Category Archives: Sweethearts Posts

On Influences and Inspirations

by Karole Cozzo

Summer 2017 finds me with a manuscript at the copy edit stage, which means I’m this close to feeling like the project is officially put to bed (woo hoo!). And we all know what that means — the writer’s mind immediately starts churning away, wondering “what’s next?”

In thinking about what influences the direction of my stories, I’ve narrowed it down to four categories: personal experiences, professional experiences, imagination, and what I’ll call “the reading/publishing world at large.” I suppose all of my books have been impacted by each of these categories to varying extents.

Personal experiences. Certainly, my personal experiences and relationships have revealed themselves in stories at times. Characters will inevitably come to resemble people I’ve known or engage in behavior patterns I’ve observed from them. It turns out I’m a pretty kind author, and characters have tended to embody positive characteristics of my friends rather than anything else!

Professional Experiences. My work as a school psychologist has definitely impacted the topics and themes in my books. My first two novels, which dealt with topics such as life with autism, cyberbullying, and living with physical disabilities, came about after spending my days working at a school for students with severe autism and later, an area high school.

Imagination. My third novel, about a theme park princess… well, that was all a play of my imagination. I’m a seasoned Disney park-goer, but since copyright prevented the story from actually being set at Disney, I had a ton of fun dreaming up what a “Disneyesque” park would be like, embellishing, putting my own twists on classic concepts.

Readers/Publishers. And every time I’ve sat down to tackle a new project, I’ve certainly given thought to what people want right now. What are people going nuts over on social media? What’s showing up with that #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) hashtag? Certainly, I believe it’s important and critical to stay true to your personal motivation and passion when considering projects, but it’s impossible to completely avoid the fear that you’re writing a story few people may have interest in reading if you don’t consider the pulse of the YA community.

So talk to me in the comments…

What influences you in selecting writing projects?

Have you ever successfully translated someone else’s idea or request into a project that was all your own?

How important is it to address the wants and needs of the reading community compared to writing what you want to write? What are the dangers in paying too much attention to “what’s hot”?

If you broke it down, what percentages would you assign to the above-mentioned factors as influencing you?

Roundup: Favorite Reads

Looking for a great summer read? The Sweethearts have some fabulous recommendations for you this week, from a “classic” series to a book that hasn’t even been released yet and lots in between. But first, of course … the announcements:

We are thrilled to share that TIED UP IN YOU, the sequel to Erin Fletcher’s Athena-nominated ALL LACED UP, has a release date (July 10, which is like, really, really, really soon) and a cover (which is like, super-duper adorable) and is now available for pre-order over on Amazon. You can (and should) check it out here!

Next, congratulations to Theresa Snyder, winner of our June contest. Theresa gets some fun Sweetheart swag and her choice of an e-book.

Now, on to our recs:

Robin Constantine: One of my favorite reads of the past few months has been THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski. The story is set in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and takes place the summer after Superstorm Sandy. (NJ is still feeling the after effects of this historic and horrible storm.) Lucy is a multi-faceted heroine—and her take on love is kind of hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. Every chapter begins with a quote from her junior thesis “What’s Love Got to Do with It? The Dating and Mating Habits of North American Sea Life.” and gives you a little insight into the coming pages. It’s romantic and funny and so relatable. It’s also filled with Jersey gems—so if you want a taste of what the Jersey shore is really like—I highly recommend it!!

Darcy Woods: If you’ve been searching for that perfect enemies-to-lovers romp to take to the beach, have I got the book for you! Imagine an uptight, sharp-tongued, rule-following Paris Geller type, going head-to-head at a boarding school with a smooth-talking, rule-breaking, Ferris Bueller-esque guy (but an über hot, lacrosse-playing Ferris). Intrigued? Well, after reading the synopsis for WHY I LOATHE STERLING LANE by Ingrid Paulson, I’m pretty sure I clicked buy-it-now fast enough to break the sound barrier. The masterful banter alone between Harper and Sterling sent this snark-loving girl’s heart all aflutter. But when this powder keg of sexual tension was mixed with wicked-smart humor, and sharply drawn (and delightfully flawed) characters, I was flipping pages like I’d find a pot of gold at the end. And I did. Because this book is absolute gold! Highly recommend for summer fun and frolic!

Erin Fletcher: Is it strange that my favorite read of the summer so far is one I haven’t even finished yet? Strange but true. Right now I’m almost done with LETTERS TO THE LOST by Brigid Kemmerer. I’m loving it so much that I feel confident telling y’all how awesome it is before I get to the end! I recently saw Brigid speak on one of her tour stops, and the premise of her book sucked me right in: Juliet Young writes letters to her mom and leaves them on her grave. Declan Murphy, working at the cemetery for community service, discovers the letters and starts writing back. Little do the anonymous letter-writers know that they’re not strangers at all. Fantastic premise, right? Brigid’s writing is absolutely beautiful. The dual POV is so well done, and I’ve become so wrapped up in this story! I can’t wait to see how it ends, and hope you enjoy it as much as I am!

Stephanie Scott: Right away I’m going to cheat and name two! The first is THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee. This is an utterly unique story about a mother-daughter team with the gift of acute smell who craft matchmaking elixirs (aka love potions!). There are rules of course, including no actual romantic relationships for themselves or their treasured noses will become average sniffers. So of course, our YA heroine falls for someone she can’t have! The sensory descriptions are so vivid and the touch of magic is a lot of fun. The other book is the upcoming SASQUATCH, LOVE, AND OTHER IMAGINARY THINGS by Betsy Aldredge and Carrie Dubois-Shaw. It’s a loose Pride & Prejudice retelling set in a reality TV competition about Sasquatch trackers. Yes, all of that is in one book! I laughed out loud so many times reading.

Karole Cozzo: I know the OCEAN CITY/MAKING WAVES series by Katherine Applegate dates back to my teen years, but the fact that the series has been republished is a testament to the timelessness of this most fabulous YA romance romp. I think there was something about the stories being set in the beach town I always visited—it was all too easy to insert myself into these stories and dream of the torrid teen romances that could be if I were ever to share a summer house with several attractive strangers. In Book One, MC/good girl Kate realizes she’s living with her ex, Justin, when she runs into him in nothing but a towel coming out of the communal bathroom. Chapter 1 and you know it’s going to be good! Did I mention Justin is a brooding, dog-loving lifeguard? I’m planning on a reread of these books this summer (I still have the original Ocean City collection). Even if today’s young adults find some of the content outdated—and I don’t really think they would—I’m willing to bet any adult YA fans looking for fluffy beach reads will devour this series.

Linda Budzinski: Pretty much all of my YA reads this year have been books by either my fellow Sweethearts or our guest authors. They’ve all been awesome and fun (and sometimes ugly-cry inducing) and there’s no way in heck I’m going to pick a favorite! So, I’m going to dig back into the shelves and share one of my favorite all-time YA books, from a few years ago—OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. Set in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1950s, it’s about a girl named Josie whose mother is a prostitute but who dreams of a very different future for herself. It’s not a romance per se, though it does have a swoon-worthy boy or two in there as well as intrigue and a colorful cast of characters and lots of scenes set in an old bookstore that is pretty swoon-inducing itself. The thing I love most about this book, though, is the writing. The prose is like a favorite hymn—beautiful and rousing and comforting all at the same time. You’ll want to take your time reading it so you can taste every word.

So, those are our recommendations. We’re always looking for great reads, too, so please share yours in the comments! xoxoxo

Summer + Reading = Perfect Match

by Erin Fletcher

Happy summer, y’all! Okay, fine. It may not be the first official day of summer yet, but I’m writing this post with the windows open, a warm breeze blowing in, and birds chirping nearby, so a little early is okay, right? Good.

In my world, summer means lots of one thing: reading. In fact, I would argue that it’s the best season for reading.

I know what you’re thinking. But, Erin. Isn’t winter the best, when you can curl up with a blanket and a cat and a book and pretend the frigid temperatures and snow outside don’t exist?

Well…that is pretty great. But summer is better. Here’s why:

  • Vacation = Reading time. Whether you’re on summer break from school or getting some time off work (long weekends FTW!), all of those extra hours mean more time to spend between the pages of a book. Want to take an entire day to tackle your TBR list? Go for it. Stuck in the backseat of your family’s minivan on a cross-country road trip? Use the time to finish that book that’s been sitting by your bed for the past three months!
  • Waterside reading is the best. I’m lucky enough to have access to a pool and also live within driving distance of the ocean. Is there anything better than relaxing in a lounge chair in the sand with the soothing sound of ocean waves providing background noise while you read? No. No there is not. Especially if the book is by Sarah Dessen or another beach-writing author. Relaxing in a lounge chair by the pool is a close second, as evidenced by this picture from my first reading pool trip of the season:

  • There is nothing on TV. Literally nothing. No new episodes of Gossip Girl. The second season of 13 Reasons Why isn’t out yet. So unless you’re marathoning old episodes from HGTV or the Food Network (okay…maybe I spend a tiny bit of summer time doing that), you have a lot more prime-time hours available for books. Ditch the screens…at least until This is Us is back.
  • Summer reading programs are a thing! Check your local library! Many have programs for kids, teens, and adults. My library offers prizes just for reading or attending a library event. True story: Once in college my roommate and I participated in a summer reading program and won a gift card to a store called Yarn It! (exclamation point included). It was the coolest/nerdiest thing ever that led to a half-crocheted scarf and a good memory.

See? Summer really is the best for reading, and we’re just getting started.

What’s your favorite part about summer reading? What beach reads are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

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!

Would Younger You Be Impressed?

by Linda Budzinski

A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, someone asked, “do u think ur 16 y/o self would be impressed with u?” She got lots of responses … some sad, some touching, some hilarious. (I especially laughed at the one where a guy wrote, “yes bc i’ve had s*x. which, if i’m remembering correctly, is all i wanted to grow up to be when i was sixteen.”)

I love this question, because I’ve thought a lot about what grown-up me would say to teen me if I could go back and do those years over again, but I’d never stopped to think what teen me might have to say to me now.

One thing I’ll bet she’d say is the same thing I’d tell her: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The thing is, most of us tend to beat up on ourselves in ways we would never do to our friends or even complete strangers. In THE BOYFRIEND WHISPERER, my main character, Lexi, helps her classmates find love. In doing so, she becomes a cheerleader for them, reminding them of who they are and why they deserve to love and be loved, yet she gets down on herself for being unable to snag her own dream crush, telling herself things she would never tell her clients. She  basically does that destructive thing so many of us do inside our own heads where we convince ourselves we’re not good enough.

Think about it. What would Past You (or maybe Future You) have to say to you now? Sure, there may be some tough love, maybe even a bit of eye rolling, but I’ll bet you wouldn’t beat yourself up the way Present You does sometimes.

So … what would 16-year-old Linda (yes, that’s her up there, rocking the bangs) think of adult Linda? Back then, I believe I had three main interests: boys, music, and my friends (though not always in that order). So how am I doing?

First, BOYS: Pretty sure 16-year-old me would take one look at my husband and be like:

So, yeah, I get a passing grade in that department.

Next, MUSIC: Here’s where teen me might want to puke a little bit in her mouth.

Nowadays I have a much broader appreciation for music (i.e., I catch myself dancing around the kitchen to stuff I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to at 16). But you know what? I was kind of pretentious about my music selections back then, so I’m okay with that.

Finally, FRIENDS: I’m guessing teen me would be shocked at some of the people from high school I am now friends with on Facebook.

So many of those high school insecurities that were the genesis of the all the clique drama are gone, and (who knew?) my classmates for the most part have turned out to be more than their labels and their crowd and their reputation. They actually have individual personalities and layers.

So would 16-year-old me be impressed with current me? I’m not sure. She was not easily impressed. But she’d probably give me a hug and tell me that even though I am kind of boring and lame and way too pro-establishment, she’s glad I’m happy and doing what I love to do.

What about you? Would Younger You be impressed?