Google Tracker

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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Where's Your Voice?

Voice?  What the heck is that about?”  I mumbled, hunched over another how-to manual, a few months into scaling the writing craft mountain.  The snowcapped peak sparkled down at me, egging me on from the bunny slopes.  And hey, I think I can see some money up there too. I made a pot of coffee and cracked open another book.
A year later and a novel spent on the icy black and blue rejection runs . . .

“Seek voice and ye shall find a reason to drink,” I growled out, slapping shut the latest advice book. The liquor store was about to close, I had fifteen minutes to get there.

Two novels later . . .
“I still don’t get it, but I’m gonna fake it till I make it.”  My forehead hurt from all the smacking, and I was pretty sure my self-doubt had morphed into a sinus infection.  The cold drink against my brow wasn’t working. My hair was thinning.  Hell, even my cat’s hair was thinning.  Did the same person who invented algebra invent this voice thing? The garbage man wanted to know if I worked for Amazon.  The librarian offered me a job.  Enough.  I needed to get on with writing.

Three novels and Google to the 30th power later . . .
“You have got to be kidding me?!  Is that all there is to it?!  Why the hell didn’t somebody say that sooner?!” I snarled out at the empty room and thumped my drink down. The melting ice went unnoticed while I booted up the laptop.  

Some blessed advice-giver had managed to sum up Voice in a six-word sentence that clicked.
Are you ready for it?
“Voice is about the MC’s attitude.” 
Sure, there are lots of different factors that go into the voice of our stories, but attitude is what will get you there the fastest.
Attitude – It’s not just for smart-mouthed characters.  Attitude equals tone, in the sense of our characters, as well as our stories.  Here’s a look at some ‘attitudes’ we can bring to the table through our MCs.  The list is endless.  These might look like emotions to you, but don’t be fooled—this is about how your MC deals with the world, not feelings.  Pick one or two (that somewhat go together), then consistently focus your MC’s thoughts and words through that lens. Make momentary adjustments when certain scenes call for it, then get right back to the ‘tone’.

  • Wistful, hopeful
  • Mistrustful, suspicious
  • Upbeat, humorous
  • Sarcastic, exasperated
  • Depressed, frustrated
  • Crazy, no-holds-barred
  • Jaded, angry, resentful 

Keep in mind many of the factors that go into creating voice also fit in the character-building slot, but it’s not exactly the same thing. 

Here are a few more things we can do to amp up the voice in our writing:

Point of View – The deeper the POV, the easier it is to generate tone and attitude.  Using inner thoughts in addition to spoken dialogue gives our characters the opportunity to express themselves better, in an organic way.  It’s a double dip because it also draws readers deeper into the story.

Character Traits – We’re not talking blue eyes and blond hair here.  Character traits, which include quirks, are the tools we use to reinforce the tone and attitudes of our characters.  For example, a mistrustful MC might question everything anyone says to him.  Sometimes out loud, sometimes through inner thoughts.  Maybe he uses a mirror to look around the corner of every hallway, leaves traps in odd places to ensure no one has touched his stuff, let's every call go to voice mail first.  Looking at character traits this way is a triple dip—not only does is strengthen voice by backing thoughts and words with actions, using an ‘attitude’ to focus the voice of the MC helps focus the character’s arc, and giving our characters attitude makes them memorable.

Vision – How does your MC see the world? If he’s mistrustful what does he focus on while he’s walking through the mall?  What would a hopeful character notice in that same mall?  A sarcastic MC?  Show us that—make us see the world through your characters eyes—throughout the story.

A few thoughts that relate:

In a series, the MC may not have a character arc that reflects a major change by the end of each story.  All the more reason for a laser focus on attitude—that way the MC stays consistent in the readers’ minds throughout the series.

  • Some stories have quite a bit of ‘authorial narrative’ mixed in with the MC’s.  Harlan Coben comes to mind.  In that case, make sure you pick an attitude for the author’s narrative portions, as well as the MC’s.  They don’t have to be the same, but the ‘tones’ need to harmonize.

  • When advice pundits tell us: “You’re characters should sound like individuals. If done right, we should be able to recognize the MCs from the words on the page, no tags required.” – they are really talking about the attitudes of each of your characters.

  • An author’s writing style does not equal voice.  The way we arrange prose on a page does not equal voice.  Voice comes from character.

Are you ready for the test?  Get out the first page of your WIP where the MC comes on stage.  What attitude is she projecting?  How would you rate the strength of that attitude on a 1-5 scale? Take another look at my learning-curve ditty above . . . which attitude words on the list provided were used to tell that story?  What attitude-strength score would you give it?

Your MC has something to say, and she very much wants to say it in her own way, so let it rip.



Sunday, May 12, 2013


I'm working on my fourth novel, Freedom Jungle, and having a blast writing the story!  I'm sharing a peek at the first chapter, and hope you enjoy it.  Thanks for taking a look at it. :)

Story Blurb from the back cover:

A woman must think and fight her way to freedom through the Amazon, only to find that New York is even tougher.

It’s been fourteen years since Angel Harris was orphaned in Colombia.  Raised by a ruthless woman known to the world as Godmother, Angel has been given no choice about staying.  Now she’s grown up and she wants out.  Do-or-die mode comes when Drake Mason shows up on a paid mission to bring her home.  But he screws up on the front end, making her think he's with the DEA and out to arrest her.

Angel escapes into the jungle where Godmother’s men force her to stand and fight—and she fights dirty.  Then she learns Mason’s team is in trouble because of her and has to choose.  Should she head on to Cali and a plane back to the States, or down the Rio Caguan to help the man with the haunting blue eyes?   Going down the Caguan will mean facing the FARC militia—the same men who murdered her parents.  But saving Mason brings a chance for vengeance, unexpected truth and help finding her family in America. 

Back in the U.S., Angel soon learns she still isn’t free and what she doesn’t know could hurt her.  Surviving the Amazon might be easier than staying alive in the concrete jungles of New York.  It will all come down to Mason returning the favor and Angel’s special skills—one a gift from God—the rest honed from a fierce need to survive, and for freedom at any cost.

Chapter 1
The key to her freedom sat at the bar with a beer in his hand.  He appeared to be alone and settled in, back to the wall, eyes on his drink.  From the door, there wasn’t much to look at anyway.  The small cantina was dark and quiet, with shuttered windows blocking the sunlight and a few customers spread along the bamboo counter.   Some faded posters and curls of cigarette smoke.
The man’s gaze shifted her way when she crossed the room.  With her pulse kicking up, Angel slid onto a wooden stool, leaving an empty seat between them.  A breeze came from paddle fans spinning above, lifting napkin corners and cooling her damp skin. 
“Cerveza por favor.”  It felt strange to be in public, ordering a drink.
“Please, allow me.” 
The blue-eyed man handed a five-dollar bill to the barkeep, nodding toward her. 
From his plain English and his money it was easy to see why there were whispers about an American hanging around town.  The whispers had driven her here.  At face value it looked like they were off to a good start, but anyone could get hold of a five-dollar bill, and most people could fake an accent for three simple words. 
The bartender set the bottle on a napkin, giving her a squint-eyed look, but said nothing.  She forced herself to hold his gaze, breathing stalled until he turned to help another customer. 
“Thank you.” She lifted the beer in a small salute to the stranger.  The cold glass felt good against her sweating palm, and the salty brew quenched her dry throat.  Maybe the alcohol would help slow her heartbeat.  It raced with the clock ticking in her head.  With luck, she’d have thirty minutes before hard trouble set in.  
She glanced over the handful of scruffy men leaning against the bar.  None of them worked at the compound, thank God.  But they were all looking at her and knew who she was.  She recognized the one on the end, had been to his house a few weeks ago.  He acknowledged her with a barely visible tip of the head, as friendly a gesture as she could expect considering the circumstances.  The bartender clinked a liquor bottle out of the well and she turned to watch him serve another customer.  She’d been to his house too, last April.  Maybe this would work the way she hoped.
Hiding in plain sight was a new strategy and a huge risk, but she had to seize the chance while she could.  Americans rarely came to Cartagena del Chaira—not unless they were military or DEA—and for good reason.  Colombia was no place for tourists.  Not this area. 
Living here had turned her into a savage too.  She’d done things to escape the compound that she’d hate herself for later.  Used her body, her knife.  Syringes, rope, tape.  She’d made a lot of enemies today.  Maybe more to come.
A shudder hit at the thought and she struggled to keep it from showing.
“How’s the beer?” the stranger asked.
She would have to do better than that, but fear and need each had a hand on her throat, blocking her ability to make small talk.  Drawing in a long breath, she fiddled with the napkin, considering the best way to proceed. 
What should I say to him?  How should I start?
Instinct told her not to just blurt out a plea for help.  She didn’t know if she could trust him.  And why should he help her?  It was asking a lot.  He might say no.  Or he could be in town waiting for the very thing she was trying to get away from.  The timing was either a coincidence or a reason to panic.
Either way, she needed to hurry.  Escaping would bring freedom, or a lot of pain—if they caught her.  She had a trail of scars and bad memories to remind her.  And here she was, chance in hand, feeling tongue-tied.  This was trickier than she’d thought. 
She gave herself a mental kick and studied the stranger from the corner of her eye.  Jeans, white polo shirt and black motorcycle boots made him look American.  He was the only way to minimize the collateral damage from leaving.  Lives were at stake, including her own, and she’d made herself wait for the right opportunity this time.  Thank God the chance has finally come.  The shipment would be ready next week, then her fate would be sealed.
“I’ll take another.”  The man wagged his empty bottle at the bartender.  Listening to him order the beer gave her an idea. 
Time to get to work. 
It helped that he was almost as handsome as the cooks said.  She liked his dark blond hair and light eyes.  Thirty-something, tall and trim.  He stuck out in the bar like a lizard’s red throat. 
Regardless of his looks, she was willing to spend time in the arms of someone who spoke English without a Spanish accent if he would help her.  But she needed to learn more about him before she risked asking and liquor loosened a man’s tongue.  With adrenaline pushing her courage button, she ordered tequila for both of them.
“Dos tiros de Cuervo, por favor.”  
The bartender poured the shots with a frown then stood there wiping the bottle, watching.
She ignored him and slid one of the small ceramic cups in front of the American. 
“I’m celebrating today.  Care to join me?” 
“What are we celebrating?” 
“My twenty-second birthday.”  My freedom.
“Well, happy birthday.”  He tapped his cup to hers. 
Empty cups hit the counter in unison.  He waved two fingers at the bartender, pointed down at the shot glasses.
“I’m Angel.  What’s your name?”
“John.”  His smile was like the sun popping out from behind a cloud.
“What brings you to Cartagena?”
“Business.”  He took a swig of beer, then pointed it at her. “And you?  Why are you here?”
His question made the back of her eyes sting.  Instead of answering, she tossed down the second shot and concentrated on the burn of the tequila, on reining in her emotions.
It was hard to resist the urge to beg for his help right then.  But that wouldn’t be smart.  He could be a mole with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.  Or worse, he could be a plant, sent here by Godmother to test her.  If that were the case, her plans would be ruined before she got one foot outside the bar.  There would be pain, a lot of pain.  And blood.  Not just hers.  She’d make sure of that.  Her fingers wrapped around the metal nestled in the pocket of her sundress, seeking reassurance.  I can do this, I have to do this.
But first she needed to know this man’s story before revealing herself and her needs to him.   And she had to get him alone to do it—no way could they have that conversation in front of the bartender.
She looked the American in the eye and realized he was still waiting for an answer.  A sliver of truth would have to do for now.  
“I’ve been here much longer than I expected.”
“How long would that be?”    
“I came here when I was eight.”
His hand stopped midway to his mouth.  “That is a long time.  Especially in this place.”
He sounded as though he felt sorry for her.  Was it her imagination?  This man didn’t know her or anything about her.  But maybe he knew enough about del Chaira and the things that went on here to know it was no place for a young girl. Maybe he had a daughter, or a sister like she did.  Thank God Emily hasn’t been stuck here too.  The image of her little sister’s face tugged at her heart and stiffened her resolve.  She swallowed hard and focused on the man beside her.
“How about you?  How long have you been here?”
“Five days.  I’m hoping to leave soon.  Maybe later today, if I can finish my business.” 
His words sent another blast of adrenaline through her.  She needed to leave as soon as possible—Godmother was due home this afternoon.  But was it too much of a coincidence that he could suddenly conclude his business today?  She had to take the chance.  It was get a ride from the American or leave on foot through the jungle, and that method hadn’t worked out in the past.  She had to get him alone—now. 
Nerves skittering like water on a hot grill, she reached out and rubbed her palm along his shoulder.  “I’m glad you’re here.”  She gave him a slow smile, focused on keeping her voice steady. “It’s so nice to spend time with an American.”
He gave her a long, quiet look, watching her eyes while her fingers ran down his thigh.  She tried not to flinch when he leaned across the empty barstool and gently stroked her cheek. 
“You are beautiful.”   
His thumb brushing over her skin sent an unexpected throb of heat through her.  It didn’t last long, but it was enough to push her past the fear and on to the next step. 
She stood up.
He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it when she leaned against him and put her lips next to his ear.
“I want to be alone with you,” she whispered, “and get to know each other better, okay?” 
She took his hand long enough to slip him the small fold of paper without the bartender noticing.   Saying a prayer in her head, she slid from his grasp, pulse like a shooting fountain. 
“I have to go now.  Thanks for the drinks.”
The American rose from his seat as though he planned to follow her. That would be a disaster.  It would complicate getting out of town.  People would talk, starting with the bartender—he’d have no choice.
She glanced at the surly man standing behind the counter.  The barkeep was scowling, walking toward them looking at her, silently asking whether she wanted help with the American. 
John slowly sat back down, eyes steady on her.
She held his gaze for a beat, then turned and headed for the door without looking back. 
Outside, sunlight and humidity engulfed her.  She hustled across the small gravel lot toward an alley, seeking the shadows.  The guards would be coming around soon.  They would start looking for her, weapons in hand, and she needed to make it several blocks without being seen.  She slipped behind the building with thoughts of John playing in her head.
Would he come?  Would he help?
Whether he did or not, she was getting out.  Lips pressed tight, she reminded herself she’d been preparing for this opportunity for months.  She was ready.  Plan A, plan B.  It would be one or the other.  Plan A made her willing to spend time in the American’s arms, but she was also ready to handle him if he turned out to be something other than a simple businessman. 


Lee Child - Analysis of Author's Writing and Openings

Okay, I confess, Lee Child is my favorite writer.  He's the only author that literally makes me anxious and antsy until his newest book comes out.  I snapped up Lee's two Reacher ePub shorts just as quickly, and enjoyed both as much as the full novels.

A few things I admire about Lee:  His writing style, personal style, and glibness in interviews.

A few things I do not admire about Lee:  (She said nothing)

The author is widely known for his clean, stripped down style, and as a fellow writer, I wanted to take a deeper look at what makes his writing tick, or should I say tickle?  The results were surprising:
Opening Lines:
Lee consistently makes the openings interesting
He has great flow from sentence to sentence that forces you to read the next one, and the next one.
He always poses a story question of some kind on the first page.

Of his seventeen novels written, the length of the opening lines varies greatly:
  • 9 open with sentences of ten words or less
  • 5 are eleven to sixteen words long
  • 3 are over seventeen words 
  • The shortest is 1 word, the longest 27 words.
My five favorite opening lines are:
  • Killing Floor:  I was arrested in Eno's diner. At Twelve o'clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee.
  • Die Trying:  Nathan Rubin died because he got brave. Not the sustained kind of thing that wins you a medal...
  • Without Fail:  They found out about him in July and stayed angry all through August.
  • The Hard Way:  Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china and before it arrived at his table he saw a man's life change forever.
  • Gone Tomorrow:  Suicide bombers are easy to spot.  They give out all kinds of telltale signs.
The opening paragraphs of Lee’s 17 stories contain the following elements, with a mark for each element used:
Present in 1st paragraph
# of stories present in
Character desc
None of above
(Running Blind)

Of the 17 full-length novels written (data from Killing Floor through A Wanted Man):

  • 5 stories start in Reacher’s POV.
  • 6 stories start in ‘narrative’ mode, not in any specific characters POV.
  • 6 stories start in ‘other characters’ POVs. 

The biggest lesson I learned from this analysis of Lee's work is that he mixes things up.  He doesn’t always follow the rules, and his stories/writing benefit tremendously from it. 
It’s now clear why the author is widely lauded for his writing style. That’s for damn sure.
Thanks for the wonderful stories and the great lesson on writing craft, Lee!