Category Archives: Guest Posts

Gloria Chao: Hugs, Cakes, and Panda Plates

Congratulations to this month’s guest author, Gloria Chao, whose debut novel, AMERICAN PANDA, released last week! In this YA romance — called “effervescent” by Publishers Weekly — 17-year-old Mei Lu’s parents want her to become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. Two problems: Germs freak her out, and dreamy Darren Takahashi is not Taiwanese. Ah, forbidden love! 

How did you come up with the idea for AMERICAN PANDA?

I wrote this book when I switched careers from dentist to writer and was having a hard time communicating with my parents. I wanted to write the book that I needed in that moment and also the book I needed as a teen. Just like my protagonist, Mei, I had a different vision for my life than my parents, and I needed to find the strength to pursue my dreams and communicate with my parents.

How did you find your agent and publisher? Was your manuscript an overnight success, or did you have to deal with a lot of rejections/revisions?

It took me a little over a year (and many, many rejections) to find my wonderful agent. I rewrote the book so many times because of the college setting and queried 3 different versions of the manuscript. After revising a few rounds with my agent, we went out on submission and sold the book in a week!

What is the significance of the title? Did you come up with it, or did the publisher?

AMERICAN PANDA represents Mei’s struggle with her identity, and the font on the cover even shows how they are in conflict with each other. Mei also starts the book with a black-and-white world view, and through the course of the book, she begins to see the gray. Hence the book’s tagline, “Unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.” There are also references to pandas in the book.

I came up with this title, and I’m thrilled that Simon Pulse loved it!

You were once a black belt … what could kung fu teach you about writing?

Kung fu taught me to grit my teeth to push through the pain. Also, the more I practiced, the easier it became. Both of these are very applicable to writing! And fun fact: my second book’s protagonist is a martial artist!

How did you celebrate your release?

I was honored to have visited South Elgin High School the morning of release to hold a writing workshop and give a presentation. The rest of the day was my husband and I driving around to Targets, indie bookstores, and Barnes and Nobles to sign stock!

It was surreal seeing my book on the shelves, and I’m grateful to have been able to share the moment with the person who helped me discover my love of writing. There was a lot of driving (and singing at the top of our lungs), and then that night we celebrated with a launch party at Anderson’s Bookshop! There was laughter, hugging, cake, and panda plates, and I couldn’t have wished for anything more. I am also so grateful for the love that AMERICAN PANDA received on social media that day! Thank you, everyone, for making my launch day so special!

What’s next?

I’m currently drafting MISALIGNED, which will be out fall 2019 with Simon Pulse. The book follows a teen outcast, Ali, who is the only Asian in her small, predominantly white Midwestern town. The book explores racism and prejudice, and when another Asian family moves to town, everyone believes Ali and the other Chinese boy belong together. Despite her initial resistance, she begins falling for him, only to learn that her mother forbids them from being together. As Ali searches for the reasoning behind her mother’s disapproval, she unearths dark family secrets that threaten her future.

Ah, who doesn’t love family secrets? And more forbidden love? Okay, on to the speed round!

  • Alpha males or sensitive types? Sensitive Types 110%
  • Morning glory or night owl? Night Owl 1,000%
  • Tropical island or mountain getaway? Ooh, tropical island relaxation.
  • French fries or cookies? COOKIES!!!!!
  • High heels or flats? Flats—I am all about comfort over style.

Thank you for visiting us, and enjoy the rest of your debut month! Readers can connect with Gloria here:

Website * TwitterFacebookInstagram * Goodreads

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

Patricia Tighe: Bringing the Swoon

Welcome to Patricia Tighe, our first guest of 2018! Patricia is author of LIFE IN THE NO-DATING ZONE, LIFE IN THE LUCKY ZONE, AND LIFE IN THE DANGER ZONE (yes, you guessed it, that’s a series!). Her newest novel, ABOUT LAST SUMMER, is about a girl who assumes a fake identity on a dare, which is all fun and games … until she runs into the boy she dated (you guessed it again!) last summer!

What gave you the idea to write this novel?

For ABOUT LAST SUMMER, I was playing around with the idea of secret identities and what might happen if someone showed up who knew who you really were. And what if that someone happened to be your ex? From there it was just a matter of putting my couple in a setting where they couldn’t get away from each other.

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

I’ve completed nine books — two middle grade that will probably never see the light of day, two YA fantasy novels that I still might do something with, and five YA contemporary romance novels published by Swoon Romance. Four are out now and the fifth will be out this Spring.

What types of characters are your favorite to write?

I love writing characters that make me laugh. If I can have at least one character that’s a little bit nuts or unusual, I’m a happy writer. It may be that I’m the only one who laughs at that character’s wit, but I still enjoy it.

Kissing scenes: Do you find them they easy or more challenging to write?

I’ve always found kissing scenes challenging to write, not because of the actual physical aspect but because of the emotional component. It’s so important to get that right. Well, at least as right as possible. There’s give and take and character growth to take into consideration. And within all that, you have to bring the swoon!

How did you find your critique partners?

The majority of my critique partners came from the time I spent at Seton Hill University where I earned a master’s in Writing Popular Fiction in 2008. Having worked together for so long, I know I can trust them. Each individual will point out a different aspect in my work that I need to address. It’s wonderful.

What is a typical comment you’d get from your critique partner?

Ha! In almost every manuscript I’ll see: “You’ve got a cluster of passive sentences in that paragraph. Maybe rewrite.”

Ah, yes. Active sentences are definitely better! And on that note, let’s move to the speed round!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Sensitive types with a sense of humor!
  • Red roses vs. blue violets: Blue violets.
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: Night owl. And I always live to regret it.
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Tropical island in the shade.
  • Wizards vs. vampires: Wizards!
  • French fries vs. cookies: Cookies. All the cookies.

Thanks so much for visiting our blog, and please, please keep bringing the swoo! Here’s where fans can find Patricia:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

The mother of two grown sons, Patricia B. Tighe lives in West Texas with her husband and dog. She eats way too much pizza, drinks way too much coffee, and watches way too much NFL football. On the bright side, she also reads and writes teen fiction. She promises to include as much romance, angst, and adventure as possible in her books.

Cheyanne Young: Writing A Novel in 30 Days

Happy Holidays! We are super excited this month to welcome Cheyanne Young as our guest author. Cheyanne is the author of … well … a LOT of novels, including her most recent YA romance, THE BREAKUP SUPPORT GROUP. She joins us here to talk about her newest project, THE LAST WISH OF SASHA CADE, which releases from KCP Loft in the fall of 2018 and which involves a glitter-painted coffin; a long-lost brother; a statewide scavenger hunt; a newfound love; and a very, very, very BEST best friend.

What gave you the idea to write this novel?

THE LAST WISH OF SASHA CADE came to me in a very poetic and magical way. I remember it very clearly … I was pacing around the living room trying to think of a new book idea, and I said, “I want to write a book about two best friends who are very close and loyal and don’t have any drama between them.” To which my teenage daughter said, “Knowing you, Mom, you’ll probably kill one of them.” And BAM. An idea was born. (Told you it was magical.) Although Sasha dies in the book, I still kept my main idea of two best friends who were loyal to each other until the end.

What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

While there is a pretty heartwarming gooey mushy love story in SASHA, I think the overall story is about friendship. The real kind, the ride-or-die, BFF, ovaries before brovaries, best friend friendship that you’re only lucky enough to have once or twice in your life. That true love exists within these friendships and that even when someone is gone, they’ll always be with you.

What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter? Pantser? Plotser?

I am 100 percent a plotter. I plot to an obsessive, ridiculous level that probably no one should ever do. But I’m also the person whose clothes are arranged in ROYGBIV color order in my closet, so what can I say? I’m organized. My outlines are very detailed, down to each scene and chapter, and are usually around 8,000 words each. But, I find this is perfect for my writing process because I’ll spend a week or two outlining the novel, working out the plot kinks in my outline, and then everything is so put together I’m simply transcribing the story that’s in my mind.

This is how I famously write all of my novels in 30 days or less, and I love my process. But with that said, I always urge writers do try their own thing. I’ve tried pantsing, I’ve tried plotting, and everything in between. What works for some authors won’t work for others, so keep switching it up until you settle into your groove

Do you have any tips for beginning writers?

Read all the time. Read in every genre (at least once). Read writing craft books, but only take the advice that speaks to you — ignore the rest. Learn basic punctuation and grammar. Then write without expectations. Know it’s going to suck for a while before you get any good.

Also, while you should embrace social media and have fun with it, DON’T LET IT CONTROL YOUR LIFE. Book Twitter and Bookstagram are so much fun and yet so soul crushing. Everywhere you turn, there’s another book deal announcement, a NYT bestseller, an aspiring author signing with your dream agent. Don’t let it get you down. Do your thing, be kind always, and trust in your writing journey.

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

OH MAN. I got to meet Sarah Dessen. I almost cried when she walked out. I blabbered like a total idiot when she signed my book, and I told her that she was the author who inspired me to start writing about 10 years ago, that my daughter was named after a character in her book, and that I recently signed my first big book deal. I told her I wanted to thank her, and she said, “I appreciate it so much, but remember that YOU are the one who wrote the book that got a deal. You deserve to the credit, not me.” ISN’T SHE AMAZING? Check out this shot of me being a total fangirl, and my daughter, whose sarcasm inspired my new book.

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

Do you have a calculator?

  • 4 self-published books
  • 4 traditionally published books
  • 2 self-published books I unpublished and deleted (because they sucked)
  • 1 more traditional book coming next year (THE LAST WISH OF SASHA CADE)
  • 3 manuscripts I queried then tossed
  • 16 (SIXTEEN!) manuscripts that will never see the light of day
  • 1 manuscript my agent and I decided sucked too much to submit
  • 1 manuscript I just finished writing (and hope will be published!)
  • And countless half-written abandoned stories that will never be resurrected because sometimes you think you’re a good writer and you totally, definitely, aren’t.

Holy wow! That’s impressive. Guess that’s what happens when you figure out how to write a book in a month! Let’s get to the speed round, shall we? You should be really, really good at this!

  • Alpha males vs. sensitive types: Can I have a mixture of both, please?
  • Sweet vs. savory: Savory… no sweet… NO SAVORY!
  • Morning glory vs. night owl: I sleep about five hours a night, so both
  • Tropical island vs. mountain getaway: Give me the mountains!
  • High heels vs. flats: Flats!
  • Ziplining vs. snorkeling: Ziplining
  • Friday night vs. Sunday morning: Friday night

Well, the five hours a night helps explain a lot, too! Thanks so much for popping in, and all the best to you in 2018! Here’s where readers can find Cheyanne:

Website * Twitter * Instagram

Cheyanne Young is a native Texan with a fear of cold weather and a coffee addiction that probably needs an intervention. She loves books, sarcasm, and collecting nail polish. After nearly a decade of working in engineering, Cheyanne now writes books for young adults. She also runs a bookish Etsy shop. Cheyanne lives near the beach with her daughter and husband, one spoiled rotten puppy, and a cat that is most likely plotting to take over the world.

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