Category Archives: Ask the Sweethearts

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!

Why YA Romance?

Welcome to the first edition of “Ask the Sweethearts,” where we share our thoughts on all sorts of fun topics. To kick things off, our first question is (of course): Why YA romance? What do you love about it and why do you write it?

Erin Fletcher: The reason I write YA romance can be summed up by a quote from the movie 17 Again (yes, I’m a Zac Efron fan!): “When you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world. But it’s not; it’s just the beginning.” That quote reminds me that when it comes to first love, the highs are so much higher and the lows are so much lower than they ever will be. Writing (and reading!) about those extremes is the best.

Darcy Woods: Hands down, no other genre tugs my emotional strings the way YA romance does. I get all swept up in the rawness, the heart-hammering excitement, and the beauty and tragedy of life’s exquisite firsts. I’m transported to a time in my life that was simpler … and infinitely more complex. Because, let’s face it, figuring out who you are is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do. And do again. So having the opportunity to reconnect with that pure, earnest hopefulness — so often smothered by the responsibilities of adulthood — it is the greatest gift.

Stephanie Scott: I guess you can say I’m a Shipper. Going back to my first TV fandom, The X-Files, I “shipped” Mulder and Scully — a pretty classic pairing. I lived for the moments the two would find themselves in close encounters while investigating … close encounters. The light teasing. The lingering touches. (But let’s forget the whole late-series alien love child.) My favorite is when you first see that spark in an underdog character, someone quirky, and you just want to pair them up with your favorite hero/heroine. I love all the off-canon pairings in the Harry Potter universe. You’ve got your classic Harry/Luna and then the totally unthinkable “Dramione,” aka Draco and Hermione! Now there’s a challenge: turn Draco Malfoy into a classic romance hero.

Robin Constantine: When I first started writing young adult, I never intended to write romance. I loved writing YA because I enjoyed looking at the world through a teenage lens. High school years can be dramatic, cynical, chaotic, silly — on the one hand you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, and on the other hand you’re wondering if your crush will ever notice you. Everything is heightened — it’s built-in tension. As my craft evolved, I found that the spark that drew me to put pen to paper in the first place really came alive when I would write a scene between two people who were interested in each other. I would set out to write something dark and edgy then find myself getting swept away in the scenes that involved meet-cutes, and near-miss kisses, and awkward-but-full-of-potential moments and just falling in love with the process of developing a romance/relationship arc. That’s when I realized there will always be kissing in my books. There will always be a happily-for-now ending. So, as corny as it sounds, I think in a way, YA romance chose me. It’s what I naturally gravitate toward.

Karole Cozzo: Well, in part because I’m a school psychologist by day, character development always takes precedence over plotting, world building, you name it when I’m conceptualizing a story. My favorite part of writing is transforming a character over the course of a story in a manner that is authentic, meaningful, and thought-provoking. Adolescence is definitely a prime time for personality development and increasing self-awareness, so I love crafting stories within this stage of life. Young adults are wonderfully imperfect people! It’s definitely challenging, asking readers to embrace a character who may be far from lovable in chapter one and keeping them hooked to the point they come to like (or if not like, at least respect and root for) an initially flawed character. But it’s a challenge I enjoy and continue to take on in my stories. I’ve tackled some heavy subject matter in my books thus far – Autism, spinal cord injury, cyberbullying, disordered eating, etc, and I enjoy approaching them within the romance subgenre to add some levity, laughter, and ooey-gooey feels. Romantic relationships tend to teach us a lot about ourselves and our priorities, so it’s always felt natural to fuse the two.

Linda Budzinski: YA romance comes naturally to me … I guess you could say I’m in touch with my inner teen. I remember so well those all-consuming crushes over a boy who may or may not like you back. (But, man, wouldn’t it be amazing if he did like you back? And if he did, maybe he’d ask you to homecoming. And if you did go to homecoming together, maybe he’d kiss you. But if he did kiss you, would it be sloppy or sweet or amazing or … anyway, you get the idea.) As a teen, I was super shy and awkward when it came to relationships. As a YA romance author, I get to make things as fun and messy and weird and exciting as I want, and in the end I get to give my hero and heroine a happy ever after. What could be better than that?

What about you? Why do you love YA romance and why do you read or write it? Tell us in the comments!

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