For paperback writers, call it a fine romance
Certificate helps budding authors hone writing, networking
Cynthia Ondrich went back to school and found romance.
Specifically, she took a continuing education course in romance writing, and now she is almost finished a manuscript.
Ondrich was never been a big fan of romance novels.
“A lot were just nonsense,” she says. So, she set out to write the type of novel that she herself would like to read. She credits the online continuing education courses in writing for giving her the confidence to do it — something she says you can’t put a price on.
A busy single mother in Toronto, Ondrich has taken four of the five courses required for Writing for Publication certificate program through Mohawk College’s continuing education department, including Romance Writing.
Although Ondrich, 51, had always wanted to write for children, she changed direction after taking the romance writing course. At first she wasn’t sure she’d be able to write a romance, but says she surprised herself. She came away impressed by the structure of the course and the breadth of the material covered.
“The course is so wonderful,” she says. “The way they get you to research everything, and the next thing you know, you’re writing. And you’re writing things you didn’t even know you could. A person has no idea what they’re capable of until they take one of these courses.”
Ondrich’s instructor, Anya Wassenberg, says there is a real crosssection of people who enrol — mostly women but always one or two men, as well — and not all of them want to write a romance. Still, she says a good portion of them are lovers of romance fiction.
“Some of them are looking to get published right away. They have material that they’ve been working on, and they’re just polishing up a manuscript or looking to work on stuff they’ve already written,” she says. “Others are more looking at generally improving and trying to understand the dynamics of the genre.”
That genre is as varied as it is popular. Toronto-based Harlequin Enterprises publishes a range of categories of romance novels, from classic and historical romance to fanta-
“You’re writing things you didn’t even know you could. A person has no idea what they’re capable of until they take one of these courses.” CYNTHIA ONDRICH
sy, inspirational, teen thriller and Western romances. (Last year, Harlequin sold approximately four books a second worldwide.)
As well, the publishing world has many equally popular sub-genres such as erotica (think the Fifty Shades of Greytrilogy) and paranormal romance (think the Twilight series). Wassenberg says there is a niche for almost any kind of romantic story you want to write.
Wassenberg tries to broaden her students’ perspectives of what is possible for them. While she can’t teach everything there is to know in 14 weeks, she wants students to leave with a solid understanding in the basics of what’s needed to write an engaging story.
“In other words, the character development, the character interac- tion, the importance of things like setting and, you know, even peripheral characters, subplots and things like that,” she explains. “Basically looking at all the components of what goes into a good romantic story. Which, of course, does apply to other types of writing.” Along with writing skills, Wassenberg also says students need to know the market they are writing for. She teaches students how to research the publication market and stresses the importance of market research and market awareness. Students also learn how to prepare their material to send out to publishers, something Ondrich found invaluable. “You have to write the first three chapters of a romance novel, and you have to write the synopsis and a letter to the editor,” Ondrich says. “So, in fact, what you end up with at the end of the course is something you could actually send to a publisher.” Which is exactly what Ondrich plans to do after finishing her manuscript. And her plans don’t stop there. While she didn’t have time to take the final course for her Writing for Publication certificate last term because she’d just started a new job and bought a house, she plans to rectify that by taking Suspense and Mystery Writing in January. In fact, Ondrich enjoys the classes so much, if she had more time, she says she would take all 24 that are offered. The budding romance writer lives by the advice given to her by a favourite uncle who recently passed away at 92. “He told me a long, long time ago, when I was 18, that you should always continue learning,” she says. “Just never stop learning. Continue your education.”