Fourth Annual Instant Hook Writing Contest Now Open!

Upcoming Workshops

October 22, The Story, (3 hours, live), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge. This is a relaxed workshop in a mutually supportive atmosphere. During brainstorming sessions and other exercises you will learn how to pitch a story, and how to sustain conflict and suspense. We will explore plot, character development, style, sentence structure, the use of present, past, and future tenses, point of view, use of third or first person, dialogue, and dramatic tension. Call 403 915 7685 or email

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge. Through these sessions each participant will build a strategy for matching his or her work to a publisher and a marketplace. Participants will learn how to look for the right fit, how to entice a publisher with their blurb and biography, and how to make sure their manuscript is polished enough for submission.

Guided Online Writing Workshop Series is presently full but a limited number of spaces will open in mid-October 2016. Call 403 915 7685 or email if you wish to register.

Announcing the fourth annual Instant Hook Writing Contest (2016)!

The Instant Hook Writing Contest is a fun (but useful) test to see how effectively you can lure unsuspecting readers from disinterest into engrossed attention.

There are so many different ways to grab a reader’s attention, so many “rules” which end up contradicting each other that I won’t waste space pontificating about what makes a great opening. I’ll leave that to you! There is no entry fee, and no prerequisites other than being over 18, and there is a cash prize ($300, Canadian) for the winner. Please read the regulations carefully. Good luck!


Deadline (postmark date): December 31, 2016

Prize: $300.00 (Canadian)

Entrants are encouraged to submit the first 300 words or less of an unpublished novel. As the competition title suggests, the goal is to create an opening that commands attention, and makes the reader wish for more. For the sake of this competition, though, there will be no more; the word limit will be strictly adhered to, so the aim is to create an opening so intriguing, so compelling that it will promise a wealth of ingenious, absorbing, beautifully-written prose to come on its heels.

Sound like fun? Good. The exercise will make those creative juices run and give you something to work with for many weeks, months, and years afterwards.

Here are the rules; please read carefully!

  • The awards are open to anyone who is over 18 at time of entry.
  • The submission must be sole-authored, in English, from the very beginning of a novel, and no more than 300 words.
  • The novel opening may have been written for the competition or may be part of a manuscript already completed. But it cannot have been published, and cannot have been accepted by a publisher at time of entry.
  • These awards are open to new or established, already-published, authors (it does not have to be a first novel).
  • This is a blind-judged competition. HB Creativity must not have seen any part of this novel prior to entry; it must not be a work for which I personally have provided tutoring or editing services. I cannot absolutely guarantee I will not recognize a writing style, but I must not recognize the writing, the characters, or the plot.
  • Please use 12 Times New Roman font and double space your entry.
  • Send your entry by mail only (no emails please) to Paul Butler, HB Creativity, 8 – 121 Silkstone Road West, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, T1J 3Y6 (make sure you have “Paul Butler, HB Creativity” as well as the address) with a postmark date no later than December 31, 2016. Winners will be announced in March 2017.
  • Please do not put your name on your entry! Enclose in a separate envelope your name and contact (email and phone), plus the title of your entry. This envelope will be opened after the winners have been decided. Along with your name and contact please indicate whether you wish to receive our bimonthly INK STAINS news bulletin.
  • There will be a one time email to entrants to announce the competition winner. There will be no advertising of any kind on this email. If you do not wish to receive this email, please indicate this on your entry.
  • Do not send your only copy. Copies without sae cannot be returned. If you do not want your entry returned, it will be shredded and recycled.
  • There is no cost to enter.
  • There is no residency or nationality requirement.
  • Copyright remains with the author. We may ask for permission to publish an extract of the winning works on this website but this will not be done without the author’s express permission. Withholding permission will in no way invalidate the entry or disqualify it from winning a prize. By entering you merely give permission for me to use your name and the (provisional) title of the work.
  • One winner will receive a cash prize of $300.00 (Canadian). Two runners-up will receive a free hour tutorial (depending on location) in-person or over Skype.


News from Alumni and Friends

Congratulations to Tara Nanayakkara. Her beautiful new novel Dawning of a New Garden is about to be published by Inanna Publications (Toronto).

Congratulations to Glenn Deir. His wickedly funny new novel The Money Shot is about to be published by Breakwater Books (St. John’s).

Congratulations to Bianca Lakoseljac. Her richly lyrical The Stone Woman
has just been published by Guernica Editions (Toronto).

(Note: please forward alumni news to

Writing Fiction in a World of Change

Over the past few weeks the two places I have called home longest in my life have both inexplicably given themselves the most serious of self-inflicted wounds. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador has introduced an austerity budget which hammers the young, the vulnerable, the old, and the sick and gives no hint at all as to how any of this is to solve any of our long term problems. Indeed, the gloom is so great that even those not immediately affected in any personal sense – those who in fact make up the tax base of the province – are busy planning ways to escape with their children to more optimistic regions of the world.

Meanwhile, the government of the United Kingdom saw its ill-advised promise of a referendum on the emotionally-charged subject of the European Union bear the bitterest of fruit. I arrived in Heathrow on the morning of the vote. Little Britain was about to begin the process of deciding to close its borders to other EU countries and prevent freedom of movement with all the social, commercial, educational, and cultural benefits such freedom brings. Although I was no fan of the UK’s right wing Conservative government and knew there was still a lot wrong with Britain, it was obvious before the vote that the country was slowly evolving as part of Europe, at least culturally if not socially. This, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s populist mantra that Britain should be wary of too much ‘immigration’ – his way of placating the more extreme among his right wing Euro skeptic colleagues. Of course he hoped, and perhaps assumed, the referendum would see his country stay in Europe. But his xenophobic rhetoric worked too well. The population spoke and Britain decided to return to its insular, paranoid past.

Coincidentally during this tumult, my family and I are preparing to move several thousand miles from Newfoundland to Alberta. It’s one of those times when restlessness of spirit makes it easier to shift than to keep still. I’d have been glad we are going for this reason alone. Work will be the one constant amidst many changes. As a writing coach whose work is 95% online, I will be keeping many of my East Coast clients along with a number of others scattered around North America. The Instant Hook Writing Contest will be opening in early fall as usual (please note the new address when the contest rules are posted in September). I have one novel slated to be published in fall of 2017 and several writing projects in embryo.

I’m not an overtly political writer, at least not in any contemporary sense. But times like these make me wonder whether I should be. For those of us who shy from contemporary political events in our prose, there are still keen feelings bubbling beneath the surface.

Writers, like everyone else, live in the world. The imagination is connected to its environment like a spider’s thread to the bark of a tree. When the environment changes, when the tree falls, the creative urge is affected. Some would say it’s a writer’s duty to make sure this is the case but it is perhaps inevitable anyway.

The two events – Newfoundland’s austerity budget and the UK referendum – are curiously linked at least in my head, perhaps because I traveled from one home to another and back again during this period. But what in essence is the theme that connects them? One phrase comes irresistibly to mind: self-sabotage. Both events stem from the curious urge to create havoc out of order, disarray out of progress.

Cancelling funding for seniors’ dental services or test strips for people with diabetes isn’t going to help pay off Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt. We know this by now, but governments still pull tricks like this all the time – pouncing on the most vulnerable for the sake of “fiscal responsibility.” They pick the weakest lobby group in the hope the protest won’t be too deafening. The sound of a carcass thrown on the ceremonial pyre, that sizzle of sacrifice, obviously soothes some people’s nerves – even if it’s just the advisors who dream such ‘remedies’ up. Similarly stopping immigration into Britain isn’t going to help create jobs for the children and grandchildren of British citizens. History shows immigration, or more accurately, movement between former borders, creates economic activity and opportunity for everyone. But who needs logic when the same tired, discredited myths – “them taking our jobs,” – acts as such a successful conduit for a society’s collective fears?

This desire not to progress or to willfully move backwards, it seems, is a universal one, depressing though that may seem.This same atavistic impulse also lies behind so many novels and dramas that if I tried to write a list it would never end. Individually and collectively humans are a primitive race. We like fear and we like the idea of suffering, just so long as it isn’t too close to us. Like tossing a coin into a fountain we seem to believe someone’s loss will pay our dues in advance. Among those of my writing projects still in embryonic stage, I think this is a theme I may well explore.

There is a lot of frustration and it has to go somewhere.


Note: My email address and phone number will remain unchanged. My online courses are presently full but places will open in September. Click for details of fall courses.




Hero Reading

Many thanks to the Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Inn for organizing and hosting Saturday night’s reading from my novel, Hero, originally published by Vagrant Press (Nimbus) in 2009 but current once more.

About Hero:
When Lieutenant Simon Jenson returns from the war in 1918, his wife Sarah finds him emotionally fragile and prone to violent rages. Not even their young daughter Lucy can cheer him. Worse, their lives are soon overtaken by the shadow of blackmail. Sarah and Elsa, Lucy’s governess, are forced to reconsider everything they once believed about loyalty, valour, and responsibility. “[A] brilliant new novel. Butler uses imaginative, textured language to convey the emotional contradictions of his characters.”  Atlantic Books Today.

Fogo Island Inn


The reading in Fogo Island Inn’s cinema


This has been a wonderful time on Fogo Island. The setting — the island is surrounded by icebergs at this time of year — is spectacular, and the people have been universally kind and friendly.

I was also delighted to be part of an event on May 28 to protest the unconscionable decision by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to close Fogo Island’s only public library, along with 53 other rural libraries around the province. So much damage to people’s lives for so little in terms of financial savings. Sad and completely unnecessary.

Cupids, NaGeira, and Easton, by Paul Butler

This is a thoughtful and interesting review of three of my books — Easton, NaGeira and Cupids — by acclaimed writer Trudy Morgan Cole, author of (among other fine works) The Violent Friendship Of Esther Johnson (the friendship is with Jonathan Swift).

Compulsive Overreader

butlerbooksThese are three separate books, not a series or anything (in fact, they can’t really take place in the same fictional universe, since the events of Sheila Na’Geira’s life as narrated in Easton seem to contradict what happens in NaGeira, so they are clearly distinct stories). But I read them all in fairly quick succession over the last couple of weeks, which is why I’m reviewing them together. They are all set in the early 1600s, focusing on historical and/or legendary characters who have cast long shadows over Newfoundland’s early history — the colonizer John Guy, the pirate Peter Easton, and the Irish “princess” Sheila Na’Geira. Butler’s writing is vivid, fluent, and filled with wonderful period detail, bringing these historical names and legends to life in a series of revealing snapshots.

I say “snapshot” because each of these is a short book, dealing with only a narrow slice in…

View original post 280 more words

New Online Course through Grenfell Campus

Prepare to Publish: The Business of Writing

How do I approach a publisher with a book or an idea? What should a submission look like? What are royalties and how do they work? How do I recognize a fair contract? Don’t wait until your manuscript is finished before learning all the practical skills you will need as a writer. Brush up your biography in advance and learn how to write a compelling blurb and a good synopsis. Through interactive online sessions, you’ll learn the “right fit” for your book.

Fee:                     $75
Date:                   2 Wednesdays, June 8 & 15, 2016
Time:                   6:30 – 9:00 p.m.
Instructor:           Paul Butler
Location:             Online (computer & internet access required)
Registration limited to 10 participants

Register at Grenfell’s office of engagement or 709-637-6208. Call me at 709 640 9440, or email: if you have any questions or have trouble registering.

How to Write a Romance, Q and A with Three Experts, Part II

Welcome to part 2 of the Q & A with three highly successful romantic novelists: USA-Today bestselling author, Victoria Barbour, award-winning Highlands Chiefs author, Kate Robbins and bestselling YA author-turned romantic suspense writer, Robin St. Croix. This round is a free for all. Any or all of the authors were invited to answer any given question.

Question: cough …cough…do I need actual sex in my novel? In mainstream fiction the instinct is to provide distraction during a sex scene or perhaps even an ellipse, something that justifies leaving the scene and returning when it’s over. It looks to me that if people do make love in romantic fiction, then it’s erotica; the reader expects to take part directly. What are the potential hazards? What words must be avoided? How do you get the right tone?

ROBIN: I’m also going to challenge you on your point that “the instinct is to provide distraction during a sex scene.” That may be your personal instinct, and it’s certainly true of the English literary classics I studied in university, but in modern fiction it’s all about the story itself and not about society’s comfort levels or censorship. In my opinion, if sex serves the story then it needs to be there, if not, it’s gratuitous and should be edited out. Of course, there’s a whole industry built around erotic shorts that proves me wrong, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Speaking of erotica … I think you’re referring to what we in the biz call “heat levels.” A sweet romance (where there’s one peck on the cheek at the end of the book) would be a 1, whereas erotica is a 5. So it’s not whether characters have a romantic relationship, it’s whether they’re holding hands or swinging from the ceiling. Romance is a very wide genre; there’s dozens of subgenres and different heat levels within each one. With romance, the reader only expects one thing: a happy ending. (More on this below).

A note of caution here: if you set your readers up for a steamy sex scene and then don’t deliver, you’re dead in the water. You cannot leave the reader listening at the door. You must bring them into the bedroom with you and allow them to live vicariously through your characters.

Finally, to answer your question … nope, you don’t need to put sex in your romance if you don’t think it’s warranted. Sweet romances don’t contain sex but instead focus on the relationship between the main characters.

Here’s the thing about sex scenes … they are brutally difficult things to write. No one will believe that until they try to write one – and I’m guessing you’ve tried already which is why you’re asking the question! Here’s why they’re hard … sex is not the kind of thing that lends itself well to running commentary. We do it. We don’t describe it. Ok, sometimes there are words … but try writing them out. They look ridiculous in black and white, don’t they?

Love and sex are all about emotions and sensations, not words. Throughout history mankind has been trying to articulate the emotion of love, but it’s beyond words. With sex scenes, there’s the immediate problem of vocabulary … we all know what the parts are called, but use any term – Latin, colloquial, slang, euphemism … at best they look out of place on paper. At worst, they’re laughable. My solution? Focus on the anticipation.

KATE: Just as there are authors who have comfort levels with sex, readers do as well. In romance fiction there are what’s called steam levels. They go from one, which is very sweet, maybe a peck on the cheek or everything happens behind closed doors and is referenced after the fact—to five, which is very descriptive and may require a new headboard.😉

I think it all comes down to the author’s comfort level. There’s an audience for all steam levels, thankfully. Romance readers know what they like and gravitate toward authors who can deliver.🙂

The correct tone will flow from your characters. If mine want raunchy sex, I let ‘em have at it. I am pretty sure in all cases, I have let my characters guide me in terms of the nature of they sex they enjoy, i.e. when, where, positions, etc. I am bound to a certain historical era and so therefore the words I use must have been used at that time. Etymology dot com is a great tool for this purpose.

Steam level will determine the words you use as well. A level one will be very mild with no explicit language. Level five? You can let your imagination run wild. My romances are a level four.🙂

Question: Is romance escapism? And if so, is it helpful to make a list of the kinds of things that readers are escaping from (in the hope I can avoid replicating them!)

ROBIN: Yes, romance — like every story in every genre regardless of discipline — is escapism. Why else would a person pick up a work of fiction if not to escape into that world for a little while? Why watch television, go to a movie or the theatre? We do these things to relax, to get away from the pressures of the daily grind for a while. If we didn’t want a break we’d read non-fiction, watch a documentary or the news…Nah, you don’t need to make a list. You instinctively know what the pressures are.

KATE: A romance novel has one rule: it must have a Happily Ever After (HEA). Your characters and the unique balance of romantic conflict between them will make it unpredictable. Thinks like the internal versus external conflict and black moment will define your romance novel and set apart from others.

VICTORIA: Romance is total escapism. It’s one of the reasons why I read it. I didn’t know this about myself until my grandmother died. She left me all of her romance novels, and I read every single one of them. That’s what opened my eyes about the genre. I’d been full of the misconceptions non-romance readers have about this genre. You know, that’s it formulaic, easy to write, sexist, and porn. That’s not true at all. Romance novels may be easy to read, but that’s a testament to the writing of the authors. We write books that are enjoyable and accessible for all readers. As for making a list to avoid the things that readers want to escape from, I don’t think that’s necessary. Because of the HEA necessity of the genre, you can deal with loss, heartbreak, violence, etc. because the reader will finish that book feeling like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I personally don’t read romances where characters lose a child or have miscarriages, but that’s because it’s a personal decision of mine. Plenty of other readers love those story lines, and it’s important for those books to be written. Think about how you can craft a story with those elements that will ultimately leave the reader feeling hopeful at the end.

Question: Do I need a happy ending? And if so, how can I avoid making it predictable?

ROBIN: YES! Happily Ever After (HEA) is what makes a romance a romance. If the characters don’t get together in the end, even if your magnum opus is worthy of the Nobel Prize, it isn’t a romance. It’s something else.

It’s not predictability you want to avoid, it’s cliche. That’s another very difficult thing about writing in the romance genre because frankly, it’s all been done before! The best advice I can give is to read as much as you can in your particular sub-genre of romance so that you know what’s on the market already. Then spend time innovating your ending. Innovation requires creativity. This is where you earn your paycheque. Your readers know that the characters will get together. What they don’t know is how. Give them a spellbinding how.

Question: Do romance characters move towards self-knowledge? Are there things about themselves they conceal from themselves?

ROBIN: Of course they do! The characters in a romance novel are no different than any other character in any other genre. Usually we (as readers) want our heroes to grow and develop from the beginning of a story to the end, but not always. Exhibit A: James Bond.

Thinking that romance is a genre of wooden, two-dimensional characters is where writers get themselves into trouble. They crank out a tired story, slap it up on Amazon and then wonder why it isn’t selling. There are a lot of poorly written romances on the market. I won’t argue that point. There are a lot of poorly written books in every genre on the market.

This is not amateur hour. The mark of a professional author is that he or she can write in a saturated genre while still innovating the characters, plot and ending payoff of the story. That’s not to say every book has to be “War and Peace” (or “Lolita” or “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”). A well-written beach read can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered.

VICTORIA: I think all characters must change somewhat in a book. That’s the nature of a relationship, isn’t it? To learn things about yourself and figure out how to be with someone while being true to yourself. There’s always an element of personal revelation there, where you learn something about yourself you might not have known. There are always parts of our personalities that we don’t realize about ourselves. It’s the same for our characters. A character in a romance novel is not some mythical-being unlike other characters. Characters are characters, regardless of the genre, with all the complexities that come with them. Some romance novels are plot driven, while others are character driven. So the stronger the character you create, the stronger your book will be in the end.

Question: Where did this genre come from? I think about The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, sometimes credited as the first Gothic novel. It’s way too dark to be classified “romance,” yet the pacing and the lurid power seems to have opened the door which later became romance. I also think of Emily Bronte and Charlotte as possible forerunners, particularly in the depictions of Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester.

ROBIN: Love stories have been around since time began. They predate the written word. If you want to know the first English novel to be considered a romance, I couldn’t tell you. But the genre itself comes from the fact that we’re human, and there is nothing more human that the desire to love and be loved.

KATE: One can look back through literary history and see romantic stories in many places including Greek, Norse, and Roman mythology. Romance is something we have always held in fascination. The likes of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have certainly added new elements to old stories as well. I read somewhere that Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca has been considered the first ‘modern’ romance, birthing the currently perceived genre. I don’t believe it is possible to narrow it down to one book, however. What a shame to leave out the wonderful additions given to us by Johanna Lindsey, Julie Garwood, Eloisa James, and Jude Deveraux. Elements like author intrusion accepted from these amazing authors 30 years ago are now unheard of and so the genre continues to evolve. The rise of ebooks and self-publishing have made it much easier for authors to get their books in front of readers and so the market has never been more flush with variations and new sub-genres. I think there’s never been a better time to be a romance writer.🙂

Thanks to these terrific writers, Victoria Barbour, Robin St. Croix and Kate Robbins for their generous and thoughtful answers. If you want to know more about romance writing, take a good look through their websites and pick yourself a few of their books!

How to Write a Romance: Question and Answer with Three Experts

Welcome to the first in a two-part Q & A with three terrific writers, USA Today bestselling author, Victoria Barbour, award-winning Highlands Chiefs historical romance writer, Kate Robbins, and bestselling Young Adult writer and about-to-be romantic suspense author Robin St. Croix. I am seeking expert advice on how to turn my battered fiction brain to the art of the romance novel.

First the background to my quest: Several years ago, I had an unnerving experience at a book signing. It was a large box store with a reputation for moving huge amounts of books, so I was grateful my publisher had booked me. Under the iron roof and the fluorescent lights there was more of a bustle than usual. I was excited by the possibilities.
And scarcely had I sat down at the end of the book aisle, but a large bristling mob of buyers — mainly female, I noticed — had gathered around my table. Who would have known I was so popular?

Actually I wasn’t.

Behind my table were shining copies of a book I hadn’t heard of, but the frustrated mob of buyers clearly had. I was sitting between them and the novel they craved. Before long I was being mobbed, and not in a good way. One lady literally shoved me aside as she reached over me for her copy. Another knocked me on the forehead with the spine of her  purchase. My (unused) signing pen skittered along the concrete floor and I was obliged to negotiate feet and shopping cart wheels as I retrieved it — to little purpose as it turned out.

The book, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was Fifty Shades of Grey. Don’t try pressing the title hoping to find a link. I haven’t added it. Am I bitter? Yes.

At the time I was flustered. No doubt the literary snob in me came to the surface as a muttered something less than generous about the likely contents of this most popular of works. But something else happened too; somewhere in the dim inner recesses of my mind a faint voice had begun to chime: if you can’t beat them, join them.

Well not everyone admires Fifty Shades of Grey, although who can blame any of us for envying its success? And a number of very talented writers have turned their hands to the romance genre. Among these are some remarkable success stories who produce some excellent writing. I recently asked advice from three of these literary uber-achievers.
My first question is to bestselling author Victoria Barbour who scored big with her e-books even before Against her Rules and Hard as Ice became available in print format.

Question: I’ve started a romantic novel and I thought everything was going fine when I noticed I’ve given my heroine a mysterious love interest, a disinterested current boyfriend and an alcoholic ex-husband. I was aiming for romance, but I seemed to have crash-landed into the foam of a kitchen sink drama. And my heroine might be a little too sour, a bit too disappointed.

How do you keep things uncomplicated, yet interesting? And (related question) how complicated does my heroine’s life have to be before it gets . . . well, just too messy?

Victoria’s Answer: That sounds like a romance I’d love to read! And so would many other readers. There’s a misconception about romance that it has to be simple and uncomplicated. There’s only one hard and fast rule about romance and that’s the mandatory HEA (Happily ever after.) The key to complexity is believably. Readers identify with believable characters. They need complexities to be real.

Complicated is great as long as it’s not convoluted or contrived. I never try to keep things neat and tidy. The stories I write come from what is keeping me entertained as a storyteller. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too messy…. as long as you can make it all come together in the end with a positive resolution. Her whole life doesn’t have to be perfect, but the relationship should make facing the rest of her challenges easier. Jaded heroines are great, especially if they do so with sassy and wit and strength. I’ve learned that you can’t please all readers. I’ve created characters that some readers haven’t liked at all. But I don’t regret that because those were the characters that the story needed. If you feel your story is getting too bogged down in tropes think about the heart of the story you want to tell and let that help you rise from the foam of your soapy drama.

Now I turn to bestselling author of award-winning Highlands Chiefs series, Kate Robbins:

Question: What about place? Your novels have sweeping landscapes, rising mists. I’ve set my novel in Mount Pearl — just joking . . . But my setting is indeed urban and contemporary. Yet the romantic dimension still has to be there. How much do you think my story could have in common with the historical romances you have perfected?

Kate’s Answer: A good setting is important in all fiction. In some cases it can be considered an additional character when it helps shape the plot. In historical romance, the key element, besides the romance, is the history and as such things like setting, clothing, and manners add a certain charm to the story. Breaking through strict propriety in the medieval era adds another layer of challenge for the H/h’s romance to blossom. Part of the fascination of historical fiction is readers get to learn what life could have been like during a certain time frame they find appealing.

In your case, being contemporary and urban, on the surface I would say the location and time frame are miles apart, but that should not matter if the romance is front and centre and the setting plays a role in the plot. Your characters may have barriers that their place and time present making it unique to them and allowing their story to stand apart from others in the contemporary genre.

Newfoundland set romance novels are a new beast, thanks to trailblazers like Victoria Barbour. I see them as a great opportunity to expose contemporary romance readers to a great location with a unique set of challenges simply based on where we live. And really, that’s part of the beauty of living here. We are the best kept secret in the world for a good reason.

I think your setting and era will be a large part of your novel and I very much look forward to reading it.

Next I turn to a bestselling YA author who will soon release a very intriguing series of romantic suspense novels under the name, Robin St. Croix.

Question: I’ve always admired your organizational skills. I know you have character maps and graphs and so on. In the past I have always avoided this to an almost superstitious extent. If I write it down, I always fear, it’s pegging a character too much and robbing him/her of independent life. Do I have to cast this superstition aside? Is planning more of an integral part of “genre” fiction than it is in mainstream or “literary” fiction?

Robin’s Answer:  Yes, I am freakishly organized. It’s a running joke between myself and Victoria Barbour. For me, having outlines is more about me and the kinds of stories I tell, and less about the genre in which I’m writing. I tell big stories with twisty plots. My YA series is one over-arching story told over 9 full-length novels. My romantic suspense novel “Masquerade” is one story in 12 parts. If I don’t map out what’s happening, my books will wander and the reader will lose interest. I have to know what the breadcrumbs are and where to drop them so that my readers can savour the endings. It takes time to write these big stories. There’s no way I can remember all the details without outlining.

For other authors, outlines don’t work at all — they find them restricting. (Although in certain sub genres of romance restriction is an asset.) In the end the only thing that matters is that you have a good story that readers enjoy. How you get there is entirely up to you. If you want to try mapping though, I highly recommend “The Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne. It was developed for book editing, but works as a brilliant planning tool. (For an overview of what “The Story Grid” is all about check out Shawn’s YouTube videos. He also has a podcast)

The most important thing is that you have fun writing it. If it’s fun to write, it will be fun to read.

Great answers, all! In the next blog, I will talk to Robin, Kate and Victoria about how to handle a sex scene, the importance of escapism, and the origins of the romance novel. Stay tuned!