Category Archives: Guest Posts

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.

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

Jenn Nguyen: No Regrets

Our September guest is Jenn P. Nguyen, whose debut novel, THE WAY TO GAME THE WALK OF SHAME, came out in June 2016 from Macmillan’s Swoon Reads. Named a 2017 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, this YA rom-com is about a straight arrow who wakes up after a party next to a bad-boy surfer dude and decides that the best way to silence the inevitable gossip is for the two of them to pretend they’re actually dating. What could go wrong?

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

I have written six novels. THE WAY TO GAME THE WALK OF SHAME is the fifth and only one to be published. I’ve queried all the others, but now as I look back on them, I can see why I didn’t have any bites. And why they’re now buried on my bookshelf. But I don’t regret any of it at all. With each book, I learned a bit more about the writing and querying process, which ultimately led me to publishing THE WAY TO GAME.

Well then, it was all totally worth it, because this book is adorbs. Through all that, what was your biggest query mistake?

Oh, boy. My biggest mistake in querying was just diving straight in and not doing my research. For my first novel, I queried a 150k YA time travel. Yes, you read it correctly. 150 thousand words. That started with a prologue AND a dream. Plus I queried every agent who accepted YA. I’m actually surprised that I even got a partial request on that novel. So my advice to everyone is research, research, research. Research your writing techniques. Research how to query. Research who to query. Almost to the point where it’s borderline obsession because you want to give your book the best possible chance out there and sometimes you only get one time to make an impression.

How do you manage to stay positive and keep at it when you’re dealing with rejection and/or critical reviews?

When you’re a writer, you basically have to deal with rejection and criticism all the time. From critique partners, to agents, to editors, to readers. I’ve been querying for years and I thought I had pretty thick skin. Ha, silly me. Then my book was published and those reviews were a whole different ballpark. And just as scary. When I was querying or editing, I took in all of the critiques and tried to figure out how to make my book better. But when it’s published, there’s basically nothing you can do and then reading the negative reviews does more harm then good. So now I try not to read them, and if I do happen to catch a bad review, I just try to remember that it’s a matter of opinion and taste and my book isn’t for everyone.

OK, onto the fun stuff. Kissing scenes: easy or tough?

Oh, gosh. You would think that since my favorite genre is YA contemporary romance (to read and to write) that I would love kissing scenes. Which I do. But I CANNOT write them. Well, obviously I do because there are several kissing scenes in THE WAY TO GAME THE WALK OF SHAME but it is so hard for me. Usually when I write, I imagine the scene unfolding like a movie in my head, but when it comes to kissing scenes, there are so many bloopers and takes. I have trouble figuring out the emotions and where all the arms and legs go. Thankfully YouTube is a great source of inspiration for that, but then sometimes I end up binge watching a Korean drama or Gossip Girl.

Tell us about your most memorable fangirl moment. Who did you meet?

This is really embarrassing so it’ll just stay between us. A few years ago, I went to the Romantic Times Convention and met Stephanie Perkins. The Stephanie Perkins. She had been my writing idol for ages and I met her after her panel. Of course she was amazing and sweet which just made her even more amazing and I was pretty sure I was the emoticon with the heart-shaped eyes the entire time we talked.

Now, tell us about the first time someone fangirled or fanboyed over you.

I was blessed enough to meet a bunch of readers at Romantic Times last year, but the first time someone fangirled over me was in an email a month or two after THE WAY TO GAME THE WALK OF SHAME. They just wanted to let me know how much the book meant to them and how happy it made them, which made my week. Writing takes so much energy and time that sometimes it becomes exhausting and disheartening. But to know that you’re somehow making someone’s day a little brighter makes it all worthwhile.

That’s so awesome. Stephanie Perkins, watch out! And with that … we’re on to the speed round!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Definitely sweet sensitive cuties
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: Used to be a night owl, but now that I have a baby, I’m just a wilted morning glory. 🙂
  • Wizards vs. vampires: Wizards for the win!
  • French fries vs. cookies: Fries
  • High heels vs. flats: Flats all the way!
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Friday nights with the weekend ahead

 Thank you for stopping by and sharing! Here’s where readers can find Jenn:

Website * Twitter

Jenn Nguyen fell in love with books in third grade and spent the rest of her school years reading through lunchtime and giving up recess to organize the school library. She has a degree in business administration from the University of New Orleans and still lives in the city with her husband. Jenn spends her days reading, dreaming up YA romances, and binge watching Korean dramas all in the name of “research.”

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.