Welcome to the Lock & Load: Armed Fiction blog. The book was published Oct. 1, 2017, the day of the Las Vegas massacre. We’ve interviewed the writers included in the anthology, as well as An American Goddess.
Loud as usual, glamorous and intimidating as ever, she waltzed in. “Heard you wanted an interview.” Fall sunshine ricocheted off her warm oak chassis and blued-steel skin. Light and agile, she carried herself like a carbon-fibre MP5. Still, she had a certain sawed-off double-barreledness. “Call me Bella.”
She shed her trench coat, revealing a long, smooth body that mixed business with pleasure. “Here I am. At your service: everybody’s beautiful scary girlfriend, everybody’s helpful generous mom, and everybody’s crazy old aunt. Near as your nightstand. Far as Fallujah.”
She rifled her pockets. Gunpowder scented the air. Out came a Marlboro, already lit. Lock & Load: Armed Fiction. You’re the editors. I’m the subject. So here’s the deal: I call the shots. You return fire.” She pantomimed chambering a round. “Ready, aim—”
Bella: You’ve called me a literary muse. Or are you just sucking up, like everyone entranced by my power and danger?
L&L: We respect you, but we fear you, too. You’ve gotten the drop on lots of writers. After you took over our gun stories, we took a look at others. Wounded stories littered the landscape, fatal misfires caused by chucking a shotgun into a pickup or stashing a pistol under a pillow. A writer needs a sharp eye and a steady hand to control you.
Bella: Oh, control! I’ve gotta be free. Don’t listen to that nonsense Chekhov’s supposed to have said. Well, not even him—some guy who said Chekhov said the gun has to go off. You realized I’m worldwide?
L&L: We admired your foreign work. Pushkin, Maupassant, Conrad, Greene, and Achebe, to name a few, found you irresistible. But American writers have always been your biggest fans. We’ve kept you busy since Rip Van Winkle took his shotgun to the Kaatskill forests.
Bella: (Preens herself. Chain-lights another.)Ah, wilderness! Twain’s, Faulkner’s, good old Ernest’s. Whose woods these are is mine, right?
L&L: Fiction explores the places where people get lost. Places where you’re right at home, Bella—a veteran’s return, in Daniel Cox’s “Lady Bird,” a young girl’s hunger to belong, in Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Family Reunion,” and the harsh life of single women in Annie Proulx’s “A Lonely Coast.”
L&L: (Leans back.) As you may know, the Midwest is what I settled. The West is what I won. I own the whole country, though, as Annie Proulx understands; years ago, she called America a “violent, gun-handling country,” isn’t that great? (Exhales toward ceiling.) She’s not the only one who knows what to do with me. Lots more gals are gunslingers now. In the old days, I never hung around with women.
L&L: That’s what you’ve let people think. Playing on the boys’ team got you more exposure. But those gals always gave you good ink. Sarah Orne Jewett, Willa Cather, even Virginia Woolf, wrote some of your juiciest roles.
Bella: To say nothing of Emily Dickinson’s loaded gun. You turned up some real Annie Oakleys—including yourselves. How’d you do it?
L&L: Pinckney Benedict, who wrote “Mercy,” the wonderful closing story in Lock & Load, said, “If you’re an American writer, sooner or later, one of your characters will pick up a gun.” He was so right. After our gun stories were published, we got interested. We read everything.
Bella: Ugh, studying. Too boring.
L&L: Studying you was arresting. Your range as object and metaphor is breathtaking. You own every scene. As leading lady, bit player, understudy, or stage manager, you dazzle and transfix. You highlight action, illuminate understory, electrify description, and raise the stakes immeasurably.
Bella: (Basks.) Aw, thanks. Nobody’s called me arresting since Wyatt Earp. And nobody’s ever made a whole book about me. Lock & Load was a career highlight for me. All those other anthologies gave me bit parts in war and hunting. You got me out of those filthy foxholes and deer blinds and back where I belong. Including city streets.
L&L: We followed American writers. Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, and of course, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, carried you openly down alleys and in shadows. The sudden shooting in John Edgar Wideman’s “Tommy,” as current as the headlines, happens there. Rick DeMarinis’s dark, funny breakup tale, “The Handgun,” does, too. And you waded right into gang turf in E. G. Willy’s “Não Faz Mal.” You’re worldwide, all right, Bella, but you’re national. And always timely.
Bella: Timeless, you mean. Why did you include the future?
L&L: Because the choice between wilderness and community is still open.
Bella: (Grins.) The people in Mari Alschuler’s subway dystopia, “Revealed,” and Joann Smith’s gamers’ world, “Tuesday Night at the Shop ’n’ Shoot” don’t look like they’re headed for community.(Laughs.)Community’s a long shot, don’t you think?
L&L: You love long shots—what about the Thirteen Colonies? What about the Civil War? You always hedge your bets. You’re all things to all people: good and evil, war and peace, dinner and destruction. You’ve built an empire on bang and smoke.
Bella: Sounds so dramatic! It’s my job. I kick back and hit the mark day and night, in public and private, in season and out. Millions respect me and use me safely. A small percentage uses me against others or themselves. You’re right, though, Americans love me! I pervade your language, news, music, movies, TV—so visible I’m invisible. I arm your dreams and haunt your imaginations. You’re fickle, though. Whenever I make terrible news, you feel so bad you can’t talk about me.
L&L: We understand. Skilled writers don’t waste ammunition; on the page, every shot’s clean. And you don’t have to shoot people in the face to get their attention. That’s your deepest secret, isn’t it? You’re lonely. That’s why you take stories hostage.
Bella: (Laughs bitterly.) No comment. Last question, one you knew I’d take a shot at. What’s your stand on gun rights?
L&L: Lock & Load was never political. Because you aren’t. We built Lock & Load to explore America. We built Lock & Load to foster discussions about you—your value, your danger, your meaning.
Bella: Oh, come on! What do stories have to do with real life?
L&L: As much as you do. You blazed the way to nationhood. You made paths through forests. You took and gave land and life, you trespassed and defended. You suffuse our history and landscape. You mirror our culture. Lock & Load brings readers into nineteen strange, beautiful, troubling worlds. There, they find space and solitude. Fiction offers freedom to reflect. Not an agenda.
Bella: Reflect? Sight’s my thing, not insight—we’re done here. (Shrugs into coat. Pulls Lock & Load from pocket.) Sign it “With love.” Now that you admit how much you owe me, don’t you think my copy should’ve been a freebie?
L&L: Small press, tight budget. And you haven’t helped. On Lock & Load’s pub date, you slaughtered a crowd in Las Vegas. Weeks later, you swept a church in Texas and a school in California. You said it yourself, when you’re involved in these terrible things, nobody wants to talk about you. Or think about you. Except American writers.