Saturday, May 30, 2015

Meet Ellen Butler

From Single to Trio – Writing Love, California Style Trilogy
by Ellen Butler

I rarely write about my writing life, as a relative newbie to novel writing, I tend to leave writing advice up to those who have more experience. However, today I’ve decided to impart a morsel of new found knowledge.

Ever since signing on with my agent I’d been saying, “I wish I could think of a series.” Series are hot, hot, hot right now. A popular series (e.g. Harry Potter) will make you the richest woman in the world. Ongoing series focused around a main character (e.g. Stephanie Plum) will provide a living prosperous enough it allows you to hire staff to manage your correspondence, website, and tour schedule. A trendy series (e.g. Hunger Games, Divergent) will get your book made into a movie.

I wracked my brain for a series for almost two years, but the only tales I’d been able to create were single title stories, until now. How did this come about? Unplanned and not, in a normal manner. Unlike JK Rowling, who apparently planned seven Harry Potter books from the very beginning, my series idea came to me entirely out of the blue. After completing Heart of Design, I said to myself, “Self, I’m not ready to say good-bye to these characters.” Since I’d created the satisfying, “Happily Ever After” ending to the manuscript there was little I could think to do with my two main characters, Ian and Sophie. However, I’d created peripheral characters that I enjoyed and who made me laugh. Upon sending the initial novel for review, I mentioned that I was “thinking” (basically waffling, wavering, and dithering) over the possibility of creating a trilogy from this first novel and we’d talk more about it after she read the book. Some nail-biting weeks later my agent gave book one a thumbs-up, and became excited when I explained my nebulous idea to expand one into three. Three women, three romance stories, and presto-o a trilogy arrived – out of what I originally considered to be a stand-alone novel.

I don’t necessarily recommend you start out your series in the same way. My writing process would have been much smoother had I originally planned to write a trilogy. For instance, there are certain places where I’d written myself into a corner for the third novel because of what I’d written in the first. Eventually, I penned my way out of the issue satisfactorily, but you know I knocked my head against the wall a few times for not having the foresight to write it differently before the first book was published.

When it comes to series writing, probably the most important piece of advice I can give you is to create a timeline and character list. I generated a chart, and every new character which I introduce; I list out their physical attributes, relationships to other characters, job, and importance level within the story. This chart became my bible moving from one book to the next. For instance, two small characters in the first book became central characters in the third, and the character list saved me hours searching through the manuscript to find out simple details like hair, eye color, or the type of car the people drove. Both the timeline and character chart will help you maintain consistency throughout the series; this is especially true if you’re creating a character that could have dozens of sequels, like Patterson’s Alex Cross.  

Now that all of my smart, strong and sometimes sassy ladies’ stories have been told I’m ready to let them rest and move onto my next endeavor. For the past two years, I’ve been researching a WWII novel and it’s itching to get out of my brain onto paper. No, it’s not a series, it’s a single title. However, series enthusiasts don’t fret, kernels of a future trilogy are popping around in my subconscious, and having learned my lessons from the first, I will attack it differently and will hopefully avoid future head banging.

Ellen Butler received her bachelor’s in Political Science and Master’s in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Tech. A mother of two, she currently lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. After spending years working for a medical association writing dry but illuminating policy papers, articles and promotional materials, Butler made the leap to novel writing to release her creative side. Her most recent publications include the Love, California Style trilogy.

Stalk Ellen at:

~Love, California Style Series ~

Heart of Design (Book 1)
His thumb gently stroked the soft flesh. I swallowed. “I would say you’re making a valiant effort to get me into your bed.”
“Maybe.” His eyes smoldered. “Is it working?”

Can Interior Designer Sophie Hartland ignore her traitorous libido and hold her sexy Irish client, Ian O’Connor, at arm’s length until the renovations are finished? Or will she cave in to his pull on her heartstrings, and end up doing the knicky-knacky on the new velvet sofa?

Planning for Love (Book 2)
So, my latest computer date was supposed to be a successful marketer. He instead decided to visit an Ashram last week, and while there, apparently found the meaning of life through yoga and wacky tobacky.

After walking in on her boyfriend in flagrante dilecto, Poppy Reagan decides to take her dating life as seriously as she does her party planning business. As she works her way through a string of hilariously bad dates, she wonders if her soulmate actually lives in California.  Her foolish emotional spirit secretly yearns for the handsome Ohio doctor she met last year. Can Adam convince this California girl to test the relationship waters in the mid-West?

Art of Affection (Book 3) – Arriving August 24, 2015
“By the way, those were some sexy thigh highs you were wearing.” He winked.
Mortification burned through me as the door shut with a thump.
Can Holly let go of her abusive past and put her trust in the enigmatic cop who arrested her husband?


  1. Welcome Ellen! Happy to have you here today and fascinating to read about how you began writing your series. And a WWII book sounds so interesting! Good luck with all your writing endeavors.

  2. Hi Ellen,

    Welcome to Heroines with Hearts.

    I am a HUGE fan of series books. When I sat down to write my first book, I fully planned for it to be the first in a three-part series. It took a while to make it happen, but eventually it did! I was so thrilled. But then I found I still wasn't ready to say good-bye to the setting I'd created, so I've begun a sub-series set in the same place: all these stories will have holiday themes.

    I also have another three (or four) book series planned. Will I ever be as famous/rich at J.K.?! Probably not, but I'll still continue to write books in a series because it's what I love!

  3. Hi Ellen, and welcome to HWH. I'd never even thought of a series until my editor/publisher suggested a possible spin-off story from my 'Irish Inheritance' story. I'm now writing the third book of the series, and must admit I'm enjoying revisiting the same places and people. So far I've not needed a timeline or character list, although occasionally I've had to check back for details of a room or other place.
    Best of luck with all your stories!

  4. Sorry I'm late!
    Series are definitely what seem to be selling. A reader likes the world you created and wants more. I started out thinking single title and have definitely come around to the series idea.
    Great post!