Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Weapons of Romance

Don't panic. Despite the ominous title, we will be talking, literally, about weapons in romance novels - a personal journey.

                                                                THE BEGINNING:

 I started out writing for Bantam Books under my own name, Glenna McReynolds, and ended up writing 13 books for their "Loveswept" line of romance novels - and yes, that's Fabio on the cover.
Out of those 13 books, only one had a firearm in it, a shotgun. And not a lot happened with the shotgun.  Our hero would pull the trigger and it would go bang. Mostly, he threatened people with it. That's about all the info I had at my disposal. So here's proof positive that even with zero knowledge of actual firearms, our culture had at least imbued me with enough "gun sense" to give this bad boy a shotgun.

From there I branched out into an epic medieval fantasy trilogy, with plenty of romance thrown in.  The books were absolutely jam-packed with battles and weapons, all of the medieval variety - knives and swords and bows and arrows - all of which can be researched in the secure privacy of your own office with just you and a hundred or so books (Make that 180 books, to be exact.  Yes, I counted them.  They were my best friends for 6 years. )  

But after six years of "living" in medieval Wales (with all those books), I was ready for a break from the lyrically complex language, devilishly complex plotting, and the sheer weight of what is termed as "epic high-fantasy."  Which is how I stumbled into...


I wanted to have some fun.  And what could be more fun than a "Breathtaking...phenomenal adventure!" on the Amazon River?  Truly, not much, but...
The great adventure includes a woman going up the river with a boatload of  guns.  She's ready to start a war to get what she's after - and to help her achieve her goal, I gave her a whopping 1000 rounds of ammo, the most ammo I could imagine anyone ever needing.  Ever.  For anything.  A thousand rounds.  To go up against a rogue army of gold miners and soldiers working on the wrong side of the law in the heart of the Amazon.  

Amazingly, not one single reader ever called me out on that pitiful number of cartridges.  It took quite a few years before I even knew that I'd made a mistake, let alone such a huge mistake.  And yes, I was standing in a gun shop when that epiphany hit me like a ton of...uh...ammo?  Fortunately, no one in the shop had read River of Eden.  Thank goodness they were reading my STEELE STREET books.  Neither my agent, my editor, or my publisher ever had a clue about my big mistake. Ahh, New York.


Note: the name change to Tara Janzen came about because a lot of  folks who read The Chalice and the Blade trilogy thought Glenna McReynolds was an actual Druid priestess, which I loved, but which confused them when River of Eden was published.  So for these much more hard-edged, fast-paced stories about Fast Cars, Hot Women, Big Guns, and Bad Boys, my publisher suggested a pseudonym.  I agreed.  And for you puzzle solvers out there, Tara Janzen is an anagram - Good Luck!

I love action movies, and after River of Eden, I wanted to write romance novels that raced along like action movies, but I didn't know anything about guns, and what's an action movie without a lot of guns?  I didn't want to be the one to answer that question.  I wanted full-on action, and that meant real firepower.  And unlike researching medieval fantasy weapons, to learn about guns, I knew I would have to "get out there in the real world, and actually TALK to people."  Why?  Because there's so much info about guns in books and online, much of it in the lovely slang of devoted acolytes, but without enough explanation to make it usable on the page.. I needed to start at square one.  Thankfully, I found it.

I pulled up in front of this sign and walked into a whole new world.  I had already written the first two Steele Street Books,  about an elite group of black ops soldiers, and had realized there had to be something someone with a pistol did besides "draw" and "pull the trigger."  But what in the world could it possibly be? Sounds ridiculous now, but that truly is all I had to work with.

When I got inside Colorado Gunworks, shockingly, the first person I talked with, the guy behind the counter, had read THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE, the whole fantasy trilogy, all 500,000 words, and so had his wife!   Then the owner came out and my journey into the gun world began.  

Within a half an hour, another gunfighter walked in.  A few days later, I met my first shooting partner, the Gun Diva.  

All of these people have been incredibly generous and welcoming - something I find they have in common with a lot of shooters.  The camaraderie, friendships, and an unending education about firearms, and education and training through many classes and an untold number of hours and days spent hanging around gun shops and gun ranges over the last thirteen years has enabled me to write rocket-fueled romantic suspense novels absolutely chock full of great guns with men and women who know how to use them.

Not every girl has a lot of gear.  I now have gear, range bags full of it, shelves full of ammo, a reloading bench and all the equipment that goes on it.  And I have firearms, my firearms, having long moved on from the point where some guy is picking out my guns (the subject of my next GunDiva blog post).  And the books I'm writing are better because of it. 

The key to my transformation from someone who had never even seen a handgun except on TV or in the movies, to someone who now owns 6 handguns and 3 incredibly fabulous rifles (truly fabulous),  was walking into that first gun shop.  But not any old gun shop will do. I got lucky that day. We have a lot of gun shops in town, and I've been in all of them many times, and I know if I'd walked into any one of  them other than Colorado Gunworks, I would have walked out with nothing more than a couple of  poorly advised suggestions for what gun I should buy, and no reason to ever go back.  Let me repeat that - NO REASON TO EVER GO BACK.  There would have been no welcome, no generosity, no one seeing me as potentially a great and happy shooter, because I couldn't "talk the talk." I would have been dismissed.  With that in mind, I'd like to recommend an article in the October/November 2018 NSSF SHOT BUSINESS magazine, page 38 "The Right Way" - an article about selling guns to women.  I especially recommend it if you own a gun shop or work in a gun shop. Coming across this article just a month after the Gun Diva filled 3 sections of a women's only Guns099 class  makes me feel like the tide has turned,  especially since not a single gun in the whole darn article was frickin' PINK!  

If you're not a gun shop owner and don't work in a gun shop, sure, go read the article, then, for a good time and some great guns, go read a STEELE STREET book.

Best guns and toughest girls in the series are in:
and in:
Happy Reading!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Reflections on Guns099

After a friend experienced a scare at her home, she asked me to put together gun class for a few of her friends. Well, an informal class for a few of her friends turned into something much more and I ended up scheduling three classes.

My goal (and my friend's goal) was to make the ladies who attended far more comfortable with the idea of guns, and to learn to use them safely. I went to work putting together a curriculum that would put the students at ease and answer some of the questions I've heard over and over. I thought back to questions and concerns I'd heard during other classes and started with very basic knowledge: things that oftentimes instructors - even instructors who teach at what they think is the very basic level - assume that their students already know. This assumption of knowledge creates fear or frustration for students who have never seen, or handled, a gun in real life. My primary goal became to give these ladies that information so that they would feel comfortable and confident in attending a basic pistol course.

As a general rule, I'm not really a fan of segregating classes, but I also know that for a lot of women it can be intimidating to walk into a class of men, especially if they already feel intimidated by the course material. I thought back to everything I'd learned during my shooting career and tried to boil it down to exactly what these women would need to know.

My outline looked something like this:

  • animation of a semi-auto pistol (We want to know *why* something works. Sometimes, explaining it brings clarity, but seeing how it works in a safe manner - with a cut-away animation - usually explains things better than I can with words.)
  • auto vs. semi-auto (I found this important because the media can't seem to get it right. If I had the opportunity to straighten out a few misconceptions, by God, I was going to take it.)
  • pistol vs. revolver
  • long guns (single shot, bolt, semi-auto)
  • 4 rules of gun safety (We discussed, in depth, the why behind each rule and the reasons for the redundancy in the rules. I also explained that they would run into instructors who use different verbiage for the rules, but like the Golden Rule, the basis is the same.)
  • gun store etiquette
  • basic range commands
  • how to clear a gun (I tried to drill it into the students that *every* time they pick up or receive a gun, they needed to clear it for themselves.)
  • how to pass or receive a gun (and then clear it - "trust, but verify")
  • how to load a magazine (and the differences between a single stack and a double stack magazine)
  • how to load/unload a gun, using snap caps
  • basic grip
  • basic stance
  • basic trigger control
As you can see, what the outline contains are things that we, as shooters, take for granted, but at one some point we had to learn all of this. In fact, I found out from several women who had been "taught" to shoot by friends or family members that they didn't even learn these basics.

I used judge the fuck out of anyone who handed me a gun without clearing it first. 

I did. 

However, after teaching this class I realized that's a skill I picked up while working at the gun shop, it was never anything that was taught to me. That changed my attitude. If someone hands me a gun without clearing it, that gives me the opportunity to teach them how to do it safely. That said, if I teach someone to clear a gun before handing it to me and they get defensive or refuse to do it, that's someone I don't need to shoot with.

I believe in teaching in "baby steps" - I broke our hands-on portion down to small tasks that we spent time conquering before we added anything new. We started with clearing a gun, passing it, receiving it, and clearing it again. Once everyone was comfortable with that, we added loading magazines with snap-caps, then loading and unloading the gun using the same four steps we used to clear it (safety - magazine - chamber - safety). When the students were comfortable with that, we added in grip, stance, and trigger control.

By the time we went out to the range, we'd put it all together. I added range time simply so they could see how the steps fit together; they only shot a total of ten rounds - enough to give them some confidence, but not so much to fatigue them.

I considered the classes a success based on the smiles and confidence the women portrayed. Several of the women went on to take a basic pistol class and thanked me for what they learned in Guns099.

I believe Guns099 is an important course for *any* shooter, not just new women shooters. Instructors, maybe consider adding some of these basic steps into classes that you teach. You may find that your students respond positively.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Feeding the hungry

People may not realize it, but hunting is good for everybody. Not only do the hunters keep Heard populations down, they also feed their families, but so much of the deer that are taken in this country are donated to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries all over the country.

Sometimes hunters are viewed as only trophy hunting, meaning that they only want a deer with a big rack. Sadly sometimes this is true, but the majority of the time isn’t.  When it is the case majority of those hunters donate that venison to organizations that help the less fortunate.
I know a few processing places that donate meat to churches and other organizations that help feed those in need.
A few of the best organizations that are helping feed those less fortunate are Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (, Hunters For The Hungry (, and Hunters Sharing the Harvest ( Through the efforts of these organizations hundreds of thousands of tons of venison is donated to different charities all around the country.

Take Pennsylvania for example. Through the 2016 2017 hunting season a group called hunters sharing the harvest donated 2947 deer which equates to 120,551 pounds of fresh venison which then turns into 589,400 servings. And take a look at Maryland. Since 1997 hunters And formers have donated over 600 tons of venison. That comes out to over 4.8 million meals being served to the less fortunate. Since 2001 farmers and hunters feeding the hungry has donated 920,000 pounds of fresh venison. In Iowa last year hunters donated 3000 deer, which works out to over 600,000 meals.In Missouri in 2014, 3961 hunters donated over 212,443 pounds of venison.At one food bank in Indianapolis, Gleaners food bank,over 4800 pounds of deer was donated. These are just a few of the statistics that I have come across, but it tells me one thing, hunters are big hearted people that are helping others in need. They don’t do it for recognition, they do it to help their fellow man. It’s a shame that most of the non hunting community don’t know how much hunters really care abut their communities and the wildlife. We would be in a lot worse shape if hunters and farmers didn’t donate so much meat to those who can’t afford it.

If you do hunt and realize that you have more than you can use, ask your processor if they donate and where they donate,And donated a little bit to those in need. You’ll still be out there hunting and feeding your family, but you will also be helping somebody else. To those nonhunters don’t just judge us by what you hear and see on TV, or from people who don’t know anything about hunting,Know that we are feeding our family and helping those who are in need,with lean organic meat. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Why A "Women's Only" Class?

That was my question when the GunDiva asked me to assist her in teaching a Women's Only class.  All my classes had been with guys, with sometimes a woman or two sprinkled in.  Hence, my shooting philosophy evolved into: "Chances are, if I'm ever in a real self-defense situation, I'll be up against a guy. So it's a good idea to be shooting with guys." 

For example: If you look closely,  maybe you can see the tip of my boot about halfway down this line of guys.  We're blasting away in a CQB - Close Quarters Battle - scenario.  For the record, there is another woman at the end of  this line, the instructor's wife.  (I  have a strongly held belief about shooting with husbands and boyfriends, and it's DON'T - but that's a different blog post.)

Back to the Women's Only class - I, of course, said Yes to the class, because it was the GunDiva asking - a great opportunity for me to learn something, too.

So off I went to the first class with my preconceived notions about "Women's Only" classes firmly intact - e.g. Are we catering to the idea that women can't hold their own in a class with guys?  Is it true that women are intimidated by men, and therefore we're going to "coddle" them into being good shooters?

Three classes later, this is what I observed:  Yes, it is true that some women, especially those who are new to shooting, don't want to start out shooting with men.  But it's not because they are intimidated by men.  It's because they know these three things:

1.Women who sign up for a shooting class know they don't know everything about shooting.

Please read Robbie's "Where Are the Lady Hunters" post from September 17, 2018, paragraph 4.  To paraphrase - Women are better "students of shooting" than men. (I have heard this many times from other male instructors.)  They keep an open mind.and are open to suggestions.  Men can fall prey to the idea that they already know everything about shooting.

The women in the Women's Only classes did not interrupt the instructor to highlight something they knew that the rest of the class was just learning. They did not ask questions"above the level of the class" to prove how much they knew, or thought they knew,  which can  be a disservice to the other students, especially if the instructor gets sidetracked without finishing up the original idea.

The women in all three classes cooperated with the instructor, letting her be their guide, helping to create a very positive learning environment and a very positive experience.

2. The women knew they were in the class to learn.  They were not there to compete with each other.  They weren't there to prove anything, except perhaps to themselves.   

3.  Many of them knew what it was like to go shooting with their husband or boyfriend.  And at best, they shot a gun and learned a little, enough to whet their appetite for more knowledge.  At worst, a woman shooting with her husband or boyfriend will have a miserable experience and learn nothing, because husbands and boyfriends are rarely qualified shooting instructors, very , extremely  rarely.  One exception is the husband of the woman you can't see at the end of the line in the photo at the beginning of this post.  Her highly qualified shooting instructor husband treated her like everyone else.  She held her own, kicked butt for two days, and did a great job of shooting.

One of the things that most impressed me about all the women who came out to take the Women's Only class, was that they came out to take the class.  They found a qualified instructor, paid their money, and spent the time to learn more about shooting.  And all of them left the class wanting to learn more - with good reason:

The class was AWESOME!

All I can say is, I've been shooting for more than a decade, and I wish I'd had this class before I ever picked up a gun.  What I learned from the class is that what intimidates women about guns are the mechanics, the literal, physical mechanics of the guns, not other shooters who may or may not be men.  Guns are powerful tools, "power tools," and most women don't spend their lives working with power tools.

So GunDiva broke it all down for us, starting with a cutaway animation on "How Guns Work" - everyone loved it.  You could see the "lightbulbs" going on all around the table.  I've never had another instructor understand how important that one simple bit of teaching could be.  GunDiva also explained the different kinds of guns and had pictures - and through it all, she was giving us the language of guns, the language of shooters in the simplest of terms, stuff it took me far too long to sort through, because in most "Beginning Classes" this is all presumed knowledge.  The same with "What is a Safe Direction In a Gun Shop?"   That generated a lot of great questions, and GunDiva had well-formed answers that increased the confidence of each one of the beginning shooters.  She made them feel safer about handling guns.  More than that, she actually made them safer gun handlers.

During the hands-on part of the class, the students had the opportunity to load magazines and rack the slides on the pistols we were using.  These can be initially awkward and/or difficult moves.  But we took the time to get it right.  Took the time for the students to feel comfortable with those mechanical manipulations of the weapons, before we went out to the range. 

And even though this wasn't a marksmanship class, everyone shot pretty darn well, and a few were excellent!

In truth, I know men who aren't mechanical, don't work with tools, and don't have a clue how a gun works.  They probably need their own class, too.  Maybe a "'Men Who Can't Run A Power Tool' Only Class."  And I can't help but wonder:  Will they be intimidated by women shooters?

Oh, hell, yeah!