Looking Behind: Re-booting a Fantasy (or a fantasy re-boot?)

Hey, E. C., haven’t heard from you in a while–what are you working on?

I am excited to announce that I’ll have two books coming out this summer!

When Elisha Daemon came out last year, I was thrilled to finally deliver to you the series ending I had envisioned so many years ago. It was also sad and strange to have to say good-bye to Elisha because he wouldn’t be living in my head every day as he had been since we first met more than 10 years ago.  What would happen next? Where would I go after Elisha?

As Gandalf said when questioned by Bilbo about where he’d gone:  Looking ahead.  And what brought him back in the nick of time?  Looking behind.

The original cover of the Singer’s Crown, by artist Aaron Campbell

Today’s post is about looking behind, specifically to my first published novel, The Singer’s Crown. This traditional fantasy novel is a touch more gentle than the Dark Apostle books (not much medieval surgery, for example.  No necromancers 🙂  which is one reason why I used different names for the two series.  The Singer’s Crown is a dispossessed prince tale, with a twist. It was first published by Eos (Harper Collins) in 2005, and finally reverted to me last year.  Now, I’m kickstarting the re-boot of the series, now dubbed The Singer’s Legacy.  I’d appreciate your support by clicking that link or sharing this post–and doubly grateful if you could do both!  The big cover reveal is tomorrow!

Here’s a blurb about the book:

When his uncle murders his family to take the throne, Prince Kattanan DuRhys is the only royal left alive. . . at a terrible cost.  Stripped of his manhood, Kattanan travels as a court singer from one wealthy patron to the next.  Given as a courtship gift to the young Princess Melisande, Kattanan feels the stirring of emotions he thought were denied him. But her jealous fiancée has other plans–and the sinister magic to carry them out.

Must Kattanan sacrifice his song to win his kingdom, and the woman he loves?

Fans of Mercedes Lackey and Robin Hobb are likely to enjoy this one!

But wait–I mentioned I was looking both ahead and behind.  What’s ahead?  Bone Guard Two: The Nazi Skull. You asked for it–you waited for it–and in July, it can be yours!  But that’s another post for another day. . .

Thanks so much for reading!

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Elisha Daemon Launch Day!

Today’s the day! Not only is this the launch for Elisha Daemon, but this book is the final volume in the series!  If you’ve been waiting to get all five books in hand before you read, it’s time to start. And if, like me, you’ve been waiting years for this moment–then dive in!

You can buy now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or find your local independent store through Indiebound

Here are some of the blog entries I’ve written that informed this work, yes, including my very first blog entry ever, a Grinchy Idea. . .

Which of course relates to How I Learned to love my outline

And in terms of research, here are some of my footnotes:

The problems with Medieval usage and the Plague

And how to deal with the Walking Dead in the Middle Ages

In this volume, Elisha goes to medical school at last, and is given an unwelcome refresher about the hierarchy of medical practice.

And gets to meet papal physician Guy de Chauliac, one of the most influential surgeons of the day.

He will also travel to Avignon, to visit the Pope Clement IV, and learn a thing or two about religion in service to his efforts against the injustice and prejudice of his time before perhaps becoming a victim of it.

I’m also running a giveaway.  If you post a photo of all five Elisha books on your shelf or kindle, I’ll send you a link to download the Dark Apostle prequel novella, Grail Maiden, for free!  Use #darkapostle and be sure to tag me (on Facebook or Twitter) or send me the link!

Thanks so much for reading!

If you’re inspired to buy now, here’s the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound!




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Avignon: The Palace of the Popes

One of my favorite parts of writing the Elisha series has been learning about all these fantastic places and people of the 14th century.  One of the best has got to be the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France.  During this period (from 1309-1376 to be precise) the papacy moved from Rome, which was kind of a madhouse of baronial infighting, to Avignon, on land ultimately ceded by Queen Joanna of Naples, another fantastic character.

The Papal Palace, exterior

The opulent palace built by for the popes, and expanded continuously over the period, became the heart of a new explosion of growth as the College of Cardinals, too, had to move to be close to their leader–along with all of their retainers. Then they needed lodgings and services for all of the pilgrims and supplicants who came to visit, and before you know it, a small town in the south of France became a major city and future tourist attraction.

A view of Avignon from the rooftop of the palace

It all started with a French pope, Clement V, who refused to move out of France, and began decades of French influence over the papacy, a situation of great concern to the rest of the world, especially people like Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, who decided to have his own pope instead.  One of the reasons that folks like the poet Petrarch pushed for a Jubilee Year in 1350 was to try to get the papacy to return permanently to Rome.  Alas, it failed.

A portrait of Pope Clement VI


During the period of my books, Pope Clement IV reigned over the church. He was said to be a prince of the church, who enjoyed rich feasting, hunting, and fine clothes, and his chambers in the palace certainly reflect that.  However, he also pushed back against some of the tyranny of his time, with things like two papal bulls defending the Jews against accusations that they had started or perpetuated the Black Death.

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Arisia Convention This weekend!

Are you coming to Arisia, or thinking about it?  Here’s where to find me on panels, with some fantastic people!


If You Didn’t Know, Now You Know: SFF Divination Marina 2 (2E), 5:30pm – 6:45pm

Charlie Boatner (moderator), Heather Urbanski, Greer Gilman, E. C. Ambrose, Heather Albano

SFF Authors use foreknowledge of events, whether predictive models, visions, or prophecy, to give characters future knowledge, often to solve story problems. In this panel, we’ll look at the problems this foreknowledge creates, for the characters, for the author, and for the reader.


The Mushy Middle: Conquering the Midpoint Swamp Marina 2 (2E), 10am – 11:15am

E. C. Ambrose (moderator), Victoria “V.E.” Schwab, Lauren M. Roy, Greg R. Fishbone, Ken Schneyer

What happens when you come up with an intriguing premise, but around page 50, your story falls apart? Our panelists will discuss the pitfalls of navigating the second act swamp; how they plot; ways to clarify your hero’s journey; coping strategies including beat sheets, the mini movie method, and mirroring; various ways to brainstorm past a block; and other ways to cut the flab from that mushy middle.

Emotional Impact — How to Make Readers Care
Faneuil (3W), 1pm – 2:15pm

E. C. Ambrose (moderator), Timothy Goyette, Jess Barber, Jeanne Cavelos, Morgan Crooks

No matter how great your plot is, if the readers don’t care, you’ll slip to the bottom to the to-be-read pile. Come learn how to use emotional stakes to add conflict to every page, use transformational arcs to create an inner struggle, delineate compelling flaws without losing reader sympathy, make your audience connect on a primal level, and create stories and characters that break readers’ hearts and keep them turning pages.

SFF Relationship Goals Bulfinch (3W), 4pm – 5:15pm

Julia Rios (moderator), Grant Carrington, Diana Pho, Meredith Schwartz, E. C. Ambrose

SFF doesn’t always have the best reputation when it comes to depicting romantic relationships, but that doesn’t mean that respectful, loving partnerships are nowhere to be found. In this panel, we will explore the good ones, where to find them, and what commonalities they might share. What can authors do to feature good relationships in their stories?

Writing Heart-Pounding Sci-Fantasy Thrillers
Douglas (3W), 1pm – 2:15pm

E. C. Ambrose (moderator), Don Chase, Timothy Goyette, Keith Yatsuhashi, John Sundman

Everyone loves action that doesn’t quit. Our panel of thriller writers will discuss how to create a compelling, fast paced narrative, including how to jump-start the action in the first 5-page. Learn how to weave in character backstory and dialogue so it doesn’t slow down your plot. How does thriller worldbuilding differ for the sci-fi and fantasy genres; including high stakes, misdirection, and “ticking bomb” to keep the reader invested until the last page.

Writing Series, Sequels, and Spin-Offs
Douglas (3W), 2:30pm – 3:45pm

LJ Cohen (moderator), ML Brennan, Victoria “V.E.” Schwab, E. C. Ambrose, Craig Shaw Gardner

It’s no secret that book series have a better chance of discoverability. What’s the secret to writing a successful series? How do you plan and develop multi-book series that sell? Create series arcs? And how do you keep track of multiple plotlines and characters across many books? How can you expand existing material to create a series? And when is it time to pull the plug and move onto other things?

hope to see you there!

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Pitching a Novel: Nailing Your Synopsis

This is the third in a series on pitching your novel, my take on the topic–for many more answers, follow the blog chain led by Joshua Palmatier, editor and author!  In the meantime, read on. . .

Personally, I think the synopsis is harder than either the elevator pitch or query we’ve already discussed.  When you have to boil down a plot to a single sentence, or a paragraph or two, you have to be ruthless–slashing, slimming, selecting exactly the right verb, phrase or plot element to reveal the entire plot.  Yes, that’s the ENTIRE plot. One of the mistakes many new authors make is to leave off the ending of their book, thinking this will make the agent or editor so curious that they feel compelled to request the complete manuscript.

In fact, it’s more likely to convince them of one of three things: 1.  the book isn’t finished at all.  2. you don’t actually know how to finish the book, so the ending is lame, and that’s why you haven’t included it. 3. you have not learned how to be a professional.  In any of these cases, they have plenty of other choices for books to request, and its highly likely they’re going to choose one of those.   If you haven’t finished the book–go finish, I’ll wait.

All done?  Good. So is your ending lame?  Ask some honest friends who read or write in the same genre to read it over and be blunt.  If your ending rocks, providing a satisfying conclusion to what’s gone before, then make it the capstone of your gorgeous synopsis.

Back to my first point, that a synopsis is hard. Because you usually have some lee-way in the length of the synopsis, it’s easy to want to include too much, or get off-track to make sure your darlings are in there.  (agents and editors often have a preferred length of synopsis and will say so in their guidelines) Yes, you want to showcase some of what makes your style and your world stand out, but don’t overdo that. Focus on delivering the key events and choices of the plot in a streamlined, active fashion.  Regardless of how the book is written the synopsis should be third person, present tense.

The best advice I’ve gotten about this is to imagine you’re telling the story of a great movie you just saw to a friend of yours.  You’d focus on the central character(s), showing their action and decisions, and the conflicts they face, then the big climax!  You’d probably talk a bit about the setting–what stands out in this milieu?  What is critical for the reader to know in order to understand that climax?

Part of the trouble that fantasy novels, in particular, have is multiple point of view characters.  How do you take a big, fat epic and strangle it into only five pages or so?  My recent approach has been to craft an initial paragraph that addresses the concept of the work, usually informed by the world-building and the principal conflict.  It’s sort of an executive summary of why I wrote the book, and what I hope will excite the reader.

Here’s one I wrote for a work in progress entitled THE FOREST OF BONE:

Kormos rose from the sea, a volcano that swallowed the gods.  A thousand years later, the children of the gods preserve their little kingdoms, playing with magic, pretending at their own godhood to the fleshborn and the mages alike, unaware that one of their number plans to raise the bones of vengeance and drown their world.

This paragraph addresses the backdrop of the world, and shows the stakes–we’ll be dealing with gods, magic, and the death of worlds.  The synopsis then flows into the plot, introducing the principal characters and showing where they are at the start of the narrative (this book has 3 POV’s), each confronting their own problems. As the plot develops, I show connections among these narratives and they begin to braid together in the synopsis. This book is about 190,000 words long, and the synopsis is 6 pages.

For my first true epic fantasy novel, DRAKEMASTER, I have five POV’s.  It’s a historical fantasy, set in a time and place many people would not be familiar with, so the synopsis is a bit unusual. It begins with an introduction to the medieval Chinese technology at the heart of the novel, then a character briefing:  a short paragraph for each of those POV’s, showing who they are and what each one faces.  I actually drafted five different synopses originally, one from the perspective of each character.  For the submission synopsis, I pulled paragraphs from each of these to reveal the overall plot as informed by my distinct protagonists.  Did it work?  Well, it got me an agent–and hopefully I’ll soon know if we’ve landed the contract!

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The Query Quandary: Pitching Your Novel

The novel pitching advice and experience continues today, with the all-important query.  For more advice, check out Joshua Palmatier’s hub of all things pitching!

Okay, so you’ve got a killer pitch line, and a finished manuscript, and you’re ready for the longer version–the query letter.  Again, you may be writing a query to attract an agent or editor, or you may be crafting back cover copy or a selling blurb to incorporate into your indie marketing campaign.  They have a lot in common.  In both cases, the goal is to convince someone to trust you to provide a good read, and then, to deliver a succinct summary of that book, hopefully one that convinces them to bite.

I addressed this in my post about how invented names can ruin your blurb.     Yes, readers want to latch onto a character, but the name doesn’t tell them anything.  Name the protagonist, and for anyone else, focus on what’s interesting about that character–a phrase that shows more, an occupation, a mood, a descriptor that will start to build an impression in the mind of the reader.

Here’s the query letter I sent to one editor before selling Elisha Barber:

I had the pleasure of meeting you at the SFWA reception a couple of years back.  We talked briefly about a dark fantasy of mine, which you seemed interested in, but my then-agent chose not to pursue submitting to you at that time.  I am the author of two published fantasy novels, The Singer’s Crown and The Eunuch’s Heir, both from Eos books.  I am currently looking for the right house to publish my new work.

In fourteenth century England, a barber-surgeon learns diabolical magic to confront a cruel king–but the cost may be more than his soul.

At the age of nine, Elisha Barber witnessed the burning of a witch outside of London. She transformed into an angel at the last moment, and a stroke of her wing inspired him to become a healer—a barber-surgeon, the lowest rank of the medical profession.

After the ruin of his family, Elisha is condemned to serve as a battle surgeon in an unjust war. The dead witch’s daughter, Brigit, armed with her mother’s prophecies, seeks him out and draws him in to the dangerous world of sorcery. Elisha discovers he has an unnatural affinity for Death. Driven by his own compassionate nature and pursued by those who would control his power, Elisha tries to reconcile his devotion to healing with his command of Death.

Elisha Barber is about 93,000 words long, an action-oriented fantasy closely focused on Elisha’s discovery of magic and his fight against the king.   While it contains a complete story-arc, it also begins a five-book cycle, “The Barber’s Battle”, set in a semi-historical Europe, and escalating a conflict with the necromancers who seek to dominate England, and maybe the world.  All five books are finished in manuscript form.

I would love to submit the complete manuscript of Elisha Barber to you directly.  What’s the best way for me to proceed?

I open with a personal note, in this case, how I met the editor–basically why you chose them.  Then, I go on to establish my own credentials (I am already a published novelist).  If you don’t have something like this to lead with, you’d probably go straight for the synopsis, and maybe end with a bit more about yourself.  In this case, the fact that I’m already a pro is my hook to the editor.

Next, the short synopsis.  You’ll need to be able to write three summaries of your book:  one sentence, one paragraph (sometimes, one page), and 3-5 pages.  So this is a brief two-paragraph unpacking of my elevator pitch.  Then, it’s on to more general information about the book–what is it like?  How long is it?  stand-alone or series?  And most important, is it ready to go?

The more clearly you can convey this information in one page or less, the more successful you’re likely to be in querying agents and editors.  And practice writing that central blurb will serve you well in creating all kinds of marketing materials.

What do you struggle with when you’re drafting a query?  Let me know!

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Crafting Your Pitch, Elevator Style

This week for all the aspiring novelists out there, Joshua Palmatier invited a bunch of us to share our stories and advice about three stages of pitching a book.  Find more entries here–and happy pitching!

I love me a good elevator pitch–I have even used mine (drumroll please) in an elevator!  Though that was to a reviewer, not an agent, it still garnered a positive response.  Many authors now are taking their books direct to the public, and thinking, “I don’t need to pitch–I just need to publish.”  Except. . .

Whether you are hoping for a New York traditional contract, or simply trying to get readers interested in your indie work, you’ll be pitching All.  The.  Time.  You’ll be pitching to bloggers to get them to cover your new release.  You’ll be pitching to the person in the check out line who says, “You’re a writer?  What have you written?”  Your elevator pitch is not just a throw-away line to get agents or editors interested, it is the easily memorable, readily deployable hook that gets a reader, any reader, engaged with your work.  You can put it on business cards, bookmarks, and blog headers. It fits in a tweet.

Yes, your book is much bigger and more complicated than any five or fifteen words, but the ability to distill it into a few phrases is much more likely to lure the reader into giving it a try.

Okay, E. C., so what’s yours? I actually have two–the micro, and the mini.  The micro gets used every time someone asks “what’s your book about?”

Dark historical fantasy about medieval surgery.

I used it yesterday on a guy at the library.  We struck up a conversation because I recognized some titles in his box of books to check out. I noticed he seemed to like dark fantasy, and he agreed. I introduced myself as an author, and gave him the pitch.  He was instantly intrigued.  I handed over the card with my website to learn more.  Done.

What makes this line so effective?  It immediately tells you what the genre is (historical fantasy), suggests the tone (dark), and tells you what sets this book apart from others in its genre (the focus on medieval surgery).  In short, it delivers several reasons to think the book might be a good fit (or not–sometimes, people are freaked out by the medieval surgery part, in which case I pitch them my other series instead, but I digress).

The slightly longer version employs my Person, Place and Problem model.  Donald Maass, agent and author of numerous books for writers, says this is all he needs in order to get curious about a book.  A character, in a unique or striking setting, who faces an important conflict.

In 14th century England, a barber-surgeon learns diabolical magic to confront an unjust king.

This one is less pithy, but conveys a few more details specific to the story, and suggests both an internal and an external conflict.  I deployed this one on an editor I discovered at a conference banquet table, and also to another editor after a conference panel.  Both times, I got the go-ahead to submit.

My basic advice to develop a good pitch line would be this:

Where does the book fit in the marketplace?  What makes it stand out from that niche?

Who is the protagonist and how can you describe them in a brief phrase?

What’s the milieu?  You don’t have a lot of time for description, just a detail or two that lets the reader know when/where the action takes place.

What’s the big problem your character is going to overcome?

Bonus points for strong verbs that convey the action of the narrative.  Then, practice!  Then, let me know if it works–where have you used it?  What happened when you did?

Happy pitching!


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