L&L: How difficult was “Tuesday Night at the Shop and Shoot” to write? The story stayed in draft form for at least five years. I knew I’d be using someone who worked at the store to tell the story, but it took many drafts to reach a place where I could see Zed in the store and hear him in the store and know how he would react in certain situations. I wanted him to have a gentle side; that was partly about trying to make sense of this attraction to guns that people have, and not wanting him to be a “cartoon” character.
L&L: How did this story even occur to you? JS: My husband and I had been on a trip out of the country, and we came back to news of one of these terrible shootings. I can’t remember whether this happened around the holidays, or what, but I thought of consumerism and materialism. It came to me, in an ironic way, that America’s favorite activities are shopping and shooting. I had a vision of a huge store where you could buy anything you wanted, but there was also a shooting range.
L&L: What was your biggest challenge? JS: I had to see that world so I had to create it, and that became interesting to me. I needed to know Zed’s job and who was around him. I wanted him to be ambitious, without necessarily being violent. He wants to prove himself, he wants to do well. He’s going in at minimum wage, wants to excel, and this feels like an opportunity to him. Zed’s trying to be good at his job, being as compassionate as he is capable of. Trying to be a good buddy. I really needed to know how this place operated. As I detailed that, I thought, that’s really part of the story, since this place doesn’t exist, I can’t assume that everybody knows how this place operates. I wanted the story focused on that world. I didn’t want to limit it to a specific location. I could’ve imagined it anywhere.
L&L: How did you arrive at that surprise ending? JS:Once I knew that Luke was going to kill himself, I knew what Zed would do. It was more difficult to know what Luke was going to do than what Zed was going to do. I didn’t want him to be flat—he’s not really going to grow as a person, he’s going to grow as a buddy, and as a worker.
L&L: What about the “age three and over” rule? JS: There’s a real inappropriateness to introducing young kids to guns. OK, you come into this world of the Shop and Shoot, and nothing extraordinary happens here, but, at the same time, I wanted a shock factor. I put the kids in. People do introduce their kids to guns at very young ages.
L&L: What was the hardest thing for you about writing this story? JS: Creating the targets and not being afraid to put certain targets out there. Putting in race and misogyny was hard. If you give people that opportunity in this kind of setting, who would they shoot? And then, answering that, trying not to shy away from that. It didn’t get published for a long time, but when it did, the story didn’t get blowback.
L&L: What insights did you gain through writing the story? JS: In the story, we learn Luke kills himself, and the suicide target is going to be one of the prime targets. It wasn’t until after the story was published in Lock & Load that it came to me that we are really killing ourselves with all this gun violence, killing each other and killing ourselves. There’s something suicidal about us. Even though the story’s finished, it continues to evolve in my mind. The idea that we’re all killing ourselves–it was Luke individually, but after another shooting and another shooting and another shooting, it’s not about an individual, it’s about the whole society.
Joann Smith’s stories have appeared widely in print and online, including Adelaide Literary Magazine, Emerald Coast Review, The Examined Life Journal, Whitefish Journal, Blockhouse Journal; Serving House Journal; Chagrin River Review, New York Stories, Literal Latte, Best of Writers at Work, Alternate Bridges, Image: A Journal of Art and Religion, So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, The Roanoke Review, The Greensboro Review, and The Texas Journal of Women and the Law. Best American Short Stories chose her work as one of its 100 Distinguished Stories. Her collection “A Heaven of Their Choosing and Other Stories” is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2021.