Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.
One day in class, a few semesters ago, I was teaching about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire when a student raised his hand. As students rarely tend to ask questions (or stop by to visit during office hours), I stopped mid sentence and bid him to speak.
“What’s it like being a firefighter?” he asked.
I started to give him my usual stock answer which doesn’t actually the question because it’s a difficult one to put into words. He interrupted me and said, “No! I don’t mean the bullshit answer you give everyone. I want to know what it’s really like.” And that got me to thinking. The feeling itself is what it feels like. I’ll explain:
It’s the feeling you get when the house lights kick on at 1:58 in the morning. You hear a bit of static from the loudspeaker and then three beeps. You leap out of bed and stagger to the pole, wiping sleep from your eyes, as you hear the dispatcher’s deadpan voice reading the assignment. “Battalion One, Engines 1, 3, and 5, Ladder 1, Rescue 1, Medic 4. Respond on Box 415. 5th Street at Franklin Avenue. Box Alarm Assignment. House Fire.” You slide down the pole, step into your boots, hitch up your pants, and shrug your arms through your suspenders. The engine coughs to life as you climb into the cab and throw your coat on. You can smell smoke in the cold night air as you pull out of the station, threading your arms through the straps of your air pack and placing the helmet on your head at an appropriately jaunty angle. In the distance, you can see a dull glow against the night sky as the radio crackles to life and you hear the dispatcher say “Confirming stills on Box 415. Report of occupants trapped.” Now, in this exact moment as you speed through the darkened streets with siren howling as you catch the reflection of your emergency lights in the vacant store front windows, there is nowhere else you would rather be than right there in that seat headed to that fire.
That feeling, Dear Readers, is what it’s like to be a firefighter. It’s the same feeling, no matter if you worked in 1819, 1919, 1999, or 2019. It’s the same feeling, no matter if you work in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Houston, New Orleans, or the myriad of cities and towns in between. It’s the same feeling, no matter if you work in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, Australia, or Antarctica (yes, there is a fire department in Antarctica!). It’s this feeling that creates the bond that transcends time or distance, and binds all firefighters together, no matter where or when we worked. It’s a feeling we crave, and a feeling we desperately miss when we retire.
And so there you have it. That’s what it feels like to be a firefighter. I’m happily retired, but I’d give anything to slide the pole one more time. Just one more time…..
And…..apparently this is my 100th Post! Thank you to all my old and new friends!
You’ll notice a tab to a new page on the blog called Fiction on Fire. I want to assemble a collection of every novel about firefighter written by firefighters that I can find. There are a whole bunch of non-fiction books about the job written by those who do it, but there are not many firefighters who write novels about firefighting. That’s why I want to come up with a comprehensive list of them. I do have quite a few already that I will be adding over the next couple of days, but if you know of any, please leave them in the comments or email me at leehutchauthor @ outlook.com (no spaces, of course). Again, I’m looking for FICTION about FIREFIGHTING written by FIREFIGHTERS. Let’s see how big a list we can compile!
As the title of my work in progress, Molly’s Song, does, in fact, reference music, I thought I might take pen in hand to tell you what playlist I’ve listened to whilst I’ve been working on the book. Some of the songs are historical ones, and other ones are modern ones which fit the tone and subject matter. A few of the historical songs make an appearance in the book as well. (Only the public domain ones, of course.) So, without further delay, here is the somewhat long list (with links in case you’d like to listen). For those brave enough to read on to the very end, you’ll learn what Molly’s Song actually is!
Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. As I discussed in a previous post, this is, in fact, the song that inspired the book when coupled with the photos of the unnamed 19th Century prostitute. In particular, the verses which state “It seems no one can help me now/I’m in too late there’s no way out” and also “Can you help me remember how to smile/Make it somehow all seem worthwhile”. It would be a grand thing indeed if Molly’s Song makes it to the big screen. And if it does, I really hope they select this as the theme song. Have a listen to it here.
Young Trooper Cut Down in His Prime: Traditional, as performed by Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp. This is just one lyrical version of a song that has been around for quite some time. There are many different versions (Bard of Armagh, The Unfortunate Rake, and The Streets of Laredo to name a few). However, this particular arrangement tells of the death of a young soldier who fell victim to a soldier’s worst enemy…..VD. You have to pay attention to catch it though. When the final verse says “On the cross by his grave, you’ll find these words written/All you young troopers take warning by me/Keep away from them flash girl what work in the city/Flash girls in the city have quite ruined me.” A flash girl is 19th Century slang for a prostitute. As much as I’d love to have a scene where Molly sings this song, the truth of the matter is that this particular lyrical arrangement probably dates from the Boer War, not the 1860s, despite the use of Hindi slang for a rifle.
New York Girls was a popular sea shanty which dates from around the 1830s. There is a scene in the movie Gangs of New York where you can hear it performed by Finbar Fury. However, I’ve not been able to determine when the lyrics in that version were written as every other version I’ve heard has different ones. As this is a traditional song, it does make an appearance in the novel. When called upon to sing a tune at her new place of employment in New Orleans, Molly chooses this one. The verse mentioned in the novel is as follows “Come all you young sailor lads/Take warning when ashore/Or else you’ll meet a charming girl whose nothing but a whore/Your boots and rig will disappear/Your hard earned cash as well/For Yankee girls is tougher than the other side of hell.” My favorite version of the song is performed by the Poxy Boggards.
The Recruited Collier is a traditional song in which a young woman tells of her lover Jimmy who has been enticed into the British Army. The earliest known version of this song was actually called Jenny’s Complaint and dates from 1803. As Molly is in New York City and later New Orleans during the Civil War, all around her she sees mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends who have loved ones off fighting for their respective sides. Also, her older brother joined the British Army and went off to fight in the Crimean War and later in India. Upon his returned, plagued by bad memories, he committed suicide. I’d love to include the song in the book, but I cannot authenticate the lyrics to my favorite version by Kate Rusby to the 1860s. “Jimmy talks about the wars/It’s worse than death to hear him/I must go out to hide me tears/because I cannot bear it.”
Kathleen Mavourneen is a well known old Irish ballad that was popular in the US during the Civil War. As such, the first time we see Molly sing a song, it is this one. If you can listen to this song and not grow misty eyed, then you aren’t human! In the story, Molly performs it for some gentleman who have visited Miss Cecilia’s (the house of ill fame where she works). Rather than quote the song, allow me to quote from the story: “Molly closed her eyes as she sang and let her mind drift away, across the ocean, back to the cliffs of Galway and across the valleys to Belclare. She saw her grandparents in front of the fire, her grandfather smoking his pipe while her grandmother stirred a pot over the fire. Her father sat in his chair in the corner, with young Molly upon his knee as he sang to her an Irish language ballad. Her mother arranged some plates on a table in preparation for their supper. Outside, birds whistled as the sun went down. Then the image in her mind switched to Knockma Hill where she sat and dreamed of being a great warrior like Queen Mauve. A tear trickled from her eye as the memories of her lost life vanished.” Here you can see it performed in a deleted scene from Gods and Generals.
All I Can Do by Tyrone Wells is a modern tune that appeared in the series Rescue Me (which had an incredible soundtrack if I may say so myself). The overall tone of this song sort of fits Molly’s life as she is trapped in a never ending cycle of days….each one the same…stuck in her life of prostitution. Time moves forward, but doesn’t move at the same time. I do think she would appreciate this song, particularly the verse that says “Another night is flying by/somebody’s born, somebody’s died/I wanna look deep in your eyes/I wanna live and I wanna cry”. And, of course, the opening line of the chorus which says “And I can’t hold the hands of time/they will move like they will move”. This truly is an amazing song and Tyrone Wells is a gifted singer. A few of his songs appear in Rescue Me. So have a listen to this one here.
Only God Knows Why by Kid Rock. I admit, this song is my theme song. It sums up my life and how I feel on a day to day basis. Perhaps that is why I think Molly would like it too. For me, the line that says “People don’t know bout the things I say and do/They don’t understand about the shit that I’ve been through” touches on exactly what I think! People judge me based on my physical limitations, the difficulties I have interacting with people, and how I can sometimes shut down for days on end. What they don’t see are the nightmares, the flashbacks, and the never ending physical pain that I endure. And as for Molly, well, she’s a prostitute. People judge her for that without realizing that it was not a life she chose for herself, and she has no real way out. Listen to this song to understand me. But also to understand her.
Galway Girl by Steve Earle is another modern tune (I prefer the High Kings version). Obviously, as Molly is from County Galway, this song is a must for her playlist. That said, the girl referenced in the song has black hair and blue eyes whilst Molly has red hair and brown eyes, but still, “I ain’t never seen nothing like a Galway girl!” Here is a great street performance of the song shot in Galway City in 2016. It’ll get you tapping your foot for sure.
Now, there are a few other tunes that I’m not writing about specifically that I’d like to mention before I get to the song that actually is Molly’s. We have Fell on Bad Days by Rubyhorse, What It’s Like by Everlast, Oh! Susanna by Stephen Foster, The Sound of Silence cover by Disturbed, and last but not least, If I Should Fall From Grace With God by The Pogues. And now…….on to the song that she adopts as her own.
Annie Laurie is an old Scottish ballad. So why is an Irish girl singing it? She first heard the song sung by a Scottish sailor one night aboard the ship that carried her to America. The lyrics gave her comfort, and she memorized the lyrics, later, she sings it herself on the packet ship that takes her from New York to New Orleans. And, in the final scene of the novel, she sings it whilst standing over a grave before she turns and walks away into the mist. There are a billion different arrangements of this song, but here is one you can listen to.
And there you have it, Dear Readers, this is essentially what I’ve listened to whilst I’ve worked on the book.
Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.
If I have learned one thing since the release of my novel, it is that I should have paid more attention in the marketing class I took in college. The “C” I received, coupled with a “D” in Business Law meant that I was in no way bound for the world of business. Fair enough. I was working as a firefighter at the time and thankfully we don’t have to market our services. People always need us and there are a handy three digits they can call to summon our assistance. Writing a book though…….that’s a different animal entirely.
My book has sold well enough to make me happy, though not rich (of course, I didn’t expect riches). I cracked the top 100 in a couple of Amazon categories for a bit. It even won an award and is in the running for a few others. The biggest hurdle is reaching potential readers. And even when you do, no one wants to see a barrage of “buy my stuff” posts. Juggling an author Facebook page and Instagram account is tough work when you are also trying to write another book and go to work every day. I actually think my cat Anastasia has sold more of my books through her Facebook page than I have through mine. Hmmm. I guess that’s a marketing tip for you.
I have to say that the learning curve for publishing and marketing a book is pretty steep. Luckily authors are very helpful to one another, and I’ve learned quite a bit from some of my colleagues. But my quest to land my book in the hands of every interested reader is proving to be a Quixotic one to say the least. Hopefully when the audiobook comes out later this fall it will reach a new demographic and broaden the overall reach of the book.
I do have a great book blurb though. Upon reading So Others May Live, my son reported back to me that “It didn’t suck.” How is that for a slogan? “Buy my book! It doesn’t suck!”
Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves, and one another.
I can’t believe the first two weeks of the semester have already gone by. That means only fourteen more to go! It’s odd, really. Given how much pain I was in over the summer, I dreaded going back to school this fall, something I’ve never done before. As it turns out, I was so busy that first week to feel much of anything other than exhaustion. Then we got a three day weekend owing to the Labor Day Holiday. I woke up hurting that Saturday morning and have ever since. Still, being in front of a class does provide me with a needed distraction, so I’m making due as always.
So what’s on tap for the future? Well, my work in progress Molly’s Song got rather badly stalled for over a month. I’m starting to buckle down and work on it again though, albeit at a slow pace owing to my other commitments. Currently, I have written 19/32 chapters. I hope to have it finished by Christmas Break. I’m also working on something kind of fun, though to what end I have no idea. I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a radio adaptation of So Others May Live. I don’t know why, really, since we don’t really do radio dramas in the United States anymore. But who knows. Maybe BBC4 Radio might be interested since they still produce new radio programs.
In November, I’ll be giving a public lecture entitled A Terrible Beauty: Ireland in the Great War as part of a local library’s Friday lecture series. I previously gave a presentation about the Romanovs a couple of years back and over one hundred people showed up to listen to me beat my gums for an hour! It made me feel kind of important. Or maybe the people were so bored that day that hearing my lecture actually sounded like it might be fun. But Ireland and World War One are both subjects I enjoy talking about, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity. If any of you are in the Greater Houston area and would like to come meet/hear me, I’ll post specific details in another month or so.
I’m waiting for the final audio files of So Others May Live to approve and submit to Audible, so hopefully in the very near future the audiobook will be available for your perusal. It’s going to be really good. I can assure you of that fact. In the meantime, if you are looking for something to listen to, try the series Inspector McClevy, a radio drama set in Victorian Edinburgh. It ran for 12 seasons (though they call them series across the pond) and it is available on Audible in 2 series sets. I binge listened to it this summer. My wife listened to some of them with me, but refused to hear any more after one episode ended with the line “Never trust a red haired woman.”
If it seems that I am blogging infrequently during the semester, it is because I am. Given all my limitations, the long days I put in make it tough to come up with new content. That said, I will do my best to have a new post up every weekend. And, of course, any special announcements will garner their own post too.
Until next time, friends,
I have reached the end of the summer, at least for me. I start the fall semester on Monday morning. Up at 0500 home around 1630. Five days a week. Two hour round trip commutes. Five face to face classes. One online class. Ten office hours (which I spend in vain waiting for a student to visit). Paperwork. Committees. Grading. You get the idea. Back to the salt mines it is! I enjoy it because it keeps me busy. I’ll blink and it’ll be Thanksgiving. I thought now that the summer is over, I might reflect on how I spent my time off.
Starting on the Monday after final exams in mid-May, I embarked on writing the first draft of Molly’s Song. Initially, it was to go to my editor in mid August. I was making tremendous progress writing 3K words a day every single day of the week. I hit the 2/3rds point and only had seven more days of writing left when I realized there was a fatal flaw. A flaw so fatal that all that I could do was ditch the entire draft and start over from scratch. I took one day off to refocus and then started anew. For a while, I made steady progress and was only a couple of weeks behind schedule. Then I hit a snag more due to exhaustion from so much writing. I took two weeks off and planned on getting back to work, but then my summer classes started.
I enjoy teaching summer courses at the college. Usually, I teach during Summer 2 so that I get the first half of the summer off, which is what I did this time around. Summer classes are always good and so are the students. It’s a bit more laid back an atmosphere than what you see during the fall/spring semesters. Some of the students are ours (by that I mean the community college where I work) and others are visiting students from universities who are taking advantage of our cheaper tuition and stellar faculty. I usually have some familiar faces in class who took a different course from me in the previous spring. This summer was no different. I thoroughly enjoyed my students and the courses and they all did very well.
I got very little writing done due to the teaching load during Summer 2, but I did manage to take Molly’s Song past the halfway point. I had to push my editorial deadline back to mid September. And then it happened. Mid-way through the summer course, I developed severe, crushing pain in my knees. Given my existing destroyed spine, any time something happens that affects how I walk (like damaged knees), it sets of a cascade of pain that eventually makes my back lock up. It was bad. Very bad. To make matters worse, the mental demons I fight grow stronger when my pain does. On the day of final exams for the summer, I broke my pinkie finger. For the next week, I moved as though I was in a fog. I completely shut down and I didn’t so much as say a word to my wife despite sharing a small (900 sq foot) house with her. She understands and so when I get like that, she gives me my space.
I managed to get out for our bi-annual before the semester lunch with my best friend (really more like a brother) AJP. He always manages to make me feel better. Usually by sending cat pictures. The following Monday, I went to a knee doctor who prescribed some anti-inflammatory creams for knees which does seem to be working a little. Tuesday was an in-service day at the college, so I spent the morning listening to some presentations. One was on positive professional and personal pathways which I badly needed to hear. I determined to take that to heart and slowly the cloud over me began to dissipate. Wednesday we had division and department meetings which are always fun because we have some good people in both. Thursday was a work day and so I prepared my stuff for the upcoming semester. Friday was a two hour drive down to the main campus for convocation followed by a two hour drive home, with a pit stop by my office along the way. Which brings us to today.
I’m still in a lot of pain (usually my pain levels range from moderate to murderous and I’ve been on the murderous end of the spectrum for several weeks now). Each night I have to encase myself in ice. I liberally apply my prescription cream in the morning and again in the evening. I have some medications too which I take at night. It takes the edge off, but nothing more. That’s okay because the pain reminds me that I’m still alive. I’m trying to stay focused on the good and not the bad. I’ve dove into a huge Turkish historical drama called The Magnificent Century on YouTube in the evenings. (It has a hot redhead in it). Of course, I have Anastasia to help me in the evenings. My wife Elizabeth also helps. I will refrain from answering if I love my cat or my wife more.
My spring semester was very difficult since I fractured another vertebrae right before the semester started, though it was six weeks before I finally found out why I was in so much pain. This time around, it is my knees and back. It seems like there is always something before each semester starts. However, I’m going to try my best to keep a positive outlook. I’ll try to get through one day at a time. Given how busy the long semesters are, I probably won’t finish Molly’s Song until Christmas Break and will send it to the editor after the new year. I’m probably looking at a release in the Fall of 2020 rather than in the Spring of 2020 like I originally intended. That’s okay though because it is going to be a damn good book. Better even than So Others May Live.
Oh, and the Red Sox have played like chicken fried crap this summer too, which also sucks. No World Series for them this year. Ah, but football season is here! My Saints have a preseason game tonight. High school football (my true love) starts next week. And also tonight, we have college football start. Football….how I’ve missed thee! My wife is a Kansas City Chiefs fan. So y’all pray for me.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to meeting my new students on Monday and Tuesday, seeing some of my former students, and hanging out with my co-workers who are seriously kick ass people to be around. They, and my students, make going to work fun. I don’t think of teaching as a job any more than I think of my fire service career as a job. They say if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, and I haven’t worked since I was a kid sacking groceries at the Krogers.
So for all you teachers or students following me, I’d just like to say “May your classes be good or your detentions short.” Stay tuned for updates concerning the audiobook version of So Others May Live. In the meantime, for those of you who like to listen to novels, the greatest novel ever written, which I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog, Quiet Flows the Don, is finally being released on Audible! I think it is the abridged version, based on the length, but it will be out on Monday and you can find it here. Some Sholokhov is better than no Sholokhov! You better believe I’ve already pre-ordered it.
If you’d like more regular updates than you’ll probably get on my blog over the next couple of months, follow me on Instagram. Or Facebook. Though I am also on The Twitter, I really don’t use it to post very much. Instagram and Facebook are your best bet. Also, if you’ve read So Others May Live, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d consider leaving an honest review on Amazon. Even if you hated it, that’s fine too. Tell me why. I’m a big boy. It won’t hurt my feelings. Should you enjoy podcasts, I urge you to check out All Bad Things. It’s a podcast about disasters.
Until next time, take care of yourself. And each other.