All posts by Sweethearts

Shani Petroff: Giving the Gift of YA Love

This month’s guest author is Shani Petroff, author of the 2017 YA romance ROMEO & WHAT’S HER NAME and the soon-to-be released Christmas novel, MY NEW CRUSH GAVE TO ME. This fun rom-com is about a girl who thinks she knows who she wants for the holidays … until his annoying but (we’re guessing here) super-cute cousin comes along and RUINS CHRISTMAS! Ahahaha, just kidding, he (guessing again) makes Christmas the hap-happiest season of all!

What gave you the idea to write this novel?
I was talking with my editor and the director of Swoon Reads about doing a holiday book, and memories of doing a Secret Santa popped into my head. I was part of a theater tour, and we were traveling around the country. Like Morgan in the book, I thought doing a Secret Santa would be a lot of fun! The rest of the cast humored me and said okay. We ended up having a great time, and I was a pretty good gift giver, if I do say so myself. 🙂

What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter? Pantser? Plotser (hybrid of both)?
It depends on the project. I do tend to like detailed outlines; however, I didn’t use one for MY NEW CRUSH GAVE TO ME. I plotted it in my head, and then worked with a calendar. The events of the book happen in about a month. There’s a lot of gift giving and events that take place (i.e., Christmas, the Secret Santa exchange, a party), and I wanted to make sure the order and timing was right, so I marked on the calendar when everything happened, and then wrote chronologically.

How do you choose character names?
I think picking names is fun! I get them from everywhere—people I know, Facebook, racking my brain, and even TV. I was watching the reality show Big Brother during the drafting stage of MY NEW CRUSH GAVE TO ME and ROMEO & WHAT’S HER NAME—and names like Cody, Jace, and Zakiyah (all people on the show) made their way into my books.

How many books have you written, and how many have seen the light of day?
I’ve written 11 books (not counting little ones I wrote for fun when I was young). Come May, eight of them will be published. The first book I wrote got positive feedback but never sold. As I was waiting to hear back from my then-agent about what she thought about my next book, I started book number three. Book three sold on proposal, and I put number two on hold. (I’m not sure if I’ll go back to it or not, but you never know!) I do have one other book that I finished (I did it while I was between projects), that I may try to do something with someday, but I have a few other ideas that I’m hoping to try first!

Do you have any tips for beginning writers?
Stick with it! It’s easy to get discouraged, but if you love writing, push through the tough times. We all have those moments, but it’s how you handle it that’s defining. And just think, if you were to write a page a day, you’d have a full book in less than a year.

Fabulous advice! Now on to the speed round!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: A combo!
  • Red roses vs. blue violets: Red roses
  • Sweet vs. savory: Sweet
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: Definitely a night owl
  • Wizards vs. vampires: Wizards

Thanks so much and good luck with your Christmas book! Here’s where readers can find Shani:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

Shani Petroff is a writer living in New York City. She’s the author of the “Bedeviled” series, which includes Daddy’s Little Angel, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Dress, Careful What You Wish For, and Love Struck, and is the co-author of Ash. She also writes for television news programs and several other venues. When she’s not locked in her apartment typing away, she spends a whole lot of time on books, boys, TV, daydreaming, and shopping online.

The Art of Happy

by Darcy Woods

It’s no secret. Talk to anyone who’s been in the publishing biz for a few laps around the sun, and you’ll probably hear a reoccurring theme. The tough times often outnumber the good times. Exponentially. Why? Because frankly, there are an exponential number of factors outside of an author’s control. Everything from rejections to bad reviews, agent splits, imprint shutdowns, etc., can wreak absolute havoc on a writer’s psyche. Leaving us crying and rocking in the corner while mopping away our tears with yesterday’s cold pizza. Which we will then eat and you’ll pretend not to judge.

But there is another way. I don’t mean emotional suppression. Your feelings are valid and make you human. Congratulations, you have a soul! No, what I’m instead going to suggest is that once you’ve properly grieved, you try this one thing. I call it White-Knuckling Joy. Sounds like a martial arts move, right? It isn’t, but often requires the mental discipline of one. White-Knuckling Joy means holding on to the great things that happen — big and small — and celebrating them to their very fullest!

What are the “great things” worthy of celebrating? That’s simple. ANYTHING. Anything in your writing world that has brought you a sense of accomplishment or happiness. Some of my own examples:

  • Agent and editor requests.
  • Agent and editor rejections — but the real nice ones that gave me faith in humanity.
  • Finaling in a contest.
  • NOT finaling in a contest. (No joke. I’ve done Google Hangout with writing pals over a glass of champagne just celebrating that we had the guts to put our work out there. )
  • My first great review.
  • My first utterly crap review. Because hey, I earned my stripes as a writer!
  • Remembering to shower AND put on deodorant.
  • Forgetting to shower OR put on deodorant. Because I was that caught up in my WIP.

See a pattern here? With a few minor exceptions, I almost always twist a “negative” into a positive. It’s one of the perks of having an imagination. Which you have in spades! You get to recreate your own reality and shift the lens on it. Does this happen instantaneously? Rarely. It might take days or even weeks, but it’s a mental leap worth taking.

Hi, my name is Darcy Woods and
I’m a bona fide Joy Junkie.

Believe me, there are PLENTY of times I want to (and do) wallow. But the sooner I can get myself to see the glass as half full — preferably with champagne — the more I’m able to regain control and stop allowing outside factors to dictate my well-being. Happiness doesn’t exist because of an absence of sadness. It exists despite it. In other words, happiness is a choice.

So I want you to think back over the last month. What have you accomplished? Did you finish that chapter that was nearly the death of you? Untangle that messy Cat’s Cradle of a plot? Or maybe you conquered that query where you managed to distill 100,000 words into 250 compelling, concise ones?

Whatever that writing milestone or inch-stone might be, I beg of you, CELEBRATE IT! And whether that celebration comes in the form of a bottle with bubbles, a bookstore, or that Netflix series you’ve been dying to binge—do it. Now. Because this, dear friends, is what will sustain and nourish you. Especially during the famines of joy.

So in the spirit of celebrating, please share with us: What’s YOUR most recent writing accomplishment? The Sweethearts would love to cheer you on because we suspect you’ve forgotten how magnificent you are!!!

Um. What Do You Mean, ‘Not Writing’?

Welcome to the August edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we begin: Congratulations to Melanie Hooyenga, winner of a signed copy of Erin Fletcher’s TIED UP IN YOU! Many thanks to all who entered our July giveaway.

Now, onto our get-to-know-us-a-bit question: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Linda Budzinski: I’m a total homebody, so I like to hang out with my husband and our chihuahua, reading, doing crosswords, and binging on shows (current favorites include Mozart in the Jungle, Turn, and The Americans). I’m also involved with my church youth group, so I have fun doing stuff with them. My current project combines my love of puzzles and the youth group, as I am constructing an escape room for them. Oh, which reminds me, I love escape rooms! < — Nerd.

Karole Cozzo: When I’m not writing or at work (part-time as a school psychologist at an area high school), most of my time is spent hanging out with my husband, 7-year-old daughter, and 3-year-old son. They’re a loud, high energy, fun-loving gang, and we’re always on the go. Somewhere in there, I squeeze in some training runs. I’m super excited to be participating in the RunDisney Princess Half Marathon in February 2018; I’ll be running as the “live action” Cinderella, Ella, who’s definitely my favorite version of the princess. It’s also quite likely you’ll find me in the dollar spot at my local Target. I love crafting, decorating, and gifting, and the dollar spot has the best finds, hands down. This past year I took on the endeavor of starting up a kindergarten Daisy troop, of which I’m the co-leader. Then when I finally, finally sit down at night, favorite shows include The Blacklist or Below Deck (our guilty pleasure) and we just started binge-watching Game of Thrones. That’s my life in a nutshell, maintained by an obscene number of vanilla lattes!

Erin Fletcher: When I’m not writing, I’m usually working! My day job requires lots of math, which is great because it uses a completely different part of my brain than writing. In my free time, I love seeing as many plays and musicals as possible. My current favorites include Hamilton, Newsies, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and Dear Evan Hansen. I also enjoy reading, drinking more coffee and tea than I should, going on walks and hikes, volunteering at my church, and trying different Mexican restaurants with my friends.

Stephanie Scott: When I’m not writing, lately I can most likely be found outside walking or taking a Zumba or other fitness class. I’ve been working hard to not sacrifice fitness for the sake of getting more writing done, which is essentially sitting hunched over a keyboard. It’s really hard when you’re in a story-writing groove to get up and move around, let alone leave the house for an hour or two to do something else. I do active things I enjoy, which helps. I look forward to my favorite classes at the gym, and when I walk I listen to audio books. Currently I’m on a Katie McGarry kick. Her Thunder Road series has great narration.

Darcy Woods: Tromp, footslog, rove, traipse — in other words, when my fingers aren’t fused to the keyboard, I loooove hiking! Few things clear the cobwebs and dust bunnies from my mind quite the way hiking does. And I’ve had the good fortune of getting to enjoy some pretty spectacular pedi adventures around the globe! When I lived in Germany for several years, I participated in countless volksmarches. These are essentially organized hikes — often through meadow and woods — but with the added treat of giant pretzels and schnapps. And, people, I ask you, WHAT COULD BE BETTER?! I’ve explored everywhere from the tranquil Dutch countrysides and enchanted forests of Luxembourg, to the sweeping beauty of the Nepali Coast in Kauai. And while cars will always be a great way for getting from point A to point B, I still prefer to experience a destination (even if it’s in my home state of Michigan), without the cool indifference of a pane of glass between us. Because some places, to be felt in the heart, must first be felt in your feet. Or maybe that’s just the Hobbit in me talking. 😉

Robin Constantine. I love to travel — especially taking road trips — and if there’s a beach involved, even better! I also like spending time with my family and friends. The best times are when I combine all of those together. I’m a DisNerd and make frequent visits to WDW — and the trip is not complete until I ride Haunted Mansion and have some sort of Mickey-shaped food. I also love the theater (just saw Hamilton in NYC!) and going to the movies. Reading for pleasure is sometimes tough to fit in, but when I have the time, I love to discover new-to-me authors. Have been voraciously reading Liane Moriarity all summer! What Alice Forgot is a new favorite.

We want to get to know you, too, so tell us: What do you like to do when you’re not reading or writing? Share in the comments! xoxoxo

Contest: Tied Up in You

It’s the fourth Thursday of the month, so you know what that means: Contest time! But first, two very important announcements. As we noted earlier, two Sweethearts are up for RITA Awards this year — Stephanie Scott for Best First Novel and Darcy Woods for Young Adult Romance and Best First Novel. Well, the RITAs are tonight and they will be live streamed! Tune in from 7 – 9 p.m. ET at www.rwa.org and keep your fingers crossed for Stephanie and Darcy!

Speaking of Romance Writers of America Awards! Yesterday the RWA Young Adult Chapter announced that Sweetheart Erin Fletcher’s ALL LACED UP won First Place in the Contemporary Category for its Athena Awards. Huge congratulations to Erin!

Now, onto our July contest, where we just happen to be celebrating the July 10 release of TIED UP IN YOU, the sequel to the aforementioned Athena Award-winning ALL LACED UP! This dual-POV story is about a hot hockey player and a brilliant STEM student who happen to be best friends and who happen to kind of, sort of, maybe, accidentally kiss and then things get, ya know. Complicated.

To win, take these simple steps:

  1. Make sure you are following us on Twitter.
  2. Leave a comment below letting us know your favorite sport (to watch or to play). Be sure to leave your Twitter handle in your comment so we know how to get in touch with you if you win.
  3. Optional: Subscribe to our posts! Simply input your email address in the “subscribe” box on our site. As always, you don’t HAVE to do this to enter, but you really, really should do it to make sure you never miss a Sweetheart contest or post! 🙂

One randomly selected winner will receive a signed copy of TIED UP IN YOU (or a free e-copy if you are outside of the U.S. and Canada)! Contest closes August 2 at noon, and the winner will be announced August 3.

Good luck! xoxoxo

Jen Malone and Romance on the High Seas

There’s been a lot of fangirling around here this month as we welcome Jen Malone, author of  five fun “girl power” tween/middle-grade books and three YA romance novels, including her new (as in, July 25, as in, next week, as in, you should probably pre-order NOW so you can devour it the second it comes out!) release Changes in Latitudes,  which is set aboard a sailboat off the Pacific Coast.

What gave you the idea for Changes in Latitudes?

Since my two previous YA novels — Map to the Stars and Wanderlost — are both travel romances, I was casting around for a concept that would allow for another road trip plot, but also be something a bit new and different. Except what was really pulling at me was a desire to explore a loving-but-complicated mother/daughter relationship. The two concepts finally merged for me when I asked myself how I could “trap” a teen girl into spending a lot of time with her mom, since most 17-year-olds are much more absorbed with their friendships and life outside of their home.

And then a sailing trip popped into my head. A sailboat, while promising something exotic and adventurous, can also be claustrophobic as hell, and the idea of my main character, Cassie, wanting to avoid at all costs this situation she’s gotten into with her mom but literally not being able to get more than 40 feet away from her without landing in a vast ocean was about as trapped as I could imagine, short of sending them both to jail.

But, rest assured, I love humor and lightness in my stories above all, so in the midst of the two of them fixing their relationship, there are tons of interesting shore excursions in ports along the coast, a zany cast of characters populating the two other sailboats caravanning alongside them from Oregon to Mexico, and, of course, a cocky and adorable deckhand named Jonah who rocks Cassie’s world more than any waves could.

Your release is just a few days away. How do you plan to celebrate?

I’m so excited, because this book releases the day before RWA begins, so I’ll be in Orlando with three of my author besties — Pintip Dunn, Brenda Drake, and your very own Darcy Woods. We’re doing a panel at the Orlando Public Library on Monday night, which I’m considering the de facto book launch for Latitudes, and then on the actual day of release we plan to hit up the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Spending the day immersed in an author’s fantasy world brought to life feels like the perfect way to celebrate a release.

And then, equally thrilling, the following week I’m accompanying my dad and uncle on a three-day windjammer sailing trip off the coast of Maine. After spending so much time writing about sailing while actually curled up in my tiny writing space, it’ll be amazing to celebrate on the open seas. (Though I’m fervently hoping we don’t have any whale encounters of the variety Cassie and her mom experience. I’m keeping mum on my hopes regarding cute deckhand eye-candy like Jonah because The Husband might read this. Ahem.)

Speaking of cute deckhands and eye candy: Kissing scenes. Do you find them easy or more challenging to write?

They are my favvvvvvvvvvvorite thing to write! And I think fairly easy, because I use them as reward for making it through more taxing scenes, so I’m usually approaching them in a “Wheeee, I get to let loose!” frame of mind. The hardest part for me is keeping track of whose hands are where. 🙂

In Changes in Latitude, I had a ton of fun writing one set in an alley in San Luis Obispo called Bubblegum Alley because it is crammed (top to bottom, for the entire length) with decades worth of people’s used chewing gum. Getting backed into that wall in the midst of a hot kiss is a little, er, sticky (sorry, truly bad pun.)

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would it be?

I consider myself incredibly lucky that I actually have co-authored four middle grade books, and with some of my favorite authors to boot. But the most unique experience by far was with a middle grade novel I have coming out in August called BEST. NIGHT. EVER., which is co-authored by SEVEN of us.

It’s one novel (as opposed to an anthology of stories) and is told in Love, Actually fashion, with all these intersecting story lines taking place over the course of a single (crazy) night. Since the concept was mine, I got to act as editor, and it was the closest thing I’ll likely ever experience to what I imagine a Hollywood writer’s room to be — we were so busy cracking each other up in Google Hangouts I’m amazed words made it onto paper!

What is a typical comment you get from a critique partner?

“But what is she feeling?!” is one a treasured CP of mine must have saved on her cut-and-paste clipboard by now. I tend to gravitate toward rom-com-y pratfalls and humorous/outlandish scenarios for my characters (or put another way, more external plotting versus emotional internal arcs) and, while fun to write and (hopefully) fun to read, I have to be reigned in a little and reminded to boost the emotions that give the story a heart.

Taking baby steps away from pure light-and-fluffy with Changes in Latitude brought me way out of my comfort zone but is something I’m really proud of attempting. So much about publishing is a combination of luck and forces outside your control, so learning to make my goals things I am personally accountable for — challenging myself as a writer being the big one — has really allowed me to appreciate the great things about my publishing experience without too much of the green-eyed monster taking hold!

If you weren’t an author, what would you like to do?

If Joanne from Fixer Upper ever needs a break from Magnolia Designs, I volunteer as tribute! (She can take Chip with her though; I’ve already got a husband who is aces with the corny dad jokes.)

What was your biggest query mistake?

Oh, you’ll all love this since it is next-level embarrassing. My third-ever query was to a male agent who happened to share the same first and last name of an ex-boyfriend of mine. I thought this was the universe speaking and further thought it would make my query stand out in his inbox if I started my query to him with, “I used to be in love with {NAME REDACTED OUT OF KINDNESS TO HIM AND FOR MY OWN SELF-PRESERVATION}. He broke up with me, but now might be the perfect time for another {NAME REDACTED BECAUSE I’M CRINGING TOO HARD TO TYPE IT} to get the chance to fall in love with me… or at least with my words.”

And now he’s my agent and we have 17 book babies together. JUST KIDDING! He responded in about 10 minutes, with good humor and a firm rejection. You know how agents proclaim to keep files of the crazies in case they go missing one day? For sure I’m on his. (For the record, I truly am exceedingly professional. I don’t know what came over me!)

Wowza. THAT is a killer bad-query story. Pretty sure we’ll get a rash of lawsuits from our subscribers this week for ruined keyboards. And on that note, let’s move on to the speed round, shall we?

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Sensitive (nerdy glasses a bonus)!
  • Sweet vs. savory: SWEET, no contest.
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: Morning glory! My brain turns to total mush at 4 p.m. — it’s actually scary.
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Mountain getaway as long as it includes a shaded babbling brook (no coincidence my characters in Changes in Latitudes have their meet-cute beside one … while all her “delicates” lie drying on the rocks crossing it — I’m so mean to my characters.)
  • Ziplining vs. snorkeling: Snorkeling, insists the girl who wrote the book set at sea 🙂
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Sunday morning. Way more hygge! I’m all about cozy in any form.

Thank you so much for joining us during your pre-release week, Jen! Here’s where readers can connect and find out more:

Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Jen Malone writes fun and flirty YA travel romances with HarperCollins and humorous “girl power” MG adventures with Simon & Schuster and Random House. She is a former Hollywood publicist who once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books.