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Blog 2: The memoir

Don Rogers

(Blog 2 aims to write the book from before the idea through the final work.)

Apparently, people go ape … for strange stories if they think they are true. So James Frey’s novel about rehab languished until he and his publisher decided to sell it as autobiography. Bam. Bestseller.

Our Hero’s best bet for this genre probably is compressing his wildland firefighting career into one telling season. Maybe enough happened over eight years to condense into one to make it work as a book.

It probably would have to be a rookie season on the Los Prietos Hotshots, based 20-30 minutes over the coastal mountain range from Santa Barbara. That would add to the tension. As in, does he make it? Not everyone does.

Our Hero didn’t lose his friend the air tanker co-pilot to the plane crash that started a fire his crew fought until his second season. Near crashes in helicopters came during his first and fifth seasons. True love in the second and fourth and fifth fire seasons. Simple lust the others.

Maybe we can dissolve the camera to the future, as well as the past, to tell this story. Both matter to the rookie year.

Hmmm. This could work. But how to play up the dodge ball with flame fronts? Straight is true, but less thrilling. Still, that’s the truth. Readers should understand how routine big flames become when you see them often. It’s where you are in relation to them that matters. Conditions that push them away, which is the norm, no big deal. Roaring toward you? Sometimes that’s another story.

Humor will prove much the same. That’s the glue, actually. But do we play it straight or try to make the funny times even funnier in the recounting?

The point is to get people to better understand the wildland firefighting world, what I consider akin to a professional team sport. Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Maybe no one does. But I see it. We’re talking deep in the bushes here, with bad buses, bad food, far-flung, often rural playing fields. And dreaming about better opportunities down the road.

This is rich, fertile ground for a book. John Maclean, author of the excellend “Fire and Ashes,” and “Fire on the Mountain,” says the hotshots’ story has yet to be properly told.

Maybe we can tell it through Our Hero’s eyes and ears and memories. Take the reader through the rookie season, or the last season, using flashbacks and flash-forwards to make it taut. Hmm, there’s possibility here.


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