Outside the Lines: Claire Caldwell

From day jobs to evening gigs and volunteer duties, Outside the Lines, is a series of posts exploring MFA graduates' lives and literary work outside of their primary writing practice...

 A recent title from Harlequin's Heartwarming Series; Claire Caldwell at the publisher's Toronto Offices.

A recent title from Harlequin's Heartwarming Series; Claire Caldwell at the publisher's Toronto Offices.

A horse, a Viking and a romance editor walk into a bar…

Okay, not a bar, but a photo studio. And this is not the setup for a joke, but how a few colleagues of mine spent their Friday afternoon, as part of an ad campaign for our employer, Harlequin Books. Romance publishing definitely has its perks (see: Vikings), and as a writer, I’ve found that some of those perks extend into my own work.

The romance genre is, for the most part, by women and for women, and I’ve been inspired by the smart, hardworking, funny, talented and badass women I’ve encountered in this field. One of the themes in my current poetry manuscript is how women engage with the outdoors, and part of that interest stems from reading about so many contemporary, independent heroines making their own way in the world. Plus, there’s nothing like an author who writes five (or more!) books a year while raising kids, running a household and working a day job, to motivate you to stop making excuses, get your butt in the chair and write.

One myth about Harlequin is that we have a “formula” for our novels (another myth is that we get to hang out with hot Vikings all the time, but that is actually pretty rare!). While there’s no secret code, there is a structure. Learning how to shape a story to fit that structure has made me a better editor of my own work. But digging into character motivation, conflict and plot has also given me the confidence to venture into fiction writing myself. Along with my poetry manuscript, I’m also working on a middle grade novel. I still have a long way to go — editing and writing are very different beasts — but without immersion in the inner workings of romance stories, I wouldn’t even have known where to start.

And you know what? Being a writer can be tough and uncertain. Spending my days working toward happy-ever-afters, even fictional ones, is a perk I’m thankful for. Also, of course, the occasional Viking.

Claire Caldwell (2010 cohort) is an Assistant Editor at Harlequin Canada where she works on the publisher's Heartwarming Series. She was the 2013 winner of the Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize, and a recent Writer's Trust of Canada Writer-in-Residence at Pierre Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. Her debut poetry collection is Invasive Species (Wolsak & Wynn, 2014).