October Ink Stains

There is a great deal to report with new courses (The Story and Prepare to Publish) beginning to fill up (see below), The Instant Hook Contest submissions coming in (Deadline: December 31, rules and regulations: here) as well as several books by alumni and friends being released in very close succession.

First a recap: several months ago I asked advice from romance writers Kate Robbins, Robin St. Croix, and Victoria Barbour about how to shed my non-romance writer self and plunge into this popular genre.

Well I managed it for about a page and a half before falling off the romance wagon and plummeting into decidedly unromantic themes and scenarios. Setting this aside for a bit as I gird up my loins (so to speak) for another go, I thought I would see what could be gleaned from the hard work and ingenuity of these authors when it comes to marketing their work. Take a look, for example, at this trailer for Robin’s romance, Masquerade — an intriguing way to mix the literary medium with film.

Although they are all based in one Canadian province (Newfoundland and Labrador), these authors have achieved international success through a combination of highly professional writing and innovative marketing techniques. They are also part of a collective Romancing the Rock which has numerous success stories — so numerous in fact I can barely keep up with them. A collective makes such good sense for writers who are, by nature, the shyest of creative artists; each author’s publicity becomes the other authors’ publicity and the result is a win-win situation for everybody.

We could all take a page from their book!


Upcoming HB Creativity Workshops

October 22, The Story, (3 hours, live), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge (2 places remaining at time of writing). 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 different tenses, point of view, and dramatic tension. Call 403 915 7685 or email paul.butler@nl.rogers.com.

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge. (3 places remaining at time of writing). Build a strategy for matching your work to a publisher and a marketplace. Learn how to look for the right fit, and how to entice a publisher with your blurb and biography. Learn to tell when  your manuscript is polished enough for submission.

Guided Online Writing Workshop Series (anywhere) is presently full but a limited number of spaces will open in early November 2016. Call 403 915 7685 or email paul.butler@nl.rogers.com if you wish to register.


Alumni and Friends News

Tara Nanayakkara‘s Dawning of a New Garden (Inanna, Toronto), a beautiful tale of bereavement and fresh hope is available everywhere.


Glenn Deir‘s The Money Shot, a wickedly funny tale of rivalries among journalists, will be officially launched at the Breakwater Books party on October 25 at the Masonic Temple in St. John’s, Newfoundland.


Bianca Lakoseljac‘s richly lyrical The Stone Woman
has been published by Guernica Editions (Toronto). Bianca has many appearances in Southern Ontario lined up this fall.


John Fleming is working on self-published comics along with Artist Collette Turner. Their first Kickstarter successfully raised $8000, their second one is launching early October. Here is a preview link.

Note: If you have had dealings with HB Creativity let me know of your upcoming publications!

Other news

Broken Earth Productions is presenting The Weir by Conor McPherson at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, Newfoundland from November 1 to November 5. The production is directed by Leo Furey and the cast includes Mikaela Dyke, Aiden Flynn, Pete Soucy, Steve O’Connell, and Chris Pickard. Tickets can be purchased at 709 753-4531.

Fourth Annual Instant Hook Writing Contest Now Open!

Dear Lethbridge Word on the Street attendees,

Many thanks for coming by on Saturday and for all those who signed up for HB Creativity’s e-bulletin and/or the creative writing workshops below. Congratulations to Rayn Perry who wins a copy of my novel, Hero.

Upcoming Workshops

October 22, The Story, (3 hours, live), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge (2 spaces left). 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 paul.butler@nl.rogers.com.

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge (3 places left). 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 paul.butler@nl.rogers.com 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 paul.butler@nl.rogers.com).

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: paul.butler@nl.rogers.com 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!