Monday, September 26, 2011

TITULUS TO LOGLINE TO PITCH in just 3 easy millennia

Patricia Deuson is my guest today. Her debut mystery, Superior Longing, is now out. It looks like a good read!
Superior Longing
When books were written on papyrus scrolls, a tag or titulus, a scrap of papyrus usually, was attached to the outside of the scroll to identify its contents. Tituli were, in effect, the title page, the contents table, and a brief summary of what the scroll was about. It let a reader pick one scroll from the bins in the stacks room that would interest them. Then they’d take the scroll to a central table in the reading room or out to a nearby breezy colonnades to read. The early them.
What does a logline do? It boils the story down to its base. How? By telling three very important things, and only these three things: who the story was about, what the protagonist’s goal was, and what stood in the way of that goal. And no more. And it did it in just one sentence. A writer can create a logline for their story so they have a ready answer for friends who ask “So, what is your book about?” in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them with detail and is fast, just in case the friend was only being polite.
Another real benefit of a good logline is that it gives a writer direction, helps keep them focused and on track. It’s short enough to be tacked over the writing desk as a constant, nagging, reminder as you wend your way thru the ins and outs of your tale, just where you are supposed to be going.
But there’s another use for a logline. Now that you’ve honed and refined the meaning of your story by developing a logline, use it to create the perfect pitch. Expand the one sentence logline to a three minute, three sentence, focused, intriguing story that will interest an agent or editor enough to ask for more. How? Easy! And now you have three whole sentences to work with.
A pitch has to convey the dramatic heart and soul of your story without being boring or confusing. First sentence is your hook, your plot catalyst, where you tell what gets your story going. Next sentence? Give ’em some intriguing plot, character or setting details. Who is in this story? What happens? Where does it take place? How is your story different, even unique? And finally, you’re on a roll now, sketch out the climax and resolution. How does it all end? Tell them, but leave them wanting more. So they’ll ask you for the first 20 or 50 pages or the whole manuscript. And you did it in just three sentences. That took you days, weeks, or months to perfect, but don’t tell them that.
But a pitch is only something written on a piece of paper, unless you use it. You’ve got to actually tell someone about your story or it’s just practice. And that’s what you’ve got to do: practice, practice, practice. In front of the mirror, the dog, indulgent friends, or a spouse. When you’re ready, try out that pitch for real. Best of luck!
Thanks, Ellis, for inviting me to your blog!
Pat Deuson’s first book, which she pitched just perfectly to Echelon Press, is SUPERIOR LONGING,  the first of the Cooks Inn Mysteries. It’s available at these sites:

QR Code

This is my first attempt at a QR code. I think if you scan it with your smart phone, it will take you to Pat's website information. (My phone isn't smart :-)Try it and see!
If this doesn't work, just go to to find her.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Time for promotion, or I feel faint

It's almost time for my new book to come out.  November 15! (Kindly mark it on your calendar. :-) Here's the cover, its first public appearance. Echelon Press is the publisher.  It's suspense with strong romantic elements, romantic suspense by some definitions. It's not pure anything.
I'm working on log lines too.She wanted a rottweiller. Instead she got Riley. Or, Everything she believed was a lie, but the truth is Cold Comfort.
I love the idea of having a new book, but when I think of the work that goes into promotion, I find my thoughts veering off, like maybe I should scrub the kitchen floor before I start (or any other unpleasant task I usually try to avoid). Promotion takes a certain mindset, and I, being a natural hermit, have to work myself up to it. I enjoy meeting people (that's the fun part), but putting yourself in a place to do it and deliberately drawing attention to yourself are very difficult.
Some things are more fun, like making a brochure. I did it and love the way it turned out. Bookmarks, they're fun too. Posters? Check. But now I'm stuck on business cards. I'm already late doing them, and I can't seem to get it right. Here are the two designs I'm considering today. (I've already been through many.) I love color and texture, so the clean, elegant cards, white with minimal information in clear type, don't really appeal. They aren't me--elegant I'm not.
I wavered between Author, Writer, and Novelist. Novelist may be the right word but it doesn't sound right. Author and Writer could mean anything from medical journals to popular science.  Then I decided to add Romantic Suspense.  Anyway, you'd be amazed at the effort that goes into this. Here they are. What do you think? The practical one with two of my books? Or the pretty, textured one with the meaningless red flower? Or should I go back to the drawing board? Comments would be helpful.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Redemption: atonement for guilt, deliverance, salvation

J.R. Turner, author of  Redemption, due out this month, and many other novels, is my guest. I'm looking forward to her new release.
When I began writing my first urban fantasy novel, the title was a no-brainer. Redemption is such a powerful driving force in the human experience. From the need to prove we have what it takes to ourselves or others, to seeking out a way to atone for a perceived or actual sin, there are few motivators stronger than our darkest secrets.

I could think of no better way to explore the human struggle between dark and light, wrong and right than through the contrast of angel and demon. We each have aspects of both in our human make-up. There is an old Native American tale about this:

The grandfather said, "There are two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is angry, vengeful, and hateful. The other wolf is understanding, compassionate, and loving."
The grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win?"
The grandfather replied, "The one I feed."

Throughout Redemption I return again and again to the idea of how good intentions often lead us to feed our darker selves, despite our vigilance . Savannah, a half-angel, is focused on killing sinners to earn her redemption, but when she falls in love with a half-demon, Nico, her focus turns to finding his redemption. In giving up her need to see heaven to save someone she loves, she ultimately makes a heart-wrenching sacrifice. Sometimes our conscience demands a painful course of action.

Love, hate, life, and death–these are the human experiences we seek to understand the most and in writing Redemption I came to understand my own beliefs far better and I hope when reading about these universal struggles, they leave the reader with some meaty food for thought.

Note from Ellis. This review of Redemption from Nancy Holzner is too good to leave out:
"In a bleak, post-apocalyptic world, what happens when a half-angel searching for her redemption meets a half-demon hellbent on revenge? If it's J.R. Turner's world, major sparks fly. Redemption is a heady mix of action, thrills, and sizzling romance. Half-angel Savannah Mantas is both a kick-ass heroine and a complex character. Immortal yet deeply wounded, she searches for the redemption that will allow her to ascend and leave behind the blasted, dying Earth. But she never expects to find that redemption in the arms of half-demon Nico Montenegro, a man who should be her mortal enemy. Turner's urban fantasy is a fast-paced thrill ride that wrestles seriously with questions of good and evil, guilt and innocence, to deliver a satisfying, multilayered read."

J.R. Turner is an award-winning author and editor for Quake, the young adult imprint of Echelon Press. She edits the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association newsletter and will soon become their Executive Director. First contracted in book-length fiction in 2005, she has gone on to have eight more novels released, four e-book shorts, and a host of flash fiction, poetry, and articles published. She owns the Roto-Writer Critique Service and has enjoyed watching many of her clients win awards and find success. She lives in central Wisconsin with her husband, three children, and a healthy assortment of chocolate. To find out more, visit:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Taking a Fresh Look at Descriptions


Do you ever get stuck on descriptions and feel they're trite and predictable? I certainly do. My first draft always has too many tired adjectives. Here's one idea for finding a fresh way to describe things. Sit down somewhere and pick an object. Look at it and write down the first word or words that come to mind, no matter what they are. It could be a phrase like "Oh My God," which could work. An oh-my-god pink dress. If "bright" was the word, you can probably do better. Instead of thinking about the object, try focusing on the descriptive word you first thought of. What's bright? Blinding? Eye-searing? If it was hot, change your focus to the word "hot." What are other words that suggest heat? Scorching? Blistering? See if any of the new words would fit the original object.

Close your eyes and focus on the object. Picture details. If it's a car, instead of thinking "red Miata," consider its life. Is it cared for, lived in, neglected? Is it a feminine object or would you call it masculine? The car could be kiss-me red, or if it attracts attention, it might draw someone's attention like a matador's cape drew a bull. Then you wouldn't even need the word "red."

If the object is important to your story, you'd naturally spend more time on it. If it's a passing reference and the reader doesn't need to remember it, maybe it doesn't need a description.

Do you have any tricks for coming up with new ways to avoid the overworked words that come so easily? Please share! We could all use help.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Journey of 1000 Miles Begins Here

Jenny Milchman is my guest this week. Her debut novel will be out soon. Very exciting!
Recently I received an offer on my debut novel. It took eleven years.
That seems to me a pretty big number (although since receiving the offer, a startling number of other writers have poked their heads up to say, “Took me nine years,” and, “Ten for me,” or, “Twelve,” so perhaps my figure isn’t as high as all that).
Here are some other numbers associated with my publication journey.
I had three agents. I wrote eight novels, four of which were considered submission-ready, by me and/or my agent. Fifteen editors wanted to make offers on one or more of those novels. (All were turned down by their editorial boards, some sooner, some later in the process).
During the time I was writing, revising, querying, and on submission, I began reaching out to authors whose work I admired. (One of them became crucial to my finally getting an offer, but that’s another story). I still remember Jennifer Egan, author of THE KEEP and others, saying in an email: “Hang in there. In my experience when you start getting almost-offers, the real deal is close.”
She was right, although the two years that followed might be stretching the definition of close a bit.
Publishing time is like geologic time. It’s glacial. Even after receiving my offer, 18 months will pass before my book comes out.
While I was trying to break in, I learned about alternative routes to publication, along with the traditional one I was following. While I was trying to break in, the world changed, and getting your book out there became possible in a whole other way.
I teach writing, and when students ask me about the best way to get their books out there, I say there is no best way.
Independent publishing has many advantages—including the fact that an indie author gets to skip that eighteen month delay before her book comes out—and also the nine-ten-eleven years that often come before. Things like control over design, and a near-infinite amount of time to build your audience and try and get a title to take off are two other advantages.
Traditional publishing has its own list of ‘pros’, some of which are only becoming clear to me as I get deeper into the process. The brilliant mind of my editor, who is responsible for some of the best books being released today, is something I never would’ve anticipated. (I would’ve called my book done; she sees what it can be, if I can only rise to her vision). The plans the house has for the book—and its ability to enact those plans—is an advantage for which I also wasn’t prepared.
When students ask me for a prediction about the future of publishing, I tell them that no one can be sure. Some pundits have us never reading a paper book again, others have the indie pipelines hopelessly clogged. I have hope that both dire fates will be averted.
I think that there are pros and cons to both types of publishing, and that the wonder of the e-volution is that it’s opened up a wealth of possibilities that never existed before. If one of those possibilities is right for you as an author, then that’s the path to take.
Or maybe indie publishing will be right for you at one particular time. One particular book. Perhaps another book of yours down the line will be better off traditionally published.
On the other hand, if a traditional publishing deal is your dream, it’s wonderful that this option exists. It’s wonderful that a goal eleven years in the making can come to fruition for those who wish to pursue it.
Where does the journey of a thousand miles begin? These days, it’s wherever you choose to set your foot down.
About Jenny:
Jenny Milchman is a literary suspense writer whose debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, will be published by Ballantine in early 2013. Her short fiction has appeared on Amazon bestseller lists, and another story is forthcoming in an anthology called ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II. Jenny teaches classes on polishing, pitching, and publishing your work for New York Writers Workshop. She co-hosts the series Writing Matters, which draws speakers from both coasts to events held at a local independent bookstore. Last year she founded Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in 30 states, Canada, England, and this year spread to Australia. Jenny welcomes authors in the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Please look for her at

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Attribution in Dialogue

Attribution is the tag that goes with dialogue to show the reader who said it. You know, he said, she whispered, she mumbled, and so on. An attribution must be a word that can convey speech. Laugh and smile are not among them.
Some writers go to great lengths to avoid said, a perfectly good, unobtrusive little word; however, some of its synonyms may not only be distracting but also incorrect. If a synonym is necessary to express some subtle undertone, be sure it conveys the correct meaning: say means to express; affirm means to declare as true; aver means to verify, prove, or justify a plea; declare means to express explicitly, particularly in a formal manner; state means to set forth in detail or recite.
A better way to achieve variety is to show who is speaking and what he or she might be feeling. Consider how the following sentences suggest Albert’s reaction to the envelope.
Albert wiped his brow. The envelope lay unopened on the desk. “It came today.” 
Albert, hands tucked in his pockets, stared out the window. “It came today.”
Albert picked up the envelope and smiled. “It came today.”
Albert waved the envelope and grinned. “It came today.”
Attributions should never distract the reader or make him aware that he is reading.  They should slide seamlessly into the flow.
Try to let the dialogue itself show how the speaker says it. Avoid the old “Tom Swifties,” such as “Watch that knife!” Tom said sharply. “Tom said” would be perfectly clear without the unnecessary adverb “sharply.”
If the building is on fire, Bart might yell “Fire!” but the writer needn’t tell us he yelled. It’s obvious from the dialogue. “Fire!” would be enough with no attribution, but if the writer needed to show it was Bart, he might show Bart’s action:
Bart burst into the room. “Fire!”

This may be a repeat for me, but it does come up frequently and bears thinking about.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Today my guest is Barbara Monajem, who writes historical and paranormal romance. Her words flow so easily, you'll be drawn into her stories from the first paragraph.  
The concept of “God helps those who help themselves” has been around since ancient Greece, and I’m convinced that it applies to that most enigmatic of deities, the Muse.
A few weeks ago I was mired halfway through a manuscript, wondering how (as a writer friend aptly put it) I would pull the rabbit out of the hat once again. This bog in the middle of the book is a familiar stopover in my writing journeys. In the interest of efficiency, I’ve been striving to find a path around it -- with limited success. Try as I may, I can’t think the whole story up ahead of time. I have an idea of how things will go, but it usually morphs into something else and something else and something else again, until at the end its origins are lost. I can dream up a hero and heroine with suitable motivations. I can think up scenes that might take place.  But none of these make a good story.
Sometimes the Muse gives me an opening scene, something I just *have* to write down, but it’s only a teaser -- a peek into the world of the story. I have to pay in real work to get any genuine understanding of the characters and their journey. The Muse wants to go for a ride, and then another ride and another, and unless I oblige her by writing, writing, and writing some more, regardless of whether I can see where I’m going, she won’t play her part. Somewhere in the middle, I end up in a sort of Slough of Despond where I wonder if I should chuck the whole thing and start over.
Not at all! I just have to do a bit of thinking and then a lot more writing to get through it…plod, plod, plod, and zing! Now the muse takes me for a ride, and this is when the truly wonderful stuff emerges – the deepest motivations, the awesome surprises, the “duh” moments when everything that’s buried in the story comes out.
Because amazingly, the story is all there right from the start! Stuff that showed up in the beginning magically fits with other stuff at the end. Missing pieces of the puzzle lock into place, and at last there’s a coherent whole. It’s an astonishing process, and at the end of each story I can’t help but believe in the Muse, because I couldn’t possibly have done it all on my own.
After writing a number of books, I’ve begun to have confidence that this is how story works for me – and to look forward to the plodding, because I’m so eager to see what the Muse will surprise me with next.
Barbara Monajem wrote her first story in third grade about apple tree gnomes. After dabbling in neighborhood musicals and teen melodrama, she published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young. Now her kids are adults, and she's writing historical and paranormal romance for grownups. She lives in Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.
Ellis's Note: I confess to sneaking this photo in--it's probably my favorite author photo ever. This woman is a writer!
Rose Fairburn is on the run. Her vampire nature can’t protect her from everything, especially not herself. Now, when she should be worried about escaping her past, she can only think about one thing. Her kind can’t live without blood or sex. Love they must forego.
Jack Tallis can slake her thirst. Tall. Handsome. Trustworthy. And not a man alive can resist a vamp’s allure. But…Jack can. And he has other secrets, like why underworld hit men are on his trail, and how he can vanish into thin air. Love suddenly seems possible, but the shadows hide mysteries darker than Rose can even dream, and all will be revealed in the fetish clubs of one strange Louisiana town….
at Amazon
Governess Pompeia Grant thinks pretending to be Sir James Carling’s wife as a favor to his sister will be harmless. She is haunted by his rejection of her youthful advances, but she’s desperate for a place to stay after losing her last post.
When James unexpectedly returns home from America, she assumes the game is up—until James encourages her to stay, and enjoy the pleasurable consequences of their charade.
at Amazon

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Word That—When can you leave it out?

Here’s something I've been thinking about—overuse of the word that. The American Heritage explanation is a little formal, but you’ll get the idea. That is often unnecessary and drags down the sentence. Read the sentence aloud and see if it’s needed for clarity. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. If it can be eliminated or the sentence rewritten to be stronger without it, do it. Work through a sentence to improve it. If it’s merely a device to get her to town, number 3 is tight and gets the job done, but you might come up with a more effective version. If the scene is important to the story, showing more—something like the last line—may be the best. Also, the writer's personal style makes a difference.
1.  She thought that she would go to town and look for a dress.
2.  She thought she’d go to town and look for a dress.
3.  She’d look for a dress in town.
4.  The frayed cuffs on her sleeves embarrassed her. Maybe she should spring for a new dress before the interview. The decision cheered her, and she started for town with a spring in her step.
You can omit that in a relative clause when the subject of the clause is different from the word or phrase the clause refers to. Thus, you can say either the book that I was reading or the book I was reading. You can also omit that when it introduces a subordinate clause: I think we should try again. You should not omit that, however, when the subordinate clause begins with an adverbial phrase or anything other than the subject: She said that under no circumstances would she allow us to skip the meeting. The book argues that eventually the housing supply will increase. This last sentence would be ambiguous if that were omitted, since the adverb eventually could then be construed as modifying either argues or will increase.