Tag: optimism

The World Needs Romance Authors

holding up the worldI think the world, particularly journalists and politicians, needs to take a lesson from romance writers on how to critique.

Now that the COVID-19 crisis is moving into a new, and hopefully, end stage, all the pundits are out assessing who did what when, and complaining it wasn’t enough, was too much, was too late, missed the mark, etc. etc. Maclean’s, which bills itself as Canada’s magazine, published its latest issue with a black cover and the headline, “report on Canada’s mishandling of the crisis of the century.” In a time when we’re all struggling to maintain our mental health, this cover felt like a slap in the face.

As romance writers we’re taught that the critique is meant to be helpful to the author. It is not meant to destroy her writing dream. It is not a place for the critiquer to promote herself or her ideas. We learn to sandwich our criticism between layers of praise. The end result is to encourage the newbie writer to keep trying, to keep learning and to get better. If a critique results in the would-be-author giving up, the person writing the critique has failed.

To be fair,  Maclean’s did highlight bright spots in Canada’s response to COVID-19, most notably the response of individuals who found ways of helping out whether it was turning distilleries into makers of hand sanitizer, car manufacturers retooling to make PPE, or the compassion and dedication of health workers. Still, the overall tone of the magazine was negative.

Governments and their actions need to be scrutinized, I’m not denying that. But if the scrutiny is based on 20/20 hindsight without any recognition of the moment when decisions were made, it is unfair. If the analysis is intended to push a political agenda, that serves only one party, it is suspect. As with any great event in history, our response to COVID-19 should be examined. We should look for ways to do better. We should recognize that another pandemic can occur. We need critical thinking. But we also need people willing to take on the enormity of government. Given the level of personal attack and smear campaigns that are becoming standard practice, I wonder anyone even wants to run for office.

Politicians, agencies and public administrators will make mistakes. Pundits make mistakes too, but they are never headline news. If a journalist predicts a disaster and the disaster does not happen, that “expert” is not vilified in the press. There will be barely a mention of the miscalculation. Yet public figures are excoriated on everything from their policy statements to their hairstyles.  

I remember a conversation with an optimist once who complained that even the weather report listed 40% chance of showers. “That’s 60% chance of sunshine,” he grumbled. “Why not say it that way?”

As an optimist, I’m on his side. As a citizen I expect my leaders to put every ounce of effort into keeping me safe. I expect them to use science, technology, tradition and research to develop plans to make my country a place where every citizen is cared for and valued. As Maclean’s points out, there are many areas where we could have done better. But to imply that it was all a disaster is incorrect and serves only to fuel cynicism and distrust at a time when we need confidence and team spirit. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and all that.

Magazine’s like Maclean’s give no space to romance writers but they could certainly learn something about collegiality and encouragement from us.

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New Year

What is it about a new year that makes us celebrate?  Between December 31 and January 1, war, disease and poverty remain unchanged.  Exams still loom for the student.  A hangover of extra pounds from the Christmas season can plunge the body-conscious into gloom and remorse.  The next credit card statement, rife with holiday impulses lurks in the mail.  Yet, we celebrate.  We set off fireworks, we greet strangers with a “Happy New Year,” and we hug old friends with heartfelt joy.  All because the calendar declares January 1, and the year is “new.”

We like new.  I played a drawing game with friends on New Year’s Eve and the hostess bought new pencils and new paper pads.  We were as excited a school kids to hold a full-length pencil with a sharp new point and an eraser unsullied by errors.

It is axiomatic that writers dread a blank page, but I love a new notebook, all the pages clean and inviting.  Much as an artist thrills to a fresh pad of drawing paper, or the reader inhales the scent of a new book, the pages uncreased, the story promising adventure, romance, knowledge.  Could this be the one book she has longed for all her life?  It’s possible.

We like “new.”  Did you know you can actually buy “new car smell,” in a spray?  Even if your car is second hand, you can make it smell new.  Is it pure avarice that makes us crave the new?  Are we so brainwashed by advertisers that “new and improved” is our watchword?

I don’t think so.  I believe “new” fills us with hope, and it is hope that drives our celebration. We yearn for a thing that is fresh, unblemished, full of promise.  Perhaps we hope that “new” will wipe away the mistakes of the past.  “Clean slate” is more than a metaphor for old writing tools.  We long to start anew, with all the errors of the past wiped away.  As Anne Shirley famously remarked, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a day with no mistakes in it yet.”

The writer with a new notebook hopes against all evidence that the words he writes on the page will transcend any he has written before.  That, this time, he’ll  find the words that truly portray the magic and glory of the tale that burns in his mind.  This time, thinks the artist, the picture will capture all the truth of the universe in a curving line.   The driver dreams that the  new-to-him car will get better mileage, travel smoother roads and take him on incredible adventures that transform his life.

We greet the “new” with unbridled hope.  We even make resolutions based on nothing more than a box on the calendar.

Inevitably, the new notebook is filled with blots and cross-outs, erasures rub a hole in the artist’s paper and the new car gets a ding in the parking lot.  We’ve seen it happen again and again, and yet we hope.  This time will be different.

The cynics scoff at the optimists, declaring them deluded fools for continuing to hope in the face of crushing reality.  But cynics don’t sponsor refugees.  Cynics don’t find a cure for cancer and cynics don’t work for peace.  Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas message urged us all to do “small things with great love.”  That’s a message for optimists.

So, as 2017 opens, I say “a pox on the cynics.”  Let us hope,  and work for a better world.

As for resolutions, I resolve to love more, worry less, and greet each day as a gift from God.

            Happy New Year!

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Why Romance?

I belong to a book club whose purpose is to expand our reading experience. We make a point of choosing books from various genres including historical, mystery, Canadiana, classic, and many, many more. As a result I’ve met some authors I never would have picked up on my own, learned some obscure facts, discovered some not-so-famous people, and generally had a good time between the covers of a book.  I’ve also come across some authors I’ll never read again. The latest book was such a one.

In their statement of mission, many public broadcasters include variations on the theme, “to inform, enlighten, entertain, inspire and illumine.” Libraries have a version of the same, and I like to read with those goals in mind. Sadly, the latest book, which won many awards, failed me in all respects but maybe the last.

  • Inform:  I did not learn anything new from the book — no tidbit of information, to squirrel away in the trivia compartment of my brain.
  • Enlighten: It did not add a deeper level to my understanding of a situation or condition.
  • Entertain:  Not me. I could not find one single, sympathetic character to identify with. There was a protagonist, but I found nothing heroic about her journey. Although the language and writing were powerful, the dysfunctional relationships were more tedious than entertaining.
  • Inspire:  I was not moved to emulate any of the characters in the story, or to work for a cause or change my opinion on politics, religion or culture.  I could find no moral to the story. In fact, when I closed the book my first thought was a sour, “So what?”
  • Illumine:   Perhaps the book reflected a segment of modern society, a sad segment, with not even the hint of an optimistic future.

And that brings me to the point of why I chose to write romantic fiction.  Everyone wants to fall in love, it’s a universal theme.   The books are populated by heroic characters, (and a few villains but it is clear they are villains).  The stories celebrate positive values like kindness, generosity, forgiveness and healing.  Romances are  are encouraging: despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the love relationship triumphs.  And that, I think, is the most important point.  A modern romance novel has an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.  We close the book with a sigh, a little sorry we’ve come to the end, but content that the characters we’ve invested in, will succeed.  They will live happily-ever-after.

Literary critics slam the romance genre for its rose-coloured glasses.  Happily-ever-after is only for fairy tales, they say.  Maybe so, but we have the news to keep us grounded in the real world.  Our screens show a steady stream of mayhem, pain, disaster, sorrow — the “real” world.  We could all drown in despair.  I think we all need some optimism, hope for a better future, confirmation that lasting love exists.  For the sake of my sanity and my spirit,  I choose romance.

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