Today, I’m pleased to introduce New York Times bestseller Larry Correia as a guest. Although he has a busy schedule, he accepted the invitation to share with us some of his knowledge on firearms in fiction.
Larry also has an interesting background in publishing. He started out as a successful, self-published author, and a few years later, he accepted a publishing offer from Baen Books. He is an author who knows how to be successful in both arenas of publishing.
Along with having been on the NYT bestseller list, Larry has also been on the Entertainment Weekly bestseller list, was a finalist in the John W. Campbell award, and was nominated for a Hugo award for best novel in 2014. He has been a full-time writer for several years.
His books are noted by many publications for his detailed accuracy of firearms usage, which makes sense considering that he has experience as a firearms instructor.
No matter what your views on guns are, you’re likely to eventually come across the subject in your writing, so I thought it would be prudent to bring on a guest to discuss how best to go about it.
I’m sure you’ve all seen wild west movies where someone gets shot and then flies backwards several feet. Or in modern movies someone shoots the bottom of a car, then it explodes easily on the first shot. With the dramatics that Hollywood adds to gun use, it’s not surprising that it eventually affects how authors write about them.
Ryan: What are the common pitfalls in fiction where it’s clear that the author has never held or fired a modern firearm?
Larry: It isn’t just guns, but any topic where the reader is an expert and the author is clueless. The problem is that when you write something that the reader knows is terribly wrong, it kicks them right out of the story and ruins the experience for them. Guns are especially hard because they are super common in fiction, and there are tons of readers who know about them.
Most of these really glaring errors can be taken care of with a little bit of cursory research. Technical things can be taken care of by a few minutes on the manufacturer’s webpage, which will keep your characters from dramatically flipping off the safety on a gun that doesn’t have one.
Beyond that, however, is the actual use of the gun. The character using it should have a realistic amount of knowledge based on their skill, knowledge, ability, and training. If you are gong to be writing about a character who is a professional gunslinger, then you need to do some research to make sure that person does what a professional gunslinger would do.
Ryan: If an author does not have access to a firearm or gun range, what are the best methods to brush up on them?
Larry: Actually shooting is best, but if you can’t, find friends who know guns and pick their brains. The problem here is like I mentioned, realistic amounts of knowledge for a particular character and your friends are going to vary just as much in real life. Just because somebody on the internet told you something doesn’t make it true.
Most online firearms forums are pretty cool about authors coming on and asking questions. Just don’t be a jerk about it.
Be careful because there are a lot of urban legends out there about guns. 5.56 doesn’t tumble through the air. A near miss of a .50 BMG won’t tear your limbs off. That is nonsense. So, the best thing to do is ask a group of people, and in short order you should be able to tell who actually has a clue and then disregard the crazy.
Ryan: How about antique guns? What are the pitfalls you’ve seen in fiction regarding those? (Black powder, musket balls, etc.)
Larry: Same issues. You need to do your research and the more the better. For me, the fun part about doing research on historical firearms is that it gives me cool little things to stick into the story. Watch videos of how you had to load various antiques, and now describe doing that while the PoV character is under a great deal of stress.
Ryan: What should authors keep in mind when including firearms in their fiction? Are there some phrases/descriptions that are difficult to mess up?
Larry: The way you describe the gun is going to depend on how the PoV character perceives them. Some characters are going to think of them as just another tool. Some characters are going to think they are icky or scary (and that character should most likely die first if you’re writing an action novel). Some characters are going to geek out, go all fan boy, and be able to recite all of the stats and numbers and tell you its history.
Also, remember what kind of story you are telling. If you are writing a techno thriller for the Tom Clancy audience, you can drop a paragraph of detailed information in there about wound ballistics. If you are writing a romance novel and the hero needs a gun, you’re not going to go all nitty-gritty like that.
Ryan: Can you tell us a bit about how you started in self-publishing and then went to traditional?
Larry: My first novel, Monster Hunter International, was rejected by around a hundred agents and publishers. But I was a businessman, I understood marketing, and I knew there would be an audience for this book, so I went ahead and self-published. This was before the e-book revolution, so it was a Print-on-Demand $25 paperback (which, as you can imagine, isn’t the easiest sell in the world). However, I promoted the heck out of it, mostly on internet, gun forums, and it took off and did extremely well, even getting onto a national bestseller list.
Later, I was offered a publishing contract by Baen Books, and I’ve been with them ever since.
Ryan: How are things different now that you’re traditionally published (vs. self-publishing)?
Larry: They both have their pros and cons, but I prefer being traditional mostly because of the reach. My books get in front of more people this way.
Keep in mind that self publishing is a whole lot easier now than when I started, and that was only in 2007! The challenge self-published authors face now is how to differentiate themselves from the hundred thousand other books competing against them.
Ryan: Where do you see publishing in the next 5-10 years?
Larry: I don’t know, but it is going to be very interesting. Big publishing houses have acted as gate keepers for so long that they’re really struggling with the concept that audiences can go around them and get whatever they want.
Ryan: Do you have any advice for the aspiring writers reading this?
Larry: There are really only two things you need to do to make it as a professional writer.
A. Get good enough that people will give you money for your stuff.
B. Find the people who will give you money for your stuff.
How you accomplish these two things is irrelevant, but that is basically all there is to it.
Ryan: What projects are you working on right now? Also, where can we find your books?
Larry: I just wrapped up an epic fantasy novel called Sons of the Black Sword, which will be out in Fall 2015. My books are available at bookstores everywhere or Amazon.com.
Ryan: Larry, thank you for taking the time to share with us.
If you’d like to check out Larry Correia’s website and books, click here.
Image courtesy of David Moss via Flickr, Creative Commons.