Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Taking Apart the Hot Premise


By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
We’ve all had that experience of stepping into an elevator or other confined space, realizing you’re in there with an editor or an agent, and en lieu of pointless small talk, he or she asks you what you’re working on. As you stammer out your longwinded answer, the moment ends (i.e., the elevator door opens) and said editor or agent goes on his or her way. Could you have made use of that opportunity by blurting out the hot premise version of your synopsis? You betcha!

This is for everyone who’s been asked to boil down their story idea into one sentence, ten words or less. This is for everyone who’s had a hard time boiling their stories down into the simplest terms, a necessity in today’s short-attention-span era.

First of all, what’s a hot premise, anyway? You’ve heard of the term “high concept.” It’s the term that Hollywood types are known to use to mean a movie or TV show idea that can be summed up in just a few words. It’s a premise (a hot one!) that can impart as much as a paragraph or even a book could, but just hitting the highlights that take people aback and make ‘em blink (Hollywood types not being known for their enjoyment of reading more than a few words at a time. Are they literate? One wonders).

That “what-if” thing is the very essence of fiction, but in the case of the hot premise, it’s everything. In just a few words, it has to intrigue and inspire, and most challenging, no matter how old the idea, it has to be made fresh. The idea could be an old one, but it has to be translated for the modern age. The best way to be able to do this is to know your own plot and story very, very well and give it a twist that rejuvenates it.

Okay, by now you might have gotten the idea about what a hot premise is and how you can go about boiling down your story idea into a few words. One of the most frustrating things you may have learned in school is that too often teachers don’t want short and simple, they want complex and high-falutin’. So instead of the simple answer you were about to give, you find yourself having to make it sound way more complicated than you think it needs to be. This sticks to you through school, through college, through graduate school and your doctoral dissertation…but it doesn’t work when you’re trying to sell your story. Because people who’re going to be buying your story don’t care about how high-falutin’ you can make it, they care about how your story makes them feel. And that’s as basic as you’re going to get.

Now look at your story. Can you tell people what it is in ten words or fewer, using a twist you want your readers to focus on?

I’m breaking this all down into its basic elements in an online workshop for the Carolina Romance Writers this February. Come on over and see if you can be succinct!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at emsflynn@aol.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Log 38: Finding Zero


Finding Zero by Amir D. Aczel

Zero. What a nothing concept, you may think. But it is an everything concept, it turns out; it hasn’t been a concept to mull over for that long in the history of mankind. Because we’ve had the concept all our lives and we take it for granted, and everything we’ve studied presumes the existence (or the nonexistence) of the concept, to imagine a train of thought without it just blows my mind. And to play zero investigator and track it to its roots? Even better!

The subhead of this book is “A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers,” and since most of my math classes ended in high school and college and my life went on without using much else other than simple arithmetic uses (despite thirty years of Wall Street—but as I've often said, that’s fake math they use in Wall Street. It’s not real numbers), there was a numerical world referred to and explored in this book. Well, not really explored, more referred to, but that’s to be expected, since this was meant to be a work for the masses. (You can tell it’s meant for the masses, once you mention Fibonacci and explain what the sequence is and then who Leonardo of Pisa was. And after having had to do the research about Leonardo of Pisa at the magazine I worked at and then having to correct so many times the articles there afterward that referred to “Leonardo Fibonacci,” I was so happy to see it RIGHT.)

Anyway, back to the book. It was eye-opening, because all this time we’ve been told that the numbers we know today came from India by way of Arabia. But then we see the characters we’ve been told were the basis of the numerals we know and we realize that there has to be more to the story. And there is!

Because the concept of zero did sort of come from India by way of Arabia. But it didn’t originate there, either, apparently. Now consider this: the zero WE know may have come from Buddhism’s concept of nothingness, and have been first referred to much, much earlier, in the 7th century—in what we know as Cambodia. Yes, Cambodia, that poor country torn apart by war and politics. Let me indulge in something silly: BLEW. MY. MIND. (Cliche, but so true!) Hurray for zero!

COMING UP: Oh, so many choices, so little time, and more!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Booklog 37: Murder on Bamboo Lane

Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara
Like most people, I have limited knowledge of Los Angeles, even though it's one of the biggest cities in the country. With Naomi Hirahara's Murder on Bamboo Lane, the first in a series, we get the city behind the glitz of the TV and movie industry, the light rail (which I read about and then forget, just because it's a juxtaposition I don't expect), the various small neighborhoods with their distinct personalities. And the ethnicities. Thank goodness we have authors interested in the various and numerous ethnicities of major cities! 

Ellie Rush is a young college graduate, a rookie cop assigned to the bicycle unit, related to a high muckety muck in the police force, and is half-Japanese American, half-Caucasian. That last is going to get my attention. But the story, full of rich detail about a city filled with Asians of all kinds coexisting with each other, is more; it reminds me that although I've never lived there, Los Angeles is a diverse city, as interesting as New York, worthy of exploration. I actually want to go visit again, now that I know there's something more to see than Hollywood and its surrounds.

I can't wait to read more about Ellie Rush and her adventures!

Coming up: Who knows? Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book log 36: Raging Heat by Richard Castle

Raging Heat by Richard Castle        
I should state upfront that I watch the show "Castle," I am a fan of Nathan Fillion, and yes, I have read each and every one of the Nikki Heat Castle novels. So suffice it to say that I Am A Fan. You're not? That's fine, but you're missing some fun stuff. 

Until my current unemployment, I also bought each and every Heat novel, either in digital form or print. Sadly, tightening the ol' belt means that the public library has been getting a workout, and so I actually had to wait -- WAIT! -- to read the latest. (That's fine, because I've been getting caught up on a lot of overdue reading.) But mostly digital form. The library, however, in the case of RAGING HEAT only -- only! -- had the book in print, so when I got notified the hardback novel was ready for me to pick up, I did. Weird, weird, weird.

Well, having to deal with a hardcover. I'd forgotten how cumbersome they can be. Mind you, my Webster's is hardcover, as are my atlas and Webster's Geographical Dictionary (very useful -- a few years out of date by now, but when you don't want to take the time to look something up online, when you can just turn and pick up your Geographical Dictionary), but fiction? This was the first novel I'd read in paper form in a long time. I kept flipping pages and marveling how that can be such an exotic experience.

Anyway, the story itself. On occasion the plotting for these books have been a little iffy, but this was well written, tightly plotted, and as always, whoever the ghostwriter of the day (since I have read that there are various well-known mystery writers who have written as Castle for these works), did a nice job of working in references to various episodes of the series, and in this book, managed to work in a reference to Castle himself as an unnamed drunken mystery writer showing up from time to time. So it was in-joke within an in-joke within an in-joke, and I appreciated that thoroughly. A little meta can go a long way. (Considering the character Richard Castle, I'm surprised the Powers That Be haven't done this before, actually.) This novel had subplot within subplot within subplot, and whoever was playing Castle the writer this time did an excellent job of working them together. 

COMING UP: The Amazons!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book log 35: Death Comes to Pemberley


DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY
by PD James

Like so many other books, this one, a mystery continuation of the classic Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice, was announced, published, and life went on without my having gotten around to reading it. Of course, right now, having a little more time on my hands than I have in previous years, I finally saw a five-minute snippet of the BBC version of this (I think the five minutes were recorded to see how Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman looked as Lydia) and was finally inspired to read the book.

Reader, I...oh, sorry, wrong author of the same approximate period. It is a universal truth yadda yadda yadda that a book based on another is most often not as inspired as the original, and I am sorry to say that it is the case here (and of course, the late author herself apologized for taking liberties with the classic), but it's clear that a large part of that is due to the topic—a murder mystery—brought to an original story meant as a light, humorous, sharp-witted work. That's why it's a much beloved book, after all. 

But in itself, Death Comes to Pemberley is a well-worked story. Yes, it takes historical characters well established in fiction, and it drives them farther than many would have imagined could be done (even though many, many variations on that theme have been published, mostly in the erotica bent). But the journey is a safe one, doesn't wander into alleyways or roads that don't appear on the map, and the characters do not suddenly become unfamiliar ones. It's a weird juxtaposition, though, for them to be involved in murder. Scandal, of course, but surely not murder!

Overall, I enjoyed it. James did a nice job of tipping her hat to other well-known Jane Austen stories and characters with occasional mentions and working those mentions into revealing the workings of the mystery. Glad I finally got around to reading it!

Coming up: AMAZONS!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Book log 34: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs


GREEK FIRE, POISON ARROWS, AND SCORPION BOMBS
by Adrienne Mayor

I found this book as I was checking up on another of Adrienne Mayor’s works about Amazons. I put myself on a waiting list for that book, but then I found this, and after running into so many references to Greek fire in pop culture, the simple title of this book intrigued me. If nothing else, I’d never heard of a “scorpion bomb.” Was it as simple as a thrown insect? Really? I had to find out!

Warfare is nothing new, obviously. As long as mankind has been around, man has been trying to kill man. In primitive times, fists and rocks and sticks were employed to try to do the job, but later on, when mankind got a little more sophisticated, so did the weaponry. Not hidden in the recent scare about ebola was a nasty little whisper about “someone” sending infected people to infect others, but neither the vicious suggestion nor the technique is new; according to this book by historian Adrienne Mayor, the strategy was employed more than 3,000 years ago, and “poison maidens” were used to try to assassinate Alexander the Great and other key soldiers. (And of course, the use of poisonous gossip is nothing new.)

Types of weapons don’t change, but how the weapon is expressed of course has over the millennia. For instance, I didn’t know until I read this book that napalm, that thing of the modern era and the scourge of the Vietnam War, has properties similar to Greek fire. This in itself was an amazing fact, but then my attention went immediately to the passage about using flaming pigs to wage war, training sea lions to be sentinels and assassins, and using bees to find enemies and chemical agents. (Yes, I almost wrote “beeline,” but I caught myself. You’re welcome.) Flaming pigs nearly wiped everything else from my mind for a few seconds. Almost.

And yes, there’s more! Wasps’ nests thrown over walls, pleasing neither the recipient nor the wasps, I’m sure, poisonous snakes catapulted onto opposing ships, and scorpion bombs (yes, my attention finally went back to that) thrown at the enemy. Author Mayor uses a familiar phrase, “weaponizing nature,” and this book gives you a good idea of how that worked, thousands of years ago.

COMING UP: Christmas Delights by Heather Hiestand

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Day Song, Again


My annual off-tune warbling of a song that should be sung through the land on this day, if only to salute a dumb descendant of the dinosaurs that's pretty good eats:

Turkey Day Song
by Elizabeth MS Flynn

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY YAMS, MARSHMALLOWS TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY MASHED POTATO TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY GREEN BEAN CASSEROO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE THOSE TASTY BISCUITS TOO

Or

LOVE MY PARKER ROLLS I DO
SOFT AND FLUFFY, CHEWY TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY DRESSING CHESTNUTS TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY PUMPKIN PIE I DO
LOVE MY APPLE CHERRY TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
BUT MOSTLY THANKFUL FOR YOU AND YOU

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY