Participation Desired

I’d like to participate, but I must confess that giving feedback on writing is what I do for a living. Before becoming a college English instructor, I worked in editorial positions at two non-fiction publishing houses. Research is my real love, but I love working with college writers. While I’m known for rigor, I explain and support my judgments—so much so that I’ve had students thank me for failing them. I’ve also been published, so I know the pain of criticism.

As time permits, I’ll be more than glad to offer feedback for revision of structure and style—for free—to anyone who wants it.

My current project is a novel and hence not eligible for this forum, but anyone interested in reading the current incarnation of the first chapter can find it and comment on it here:

The last lines there need to go, don’t they? I felt my gorge rising as I reread them today. Questions. Such an obvious device.


Hi, Houyhnhnm -

I'm grateful that a pro editor is willing to give feedback! And honest isn't "harsh"; that's the kind of detail needed in order to craft something that might get published.

I like the beginning to your novel, and I'm not even a horse person - so, good job! I just had a couple of small nits and comments, in order of appearance:

"Tom hadn’t seen any elegant girls on elegant horses at the Mall since his sixth trek. After that he saw a few makeshift pony carts.." - is the tense wrong there? should it be "he had seen""

"This time all he’d seen so far were a few skinny bicyclists."
Makes me curious – how do they find spare parts after 20 years? I realize we can't put everything into the first chapter, so it might not be crucial.

By the time you talk about Jensenites, I’ve become curious about news from other states – what kind of news is there and how does it arrive? Does he get news at the ranch? The questions he’s pondering suggest he doesn’t but then – what happened to the communications? - Okay, I see later you mention internet... but if that just went down, surely he'd have gotten more news in earlier treks.

"Abandoned buildings, homes and businesses, now housed chickens or squatters."
Chickens would be eaten – or guarded, right?

"Tom shortened Max’s lead rope and, despite the pain in his knee, quickened his step."
Darn – I saw him riding Max! Maybe something earlier to say he’s walking? Or maybe I missed it. Not a horse/mule person, like I said.

Once you get to Nathan and the Collector bit, I’m really pulled in. Before that, not quite so much. I wonder about having something a bit stronger than the bike near-miss as the opening “drama”. It's always a challenge to find a hook, I know!

I do appreciate the harshness of “recycling” animals – it’s not sugar-coating the times.

I wonder about italicizing the inner thoughts? Perhaps you can’t do that on a blog post?

The part about animal rescue shelters being overwhelmed really hit home, even though I’m not much of a pet person.

All in all, I liked it and I'm eager to read the next posting!

Cathy, please accept my apologies for not responding sooner. It’s nearing the end of the semester, and time is tight between students and garden. I appreciate your comments.

I’ll work on fleshing out the locale. In Boulder County, Colorado, I expect to see at least one peloton a day. I’m betting there’re enough bicycle parts in BoCo shops and garages to keep bikes on the road for a hundred years. But this is indeed local knowledge.

BoCo is dense with horses too, but many have already gone away. Just two years ago, good hay could be had for five dollars a bale. Now it’s ten or eleven—and we’re still better off than most states.

That leads to another comment you made. What if I change “Tom hadn’t seen any elegant girls on elegant horses at the Mall since his sixth trek,” to “After his sixth trek, Tom saw no more elegant girls on elegant horses at the Mall.” Or perhaps “After his sixth trek, Tom never saw another elegant girl on an elegant horse at the Mall.” Would either of those make the point of the declining horse population/standard of living clearer?

I’ll work on the news aspects too. My goal is to sketch the ever-increasing suspicion of news sources of any kind. What you read is a third-fourth draft, so it’s still pretty skeletal. As I’m sure you know eleven’s pretty much industry standard.

You certainly caught a glitch here: “Abandoned buildings, homes and businesses, now housed chickens or squatters." Good catch. How about “Abandoned buildings, homes and businesses, now housed chickens and armed squatters." Better?

I’m not surprised you missed that Max was a pack mule. I used the word “panniers” and had Tom look over at Max on the first page, but most non-horsemen and/or non-bicyclists—many bikes around here sport panniers-- wouldn’t pick up on that sort of detail. Meanwhile, my horsie friends wanted more detail because they hoped I was using their panniers as my model.

Finding a balance is always a difficulty when one writes niche fiction. For example, there’s one post-industrial novel where the author spends most of his time detailing the guns of each of his characters. I’m trying to avoid unnecessary detail, but this is a work about people whose lives center on equines. Too little detail loses the niche audience. For example, I remember reading Evans’ The Horse Whisperer. Every time I thought the novel was getting halfway interesting, Evans turned back to people.

The most crucial point you brought up is style for inner thoughts. I’ve gone over this issue with a good many professionals. Everyone’s got a different take. So far, I’m ambivalent about all the possibilities. Italics would work, but to me, it clutters the text. I’ll try to think of something. I hate to pull the POV too far back, and yet dealing with thoughts is something that’s usually clumsy. Maybe I need to reread Middlemarch again.

Again, thanks for the feedback.

David Trammel's picture

I look forward to your comments and suggestions.