Category Archives for Writing

Honouring Fred Christie for Black History Month


Honourary Grand Verdunois Fred Christie became known in 1936.

Christie went into the York Tavern in Verdun and the owner refused to serve him. He chose to take the owner to court.

Christie initially won $25, but he lost on appeal. The case took three years to get to the Supreme Court of Canada. There, Christie lost again.

The Supreme Court decision was rendered on December 9th, 1939 and published in 1940. It said:

the general principle of the law of Quebec is that of complete freedom of commerce.” Specifying further, the judgment states that “any merchant is free to deal as he may choose with any individual member of the public […] the only restriction to this general principle would be the existence of a specific law, or, in the carrying out of the principle, the adoption of a rule contrary to good morals or public order.”

After losing his case, Christie left Montreal.

His efforts initiated a series of events that led to the 1975 Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Read more about Christie in the memorial page set up in his honour.

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How Many Distribution Partners Do You Have?

This week’s video is a short reflection on all the partners there are to create an online business when it comes to distribution.

[00:00:07] Now that we have created our online products, how do we distribute them?

[00:00:11] My example for this one is going to be a gluten-free cooking book that I originally did for an in-person course a couple of years ago.

[00:00:21] I’m just updating it now so that I can put it online. It’s gluten-free cooking basics. But I had to think about how to distribute it.

[00:00:32] So first of all, I need to make it into three different versions. I want a basic PDF version that you can buy off my web site.

Digital Book Versions

[00:00:48] So far, I’ve used a couple of different services to make this work. I used Canva in order to do the cover page and Jutoh to do the layout in a proper way. I was going to do In Design because I’ve wanted to learn it. But then I found Jutoh and so I decided to demo that because I know it’s not a very long book.

[00:01:08] And so I decided just to stick with what I know for this particular project. So then I’ll be selling it on my website.

Industry Distribution

[00:01:20] I want to sell it from Amazon so I had to use Ingram Spark and maybe I’ll also use Draft2Digital. Those are the two services that I’m exploring.

[00:01:29] I started with IngramSpark because I want to be in libraries and I definitely want it to be an Amazon and Kobo Writing Life but I could take I didn’t I unselected those so that I could do the distribution myself in those two formats because I want to have my own relationship on Amazon. I want to have my own relationship on Kobo.

[00:01:47] IngramSpark has a print on demand service that they can do. They can do libraries. They have a ton of different things that I don’t know very much about because I haven’t actually done that particular part yet. I’ve just signed up for my account and started investigating what I’m going to be doing but I’m very excited because the gluten-free cooking basics is an important project.

Gluten-free Cookbook

[00:02:08] I know that a lot of people who have celiac disease really struggle with trying to cook home wonderful meals that are as good as the ones they were used to if they were eating gluten free before. And it’s not that hard to take your original recipe and modify it.

[00:02:28] You have to do a little bit of experimenting to make sure that you get the textures right and the liquids right and everything but and baked goods are not too bad.

[00:02:37] They can get crumbly and dry if you’re not careful but I add a lot of either egg or apple sauce into them so that prevents that real crumbly thing from happening and that can be really good. So in terms of distribution, obviously our distributions include WordPress because this site is on WordPress.

Payment Sites

They also include all the payment. You know how people pay me. So I have a Square. I have a Stripe account.

[00:03:06] I have a PayPal account and so people can pay me that way too.

[00:03:20] So basically anybody can pay me if they want to. But all those organizations including Quickbooks where I do my accounting, and YouTube, where I host my videos. Those are all distribution partners because they all have online catalogs which I’m I’m going to take advantage of as well so that they won’t just be on my own Web site but they’ll also be on the website of all my partners because I want to make sure that their clients get to have as much diversity as possible, including my gluten free cookbook. So that’s one point about online distribution that people don’t often think about the other partner and this is MailChimp.

Email List

[00:03:58] I’m using MailChimp to deliver my cookbook to people who order off my Web site. So they’ll just go into my mailing list and then my mailing list delivers them the PEF. Hopefully, that will work.

[00:04:11] I’ll let you know when I launch. If you’re one of the purchasers then please let me know how it’s working for you so that I can update it if I need to. And I guess my next when I do another video I will tell you how it went.

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Improve your Craft with a Writing Reference Book

Are you a word nerd? If so, consider getting a writing reference book from the following list and support your passion and my work at the same time.

If you choose to buy one of these books through my affiliate links, I get a few cents although you don’t pay any additional fee.

Then we can both sit back and explore the world of nonfiction. Very few people in the world understand how wonderful it is for word nerds to pick up a good writing reference guide and read a few pages for fun.

I’m not talking about those moments when grabbing it quickly confirms a particular grammar point, although that’s useful too. No, instead I’m speaking about those lazy days when anything is possible and yet somehow the whole day passes by because I chose to sit and read The Chicago Manual of Style for a few minutes.

In addition to thinking about language and getting tips to improve your craft, writing reference guides can trigger new research ideas.

Research Ideas Triggered

Once while reading the section about citing sources, for example, I discovered a new potential source for research. On page 748, it says:

Command papers are so called because they originate outside Parliament and are ostensibly presented to Parliament “by command of Her [His] Majesty.” The different abbreviations for “command” indicate the series and must not be altered. No s is added to the plural [Cmnd. 3834, 3835].

That made me curious. Turns out that Command Paper 3834 is a book called “Review Body on Armed Forces Pay: 1998, 27th Report by Great Britain, Gordon Hourston (Paperback, 1998).” This exercise made me realize that researching under the term “command papers” in the UK National Archives might lead to detailed policy analyses that are unavailable elsewhere. Awesome lesson!

While the Chicago Manual of Style contains depth beyond its key strength, most writing references are less diverse. Each one meets a precise purpose for a particular situation.

As with many works of notable nonfiction, that purpose depends on whether you’re looking for story, structure or style advice.

I have selections of books to help inspire me about all three challenges, yet there are still a few highly recommended books on my wish list. I’ve listed all of these below to give you an idea about which books cover which topics best. Books with reviews or affiliations links on this blog are hyperlinked to those resources.

Story: Books about Being a Writer

Brown, Rita Mae. Starting From Scratch. A Different Kind of Writers’ Manual. New York: Speakeasy, 1988. ISBN 0-533-34630-X.

Cheney, Theodore A. Rees Writing Creative Nonfiction. Berkeley: Tenspeed Press, 1991. ISBN 0-89815-411-1.

DeBartolo Carmack, Sharon. You Can Write Your Family History.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. New edition. Shambhala, 2005.

King, Stephen. On Writing. A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Simon & Shuster Inc., 2000. ISBN 0-671-02425-6.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Nieman Foundation. Telling True Stories. Edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. ISBN 978-0-452-28755-6.

Pen Canada. Writing Away. Edited by Constance Rooke. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1994. ISBN 0-7710-6956-1.

Structure: Books about Writing Presentation

Best American Essays 2000. Edited by Alan Lightman and Robert Atwan. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. ISBN 0-618-035580-x.

Bishop, Leonard. Dare to be a Great Writer. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1992. ISBN 0-89879-464-1.

Kuriloff, Peshe C. Rethinking Writing. New York: St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1989. ISBN 0-312-00274-2.

Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal, Writer’s Digest Books; 4th edition (April 18, 2011), ISBN: 158297702X.

Law Hatcher, Patricia. Producing a Quality Family History. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1996.

Moffett, James. Points of Departure. An Anthology of Nonfiction. New York: New American Library, 1985. ISBN 9780451627285.

Ross, Raymond S. Essentials of Speech Communication. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1984. ISBN 0-13-289173-5.

Sands, Katharine. Making the Perfect Pitch; How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye.

Strathcona County Board of Education Communications Handbook. Edited by Paula S. Goepfert. Scarborough: Nelson Canada, 1982. ISBN 0-17-6015 07-8.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998. ISBN 0-941188-70-1.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. ISBN 0-06-272027-9.

Style: Books about the Art of Writing

Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, edited by Christopher W. French et al. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1986. ISBN 0201100916.

Board for Certification of Genealogists Genealogy Standards. Edited by Thomas W. Jones. Washington: Turner Publishing Company, 2014. ISBN 978-1-630-26018-7.

Canadian Press Stylebook. Edited by Bob Taylor. Toronto: The Canadian Press, 1986, ISBN 0-920009-01-8.

Canadian Style. Edited by Malcolm Williams and Vitalijs Bucens. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997. ISBN 978-1-55002-882-9.

Carroll, David L. A Manual of Writer’s Tricks. New York: Paragon House, 1990. ISBN 1-55778-314-4.

Casagrande, June. Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite.  New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Coles Handbook of English Grammar and Composition. Toronto: Coles Publishing Company Limited, 1980.

Gordon, Karen Elizabeth. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Hale, Constance. Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.

Hart, Jack. Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction Paperback, University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (Oct. 12 2012), ISBN 0226318168.

Kleinschmit, Nathalie. Borderless English. Manitoba: Global’ease, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9783825-06.

Mahan, Margaret D. F. The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. The University of Chicago Press, 2003, ISBN 0-226-10403-6.

Merriman, Brenda Dougall. Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians.  Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010.

Shown Mills, Elizabeth. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Revised edition.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009.

Strunk Jr., William and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 1999, ISBN 0-02-418200-1.

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books, 2003. ISBN 1861976127.

Venolia, Jan. Write Right. A Canadian Desk-Drawer Digest of Punctuation, Grammar and Style. North Vancouver: Self-Counsel Press, 1983. ISBN 088908-554-4.

Weber Shaw, Fran. 30 Ways to Help You Write. New York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1980, ISBN 0-553-24073-0.

If you’re new to writing, or if you’ve never used books to inspire you to improve your craft, you might consider judging the “sound” of these books to select those that might appeal to you.

Use Sound to Select Your Top Three

When I say sound, I’m referring to how we hear books in our head as we read them. Readers are used to judging poetry by sound, which encompasses mood, rhythm and tone, but they often forget that other books have the same qualities.

Authors also change how quickly they want readers to read by playing around with how they present their work.

Narrative voice, wordplay and book chapter and sentence structure encompass the mood of a work, whether argumentative, playful, intense or light.

The layout of a written text captures rhythm and reflects whether an author wants readers to quickly skip over sentences or pause and meander through them slowly.

Prose style captures the tone of a work.

Long words, sentences and paragraphs encourage deep thought and slow reading, while short precise sentences present a conclusion as though already formed in a reader’s mind. Is a work divided into small bite-sized chunks that encourage a reader to read sections separately whenever encouragement is needed? Do quick sentences make it difficult to put a book down? Do chapters end on cliffhangers that keep readers wanting more or do they end at clear conclusions to encourage readers to think?

Thinking about sound when judging a book can help readers understand what a writer wants to project.

Choose the Top Three for Your Writer Type

Most writers fit into a particular type: reporter, researcher or storyteller. All writers have characteristics from each type, but your key tendencies determine your type. In brief, reporters focus on events and news; researchers love information-gathering and storytellers create narratives easily.

Take my family history quiz to find out which type of writer you are and then get the ideal books to help you with story, structure and style.

If you’re a reporter, you’ll appreciate

If you’re a researcher, I’d suggest:

If you’re a storyteller, you’ll probably like:

As a Canadian, I also reference the Canadian Press Stylebook frequently. Rules in Canada sometimes match American rules, while at other times we use British rules. The Canadian Press Stylebook, which was first published in 1940, helps me keep the exceptions to Chicago straight.

If you’re a family history writer, you need Genealogy Standards for style.

Obsessive writers like me own all thirteen of the above books, plus a great many more. We are the word nerds.

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Seth Godin to World: Market to Help People: Don’t be Evil

How much could society improve if every company took on the challenge Seth Godin makes in his 2018 book?

In This is Marketing Godin argues in favour of marketing to serve people.

Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.

It’s a chance to change the culture for the better.

Marketing involves very little in the way of shouting, hustling or coercion.

It’s a chance to serve, instead.

Most of the book encourages readers to create and work within companies that help people by building a small audience of true fans and serving them so well that they are happy to buy things and recommend you to everyone they know.

Serve so well, you’re worth talking about

A good summary of his philosophy appears on page 196.

You do people a service when you make better things and make it easy to talk about them,” he wrote. “What we choose to market is up to us. If the change you seek to make can’t be talked about, perhaps you should find a different change worth making.”

I’ve been thinking about Godin’s arguments a lot lately, particularly in the wake of major tobacco bans in parks in Montreal and at the entire campus of my former alma mater, Western University.

You see, I don’t like complete bans on anything. Bans not only make peoples’ lives difficult—in the case of Montreal, the bans will most affect people with mental disorders and the homeless—but they also serve as good marketing for the banned item. There’s nothing as attractive as that thing we can’t have, particularly for young people.

At the same time, I agree that there should be limits on a product with immense health risks and Godin’s last chapter tirade against evil marketers hits a chord.

Don’t support evil marketers

Tobacco companies get mentioned twice in the paragraph that describes evil marketers.

I think it’s evil to persuade kids to start smoking, to cynically manipulate the electoral or political process, to lie to people in ways that cause disastrous side effects. I think it’s evil to sell an ineffective potion when an effective medicine is available. I think it’s evil to come up with new ways to make smoking acceptable so you can make a few more bucks.”

But is an outright ban a good response?

I don’t think so. Bans simply don’t work. They badly inconvenience the few without helping the many. Also, by the time people agree to ban something, the need for a ban is beginning to wane.

I haven’t changed my stance against them since arguing against a tobacco and alcohol sponsorship ban at Western in 1983. As a local club organizer, I got to discuss the plan to ban event subsidies by cigarette brands briefly with Western’s president George Connell. My club didn’t much care, but other student organizers with bigger events would struggle to replace the massive funding tobacco companies offered.

Our arguments against the ban didn’t sway him in the least.

Connell was adamant that all cigarette company sponsorships get banned outright on campus.

Only brands that make us proud should be featured on campus,” he argued. “Relying on unhealthy products to present good cultural events takes positive energy away from those events. We don’t want to stain our reputation.

Godin would probably agree. His book encourages marketers to create a reliable experience for every single customer. On page 174, he outlines just some of the moments that matter.

Everything you do, from the way you answer the phone to the design of your packaging, from your location to the downstream effects of your work, from the hold music to the behaviour of your executives, and even the kind of packing peanuts you use—all of it is a form of marketing your brand.”

You can’t measure it. You might not even notice it.

But it still matters

Create client connection

Godin offers several examples to make the point that good brands market well by ensuring that every moment of a client experience reflects shared values.

On page 154, he describes how a good brand fulfils customer expectations.

A brand is shorthand for the customer’s expectations. What promise do they think you’re making? What do they expect when they buy from you or meet with you or hire you?

That promise is your brand.

Nike doesn’t hae a hotel. If it did, you would probably have some good guesses as to what it would be like. That’s Nike’s brand.

If you have true fans, the only reason you do is because this group has engaged with you in a way that signals that they expect something worthwhile from you next time. That expectation isn’t specific; it’s emotional…If people care, you’ve got a brand.”

Even in 1983, I agreed with this too, which is why the cross-country skiing club never even thought about seeking tobacco sponsorship. We didn’t need it.

Banning Tobacco Sponsorship in 1983

Still, I really didn’t like the way Connell brushed off the concerns of a girl organizing a big concert that was supposed to happen a month after the ban would take effect.

I’m not going to start smoking just because I see their brands everywhere,” I said at the time. “You think we’re all stupid.”

Not stupid, he said, just capable of being influenced.

Connell understood how aggressive tobacco companies have been when it comes to advertising, especially to young people. He grew up in the period described by this Daniel J. Robinson’s 2019 paper about the operations of Imperial Tobacco during the 1930s, when their operations were rapidly growing.

Connell’s argument won out and that girl had to cancel her event.

I haven’t thought about that discussion for years until I read that Western plans to outright ban all smoking on campus this coming July.

Smoke-free Campuses 35 Years Later

It’s a trend. Dalhousie University went smoke-free in 2003, but 29 others joined them last year. Guelph and U of T plan to go smoke free next year. The Canadian Cancer Society, which argues in favour of these bans, claims that 65 campuses are already smoke-free.

Neighbours around each of these locations suffer as smokers congregate together on tiny streets next to the parks and campuses.

Meanwhile, the University of British Columbia still allows smokers—even pot smokers— to smoke in designated places on campus. I think that’s a better plan, both for neighbourhood peace and for the convenience of people who want to smoke.

Either way, unless something changes, the long-term trend in Canada means fewer smokers every year. The University of Waterloo’s Propel Centre for Population Health Impact research unit has a good chart showing how smoking in Canada has dropped over time.

So I won’t waste my time wading into the dilemma on smoking bans.

This is Marketing Book Cover This is Marketing
Seth Godin

I've been enjoying marketing a lot more since reading Seth's newsletters. His latest book makes it seem more worthwhile than ever. One quote I particularly like is page 69. "...find and build your story, the arc of the change you seek to produce. This is a generative posture, one based on possibility, not scarcity."

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Discovering Scottish and Irish Roots

My former red hair often had people asking where in Scotland I’m from. For years, I knew of no Scottish blood relatives. Now, I’ve finally found Scottish and Irish roots on my mom’s side.

Turns out that great granny Keziah Charlotte Mcmaster Charboneau, whose birth took place almost exactly a hundred years before mine, identified as ‘Scotch’ even though she never lived in Scotland.

Keziah’s heritage demonstrates a clear cultural tradition in my family of identifying children with their father’s heritage.

She could have identified as Canadian, given that her birth took place in Orangeville Ontario. She might have been Irish, because her mom Mary Willard’s birthplace was Ireland. Still, it was her dad Robert Mcmaster’s birthplace that was important. He was born in Scotland, although I don’t know where.[1]

Even though her parents had different heritages, Keziah identified as “Scotch.”

1901 Census

Yet, some crossed-out hashtags next to her eldest child on the 1901 census indicate that someone wanted to make sure her children were seen as French.

The enumerator probably initially assumed the children shared their mother’s heritage of ‘Scotch’ because the entire family was English-speaking and practiced the Brethren religion. Many of the people he interviewed in the village of Weston, Ontario practiced the protestant denomination stemming from a German movement that began in 1708.

His mistake got corrected, however, presumably by 38-year-old Keziah herself.

Clear hashtag marks indicating that Etta was Scotch were scratched out to write in the word “French” to match the heritage of their father, Paul Charbonneau, who appears in a 1917 Weston resident list as “the caretaker who lives in the house on the east side of Cross street.”

The rest of the hashtags identify all ten children—from two-year-old Wilbert, through six-year-old John, eight-year-old Zelia, nine-year-old Charlotte, 15-year-old Paul, 16-year-old Henry, 18-year-old Latton, 19-year-old Maggie and 20-year-old Etta—as French like their father, not Scotch like their mom.[2]

Keziah and Paul’s first son, Matthew Dalton Charbonneau[3] doesn’t appear at all, perhaps because he lived elsewhere on March 31, 1901 (the day the census is supposed to represent). He’s on earlier and later censuses though. Eight summers later, he married Edith Daniels in Toronto.[4]

Death Certificate

Even when family members had more information, they carried on the tradition of father-centred heritage. Kezia’s son, J.P. Charbonneau described her as “Scotch” on her death certificate just a few lines before identifying her parents’ birthplaces.

Keziah’s death took place in her son’s home at 111 St. Johns Road in Toronto. She died there of chronic myocarditis (heart failure) on July 30, 1932, at the age of 76 years old.[5]

She’s buried in Weston’s Riverside Cemetery, 1567 Royal York Rd, Etobicoke, ON M9P 3C4. I plan to look for her gravesite when next in Toronto.


[1] “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 19 May 2015), Deaths > 1932 > no 3918-5556 > image 1593 of 1748; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
[2] “Canada Census, 1901,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 18 March 2018), Keziah Charboneau, York (west/ouest), Ontario, Canada; citing p. 8, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
[3] Ontario Births, 1869-1912,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 16 July 2017), Matthew Dalton Charboneau, 30 Nov 1882; citing Birth, Weston, York, Ontario, Canada, citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,845,583.
[4] “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 11 March 2018), Dalton Charboneau and Edith Daniels, 22 Jul 1909; citing registration , Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,871,870.
[5] “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 19 May 2015), Deaths > 1932 > no 3918-5556 > image 1593 of 1748; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

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