A Sense of Place

Setting is the bedrock of a story and Detective Jo Wyatt and Echo Valley are inextricably linked in Shadow Ridge

At its most basic, setting grounds a reader in time and place. But setting also hints at mood, reinforces theme, presents physical and emotional obstacles, provides motivation, and may even offer an explanation as to why a detective such as Jo Wyatt would take an oath to protect it—regardless of the personal cost. 

San Juan Mountains first snow. Image by DL Bender

For Jo, Echo Valley is home. In a place that defined its locals by the depth of their roots, she’s a native child. Located in southwest Colorado, Echo Valley is urban enough for a craft brewery, but rural enough that bears rummage through the trash at night. 

While you won’t find Echo Valley on any map, the inspiration for the setting of Shadow Ridge derives from an area in Southwest Colorado. The San Juan Mountains make up the southernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains and their current beauty belies the brutality of their birth: volcanic explosions, repeated floods, ice fields, and earthquakes. 

The Animas River cuts through the heart of Echo Valley in much the same way the river wends its way through the real City of Durango. And like Durango, Echo Valley shares a history of mining, a traditional street grid with a historic downtown corridor, and several other aspects common to small jurisdictions scattered across the state. But Echo Valley is not Durango—it is smaller, less populous, and a bit more isolated. But if you squint, you can imagine what Echo Valley will look like when it grows up.

Footbridge over the Animas River in Durango, CO. Image by DL Bender
Footbridge over the Animas River in Durango, CO. Image by DL Bender

While I don’t live in Durango any longer, the area still has my heart. Many of my friends keep the area alive for me—including my critique partner. I’m fortunate that I can show you Echo Valley through Jo’s eyes. But the photos themselves were taken by one of my former colleagues, DL Bender. He continues to feed me a steady diet of photos depicting the area, the seasons, and the details of a landscape that on the page reads as Echo Valley. As a former member of the La Plata County Sheriff and their Search and Rescue team, his knowledge of the backcountry is impressive. That he is never without his camera is a bonus. I’m even more fortunate that he graciously allows me to share his photographs.

Until Shadow Ridge launches on October 6, I will be posting an image each Thursday on Instagram. Please stop by and see for yourself why Jo and I both find this part of the country inspirational. 

Controlling Conflict with Words

Law enforcement officers often interact with people who don’t want to participate in polite conversation. It’s part of the job. Officers are trained to react to resistance and redirect it when it is encountered. Writers are quick to portray officers jumping to a physical confrontation, but while that makes for great entertainment, it’s not the appropriate response when the resistance is merely verbal. So what’s a cop to do? The easiest way to achieve voluntary compliance is often overlooked in novels, but the truth is, an officer’s most effective weapon is his or her mouth when it’s not loaded with attitude.

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The Decision-Making Process in Police Organizations

Decision-making in law enforcement is as dynamic as the profession and there is no single process that will work in all situations. The course of action undertaken by an officer involved in a critical incident must be made quickly, under pressure, and often in isolation.

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