Category Archives: Sweethearts Posts

Boy Band Nostalgia

by Erin Fletcher

If there’s one thing that reminds me of my teenage years, it’s boy bands. I’m going to seriously age myself here, but back in the day I was in love with Hanson, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and 98º. I listened to their CDs on repeat. I bought magazines that came with posters, which I would hang on my closet door with scotch tape. I went to their concerts. I dreamed of someday running into them on the street, falling in love with one of them (the cutest one, obviously), and marrying him.

As the boy-band scene faded, I grew up and forgot about those crushes. That is, until a few months ago. I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw an advertisement that 98º was doing a Christmas tour and coming to my town. Cue insta-nostalgia and every 98º song stuck in my head. Immediately, I texted my Nick-Lachey-obsessed friend. We decided to not only get tickets, but also meet and greet passes. Carpe diem, right?

1999 vs. 2017. They’ve aged well, haven’t they?!

On the day of the concert, we showed up with the rest of the 30-something-year-old crowd, but it was just like being a teenager again. There was the excitement as we drove by the tour buses on the way in. There was a brand new poster (which I may or may not tape on my closet door). Even after all these years, there were still the obsessed fans. One woman was wearing a sweater with snowmen on it, but on each snowman’s face she had attached a printed picture of one of the guys from 98º. Seriously.

Meeting Nick, Drew, Jeff, and Justin (yes, we’re on a first-name basis now, y’all) was a blast. I was a little nervous that they would disappoint, mostly because I put them on a pretty high pedestal decades ago, but they were even nicer and more down-to-earth than I’d hoped. The concert itself was fantastic, too. The guys put on a great show with their old classics, new Christmas songs, and even a silly rendition of “Let it Go” from Frozen. My teenage crush was 100 percent renewed, and I loved every second of it.

Basically, as corny as it is, I’m glad boy bands were around when I was a young adult. I’m out of touch with the current music scene, but I hope there’s a new crop of boy bands for teens today to listen to (and maybe meet on a reunion tour 10 or 20 years from now).

What boy bands did/do you love? If you could go to a boy band reunion tour, which one would you choose?

P.S. Love boy bands and YA books? (Of course you do!) Check out the Backstage Pass series from Entangled Teen! Each book focuses on a different member of a fictional boy band. Such fun reads!

Roundup: Counting Our Blessings

In this season of thanksgiving and good cheer, we Sweethearts find ourselves counting our many blessings. Before we share the things we are most thankful for, a note of congratulations to Megan, the randomly selected winner of our November prize, a winter comfort pack including THE PROMISE OF AMAZING by Robin Constantine!

Karole Cozzo: On a daily basis I feel truly blessed and am thankful for too many things to even begin to count! So for purposes of today’s post I’m narrowing my list to the bookish domain. I’m thankful to be part of a community of hard-working and passionate writers who celebrate each other’s successes and excitements without hesitation, who are just as quick with hand-holding and reassurance when the need arises. I’m thankful I get to wake up and do the thing I truly love and be part of an industry that’s always fascinated me, even if I have to somedays fit it in around my day job and mom responsibilities. I’m thankful for book bloggers who get excited about books before they can open them and take the time to review them after they’re closed. I’m thankful there is always more to aspire for, because goals energize me. I’m thankful for new couples to ship (currently Bronwyn and Nate — allllll the heart eyes) and book hangovers, some of the best stuff in life. And I’m thankful every day that people pick up my books and spend time with my words, because above all, you’re the “why.”

Linda Budzinski: I start off every day, during my morning walk, thanking God for my blessings, and it is a long, long. long list. For this post, I’ll stick to one particular blessing: my church. I am thankful for our pastor, who never fails to help me see a Bible passage in a new light; for our many missions projects, which serve so many in need in our community; for our prayer chain, which has kept my family in their prayers during some difficult times; for the kids our youth group, whose energy and humor keep me young; and most of all for my many friends within the congregation, who constantly teach me what it means to show God’s love in a world that truly needs it.

Stephanie Scott: This year, my husband and I said goodbye to our kitty of 11 years. Knowing our cat was sick gave us a timeline and a chance to prepare. There’s nothing quite like losing a pet. It’s not the same as losing a person, but in a lot of ways, the loss is similar. I’m thankful we were able to provide a home to our rescue cat for over 10 years, giving him good care. Now, we have two farm kittens tearing our house apart. They are spastic and constantly in need of snuggles. I’m thankful for our fuzzy pals, who bring needed joy and laughter into our lives.

Darcy Woods: I’m not sure how to narrow a list that feels infinite, but here goes! My heart bursts with gratitude and love for my husband — a consummate believer in every zany idea I’ve ever conjured, not to mention an extraordinary barista (with an unofficial PhD in pumpkin spiceology). I can’t fathom having a better co-pilot in this life adventure. I’m thankful for my family — both two- and four-legged — and my friends, who are truly my emotional Spanx. They have also been known to make me laugh to the brink of peeing my pants. And under the category of “things” I’m grateful for: fuzzy socks, Glazed and Confused doughnuts, books (glorious books and all those who love them!!!) sparkly things, ModCloth, music and art in all forms, unicorns, the cosmos, blanket forts, and everything in this world that steals my breath and gives it back…to name just a few.

Robin Constantine: I’m so thankful for my readers! Whether it’s an email, a tweet or an Insta post, I’m so grateful that someone would take the time and effort to mention that they enjoyed my work. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and has gotten me through some creative rough patches! YA readers are THE BEST!

 

Erin Fletcher: The thing I’m most thankful for is my family. I am blessed to have amazing parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and an amazing brother. I also have three godchildren who are the cutest kids on the planet (not that I’m biased or anything). My family can be loud and crazy, but they never fail to make me laugh. For example, my 80-something-year-old grandma recently informed me that she learned how to use Siri, and the first question she asked was, “How many of the Kardashians are pregnant?” Yep. In addition to making me laugh, my family is always there for each other, like the time my parents drove 12 hours through the night to get to North Carolina when I was in the hospital. There’s no way I would be who I am without my family, and I am incredibly grateful for them.

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!

What Escape Rooms Have Taught Me About Life

by Linda Budzinski

I may have mentioned previously on this blog that I’m a big fan of escape rooms. I adore all kinds of puzzles, and my favorite games are almost always cooperative activities, where everyone works together to win rather than competing against one another. Escape rooms combine both puzzles and cooperation … what could be better?

I’ve tried out several escape rooms and even recently created one for my church youth group, and in addition to providing hours of fun (and sometimes frustration), they’ve taught me a few things about how to approach life out here in the real world:

If one thing’s not working, try something else. It’s easy to convince yourself that your solution to a problem is the one-and-only perfect solution. But sometimes, no matter how many times you do the math, your solution will NOT open the freaking combination. Unless you want that bomb to go off and yourself and all your friends to die, maybe just maybe you should accept that it’s time to try something different. As they say, one definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Don’t overthink everything. I tend to be a big overthinker, worrying about every little thing. Pretty sure it’s because I’m a Virgo. But often the solution to your problem is right in front of you. Things really ARE as they appear. You just need to take a deep breath and trust yourself and trust your gut.

Two (or three or four or eight) minds are better than one. I’m always a little worried when I go to an escape room that everyone else is going to figure out all the puzzles before me and I won’t get to experience those “aha” moments that make solving so fun. But it always turns out that solving them as a group, figuring out little pieces and putting those pieces together, makes the “aha” moment even more rewarding. Different people bring different perspectives, and that’s a good thing. Especially when a bomb is about to go off.

‘Tis better to have tried and lost than never to have tried at all. You win some, you lose some, as my husband and I have learned. Sometimes you walk away with all the cash, and sometimes you … well, you suck.

And that’s okay. Sometimes trying, having fun, and working together, win or lose, is worth more than the end result.

Teens are super smart. Okay, I already knew that, but man, did I relearn it this week. As I mentioned, I constructed an escape room for our youth group. The puzzles had, I thought, the perfect mix of difficulty, misdirection, and fun. When I tried them out on some of my adult friends, they struggled and stumbled in all the right places before figuring them out. The teens? ESCAPED IN FOUR MINUTES. I still have no idea how that happened. They are brilliant, y’all. Next time you go to an escape room, think about taking a teen!

Have you ever done an escape room? What did you think? What did it teach you?

Embracing Imperfection

by Robin Constantine

A few months ago I attended a local Paint Nite with my sister. If you’re not familiar with Paint Nite, the skinny is this: A group of people get together at a local restaurant/bar & grill to drink adult beverages and follow along with an instructor to paint a masterpiece of their own. Sounds kind of fun, right? To be honest, my inner teen rebelled at the idea. Organized frivolity? Um, totally cringey. Older, wiser me wanted to simply create without judgment and chill. Something I rarely, if ever, allow myself to do.

On the Paint Nite website, you can type in your zip code and find events near you that feature paintings of varying degrees of difficulty. My sister and I agreed on a picture called “Let Your Light Shine” and paid our entry fee. We arrived about half an hour early, ordered up some sauvignon blanc from the bar and picked out our work space. Two seats, close to the front, so we could have a good view of the painting we were going to recreate.

Voila.

Easy, right?

Once we figured out how to tie our green artist aprons, we were given small palettes with splotches of red, blue, and black. (White and yellow came later.) The instructor turned up the classic rock, picked up her thickest paintbrush and launched right into masterpiece creation 101. Staring at my own blank canvas was daunting. I hesitated before committing to mixing a background color. I’m a perfectionist, so I really wanted to match the color of the original, even though the instructor was all about putting your own stamp on it.

We all know what perfection does to creation, right? In the words of the inimitable Ginger Spice … (via Brainyquote.com):

Yep. Paint Nite was bringing out that creative demon that relishes reminding me my work is, well, imperfect trash. This was supposed to be fun, and there I was fretting over “getting it right.” I took a sip of wine and forged ahead. We only had so much time for each section of the picture before we had to wave our canvases over our head in time with the music to help the paint dry faster. (cue inner teen eye roll) My background wasn’t exact, but it would have to do … then onto the branches.

Again, I fretted about the color, the thickness of the branches, the shape of the leaves. Who did I think was going to see this? It’s not as if I was gunning for The Frick Collection, but to that part of me that has trouble letting go and enjoying the process, it felt like I was. At one point, while the ladies next to me enthusiastically belted out “Living on a Prayer” and painted with a careless fervor I secretly envied, my fist clenched with artistic angst.

Why am I so uptight?

It’s a question I ask myself all the time during first draft. I envy those writers who say first draft is their favorite part of the process. Mine is revision — that’s when I play. For me there’s something very freeing about having words on the page. First drafts make me nervous — a blank canvas. Instead of getting excited about all the possibilities, I focus on the million different ways I could screw it up. Older, wiser, l’artiste moi, KNOWS it’s about the journey. That part of the fun of creation is the discovery. When had I lost that playfulness?

This is what no one tells you.

Under deadline, it’s difficult to be playful and appreciate the journey.

It’s not impossible, of course. I’ve done it — hit that gorgeous time-bending sweet spot when the writing comes effortlessly and you look up and four hours have passed. Some days, though, it feels like a race against the clock to hit a word count. I know that sounds clinical and devoid of joy but sometimes it’s also necessary. While the creative demon of perfectionism can be oppressive at times, it fuels me to produce, makes me strive to work harder, take risks, and meet deadlines. There’s a fine line between being driven by your demons and being defeated by them. I’ve learned to embrace the struggle, but it’s an ongoing process. I didn’t think it would rear its gnarly head at Paint Nite though.

I’ll admit to gritting my teeth as I tried to get the exact curvature of the hanging mason jars. The final touch was the words on the jars and the fireflies surrounding the trees. The instructor encouraged us to use a different phrase or names of family members. I had to take a few deep breaths, allow myself to relax — going off book? Gah!! I liked the simple “Let Your Light Shine,” so I stuck with that. After I was finished, I peeked at the canvas of one of the women who’d been singing and laughing while she painted. It looked nothing like the original picture. The colors were off. The mason jars were ROUND! She’d put her kids initials on each jar! And yet, it was still beautiful and most definitely her own.

Here is my finished product … be nice. 😉

On our way out of the bar, we passed a table of people who were just finishing up their dinner. They were curious about all the laughter they’d heard in the back room and wanted to see what we’d been up to. Some of us passing by held up our canvases. We were greeted with polite smiles and nods. No “Nice” or “Great work.” Just … amused looks. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was that feeling of having created something just for enjoyment, but their lack of a positive response didn’t bother me.

In spite of having to tamp down that perfectionist voice several times during the night, I actually had … dare I say it … fun. I like to create without worrying about its worth, to lose myself in play. I had started with a blank canvas and turned it into something that kind of resembled three mason jars hanging from a tree.

A friend of mine once talked about admiring a certain piece of pottery because she could really see the “hand” of the artist in it. I’d never thought of seeing art that way. It turns what might seem clumsy to the eye into something more profound.

Imperfection lets you see the hand in the handiwork.

Imperfection is what makes creative work unique.

Imperfection is you.

Are you a perfectionist with your creative endeavors? How do you deal with it?