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Being a Canadian Romance Writer: Avoiding Stereotypes. Most of the Time

Being a Canadian Romance Writer: Avoiding Stereotypes. Most of the Time

When you think of a Canadian romance writer, maybe you envision writers sitting in a log cabin, a story idea in their mind, banging it out…um, typing it out in peaceful tranquility. The story, of course, is also set in nature, with the plot involving at least one campfire and a bear.

Or maybe a Canadian romance takes place in either Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, or on Prince Edward Island (because of Anne of Green Gables) and involves a hockey team.

As a Canadian romance author, I hope I don’t disappoint when I say that I neither sit in a log cabin nor live in any of those cities or that province. Here’s why I set my romance novels in a location I still think is romantic despite my hometown’s oh-not-so-romantic name (Kitchener).

Helping One Another

As a romance reader, you’ve likely read and watched many small-town romance stories. I enjoy them, too! The usual storyline is that the main character from the cold-hearted big city, where no one helps anyone, finds that people in a small town help one another.

I wanted to write my own small-town romance stories, but one thing always bothers me with many of these stories (novels and movies).

If you listen carefully, somewhere in the story will be some variation of this sentence: “You’re one of us now. Of course we’ll help you.”

As if people in a small town don’t help strangers? Why the xenophobic-sounding line? I don’t get it.

Many humans will shy away from helping strangers. That’s natural, and it can keep one safe. I’m not denying that. But the reason I became a Canadian romance writer is because romance is an idealistic genre. My hometown is on the cusp of becoming a big city: I’d like to think we still help one another as a tightly knit community. I wanted to preserve that in my novels.

With Kitchener being neither a big city nor a small town, it sits nicely in the middle where I can break with genre expectations but still offer the ideal that humans, when they live in a trusting community (of any size), will help one another, whether stranger or friend.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Romance novels are all about heart. My Canadian hometown captured mine during my childhood. But as far as romantic Canadian locations go, Kitchener doesn’t tick off a lot of boxes: no mountains, no lakes, no endless forests. My husband and I certainly didn’t spend our honeymoon here!

We have romantic locations aplenty, though. Tracy and Ben go for a country drive, Pauline and Todd walk along the Iron Horse Trail and visit Uptown Waterloo at dusk, and I have yet to plan Claire and Richard’s romantic sojourns in Teas of Joy.

Lori Wolf-Heffner in a toque and winter jacket holding a copy of Tea Shop for Two in front of a rusty bell sculpture in Waterloo, Ontario.
Lori’s standing in front of the sculpture that Pauline and Todd muse about in Tea Shop for Two.

But as you may have read if you’ve joined my newsletter, I have a lot of personal ties to Belmont Village. It’s also simply a wonderful area of town, and I have many fond memories. Plus, my in-laws owned a convenience store there many, many years ago, and my mom’s family shopped there before I was a thought.

If nothing says “perfect romance back story” like that, then I don’t know what does. And it’s true!

Writing About a Real Location

I find it much easier to write about an actual location. But with a city the size of Kitchener, it’s not big enough yet for any location to be anonymous. You can traverse any neighbourhood within maybe 10 minutes at most, and Belmont Village within five.

As a Canadian romance writer, using real locations has implications. For starters, sex scenes. The chocolate shop in Oh, What the Fudge lends itself perfectly to sex scenes, and there’s currently no chocolate shop in Belmont Village. But what if one opens down the road? Depending on the shop’s brand, the owner may not be too thrilled about the association.

In a fictional small town, I could also have at least one antagonistic shop owner who’s always trying to ruin everyone’s fun. If I did that with even a fictional shop in Belmont Village, readers might wonder if I’m parodying someone. And again, if a store similar to one I created opens up down the road, there could be issues for the owner.

So situations like those have led to two rules I follow with my Canadian romance series: sex happens behind closed doors, and bad people don’t own businesses in Belmont Village.

Canadian Themes in My Romance Novels

I aim for universal themes in my romance novels, like feeling like a fish out of water (Tea Shop for Two), or struggling with putting yourself or your family first (Oh, What the Fudge), but some Canadian topics are too good to pass up.

Like the Toronto Maple Leafs, a Canadian hockey team that hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in over 50 years. So, for kicks, I let the Toronto Peregrines win.

Oh, What the Fudge also tackles a Canadian problem on a very local level. I won’t discuss it here to avoid spoiling it for anyone. But I did it because I was tired with a particular sub-plot many romances use.

Canadian Spelling

This is one thing that has many Canadian authors worried: our spelling, like many of us, is a fence-sitter. We spell some words according to the British way, e.g., colour, and others according to the American way, e.g., strategize. I’ve even seen spelling warnings in Canadian books because Canadian authors have gotten poor reviews due to “all the typos.”

So, my spelling contributes to the Canadian feel of my romance books, too.

Final Thoughts on Canadian Romance

I’m sorry if you were hoping for sex in nature and the like. Not this time around, at least. Belmont Village, a shopping district in Kitchener, is a wonderful place to set a Canadian romance series. Wonderful shopping, happy memories, and the perfect real-life romantic backstory for a Canadian romance writer.

Writing romance is difficult: readers expect certain events to happen, but they also want each series to be unique. Hopefully, situating my romance series in an actual Canadian city most people don’t know adds to the uniqueness of the series.

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