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Friday, December 28, 2012


The Day Trader (Pub. 2002) is one of the best books I've read in the past six months--it definitely makes my top three.  This is Stephen Frey's seventh novel, and from checking out his website he's written a total of nineteen published novels to-date.  I really loved this story (my first read of this author's works)--for several reasons, and will be checking out his other books ASAP!

Day Trader is a combination finance thriller/who-done-it.  I have to admit that it's been a while since I've read a finance thriller, so I think that was part of the juice for me - it was a nice change. It appears from his other titles that this genre is Frey's specialty, and he is in the finance industry himself (or was, back in the day). Frey does a fantastic job of inserting factoids related to stock market trades in an easy-to-absorb way, weaving them in amongst the real meat of the story in a quick in/out way.  I felt like I learned quite a bit about the stock market while being greatly entertained, which is always the ultimate for me in any book I read (learning facts while being entertained).

The story moves at a perfect pace and will suck you in from page one, whether you enjoy Wall Street stuff or not.  By page 20, the MC, Augustus McKnight, has been blackmailed by his boss for using company euqipment at his low-paying job to do day trades, and threatened with divorce by his wife of eleven years.  It only gets better from there.  I read this 347-pg (paperback) book in less than eight hours.  I would have finished it sooner but I fell asleep, aarrggh.

The story is written in first-person, present tense, which often times can ruin a book for me, but the author does such a smooth job of it, I didn't even really think about how he was writing the story per se. Frey uses first-person to the best degree, deep POV, while somehow still giving us a good hard look at the other supporting characters.  The author makes Augustus McKnight come to life in a very real way, but yet subtly, nothing feels forced or fake or overwrought.  And yet, the story is so well thought-out, the details of the plot, the characterization, as well as those great factoids, are all woven together in an irresistable way.  The prose is simple, yet spot-on.  The who-done-it is not easy to figure because Frey gives us several possibilities for the culprit and on top of it, he manages to pull off a couple surprises we have no way of seeing coming toward the end of the book that really kick this story to the tenth power.

Clear you calendar when you pick this book up because you won't want to put it down!

Sunday, December 23, 2012


HOLIDAY IN DEATH (Pub. 1998) is the 7th novel of the In Death series. I have read all of the books in this series and this is one of my favorites. I had somehow missed reading this one along the way, and picked it up because it's the holidays. I'm sure glad I did - it was a great read for a lot of reasons.

The author does a fantastic job of keeping the tension and suspense up, along with a fast pace. Robb also manages to give us strong characterization while she spins a tale of mystery and death that will hold your interest throughout the story. I wasn't sure who had committed the murders until the very end of the story, when Eve Dallas learns the killer's identify. It was a surprise, but handled in a way that was believable.

What I love best about the In Death series are the characters, Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke. The author has given them such painful, troubled pasts and yet they are both living and loving to the fullest in present day. I love it that Roarke is the richest man in the universe but married to a murder cop. It's fun to peek into the high life of luxury he's given them, and to see Eve constantly bristling against it, preferring the simple things she was used to before she lucked into marrying Roarke.

The author has also managed to flesh out the supporting characters in such a well-rounded and intriguing way they are almost as fun to read about as Eve and Roarke. And on top of all the great writing, JD Robb gives us good mystery/murders, in a full-on clue-digging detective style that makes these stories read like the 'real deal', and not just some girlie-fied romantic suspense.

If you haven't dipped into this series yet, you are missing out.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Has your story got juice?  Does every sentence make us want to keep reading? If not, is there a vitamin you can take to cure the problem?
According to Stephen King, there is a vitamin that will cure the story blahs—it’s Vitamin V.   King’s advice about using vigorous verbs is top-shelf stuff, and when applied, it can quickly up the muscle factor of any story.
Happily, there are even more ways to tap the V in vigorous.  Incorporating any of the following suggestions will increase readers’ desire to pay attention to each word on the page.  Combine these, and the energy of your story will take off like a rocket, without changing the story itself.  Readers may even stay up all night to finish the book.  Here’s how to JUICE up your story in a hurry:

Jump in the deep end of POV – The deeper the point-of-view, the more entwined the readers get with our characters. Do POV right, and the story starts to feel like it's happening to them--our readers hearts are pounding, blood zooming, hair raising, bumps chilling. Think of POV as a fishing hook—the deeper you drop it, the more readers are hooked. The example below is from my fourth novel, Chasing Free. I wrote it the first way then challenged myself to deepen the POV. Not only did it improve the paragraph, it put a smile on my face and inspired the last short sentence in the second example. 

‘Regular’ POV:    The fragrant curtain lifted and he jerked against the ropes that bound him to the bed.  Did she just carve a letter on him?  He could feel the blood running on both sides of his neck and fought down the panic.   

Deep POV:   The fragrant curtain lifted and he jerked against the ropes tied to the bed posts.  Did she just carve a letter on me? Blood ran on both sides of his neck and a surge of panic followed.  How deep had she cut?
Unleash the unexpected – Readers love to be surprised, even in small ways.  You don’t have to put surprises in every sentence, but try to work one into each chapter.  It could be something as simple as your MC ordering a really weird drink or ice cream flavor; an unusual observation of something ordinary; an unforeseen plot twist, like the villain tripping just when he's lunging at the MC; perhaps a spot of magic or ESP in a book that otherwise doesn’t feature those things; a snappy unexpected comeback in dialogue.
Have some fun with this stuff.  Make yourself giggle at knowing you’re giving readers a little jolt, a sip of the juice—go ahead, I dare you.  Most of us aren’t getting paid nearly as much as we should be for the hundreds of hours spent writing, so we might as well find ways to make this toil fun.  Authors who are rolling in the writing dough, well, it’s probably because their stories have juice and they’re having fun...all the way to the bank.
Include a purpose and B/M/E for physical movements – We use physical beats to break up narrative and dialogue, to ground the readers in the story, convey emotions and show action.  But some physical beats get plugged in just because it seems like we should tell the reader things like, ‘He hurried to the door’.
Physical beats can add a lot to a story—but don’t miss out on the potential to double-dip.  Are you showing your character hurrying to the door for a reason, other than someone's knocking on it?  It’s a great opportunity to slip in a few words of internal thoughts in a natural way: 
He hurried to the door, nerves bunching. Would she like the surprise or would it piss her off? 

Okay, so you’ve got your double-dip reason for making the MC hurry to the door, but is that enough?  Does your MC greet his visitor and off they go— straight into dialogue and the ‘moment’, or are you going to finish what you started and take us through this ‘mini scene’ like a camera would?  Giving physical beats a complete beginning/middle/end draws the reader into the scene in a way that the ‘beginning’ movement can’t accomplish on its own: 
He hurried to the door, nerves bunching. Would she like the surprise or would it piss her off?  The door swung open faster than he’d intended, catching his bare toes.  Sophia’s wince of sympathy only increased the pain in his foot. 
“Thanks for coming over.”  He stepped back to let her in then closed the door.  Her shy smile made him forget the sting in his toes. 

Cut the ‘ly’ words – Using vigorous verbs to describe action will alleviate the urge to use ‘ly’ words.  Does this mean you should never use an ‘ly’ word?  No.  It means use them sparingly and wisely—and only when you’re sure no other word works better.
Weak:  She closed the door loudly.   
Vigorous:  She slammed the door.

Eliminate  – We’ve all read the pundits’ advice: Eliminate unnecessary words and passive voice.  No matter how many books we’ve written, we have to stay on the lookout for these juice-depleters.  It’s like eating healthy – it requires constant vigilance and a firm resolve.  These pests are like body weight – so dang easy to put on and a lot of work to take off.
I Googled the words ‘Story Juice’.  Up popped links to a book with the same title.  Of course I had to check it out.  The book’s authors, Julie Fuoti and Lisa Johnson, write about ‘how ideas spread and brands grow’.  It’s interesting that their underlying principal of what makes this happen is storytelling on a corporate level.  How cool is that? The first section of their book starts with the following statement and points.  You can access their free book at:
Storytellers know how to accelerate brand growth and spread ideas because of their ability to:
1. Motivate people to pay attention
2. Inspire people to action
3. Bring data to life and make it relevant to people’s daily lives
4. Make information memorable, repeatable, and easy to spread.
5. Shape new beliefs and change minds
6. Raise money
7. Gather and unite an authentic community 
Fuoti and Johnson are referencing the impact of having ‘stories’ behind company products, resulting in these points above.  It’s interesting to see how these same points relate to our novels.  I especially like number six.  Number seven makes me think of Stephenie Meyer and her Twihards, Lee Child and his Reacher Creatures.
So how do we, the way-smart fun-loving storytellers of the world, manage to pull off the above?  We write vigorously.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When is Fiction Better Than Fact?

I had a very intersting moment today when I read a point made in a critique of my story, Treasure Life, which is in publication editing mode right now.  I know the critter meant well with the feedback. What's ironic about this situation is the critter smacked me for needing to do research cuz the story bits didn't seem believable - but uknown to him, the facts I used were from the news article that inspired the story.

I'm sharing below the bit from the story, along with a summary of the critter's statement, and the link to the article. The critter didn't know the story is based on this info, cuz I didn't say that in the story notes on the Critique Circle system. The reason I'm sharing this is not to embarass the unnamed critter, but rather to raise the issue his point brings to light:

Just because it's real facts, doesn't mean IT'S BELIEVABLE. A classic case of fact being weirder than fiction. It's an odd situation as a writer. Not every reader is going to read my little blurb at the front-end pages of the novel, and therefore won't know it's inspired by the real-life find of the golden bird.  Those readers may have the same reaction as the critter did. Hmmmmmmm.

A little setup for the story bit to make sense: My MC is sitting in a cafe, reading a newspaper, absorbing the info in the paragraph below.

Story paragraph: The article accompanying the photo told an amazing tale and sent chills down Seraphina's arms. Bonnie Schubert and her eighty-seven year old mother were diving a few hundred yards off shore in less than twenty feet of water. After blowing away sand on the ocean floor they had uncovered the glinting gold statue. Even with a missing wing and unexplained empty spot in its middle, the bird appraised at almost a million dollars. It was thought to be a ‘pelican of piety’ and had been aboard one of eleven Spanish treasure galleons sunk off the Treasure Coast in 1715 during a hurricane.

Critter's input: (I had to summarize the comment for privacy purposes) The critter questioned the weight of gold, past prices of artifacts and suggested I research that before coming up with my statements. Bonnie and her 87-yr old mother pulling up the find seemed too incredible to him.  He said it was not logical and unbelievable.

I could not disagree with his general statement that 'good, solid facts mixed in with a little fantasy works a lot better' - yes, in some cases, but what about this one?


So, the question is - do I stick with the facts or make it sound more believeable?  In this case, I'm going to stick with the facts, otherwise I can't include the article link because it will then tick readers off that I haven't got my facts straight.  Sometimes this writer stuff makes me need the succor of grapes. :)

For those who care, Treasure Life is slated for publication next month and will be available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are You a Good Hooker?

A writer's learning curve is like the earth's horizon, it never ends, and that's a good thing. Finding ways to improve a novel's opening line, it's 'hook', is something every author continuously works on.

Great authors make it look easy, but writers know better. Who knew, back when I was a virgin reader, that my favorite authors spent minutes, sometimes hours, thinking about the words and flow of a single sentence? Writing well requires a lot of 'moving parts'. No matter where you are on the journey.

James Rollins mentioned in an interview that he still leafs through 'how to' books each time he writes a new novel. That guy is a phenomenal writer, plus he comes up with mind-boggling story ideas, and he's now enjoying eight-digit sales because of it. But he still leafs through writing advice materials.

I have two quality-leapfrog books sitting on a little shelf of advice that I thumb through regularly. Both books are targeted at improving the 'hook' and especially helpful for the mid-learning-curve writer.
Chris Roerden, author of Don't Murder Your Mystery, sums her book up: "Between the large-scale concepts of plot and character and small-scale PUGS and mechanics, a vast middle ground exists. That's my focus in this book." (Her advice applies to all genres.)

My favorite gold nugget take-away from Chris's book is an incredibly clear look at what the gate-keepers are talking about when they use the word 'hook'. The most eye-opening point she makes on the subject is what she calls the sustainability of the hook. Of course, it takes work and thought to execute her recommendations, but if you don't know, how can you do?

Here is an example Chris gives of a great, sustainable opening line (hook), with a couple following sentences so you can see what she means by sustainability. The example below is from Mary Saums first novel, Midnight Hour.

The phone hit the far corner of my bedroom like a blast out of a shotgun.
Its plastic parts slid down the wall and fell in a heap.
After a few seconds of quiet, it sputtered a final electronic cough, then flat-lined like a dead man's monitor.
"You deserved a slower death, you demon tool of iniquity!" I yelled. I tugged the straps of my push-up bra, part of a fancy set I'd bought specifically for the evening--a truly joyous occaasion. It was my fortieth birthday.
Saums goes on with another paragraph that again relates back to the phone that's been thrown across the room, while giving us character development, moving the plot forward and she does it in a fun-to-read way. I bow down to both authors on this one.

Jeff Gerke's book title sums his gold nuggets up in four words: The First Fifty Pages. Jeff points out the 'stop signs' that cause agents/editors to reject our work and what to do about it.  And he does it in an 'over the shoulder of the agent/editor' kind of way that's very helpful.

One of the most important things I learned from Jeff's book is what in the heck the pundits really mean when they say 'the opening line must hook your reader, it must start with the action'. Jeff interprets this for us: "...that doesn't mean you have to have a battle scene with action or anything needs to blow up. It simply means it must be interesting to the reader." 

Jeff goes on to give lots of great ideas and suggestions regarding the 'hook', but for me the most important point was realizing I don't have to blow stuff up on the first line, I just have to make it interesting to the reader. Piece of cake, right? Jeff goes on from there and helps us understand what 'interesting' means.

No matter where we are at on the writing journey, continuing to embrace the learning curve on a regular basis is a good thing. Even the pros do it.

Alex Sheridan
Author of Finding Round

Monday, October 8, 2012

Is Your As Bad?

Some learning moments are quiet, useful little nuggets, but some come as loud epiphanies, forever changing the flow of a writer's words.

My AS moment came like a bolt of lightening. When my eyes opened to this small but potentially hazardous word, it was a great big 'Why didn't I see that before?'

I'm sharing this slice of my learning curve pain on the chance a fellow writer or two might need the nugget added to their pile. So they can have their stupid AS moment, too.

The example below is taken from a draft of my third novel, a domestic thriller. If the paragraph had contained only one 'helper' AS, it would have been okay, but I had three of those stinkers in there in a row. Yowza.

DON'T: She looked up as Orlon walked through the door and her son’s voice reached her ear. Concern flew through her as she listened to his message while the men spoke across the room. Her fingers began trembling as the second message played and Orlon walked over to her.

What's really disgusting about the paragraph above is the way those pesky AS's lined up in a column on my MS and I still didn't notice. Ack! I was blind, but now I see.

DO: Orlon walked through the door, stepping in just as her son’s voice reached her ear. Concern flew through her while she listened to the message and the men spoke across the room. The phone began trembling in her fingers at hearing Ann's words.

Forcing myself to find a better way to connect these sentences not only reduced the clunky AS feeeling of the paragraph, it also brought a stronger sense of immediacy, of being more 'in the moment'.

Clearly, I needed to put my AS on a permanent diet. So I asked myself a few questions: When did I develop a big AS? Why is my AS too big? What can I do to improve the flow? Where is it okay to use 'as' in a sentence?

WHEN: Surprisingly, I didn't develop my big AS problem until my third novel. Hmmm...writer's learning-curve fog, I guess. So BOL for 'new' trouble spots.

WHY: Technically speaking, AS is a subordinate conjunction. AS fat stems from trying to put more than one action/function in a sentence. There are many conjunction words. If you're using multi actions/functions within a sentence/paragraph, try to mix up the connective tissue.

Here's a link to a website with a great birds-eye view of conjunctions and their usage:

WHAT: Trimming the AS fat requires us to get off our lazy AS and find another way to write the words. It's like exercise--we've got to make a conscious effort on a consistent basis to make a difference in our appearance. The trick is to force ourselves to look in the mirror, to analyze the flow of the prose we're laying down. Like all good diets, we've got options for trimmng the AS fat:
  • Break it up. Short sentences can speed up the pace. Clarity comes with brevity.
  • Strip it down. Maybe the paragraph would be improved with less action/function, if so, delete.
  • Mix it up. Variety is the spice of life. Insert emotions, thoughts or dialogue in between some of the actions/happenings.
  • Consider the tone. Longer, connected actions/happenings within a sentence/paragraph can convey a sense of mounting tension, of trouble brewing and thoughts festering. Tone and flow are what really count when looking at our writing sentence by sentence.
WHERE: Sometimes we need a bit of AS. It adds its own variety and pace to the story when used well, so it's good to show your AS when appropriate:
  • When things occur simultaneously. Note - if replacing the AS with 'then' or 'when' works as well or better, it's not happening simultaneously.
Example: The bus hit me just as I stepped off the curb.
  • At the beggining of a sentence. Note - use sparingly
Example: As I told you earlier, we are not going to see that movie.
  • When introducing a clause.
Example: She kept glancing at the clock as though she needed to leave.
  • When 'like' could be used, but 'as if' works better.
Example: It looks as if it will rain soon.
  • For comparison purposes, and often requires a 'double AS'. Note - use sparingly
Example: He was screaming as loud as he could

WHO: A writer's angst being what it is, I had to check out the AS's of a few of my favorite authors. Here's a snapshot look at the AS usage from the first 5 pages of a book by each author. It underscores why they are bestsellers:

Lee Child (The Killing Floor) - Page 2 ( 1 comparison); Page 3 (1 simultaneous) = Total of 2

Nora Roberts (The Perfect Hope) - Page 1 (1 connective); Page 3 (1 comparison); Page 4 (1 state-of-being); Page 5 (2 comparison) = Total of 5

James Rollins (Amazonia) - Page 2 (1 simultaneous); Page 3 (1 connective); Page 5 (3 beginning) = Total of 5

Richard Doetsche (Thieves of Legend) - Page 1 (2 comparison, 1 simultaneous); Page 2 (1 simultaneous); Page 5 (1 beginning) = Total of 5

James Patterson/Michael Ledwidge (Zoo) - Page 2 (2 simultaneous, 1 beginning); Page 3 (2 simultaneous, 1 comparison); Page 4 (1 simultaneous) = Total of 7

It's interesting to note that, of all these writers listed, Lee Child has the leanest AS factor. Not only are his books selling in the eight digits, he's widely lauded for his clean writing style, more so than any of the other authors listed. Plus he's hugely popular with both male and female readers.

You can bet your AS I'll be keeping a close eye on my AS's going forward. On I learn...round and round the writer's mulberry bush, excellence in training.

Alex Sheridan
Author of Treasure Life

Monday, August 20, 2012

DEEP DOWN - Book Review of Lee Child's latest Reacher story

Why do you tease me like this Lee? DEEP DOWN (pub. 2012) has got to be the perfect example of how to write a short story/thriller. And what a great short story! The only thing wrong with it is that word 'short' - but at $1.99, it was worth every penny, that's for sure.

I really love that the author has found a way to weave in and out of different times within Jack Reacher's life throughout the series in a completely non-linear way. I sit in awe of Lee Child's ability to mastermind writing a series with that concept cooking. We never know what era of Reacher's life Lee is going to pop us into next, but I've loved every snapshot he's given us.

What I liked best about Deep Down was the way the author plunks Reacher into an uncomfortable political situation, on a mission to unearth a rat without ticking off any of the politicians that the Army is attempting to sway to approve new ammunitions. Even though it's a 'short', Lee makes Reacher have to think and fight in his classic Reacher way.

DEEP DOWN was an easy E-read because of the length. I highly recommend it to all Reacher lovers.        

Friday, August 3, 2012

Finding Round - publishing journey of my third novel

FINDING ROUND is a domestic thriller with scientific elements.  The inspiration for this story is based on the Klerksdorp spheres found in a South African mine. 

Craig Nobel is a dedicated geologist and family man who is living a golden life, but his wife is tired of his constant traveling for work and threatens to unwind the status quo just as their seventeen year-old son comes across small unexplainable spheres found in an African mine.  The discovery sets off an unexpected and life-threatening chain of events for the entire Nobel family.

As Craig fights to save his daughter's life, keep his son out of jail and his marriage together, he learns that the spheres were planted three billion years ago by ancient alien beings.  But were the spheres meant to help or harm humans?  As he races for the answer to the spheres, he must also learn what is truly important in life before it is too late.