Meet Kit Carson, a single-mother nurse who packs heat. She works the night shift at the emergency room, and her hospital has just been taken under siege by a shooter. More or less, this is the crux of Linda Collison's satirical Friday Night Knife & Gun Club, the first in a series of stories that will eventually become the complete Kit Carson Knife & Gun Club — a fictionalized dystopian memoir, set in America's new wild West.
The title of the series pays homage to the emergency room at Denver General, now Denver Health, affectionately known as the "knife and gun club" because of the large volume of patients who came in with gun- and knife-related injuries. In 1989, Eugene Richards photographed scenes inside Denver General for his book, The Knife and Gun Club. That book, along with B.P. Reiter's Saturday Night Knife and Gun Club and Samuel Shem's satirical novel The House of God, all influenced Collison's own writing. So far, she's self-published two installments of her serialized novel, uploading them to Kindle and Smashwords.
Collison was born in Baltimore but moved to Colorado in her twenties and raised her kids here. She worked as a registered nurse in Denver for over ten years, specializing in critical care and emergency at hospitals across the metro area; she says being on the night shift in the emergency room is like living in your own world. The characters in her stories are an amalgamation of many of the people Collison worked with and worked on during her tenure as a nurse.
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The protagonist of the stories, Kit Carson, works the night shift at a trauma intensive-care unit. In the first story, Friday Night Knife & Gun Club, Collison opens with the epigraph: "Read ’em and weep." This sets the tone for the series by articulating the absurd nature of the stories that might cause somebody to tear up. By satirizing and parodying gun violence, gun control, health care and just about everything else in modern society, Collison uses the idea of a "new wild West" to make some scathing social commentary.
“I think that’s the beauty of fiction," says Collison. "You can explore the different sides and the paradoxes.” Even today, she notes, the line is still blurred between the myth of the West and the reality of it; her new setting allows for a world where nurses and doctors are armed.
Collison wrote her first story after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. "People starting saying, 'Let’s arm up teachers,'" she recalls. "And I was like, you gotta be fucking kidding me. I imagine my Latin teacher or my English teacher back in high school. Imagining them armed is terrible and ridiculous, and the whole thing is absurd. What if the same thing happened in the hospital and the answer was to arm the nurses? That was equally ludicrous. And the doctors, good lord: That was scary and funny, too! It was funny in an absurd way."
As she continued to write, she saw more stories about various mass shootings. Because placing a novel with a major publishing house takes a long time (and a lot of luck), Collison decided to publish the stories herself. "The world of self-publishing has made it so anybody can be an author," she says. "That’s, of course, good and bad, but mostly good." For starters, it's allowed her to get her stories up and out into the public in a timely fashion so that the stories are as relevant and impactful as possible. By releasing the stories now, she adds, she can get feedback and continue to fuel conversations on controversial topics such as gun control.
Friday Night Knife & Gun Club is full of allusions to the world today, but a lot of the crimes and behaviors are nothing new. “All of this is not brand-new," Collilson says. "It’s old. It’s from history. It’s America, and we’ve got to deal with it.” That's part of why a "new wild West" doesn't sound so foreign. When Collison writes "make the West wild again," she's alluding to Trump's bombastic political dogwhistle "make America great again" and suggesting that an armed-up West is wild, indeed.
The end of the first story is chaotic and suspenseful; although it's not a cliffhanger, readers are left wondering what happens next for Kit. Saturday Night Knife & Gun Club picks up with Kit after she's moved hospitals in the wake of the traumatic conclusion to the first story. In the lurid second story, Collison follows a scandalous political tale with a Stormy Daniels suggestion and continues with gun-toting hospital nightmares.
Collison collaborated with several artists for her stories' covers. Albert Roberts designed the classic noir look for the first one, and Manhattan-based actress and artist Annika Connor partnered with Collison to produce the art for the Audible audiobook versions of both the Friday and Saturday Night Knife & Gun Club stories. Littleton-based graphic artist Farmer Bob designed the e-book cover for Saturday Night Knife & Gun Club. "It’s neat pulling other people into your project. It really helps it spread further," says Collison.
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And spreading the concept further is "kind of what I wanted to do with the whole set of short stories," she says. "Wouldn’t it be great if somebody wrote something from the killer’s point of view? Or the doctor’s, the patient's, or even somebody who believes we do need more guns?" Since nobody has yet stepped up to write from those other perspectives, Collison is diving deeper into the characters she's already established and is also exploring others.
Friday Night Knife & Gun Club and Saturday Night Knife & Gun Club are published by Fiction House Ltd., which is Collison's own publishing imprint. Besides working as a nurse, she's been a skydiving instructor and author of other, non-fiction works; her first books were guidebooks to Colorado called Rocky Mountain Wineries and Colorado Kids. She has written several other novels, but is focusing now on the Knife & Gun Club series; she's already finished the third story.
"I wish that [serialized novels] would come back in popularity," says Collison. "With everybody’s short attention spans — my own included — and there being so much media out there, you can find time to read something short."
Linda Collison will be reading from her third installment to Knife and Gun Club on Friday, August 31st at 7 pm at North Shore Bar & Grill, 7444 W. Chatfield Ave. Suite D, Littleton, CO 80128.