I first learned about ADAM FIRESTONE’s unique talents from author Shannon McKenna (check back tomorrow, when Shannon will join us). I was so intrigued, I followed up by email. Since then I’ve only become more impressed with Adam’s knowledge, much of which has a practical application for writers. Without further ado, heeeere’s Adam!
Q&A with Weapons Expert ADAM FIRESTONE
Adam Firestone: *grin* “Weapons Expert” makes me sound a bit like a candidate for Executive Outcomes or the artist formerly known as Blackwater. While it’s not an inaccurate description, I think of myself more as a weapon systems engineer and instructor.
On the other hand, it *is* tempting to have some business cards made up that say something to the effect of “Adam Firestone, Mayhem Subject Matter Expert, Wile E. Coyote School of Pandemonium (WECSOP)” *grin*
RU: Hard to top that, Adam! How long have you been working in the field of weapons and ammunition?
AF: My dad brought home his first pistol, a Mauser Model 1914, when I was about eight. For me, it was love at first sight. I was absolutely fascinated by the intricate mating of the moving parts, the engineering, and the attention to detail. I taught myself to detail strip and reassemble the pistol in about an hour. From that point, I think I read everything I could get about weapons and munitions, even building 1:1 scale models of rifles and pistols. It’s been downhill ever since.
Professionally, I’ve been involved with weapon systems ranging from pistols and rifles to cannons and missile systems since the mid-1980s. I went to school on an Army scholarship, and my first formal introduction to firearms was a ROTC cadet at Yale. Those were limited to the standard Army fare of the time, M1911A1 .45 and M9 9x19mm pistols, M16A1 and M16A2 rifles, hand grenades, and M60 General Purpose Machine Guns.
When I graduated, I became a commissioned Army officer, and that opened up entirely new vistas for me. I was trained, and literally lived, ate and slept heavy weapons including M60A3 and M1A1 main battle tanks, M2 and M85 .50 caliber machine guns, and M240 7.62mm NATO machine guns. I was also became proficient with recoilless rifles, surface to surface and surface to air missile systems as well as landmines, demolition charges and other explosives and improvised weapons and countermobility systems. As you can imagine, this was pretty heady stuff for a kid in his mid-twenties.
I continued my education in the field outside the Army, gaining instructor certifications in rifle, pistol and shotgun, among others. I’ve taught many hundreds of people not only how to shoot, but how to make educated decisions about what sort of firearm to buy based on their unique needs, whether they be hunting, personal defense or sport shooting. I’ve held instructor certifications for about twenty years, and have continued my own education, being trained on foreign military firearms including those of Russian (Soviet), British, German, Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese and other origins.
I also held a Federal firearms dealer’s license, on and off, for about seventeen years, resulting in both exposure to a huge variety of commercial and military firearms and an expertise in the laws and regulations governing firearms distribution and sale in the United States.
Since the mid-1990s, I’ve been designing military command and control and planning systems for warfare areas including naval mine warfare, combat engineering and amphibious maneuver warfare. For the last four years, I’ve been responsible for the complete re-engineering of the systems that plan, initiate, control and evaluate one of the nation’s most important long-range precision strike and power projection weapon systems. This work requires me to have ongoing expertise in arms export control regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
Additionally, a book I co-wrote on Allied rifle contracts with American factories during the First World War was recently published, and I expect to soon begin work on a volume exploring the impact of the US Army pistol trials of 1910 – 1911 on the Allied handgun armament during the war. I don’t advise anyone to purchase these books unless you have a sincere interest in the subject matter, or have trouble sleeping.
Probably more than you wanted to know, huh? I suppose the short answer to the question is that I’ve been working in the field for about twenty-five years.
RU: The long answer works for me! You’ve known Shannon McKenna since you were at Yale together. Back then, did the two of you plan on pursuing your current career paths?
AF: Hah! Not on a bet. Army scholarship, remember? I was going to be an Airborne-Ranger-Snake-Eating-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Shannon was going to single handedly reinvent the medieval music for the modern age. As you can see, it didn’t quite work out that way. Looking back, I don’t think either of us would complain about the way things worked out.
RU: Was Shannon the first author you advised about the accurate use of weapons and action choreography?
AF: Yes. It was completely serendipitous. Shannon had begun to write, and knew that I had a bit of knowledge about firearms, weapons and their employment. In the course of a “Hi, how’ve you been” conversation, she asked a few general questions, and the nature of those discussions evolved into our current professional relationship. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with other authors, providing similar insights and advice.
RU: What are the top five weapon-related mistakes (or misconceptions) you’ve come across?
AF: Wow. Where to begin? Let’s stipulate up front that I’m a stickler for nomenclature and technical terminology. Words mean things. If one is going to make a living communicating ideas – and that includes writers, engineers, educators and people in the media, to name a few – then there is an implied responsibility to use language effectively and appropriately.
“Well, you know what I meant” is not a proper or effective excuse for ineffective or imprecise professional communication. If you don’t know, learn. If you don’t understand, ask – but for pete’s sake, don’t make it up; that just entrenches ignorance. Ok, stepping off the soapbox. Top five mistakes, right?
1. That spring-loaded thing that holds the ammunition for a pistol, the one that fits into the grip? That’s a MAGAZINE, not a clip! Magazines contain mechanisms not only for storage, but for delivery of ammunition as well. A clip is just something to hold cartridges together (think of a paper clip vice the paper tray on a high end printer).
2. The vast majority of modern revolvers, and a large number of modern semi-automatic pistols do NOT have a manually operated safety mechanism (although there are internal mechanisms that ensure the firearm’s safety). Every time someone writes or talks about “flipping the safety off on his Glock,” I involuntarily shudder.
3. Despite frequent use (misuse?) of this term by the media, there is no such thing as a “semi-automatic assault weapon.” “Assault rifle” is a technical term that refers to a rifle that can be fired fully automatically (like a machine gun) at the operator’s choice and that uses a cartridge whose power is between a pistol cartridge and full power rifle cartridge. A rifle that looks like an assault rifle but that that cannot be fired fully automatically, is, well, just a rifle. Put another way, plopping a Porsche 911 body onto a Volkswagen Jetta chassis doesn’t create a Porsche 911. It creates something that looks and feels like a Porsche but still performs like a Volkswagen.
4. Shooting someone with a pistol, even the vaunted .44 Magnum, will NOT cause them to be flung back across the room or knocked down. It’s simple physics – action and reaction. If the cartridge can expel a projectile from the gun with enough force to knock someone down, the reaction would be strong enough to knock the shooter down.
5. One cannot fire magazine after magazine of ammunition through a light automatic weapon, like an AK-47, as fast as they can be swapped out. Why? Because putting a bullet down a barrel creates friction. Friction creates heat. Barrels get hot. After two or three thirty-round magazines fired automatically, the barrel on an AK is hot enough to give someone silly enough to touch it a second degree burn. Fire six to ten magazines, and the heat is enough to char or ignite wooden handguards and possibly to cook off rounds coming in contact with the chamber walls. It’s not an accident that most machine guns come with quick change barrels, or that early machine guns had water filled jackets around their barrels.
RU: I hear that TV and movies often feature information related to weapons, ammunition, forensics, etc. that is incorrect, but that the public perceives as true. How should authors respond to this misinformation?
AF: Sort of a chicken and egg question. If the author doesn’t know that the information is incorrect, how can she or he react to it? I’d like to believe that authors who do know better do all they can not to perpetuate the ignorance. I suppose that the best thing to do is to vet action scenes and technical data with a “reasonably knowledgeable individual” (RKI). If no RKI is available, I guess the author can settle for, well, me.
RU: Sorry about the chicken/egg thing! All kinds of fiction features action scenes, including romance. What are the key things to remember when choreographing a written action scene?
AF: Every action scene is a system that effects a transformation. There are one or more inputs, operating constraints (physical or otherwise), control mechanisms, and an output. The scene takes place in four dimensions – space times three (height, width, depth) and time. Of these, the most important for the writer is time; the reader will fill in a lot of the space with his or her imagination. As a result the sequence of events, their timelines and the linkages and/or physical interfaces between the events are the key things that the author has to get right, if the scene is to be believable.
Put another way, the rifle can’t be fired until a round has been chambered, and the round can’t be chambered unless it is in the magazine. And if it takes thirty seconds to load the magazine and chamber a round, but the bad guy on the motorcycle is visible for fourteen seconds, then the scene doesn’t work.
RU: You also deal with cyber security. What are some cyber security issues authors might consider?
AF: Oh gosh, where to begin? Phishing, denial of service attacks, hacking, social engineering – the list can go on and on. If I had to focus on one issue that makes for a useful plot tool, it might be the inherent insecurity of public WiFi access. When you’re at an airport, a coffee shop or a hotel and you connect to the net through an available access point, in many cases, the connection is unencrypted and your data is being transferred to the access point “in the clear.” While this makes it easier to connect, it also makes it easy for a nearby hacker, using a laptop and sniffer tools readily available on the Net, to monitor and archive all your data, including usernames, passwords and even message traffic, such as the contents of an email.
RU: I’m sensing we could do a whole separate interview on the topic of cyber crime! You offer your services as an editor/advisor to both fiction and non-fiction authors. What does this involve?
AF: In a nutshell, it depends. *grin*
My non-fiction clients are usually interested in language editing – grammar, syntax, diction, sentence and paragraph construction and ensuring that ideas are communicated effectively with an economy of words. It’s astounding how many brilliant subject matter experts have difficulty stringing words together. Given my literary and technical background, I’m in a unique position to help them. We usually come to a compensation arrangement covering the scope of the book or article being written.
Fiction authors are more interested in scene construction and technical advisory services. What kind of gun should my hero use? Can this type of missile fly that sort of mission? How do I ensure that the bad guys are taken out but not killed? Is there a less than lethal alternative? How would that scene play out in space and time? While I’m happy to work on a full-scope compensation arrangement, it often makes sense for these authors to work on an retainer/hourly billing basis.
I’m happy to discuss these services offline with interested parties; I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Adam Firestone presents a full day workshop sponsored by the Ohio Valley chapter of RWA on Saturday, April 14 at the Kings Island Conference Center in Cincinnati, OH. The conference is free to members of OVRWA, $25 for non-members (including a box lunch). The conference is open to all. Contact Becke Martin Davis to register or for further details.
Have you ever personally handled guns or other weapons? Do you feature weapons in your books?
Author Shannon McKenna joins us tomorrow to explain how Adam helps with her action scenes. You won’t want to miss it!
Adam Firestone brings more than 25 years of experience with weapon systems including small arms, artillery, armor, area denial systems and precision guided munitions to Romance University. Additionally, Adam is an accomplished small arms instructor, editor, literary consultant and co-author of a recently published work on the production of rifles in the United States for Allied forces during the First World War.
Growing up in New York City, Adam attended Yale University on an Army ROTC scholarship, and upon graduation, became a commissioned officer in the Army’s armor branch, and was assigned to a cavalry squadron. After active duty he transferred to the National Guard and attended Brooklyn Law School. Completing his legal education, Adam was admitted to a number of state and federal bars and practiced law in New York. During this time, Adam pursued his interest in firearms and firearms education, attaining instructor certifications in rifle, pistol and shotgun, among others. Additionally, he began what was to be a seventeen year tenure as a licensed firearms dealer.
In the mid-1990s, Adam left the practice of law and began designing military command and control and planning systems for warfare areas including naval mine warfare, combat engineering and amphibious maneuver warfare. For the last four years he has been responsible for the complete re-engineering of the systems that plan, initiate, control and evaluate one of the nation’s most important long-range precision strike and power projection weapon systems. As a result of this work, Adam developed an expertise in arms export control regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
Adam has been providing general and technical editing services to authors and publishing houses specializing in firearms books since the early 2000s. Additionally, Adam provides literary consulting services to fiction authors including action scene choreography, technical vetting and technical editing. In this line of experience, Adam has had the fortune to work with well known authors including Shannon McKenna and Elizabeth Jennings.
Check out Adam’s blog here: http://adamfirestoneconsultant.blogspot.com/
- What’s in a Name: Assault Rifles, Assault Weapons and the Deliberate Imprecision of Language by Adam Firestone
- Adam Firestone: Arms Acquisition and Transfer as Plotline Buttress
- Adam Firestone Discusses Packing Iron: Tactical and Practical Concerns for Characters Who Carry Guns
- Adam Firestone on Arming Your Villains While Maintaining Your Credibility: An AK Rifle Primer for Authors
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, January 21-25, 2013