Meet the author of VELVET, Temple West!
Now that we’ve made another exciting big announcement, that we’re publishing VELVET as the first book of our second list, we want to introduce you to the incredibly funny author, Temple West. Here’s a short greeting from Temple, and be sure to read her Q&A below to get a taste of what makes her so swoonworthy. If that’s not enough Temple West for you, follow her on Twitter @ByTempleWest.
Swoon Reads: What inspired you to write Velvet?
Temple West: To be completely honest, it was Twilight. I showed up at college and met my roommates and, well, I was extremely anti-social at the time, and my freshman roommate Alexis is about the bubbliest, nicest, sweetest person you will ever meet, so I thought that we wouldn’t get along at all. Anyway, this was late August, and that November the first Twilight movie was coming out. Alexis asked me if I was excited about it, and I said I hadn’t read the books and didn’t know what the story was about, and she looked at me like, “We need to fix this right now.” Of course she had all the books, in hard back, already unpacked on her desk, so she gave them to me and told me I had to read them. I figured it was better than going to peppy freshman orientation events with over-eager freshman orientation volunteers, so I hopped up on my bunk bed and burrowed in my blankets while we cranked the AC (Southern California in late August is a tad warm) and finished all four books in three days. I really liked it. I mean, I had my issues with it, but I really enjoyed the series. And for some reason the writing bug bit me and I just sort of arbitrarily decided I was going to write my own epic vampire saga because, well, why not? The first draft was an embarrassingly close Twilight replica, but I like to think that in the past five years of tinkering with it, it’s taken on a life and spirit of its own…without sparkling immortals or hybrid-baby-imprinting.
Why did you decide to submit to Swoon Reads?
It’s a complicated story, but I ended up leaving a job. I actually really liked my job and absolutely loved the people I worked with, but I couldn’t stay. A few days later I was over at my mom’s place using her sewing machine for two days and basically taking over her entire condo with yards of fabric and burlap and leather and whatnot, and she saw an ad for Swoon Reads, I think on Facebook. She told me about it, but I was pretty focused on the project at hand, so I asked her to send me the link and a few days later I finally got around to checking it out and realized, “Hey, this sounds awesome. I happen to have a YA romance that I wrote that I’ve done nothing with for five years, so…I should probably submit it. There’s literally no downsides. No one can download or copy it, I’ll get feedback from other writers, I retain all the rights to my work, and I get to meet fellow writers. And, y’know, it’s a longshot, but there’s a chance I’ll be published.” And, well…now I am.
How long did it take you to write the manuscript?
The first draft? Six months. I was a full-time student and had two part-time jobs, but I would come back to the dorm from class everyday and write a half a chapter in my little bunk bed cave. I had no plan, no outline, didn’t know how I wanted the book to end. I just wrote. I think the first draft was somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 words…
What was your first thought when you saw the e-mail from the Swoon Reads address?
Voting closed Friday and I got the e-mail Monday, so I honestly didn’t think much of it, because I was under the impression they weren’t going to make their decision for weeks and weeks. I thought it was a notification e-mail that someone had left a comment on my manuscript. Then I opened it and it said, “We’ve got good news for you.” And of course my heart immediately crammed itself up in my throat and I was dizzy I was so excited, but I’m trying not to be excited, because it didn’t actually say, “Hey! We’re gonna publish your novel,” it just said, “We have good news for you.” I was actually trying to come up with reasons not to be excited. I’d won the May sweepstakes where Swoon Reads sent me three YA books so I was trying to convince myself that I’d accidentally entered another sweepstakes and they were e-mailing me to tell me that they were sending me more books. But of course I was secretly happy-terrified that it actually meant they’d liked what I’d written, and that they had chosen it, and that (as every great story begins) things were about to change…
Who was the first person you told?
I was babysitting my niece and nephew when I got the call, and they were both down for their naps, so there was literally no one to tell. But I immediately texted my mom and dad and sister and brother and said, “Okay, you can’t tell anyone, but…Velvet is going to be published.” When my sister got home she made us mojitos and we danced in the backyard.
How hard was it to keep the fact that your book was going to be published a secret?
GAH! So hard! It’s like finding out you’re pregnant but you don’t want to tell anyone until you’ve found out if it’s a boy or girl. I just kept wandering around the house trying to convince myself that it was all real. And of course some friends of mine that I’ve known since 4th grade were having a party a few days later and all I wanted to do was climb ontp a table and hoist a boombox into the air like John Cusack in Say Anything and announce it to everyone, but I couldn’t. I definitely did some internal pouting. Ha! I may have looped in a few additional family members with, “Okay, you can’t tell anyone, but…” My mom coerced me into telling my grandma. I can’t say no to my grandma.
Now that the world knows, how are you going to celebrate?
I don’t even know. I can’t even think. I might go and do all my favorite touristy things in Seattle — Pike’s Place, the fish market, my favorite little French cafe, a ferry ride, etc. I might go full cliche and get a bottle of champagne and just spray it all over the place. Maybe I’ll go to Vegas, or Canada. I’ll probably have a nice dinner with my family and ask everyone to come do an obscure activity with me, like paragliding. I’ve always wanted to try paragliding.
How do you feel now, being an official Swoon Reads author?
Justified? Ha! I know that sounds strange, but I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist — and I’m interested in a lot of different types of art, sort of a Jill-of-all-crafts, Master-of-One-ish-sort-of-not-really. Writing has always been my instinctive go-to activity. But I love sewing and leatherworking and woodworking and painting and singing and filmmaking and glasswork and jewelry-making and on and on, and I’ve never been particularly financially successful at any of those endeavors. I’ve struggled with feeling like doing art, or being an artist, is selfish. Like I’ve somehow been arrogant or naive or irresponsible for pursuing art instead of something predictable and stable and nine-to-five-ish. Being published is not only a dream come true, it’s as if someone has grabbed me by the shoulders and slapped me across the face and said, “Stop doubting yourself. You were learning what you needed to know, you were doing what you needed to do. Now keep doing it. Keep learning. Keep creating.” Even writing that out sounds kind of pretentious, but what I’m really trying to say is that I’m grateful. I’m so, so grateful that I have someone (or many someones, as Swoon Reads is made up of a virtual cornucopia of fantastic people) who’s given me a chance to rise to the occasion. So, how do I feel? Humbled. Inspired. Hopeful.
What advice do you have for other writers on the site?
Oh gosh. I do not feel qualified to be giving out advice. I still feel like I totally stumbled into all of this and I’m waiting to wake up and have someone say, “Oops, we didn’t actually mean you, we meant them over there.” Um, shoot…advice. Advice, advice. I mean, I can’t tell anyone how to be a better writer. There’s hundreds of books on how to improve technique, and what to do or not do, what habits to develop, what schedules to keep, even what liquids to drink while you work. I think that’s all entirely different for each person. The one thing I will say is that I think the best writers are the ones who never stop learning, and not just to research for a story, but to learn. To understand more about the world. I am such a hermit most of the time, I’m terrified of doing new things on my own, but I recently signed up for a glass-fusing class and I just did it. I went. I showed up. And now I’m hooked and I want to buy my own kiln and start my own workshop. I think artists — the ones who really emotionally gut-punch people with their lyrics or novels or paintings or whatever, the ones who actually say something — are the ones who allow themselves to be fully immersed in the world around them. There are so many things that I’d rather not think about or know about or talk about because they disgust me or terrify me or just make me profoundly sad. My dad was a runner in the Boston marathon the year the bomb exploded. He’d run through about a half hour before it went off, but he was there. He also works at SPU, where the students were shot a few weeks ago; he was in lockdown in his office only a few blocks away. I myself was involved in a horrific car accident where I should have died, but walked away with almost no injuries. I don’t like to think about these things, they give me literal nightmares — I don’t like to think about violence or death or why people do totally insane, horrible things. But if I don’t think about them, I’ll only ever be terrified, or disgusted, or sad. I think the job of the artist is to face the world — all of it, good and bad — and find a deep compassion for it. I think the job of the artist is to be in a constant search for a deeper understanding of life.
Anything you want to share with readers about your experience?
I just still feel so dumbfounded that this is happening. When I first wrote the novel when I was 19, I spent my entire summer vacation sending out probably forty or fifty query letters to different agents. Half the time I didn’t even get rejection letters, they simply didn’t respond. So it’s very strange that five years later, this is happening. I’d kind of written it off as a fun project, but a professional failure. Now, I’m just so freaking excited that I get to share it, and work with such a fantastic team on trimming it down and spit-shining it and just making it the best possible version of itself. It’s like getting a make-over, but for a book — I feel so pretty! Or something. Ha! I can’t wait to be able to share it with everyone.