Hey, I’m teaching an online course in opinion writing! And you can take it!

Detail from William Hogarth's The Distrest Poet

Detail from William Hogarth’s The Distrest Poet

I spent 11 years on the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen, the final two as editor of the editorial pages, and by the end of it, I was full of opinions about …. well, how to write opinion.

I’ve seen wimpy ledes and shaky premises and pitch letters you wouldn’t believe. And I’ve seen wonderful people write beautiful things that have stuck with me, that changed the way I see the world. People entrusted me with op-eds that it was my great privilege to publish: when the late Eric McGuinness, for example, asked me if he could write about about his approaching death from cancer, I had one of those moments when the world stopped moving and I knew, just for a moment, that what we were doing mattered, that it was significant. Because it is significant, to write what we think down and ask other people to consider it. Writing opinion isn’t all hot takes and clickbait — although that can be fun too. It’s a way to speak to the world, and that’s huge.

I’ve been a mentor/editor for many years for The OpEd Project and for Informed Opinions, both organizations that train and encourage women and other marginalized people to write op-eds and voice their opinions. I’ve given a lot of thought to the demographic skew in opinion writing, and what we as writers and editors can do about it. I’ve thought a lot about the unspoken codes, the self-rejecting, the snobbery of academic peers, the valid fear of hateful blowback, that prevents many thoughtful, informed people from writing for the public.

And I’ve thought a lot about what makes a good opinion piece. As I left my full-time newspaper career in 2015, it was gratifying to be shortlisted for the National Newspaper Award for editorial writing. It was a nice bit of external validation, a sign that yep, I know how to do this. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be a great opinion writer, but I know backwards and forwards how to be a good one. The fundamentals and I have become close friends.

So now that I’ve left that world (except for my regular column at the Citizen and the occasional piece elsewhere), I have found myself wanting to teach. I’m thrilled to be teaching a graduate seminar in advanced writing and reporting techniques at Carleton University. That course will include some opinion writing, among other things.

I’m also teaching a course for an open audience in early 2017: no experience required. It’s entirely online, at the Loft Literary Center. It runs six weeks and you don’t have to be online at any particular times (I will be online for a live chat every week but that’s optional). There will be feedback but no grades. By the end of it, you’ll have an op-ed ready to submit, and a plan for how and where to pitch it.

Here are some of the people I can imagine benefiting from this course:

  • Academics who’d like to write more op-eds
  • Advocates, activists, staff at think tanks or non-profits
  • Fiction writers who also write guest blog posts or essays
  • Freelance writers who’d like to add opinion writing as a source of income
  • Op-ed writers who’d like to increase their rate of acceptance

Registration is open now, and I’ve been working on the course material. I think it’s going to be fun.

My Can-Con 2016 schedule

Can-Con is coming up! Sept. 9 to 11. I won’t be there Friday evening, but I will be there all day Saturday and Sunday. I’ve volunteered to be the con’s accessibility liaison, so if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please send them to me at kate@heartfieldfiction.com.

I am really looking forward to all these panels, with friends and people I admire. On Sunday, I’ll read a bit from “The Seven O’Clock Man” at the Clockwork Canada launch — you can come to that for free without a convention registration. Just talk to the people at the registration desk.

  • Saturday, 2 p.m. Locally sourced: Drawing on local history. With Amal El-Mohtar, Dominik Parisien, Mary Pletsch, Kate Heartfield (m)
  • Saturday, 4 p.m. Shakespeare in SF. With Kate Heartfield, James Alan Gardner, Lesley Donaldson, Kelly Robson (m)
  • Sunday, 11 a.m. Being a Woman in the Publishing Industry, Then and Now. With Sheila Williams, Tanya Huff, Sandra Kasturi, Marie Bilodeau, Kate Heartfield (m)
  • Sunday, noon. Readings from Clockwork Canada. Dominik Parisien, Kate Heartfield, Rati Mehrotra, Brent Nichols

Unlikely Influences: What Beth Cato Learned About Magic by Living Through Earthquakes

Unlikely Influences is a series of occasional blog posts,  about how writers can learn the tricks of their trade in odd places. Most are from guest authors, but I’ll pop in from time to time too.

This week’s installment is by the fabulous Beth Cato. She wrote previously about what she learned about writing from baking cookies.

BreathofEarth_500x332 (1)What I learned about magic by living through earthquakes

by Beth Cato

When I was three years old, I was in the bathtub as a 6.2 earthquake devastated nearby Coalinga, California. My most vivid memory is of water splashing sideways out of the tub all on its own. I started screaming, and my mom was there in an instant to save me.

A few days later, we drove to Coalinga to see the damage firsthand. My mom had lived there a decade before, and my grandparents had been driving away from Coalinga on a visit when the quake struck. I remember my mom being very upset at the sight of so many buildings with the fronts sheared off, exposing the rooms like dollhouses. I wasn’t disturbed, though. I was fascinated.

As I grew older, I knew earthquakes were a constant danger. We did frequent practice drills in school, though I only ever experienced quakes at home. I knew about the nearby San Andreas fault and the basics of plate tectonics, but earthquakes still seemed like a magical experiences: invisible forces at work that I could feel shiver through my skin, that I could hear in the chime of my mom’s dishes, witness in the sway of our hanging lamps. I understood, through science, that this movement indicated continental shifts in progress, but how could I ever truly comprehend something of that mass and scale?

It made about as much sense as magic.

My family would drive to the Pacific coast and cross the very visible, rigid line of the San Andreas fault as it cuts through the hills. I always wondered how it would feel to stand right there when the Big One finally happened. What would that kind of power feel like?


A few years ago, I knew I wanted to start work on a new steampunk series. I thought of writing something set in my beloved California, and I realized I hadn’t seen any steampunk set in 1906 San Francisco against the backdrop of the earthquake and fire. I love writing about magic–my Clockwork Dagger series follows a magically powered healer–so it was only right that this new book feature magic mixed up with steampunk, too. This time, though, that magic needed to be geomancy.

Creating the world of Breath of Earth pulled inspiration from so many nagging questions and curiosities from my childhood. What if you could feel the power of an earthquake–and what would that do to your body? What if you could store the earth’s energy, like electricity? What could be done with that power?

Writers are often told to write what they know. I’m a native Californian. I know earthquakes. It was only right to add magic to help things along as I rewrote history. I want readers to understand the might and awe of an earthquake in action–without the terror of actually being in a bathtub during the next Big One.

Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

Excerpts, columns, tweets

A few things I’ve written recently that aren’t fiction but might be of interest to readers of this blog anyway:

My latest column for the Ottawa Citizen is about the Tragically Hip, a beloved Canadian band making what is probably its last tour, and about irony and sarcasm in Canadian poetry.

The Citizen also recently ran an excerpt from my story “The Seven O’Clock Man,” published in Clockwork Canada.

And I’ve got into the habit, on Twitter, of talking about a favourite book every Monday evening. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you can find me at @kateheartfield, or that thread at #mondaybook.

My schedule for the 2016 Limestone Genre Expo

I had a great time at Kington’s inaugural Limestone Genre Expo last year. This year, they’ve expanded it to two days (although I’ll only be there Sunday.) I recommend it. The full schedule is online.

Here’s my schedule:

Sunday, July 24 2016

  • 11 a.m. Far Out: What’s Happening in Science Fiction? Nina Munteanu, Charlotte Ashley, Ira Nayman, Andrew Barton, Derek Kunsken and Kate Heartfield, moderated by Matt Moore.
  • 1 p.m.: Accessible Worlds: Disability in Speculative Fiction. Derek Newman Stille, Jen Frankel, Suzanne Church, Alison Sinclair, Madona Skaff, Vanessa Ricci-Thode, moderated by Kate Heartfield
  • 4 p.m. Magic and Magical Systems. Derek Künsken, Darke Conteur, Karen Dales, Brandon Crilly, Nancy Baker, moderated by Suzanne Church.