Immigrating to #WaterlooRegion: From 1 Generation to the Next

Graphic advertising Author Afternoon in the City of Waterloo

Linn Sommer is an amateur sleuth and, like her creator, Dani, a newly landed immigrant. My protagonist, Juliana Roth, loves dance and is a 2nd generation descendant of immigrants, just like me. Both protagonists–and both authors–live in Waterloo Region.

Do Linn and Juliana reflect some of Dani’s and my experiences? Or do Dani and I fully re-create our experiences through Linn and Juliana?

Join me and fellow writer and friend Dani Baker for an afternoon of laughs, memories, and reflections on the immigration story of Waterloo Region. Dani will read from her cozy mystery series, Hansel & Pretzel, and I’ll read from my contemporary/historical fiction series, Between Worlds. A Q&A session and book sale will follow.

What initially brought me and Dani together was a German-language book exchange we’d arranged online. Now, six or seven years later, we find ourselves sharing our stories of Canada and immigration through our writing. We held our first joint reading in April and had so much fun that we couldn’t wait to team up again. We hope you’ll come and join us for this inaugural season of Author Afternoons in Waterloo!

5th Annual Mothers Day Stop n Shop

You’ll find a host of unique vendors–including me–at this Mothers’ Day-themed market. If you’re looking for gifts you wouldn’t normally find in the mall, then this would be the place. Ample free parking, no stairs, and right off the highway, you’ll find a ballroom full of ideas. We’ll be in the Waterloo Ballroom.

The Between Worlds series makes a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day: Readers join Juliana and Elisabeth on their journeys into womanhood, traveling with them through their family, which spans two continents and centuries. Moms so far have been telling me how much they’re enjoying the books.

Eco Shop n’ Swap Market @ Eastwood Collegiate

This amazing day includes an Eco-friendly art market in the ECI gym showcasing work from both professional artists and from our own talented student artists. Come and SHOP!

AND don’t forget to check out the awesome clothing SWAP in the cafeteria from 12-3pm. Early donation drop-off 10am.

  • One donated item = one ticket.
  • $5 entry fee for the Swap
  • Buy New items for one ticket or $2 each. Fundraising for the Arts program and ECI impact club, providing recycling program within the school and other sustainable activities.

Live music will be provided throughout the day by our talented Eastwood musicians, and a concession booth will be open selling coffee, tea and muffins.

  • Funds raised from the Eco Shop table rentals will support the Integrated Arts Program at Eastwood.
  • Funds raised from the Eco Swap will be split between the Eastwood Environment Impact Team and the Integrated Arts Program

I’ll be there, with all four books for sale. It’s the perfect place to sell stories about dance, and selling my books also supports arts programming at the high school level. Even if you don’t need to buy any books from me, come out to see what other artists–both professional and student–are doing and support the arts.

Author Reading: Stories from KW

Authors Lori Wolf-Heffner and Dani Baker are sitting behind a table that is decked out with their books

Mount Trashmore, King Street, and moody winters. These are just a smattering of what Kitchener writer Dani Baker and Waterloo writer Lori Wolf-Heffner sprinkle into their novels. For Dani, it’s cozy mysteries—think Nancy Drew for grown-ups—and for Lori, it’s stories about growing up—like Louisa May Alcott’s and Jean Little’s novels. I’ll read from my new release, Between Worlds 3: The First Step, and Dani will read from one of her books. A Q&A will follow the author reading, and books will be available for purchase from both our catalogues.

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“Between Worlds” Now Available in Large Print Edition

Cover for "Between Worlds 3: The First Step." On the left, in a muted image, is a teenage woman in a peasant dress, with a long apron and a shawl and headscarf. She's leaning against a tree. On the right, on what looks like the same tree, is a modern teenager girl wearing a bright winter jacket, a toque, and mitts. A cityscape is behind her.

Sophie Morgan, a supporting character in Between Worlds, is twelve and has juvenile macular degeneration. Aside from attempting to improve accessibility for my readers in general, it also seemed appropriate to offer the novels in large print edition because of Sophie. However, trying to learn what the norm for large print edition books actually is proved more difficult than I had thought.

Large Print, Small Selection

When I checked a major book store’s large print books section, I mistakenly thought all the packaged series books were the large print ones. Although there was no other indication on the packaging that these books were large print, they were on the shelf that had “large print” and “audio” on its label. (“Series” must have been there, too, but I probably developed tunnel vision once I saw “large print.”)

I wanted to see what large print looked like so I could produce it for my readers. However, with all these “large print” books wrapped in plastic, I couldn’t look inside. So, I went home.

Best Practices for Large Print

Online, I found the American Council of the Blinds’ best practices for developing large print materials. I read through them and did the best I could to reproduce them in book format:

  • 22-point sans serif bold font
  • 1.5 line spacing
  • left alignment for all text
  • no italics
  • asterisks to denote indented passages, like letters and Bible excerpts (necessary for the historical time line).

I’m certain some areas could use improvement, but the document said that the most important factors in creating large print books for the low-vision community were spacing, font size, contrast, and font style, and in that order. I think I got those okay.

Ensuring Large Print Editions Are Readable

It’s impossible to approximate with my own eyes how someone with low vision sees. I can blur my vision, but that’s not the same thing. Thankfully, an acquaintance of mine out West, Kyle Bergum, volunteers as an advocate for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He agreed to evaluate the first large print copy of The Move.

How Kyle found time in between his career as a senior IT leader, work as an opera singer and voice over artist, and his volunteer role, I’ll never know. But somehow he did. When the first book got his blessing, I went ahead with The Distance and The First Step. All three books are now available as large print editions, and you should be able to order them online at major retailers or at your favourite book store, including many independent book stores. (They likely won’t be on any shelves, though.)

Large Print Books Are Not Cheap

All three books finally arrived in my home office last month. Because of their thickness, they cost more than the regular print ones. It’s a long story as to why I priced them at $18.99 CAD, but that was as cheap as I could make it if I hoped to support small book stores who should be able to order them in for their customers.

That Was Large Print?

A few weeks after that first visit, I finally woke up and noticed that the large print section was indeed where I was looking, except it took up a shelf-and-a-half further up. (I wondered how someone with low vision would ever find those—I’m 5’9” and had to look up.) When I finally opened one up, I was shocked: The font looked barely larger than that found in a child’s chapter book and it didn’t follow most of the ACB guidelines I’d read about and tried to follow. In fact, it looked more like a relaxing read for me, and I can read really tiny print.

So, there you have it. Between Worlds is available not only in ebooks and regular print formats, but also in large print that follows the guidelines of the American Council for the Blind. You can watch the video below if you’d like to see what that looks like.

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Writing Novels about Dance

Novels about dance can become too sterile: the ones I read as a teen (I don’t recall the series name anymore) always centered around a protagonist who was trying to make it. Fame had the same premise. A Chorus Line. Billy Elliot. Center Stage. One recent exception so far is Off Kilter. I always knew I’d write a novel about dance, but I wanted to write one that didn’t follow that generic plot line. (Though I did write one when I was 16 that will thankfully never see the light of day.) Although Between Worlds is about more than dance, dance plays a central role in Juliana’s life.

How to Write about Dance in Fiction?

So dance is part of Juliana’s life, but using dance in fiction carries a certain challenge: how to describe what the dancer is doing and feeling without boring the audience.

Dance is a visual art form. I’ve written dance reviews, but just talking about steps wouldn’t have any effect on my readers. Instead, I had to talk about the choreography, costumes, lighting, the dancers themselves, because all those elements worked together. With Juliana, though, I don’t have access to all those elements. Does the reader care about the lighting in Juliana’s dance studio? Or does the reader want a detailed description of her dance outfits?

I also need to remember that not all readers are looking for novels about dance. They’re reading the series instead because they like the premise of the series, or because they enjoy the juxtaposition of a historical storyline with a contemporary one. In addition, steps mean nothing to a reader who has never studied dance.

As I debated my dilemma some more, I realized that when I wrote about dancers for other magazines, we never talked about the steps; we talked about what dance felt like to them, or what they loved about dance. If they were older dancers (like, way older), we discussed how they danced now. But it was never, or at least rarely, about the steps.

How to Write about the Dancer in a Novel, Then?

When I was 14, my emotional self wanted to pull me deeper inside my conscious self, but I was scared of forgetting where I was in my dance and of sharing too much of myself on stage. It means that, when writing storylines about dance, I have to stretch past my own experience. When I describe how Juliana gets lost in her dancing, I’m describing a dream, because it’s not something I’ve ever been able to fully realize for myself. (If you’re able to get lost in dance, tell me in the comments section below what that’s like.)

So I needed to find a balance. Too much description about dance, and I risked losing some readers. Too much emphasis on Juliana’s thoughts, and I risked losing yet others. I was confident I could achieve that balance, so the next question came up: what dance form to use?

Writing Involves Rhythm. So Does Dance.

Dance in fiction often focuses on ballet. Dance in movies currently seems to be more hip hop and street than ballet. I wanted something different, but I also had to be comfortable writing about it. So I chose tap. But how could I incorporate it so that readers who’ve never studied it understand what I’m writing?

Aside from being my favourite form of dance, tap also has the bonus of fairly standard vocabulary, and at least to my ears, the terminology often matches the rhythm (or can be made to do so.) In the last scene of The Move, Juliana taps on her new tap board while working through the major changes that happened in her life. The scene was challenging to write, but I think it achieved the balance needed to express a teen dancer and still keep the reader’s interest.

Let me know in the comments section what your thoughts were on that last scene. Be sure to mention if you’ve danced or not.

Have Questions about Writing Novels about Dance?

If you’re happening upon this blog post because you’re doing a project on dance for school, or if you have questions about writing and dance, feel free to leave your questions below. If they’re personal (i.e., you don’t want the world knowing your question and my answer), email me. I’ll certainly do my best to answer.

Modenschau, Fashion for Spring!

A Fashion Show in Kitchener-Waterloo for the Whole Family

Come join the Transylvania Club’s Ladies’ Auxiliary for a unique fashion experience: Modenschau, Fashion for Spring!
Fashions for women, men, and children.

Our very own models will come to your table in a café style fashion show! No need to reserve a table – Every seat is a good seat!

Kids under 12 free!

Featured fashions:

Come early to visit the vendor market! There will be over 12 vendors offering clothing and accessories, storage products and purses, jewelry, make-up and creams, nail care, homemade soaps, cookware, and so much more!

Books for Sale

I’ll have Postcards in a Closet and books 1 & 2 from Between Worlds for sale. (Between Worlds 3 won’t be available until April 6.)

Other Details

Door prizes and cash bar

Tickets at the door or beat the line-up and email or phone Agnes Sebastian. Tell her you heard about the event from Lori Straus.

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What Does It Mean When a Story is “Inspired by” Something?

As a writer, I have my fingers typing away at many different projects, which keeps my creativity flowing. Today’s topic is my young adult series, Between Worlds, and the historical protagonist, Elisabeth. Elisabeth’s story is historical fiction, which means her timeline is based on documented facts about her time period. But does that mean Elisabeth really existed? Yes and no. Elisabeth Schuhmacher was inspired by a person who did exist, but she is not based on that person.

What’s the difference?

Writing About Real People in Fiction

There are two people who did actually live in the historical timeline of Between Worlds: Herr Blum, the teacher for the school that housed grades three to six, and Pastor Fröhlich, the Lutheran church pastor. They act as anchors in that time. I have some information about Pastor Fröhlich, who was apparently a controversial figure in the village, but I have almost nothing about Herr Blum.

However, if I need either of these figures in a novel, I’ll have to fill in all the holes. I’m comfortable doing that with the pastor, because he’s down in the congregation’s minutes as causing a lot of issues. Writing about Herr Blum, though, is more difficult because of the lack of information on him, so you probably won’t actually see or hear him too often.

But besides those two, I generally avoid writing about real people in my fiction for three reasons:

  1. There’s often too little information to create a fully fleshed character.
  2. No one likes having their negative sides on display in public.
  3. A good story requires showing characters’ negative sides.

So I started with someone and built a character from that starting point. In other words, a real person was the inspiration for Elisabeth. 

Who Was the Inspiration for Elisabeth?

A teenager in 1917 or so reading a magazine

Elisabeth was inspired by a great grandmother of mine, Katharina Wolf. But Elisabeth Schuhmacher is not Katharina Wolf

Katharina was born in 1901 in Semlak, Hungary. I only know her through a few stories in the family and several postcards she had written, though, because her son, my grandfather, died before I turned nine. Katharina got stuck behind the Iron Curtain in Romania, so she could never leave to travel to Canada, and for a period of time, Romania had also remained closed to travellers. Sadly, by the time her son and his family could travel to Romania to visit her, she had died.

Katharina strikes me as an outspoken woman who placed family above all else. One of these postcards (or, more accurately, photos with a letter on the back) was her “most cherished”: it showed her father in his coffin, with her family standing behind him. (It was normal to take photos of deceased ones back then.) She numbered each person, and on the back wrote down who they were. This was all so my mom would know her father’s family.

Where Does Katharina End and Elisabeth Begin?

Elisabeth is outspoken and does get herself into trouble because of that. She was born a few years later, in 1905, but also in Semlak. Like Katharina’s father in real life, Elisabeth’s traveled overseas, to Pennsylvania, too.

Cover of "Between Worlds 1: The Move," by Lori Wolf-Heffner
Cover design by Angela Donelle

However, I have no idea what Katharina’s childhood was like, what she thought about the war, if she had an opinion on what we nowadays call PTSD, what she liked to eat, what she disliked…I have no information on any of that.

In addition, photos I have of Katharina suggest she began modernizing her personal fashion around 1917. (This assumption comes from some of the research I had done in Romania for Between Worlds 3.) Elisabeth, in contrast, still follows the traditional style of dress in 1920. (But keep reading the series, and you’ll see that eventually change.)

If I had based Elisabeth on Katharina, I would have had to make a lot of assumptions about someone whom some people alive today will have known, and that’s just not fair. Plus it would have needlessly limited what I could do with Elisabeth and therefore affect the series.

Folding More Family Stories into Elisabeth

The various experiences my grandparents on both sides of my family shared with me also helped me make Elisabeth more real and not a cardboard cutout of an Eastern European peasant girl.

For example, the family name, Schuhmacher, was inspired by my dad’s side. My grandfather lost his father at age 4 to appendicitis, and his mother never remarried. (I knew her as well as any grandchild knows a grandparent: She died when I was 17.) My great grandfather’s profession was shoemaking. In addition, because he had contracted polio sometime in his life, he had a limp, which is why Samuel Schuhmacher, one of Elisabeth’s cousins, has one.

The Larger Circle: Incorporating Others’ Stories into Elisabeth

It’s hard for me to envision a life in the 1920s that still didn’t involve electricity, indoor plumbing, and “the Roarin’ Twenties” culture. As part of my research for the novels, I asked others from these German communities in Eastern Europe for their stories. If you’d like to see such discussions, you can subscribe to the Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands listserv. It’s a group of family historians interested in researching this branch of their family tree, and through their questions, memories spring up that the older members share with us young’uns. It’s some of those memories that I try to incorporate into Elisabeth.

Elisabeth in a Nutshell

Elisabeth Schuhmacher is a fictionally living, breathing character in her own right. But to help me better understand what her life may have been like, I’ve collected stories from several people and researched (and continue to research) her era, country, and village. If you have any questions about Elisabeth, feel free to email me or ask me online! All my contact info is in the footer, and I’d be happy to answer whatever I can.

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Oh No! Fixing Errors From “Between Worlds 1: The Move”

Lori Wolf-Heffner with an "oh oh" look on her face

Reviewing Between Worlds 1: The Move after it had been released was exhilarating and depressing. Not only had I finally published my first novel, but I also found a few errors. In addition, several kind souls pointed out some inaccuracies to me, and I also learned a few new details as I researched Between Worlds 2: The Distance. I won’t be able to go back to each novel and fix mistakes after the fact, but improving the very first book in the series made sense, especially because I was switching distributors, anyway. Curious to know what was changed? Well, then read on!

World View

One of the hardest things about recreating Semlak as accurately as I can is the simple fact that this agrarian village has not left much written material about it. So, for example, I don’t really know the general world view of the Germans in this village. After an online acquaintance read the first edition, he wondered if Semlakers would have indeed known who Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was. Therefore, I removed this part from chapter 2:

“If Kaiser Wilhelm hadn’t attacked France, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“He got greedy and wanted more.”

Elisabeth frowned. From what her father had told her, war could rarely be blamed on just one side. That was why so many dignitaries were spending so much time on the other side of Europe, in Paris, sorting out the mess the war had made.

Between Worlds 1: The Move, 1st edition

The villagers of Semlak would have been aware of their own political leader, King Ferdinand I for this series, but likely not of leaders of other countries or empire. And if they did know, there’s a good chance they may not have cared. I’m still trying to deduce just how much reading material was actually consumed by these people, but so far as I know, they got their news via the mailman, who announced several headlines and perhaps gave a quick summary and/or answered questions from the crowd.

Time-Traveling Characters?

Lori Wolf-Heffner looking worried
Did they notice?

Despite best efforts, Elisabeth suddenly showed up on page 55 in Juliana’s timeline. I’ve made a few changes to my editing process now to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Sorry about that!

Historical Accuracy

I knew indoor plumbing didn’t exist at that time, so I assumed each household had a water pump. It wasn’t until I researched the home space more for Between Worlds 2: The Distance that I discovered the well. When I then returned to old photos I have of the village, I did indeed find one with a well off to the side.

In addition, a character named Adam Pinczes in the first edition has been renamed to Adam Krehling in the second. The various church congregations usually married within their own membership, and Pinczes is one name that is recorded only in the Reformed (Calvinist) church, not the Lutheran church that features in the series.

Medical Accuracy

When I wrote The Move, I knew Sophie would be blind and simply assumed she would have no vision at all. However, the more I read, the more I learned that the blind community faces many challenges, one of which is the assumption that someone can’t be blind if they don’t “look blind.” One blind friend of mine in university had no vision, I believe, and another had some. By the time I sat down to outline The Distance, I had found an appropriate condition for Sophie and realized that I needed to make the few descriptions of her visual impairment more accurate.

It’s in the Numbers

Unlike Canada, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had switched to metric in the previous century. So although these German communities had some of their own measuring units, other units were already in metric. In the first edition, I used imperial.

Or My Head

Lori Wolf-Heffner looking worried, again.
Will my readers forgive me?

I didn’t realize until Between Worlds 2 went to print that I had renamed the dance studio. Of all the things! I had written from memory instead of referring to any notes and didn’t double-check that before sending everything off. So I changed it, too. Advice for those of you want to write as a career: create a style guide for your series!

Elisabeth’s Journey

Another difficult aspect of writing about characters who lived long ago is putting yourself into their context without falling back on stereotypes, especially ones about village life. (There’s actually an entire genre in 19th-century German writing called the dorfgeschichte, which presents village life as idyllic, regardless of whether it actually was. It was inspired by Maltese writer Sir Walter Scott.) So I made some minor changes about Elisabeth’s journey into womanhood.

Do You Need to Buy the New Edition?

No. None of these changes affect the plot in any drastic way, and Between Worlds 2: The Distance was written with these corrections in place. However, if you do have a copy of the first edition, consider keeping it. There are only about 80 or so in existence, and who knows? It might be worth something. (I do have 14 left in stock, so if you’re in Canada, you may be able to order one from me, signed.)

Between Worlds 3 is tentatively scheduled for release at the end of March. To stay up to date on plot developments, get a sneak peek at the new cover design, and get coupons for discounts for in-person purchases, sign up to my email list.

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Svetlana Dvoretsky: The Woman Behind Theatre

A Russian-Canadian Impresario

Have you ever heard of the word “impresario”? That’s someone who organizes and maybe even finances performing arts events, including concerts, plays, ballets, operas, and more. It’s a very risky profession, and likely not one taught in arts management programs. And yet, impresarios are in part responsible for expanding our interests in the arts precisely because they always stand on the cliff of audience expectations. An impresario calculates the risks with bringing in various performers, and if the risk doesn’t pay out, the impresario loses out, often quite a lot. But it’s a risk impresarios like Svetlana Dvoretsky, owner of Show One Productions, are willing to take. Why? Because they love the arts so much.

Who Is Svetlana Dvoretsky?

Her name is likely unfamiliar to you, but you should get to know her: she’s one of the movers and shakers in the Toronto arts scene, and she’s ready to take risks.

Born in Russia, Dvoretsky spent eight years studying piano. It inspired her to make a living in the arts, but not as a performer. Instead, she moved to Canada and eventually—by accident—became an impresario. 

Studying piano in Russia means something almost entirely different to studying piano in North America. Dvoretsky’s music education included not only direct piano instruction but also hours devoted to other aspects of music, like music history and conducting. After school, she’d spend four to five hours a day, four days a week at her music school. By the time she emigrated here, she had an appreciation for music that only a few dedicated music students in Canada likely possess.

Arts Culture in Canada

When I speak to people who’ve immigrated here, I often hear a common lament: that arts programming in Canada is weak. My local newspaper backs me up in this impression. Despite my living in an area with almost 500,000 people, the arts section in our local daily is only two pages long, with ads occupying about a quarter of that space, at least once a week. On good days, it’s a few pages long, but with even more ads.

Another example: Canada, to my knowledge, has only one magazine devoted to dance (the other one folded earlier this year). Moreover, if I enter into small talk about something arts related, it’s usually a movie, TV show, or pop artist, and rarely about relatively unknown shows or acts.

So why become an arts impresario? Good question.

Music and Pop Culture

It’s probably easiest to see the development of pop culture through music: the Dave Clark Five has a vastly different sound from Drake. But that could only happen because those artists (and the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, between them) learned and experimented to develop an audience.

In the world of the performing arts, like dance and theatre, it’s impresarios who help bring this experimentation to the fore to expose these artists to a broader audience than the artists could do by themselves.

Dvoretsky and Experimentation

For Dvoretsky, that experimentation often is bringing Russian artists to Canada. These names in the Russian world are huge, and yet they may be unknown to us, meaning we’re much less likely to go.

But this year, Dvoretsky brought a world-famous name to Toronto: Mikhail Baryshnikov. The show was called Brodsky/Baryshnikov.Which you’d think would have the entire dance world flocking to Toronto.

But Baryshnikov wasn’t here to dance; he was performing poetry by Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, a friend of his, in Russian. Although Baryshnikov was no newbie to acting, he has always first and foremost been known as a dancer.

So, Baryshnikov in a one-man show in Russian about poetry?

Dvoretsky’s risk paid off: according to The Toronto Star, all four shows sold out.

Dvoretsky’s Latest Risk: Clowning

One clown inside a plastic bubble; another clown bounces a large bubble on a stick.
Photo by Pascal Ito

The latest show Dvoretsky is bringing to Toronto is called Slava’s Snowshow. Its package may be unfamiliar and “untrendy” to many viewers: instead of talking actors, the show’s stars are clowns. Instead of a well-known story, none is advertised. And yet, despite these problems, the show has been on the road since 1993 (with breaks in between, of course), spent six years on Broadway, called London’s West End home for a time, and has performed in dozens of countries around the world. It’s won a Drama Desk Award and Laurence Olivier Award and in 2009 was nominated for a Tony Award.

Clowning is an art form that, as I understand it, connects the deepest parts of the performer with their audience. Clowning is perhaps less about putting on a personality, the way stage acting is, and more about bringing out something hidden within you and sharing it with the audience. Some people have fears of clowns, others consider them relics of a bygone era.

But not Dvoretsky.

To present art, you have to be confident in what you’re presenting, and Dvoretsky’s confidence about this show is unshakeable.

“This show makes people kinder, at least for a little while,” she says. “That is guaranteed. Those two hours are guaranteed. The rest is up to the person. It’s an emotional and visual spectacle. It’s really, really amazing.”

And emotional, visual spectacle that guarantees to make you a kinder person, at least for those two hours.

Sounds like the perfect, snowy, winter night, doesn’t it? Only you get to sit in the comfort of a warm theatre, sharing the experience with thousands of others.

Slava’s Snowshow runs December 7 to 16, 2018 in the Bluma Appel Theatre at St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.