Trade Secrets — Chapter One

Trade Secrets cover art

Many of you know that I’ve just finished writing my first thriller. During my career as a trade-secret litigator, I was always struck by how fiercely corporations would fight to protect their secrets. Some would do almost anything. So I got to wondering: what if a company would do anything—even kill—to protect its secrets?

When investigator (and recovering lawyer) Warren Archer lends his phone to a beautiful stranger, a ruthless corporation marks him for elimination. He must confront the secrets of his past to save himself, the woman, and a city.

Here is Chapter 1 of Trade Secrets. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think. Send me a tweet or .

One less grammar post to read

10 items or fewer, dammit!

The cool thing about English is that no matter how well you think you know it, there’s always something more you can learn. Every so often, I discover that I had been making a mistake. In this case, it involved the words less and fewer.

I considered myself reasonably well educated when it comes to these words. I knew that fewer dealt with countable nouns, like ducks and cupcakes. (“I have fewer cupcakes, but she has fewer ducks.” Or something.) And I knew that less dealt with uncountable nouns (or mass nouns), like body fat and waterfowl noise. (“Consequently, I have less body fat, but she has less waterfowl noise.” Who writes these examples?) The classic misstep is made by supermarkets everywhere, where the sign for the express checkout reads “ten items or less.” (Except at Whole Foods, who gets it right.)

Of course, some countable nouns still take less because they’re really things you measure instead of count, like money and time. (“Less than ten minutes,” or “less than five bucks.”)

But where I went off the rails was with the phrase one fewer. I figured that if the noun was countable, then fewer was the way to go. (“I have one fewer duck than she has.”) Turns out, I was wrong. The proper phrase is one less. The logical argument is that one thing can’t really be counted. But the real reason is that no one says “one fewer.” Well, almost no one. I did.

Until I looked it up.

The important thing, if you care about writing well, is that you continually try to improve by looking up things instead of just guessing. (I had to double-check that I didn’t mean continuously; I didn’t. I also double-checked the hyphen in double-check. Tough sentence.)

Update A couple of good posts on the same topic can be found at Jan Freeman’s Throw Grammar from the Train and Danny Dagan’s That Danny.

(Image courtesy of The IBD Blog.)

Why paperwork feels like paperwork

Blame the lawyers:

Why would it be harder to write a regulation in plain language than in complex jargon? In part, points out Braley, it’s because of the job a regulation needs to do: taking a law that Congress has passed and “dealing with the fine-tuning . . . putting into words how certain conduct is supposed to be governed.” That means a regulation carries a heavier burden than other writing that government agencies produce, like forms and letters. “The lawyers get their hands on them and want to make sure that they’re absolutely foolproof as far as going to court is concerned,” said Cheek.

Nice piece by Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Sunday Globe on the attempt to bring plain English to government regulations.

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