Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: We’re floored by the fury in “Our Sweet, Quiet Boys” and its attention to the incredibly real, tragic circumstances that it shows. Would you talk about how your personal experiences might have influenced this essay and how you decided what data to include?

Megan Doney: Tragically, there are so many familicides to select from. When the Utah familicide occurred last January, I was aghast at the way the murderer was eulogized, yet wholly unsurprised by the details that emerged in the aftermath: that his wife had recently filed for divorce and there was a history of physical abuse in the family. Misogyny and family violence are closely linked to mass firearm violence; this connection is well-documented.

I was driving home from work yesterday thinking about these questions, when a truck passed me. On its back window was a sticker with the image of a bullet and the caption “Just The Tip, I Promise.” My God, I thought. Imagine making a rape joke and a shooting joke all at once, and a culture that normalizes that. 

I was very taken with the story of the Furies as dispensers of mythological, retributive justice. That may be a role of all myths, to offer people a symbolic way to reclaim power when the world they live in can’t offer any.

RR: We admire how you’re able to elicit a strong response on a topic that many readers may have become desensitized to. Did you have that in mind as you wrote, and how did you approach integrating empathy within the narrative?

MD: I’ve found empathy a troubling concept, personally. Of course, it is virtuous and aspirational, but it is very hard to maintain, especially, I think, when one does not see justice. Firearm violence is not just a personal catastrophe; it is rooted in culture and society. I can’t speak for everyone affected by it, but for me the large-scale resistance to personal, political, and cultural change is much worse to live with than the memories of the shooting itself. 

RR: In your cover letter you mentioned that this piece comes as a result of surviving a school shooting, and you ask the question, “What is fury but the most reasonable response?” How did writing this piece impact your ability to channel that fury, and did it help you process your anger?

MD: No, I wouldn’t say that it helped process my anger. I love T Kira Madden’s essay “Against Catharsis” in LitHub, which I recommend to anyone writing about trauma & violence. Writing about violence and its aftermath demands a degree of distance and attention to audience that the individual, private processing of trauma or anger doesn’t. You are crafting a story for someone else, a reader, not merely for yourself, the writer, so your attention must necessarily turn outwards.

My fury is not really about my own experience, but about our cultural inability to respond adequately to repeated male-perpetrated violence. After every familicide and mass shooting the news cycle asks about motive. Ultimately, these events boil down to the desire and the means. They wanted to, and they could. The patterns of behavior are so predictable, and as the piece makes clear, these events are almost exclusively perpetrated by men. Yet gender is rarely interrogated as a common factor. And the gun violence prevention movement is largely feminized: it’s Moms Demand Action, for example, not Dads. Though there are men in the movement, of course, more men need to engage in honest, vulnerable, and meaningful dialogue and action about why guns are so talismanic to some men, so representative of power and control, and what it means for all of us when they use guns not for “protection” but destruction—ours and their own.

RR: How do you think writing can bring attention to preventable tragedies? What is the relationship between writing and activism?

MD: Activism isn’t just about attending rallies or meetings, though obviously that kind of engagement is important. I have to believe that writing, and indeed any kind of art, can move people to learn and broaden their thinking. I think anyone trying to make sense of the world they live in through a creative process is also participating in a kind of activism.

RR: Have the other witnesses and survivors influenced you in your goal to spread awareness about gun violence and the importance of dismantling misogynistic systems and, if so, how?

MD: They have influenced me insofar as I have some sense of their anguish, and that we share a desire to spare others. I try to draw strength from their fierce dedication to ending firearm violence and their commitment to long-term change.


Read “Our Sweet, Quiet Boys” by Megan Doney in Issue 11.1.