The Rules of Gunfighting
1. Bring a gun, preferably two.
2. Anybody worth one bullet is worth two.
3. Only hits count.
4. If your shooting stance is good you’re probably not moving fast enough or using cover correctly.
5. Keep shooting until the threat is eliminated.
6. If you can choose what to bring, bring a long gun and a friend.
7. In ten years nobody will remember details about gun make, caliber, etc. They’ll only remember who lived.
8. If you are not shooting you should be reloading or running.
9. Accuracy is relative in combat. Accuracy depends more on pucker factor under stress than any inherent accuracy of your weapon.
10. Someday, someone may kill me with my own gun, but they will have to beat me to death with it for it will be empty.
You will need to know the rules of gunfighting if you are going to keep up with Western Author Rick Jantz. Rick has just released his first western novel entitled “Colson’s Law,” and it’s a winner. Those of you who’ve already read it will know that already. Those who haven’t will soon learn. This interview with Rick Jantz is the equivalent of the writer’s gunfight. Quickfire questions with quickfire answers. Only one of us will be standing by the end of this interview, and I’m pretty sure it will be Rick.
Q) What makes a great cover, Rick?
The cover should be a snapshot in time of a situation the main protagonist(s) is in and should make a statement of what the book is about. Alternatively, if the book is in a strange land or another planet, having a book cover that shows the location would help the reader see where the story is taking place.
Q) What inspires you?
Pictures or scenery that have vivid or unusual colors or are of a remote and desolate place. And people whose faces tell a story are also inspiring and I could gaze at them forever, wondering what their life was like and what brought them to this moment. Finally, interesting phrases or things said in a different way make me think “that could be a story” and likely a title for one.
Q) How do you find “inspiration,” and where does it live?
Inspiration can come when you are or are not looking for it. For example, if I want to start a new book, I typically start with an idea that came when working on one of my other projects. I jot these down so when it’s time I can review all of them and decide which one holds some promise of an engaging tale. If I need to come up with a new idea, I typically start jotting or typing down what it is I want to write about or what setting I would like to write about. As I’m brainstorming, an idea begins to raise its hand and demand that I pay attention and flesh it out some more.
Sometimes inspiration comes when you are not looking. It may come from something unusual someone said or did, from “mundane” happenings in my day that make you say, “Yeah, but what if,” or from something unique that happens during the day. For instance, I was once in a parking lot and saw a toy truck left abandoned in the middle of a parking stall. I immediately thought of the little boy who lost it and wondered how special that truck was to him. A short story was written later that day.
Q) When did you first consider yourself to be a writer?
When still acting and directing stage plays, I was encouraged to write one of my own. I did and was surprised with how quickly it came to me and how thrilling it was when performed. At that point I knew I wanted to continue to write, whether for the stage or a book.
Q) How does a cover present itself? Where do those ideas come from?
As I’m writing the book, I always have a vision of the main character; what they look like, how they’re dressed, how they carry themselves, and what they choose to reveal to others in extreme circumstances. By the time I’m done writing I have an image in my mind of what the cover should look like.
Q) How many times have you started a story without finishing?
Actually, quite often. And that’s because I either realize the story is not developing naturally or because another idea has shown itself through the first story, and it is this other idea that is the story that needs to be written.
Q) What is the greatest writing aide a writer can have?
A dictionary/thesaurus. These two tools will ensure that our words are accurate and give us opportunity to try out different variations of other words.
Q) Who is the most inspiring individual you’ve ever met?
I once attended a workshop that was presented by the screenwriter and author, Syd Field. I found his presentation genuine, and he really broke down the components of a story. I have many of his books and have incorporated his practices into my own writing. For instance, and my favorite, is when he talks about “Plot Points” and how they’re used to “hook the action and spin it around into a different direction.” There are typically two of these in a story. In the case of Colson’s Law, this occurs near the beginning when Rad Colson decides to escort a young heiress west and help her lay claim to her inheritance. The second Plot Point occurs when Rad decides to “strap on his guns” and use his law to triumph over the lawless.
Q) How did you find your writing style?
Primarily through trial and error. It was through writing stage plays, poems, and even short stories that my writing style began to emerge. And I found that I was writing in a “man of the street” kind of voice; meaning, that I was writing to the average reader but in the vernacular of the characters needed for the book.
Q) Define success and how it will change your life.
Success is writing books that stay true to the vision I have of them. From there, success flows from becoming published, including online, and seeing satisfactory sales of my book. That means people see their value and like them. Any monetary gains means that I’m that much closer to working from home and writing more books, possibly even moving into screenplays. Success would provide the freedom to write those stories that I want to tell and will allow me to set my own schedule to do so.
Q) What is a “writer’s” heaven?
Home (or on the beach) writing, editing, and marketing my written works. And then sharing with other writers the insights and knowledge I’ve gained.
Q) What are the things a writer “must not” do?
Preach their views at the world. While it’s fine to include your philosophies or way of thinking, it’s important that writers don’t use their medium to unquestioningly tell people what to believe. Writers can persuade or argue a point, but it needs to be done within the context of the story and by the characters the writer has included.
Writers should not spin their stories out without asking for and valuing any feedback or criticisms they may receive. It may be that the writer is satisfied and thinks of their first draft as a “work of art not to be changed,” but will readers think the same, let alone publishers?
Writers cannot ignore their target audience either. Don’t write a Western if the book takes place in the East or on another continent. Your readers have an expectation that the setting will be in the North American west and that it will involve cowboys and/or gunfighters. Writers need to meet their reader’s expectations of the genre.
Q) Can you tell me what your new book is about in ten words?
A gunfighter defends a young heiress according to his law.
Q) How often have you read another writers book and said “I can do better than that” to yourself?
I don’t believe I have said I could do better than that, but I have said I could write as equally well. I don’t typically finish books that I find are not well written.
Q) Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Start by writing what you know about, whether it’s the genre or subject matter. It is this knowledge that will keep you going through all the hours of working in isolation and then all of the revisions that your book may endure. If you don’t know about it and want to write in that genre or subject matter, then do your research, including if you’re writing about a land or planet that no one has heard about before. There still needs to be some substance in your back story.
Q) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
I try to write in the early to late evening as that is the best time that works in our home, plus I work full-time. If I have a significant amount of writing I need to get done, then I do it on the weekend but prep for it all week by doing research, working on the outline, or simply reviewing what I have in place already.
I use rewards for myself to keep going. For instance, I may hold off watching a movie, reading a book, or even going shopping until I have done x,y,z with my book.
Q) Do you write every day?
Unfortunately, I cannot write every day given our home life and my schedule. But I do try to write or work on my book at the same time on the days that I can. Routine is very important for writers because that helps the creative mind to focus on the task at hand.
Q) How do you begin a novel?
I spend a lot of time on the first sentence. I want it to immediately convey something about the story or the main character. For instance, Colson’s Law starts out with, “Time stood still…but not the gun clearing its holster.” Something bad is about to happen and the idea is to hook the reader immediately into the story to find out what and to whom. I then move into the premise of the story, giving the reader a good idea about the story and the main character but, primarily, showing the reader that this book is worth their time to read.
Q) Do you go through a lot of drafts?
I do at least one complete edit, but I also edit and re-write as I go. And, even though I have a chapter outline, sometimes the book takes a different direction or a new character must be introduced to move the story forward. Then I stop all writing and go back and re-write what I have to so that the flow of the story makes sense and the re-write has been properly built into the plot.
Q) To what extent is your fiction autobiographical?
My book is not autobiographical per se, but I always envision myself as the conquering hero if it was me placed in those circumstances. The characters may exhibit some of my habits or morals if that is what is needed for the story.
Q) Do you consider writing to be a form of activism? Do you think novelists have a duty to address political issues?
Writing can be a form of activism; for example, to one way of thinking or living over another. But I believe that this is only appropriate if it is within the context of the story. Second, novelists do not have a duty to address political issues because those issues and the storyline may very well be unrelated. For instance, the political issues in the time that Colson’s Law takes place are different than those of today. However, what is common is the greed and power-hungry demands of the antagonists. So human need, motivation, and sense of entitlement might be similar in real life and a novel. If so, the author should endeavor to show how their characters faced and possibly resolved those conflicts.
Q) Who are your favorite authors?
Being a Western writer, I like the novels by Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, and Zane Grey. I also like adventure and spy novels by authors such as Clive Cussler and Robert Ludlum.
Q) I’m a school teacher. What can you offer to help me prepare 4th graders to appreciate writing, now and for the rest of their lives?
How to tap into their imagination or their inner muse and that all stories are valuable because we each have our own perception of things. Teachers should allow their students, including at the grade 4 level, to use their imagination by writing or telling stories. And I wouldn’t want to see them graded on their creativity, either. I still remember my fourth grade teacher reading to us the book Big Red. It was a great story, and he read it a chapter at a time, making us want to hear the next chapter the next day. We were allowed to envision the scene, talk about the plot, and share what we liked and didn’t like. The discussion was invaluable.
Q) When it comes to fiction dialogue, do any grammatical rules apply?
Grammatical correctness should still apply, except for when you intentionally change it. For example, in the old Western days, people spoke a certain way; this is attributable to both culture and education. So my book was written in the dialect of the characters as I imagine they would have spoken. That being said, I found I still needed to do some revision because after a while the dialogue written to the extreme that I had written it was becoming cumbersome and distracting. It was taking away from the story, and so I minimized how often the characters spoke this way and only allowed a select few to keep the abbreviated, western-slang dialect.
Keep Firing Bullets With Rick in his Brand New Western Release…