Francis W. Porretto
on Feb. 5, 2014 :
First, the Campbell's Condensed version. You have a good story here, but the telling is ragged. There's far too much backstory exposition at several points, including the insertion of technical details that really don't belong in a work of fiction, and a lot of superfluous description. Also, you need stylistic help and a good line editor.
Now for the Progresso Heat And Serve version. Your strong points are a good plot and good characters. The plot is plausible, with the exception of some of the time intervals implied. The youngest veteran of World War II still alive today is 87 years old. The youngest Peter Delacroix could be today is 82. This puts a severe strain on the plausibility of both Delacroix and Mike Mitchell, whom you portray as far too vigorous for those ages.
Kristen and Rusty are well portrayed, though the manner of their introduction and the depiction of their relation to one another has several sorts of timing problems. Some of the material you provide about Kristen's and Rusty's backgrounds could be omitted without damaging their characters, but it doesn't hurt to have it, except that it slows the pace of the tale. Elizabeth feels superfluous, as if you felt you had to have a love interest but couldn't find a way to work her into the story more integrally.
Your style needs work. That's coupled to the backstory-exposition problem I mentioned above, and to your desire to provide lots of description of setting: more than is necessary or desirable. Description is always a tough nut for a fledgling writer. "Literary writers" are always praising one another for it -- yet not one of them is capable of telling a good, involving story that moves at a decent pace, or portraying characters that seem at all lifelike and human. However they have excessive influence on new writers, and thus are often emulated to ruin.
The best description is married to character actions and motivations. The late Elmore Leonard, famed for his humor-laced thrillers, was once asked by a fan why he wrote so few descriptive passages, and kept them so short. Leonard smiled and replied, "I try not to write the parts that people skip." Yet Leonard never leaves you in any doubt about what his characters are thinking and doing, or why: he uses description to show you what the characters deem important enough to notice, or, alternately, what they *should* notice, because it will be important to upcoming events.
Anton Chekhov put it this way: "Everything not essential to the story must be ruthlessly cut away. If in Act One you say that a gun hung on the wall, then by Act Two or Act Three at the latest, it must be discharged." Words to live by, especially for the writer of well-paced fiction in which the characters actually *do* things!
Much of your dialogue sounds forced. At several points I felt you were using dialogue to tell the reader things he needs to know, rather than to depict your characters doing things, and dealing with events, that are important to them. There are better ways -- and stilted dialogue is one of the things that prompt a reader to put a book down without finishing it.
Finally, there are more than a few low-level errors of spelling, punctuation, number agreement, homophone confusion, omitted words, and use of the wrong word. A good line-editor would have caught those for you.
All that having been said, know this: I read your book in one sitting. So you entertained me. I found the climax particularly clever. And for that you deserve credit. Your book is worth its purchase price, which isn't something I'd say about most SmashWords publications. (I've read over 800 of them.) But I'm hoping that you'll take the above comments to heart, because I think you have the potential to do still better.
(reviewed the day of purchase)