Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged challenge
No Singing!
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My most memorable experience?

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

Here's the set up:

18-year-old Allison is on a trip to Chicago with her parents. It's a graduation trip, as Allison has just finished her last year of high school. It is also a birthday trip, because it's June and...

Okay, talking about myself in the third person is weird.

We're in Chicago. We go out for dinner. We have always been food people, and my parents decided early on that traveling with children was no reason to avoid restaurants with a decent wine list. So by the time I'm 18, I know what the deal is in fancy restaurants, and this one is Fancy (years later I would learn it was a favourite of the Obamas when they lived in Chicago). It must be a weeknight, because the restaurant is pretty empty. Just the touristy Temple family and a few groups of gentleman in suits. They may be businessmen, they may be mafia dons. It is unclear, and we don't ask.

Dinner is memorable all on its own. It's Italian, but there isn't a baked lasagne for miles. No fettuccine, no ravioli. None of the pastas have names I recognize. I don't remember what I ordered. I remember my mother telling the server it was my birthday, and she nearly let me order a glass of wine before her American sensibilities (21?? Are you kidding me? You can vote and buy porn but you can't drink??) got the best of her.

But what I remember mostly clearly is dessert. It is my birthday after all. Actually, I just remember them bringing it out, not even what it was. It had a sparkler on it, and Happy Birthday scrawled in chocolate at the edge of the plate. And as she set this creation in front of me, my dad looked up at her with excited eyes and said

"Do you sing Happy Birthday too?"

Like this was Kelsey's or TGI Fridays.

And the server, who is used to giving her customers the best dining experience possible, but also doesn't want to upset the dons in the corner by turning this place into a chain restaurant for the sake of a nearly 19-year-old Canadian tourist says

"Well...we don't really do that here but...I guess we could hum?"

So we did. Mom, Dad, and server. Dad looked so pleased. The mafia dons probably wondered what twilight zone they had stepped into.

And that is the story of how I had Happy Birthday hummed to me in a swanky Chicago eatery that would someday be a favourite of the ambitious junior Senator who would become president.

Enter the Waffle
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The best gift I ever got

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

This was a harder question to answer than I expected. Am I not materialistic enough to have good gifts? Do people just give me forgettable things?

Our first Christmas together, when were dating and still getting to know each other, Mr. Temple gave me a waffle iron. Our early bonding happened around food and cooking, so a waffle iron is not as random a gift as it might sound like at first. I think I got him a bamboo cutting board (which we still have and use). At the time, I was a big fan of the TV show Heroes, and Hiro, the time traveling IT nerd, was a big fan of waffles.

waffles

waffles

See?

I'd never actually made a waffle, but that iron is more than a decade old and man has it gotten some use! I don't even need a recipe anymore. Flour, eggs, some other stuff, there's waffles in five minutes!

Also delicious? Omelette waffles (crunchy on the outside, fluffy eggy on the inside) and falafel waffles (for when you can rationalize more sugar via maple syrup)!

The Love Letter
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My Most Romantic Memory

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

It's late. I'm exhausted. That bone deep exhaustion from too many days at work in an environment that doesn't do anything for your physical and mental health. That gnawing grind that comes from feeling like you have to do everything by yourself. That corrosive weight that eats at your insides when someone has let you down again, even when you knew that would, but hoped they wouldn't.

I'm on the phone with Mr. Temple, except he wasn't Mr. Temple then. He was just my boyfriend. But he called me...or I called him. It's 10 pm. I'm home alone. He's just getting off work.

I'm crying. That hiccupping snot mess that kids have a knack for but that adults teach themselves not to do. I don't care anymore. I can't do this anymore, this adulting thing. There are too many demands.

"I'm exhausted and hungry, and I have to go to bed, because I have to be up in seven hours and I haven't even had time to go to the groceries this week, so there isn't any food for me to eat, even if I had time to eat it."

He listens. Later, I found out he was sitting on a bench, outside his office, in the dark, watching the busses that would have taken him home roll by.

Eventually he tells me to go to sleep, that there's nothing we can do to make it better tonight. He tells me he'll come by after work tomorrow and we can watch a movie and just chill. It's cold comfort, but I know it's the best he can offer.

I sleep. Go to work. It's all a bit numb, but it's all okay because at the end of it, I will go home and Mr. Temple will be there and we can forget about the outside world.

I get home. The apartment is empty, but the smell is different. Warm. On my dining room table is a note.

Allison,

something came up and I can't stay. I'm so sorry. I hope you had a good day. I went to the store and bought you some food. It's put away in the cupboards. Also, there is a pizza staying warm in the oven. Buffalo chicken, your favourite. I hope you like it. 

See you this weekend,

Mr. T.

I cry a little more. The pizza is warm and tasty. The cupboards are full of Triscuits and other things that will stay good for a long time. They look delicious. The nicest crackers anyone has ever bought for me.

The note is still in my nightstand. It's the best love letter I've ever received.

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?

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.

Submitted!
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How do you celebrate completing a manuscript?

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

Ce-le-brate?

Is that a thing I'm supposed to do?

Look, the challenge of novel writing is you can tweak FOREVER, so I call foul on this question, because complete implies...well...completion.

When I finish a draft I...do nothing. In fact I usually go into a funk for a week or two. I should be plotting something new, but usually I just stare mournfully at the computer screen.

When I submit a manuscript to my agent and publisher I...start the next story, because not having a new story to work on makes me twitchy.

When I hit a major milestone, like my agency and publisher contracts last year, or when The Pick Up was published this year I...spend money on something frivolous but still wildly practical. Like new rubber boots! Or a laptop (confession: the old laptop was taking bi-weekly trips to the Genius Bar. It was time). And Mr. Temple takes me out for dinner, ideally one that involves much wine.

But seriously, celebrate the little things. The milestones. My local RWA chapter gives out chocolate to members who have recently completed a chapter or scene, or those who have submitted a manuscript and been rejected! Celebrate the steps, because the milestones can be a long time in coming.

The Secret Life of Books

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What I learned while researching my book

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

As of this writing, Top Shelf does not have a home, but let me introduce you to Seb. He is an artist who has made his name in reclaimed books. He started with found poetry (spoiler: all of Shakespeare is a dick joke if you look hard enough), but now carves beautiful sculptures and pictorial narratives out of the old books he finds in the used bookstore downstairs from his apartment.

I am not an artist. Out of all the artistic mediums, visual art is my weakest. So building an art for Seb took some effort. I listened to podcasts, I did so much googling. And then I found carved books. And they were glorious. And they evoke such a complicated question about our relationships with books, and what it means to preserve the words in them.

Seb's love interest, Martin, is a professor who has spent his career researching a poet whose works were destroyed and nearly lost. And then Martin meets Seb, whose entire career is based on repurposing so many of those precious words into something new and beautiful, but also different than the author's original intention.

I really hope you get to read their love story soon.

In the meantime, can I offer you this beautiful TED Talk video about carved books?

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.