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: Night owl. And I always live to regret it.
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Tropical island in the shade.
  • Wizards vs. vampires: Wizards!
  • French fries vs. cookies: Cookies. All the cookies.

Thanks so much for visiting our blog, and please, please keep bringing the swoo! Here’s where fans can find Patricia:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

The mother of two grown sons, Patricia B. Tighe lives in West Texas with her husband and dog. She eats way too much pizza, drinks way too much coffee, and watches way too much NFL football. On the bright side, she also reads and writes teen fiction. She promises to include as much romance, angst, and adventure as possible in her books.