Q: You've been a writer for twenty years. Why did you wait so long to write about your family?
A: I simply was never able to face this story, much less write about it or examine it. Shortly after Gary's execution I wrote an article for Rolling Stone which served as a sort of temporary psychological exorcism. As a family, we had been through so much hell--the experience of having the most private thing in your life thrown to the top of the world and on the front page of newspapers day after day after day, and in the worst sense imaginable. My brother Gary was a man who had murdered two completely innocent men, terrible crimes that I would imagine irreparably damaged two families; he was demanding his death, and was on a public march to that death. It had become a sensational media frenzy. Just knowing somebody you care about was going to die, then arguing with his decision, losing him--it was all so devastating. For several years before Gary's execution I had tried to put myself at a distance from my family. I felt they were a bad-luck outfit and that my only hope of escape was to reject them. That worked for a while. But families have a way of catching up with us, and what happened to Gary and to all of us in 1977 caught up with me in a big way. Later I tried again to escape my family. I told myself I didn't have to be shaped by it, I didn't have to be known as Gary Gilmore's brother. I threw myself into my work as a journalist. I tried to live my life as if I wasn't a member of the same family. I tried to pretend I wasn't a part of their history. I lost touch with Frank, my only living brother, for ten years after my mother died. I didn't want to go down in the same mire I'd seen them all go down in. I was emotionally devastated by a bad marriage, a couple of really disastrous love affairs, projects started and never finished. At first I never associated these problems with my family. But eventually I came to realize that some of the same dark forces in Gary's life were in mine; we both had been shaped by a longing for family, a longing that broke each of us but in different ways. I began to see the patterns and realized that if I didn't figure out where I learned these patterns, I would never be able to go on with my life in a positive way.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with Shot in the Heart?
A: I want to reinforce that the violence visited upon your children and the people you love is the violence that in some sense never ends, and that we all pay for it. This is why the world we live in is not a safe world: it is because the violence in our homes has not only gone on too long, it has been too protected, and it is still largely unexamined.
On a more personal level, I know that many people will see this as a book about Gary Gilmore. I cannot control that, but I do not think that is what it is. I think it is a book about the family that Gary Gilmore came from--a family not as dissimilar to many families as many of us would like to believe. When we look at violence in our society, and read the cover stories on all the weekly news magazines, that is virtually all the violence that is talked about: the violence of the dangerous streets, the violence of the stranger who will walk into your life and rob you or shoot you or devastate you. Of course this is a real concern and something to be frightened of. But where are all these dangerous strangers coming from, why are they filling up our streets and making our private lives so fearful? They are coming from somewhere and that somewhere is our homes, where this violence was learned...
I want people to understand that murder very rarely occurs as a single solitary response born of a moment. The seeds were sown long before, in the murderer's family and environment, and in some ways we are all a part of it.
1) Families often share private legacies and myths. The Gilmore children grew up hearing family secrets and stories, from the abandonment of their father by Houdini to the dramatic tale of a public hanging witnessed by their mother as a young girl. Discuss the impact of these stories on the life of each parent, and on the life of each of the four boys: Frank, Gary, Gaylen, and Mikal.
2) How did the Gilmore family deal with feelings of anger and pain? What avenues of escape did individual members of the Gilmore family develop as a means of coping?
3) Was this story fated? If so, why? What do you see as the various key turning points in Gary's development from innocent child to cold-blooded murderer? What were some possible actions or developments--or turns of fate--that could have saved this family from its violent and tragic course?
4) Children often act out the unexpressed fears and desires of their parents. Give examples of this from Shot in the Heart or from your own experience.
5) What was the most significant difference between the family Mikal grew up with and the one his brothers experienced?
6) Mormonism is the predominant religion originating in America, and is among the fastest growing religions in the world. Is the Mormon religion quintessentially American? If so, why?
7) As a system of beliefs, religion can have the dramatic ability to shape our perceptions of the world. What impact can religious differences have on a marriage? How were these differences handled between Mikal's Catholic father and his Mormon mother?
8) Gary Gilmore was first incarcerated at age fourteen. What was the impact of reform school on Gary? On Gaylen? Are reform schools substantially different today than they were in the 1950s? Discuss the advisabililty of incarcerating youthful offenders. Is getting tough on young criminals a deterrent to crime or a further conditioning agent to crime?
9) Frank and Gary Gilmore were only a year apart in age yet Gary spent most of his life in prison and became a vicious murderer, while Frank went to prison as a conscientious objector who refused to even pick up a gun. Why do you think this was so?
10) How has juvenile deliquency evolved in our society since the 1950s? How has the criminal justice system adjusted to this evolution?
11) Is there a difference between rural violence and urban violence? Which one would you expect to be more violent, and why?
12) We traditionally think of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. Is it possible that capital punishment was an incentive for Gary Gilmore to murder?
13) What impact does the media coverage of crime have on society?
14) What rights of privacy do families possess when it comes to child rearing methods? What forms of abuse require intervention, and at what point is intervention by outsiders (teachers, neighbors, counselors) acceptable and even necessary?
15) What are acceptable methods of punishing children? What do you know about child-rearing practices in other cultures?
16) Who is to blame when an individual commits an act of violence? The individual? The family? Society? How do we allocate responsibility?