After a couple of novellas on the sidelines, Stephanie Shylock got thrown back into the deep end with last month’s Scourge. Without spoiling too much, let me just say that if I’m ever trapped in the mountains, being chased by alien space monsters, there’s a very short list of humans I’d want to be stuck with… and our elite American Lieutenant is near the top. The bottom line with Stephanie is that her frontier upbringing has given her some inherent advantages over average people when it comes to surviving; she knows how to read the land, she’s decisive, she’s strong, she’s very intelligent, and she can certainly shoot.
It’s the last point I’m going to land on again with this note, because some more credit is overdue.
I’ve written before about the importance of asking the right people for advice on subjects you’re not fully familiar with –– in Stephanie’s case, her advanced pistol shooting. To review: when it comes to guns, Stephanie would make just about anyone I know look like a Soviet conscript being handed his first rifle as he piles off the boat at Stalingrad. She’s been training with firearms since she was the height of her dad’s Krag carbine, and growing up on the new world made it essential for her not to take the business of guns lightly. Savages liked to eat people of all sizes, children included.
In the more civilized 1940s, those skills haven’t left her, and getting them right –– down to the callouses on her hands, and the hopeless fate of her green-painted fingernails –– required consultation with someone who can shoot just as well she can. The person I bothered for that information was none other than world champion competition shooter Julie Golob, and her advice has been invaluable.
But the problem with writers, particularly when we’re working on long series, is that our questions just don’t stop. We try to learn as we go, sure, but with every change of circumstance, a different nuance appears. For instance, when Stephanie was in that corridor in Mandarins, shooting to live, she basically had to plant her feet and pick her targets. That worked okay against panicked knifemen… but in Scourge, she needed to move to live.
And what the hell do I know about pistol shooting while on the move? Naturally, it was time to go back to Julie for advice. Fortunately, I could do that without actually pestering her; I just had to open her book.
These days, with guns being very political and often the subject of heated (and wildly misinformed) debate, I suppose it could be easy to assume that someone who shoots them for a living wouldn’t also be a writer. But as Stephanie Shylock is fiercely intelligent, so is Julie. That’s one of the reasons I contacted her first when I had questions –– she’s not just a champion shooter and a US Army veteran, she’s a skilled communicator too.
SHOOT proves that point. Though you can find information on the fundamentals of shooting in many places, Julie packages them together with fascinating insights about the shooting sports, then dives into more advanced concepts and training strategies. Her advice comes with a good dose of realism –– how to work within one’s own abilities, to set goals, and to improve at a sensible rate. Safe to say, if Cameron Kard had wanted to provide Stephanie with a textbook, this would be the one.
More than just the techniques, though, Julie sheds light on the character of people who spend a great deal of time perfecting their skills with firearms. Guns themselves aren’t that complicated –– many people pick them up and find it very easy to pull the trigger, for better or worse –– but if you’re developing a protagonist like Stephanie, or even Smith, who is expected to use guns regularly, it’s reasonable to invoke the intellectual quality of some of these real-life shooters.
I find the word ‘cerebral’ has negative connotations for some people, so let me just say that Julie is clearly quite intelligent, and easily capable of realistic, data-based analysis. This doesn’t surprise me; stereotypes often posit that American gun aficionados are unsophisticated, but I have a hard time believing that a person who uses firearms for a living can afford to be anything less than thoughtful. Otherwise, it could be a short living.
The entire perspective Julie offers in SHOOT backs me up on this. I’ve no doubt that stupid people do stupid things with guns far too often, but don’t make the mistake of tacitly assuming all (or even most) people who use guns are stupid. If you need to build a character who’s very skilled with firearms, read about real military and civilian shooters… then talk to some. What you find will almost certainly inform your protagonist (or antagonist). For me, corresponding with Julie completely validated Stephanie Shylock’s intelligence… though, to be honest, Stephanie wouldn’t have settled for being anything less than smart, no matter what reality demanded. I’m just glad I’ve found an expert who can keep up… while writing a book about it.
Julie recently returned to competitive shooting for the first time since 2012 (after taking a break to welcome her second child), and she decided to come back on an easy note… by entering the World Action Pistol Championships. Apparently she was a bit rusty, so she only finished SECOND IN THE WORLD, which is clearly disgraceful. Still, I’m willing to bet that if someone threw her into a mountain pass, she could beat alien space monsters… though that might be a whole different book.
Meantime, the one she’s already written is a great place for writers –– or people just looking for actual information on firearms –– to get started. Go find SHOOT.
Congratulations, Julie –– and, as usual, thanks for the help.