As promised, a brief snippet from the first chapter of ZS: Odyssey.
“We’ve got to get off this roof,” I said. The pilot was helping his wounded comrade pull her assault vest off, but he spared a second to give me glare as she sat on the edge of the rear deck.
“We’re about as safe here as we would be anywhere else, Mr. Stewart,” he said as he opened the first aid kit. “We’re on high ground, and this is a pretty defensible position. We’ve only got a couple more hours of sunlight left, so the best thing we can do is stay here until morning, when we can get our bearings and make a plan.” He turned away and started inspecting the wounded Marine’s arm. Now that we weren’t being shot at or trying not to fall to our deaths, I was able to take in details. The female Marine had the two chevrons over crossed rifles of a corporal. Her name tag read Hernandez. The pilot had a subdued black bar on his rank tab, and Kaplan on the tape over his pocket.
“Lieutenant, most days, I’d agree with you,” I said as I walked over to them. Hernandez winced as he poured the contents of a packet of Kwik-Clot over her wound. “But not today.”
“Listen, Mr. Stewart,” he said as he set the gauze wrap in Hernandez’ hand. He stood up and gave himself a few inches of vertical advantage on me before he went on. “We’re trained to handle situations like this. I know you’re scared right now, and I know this rooftop feels pretty exposed. From a civilian’s point of view, I can imagine how scary the situation must seem.” Behind him, Hernandez let out a little grunt that sounded like a laugh that had barely slipped under the wire. I took a deep breath and tried to reign my temper in, but somehow, that seemed to make things worse.
“You’re…trained for things like this,” I said slowly. “When did the Marine Corps add zombie apocalypse to its leadership course curriculum? Because if they did, you sure as hell didn't sign up for it! Look over there, lieutenant. Do you notice anything unusual about the dozens of reanimated dead people?” His head turned, then he turned back to me a couple of seconds later.
“Well, they’re dead again. Look, Mr. Stewart, you did a fantastic job keeping them away from the chopper, but that doesn't change basic-”
“Scrubs, Kaplan! Scrubs and hospital gowns!” I cut him off. “We landed on top of a goddamn hospital.” His face went slack, and I watched the blood drain from his cheeks.
“Oh shit,” he breathed. “We’ve got to get the hell off this roof.”
One of the things I'm discovering about ending the first book of a series on a cliffhanger is that for some strange reason, people really want to know when the next book is coming out. It's like I ended the story with my hero about to crash into a zombie infested wasteland or something.
Which is, of course, great. Not that I take great pleasure in torturing my readers, (The same can't be said of my characters) but that they like the story so much.
So, this is me, burning the midnight oil and writing until 5:30 AM in the hope that I'll have ZS: Odyssey ready to go by July 1. Granted, I'm being wildly optimistic, but I have a terrific proofreader and this isn't my first novel so I'm pretty confident I can pull that off.
Okay, so how far along am I? Tonight saw me break the 40K mark on wordcount. To give you a better idea of what that means in terms of "How close to done are you, damn it!!?", ZS: Exodus was just shy of 70K words long. It was also 15 chapters long, and tonight, I just ended chapter 6. So, tonight puts me about halfway done.
ZS: Odyssey is going to be a little longer than Exodus, I know that. We're going to see a couple of different kinds of infected, and you'll learn a little more about the Asura virus. We'll also learn a little more about Dave, or course, and more importantly, Dave will learn some things about himself.
I'll try to post a snippet later this week.
In Zompoc Survivor: Exodus, Dave Stewart uses several guns. Four different pistols, three rifles and a mini-gun as near as I can remember. I’ve been interested to one degree or another with survival since the late 1980s, when I lived and worked at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas and my thoughts on guns as survival tools after SHTF have been very much the same the whole time. When it comes to firearms, the well-stocked survival armory doesn't need a large supply of guns, it needs a good selection of them. In a perfect world, my gun cabinet would have four, maybe five guns: two pistols (one revolver and one semiautomatic), one rifle for hunting and self-defense, one shotgun for the same purposes, and a small caliber rifle for small game hunting.
It’s the last one that I would hope saw the most use, so it’s that one I’m going to concentrate on to start with in this entry. It should come as no surprise that I chose the Ruger 10/22 as my utility rifle. Since it was introduced in 1964, over five million have been made. It’s light, handles like a dream out of the box and has negligible recoil, plus, when you can find it, .22 ammo is dirt cheap. The 10/22 is also infinitely customizable, and it’s a good gun to pick up without breaking your budget, which is the primary reason Dave has one, since I wanted his preparations to be accessible to almost anyone. To that end, Dave’s Ruger only has a couple of after-market modifications, specifically, a Tactical Solutions Magazine Release and a Simmons .22 Mag Series scope. Both of these items cost under $50, and the rifle itself can run between $200-300 depending on which one you get and who you buy it from. Extra magazines from Ruger can be ordered for about $20 each. All told, you could put together a pretty decent kit over time for under $500, with the biggest single expense being the rifle itself. Dave bought the rifle first with his tax returns, then got the extra magazines before moving on to the scope and finally the quick release for the magazines.
The 10/22 is a great utility rifle. At close range, a 40 grain .22 round will drop most small game. It will also hurt most people pretty effectively if you have no other weapon for self-defense, through it’s not a man stopper. However, even from a pistol, .22 LR will penetrate through at least two standard walls (four layers of sheetrock), so you still want to be sure of your target and what is behind it if you’re shooting inside. So in a pinch, if you can only get out with one gun, the Ruger 10/22 is not a bad choice. Within 100 yards, it can penetrate pretty effectively though shot placement would be critical in a self-defense situation, and it can drop most small to medium game within about 200 yards if you need it to. It’s also light and durable, so if you have a long way to go, it won’t weigh you down so badly, especially since .22 ammo is so damn light and cheap.
Also, since it's a semiauto rifle, you can put rounds downrange faster than a bolt action, and with its almost non-existent recoil, you can acquire targets pretty easily. Good for handling a group of zombies at a distance.
But What about Zombies?
.22 vs zombie skull. Which one would win?
That question came up from more than one beta reader. Again, shot placement is critical. In talking to Lee Close, I was quickly disabused of the notion that “headshot” equals the forehead. In fact, aiming above the eyebrows quickly became something I wanted to actively avoid. The forehead is pretty much the thickest part of the human skull, so if you’re looking for a place to bounce small caliber rounds off of, that’s the spot to aim for. But, the brain is a pretty big organ and if you really want to give a zombie a fatal dose of small caliber lead poisoning, aim for the face.
Here’s why. If you put your sights on a zombie’s nose, even if you miss by even a couple of inches, you’re going to hit them either in the eye, the cheek or the mouth. While there are some pretty thick pieces of bone there, a big chunk of that area is empty space, especially the nasal cavities and eye sockets. And if you do happen to hit the nose…nothing but cartilage there. This is how Dave drops a big group of zombies with a Ruger 10/22.
If a zombie does give you a profile shot, aim for the ear. It’s center mass and it’s hard to go wrong with if you’re off by an inch or three. If by some strange happenstance, the walking dead folks are facing away from you and all you have is a small caliber target and varmint rifle…don’t fix that happy circumstance by letting them know you’re there and not dead.
That being said, ammo choice is also pretty important. 40 grain rounds seem to be the best combo of weight and velocity. lighter rounds are too likely to either not hit hard enough or get blown off target by wind. Too heavy, and you lose range and speed. Personally, I'd go for Velocitor rounds.
So, if you have to pick one gun for your survival prep, you can't go too far wrong with the Ruger 10/22.
A long time ago (the 90s) in a land far, far away (Nixa, MO), a much younger me worked at a monotonous job doing something monotonous. Seriously, we did the same thing hundreds of times an hour, thousands of times a night. It was an entry level job that was guaranteed to pretty much stay entry level forever.
I'm not there any more, and soon, I could be making enough money with my books to make an actual living at it. I beat some pretty long odds just getting to where I am now. So, the question some people ask me is "How did you do it?"
I wish I knew. I wish there was a formula for success I could just write down for you...hell, I wish there was a formula I could write down for ME! But if I could give you one piece of advice that I think would make everything else work, it's this:
Start chasing contrails.
See, back when I was working at the monotonous job, my best friend Roanen and I would do something different on our breaks than anyone else there. We'd walk around the building and dream big. We'd look up at the sky and see planes flying overhead, and we told each other we were going to be one of the people on those planes some day. We would talk about how our current project was going to help us become one of those people, going to conventions, having fans all over the US. We had no idea how we were going to do it, but we were sure we COULD do it. We had a dream, we had talent and we had determination. Who cared if we didn't have a clue? We knew we'd figure it out.
One night, we noticed something else, something that made us stand out from everyone else there. Other people were having very different conversations than we were. We talked about our dreams, we talked story, we talked style, we talked about art and whether or not to do our graphic novel in black & white or in color. We made plans. Big plans.
The people around us talked about each other. They complained about their neighbors, their job, their family. Their conversations never left the world they were in, except when they joked about winning the lottery.
I think that if I had to pinpoint one moment when I knew both Roanen and I had a shot at beating the odds, it was during that one night. Because our focus was always on our dreams. When everyone else was looking down, focusing on things within arm's reach, we were looking up and we were chasing contrails.
And we never stopped.
So, at the end of each day, think about where your focus was in your free time. Was it on your dreams? I know, there are a thousand things that might demand your attention, but make room for your dreams. Look up sometimes, and never settle for what's in arm's reach.
As an author, there are moments when your life changes noticeably. The first time you type "The End" on a rough draft and realize you just wrote a novel. The first time one of your books gets published. Holding the first copy of one of your books in your hands. Big, exciting moments.
For me, one of those moments happened on March 6th, 2014. What happened that day? Several things all at once. Zompoc Survivor broke the 10,000 ranking on Amazon. It also broke into the top 100 in the post-apocalyptic genre. It even spent some time in the top 10 in both the post-apocalyptic and the dystopian genres, and it was the number 2 new release for a week or so.
Sounds like I'm bragging. Okay, yeah, I am. Just a little.
Today I also realized that I'd passed a sort of milestone recently. See, as I write this, I am comfortably on the far side of eight weeks in that same zone.
And this is where I REALLY brag, but not on myself.
It's no coincidence that the same day Shawn Chesser mentioned Zompoc Survivor on his Facebook page that my ranking skyrocketed. Nor is it a coincidence that people have had good things to say to me about my cover after Tony Baker helped me refine the design for it.
Every time David Forsyth mentions my book (and he has several times, not to mention giving a great review of it) more people seem to buy it. Likewise, Jeff Clare, the mastermind behind All Things Zombie page on Facebook has been a huge help in keeping ZS: Exodus and several other zompoc books visible with his efforts.
Because of the terrific work Linda Tooch did proofing Zompoc Survivor, it also stands out among self-published books as being remarkably error free, and readers notice that. Danielle Pascale's ATZ Book Club has also been a huge help for me in seeing how readers experience the story, which helps me immensely in the process of writing the next book.
Once again, it all comes down to community. The zompoc and post-apocalyptic community is very close knit, and without the help of a lot of people, I wouldn't have the success I've enjoyed.
So, yeah...I have the beginnings of a writing career now. Because I'm part of a community.