All posts by Sweethearts

Kendra C. Highley: All About The Feels

This month we welcome Kendra Highley, author of six young adult romance novels, all published by Entangled Teen/Entangled Teen Crush. Her most recent release, THE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT MATCH, is the third in her Suttonville Sentinels series and is about an unlikely romance between a star high school athlete and a “needlepoint ninja.” It reportedly includes a skinny-dipping scene, so obviously you need to check it out ASAP!

Welcome, Kendra! Tell us about your books!

I write YA contemporary romance primarily, with a few SciFi/Fantasy titles for variety. I have a two-book series, Finding Perfect and Defying Gravity, which is about finding out who you really want to be, and who you really want to be with. I also have a three-book series, The Bad Boy Bargain, Swinging at Love, and The Perfectly Imperfect Match, which is about baseball players, each dealing with their own problems, and the girls who drop into their lives and turn everything upside down.

What do you like most about writing contemporary YA romance?

The Feels ™ I spend a lot of time with teens. I have two of my own, and I’m currently on a motor coach with about 50 high school marching band students (my kids included). I see firsthand how everything is so new. The feelings are giant, life-changing things. Adults sometimes forget that, but I enjoy trying to capture that magic (and heartbreak) and showing it honestly.

Love it! And love your little trademark, hahaha! If you could pick just one of your books to be made into a movie, which one would you pick, and why?

I’m thinking Finding Perfect would make an adorable movie for Disney Channel or Nickelodeon Teen. It’s sweet, and deals with how perfectionism can paralyze you. It’s also a “Can’t Buy Me Love” story, in which Paige, in return for math tutoring, fixes Ben up into someone her best friend might like.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2017?

I absolutely loved Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Honestly, I’d read a cereal box if she wrote it. She has such a way with words and world-building.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

This time of year, I’m a total marching band mom. My kids are in a large, elite program, and traveling the competition circuit with them is amazing. They are such a talented group and it’s fun to see what the other programs come up with. This ain’t your mama’s marching band … these kids dance, play complicated classical music, and push props around. It’s like Broadway and a traditional marching band had a baby.

How fun! Okay, on to the lightning round!

  • Summer vs. winter: Winter, except Dallas doesn’t really have winter. It has HOT and not hot.
  • Date night out vs. girls’ night out: Date night out.
  • Chocolate vs. vanilla: Chocolate is literally life.
  • Cats vs. dogs: Cats … my four little monsters demanded I tell you that.
  • Ocean vs. mountains: Mountains. I like a good beach, but Sedona is magical.
  • Boots vs. flip flops: See part one (HOT) – flip flops

Thanks so much for stopping by! Here’s where readers can find Kendra:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to four self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most critical job. She believes in everyday magic, extraordinary love stories, and the restorative powers of dark chocolate.

NaNoWriMo Is for Everyone

by Stephanie Scott

Like we tend to do on the Sweethearts blog, we post a little bit about writing and a little bit about books. November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, which fits perfectly into reader and writer crossover. Nano (for even shorter) isn’t only for seasoned writers — it’s for anyone. In fact, Nano is a great opportunity to test out writing that long-simmering idea or to take a half-baked concept and see what happens.

Have you ever had a lingering story idea but didn’t know what to do with it or how to start? Though this year’s Nano has already started, if you’ve shied away from this writing challenge, it’s worth taking a look at how it can help any level writer — from total beginner to published author.

How to know if you’re ready for NaNoWriMo

The baseline goal for Nano is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I took my first stab at writing a manuscript for a NaNoWriMo in 2010, and I was so new at fiction writing, I had no idea whether 50,000 words was a lot. It sounded like a lot, but I also thought it was weird that writers actually counted words.

All of which means, you can really be at any level to try this out. The writing community on the Nano website forums have a dozen plus categories on how to develop stories, fiction genre expertise, and even subforums by age category. You have an idea for a story? You can do Nano!

If you have a few manuscripts under your belt, Nano can be a great time to finish a partially-thought-out concept or push yourself to complete a deadline.

Wait — it’s really 50,000 words?

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. Once you get those words churning, your characters tend to want to do things you never planned. The words really start flowing … until they’re not. Talk to any writer, and you’ll hear about manuscripts with two chapters and that’s it. Maybe even ten or fifteen chapters, upwards of thirty thousand words, and then the story falls apart. It’s OK — part of the joy (and for others, stress) of Nano is the discovery of worlds and characters. The forums have plenty of support for when you run out of steam. The idea is to keep going, to see what happens and edit later.

I wrote for thirty days and all I have is this messy draft

One: Celebrate! If you make the full 50k and register your word count on the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll get digital goodies and full permission to gloat to friends and family. If you fall short, celebrate anyway! Crafting something from nothing is an accomplishment. Spending time on creative pursuits isn’t always valued in our culture. Do it anyway. So many people dream of writing a book if only they had the time, or claim they’ll write that novel when they retire. Attempting to write a novel means you’ve tried, and many people never even get to the trying stage.

Two: Stop. Do not send a Nano draft to a literary agent or publishing house on December 1. Do not send any other day that month. First drafts, no matter how brilliant, are not ready for prime time. Fast first drafts in particular need special care and handling. When you re-read a quickly drafted novel, you will find gems. You’ll also find some legit questionable content you don’t recall writing.

How do I fix this?

The real work of writing comes with editing, revising, polishing. There’s no one right answer for how many drafts a manuscript needs, but one thing is essential — if you want to eventually publish, you need to have someone else critically read your work.

Or maybe I don’t fix this?

But! Maybe you don’t need to fix your Nano draft. Maybe you only want to see if you can do it, or you have a zany idea you just want to get out for yourself. The fast pace of Nano can be solely about your creativity. Writing without the intent to publish can be freeing, both for beginners learning to write and experienced authors used to writing on a deadline. Where will your imagination take you when you write for yourself?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you ever done it? Would you consider it? Tell us in the comments!

Our Fav Romance Movies

Welcome to the November (seriously?! how is that even possible?) edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we get to the post, congratulations to Sandra Owens, winner of our October giveaway, Jay Asher’s WHAT LIGHT!

This month’s question: What is your favorite romantic (or rom com) movie and why?

Darcy Woods: With so many favorites, it’s hard to choose just one! But there is a movie that stands out for a multitude of reasons, including its obscurity. Ever heard of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty? I’m secretly hoping you haven’t, because I love nothing more than sharing cinematic, off-the-grid treasures! In this 1996 film, Liv Tyler stars (in one of her first roles) as a budding young poet who travels to the lush Tuscan countryside following her mother’s suicide to reconnect with family friends. But she also has two ulterior motives for her journey: to uncover the true identity of her biological father (hinted at in her mother’s letters), and to lose her virginity. This film is rife with heartache (shout out to Jeremy Iron’s exquisite performance as a dying playwright), eccentric characters, sensuality, gorgeous Tuscan landscapes with villas you’ll ache to visit, plus a kickass musical score (Liz Phair, Portishead, Nina Simone, etc.). While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I gulped it down and returned for seconds.

Karole Cozzo: My current favorite romantic movie is the live action version of Cinderella. I was not ever a fan of Disney’s animated version, and I think that’s in part why I was blown away by how much I enjoyed the live action film. Every aspect of the movie — the cinematography, the sets, the wardrobe — was utterly romantic. I also greatly appreciated the direction they took the film in, and some of the deeper thematic elements about love they chose to explore in this version. I love how Ella and Kit’s relationship wasn’t one-sided — she “saved” him in equal measure to him “saving” her. I loved how both were drawn to the idea of putting down their defenses when together, and how they were willing to take the risk of revealing their true selves, with the faith that they would be loved regardless. So many great quotes from this one! “Was who she was, who she really was, really enough? Perhaps this is the greatest risk any of us will ever take — to be seen as we truly are.”

Erin Fletcher: For my favorite romantic movie, I pick Dear John (the 2010 Nicholas Sparks film). I love the movie because of the super sweet romance, the inclusion of a character with Autism, and (let’s be honest) the fact that you get Channing Tatum on a screen for about 100 minutes. The movie is also at the top of my list because I was lucky enough to attend the Charleston, S.C., premiere! Not only did I get to see the movie early in a beautiful downtown Charleston theater, but I got to attend the after party, which was held at an aquarium and featured red carpets, amazing food, and mingling with the cast and crew. Yes, I met Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Yes, they were both even more gorgeous in real life than on the screen. Watching the movie now brings back a ton of fun memories, which is why it will always be a favorite!

Robin Constantine: Hands down my favorite rom com is You’ve Got Mail. Any time I come across it on TV, I have to watch it, no matter if there’s two hours or ten minutes left. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s chemistry is insane. I love their back and forth both via anonymous email and in person. It’s pretty much the perfect movie. And that ending!!!  Don’t cry, Shopgirl. Don’t cry. I wanted it to be you … I wanted it to be you so badly.  (A very close second is The Holiday! When Jude Law sees Cameron Diaz in the pub … sigh.)

Linda Budzinski: I’m going to go with 500 Days of Summer, about a guy who believes in true love and a girl (named Summer), who does not. It’s quirky and funny and bittersweet, and it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, who each is adorable in his/her own right but who are honestly I-cannot-even together. Not sure if it qualifies as a true romance because the ending is not quite a “happily ever after,” but it is the perfect ending nonetheless for this movie. If you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will!

Stephanie Scott: One bummer about romantic comedies is you have to go back 10 -15 years to find any (come on, Hollywood, why no more rom coms?!). One of my favorites is a lesser known movie from the mid-2000s, Catch and Release with Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, and Joel from the Parenthood TV show (who didn’t love Joel?). In “Catch and Release,” Jennifer Garner’s fiance is killed right before their wedding. She ends up moving in with his three best friends, and subsequently realizes her fiance had a secret life she didn’t know about. I’m sure you can guess, she falls for one of her ex’s friends, who happens to be the one who kept her ex’s terrible secret. I love the Boulder, Colorado, setting; lots of outdoor shots and the whole town looks comfortably livable. Timothy Olyphant is so great in a romantic role! Proof he’s a great actor, if you’ve seen him in Deadwood or Justified where he’s totally different. If romantic comedies hadn’t died their slow death, I would expect Jennifer Garner would have been in a ton more of them too.

Contest: What Light (Continued)

For our October giveaway, we continue to celebrate the paperback release of guest author Jay Asher’s WHAT LIGHT!

For details (and to read Sweetheart Darcy Wood’s fun interview with Jay), check out last week’s post. All you have to do to enter to win a copy of WHAT LIGHT is comment on that post. The randomly selected winner will be announced on November 2.

Good luck! xoxoxo

Jay Asher: What Light (Plus Giveaway!)

We are beyond thrilled this month to welcome Jay Asher, author of the internationally bestselling book turned Netflix series THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and also the New York Times bestseller WHAT LIGHT. (And okay, so maybe 13RW doesn’t quite meet the Sweethearts’ usual YA contemporary romance criteria, but WHAT LIGHT definitely does! And the paperback version came out this week, so if you haven’t already checked it out, now is the perfect time to do so!)

Sweetheart Darcy Woods had the pleasure of meeting Jay at a Romance Writers of America conference several years ago, where they immediately bonded over their shared love of tater tots and rom coms. Not only is Jay immensely talented, but he’s also a wonderful human. So without further ado, grab your bevy of choice and enjoy her recent interview with him! (Also, be sure to check out below how you can win a paperback copy of WHAT LIGHT!)

Darcy: You’ve written a wonderful array of stories spanning many topics and tones. When it came to writing your first YA contemporary romance WHAT LIGHT, were there any challenges you found that were unique to the romance genre?

Jay: When you pick up a romance, you already know two people are going to fall in love. So once you meet the main character, you start wondering about the other person. The challenge with WHAT LIGHT, as opposed to my other books, is that I wanted people to have a strong sense of who Sierra was before Caleb entered her life. To allow readers that time to focus on her as an individual, and not as part of a romantic duo, the first few chapters are mostly Sierra with her best girl friends and her family. Once I introduced boys, it felt like anyone her age with a Y-chromosome was suspect, so I needed to get Caleb in there fast.

Darcy: Ah, yes. I’ve never been a fan of the Jerry Maguire you-complete-me trope for this very reason. I prefer to see my characters as individuals, rather than simply extensions of one another, and you absolutely nailed it! Okay, so if you could co-author a book with ANY writer — living or dead — who would it be and why?

Jay: I’ve co-authored two books now, THE FUTURE OF US (with Carolyn Mackler) and PIPER (with Jessica Freeburg, releasing October 31), and both experiences were wonderful. It’s so creatively exciting to constantly bounce ideas off someone who shares the very same storytelling goal. But it honestly gives me anxiety to imagine writing with anyone else! Could it actually go that smoothly a third time? So I guess I’ll make my choice based on money and say J.K. Rowling.

Darcy: Ha! A very solid financial bet! Now as to the ever-elusive work/life balance — does it exist in your world? If so, what’s your favorite way to unwind?

Jay: Nothing beats a dark movie theater and a bunch of buttery popcorn. But if there’s nothing playing I want to see in a theater, we still have a video store in town and I’ll rent a few DVDs. One of our laptops lets you play DVDs at twice the normal speed without the sound cutting out. If the atmosphere isn’t an essential part of the movie, I’ll speed-watch through two movies in the time it normally takes to watch one!

Darcy: 1000% with you on movies! Although it never occurred to me to watch them at twice the speed! And while I have legit concerns my brain might melt, I admit, I’m morbidly curious to give it a go. But enough about my impending goo brain, next question! In storytelling, we often reference a character’s black moment, when all hope is lost and the odds seem insurmountable. Did you ever experience a “black moment” within your own writing journey?

Jay: A few months before I finished THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, I took my wife to a fancy restaurant to drop the news that I was quitting writing. At that point, I’d been writing and submitting to publishers for twelve years, and I was so exhausted by rejections. But part of me was also just afraid of that specific book getting rejected like everything else. It was the most personal thing I’d written, by far. But my wife started crying because being an author had been my dream since she met me. So I compromised and told her I’d finish that one book and then reevaluate if it didn’t sell.

Darcy: To think how close you were to quitting! And your answer is just a swift kick to the feels, because we’ve all been there — beat down and ready to throw in the towel. I adore your wife for being the light you needed in your darkest hour. And I think too often, some people see your success as immediate, so the whole TWELVE YEARS bears repeating. That said, are there any specific books on craft and/or writing organizations that have helped you grow as an author?

Jay: SCBWI gave me a great understanding of the industry prior to getting published, mostly through networking and hearing other authors speak about their journeys. I joined RWA when I began focusing on WHAT LIGHT, and that gave me so much inspiration and desire to be a part of this genre. As far as how-to writing books, screenwriting books have been the most impactful for me. They’re all about dialogue and scene construction.

Darcy: As you know, I’m so with you on RWA for inspiration! But you also made another excellent point: There’s no singular “silver bullet” group or organization. Sometimes they fulfill different needs based on where you’re at in your journey. And speaking as someone who abhors plotting and finds craft books to be kryptonite, I discovered MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY by Jeffrey Schechert to be invaluable! (And yes, it happens to be a screenwriting book.) But shifting back to your books, I’m so excited for your first graphic novel, co-authored by Jessica Freeburg, PIPER, to release on Halloween! Are there any other projects on the horizon you can share with us?

Jay: Jessica and I have since reworked our graphic novel text with an eye toward a theatrical film, and we’ve already had some interest, so we’re excited to see what happens with that. I’m writing another screenplay based on a true story. It’s the first time I’ve written about a real person, and thankfully I have his blessing and support. And, as a bonus, we’ve become great friends!

Darcy: That’s so amazing! Crossing our fingers we see PIPER on the big screen (with buttery popcorn in hand), and also for future news of your inspiring screenplay! Thanks again for taking the time to join us, Jay! Now let’s wrap this up with a fast n’ fun Speed Round of questions, shall we?

  • Supersized fries vs. chocolate cake: Supersized fries on a long drive with the windows down and sunglasses on to keep the salt from flying into my eyes.
  • Vampires vs. wizards: Vampires
  • Zip lining vs. snorkeling: Zip lining. I love heights, but have a bit of an open water phobia.
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Sunday morning with newspaper comics and a cup of coffee.
  • Movies vs. documentaries: Documentaries, but I’ve been on an extended kick of watching documentaries about movies.

Thanks, so much, Jay! To celebrate the paperback release of  the luminous and hopeful WHAT LIGHT, the Sweethearts are giving away a copy to one lucky commenter! To enter, simply leave a comment below. Easy peasy! **Open internationally wherever Book Depository ships**

Good luck! xoxoxo