Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
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Nana Through the Looking Glass
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"Whether I knew it then or not, I've been a writer since the second grade, when I wrote a short story about a girl and her horse. My grandmother typed it out for me and said she’d never seen so many quotation marks from a seven-year-old before."

You'll recognize this if you've read my bio (on this blog, in my books, or elsewhere). I guess you could say my Nana was my first editor.

A year ago, nearly 30 years after that first horsey short story, I wrote a novel about an artist who lived above a used bookstore. Seb makes a living taking the books people don't want anymore and turning them into something new. One afternoon, Martin (the bookstore's newest employee and Seb's love interest) finds an illustrated copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the store and gives it to Seb who, in turn, makes it into something special—a birthday gift for his grandmother.

Two weeks ago, my Nana couldn't get out of bed. She's 86 and still living on her own. They called the ambulance, took her to the hospital, ran tests.

A week ago, I passed a used bookstore. It wasn't in my neighbourhood. I'd never been inside it. But there, in the window, was an illustrated copy of Alice's Adventure in Wonderland. I was on my way to an appointment, and by the time I walked back the other way, the store was closed. But I knew I needed that book. For Seb. For his Nana. For mine too, because she loved to read and loved the old stories best. I went back and bought it yesterday.

Today, we said goodbye to my Nana.

Her favourite books were Seven Years in Tibet and the complete collection of Churchill's Letters to Roosevelt. She raised five daughters, had eleven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She made the best pea soup in the world and she gave even better hugs. She never finished high school, but left her home on Vancouver Island to move with my grandfather to Montreal in 1953. She lived in Morocco and the Cameroons. In 1988, she helped me publish my first book*

Seb's story is unpublished, but it's going to be, someday. When it is, there will be two words in the dedication.

For Nana.

Miss you bunches already.

*the first story had what you might call a limited distribution deal. It might still be available to be borrowed from my elementary school library though.

Who are You?
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Work Up Character/Setting Profiles?

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

So on the one hand, I like to think of myself as an organized writer. I'm definitely a plotter. I love The Writer's Journey and Romancing the Beat. I don't start writing until I have a synopsis that breaks down what's going to happen in every scene from beginning to end.

On the other hand, I am not that meticulous about my characters, and especially about my settings. I build Pinterest boards for each book with visual inspiration (this is mostly an excuse to search for pictures of hot guys, sue me). I write character sketches and setting descriptions while I'm plotting, and then promptly never refer to them again, unlike that synopsis I mentioned, which I check in on at the start of every scene.

Last year, I found these great character questions from Mia Hopkins, and they are super useful when building character sketches (even ones you never look at again).

I say I hate you because… But I really love you because… The thing I dread most is… Because I crave… But you provide a better substitute, which is…

These are really helpful, because they make you think about your character's behaviour, rather than just the things that happen to them. So often, I see new writers put together character sketches that are just a list of facts, rather than a discussion of who their characters are. Things like what their job is, who their friends and siblings are, the tragic thing that happened to them when they were five years old. These are good, but providing the emotional context is better.

Oliver is a lawyer. He has worked for the firm for 10 years. He is a workaholic.

Oliver is a lawyer. He prides himself on putting in his best effort at everything, including his job, where he has worked for the last 10 years. This pride has taken a wrong turn somewhere, because now he feels he can't leave the office before 10 pm, otherwise people will think he's slacking. He's worried about looking less dedicated to his job than his colleagues, even though he has more case wins under his belt than anyone else at his level.

See how much richer that is? Even if I never refer to it again, it's building a more detailed character in my head, which let's me jump into my story faster.

How do you build your characters?

Worst. Review. Ever.
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What I learned from my worst review

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

Dudes. I have one published novel. You didn't think I was actually going to call out a particular review, did you? That way lies madness and possibly career suicide.

Here's what I know that I didn't know five months ago.

Don't. Read. Reviews.

Especially don't read early reviews. Good or bad, they will do nothing for your mental health. Nada.

Also don't respond to reviews, even those that totally missed the boat on what you were trying to convey. You don't know that reviewer. By putting a book out there, you are inviting people to read your book, but also you are inviting criticism. That's how it works.

So yeah. Stay away. No good can come, really, from reading reviews. If you must, get a trusted friend to vet them and send you the good ones. And recognize that you can't please everyone. What you think is earnest and heartfelt, may be silly or bitchy to someone else. Write your book truth, then go write another one.

Step away from the reviews.

Stranger than Fiction
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Family, friends, and pets you've written into your books

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

I try really hard not to obviously write family, friends and pets into my stories. It's awkward, right? How would your mom feel about being a main character in your romance novel?

Once, I accidentally wrote a coworker into The Pick Up. You can read about that misadventure here. I don't work there anymore.

I do specifically write small town romances (at least for now) and while they're not set in my hometown, they definitely draw on my 20ish years living there. I live in Toronto now, which is sort of the anti-thesis of a small town, but I love the feeling of going home.

Small towns have their own quirks, their own histories. At a panel about small towns at GRL, someone talked about a clown marching band that anyone who could play in instrument in town joined. My hometown, Brockville, does not have a clown band, but it is home to the oldest railway tunnel in Canada. It has been a point of pride, but also kind of sketchy; this century-old tunnel that was almost always gated off because otherwise it was a great place to find broken bottles and other unsavoury paraphernalia at night. But last year, as part of Canada's 150th birthday, they refurbished and reopened the tunnel, and now it's this amazing thing with glowing lights and music.

And a ghost train.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36yK9HQerV0]

I like to give my towns quirks like this. Farmers markets, central meeting places where everyone goes to get the latest gossip, fun fundraisers with too many volunteers.

Maybe someday I'll add a ghost train in a glowing tunnel too.

Writing with Kindness

book-2115176_1920.jpg If you can't handle criticism, get out of the pool.

If you don't have the fundamentals of grammar, there is no hope for you as a writer.

How many of you have heard something like that in your writers groups?

You'll never get better if we don't tell you what you've done wrong.

There's always that one guy (and I'm sorry, but it is often a guy) in your MFA who thinks he knows exactly what your work needs, even though his manuscript about a sentient and altruistic centipede in a dystopian hellscape is just as unfinished as yours.

True story, I am days away from my 37th birthday. I published my first novel this year, and I just turned my third novel into my agent. I have not taken any kind of writing or English class from an accredited educational institution since I was in high school.

I wanted to tell you that you are writing for someone other than yourself...

That was the last English teacher I had. He wrote that late in our second term, on a journaling project that wasn't supposed to be about grades or content, but just about the act of writing. No one had ever told me they looked forward to my writing before but, 20 years later, I still remember exactly how he worded that note.

Writing grows with kindness.

Someday, when you're ready (and you'll know when you are), there will be lots of time for people to take your work apart and tell you why this character's arc doesn't make sense, and why your passive verbs are dragging the whole thing down. If you get to the point where you're ready to publish, a professional editor will gladly help, and will make your work better in the process.

But if you're not ready for that right now, seek out places where kind people will help you grow. The places where you can admit when you're struggling, or where you can say you're pretty sure the thing you just wrote is shit, and the people around the table (virtual or in person) won't agree with you. They might even point out the things they loved.

Kindness will help you find your voice.

I have always been a writer, but I haven't always written. Sometimes life gets in the way. For a while, I tried to be a Serious Scientist™. For a while I contented myself with writing government manuals and environmental reports. But, when the call to write stories got too loud, I found kind places to start over from. I found Firefly Creative Writing in Toronto (whose awesome feedback manifesto inspired this post). I found groups online with kindred souls who focused on what was working, and not on my propensity to forget that questions marks exist in my first drafts.

All manuscripts can be fixed in revisions. Drafts can be torn apart and stitched back together into something stronger and better. But patching up the tender writing heart broken too early by harsh criticism is a much more difficult task.

If you're just starting out, find the kind place to write. The places that will let you dabble and play. The places that talk about voice and heart, not structure and archetypes. Build the confidence you need. Take your time. And if you never leave that kind place, well, doesn't that sound like a cozy place to stay as a writer?

Season of the Pitch

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My contest experiences

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

I'm going to admit up front that my contest experience is limited, because I went from my first query to signing with my agent in a little over three months. I got lucky. And Laura and I didn't even find each other through a pitch contest, I just cold queried her slush pile. But I did do a few pitch contests and here's what I learned.

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These are my two best pitches. Between them, they got six likes, all from publishers (as opposed to agents). Only one of those publishers wound up offering to publish me, and I decided not to sign with them. And yet, 364 days after my first pitch, The Pick Up was out in the world and my agent and I were making plans for future titles.

So here's what I learned:

  1. Pitch parties like #pitmad, #dvpit and all their brethren, are a great way to get in front of publishers and agents. They are actively looking for stories that catch their eye.
  2. These same pitch parties have hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants, so you've got to have good pitches to stand out, just like you need a good query to get through the slush pile. Some people say it's easier now, because back in my day we walked uphill both ways in bare feet only had 140 characters, and now you've got 280, but the basic form is the same. Character, hook, stakes. You need these. 280 characters of "her life will change forever" is just as vague as it was in 140 characters.
  3. There's no guarantee. I got full manuscript requests from agents I cold queried and then got turned down, and I got thanks but no thanks from publishers I submitted to after pitch parties. Both processes are worthwhile but neither is a surer route to publication.
  4. You still have to make tough decisions. If you're reading closely, you'll have noticed up above that I actually got a publishing offer through one of my pitches, and I turned them down. Just because you get likes doesn't mean you're beholden to any agent or publisher who shows interest in your pitch or your manuscript. It's flattering and often it's overwhelming, but you have to make the decisions that work for you and fit with where you're trying to go. I've got more on that here.
  5. I definitely encourage all writers to find pitch parties and contests as a means of getting some visibility. Learning to pitch your work is a skill you'll need forever. Some authors are hugely successful with the online parties. Others find success through other avenues. Don't pin your hopes on one or the other, but try as much as you can.
It's Not About the Bacon

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Things only my family would understand

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

As of this writing, my parents just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary. In addition to the Douglas Adams-ian significance to that (have they reached enlightenment?) that is a hell of a long time. Add in a few (now adult) kids, and it's inevitable that we've invented a few of our own catch phrases.

My mom is big on compartmentalization, and understanding why you're feeling the way you do. Are you hungry? Angry? Feeling anxious about that other thing, but taking it out on the current situation?

To which we say It's not about the bacon.

Picture this. Christmas time. The Temple family is on vacation. Mama Temple is making her famous pasta broccoli bake, the key ingredient of which is bacon (everything is better with bacon). Suddenly, half the bacon is missing. Where did it go? Papa Temple has mixed it into his only slightly less well known caesar salad!

Mama Temple is pissed. There is yelling. My brother and I watch from the couch, simultaneously confused and a little afraid. It's inevitable that there have been some fights in the last 42 years, but my parents actually get into full blown yelling matches only rarely.

Dinner is tense. The pasta bake doesn't have its usual kick. Dishes are washed sullenly.

Later, my mom sits me down.

"I want to talk about what happened," she says.

Ok.

"Your father and I weren't really fighting about the bacon."

Ok.

Years later, the actual cause of the argument is lost to the mists of time. Work? Money? How many nights we were required to have dinner with my grandmother during the holiday season? We don't know anymore.

But, whenever someone gets upset about something, we can calmly look at each other and say "You're clearly upset, but is this really about the bacon?"

To which the other party almost always sighs heavily and shake their head.

"No. It's not about the bacon."

Please Don't

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Worst Writing Advice I've Ever Gotten

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

That is an excellent question. For every aspiring writer there is a book, course, website, blog, podcast, or man on the street with pamphlets, with helpful tips on how to BE a writer. Many have conflicting points of view. So what might be the worst advice for me, might be the exact motivation you need.

I can tell you the things that I do and don't do.

DO

  1. Plot
  2. Write sequentially
  3. Skip sentences and paragraphs
  4. Tell your inner editor to shut up while drafting
  5. Deviate from your plot, but find a way back to it by the end
  6. Make time for your writing and guard that time fiercely
  7. Read your book out loud at least once before you let anyone else read it
  8. Keep looking for ways to improve your craft and your process

DON'T

  1. Mix editing and drafting. Fix a typo if you must, leave the rest until the draft is done
  2. Skip whole scenes. If you don't know why you need this scene, go back to your plotting
  3. Write every day if you don't feel like it
  4. Jump into a draft because you're sure you know what's going to happen, even if you haven't finished plotting
  5. Compare your progress to anyone else's
  6. Get discouraged when you realize your first (or sixth) draft is crap. Everything is fixable
  7. Start drafting something new until you've finished the first draft you're currently working on

The worst advice? Someone (Stephen King? Obama? I don't know) said that if you haven't finished your draft within six months (a year? two years? I don't know that either), then you're probably never going to finish it. This is crap. See my list above. If you want to write, commit to writing, but don't set a time limit on whether you pass or fail. The Pick Up took me two years to write the first draft. I just wrote Cold Pressed in five weeks. Neither is more or less valid. As long as your still making progress, it's all good.

Dinner with Friends

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Five authors (alive or dead) I'd like to meet.

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

(a note from this author: I'm treating this question as if I'm going to have dinner with these people and not just gushing all over them like the fangirl I am at a book signing...because I may have already done that)

1. Annabeth Albert

Annabeth is one of my favourite MM authors. She writes nerdy characters, tough military characters, rugged beardy characters. Her books are so easy to read. The characters always feel fresh. If you're new to MM romance, start with Annabeth.

2. Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie writes the way I can only dream about. I did get a chance to fangirl all over her (briefly) at a signing last fall, and it was magical, but also a reality check, because it turns out that I will never write like Maggie, because my brain does not work like Maggie's. The upside is that she will never write like me for the same reasons, and that's moderately comforting.

3. Bill Bryson

I have never been a big fan of non-fiction. Bill is an exception. He has a way of weaving dates and facts with narration that suddenly makes the story of the people who tried to fly across the Atlantic before Charles Lindbergh succeeded (spoiler: before Lindbergh, the results were almost always crash landing in a field moments after take off or (worse) crash landing in the ocean and never being heard from again) really compelling. Also, you'll never look at the way staircases are designed (spoiler 2: it's always poorly).

4. Erin McLellan & LJ Hayward

I'm putting these two lovely people on the same line because they're recent Riptide debuts along with yours truly and it has been awesome to get to know them this spring, and awesomer to read their amazing stories. Tragically, they both live very far away, so I'm going to have to work for it.

5. Robin McKinley

Writer of kick ass heroines, my favourite Robin Hood retelling, and so much more. She tried to break into the urban fantasy vampire market a moment too soon, and so all we have is Sunshine when there should have had a whole series of Sunshine and Constantine. I would fangirl so hard before we settled down to our dinner and writerly conversations.

That was harder than I thought. What do you think. Who are your five?

The Beach

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What's your earliest memory?

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

The beach is long (or I am very small) (or both). There was a storm, or maybe it's always like this, but the waves make a noise I've never heard before.

Boom

In my toddler brain, surely these are the drums of death.

Boom

Surely something that makes this noise cannot be safe, or good.

It does not want us here.

Boom

I stumble back, chubby legs that have only known how to walk for a few months crumble. Warm hands, soft voices that are supposed to protect me tell me that everything is fine.

They are wrong.

Boom

I start to cry. The voices tell me it's okay, but I know my mother lies. How can this monster be okay?

Boom

The memory fades.

There are pictures, that say that it was okay. There is me, white blonde, with fistfuls of dark sand. My baby belly hangs carelessly over the top of a diaper.

There are stories. My aunt drawing hearts in the sand with her toes, a diversion that takes my mind off the boom of the surf as it rolls and retreats on the sand.

Boom

What I remember is the sound.