Ellen Phillips' prose packs quite a punch.

With the stroke of a pen, she has managed to get nearly $500 refunded for airline tickets, caused a man to be fired from his job and persuaded a car manufacturer to dish out $1,200 in a repair dispute.

Phillips, a soft-spoken native of Alabama, writes letters of complaint. Not just any old letters of complaint, mind you, but pushy, stinging letters. She's so good at it, she's made it her business.

Ellen's Poison Pen, she calls it.

Since January, Phillips, who also teaches English, speech and drama at Carl Sandburg Intermediate School in Mount Vernon, has written letters for 25 clients with gripes about things large and small and who want someone else to put their anger on paper.

"I've always felt that writing a letter is much more effective than calling someone to complain," Phillips says. "Anything said by mouth can be distorted later, but when you have something in writing you can document facts, figures, dates and corporation names."

Although Phillips does not guarantee anything more than "venting your hostility" from her service, which costs $15 for 100 words, in all her years of writing complaint letters, both personally and professionally, only one received no response, she said. It was sent to a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in January on behalf of a client complaining of poor snow removal.

In April, a woman asked Phillips to write a complaint letter to a Northern Virginia air-conditioning and heating repair service. The woman had been using the service for five years when she encountered a dispatcher who refused to arrange for a repairman to come to her house in the afternoon.

The letter Phillips wrote to the company's owner read in part: "To my shock and utter dismay, your representative became most hostile and abusive. He yelled that I did not know what I was talking about, that I was attempting to get 'illegal' favors and was insensitive to the needs of other customers!

"I have been a customer for over five years . . . . I have been so contented that I contracted you to repair my air conditioner at a cost of $1,500. However, to be subjected to such a rude and hostile representative of your company leads me to believe that I can find comparable services elsewhere."

Within three days, the owner called Phillips' client, apologized at length and told her the dispatcher had been fired.

"The owner had received other complaints about this man," Phillips said, "and he said the letter I wrote was the icing on the cake."

Some letters are more difficult than others, and writing them can be time consuming. Phillips insists on contacting "the person at the top {because} there is always something they can do."

It took more than 20 hours of research for a letter she wrote to the president of a major car manufacturer. The engine in a customer's new car blew up while he and his wife were on vacation. The repairs went smoothly since the car was still under warranty, but the company refused to reimburse the man for a rental car he used while his car was in the shop.

The two-page letter to the car company president read: " . . . I have been subjected to a barrage of obvious incompetence and even rudeness, of which I am sure you wish to be made aware . . . . I cannot believe that a corporation of the magnitude of {company name} condones this type of behavior and incompetency."

In less than two weeks, Phillips' client received a letter of apology from the company president, and soon after that he received a check for $1,200 to pay for the car rental and other costs incurred while his car was being repaired.

Phillips, who works out of her home in Mount Vernon, has spent about $1,000 advertising her service and has received about $300 in client fees, she said.

Although she also will write letters of recommendation, she says she has written only complaints thus far.

"I did get a call from a man who asked if I'd write a letter to his girlfriend and ask her to marry him," Phillips recalled.

"I said, 'I'd be delighted, but I think she'd be more apt to say yes if you wrote it yourself.' I guess he took my advice because I haven't heard from him since."