Writing, Responsibility, and the Conundrum of Characters with Guns

Since the first flash of a projectile from a barrel around 1000 CE, the gun has had a rich and varied history across most all avenues of life: social, economical, political, and creative. It also has the power to divide people and opinions like no other tool before or since. Let’s be clear: a gun is a tool. It is specifically designed to make easier the task of killing, of human or other animal. Now, one can certainly use a gun to accomplish goals besides killing – say, destruction of a barn wall, for those not well-versed in the skill of shooting a target – but their primary function is to kill, with more power, speed, and accuracy than any other weapon (assuming said gun is in the hands of an expert).

Politics aside, I have always found guns fascinating, especially their varied designs, and how beautiful they can be. Take a look at the craftsmanship in the Colt below:

Colt Autentica

I didn’t grow up around guns, but I had my share of toys for games of ranchers and rustlers with the boys next door, and I talked about them a lot with my father, who’d been an Army sergeant in Vietnam and who’d had an intense respect for firearms and war weaponry in general throughout history. He’d impressed upon me at a young age that guns are dangerous, doubly so if they’re not handled with respect. As I got older, we delved into the specifics of them: “I would much rather you know how to properly use a gun and never have to,” he’d say to me time and again, “than find yourself in a situation where you had to use one but didn’t know how.” He never squelched my interest in them, but he always made sure I understood the inherent danger in them, and the enormous responsibility a person has whenever they pick one up.

I’d written stories with characters who’d used guns since I was a kid: Han Solo’s DL-44 heavy blaster pistol, the Enterprise crew’s type 2 phasers, my D&D-inspired thief’s flintlock pistol. In those early forays, guns were simply weapons of convenience that often made a cool noise or shot a bright laser beam, and I didn’t think much about their impact (pun not intended). It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I wrote the gunsmith in From Hell (A Love Story), that I really thought about what I was saying about guns through my stories when my characters squeezed a trigger. There’s a semi-pivotal moment in the story where this gunsmith and the main character argue about throwing blind cover fire into a crowd of civilians. The gunsmith’s argument is that they’re surrounded by people, while the main character points out, “Yeah, and at least one of them is shooting at us.” The ramifications of their choices follow them through the rest of the book, but it was important to me that both of them realize: odds are good that when you pull out your gun, people will die.

Because I’d grown up being taught to respect – not fear – guns, I wanted that respect to come through in this story. Even in the books and stories I was reading to get a feel for a dirtier galaxy based on the Old West, the characters treated their guns like the closest partners they’d ever have, which was probably pretty close to the case in those wilder frontier times.

temperamental-wife

Stories are not soapboxes, though, and it can be difficult for a writer to separate their personal views from those presented within their prose. Firefights offer great opportunity for excitement, high action, and conflict. But a quick-trigger topic like gun use (ha ha) requires at least some responsibility on the writer’s part. Like any weapon, they’re dangerous, and our stories would lose a measure of realism without addressing just how dangerous they can be. We can do this through the actions, reactions, thoughts, and dialogue of our characters, as well as offering realistic depictions of what happens when those characters use their firearms without awareness, caution, or respect.

Have you ever written a gunslinger? What do you think about guns – or any weapons – in stories? While realism is important, how much do you think a story requires to be seen as effective in its telling?

My 2015 (Writing) Year in Review

Here’s my list of posted story words for the year 2015:

posted-wordcount-2015

The majority of my story writing through January and February was finishing up my 2014 NaNoWriMo endeavor, Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens, which I’m currently editing for another free book. March was a bad month, so we won’t go there. April brought a return to form a little bit, but I made a concerted effort in May to focus on getting back into my game, by writing and posting a vignette per day, which definitely went a long way toward restoring my good feelings about writing. I managed to keep on through the second half of the year despite very little feedback, proof that I don’t need an audience to keep me interested in my characters and universes, a trait I’m finding increasingly more valuable the more I go back and edit my work. Make no mistake: I love feedback, but my stories don’t generate much of it. Despite that, I wrote and posted just over 150,000 story words  in 2015. Not bad for a no-talent hack.

While I know that the numbers truly don’t mean anything, they do represent my honest effort over time to craft words into theme, plot, and dialogue that resonates. And posting them is a public prod for me to keep developing my skills, in a way that keeping these stories in a desk drawer could never do. Not every story will resonate to the same degree, of course, not even for me…but every single one of them is a tiny piece of myself that I’ve put out there for folks to read and – just maybe – enjoy.

Sharing stories is one of the biggest reasons why I write. I take a lot of comfort and joy in thinking them up and writing them down, but when I hear that someone else has read and found joy in one of my stories, that’s a feeling like no other. That’s why I think it’s so important for us to share our stories, whether we publish our books for a global audience or we just click the “Add attachment” button to send it along to a friend.

Everyone’s writing goals are different, and everybody’s stories are going to be different. But every story made with honesty, care, and love is worth sharing. We might not think so because we see our own writing all of the time, and it can often start to look the same. But what makes our stories unique is that they’re ours, and no one else can craft that story in the exact same way that we can do.

For the coming year, I wish for you many words of the good and precious kind, and, if you haven’t yet done so, the courage to press Publish or Send on a story of your making.

What was your 2015 Year of Writing like?

2015 Holiday Story (not-)Swap: “Moments to Remember”

Last year, I talked about how my sister and I used to swap stories on Christmas morning.  I won’t be spending Christmas morning with my sister this year, but I’ve taken to writing holiday stories even without a swap. The holiday season is about sharing and joy, and writing has always given me great joy, that I like to share.

This year’s holiday story, like last year’s, is with the Wrights and McAllisters, the two families from my “Finding Mister Wright” series of free writes. Only a few folks read the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday story with Rob’s family, but this Christmas-themed one – at Marshall and Caitlin’s new family home – is a shorter, simpler tale. In some ways, anyway. It deals with memories, kids, and keeping the important things in mind during the holidays, which I’m trying to do more every day.

“Moments to Remember” [~3580 words / 15 pages DS]
PDF will open in a new window

Next time, I’ll talk about my writing year in review. In the meantime, happy writing, happy reading, and happy holidays to you all!

“Thanks and Giving” [Another “Finding Mister Wright” holiday free-write]

I’m currently away from the Internet, celebrating Thanksgiving with family, the best way to celebrate any holiday. Those good feelings prompted me to compose the following free-write in my “Finding Mister Wright” universe:

“Thanks and Giving” [PDF opens in new window]
~9600 words / 38 pages DS

This one concerns family, of course, and cooking, just like I promised. It’s long, so I don’t expect anyone at all to read it. But it was a story of Rob and his mother that had been nagging at me for a while to be written, so I answered the only way I knew how, to write it. Paige is here, and Daniel, too, as well as a few new faces. Some of them are even new to Rob and the rest! There are real if subtle conflicts here between mother and son, father and daughter, brother and sister, that I’ve experienced in one way or another across my many years. As always, the stories help me understand those experiences a little bit better, but hopefully if you read this one, you’ll get some enjoyment out of it, too.

Happy families to you all!

Points of Light

NightSkyFlying

I was flying home from a work meeting on the night of Friday, November 11. While frightening and deadly acts were happening halfway across the globe, this was the sight outside my wingside window. I didn’t have WiFi, so I had no idea what was happening in world news. There was only the thrum of the engines, the buzz of my overhead air vent, and this view, with the city bustle below, the reddening sky ahead, and that sliver of lunar light above.

When I walked out to the family car that had come to pick me up at Terminal B, my husband informed me about the breaking news in Paris. We wondered how people were coping over there, and if the extra security walking around the airport had anything to do with the events still developing in France. Over the next few days, there were political discussions, as well as conversations about safety, social centrism, and the cultural narrow-sightedness of our first world society in particular. But my mind kept coming back to that picture I took from an Embraer window.

I’ve always enjoyed flying. Since I’ve been a kid, I’ve been getting on planes at least two or three times a year, and, despite some of the rigamarole involved in check-in and security lines, it remains one of my favorite ways to travel. There’s a feeling of detachment from the land below when we fly. We can look down from a plane in flight and see for miles around: freeways, farmland, rivers, lakes and oceans, all as a kind of separate spectator. As a child, I often wondered if that vantage point was how spacemen saw us, and how that high perspective affected their opinions. From 10,000 feet, you can’t hear what’s going on below, the prayers or the curses. You can’t see individuals, either, neither their shape nor their color. You can only see the parts of the world as their own wholes: villages, towns, cities. And when you fly at night, even over large expanses of land or water, you look for light. Sometimes, it’s just a point. But, if you keep looking, odds are you’ll see more points, more light, until there’s so many, they’re impossible to count.

When we hear about violence, hatred, and acts of terror, it’s natural to be afraid. It’s human to want to close ourselves off and hide. But it’s important to remember that the world isn’t all darkness. There is light here, too. Sometimes, it’s just one point. But keep looking. You’ll see more.