About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. He will co-produce the film adaptation of his book, Six Minutes to Freedom, which should begin filming in 2017. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA.

Rejection Proofing

By John Gilstrap

If we’ve run into each other at an event, you might have noticed that I’m not a very shy guy.  In fact, I am the classic extrovert–one who draws energy from being around other people.  I love getting to know people, listening to their stories and picking their brains.  It’s the rare person, I find, who doesn’t have an interesting story to share about their life.

What I’m not good at is asking people to do things.  I’m not a closer.  It’s difficult for me at a book signing to end a chat with a potential customer by asking how many copies they would like to buy.  Personally, I don’t think it’s a fear of rejection as much as it is a desire not to inconvenience the other party.  And as I wrote that last sentence, yes, I see that that is likely my rationalization of a fear of rejection.

This hesitation on my part will be brought into high relief soon when I live up to my offer to spearhead a fundraising drive for the RiteCare Scottish Rite Childhood Language Program.  (This is NOT a solicitation for contributions.)  I’ve never approached a wealthy friend and asked for money, even for a great cause, and I find the prospect rather daunting.

I reached out to my friend Lynda who runs the YouthQuest Foundation for some advice, and her very first bit was to buy a book called Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang.  It’s a quirky little book that might not be for everyone, but there are a few sections that I think are particularly worthwhile for writers.  For me, the central idea boiled down to some obvious themes that come as no surprise: Rejection is about the request being made, not about the person making it; and expectations often become reality.  If you expect a no, that’s likely what you’ll walk away with.

But the part of the book that got me to thinking is where it points out that in most cases, the person being approached is as nervous about the request as the requester is of rejection.  Rejection does not exist in a vacuum.  It is always one part of a two-way communication.  My challenge will be to combine my natural gregariousness with an offer to help a good cause, packaged in a way that the person on the other end of the conversation will feel great about saying yes.

So, what does this have to do with writing?  I’m glad you asked.

Last Sunday, I did a book signing at the fabulous Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA.  It’s a pretty small place, and there I was in a chair at a table at the front of the store, right where customers had to trip over me to get by.  I always find it interesting just how many ways customers will actively avoid the gaze of the guy sitting next to a pile of books he wants to sell.

And I get it.  They likely don’t have a clue who I am, and if they’re in the store for a children’s book, or a title by Toni Morrison, they don’t want to hear a pitch that they know they will ultimately say no to.  It makes them feel uncomfortable. Remember, this rejection equation equalizes on both sides.  Call it social algebra.

At one point, an older gentleman entered the store, and when the always-excellent sales staff approached him and told him that an author was there and he’d love to sign a book for him, the guy–who turned out to be a fellow named Willard–said, “We’ll see,” and he started wandering the shelves.

What’s the point of reading a self-help book if you’re not going to put the strategies to good use, right?  So, I threw caution to the wind.  I left my station, walked up to him and said, “Hi, I’m John Gilstrap, a visiting author. Zero pressure to buy a book, but I’d love to shake your hand.”

He beamed.  We chatted for a few minutes.  He asked me what Scorpion Strike was about.  When it came around to the fact that I’m a native Virginian, he was sold.  He bought a book from me–a guy he knew–and I inscribed to to a guy I now knew as well.

Then there was the lovely lady named Bambi, who came into the store with her ancient beagle, Max.  Bambi was on a mission.  She told the manager that she wanted the two best children’s books for kids of a very young age.  They were gifts, and she wanted them wrapped.  While they discussed kids’ books, I made friends with Max.  Bambi and I talked a little about dogs, and when she asked me if I was from Richmond, I told her no, that I was from Fairfax.  It was at that moment that it dawned on her that I was the author who’d been mentioned to her when she first arrived.

Turns out that she personally likes thrillers, but she wasn’t there with the purpose of buying a book for herself.  She was concentrating on kid-lit.  Once her focus shifted, she became interested in me and my writing, and she bought a book–likewise from a guy she now knew, without any pressure from me.  I inscribed it to Bambi and Max, and she seemed genuinely touched.

Now here’s the big lesson: As predicted in Rejection Proof, both of those transactions were actually fun for me, and I presume for the others as well.  Zero stress.  Asking for the order is not about pushing a thing, it’s about interacting with people you like and trust, even if the relationship is only a few minutes old.

So, what about you, TKZers?  Does asking for stuff make you squirm?  Do you want to share any strategies for screwing up the courage to make the effort?

.

5+

But Does It Sell Books?

By John Gilstrap

I just returned from a fabulous week in New York, communing with fellow writers at Thrillerfest, the annual confab of the International Thriller Writers Association (ITW).  As always happens when two or more writers occupy the same space, the conversation turned to strategies to employ for the purposes of selling books.

There’s universal agreement that a writer needs a platform from which to launch his or her marketing campaign.  There’s equal unanimity that social media accounts are the way to go.  Dutifully, I’ve established my Facebook page, my Twitter feed and my Instagram account.  In addition, I have a YouTube channel, and this biweekly blog in TKZ.  I attend conferences, teach seminars when opportunities arise, and in general make myself as accessible as reasonable security and privacy allow.

For the most part, I enjoy the marketing side of what I do.  I’m kind of a Type-A personality to begin with so I enjoy the interaction with people, even if most of it is virtual.  If the invested time and effort didn’t sell a single book, I would probably do a lot of that stuff anyway.

So, here’s my first question for the group: Forgetting what the pundits proclaim to be immutable fact, what is your experience?  Do you read blog posts in this space or others that inspire you to buy books by authors you otherwise have not read?  Do Facebook travelogues or Twitter insights make you actually feel so much closer to an author that you’ll plop down some bucks for the latest book?

My second question is closely related: Have social media posts ever driven you away from an author you have otherwise been inclined to read?

My answers to my own questions are yes and yes, particularly with regard to blog posts and Facebook.  Excepting the nonfiction blogs that I lean on for research, I will occasionally read a post from a fiction writer whose voice intrigues me enough to take a poke at the fruits of his or her imagination.  And, sometimes an ill-informed political or social screed will push me to place an author on my never-again list.  I don’t care what side a FB friend takes on a position so long as it is well-argued.  When the name-calling starts, I’m out.  (And that’s exactly why I don’t understand why anyone in the entertainment business chooses to write screeds.)

Now, fair warning: When this post goes up, I will be doing my best torpedo impersonation inside the tube of an MRI machine to diagnose the source of pinched nerve in my neck.  Because I am a raging claustrophobe, I expect to be in a narcotic haze for some of the day, and past experience has demonstrated that it’s best to stay away from the Internet and emails while drugged.  Thus, I will likely not be a part of the conversation.

 

6+

My Cure for Writer’s Block

By John Gilstrap

Perhaps the title of this post is a bit misleading.  Truth be told, I don’t believe in writer’s block.  There are days when the creativity feels like it won’t flow at all, and there are certainly days when I would prefer to do something other than tying my backside to the chair and hammering out words, but that’s what everybody feels about any job on some days.

“Writer’s block” is, I believe, too often an excuse to be wielded on those days when a writer would prefer to play hookie.  There’s nothing wrong with playing hookie, but whilst playing, it’s disingenuous to complain about not getting stuff done on your manuscript.  There truly is no substitute to a writer writing, even when the words don’t flow easily.

I think of creativity as a flow, and the writer as the pump.  When the pipes are filled and the pressure is even, creativity pours out of us, sometimes in such volume that we can’t handle it all.  Then stuff happens in our lives or in our surroundings that causes intellectual cavitation, and our pump loses prime.  All that flow reduces to a pool, and it’s hard work to get it going again.

Everybody has a proprietary secret sauce to re-prime their own pipes, but one that always works for me is to return to the basics: pen and paper.  I posted a video on the topic on my YouTube channel.  I don’t know why it works, but somehow, the tactile connection between my brain and the page, flowing through an old-fashioned fountain pen, never fails to set me straight.  For every book I write, I’d guess 20% of the prose starts as being written longhand.  Once the story is flowing again, I type up the handwritten pages and I’m off and running.

What about you?  Any tricks you want to share for getting past the story parts that don’t seem to want to work?

7+

Stories Are Always Better When Something Happens

By John Gilstrap

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous has submitted a page for us to critique.  As always, the italics are mine, for the sake of clarity.  First the submission, and then I’ll see you on the flip.

Title:  Octobers Fire

The Dodge pulled up to the edge of the cliff. The man cut the engine, then the headlights. Stepping out of the car, he spent a few moments letting his eyes adjust, listening to the ticking of the hot engine block as it cooled. It was deep in the night, the hour when everyone and everything is slumbering, and the stillness was palpable. Even the crickets were asleep.

This hour was the sole domain of insomniacs.

The sliver of a crescent moon inched towards its zenith. To the west, lights from the boxy tract homes of San Amaro Hills spilled into the orange glow of the coastal cities, and to the south, a few twinkling lights peeked from the lush foliage protecting the old growth mansions of Rancho Alto. To the east, he gazed into the blackness of Fairy Glen. Its undulating hills were carpeted in shaggy chaparral, just a shade darker than the black velvet sky, freckled with stars, that hung above it. The perfect hunting grounds.

As the man’s eyes adapted, he could make out the depth of the quarry below him, the scarred surface of the granite torn away by machines and men. He pulled a half smoked cigar from the case in his pants pocket, stuck it in his mouth, but then decided against lighting it. He would savor it when the job was done.

He saw headlights approaching, bouncing and jarring up the hill.

He’d had a plan–make small talk, act jovial, share a few beers–but now found his patience was short. The thought of the whole charade seemed more distasteful than the job itself. The Rohypnol in his pocket could go to good use elsewhere, he wasn’t worried about that. He pictured a new, spectacular kind of death.

In his experience, investigations were clumsy. Police grasped at the first assumption and held on tight, like a dog with a bone. Nobody would miss this poor kid enough to investigate his death fully. It probably wouldn’t even make the local news.

He looked around his feet for the perfect rock, not too big, not too small. He remembered his boyhood in Bogota, pitching for his street gang’s stickball team. As the second car pulled up to his, he couldn’t help but smile. He still had a good arm.

=

It’s Gilstrap again.  Let’s start with the positives.  I think the writing here is very strong.  I like the details of the ticking engine and the stillness of the night.  The imagery of looking out over the sleeping town of boxy tract homes worked for me.  Kudos on that.  I have some niggling suggestions for strengthening the prose, which I’ll present below, but overall, the prose stitches together nicely.

All that’s missing is a sense of story.  And that brings us to the not-so-positives.  In these 400 words, we meet an insomniac with no name who for reasons unknown is preparing to do harm to someone else with no name.  From this sample, I could be equally convinced that the story is about either a serial killer or a werewolf.  (We learn that the remote outdoors are the “perfect hunting grounds,” yet we are also told that the hunter knows that the bouncing headlights are delivering a “poor kid” who is targeted for a “new, spectacular kind of death.”  Those are ominous phrases that ultimately have no meaning for the reader.)

I wonder more and more whether writers who submit their first-page samples have ever bothered to read the feedback given to their predecessors.  The problems that haunt this piece have mostly been discussed here on TKZ many times before.

Give us a name.  It’s impossible for a reader to bond with a pronoun or nameless entity.  The man, the boy, the woman, etc. have no humanity without a name attached. We don’t need much.  No backstory, no physical description.  Just a name will do to bring a spark of life to a character we’re meeting for the first time.

Give us action.  Lovely description is, well, lovely, but it’s not a story.  In this sample, I believe I would open with the approaching headlights.  Think of that as the framework to support the why of the story.  Consider:

Zachary Childress caressed the bottle of Rohypnol in his pocket as he watched the headlights approaching through the blackness.  They bounced and jarred up the rough hill, but they were still too far away for their engine noise to pierce the silence of the night.  Just a few feet away, the engine of his Dodge pickup ticked as it cooled.

Maybe that’s not where your story is going, but the point is that in just a few words, we know that a guy with an old-fashioned name means to make use of a date rape drug on the occupant of the approaching vehicle.  We also know that Zachary has only recently arrived.  From here, if you want to throw in a paragraph about the beauty of the night, that’s fine, but understand that that description stops the story.  (Your audience is not reading to find out what the evening looks like.  They’re reading to find out what he has in mind for his victim.)

Instead of transitioning to description, I would transition to his internal monologue.

Okay, enough of that.  Instead of rewriting your story, let me offer some suggestions on your story as it is.  The bold writing is mine.

Title:  Octobers Fire [Are we missing an apostrophe here?]

The Dodge [Give a little bit more here.  Pickup truck, maybe?] pulled up to the edge of the cliff. The man cut the engine, then the headlights. Stepping out of the car, he spent a few moments [This phrase makes me crazy.  A moment is an undefined unit of time, so a few is as long as only one.  If you mean seconds, say seconds.  Otherwise, one moment will do.] letting his eyes adjust, listening to the ticking of the hot engine block as it cooled. It was [Weak construction.  What was?  Better to say “This was the hour when everyone . . .]deep in the night, the hour when everyone and everything is slumbering, and the stillness was palpable. Even the crickets were asleep.

This hour was the sole [Really? The sole domain? What about firefighters and shift workers? Beware the unnecessary modifier.] domain of insomniacs.

The sliver of a crescent moon [As opposed to a sliver of a full moon? I’d pick either crescent or sliver, but not both] inched towards its zenith. To the west, lights from the boxy tract homes of San Amaro Hills spilled into the orange glow of the coastal cities, and to the south, a few twinkling lights peeked from the lush foliage protecting the old growth mansions of Rancho Alto. To the east, he gazed into the blackness of Fairy Glen [Be careful not to confuse your reader. Fairy Glen may well be a real place, but I’ve never heard of it. To me, this implies that Unicorn Alley may be around the corner, and that this is a fantasy/SF story.]. Its undulating hills [Do hills undulate, absent an earthquake?] were carpeted in shaggy chaparral, just a shade darker than the black velvet sky, freckled with stars, that hung above it. The perfect hunting grounds.[Except he’s not really hunting here, is he? Again, in context, “hunting” makes me think that he has not yet chosen his prey, but I think he in fact has.]

As the man’s eyes adapted, he could make out the depth of the quarry [Quarry is a bad word in this context. In the previous paragraph, you speak of hunting, and now you speak of quarry.  Beware of homonyms.] below him, the scarred surface of the granite torn away by machines and men. He pulled a half smoked cigar from the case in his pants pocket, stuck it in his mouth, but then decided against lighting it. He would savor it when the job was done.

He saw headlights approaching, bouncing and jarring up the hill.

He’d had a plan–make small talk, act jovial, share a few beers–but now found his patience was short. The thought of the whole charade seemed more distasteful than the job itself. [Does he in fact find the job distasteful?] The Rohypnol in his pocket could go to good use elsewhere, he wasn’t worried about that. He pictured a new, spectacular kind of death. [Presumably for his victim? What does he envision here?]

In his experience, investigations were clumsy. [This is a weird, jarring pivot.  Is he a cop?  If not, this seems like a non-sequitur.] Police grasped at the first assumption and held on tight, like a dog with a bone. Nobody would miss this poor kid enough to investigate his death fully. It probably wouldn’t even make the local news.

He looked around his feet for the perfect rock, [I thought it was dark. How does he see?  Is the rock his murder weapon?] not too big, not too small. He remembered his boyhood in Bogota, pitching for his street gang’s stickball team. As the second car pulled up to his, he couldn’t help but smile. He still had a good arm. [When I first read this, I presumed that he had somehow injured his other arm. Now, I think you mean a good pitching arm.]

7+

Bad Guy Boot Camp Redux

By John Gilstrap

I’m pleased to announce that my publisher, Kensington, has signed me on for three more installments of the Jonathan Grave series.  The working titles are Untitled Grave 12, 13 and 14.  Few series get that kind of lifespan, and I am both humbled and thrilled.

One of the questions I have to wrestle with at the plotting stage of every book is the most basic of them all: Why?  Jonathan Grave and his team are freelance hostage rescuers who frequently end up rescuing far more than that, and there has to be a plausible reason why his clients, who often are government officials, are compelled to turn to him instead of to local police, the FBI or even the military.

There’s another compelling why question that is often more difficult to satisfy.  More times than not, Jonathan’s enemies are bad-ass dudes who are well-schooled in their bad-assery.  Why do they always lose the fight in the end?  If I’ve established a bad guy who is an expert sniper, it’s not fair to the reader or to the story to make his one bad shot of the book the one that was intended for my protagonist.  All elements of a story need to be earned by the characters.

I’ve just recently discovered the wonderful Amazon original series, “Bosch,” based on the novels of Michael Connelly.  I binge-watched all four seasons over the course of a couple of weeks.  For the most part, the writers keep within the realm of probability, but they dropped the ball at a critical juncture.  Over the course of eight episodes, we’ve come to know and hate a mass-murdering bad guy who is ruthlessly good at what he does.  He’s a killer who kills.  Then, in the final scenes, as Bosch and his partner creep through the woods toward our bad guy’s mountain cabin (without backup, of course), the bad guy gets the drop on our heroes and opens up with a machine gun.  He rips out a good 30 rounds from a defended position from which he’s had plenty of time to aim, but he misses, thus setting up a pretty cool shootout. It’s an exciting scene that just happens to defy logic.

More recently, I was watching the season finale of “Blue Bloods,” another favorite, in which the NYPD is searching for an assassin who’s been offing people with amazing marksmanship.  The MacGuffin of the episode is pretty compelling, and as each of the killer’s targets drops dead, we learn that the police commissioner’s own family is in danger.  In the final reel, our assassin has the commissioner’s son in his sights at point blank range—think three feet—and this one time, when he pulls the trigger, his bullet goes wide.  Aargh!

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time.  In fact, I wrote about it here in the Killzone back in 2010.  I decided to host a convention of fictional villains to give them a pep talk to inspire them to have more pride in their work.  I called it Bad Guy Boot Camp.  Here is a transcription of my opening remarks:

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Bad Guy Boot Camp. Please take your seats so we can get started. Yes, it’s good to see you, too, Dr. Lecter. What’s that? Oh, no thanks. It looks delicious, but I’m still full from breakfast. Couldn’t eat another thing.

Um, Mr. Morgan? Dexter? Please don’t sit so close to Dr. Lecter.  I’m pleased that you’d like to get to know him better, but wait till after the session. The lounge downstairs has a very nice wine list. I recommend the Chianti. 

Let’s get right to it, shall we? I think I speak for all when I say that I’m sick and tired of the good guys getting all the credit in fiction. Without you, all those stories would be pretty darned boring and I think that . . .

Um, Mr. Dolarhyde, please turn off the camera. We don’t allow filming of these sessions, and I believe you know why. Thank you.

As I was saying, I think it’s about time that, as a group, you started taking more pride in your work. It’s about craftsmanship and respect. For example—and please take no offense—several of you were taken down by a quadriplegic detective. I mean, really. That’s embarrassing. Yes, we all know that it’s the hot chick doing all the leg work (no pun intended), but the quad is the headline, and that makes all of you look bad.

Let’s start at the beginning. You’re villains.  Be . . . I don’t know . . . villainous. Be a freaking bad guy. Do your crimes, get them over with, and quit making it so easy for the heroes. If we frustrate those detectives enough, they’ll quit being so glib.

Let’s start with you serial killers. I know you’re crazy and all, but try to stay focused on your goals: sexual gratification through unspeakable mutilation. Everything else is secondary. Are the notes and the clues really necessary?  You know those always work against you, right?  I know that for some of you, your creative process requires spewing DNA, but how about leaving that as your only direct pathway to arrest? It’s about risk management, people.  Business 101.

If making bombs is your thing, I submit that the digital countdown clock is not your friend.  And folks, please.  All the same color wires.  Trust me, this will frustrate the daylights out of the cops. 

A note about travel: Stay out of Miami, Vegas, New Orleans and New York. They’ve got CSI teams there that are amazing. They’ve got a hundred percent catch ratio, and the average time from incident to arrest is only an hour. Really, an hour. I recommend keeping to the heartland, where all the local police are incompetent and depend exclusively on the FBI or on passing private investigators to get anything done.

Oh, and there’s a town in Maine called Cabot’s Cove.  Bad, bad news there.

Any questions? Great.

Let’s move on to marksmanship and gun play. Folks, at the end of the session today, I’m hosting an outing to the shooting range so you can hone your skills. There’s a trend among all of you where you show excellent marksmanship at the beginning of your crime spree, but then they erode toward the end. Maybe you’re choking because of the pressure, but the basic skills are there. When you whiff that critical shot, you miss by only a fraction of an inch.  When your instructor, Mr. Wick, is finished with you, I’m confident you’ll see a world of difference. 

While we’re on the topic of guns, I beg you to keep one point in mind: When in doubt, shoot. If the moment comes when you’re muzzle to muzzle with the protagonist, don’t negotiate, shoot. Why do you care if he drops his gun? You’re a villain, for heaven’s sake. Just pop him. You don’t need to tell him why.

Yes, Dr. Moriarty, you have a question?

Actually, I’m not sure I agree that murders have become less civilized over the years, but I encourage you to bring that up during your breakout session . . .

 

10+

Demonic Darjeeling — A First Page Critique

By John Gilstrap

It’s that time again.  The brave writer who’s stepped into the breach for a first page critique has been waiting for way longer than s/he should have.  This one was actually submitted back in December, and it got lost in the scrum of the Holidays.  My apologies for that.  So, here we go, hopefully better late than never.  I’ll see you on the other side.  (As always, the italics are mine for clarity’s sake.)

Title: When the Demons Came for Tea

The tinkling bell chimed in the teashop and I turned to see two figures, dressed smartly in velvety black business suits.  They could have passed for ordinary people save for the curling ivory horns and alabaster pale skin.  I picked up the rose patterned china tea pot and asked;

“Who is it this time?”  For as long as I had run the tea shop, the Demons would come in for afternoon tea before they went off to claim their next soul.  These were demons of death, in charge of claiming the souls of those ready to depart the earth and giving theme safe passage to…  well, wherever they went next.  I had no idea what had drawn them in here in the first place, by all accounts this was an ordinary tea shop.  Perhaps they just liked the tea I served.  That’s what I liked to believe anyway.  I handed the demons a cup of tea each and repeated my question, noticing for the first time their rather uncomfortable silence.  Oh God, was it one of my family?

“W-who is it?”  I asked again.  Kailor sipped his tea.  Malariz shot Kailor a furious look before turning to me.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably, “it’s… you Ness.”  The china tea pot shattered as it hit the marble floor, having fallen from my limp hand.

“M-me?”  I whispered.

Kailor sighed, repairing my tea pot with a sweep of his hand.  “Hennessey Kayla Jones, we Kailor and Malariz of Soul Reclamation come to you know with a choice.  Come with us, to your afterlife or accept our job offer.”

Job offer?  Was that a thing? 

“A job?”  I asked.

“You accept the job?” Malariz asked quickly.

“No, what is the job?”  I said quickly.  The demons exchanged a secretive look.

“We can’t tell you.”  Kailor said happily.  I gaped at him.  Taking a deep breath, I downed my tea in one gulp and turned back to the demons.

“Let me get this straight.  I’m the soul you’ve come to claim, and I can either go with you to my afterlife, or take this job offer.  A job which you can’t tell me about until I’ve accepted it?  Is that about right?”  I asked shakily.

Malariz looked happy that I was catching on, “Yep that about covered it.”  I stared at him, lost for words.  Kailor looked between me and Malariz.

“I think she was being sarcastic mate.”  He said.  Malariz looked crestfallen.  I looked back and forth between the demons for a moment before turning around to look at my beloved tea shop.  Either way I would have to leave this place, I’d might as well have an adventure while I’m at it.  I turned back to them.

“I’ll take the job.”

=

It’s Gilstrap again.

Truth be told, I don’t know what to make of this piece.  I think I like the tone, the off-handedness of the interaction and dialogue, but I don’t understand the world.  Wouldn’t those horns raise a ruckus as they wandered down the street?  If they’re visible only to Ness, then that should be made clear.  And if they can repair pottery with a sweep of a hand, why do they need to enter the shop through the door?  Wouldn’t they just *poof* their way in?

I don’t think this scene makes a good first scene.  It’s a good turning point, but I’d like to get to know Ness–and see her interacting with Kailor and Malariz on previous missions–so that we get a chance to buy into their relationships.  There’s a chumminess among them that feels unearned in this sample.

I’m reminded here of the Three Kings from the Gian Carlo Menotti operetta, Amahl and the Night Visitors, where Melchior is portrayed as playing with less than a full deck.  I presume that that’s what we are to believe of Malariz.

I think there’s real potential here, though angel-of-death stories have been done many, many times, and therefor pose a great risk of falling into the realm of cliche.

Brave Author, you’ll see below that I have made some specific suggestions for a re-write.  You have a tendency to be redundant in your narrative, and there seems to be an addiction to -ly adverbs.  Look for my comments in bold type.

And thanks for submitting!

Title: When the Demons Came for Tea

The tinkling bell chimed in the teashop and I turned to see two figures, dressed smartly in velvety black velvet business suits.  They could have passed for ordinary people save for the curling ivory (really ivory—in which case could she really know that—or ivory colored?) horns and alabaster pale (redundant) skin.  I picked up the rose patterned china tea pot and asked;,

“Who is it this time?”  For as long (How long is that? This is an opportunity for detail.) as I had run the tea shop, these Demons (why capitalized?) of death would come in for afternoon tea before they went off to claim their next soul.  These were demons of death, in charge of claiming the souls of those ready to depart the earth and giving theme safe passage to…  well, wherever they went next.  I had no idea what had drawn them in here in the first place. By all accounts this was an ordinary tea shop.  (We will assume the ordinary, unless instructed otherwise.) Perhaps they just liked the tea I served.  That’s what I liked to believe anyway.  I handed the demons a cup of tea each and repeated my question, noticing for the first time their rather uncomfortable silence.  Oh God, was it one of my family?

“W-who is it?”  I asked again.  Kailor sipped his tea.  Malariz shot Kailor a furious look (This feels unearned to me. Why the furious look?) before turning to me.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably, “it’s… you Ness.”  The china tea pot shattered as it hit the marble floor, having fallen from my limp hand.

“M-me?”  I whispered.

Kailor sighed, repairing and repaired my tea pot with a sweep of his hand.  “Hennessey Kayla Jones, we Kailor and Malariz of Soul Reclamation come to you know with a choice.  Come with us, to your afterlife or accept our job offer.”

Job offer?  Was that a thing?

“A job?”  I asked.

“You accept the job?” Malariz asked quickly.

“No, what is the job?”  I said quickly.  The demons exchanged a secretive look.

“We can’t tell you.”  Kailor said happily.  I gaped at him.  Taking a deep breath, I downed my tea in one gulp and turned back to the demons.

I think this is a place for some internal monologue as Ness sorts through her options.  As written—as dialogue—it seems too glib, too for-the-reader.

“Let me get this straight.  I’m the soul you’ve come to claim, and I can either go with you to my afterlife, or take this job offer.  A job which you can’t tell me about until I’ve accepted it?  Is that about right?”  I asked shakily.

Malariz looked happy that I was catching on, “Yep that about covered it.”  I stared at him, lost for words.  Kailor looked between me and Malariz.

“I think she was being sarcastic mate.”  He said.  Malariz looked crestfallen.  I looked back and forth between the demons for a moment before turning around to look at my beloved tea shop.  Either way I would have to leave this place, I’d might as well have an adventure while I’m at it.  I turned back to them.

“I’ll take the job,” I said.

 

3+

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.

6+

The Truth About Silencers

By John Gilstrap

We’ve all seen how silencers work on firearms, right?  Our assassin lies in wait as his victim approaches down the street.  His silenced revolver is loaded and ready to fire.  The shooter takes his time, waits for his shot.  And then, from ten feet away (or 20 yards away), he makes his move.  The revolver puffs twice.  Phut, phut.  The victim falls, and no one knows whats wrong.  The killer makes his getaway.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another example of how movies and television get pretty much everything wrong when it comes to firearms and tactics.  Where, oh where to begin?

First of all, they’re called suppressors, and that’s because they’re not all that quiet.  Except sometimes.

A YouTuber who calls himself SmarterEveryDay posted a unique and very cool video on the function of suppressors.  He hooked up with a guy from Soteria, a suppressor manufacturer from Munford, Alabama, and together, using a high speed camera and a see-through acrylic suppressor, they were able to demonstrate exactly how a suppressor does its thing.

In case you can’t get the video to run, the suppressor (or the “can”) uses a series of internal baffles that contain the flash and expanding gases of a fired round, and then vent them slowly.  The effect is a more muffled report.  But there is still a substantial report.  Such things are hard to quantify in a blog post, but to my ear, most suppressed rifle shots sound like unsuppressed small caliber pistol shots.  Click here for a video of me shooting a suppressed Heckler & Koch MP7 at the Navy SEAL range in Virginia Beach.  What you’re hearing is a wicked little 4.6mm round, which translates to around 19 caliber.

The real benefit of suppressors is muzzle flash control.

Imagine you’re a bad guy doing bad things, when in the middle of the night, you hear pop-pop-pop and your friends start falling down around you.  There’s noise, but no muzzle flash–no visual reference for where the attack is coming from.  It’s just from out there somewhere. Recognizing your situation for what it is, you pick up your own weapon to return fire, and every pull of the trigger releases a blinding flash at the tip of the barrel that not only destroys your night vision, but announces your location to anyone who maybe hadn’t noticed you yet.  Your night is likely to get pretty unpleasant.

For military operators, SWAT folks, Border Patrol and all manner of other groups who do dangerous things under the cover of darkness, suppressors, combined with night vision technology are tremendous force multipliers.  Owning the night doesn’t mean much if every shot gives away your location.

You can’t suppress a revolver.

Before my gun buddies get too twitchy that I let that first picture stand too long without contradiction, I need to point out that every old movie that shows a suppressed revolver is demonstrating the impossible.  The only way a suppressor is even a little effective is if the combustion gases are all contained long enough for the pressure to dissipate.  As the picture shows, every revolver has a gap between the cylinder and the barrel, through which a significant amount of gas escapes.  So significant is the pressure, in fact, that a revolver needs to be fired using a significantly different grip than that used with a semiautomatic pistol. if you rest the thumb of your support hand along the base as you would with a semi-auto, you’d stand a good chance of blowing your thumb off with the escaping cylinder gas.  The technical term for that is “a bad thing.”

Guns need to be modified to accept a suppressor.

Because of the pressures involved, adding a can to the muzzle of a firearm requires a strong bond.  For a suppressor, that means lots of pretty fine threads that extend beyond the frame of the firearm.  The picture of the 1911 variant pistol shows the modified barrel that would be used to accept a can.  As shown, the threads are protected with a threaded cap, and the can has not yet been attached.  As shown, the gun will still shoot just fine.  Also note that this pistol has taller sights than usual to accommodate diameter of the suppressor.

Bullet speed means more than bullet size when it comes to suppressor effectiveness.

The bang of a gunshot actually has several sources.  First, there’s the obvious explosion of gunpowder in the breech.  Depending on the load, that may or may not rise to the level of detonation, but in any case, there’s a lot of fast-burning gas.  Second, in the case of high-powered pistols and rifles whose bullets travel at supersonic speed, there’s the sonic boom that is caused by the projectile in flight.

Shotguns, on the other hand, are almost always subsonic. (I can’t think of one that is not, but I’ll avoid the absolute anyway.)  A full load of .00 buckshot will send nine to fifteen .32-caliber pellets downrange at around 1,100 feet per second, and because they are not rifled, they lose velocity more quickly than bullets.  Thus, a suppressed shotgun is really very quiet, to the degree that no hearing protection is required.

If you really need the drama of more traditional “silencer” . . .

If your story desperately needs the visuals or drama of that phut, phut of old, you’re not totally out of luck.  Most manufacturers make a line of subsonic ammo in most calibers.  When used in conjunction with a suppressor, they can be fairly effective.  You’re still going to get more of a bang than a phut, and it will still be audible within, say, 20 yards in the open, but you might not hear it in the basement if the shot is fired on the second floor.  All else being equal, larger calibers create louder noise.

If your character really needs to shoot a bad guy at bad-breath distance and not be detected in the next room . . .

This picture of a suppressed .22LR pistol also shows the ring (now removed) that protected the threads before the can was attached.

I have it on good authority that the preferred bullet for wet work contractors engaged in close-in killing is the subsonic .22LR (long rifle) round. This is the little bitty round that most people think of as a plinker–the round you fired at summer camp when you were a kid–but in reality it is the most common caliber in the world, and is therefore the world’s deadliest round in terms of sheer numbers of people killed (including Bobby Kennedy).  When fired through a good suppressor, a subsonic .22LR doesn’t even produce a phut.  The only audible noise is the clack, clack of the action.

Those are the basics. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.  Okay, TKZers, it’s your turn.

 

16+

First Page Critique: Endless Tomorrow

By John Gilstrap

We all know the drill by now.  A brave author has taken a big risk that we all respect.  First, the submission, and I’ll join you on the flip side:

Endless Tomorrow (TITLE)

The message from the Consul arrived before breakfast. Agnes had just wiped the last of the shaving lather from his face when Congressman John Paul opened the embossed and sealed envelope. He stared for far longer than it took to read the few words on the short scrap of paper.

“Well, what is it now?” asked Agnes.

Not the reserve a housekeeper should show to an employer but his momentary flash of irritation was soon forgotten. His fingers slid numbly over still tingling cheeks. “They know how to make guns.”

“Guns?” Her disbelief was evident. “Who’s got guns?”

John might as well have told her he could do magic. Guns were a relic of the past and long since gone from the world. “Strangers from behind the Eastern Mountains. We got word of them yesterday at the Ministers’ Meeting but there was no talk of guns.” He stared absently ahead. “A messenger must have come in the night.”

She laughed dismissively. “No one has guns anymore. Not for hundreds of years.” Agnes gently slapped powder on his cheeks and untied the barber cloth.

“Don’t be so sure, Agnes. I learned about them once in school. They are not complicated—at least in theory.”

“Oh, goodness. What else does the Consul’s note say about these people? They have rocket planes too?”

John had the feeling that rockets and planes were two different devices but his memory was fuzzy on the subject of the Moderns’ technology. He read the Consul’s note aloud. That was what Agnes wanted anyway. She was never satisfied until she knew everything.

Dozens of strangers from east now camped in field by Beaker’s Farm. Requesting our presence. Tech and crops unclear. Claim to have guns!? Ministers meeting at eleven. Then we ride. Richard.

Her voice was scolding. “Guns! Don’t believe those people—telling whatever lies they think might impress us. They’ll be wanting to settle here in the valley, just like every wanderer coming from the east. We both know it!” Her fingers moved adeptly over the contents of his shaving kit, brushing the blades clean, packing everything.

He folded the note away and regarded the woman beside him as she busily tidied his dressing room. Short in stature with a curvy figure slowly going plump, long dark hair done up in a bun, sharp gray eyes that never hesitated to meet his own. Clever she was, a bit of a schemer, a good source of town gossip—useful in every way but she had spent her whole life in the quiet town of Newhaven. Can she imagine the violence and slave-taking that reign outside our valley? Maybe none of us can. 

John shook his head and wished suddenly that he had heard fewer stories from terrified refugees who had fled from over the mountains. The era of the great seed traders was over. Only the wretched came now.

It’s Gilstrap again.

First the full disclosure: This piece is not from any genre that I care to read.  I don’t even know what genre it is.  And Author, that was not an insult, merely a confession.  That said, storytelling is storytelling, and from that perspective, this piece is troubled.  First, some general observations, and then I’ll dig a little deeper.

Adverbs.  Goodness gracious, there are a lot of them, and none are necessary. At a glance, I got numbly, absently, dismissively, gently, adeptly, busily, slowly, and suddenly. It’s a mistake to believe that -ly adverbs clarify meaning, because they never do. Either the modified verb will do the job on its own, or the writer has chosen the wrong verb in the first place.  There are exceptions, but I can’t think of one as I write this.  And yes, we’re all guilty of it.

Point of view.  The piece doesn’t have one.  I don’t know whose story we’re telling here.  The head-hopping detracts from the narrative pull of the story.

Setting.  Clearly, we are hundreds of years into the future, but the technology clock has for some reason spun the other way.  I don’t buy it.  This could very well be my unfamiliarity with the genre.

You started your story in the wrong place.  Getting a shave and receiving a note are not barn-burners of crises.  As it’s currently written, the opening is mainly a framework on which to hang backstory that we don’t yet need.  Assuming that guns are a big part of the McGuffin, I suggest starting with a holy-crap reaction that those new strangers have them.

Now, let’s get picky . . .

Endless Tomorrow (TITLE) JG: Years ago, I was told by an editor never to make a title an easy target for a snarky reviewer.  Casting no aspersions on this piece, Endless Tomorrow invites something like, “Endless Story” in the review. Just a thought.

The message from the Consul [Why capitalized?] arrived before breakfast. Agnes had just wiped the last of the shaving lather from his face [gramatically, the “his” here refers to Agnes] when Congressman John Paul opened the embossed and sealed envelope. [What did it look like? Thick, thin? How did it arrive?] He stared for far longer than it took to read the few words on the short scrap of paper. [So? what does Agnes think about that?]

“Well, what is it now?” asked Agnes.

Not the reserve a housekeeper should show to an employer [according to whom? Whose POV are we in?] but his momentary flash of irritation was soon forgotten [by whom?]. His fingers slid numbly [Why are his fingers numb?] over still tingling cheeks. “They know how to make guns.”

“Guns?” Her disbelief was evident [How? In what way?]. “Who’s got guns?”

John might as well have told her he could do magic. [POV?] Guns were a relic of the past and long since gone from the world. “Strangers from behind the Eastern Mountains. We got word of them yesterday at the Ministers’ Meeting but there was no talk of guns.” He stared absently ahead. “A messenger must have come in the night.”

[She laughed dismissively. “No one has guns anymore. Not for hundreds of years.” Agnes gently slapped powder on his cheeks and untied the barber cloth.

“Don’t be so sure, Agnes. I learned about them once in school. They are not complicated—at least in theory.”

“Oh, goodness. What else does the Consul’s note say about these people? They have rocket planes too?”

John had the feeling that rockets and planes were two different devices but his memory was fuzzy on the subject of the Moderns’ technology. He read the Consul’s note aloud. That was what Agnes wanted anyway. She was never satisfied until she knew everything.] The bracketed and underlined section is unnecessary backstory, and mostly redundant.  Recommend deleting it.

Dozens of strangers from east now camped in field by Beaker’s Farm. Requesting our presence. Tech and crops unclear. Claim to have guns!? Ministers meeting at eleven. Then we ride. Richard.

Her voice was scolding [What is a scolding voice? Tone, maybe?]. “Guns! Don’t believe those people—telling whatever lies they think might impress us. They’ll be wanting to settle here in the valley, just like every wanderer coming from the east. We both know it!” Her fingers moved adeptly over the contents of his shaving kit, brushing the blades clean, packing everything.

He folded the note away [What does “folded away” mean? Where did he put it?] and regarded the woman beside him as she busily tidied his dressing room. Short in stature with a curvy figure slowly going plump, long dark hair done up in a bun, sharp gray eyes that never hesitated to meet his own. Clever she was,[this structure sounds like Yoda] a bit of a schemer, a good source of town gossip—useful in every way but she had spent her whole life in the quiet town of Newhaven. Can [Could?–keep it in past tense] she imagine the violence and slave-taking that reign outside our valley? Maybe none of us can [Could?]. 

John shook his head and wished suddenly that he had heard fewer stories from terrified refugees who had fled from over the mountains. The era of the great seed traders was over. Only the wretched came now.

Overall, this piece feels like a very early draft to me.  Okay, TKZers, what say you?

 

5+

Take Cover!

By John Gilstrap

My research for the Jonathan Grave series exposes me to some pretty cool stuff.  Having never done the kind of work that Jonathan and his team do, the initial learning curve was pretty steep, and it will get steep again if I don’t stay current on tactics and technologies.  A few weeks ago, I took a terrific class called Active Threat Response through Elite Shooting Sports in Manassas, Virginia.  The focus of the class was on clearing rooms where bad guys are expected to be holed up.  It was a Simunitions class, meaning that everybody had real guns that fired wicked little paint pellets that sting like crap when they hit.  Instructors call that a “pain penalty” and I confess it adds real stress to simulated encounters.  I learned a great deal during that class, and I thought I would combine those lessons with some others I’ve picked up over the years into a blog post.

They’re staples of every police drama:

As cruisers skid to a halt to confront a bad guy, cops throw their doors open and take a knee behind the sheet metal, using the panel for cover as they aim their weapons through the window opening.  Maybe the officers in the car next to them will be aiming their weapons across the hood of their car.

Or:

The SWAT team makes its way down an apartment building’s cinder-block hallway to confront the barricaded bad guy. (All too often, the SWAT team is stacked up behind the plain-clothed detective who happens to be the star of the show–but that BS is for a different post).  To prevent exposing themselves to return fire, they’re pressed up against the same wall that houses the door to the target apartment.

Or:

The good-hearted hero goes muzzle-to-muzzle with the bad guy, shouting, “Put it down or I’ll shoot!”

Well . . . no.  We’ll take them in order.

A car door provides exactly zero reliable cover.  Barring the off chance that incoming fire will hit one of the steel mechanical components inside the door, a full metal jacketed bullet will pass through a car door with relatively little loss in energy.  And let’s not forget the exposed knees below the door and the exposed face and shoulders above the door.  Not a good source of cover.

The guy aiming over the hood is in better shape tactically because he’s got the more-or-less impenetrable engine block as cover, but the exposed shoulders and face continue to be a problem.  That problem is exacerbated by the risk of a poorly-aimed incoming round ricocheting off the surface of the hood and into his face.  The smart move when using the engine block as cover is to peek around the wheel well and headlights while exposing as little of yourself as possible.

Before getting to the scenario of the guys in the hallway, I need to clarify that when it comes to SWAT tactics, there are as many procedure books as there are teams.  Different teams clear buildings different ways, so the point here is to give you some things to think about.

All else being equal, an armed bad guy holed up in a room has a huge initial advantage over the team that’s coming in to get him. If the bad guy is willing to die as part of the transaction, his initial advantage is even greater.  If there’s only one accessible door, the bad guy knows exactly where his attackers are coming from, and that gives him a free first shot.

Let’s say the hero cop in your story needs to clear a room on the right-hand side of the hallway. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say the door is already open.  If he approaches along the right-hand wall, he has zero visibility into the room until he’s right on top of it.  Then, in order to do the job that needs to be done, he’s got to swing out and expose at least half of his body to whatever the villain has planned.  That’s bad.

Each dot in the picture is the same person, advancing with baby steps.

The smart move is to approach along the left-hand side of the hallway.  As your hero approaches the open door, he moves with tiny steps, his weapon up and ready to shoot.  As that plane of the doorway opens a little at a time, your good guy exposes only a tiny sliver of his body, a little at a time, and that exposed sliver is the one that holds a gun, ready to shoot first or shoot back.  Incoming fire would require extraordinary marksmanship on the part of the bad guy.  This tactic is call “slicing the pie,” and it’s more or less the same maneuver that would be used to turn a blind corner.

In general, it is always a bad idea to advance too closely to a solid wall surface like cinder block or concrete because of the risk of ricochet.  By definition, ricochets have expended much of their energy on initial impact, but the closer you are to the point of impact, the worse the damage will be.

As for the muzzle-to-muzzle trope, I throw that in as a way to introduce the concept that a “fair fight” is anathema to every police and military agency I’m aware of. From the law enforcement officer’s point of view, the threat of overwhelming violence saves lives, but sometimes the threat becomes reality.  No sane person who has the means to defend himself would try to out-talk a bullet.

9+