Shooting Irons

These are my Uberti Cattleman revolvers. I use them for CAS.

Guns are an integral part of the western genre. They also play an important role in my western series The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat. Lee, the protagonist of the series, refers at one point to her shooting irons as her “precious pieces.”

Lee’s shooting irons are important to her for several reasons. Being a woman, she doesn’t possess the brute force of the men she’s commanding, or the villains she’s facing. Being able to wield her weapons quicker and more accurately than those she’s up against, and the men who follow her lead, is paramount to her success in claiming respect, causing fear and staying alive. She usually carries four revolvers. It makes her a dangerous adversary, who doesn’t have to cower and hide when she’s emptied one gun. Beside the practical aspect of this, I like the aesthetic of four guns on her person; it prompts an intimidating figure. There are certainly additional elements to Lee’s character that makes her stay in charge, but I’m gonna aim to stay on target here – we’re talking about shooting irons, after all.

It was important to me to show the reader that Lee is an authority on shooting irons. I did research, asked for assistance and learned to shoot, in order to transfer the knowledge and know-how I figured the protagonist of my series needed, to be representable as a know-it-all gunslinger. In short: I had to become an authority on shooting irons myself to make Lee one.

In the first draft of Embers at Dawn I had equipped Lee with two Colt Peacemakers. This was about three years ago, before I had much of a grasp on weapons. A friend of mine got me in touch with an avid CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting) practitioner, who possess a vast knowledge of firearms of the Old West. The Peacemakers were subsequently replaced with something more interesting upon his advice: A pair of Remingtons and Merwin & Hulberts. Lee’s Whitworth rifle was integrated in the story from the first draft – and remained in the story with the gun-savvy Cowboy’s blessing.

I believe that the weapons a character carries, and how she wields them, can say a great deal about her personality. The making of the piece and the condition it’s in might suggest a preference regarding practical concerns or a sense of style. It may also emphasize a character’s history, social status or indicate a certain profession.

In time, I will dedicate a post to each shooting iron from The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat series.

Yellow Highlighters & Black Powder

For me, research spans from poring over books to saddling up horses and loading guns.

IMG_4132I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was eleven years old when I mounted one three years ago. I joined a riding class for beginners. I trotted, no: walked around in circles during my first lessons. The riding instructor was the only one there who was anywhere near my own age, except a few of the parents accompanying their 6-12 year olds. And yes, I’m talking about three years ago.

The riding instructor just so happened to be a returning customer at the video rental store I was working at back then. We got to talking, and when I told her that I could hardly wait to go trail riding; she immediately picked up on it. From then on I had most my riding lessons on trails in the woods. It was challenging, fun and inspiring. We’d cross rivers, climb steep paths, gallop across fields and cuss at cyclists who’d come zooming past us – startling both us and the horses.

I believe that being new to horses made me notice things about them that I would have otherwise ignored if I’d been a seasoned rider, details that I’ve integrated in my writing. I can say pretty much the same thing about being a tyro gunslinger.

IMG_2595I handled a firearm for the first time about a year and a half ago at a gun safety course. I had done some research about guns of the Old West, but felt like I was grasping at straws without hands-on experience. I needed answers to questions that no book could truly answer.

My questions have pretty much been answered, and more so: I have found a sport I’m serious about. As far as horses go, I greatly enjoy getting to know their nature and pursue to become a better rider, but horses remain a hobby for me. I have no intention of winning a derby. Shooting, on the other hand, has made my competitive instinct surface. I compete in local ISFF competitions and train several days a week. My love for shooting and the Old West has also brought me to CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting). What better way to live the dream, than to dress up in cowboy attire and shoot guns (replicas) from the Old West era?

But research isn’t all about guns and horses, I’ve spent my share of hours with my nose stuck in a book, or scrolling through websites in search of what truly was. It’s a never-ending search…

IMG_5778In response to the phrase :”Write what you know,” I’m stuck between saying: “Hells yeah!” and: “That’s BS!” I have read countless interpretations of the phrase in writer’s guides that explain it as simply a way to make it easy on yourself: Set the story in your home town, in the present, construct the characters around yourself and people you know, and voila: you don’t have to do any tedious and time consuming research. Obviously, this doesn’t work when writing historical fiction.

Another tip I’ve come across more than once is: If you have to do research, don’t do any until you’ve completed your first draft. That way you’ll only have to do a minimum of research because you’ll have pinpointed exactly what you need to learn. I can see the logic in this, but I find this piece of advice flawed.

I’d like to expand the phrase “write what you know” into: “know what you write – write what you know.” By “know what you write,” I mean: Do your research and know your characters. Having a firm grasp on the what-fors of the period your story is set in will help you from stumbling into the pitfall of assumption. What use is it to do research post writing if you find out that half of what you thought you knew turns out to be plain wrong?

The ultimate kind of research would be to travel to the places I describe in my writing, but until the opportunity to do that arises: I pretty much live the dream anyway.