DAVID NEES

Creating new worlds, one story at a time

Category: Post Apocalyptic Lit

Genre Switching (not Gender Switching)

Genre switching; That’s not gender switching, but something more literary than physical. It’s what I’m going to attempt. Since I started writing I’ve had a desire to write in the “thriller” genre. As fate would have it, my first novel was inspired by a post apocalyptic story, so I began there. Post apocalypse (PA) stories have a certain freedom to them. You can create whatever type of world you want to put your protagonist into, but they do require you to build that world.

A thriller on the other hand exists within the framework of a known world. Admittedly it’s not a world in which most normal people exist. Thrillers are what they are because the characters experience life events far outside of normal; that’s why we read them.

But there are similarities:   both types of work have lots of action, a protagonist who must overcome challenges, and generally an antagonist to defeat. There can be fantastical situations to overcome (high tech dangers stopping short of science fiction) which can be taken further in PA literature.

My challenge, and it’s a bit scary, is that my readers have come to me through their interest in post apocalyptic or dystopian literature. Now I’m going to offer them something different. Will this fall flat? Who knows? But it is a concern to me as I approach publishing.

I take comfort that my first novel, Jason’s Tale, started from nowhere; I was non-existent on Amazon before publishing the story. However, it rose to reach #1 in both PA and dystopian genres. So I hope my first thriller, Payback, can be successful as well; (maybe not that successful as there are some real super stars in this genre). You can order the ebook as a “pre-order” on Amazon. When it is published in August, you’ll be sent the book automatically.

At least I now have a group of readers who know I exist and my hope is that many of them will follow me to this new novel. I’m working hard to make the writing my best. While I’ve read some PA novels that were not well written but did well in sales ranking, ButI firmly believe quality forms the basis of all successful writing in the long term.

Grunt work; that’s what I’m now I’m engaged in. The novel is written and has had one edit pass. But three trusted beta readers have commented that while most of the story is prime-time quality (yea!), the first part needs work. After the opening chapter, which they think is good, the story gets a bit lost in the “back story” that explains how the first chapter could have happened. It goes on for about fifty pages.

Structure/restructure: The work now is about structure, or restructure. This is not as creative as the original writing but has to be done carefully. A story becomes interlocked in many ways, so to take it apart one has to be very careful in order to not result in a chopped up narrative that doesn’t flow easily. Big time writers probably have staffs to work on issues like these. The rest of us have to figure it out for ourselves. That can actually be a good thing, providing lessons along the way. It’s just a bit daunting and different from the writing part. Luckily my issues are at the front where things are not strongly interlocked.

My first pass at this resulted in shaving the story around the edges. I took out a scene in the look-back part that I didn’t like and streamlined some others. I cut out five pages of the back story, but I’m not sure I’m there. The only thing to do is try another version with more serious chopping. First I’m going to read through what I changed to see if anything else jumps out at me. Waiting for the obvious solution to show up, but what the hell do I do if it doesn’t?

Oh, well, I’ve got a couple of weeks to solve this in order to still meet my August deadline. More to come on the polishing work. This is going to be good. A writer friend of mine says he can’t do a critical read because he gets so into the story he’s just turning pages without stopping; music to an author’s ears. Check out the book Here and set up your pre-order; coming soon in August!

Publishing update

It’s been a long time coming, but both Catherine’s Tale books are now out. Today is the publication of Catherine’s Tale Part 2 in ebook form (paperback will be out the end of this week). I’m putting the ebook on sale starting Monday at only $.99. It’s an action-packed conclusion to the intrigue built up in Catherine’s Tale Part 1. You’ll enjoy both stories; they are tightly knit together.
It has been about six months since I’ve done any solid creative writing. I’ve been busy reading and rewriting and more rewriting. Last week I had to face that fact that I needed to start my next book. Catherine’s Tale Parts 1 & 2 were done. My new thriller novel, Payback, was at the editor, so what was there to do? Write something.

So I sat down and started Jason’s Tale Part 2. When Catherine’s Tale came out many people around me asked why I switched from Jason to Catherine for my sequel. I didn’t have a good answer and, after doing Catherine justice with a good, two-part sequel, I decided I should heed their advice and go back to Jason before moving on to some of the other characters. I may or may not complete the story; it depends on you, the reader. If you want more of Jason and the other characters in that world, I’ve got a start on one of their stories. If not, I’ll shelve it for later.

But right now he’s off on another adventure, trying to rescue some friends, being true to his nature–the rescuer taking care of the flock. He’s got a partner, but I can’t say who it is at this point. My fears about getting back into creating a new story seemed to have been unfounded; I’m about 16,000 words into the story. That’s a good, solid start. My finished story should run in the 80,000 to 90,000 word range. The key is to write every day in order to keep the story fresh in my mind, not let the characters or plot go stale. I’m starting to dream of each next scene at night, then I get up and write it. It doesn’t always work that way, but I love it when it does. Just writing is important; like practicing one’s instrument if you’re a musician.

If I complete the story, I think I can get it out in October. My new editor turns work around in three to four weeks so I just have to get it to her by September. I’ll be busy this summer.
Please check out the two Catherine’s Tales on Amazon and leave a review if you like them. If you don’t send me an email. I’m not offended and have gained some insight from some critiques.

Catherine’s Tale paperback and a lesson from Amazon

For those of you who have been waiting for the paperback. It’s out now on Amazon. You can link to it here. Although I read a lot more ebooks since I received a Kindle reader as a gift, I still have a soft spot in my heart for a physical book. Seeing the proof copy of the paperback made it all seem more real. Ebooks sell in greater volume, but seeing one’s work in print is very satisfying.

I learned something very interesting over the last week. By my estimate there are about 15,000+ readers of Jason’s Tale. I always assumed that the sequel would start from that platform; that those 15,000 readers would be notified that I had written a sequel and they could then find me and jump start sales. As progress on the sequel dragged on and on, I took comfort in that fact; when it came out, it would rocket forward on the momentum of all those readers.

That isn’t the case.

From what I’ve been told by Amazon and Kindle people, no links like that exist. (Would that get too complicated for them to manage?) And after 13 months, many readers had moved on.

So…I am starting out anew, sort of.

People will have to discover me again and I’ll have to rely on my personal connections to get momentum going. After a few more books that situation can change. An author can reach some “critical mass” point where the momentum becomes self-sustaining. A broad enough reader following develops and they will look for new works by that writer. It seems I’m not there yet and (foolishly) thought my previous 15,000+ readers would get pinged and create that momentum. Again, I find that real-world lessons are often the most expensive.

What helps? It seems that reviews are the single most important element in that effort. They help convince readers to try a book if they are not familiar with an author (my current situation).

So I hope you will get a copy of Catherine’s Tale and if you like it, write a review (hopefully a five star one), however short or long. If you have other comments/questions about what I’ve written, send me an email at david[at]davidnees.com. I answer them all.

Coming up in my writing endeavors:

June, 2017: Catherine’s Tale Part 2; this is action packed with very strong scenes as the growing conflict in Hillsboro explodes.

August, 2017: Retribution, the Beginning; this is the first book in my new thriller Assassin series. It has lots of action and is definitely not post apocalyptic. Think of Vince Flynn or Lee Childs (I can only hope to achieve their levels of storytelling someday).

Fall, 2017: Trying for an audio book of Catherine’s Tale Part 1

2018: If readers call for it, I’ll write another in the After the Fall series and the second novel in the Assassin series with publication of one in the first half of the year and the other in the second.

Lots to do, but I’m enjoying it all.

Good reading.

David

A prepper question from the baby boom generation

A reader asked whether or not there was a place for older, less mechanically skilled people in prepper groups; or are they on their own. It’s a good question.  I spent some time looking across the internet on prepper sites. Some had contact forms, so I asked that question. The answers I received showed me a couple of things. First, is that preppers are generally nice people; all the replies I received were polite and considerate. Second, I found that this question has no clear answer.  Most replies centered around the idea that everyone has something to contribute, even older people and that character is what is most important in prepper communities.  That latter point makes sense when you think about a small group of people getting together when society is falling apart.

So the answer is really individual in nature; there’s no fixed formula here. I confess that I’m not a prepper, but a post apocalyptic world interests me as an author. Two websites that I think are worth checking out are: http://survivingprepper.com/ and http://www.americanpreppersonline.com/. Surviving Prepper has a handy list of prepper links that can quickly steer you to many different sites having to do with prepping. The second one has a bulletin board where you can post (and read posts) about people looking to join or add to a survival group.

It is an interesting world I’ve come to know about through writing Jason’s Tale.  You can read some of my thoughts about in my earlier blog, “Thoughts on Post Apocalyptic Literature. The sequel, Catherine’s Tale is getting closer to publication. It is much more complex a story which I hope will be an enjoyable read.

In the end we each have to choose. If one prepares, one risks having people try to take what you have away. If one doesn’t prepare, one is certainly going to suffer. In the end, the ability to have minimal supplies to support you and your family for even a few days or weeks makes some sense. Such preparation is useful for any kind of emergency, not even of the apocalyptic level. And the ability to defend loved ones is a natural instinct and one you may not want to avoid or suppress.

For a real apocalypse, a basic plan would make sense. For me, living near a very large city, it makes sense to figure out how to get out of town safely. Large cities are going to become dangerous places; I’m convinced of that. Out in the country you have a chance, both to be safe and to find food. Shelter may have to be up to your ingenuity. As Douglas Adams said, “Don’t panic”.

Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) and Its Effects

Since my novel, After the Fall: Jason’s Tale, takes place after an EMP attack on the United States, I thought it might be good to write about what our experts in Washington think about this threat.

E1-E2-E3: First, the bones of an EMP: there are three parts to the “pulse”, cleverly labeled E1, E2 and E3. E1 is the shortest pulse and consists of gamma rays. They travel at nearly the speed of light. Their danger is that they hit electrical circuits so fast that surge protectors cannot react in time to block them. They disable the surge protectors and cause some damage to the electronics downstream, mostly semi-conductors. The E2 pulse lasts longer, but still well under a second, and it has unimpeded entry into electronic circuits whose surge protectors are now disabled, completing the damage, shutting down most electronics. The E3 pulse is the final round, lasting up to hundreds of seconds. It has a long wave length and couples to long distance power transmission lines following them and burning out power stations and transformers on the grid. An EMP burst couldn’t be better designed to do maximum damage to a society’s power and transportation infrastructure.

Sun attacks: We get EMP attacks from our sun via “coronal mass ejections”.  We’re protected from most of their effects by the earth’s magnetic shield. However the threat posed, as in my and other stories, by a nuclear induced EMP attack is real and our magnetic shielding won’t protect us.  The scenario may be attractive to many rogue regimes as you don’t have to precisely target a city and you can do more wide spread damage. As in my novel, the terrorists at first don’t like the idea; they want to see fire and death rain down from the sky, but they are won over by the vision of the U.S. “dying from within” as society collapses.

Food: Think about it; our cities have approximately a three day supply of food. Grocery stores and their food delivery systems are a modern marvel. We get a bewildering array of choices, mostly year around, ever replenished in a three day cycle, thus insuring a constant flow of perishable items. Now take away the delivery system; modern trucks stop running, trains stop running, planes stop flying.

The first casualty of the breakdown in our transportation system would be food supplies (next would probably be gas). Cities would quickly run out as people made a run on the grocery stores. Add to this situation the fact that credit cards don’t work anymore. How many of us have sufficient amounts of cash on hand to make necessary purchases, even if we can fight through the crowds to find the goods?

No Information: So we have no food being delivered and no credit cards being accepted. Now let’s add in the loss of electricity and communications. We don’t have lights, we can’t call anyone and we don’t get informed about what is going on—no television, radio or internet. In modern disasters, there is generally some form of communication by which the authorities can let the population know what’s happened and direct them in how to respond. The sense of isolation would be terrifying to many; local officials, when found, would have no better idea of what happened and what was being done about it than anyone else.

Hospitals would be out of action; their backup generators, conveniently integrated into their electrical systems, would have been damaged. No lights means surgeries would have to be done under flashlight, if the hospital had any. Medicines would soon be in short supply. People with diabetes might be the first to suffer without a supply of insulin, but others would soon succumb.

Breakdown: I don’t mean to depress my readers, but you can see that it is not hard to project an apocalyptic vision from the above. How long could our society remain cohesive? The density of our cities is made possible only by the infrastructure that would now be disabled. How long would we remain friendly to and supportive of each other? How soon would hunger and fear drive us to desperate action? Not to mention those in society who already tend to live on the edge of the law. We may find there are many more sociopaths as well as psychopaths amongst us than we want to believe. And many would be driven to such behavior out of a belief that aggression is needed for survival. Survival for most people would drive out most other feelings.

90% Casualties: This is grist for an author’s mill. For my novel, I have drawn the most severe picture. I have an electrical engineer friend who doesn’t think it would be as bad as I describe (but that doesn’t make for as good a story). The army has some “hardened” systems so it wouldn’t be completely disabled. Still James Woolsey, former CIA Director, in an August 12, 2014 editorial in the Wall Street Journal, points out that the EMP Commission (whatever that is/was) concluded in 2008 that within 12 months of such an attack 90% of the U.S. population could be dead. Even if that estimate is way off base, 50% of the U.S. population dying would be catastrophic.

So clearly an EMP attack is great fodder for a novelist, but it is also a real and present threat. This threat has been recognized by our current administration, but no one seems to be in any hurry to address it. Woolsey’s editorial pointed out that protecting the country’s national grid (which would keep the power on, even if transportation were shut down) would cost 2 billion dollars, about what we give Pakistan a year in foreign aid. Something to think about; meanwhile, the subject provides fertile soil in which to sow stories.

Would you be able to survive the collapse of society?  Would you want to? Let me know your thoughts.

[to comment go to the top of the blog and click on the title]

Sequel Update

Off to the Editor

I sent the manuscript off to an editor last week.  He’ll take over 100 hours to go through it.  It’s a very particular skill set and the author is definitely not the one to edit their own work. I’m sure I’ll need a hug and words of encouragement after I go through his edits, but that’s what editors are supposed to do, find the holes, the misused words, the plot kinks, awkward dialogue and expose them.  It’s my job to suck it up, so to speak, and fix them.  You, the reader, get a better story, which I hope everyone will appreciate.

All successful writers have editors whether traditional or self published, so why shouldn’t I? Jason’s Tale was beta read by thoughtful friends and self edited by me dozens of times. That process took a long time. A professional editor can shorten the time to publish, getting to the heart of a story’s issues. By investing in an editor, I think I’ll save months to publication. I want to get this sequel out this fall as promised all summer.  That said, I think beta readers are still a good step for me to take before sending my work off to an editor.

Will I have a long term relationship with this editor?  Who knows?  Some writers do.  Like any relationship, one has to take time to see how it develops.  Does the editor like reading my work?  That’s important; if they don’t like the story lines or writing style, it’s harder for them to edit.  Will I like the changes he imposes/suggests?  Sometimes an editor may want the author to go in a different direction than the writer wants to go, or to not take “license” with the rules of grammar where the writer thinks they are justified for the effect…think The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Publish date?

My editor will take three passes at the story, after each of my rewrites.  We’re looking at about a month to complete it all, so I’m shooting for mid-November.  Of course when I get his markup back, I’ll be “head down” and hard working to get the manuscript turned around and back to him.  He said the first pass would take over 100 hours, as I said above, the second pass, maybe 30 hours and the third pass less than 10.  Hopefully all will go as expected.

New Thriller Novel

I’m still going to try to fit this in and publish it before year’s end.  It sets up a protagonist, Daniel (Dan) Stone, who becomes a black ops assassin for the CIA.  This first novel, tentatively titled Retribution, tells the story of how Dan loses everything and winds up with the CIA.  Most of the action takes place in Brooklyn, with some pretty colorful characters.  I like it and I think you will as well.

Audio Book

The audio book of After the Fall: Jason’s Tale is on schedule for mid-November as well.  Gabriel Zacchai has completed the narration and now he has to do the editing.  Check out his website; he lives in Maine, is a folk singer, tattoo artist, story teller and dad along with being a narrator; a very interesting guy.

Audio Book

I recently signed a contract to produce an audio version of After the Fall: Jason’s Tale.  The narrator is Gabriel Zacchai, a folk singer/writer, teller of stories and book narrator from Maine.  He’s done two other book as far as I know and has an honest sounding, down-home voice that will bring Jason alive.  Check out his website here.

Book narration is not easy.  A standard book will be about 4 to 8 hours of listening and takes many more hours to produce.  Think about reading out loud with no stumbling over syntax or pronunciation.  Then add in getting the proper inflection for the drama of the moment.  Obviously one has to read the story ahead of time and then there are lots of starts and stops along the way.

You can link to the sample from the Home page, or just click here.  The sample is Gabriel reading the Prologue of the story.  It was quite a moment to hear my words come alive with sound.  I wasn’t ready for the rush of emotion that came with the hearing.  All that work, the time writing and the seemingly endless revising and fine tuning, and there it was, the words now alive with sound.  Audio books are very cool.

The full audio book will be out mid-November, just in time for a Christmas present for someone you care for, or leave a big hint about it with someone who cares for you.  I’ll keep you updated on progress.  Enjoy the sample.

Thoughts on Post Apocalyptic Literature

Post apocalyptic (PA) literature is an interesting genre in which to write.  Modern examples of this genre go back to the thirties through the fifties with Brave New World, 1984, Alas Babylon, The Earth Abides and others.  They are the grandparents of the modern tale.

The interesting element for a writer is that the world as we know it is stripped away.  The author can insert whatever he/she wants.  In this respect, the genre is a form of science fiction where the author has a free rein to create his/her own worlds, even though fantastic, non-existent, elements may not be a part of the story.

The challenge for the author is to not stop at describing the details of the destruction and chronicling the protagonist’s reactions to the apocalyptic event, but to go deeper; to examine what happens to society when its supports are stripped away.

In western society we live (as does the whole developed world) in a web of dependency.  That web supports the smooth functioning of our large suburban and urban areas, allowing people to live in close proximity with a modicum of privacy, and an amazing level of cleanliness, hygiene and health.  This all happens so smoothly and behind the scenes that most of us are oblivious to the unseen support systems and workers that sustain the marvel that is a modern city and its suburbs.  In the nineteenth century everyone was more connected to the systems needed for humans to survive:  growing and preserving food, making clothes, making shelter, repairing tools and self defense.  Today we can be ignorant of such skills and still function quite well.

Take the modern grocery store for example.  It is a marvel of just-in-time inventory containing a bewildering array of choices, many fresh, seemingly always available for you to put in your cart.  The economics consist of very low profit margins but very high turnover rates (how many times the whole inventory is turned—sold and replaced).  Due to those high turnover rates and the demands of freshness, the average grocery store has only a three day supply of food on hand.  That is why you see empty shelves when a snowstorm is coming.

Now, insert some apocalyptic event and have transportation cease.  Just to make things more interesting, have all communications cease (as with an EMP attack as I postulated in my novel).  Now the cities become centers of starvation, panic and mayhem.

One reader asked why writers in this genre seem to always describe civilization becoming violent, going so bad when structure and authority break down.  What lies behind the question may be a belief in the perfectibility of humans; that we are essentially good in nature and this goodness can come out just as easily as the bad side of our nature.

It seems to me that history doesn’t support this idea.  A review shows civilizations arising and suppressing some of humanity’s bad traits, but only through the pressure of laws and regulations backed with force and punishment that keeps everyone in line.  Take that control away and anarchy breaks out.  Consider utopian societies; they attempt to establish groups that can achieve harmony.  Most are driven by the belief in the perfectibility of humans.  But, as C.S. Lewis put it, they form, thrive and then it all seems to go wrong.  Greed, lust, aggression assert themselves, a “strongman” emerges and they slip into some form of totalitarianism.

Groups organized around religious doctrine, which establishes a uniformity of view and purpose, a monoculture so to speak, seem to last the longest, but they generally become stagnant, not evolving and growing in intellectual or material achievements.

This is all no surprise for those of the Christian faith.  The Christian believes that humans are “fallen” creatures and so need the help of God to attain their true (original) nature, which probably cannot be realized in this lifetime.  They do not expect perfectibility and recognize the futility of trying to achieve it through human means alone.

The secularist retains a belief in the perfectibility of humans (we can be better) in spite of the overwhelming evidence of history.  Great efforts are put into society’s structures (many to good effect), but they keep coming up short of the goal in the end.  Still the effort goes on.  Back in the sixties, Lyndon Johnson, set up a group of programs called “The Great Society”.  He was going to win the war in Vietnam and the war on poverty.  He accomplished neither, but we still spend billions and even trillions on the legacy programs that he created to eliminate poverty.

Personally I think politics can only put band-aids on society’s ills; it is only triage.  Society cannot be fundamentally fixed or healed until people’s hearts are changed.  Politics cannot do that.  Maybe only God can; I’ll leave that your judgment.

So for the novelist, the PA genre allows one to dig through the collapse, when the thin veneer of civilization breaks down, cracks and falls away.  The theme of breakdown and collapse evidences the writer’s assumptions that humans are not perfectible, or have not yet achieved it.  Our baser instincts come to the fore and have to be dealt with by the protagonist.

Bad people thrive because they are used to operating outside of the structure of laws.  They are practiced in taking advantage of their fellow human beings and do not shy from violence to achieve their ends.  They are well equipped for anarchy.

A writer’s challenge and enjoyment is to describe this conflict, showing how those deeper tendencies, the “fallen” side of our natures, come to the front and how we have to defend against those who give into them and then learn how to create space that allows for the “better” parts of our natures to emerge.  In short, we must begin to erect the “structure” of civilization through which people can again begin to flourish.

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