Back in 2016 the, newly appointed Editor of Shooting Sports USA, John Parker,emailed me confirming that I would cover the NRA Outdoor Smallbore Rifle Championships. Former editor Chip Lohman, who had been recently promoted to Deputy Executive Director of NRAPublications, had me on a regular reporting ‘beat’ with a pretty free hand.
A new editor means change so I asked John what my word count would be for the three phase championship. The reply was 1200-1500 words. I was stunned, a list of the members of the Dewar and Randle teams alone would eat up five percent of my allotment.
It seemed I would have to become the Hemingway of smallbore with spare, tight prose. It might not be as difficult as I thought because Hap’s Cornersare written under the constraint of two sides of a sheet of paper, about 700-800 words.
Later, at a family gathering, I happened to mentioned this event to my cousin Harvey, an urbane Emmy winning documentary film editor. Harvey is about six or seven years older and a product of New York City while I am a small town mouse.
I remember a long ago visit to the family in New York during Harvey’s freshman year of college. He was a very smart young man but was, understandably, a bit full of himself because of his rarified academic altitude. After all his older sisters had both gone to the local Long Island University, in Brooklyn, to be teachers. He was living the academic dream at Columbia, on Morningside Heights, on the upper west side of Manhattan.
After dinner he was showing off by musing on great literary names such as Kafka, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Burroughs. A jejune 12-year-old I eagerly piped up that I was also familiar with Burroughs. Harvey’s eyes rounded and his eyebrows arched in surprise until he quickly realized that his Burroughs was the drug addicted William Seward, author of the recently banned salacious novel Naked Lunch, and mine was squeaky clean Edgar Rice, creator of TarzanandJohn Carter of Mars.
Now, a half century later, we were on a more or less even academic and professional footing. I had mentioned the problem of condensing so much shooting activity into so few words and Harvey related he had the same issues in film editing. Falling back on a lesson learned in a philosophy class he found that Occam’s Razor served him well in editing. Simply put Occam’s razor slices through a problem or situation and eliminates unnecessary elements.
My brother Steve, a philosophy major, had been listening and interjected, in Latin no less, professorially pontificating, “Yes, Hans-Johan Glock regards lex parsimoniae, The Principle of Parsimony-it is pointless to do with more what is done with less-as one of the cornerstones of Ontology.”
The two cousins were intellectual rivals of a sort, made not so by natural combativeness but rather by competitive aunts whose college dreams were crushed by the Great Depression. They vicariously lived the academic life through their children and did family one-upmanshipthrough these surrogates. I knew where this discussion was going and tried to make my escape for I knew the cerebral waters would soon rise and close over my head.
Harvey laid his hand upon my shoulder blocking my flight and said, “Steve mentioned Glock, and while I am sure he is not a member of the firearms family his name does remind me of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle.’ I am sure, that as a writer, you are familiar with Chekhov, the great Russian playwright.”
He had me there, my only experience with check off was placing tick marks next to tasks I had completed on the extensive ‘Honey Do List’ provided by my child bride Margaret. But, if this Russian writer had a rifle, a Mosin-Nagant M91 no doubt, I’d be interested.
I was disappointed to find playwright Chekhov, also a doctor, owned no firearms. It seems that Chekhov’s Rifle is a literary trope. Harvey explained that Chekhov believed that if you wrote that there was a rifle hanging on the wall in the first chapter of a story, in the second or third chapter it must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there in the first place. Chekhov influenced Hemingway with his six tenets of writing; no excessive verbiage; objectivity; accurate description; extreme brevity; audacity; and compassion.
So I emulated both Chekhov and Hemingway in my report on the 2016 Smallbore Championship. I eliminated anything that had no relevance to the story as would Chekhov. In Hemingway’s style I used short words, straightforward sentence structure, vivid descriptions, and factual details. To tell the entire tale, which included the title and, of course, my byline as well as classical references to Dante Alighieri’s The Devine Comedyand Robert Browning’s first published work, Men and Women,just 1,278 carefully chosen words were used.
Hemingway wrote, “For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”
Let’s hope the reader finds that I have been lucky.