The laughing figure in the photo, holding a 32-30 Winchester and a 12-gauge shotgun, with a 44 mag pistol in her belt, is me. The Winchester belonged to my grandfather who used it to shoot a charging black bear, and I grew up playing on the rug he made from said bear. He wasn’t looking for the bear, it just found him.
The 12-gauge belonged to my dad who grew up hunting in the Piney Woods of Texas during the depression, and eating everything that he killed. And I mean everything! The pistol was borrowed from my brother for the photo; taken just before we ventured into the bayou country outside of Houston to do some research for my third book, The Outcasts, set a few years after the American Civil War. We didn’t kill anything other than a lot of mosquitoes, and carried the guns only for self-defense from very large alligators, wild boar and copperheads.
My dad and both grandfathers grew up hunting, although my dad in later years hunted exclusively with bow and arrow on horseback as he said it gave the animals a better chance of living for another day. They were all responsible gun owners and did not hunt for trophies, but out of necessity, and for protection as they lived at times out in the middle of nowhere. I grew up with a lot of guns in the house (it was Texas after all) and I practiced shooting, sometimes with my mom, who owns a pistol. When I went to New York City to live for the first time in 1980, my dad asked me if I wanted a gun for protection. I declined and for 20 years never regretted the decision. Dirty Harry, I am not. In fact, even with all the cultural acceptance of guns surrounding me, I am, and have always been, uncomfortable being around them.
How then do I explain my fascination with weaponry in my writing? I spent several years researching Civil War Era guns, in particular the Whitworth rifle, which is so rare that only a few remain in good condition. I wrote about the gun in an earlier posting: Long Distance Death. But writing characters who live by the gun, does not mean that the creator of those characters does too. After all, most crime writers who make a career describing murder most foul, are not serial killers.
Stephen King has said that writing his sometimes gory passages may have kept him from murdering some real life people who infuriated him—most likely a few critics. Talking, or writing, about it is not the same as doing it. And at the risk of announcing my vulnerable home-land condition, the only gun I own is a reproduction of an 1851 Navy Colt, black-powder revolver than takes forever to ready for firing. And you know what? I’m just fine with that.
The Outcasts will be published by Little Brown October 2013
See earlier postings below.