Eavesdropping on Quora

By Sue Coletta

Crime writers do their research in various places. Many of us have experts we can call on, but I hate to bother friends unless I can’t find the answer elsewhere. A great place to look is Quora. Numerous LEOs volunteer their time to answer questions. If you’re unfamiliar with Quora, you can follow topic feeds, like Police and Law Enforcement, and scan the Q&As. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask a new question.

Because I write about serial killers I also follow Psychopathy and Psychopaths. Some of the information is valid, other times alleged “real” psychopaths write in. Although it’s not unheard of for psychopaths to brag, Quora allows anonymity. Any time the poster doesn’t need to reveal their true identity, the information becomes unreliable.

Even if the poster has a valid profile, still double check the information. I recommend confirming with least two or three reliable sources for any internet information you intend to use in a book. Two of my favorite sites are Psychology Today and Explore Forensics, depending on what I’m looking for. I also need to give a quick shout-out to my dear friend Garry Rodgers, RCMP (Ret.), weapons expert and forensic coroner, who blogs at Dying Words. Quora also has its place in the pecking order.

In the Q&A below, I did not edit the answers for two reasons:

1. It’s not my writing; full credit goes to the poster;

2. The voice, including grammar and/or spelling errors, helps with the overall mental image of the officer who’s answering. After all, that’s one of the best parts of eavesdropping.

How many of you have listened in on a conversation while shopping or out to eat? You may not be able to see the person, but their language paints an image in your mind. As you read the following stories, I want you to imagine the officer who’s speaking. There’ll be a fun exercise at the end of this post.

Please note: the s-word is used a few times. Cussing and cops go together like peanut butter cookies and milk. You’ve been warned. 🙂

As a cop, what are the weirdest things you ever experienced?

Scott Conroy, 17 year veteran of law enforcement, answers:

Years ago some construction workers found some human bones in a a concrete patio that they were tearing up in the Venice Beach Area. In looking into the concrete we noticed that there were cavities in the concrete that were made by the now decomposed body. We summoned the Scientific Investigation Unit (LAPD’s version of “CSI”) and we came up with an idea to inject latex rubber into the cavities to get the body contours. Lo and behold we pulled out a latex rubber hand impression of the person to whom the bones belonged.

The detail of the latex replica was amazing. We could see defensive knife wounds and more importantly we saw fingerprints on the latex. We printed the “fingers” of the latex cast and discovered they belonged to a teacher who had disappeared around the time the concrete patio was poured. The ensuing homicide investigation revealed that the primary suspect in this homicide was a nephew who had worked in construction and on that particular patio job.

Epilogue: The suspect, however, had suffered an industrial accident a few years before the discovery of the bones in the concrete and was existing in a vegetative state. In the interest of justice, he was not charged or put on trial for that crime.

What is the scariest experience you’ve ever had as a police officer?

Jim Lee, Former Military Police officer (8 years) answers:

I was running a solo unit one unseasonably cold (for San Diego) November night over 20 years ago when dispatch sends me to an on-base bowling alley; apparently, security personnel were dealing with a D&D (Drunk/Disorderly) individual running around the parking lot half-dressed and beating on cars. I arrive on scene 5 minutes later and see the contact, and something wasn’t right about the situation. As I attempted to make contact with the individual I already didn’t like what I was seeing: no shirt in 40 degree weather but still sweating like a pig; dilated pupils; blank thousand-yard stare and wandering aimlessly. I’d seen these symptoms before, and they had jack sh!t to do with alcohol from what I’d remembered.

As I unsuccessfully attempted to speak to this guy he starts toward me in a threatening manner; I decided to deploy my collapsible baton and warn him off, but he wasn’t listening. That’s when I realized what I was looking at: My new “friend” was on PCP (aka “Angel Dust”).

Officers who have experience dealing with contacts on PCP are familiar with the dangerous situation I found myself in. But for those who don’t know: PCP prevents the actions normally caused when a neurotransmitter, called glutamate, attaches to its receptor in the brain.

It also disrupts the actions of other neurotransmitters. PCP distorts sights, sound and other senses. The user may experience “out of body” sensations that are related to the dissociative effects, feel like they are “floating” with strange impressions of space and time, or imagine things that aren’t real. Some abusers experience euphoria and invulnerability while others experience drowsiness and calming sensations.

PCP is dose-dependent and the effects on the brain intensify with greater doses depending on the methods of consumption and certain biological or psychological factors of the abuser with effects, generally, last from 4 – 6 hours. While the intoxication effects on the brain may be short-lived, the disruptions in neuronal activities can cause the person to feel unpleasant symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, and general dysphoria when the intoxication effects subside.

I threw the baton to the security personnel; I knew, thanks to the effects of PCP, that I could beat the brakes off this guy all night long and he wouldn’t feel a damned thing, so the baton was absolutely pointless. I requested a cover unit to the scene; it usually takes several officers to subdue someone who is on this stuff, and I couldn’t trust the barely-trained security personnel, so I knew I’d have to keep the suspect at bay for a few minutes until “real” help arrived.

This is when things went sideways.

The suspect immediately went for my 9mm Beretta sidearm. I knew I had to keep him from getting to my service weapon at all costs, even if it meant taking an ass-kicking; a bloody nose or broken jaw would pale in comparison to what would happen if he were to somehow get hold of my pistol. Fortunately there were two things going in my favor:

  1. Our department issued retention holsters as standard equipment. Retention holsters serve the same purpose as regular holsters with one exception: instead of simply lifting the gun on of the holster one has to use a sort of “twisting” motion to be able to get to the weapon, otherwise it won’t budge. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure he didn’t know that.
  2. This guy was about 140 pounds soaking wet; this meant he gave up about 80 pounds to me (I was about 220–225 back then).

With a simple “bear hug” I was able to slam this guy on the pavement, as I was hoping to knock the wind out of him for a second. That was the easy part.

But now the fun was about to start.

Remember what I said about PCP’s effect of the human body’s nervous system? I finally got to see this effect first-hand; no amount of punching, arm bar holds or pressure point manipulation was going to stop this freak. It took all I had just to wrestle this guy and hold on for dear life (namely, mine). Despite the fact that I outweighed him by such a large amount I could barely hold this guy down, and he was determined to get his hands on my weapon. I’m not sure how long it took the cover unit to finally show up; it was probably about another 5 minutes but it felt like an hour.

Fortunately the officers in the other unit (they were riding a partner unit, thankfully) immediately recognized the situation I faced and helped me hold the drug-crazed nutjob down while security personnel contacted a paramedic unit under our orders. Upon the paramedic’s arrival it took no less than five of us to apply restraints to the suspect, “hogtie” him and prepare him for transport to the medical facility for treatment and evaluation. A subsequent search revealed that he was also armed with a 4-inch blade; I wondered why he didn’t use it but was relieved that he must have forgotten about it (otherwise this story would have been about a police shooting).

After I was also examined by the paramedics (and found to be still intact) my watch commander ordered me back to the station to take a rest and start my report. Good thing, too, because that was probably the longest 10 to 15 minutes of my life at that point; I was worn out, and someone just tried to kill me.

Yeah, fun times.

Benjamin Bender, Retired Police Detective St Louis Metropolitan Police, answers:

For me its almost getting thrown off a 6 story bridge that was over a freeway while fighting a guy who outweighed me by 100 lb or watching a Woman burn alive 3 feet from me that I would have saved if I had arrived literally 10 seconds earlier.

Bridge incident story starts as all my stories do. One day while on “routine” patrol (again on a day my permanent partner had a Kelly Day…which was a common thing for me to get the call of the century while he was off….drove him nuts).

I got a call for a “vehicle accident” on the Freeway, I-55 near the North Bound exit onto the Poplar Street bridge. Traffic often backed up on that on ramp and rear end collisions were common. I was in an area not my normal one because my partner Blake was off I got stuck in a sector car that a guy was off and would be deadheaded. When I got the call it was crucial that I take one particular hidden on ramp to arrive at the location the quickest. I unwisely chose to go to one that was 2 blocks further (because the other was hard to find off an alley hardly marked and it was dark).

When I pulled up 3 cars had been in an accident. A drunk in the rear slammed into a guy who slammed into a 3rd car in front. The furthest car in front had a Mother in Law in it. The Son in law was the middle car. Drunk as I said..in the rear ramming and causing it.

Well as I pull up the Mother in laws car erupts in flame from gas leaking out of the tank by the back bumper. She is trapped in the car but nobody had got her out by breaking the window. Nobody noticed the leaking fuel. By the time I run to her the flame is fully over and in the back seat of the car. I break the window and cut her seat belt …go to pull her 100 LB body out like a kid but just before I can the flame billows over and engulfs both of us…the entire car bumper to bumper. I drop away and lose most of my exposed hair and a shirt. She burned alive in front of us..and the Son in law. I then had to take him to the station and sit there while he called his wife and told her he just rear ended her Mother and she died.

If that was my beat or I knew that exit better she would have lived. 100%

Second was a Home Invasion robber wanted for many crimes was leading Cops from 6 or more jurisdictions on a high speed chase through the City and County. I was listening in on the radio and correctly guessed he would go for the bridge over the Mississippi to get to Illinois. The chase went on for over an hour and I correctly deduced he was circling the rabbit hole to get home to Illinois and couldn’t find the bridge on ramp.

I went to the easiest one for him to get to based on his location north of the city. I then cause a traffic jam on the 1 lane on ramp by ordering 1 car to stop on the ramp and not move until I said ok. 10 Min of round about chase later…sure enough…here he comes. Goes on the side of cars as much as he can till its blocked..gets out on foot and starts running up the ramp to the bridge on foot with me 10 feet behind..letting him run a bit and get tired before we fight.

So…he gets higher up and apparently then did get tired and want to fight. When it didn’t go well for him he tried to jump off the side of the bridge (he didn’t realize that the earth rise fell away to a long drop the higher you went up…he thought ground was about 10 feet down or something). I instinctively grab his forearm as he went and I held a second. Then I felt his weight pulling me over. I knew I was going over now…I saw the terror in his eyes as he realized he had screwed up and was about to get very hurt and or dead. I then made the split second decision to let go. I saw his eyes go wide as saucers as I said…”bye”…and let go. He fell 60 feet and shattered both legs and his pelvis and lived. Almost got ran over too. That scared the shit out of me. He came sooo close to pulling me over head first…not feet first like he fell.

Love the dark humor, love the voices. I hope you enjoyed them as well. Ready for a fun exercise? Take one of these fascinating stories and describe the officer who told the tale. No clicking the name to peek at their profile picture!

Don’t Lose Your Head Over Point-of-View

by James Scott Bell

Here is another first-page critique, with an opportunity to discuss some point-of-view issues. See you in a few:

The woods were dark. The thick leaves rustling overhead blazed with color during the day, but now, at dusk, they faded to shades of gray. The October breeze was crisp. The man moved quietly from tree to tree. He trampled a few mushrooms that looked like elongated little brains. He stopped behind a gnarled oak – just steps from the path that wound its way between the park and the tree line.  The park was where the neighborhood kids played after school.  

As the sun dropped, the man watched the children disburse, heading home for dinner and homework. From his left, voices were lifted in laughter, and three boys topped the rise from the direction of the monkey bars. 11-year-old Josiah and his 8-year-old brother Jacob said goodbye to 10-year-old Brandon, and turned away from the path and the woods toward their house. Brandon shouted a parting insult at one of them, and continued down the same path he travelled every afternoon.

The man tensed with anticipation as he watched and waited for Brandon to cross the small opening in the undergrowth, directly in front of the big oak. Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead as he thought about the delights the next few days would bring. A grim smile stretched his lips. It had been too long.

A stick snapped in the woods behind the man, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Somebody was behind him. Think!

The man bent down and pulled up a few mushrooms. “Nothing like a fresh Morel,” he said aloud. He pivoted slowly as he stood, and feigned surprise as he came face to face with another man standing uncomfortably close.  

Several impressions flashed through his mind in a split second: Tall. Muscular. Piercing blue eyes. Long black hair.

“Brandon is under my protection,” the big man said.  

The big man reached out and placed his hand against the man’s chest.  The man’s eyes widened in surprise and he let out a gasp. His body dropped to the ground.

Removing a sword from the scabbard on his back, the big man severed the man’s head with one swing, and left it on the ground among the mushrooms.

Seconds later, Brandon passed by on the trail, whistling contentedly as he made his way home.


JSB: Well, writer, you’ve obviously got a shocking opening moment here, and it certainly has page-turning potential. Who the heck is the tall guy wielding a sword in this day and age? I want to know.

Now it’s just a matter of getting from your opening line to this ending point in the most efficient way possible.

I’m not enamored of the first paragraph. The woods were dark is generic, and ultimately confusing. For in the next line we learn it’s dusk. So my image of nighttime has to be modified. Which means you’re making the reader do some cleanup work. You don’t want that. You want them on the roller coaster car, gripping the safety bar.

Which is why I like to see a POV established at the top, rather than weather or setting descriptions or a distant narrative voice. Not a hard and fast rule, but unless you have a very good reason not to, give us a character in motion as soon as you can.

Thus, one way to start is:

The man moved quietly from tree to tree.

Now, this is omniscient POV. You’re “outside” describing what’s happening “onscreen.” This has the feel of a prologue, and omni-POV is sometimes used in this fashion.

But things begin to get muddy in the second paragraph. By giving us the ages and names of the three children, we assume that this creep knows them. Was that your intent? If so, we need to have at least one line to indicate why this is so. And why Brandon is the target. I have a feeling you didn’t intend this, that this is a stranger, but we need to know one way or the other.

The third paragraph begins to take us inside the guy’s head. But once in there, I wouldn’t back out with A grim smile stretched his lips. The man is not looking at his own smile and describing it as “grim.”

This is why POV is crucial. I don’t want to get overly technical here, but will tell you that you have four basic modes to choose from, with two choices within each. Ack!

Let’s see if I can make it simple.

1. First Person (I was feeling lousy that morning…)
a. Limited (one character narrates throughout, e.g., The Big Sleep)
b. Open (switching between two or more first-person narrators, e.g., Framed)

2. Third Person (She was feeling lousy that morning…)
a. Limited (one character’s head)
b. Open (switching to another character’s head in another scene)

3. Omniscient, wherein the author can choose the level of intrusion, from participating as a commenter (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times) to keeping the author voice muted while allowing “big picture” descriptions (e.g., Lonesome Dove)
a. Limited (to keep focus on one character, e.g., Gone With the Wind)
b. Open (floats between various characters)

(Note: Some teachers peg omniscient a form of third-person. I don’t think that’s helpful, as the issue with omniscience is intrusion and scope. Third person, on the other hand, should not, in my humble opinion, stray from a character’s head.)

4. Cinematic (a form of omniscience), with a narration from “without,” describing only what can be seen, never going  into a character’s thoughts or emotions (e.g., The Maltese Falcon)
a. Limited
b. Open

I did not include the “Hey, look at me!” mode known as Second Person (You walk into the party and see your ex-wife) which is almost never used. I also didn’t mention the option of doing First Person in either past tense (the traditional method) or present tense (which is popular in Young Adult fiction these days). But I should also point out that many thriller authors mix First and Third POV, something James Patterson popularized.


Is this stuff really important to know? Um, yeah. Mishandling POV jars readers at the subconscious level, makes them do unnecessary work, disrupts the “fictive dream,” lessens the impact of a scene.

So my advice to new writers is this: get a handle on Third Person, Limited as a default. Move on to Third Person, Open. You can then try First Person, Limited. For many successful authors, that’s all they ever use.

But once you make a POV choice, keep it consistent throughout. (For purposes of this prologue, it seems to me Third Person, Limited is the best bet.)

A stick snapped in the woods behind the man, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Somebody was behind him. Think!

I’d cut everything after the first comma. the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end is a cliché. And it’s quite obvious someone is behind him. We can infer that he’s thinking when he takes the next action, which is to bend down and pluck a mushroom called a Morel. I gotta tell you, I had no idea what that was. Had to Google it. Is this particular type of mushroom essential to the story? Maybe you can come up with some other excuse for the guy. Lost dog, maybe? (I don’t mind him stepping on the mushrooms, though, because I like where his head ends up. See below.)

Now, the sword guy. I’m confused about what happens. The sword guy touches the man’s chest and the guy drops. Is he dead? Is he stunned? If the former, then why chop off his head? If the latter, what caused it? Some sort of magical jolt?

Either one takes away from the impact of the sword. So I’d just have the big guy dispatch the stalker with one swipe, a la Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian.

The last line is jarring to me. I know what you’re going for, but it pulls me out of the moment. It’s just not needed. Leave us with the head in the ’shrooms.

Speaking of which, you know what would be fun? Re-write this piece staying in the stalker’s POV. When he loses his head, stay in his POV, as he ponders for a few seconds his cranium’s fate among the mushrooms.

Another benefit of doing this in close third person is that you could lengthen the scene a bit, which, if this is a prologue, you ought to do. The “prologue issue” has been discussed before, but for our purposes it would make sense to stretch out the tension, keep us wondering what’s going to happen, up until that shocking conclusion.

Style notes:

Never begin a sentence with a numeral. Thus: Eleven-year-old Josiah, etc.

In fiction, the best practice is to spell out ages: He was only elevenHe lived to be eighty-eight. (Unless the age is 100 or more: He died at the ripe old age of 101).

Any further comments for our anonymous writer?

Cadaver Dogs – The Nose Knows

Gruesome warning – The following contains graphic details about cadavers.

Sage on a water search
Photo courtesy of Stacie Burkhardt

On a bright March day near Anchorage, Alaska, Stacie Burkhardt lifts the lid of a chest freezer in a barn. With gloved hands, she picks up an object wrapped in plastic that’s the size and shape of a deer haunch but it’s not. “This is Revlon,” she says, pointing out perfectly manicured fingernails. Underneath lies a foot which Stacie also grabs. “And this is Tootsie.”

These are not animal parts but human.

The smell from the freezer makes Susan Purvis gasp and pinch her nose, even though she and her search dog Tasha spent a decade in what she calls “finding the stinky”—recovery of bodies.

Their dark humor might sound disrespectful but is necessary to cope in their grim profession.

Their mission: train dogs to help solve crimes and bring closure to grieving families. Both have risked their lives to recover the dead. Whilst the objective may seem somber, it is lovely to see dogs being put to excellent use. Often dogs are left to their own devices by slacking owners invariably resulting in dogs failing to behave accordingly. There is a reason why a dog attack injury attorney is always swamped with cases!

Tasha searches avalanche debris
Photo courtesy of Susan Purvis collection

Susan and Stacie are teaching a two-day specialty course in avalanche rescue and HRD—human remains detection—to twenty teams of search dogs and handlers from as far away as Juneau, Bethel and Fairbanks. All are volunteers and work closely with the Alaskan State Troopers, the law enforcement agency that oversees Search and Rescue missions.

During exercises, Tootsie and Revlon are hidden in the snow in the remote Talkeetna Mountains for the dogs to find and alert their handlers. These dogs are very well trained and dog owners know how hard it is to train a puppy to just come back when called. Some owners resort to using something similar to these pet trackers from JugDog.co.uk in case their little treasures run off and never come back!

Sun dazzles on deep pristine snow while the dogs bark and jump, eager to start the hunt. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Despite the gruesome quest, the search is fun, playful, and adrenaline-fueled as shown in TV coverage.

Twenty-three-years ago, Susan had a goal to train her black Lab puppy Tasha as an avalanche dog to save lives. But reality intervened. Susan recalls, “I didn’t plan to make a career out of finding the dead but that’s how it happened. Missions may start as rescues but most often wind up recoveries. At that point, I just wanted to bring missing family members back home.” Training a dog to undertake jobs like these is very important. Without the right training, the use of a dog in a job like this will not be effective and could potentially lead to failed missions. If you want your dog to follow in similar footsteps, you’ll at least have to have the basic commands sorted. By involving yourself and your dog in private puppy training sessions, this will be the first step in being obedient and being able to follow important instructions. If they can do this, then maybe one day, they could be a great candidate for future rescue missions.

In 2001, Susan and Stacie met at a cadaver dog boot camp led by legendary trainer Andy Rebmann. There, dogs learned to find remains on the ground, hanging aboveground, buried, and hidden in objects. They practiced with samples as small as a tablespoon because, in real-life situations, remains can be scattered and tiny: bone fragments, teeth, blood, and adipocere (the post-mortem waxy tissue formed by anaerobic bacteria).

In her own home freezer, Susan kept “Mr. Nub,” a severed finger, along with his tooth, and blood-soaked rags that were the remains of “Kimmy” (clearly marked “Biohazard”) as training aides for Tasha.

According to Andy, 80% of training is human and 20% is dog. “If you’re having problems with your dog,” he says, “look in the mirror.” He wrote Cadaver Dog Handbook – Forensic Training and Tactics for the Recovery of Human Remains, the definitive reference guide in the profession.

Specific words are used to command the dog, such as Find Fred, Mort, or Decomp. The dog’s alert signal can be: eye contact, bark, or lie down. A passive alert is preferred in crime scenes so the dog doesn’t disturb evidence.

Susan recalls a case she worked where a murder victim had been shot, chopped up, burned, then buried under a ton of landscape stone. Tasha’s avalanche training taught her to dig to uncover victims but, in this situation, digging was prohibited. Susan worried her dog might violate that rule but she alerted to the location without digging.

However, Tasha broke the number one rule—she found a small bone and proudly pranced around with it in her mouth, tail wagging. She was forgiven because she found evidence that professional investigators had missed the day before.

Killers may think they can outsmart a dog by hiding and masking the scent with extreme measures like wrapping the body inside an animal carcass. “But the human body is constantly decomposing,” Susan says, “and the dog always knows. That’s why we train for every situation, under every condition, and with every stage of human decomposition.”

Water search guided by Sage
Photo courtesy of Stacie Burkhardt

Stacie recalls a mission on the Pilchuck River for the remains of a murdered female. In the initial search, a trailing dog was able to follow the victim’s fresh scent and locate her lower extremities. Teams searched for the next few weeks but conditions – “the decomp” – wasn’t right. Finally Sage, Stacie’s cattle dog-Lab, caught a whiff and swam across the river, muscling against the current. Her alert confirmed she wasn’t just taking refuge on a stack of rocks in the river. She was standing on a grave. Even though the victim had been found, the case remains unsolved.

How sensitive is a dog’s nose compared to a human’s? Humans have six million olfactory receptors. Dogs have 300 million receptors. What humans see, the dog smells.

Scent cone

Scent is strongest at the source but water, wind, and terrain move it in a fan shape, called the scent cone. The farther away, the weaker the scent.

Humans shed “rafts,” dead skin cells mixed with bacteria, at the rate of 50 million rafts per second. One-third fall to the ground and two-thirds rise to float in the air. Susan likens it to the character Pig Pen in the Peanuts comic strip, surrounded by a cloud of debris. Each individual gives off a unique scent.

Skin raft

Underwater recoveries are the most difficult. According to Susan, “Currents, temperature gradients, and surface wind can move scent any which way, making it difficult to locate the source.”

For water work, handlers submerge a cage or weighted PVC pipe containing remains to simulate a drowned victim.

In underwater searches a cage protects human remains.
Photo courtesy of Stacie Burkhardt

“Many people don’t realize a dog can locate the scent of a drowned human,” Stacie explains. “The dogs pick up the rising scent after it breaks the water surface, which can be quite far from the subject depending on the wind and current.” Body oils may also gleam on the surface closer in. The handler reads the dog and the conditions to direct the boat and solve the scent puzzle.

Stacie recounts a search for a missing canoer in a local lake: “A newly-acquired sonar was deployed first but soon after came a request to launch the dogs. The conditions were constantly changing but by marking the dog alerts on the GPS and noting the wind direction each time, we were able to narrow down a location. I chuckle because the divers told me my #1 on the map was right where the victim was found, thirty feet down. Dogs 1, Sonar 0.”

Despite popular lore, no particular breed has a corner on keen noses. Stacie and Susan have worked with Labs, Cattle Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Brittany Spaniels, Standard Poodles, German Shepherds, Duck Tollers, as well as mutts. Temperament is more important than breed.

Qualities to look for in a search dog:

  1. Is it friendly to people and other dogs?
  2. Does it crave human attention and want to please?
  3. Will it retrieve a favorite toy despite barriers, obstacles, and uneven surfaces?
  4. Does it love the hunt?

Drive is a term often used by handlers. Dogs must have a high drive to hunt, search, eat, and play. This doesn’t necessarily translate into a well-mannered pet.

A dog needs to be closely bonded to the trainer but independent enough to follow the scent. Human-canine teams must be tuned in to each other’s signals. Even the slightest nuance in behavior or expression can mean the difference between life and death.

Not all search teams have the temperament to learn HRD. Susan says, “You can screw up a dog if they get confused about the scent of death because of the handler’s negative reaction to it. The process has to be fun for the dog.” The reward is chasing a favorite toy, playing tug of war, or food.

After two days in the Alaskan sun, Stacie lifts the freezer lid and replaces Tootsie and Revlon until next time. Susan and Stacie high-five each other and smile at another successful session—twenty dogs trained, no one injured.

And already there’s another mission poised to launch for a skier in Montana who went missing three months ago….

To read more about Susan’s adventures with her search dog, her memoir Go Find is available for pre-order and will be published in October. www.susanpurvis.com

Emotion Must Be Earned: A First Page Critique

By John Gilstrap

Here we are again, presenting the work of a brave author willing to invite friendly fire.  This one arrived to me untitled, and is presented as such.  The italics are mine, just for the sake of clarity. I’ll see you on the other side.

Quinn Larson slipped into the gallery’s back row, settled on the hard edge of a plastic chair, and waited for the execution to begin. In her nightmares, this room had been a chaotic jumble of torches, pitchforks, and angry words. Instead, she found a handful of stoic men and women holding each other up as they took seats. A few stole curious glances at her with lifeless eyes. The warden entered next, escorting a frail woman starved as much for sanity as food. She picked at the skin on her patchy arms around the fraying sweater cuff as he helped her into a chair near the door. Quinn pulled her own hoodie tighter, the edges going much farther around her body than they used to. She probably should have dressed up, but the act of walking through the door took all her focus. It had been ten years since she’d been to the prison or seen her father. He’d written her, but the letters sat, unopened, in a pile on the back corner of her dresser.

Members of the press filed in, scribbling morbid fascination into their little notebooks. Phones and video cameras had been confiscated at security and Quinn took wicked pleasure that the prison forced them to write things down the old-fashioned way. She had no use for reporters. Not when they’d picked the flesh from her bones after the trial and certainly not after the circus they made of her sister’s death. She still wore the scars of their callous disregard.

Special Agent Dawson swaggered in next, the execution his final moment in the spotlight. He’d hunted down the monster, bringing an end to a gruesome fairy tale. He came up the aisle ahead of Quinn in the center of the row, scoping out the view. Then, he glanced at Quinn.

“Miss Larson.” He inclined his hat before removing it. They were two tiny words, just a few letters each, but they sent a live current through the assembled spectators. Some turned fully in their chairs to get a look at her, their expressions full of contempt, and her skin crawled. She was an infection to their grief, the painful itch of a murderer’s daughter in their midst. The humiliation of it rose up the back of her neck and blossomed across her cheeks. Even in the heavily air-conditioned room, her face flamed.


It’s Gilstrap again.  I think the premise here is very strong.  A daughter coming to witness her father’s execution is pretty stuff.  Clearly, Quinn and her soon-to-be dearly departed daddy are not what we’d call close.  I can only imagine the stress of feeling the heat of so many stares when people realize who sits among them.

Alas, I have not choice but to imagine those things because they are not here on the page.  The piece, as submitted, impresses me more as notes for the author than as an actual bit of drama.  It’s the emotional equivalent of bland spaghetti sauce.  It’s the right color, all the elements appear to be there, but it’s missing the spice that makes the offering come alive.

My first thought is that the author has chosen the wrong place to begin the story.  We make much here in TKZ of acting first and explaining later, and for good reason.  But this scene is more emotion than action, and emotion needs to be earned.  That’s a problem here.  I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be in Quinn’s corner, or if I’m supposed to be as appalled by her presence as her fellow spectators are.  Maybe the author should start a few minutes earlier, perhaps with an interaction with the guard at the security station, where a few lines of dialogue would give us a clue as to her status on the observer tree.

I think if there were a quick interaction with Agent Dawson, in which she asks to remain anonymous, his greeting to her in from of the others would pay off as an act of betrayal–if that’s where you’re trying to go.  Have her encounter a reporter and tell him to go to hell.  Lead us into her world.

Bottom line: the author hasn’t triggered empathy from this reader.

At a more granular level, some of the writing gets in its own way.  Take, for example:

“In her nightmares, this room had been a chaotic jumble of torches, pitchforks, and angry words.”  Remember that this is the reader’s first encounter with any of this story.  When you refer to torches, a time frame is set in my head, and even though you counter it in later passages, the contradiction is jarring.

“. . . handful of stoic men and women holding each other up as they took seats.”  I’m not sure this is possible.  One is either sitting or being held up, it can’t be both–unless there’s a robbery involved, in which case the meaning of “held up” changes altogether.

“The warden entered next, escorting a frail woman starved as much for sanity as food.”  How does Quinn know whether the woman is sane?  She can appear stressed (“She picked at the skin on her patchy arms around the fraying sweater cuff” does a nice job of that), but stress and sanity are entirely different things.

“Quinn pulled her own hoodie tighter, the edges going much farther around her body than they used to.”  The first two or three times I read this, the image in my head was of her pulling her hood tighter, and I couldn’t figure out how that would tighten around her body.  Now, I realize that by “hoodie” you really meant “hooded jacket.”  Again, because we have no lead-in to this scene, the obligation to be precise in descriptions is critical.

“She probably should have dressed up, but the act of walking through the door took all her focus.”  I don’t see the contradiction here.

“It had been ten years since she’d been to the prison or seen her father. He’d written her, but the letters sat, unopened, in a pile on the back corner of her dresser.”  This is an intrusive bit of backstory.  Not only does it interrupt the present action, it catapults the reader to a place he’s never seen and has no reason to care about.

“Members of the press filed in, scribbling morbid fascination into their little notebooks.”  Morbid fascination? Really?  Because we have not been brought into Quinn’s close third-person world–where we might understand that she’s pissed at the press for good reason–this feels like a POV violation.  How does she know what they’re writing?

“She had no use for reporters. Not when they’d picked the flesh from her bones after the trial and certainly not after the circus they made of her sister’s death. She still wore the scars of their callous disregard.”  Finally, this is a good bit of business, but, again, it’s not earned.  Put her face-to-face with Reporter Bob and let them interact.  Show, don’t tell.  Let us witness the angst through her eyes.  “Callous disregard” is a facile phrase that ultimately means nothing.

That’s all I’ve got before turning things over to the Killzone denizens.  By way of full disclosure, when this critique posts, I will inaccessible to all things Internet, so y’all behave.

Want to Make Your Scenes Come Alive?
Here’s a Cop’s-Eye View

By PJ Parrish

It’s a weird — but illuminating — exercise to go back and read your early works. My sister Kelly and I have been doing this lately as we prep our backlist for re-issue with new covers and better editing (Click here to read James’s salient and funny post on typos from Sunday.)

Sometimes, when you read your early stuff, you get this hard little nub in your gut and you think, “Good grief, what was I thinking?”  Kelly and I sort of feel this way about our first published Louis Kincaid thriller Dark of the Moon. It’s a solid freshman effort, but could have been better. But our second book Dead of Winter was where we began to digest the lessons of craft and find our stylistic stride.

In Dead of Winter, we began to recognize the power of description and mood. We knew the setting — the deep dark of the northern Michigan winter — was critical as a backdrop for the plot of a sniper picking off the cops in a small town. When I was editing the other day, I got to the scene where Louis and his partner Ollie are called out on New Year’s Eve to check out a trash can fire some kids set in the woods. But of course, it’s a trap set by the killer.  Kelly wrote this chapter, and to this day, I think it contains some of the best descriptive writing she has ever done.  She managed to capture not just the dark, cold loneliness of the setting but the visceral terror Louis feels in it.

In an stroke of synchronicity, that same day she also happened to send me a link to a blog post by our friend Lee Lofland.  Lee is a cop who wrote the Writers Digest bestselling book Police Procedure and Investigation. He’s a Macavity Award nominee for best non-fiction mystery, an Edgar Award judge, and is a nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime-scene investigation, working as a writer’s consultant on TV and film. He runs a terrific conference for writers who want a total immersion in the grit of cop work. (Kelly’s going this year for the first time. Click here for more info about The Writer’s Police Academy.) Lee’s motto for writers is “Just Say No to Cordite.” (If you don’t get that, you really need to go read Lee’s posts and a few of John Gilstraps’)

But Lee’s is also a damn good writer in his own right. I’m a regular at his blog The Graveyard Shift. Recently, he had a post that was so compelling I asked him if I could print it for you here. It is about cops, but it is a master class in the power of using your senses, and finding the telling details, to make any scene or character come to life.

Take it away, Lee:

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody: The Sounds of the Graveyard Shift

Many writers have never, not once, set foot inside a police car, nor have they climbed out of bed at 11 p.m. to swap pajamas for a police uniform, Kevlar vest, gun belt, sidearm, and spit-shined shoes. And they’ve not headed out into the night to spend the next eight to twelve hours dealing with the city’s “worst of the worst,” and worse.

Most people have not left home with their family saying, “Be careful, see you when you get home,” and know they’re saying it because they worry the next time they see their loved one will be at their funeral service. “Killed in the line of duty” is what the bloggers and reporters will say.

Sure, you all know what goes on during a police officer’s shift—fights, domestic calls, shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, rapists, and killers of all shapes and sizes.

But what those of you who’ve never “been there, done that” cannot honestly and accurately know are the sounds heard when someone take a shot at you. No, not the actual gunshot. It’s the other noises that help bring super-cool details to your stories.

To learn about those sounds, let’s pretend we’re the officer who’s just been the target of a bad guy’s gunfire. We’re chasing the suspect through alleys and paths that wind through dark wooded areas, all while knowing the guy has a gun and he’s definitely not afraid to use it.

You can’t see your hand in front of your face, so you stop and listen. And then it happens…

That eerie calm.

It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand tall and straight. Goose bumps come to attention on your arms. A lone pea-sized bead of sweat worms its way down your spine, easing through the space between your pants and the bare skin of your waistline. It feels oddly cool against your fear-warmed flesh.


The call came in as “Shots Fired. Suspect is armed with a handgun and caller advises he is still at the residence and is threatening to kill responding officers.”

I was working the county alone, so I asked the dispatcher to request backup from a nearby city and from the state police. The trooper in our county was also working alone. Our roles differed, though. He was out on the interstate writing traffic tickets while I responded to the usual plethora of calls. Either way, we were alone when we approached whatever situation was before us, be it stopping a stolen car with dark tinted windows or heading toward a house where I knew a man was waiting to kill me.

The sound of a police radio is far different when it’s heard late at night as opposed to the same radio traffic during daylight hours. Its an unexplained phenomenon. It could be that dark skies and night air create different acoustics. Or that working the graveyard shift forces dispatchers to work really hard to battle “the thing” that comes out at night to squeeze their emotions into submission. They typically lose the fight which results in a manner of speech that’s without feeling, inflection, and dynamics.

Nighttime radio traffic echoes and travels far. It’s weird and out of place among the stars and creamy moonlight. Dispatchers drone on like robots … “Robbery at …” “Wife says husband hit her …” “Lost child …” “Possible drug overdose at …” “Loud music at …” “Peeping Tom at …” “Customer refuses to pay at …” Shoplifter at …” “Dead body in river …” Dead body in park …” “Shots fired …” “Shots fired …” “Man stabbed at …” Shots fired …”

Back to the man who wanted to kill me.

I acknowledged the call with a “10-4, I’m en route.” Then I hooked the radio mic back into the metal “U-shaped” clip on the dashboard. Next, I pushed one of the many red toggle switches mounted into the center console.

With the push of the button, a faint click occurred simultaneously with the eruption of pulsating blue light. I stepped on the gas and heard the engine come to life. Since I was miles out in the country there was no need for the siren. Not yet.

I pushed the pedal toward the floor until I was cruising along at 70 mph. Believe me, that was pretty fast considering the curvy, hilly road that was before me.

There are no streetlights in the country. It’s super dark. Blue light reflects from trees, shrubbery, houses, mailboxes, passing cars, and telephone poles. It also reflects from the white lines painted on the pavement.

Meanwhile, the radio traffic continues with updates for me and with traffic from city officers and the trooper out on the interstate … “Use caution. Driver of the vehicle is wanted for a homicide in …”

My car radio played in the background. The Oak Ridge Boys went on and on about Bobbie Sue and Elvira while I attempted to straighten the curves by hitting my marks—drive low in the curves, on both sides of the road. Never at the apex. Unless a car is coming in the opposite direction or you cannot see far enough ahead to safely do so.

The blue strobes mounted on top of the car make a clicking sound with the start of each flash. The wig-wag headlamps did the same. The roadway is very uneven with a few cracks and potholes scattered about. They cause the patrol car to dip and roll. The extra pair of handcuffs I and many other cops keep handy by hanging them from the spotlight handle that protrudes from the post between the windshield and driver’s door, sway back and forth and bang together causing a constant click, click, click noise. The sounds are out of sync.

I switched off my lights a ways before reaching the scene—didn’t want to shooter to know I was there—and stopped my car on the shoulder, a bit down the road from the driveway. I called the dispatcher on the phone to let her know I’d arrived. The use of the phone was in case the bad guy was listening to a scanner. I turned down the volume on my police radio. Way down. Remember, the sound travels far. I wished backup didn’t have to do the same (travel far).

I opened my car door slowly to avoid making any noise. The interior light was not operational—disconnected in police cars to prevent illuminating the officer and/or blinding them to goings-on outside the vehicle.

As I slid from the seat my leather gun belt creaked and squeaked and groaned, as leather does when rubbed against other leather or similar material. To me, the sound was as loud as Fourth of July fireworks. My car keys (in my pants pocket) jingled slightly with each step. So I used a hand to hold them against my leg. The other hand was on my pistol.

I walked up to the house to peek into a window before knocking on the door. I wanted to see if I could, well, see anything. But, as I closed in on the side the house a large mixed breed dog stepped into view, showing its teeth and upper gums. The animal with matted-hair and a crooked tail growled one of those slow, easy rumbles that comes from somewhere deep inside. I held out a hand for it to sniff. It backed into the shadows.

A quick peek inside revealed a family of five. A woman with two black eyes and three crying children. Two girls, not quite teenagers, but close, probably, and a wiggling and squirming baby. A man stood near a tattered recliner and tall floor lamp. He held a pump shotgun in his right hand. At the moment, the barrel was aimed toward the floor. He yelled a few obscenities and started to pace. Then he looked straight at me, or at least it seemed like he looked at me.

My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. It bumped so hard I could hear the sound it made with each beat.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

From somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr ……..Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

A young girl. “Please, Daddy. No more!”

Sirens wail in the distance, beyond the black tree line that connects sky with earth. Sounds travel further at night, right?

The air-conditioning unit beneath the window snaps on. Its compressor humming and fan whirring. The metal casing rattles slightly. Probably missing a screw or two.

I knew what I had to do and started toward the door with my leather shoes and gun belt squeaking and keys jingling and heart thumping. As I reached for the knob I took a deep breath.

The expansion of my chest pulled at the Velcro that held my vest tightly against my torso.

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …




Thump. Thump. Thump!



The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”



Thump. Thump. Thump.


And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

So, my friends, those are the sounds of working the graveyard shift …A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

Me again. Note Lee’s use of the telling details here: the out of sync jangle of the extra cuffs. The sweep of blue lights on a mailbox in the night. How acoustics seem different in the dark swirl of lethal fear. And notice how he switches his narrative style — slow and legato when the cop is merely driving through the night then moving to a sharp staccato style during the action of t he shooting and take-down. All these are markers of a good novelist. Lee isn’t telling you how much terror a cop feels. He’s showing it to you and making you experience it through your senses.

I’ve never worn a badge, carried a gun or had to go through a door not knowing if I’d make back out alive. But I write about cops every day, so I can only hope to try to live vicariously in the skin of those who do. And then try to make the reader see what I am trying to see. It’s what writers do. It’s what we have to do to make readers feel.

Thanks, Lee. We’re all still learning here.

Postscript: I am traveling to NYC today for Edgar duties, so might be delayed in responding here. Talk amongst yourselves!

Beach Reading

I am in Cancun, hopefully sunning myself (with an appropriately large hat and SPF 100 on),  for today’s blog so wanted to get some beach reading recommendations. I’ve managed to convince my husband to read the excellent Australian mystery by Jane Harper, The Dry, while I indulge in some YA reading and research for my current WIP. I’ve also got James Comey’s  A Higher Loyalty to read – but I’m not sure that qualifies as much of a beach read! On spring break I started to read Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent but found it was too dark and damp to read at the beach…so that’s been set aside for a rainy day. It’s funny how you need just the right combination of intrigue and atmosphere when you’re trying to relax:)

So TKZers, what are you looking forward to reading this summer? Are there some juicy new mysteries or thrillers you would recommend for by the beach, by the lake, or for up in the mountains? I’m planning on spending quite bit of time up in the mountains this summer while my boys are on Boy Scout and Avid4 camps – so I need some good recommendations for books that can keep me up turning the pages at night. I haven’t had one of those reads in ages!

Thanks in advance! I’m hoping to be able to check in on your recommendations while sipping cocktails beneath a beach umbrella:)



Editing is Dying, Grunting Soon to Follow

by James Scott Bell

In some places in our fair land, if all is still in the night, you might hear the plaintive cry of the whippoorwill. In other locales, if the moon is full, the howl of a lonely coyote may break the silence. In the city you are sure to pick up the distant toot of an automobile horn, or the exasperated utterance of the infuriated cab driver, or perhaps the variegated cursings of the long-distance trucker in search of a greasy spoon.

At my house, I have come to anticipate the sardonic tones of a wifely expostulation that sounds like this: “Oh, come on!”

You see, Mrs. B knows the language. She knows grammar. She has to. She’s a realtor here in Los Angeles, and one of her tasks is crafting engaging copy about the properties she’s representing. Often, when she’s in her home office, I’ll hear the “Oh, come on!” and it usually means she’s just read, with a mixture of amusement and horror, another agent’s prose on the Multiple Listing Service.

Once, she saw this description of a view property up on a hill: You’ll be high in the heaves!

I don’t know about you, but living in a house where I’m constantly calling Ralph on the big white telephone is not my idea of heaven.

Another time she saw: This is a lovely home, completely remolded.

I’d rather just keep the old mold, wouldn’t you?

Cindy began collecting these items. A few more from her list:

Master suit with walking closet.

Hardwood floors, and a wet bat.

Many widows make this home light and airy.

Okay, typos. We all make them. But what about obvious errors of grammar from outfits that ought to know better? Like, say, newspapers and television channels? At one time all newspapers employed steely-eyed copy editors who were fully grounded in the rules of grammar and the elements of style. Not so much anymore in this epoch of shrinking revenues and staff cutbacks.

That’s why you see more errors popping up in newspapers, print and digital, than ever before. Things like:

The glamorous 17-year-old wants to be a policewoman some day, like her dad.

Golfing Immortal Dies at Age 69.

His face was familiar to movie fans, with or without his ever-present cigar.  

Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.

Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.

The other evening I heard “Oh, come on!” and went to investigate. Cindy was scrolling through the blurbs on a certain movie channel. These are no doubt written by unpaid millennial interns or staffers who’d rather be playing Realm Grinder in their cubicles. Cindy showed me the blurb for a movie called Johnny Belinda starring Jane Wyman (who won the Oscar as Best Actress for her performance). Here’s the blurb:

Sensitive portrayal of a deaf woman who is raped, then tried for his subsequent murder in a Nova Scotia fishing Village.

Oh, come on!

Okay, I know I’m sounding more and more get-off-my-lawnish these days, but really. Let the basic rules of grammar fray and in a few generations we’ll all be milling around, grunting and gesticulating, trying to get someone to tell us where the bathroom is. Frustration will mount, with anger soon to follow, and soon enough we’ll be tearing into each other with our teeth. Which is sort of what Twitter is like right now.

Wuts 2b dun?

Remember when education used to begin at what we called grammar school? Please, teachers and parents, don’t let the children down. Make them memorize the following poem:

Every name is called a NOUN, as field and fountain, street and town.
In place of a noun the PRONOUN stands, as he and she clap their hands.
The adjective describes a thing, as magic wand or bridal ring.
The VERB means action, something done, to read and write and jump and run.
How things are done the ADVERBS tell, as quickly, slowly, badly or well.
A PREPOSITION shows relation, as in the room or at the station.
CONJUNCTIONS join—in many ways—sentences, words or phrase and phrase.
The INTERJECTION cries out “Hark! I need an exclamation mark!”

Maybe we can nudge the language pendulum back the other way. We’d better try.

Dont u agree?

Hang On! First Page Critique: MANNAHATTA

Photo Courtesy Pixabay

Welcome, Anon du jour!  Thank you for joining us this morning by submitting Mannahatta, your work in progress, to First Page Critique. I think you’re off to a great start with what I believe is an adventure novel. Let’s take a look, noting that the original line separation and paragraph breaks were lost in transmission:


Winter 1602

The two hunters could see it would not go well.

They sat on the high bank, bundled in skins and eating parched corn, while they watched the canoe approach from the west—from the island.

The rain had stopped, but the gale at their backs was still gusting. Whitecaps roiled the gray, cold waters below them, and there was a continuous roar from both wind and raging sea, not unlike a waterfall.

“Worst time to attempt this passage,” the taller of the two shouted in their Munsee dialect.

The other man grunted agreement while he chewed and pulled his beaver cloak tighter against the north wind.

The tide was turning at this spot they called Monatun, just east of Mannahatta. Here three salt rivers and waterways converged into one channel. Currents from different directions raced and collided. Waves rammed into each other and shot spray high in the air. Deep whirlpools spun and sucked, and a standing wave spanned the treacherous water route.

The hunters could do nothing to change what they knew was coming. They would be silent witnesses.

The man was in front, a woman in back, and in the middle a boy who had seen maybe eight or nine winters. The man paddled furiously and yelled instructions to his woman, eyes wide with fright. The boy remained motionless, as if in his dreaming world, his small hands grasping each side of the canoe.

As soon as they entered the violent stream, the paddler’s efforts had little effect—the canoe was pulled helplessly into the standing wave that blocked its path. The man tried to angle up and over the wave, but it was no good. The heavy canoe flipped like a small twig, its occupants launched into the icy water and swept along with the main current.

The wind then caught the lip of the canoe and sent it sailing against a large boulder that jutted out from the water. It broke into splinters with a loud crash.

The man and woman flailed and tried to swim to shore while being carried on by the chaotic flow. Soon, they disappeared under the water’s choppy surface.

The hunters’ attention went to the boy. He was not helpless like his parents. He was not fearful. He struggled in the water, but with a fixed determination.

He held a rope, and while he bobbed toward the jutting rock, they could see him purposefully . . .


First, last and in between: Anon, you know how to tell a story. Good going. You set a scene and create suspense very well. Even though I was almost certain from their first introduction that the adults were goners and that Sonny Boy was going to make it (and that’s not a sure thing yet) I was wondering how it was going to go down. I wasn’t disappointed at all with what you presented.

It looks like I have made a lot of corrections here. That is no reflection of your storytelling skills. Your work here reminds me in a way of Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of my all-time favorite authors of adventure fiction. He probably wouldn’t even get published now, as he was not a stickler for grammatical rules, but he could tell a story by just picking the reader up and carrying them along, the same as you do. I was swept up by your story which in my opinion matters more than writing a story that follows all the rules in the telling but bores the waste out the reader. Accordingly, please consider the following to be fine detailing rather than a general remodeling.

They sat on the high bank, bundled in skins and eating parched corn, while they watched the canoe approach from the west—from the island.  I’m thinking, Anon, that this would be a good place and time to hint that there are three people in the canoe. You can say:

They sat on the high bank, bundled in skins and eating parched corn, while watching the canoe with three people aboard approach from the west—from the island.

The hunters could do nothing to change what they knew was coming. They would be silent witnesses. Since they are already silent witnesses, let’s change the tense and also bring the canoe back into the action to introduce what happens next:

The hunters could do nothing to change what they knew was coming. They were silent witnesses as the surging waves tossed the canoe and its helpless passengers.  

The man was in front, a woman in back, and in the middle a boy who had seen maybe eight or nine winters. Let’s introduce them in a parallel fashion:

A man was in the front of the canoe,  a woman in the back, and a boy who had seen maybe eight or nine winters was in the middle.

The other man grunted agreement while he chewed and pulled his beaver cloak tighter against the north wind.  I knew what you were saying here, Anon, but the image lept into my mind, almost unbidden, of the gent chewing on his beaver cloak. Let’s maybe add two little words:

The other man grunted agreement while he chewed his corn and pulled his beaver cloak tighter against the north wind.

The man paddled furiously and yelled instructions to his woman, eyes wide with fright.

This story is told from the point of view of the hunters who have no way of knowing the relationship, 1602 style, between the man and the woman. It could be the guy’s sister. Let’s make the change from “his woman” to “the woman” until we know for sure if we ever do. Also, tell us whose eyes are wide with fright, Anon. If they’re the woman’s, use:

“…to the woman whose eyes were wide with fright.”

If the man’s, use:

“The man, eyes wide with fright, paddled furiously…”

The man and woman flailed and tried to swim to shore while being carried on by the chaotic flow. Soon, they disappeared under the water’s choppy surface.  I don’t like the “soon” here. “Soon” for me implies a fifteen minute rest period. Let’s try “quickly” to further convey the urgency of the situation:

The man and woman flailed while trying to swim to shore but were carried on by the chaotic flow. They quickly disappeared under the water’s choppy surface.

He held a rope, and while he bobbed toward the jutting rock, they could see him purposefully…  I take the sense that the boy is probably not so much holding the rope as hanging on for dear life. I like the sense of urgency you have going overall and want to keep that going, so let’s use a word that does that. For example:

He clung to a rope, and the pair on shore watched him purposefully (tell us what he is purposefully doing) while he bobbed toward the jutting rock.

Just to close…I like that the perspective of the story is from the point of view of the two crusty customers on the bank, who so far are sitting there watching what unfolds. The implication here is that there isn’t anything they can do to avert the catastrophe that is unfolding. They’re not taking any joy in it. They are just stoically watching nature take its course. Fortunately, the boy is not. My guess is that after the Prologue we’ll meet up with the boy as an adult and he’ll be the protagonist of your book. I look forward to finding out.

I will now attempt to remain uncharacteristically and unnaturally quiet as I turn the reins over to our wonderful visitors and commenters. Thank you for joining us, Anon, and good luck with Mannahatta!