award-winning, national bestselling author

Brenda Harlen

The Takeaway From The Giveaway

Posted on: September 23rd, 2013 by Brenda Harlen No Comments

drawn stack of booksOn Sunday, September 22nd, I ventured out of my writer’s cave to Queen’s Park in Toronto to be part of the “Word on the Street.” This festival is touted as a national celebration of literacy and the written word with events taking place in various cities from Lethbridge, Alberta to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Apparently it was the 24th year for WotS in Toronto and, I’m embarrassed to admit, the first one I’ve ever attended despite residing in fairly close proximity to that city.

I love Toronto but, like a lot of Canadians who live within the shadow of the CN Tower, I don’t love everything about Ontario’s capital city. I definitely don’t love the bumper-to-bumper traffic that says ‘welcome to Toronto’ more clearly than any roadside sign (in fact, I drove only so far as Kipling Station then took the subway to Queen’s Park), and I am not a Maple Leafs fan (and I hate that the “Hockey Night in Canada” games featured by the local cable company are always the Toronto games and never feature Ottawa or Montreal—unless either of those teams happens to be playing against Toronto)—but those are different topics for another day.

But I love writing and I love books, and when I found out that Toronto Romance Writers (a chapter of Romance Writers of America) would be at WotS, I wanted to be part of it.

As it turned out, more than 200,000 other people wanted to be part of it, too. There were all kinds of tents and booths with authors and publishers and vendors selling a wide variety stuff. At the Toronto Romance Writers booth, there were various items donated as giveaways by member authors and yes, even free books.

I was at the booth at four o’clock to sign copies of several of my backlist titles for any interested passerby who wanted to take one home and give it a read. The sole purpose in doing this was to promote the romance genre and, admittedly, myself as an author. For the most part, people—female and male—were gracious and appreciative of the gesture. So I was baffled by the woman who shook her head and said, almost apologetically, “I hope you can sell it to someone instead.”

What I took from that comment (and I’ll admit that I am sometimes overly sensitive to criticism about the romance genre), was that she believed I had to give my books away because no one wanted to buy them.  Of course, she didn’t stick around long enough for me to respond, to tell her that I’ve published twenty-seven full-length novels with Harlequin and that many of those books have been translated into other languages and sold in other countries around the world. And I didn’t get to tell her that I wanted to put my books in the hands of readers who don’t usually go into a bookstore (or grocery store or pharmacy) and plunk down $6.00 for a novel that celebrates love and life and guarantees a happy ending, so that they would know such books exist.

I don’t really regret that I didn’t have a chance to say any of those things, but I do regret that she didn’t take one of my books—or even a title by any other author featured in the Toronto Romance Writers booth. Because if she had, she might have realized that a book is an opportunity to explore new horizons, regardless of whether that book is a $6.00 series romance or a $36.00 New York Times bestselling hardcover or a $60.00 college text book (although, admittedly, we didn’t have any of the latter on display).

Thankfully, my annoyance didn’t last long. The next young woman who tentatively approached the booth confessed to being a huge fan of the romance genre and an aspiring author herself. We chatted for a few minutes about writing in general and Toronto Romance Writers in particular. And when she left with an autographed copy of one of my books in her hand, her sincere “thank you” was worth a lot more than the cover price of the book I gave away.


PS. HUGE thanks to Gina, Sherry, Colleen, Joan and all the other volunteers from Toronto Romance Writers who made this event such a tremendous success!



Blogger’s Block

Posted on: September 1st, 2013 by Brenda Harlen 4 Comments

fingers on keyboard blog photoAs a writer, one of the questions I hear most frequently is “where do you get your ideas?” Other writers I know have come up with clever responses to this standard question (my favorite response: well, actually, there’s this warehouse in Tulsa . . .) The truth is, I’ve never struggled to find story ideas. My problem has always been that I have too many ideas and not enough time to write them all. Until now.

When I sat down to write my first blog, I was excited. It was a blank page and I could fill it with whatever I wanted. I could write about my recent trip to Washington, D.C. with my husband and two kids this summer. I could write about—and lament—the fact that summer is almost over. I could write about—and celebrate—the fact that the end of summer means the kids will be going back to school and I can get back to my usual writing schedule.

But when I sat down and looked at the blank page (okay—I actually sat down in front of the computer so it was a blank screen rather than a blank page, but the gist is the same), my mind remained equally blank. I didn’t know what to say or where to start.

One of the reasons I love being an author is that I have control (or at least the illusion of control) over the lives of my fictional characters. I can make them do all kinds of things that I would never do myself, because they are strong and bold, adventurous and brave. They are willing to tackle almost any obstacle I put in their paths. (Of course there is the occasional character who isn’t always happy to comply with my wishes and who will refuse to do anything I want him to do—and yes, my choice of the male pronoun was deliberate—but that might be a good topic for another day . . . ) I’m not like that. I tend to be wary of the unknown, much more comfortable with the familiar. And for me, writing a blog falls directly into the “unknown” category.

One thing that I do know is research. (Apparently having to write all of those history papers in university taught me something more than that the catalyst for the First World War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.)  So I decided to start at the beginning and determine what exactly a blog is supposed to be and, thereby, establish my purpose in writing one.

According to A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts.

Some of those definitions were a little off-putting to me. A daily pulpit? I’m planning to blog at least once a month, maybe once a week if I start to get the hang of it, but the prospect of making this a daily commitment isn’t just intimidating but unrealistic for me. A political soapbox? I’m not usually one to get up on a soapbox (although exceptions may be made if I’m extremely passionate about a topic or have had more than two glasses of wine), so I don’t foresee this becoming a venue for my political views. I decided that the definition that best suited what I wanted was share my private thoughts and opinions on various topics or issues.

Of course, that still didn’t help me narrow down a subject for this blog . . .

For the first time in my life, I had to write something and I didn’t know what to write.

Was it possible . . . could this be . . . writer’s block?

I’ll be honest—I’ve never really believed in writer’s block. (Of course, I say that with my fingers crossed so as not to upset the creative muses who have always been so good to me.) In fact, I’ve often suspected that writer’s block is simply an excuse given by writers who, for whatever reason, have not been writing. Don’t get me wrong, I can come up with as many excuses as the next person for not writing, and I often do. It’s an undeniable fact that our lives are busy and other things can and do get in the way. But I believe that what makes someone a writer isn’t the ability to find time to write, it’s her determination to make time to write.

And when I’m writing under a deadline, you can bet I make plenty of time to write.

I don’t always like what I write, and it sometimes seems as if I spend as much time editing as I do writing, but I make sure I sit down every day and put some words on the page. They aren’t always the right words, but as long as they get me started, they affirm that I’m a writer.

So that was the approach I decided to take with this blog. Just sit down and put some words on the page and see where they might lead.

I didn’t have a strict deadline for my first blog, but I had decided that I would start blogging in September. Since today is September 1st, I made myself sit down and write. Maybe this wasn’t the most interesting blog topic. In fact, I’m sure it wasn’t, but now I can say that my first blog post is done.

Maybe next week I’ll edit it 🙂

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