Never Underestimate a Writer

My guest today is fellow Tirgearr author Elaine Dodge, and she’s here to talk about her research trip for her debut novel, HARCOURT’S MOUNTAIN. My husband and I are going on a research trip of our own for RACKED (working title), Book 3, Grafton County Series. But I’ll be back to mingle in the comment section. In the meantime, enjoy Elaine’s funny trip to the Wild West. The good ol’ boys never saw her coming. You go, girl!

Impressing Men with Guns

Impressing Men with Guns

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I was in the middle of writing my first (published) novel, HARCOURT’S MOUNTAIN, and needed to know first-hand the difference between firing a Colt, a rifle and shotgun. Being a proposal writer at the time, I’d had “get the facts right” drummed into my head endlessly by the producers at National Geographic. Which is a problem.

Well, not exactly, but it does mean I end up spending hours searching the internet for information. Being a storyteller, I needed to know not just how the guns worked, but how they felt as well. I discovered the Western Shooters of South Africa.

According to their website, they’re only interested in guns that were used to tame the Wild West. As HARCOURT’S MOUNTAIN is set in 1867 in British Columbia, Canada, these were the people I needed to talk to. They were keen to help, but I had to come to the range suitably attired. I could see in their faces I hadn’t tried hard enough. I made up for it in enthusiastic gratitude – I hope.

They met at a small range hidden in a disused storm drain in the middle of the bush. One that is also used by men who like to waste bullets with modern weapons and would arrive at the range just after lunch. So, our time was limited. Unfortunately, it took me longer to get there than I’d thought and it didn’t help that I’d gotten lost. Not a good start.

Teaching me how to load the three guns, and letting me use them ate into their limited and almost sacrosanct shooting time. So, I paid attention.

A half-dozen men gathered, as nonchalantly as they could. I was a newbie, I was female and I was messing with their Saturday shooting. Their antagonism was palpable. Did I mention this was in an abandoned storm drain, which nature was taking back with a vengeance? Half a dozen men, all armed, suddenly seemed a tad intimidating, even if they were wearing fake cowboy gear and using guns that were authentically of the era – old, in other words.

The gentleman, although I’m sure he’d prefer to be called the gunslinger, pointed me in the direction of the target – about halfway down the drain, and stepped away. I’d watched a lot of Westerns in my time, and while other girls at school were reading Mills and Boon, I was reading Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. I knew how to stand when using a shotgun. At least I got that right.

The speed at which the gun went off when I pulled the first trigger shocked me. I hadn’t been expecting it to go off that quickly. The shot went wide. There was a snigger behind me from the group. One of the men walked off in disgust. My trainer, though irritated, was very patient. He explained what had happened and told me to try again, this time using the second trigger. Thankfully, this bullet flew out in the time I anticipated.

I didn’t like the shotgun. Information wise, I had what I needed. He handed me the rifle.

The men behind me were getting bored. I “channeled” my inner Annie Oakley and lifted it to my shoulder. I refused to be rushed. I squeezed the trigger, counted to five and lowered the gun. There was silence behind me. I wasn’t sure why till someone said, “Beginner’s luck.” My trainer went and moved the target further away. He took the gun from me, reloaded it and handed it back. “Try again.”

Impressing Men with Guns

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“Did she hit it?” asked one man squinting down the storm drain.
Someone must have nodded.
“Bet she can’t do it again.”
The target was now at the far end of the storm drain. I lifted the rifle. I could feel the men lean forward.

This time, the silence behind me had depth. When he smiled at me, I knew I’d “done good.” Someone behind me swore. “Want to try the Colt now?” the gunslinger asked. Duelling distance away, on an empty, rusting oil barrel, he set a squat, heavy, five-litre milk container full of water and handed me the revolver. A lovely piece, a long barrel and an ivory inlaid grip. It looked familiar. It felt right sitting in the palm of my hand. Almost as if it had been my gun…once upon a time.

No one had to ask if I hit it. The plastic container jerked. A thin stream of water shot out. If it had been a man, I would have shot him just below his collar bone.

The next wave of shooters had arrived, bringing with them the modern weapons they preferred. They had a bad vibe about them. The men and the guns. The gunslinger asked one of them if I could try a few rounds with his revolver. Ugly, heavy and snub nosed, like his gun, he didn’t even answer, just handed it across with a scowl. The sight of the weapon made me feel ill. When I squeezed the trigger, it felt evil. I gave it back immediately. I wanted to leave. I couldn’t bear to be near those black, dead looking things and their violence.  Besides, I’d taken up too much time with the Western Shooters as it was.

To be honest, I think they were relieved to see me go.

After HARCOURT’S MOUNTAIN, my next piece of writing accepted for print was The Man with a House on His Back. A short story inspired by the painting, “The Architect’s Journey” by Allen Egan, it was accepted for the 5th South African Horrorfest Anthology. Not just accepted but featured as the lead story for Bloody Parchment: Blue Honey and the Valley of Shadow. (Note from Sue: Congratulations, Elaine!!!)

Born in Zambia, Elaine moved to South Africa, where she fell headfirst into the local and international broadcast television industry for the next eight years. It was fun. So was winning the odd international award. Writing was an aspect of each part of her career, and it dawned on her, finally, that she loves “telling stories.” She’s passionate about it, so in November 2011, she decided to “wrestle the Rottweiler” and put those stories on paper. Now, Elaine runs a small operation called Elaine Dodge Content Creation, supplying content of all kinds from copy, website development, and scripts to design and video production for both local and international clients. It must be said though that apart from white-water rafting down the Zambezi, she feels most alive when she’s writing stories.

Connect with Elaine on her WebsiteFacebook, Amazon, Tirgearr Publishing, and Twitter: @ElaineRosemaryD  

I’ve linked HARCOURT’S MOUNTAIN to Amazon, but it’s also available on iTunes, B&N, Smashwords, and Kobo.


About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Sue’s short stories and flash fiction have appeared in OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine and numerous anthologies, and her forensic articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly.

In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue’s the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project, and co-hosts the radio show “Partners in Crime” on Writestream Radio Network. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She’s also a proud member of the Kill Zone (see details in full bio — menu bar).


  1. Great story, Elaine! Kudos to you for doing the research even among the “gunslingers”. An even bigger kudos for showing them you could hit the target like a boss 😀 . I’ve taken gun safety classes here in the US, and a requirement is to fire a shotgun or rifle at a target. Not as nice as a storm drain and almost 200 yr-old guns, but a taste of it. 😀

  2. Outstanding post. I own all of those guns, (some several times over) and commend you for your research.

    Sue, I just posted a new Lisa Burton poster, and you tell me your next book is called Racked. What am I supposed to think of that now.

  3. Hi Garry, so glad the blog was evocative enough for you to picture it! I’d have liked to go back but just didn’t have the wardrobe! 😀

  4. I can so see this, Elaine 🙂 It’s always interesting to watch “newbies” reaction to shooting – some are like a fish to water. Sue – someday I’ll tell you the story about the huge mistake of letting my inexperienced father-in-law fire a 9mm H&K MP5 on fully automatic. I’m very fortunate to still be around to tell it 😉

  5. Fabulous story! Thanks for sharing. And it’s a great reminder that things are quite different in real life to what they are in fiction.

    • So true, Margot. I remember trying to lift fingerprints for the first time. It’s not as easy as it looks!

    • Hi Margot, Thank you. So glad you liked it. They are indeed different in real life, which is why I wanted to get it right. I didn’t want someone who knew guns to read my book and be irritated by incorrect facts.

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