Monthly Archives: May 2017

Contest: A Fairy Tale Summer

For our May contest, we’re celebrating Sweetheart Karole Cozzo’s May 16 release, The Truth About Happily Ever After.  In this sweet YA/NA romance, Alyssa works summers at a theme park playing the role of Cinderella and looking for her own fairy tale love story. Alyssa is a princess at heart, and nothing makes her happier than seeing the wide-eyed stares and smiles of the little girls who come through the park to meet her.

With summer just around the corner, we thought we’d ask: If you could portray any theme park character (in any type of theme park, real or imagined) for one whole summer, what would it be and why? The rules are simple:

  • Make sure you’re following us on Twitter.
  • Leave a comment below and let us know which character you’d choose and why.
  • Be sure to leave your Twitter handle at the end of your comment so we can reach you.

The contest closes May 31 at noon. We’ll choose a comment at random, and the winner will receive a pampered princess prize pack, including a copy of Karole’s book and some swoony swag!

Good luck! xoxoxo

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.

Getting the Call

by Stephanie Scott

Imagine this: You’re sitting at your desk at work, plugging away at the daily grind. Your phone rings. Not your work phone, but your cell phone. A number flashes with a non-local area code. It could be a wrong number or a salesperson trying to pitch you a “free” cruise (hint: they’re never free). Maybe a family member you haven’t heard from in a long time. Or … it could be a call you’ve been waiting on. Your heart picks up pace. It could be the call.

Publishing is filled with waiting, but occasionally, an important call can break up the waiting. One call and everything can change. Writers often dream about those moments. And like much of life, often those calls do not go as we think they will.

Call #1: The Agent
I was waiting on a dozen or so literary agents who had requested full and partial manuscripts from several rounds of online pitch contests. It was the worst part of winter, with daily gray Midwest skies and continual cold.

One morning, on the way to work, I cracked the screen on my cell phone, barely six weeks after buying it. I’d had my phone out of my purse during the drive to work because my mom was driving that morning through the snow to see my grandmother in her nursing home. We’d had few years of ups and downs with my grandmother’s health, but this time, it truly was the end. I was so nervous she’d call and I’d miss it, the phone was on my lap. When I got out of the car, it flew face first onto the cold pavement, cracking. My grandmother ended up passing away the next day.

This was the day my now-agent called. Actually, sent me an email. She said she wanted to plan a call — the call? — but New York City was about to be hit by a huge snowstorm and the whole city was shutting down. Could we plan the call for Monday?

None of this was how I’d daydreamed a special call would play out. I had the weekend to think over what happened with my grandmother and talk with my family. By the time Monday rolled around, I wouldn’t say things were back to normal, but I had more focus to think about my writing, and about the call. My emotions had been through the wringer, but it was great to have something to feel happy about.

Call #2: The Book Contract
When I got my first book contract, I always envisioned jumping for joy and spazzing out. Instead, I heard the news through email and felt rather calm. I had questions. It never really sunk in until months later when I signed the publishing contract.

Call #3: The RITA Awards
My most recent call experience is probably closest to what I’d always imagined. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America and have absolutely dreamed about what it would be like to be a finalist in their awards — the Golden Heart for unpublished manuscripts and the RITA for published books. I’d struck out twice with the Golden Heart, but this past year I was excited to be able to submit to the RITA for the first time as a published author. Writers submit their books to be considered, so there’s no second guessing whether you are being considered. Finalists are notified by phone calls from members of the board. We all know when call day is.

I work from home the majority of my time, but on this day I was in the office at my day job. The phone lit up with a California number. I’d already convinced myself earlier that morning that since this was my first book and my first time entering the RITAs, the odds were not in my favor. I tentatively answered the phone.

The caller was a published author and RWA board member calling to congratulate me: Alterations had been named a finalist for Best First Book. I was speechless and shocked. One question I had to ask: Are you sure?

She was sure.

It’s hard to predict how you’ll act when an important call comes through. Have you ever received an exciting call? Tell us in the comments!

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!

Do you have a question for “Ask the Sweethearts”? Send it through our contact form!