Category Archives: Ask the Sweethearts

Recipe for a Perfect Date

Welcome to the March edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we get to this month’s question, our February contest winner is (drum roll, please) Melanie Bracco, who receives a print edition of THE TRAIL RULES by Melanie Hooyenga, coming out March 9! From one Melanie to another … congratulations! Now for the question:

What is your idea of a perfect date?

Linda Budzinski: I heard the other day about a poll in which snuggling by a fire was ranked as the best date. I have to admit, that’s pretty good, especially if it involves hot chocolate with Kahlua and marshmallows, but for me, the perfect date involves getting out and doing something fun. This could mean Frisbee golf, putt putt, bowling, skating, darts (and have I mentioned I like escape rooms?). For Valentine’s day, I bought a curling lesson for my husband and me. We are both super excited to try it. It looks a little bit like bocci on ice, and we both love bocci! Hmm. Maybe afterward, there could be snuggling by a fire….

Stephanie Scott: To be honest, my date nights have increasingly become staying in to watch Netflix and order take out. While I love this, a night in is a bit lacking in adventure! I like the idea of being a tourist in your own town. I recently discovered an independent bookstore only a few miles from me that I never knew existed. Checking out a new restaurant, an art exhibit, or a park in a nearby area helps me appreciate where I live. Sharing that with a special someone is even better.

Melanie Hooyenga: My perfect date involves good food and drink, lively conversation, and excellent scenery. I live less than a mile from Lake Michigan, so it’s pretty much a requirement that a date includes either driving by the lake or walking on the pier, and since we’re also thirty minutes from Beer City USA (Grand Rapids, MI) there’s a good chance a brewery will be involved. But really, the more I can be outside, the better, so a picnic near the lake is my ideal. Recently, my husband and I were at a brewery and pretended we’d just met, so when we went to dinner afterwards we acted like it was our first date. We asked all the getting-to-know-you questions that you take for granted once you’re married, and it was fun experiencing the butterflies I often write about but haven’t experienced in years.

Karole Cozzo: Coming off of a Disney trip (with kids), I think a pretty perfect date would be an evening in the World Showcase at Epcot. Margaritas in Mexico or lager and a soft pretzel in Germany to start the night, dinner in Italy, and a late night stroll through France, complete with a stop at L’Artisan des Glace for gelato or an ice cream martini to cap the night. Right now, with warm breezes and the flower and garden festival going on, I can’t think of a better evening — a date where you get to travel the world in a single night!

Robin Constantine: Hmmm…I love going to the movies, but I think for a date it would be better to do something active like hitting the boardwalk at the Jersey shore to play games, sample the food, sit on the beach and take in the sunset and people watch or go for a hike in a local park, maybe even one with a little bit of history — some activity that is conducive to shared experience, to take the pressure off “having to talk,” like if you were sitting across from each other at dinner. Nothing like an awkward silence to kill the romance!

Erin Fletcher: My perfect date (besides April 25th, of course … bonus points if you get that reference!) would be a new experience. Something like visiting a new art museum, taking a cooking class, or exploring a hiking trail. New experiences always lead to great conversation, learning about each other, and having a lot of fun. And if the date can somehow include coffee and/or ice cream, that would be even better!

What is your recipe for a perfect date?

Sweet … and Tough

Before we get to this month’s “Ask the Sweethearts” question, we have a few major announcements.

First, we are very sorry to say goodbye to Darcy Woods. She is the sweetest of sweethearts, but as she mentioned in last month’s column, she has made a commitment to take care of herself and cut back on her obligations this year, and sadly for us, that includes her participation here. We know you all will want to keep up with Darcy and her books, so be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram and Goodreads.

On a happier note, we are super excited to welcome Sweetheart Melanie Hooyenga to the site! Melanie was our first ever guest author and is author of the very fun YA contemporary romance “Rules” series.

Finally, a huge congratulations to Melanie on the March 9 release of the second book in her “Rules” series, THE TRAIL RULES, and to Sweetheart Karole Cozzo on the May 15 release of her new novel, THE GAME CAN’T LOVE YOU BACK. Both are available for pre-order, so be sure to check them out!

Now, on to our question: “When the going gets tough, what gets you going?”

Melanie Hooyenga: I’m anxious by nature and always tend to have 15-too-many things going on at any given time, so when push comes to shove, I find making a list and prioritizing what REALLY needs to get done helps me stay focused. Being able to look at actual deadlines and know what order I need to do things makes it all a bit more manageable. But I’ve also learned to recognize when something has to give. Sometimes it’s cleaning the house, other times it’s exercising — but when the only way to get through my to-do list is to scribble a few things out, that’s what I do. Then I make sure to take a moment to celebrate before starting all over again.

Robin Constantine: Radical self-care — and not just as a reward but as needed. I can’t take credit for that term — that’s from Anne Lamott. For me it means slowing down, getting quiet and figuring out what I need in that moment to help me get over a creative hurdle. Sometimes it’s blowing things off and going to the movies or for a walk or taking a bath or doing something I’ve always wanted to do — like baking macarons! Anything that gets me away from writing for a while. If I let my mind relax into an activity where there’s no measuring my “success,” I always come back to a project with fresh eyes.

Stephanie Scott: There are a few kinds of tough in my eyes: the real-life-is-invading-all-of-my-creative-spaces and then zero artistic motivation. I’m currently battling both! When it’s a life issue getting in the way of my writing, I go back to my planner and get organized. What can I schedule, what can I set aside, what is easy that can be checked off today? When I lack motivation, that to me is trickier than just being busy. I tend to go back to what I wish I had time for when I’m too busy: cooking, art projects, or exploring my neighborhood. I like to play video games, and often don’t because it’s such a time suck. Sometimes that break can be really refreshing. Usually what gets me going again after a creative break is to read a really good book — not just a good book, but the kind of book that reminds me why I love stories in general.

Erin Fletcher: When the going gets tough, there are many things that get me going (including escaping between the pages of a good book in a bubble bath with a glass of wine). But the one that works best is to do something for someone else. Sometimes I bake cookies for a friend or volunteer at my church. Other times I send a hand-written “just because” card to a family member. Or go shopping for groceries to donate to a food pantry. Or find a Donors Choose project to support. Or offer to babysit for an overwhelmed single mom. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is for sure: When I focus on meeting the needs of someone else, my tough going goes right away!

Karole Cozzo: Wow, I don’t know if an answer has ever announced itself so instantaneously in my head! What keeps me going … what gets me going, when I feel like I could throw in the towel is most definitely my writing pallies. I can’t imagine what the writing endeavor would feel like without the supportive, reassuring, positive, and motivating writers’ community that I’m a part of. This group of people is always willing to listen to fears, anxieties, frustrations, and disappointments. They don’t always have the answers, but they certainly can provide understanding and perspective. There’s next to nothing that an author goes through that hasn’t been experienced by another author, and sometimes you just need to hear you’re not alone and be reminded how tough this business can be. My writing friends understand this in a way that only fellow authors can. They’re my sounding board, my punching bag, my cheerleaders, my rays of sunshine.

Linda Budzinski: Usually for me, life and writing get tough when I feel overwhelmed and have too much going on. If I’m being honest, my typical reaction is denial, followed by another dose of denial, followed by a whole lot more denial. When I finally get to a breaking point, I have to step away from it all and give myself a break. This can mean binge-watching a reality show on Bravo or a trip to Burlington Coat Factory or an afternoon spent browsing through my magazine pile.  Usually, that break is enough to clear my mind and make me more productive when I get back to my “to do” list. And often at that point I’ll realize there is one specific item on my list that has led to the feeling of being overwhelmed — something I’ve been avoiding. That is the one thing I need to tackle first, and then everything else falls into place.

How about you? When the going gets tough, what gets you going? Tell us in the comments!

2018, Here We Come!

Happy New Year! As we look forward to 2018, this month we answer the question: What are your goals for this year (writing/publishing or otherwise)?

Erin Fletcher: One of my goals for 2018 is to read more! For a lot of 2017, I replaced reading with things like my day job, watching YouTube, and scrolling through BuzzFeed. The result? I miss reading! I have a large stack of books (okay, fine, I have a few large stacks of books) just waiting for me, and I can’t wait to dive into them! I think I’ll make my first read of 2018 a book from one of my fellow Sweethearts … leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for a Sweetheart book you’ve loved!

Stephanie Scott: My aim is to finish up two YA manuscripts in progress to pitch to publishers. My goal is to turn them in to my agent in March. I spent part of New Year’s Day setting up my 2018 planner and breaking down the tasks of what needs to be done and by when. I don’t get super detailed, but general deadlines and goals along the way help me a lot. I’m also venturing into romance for adult readers and am planning a self-publish launch as part of a group series. This has a spring timeline too. The second half of 2018 is wide open with possibility!

Linda Budzinski: In December, I started back to work full-time with a new job that is going to require a lot of travel. There are lots of aspects of the job I’m excited about, but travel is NOT one of them. I like being home with my husband and sleeping in my own bed. I tend to see travel as a hassle and a major stress-inducer. So, my goal is to figure out how to turn that around. I want to adjust my attitude and learn to enjoy my work trips. And I NEED to figure out how to keep my writing on schedule while I’m  on the road! (And if anyone has thoughts on how to do that, I’d love to hear them!)

Darcy Woods: For the past few years, I’ve said YES to virtually all the invites and opportunities that have come my way. So when 2018 rolled around, I decided to declare it the Year of NO! That doesn’t mean I’ll say no to everything, or that I regret the years of yeses — not by a long shot! They’ve led to so many unforgettable experiences, expanded horizons, and lasting friendships. I’ve just come to recognize the Yes Years are not infinitely sustainable for me. (Egads, I’m human after all!) Time might be one of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves. And with 2017 being an especially tumultuous year, I intend to do just that!

Robin Constantine: I spent most of last year trying to find the joy in my writing. It took some effort and many stops and starts, but I did find it again. Now I want to keep fanning those creative flames. In the past I’ve always worked on one project, taken a break, then started something new. My goal in 2018 is to always be working on something. I’d also like to write something out of my comfort zone — which may for my eyes only, but who knows, sometimes when the goal is to have fun you find some gems!

Karole Kozzo: I hope to accomplish one of my big personal goals next month in Orlando by completing the Disney Princess Half Marathon, which will be my first half marathon attempted. I’m aiming for a respectable time (that might mean something different to me than to serious runners, I admit!) while still having fun and making sure to stop and smell the Dole Whip and snap pictures with some characters. And I have several writing goals! I’m hoping to sell my fifth YA romance manuscript. I would love to finish a WIP in time for Pitch Wars (but if not this year, then next for sure). I’m hoping to branch out a bit beyond romance, which feels challenging and a bit scary for me, but also exciting. Any story I write will have some romantic elements for sure, but I look forward to pushing myself when it comes to structure and plotting. Happy New Year, everyone!

What are your goals for 2018? Tell us about them in the comments! xoxoxo

Give the Gift of ….

The Sweethearts wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season! We hope you embrace the music, the decorations, the food, the fun, the time with family and friends, and of course … the gifts! For this month’s “Ask the Sweethearts,” we’re sharing our thoughts on the question: What holiday gifts do you recommend for someone who loves YA romance?

Darcy Woods: With so many swoontastic YA contemporary romance books on the shelf, it can be difficult to narrow your gift-giving list. But fret not! The Sweethearts are here to make holiday shopping for the bibliophile in your life a little less stress-inducing. And to that end, here’s a handful of my romantic faves (old and new) that have moved me to tears, made me cackle with laughter, and/or caused me to simply marvel at what it is love:
  • WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon
  • MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp
  • WHY I LOATHE STERLING LANE by Ingrid Paulson
  • FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
And if you reeeeally wanna knock your lit lovers socks off, you’ll add this vintage bouquet of book roses to the mix! Available at Amazon or wherever literary flowers are sold. 🙂
Robin Constantine: I love giving (and receiving!) little luxuries — especially items for pampering!  I love anything from LUSH — like this gift set — their bath bombs and bubble bars are decadent and leave you smelling great!  Another great pampering item is a diffuser with essential oils like lavender to calm or citrus to keep your mind sharp and energized.
Karole Cozzo: Here are mine!
  • Laura Mercier Lip Glace in Babydoll: Makes lips soft and silky for kissing — this is a color everyone can rock and (bonus!) it tastes like birthday cake and marshmallows.
  • LOVE candle lid magnet — This one won’t break the bank (think perfect stocking stuffer) and it makes candles every bit as pretty and romantic when they’re unlit as when they’re burning.
  • Kiss Me! bath bombs — Because it’s hard to think of a better fragrance for relaxing in the tub with your favorite book boyfriend.
  • Magic in the Air sugar scrub — Create a little magic with the scent of almonds and whipped vanilla and end up with skin that’s canoodling-friendly 🙂
  • Paperback book cover with bookmark — Protect the ones you love the most — available in a myriad of patterns for 10$ a pop.
Stephanie Scott: My gift recommendations are my two favorite contemporary young adult romances from 2017: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon and I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo. You might want to pair these books with bookish candles from Novelly Yours, a reader-turned-candle-seller with scents like Currently Reading, Book Boyfriend, Romance Trope, and scents named after various book fandoms.

Erin Fletcher: I have three recs:

  • Amazon Gift Card: Picking out a book to give someone else is tough. What if they already read it? What if they’re not interested in it? Save the stress. Go for the gift card! My favorite is this one in the shape of a bookmark.
  • Bookish Candle: There are a ton of book-related candles out there, perfect for reading by candlelight! Check out this one from one of my fav contemporary YA romances, “Anna and the French Kiss.”
  • Book Boyfriend Mug: What’s better than reading a book? Reading a book while sipping coffee, tea, or hot chocolate out of an adorable mug, obvs. I love this one that says “You can never have too many book boyfriends.”

Linda Budzinski: Well, obviously, the perfect gift is a Sweetheart book, along with some swag from the Ripped Bodice, the only book store in the United States devoted exclusively to romance. I especially love their “Smart Girls Read Romance” t-shirt (I wear mine all the time!) and their “I am the heroine of my own story” tank top.

‘Tis better to give than to receive, so have fun giving these sweet and swoony gifts to your friends! And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with gifting something to yourself as well. Go ahead, you know you want to! And leave your gift recs in the comments! xoxoxo

Our Fav Romance Movies

Welcome to the November (seriously?! how is that even possible?) edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we get to the post, congratulations to Sandra Owens, winner of our October giveaway, Jay Asher’s WHAT LIGHT!

This month’s question: What is your favorite romantic (or rom com) movie and why?

Darcy Woods: With so many favorites, it’s hard to choose just one! But there is a movie that stands out for a multitude of reasons, including its obscurity. Ever heard of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty? I’m secretly hoping you haven’t, because I love nothing more than sharing cinematic, off-the-grid treasures! In this 1996 film, Liv Tyler stars (in one of her first roles) as a budding young poet who travels to the lush Tuscan countryside following her mother’s suicide to reconnect with family friends. But she also has two ulterior motives for her journey: to uncover the true identity of her biological father (hinted at in her mother’s letters), and to lose her virginity. This film is rife with heartache (shout out to Jeremy Iron’s exquisite performance as a dying playwright), eccentric characters, sensuality, gorgeous Tuscan landscapes with villas you’ll ache to visit, plus a kickass musical score (Liz Phair, Portishead, Nina Simone, etc.). While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I gulped it down and returned for seconds.

Karole Cozzo: My current favorite romantic movie is the live action version of Cinderella. I was not ever a fan of Disney’s animated version, and I think that’s in part why I was blown away by how much I enjoyed the live action film. Every aspect of the movie — the cinematography, the sets, the wardrobe — was utterly romantic. I also greatly appreciated the direction they took the film in, and some of the deeper thematic elements about love they chose to explore in this version. I love how Ella and Kit’s relationship wasn’t one-sided — she “saved” him in equal measure to him “saving” her. I loved how both were drawn to the idea of putting down their defenses when together, and how they were willing to take the risk of revealing their true selves, with the faith that they would be loved regardless. So many great quotes from this one! “Was who she was, who she really was, really enough? Perhaps this is the greatest risk any of us will ever take — to be seen as we truly are.”

Erin Fletcher: For my favorite romantic movie, I pick Dear John (the 2010 Nicholas Sparks film). I love the movie because of the super sweet romance, the inclusion of a character with Autism, and (let’s be honest) the fact that you get Channing Tatum on a screen for about 100 minutes. The movie is also at the top of my list because I was lucky enough to attend the Charleston, S.C., premiere! Not only did I get to see the movie early in a beautiful downtown Charleston theater, but I got to attend the after party, which was held at an aquarium and featured red carpets, amazing food, and mingling with the cast and crew. Yes, I met Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Yes, they were both even more gorgeous in real life than on the screen. Watching the movie now brings back a ton of fun memories, which is why it will always be a favorite!

Robin Constantine: Hands down my favorite rom com is You’ve Got Mail. Any time I come across it on TV, I have to watch it, no matter if there’s two hours or ten minutes left. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s chemistry is insane. I love their back and forth both via anonymous email and in person. It’s pretty much the perfect movie. And that ending!!!  Don’t cry, Shopgirl. Don’t cry. I wanted it to be you … I wanted it to be you so badly.  (A very close second is The Holiday! When Jude Law sees Cameron Diaz in the pub … sigh.)

Linda Budzinski: I’m going to go with 500 Days of Summer, about a guy who believes in true love and a girl (named Summer), who does not. It’s quirky and funny and bittersweet, and it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, who each is adorable in his/her own right but who are honestly I-cannot-even together. Not sure if it qualifies as a true romance because the ending is not quite a “happily ever after,” but it is the perfect ending nonetheless for this movie. If you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will!

Stephanie Scott: One bummer about romantic comedies is you have to go back 10 -15 years to find any (come on, Hollywood, why no more rom coms?!). One of my favorites is a lesser known movie from the mid-2000s, Catch and Release with Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, and Joel from the Parenthood TV show (who didn’t love Joel?). In “Catch and Release,” Jennifer Garner’s fiance is killed right before their wedding. She ends up moving in with his three best friends, and subsequently realizes her fiance had a secret life she didn’t know about. I’m sure you can guess, she falls for one of her ex’s friends, who happens to be the one who kept her ex’s terrible secret. I love the Boulder, Colorado, setting; lots of outdoor shots and the whole town looks comfortably livable. Timothy Olyphant is so great in a romantic role! Proof he’s a great actor, if you’ve seen him in Deadwood or Justified where he’s totally different. If romantic comedies hadn’t died their slow death, I would expect Jennifer Garner would have been in a ton more of them too.