The Grey Man, an update…

Up to almost 70K words, but I need some feedback from my readers…

I’m doing something a bit different, and would like to know what you think. I’ve written a sequence where a number of characters come together for the first time, and do very short self intros. Since they don’t really ‘care’ about names, they only use first names in this sequence.

Do the short descriptors give you enough of a sense of the character’s capability and attitude???

Leaning against the table he said, “Quick and dirty around the room. Name, experience, if you’ve stacked, where you normally lined up and your task.” Putting a thumb in his chest he continued, “John Cronin. Ex-Green Beret, long before y’all were born. LEO with a DEA stint, and deputy sheriff for the last thirty years. Don’t do stacks. I’m overwatch, sniper and intel. Speak some Spanish.”

Huerta stood up, “Tomas Huerta, Mexican Marines. I am a lieutenant, your army equivalent of a captain. I am ten years experienced, a number of shootouts, raids and assorted interacciones against the cartels.” Wagging his left hand, he said, “I’m normally either stack lead or number three, I go left. I also do intelligence, and speak English, Spanish, German, and Portuguese. I am, how you say, loaned to you, for this exercise to provide liaison in case of issues with the Mexican government.”

“Thank you Tomas. Next?”

Bob stood, “Bob, ex Green Beanie, weaps and ops. I’m normally breacher and first in. I can get by in a few languages. Spanish is okay.”

The old man nodded, “Next?”

Aaron and Spears both stood, and Aaron waved to Spears as he sat back down. “Michelle, ex-Air Force, DHS, CBP, now DEA. Sniper, intel, and security. The few stacks I was in, I was number two, going right. Languages, well… Pashtu, Dari, Urdu, Farsi, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian. I was in Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. And before you ask, yes I can and will shoot the bastards.” She sat back down with a glare around the room, as everyone chuckled.

The old man said, “I’ve seen her shoot under pressure. She took out two cartel shooters down on the border while she was under fire. She’s integral to this, due to the ragheads we’re expecting, so get over it.”

Aaron stood, “Aaron, Marine Recon. Sniper, primary spotter, intel, ops. Fallujah and various FOBs in the ‘Stans. Stack position was normally number four or five as high cover and overwatch. Little bit of Spanish, Pashtu and Dari.” Tapping his leg, “Prosthetic below the knee, but I’m fully operational.” The old man noted the speculative looks as Aaron sat and thought, Gonna have to let Aaron convince them. Once they see he’s good to go, it shouldn’t be an issue. Same with Spears.

Jeff popped up, “Jeff, Air Commandos, combat controller, rescue and exfil. Just Cause, Gulf war’s one and two. Coupla hundred jumps. Don’t do stacks, but I can learn. Looks like I’m the short straw here, but I can run an 870 pretty damn well.”

Willie stood and drawled, “Ex-grunt. Pigs and SAWs are my specialty. I pulled security or ambush control. I do the heavy lifting you scrawny pukes can’t handle. Also tracking if needed, spent a few years with the Shadow Wolves. English, Spanish, and a few tribal languages.”

The old man nodded, “Tohono[1]?”

Willie answered, “Yes sir. Born and raised on the res.”

“Any medical problems we need to worry about?”

“No sir, no diabetic issues, and I don’t drink. Seen what it’s done on the res to my people. Ain’t goin’ there.”

Duck popped up, “Duck Drake. Ex-SEAL. IDC medic type and weapons. I can do any position in the stack. Tagalog, Spanish, Pashtu, Irdu. I can do anything but open cranial in the field, so don’t get hit in the head. I also have things I’ll need if we need to interrogate anybody.”

The old man saw Spears shiver at that, and wondered what was up with her reaction.

Ron stood self-consciously, “Umm, Ron. Ex-Recon Marine. Shooter… I can do whatever you need. GWOT, Fallujah, ‘Stans. JTAC, comms, and intel. English.” He sat quickly, and looked over at Aaron with a nod. Aaron nodded back, something about Ron tickling the hindbrain, but not able to pull it up and actually remembering what he knew.

Maurice stood smiling, “I’m Mo Money.” Grinning he continued, Ex-Beret, engineer. You need something blown, I can do it. Plastique, Semtex, C4, improvised… Been there done that. I can also EOD if required. English, Spanish, portagee, Russian, Farsi, Urdu, and yo sister too!”

Bob said, “Mo, just sit down and shaddap. None o’ that rap shit down here.”

Maurice grinned again, “What’s the matter Bobby boy? I gettin’ under yo skin?”

Bob groaned, “Mo, you been getting under my skin for ten years now. One of these days I’m just gonna shoot your ass for the fun of it. I want to see if you can rap that crap with a bullet distracting you.”

Mo glanced slyly at Duck, “Man, you got some good stuff in yo pouch? Cause I work better when I got a toke or two before it gets hot.”

Duck shook his head and laughed, “Only if you get shot Mo, and maybe not even then.”

Mo grinned, “You just holding me down man. Tryin’ to keep my ass on the farm.”

Duck started up, “I hold your damn head underwater long enough, you’ll buy the farm.”

[1] Tohono O’odham- ‘Desert People’ tribe in the Sonora Desert (AZ and Mexico)

Any comments/feedback is appreciated…


The Grey Man, an update… — 37 Comments

  1. They certainly speak for themselves and I got a good idea about the personality. The rap bit with Mo is somewhat out of context, but I’m assuming we will learn more about him as the story develops

  2. A mix of old friends and future new friends.
    We have all had to stand up and give “the” intro in meetings and reading your description feels right.
    I wondered what happened to Spears.
    I suspect Mo is a very competent smartass.

    You introduced the characters, you left me wanting more, and you dangled the “what happends next?” fish hook in the water.

    Well done. I will reread and think more about it.

  3. The short statements following their names or their comments bring back to memory their characters in earlier books. Therefore we know who they are. That’s good. As noted by Gaffer, the rap bit seems out of context. Then followed by the threatened violence does seem a bit over the top for fellow warriors banter.

  4. Attitude, check. Capability, check. Don’t usually read this genre (sorry), but my husband does. As a female who has viewed movies featuring characters such as these, I can picture them. Short descriptors do give me enough information for character development. Thanks for asking.

  5. Mo types always get under every one’s skin but the banter is right.

  6. I like it! It makes sense, helps me get the picture of who can do what, and reminds me of the folks we have met before in previous books. And there is always someone whose attitude rubs a little against the grain…many times they grow on ya 🙂


  7. It works.

    However in a book, as in a film, you need to limit your number of principal characters to five or so. More than that and the reader gets lost and has to go back to that page, over-and over. “Which one was Mo and what does he do/has he done?”

  8. Looks good to me. I don’t want to hear any objections that will delay the publication of the next book 🙂

  9. I like it. However, Jackie, who was reading over my shoulder was confused as to stacking and numbers.

    Apparently the S-2 shop doesn’t do CQB. Might be worth a footnote.

    As I would for Pig and SAW as well. Hell, I’ve never even seen an M-60 in the service and I’m half way to twenty.

  10. All- Thanks, now the question is, who do I ‘cut’ to get down to a reasonable number (say 6) Cronin, Aaron, Spears and Huerta stay. If not 6, then 8 and which two do I dump?

    • At this moment in time, only you know the outline of the book and comments made should be taken as only advisory. While you’re not writing a modern Tolstoy epic it’s certainly permissible to use as many characters needed to develop the plot in the way you (or your characters) want it to go.

      Mo sounds like a person who will add tension and humor to the plot and will balance the more sober actors, so don’t throw him out because some people (me included) didn’t respond positively to him on first introduction.

      Go with your muse … I’m looking forward to the product!

  11. Seems fine to me, especially if you keep the character development coming in the following chapters.

    You don’t have to spill everything at once, but just enough for people to get a toe-hold on the character. You can build the portraits as they become relevant.

  12. Glad someone else asked about stacks. With zero military background sometimes I can get lost but have always been able to look up the needed info. I would lose Bob, Mo and maybe Willie. Bringing them along in the next book or two gives you a nice range of backgrounds to develop. My library orders your books and every once in a while I check to see if they are being read. There is never more than one on the shelves at any given time. You are being read and feedback (I volunteer there) has been excellent. As with all my favorite authors, Write Faster!

  13. All- Thanks! I was going to use the next chapter to ‘describe’ stacks as part of the range training they will be doing. I appreciate the feedback, and I’ll keep working on it.

    Margi- That’s great news! Thanks!!!

  14. I don’t necessarily think you need to dump a character; but, I wouldn’t try to use them all. Is focus mostly on Cronin and Aaron.

  15. Take Jeff along as support (infil/exfil), only take Mo if you think you will need to breach with a bang, Willie isn’t needed unless there are heavy weapons or you need to translate with the tribes (unless he fits in really well during training).

    Duck needs to stay on the team. He’s a good hand and a medic.

  16. LL has the way of it… keep Cronin, Arron, Huerta, Spears, and Duck. The others go. Diversity is good, too much diversity is confusing.
    I have gotten all your books into the county library under the ZIP program. Feed back is all good.

  17. Agree with the comments above. The banter with Mo seemed a bit discordant with the other remarks, but we didn’t “hear” the set up, and so I’ll stipulate that it could easily be in keeping with the greater context. The threats at the end strike me as some “barely polite, but push me and I’ll try it” words with anger in the background. Again, if the context for those characters show that either Bob or Mo is on the verge of no-longer-tolerating the other’s crap.

    Or maybe that’s just my inner “wish I had been a writer” working overtime.

  18. Ron and Mo. Ron is an unknown quantity, everyone else brings specifics, in terms of skills to the table. Mo, could be a unit/ team cohesion and morale problem, plus his explosives skills are redundant becahse of several other multi specialty team members. Green Berets, SEALs, and Recon Marines all receive demo training. JMHO and YMMV.

  19. I think Rick has a good idea, keep Mo and Willie but have them be “infrequent” characters, as a team that works with the main group occasionally when the situation requires two people with their skillsets, not on a regular basis. Nothing wrong with having a support team for the main ops team. 😉

  20. When scribbling, I’d always rather show instead of tell. Have backgrounds and skills etc come out as characters are brought onboard. This feels to me a little like a scene in the A Team.

    You did interest me enough to buy your first book, however. So there’s that. 😉

  21. Not crazy about Mo, but that’s just me and beside the question. I like to intro idea. It’s different; it’s functional; it’s instructive. And with it’s brevity, it is still entertaining. I vote to keep it.

  22. Bought (and read) the first three and this works for me. I recognized quite a few I’ve worked with over the years.

  23. All- Thanks! I DO appreciate the honest feedback, and I will now take this and figure out to proceed… 🙂

    • I found the phrase “ex-marine” jarring –
      those I have known used “former Marine”, and one once told me a story of a serving Marine field grade in an airport talking to someone who said they were an “ex-marine”, asking if the other person had been dishonorably discharged, and when told “no” told him that he was a former Marine, unless he thought that becoming a Marine had not worked a permanent change in him.

      Read the plug for Vignettes on According to Hoyt, bought it, read it, and bought the other two as soon as I could order them in. looking forward to the next book.

      The teaser looks like it will be worth the wait.

      To me, introducing lots of characters quickly is a challenge to the reader, trying to keep them separate in memory, and to the author, in making them alive and individual, without making them caricitures. It might be an idea to have known charctrers introduce those they know, or to provide backstory in later interactions.

      Thanks for creating this view of the world.


  24. Indeed – proceed ! Late to the party, but it sounds like this book will be another good read.

  25. I’ll just say, up front, that I haven’t read all your books, though I do plan to, some day. Too many good books out, not enough time in the day!

    I figured out what the stacking was with Huerta’s intro, when he said “I go left”.

    Unlike several others, I thought the banter with Mo was lighthearted banter between two good friends who’ve known each other for a long time, not anger or real annoyance. As Bob said, Mo’s been getting under his skin for 10 years. And Duck was clearly amused, as well. Mo, from his brief intro, seems like the annoying kid brother type of character.

    Sorta agree with the too many characters thing, but I think it’s less of an issue in a book than it would be in a movie – you can always go back and re-read something in a book if you forget something. As long as they’re all their own characters, a reader will be able to distinguish them.

  26. Gonna have to let Aaron convince them. Once they see he’s good to go, it shouldn’t be an issue. Same with Spears…dump this line and let it become apparent that she has his support as the story develops.

    Michelle ex-Air Force…be more specific such as rescue flight/intel collection
    Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom …again be more specific or add details such as towns/battles
    something about this entire one seems caned

    Never read any of your books. I now know the characters just that quick. Good!

  27. j.r.- Will do sir.

    Dirk- No problem. And you caught the byplay! 🙂 I’m still playing with the ‘sequence’ to figure out how to do it and make it realistic…

    Fred- Great points, thanks!