Gregory Fallis on “Red Flag”

Gregory S. Fallis took third place in the 2020 EQMM Readers Award. He is the author of Lightning in the Blood (St. Martin’s) and Dog on Fire (Amazon), as well as non-fiction books on crime and investigation. Here he talks about the tragically timely story “Red Flag,” which will appear in AHMM’s March/April issue (on sale 2/15/21)

How did you come to write this story?

When the good people at AHMM ask you to consider writing a blog post for Trace Evidence, they include a few potential “prompts” to help you find a topic. This is the first and most obvious prompt. It should be easy to answer. But it’s not.

Red Flag is a story about one person’s attempt to prevent a potential mass shooting in Michigan, which has no red flag law. How did I come to write it? There are easily a dozen answers to that question. None of them are complete. All of them are true. I could honestly answer, I wanted to give readers a compelling story that will allow them a few moments away from their daily routine. Just as honestly, I could say, I wanted to earn a few bucks without doing any heavy lifting. Or I could say, I wanted to educate folks about the existence of ‘red flag’ laws. I could even say, One day on a walk I saw a young girl playing with ants on a sidewalk, which is true, although it won’t make any sense unless you’ve read the story. Or I could say, It’s almost inevitable that at some point your local community is going to face a mass shooting event like the one in the story, and you’ll ask yourself, “Why weren’t we able to prevent this?

Sadly, the last answer literally became true. On November 29, 2020 I received an email informing me the story would be published in the March/April issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Twenty-four hours later, a mass shooting occurred in a Michigan high school. Four students were killed; seven wounded. School officials, other students, and the shooter’s parents were all aware the shooter had emotional issues, had made vague threats, and had access to a gun. A red flag law might have prevented the tragedy. It was the 29th school shooting in 2020.

How did I come to write that story? People write stories for the very same reasons people read them. Readers want to be entertained. They want to feel powerful emotions, they want to be distracted from their mundane lives, they want to be excited, they want to visit worlds unlike their own and vicariously encounter people they’d avoid in real life, they want to think new thoughts and learn new things. Writers want to give readers all of that.

There’s almost no risk involved at all, for writers or readers. The worst thing readers have to face is disappointment in a story. For writers, rejection is usually the worst case. Unless you write about a horrible situation, and it comes true.

How did I come to write that story? I don’t quite know how to answer that question. I’m glad I wrote it, though. And I sort of wish I hadn’t.

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