Wednesday, 25 January 2017

09:19 – We’re to have one nice day today–sunny, little wind, and a high around 64F (18C)–but with a cold front moving in over the next 24 hours. For several days after that, we’re to have highs around freezing, lows in the teens to 20’s (-5C to -8C), and at least some snow and ice.

Barbara got a phone call from Al around 7:30 p.m. yesterday to tell her that their family friend, Gilbert Sloan, had died at 7:04 p.m. He’d been in Hospice, so it wasn’t unexpected. Even so, it was a great loss for Barbara and her sister. They lived next door to the Sloans. When they were young, their mom had significant medical problems and spent a lot of time in the hospital. The Sloans became their surrogate parents, and Barbara and Frances spent a lot of time at the Sloan’s home while their dad was at the hospital with their mom. Cam Sloan is my age, and became like an older brother to the two girls. Barbara is headed down to Winston later this week to attend the service.

* * * * *

About three dozen readers have now requested copies of my book sample, and I’ve gotten feedback from a significant percentage of those. A couple of them said that they’d be interested to see what others thought, so I’m posting anonymous excerpts from several of the feedback emails. There are some common threads running through those.

Good start.

Notes:
1. The chapter after chapter four is labeled three, should be five
2. lots of numbers
3. the conversation seems to “stilted” and that is not the right word
4. lots of details about “stuff”
5. in chapter two, I cannot figure out if the power is up or down when it talks about the well pump, may need something like “the power was up for now but could fail at any minute”. And now I see that you covered that in the 2nd paragraph.
6. It took me a couple of minutes to note that you were switching people at the beginning of each chapter. I need a fairly brutal knock upside the head to realize that the perspective is changing.

* * * * *

Yes Robert, you can certainly write fiction.

Your dialog is off to a good start. It’s a little hard to ‘hear’ the different voices but i have no doubt that will improve.

Reading your first pass was reminiscent of reading Unintended Consequences. I personally enjoyed the deep detail in UC, however it admittedly detracted from the flow of his story. It’s interesting to read about the specific guns (or whatever) and the deeper detail, but that level of detail doesn’t generally move the story forward.

I wouldn’t worry about that much – your preselected audience generally appreciates the detail. If you want to appeal to a broader audience, you might want to lift the degree of detail.

I hope you’ll continue with your fiction efforts. This little taste is better than a lot of the schlock out there already and I am absolutely certain your final efforts will be excellent.

Congratulations on this new endeavor.

* * * * *

I see only one issue with your fiction writing attempt.

You left out the disclaimer:

“Any resemblance between any characters in this novel and any person living or dead is purely coincidental.”

In other words, you need to make up your own characters instead of using people you know.

Reading the snippet of the story, I knew the names of the people who inspired the main characters.

I’m saying you can use a character who is part Nick or a character that is part Dave Hardy, but not just insert them into the novel renamed.

For example a retired Desert Storm veteran/ex-cop might work as a character. His being an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic also might work. But leaving him as a Vietnam veteran or IT worker wouldn’t work.

You could make up a character based on me and I wouldn’t be offended. I’m just too boring to serve as the basis for a character.

[…]

If you write a book, I’ll buy it. But if you can’t master making up characters I wouldn’t write it if I were you.

If I were you, and writing this book, I’d set it in one of the towns you scoped out but didn’t move to, and use a house you looked at there. The main couple should be a little less prepared than you are.

I hope I was just blunt enough to communicate my point without being too blunt.

* * * * *

Yes, you can write fiction. I think it’s a bit heavy on technical detail, it’s fiction, not a prepper manual. I’ll read it again later and come up with more comments.

* * * * *

Great start!
A few comments:
– Ed Burns – USMC and not a prepper? of any kind? food for thought…- Lotsa PHDs…good or bad?- Page 5, Prologue: Maybe a bit too much detail in the second paragraph; one sentence to summarize the type (mac, oats, flakes, etc.) and a total poundage. Maybe turn it into a short discussion with Karen? Can tell you’re a hard-core prepper!- Page 6: continue with fake news and/or media corruption? Closing out the intro?- Page 7, last para: had to look up “dendrochronology”… Maybe drop dates/uber-details and put years/centuries ago-type descriptor? Lotsa details!- Page 9: close out with discussion of local impacts? LDS support? Food/med drives? etc.- Page 13: stray dog? from travelers escaping disaster areas? comments on how to handle stray animals in the future? Possible love interest for Colin? ;-)- Page 17, ???: para continuation – meet & greet; settle down, and brief on situation with potential new housemates.- Page 18, ???: para continuation – Matt & Karen invite Bartletts and discuss logistics to house. Vehicles, seating, gas check, etc.- Page 19, radio gear para: too detailed. Summarize until there is a need later to describe which MHz is needed for what specific situation…- Page 21, gun gear: as an amateur gun guy, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but too many details. Like radio gear, summarize until later…- Page 28, ???: standardize (-ish) everyone’s training to the Gunny’s level is a good idea; gives everyone a common level of knowledge and terminology which helps with imprinting quicker for the new shooters- Page 31, radio call from Ed: maybe reduce to keep simple; “Front watch, four inbound unknown contacts. Repeat, this is front watch with four inbound unknown contacts.” maybe sounds a little military-ish, but…The follow-up transmission is perfect. And it referenced a truck stopping earlier for food; good few paragraphs there for expansion.- Page 32, attack: high number of people in back attack. Good comment about runners being back later; glad you went there.
Can you tell I peer review technical reports and documents for IT? I’m in Federal civil service as a software program manager and retired Air Force E-7/logistics.
Overall, good start. I think you have a lot of details in this rough draft that can be diluted early, and added as needed later. I’ve read several books with waaaay too many details up front from 5.11 pants and the type of Danner boots being worn, but after 3-4 pages of gear talk the person is still standing in the middle of the road surrounded by zombies. If my brain pauses to digest that info, I lose the emotion of the moment of the zombie attack…if that makes any sense.
I really hope you are able to flesh this out into a novel. Your vision of this small piece of the story is excellent and enjoyable to read. I guarantee I’ll drop whatever I’m reading at the time to buy this the day it’s released! And I appreciate you sharing this with us!

* * * * *

I know you only wanted quick feedback so apologies in advance…

The good:

Well written, as I knew it would be, having read several of your non-fiction works and the blog posts for many years. Yes, but can he write fiction?
Absolutely! The dialog is mostly very good (with a couple of easily remedied exceptions below). Plot and character development are such that I want to keep reading even at this rough draft stage. There are issues but definitely keep going – I want more of the story!

The bad:

Some of the dialog is very clumsy. For example, Dr. Smith’s dialog is tedious to read and would have been cut after the 2nd “CE” on any of the
networks. Also Matt’s description of the Bao/Feng radios – this is common to bad PA where catalog descriptions of equipment get detailed in conversations.

Facts/figures: (Disclaimer – I have a geology and several mechanical engineering degrees and have driven over the road trucks). A New Madrid quake would not bother the upper Mississippi river valley. They worry about the New Madrid because it can cause very wide spread, significant damage to much of the Mid West. This is because much of the area is a giant sediment bowl which will shake like jello. This sediment does not extend much into Wisconsin. I live in La Crosse, WI on the east bank of the Mississippi and we sit solidly on bed rock – we would not even be aware of a New Madrid
quake. Interesting fact is that they just built a new bridge here and added traffic control gates at the on ramps. So, even if the upper river bridges were OK, the gov’t would likely be in control of access?
You can’t get 40 tons on an 18 wheeler. Well, you could but you would likely either go to jail or the morgue if you drove it very far. 18
wheelers gross at 80K lbm but the tractor trailer weights ~35K so the max payload is around 45K (call it 22 tons). Not that big a deal, but it sticks out to anyone who has been around trucks as badly as talking about forgetting to move the safety on a Glock to gun people.

It is a bad idea to have both 20 and 12 gage for defense – particularly if you have any break action guns around. And as an avid trap / sporting clays shooter, I can tell you that 90% of the active clays people (at least up here) shoot break action – not 870s. If the women can’t shoot 12 gage, give them 5.56 or something.

Teaming up with cult members: I get it that they are preppers and generally nice people, but they believe some truly wacky chit. It may be an
interesting plot twist to have them start refusing to share/work with the infidels at some point unless the non-believers start wearing magic underwear and reading the teachings of the prophets (just a suggestion). Before you reject this out of hand, consider how strange their world view is during normal times and how it may get much stranger/stronger during what many will consider “end times”.

The Ugly: the battle scene is really bad. Sorry, but I can’t mince words here. This is the type of thing that makes me drop a story toot sweet.
When the good guys all react like battle hardened Marine snipers and the bad guys like brain dead meth addicts, I call BS. No matter how much training and planning goes on, a significant number of good guys will be curled up on the ground screaming for mommy once the real deal starts. All the kills will not be clean – there will likely be people trying to hold their guts in and begging for death, there will likely be IED’s like pipe bombs, Molotov Cocktails, etc. Not only the good guys know how to mix  Styrofoam and gasoline for example.

Well – the good news is I liked it enough to write up this feedback…

* * * * *

I just finished your sample! I graded you an “A” or 95%. My evaluation as a reader rested on three criteria:

1. Does this work tell a story?
2. Is the work believable/plausible?
3. Do i care about the characters and what happens to them?

Hope this confirms what you’ve already decided to do.

Thanks for letting me read it and be a part of something new.

* * * * *

Thanks. A bit stiff early, but by halfway it was already smoothing out. Two thumbs up.

I did make a couple of notes:

Page 7: “Just then, the feed switched…” flows better as “The feed switched” (A few pages later, I just decided you were using “just” way too often.)

Page 10: When you get to the point of mentioning the solar backup for the well pump,
you immediately give all the detail. It’s unnecessary at that point. Save some for later.

Page 11: “Load all of your hand tools” I had to laugh. Got semi?
If you do a printed version, put me down for one autographed copy of the first printing.

* * * * *

OK, I’ve finished what I hope is an excerpt (in plain English, keep typing, I’d like to read it). I have a few thoughts.

The mechanics are fine, and the structure is good. However, I do find everything so far has worked out too well for the characters. We haven’t really seen any rough edges. I realize it’s early days yet, but I would not expect everyone to be coping this well, especially after the assault on the house, with multiple charlies down. Even the casualty is quite calm about the whole affair. I’d expect some panic to seep in by this point, as everyone works through the realization that it’s real and the cavalry will be delayed if they arrive at all. My opinion, but I’ve seen (and sometimes been) the one that becomes useless when reality dawns.

Again, I’d like to read this when completed; I’d be happy to offer comments between now and then if you like.

* * * * *

These are roughly half of the responses I’ve gotten, which I selected more or less at random to give everyone an idea of what other people were saying. I appreciate the time and effort that people have taken to advise me, and I’ll incorporate many of the suggestions.

At this point, I’m just getting ideas down. This sample wasn’t in any way intended to be an organized part of the eventual book structure, and was completely unedited. I may end up expanding one paragraph or even one sentence to become and entire chapter, or the converse. My word-count target for a full book is roughly 125,000, of which this sample is maybe 10%.

Yes, things are too easy so far. That will change. In fact, things may get so bad that I end up painting myself into corners, as writers often do. But ultimately, this book (and I hope eventually series) will be optimistic. Good, competent people can deal with pretty much anything.