Category Archives: Guest Posts

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.

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.

Sandhya Menon and a Best-Selling Debut

For this month’s guest post, we welcome Sandhya Menon, author of the newly released When Dimple Met Rishi. We are so excited for Sandhya, as her novel debuted a couple of weeks ago on the New York Times Best Seller list. (ALL THE SQUEALS!) A YA romantic comedy, the story is about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage. The hero, Rishi, is a hopeless romantic who is actually kind of into it. Dimple? Um. Not so much.

Welcome, Sandhya! First things first. Why do you write YA?
Because today’s teens are totally going to save our world.

When you’re writing, what is your personal kryptonite?
That first round of editing (before it even goes to my editor). I dread it every single time!

When it comes to rejections and/or negative reviews, how do you cope?
This is weird, but reading negative reviews of books I LOVED or about rejections the authors I love faced really helps me see I’m not alone and often it’s not about me at all.

Kissing scenes: Do you find them easy or more challenging to write?
Definitely easier! All the kissing!

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would it be?
Jenny Han, Becky Albertalli, or Stephanie Perkins!

Awesome! Now on to the speed round:

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Sensitive types all the way, baby!
  • Sweet vs. savory: SWEET.
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Mountains!
  • French fries vs. cookies: Cookies! Especially chocolate or coconut cookies…mmmm…
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Friday night! Love that feeling of freedom and possibilities spooling out before me!

Thanks so much for stopping by! Fans can find Sandhya here:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

Sandhya Menon is the author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI (Simon Pulse/May 30, 2017) and a second YA contemporary coming in the summer of 2018. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Jaye Robin Brown and the “What If” Question

We are excited to welcome this month’s guest author, Jaye Robin Brown, whose novel GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT was published by Harper Teen in August 2016. It tells the story of Jo Gordon, the out lesbian daughter of a moderate evangelical minister, and what happens when her father marries for the third time and they move from Atlanta to small-town Northern Georgia. In Brown’s words, the novel is “a love story and a look at the sometimes conundrum of having faith and being queer.”


What gave you the idea to write this novel?
GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT came about because of a radio segment I heard about the insane wealth of some radio pastors. I thought, “What if one of those guys had a gay daughter? How would that go down?” And though I didn’t end up exploring the wealth aspect (my fictional pastor dad is successful but not obscenely so), I did explore the question of what happens if you’re a lesbian, but also a believer. Ideas often come that way to me. I’ll hear something on the news or in conversation, something as small as a sentence, and then an idea blooms. I try to pay attention and not miss those moments.

And what about your characters? Have any real-life people inspired them?
Absolutely. In GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, the love interest, Mary Carlson Bailey, has a twin brother nicknamed B.T.B. He is directly inspired by a former student of mine who was universally adored at the high school where I taught. Like my former student, B.T.B. has an intellectual disability that makes him much younger in years than his actual age of seventeen. I loved creating the true friendship between him and my main character, Joanna, as I saw a similar friendship play out in my art room between the student who inspired B.T.B. and another student.

In my first book, NO PLACE TO FALL, the love interest, Will McKinney, also was inspired by a former student. He (the student) was the much swooned-over crush of one of my art students, so I figured if he’s good enough for Savannah, he’s good enough to put in the book.

Do you have any tips for beginning writers?
Yes. First, read widely in your genre. You need to know what’s being published and how things are being written, and get a feel for story. Second, find critique partners. To this day, even with four published pieces under my belt, I cannot write without other eyes on the work. Third, don’t get trapped in a self-doubt spiral. Write it. Do the work. If you can’t make it good enough, then lower your standards. You cannot improve something that isn’t on the page. And fourth, have fun! Writing should be joyful — at least some of the time.

What was your biggest query mistake?
It wasn’t a YA query, but I dabbled with a few picture books and queried with one that I loved. The agent sent back an email that said he liked it and what else did I have. Silly me did not understand that meant more picture books and I sent him the middle grade novel I was working on. Needless to say, I didn’t hear back from him.

And you didn’t ask this, but my very first manuscript, which was a middle grade dog story, yep — I sent that out as a first draft to two different publishers. I was that fresh and naive to how the business worked, and also pretty over-confident. Ha!

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would it be?
Funny you should ask! I’ve been in discussion with one of my former Pitchwars mentees about doing just that. But, if we’re looking at already published writers, I’m going to go with David Levithan for young adult or Jen Malone for middle grade, because both of them have done a number of awesome collaborative books and they could show me the ropes. It’s a definite writer bucket list item for me!

Ooh, great choices (and an opportunity for a shameless plug:  Jen Malone will be our July guest author)! So speaking of wildly talented writers, tell us about your most memorable fangirl moment. Who did you meet?
I was super excited when I found out I’d be doing a panel with Nina LaCour at the NOVA Teen Book Festival. Her books have been an instabuy for me since I read the first one. She is every bit as lovely and generous in person as I thought she would be. And she signed all my books 🙂

What book do you wish you wrote?
Um, duh. Harry Potter. It’d be nice to have that sort of career security as a writer. Plus, it’s genius.

Yeah … *pauses as we all daydream about a YA-romance-inspired theme park*Okay, then! Time for our speed round:

  • Morning glory vs. night owl: Morning glory
  • Wizards vs. vampires: Wizards
  • French fries vs. cookies: French fries
  • Heels vs. flats: Flats
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Sunday morning

Thanks so much! Fans can keep in touch and follow here:

Contact * Twitter * Instagram

Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro to her friends, has been many things in her life — jeweler, mediator, high school art teacher — but recently she’s taken the plunge into full-time writer life. She’s a Southerner at heart, by way of Alabama, then Atlanta, and for many years just outside of Asheville, but now she’s moved north for a bit of city living. Boston, baby! And though she’d like to think brownstones might find a way into her fiction, she figures kudzu will always be what comes to her imagination first.

Her debut young adult novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, came out in the fall of 2014 from Harper Teen. It’s about dreams, singing, friendship, love, betrayal, family, and mistakes. It’s also a love song to small town girls and mountain music. In April 2016, a companion novella, WILL’S STORY: A NO PLACE TO FALL NOVELLA, released from Epic Reads Impulse, a digital-only imprint, and follows Will McKinney’s side of the story. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT is her sophomore novel.

Melanie Hooyenga and Love on the Slopes

We are thrilled this week to welcome our first Sweethearts of YA guest! Melanie Hooyenga is author of THE SLOPE RULES, which released in February, and is, in her words, “a YA sports romance that’s GREASE meets MEAN GIRLS with downhill skiing.”

What gave you the idea to write THE SLOPE RULES?
Being a Michigander, I’m no stranger to snow, but the winter of 2014 we had something like 120 inches. That happened to be the year of the winter Olympics, so I spent a lot of time snuggled on the couch thinking about snow and watching amazing athletes do incredible things with their bodies. I’ve always skied and thought it’d be fun to write about a skier—but not just any skier, a girl who isn’t afraid of anything and can hurl herself through the air like the best of them.

Your main character is “one of the guys” and is quite a daredevil on the slopes. Do either of those describe you in high school? or what were you like?
I was one of the guys most of my life—probably until my late 20s—and Cally is the most like me of any character I’ve written. As a child, you could find me outside—usually in a pile of dirt or playing some made up sport with the neighborhood boys. I’ll never forget being sent to the principal’s office for fighting in second grade (that was only one of two times I was ever sent there) and the principal calling out, “Come in, boys.” The other kid was really embarrassed to be there with me.

In junior high, my group of friends played stickball or tackle football after school, and in high school I played sports year-round. I also sat with all guys at lunch and I even preferred boys’ clothing, which prompted my mother to exclaim inside a Britches store, “When will you realize you are not a boy?” (I eventually outgrew that.)

I don’t consider myself a daredevil, at least not in the way Cally is.  But I’ve always played sports, and when I was younger I didn’t shy away from going all out, even if it could end up in an injury. For example, I played basketball in high school and discovered that I was really good at taking charges. I’d sprint in front of whoever was driving the lane, plant myself in front of her, and let her run me over. I knew how to land so I’d slide across the floor and it almost always ended up in a foul against the other player.

It’s obvious from reading the book that you know a lot about skiing. Is that because it’s a passion, or did you have to study up on it?
My grampa worked at a small ski place on the east side of Michigan and so all my cousins learned to ski as soon as they could walk. I learned to ski at five years old and felt like I was way behind the rest of them. In junior high I joined the ski club, but I didn’t get over my fear of going fast until I took a ski class in college. I’d always been more about precision—the Snow Bunnies’ style is based on how I ski—but being graded forced me to get over myself. Now my husband and I regularly race down the slopes. He offers to give me a head start to make up for our weight difference, but if I’m going to lose, I want to lose fairly. (I might be a touch competitive.)

I did do a lot of research for the terminology in THE SLOPE RULES, and I spent a day riding up the chairlift on the terrain park to watch how the kids interacted on the jumps and tricks. And I paid attention to my own skiing. When you’ve done something your whole life, you don’t think about the technique, you just do it, so I paid attention to little things like which leg you lean on to turn and what the snow sounds like when you catch an edge.

What is your favorite skiing event?
All of them? Except, ski jumping. I don’t know why I can’t get into it. Maybe because I don’t feel like it’s really skiing. Sure, you wear skis and you’re on snow, but it’s like comparing swimming and diving. They’re very different.

As I skier, I appreciate the skill and discipline required for moguls, alpine, and slopestyle. They each require your body to react to one thing while already focusing on what’s coming next. Precision and speed are crucial, but they each demand something different and have the potential to hurt your body in a different way.

Moguls are all about precision, alpine is speed, and slopestyle—well, slopestyle is like gymnastics on skis. I’d like to think that I could do a slow-motion version of the first two, but I’m in awe of the aerials. I tell people that Cally does things in skis that I can only dream of.

Kissing scenes: Do they come easily for you or do you struggle?
I love writing them! So much so that I have to remind myself to keep them PG-13, ha ha. They’re among my favorite scenes to read but I know they can’t be on EVERY page, so I try to pace myself.

You switched genres for this book, from YA time travel to YA contemporary romance. What drew you to write a sweet contemporary romance, and was it very different for you?
I spent five years with my FLICKER series, which are somewhat dark and deal with pretty heavy topics, and was SO ready for something lighthearted and fun. My goal was to write a book that’s funny, and while I don’t market THE SLOPE RULES as comedy, I worked hard to make readers laugh. (I really hope readers laugh….)

Also, as I’ve become more immersed in the world of YA, I’ve discovered that the books I enjoy the most are the sweet romances, the stories that are hopeful and romantic and have a happily-ever-after ending. I spent many years fighting my cheesy tendencies, but now I embrace them with open arms.

I still have several darker novel ideas—even more so than my trilogy—but I plan to spend some time with Cally and her friends right now (hint, hint… companion novels).

That’s awesome! Can’t wait to see where you take them next. Okay, now it’s time for our SPEED ROUND!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Sensitive with alpha traits? Alphas who are sensitive? This one is hard for me.
  • Red roses vs. blue violets: Blue violets
  • Sweet vs. savory: Savory (unless I can combine them)
  • Morning vs. night: Night (although I write in the morning)
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Mountain getaway (I no longer have the tolerance to lounge on a beach)
  • Instalove vs. slow burn: Both? I like reading instalove but my own marriage was a slow burn
  • Rock vs. paper vs scissors: Scissors!

(BTW, I’m terrible at succinct answers)

Thank you so much for having me! I love meeting new readers and chatting about books, so feel free to say hello. Here’s where you can find me:

Email * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Melanie Hooyenga is the author of THE SLOPE RULES and the YA trilogy THE FLICKER EFFECT, about a teen who uses sunlight to travel back to yesterday. The first book, FLICKER, won first place for Middle Grade/Young Adult in the Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Published eBook awards. When not at her day job as Communications Director at a local nonprofit, you can find her wrangling her miniature schnauzer, Owen, and playing every sport imaginable with her husband, Jeremy.