Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Interview With Ottawa Author, Ruth Latta


What started your writing career:


As a child I loved stories. Growing up I wrote stories and poems and had the occasional one published, but writing essays for school took much of my time. 


My writing career got a huge boost almost forty years ago when I married my husband, Roger, because he has supported it in a great many ways.


How did you start writing historical fiction?


I studied history at university (M.A., Queen's, as Ruth Olson) and I've always been interested in how the past has shaped the present.  Actually, though, Grace and the Secret Vault is the first novel I have written about historical figures.  My two earlier young adult novels were historical only in that they are in the 1950s. Most of my fiction takes place in the present or recent past and involves characters that are primarily the product of my imagination.  I have written three books that fall into a broad definition of history, but they are non-fiction.



Why is writing so important to you?


It's part of human nature to create, though we don't all want to create the same things.  At my age, writing has become a way of life and a pleasure because I've gotten reasonably good at it over the years.


Do you keep a diary? If the answer is yes, does it help with your writing and how? If the answer is no, why not?


I don't keep a diary but I sometimes write "Morning Pages" as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. Morning pages are a way of sorting out one's thoughts and concerns at the beginning of the day, and they often lead to an idea for a story or poem.


What works best for you - typewriters, etc.?


I start out in longhand and at some point get it onto the computer.


When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer?


As a young child I liked making up stories. When I learned to read and write I liked writing them out in little booklets.



What inspires you to write?


Often other writers' work delights and impresses me and I'd like to think that what I write may have that effect on other readers.


When Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women was first published, I was inspired to get back to writing fiction.  In making everyday small-town women's lives the substance of literary art, Munro affirmed that I had material around me that could become the starting point for fiction.



Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?


I write every day but the time of day or the amount of time I spend depends on how well the idea is working out and what other things must be given priority.  It isn't an ordeal for me to sit down and write because I'm doing it to please myself.


I try to write at least three 8 1/2 by 11 pages in longhand every day but don't always do so. Sometimes I write more. Other days I type things on the computer and revise things.


What do you think would constitute an important attribute to remaining sane as a writer or as an artist or as both? Or do writers and artists really want to remain sane, if such a condition even exists?


The experience of getting absorbed in the process of creation and feeling the excitement is what keeps most writers positive and sane.


What inspires my writing and my stories?


My fiction often begins with a seed of actual experience and then blossoms into something beyond the original incident or observation that inspired it.



The hardest thing about writing?


A good idea that fizzles out for whatever reason.  Other people who think I've been wasting my time.


The easiest aspect of writing?   


The pleasure of working through a puzzle and getting absorbed in the process of creation.



Why historical fiction?


Grace and the Secret Vault is my first work of historical fiction that involves real-life characters/historical figures. (The other two Y/A novels, set in the 1950s, involved completely fictional characters.)


I decided to write Grace and the Secret Vault following the death of a friend and collaborator. Joy Trott and I co-authored a biography of Grace MacInnis which was published in 2000. It's now out of print. When Joy died a couple of years ago I remembered the fun we had doing the research for the biography. Then I realized that I could revisit part of Grace's life, the story of a pivotal event in her childhood, and make it a young adult novel.



In Grace’s story, you focussed the plot development towards a climax of establishing the ‘secret vault’. Why did you choose this particular story, which from your Afterword, you reveal that it is a true story, as the focal point for your story about an historic figure? Did the ‘secret vault’ in some way define who Grace was and who she became later in life?


The secret vault doesn't have any symbolic meaning. It's not a metaphor for anything. It's just a term used by the two young girls in real life.  I tried to choose a title with a hint of mystery to entice readers.


Grace's experiences when she was thirteen going on fourteen had a profound impact on her views, and pointed her toward a life in politics, although she had other plans for her life at the time.


You wrote in the Afterword to “Grace and the Secret Vault” that “As a student at Queen's University during the early 1970s, I admired Mrs. MacInnis…” What was it about this woman that you so admired? Was she one of your professors? A guest speaker? Did you have a special academic or personal relationship with her? Tell us about your connection to this amazing woman.


I never met Grace. As a student at Queen's in the early 1970s, I would often see her on the news on TV.  She was a Member of Parliament and was outspoken and progressive on so-called "women's issues", which included such things as consumer matters, pay equity, child care, educational opportunities and freedom of reproductive choice. Not only did I agree with her views, I also was astonished and delighted that a woman of her generation, especially one who looked so sedate and proper, would have advanced views. (At least, they seemed advanced in the early 1970s!) I admired her for having the courage of her convictions.


In writing Grace and the Secret Vault I was in touch with one of Grace's nephews, who was a helpful source of information.


It may seem a bold act to interpret a real person in fiction, and it's a challenge to stay true to what you know about her while shaping a story. But authors do it all the time. For instance, Paula Maclean, in The Paris Wife, for instance, wrote about Ernest Hemingway through the heart and mind of his first wife. Young adult author Kit Pearson wrote a wonderful book called A Day of Signs and Wonders from the point of view of Emily Carr at ten years old. So I'm in good company.


How important is research to you when writing a book?


Research for this particular book was very important, but I had done most of it already for the biography of Grace written by Joy Trott and myself.


Most of the domestic anecdotes that I have included in Grace and the Secret Vault are stories Grace had already told in her biography of her father and other papers and speeches. An essay by one of Grace's brothers, which her nephew provided to me, was the source of more childhood information.


Do you have a favorite story amongst all that you’ve published? Why this one?


My favourite novel is always the one I'm working on. My collection of short stories, Winter Moon, stands out for me because it won the 2011 Northern Lit Award from Ontario Library Services North.



In the age of increasing technological advances in the methods of entertainment, where do you feel your books fit? Do you believe that the growing number of non-readers is a threat to the book industry? Are you concerned?


I worry about the growing number of non-readers. Too many people are missing out on the kind of engagement with another consciousness that we experience when we read. It can't be good for culture or civilization if reading becomes something people do merely for work or to gain information.


On the other hand, I much prefer the computer to the typewriter, I couldn't do without email, and love certain TV series. I published one of my books on Amazon Kindle. I have read books on Kobo although I prefer a traditional book, printed on paper.



What advice would you give to a would-be writer of this age when readers are becoming fewer and fewer by the day?


Write for children and young adults. People want children and young people to read to develop their skills, so kids/YA books are still in demand.


Write non-fiction.


Write part-time while making a living in other ways. Writers have been doing this for centuries and some have produced great works of literature.



How are your books published and why did you go that route?


Three of my books were published traditionally. One was completely self-published.  The rest have been published by a P.O.D. company in Ottawa. 


Like most writers I would prefer it if my books were being published by one of the five (or is it three, now?) big multinational publishing houses. When that doesn't happen, a writer has to consider other options.


I like print-on-demand because of the do-it-yourself element, including the choice of cover art. I have used my husband's paintings in the cover illustrations.


If I were a young writer, however, I would start out on the traditional route and try to find a publisher who would pay for all aspects of the publishing adventure. I would set a time limit, say ten years, and after that, if I hadn't made it into the major leagues, I'd consider some form of self-publishing.  E-books may be a good idea.

Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017 ISBN 978-1-77216-092-5 is available for $20 from Baico Editions, Ottawa, ON, info@baico.ca  and from Ruth Latta at ruthlatta1@gmail.com.

An Interesting Look at Canadian Political History

Grace is a well educated young lady. Only thirteen, she has the passion for languages and education, adopted from both of her parents, her mother a teacher and her father, a former Methodist preacher and a strong pacifist with a passion for social justice. She was the oldest of her siblings and she took responsibilities for their care in an effort to help her mother who was now a grass widow, teaching during the day, marking papers and making lesson plans at night, while her father was off working the shipyards in Vancouver or on speaking tours across the country. The family lived in Gibsons’, or, as they called it, the ‘Landing’, along the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, just north of Vancouver. The year is 1918; the Great War is just over, but political strife and fear of the growing Labour Movement, an uneasy trend that had its roots in the new Russia, a country evolving after the deposition of its royal family. The rising power of the working class was linked to news from Russia and the growing influence world-wide of “The Bolsheviks, who now called themselves "Communists".”(20) Grace was familiar with the rumblings around her. She listened to the conversations amongst grown-ups and she shuddered with worry when her mother’s job and the family’s source of income was threatened. Meanwhile, Grace’s fear was more personal, closer to home. She feared for herself, her parents and her siblings.  

Grace Woodsworth MacInnis (1905-1990) was a political force of realism in the mid to late twentieth century. But her story, Grace’s story, begins with her own foundations, her childhood experiences in 1918-1919, when her father was speaking for worker’s rights and the country was resisting any possible sign of the Bolsheviks threat. This is Grace’s childhood story, one that centres its focus on the theme of a secret vault, what it contained and why it was such an important secret.  

“Grace and the Secret Vault” by Ruth Latta is a coming of age story, not just Grace’s coming of age, but also her country, Canada. Just emerging from a horrific war in Europe, one that in effect defined for all time the meaning of being Canadian, one that unified the country from one coast to the other, Canada was also just coming of age. A country set on British social values, it was also a country that feared changed, feared the effects of making its mark on the twentieth century.  

The author paints a vivid portrait, not only of a young girl, but also a young country, both set on becoming the best they can be in a world that never has regained its stability. This is a powerful and important story about one of Canada’s great female leaders. A story well written with a passion for the main character and a sound knowledge of the times, the people and the places. A great read. Five stars. 

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford, award-winning author of “Gerlinda”.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Dickens' Special, But Not a Dickens

It's not often that a book really stands out as something special. But this one did for me. I had the privilege and pleasure of reviewing it for readersfavorite.com

Sit back, put your feet up and immerse yourself into the world of the nineteenth-century. Here’s a story to take you back to Oliver’s London, written in the compelling and descriptive narrative style of Charles Dickens himself. It’s Jack Dawkins’ story this time, not Oliver’s. Jack, Oliver’s childhood buddy on the street, accomplice in crime, the infamous Artful Dodger of Fagin’s nefarious crew. And, he’s just returned from Australia where he’s served his time. There’s none of Fagin’s old crew remaining, but that doesn’t bother Jack. He’s a mind to elevate himself to a higher station in life, to seek his rewards in most genteel company. But when he reconnects with his childhood friend, Oliver, Jack realizes, to his surprise, that he actually has a conscience and, whilst the pickings might be good, there is yet a certain element of honor amongst thieves, at least for this thief. And, when a lad goes missing, kidnapped from his upper class home, Jack finds himself once again in his old haunts, only this time more the hero than the villain.

Charlton Daines’s novel, “Jack Dawkins”, is a fast actioned mystery set in Victorian London. Complete with the popular characters of Dickens’s “Oliver Twist”, namely Oliver and Artful Dodger (Jack), this story reads like a Dickens’ story. The narrative is concise and descriptive and the characters are both believable, compelling and capable of all kinds of emotions, including a bit of humor. The wide diversity between the classes in this era is evident and the knowledge that one can actually bridge that gap with little more than a new set of clothes and good command of the Queen’s English. Artful Dodger, aka Jack, seems to straddle the two extremes of society with great ease, until, in the end, he finds his place on one side of the river and decides to make his mark there permanently. A great telling of a story that Dickens left untold. This is indeed a classic, or perhaps I should say a continuation of a classic.

Reviewed for Readers' Favorite: https://readersfavorite.com/search.htm?searchword=jack+dawkins&searchwordsugg=&option=com_search&searchphrase=exact

Friday, September 16, 2016


Today, I’d like to introduce you to Ottawa author and artist, Catina Noble. The first time I met Catina, she was taking a memoir writing course through the National Capital Region Canadian Authors Association. I was running the workshop. There were a dozen seasoned and new writers in the group, but Catina stood out as one who would blossom in the years to follow. And she did. With some poems and short stories published, her biggest undertaking, her memoir, “I’m Glad I didn’t Kill Myself” (https://www.amazon.com/Im-Glad-Didnt-Kill-Myself/dp/1534893865/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466876240&sr=8-1&keywords=catina+noble), was released earlier in 2016. She is just releasing her first collection of short stories, “Vacancy in the Food Court”, an intellectually sensitive collection of random notations on the fragility, unpredictability and strangeness of life. Here’s what Catina has to say about her writing, her art and her life as a creative person.

EJHO: Tell us about yourself, Catina. What really started your writing career?

CN: Over the years, I had sent in a poem or two to try and get it published but wasn’t really getting anywhere. At that time, I was volunteering for a community newspaper Riverview Park Review, writing articles about different events taking place. I started getting serious about my writing in April 2013 when I was notified by Chicken Soup for the Soul that my short story Moving Forward was going to be included in the 20 th Anniversary: Readers Choice Edition coming out in June of that year. Once I held that book in my hands, things changed for me. I felt as if I had been validated. If I got published once, perhaps it could happen again. Maybe I would get more stories or poems published, maybe someone else would enjoy my words. Within a month or two of the Chicken Soup publication, I also published my first chapbook of poetry titled Pussyfoot through The Ontario Poetry Society, of which I am still a proud member.

EJHO: Catina, you write stories about a deep inner self, almost spiritual stories, how did this come about?

 CN: I have a fair bit of life experience, considering my age. That’s how my stories come about, through threads weaved from my own adventures.

EJHO: Why personal/reflective stories?

CN: During an interview, a reporter once described my work as ‘raw’ and I believe that word is appropriate. I want readers to take away something from my stories. I want readers to know they are not alone; we are all just human. We make mistakes; we get rejected; we have embarrassing moments; we have pee-your-pants funny moments, but no matter what, perhaps we just want to know that we do matter.

EJHO: What made you write this story? Do you believe it will be helpful for others who might be suicidal?

CN: I had wanted to write my story for years, over a decade, but just couldn’t seem to get past the first few pages. A couple months ago, I woke up earlier then usual and started pulling out all my old journals. I tag the outside of all my journals so I know what year they are from. I pulled out all the journals that were tagged 1993, 1994 or 1995, ages 15-17 years. I started going through them and over the next few weeks I just kept going and going until it was finished. I do believe it [my story] is helpful to others on different levels, for people that suffer from depression and anxiety, people having trouble fitting in, low self-esteem and so on.

EJHO: You are also a visual artist, tell me something about your art. Does your art heal, console? Or is it a means to relieve the tension of life?

CN: My art encompasses all three of these. However I generally use art mostly to relieve stress from my life. I am a single parent of four children between the ages of 15 and 20 years old. Plus we have 3 cats and a dog.

EJHO: Tell me something about your collection of short stories, “Vacancy in the Food Court”. These are deeply insightful stories and I see the artist in you coming through your written word.

CN: This is a collection of 13 stories. They are all very different because they don’t abide by a theme, but stand on their own.

EJHO: I think there’s a metaphor reference in the title, can you enlighten us.

CN: One day I was sipping on tea in a food court inside a mall while writing in my journal. The couple sitting beside me at a table on the left got up and walked away. I thought: this table is now vacant, but soon it will be occupied, just like so many other things in life. That is how I came up with the title for this collection.

EJHO: Why is writing so important to you?

CN: Writing is important to me for few reasons. On a personal level, looking back through my journals, I can see how far I have come. In a way, keeping a journal is like having a good friend around. There are always a couple of ideas floating around and after awhile, if I don’t write them down, more and more ideas add themselves on until I can’t seem to concentrate until I write a few down.

EJHO: What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

CN: Not everyone likes reading novels. Some people prefer nuggets of words (a.k.a short stories) instead. I like writing short stories because my characters don’t have as much time to compete and it’s easier to try new things inside the scope of a short story.

EJHO: Do you keep a diary? If the answer is yes, does it help with your writing and how? If the answer is no, why not?

CN: I have kept a journal since I was 15 years old and still do. I find it does help me with my writing on different levels. Along with personal anecdotes, I also jot down different ideas for stories, or key words from an experience that just happened.

EJHO: You use the written word in your visual art. What is it about the written language that is so important to your creative output?

CN: I like using the written word in my art because it keeps it simple and I think it is also a good way of tying my love for writing and art together.

EJHO: What inspires your writing and your stories?

CN: Every day little things inspire my writing and stories. For example, I was walking over a bridge carrying groceries when I suddenly spotted a bunch of crows gathered in a parking lot. From this I wrote “Counting Crows”.

EJHO: What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

CN: I think the hardest thing about writing is to remember it is a process, not every single story or book, you write is going to be your best piece. I spend way too much valuable time criticizing my writing when I should be just actually writing.

EJHO: What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

CN: For me the easiest part of writing is right after I get an idea. I take a few minutes to jot down notes, experiences and feelings that I might use later on.

EJHO: Do you have a favourite story amongst all that you’ve published. Why this one?

CN: I don’t believe I have written my favourite story yet but I do like “Counting Crows” and “Gently Used.” I like “Counting Crows” because the story (after spotting the scene in the parking lot with the crows) just seemed to unfold by itself. I like “Gently Used” because it’s different kind of story.

EJHO: In the age of increasing technological advances in the methods of entertainment, where do you feel your books fit? Do you believe that the growing number of non-readers is a threat to the book industry? Are you concerned?

CN: I believe there is still room for my books. I don’t mind reading books on different devices but my favourite is reading from an actual book. I love the weight of the book in my hands, the sound of the pages turning, using a book mark and seeing it move forward. I do believe the growing number of technological advances and non-readers are a concern. It seems inevitable that eventually print books as we know it will become extinct. I hope that doesn’t happen during my life time.

EJHO: Thank you Catina, for sharing your insights on the art of writing as well as art itself.

Catina Noble, Author & Mixed Media Artist

“You ever get the feeling that everyone is laughing and somehow you know they are laughing at you? I hate that feeling and I seem to get it often and what everybody doesn’t understand is that it hurts deep down inside. It hurts a lot. Just when you think you are balanced WHAM it hits you like a ton of bricks.” – Excerpt from I’M GLAD I DIDN’T KILL MYSELF by Catina Noble (Published by Crowe Creations)

Amazon link to order

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Intensity of Life in a Short Story .... and more.....

Life can be complicated. In fact, it can be obtuse, obscure and very difficult to define. That is, if you really want to define it. Life in its barest bones, its pure unadulterated form, can be earth shattering and very confusing. But life can also be very beautiful, sublime and even consoling.


There is a wide range of emotions in Catina Noble’s collection of short stories, “Vacancy at the Food Court”. From the opaque void of the unknown to the unrefined, raw state of mere existence, Catina explores the complicated aspects of life. In fact, even the title suggests that there is a void, an emptiness in a place, a food court, where one would not expect to be alone.  

Like Alice Munro, Catina has develops an entire epic complexity that one would expect in a novel, in the few short pages of a short story. While simple images, like an empty table in a food court or a couple of chattering crows in an empty parking lot, might inspire the author with a story idea, it’s her ability to interrelate aspects of memory and reality to the point of creating undeniable tension that brings her stories alive. Her stories are subtle, seemingly trivial, but also pure and, at time, rather abstract. An intense read.