Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged writing
The Best (and Others) of 2018
So Long 2018.jpg

So Long 2018.jpg

So first off, this is being posted in error, because there is NO WAY IN HELL that 2018 is almost over. This has without a doubt been one of the most action packed years of my life...which is funny, because I spent an awful lot of it working from my couch.

I wanted to write about the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of 2018, but since we also all want to leave here in a good mood, I'm going to do it backwards. This is going to be like one of those food blog posts where I ramble and you keep scanning for the recipe. Bear with me. There are some good bits in here.

The Ugly

I had a publishing deal....and then I didn't. You can read a bit about it here, but let's just say I have to tell myself it was the right decision, even when everything else is uncertain.

The Bad

My grandmother passed away in October. It was quick without being sudden. We are all sad, but I can't say we were surprised.

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Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 6.03.31 PM

Her passing overlapped with the GRL Retreat. I was on the highway somewhere in Pennsylvania when she left us. My family and I had talked a lot whether or not I should go to Virginia at all, and in the end decided I should.

It's surreal to be all by yourself in a place you don't know when one of the pillars of your childhood leaves this world, but I drove 3000 km that week (see Figure 1) and had lots of time to grieve, remember, and distract myself with hours of Sam of Wilds' audiobooks shenanigans (more on that below).

Okay that that's done, let's get to the stuff you actually click the link for.

The Good

So much good. Good reads. Good friends. In no particular order these are:

I published a book!!

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Untitled design-9

Four books, actually. 2018 was the year I became an honest to god published romance author. It has been awesome and exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking, but I would do it all over again.

Three of these stories are short and can be found here for free. Going Down is brand spanking new and features the sexiest truth or dare game ever played in an elevator. It will also be moving to Amazon in the new year, so you should pick up your free copy now.

Speaking of pick ups, The Pick Up you have to pay for, but it's averaging 4.4 stars on Amazon, so I promise this small town single dad romance is worth your time. Also, it's on sale until January 5 if you use the code SALE18 when purchasing from the publisher's website. If you need more convincing, you can read about it here.

I discovered Verania.

I'm a slow reader. Super slow. A book a month is about my speed.

Last year, I was at GRL in Denver and Brandon Witt was speaking in a panel and said something like "And then I read The Lightning-Struck Heart and it had Gary the Hornless Gay Unicorn," and I had never heard of the book, but there was a ripple of . . . something in the room.

I didn't think about the book again until this past winter when Wish Upon the Stars came out and so there was a sale on The Lightning-Struck Heart and so I bought it and then whispersynced that puppy to get the audiobook and . . . is it hubris if I say my life changed?

Sam appreciates hubris. Let's go with it.

TJ Klune does not need my shout out. His fans are legion. And most of you are rolling your eyes going "Come on Allison, I knew about Verania ages ago!" But for me, as a long-time audiobook afficianado, this series is one of the best produced I've ever listened to. If you haven't done so already, give yourself the Gift Of Verania this holiday season (I capitalized it, so you know it's true).

I met some awesome people and read their awesome books.

I hesitate to write this, because just like we hope-click 'best of' lists even though we know our books won't be on them, someone is going to look at my recommendations and be disappointed that I didn't include their story.

Know that, if we are writerly friends, I appreciate every conversation we've had this year. A lot of writing is navel gazing and pep talks and it's awesome that the community is supportive enough that these can happen any time of the day.

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Untitled design-3

Craft Brew is book 2 in the Trouble Brewing series, which means you should probably read book 1. . . and that means you should probably read the Agents Irish and Whisky series to get the full impact. But if you're not down for that kind of commitment, just start with Imperial Stout and get ready for Nic's silver-fox-in-a-suit-hiding-so-many-yummy-tattoos and Cam's balls-out-Boston-but-Cam's-not-out-and-I-have-so-many-feelings-about-this. Seriously. The books are fast paced, the eye candy (even if it's in my head) is delightful, and there's still one more book in the series to go in 2019!

Life of Bliss is also a book 2 and I've been going back and forth about whether I like or its predecessor, Life on Pause, more. In the end, I picked Life of Bliss because I didn't know wake-up-married was a trope I'd be down for, but Vic and Todd are so frigging cute, the pining is so sweet and earnest, and Erin McLellan is my favourite sex toy queen, and this story is tamer than some of her others, but still doesn't disappoint.

Where Death Meets the Devil was quite possibly the best book I read in 2018 and LJ Hayward has subsequently put out a Coda, three novellas, and an excellent second novel in the Death and the Devil series, so while I still like the opening gambit (I'm just in awe of the dual timelines) the best, there are lots more words to help get you through your book hangover.

At some point, I'm going to write a 'what's up for 2019?' post. The short answer is SO MUCH! Thanks for being part of my debut year misadventures. Let's continue the journey next year!

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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taylor-grote-415996-unsplash

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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bird-525842_1920

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.

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.

About Chapter 25

The risks of living my author life in the open

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secret-2725302_1920

Earlier this week, I tweeted a tweet.

Had my first job interview in 13 years today. It started with “I write gay romance novels.” and ended with “Can you come in on Friday to meet the owner?” I’m feeling pretty positive about these people.

— Allison Temple (@allitemplebooks) June 5, 2018

It got more retweets and likes than almost anything else I've ever tweeted. I didn't mean to, but I think I hit on a Writer Twitter nerve. So many of us write on the side, in our spare time, our stolen moments. Or we write out in the open, but under the cover of a pen name, an online persona. Writers, especially a lot of the queer writers and the writers of queer fiction, that I know, live in fear that Facebook will inadvertently recommend their author profile to a friend or family as someone 'you might also know'. Writers are afraid, while secretly dreaming of sharing our writing lives with friends and family who accept it without blinking an eye.

I've never been shy about my writing, not with family or friends, and less and less these days with strangers. Sometimes I meter the explanation to people I don't know as well, going with 'my first book is a romance about a single dad who falls in love with his daughter's teacher' and leaving them to assume as they will whether that teacher is male or female. More and more often though, I just lead with 'I write gay romance novels' and let the chips fall. Most of the time, people smile and nod, and then we move on. Sometimes I meet people like my new banker. You just never know.

I'm lucky, that I live in a place where I can say these things and not be judged too harshly. The worst that happens is people say 'oh, that's not really my thing.' No one shames me, or prays for my soul. I'm lucky.

But with my openness and good fortune comes a few awkward moments and jokes at my expense. Like when my mom told me she loved The Pick Up, but that she skipped over Chapter 25 because 'I didn't really need to read that.'

Or last night, when my childhood best friend told me that she had 'a fun week' the week she read Chapter 25. And that her mom also had 'a fun week' the week she read Chapter 25.

(Author's note. I encourage you to read Chapter 25. In fact, I encourage you to read all of The Pick Up. I can't promise anything is revolutionary, but sometimes delayed gratification makes everything better, if you know what I mean.)

Or, even better, is the fact that my childhood best friend's mother is my mother's best friend (got that? I made you a Venn diagram below if you get confused). 

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Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 1.29.11 PM

That motherly best friend thinks it's hilarious that my mother avoided Chapter 25 for the sake of her...I don't even know? Dignity? Morality? This best friend found it so hilarious, in fact, that her family has adopted it in day to day conversation.

"Shh. We mustn't talk about Chapter 25."

"We agreed not to bring up Chapter 25."

I didn't know this was an author goal I had—to become the foundation for a family's inside joke—but now that it's happened, I'm kind of tickled.

We don't talk about Chapter 25.

Telling people about your work is scary, but sometimes the payoff is worth it.

Also, for those of you wondering, I totally rocked that interview :)

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.
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.

Succeeding(ish) at the Publishing Game

pug-1210025_1920 Almost two months ago, I wrote to my agent. It was a short email that said something like "Let's talk about what's next. And let's do it soon, because The Pick Up is going to be out next week and I just finished the draft for Cold Pressed, and I'm expecting the emotional hangover to be EPIC."

Boy, did I not even know.

The Pick Up is almost two months old now. In the ensuing 60ish days, I've watched publishing dreams (mine and others) stumble and collapse under the weight of racism, harassment, and the giant angry echo chamber that is the internet.

There were tears (mine and others).

There were promises to do better (mine and others).

There were admissions that it's hard to find momentum after so much uncertainty (fortunately, not mine...except for Good Friday when I nearly deleted the complete Cold Pressed draft in a fit of inadequacy).

So here's what I've learned in the last two months, as voiced by so many other people in the same boat.

A nightmare you say? Tell me more.

Even celebrities (except possibly Sean Penn and Morrissey) are not immune from the crushing weight of authorly uncertainty.

Yup. Publishing will rip your heart out. It will tell you that your hours, days, weeks, months, years of hard work don't matter, because what publishing really wants is another white duke, or a lonely gay superhero (but not your lonely gay superhero*).  And yeah, I'm talking about traditional publishing, and yes, I know self-publishing will let me write my dukes, superheroes, or neurotic professors and put them out into the world without the grind and the waiting game of trad publishing. I'm pretty sure it will just rip your heart out in other ways instead. Like when Amazon suddenly decides your story is too gay and too sexy to inflict on decent people and stops promoting your titles. Or when the limitations of stock photography mean your cover model appears on seven covers in three months.

I was on Facebook this week (spoiler, don't go on Facebook), and someone asked what the lesson is, if you put in all this time, and effort, ink, sweat and tears, and no on reads it? What if the book happens, but the reading doesn't? If you don't succeed, what was the lesson?

Writing is my joy. That's the lesson. Bree said it above, but it's true for me too. I say it all the time. I am happier writing than doing just about anything else. If you're writing novels for any other reason, I'm not sure how you'll succeed, because the rest of it has the very real potential to be a nightmare.

In the last 60ish days, there have been hurdles and hiccups the likes of which my poor debut author brain could not have fathomed. I lost sleep. There were so many tears. And then you know what I did? I kept writing. Because publishing is going to rip my heart out, but writing is going to put it back together again. And every time I write something new, or edit something new, I create another opportunity to succeed at my joy (before the heart ripping starts again).

Someone on Twitter asked last week what piece of advice you'd give to your younger self. And despite everything, this is what I said.

I'm succeeding on my own terms. Come at me. I'm ready.


*I don't currently have a lonely gay superhero...but now I'm thinking about it.

Keeping it Real on Release Day

My book: out today!

My car: won't start :(

Funny story, one of my favourite places to write is in the customer lounge at the car dealership. It's so peaceful. There's good wi-fi, bad TV, and no one to disturb you unless you count the guy who is trying to upsell you on a cabin air filter, and that's usually pretty brief. My favourite thing to do is to write the sexy bits while I wait for an oil change. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's as close to exhibitionism as I'm comfortable getting. I wrote Kyle and Adam's first kiss at the dealership. Their first love scene too.

Today though. I did not plan to do any writing at the dealership. Or to do any writing at all. I planned to lurk on social media for all the release day feels. Then I was going to have lunch with a friend. Do a little work this afternoon. Then dinner with Mr. Temple. Huzzah! A special day.

You know what curbs many of those plans?

Having your car towed when it won't get its act together on a Monday morning.

It's not even that cold out today!

Anyway. If you've read The Pick Up, you know Kyle's van is a beast with unpredictable functionality. Maybe I'm just going for the truly authentic release day experience.

If you haven't read The Pick Up, you can get it from Riptide, or click here for the other retailers. I hope you like it.

I'll just be here, keeping it real!