I scan my cluttered writing space and it’s clear why I so often retreat to “The Office” – the other office. That’s what I call my local Starbucks, where the friendly staff knows my “usual,” chats with me about their lives and my books, and feeds me a pretty eclectic mix of music that lets me avoid getting captured in my own music, a constant danger when I listen to favorites (which the iPhone/iPod sometimes makes too easy). But there are those times I haunt the lower level office that bears the weight of my book collection, thousands of books on thirty-odd bookshelves, plus crooked stacks on tables, and even the floor. As a writer (or more honestly, hoarder) I tend to save everything. But it’s not only the clutter that’s distracting – it’s all the toys and, um, weaponry I’ve collected over the years that can force me to diverge from a carefully thought out writing session.
So why would an avowed pacifist collect weapons, anyway?
Even as a kid, I was always interested in history, and military history grabbed me the hardest. Let’s call it an interest in “conflict.” Later I would learn to enjoy most those stories blending the historical with the fictional. But it wasn’t only historical elements that excited and inspired me to explore various eras. As a writer, I’ve learned that the best hook any story can hold out to snag readers is conflict. Sure, you need interesting characters, but without some conflict they’re just sitting there gazing at their navel rings, right? A bit of war or fighting or crime or bullying goes a long way to making those characters even more interesting. And because conflict all too often leads to the use of weapons, I’ve been drawn to the technology of war and aggression.
This is why if you look around my office, you can chart my fascination with conflict. You can spot four working replicas of .44 caliber Civil War six-shooters (all of which have been christened by black powder and lead ball). But that’s not all. There is a series of covert daggers and fighting knives including a Sykes-Fairbairn, several bayonets and a brass-knuckles-topped trench knife-style combat blade, throwing knives, and more folding blades than I can count. A set of rather sharp hira-shuriken (throwing stars), a blowgun, several crossbows (one of them a crossbow pistol), a four-foot razor-sharp replica of a hand-and-a-half medieval sword, a Gurkha knife replica, an ABS plastic knife (designed to elude metal detectors!), lead-weighted gloves for dirty fighting, several realistically styled CO2 air pistols including one with a laser sight, a couple pump pellet guns, and a more standard gun cabinet with a selection of firearms. The place oozes books and weapons.
And if I had a bottomless budget I’d go even farther and indulge my interest in, for instance, German military handguns such as the Mauser Broomhandle with the wooden stock/holster, the P-08 pistol better known as the Luger, and others like the P-38. I’d invest in one of the better katana replicas. And I’m definitely in need of a compound bow, preferably one with a laser sight.
It occurs to me that a search warrant would probably land me in hot water – I’d become one of those guys. You know, with the strange arsenals. The neighbors would say: “He was quiet, kind of a loner… I never imagined…” Sure, try to explain your fascination is based on history and research. But how can your characters use a weapon you’ve never even held? Anything can be faked, but your fiction will always be more convincing if you’ve handled the hardware.
My writing cave is also home to my other passion, represented by some vintage synthesizers and a Hammond M-3 tone-wheel organ that needs work (it’s like a classic car project). Just a few steps away from the books and the weaponry lies a wasteland of decidedly less deadly hardware: a group of 4 Korg synths, a Roland digital piano, an ARP Axxe and Sequencer, a couple Casio synths, some Proteus and Yamaha rack modules, a PAIA Vocoder, and my more recent additions: a Kaossilator and a theremin.
When I’m in the home cavern, I can look around and see my werewolf cop hero Nick Lupo’s two main interests: weapons and prog rock. And I can get lost in them myself, because so much of Lupo is me, minus the lycanthropy. Then again, when I need to just work, I’m better off at the other office, where I won’t get distracted by all the toys. It’s a constant struggle against my childish urges. But do I really want to grow up? I’m not sure writers ever really do. Or should.