Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kindness and other lessons from the day job

by Linda O'Toole

Looking back over my working history I realize I had only about a dozen different jobs, with only one or two where I would be paid to do any kind of writing.  That being said, I was only employed by two employers in my many, many years of working.  Here are a couple of jobs that stand out as being memorable.

My first job was working in the stock control office of a local building supply company.  It was my job to keep records of weekly inventory counts so that I could make up the orders for stock from suppliers.  For the most part it was boring.  Counting widgets and add the information to the stock cards – yes it was all done by paper then.  (Did I mention I was a child protégé and started working when I was 2 years old?  Just kidding!)  But one day every two weeks I got to place the orders.  For one company that was in Holland, I would send a telex.  It used to amaze me how that long strip of yellow paper with all those holes punched in it could relay the exact order that I had entered.  I would sit and worry that I had put the paper on the machine backwards and we would get a container load of really weird things…

The other way I ordered things was to punch information into a machine that looked like an adding machine.  After the order was all in, I would dial a phone number and then tuck the telephone receiver into a box connected to the adding machine look alike.  The order was then sent via modem to the supplier.  This was leading edge technology at the time. 

The big joke every week was that my co-workers would stand at the window of the office when the delivery truck arrived stating they were waiting to see if a pink elephant was unloaded!  They swore someday I would make a mistake in my order numbers and one would be escorted off the truck when it arrived.

I stayed with this employer for 15 years.  Over that time I was given the chance to learn all of the jobs in the office and some in the warehouse.  Accounts Receivable, accounts payable, cashier, human resources, forklift driver, etc.  I was also given the chance to take a blueprint reading course and then a construction estimating course, not a typical area of study for women back then.  I had no work experience when I joined this company but they believed in me and gave me the opportunity to learn a great many skills.

One of the other jobs that sticks out in my mind was working with the Kosovo Refugees when they landed in Canada.  I was part of a group from Health Canada that set up shop at the DND base in Greenwood.  I was there when every plane arrived.  Although I did not work directly with the refugees I was fortunate enough to mingle and speak with a number of them while they were waiting to be seen by medical staff or others to look after their needs.  Someone had dropped off a box full of bubbles and kiddies sunglasses so before our shifts started or during breaks we would put on our star shaped sunglasses and grab our bottle of bubbles and join the kids out back. I still don’t know who had more fun, them or us.  The people that arrived on the planes were very grateful and friendly.  It was hard to believe that having to leave their homeland behind they still had such a great outlook.  They truly were a wonderful group of people.

I would have to say that it was the hardest few weeks I have ever worked, but it was also the most fulfilling.  The planes continued to come in every second day, with the day between filled with processing paperwork.  The sense of making a difference in the lives of others was overwhelming and an experience I will never forget. It was an honour to have had the chance to work on this project and speak with so many amazing people.

Things I have learned over the course of my working life:

·       Show others kindness even if you don’t know them.  It only takes one person to do something nice and change the life of another.  Small things can have a big impact.
·       You can do just about anything you set your mind to especially if you have the support of others.
·       Today’s technology will lead to something greater in the future.
·       Appreciate everything you have, there are others out there who do not have as much and you never know when it may all be gone.

What does all this have to do with being a romance writer?   I think all of the jobs I have had including the two above, have helped me see the world in a different light.  They have opened my eyes to possibilities that I may not have even imagined if I had not had the opportunity to experience them.  Will any of my jobs make their way into my stories?  Maybe, but it will not be the duties of the jobs so much as what I have learned about people and life in general that will make the difference. 

I attended an amazing workshop this past weekend.  Three topics were discussed by three different presenters who each did an outstanding job.  I got lots of tips and great handouts- things I will certainly use.  There may even have been a light bulb moment or two. 

The third presentation was on Character and Emotion.  In my notes I wrote the following:
·       “Write what you know which equals write what you feel and feelings are universal even if the situations are not quite the same.”
·       “Create Characters that you care about.  Emotional experience is what counts”. 

I repeat – What does my job experience have to do with being a writer? - These two lines sum it up nicely.


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Monday, 25 August 2014

Baby or No Baby?

by Deborah Hale

How do you feel about children in romance novels and on covers?

When I wrote my first romance novel back in the early 90’s, my own four children were very young. A friend used to call writing my sanity-retention mechanism. After a day of unglamorous parenting and housework, I would escape into my Georgian era story, swanning off to the theatre or the pleasure gardens in gorgeous gowns. Needless to say, there were no children in my story.

The next one had a pregnant heroine whose infant made an appearance for the last couple of pages of the book. Book three had a brief appearance by some children. Books four and five were entirely child-free. Book five was part of a continuity series and I was assigned a story with a heroine who was the nanny of the hero’s young nephew. I think my editor realized that a mother of four and former teacher, I should be “writing what I knew.” After that children began cropping up in my stories more and more.

Now that my busy, demanding toddlers have grown into bright, independent young adults, I miss having little ones around. Six out of my last eight books had children in them and I will soon be releasing the first book of a trilogy that puts a Regency spin on Three Men and a Baby. When an infant is left on the doorstep of three notorious bachelors with a note suggesting that one of them is the father, their rakish lifestyle is turned upside down. I considered titling either the first book or the series Three Noblemen and a Baby, but research of popular Regency covers and titles suggested I should go for something different.

What do you think of my cover and new title: Scandal on His Doorstep? Do you like reading romance novels with children in the story? Would the presence of children on the cover attract you to buy the book or put you off?

~ Deborah Hale is a Golden Heart winner and RITA nominee, the author of more than thirty historical and fantasy romance novels. Her latest book is part of a multi-author series of Regency novels that color outside the box with shades of time-travel, suspense, vampires and babies. Watch for the first three books of A Most Peculiar Season to appear this fall!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Keep Honing the Craft

by Georgiana Harding 

One of the great assets of belonging to a writing chapter is the expertise every writer brings to the table. I’m also very fortunate to have been invited to participate with a critique group as part of our monthly meeting.

Although our genres are varied, I look forward to the red slashing of the editing pen from the opinions of my fellow writers. It’s amazing to me how one piece of work can be returned with five different opinions proving that every editor you send your work to will also have their subjective opinion. But all the rewrites and editing helps our baby become more presentable.

And of course, every time I get critiqued, I learn something. Maybe I missed this along the way, but I was not familiar with the term filtering. So I looked it up and wanted to share a few things I found.

What Are Filter Words?

Actually, I didn’t even know these insidious creatures had a name until I started combing the internet for info.

Filter words are those that unnecessarily filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view. Dark Angel’s Blog says:

“Filtering” is when you place a character between the detail you want to present and the reader. The term was started by Janet Burroway in her book On Writing.

In terms of examples, Let the Words Flow says to watch out for:

·         to see
·         to hear
·         to think
·         to touch
·         to wonder
·         to realize
·         to watch
·         to look
·         to seem
·         to feel (or feel like)
·         can
·         to decide
·         to sound (or sound like)
·         to know

I’m being honest when I say my manuscript is filled with these words, and the majority of them need to be edited out.

What Do Filter Words Look Like?

Let’s imagine a character in your novel is walking down a street during peak hour.

You might, for example, write:

Sarah felt a sinking feeling as she realized she’d forgotten her purse back at the cafe across the street. She saw cars filing past, their bumpers end-to-end. She heard the impatient honk of horns and wondered how she could quickly cross the busy road before someone took off with her bag. But the traffic seemed impenetrable, and she decided to run to the intersection at the end of the block.

Eliminating the bolded words removes the filters that distances us, the readers, from this character’s experience:

Sarah’s stomach sank. Her purse—she’d forgotten it back at the cafe across the street. Cars filed past, their bumpers end-to-end. Horns honked impatiently. Could she make it across the road before someone took off with her bag? She ran past the impenetrable stream of traffic, toward the intersection at the end of the block.

Are Filter Words Ever Acceptable?

Of course, there are usually exceptions to every rule.

Just because filter words tend to be weak doesn’t mean they never have a place in our writing. Sometimes they are helpful and even necessary.

Susan Dennard of Let the Words Flow writes that we should use filter words when they are critical to the meaning of the sentence.

If there’s no better way to phrase something than to use a filter word, then it’s probably okay to do so.

Filtering words are generally words that you add to a sentence when you are trying to describe something that your character is experiencing or thinking. These can be sense words like feel, taste, see, hear, and smell, or variations thereof. But they can also be words like think, seem, and remember.
Writers don’t necessarily have to avoid these words, but they should be aware of the effect that they have on your prose. Rather than describing a sensation outright, you are distancing your narrator (and reader) from the sense that you are describing.
 More Examples of Filtering
  • I heard a noise in the hallway.
  • She felt embarrassed when she tripped.
  • I saw a light bouncing through the trees.
  • I tasted the sour tang of raspberries bursting on my tongue.
  • He smelled his teammate’s BO wafting through the locker room.
  • She remembered dancing at his wedding.
  • I think people should be kinder to one another.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: I heard a noise in the hallway.
  • DESCRIBE THE SOUND: Heels tapped a staccato rhythm in the hallway.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: She felt embarrassed after she tripped.
  • DESCRIBE WHAT THE FEELING LOOKS LIKE: Her cheeks flushed and her shoulders hunched after she tripped.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: I saw a light bouncing through the trees.
  • DESCRIBE THE SIGHT: A light bounced through the trees.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: I tasted the sour tang of raspberries bursting on my tongue.
  • DESCRIBE THE TASTE: The sour tang of raspberries burst on my tongue.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: He smelled his teammate’s BO wafting through the locker room.
  • DESCRIBE THE SMELL: His teammate’s BO wafted through the locker room.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: She remembered dancing at his wedding.
  • DESCRIBE THE MEMORY: She had danced at his wedding.
  • FILTERING EXAMPLE: I think people should be kinder to one another.
  • DESCRIBE THE THOUGHT: People should be kinder to one another.
See what a difference it makes when you get rid of the filter? It’s simply not necessary to use them. By ditching them, you avoid “telling,” your voice is more active, and your pacing is helped along.
The above list is not comprehensive as there are many examples of filtering words. The idea is to be aware of the concept so that you can recognize instances of it happening in your work. Be aware of where you want to place the energy and power in your sentences. Let your observations flow through your characters with immediacy.
No matter who your narrator is, they're the person the reader sees the novel through. A tight first person, and omniscient third, everything is filtered through their eyes. Sometimes this filter is invisible and the reader doesn't feel any distance between them and the point of view (POV) character. Other times the filters are obvious and the reader feels the wall between them and the characters. One looks through the eyes of the POV, the other looks at the POV. 

So, what exactly is filtering?

Words that distance the reader from the POV character.

Filter words remind the reader they're reading, explain things that are obvious, and often lead a writer into telling or crafting passive sentences.

Remember, your POV is already filtering for you. There's no need to remind the reader they're doing it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


When I write my books, there’s generally a lot of food in it. Characters cook. Characters eat. Characters get together with families for meals. I don’t know if it’s life imitating art or art imitating life, but after this past weekend there’s not much wonder that I get inspired to include cooking – and eating – in my writing.

We’re just back from a weekend at my mother-in-law’s. She and her partner go out for breakfast most days, so we did eat out both Sunday and Monday mornings. On Sunday we were all STARVING and we were going on very little sleep, so we all ate hearty. As in…eggs and breakfast meats and homemade pan fries and toast with a good thick layer of jam. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Because we had “brunch”, we pretty much only ate 2 meals on both days. On Sunday night, we had homemade baked beans and her brown bread rolls which were soooo good. As usual. And my husband had also barbecued some hamburgers. As you can tell, Sunday was “starch and meat day” but oh my, it was delicious.

Did I mention dessert on Sunday? There were two choices. Gingerbread and whipped cream or Rhubarb Cobbler. Or, naturally, a bit of each. And the cobbler was out of this world. I forgot to get the recipe, but I’m gonna have it. I think the secret was a little lemon zest in the batter…

Monday’s dinner was a bit more colourful. We had roast chicken, hodge podge and fresh corn. I’m assuming that those from this neck of the woods know what hodge podge is, but for other readers I’ll explain: Hodge Podge is made in the summer time, with fresh vegetables, and it’s beans, peas, and potatoes cooked together and then you add butter, salt and pepper and cream to it. Some people add fresh carrots to it as well, and we did as we’d stopped at our Uncle’s veggie stand that morning and bought a few bunches. And since Thursday is my mom-in-law’s birthday, we had birthday cake for dessert.

Which was all wonderful but OMG, TOO MUCH FOOD. I feel like I need a detox.

So we came home on Tuesday and dinner was grilled chicken breasts, baked sweet potato, fresh carrots and peas. Perfect.

Know what though? I don’t begrudge a single calorie. It was fantastic!

And while I write lots of food into my stories, I AM sensible occasionally. Like in THE GIRL MOST LIKELY, where the heroine opens a restaurant that only serves healthy food. It still made me hungry….

Monday, 18 August 2014

Not My Job, Please!

by Tory LeBlanc

I've had a lot of crappy jobs. (Once literally!)

Janitor at an el cheapo movie theatre in Ottawa. Ugh! Just thinking about the disgusting mess of the women's washroom makes me constipated.

A summer stint at the Canadian National Exhibition was falafel. Guess which booth I worked at?

Santa's helper at a photo booth at Christmastime. I lifted thousands of kids onto his lap. And he still didn't bring me a pony.

Clerk at Toronto City Hall. Super. Mind. Numbing.

Even though I've never tortured my characters by subjecting them to these career choices, the life experiences have worked their way in. The desperation of a truly empty bank account. The body-numbing exhaustion of intense physical labour. The horror of realizing you're not good at something.

Emotion is what transcends a specific job and turns it into a universal experience. While not everyone has had to thrust their hands into strange crusty toilets, they do know the frantic hopelessness of being up against the wall. Who has not experienced rudeness, or boredom? Or felt like they didn't belong?

Shared emotion creates an essential link between character and reader. When we read something we can identify with, we enter the story more fully. Emotion creates a bond that mere facts cannot.

So even if I do not understand the legalities involved in a judge's work, I do know the headache of making a difficult decision. Although I'm not in the medical profession, I can relate to the joy a midwife must feel at the sight of a healthy newborn.

Universal emotions are the parts of my checkered career I strive to bring to my fictional worlds. Not the toilets.

Tory LeBlanc reads, writes, and researches in Nova Scotia.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Education is Rarely a Waste

by Paula Altenburg

Education is rarely a waste.

Sometimes it is.

But most often it’s not.

We’re in the midst of home renovations. That means the Foreign Guy is yanking stuff out of closets and bedrooms, dumping it all in the middle of the living room floor, and then walking away, wiping his hands and whistling as if his work is done.

As I was sorting through boxes of papers and photos, and swearing at him under my breath, I came across class notes, lab reports, and old exams from two third year university biology courses I took mmph number of years ago. The Foreign Guy, who doesn’t have a Canadian degree, had asked me to take a couple of classes for him.

I have a degree in Social Anthropology. No background in science. Physiology of Aquatic Animals and Fish Health were a BIG stretch for me. But I was game to give them a try. Because yes. I am that person. I like a challenge.

And those classes were HARD.

(Did I mention the arts degree?)

My first lab, I was the only student who didn’t know I was looking at a red blood cell under the microscope. I had to borrow a first year biology text book and basically educate myself in order to get up to speed. I’d write down any words I didn’t understand and look them up later. I created my own thesaurus. I even resorted to calling my old high school biology teacher to get help with some of the homework.
He chuckled. Loudly. With far too much evil pleasure. “Bet you wish you’d paid more attention in my class now, don’t you?”

I passed those two classes. In fact, I did really well. But some of my notes are hilarious. I’d written in the margin during one class, “Another effing graph.” The sadist professor liked to use them to illustrate points and I couldn’t read them.  I still can’t. Don’t judge me.

What I remember the most, however, was the huge sense of accomplishment when I did well in an area that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, come easily for me.  In fact, looking over my old notes now (the information, not the swearing), it’s like they’re written in a foreign language.

Education, it turns out, is my adrenaline rush. Some people skydive. I buy Physics for Dummies. I understand the second law of thermodynamics now, although I’ll never, in this lifetime, be able to do the math. I know my limits. I’m still trying to figure out entropy and measuring the disorganization of a system, too. I understand it in theory. I can’t remember the flow. It looks too much like a graph.

I pace my adrenaline rushes. I’m not insane. After I took those courses, I checked out every Georgette Heyer book the local library had.  Thanks to Ms. Heyer, I also now know what ratafia is.
I can use that.

Paula Altenburg

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Is a Romance Author Allowed to Write a Different Genre?

by Renee Field

I recently met with a fan who was in town and asked for some signed copies of my paranormal books, Rapture & Bliss and because I’m a firm believer in building my fan base I of course jumped all over that.

I had a lovely chat with this woman and when she asked me what I was working on I immediately launched into my long list of projects which includes final edits for a young adult paranormal romance, and a new contemporary women’s fiction. I could immediately see she truly wasn’t interested in the YA stuff but her eyes jumped when I talked about the overall plot for my women’s fiction which might take me years to write. But this got me thinking about a few things.

While it’s great we, as authors, can target ourselves and say we’re a romance, historical, contemporary, paranormal, erotica, mystery, young adult writer I often feel putting a label on things limits us. Some writers and I confess to being one of them, use pen names for their alternative writings. Now, I confess I did this because a lot of my writing is hot, sexy and erotic and I didn’t want my fans to become confused with my hard-hitting nitty gritty realistic teen novels, but I’m no longer sure I needed to do this.

Why? Readers are smart. They’re going to invest in the time to look at your book cover, read your blurb and decide for themselves if this is something they want or desire to read. Does it really matter that my erotic/sexy books could be also on the same web page of my young adult reads?

Why don’t contemporary literary authors face this same issue? I’m thinking of authors like Margaret Atwood, Margaret Lawrence, and Jeanette Winterson to name a few. I’m a huge fan of all three authors but Margaret Atwood didn’t get labelled a futuristic romance author when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale…why? Because at the foundation we’re all writers. That’s the core of who we are as authors.


I know local Canadian author Julianne MacLean started writing her women’s fiction under a pen name but then quickly dropped it. Why you might wonder? A good story will sell all on its own, and her loyal fans were not disappointed that she made the jump from historical romance author to a hard-hitting contemporary women’s fiction series. Author Sherrilyn Kenyon has also made the jump into paranormal young adult books and she lists both on her website.


So this begs the question. Is it okay for a romance author to simply say they’re a writer? Do you think it’s fair to readers to showcase a variety of genres on your website if you’re an author?

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Monday, 11 August 2014

All about the books...sort of

by Michelle Helliwell

I am a librarian. For some, this is a profession steeped in nostalgia and misconception. There seems to be two predominant images - the public librarian, who helps instill the love of reading into the hearts and minds of the public; the other is the academic librarian, who work in the dusty halls of an academic library, with access to some of the great tomes and mysteries waiting to be unlocked (even that image of an academic library is seriously dated). Librarianship is one of the most misunderstood professions because we equate the librarian with the book, the database – the thing – and not the services they provide. The best work librarians, many of whom I am privileged to know, focus not on books or databases, but people and the information they need to be fulfilled in some way.  (I could blog all day on this subject, because I’m passionate about it…but I’ll move on). 

So, I’m a writer and a librarian, and when people hear this, their eyes light up and think that this is a match made in heaven. Librarians are all about the books, right? Well, here is my big dirty secret – except for my first year out of library school, when I worked in a non-profit resource library for people with autism, I have never circulated a book. I have never run a story time. I still get the Carr McLean and Brodart catalogues and I loooove them because they are full of library paraphenalia and cool posters and booktape but it's full of stuff I don't use. 

I work in healthcare, in an office. There is no room with books—in a hospital, the healthcare staff want (and need) the information in the palm of their hands. Before I left work last week, I was asking for advice from some nurses I work with on the most useful way to format a policy to make it easy for front line healthcare workers to read quickly. I do searches on the staging of pressure ulcers and patient flow in overcrowded emergency rooms. Friday I got really excited about a form I created and then even more excited when I realized I could just collect the information digitally using Sharepoint so I could track the information flow better. This is my life as a librarian. 

But I write historical romances. I looooove historical things. My day job is about clinical practice guidelines and health systems research, and my writing life is about swords and corsets and how long it takes to get from point A to point B on the back of a horse.  My search skills certainly come in handy when I’m trying to find an answer to a question I have when writing a book, and when it comes to tagging books, I’ve known about meta-data since before it was sexy. (It was called “cataloguing”). I can’t imagine I’d ever want to write a book set in a hospital. I started working in one in 1990, as a ward clerk, and when I finished Library School, I ended up right back in healthcare. I spend the majority of my waking hours in hospitals. When I drive away from work, that entire universe needs to stay in my rear view mirror. I need the escape of something different.  

Like many writers, however, every experience, no matter how dramatic or mundane, can translate into your stories. Years ago I worked in retail, and I can remember how my calves ached from standing on concrete floors for 10 hours a day. That will definitely make it into a book. I also worked at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic many moons ago, and maybe I’ll use my familiarity with the CSS Acadia or the RobertsonStore to inspire a setting.  I was in the Army Reserves for a few years, and maybe one day I’ll draw on my experience being tear-gassed or throwing a grenade or being on a field exercise for a week to translate to an experience where a character is bone wearily tired, in a riot, is publicly set down showing up for work in a wrinkled garment, or handling something potentially lethal.  All of it goes in the writing well.

When I go on vacation, we often go to historical re-enactment parks, and when I watch TV, it’s often historical or otherwise fantastical. I am a Jane Austen freak. If it involves chain mail, muslin, muskets or a shift, I’m there.  My undergrad is in history, and I’ve never lost my love of it, and it finds my way into what I write.  Contemporary is where I live...historical is where I want to visit, and my writing takes me there.

I read to escape. I write to escape. And I’m quite happy to keep the spheres of my life – the writing and the day job – as separate as I can. My life long ambition—which I think I probably first articulated when I was in my 20’s – is to write novels in the morning and make jam in the afternoon. When that happens, and my day job is my writing life...then those spheres will happily collide. 

Who knows? Maybe then I'll write a book about a librarian. :)

Michelle Helliwell is a health sciences librarian extraordinaire, lego video game wizard, and historical romance writer. She blogs regularly at her website, is exploring tumblr, and pins often but seems to be getting that under control. You can see some of her day job pins here.