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First Page: Untitled – Apocalyptic M/M

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Dane Foster met his first intelligent Infected at the age of twenty-two.

His first clue that it wasn’t a normal Infected was that it hesitated. It stopped when it saw him, and its eyes went from the pistol in Dane’s hand to the alley entrance. It knew Dane could kill it, and it was more interested in surviving than eating.

If it weren’t for the wounds, he might’ve mistaken it for human. There was an uneven hole in its side, and several of its fingers were missing. Shotgun injuries, Dane recognized. Both were recent and neither were bleeding.

The sentience in its eyes sent chills down Dane’s spine. Unlike all the others, it knew exactly what it was – a blood-thirsty monster – and exactly what it wanted: prey.

Dane leveled his pistol at the Infected’s head and fired.

The gunshot was like thunder in the empty city. The Infected ducked as soon as he began aiming, catching the bullet in its shoulder instead of its skull. “Shit!!” Dane said, scrambling back, but it was too late. Quick as a flash, the Infected barreled into him.

They say your life flashes before your eyes in situations like these. For Dane, it didn’t. There was no unearthly calm, no inhuman focus; there was only his heart thundering in his ears as he gripped the Infected by its neck, fighting to keep its teeth from his skin.

Distantly, someone shouted. Dane didn’t notice. All he could think was ‘can’t let it bite me’ and ‘god, I made it so far’ . But the Infected heard the shout, and the Infected lifted its head. Dane followed its gaze. Wide-eyed, they both stared down the alley.

There, silhouetted against the setting sun, stood a man with a shotgun.

The Infected leapt up and took off in the opposite direction. Or at least, it would have, had it been able; Dane had a death grip on its neck. And just as he’d been terrified moments before, Dane was filled with an awful, all-consuming hate for the creature in his hold. He held tighter, and it choked, clawing at his hands.

It was only moments before the man reached them and fired. A revolting mixture of liquid and bone splattered on Dane’s face. Dane winced.

The man stood there, panting. He looked at the shotgun like he had no idea what it was. He dropped it, throwing up his hands. “Oh my god,” he said, scrambling to check on Dane. “Oh my god! Are you alright?”

Dane was cold. His mind was numb. The man, whom Dane had never seen before in his life, shook him. “Stop that,” Dane snapped, slapping away the hands. But his arms were shaking badly, and he missed. Belatedly, Dane realized he might be freaking out a little.

The stranger hauled him upright. “It didn’t bite you, did it?” the stranger said. “I mean, I saw it scratch you, but – ”

“I’m fine,” Dane said. “Just give me a minute.”

He shoved himself away from the stranger. He sat down and curled up, fighting to breathe evenly. When he felt like he could think without screaming, he stood up. Fist shaking, he kicked the headless corpse as hard as he could.

“Fuck. Fuck!” He kicked it again. He stood still, panting, hyper aware of the stranger watching him. “Okay. Okay.” Dane took a deep breath. He blew it out. “I’m okay.”

“You sure?” the stranger asked tentatively.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Dane looked at the stranger sharply.

“Hey now,” the stranger said, raising his palms. “Infected’s dead. I’m a friend.” Then, sounding curious, he added, “You out here alone?”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

23 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 06:55:49

    I like it. Not much to suggest, really.

    I was pulled out a bit by the casual way they handled scratches and sprayed bodily fluids; in most zombie stories I’ve read, the disease is infectious through any contact of fluid and exposed flesh. Obviously you can make up your own rules, and I’m not a huge zombie fan so maybe I’ve got the established rules wrong anyway, but I thought I’d mention it just as something that pulled me out of the story.

    I also wonder if your first sentence could be a bit punchier. The MC’s age really isn’t all that important, is it? Maybe something like “Dane Foster met his first intelligent Infected two years after the world ended.” or “Dane Foster met his first intelligent Infected in a alley just as abandoned as the rest of the city.” or “Dane Foster was actually feeling pretty optimistic about everything right before he met his first intelligent Infected.” I’m not saying any of those is great, but I feel like you could give us something a bit more dramatic that the character’s age, you know?

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  2. Author On Vacation
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 07:50:18

    Not bad. Your story’s interesting, your writing’s a tad overdone.

    This one paragraph:

    “If it weren’t for the wounds, he might’ve mistaken it for human. There was an uneven hole in its side, and several of its fingers were missing. Shotgun injuries, Dane recognized. Both were recent and neither were bleeding.”

    Do you realize “were,” “weren’t,” and “was” appear in this single paragraph five times? “It” and “its” also appears four times. How about trimming back some of that repetitious language like so:

    If it weren’t for the wounds, he might’ve mistaken the creature for human. Several missing fingers and a fist-sized hole on the infected’s flank dispelled the illusion. A trace of gun powder edging carrion stink stung Dane’s nostrils. Shotgun injuries, fairly recent and not one of them bleeding a drop.

    When you rely less on being verbs (“is,” “was,” “were,” etc.) your writing gets more creative and descriptive. It also helps “pull” readers into your fictional dream/world.

    Also, consider cropping out some of your dialogue tags. Use sparingly and as necessary. Try using action or description to identify your speakers.

    When you cull out superfluous language, you have more room to “show” instead of “tell.” Instead of:

    “I’m fine,” Dane said. “Just give me a minute.”

    He shoved himself away from the stranger.

    Try

    “I’m fine,” Dane shoved himself away from his rescuer. “Just give me a minute.”

    I think you’ve got the makings of an interesting story here and wish you best luck with it. Thanks for sharing your work with DA.

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  3. Becky Black
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 08:59:09

    I’m a bit dubious about the idea of shotgun man shooting the Infected in the head while Dane is apparently still holding it. If Dane isn’t masked completely by it then there’s a good chance he’d be hit by some pellets. And reading it over again, I can’t picture exactly how he’s holding it, and if he’s standing, or on the ground, or what.

    “moments” sounds like a long time for the guy to reach them from the mouth of the alley, especially assuming he’s running. I think seconds would be better.

    Dane merely “wincing” when the infected’s head is blown off, right beside him seems a bit inconsistent with his shakiness a moment later.

    There are a few of cliche phrases that could do with being replaced with something fresher:
    chills down Dane’s spine
    Quick as a flash
    looked at the shotgun like he had no idea what it was
    a death grip

    Is Dane really “hyper aware” of the guy watching him, or is he just aware and the hyper sounds a bit cooler?

    I don’t think you need to say “whom Dane had never seen before in his life”. Since he’s only thinking of him as “the man” etc rather than thinking, “hey, here’s Bob” or whatever, I get that he doesn’t know him.

    I’m a bit unclear about this bit: “Fist shaking, he kicked the headless corpse as hard as he could.” The fist shaking, is he shaking his fist at the corpse? Or is his fist trembling? And if the latter, well, why just the one? If one hand is shaking surely the other is too? Unless he only has one arm, but I think you’d have mentioned that.

    Generally, it seems like an exciting place to start the story, and a good way to get the lovers to meet, assuming that’s who they are. (Great story to tell the grandchildren. ;D) And I personally want to see more m/m zombie stories, so good luck with it.

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  4. Jane Davitt
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 09:22:54

    I think this is a great start and though post-apoc zombie books aren’t my thing, I still felt that I wanted to read more.

    I think when you use an unfamiliar word (in this case ‘Infected’ as a species) it stands out so you need to use it sparingly.

    But the Infected heard the shout, and the Infected lifted its head.

    could read better as ‘But the Infected heard the shout, and lifted its head. ‘

    Same for ‘the stranger’ at the end, used three times. Vary it (the man, the guy) and get a name out there as soon as you can so you can use that instead.

    Maybe get more of a flow:

    The man stood there, panting. He looked at the shotgun like he had no idea what it was. He dropped it, throwing up his hands.

    The choppy sentences can be good to convey the mood, but these are repetitive in structure. I’m also not sure what the throwing up of the hands is for; that implies surrender, but he isn’t doing that. Maybe:

    The man stood there, panting. He glanced down at the shotgun like he had no idea what it was, then dropped it, freeing up his hands.

    But a great start that shows a lot of promise.

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  5. Jennifer Armintrout
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 11:14:03

    I’d read it. It sounds good. I agree with the commenter above, who says you need to rein in the uses of “Infected”, but otherwise it reads really well.

    ReplyReply

  6. Patricia
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 11:53:02

    This part made me do a double-take:

    The Infected leapt up and took off in the opposite direction. Or at least, it would have, had it been able; Dane had a death grip on its neck.

    In my mind, the zombie was already free and halfway down the block. Then suddenly it was back, locked in struggle with Dane. It felt very jarring. Perhaps something like The Infected tried to leap off but Dane refused to release his grip might work better.

    Overall, this is exciting and engaging. I would be happy to read more.

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  7. Patricia
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 12:07:13

    Hmm, looks like I messed up my tags there. Sorry about that. I was trying to suggest something like, “The Infected tried to leap off but Dane refused to release his grip,” as alternative phrasing.

    ReplyReply

  8. Wahoo Suze
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 12:19:15

    That’s a really promising beginning, I wanted to read more. I was thrown off a little by the change in pace at the end. I would think they’d need a little more time to recover, and clean off the body fluids, before they got curious and chatty.

    ReplyReply

  9. Cervenka
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 12:25:29

    I agree with the first commenter about the blood and bodily fluids–if your narrator got all this liquid and gore on his face (and potentially in his eyes), my immediate thought was that he must be infected.

    I would keep reading this. Well done.

    ReplyReply

  10. Lori
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 12:27:27

    This was a good first page. I would have kept reading.

    Although….

    The pacing did feel off and I would have liked there to be more of a sense of action. I think Author on Vacation nailed it in her comment.

    I’m neither a zombie fan nor a major reader of m/m but I’d buy this.

    ReplyReply

  11. Meljean
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 13:11:36

    I like it. I’d definitely keep reading.

    ReplyReply

  12. Lil
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 15:23:42

    I would never have picked this up in a bookstore, because I avoid apocalyptic things, but I thought this was excellent. I agree about the overuse of Infected and the need for a bit of cleanup before chatting at the end, but other that that I have nothing but praise.

    I am not your target audience, since I would not continue reading. I have no need of nightmares. But the fact that even this much is likely to give them to me tells you how effective your writing is.

    ReplyReply

  13. Avery Shy
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 16:37:29

    (Author of the first page here!)

    Thank you all for your comments so far! You’ve really helped me gain perspective on this.

    ReplyReply

  14. DM
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 23:56:12

    The action is jumbled and the POV is unclear. Take a close look at this passage:

    “Dane leveled his pistol at the Infected’s head and fired.

    The gunshot was like thunder in the empty city. The Infected ducked as soon as he began aiming, catching the bullet in its shoulder instead of its skull. “Shit!!” Dane said, scrambling back, but it was too late. Quick as a flash, the Infected barreled into him.”

    Here is the order you present the information in:

    Dane fires.
    The Infected ducks.
    Dane begins to aim.
    The bullet strikes the Infected.

    Here is how the scene really plays out:

    Dane aims.
    The Infected Ducks.
    Dane fires.
    The bullet strikes the Infected.

    There’s also a clarity problem here:

    “The Infected ducked as soon as he began aiming,”

    Where “he” should be Dane–but because the subject of the sentence is the Infected, “he” is the infected.

    And you tell us what did not happen:

    “…catching the bullet in its shoulder instead of its skull…”

    Much of the passage is from Dane’s point of view, but this:

    “Distantly, someone shouted. Dane didn’t notice.”

    must be from an omniscient narrator, since Dane didn’t notice, so we can’t be in his POV.

    ReplyReply

  15. Des Livres
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 01:16:45

    I would normally not read an apocalyptic book, but loved this first page and wanted to keep reading.

    I was pulled up a bit by the ducking/shoulder/head bit and the head being blown off while holding the Infected’s neck. “hang on,” I though has I was reading, stopped, tried to visualise the whole thing….

    As usual I am blown away by the fine focus of the other commenators and their prose analysis.

    Dear Author is there any way you could add a little button commentators could press to put ourselves on, say, a mailing list for the author so they could send us updates on particular books? Like this one?

    Maybe something where the data remained private to this site and the respective authors.

    ReplyReply

  16. K. Z. Snow
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 08:12:11

    Hi, Avery! Aside from the need for some grammatical tweaking, this was pretty engaging.

    By far the biggest speed bump for me was the term Infected. I immediately thought of Andrea Speed’s excellent “Infected” series, also m/m (and sort of apocalyptic), in which that word is used in a similar context: as a noun, to identify not-strictly-human inhabitants of the story’s world. You might consider coming up with a new label for the zombies, lest you be accused of lifting unique terms from another writer’s lexicon.

    Good luck!

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  17. Kerry
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 10:11:59

    I’m generally a lurker on these, but I had to pop in and say I LOVED this. I would absolutely read more! I agree that it could be cleaned up a bit, but the story – its bones, your voice, the whole package – was fantastic. Good luck!!!

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  18. Patty H.
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 11:57:10

    I liked the action but agree with all the above comments, especially the order of events. Clear order pulls us, and your characters, from one event to another.
    Do make it a high powered rifle instead of a shotgun, or Dane is going to suffer some injures, too. :)

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  19. Jacques Antoine
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 12:41:16

    I like it, and I’m not normally a reader of zombie lit. I like the phrase “the infected.” It both dehumanizes and reminds one of a lost humanity. I don’t know if this phrase has been used in other zombie novels.

    I agree with authoronvacation’s observation about too many was’s (or to be’s in general). English is prone to passivity. You have to make an effort to avoid it. This is really the tip of the showing/telling iceberg.

    I also agree with the narrative concern with sprayed fluids and shotgun pellet scatter. These are uncompelling as descriptions, unless you plan on making something more of them later. Will Dane subsequently discover troublesome pellet wounds, or a fluid related infection? If so, then you’ve set it up well. The thought will be there in your reader’s mind already.

    One last note: I don’t think you can use the verb “choke” that way. “He held tighter, and it choked, clawing at his hands.” I could be wrong about this, but I think the intransitive use of choke needs an indirect object, like “He choked on a fish bone.” At any rate, it sounds awkward to me.

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  20. Maili
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 13:48:32

    Since Dane seems to fear a bite, it sounds like the source of the infection is saliva?

    If that’s the case, then he’s crazy for trying to strangle the zombie’s neck. When the throat’s closed off, a large amount of saliva is produced. What if it drips out of its mouth into Dane’s eyeball or mouth? And of course, when its head explodes? I think he’d have a better grip and a greater chance of avoiding being infected if he squeeze-pushes the zombie’s throat far enough for the zombie to land on its back, then he can grip away while facing down the zombie. And no chance of getting infected when the stranger shoots at the zombie’s head as it’d just splatter across the ground.

    Also, the stranger seems concerned that Dane may be scratched. So another way of infecting a person is through a scratch? I think it may be better to change it to ‘bitten’ to keep it simple on the first page? Otherwise readers may wonder how or why Dane and the stranger weren’t concerned that Dane’s face was covered with “liquid and bone” if he can be infected through a scratch.

    Excuse me for being so nitpicky, but how can the zombie claw at Dane’s hands if “several of its fingers were missing”? :D

    Another note: the stranger’s dialogue took me by surprise. He sounds so young, naive and girl-like. Nothing like his composure earlier. My fault as I had imagined him to be 100% “There, silhouetted against the setting sun, stood a man with a shotgun.” The nature of his dialogue suggests he would run towards them in panic or similar, and that his shout would be more than just “the shout” when he first saw Dane and the infected guy. Not a serious issue, though.

    Aside those minor issues, I’d read on. Thank you!

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  21. Avery Shy
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 16:37:05

    I’m surprised the word “Infected” merited such attention. The reason I chose it was because I felt it was a common, and I didn’t want it to stick out.

    It’s definitely not an idea I came up with myself. There are some fairly well-known works (not novels, though) that use the term “Infected”, such as Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, 28 Days Later, ect, ect.

    I came across Andrew Speed’s books a week or two ago after seeing them on a review blog, and I was definitely concerned. They seem popular and I wouldn’t want to confuse people, nor would I want people unfamiliar with apocalypse lore to accuse me of lifting the idea from her.

    I feel trapped. I can’t call them zombies, because they’re not. I suppose I will find another term, or, at the very least, cut down on its uses. Or maybe I’ll stop capitalizing it. Who knows. The book’s a long way from finished, so I guess I’ve plenty of time to decide.

    Again, thank you all for your help! I’ve always had trouble with these kinds of scenes, and it’s great to have feedback from someone who isn’t my poor husband, who’s read this too many times to count.

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  22. Des Livres
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 00:14:16

    Avery, there is lots of scope for coming up with a new significant term in your world building, which you can load in a way unique to your world/culture. Afflicted, Tainted, Diseased, Stricken, or some orwellian euphemism.

    i.e. in my country, if there if is likely someone is an “unlawful noncitizen” any policeman has a DUTY to detain that person, contact the authorities, and that person can be detained for years if necessary. Without telling anyone. If they are ever let out, until recently our Government then Charged them for the detention. (some hundreds of thousands a year). It’s a certain phrase in my country which makes a certain segment of the population’s blood freeze.

    Just pointing out that in terms of naming the condition, there is a lot of scope for revealing the culture, the socio-political landscape and the attitudes to the zombies or whatever they are. For instance if you were constructing some sort of demented theocracy you could refer to them as “Blessed Martyrs” or “lost sinners” (depending) and when someone got bitten or whatever they could be referred to as “blessed” or “lost”.

    In terms of medicalisation, people with HIV refer to themselves as “positive”. I would advise against using that particular word to refer to zombies, but it still harks back to the infection thing but in an indirect way.

    So I wouldn’t think of it as been trapped, I’d think of it as scope for more fun.

    I do look forward to reading your book.

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  23. Patricia
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 06:53:21

    I am familiar with the term “infected,” referring to zombie-like creatures, from a variety of sources, including many of the ones you mentioned. I don’t think any one author can claim ownership of that word. I’m pretty sure Resident Evil has a much larger audience than any m/m romance novel, no matter how brilliant, in any case.

    ReplyReply

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