I carry a gun every day, and have for over twenty years…Most of the time (nowadays) it’s a Glock strapped to my ankle; other times it’s a Sig Sauer in a tactical rig. Throughout my law enforcement career, there have been plenty of others.
I’m well-trained and comfortable with my guns; I qualify routinely and go through other tactical training.
But I didn’t grow up in a household with them, and curiously enough – for someone with a rural Kentucky background – I’ve never hunted, although plenty of family and friends do. Carrying a gun to protect myself and the public is a necessary part of my job, but if it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t ever touch one.
My books are damn violent though, and guns abound. The Far Empty deals with corrupt cops and criminals working on the border. The upcoming sequel, High White Sun, explores undercover work among dangerous, white supremacist gangs and the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. This Side of Night (2019) is back to cartels and even more corrupt cops, and Thirteen Days (2020), which I’m putting the finishing touches on now, deals with a friendship defined, and ultimately destroyed by, a brutal series of acts. Many of my characters find themselves in such confrontations; many of those same characters see violence as one of any, equally acceptable solutions to their problems. Some of this is dramatic license, of course, the nature of the form, but I’ve had discussions with other authors who’ve sometimes had to defend the portrayal of violence in their work – David Joy, Brain Panowich, Neal Griffin, James Carlos Blake, just to name a few – and although we all talk about it in slightly different ways, I believe we all see it as a natural reflection of the worlds we’re writing about. You can’t have one without the other.
Unfortunately, it’s the reality of the world we live in.
And at least for me, it’s also the reality of the world I inhabit every day I go to work.
It’s interesting that one of the protagonists of the The Far Empty, Deputy (and later, Sheriff) Chris Cherry struggles with this burden. In fact, I purposefully wanted to focus on a character who tries, perhaps to a fault, to avoid conflict and violence. It’s been important to me that the reason Chris shies away from such conflict is not because he’s incapable or scared (he’s neither), but because he’s made a conscious choice about the person he wants to be, and how he wants carry out his sworn duties. At least through High White Sun, he refuses to accept that violence is an acceptable solution to any problem, and this tension – between the badge and gun he carries, and the world he protects with them – forms one of the series’ thematic threads.
Obviously, the horrible events in Las Vegas prompted some of my thoughts on this. If someone had only described what happened, it would sound like the super-heated plot of a suspense or crime novel – not much different than those I write. But like the rest of the world, I saw the pictures and the video from that night. It was one of those situations where the fact was way worse than any fiction.
I mostly write to entertain; to sometimes understand the world as I see it, and to occasionally seek out answers to questions that have always troubled me. I often say these “books aren’t about me or my career,” but that’s a little bit disingenuous. To the extent the stories I write deal with bad men doing bad things – “these violent delights have violent ends” – then they do capture the world I know. The one I’ve worked in for more than two decades. In the end, there’s a helluva lot fact mixed in with that fiction, and I guess it’s up to each reader to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing.
Either way, it’s the truth.