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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jack Reacher short story - Everyone Talks - FREE!

Lee Child is by far my favorite author, and his Jack Reacher character is at the top of the heap in the thriller genre.

Making fans wait an entire year between stories is just cruel, but luckily, Lee makes up for it, occasionally, with excellent short stories sprinkled about here and there.  I was lucky enough to stumble across one today, published in 2014, and thought I'd share it with the rest of the world. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Resolution - 2014

My New Year's Resolutions for 2014:

1. Make kindness the most important thing, the biggest goal of my every day - even when I don't feel like it, even when I'm running late, even when they don't deserve it, and when no one would blame me for not speaking kindly in that situation - I choose to be kind. Speak kindly, think kindly, be kindly.

1a. Remember that I will never regret being kind.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


My rating:  *****

NEVER GO BACK (Pub. 2013) is Lee Child's 18th Reacher thriller and a 5-star read for me. Lee is by far my favorite author, so I ran to B&N and bought the book on its release date.  I have to admit the first fifty pages seemed a little off of Lee's usual stripped down, get-to-the-point approach.  The story starts sideways, in a 'telling' way, rather than truly in the heart of the moment as Lee's other books do. It's the only weak spot for me, but it certainly doesn't ruin the story by any means.  Just made me go, "Hmmmmm." I kept turning the pages because I can count on the author to deliver a good tale, and Reacher never disappoints.

The story opens with Reacher being dropped off at a flea-bag motel, after having been told that he's being forced back into the Army (but we haven't 'heard' that part yet). He's facing serious charges from a sixteen-year-old incident.  The Army man also informs Reacher he's got a 14-yr-old illegitimate daughter with a woman he doesn't remember.  Then we learn the woman he's travelled all the way to Virginia to meet, his phone-interest from three stories back, has been thrown in jail for treason and taking a huge bribe.  Which Reacher is largely sure Susan Turner didn't really take.  The rest of the story is about Reacher and Turner working to unwind the charges being brought against them.

What I liked best about this story is seeing Reacher's reaction to the news that he might be a father.  The way he interacts with the girl, and the way he's thinking about her by the end of the story.  It was interesting to see another side of Reacher, opposite the feral-ness he brings to the table in each story.  I also enjoyed the way the author plays out this phone-interest-relationship with Turner, the ebb and flow of Reacher and Turner's budding relationship and the way they leave things off at the end.  Classic Reacher romance, with a twist.

Lee Child has a real knack for coming up with interesting and unexpected story ideas--what Lee calls "the Thing"--that underlies the story's happenings, the end-game question that keeps me turning the pages.  He's also great at popping smaller questions along the way, giving us the answers like intravenous feedings that keep those pages turning.

I'm also a writer, and Lee is my top Dog, so I took the time to analyze all of the openings in the Reacher series, hoping to learn some of his secrets. What I found instead is that Lee is not predictable in his openings, he really mixes them up, as far as the 'writers rules' go.  One excellent bit of writing advice Lee's given the masses is to plug a story question in as early as possible, on the first page, and preferably in the first paragraph. 

But Lee broke his own unwritten rule in NEVER GO BACK.  We don't get much of a story question in the first chapter, unless you count the fight scene question of, "Why are these guys trying to run Reacher out of town?"...but again, that all comes at us sort of sideways, and it threw me off. 

By the time I got to the end of the book, I realized Lee is just up to his tricks again--never repeating himself, doing something different, breaking 'the rules' *again*, probably doing so while wearing a smug smile behind his coffee cup.  Keep 'em coming buddy, and I'll keep buying and learning and enjoying.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Is Your Writing Tight Enough?

I lost my reader’s virginity the moment I started writing my first novel.  Then the experts told me my WIP needed to be tighter, it was too loose.  That’s when I realized this writing craft learning journey is a lot like gaining experience in the bedroom. 

Initially, you have only your instincts, and it all feels kind of strange and scary. But you want to give it a real go.  You want to nail this stuff down so people speak glowingly of you, so you can stop feeling clueless.  You seek advice from friends and magazines, and try to apply it at every opportunity.

But at the end of the day, we learn the most from the people we get in bed with.  By example.  By doing.  And so it goes with our writing.

We’ve all heard these words before . . .

This sentence could use some tightening.”
Knock out the first sh*tty draft, just bang it out, then go back and clean it up.”
I look for weak writing, and review submissions using the ‘three strike’ rule. A good story idea does not make up for bad writing.”
But just how tight do we have to be?  Tight writing for a literary novel means something different than a tightly written thriller.  The former may require satin ribbons and a fur cuff or two, but a thriller may need some serious S&M editing to make it squeal, er, shine.

How do we edit to bring out the best in our stories?  In a way that keeps the Voice but trims the fat?  And leaves our readers panting for more, anxiously waiting to take our next novel to bed.

Start with clean sheets:

Eliminate repetitive words – Overused, synonyms, frequent conjunctions (as, when)
Do:  He went out to get for a coke, and found  out  spotted Lisa was fooling around on him.  He bought beer on the way out home.
Do:  He worked swiftly with deft, practiced, precise movements.
Eliminate most adjectives and adverbs – Replace with vigorous verbs, or nothing.
Eliminate as many pronouns as you reasonably can – Put the focus on the action or object of the sentence, rather than the MC whenever possible.
Don’t:  She thought she would go out of her mind if her mother wouldn’t help her.
Do:  She’d go out of her mind if Mother wouldn’t help.
Eliminate passive phrasing – He was running ran for the bed.
Eliminate POV slips – These things are like someone knocking on the door—they distract the reader, as well as the writer.  It’s impossible to not notice a change in POV.
Tune in to your partners: (the MC and the reader)

Deepen POV by eliminating sentence set-ups
Do:  She looked great.  Her hair was Long and blond hair Some of it was pulled up into in a braid on one side, the rest flowed down into waves to her waist.  She was wearing The shortest skirt I'd ever seen on a college girl.  And her Pink stiletto heels brought her up a few inches so her head was level with my chest.
Cause and effect, Action/Reaction
Don’t: She choked back a scream as a snake slithered under the bed and wrapped itself around her ankle.  Its beady eyes matched the killer's.
Do: A snake slithered under the bed and wrapped itself around her ankle. She choked back the scream building in her throat. Its beady eyes matched the killer's.
Clarity – Readers want to get the meaning of our sentences on the first pass.
Don’t:  Jack ran faster than he was supposed to go so she would notice but he didn’t care.
Do:   Jack ran faster, not caring whether he should, hoping she’d notice him.
Make your moves count:

Don’t overdo it – Cramming too many actions into one sentence is like playing Twister in the bedroom—it causes physical confusion and a lack of visual clarity for the reader.  Break the actions into separate sentences or use the delete key.  Try to keep it to two actions per paragraph, unless it’s a fight scene.
Shorten sentences – Shorter sentences literally increase the pace.  They eliminate overuse of conjunctions.  They increase clarity.  And they focus our readers’ thoughts.

Get to the point – Have you ever spoken with someone who constantly interrupted themselves, diverting the point they seemed on the verge of making, only to segue into minutia details or a tangled side thought, leaving you feeling as though they might never make their point?  Don’t do that to your readers. 
Gender differences – Men tend to speak in shorter sentences, leave words off, and avoid emotional or dramatic statements more often than not.  Women tend to lean the opposite direction.  Take a look at your characters to see if that is the case.
Example:  A couple sitting in a car, contemplating a steep and icy mountain road.
  Her:  “I don’t think we should try it.  That road looks treacherous.”
  Him:  “Nope.  We’re not doing it.”
Double and triple dip on beats – Physical beats are important to the flow of a scene. But they can add fat to a story.  Instead of frequently showing characters smiling, laughing, glaring, drinking or hair raking, double up by using beats with purpose. Strive for making most beats add tension, reveal character or emotion, ground the scene or foreshadow.  If your beat does more than one of these, it’s a triple dip.
Reaching the climax:

Unnecessary chapters – These things are like wearing two condoms.  Readers can always spot them, and it can ruin the ride.  Necessary chapters have a purpose.  They move the plot measurably forward, reveal worthwhile character points, provide new and critical story information, raise or solve a story question.  The more points hit, the stronger the chapter.  Everything else is fat or connective tissue.
Character arcs – Be sure to include a goal or a want and a problem or an issue for your MC(s), have things get in the way of the goal, then make things look good for goal achievement, but add a last minute snag.  Finally, the goal is achieved and it changes our hero in ‘X’ way.  If your MC doesn’t have an arc, your character and/or story might be too loose.  Or you might be writing a series, with no intended growth for the hero.
Story arcs – Look for unanswered questions, dropped characters, unsolved issues.  Readers need strong foreplay (beginning), all the bases covered (middle) and a satisfying climax (ending).  Don’t leave your readers feeling cheated, wishing for more.
Quickies – There's always a good time for a quickie.  Some narrative info and actions are best conveyed in a slam-bam telling way.  We need it, right now, but with no boas or batteries required.  If the story moment involves a 'walk-on' character, don't show us that person in great detail  A quickie is the perfect spot to plant a clue--in a seemingly throw away action or character, a squirt of dialogue tossed over a shoulder on the way out.  Give us just the bare minimum to make the flow work within the scene.
Know when to go long – I like my climaxes to last as long as possible.  I want them to linger in my mind for days.  So how do you make the bang memorable?  You slow things down.  It may seem like a contradiction to tight writing, but this is where going long works for us.  And we’re still keeping the sheets clean, mostly.  It’s okay to leave a wet spot of adjectives just before the bang, but keep it reasonable—keep the tension up.  Rushing big story moments is a mistake.  Use more description, internal thoughts, deeper visuals that enhance the tone of the scene and add subtle tension in a way that builds through the lead-up. That way the reader is in-close, and the big event will have even more impact.
The example below shows an MC returning from a run, about to find her friend brutally murdered. 
Rushed:  The hallway was quiet and the elevator doors shut behind her without a sound. She headed for Craig’s room, struggling with a tray of drinks as she knocked.
Going long:  The elevator doors slid shut behind her.  An empty hallway stretched out ahead with the hushed and padded quiet of a luxury hotel. The maids had gone home for the day, and the guests were all in their rooms preparing for the evening. Legs still a little shaky from the intense run, she paused at the end of the hall for a look out the huge window. The sunset was gorgeous and added to the beauty of twinkling lights coming on across the city. It had been a long and stressful day. A hot shower sounded great and got her feet moving once more.  She rounded the corner and headed down another thick run of carpeting. She came to a stop at Craig's suite, struggling to balance the tray of drinks and fish out a key.
When it comes to learning amour, we can rent a video.  Luckily, emerging writers have great books available for perusing.  Nothing beats seeing tight writing in action to show us the way.

Below are excerpts from two of my favorite authors’ stories.  The first is from Lee Child’s debut novel, Killing Floor.  The second is from a literary novel by Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven.  Both books have won multiple awards and are bestsellers.

Opening paragraph from Killing Floor

I was arrested in Eno’s diner.  At twelve o’clock.  I was eating eggs and drinking coffee.  A late breakfast, not lunch.  I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain.  All the way from the highway to the edge of town.
Opening paragraph from Pigs in Heaven:

Women on their own run in Alice’s family.  This dawns on her with the unkindness of a heart attack and she sits up in bed to get a closer look at her thoughts, which have collected above her in the dark.
If we’re going to pull back the covers and spend time with someone, we want them to be good—really good.  I can’t imagine deleting a single word from either of these jewels above.  That is my definition of tight writing.

Alex Sheridan
Freeing the world with words
Author of Dance of Spies, Finding Round, Treasure Life and Freedom Jungle

Friday, August 23, 2013

David Morrell - Advice from ThrillerFest 2013

Most pundits advise us to 'show, not tell', but David says that can lead to trouble.  He reminds us that, as human beings, we've all got emotions that go along with what our eyes see:
  • For setting, choose a location and mine it for everything it can give to you. Forget about sight and concentrate on feeling. When someone says writing is one-dimensional or flat, it's because the writer is relying too much on sight, almost like looking at an image on a movie screen. If you incorporate two other senses, you'll create more textured details and make readers feel like they're more in the setting.
I find that advice interesting because Morrell is the author of First Blood, the man who created Rambo.  And here he is, telling us our scenes are flat when we leave out feelings.  Not many authors can say they created a character whose name is now used a verb.  As in, "I'm going to do a Rambo on him." 

I also like this advice from Morrell:
  • "Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of another author."
Morrell's first book was made into a movie, and he's now a best-selling author, living happily ever after, so I figure he knows what he's doing.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


CATCHING FIRE (Pub. 2009) by Suzanne Collins is the second book in the fantastic Hunger Games trilogy.  This is one of the few sequels ever written that is even better than the first book. 

The story opens with Katniss Everdeen, alone in the woods at dawn, enjoying the last of her freedom before embarking on the mandatory victory tour of the twelve districts.  We see her confusion in adjusting to life after winning the Hunger Games, the impact it has on those around her, and there is a big question mark hovering over her life.  When she arrives home to an unexpected visit from President Snow, she quickly realizes although she's won the Games, her future, as well as her families, is now in long-term jeopardy. 

The president's veiled threats are ever present in her mind as Katniss begins the victory tour, conscious of the president's caution for the need to not inflame the people of the districts, and to convince them of the validity of the love she professed for Peeta during the Games.  Of course, that all goes wrong in a hurry.

The victory tour ends after several stressful stops, the results of which are clearly leading to hard trouble for Katniss and her family.  Sure enough, the president makes good on his threats when it's announced that to celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of the Games, two victors from each district will be chosen instead of the usual reaping from the children's bowls.  Katniss and Peeta are suddenly back in the Games after only a year's break.  The quarter quell Game is even more deadly because they are up against seasoned adults, all older than they, some of whom have nothing to lose, and all of them turn out to have secrets that will ultimately threaten Katniss' life, and the world as she knows it.

Suzanne Collins is an absolute master at the dystopian thriller novel.  Her imagination and the way she brings the characters and the story to life is unforgettable.  All generations are crazy for these stories as well as the movies.  I traded forum posts with a gal the other day who is in her early 60s, and she and her brother are avid fans of the Hunger Games trilogy.  They've both read the books multiple times, stood in line for hours to attend the movie's premier, and plan to do so for the opening of Catching Fire. Did I mention she's in her 60s?  And Katniss is a 16-year old girl.  Wow, does that speak to the phenomenal skills of the author.

I have to admit, I just can't wait to see how Hollywood handles Catching Fire, and I plan to see it on the day it opens. :)  Collins also wrote the screenplay for Catching Fire, so I have no doubt the second movie will be as great or better than the first one, just like the books.  If you haven't read this trilogy yet, do yourself a favor...get all three books before you start.  I absolutely guarantee you'll be glad you did.  Otherwise you'll end up like me, desperate to start on the next one the moment you've finished the first, and willing to drive to Barnes & Noble at inconvenient times to appease the fix.

This trilogy is absolutely on my Top Five Fave stories ever told, and I have no doubt it will remain on that list for good.  I envy readers who haven't yet discovered this amazing story.  Be sure to read these three books as slowly as you can stand because once you've finished, you'll be looking around wondering how in the world you'll find another story as good as this one.