Category Archives: Ask the Sweethearts

That’s Great Advice!

Welcome to the September edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we begin: Congratulations to Katrina, a.k.a. Bookish Kat, winner of our Instagram giveaway of Darcy Wood’s Summer of Supernovas! Many thanks to all who entered and to all who follow us on IG!

Now, for this month’s question: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Robin Constantine: I love reading craft books and talking to other writers about their process! I’m constantly collecting tips and strategies to improve my writing. It’s hard to pinpoint the best writing advice because I think my needs change with each project. One of my recent favorites comes from Ingrid Sundberg’s vlog — Ingrid’s Notes. Ingrid is the author of the YA novel All We Left Behind, and if you haven’t subscribed to her channel, you should. It’s a virtual treasure trove of writing gems and she is super inspiring! In her vlog post, Creating Your Own Writing Philosophy, she talks about trusting yourself and using what works for YOU, as opposed to thinking there’s only one way to write and if you have problems working that way you’re a failure. I love that! It’s a very freeing way to look at the creative process!

Darcy Woods: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get great advice from so many generous souls in this industry. “Keep your eyes on your own paper,” has always been a perennial favorite of mine. This simple phrase (that you probably heard on repeat in elementary school) does the job of succinctly reminding writers not to use others’ “success” as a measuring stick for their own. Does it sound easy? Perhaps. But it isn’t. Because it goes against our human nature to compare, which inevitably pulls us down that dark, spiraling suckhole of despair. I think Teddy Roosevelt really nailed it when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So stay joyous! And maybe invest in some horse blinders to wear along the way.

Erin Fletcher: The best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave me went something like this: “If you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it.” That applies so often when I find myself stuck writing a boring scene where I’m just waiting for the next big thing to happen. Chances are good that my readers (if they haven’t abandoned the book yet!) are waiting too, so why not just jump to that next big thing right now? The advice taught me not to waste my time or my readers’ time. It taught me to include what’s truly important in the book and to let the rest go.

Karole Cozzo: I’ve received so many tidbits of advice over the past few years, all of which has shaped my experiences positively, but I tried to pick something that is extremely practical and hopefully useful to aspiring authors out there: When seeking publication, follow the rules. As an unpublished author, I believed it was “okay” that I was querying YA manuscripts that were around 120k in length. I believed that querying a trilogy was a good thing, because I had more “product” to offer a publisher. I kept running into the wall, hoping an exception would be made for me, even though YA novels are most typically much shorter, and very few agents/publishers are eager to take a chance on ONE book from an unknown, let alone three! I finally achieved success (aka published my first novel) when I told myself: “Okay, you’re going to sit down and work within the framework you know exists. You’re going to write a stand alone novel within the typical word range and start there. You may have other aspirations and ideas, but until you start playing by the rules, they’re not going to let you into the game.” I’m glad I finally listened to this advice I’d heard many times instead of thinking I could work around it when I was so green. And I think it’s important for all hopeful authors to keep in mind when submitting.

Stephanie Scott: This is more editing advice: To get a fresh look at my writing, I load the draft into my ereader where I can’t edit. I have to resist the urge to tweak and fine tune while getting an overview of the story. It also helps to change to a different font for reading than I use for writing to get a new feel for the words. I’ve only just started this, but you can have Microsoft Word read text aloud. Hearing your own words back highlights so many inconsistencies.

Linda Budzinski: “You must have tension on every page.” Early on in my writing training, I took a series of workshops with mystery writer Noreen Wald. She was full of fantastic advice, but this is the gem I remember best, perhaps because she would say it every week, and she’d pound the table with the palm of her hand four times as she said it. “You must have tension on every page.” This advice is critical for mysteries, and it’s true for YA romance as well. A page without tension is lifeless. It fails to engage the reader and pull them along. The tension can be external or internal, but it has to be there. On EVERY page.

What about you? What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Share in the comments! xoxoxo

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

It’s Not Always Easy…

Welcome to the July edition of Ask the Sweethearts, where we tackle the question, “What do you find hardest to write and why? How do you push through and make it work?”

Karole Cozzo: Man, do I struggle with action scenes! I’m all about the character development, witty banter, and romance, so when it comes time for me to buckle down and figure out the details and logistics of an action scene, I’m somewhat at a loss. For a recent project, my MC and her love interest were caught in an intense game of hide and seek in a laser tag arena. (I’d love to say more, but… spoilers!) I tend to draft really quickly, and it’s a challenge for me to slow down and capture all the movement and activity that comes together for an action scene. Typically, I need to sit back from my computer, close my eyes, and picture the scene playing out like a movie. I go back and jot down a couple of sentences at a time, then close my eyes again and try to pick up where I left off. While my eyes are closed, I ask myself — What is she seeing at this moment? Hearing? What physical reactions is she experiencing? Then I try to incorporate those sensory details to hopefully bring the scene to life on the page.

Robin Constantine: As much as I love writing kissing scenes, they are the hardest to get right. My first attempts are often clinical and boring. Sometimes I over-do it, and it becomes too cheesy.  It’s hard to strike just the right balance. To push through, and make things interesting, I like to pick a song that puts me into the heads of my characters. When I’m writing, I’ll listen to it over and over again to establish a mood. I also try to make it unexpected — the best kisses are spontaneous and yet feel totally natural to the story.

Linda Budzinski: Is it bad that I’m having trouble picking one thing? But I’ll go with external conflict. Internal conflict is super easy. My characters are full of angst and insecurities and self-doubt. But external conflict — actually forcing them into painful situations — can be really tough. Conflict avoidance is my specialty IRL (and no, that’s not always a good thing), so I hate causing my characters misery. To push through, I remember the words of a former writing instructor who used to always say, “You have to chase your characters up a tree and then start throwing rocks at them.” The fact is, without conflict, you have no story. Fortunately, in romance, I know my characters will ultimately resolve their conflicts and have their happily ever after!

Darcy Woods: My brain hardly had to synapse to come up with an answer to this question: TRANSITIONS. To be sure and true, transitions are the bane of my authorly existence. Why? For me, writing those segues from scene-to-scene, chapter-to-chapter, holds the greatest potential for readers to see all the popsicle sticks, glue, and duct tape that are holding my story together. It’s peeking at Oz behind the curtain. Because those transitions can suddenly turn a book into a two-dimensional object, rather than the living, breathing world I seek to create. Which means I labor. I toil. I swear — often with flourish — to ease the story as organically (and interestingly!) as possible from one plot point to the next. So it’s not unusual for me to add placeholders that read: [INSERT TRANSITIONAL BRILLIANCE HERE] with the understanding I’ll need to go back and lovingly stitch those scenes together. And with great patience and profanity, eventually I do.

Erin Fletcher: It may sound weird coming from a romance writer, but I think kissing scenes are pretty hard to write! Almost invariably, my first attempts at these scenes are too short and not good enough. Then my (awesome) editor has to comment on them and say, “More! Give us more!” I think the reason I struggle is that describing kissing can be awkward! Sure, the actual act of kissing is fantastic, but when you try to put it into words, it can come across as robotic and boring. To push through this, I grab my favorite YA romances and read the kissing scenes, or watch scenes from my favorite romantic comedies on YouTube. That helps a ton! The only challenge is to avoid getting pulled into those awesome books and movies so I can finish writing own my book!

Stephanie Scott: My biggest writing challenge is making necessary plot information interesting to read. Mainly, avoiding the dreaded infodump. I’ve been working on uncovering the deeper emotions of the scene, or even determining a theme. Then I see if I can make the characters actively do something that relates to that larger theme, or put them in a situation where their secrets or insecurities could be exposed. That extra layer of conflict keeps the scene interesting.

Do you have a question for the Sweethearts? or something to share for this month’s question? Drop us a line in the comments! xoxoxo

Throwback Thursday: Teen Romance Edition

For the June edition of “Ask the Sweethearts,” we’ll take a trip down Romance Memory Lane. But first, the announcements:

A huge congratulations to Erin Fletcher, whose All Laced Up has been named a finalist for the Young Adult Romance Writers of America’s Athena Award! And double congrats on the announcement of her sequel, Tied Up in You, coming in July!

Congratulations also to our May contest winner, Ann Marjory K, aka Villain Queen Extraordinaire. She was randomly selected to receive the Pampered Princess Prize Pack featuring a copy of Karole Cozzo’s new YA/NA romance, The Truth About Happily Ever After. Huge thanks to everyone who entered … may your summers be filled with the magic and love of your favorite fairy tales.

Now, for our June question: If Teen You had been the main character in a YA romance novel, what would her story line have been?

Stephanie Scott: Teen Stephanie typically had her eyes on the guy out of reach. As a freshman, my friends and I would pine after the seniors who worked in the school store before and after classes, and the grunge-loving guy we’d see come in for independent study art class. The out-of-reach guy is a fun trope in romance because it’s so relatable; it can be easy and safe to crush from afar. No risk of rejection if there’s no chance of actually getting together!

Darcy Woods: Teen Darcy was forever cursed with phrases in her yearbook that began with: “To a smart girl who always makes me laugh.” Turns out, very few guys wanted to ask the clever, funny girl to Homecoming. But then her freshman year, she discovered a boy who was hilarious, witty, and…wait for it — would sing Broadway show tunes in the car with her! Obviously, she was smitten. More than smitten, she was in LOVE. But her love was destined to be unrequited. Because as fate would have it, this amazing boy of her dreams was gay. So while Teen Darcy’s story line was a bit of a romantic tragedy, eventually, her HEA prevailed!

Robin Constantine: If Teen Robin had been a character in a romance novel, she would’ve always been on the lookout for a mysterious someone to sweep her off her feet, but in reality it was the guy she got along with easily — who made her laugh and who she could be totally real with, the one who was still around when the mysterious someone turned out to be a total flake — he was the one who held the key to her heart.

Linda Budzinski: I don’t think Teen Linda could ever actually have been the main character in a YA romance novel. She’d have made a great Fiercely Loyal Though Perpetually Lovelorn Best Friend. She had lots of crushes but no luck with any of them. If anyone were crazy enough to try to write her story, readers would have to be willing to stick with her through a very long and torturous series until Late-Twenties Linda finally meets an Amazing Guy and finds her HEA!

Karole Cozzo: Teen Karole believed that first love lasted forever — it was an easy enough ideal to hold onto, considering she dated her first boyfriend from 7th – 11th grade. When he broke up with her, the last person she thought would heal her broken heart was one of his best friends, whom she’d always had an “oil and water” relationship with. You can’t go wrong with the enemies-to-lovers trope when it comes to contemporary YA romance, and teen Karole’s story line certainly proved there’s something to be said for the particular butterflies that go along with starting to see someone you thought you couldn’t stand in a whole new way. Karole likes the trope so much … you just might see it in her next book. 😉

Erin Fletcher: If Teen Erin were a main character in a romance novel, her story line would have been a friends to lovers story. In those stories (which I love to read!), it’s usually obvious to everyone BUT the two friends that they should be together in a “more than friends” kind of way. I’m pretty sure that’s how everyone in my life felt about me and one of my best friends! For three years we maintained friendship before realizing what everyone else had known all along. It was a pretty great moment of realization, just like in romance novels! Better late than never, right?

What about you? What is/was your Teen You YA romance story line? Tell us in the comments…. xoxoxo

Once Upon a Time…

For the May edition of “Ask the Sweethearts,” we’re talking opening lines! But first, a few announcements:

This month we have two Sweetheart book releases! Darcy Woods’ Summer of Supernovas comes out in paperback on May 9, and Karole Cozzo’s The Truth About Happily Ever After releases on May 16! We hope you’ll check them out.

Also, we have the winner for our “Who’s Your YA Hero?” contest. Thanks to everyone who participated. We hope you had fun!  We loved reading all your Tweets … and a special shout-out to the entrant who ended up with two heroes. Where would YA romance be without the occasional love triangle? Anyway, congratulations to … Kate, winner of the Mega Prize, including six books and lots of swag!

Now, on to our May question: What is the first line (or so) of your latest novel, and why did you decide to start there?

Karole Cozzo (The Truth About Happily Ever After): I sleep with all my bedroom windows open as habit, so I’m roused from my sleep by the repetitive shrieking of a great blue heron that must be nesting near the man-made lake in the center of the apartment complex. Where are my soft-spoken finches and friendly bluebirds? I wonder with a dreamy smile. Alyssa is a theme park Cinderella, who at the beginning of the book very much wants her own Cinderella story. When starting this manuscript, I pictured the rather iconic image of Disney’s Cinderella waking up to the softly singing birds, and liked the idea of starting Alyssa’s story in the same way. However, as she’ll come to learn, happily-ever-afters don’t follow a script, and her love story is an original. So instead of sweet little songbirds … she wakes up to a shrieking heron!

Linda Budzinski (The Boyfriend Whisperer): I sharpen the focus on my binoculars. Are those green peppers or jalapeños? Lexi Malloy is an undercover Cupid for hire — a mashup of Cyrano de Bergerac and Veronica Mars. I knew I wanted to start the novel with her in the middle of a stakeout, so I placed her outside a pizza joint, spying on a target for one of her clients. Lexi has some very particular (though perhaps flawed) ideas about matchmaking, and as she says a few lines later, “When it comes to winning a guy’s heart, the devil is in the details — especially when those details pertain to food.” Pizza toppings seemed like the perfectly quirky way to kick off her story!

Erin Fletcher (All Laced Up): I had taught young skaters before, but somehow I didn’t think ‘Zamboni avoidance’ was covered in basic skills class. I started this story here because I wanted to show that 1) Lia is a figure skater; 2) She’s going to be teaching a class of young skaters; and 3) Things are already not off to a good start because there’s a Zamboni stuck in the middle of the ice! A little background and a little conflict (hopefully) make for a good start!

Robin Constantine (The Season of You & Me): My Nana had a saying — “Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which one gets filled faster.” I never understood it, because, duh, who would willingly crap in their hand? Then I met Gavin Henley and understood. I like starting my stories in the midst of the action my first two books began with dialogue, but I wanted this one to begin differently. Cassidy is in the throes of an unexpected breakup when the book opens, and while she’s confused about her feelings for her ex, she’s dealing with some of her harsher feelings with humor. This particular saying is something my grandmother used to say and I had a similar reaction to it as Cass. I didn’t get the whole comparing wishing to, well…what it says…and wishes don’t just land in your hand, right? They go off to some magical wish-granting land and…wait, I digress. I liked the idea of her grandmother dispensing this sort of scratch-your-head-old-school wisdom, and then Cass finally understanding it because of her breakup. It lent itself to some interesting (and hopefully humorous) ruminations on Cass’s part and also set her up to be more proactive in getting over a relationship that we find probably wasn’t the best for her in the first place. It also just makes me laugh. It’s an odd saying!

Stephanie Scott (Alterations): I’d like to think I wasn’t the crying type, but I’d be lying. I cried. Dampness saturated my pillow, making the pillowcase even grosser than its already-gross coating of end-stage flu germs. As often happens in revising, my first scene used to be my second scene. When I cut the previous lead up to the story, I started with a moment of conflict and where Amelia is doubting herself and her life.

Darcy Woods (Summer of Supernovas): Two fears have plagued me from the time I was little, and today I must face one of them. When I began writing this novel, I challenged myself to write an opening scene that was the most ridiculous, memorable meet cute I could conjure. Even more important, I wanted it to have a real emotional heartbeat. Which meant despite the situational absurdity, I had to find a way for readers to connect with my MC, Wilamena Carlisle. Coincidentally, this felt about as probable as turning myself inside out through my belly button. So, I went about this task (the emotional connection, not the belly button thing) by tapping into one of the most basic human emotions — FEAR. Then I added in a water tower, a hot guy, and an accidental thong flash, and poof! The first chapter was born. I believe in high stakes. In this opening, I chose to take that literally. 🙂

Do you have any favorite first lines? Or (if you’re a writer) do you want to share the first line of one of your novels or manuscripts and why you started where you did? Tell us in the comments!

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