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GUEST SLOT: R. Doug Wicker on Guns in Novels and Gun Control in Real Life, interviewed by Matt Posner, Part 2
R. Doug Wicker on Guns in Novels and Gun Control in Real Life
interviewed by Matt Posner
Walther P99 chambered for 9x19mm round, First Generation with green polymer frame.
You’ve been noted as having exceptional knowledge of firearms. How did you acquire such knowledge? What is your reason for incorporating it into novels?
I come from a long line of military members. I was named for a great uncle who died in Sicily during World War II. Another great uncle I was fond of fought in every major land battle in the Pacific Theater of Operations during that same war. He was a B.A.R. man (M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle) in the Marines. My paternal grandfather was a hunter and a gunsmith who also handmade custom hunting rifles. My own father loved to hunt as well, and consequently we had several firearms around the house. I was taught shooting a very early age.
Later in life I became interested in handguns, particularly European semiautomatics, and that remains my primary firearms interest to this day. I have an extensive collection of Walther PP-series pistols, several Swiss-designed SIG Sauers at the behest of my Swiss-born wife, and some other handguns that I’ve collected because they interest me.
As for how I acquired so much knowledge, my first exposure to handgunning was a fellow controller who had an extensive collection of U.S. handguns ranging from the iconic Colt M1911 to the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 of Dirty Harry fame. A couple of times out shooting with him had me hooked, and I acquired my first handgun shortly thereafter — a stainless steel Interarms/Ranger Walther PPK/S in .380 ACP (9mm kurz for your non-American fans). I’ve been researching and collecting ever since.
Walther P99 chambered for 9x19mm round, First Generation with green polymer frame.
As for incorporating handguns into my novels, I do so only if the story calls for it. For instance, in my book Decisions the main character Donovan Grant is from the New York City area. Gun ownership by the law-abiding in that area is a rarity because of the restrictive laws. Thus Don doesn’t know the first thing about guns. The one gun in that entire book is revealed toward the very end, and all Grant can tell you is that it’s some sort of revolver.
Reynard Chevalier of The Globe however is an entirely different character. Reynard has an intimate familiarity with firearms. He’s former military, and he’s currently in charge of security aboard a cruise ship.
In my current project there will be not even one firearm. It’s my first attempt at a mainstream novel, and the story has nothing to do with guns, murders, or mystery.
Given that you know a lot on the subject, what do you think of the idea, promoted by the NRA and others, to arm more “good guys” such as my fellow teachers to counteract the actions of mass shooters such as Adam Lanza.
Let me begin by saying I’m no fan of the NRA (especially following their recent ludicrous “endorsement” of the candidate with the worst anti-gun record to ever run for the office of president of the United States). Not everyone is either emotionally stable or personally responsible enough to own — let alone carry in public — a firearm. Adam Lanza certainly wasn’t, and it turns out that neither was Nancy Lanza who was so devastatingly irresponsible in keeping her firearms beyond Adam’s reach despite his known mental condition. Curtis Reeves, Michael Dunn, and George Zimmerman are other poster-child examples of people who should not own a firearm.
Now, all that being said, there is one inescapable fact that gun-control proponents choose to ignore or even deny. Gun-free zones get innocent people killed. Period. With but one exception, since 1950 every mass shooting resulting in four or more deaths has occurred in a supposedly “Gun Free Zone.” The problem is that only the law abiding are truly free of guns in such areas, and it appears to me that these areas are being specifically chosen because there is a reasonable chance that the shooter will not have any armed resistance.
Example: There were seven movie theaters showing the movie The Dark Knight Rises within 20 minutes of James Holmes’ residence. The one he ultimately chose was not the closest to him. It was however the only one of the seven that had a “Firearms Prohibited” sign posted on the entrance.
That means that the Aurora theater victims may very well have been targeted because firearms were “prohibited” in that venue. That’s a pretty scary thought. And it’s reprehensible that those who designate such zones then refuse to take responsibility for the carnage that ensues as a result.
If, say, a theater owner wants to proclaim his or her establishment a “Gun Free Zone” (as was the case in Aurora, Colorado), then it should be incumbent upon that owner to provide some form of armed protection for his or her patrons. Personally, I think the owners of that theater should be held civilly liable for the decision to deny their patrons the inalienable right to self-defense, and then not take the necessary precautions to make sure those patrons wouldn’t be harmed by someone not inclined to follow their decree.
The same principle should also apply to other venues such as schools, post offices, and the like. If one is going to deny the right to self-defense, then one should supply armed guards to protect those whom he or she just disarmed. However in a school environment I would be very wary as to whom I would license and how well trained they would have to be. Special care would have to be taken to ensure that any firearm is kept from the reach of a student.
Bottom line: Gun-free zones are a demonstrably failed social experiment. Yet, after each and every mass shooting, the first thing anti-gun forces do is call for the establishment of yet more gun-free zones. What’s that old saying about one of the first signs of insanity . . . ?
Visit R. Doug Wicker’s Blog
Matt Posner is a novelist and teacher
GUEST SLOT: Air Traffic Controller, World Traveller and Novelist R. Doug Wicker, interviewed by Matt Posner, Part 1
Air Traffic Controller, World Traveller and Novelist R. Doug Wicker
interviewed by Matt Posner
Introduce yourself. Then, where do you live and how do you like it there? How would you compare your present home to the many other places you have lived?
I’m a retired air traffic controller who served in both the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration over a total of 34 years, 5 months. I currently live where I spent my entire FAA career — on the U.S.-Mexican border in El Paso, Texas.
Both my wife Ursula and I love it here in El Paso, which is why we chose to stay here after I retired. Previously I have lived in Sacramento, California; Enon, Ohio (outside Dayton); Columbus, Ohio; Roswell, New Mexico; Rome, New York; Okinawa, Japan; Clemson, South Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; Biloxi, Mississippi; Lakenheath, England; and Tucson, Arizona.
You have been around aircraft your entire career, mainly as an air traffic controller. What do you think has drawn you to work in this environment?
I’ve been around aviation all my life. My father was a career U.S. Air Force officer and pilot, so my earliest memories are of watching airplanes fly overhead. Indeed, I wanted to be a pilot as well, but pilot slots were being cut by the Air Force in the wind-down from Vietnam. When that avenue became closed to me (I also did lousy in college — it bored me to distraction) I chose the next best option — air traffic control.
I have always envisioned the professional life of the air traffic controller as alternating between high stress and sleep-deprived boredom. Is there any truth to that? What was your job like day to day?
There’s a lot of truth to that. We were definitely sleep deprived because of the rotating shifts. A typical 5-day, forty-hour work week was a 2:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M shift, a 1:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M., a 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., and on the last day a 5:45 A.M. to 13:45 A.M. followed just over eight hours later by a 10:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. shift. It’s hard to command your body to sleep under those conditions.
As for the stress, we definitely saw more than our share of that — Thunderstorms, emergencies, heavy military traffic on Fridays and Sundays. You name and I’ve probably seen it short of a hijacking situation.
By the way, do you know how a controller differs from a pilot? When a pilot makes a mistake the pilot dies, but when a controller makes a mistake the pilot dies. Yes, controllers are indeed known for their morbid senses of humor.
You have been writing for a long time. How did you get started doing it? What makes it fulfilling?
I got started for several reasons. I’ve always loved the written word. I’ve always felt I could spin a good yarn. What I lacked was motivation and confidence. Then in 1988 I met a charming man by the name of James A. Michener. We were on an Alaskan cruise and I attended all his lectures. Then one day Ursula and I ran into him on an upper deck. He was there with his handler/assistant, out in the cold enjoying nature on an isolated portion of upper deck away from the passengers. We chatted for quite a spell and he seemed genuinely interested in my air traffic control career and the post-strike conditions under which we had to operate. Afterward I got to thinking that perhaps I should give writing a shot.
But what makes writing fulfilling?
That’s a great question.
I guess I just love sitting down in front of a blank computer screen and filling it with words. I love the research involved. I love developing characters. I love inventing new, intriguing and challenging situations for those characters to overcome. Most of all I love dialogue — wordplay, idioms, regional dialects, malapropisms, bad grammar, good grammar — it’s all fascinating to me because it is how most of us communicate on a daily basis in everything we do.
You wrote a book for kids about one of the most famous acts of terrorism in history, the bombing of Pan Am 103. What was the genesis of this project, and what response have you gotten from kids who have read it?
I was hired by Rosen Publishing to write that after I was recommended to them by one of their contributors. The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was but one volume in an entire series on terrorist acts. I was also asked to write the volume on United Flight 93, but I had to decline because at that time all controllers nationwide were forbidden by the FBI from making any public comment on the September 11, 2001 attacks.
I know Rosen Publishing was pleased with the book, but I’ve not had any personal responses from any readers. I assume any such letters would have gone directly to Rosen.
Your novel Decisions has been compared to Agatha Christie. Do you agree with the comparison? Was Agatha Christie a favorite of yours to read at some time in your life?
I did enjoy Agatha Christie in my youth. However I think the Agatha Christie comparison was a bit over the top (but I’m not complaining, mind you — thanks, Publishers Weekly). It is a cozy mystery in her style, but the characters, the humor, and particularly the language (Don Grant is a New Yorker, after all) make the book pretty much unlike anything in her extensive body of work. I think those who’ve compared it to Nelson DeMille or Carl Hiaasen are probably closer to the mark.
The Globe is about a ship offering housing to the super-rich, great for them until a serial killer becomes active within their ranks. Where did you get this idea? Do you think the book appeals more to those who would like to be super-rich, or those who feel anger against the super-rich?
I got the idea from the real-life cruise ship The World, upon which The Globe is modeled. I’ve also cruised extensively, with close to thirty cruises (including a 54-day cruise) under my belt, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to want to play with such a setting.
As for whom the book appeals, I think most people have a fascination with the super-rich and super-famous. We all aspire to be them. As for those who feel anger against them — get over it. You know you’d change places with them in a heartbeat if given the chance. Save your anger for the super-rich super-crooks on Wall Street or in the Mega Banks, the ones who actually robbed you blind and got away with it . . . with bonuses. Or the socially irresponsible super-rich, such as the Sam Walton heirs who apparently believe that their positioning on the annual Forbes list is more important than paying a living wage to their employees. Those are the super-rich who’ve earned my disdain, not the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffets of the world.
Your blog features your very diverse interests. What can readers expect to find there? How do you get ideas? And how do you manage to update it three times a week?
I blog mostly on aviation safety, aircraft, driving and sports cars, humor, technology and new stuff, handguns, concealed carry, photography, travel, movies, books, foods and wines, and of course writing. Other topics may crop up as the mood hits me.
Ideas come to me fairly easily . . . most of the time! Updating thrice weekly can be a chore, but I just have to use a bit of discipline to make sure it gets done.
Tell an interesting story from your career.
Oh, I have a lot of those. Far too many to choose a favorite. Well, okay, perhaps one:
We had a Continental airliner diverting into El Paso because of a bomb threat against the aircraft. The caller had specified that the bomb would detonate at precisely 2:00 P.M. local time. I was working ground control (responsible for all aircraft taxiing to and from the runways), and I was also the Controller-in-Charge of the tower at the time. Annie was working local control (runway operations and airspace within 3 ½ nautical miles of the airport). We got Continental on the ground well in advance of the threat time and taxied the aircraft to the bomb threat area, whereupon the passengers and crew were evacuated.
As the clock ticked toward 2:00 I noticed Annie getting markedly more anxious. She kept glancing over to the Continental, apparently anticipating it going up in a huge ball of flame. Around five after the hour she started to ease, and by 2:10 she was completely relaxed. An obvious hoax, right? That’s when I covertly blew into the brown paper sack and popped it loudly between my palms. She must have jumped two feet out of her chair.
Did I mention that controllers are known for their morbid sense of humor?
Tell an interesting story from your writing life.
Well, there was the time my Hollywood agents all but assured both me and my literary agent that my second novel was a shoe-in for a big movie deal. But, as you can see, I’m still a relative unknown, so that never happened. I blogged about the whole sordid affair in a post entitled A Tale of Woe and Misfortune Unlike Any Other. (Do click through to this link: it is a morbidly funny story of big-money doings in Hollywood. – Andre Jute)
What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?
Well, first of all I would like to publicly thank you for the opportunity to connect with people unfamiliar with my works and my blog. This has been a really kind thing for you to do, and I truly appreciate it.
Secondly, I’d like to thank those who took the time to wade through this interview to arrive at this point. Those who did persevere must have found at least a little of what I had to say of interest to them, and a writer certainly can’t ask for anything more than that.
Visit R. Doug Wicker’s Blog
Matt Posner is a novelist and teacher
CoolMain Press Proudly Announces
FORTHCOMING Publication of the
Seventh Volume Appearing in
Dakota Franlin’s Grand Series
RUTHLESS TO WIN
on 28 February 2014
with PREORDERS NOW LIVE
at a Special Price*
“A wonderful story full of action and remarkable detail”
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Bobby Solara, an Indycar champion new to Formula One, new to Armitage Grand Prix Racing, is determined to make his way to the top honorably. Honorably to his team leader Ugo Jenssens, honorably to his employer Jack Armitage, honorably to his wife Yvonne, who is leaving him, honorably to his new love Louisa, honorably to his new friends Ollie and Taki, honorably for the sake of his daughter Vicky.
But when the Japanese betting syndicate abducts his child and her mother to force Bobby to betray everyone so that he can be champion rather than Ugo, the real Bobby surfaces.
And the real Bobby is not a man you want to mess with. Ever.
“Yes, I know, I sneer at the psychopaths I compete against on tracks. But I just hide my own nature better under a veneer of cool intelligence and urbane good manners. Attack my child or my women, and I will kill you. Slowly. And my sleep will not be delayed one minute by your demise.”
— Bobby Solara in AMERICAN RACER by Dakota Franklin
Is RUSH the best racing movie ever?
the review by Dakota Franklin
in interview with André Jute
Can you describe RUSH briefly?
I can do better. I can bring you screenwriter’s Peter Morgan’s own capsule description. “Set against the sexy, glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, the film is based on the true story of a great sporting rivalry between handsome English playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error: if you make a mistake, you die.” Thanks, Peter!
You’re a novelist. Do you have a description of your own?
As a racer, I have a different outlook on the movie. Let me set the background for you. In 1976, anyone with a calculator could work out that in seven seasons of grand prix racing, a driver stood a 50% chance of dying behind the wheel, very likely by being burned to death, a horrible way to go. Niki Lauda himself accepted that every time he went out to race he stood a 20% chance of dying. Those are unacceptable odds. To me RUSH is about a brave racer who defied the odds at the Nürburgring under impossible conditions, was nearly burned to death, and only weeks after being given the last rites was racing again. Yet the same man, to make the point to everyone that some races are so dangerous that they should be stopped, gave up the championship by climbing out of the car at Fuji when it rained too heavily to see. Lauda, ever honest, refused his team manager’s offer of saying that it was a mechanical. He told the press he stopped because it was too dangerous. Lauda, with Jackie Stewart and Max Mosley, is responsible for grand prix racing today being a relatively safe sport if you consider the elevated velocities at which it is conducted.
Is RUSH faithful to the real life facts of what is after all recent history?
You can’t put much in the short span of a movie. A moviemaker has about thirty scenes in which to tell a complete story, in which he has to establish for the viewer everything that is relevant about not just the immediate events which justifies a $38m movie, but everything relevant about the lives and personalities of characters. That’s a third or less of the space that I, as a novelist, am permitted. On the other side of the coin, every picture tells a thousand words, and a moving picture tells a million words. So the truth of the movie is decided not only by writer Peter Morgan’s and the director Ron Howard’s choices, made for dramatic reasons, but also by the choices editors Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill, the film’s cutters, made to fit the movie into the accepted commercially viable timespan of around two hours. Also, a movie needs a certain level of conflict, just like a novel. So, whereas as a dramatic recounting of six years’ events in the lives of two racers, RUSH rates very highly indeed, as a documentary, RUSH would be rated 6/10. However, that doesn’t mean RUSH isn’t faithful to the essence of what happened. That Niki Lauda, not a man to mince words or tell white lies, approves of the film tells you it is faithful to his memory of the essence, regardless of some compaction of the facts.
Give us a few hard facts RUSH “compacted”.
James Hunt and Niki Lauda were not enemies, they were friends. Lauda stayed in Hunt’s apartment when he was in London. Lauda, though intensely focussed, wasn’t exactly the complete uptight Teutonic goody-goody he is portrayed as: he caught his share of the overflow of girls Hunt attracted. In fact, some from those days will tell you he befriended the unreliable Hunt for the girls. But an admission in the film that offtrack they were friends would detract from the tension of their ontrack competition, and in fact the growing friendship between them that Morgan and Howard substitute adds subtly to the attraction of the movie. The rest consists of mainly minor details. Example: It seems from the movie that James Hunt won Driver of the Year in 1970, but in fact he won that award in 1973, a year you will search for in vain in the movie; one presumes the editors cut all scenes from 1973 to make the time cap, and then shoved the award ceremony into 1970 to establish Hunt as a playboy. Another example: Some of the political shenanigans of Formula One, like taking a Brands Hatch victory from James Hunt on a technicality, are missing altogether, though we are offered an incomplete glimpse of the notorious disqualification in Spain and the subsequent restoration of the victory, without any reasons being offered. I don’t know how to present that sort of information to a general film audience though, however fascinating it may be to racers and engineers and committed fans.
Besides the friendship thing, changed for understandable dramatic effect, these items amount to little more than amusements for nerds and anoraks. Do details like that bother you?
I’m an anorak and a nerd too, and an engineer, so I understand what bothers meticulous people. But as a novelist I grasp that in a few years the minor details RUSH gets wrong for lack of space or dramatic purposes won’t matter a damn. As you say, entertainment value for insiders: spot the wrong date. But here’s one that I deliberately got wrong in a forthcoming novel, AMERICAN RACER, which RUSH also gets deliberately wrong, and for the same reason, to add color and excitement. The Guild of Motoring Writers in Britain is notorious for its misogynism. It never invites spouses and other females to its events. But I put women into one of their events in my novel, as a gentle hint, and Howard and Morgan, I was amused to see, playfully did the same in RUSH!
You’ve met many of the people portrayed in the film. Do the actors look like the real racers?
Many of the events in the film happened before I was born! But yes, as a teenager I saw James Hunt in London, and I see Niki Lauda a few times a year, and I met Clay Regazzoni in the later years of his life, and so on, too many people to name who are still, or recently were, in Formula One, and are portrayed in this film. The many striking cameos, all superbly realized, are a real thrill of this film, one of the things that makes it superior. (“Good heavens,” I said to my family when the young Di Montezemolo was pictured, “that’s Luca!” It wasn’t, it was the actor Ilario Calvo playing Luca.) I imagine that Chris Hemsworth is probably a sunnier character than James Hunt was behind the scenes but the actor added the missing element and I believed in him as James Hunt the playboy, who in real life was a charming shit, selfish and unreliable. Daniel Brühl was totally convincing as Lauda. I didn’t know Lauda when he was young and — we have to say it — before he was scarred, but Brühl’s internal force is almost a visible dynamo spinning up. Brühl gives an uncanny, eerie performance. It’s definitely Brühl’s movie. The filmmakers cheapened Regazzoni, who in real life was a gentleman. Augusto Dallara plays Enzo Ferrari, reading a newspaper, with his feet literally on the test track at Fiorano: This is mine! I loved the details, and racing fans who know their history will have a ball with this movie.
So, is RUSH the GREATEST racing movie ever?
For some, sure. For a racer and for the hardcore racing fan who has taken the trouble to inform himself of the background and all the details, LE MANS with Steve McQueen is the greatest racing movie ever; we just can’t understand the people who think it is boringly about cars going round and round. (Brainless berks! Not an ounce of heroic romance in their souls.) Even for new fans, who just see the glamour and have zero grasp of the engineering and the daring, there are other contenders: A MAN AND A WOMAN is beautiful and touching film about the romance of racing drivers rather than racing, which RUSH barely touches on. But, yes, many racing fans, perhaps a majority, will choose RUSH as the greatest, now and probably forever, as LE MANS is to me.
Greatness is opinion, but the best racing movie should be determinable on easily understood parameters. Is RUSH the BEST racing movie ever?
Yes, RUSH is the best racing movie ever. Precisely because it is about people, and the people lived for racing, and would have died, and one nearly did, to keep racing. RUSH is about giants, and some of us can reach out and still touch one of them, Niki Lauda, when he fronts up at the Formula One races, these days as the chairman of the Mercedes GP team. RUSH is the best racing movie ever made by a substantial margin.
Rate RUSH for us as a movie regardless of its racing connection, and also as a racing movie.
RUSH is dramatically a superb movie regardless of the racing connection, so it scores a high step on the podium, 9/10. As a racing movie it takes the checkered flag, 10/10.
RUSH is in cinemas and available for electronic download. A DVD follows.
André Jute is a novelist and Dakota’s editor.
Copyright © 2014 Dakota Franklin.
See also The Sherlock Holmes Rights Grab: A grotesque sense of entitlement among writers for some interesting comments.
Campers don’t have to eat rubbish at McDonald’s.
Croc eggs make a good omelette, you just have to keep the fellow who always expects you to fix his flats nearer the edge of the water than you to distract Mama Croc while you dig the eggs out of the sandbank. Better to dig up the eggs after you’ve crossed the river.
If you want ostrich egg, which makes a rich scramble, watch out for the six-inch forenail of Mama Ostrich. The tool of choice to separate that toenail from you is a thorn branch about six feet long, which you hold over her head to mesmerize her. She won’t kick if she can’t look down at her feet, for fear of kicking herself fatally instead of you.
If you’re Down Under, Skippy makes good BBQ. I’d explain how to get a joey to volunteer by jumpingg into the roasting bag and rolling himself up oven-ready but I suspect there are some bleeding hearts here.
© 2014 Andre Jute
Photo credit Lizzie Borden
Everyone knows that one of the easiest things for writers to get wrong is firearms.
No, it just appears like that because most writers get flustered and get it wrong, and are then exposed by the many experts. Then everyone assumes that writers getting firearms wrong is an immutable condition, an incurable disease. It isn’t so at all.
The truth is far simpler.
One of the easiest things for writers to get right is firearms. Just ask an expert. My fave expert is another novelist, R. Doug Wicker. He’s even written a three-part article to save other writers from researching the wrong things.
“Firearms for Formulators of Fiction” by R. Doug Wicker:
Firearms for Formulators of Fiction — Revolvers
Firearms for Formulators of Fiction — Semiautomatics Part 1
Firearms for Formulators of Fiction — Semiautomatics Part 2
If you need more than that, Doug says, “If anyone wants advice or help with firearms for one of their stories I’m always more than happy to help. Just ask.”
The New York Times reports that a US court has ruled that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain; an appeal is being lodged.
An explosion of faux Sherlock Holmes fiction is expected, like a boil bursting.
I’ve yet to read a “Sherlock Holmes story” by an imitator that matches the quality of those written by Arthur Conan Doyle. The greater part of the art of literature is inventing and developing characters. It follows that a writer who insists that he has a “right” to use another writer’s characters, by definition isn’t much chop.
One of the purposes of the law of copyright protection having a natural termination a number of years after the death of the creator is education. There is nothing in the expressed reasons or implied intentions of the creators of copyright about satisfying the greed of writers too slack or untalented to invent their own characters by permitting them to cash in on the name recognition of established fictional icons created by better men.
Copyright © 2014 Andre Jute