First Page Critique: They’re Gone

 

Greetings, writers.

Today, join us for a peek into the life of the cutest family ever! Take it away, Brave Author:

CHAPTER 1

We all have secrets. Josh prefers to keep his hidden, especially from his wife. Josh Benson is a 35 year old family man, devoted father, and loving husband. He has no idea his life will shatter in the next 24 hours.

Josh is scrolling through cell phone photos. He stops at one in particular. It’s from his first date with Lauren. He looks fit and his blue eyes are staring into Lauren’s without a hint of deception. Things change. This photo was taken nine years ago.

He hears little footsteps scurrying across the hardwood floor. Sean and Cooper come running into the living room and jump on the couch like it’s a trampoline.

“Mommy, Daddy, can we watch tv?” It’s a Saturday morning so this excitement is expected.

Lauren says, “Yes, but you need to quit breaking the couch. I’ve told you a hundred times.”

“Fine Mommy, we’ll stop.” The things kids say just to watch television.

Josh clicks a button on the remote control and asks the boys what show they want to watch.

They both respond at the exact same time as if they’re the Backstreet Boys. “Sesame Street!”

Josh looks at his two greatest accomplishments and just smiles. He loves them more than life itself.

After the kids find out the number of the day, they consume some snacks like Joey Chestnut in a hot dog eating competition.

Josh says, “Okay boys, guess what today is?”

“Family day!” Everyone cheers. Josh and Lauren are taking the boys to the Philadelphia Zoo for the first time.

“Who’s ready for the zoo? Who wants to see a lion?”

Cooper starts roaring as loudly as he can. He’s 3 years old so this is appropriate behavior.

The boys are adorable, as in they’re so perfectly good looking, you would think Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston had kids in their prime and out came Sean and Cooper.

Sean, their 5 year old, is full of life and never stops. He’s like the Energizer bunny. He says, “I’ll be right back, Daddy!”

He plays a quick game of frogger to avoid the never-ending amount of toys scattered across the living room floor. Once he finds the right bin, he puts on his favorite costume. He dresses up in a black mask, puffed out chest, gold utility belt, and a long black cape. He hustles to the kitchen table and taps Josh’s shoulder.

 

__________________

Before rushing into the meat of this submission, let’s address the piece’s first word: We. “We” is a huge word, and its implications are several.

  1. “We” implies a rare, first-person, plural narrator.
  2. Who is included in this we? Does it include all humans? Is it a Greek-style chorus of Josh’s friends and family? Perhaps an alien tribunal?
  3. Hearing this particular “we,” I’m immediately put in mind of Rod Serling’s opening and closing monologues on the original Twilight Zone television series. Serling’s monologues had an intimate, confidential, we’re all in this together, feel. He seemed to be addressing each listener across a table set with crystal ashtrays and chilled cocktails.
  4. A story with a first-person, plural narrator is definitely akin to second-person narration, which uses “you” handily. As in, “You may be reading this thinking, ‘Oh! The author is going to kill off that darling little puppy!’ But you would be wrong. We all know I’m way smarter than that.”

“We,” as intimate as it sounds, here leads us into a scene over which we hover as though we’re watching images sent back to us via drone. An opening scene sets the tone of the entire novel–and while there are plenty of clues that we’re dealing with a happy family and proud father, there is no other tension except Josh’s slight frustration with Elmo repeating himself.( My sympathies, I’ve been an Elmo prisoner.)

All this is to say, please give us some small, physical signs of John’s frustrations. Is he always the perfect, fun dad? Or is he occasionally grouchy and overly-protective.

Josh pulling out an old photo of him and his bride is a bit cliché.

Given the title, and the tale’s dire, first paragraph prediction, I’m going to assume that it’s the two adorable children who are the “They” who are soon gone? With those assumptions, the story will clearly be a thriller. Except…there’s a whole lot of cuteness to navigate that serves to make me wonder if that’s really going to be true.

Thinking about dialogue:

““Mommy, Daddy, can we watch tv?” It’s a Saturday morning so this excitement is expected.” –Who is talking here? Both of them? It would be weird and truly scary to have them say this simultaneously.

““Fine Mommy, we’ll stop.” The things kids say just to watch television.” –“Fine, Mommy, we’ll stop.” sounds a bit Stepford-child-ish. And, again, is it both children saying this?

“The things kids say just to watch television.” Is this Josh’s thought? Again, it feels like an intrusive narrator’s words, rather than those of a character.

All that said, I love the children’s presence, and the intense family feeling here.

Please keep in mind that an opening scene needn’t be saccharine to imply general happiness. If this is, indeed, a thriller, put in more tension, less Elmo.

Set to, dear readers! I’ve left plenty of open territory for other criticismsl

 

2+

First Page Critique – Broken Thrones

Photo credit: Pixabay

by

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Please welcome another Brave Anonymous Author offering a submission entitled Broken Thrones.

1

Joanie Brown opened one eye. The darkness had lifted. Light filtered from a slit in the ragged curtains covering the one window in the room, dust drifting down in the narrow beam. She breathed deeply and gagged. The stench of human filth and the sweet smell of pot overpowered her senses. Her head pounded, keeping time with her racing heart as she struggled to make sense of her surroundings.

Where am I? Why can’t I remember?

She lay on her back on a concrete floor. Under her fingers splayed out at her sides, she felt a gritty moisture. She hastily wiped her hands on her pant legs. She reached out and brushed a cold, rough wall with her left hand. Deep snores sounded from somewhere in the room, so she knew she wasn’t alone. Out of her one eye—the other one wouldn’t open and it hurt—she saw a closed door and four dingy gray walls. The floor was littered with bits of paper, discarded needles, condoms, and a filthy jacket tossed in the corner nearest her. She saw no furniture of any kind, except a soiled striped mattress across the room. She squinted at it, seeing a dark shape curled up on it. The source of the snoring, no doubt. The only other sound was the clack-clack of some insect as its feet raced across the hard floor. She scooted closer to the wall at her left and hoped it wouldn’t come her way. Joanie hated bugs.

She reached up and brushed thick hair out of her face, running her fingers over her other eye, wondering why she couldn’t see anything out of it. Now she knew—it was swollen shut. Wincing, she tried to pry it open. Her fingers came away with a smell of blood. She knew that smell. Her brain kicked into high gear now.

Memory now returned in chunks. Kyle. Where was he? The thought of him made her chest heave.

The last time she’d seen him, he was getting the crap beat out of him in a potholed alley littered with garbage and weeks-old refuse—by two thugs who’d dragged him there from the LA street corner where she’d finally found him. She’d hunkered down and watched from behind a dumpster reeking of rotting vegetables and month-old French fries.

Before that, she had spent hours searching for him.

~~~

Brave Author, your excellent title makes a promise of dire conflict. Broken Thrones implies destruction and violent overthrow of power. It’s short, punchy, and memorable, especially effective since Game of Thrones is currently a popular topic of conversation. Well done!

Your writing is crisp, competent, and vivid. You immerse the reader in the scene by making good use of the senses—sights, sounds, touch, and especially smells. We’ve all caught a nasty whiff from a stinky dumpster and know exactly what you’re describing.

The sense of foreboding is strong. Something bad already happened and worse is yet to come—like bugs crawling over Joanie.

That said, I see two problems with this first page.

First, this opening has been done before. Editors and agents always ask for something “fresh.” They’ve likely read many submissions with opening pages about an injured character waking up in a strange place without any memory of how she got there. This may be an easy fix and we’ll get to that in a minute.

The second problem: lack of action. Almost the entire page is spent setting the scene—a filthy shooting gallery basement littered with drug paraphernalia, an unknown man snoring, Joanie’s swollen eye, and her confusion. She’s taking stock in a scary situation but she’s in the passive role of watching and waiting, rather than driving the action.

The last two paragraphs are a flashback: Joanie watches someone named Kyle, whom she’s been looking for, while he gets beat up. And she hides.

Now that’s action!

Let’s consider if the story would work more effectively if you start there.

A character getting the snot pounded out of him immediately piques the reader’s curiosity, even if it’s not yet clear who that poor soul is or why he’s being beaten. Is Kyle a mugging victim? A druggie who owes his dealer? Or did Kyle sell bad junk to the daughter of the guys who are stomping him?

What is the relationship between Joanie and Kyle? Is he her boyfriend? An ex-husband she’s been chasing for child support? Or perhaps her dealer?

Those answers lead to the next questions: Why has Joanie spent hours searching for Kyle? Did he run away? Does she desperately need a fix?

The most provocative question of all: Why is Joanie hiding? If she fears for her life, why not yell for help or use her cell to call 911?

Does she feel guilty for watching the attack without doing anything to help?

Or does she feel he deserves what he gets?

See what happens if you start with action? The reader is immediately engaged, wondering and guessing, rather than passively watching the scenery, even though the scenery is skillfully and vividly described.

Additionally, that avoids the need for a flashback, which always risks reader whiplash. Just as they’re settling into the story, you yank them to a different place and time. Why flash back when you don’t need to?

If, while Joanie’s crouched by the dumpster, you reveal her character in a way that makes the reader care about her and her quest, we’ll willingly follow her into the next scene in the basement.

When she wakes up, you can still use the vivid description of the disgusting drug den with discarded needles and used condoms. The only difference: it’s probably now page 2 instead of 1. And the reader is more invested in the story and characters.

Then introduce a new series of questions to intrigue the reader. Did Joanie try to stop the thugs and they turned on her? Did their accomplice sneak up behind her and knock her out?

While she’s lying on the floor, reveal her character more deeply through her thought process and actions. Does she crawl to the mattress to see if the snoring man is Kyle? Does she look for a way to escape? Does she grab a syringe and hide it as a weapon for when the bad guys come back?

Keep raising questions while building characters who make the reader care what the answers are.

One tiny nit: since dumpsters are usually emptied at least weekly, “month-old French fries” didn’t quite hit the mark. Otherwise your scents are spot on. Made me gag, but I mean that in a good way!

Brave Author, you have a promising beginning for a dark thriller/suspense novel. Thanks for sharing your work.

 

Over to you, TKZers. What suggestions do you have for today’s Brave Author?

 

 

 

Today is the last day to download Debbie Burke’s thriller Instrument of the Devil for only 99 cents. Here’s the link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2+

First Page Critique: Ghost Wind

Happy Monday! Today I’m critiquing the first page of a historical novel entitled Ghost Wind. My comments follow and I look forward to getting some great feedback from you, TKZers!

The Ghost Wind

This was the door the Mexican boy had pointed out to her. She stepped up onto the boardwalk, side-stepping a hole in the rotten wood, the wind pelting her with dirt and dead leaves and causing the oil lamp overhead to swing precariously back and forth. The door was solid and locked tight. Standing on her toes and reaching above her head her fingers found the iron key above the lintel, just as he’d said. The glass panes in one of the windows were shattered, their jagged edges reflecting the moonlight. She struggled with the lock, the key finally turning with a hollow click. The force of the wind slammed the door inward and knocked the few remaining shards of window glass from their panes.  She entered cautiously and looked around the room.  Just enough moonlight penetrated the darkness to reveal several pieces of furniture shrouded in dusty canvas. Lifting the coverings, she found a long leather-covered central table, a cot, a few cabinets still in serviceable condition.  The building seemed solid, but the wind still whined around the warped window sills sending leaves and twigs skittering over the floor and causing the ghostly canvas to billow and fall. She shivered and tried to rub some warmth back into her arms. Whatever made her think it was always hot here?

She continued making a slow circuit of the room, trying not to bang her shins against unseen obstacles. It was near midnight, but the night was still alive with sound. Guitar music drifted from a cantina across the street accompanied by bursts of laughter from a nearby saloon. A door banged somewhere farther down the street. Slow footsteps marched up the narrow boardwalk and then stopped, grinding the broken glass below the window. For a moment it seemed whoever was passing had moved on until a familiar sound stopped her cold. The four, slow, distinct clicks of a gun hammer being drawn back. She knew that sound.

She drew a sharp breath, inhaling the room’s lingering odors of dust, mildew, sour liquor, and stale sweat. The dry branches of a leafless tree scratched against a window making demon shadows dance on the far wall.  The lamp outside, creaking on its rusty hinges, thrashed in the gusty wind. Her hands, already cold inside her gloves, grew clammy.

“Don’t. Move.”

§

It had been a long journey across some of the ugliest, most barren wasteland imaginable. First by train to Waco, then by stage to some godforsaken place called Ben Ficklin, and finally by horseback to… here. San Angela, Texas. A hundred miles from nowhere and on the road to who the hell cares where. But here she was. Nearly fifteen hundred miles. And she felt like she had walked every one of those miles. She was dirty, cold, tired, hungry, and in no mood for an argument.

My comments

The real strength of the first page is the atmosphere it evokes and the attention to detail that allows the reader to get a strong sense of place as well as the past. That being said, these could also be considered weaknesses given the lack of action and dialogue – illustrating the delicate balancing act any author has to achieve on this all important first page!

Because I really enjoyed this first page, I’m wary of making too many recommendations (reader tastes are always subjective after all) but I do think tightening up the initial descriptive paragraphs would help pick up the pace so the reader can reach the critical moment where the gun is being drawn back a little quicker. I wouldn’t take out much, but some of the description is redundant and could be removed without impacting the atmosphere or dramatic tension in this first scene. I would also consider changing the one line of dialogue “Don’t. Move.” to something less conventional or cliched. Something unexpected here would definitely intrigue the reader especially since the next paragraph provides further background (I have to say I love the way the line ‘she was dirty, cold, tired, hungry, and in no mood for an argument’ could feed back into that one line of dialogue).

By way of suggestion only, I’ve re-pasted the first few sections, striking through some of the lines of description I feel are redundant.  See if you agree, TKZers. I think visually if the first page could end with the line of dialogue it would also seem less wordy and more appealing to readers. Otherwise, I thought this was a terrific first page. Bravo to our brave submitter!

The Ghost Wind

This was the door the Mexican boy had pointed out to her. She stepped up onto the boardwalk, side-stepping a hole in the rotten wood, the wind pelting her with dirt and dead leaves and causing the oil lamp overhead to swing precariously back and forth. The door was solid and locked tight. Standing on her toes and reaching above her headher fingers found the iron key above the lintel, just as he’d said. The glass panes in one of the windows were shattered, their jagged edges reflecting the moonlight. She struggled with the lock, the key finally turning with a hollow click. The force of the wind slammed the door inward and knocked the few remaining shards of window glass from their panes.  She entered cautiously and looked around the room. Just enough moonlight penetrated the darkness to reveal several pieces of furniture shrouded in dusty canvas. Lifting the coverings, she found a long leather-covered central table, a cot, a few cabinets still in serviceable condition.  The building seemed solid, but the wind still whined around the warped window sills sending leaves and twigs skittering over the floor and causing the ghostly canvas to billow and fall. She shivered and tried to rub some warmth back into her arms. Whatever made her think it was always hot here?

She continued making a slow circuit of the room, trying not to bang her shins against unseen obstacles.It was near midnight, but the night was still alive with sound. Guitar music drifted from a cantina across the street accompanied by bursts of laughter from a nearby saloon. A door banged somewhere farther down the street. Slow footsteps marched up the narrow boardwalk and then stopped, grinding the broken glass below the window. For a moment it seemed whoever was passing had moved on until a familiar sound stopped her cold. The four, slow, distinct clicks of a gun hammer being drawn back. She knew that sound.

She drew a sharp breath, inhaling the room’s lingering odors of dust, mildew, sour liquor, and stale sweat. The dry branches of a leafless tree scratched against a window making demon shadows dance on the far wall. The lamp outside, creaking on its rusty hinges, thrashed in the gusty wind. Her hands, already cold inside her gloves, grew clammy.

2+

Write Tight

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Here’s a first page. You know the drill. We’ll talk on the other side.

The Reaper’s Scythe

The jungle had already started to darken around them when Lucas spoke up.

“We need to head back,” he urged, even as they continued down the barely-there dirt trail. “Even if the pigs really are there, I doubt they’re safe to eat.”

Imro let out a grunt. He shifted the grip on his 12-gauge as he pushed through a tangle of vines. The man’s knuckles were as dark and worn as the fiddleback myrtle that made up his shotgun’s stock.

“My brother says he saw them,” Imro finally said. His Sranan accent smoothed brother into brudda. “That damn good enough for me. ‘Sides, say we come back to camp empty-handed, you t’ink anyone going to be happy about their empty bellies?”

“That’s right,” Maikel called back from up ahead. “Maybe if they hungry enough, they gobble you up instead!”

Maikel made a wet smacking sound with his lips and laughed at his own joke.

Lucas rolled his eyes but said nothing. He’d arrived in Suriname as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. Over time, he’d picked up the country’s English-based creole language.

He’d also picked up a bad case of gold fever.

The rumors spoke of a place downriver that glittered with bright golden flakes. The location was achingly remote. But Lucas and a dozen others had gone in and reached the place, panning the sandbars from sunrise to sunset.

Eventually the stores of beans and tinned meat ran low. Lots were drawn, so the three least lucky were sent off to forage for bush meat. Pickings had been sparse. Then Maikel had climbed a tree and spotted them with his binoculars.

A group of dead peccaries lying like tusked gray stones in the clearing up ahead.

Lucas didn’t like it. The jungle’s ‘skunk pig’ was good eating. Up to sixty pounds of meat lay under a peccary’s collar of bristly hair.

But something must have killed those animals.

Worse, the rain forest made sure that every free scrap of flesh, skin or bone got recycled by a thousand tiny mouths. That nothing had yet come to touch these pigs did not make sense to Lucas. That sense turned into an uneasy feeling that settled into an ache at his temples.

Maikel froze. He pointed up ahead, his index finger quivering in disbelief.

“What you doing?” Imro hissed. “Stop playin’ at sticks, or I’ll–”

“The pigs…” Maikel gasped. “They gone.”

***

JSB: There’s a lot to like about the content. It’s action—characters in motion toward a goal—in a fraught-with-danger location (the jungle). And there’s a disturbance: all those dead pigs suddenly … gone! Plus, it’s a unique setting (Suriname).

So what I have to say here has to do with making the writing tighter. In a thriller, that’s always the better way to go. Heck, in any kind of writing it’s better. Note: I’m not talking about pace. That’s an entirely different subject. I’m not talking about scenes or scene length. I’m talking about the sentence level, so the words you use (your stock-in-trade, after all) can be most effective.

Let’s start with the opening line.

The jungle had already started to darken around them when Lucas spoke up.

This is a bit too sloggy, because of: had already started to darken. Whenever you write the word had, train yourself to pause and see if there is a crisper way of putting it. (I’ll have more on this in a moment.) Here, a tighter line would grab faster and better:

The jungle was starting to darken when Lucas spoke up.

Boom. We’re there without superfluous verbiage. The them isn’t needed because the scene reveals the trio as we go along.

“We need to head back,” he urged

As most of you know, I’m of the said school of attribution, unless another word is absolutely necessary for clarity. Here, urged is superfluous. The line itself is urging. And we don’t need he, because you just told us it was Lucas. Try something like this:

The jungle was starting to darken when Lucas spoke up. “We need to head back.”

Boom again.

Imro let out a grunt. He shifted the grip on his 12-gauge as he pushed through a tangle of vines. The man’s knuckles were as dark and worn as the fiddleback myrtle that made up his shotgun’s stock.

I have no idea what fiddleback myrtle is, or why it’s important here. I believe a majority of readers would get tripped up by this. Since the point is to describe Imro’s skin, the shotgun’s stock would do on its own.

“My brother says he saw them,” Imro finally said. His Sranan accent smoothed brother into brudda.

This is fine. You don’t want to overload dialect-dialogue with odd spellings. The occasional use of a phonetic spelling is fine, too. This is a judgment call. You could also do it this way:

“My brudda say he saw them,” Imro said in his Sranan accent.

I like this better, since (again) fewer words. The only “rule” is to get the sound of the dialect into a reader’s head as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Maikel made a wet smacking sound with his lips and laughed at his own joke.

This is close to the line of POV violation. While Lucas (the POV character in this scene) might surmise Maikel is laughing at his own joke, it feels like we’ve slipped into Maikel’s head. So why leave in this possible “speed bump”? Since Maikel just made a joke, we don’t need to be told why he laughed. Just end the sentence at and laughed.

Lucas rolled his eyes but said nothing. He’d arrived in Suriname as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. Over time, he’d picked up the country’s English-based creole language.

He’d also picked up a bad case of gold fever.

Okay, let’s talk about that pesky little word had again. When you are dipping into the past, one had is enough to get you there. You don’t need it after that. Take a look at my rewrite:

Lucas rolled his eyes but said nothing. He’d arrived in Suriname as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. Over time, he picked up the country’s English-based creole language.

He also picked up a bad case of gold fever.

See how much more immediate that reads? (Note also that Creole should be capitalized.)

The rumors spoke of a place downriver that glittered with bright golden flakes. The location was achingly remote. But Lucas and a dozen others had gone in and reached the place, panning the sandbars from sunrise to sunset.

Note the strikethrough, getting rid of had again.

I touched up the following:

Eventually the stores of beans and tinned meat ran low. Lots were drawn, so the three least lucky were sent off to forage for bush meat. Pickings had been [were] sparse. Then Maikel had climbed a tree and spotted them with his binoculars—a group of dead peccaries lying like tusked gray stones in the clearing up ahead.

We have a POV issue again. Who would describe these pigs as tusked gray stones? Certainly not Lucas, because he hasn’t seen them. And would Maikel describe them this way? I think not. This is one of those instances where “kill your darlings” applies. Please note that I like the description. It just doesn’t fit here.

Maikel froze. He pointed up ahead, his index finger quivering in disbelief.

A POV bump again. Only Maikel would know why his finger is quivering. But the main thing is we don’t need the modifier to prop up his index finger quivering. That is great images, so tighter writing keeps it from being diluted with unnecessary verbiage.

“What you doing?” Imro hissed. “Stop playin’ at sticks, or I’ll–”

I find hissed to be another speed bump. Outside of Kaa in The Jungle Book, who ever hisses anything?

“The pigs…” Maikel gasped. “They gone.”

It’s always the better choice, in my view, to let the dialogue itself and the surrounding action do the work, making the extraordinary attribution unnecessary:

“The pigs…They gone.”

We know from the exchange that Maikel is the one speaking, and the ellipses indicate the gasp. Tight!

Just one more thing. I’m not wild about the title. It’s hard to pronounce. How many people know what a scythe is anymore? Or that it is associated with The Grim Reaper? The author says this a “pandemic medical thriller.” Maybe there’s a one-word title somewhere out there, like Outbreak (the Dustin Hoffman movie based on The Hot Zone). But do some more thinking on this. Come up with several titles and test them on your friends.

Again, I like the potential here. With a bit of trimming, this is one where I’d definitely turn to page two!

We now turn matters over to the comments. Good luck, author!

10+

Five Reasons To Write Short

By Mark Alpert

The first fiction I ever wrote was a short story titled “The Sweet Smell of Parchment.” It was about the Vietnam War, and it was only two-and-a-half handwritten pages long. I’m not sure exactly when I wrote it, but it had to be before the end of the U.S. involvement in the war, so I’m going to guess either 1972 or 1973. I was either 11 or 12 years old.

No copies of this story survived (there was only one), but I remember it pretty well. It had two scenes. The first scene was told from the point of view of a character named Otto, a guard at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Otto’s job is usually pretty dull, but one morning when he comes to work he finds the night-duty guard lying bound-and-gagged on the floor of the Archives lobby. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Otto rushes over to the glass case where the Declaration of Independence is usually displayed, but now the case is empty except for a note addressed to the U.S. Congress: “Get out of Vietnam, or we’ll burn it.”

The second scene jumps forward in time a few days, and it’s told from the point of view of the Senate Majority Leader. (I gave him a name, but I don’t remember it.) The senator is driving home after a really exhausting afternoon at the Capitol. Congress got into a fierce debate over whether to comply with the demands of the revolutionary group that stole the Declaration of Independence. Some senators said it would be wrong to give in to this kind of blackmail; others argued that it was high time for the U.S. to get out of Vietnam anyway, and this was the perfect opportunity to commit to a withdrawal. When it came time to vote, the Senate split right down the middle, and it was up to the Majority Leader to break the tie. (I didn’t realize at the time that the Vice President is supposed to break ties in the Senate. I was only 11!) But as I described the senator’s drive home, I didn’t reveal how he voted earlier that day. Although I was just starting out as an author, I’d already realized the importance of keeping readers in suspense.

Then the senator parks his car in the driveway next to his house and he notices something burning on his front lawn. He runs over to put out the fire, but there’s nothing left but ashes. The last line of the story was something like, “And the sweet smell of parchment spread across the neighborhood.”

I’m telling you about this fictional debut because I’m working on a short story right now (actually, it’s a “novelette”), and the experience has reminded me how much I love this kind of fiction. So here are five reasons why you should consider writing short:

1) It gives you confidence. When you’re just getting started as a fiction writer, composing a novel can be a daunting proposition. It’s a big commitment of time and energy, and so many things can go wrong. Can you create fascinating characters and put them in exciting situations? Can you keep readers interested in the story by constantly surprising them and raising the stakes? Can you avoid all the pitfalls of novel writing — boring passages, too much explanation, repetitive scenes, ridiculous plot twists? If you don’t feel confident yet about your authorial abilities, then writing a few short stories may give you the practice you need.

2) There’s a quick payoff. It usually takes months to write a novel, but you can bang out a short story in just a few days. I started writing my first novel, THE EMPEROR OF ALABAMA, in early 1988 and didn’t finish revising it until the end of 1989. When I was done with it, I wrote “My Life with Joanne Christiansen,” a quick, funny story about two guys discussing their love lives. I wrote it in two or three days, then sent it off to my agent. Well, the novel didn’t sell; in fact, I wrote three more novels that didn’t sell before Simon & Schuster bought my fifth novel, FINAL THEORY, in 2007. But my agent sold “Joanne” right away to Playboy magazine, and it appeared in the February 1991 issue. I’m sure you can find a copy of it in a cardboard box at a garage sale near you. (Actually, it’s available on eBay, like everything else.)

3) Some stories are meant to be short. Just consider my first effort, “The Sweet Smell of Parchment.” What fascinated me back in the early Seventies was the idea that someone could try to end the war by holding the Declaration hostage. If I had been older and more ambitious, I suppose I could’ve elaborated upon the idea and turned it into a blockbuster novel, with a Jack Ryan-like hero crisscrossing the country in search of the hallowed document and battling hippie terrorists in a climactic showdown in front of the Washington Monument. But I wasn’t interested in all that melodrama. I just wanted to put this cool idea on the page and then get back to eating Ring Dings and watching “The Partridge Family” and doing all the other things I enjoyed at the time.

4) You can actually make some money. That short story my agent sold to Playboy? The magazine paid $3,000 for it. Given the cumulative inflation since 1991, that’s the equivalent of nearly $6,000 in today’s cash. Admittedly, that data point is an outlier, because few periodicals pay as much as Playboy once did. But I did some research last week after I started writing my short science-fiction piece, and I discovered that sci-fi magazines such as Analog and Asimov’s pay about ten cents per word for fiction. That rate is pretty low compared with the already criminally low rate for freelance journalism (where $1-per-word is still the standard), but it compares favorably with the typical compensation for novels. It can be tough to get more than a $10,000 advance for a 100,000-word novel, even from the biggest publishers. And that works out to ten cents per word.

5) There are more options than ever. While leafing through recent issues of Analog and Asimov’s, I learned that those magazines divide their short-fiction offerings into two categories: short stories (under 7,500 words) and novelettes (7,500 to 20,000 words). In addition, Analog will publish longer works (40,000-80,000 words) in installments. I haven’t researched the policies or pay rates for the comparable magazines in the mystery genre (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and so on) but I bet some of the TKZers out there are familiar with them. (Please let me know!) And even if you can’t sell a short story to a magazine, you can offer it as an online freebie to show off your writing chops and entice potential readers to purchase your novels.

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Do you enjoy audio books? If so, check out my audible.com page, where you can find audio versions of seven of my books, including my latest novel, THE COMING STORM.

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True Crime Thursday – Employment Scam

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Photo purchased from Shutterstock by Debbie Burke

You thought you’d found a home-based job to earn extra income. Instead, you became the unwitting participant in money laundering.

Today’s True Crime is a sneaky scam that the Better Business Bureau reports is sweeping the country.  It recently hit a man in my small home town of Kalispell, Montana. Here’s his story.

 

 

 

Debbie Burke regularly launders money when she throws jeans in the washer w/o checking pockets. Her thriller Instrument of the Devil is on sale during April for only 99 cents. Here’s the link.

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Resorting to Manual Methods

By John Gilstrap

I wrote the first draft of this blog post longhand while sitting on a beach in Antigua, under an umbrella made of palm fronds.  The ocean in this part of the world is crystal clear and a perfect aquamarine in color.  Huh, maybe that’s where the color got its name.  Huh.

This is our annual spring sojourn to a beautiful place for a week of uninterrupted relaxation.  With tax season in the rear view mirror, Joy can finally breathe again.  And it doesn’t hurt that her birthday is tomorrow.  As I jot these words, it occurs to me that I’ve vamped my way in to my topic for this week’s blog post: The value of putting pen to paper–literally.

I had no idea what this week’s post would be until I started stringing words together. Then it came to me. That’s the power of picking up a pen!

I’ve discussed this on my YouTube channel.  When I find myself blocked–or if the idea I need refuses to show itself, I return to manual methods.  There’s something about the tactile connection with the paper that helps words and images to break free.

I have it on very good authority that the great Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote all of his history books using a 19th century dip pen and ink.  He said it kept him connected to the period he was writing about.

I always double-space handwritten drafts because it leaves room for editing as I go along.

At least 15% of the content of each of my books begin as handwritten first drafts.  Sometimes, it’s not because the thoughts won’t come, but rather because a laptop is inconvenient.  Say, for example, when I’m sitting on a beach in Antigua.

I don’t keep a pen and paper near my bed at night, and I don’t carry paper with me on routine outings such as shopping, or going out on a dinner date–unless I’m deep in the middle of a project and I know that the

It’s not uncommon for edits to run for over a page in the spaces between the lines of the original text. It can get confusing during rewrites.

writing demons will probably not let go of me.  But I always have my writing tools with me when I go someplace that is likely to inspire me.

Just as an aside, if I had been drafting a section of a book by hand, I would have included a slug line at the top that would show the date and my location at the time I was drafting it.  That has no practical rationale in real time, but now that I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades, it’s nice to remember where I was, back in the day.

So, what say you, TKZers?  Are a pen and paper important tools in your box?

 

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First Page Critiques:
A Look At The Edgar Nominees

Edgar Awards waiting to come out of hiding last year.

By PJ Parrish

I’ll be on a plane to New York when you read this. (Or maybe sitting in Charlotte…it’s not easy getting out of Tallahassee to the rest of the world). I’m off to my annual Edgar Awards duties.  I am the chair of the banquet, which is the easy fun part.  The hard part of Edgar duties is being a judge.

I’ve never been one but I did judge best first novel for the ITW Thriller Awards one year. Hundreds of books…they just kept coming.  In the beginning, it was a trickle but by June it was a deluge. Three-hundred-plus of them by Christmas. I grew to dread the sound of the FedEx truck.  And yeah, I read every one of them.  Not always to the end, I will admit. But I always gave each book at least 100 pages to find its legs before I assigned it to the “yes” or “maybe” or “not as good as maybe” pile in my office (actually, I had to end up also using the top of my baby grand).  Then I had to winnow the “yes” pile (I think it was about thirty books) down to five nominees.

One thing I remember was that all the “yes” books had a good opening. And you know, the principles I applied then to moving a book to the “yes” pile are the same ones I use when I critique one of our First Page submissions.  Sure, the published thriller writers had more craft over the course of the entire book than some of our submissions here, but the basic principles behind a good opening were the same.

Yesterday, I was putting together the PowerPoint for the Edgars. As usual, my attention was mainly on the visuals of the covers, which we flash up on a giant screen in the Grand Hyatt ballroom as the nominees as announced.  Here is what the Best Novels look like this year:

Nice covers, right? (You can see all the covers in every category on MWA’s Edgar website here). But then I got to wondering, what are they like inside? How do these writers handle the openings of their stories? Just for fun, I thought we could take a peek here today.

The stories include a legal thriller with a tortured heroine who’s fighting the government and her own demons; an Irish thriller about a girl who falls for a convicted serial killer only to find out ten years later he’s not what he seemed; a fixer whose client is a big-time politician with secrets someone will murder to protect;  a cop-cum-PI who’s trying to find the man who framed him and cost him his badge; a resurrection of the iconic Philip Marlowe, now 72 and retired in LA; and a Victorian adventuress trying to unravel of web of intrigue at an Egyptian dig.

Here’s the first page (not titled chapter 1, by the way), of Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Liar’s Girl.

This is a tricky opening in that the writer is playing loose with point of view. In the first graph, it feels like we are in Jen’s POV, but by the second graph we realize we are seeing Jen coming to from the POV of the man watching her. This goes on for the whole chapter until she finally staggers out of the party room and he follows her. You just know he’s going to kill her. Or is he? There is a double-spaced scene break and then the title “will, now.” We are in the POV of a man named Will and very slowly we learn he is a patient listening to a radio broadcast about a girl who has been found dead in a canal. And he is concerned that this is related to something that happened to him ten years ago. Other chapters are titled “Alison, now” etc., which recalls the Rashomonesque structure of Gone Girl. You can read the full sample here.

Here is the opening, labeled Prologue, of House Witness by Mike Lawson: 

We get about a page more where he says he need to take a walk and his wife tells him it’s too cold and he’s had too much to drink but he insists on going anyway. Then comes this line to end the scene:

John Mahoney had just been told that his son had been killed — and his wife didn’t know he had a son. 

Good kicker! The rest of the prologue is Mahoney on his walk, wherein we learn he is the disposed speaker of the House who had an affair years before with an aide Connie. After some extensive backstory, we learn the call was from Connie who tells him their son was shot in a Manhattan bar and berates Mahoney into making sure the dead son’s in-custody killer is convicted. Mahoney thinks about all the mistakes he has made and calls his “fixer” Joe DeMarco.  DeMarco calls back the next day and assures Mahoney the killer’s prosecution is a “slam dunk.” The last line of the prologue is “DeMarco was dead wrong.”  The chapter 1 goes back to the night the son was murder from the killer’s point of view. This is the 12th book in the Joe Demarco series. But because the Amazon sample is short, I don’t know when the protagonist DeMarco makes his entrance. Read the sample here. 

Next up is Chapter 1 of A Gambler’s Jury by Victor Methos.

This scene is a classic introduce-the-protag opening. After this, she goes to see another potential client whose future is so dim, she advises him he should just pack up and high-tail it to Mexico. A brief Chapter 2 takes us to her office, until she decides instead to detour to a bar, where we meet her friend Michelle, the owner. In Chapter 3, it’s the next morning at her apartment where we meet another friend who is concerned about Dani’s lifestyle before Dani goes to another court proceeding.  You can read the sample here.

Now take a look at Walter Mosley’s latest, Down The River Unto the Sea.

This first-person point of view narrative is from the protagonist Joe Oliver. He talks about how he’s too influenced by his sex drive and that leads us, after a double-space break to this sentence “Her name was Nathali Malcolm.”  (Nice bridge!) So with this type of opening we are firmly in intimate POV in what I suspect might be a cherchez la femme character-driven noir as only a master like Mosley can tell it.  Read the sample here. 

Speaking of noir, guess who’s back? Philip Marlowe himself in Lawrence Osborne’s resurrection Only To Sleep. Marlowe is 72, retired, and swilling margaritas on his patio when two men walk in with a case that has the Marlowe name written all over it. Osborne’s opening, once it gets going, is redolent of night-blooming jasmine, gin, and that signature rude Chandler wit:

It’s a bit disconcerting to find Marlowe still taking cases from men who “smile with the small contempt of company men” in Reagan-era LA. But it’s fun and the voice is assured. Take a look here. 

From Los Angeles in 1988 on to London in 1888. Here’s the opening of our final Edgar Best Novel nominee A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn:

Now, if you’ve read my critiques before, you know I don’t like chapters that open with dialogue. This one is, ah, rather interesting. Not just for the sexual word play but because, I think, we get a quick bead on the personalities of our protagonist Miss Veronica Speedwell and her partner-foil Stoker. The chapter continues, after some repartee, with backstory about their partnership and how they’ve come to take on their latest case. The chapter is longish and leisurely in pace. Yet I was pulled in.  And I am not a regular fan of historical crime fiction.  You can read the sample here.

As I said, I don’t envy the task of judges. There were 595 entries in the Best Novel category this year. That’s a lot of reading and thinking.

So what do you think? Any openings here that would lure you in? I haven’t the foggiest idea who will win Best Novel this year. I never do. But around 10:30 Thursday night, one of these writers is going to be very very happy, holding court in the bar of the Grand Hyatt, clutching an ugly little porcelain statue.  Congrats to all the nominees. Well done. Here’s the full list.

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ELVIS PRESLEY — WHAT REALLY KILLED THE KING OF ROCK ‘N ROLL

By SUE COLETTA

I invited my dear friend Garry Rodgers — retired homicide detective with a second career as a forensic coroner — to share a fascinating post about the real cause of Elvis Presley’s death. Prepare to be wowed. Welcome to TKZ, Garry!

Elvis Presley suddenly dropped in the bathroom of his Graceland mansion on the afternoon of August 16, 1977. Elvis was rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was pronounced dead, then shipped to the morgue and autopsied the same afternoon. Three days later, the Memphis County coroner issued Elvis Presley’s death certificate stating the cause as hypertensive cardiovascular disease with atherosclerotic heart disease — a heart attack subsequent to high blood pressure and blocked coronary arteries.

It was a rush to judgment. Toxicology results soon identified ten pharmaceutical drugs in Elvis’s system. Codeine was at ten times the therapeutic level and the combination of other prescription drugs suggested a poly-pharmacy overdose. This revelation started immediate accusations of a cover-up and conspiracy theories quickly hinted at sinister criminal acts.

Four decades later, modern medicine and forensic science looked at the Presley case facts. The review indicated something entirely different from a heart attack or drug overdose really killed the King of Rock ‘n Roll. It said Elvis Presley accidentally died after long-term complications from earlier traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). TBIs are known as silent, stalking, and patient killers.

Looking back, it’s likely old accidental head injuries triggered events leading to Elvis Presley’s death.

From my experience investigating unexpected and unexplained sudden deaths, the accidental conclusion makes sense when you consider the totality of evidence in Elvis’ death. Setting aside media reports of gross negligence, arm-chair speculation of cover-up and fan accusations the King was murdered, there’s a simple and straightforward conclusion based on facts. But before examining the facts and knowing hindsight is 20/20, let’s first look at how coroners conduct sudden and unexplained death investigations.

Coroners are the judges of death. Their responsibilities include establishing five main facts surrounding a death. Coroners do not assign blame or fault. In the Presley case, the five facts determined at the immediate time were:

  1. Identity of Deceased — Elvis Aaron Presley
  2. Time of Death — Approximately 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16, 1977
  3. Place of Death — 3754 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
  4. Cause of Death — Heart attack
  5. Means of Death — Chronic heart disease

There’s a distinct difference between Cause of Death and Means of Death. Cause is the actual event. Means is the method in which death happened. Example: cause being a ruptured aorta with means being a motor vehicle crash, or cause being massive cerebral interruption with means being a gunshot wound to the head.

Once the facts are known, it’s the coroner’s duty to classify the Manner of Death. There are five universal manner of death classifications:

  1. Natural
  2. Homicide
  3. Suicide
  4. Accidental
  5. Undetermined

Elvis Presley’s death was ruled a natural event, thought at the time being an acute cardiac event from existing cardiovascular disease. If the coroner determined Elvis died from a drug overdose, the ruling would have been accidental. No one ever claimed it was suicide or homicide.

One principle of death investigation is to look for antecedent evidence—preexisting conditions which contributed to the death mechanism or was responsible for causing or continuing a chain of events that led to the death.

Another principle of death investigation is examining the cornerstone triangle of Scene—Body—History. This compiles the totality of evidence or case facts. Given that, let’s look at the evidence and case facts in Elvis Presley’s death.

Scene

Elvis was found on his bathroom floor, face down in front of the toilet. It was apparent he’d instantly collapsed from a sitting position and there was no sign of a distress struggle or attempt to summon help. When the paramedics arrived, Elvis was cold, blue, and had no vital signs. Rigor mortis had not set in, so he’d probably expired within the hour. He was transported by ambulance to Baptist Memorial Hospital where a vain attempt at resuscitation occurred because “he was Elvis”.

ER doctors declared Elvis dead at 3:16 p.m. He was then moved to the morgue where an autopsy was promptly performed. There was no suggestion of suicide or foul play, so there wasn’t a police investigation. The scene wasn’t photographed, nor preserved, and there was no accounting for what medications or other drugs might have been present at Graceland. There’s no official record of the coroner attending the scene as this was considered an in-hospital death and a routine occurrence.

Body

Elvis was in terrible health. His weight estimated at 350 pounds—gaining 50 lbs. in the last few months of his life. He was virtually non-functional at the end, being mostly bed-ridden and requiring permanent nursing care. Elvis suffered from an enlarged heart which was twice the size of normal and showed advanced evidence of cardiovascular disease in his coronary vessels, aorta, and cerebral arteries—certainly more advanced than a normal 42-year-old would be. His lungs showed signs of emphysema, although he’d never smoked, and his bowel was twice the length of normal, with a partially-impacted stool estimated to be four months old.

Elvis also suffered from hypogammaglobinemia, which is an immune disorder, as well as showed evidence of an autoimmune inflammatory disorder.

Toxicology tested positive for ten separate prescription medications but showed negative for illicit drugs and alcohol. The only alarming pharmaceutical indicator, on its own, was codeine at ten times the prescribed manner but still not in lethal range.

This is a quote from Elvis’s toxicology report:

“Diazepam, methaqualone, phenobarbital, ethchlorvynol, and ethinamate are below or within their respective ranges. Codeine was present at a level approximately 10 times those concentrations found therapeutically. In view of the polypharmacy aspects, this case must be looked at in terms of the cumulative pharmacological effect of the drugs identified by the report.”

History

Elvis was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi and had a twin brother who died at birth. As a youth, Elvis was active and healthy which continued during his time in the U.S. military and all through his early performing stage when he was a bundle of energy. He began experimenting with amphetamines, probably to enhance his performances, but shied away from alcohol as it gave him violent tendencies.

In 1967, Elvis came under the primary care of Dr. George Nichopoulos who was well-known to celebrities. Then, Elvis was 32 years old and weighed 163 pounds. His only known medical ailment was slight high blood pressure, presumably due to his high-fat diet.

Also in 1967, Elvis’s health took a sudden turn with progressive pain, insomnia, hypertension, lethargy, irrational behavior and immense weigh gain. Over his remaining years, Elvis was seen by a number of different doctors and was hospitalized a number of times, all the while resorting to self-medication with a wide assortment of drugs from dozens of sources.

Doctor Nick, as Nichopoulos was called, stayed as Elvis’s personal physician till the end. He was present at the death scene as well as during the autopsy. Doctor Nick concurred with the coroner’s immediate conclusion that the cause of death was a natural cardiac event resulting from an arrhythmia, or sudden interruption of heartbeat, and agreed that Elvis’s death was not due to a drug overdose.

When the toxicology report was released, it came with a qualifier:

“The position of Elvis Presley’s body was such that he was about to sit down on the commode when the seizure occurred. He pitched forward onto the carpet, his rear in the air, and was dead by the time he hit the floor. If it had been a drug overdose, [Elvis Presley] would have slipped into an increasing state of slumber. He would have pulled up his pajama bottoms and crawled to the door to seek help. It takes hours to die from drugs.”

Because the tox report appeared to contradict the autopsy report’s stated cardiac cause of death, a prominent toxicologist was asked to review the findings. His opinion was:

Coupled with this toxicological data are the pathological findings and the reported history that the deceased had been mobile and functional within 8 hours prior to death. Together, all this information points to a conclusion that, whatever tolerance the deceased may have acquired to the many drugs found in his system, the strong probability is that these drugs were the major contribution to his demise.”

The Tennessee Board of Health then investigated Elvis’s death, which resulted in proceedings against Doctor Nick.

Evidence showed that during the seven and a half months preceding Elvis’s death—from January 1, 1977, to August 16, 1977—Doctor Nick wrote prescriptions for Elvis for at least 8,805 pills, tablets, vials, and injectables. Going back to January 1975, the count was 19,012.

These numbers might defy belief, but they came from an experienced team of investigators who visited 153 pharmacies and spent 1,090 hours going through 6,570,175 prescriptions and then, with the aid of two secretaries, spent another 1,120 hours organizing the evidence.

The drugs included uppers, downers, and powerful painkillers such as Dilaudid, Quaalude, Percodan, Demerol and Cocaine Hydrochloride in quantities more appropriate for those terminally ill with cancer.

Doctor Nick admitted to this. His defense was because Elvis was so wired on pain killers, he prescribed these medications to keep Elvis away from dangerous street drugs, thereby controlling Elvis’s addiction—addiction being a disease.

One of the defense witnesses, Dr. Forest Torrent, a prominent California physician and a pioneer in the use of opiates in pain treatment, explained how the effects of this level of codeine would have contributed to Elvis’s death.

Central to misconduct allegations was the issue of high codeine levels in Elvis at the time of death—codeine being the prime toxicological suspect as the pharmaceutical contributor. It was established that Elvis obtained codeine pills from a dentist the day before his death and Doctor Nick had no knowledge of it.

The jury bought it and absolved Doctor Nick of negligence in directly causing Elvis Presley’s fatal event.

Continuing Investigation

Dr. Torrent was convinced there were other contributing factors leading to Elvis’s death. In preparation for Doctor Nick’s trial, Dr. Torrent had access to all of Elvis Presley’s medical records, including the autopsy and toxicology reports. Incidentally, these two reports are now the property of the Presley estate and are sealed from public view until 2027, fifty years after Elvis’s death.

Dr. Torrent was intrigued by the sudden physiological and psychological changes in Elvis starting in 1967. He discovered that while in Los Angeles filming the movie Clambake, Elvis tripped over an electrical cord, fell, and cracked his head on the edge of a porcelain bathtub. Elvis was knocked unconscious and had to be hospitalized. Dr. Torrent found three other incidents where Elvis suffered head blows, and he suspected Elvis suffered from what’s now known as Traumatic Brain Injury—TBI—and that’s what caused progressive ailments leading to his death.

Dr. Torrent released a paper entitled Elvis Presley: Head Trauma, Autoimmunity, Pain, and Early Death. It’s a fascinating read—recently published in the credible medical journal Practical Pain Management.

Dr. Torrent builds a theory that Elvis’s bathtub head injury was so severe it jarred brain tissue loose, which leaked into his overall blood circulation. Later additional head injuries exacerbated the problem. This is now known to be a leading cause of autoimmune disorder, which causes a breakdown of other organs. This progression was unknown in 1967 and Elvis went untreated. Side effects of TBIs include chronic pain, irrational behavior, and severe bodily changes such as obesity and enlarged organs like hearts and bowels.

Today, TBI is a recognized health issue in professional contact sports as well as incidental to motor vehicle accidents and workplace falls or other head injury events.

Dr. Torrent’s hypothesis holds that with a change in mental state and suffering chronic pain, Elvis Presley entered a ten year spiral towards death. He became hopelessly addicted to pain killers, practiced a terribly unhealthy diet and lethargic lifestyle, and resorted to the typical addict’s habit of sneaking a fix wherever he could. This led to early coronary vascular disease and, combined with his escalating weight and pill consumption, Elvis was a heart attack ready to burst.

Note that I used the term “antecedent,” like all coroners do when assessing a cause of death. Given Dr. Torrent’s observations—and all the facts compiled from forty years—if I were the coroner completing Elvis Presley’s death certificate today, I’d write it like this:

  1. Identity of Deceased — Elvis Aaron Presley.
  2. Time of Death — Approximately 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16th, 1977.
  3. Place of Death — 3754 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee.
  4. Cause of Death — Cardiac arrhythmia, antecedent to hypertensive cardiovascular disease with atherosclerotic heart disease, antecedent to poly-pharmacy, antecedent to autoimmune inflammatory disorder, antecedent to traumatic brain injury/injuries.
  5. Means of Death — Cumulative head trauma.

Therefore, I’d have to classify Elvis’s death as an accident.

There’s no one to blame—certainly not Elvis. He was a severely injured and sick man. There’s no specific negligence on anyone’s part and definitely no cover-up or conspiracy of a criminal act.

If Dr. Forrest Torrent is right, there simply wasn’t a proper understanding back then to clearly determine what really killed the King of Rock ‘n Roll.

*   *   *

 

Garry Rodgers now works as an investigative crime writer with a number of publications to his credit.

 

In The Attic is based on a true double homicide he investigated involving a psychopathic ax-murderer. Garry also hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net.

 

Note from Sue: I read IN THE ATTIC in August of 2016, and I doubt the story will ever leave me. It’s just one of those books that I’ll never forget. Visceral, raw, emotional, and true!

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