‘From Dallas, Texas’ by MJ Williams
My new book, The Velocity of Blood follows 17-year-old Jack Tolleson as he’s bullied online and offline, fat-shamed, victimized and finally thrown away and forgotten. One day in October, he breaks. In his fractured mind, the only way out is to be the first person to kill a hundred people in a mass shooting. Minor twist alert – he actually does something even darker than his original plan (Lesley Kara: “The ending left me slack-jawed. Bravo!” & Graham Bartlett: “Make sure you’re sitting down when you reach the end. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.”)
Psychological fiction for me though, is driven by characters ‘in motion and collision’ as someone clever once put it. I get easily lost when crime novels have a cast of thousands, so I planned to keep my cast list short. But researching the book made me realise that characters don’t have to be people. In The Velocity of Blood, the states of California and Texas are effectively characters in their own right.
I always knew I wanted to set the main part of the story in California. It’s somewhere I know well, both geographically and culturally, and importantly I figured enough readers would have a connection with it too. Logistically, I wanted Jack’s dad to have a job which resonated with that wonderful sense of pride that Americans feel for their country – but I also wanted him to be absent so I could go deeper on other characters. That led me to putting him in the Navy and that led to California.
SoCal culture was also important. Hollywood underlines just how important aesthetics are and that, coupled with the explosion of social media and perma-connectivity, gave me an environment where body-shaming would be pervasive. Thanks to Hollywood’s global reach, this environment would be universally understood by readers.
Once I started researching the detail of the crime, though, I knew Jack couldn’t source the gun in California. The kind of weapon Jack would need just isn’t available in California under their laws. He would need to go out of state to get it.
But why Texas?
I always knew Jack would buy his gun in Dallas. Maybe it’s my generation, but unfortunately, when I think of Dallas, I can’t help but think of November 22nd, 1963 and JFK. There’s so much more to Texas and Dallas than that (great food, sports and lovely people spring to mind) but as a writer, I figured if I’d already got readers thinking about a gun crime, then mentioning Dallas in the prologue would hopefully trigger a mental connection with shots fired from the Texas Schoolbook Depository and Walter Cronkite taking off his eyeglasses to check the clock before announcing Kennedy’s passing.
Texas also has a reputation for gun culture. Indeed, the first time I flew into Texas, I did my usual thing of buying a fridge magnet (I have quite the collection!). One of the choices had the flag of Texas, a revolver and the slogan, “Welcome to Texas – we don’t dial 911.” That mentality isn’t unique within the Union, but I didn’t need unique. I just needed strident.
I also wanted logistically possible. It’s possible for a strapping 17 year old to buy a gun in Texas. Totally illegal, yes, but only because of his age, so logistically possible if he looked 18. And the US is not alone in having a side-industry in manufacturing fake IDs so that solved that problem. Legally the easiest way for the sale to happen was via a private sale, so I chose that option.
In keeping with Texas’ gun culture, the classified ads there offered Jack a rich choice of potential weaponry. Texas wasn’t alone in this – there are plenty of other pro-gun states with lots of choice on the used gun market. A number of Texas sellers made clear in their adverts that the seller strenuously believed in the Second Amendment as such, no paperwork would be offered or accepted. This is perfectly legal in Texas. It made sense for Jack to try and find a seller with this mindset.
Finally, why Texas? My father tells a story of when he worked in the US in the 70s and 80s and was travelling down south. An American colleague closed his advice to my dad with, “Be careful in Dallas, Richard. They shoot presidents down there.”
The Velocity of Blood by MJ Williams is published by Darkstroke and is available on Amazon now.
Read more about MJ Williams and his books here.