Skip navigation
text size: default | enlarged——servicing readers in 130 plus countries——110 free stories
Genre: Essay
Back to Previous Page Review This Story Share This Story

And In The Headlines Today...

By: Shane Kennedy

Preview and purchase Shane's excellent new mystery Highbinders. Thank you for supporting the authors of WordShack.

I am often asked, "Where do writers get ideas for their stories?" Here is the story of the birth of my new novel Highbinders.

It is such a simple, innocuous question. How is an honest scribe to tell the truth and not appear to be part of some literary conspiracy? To what fashion will a reader react to the revelation that ninety percent of the topics written about by fiction writers are gleamed from stories in the local newspaper or broadcast on a TV news program? The same newspapers and TV shows that will review those very books written on subjects taken from their headlines and lead stories. Remember the sad truism, "if someone has written about it, then someone has done it." Having admitted as much, I might as well provide a working example since it is out of the ordinary for a writer to have the opportunity to explain the inspiration for his writing.

While there are few things that I may declare with certainty, I stand very firm in my conviction that writers are by their nature moralists. From great literature to the meanest pulp fiction, every author is consumed with the desire to conjure up fragments from the human condition in order to debate it, pass judgment on it, and finally present it to an audience of readers.

Such a task is always undertaken with the secret belief that if a writer is not already preaching to the converted, then at least a few readers will be swayed to the cause of the writer. The plot, fictional glue that holds any tale worth telling together, is always based on a moral dilemma confronting the players within a story. The setting is but a secondary issue allowing a writer to choose an environment that can be as concrete or abstract as desired. Players or characters serve as varying perspective in dialogues concerning the moral dilemma.

It has always seemed to me that the most difficult task confronting a writer is finding a dilemma that hasn't been recycled too many times in order to place a personal stamp of judgment on the issue. I admit I am no better then my peers and when it came time to contemplate a moral dilemma for a work that would be my first full length novel, I took a course of action that would serve to be the least cumbersome and borrowed from every day life.

Guns. Why would anyone choose to write a fictional novel around the subject of guns and gun running? For me the answer is simple. The subject of guns and their regulation has developed into a moral issue. The gun has been such a staple of so many types of fictional works over the years that it has become invisible. Where would cowboys, spies, detectives, pirates, and even spacemen be without their guns? The answer is nowhere. Western culture has become so dependent on tales of epic adventure that next to the car chase, the use of a weapon has become standard fare in the development of a plot.

As a writer I admit that I have fallen to this conspiracy of dramatic violence. Conflict is a part of modern society and guns have been used to settle more then a few disputes. The prospective of the gun is usually from that of the end user, the gunslinger who is going to use his shiny piece of technology to defend his liberties, rarely is the perspective seen from the kind soul who, seeing a business opportunity, created the weapon that has made it possible for our gunslinger to extract an efficient degree of justice on the misfeasor in a story. Rarely is the reader given the chance to decide if the manufacturer bares any culpability for the actions of his clients. This is the dilemma that inspired me write Highbinders.

The idea for Highbinderscame from an American TV news show that broadcast an episode documenting a small US arms manufacturing company that was flouting both federal and state safety and production standards with impunity. The reason why this small company could act in such an irresponsible fashion was due to the fact that there were no inspectors calling them to task on their behavior. The TV show sent a reporter and film crew to document everything about the company.

The show started with the history of the company, granddad liked to make his own guns in the basement of his house circa 1910, delved into the lax security at the company's manufacturing plant where the reporter with film crew in tow was able to slip under a wire fence, walk over to a storage area, and then help themselves to any number of assorted handguns left unattended in packing crates. The show detailed how the company was able to undercut more reputable gun manufacturers by selling their handguns at half the price of the competition. What the unsuspecting buyer didn't realize was that the quality of this company's handguns was drastically inferior - a quality that one shouldn't overlook when buying a weapon. The TV show concluded with footage of the company at a gun sellers convention where the sales people of the company lured in buyers to its booth by having college girls walk around in bikinis in order to draw attention to the guns sold by the company.

The corporate culture of the company was, in charitable terms, "sleazy" from start to finish. I found the show unsettling, particular the interviews with family members (it was after all, a family business) who showed no concern about the shoddy manner in which they manufactured and distributed firearms. In typical Canadian fashion I assumed an air of superiority and told myself that we didn't have to contend with people and companies like that in Canada (please believe me when I say I am not trying to be anti-American, its just Canadians are becoming increasingly self-smug), assuming that some department of our federal government must be monitoring and controlling the situation given our government's publicly declared policy of gun control. It was without doubt that Canadian government was insuring that arms manufactures in our country (if we even had any) were behaving much more responsibly that our American counterparts.

Then, as I dragged myself away from the coach and into the kitchen for some pop, the sting of doubt set-in. I had noticed more then a few articles in the newspapers discussing the problem of illegal guns used while the commission of crimes in the cities of Vancouver and Toronto. Where did the criminals get the guns in the first place? Was it possible that our arm manufacturing industry was no better then in the United States? What followed was a disturbing search of federal policy papers, the library, the internet, and more than a few scathing papers written by human rights groups denouncing Canada's lack of control over its exportation of arms. Worse still, was the accusation that there are individuals engaged in the illegal exportation of weapons (read as plain and simple gun-running) that federal government had no interest in pursuing with criminal charges.

Within three weeks I knew that I had a great, though tragic, story that needed to be told, but I was at a loss as to how to combine it with a fictional story that would appeal to the reader. I have always felt that any story about Canada should reflect Canadian society with its mosaic of competing groups and interests. Two other news stories came into play, both from the same newspaper. The first story detailed the disturbing trend that reported instances of racism and discrimination were on the rise in Canada's increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. The second item was a biography of a well-known millionaire who was a true rags to riches story despite the fact that the man was functionally illiterate.

There was, from just three news items, enough inspiration to put together a story with all the elements I wanted. I played around with an outline until I was at the point where I was sure I had what I wanted. The title of Highbinders was the only element that wasn't inspired by news story and happened quite by accident when I was looking in the dictionary for another word.

Some of my more religious friends have criticized the work for having scenes of violence and what is politely called "adult situations" and I can appreciate their reservations, but I consider none of the scenes graphic or lurid and I remind them that Highbinders is a story about lost souls who somehow manage to find their redemption. The characters are not nice people, but they are deserving of our compassion, as the people they were based on are just as deserving of compassion.

Remember, despite what you might be told, many bits of modern writing exist only because the stories that inspired them were ran as headlines in the local news.

To top of page