THE STORY I HAD TO WRITE
Most writers have that one story. The one that’s a slow burn for months, years, decades. ALASKA SPARK is mine. Its evolution has been cathartic as I’ve touched on love, hate, jealousy, pride, lust, envy, wrath, generosity, friendship, ego, fear, guilt, redemption, heroism, hope, and forgiveness of one’s self and others. The stuff of life that make stories fun to write.
I based the story on a snippet of time in my life that left an impact on me years ago. I’d always been afraid to take risks, let alone do anything scary. Then one summer back in the 80s, we were pulled off our typewriters to fight a fire at the U.S. Forest Service, Ninemile Ranger District outside of Missoula. A prescribed burn had gotten out of hand and was heading toward the district.
I was terrified. But…
We worked together to knock the fire down and save the day. The feeling was so rewarding and exhilarating, I signed up for firefighting training at the Missoula Smokejump Base and returned to the University of Montana to study forestry while I continued building a career with the Forest Service and later with the BLM Alaska fire program.
As wildfires increasingly pervade our lives here in the West, claiming lives and property—it dawned on me so much goes on behind the scenes of fighting fire many aren’t aware of. While firefighters train and work the fireline, life still happens: People form close bonds of friendship, some become lovers, and not everyone gets along in the give-and-take of working on a firefighting crew. I felt compelled to write about it.
I read every book I could about wildland firefighting, including smokejumper and firefighter memoirs. I had the good fortune of finding active and retired firefighters who helped me craft the story with accuracy. (Any errors will be my own, as they say in the front of novels).
As I prepare to get ALASKA SPARK out to the world by the end of May, I’m grateful I had the good fortune to experience the wildland fire world. Fire made me grow up. That’s where I realized the meaning of integrity, character, and teamwork. I entrusted my life to my crew mates as everyone does on a fire crew. I learned to pull my weight on the job, earning the respect of my fellow firefighters. Those things kept me going when it was gut-busting hard and I didn’t think I could stay on my feet one more second. I didn’t know how strong I was, how much endurance I had, or determination—until I was put to the test. And what I discovered prepared me for the rest of my life.
This is the story I had to tell.