My Halloween Tradition

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Dear Readers,

What do you do for Halloween? I have my own little tradition that I’ve done for the past few years. On Halloween night, I get in bed, turn out the lights, and listen to the original War of the Worlds broadcast on CD via my retro looking radio/CD player. Given the fact that my house was built in 1932, it’s quite possible that the original owner may have listened to the live broadcast back in 1938! The original air date was October 30th, not the 31st, but I prefer to listen on Halloween. It gives me something to do, and by having all the lights out and being in bed in the back of the house, I don’t have to deal with trick or treaters. An added plus! If you’d like to join me on this Halloween night, you can listen to the broadcast on YouTube where, thankfully, it hasn’t been pulled by the YouTube police!

Though the stories of mass panic and hysteria because of the broadcast were greatly exaggerated by the newspapers, this does still stand as one of the most significant radio broadcasts of all time. If you haven’t heard it yet, why don’t you give it a listen?

Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

Fiction on Fire

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Dear Readers,

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!

L.H.

Molly’s Song(s)

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Dear Readers,

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.

L.H.

This Little Book Went to Market

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Dear Readers,

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.

L.H.

 

A Writer’s Schedule

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Dear Readers,

My semester ended with my last two finals on Thursday last. I entered grades and submitted all my paperwork. Friday morning I was up bright and early for a doctor’s appointment followed by a visit to the used bookstore I frequent. But this week starts my summer writing schedule, though I’m breaking it a bit to post this. Given the demands on my time during the semesters, I lack much time to write other than the occasional weekend, but only if I don’t have grading to do. So I must take advantage of the eight weeks I have off before the start of the Summer 2 session when I’ll be teaching two classes. So, Dear Readers, here is how my days go, no matter if it is a weekday or a weekend. I guess it gives me a glimpse into the life of a full time writer.

0730: Wake up and build up the strength to actually get out of bed while checking my social media accounts.

0800: Up for breakfast, either Reese’s Peanut Butter cereal or Wheaties.

0815-0900: Sit on the porch and drink my coffee with my feral cat buddy Cravat Cat while planning the day’s social media posts and waiting for my morning medicine to kick in.

0900-0915: Paying attention to Anastasia so that she will let me write in peace.

0915-1100: Write. With a break around 1030 or so.

1100-1130: Write

1130-1230: Break. I usually have a bit of a lie down to rest my back at this point and watch an episode of something….it varies as to what I watch.

1230-1245: Lunch

1245-1315: Sit on the porch and enjoy a Dr. Pepper.

1315-1500: Write. If I managed to hit my 3K word a day quote in the morning, then I use this time for marketing related things for my novel.

1500-1600: Break

1600-1615: Supper

1615-1730: Write, work on marketing items, or plan the next day’s writing.

1730-1800: My wife is home by 1730 and I sit outside on the porch and talk to her.

1800-1830: Shower, take nighttime medication, figure out what I’m going to watch on TV.

1830-1945: Lie in bed with ice packs on my back and watch TV with Anastasia.

1945-2045: Sit on front porch with my wife and listen to a baseball game on the radio.

2045-2200: Back in bed on ice packs. (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off)

2200-2245: Sit on the porch and listen to an Old Time Radio program.

2300: Lights out.

I’m usually up at least twice in the middle of the night for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Pain and bad dreams rob me of sleep. If I manage 6 hours in a night (though the are non-consecutive hours), I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. This is my schedule from this week through mid July when I’m back to the campus for classes.

L.H.

 

Slaying the Dragon

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Dear Readers,

In my last post, I talked about the question that I hate to be asked and why it is a more damaging question than people realize. Today, I thought I might expound on it by talking a bit about my personal battle with the dragon on my shoulder; the remnants of a career in public safety which still haunt the deep recesses of my mind. I’m not going to talk about the specific incidents which helped make me this way, but rather how I dealt (or to be accurate, didn’t deal) with them. This isn’t something I’m comfortable talking about. Not at all. But I hope that by sharing a bit, maybe it might inspire others who are fighting a similar battle to know that they are not alone and that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was just a kid when I hired on with the fire department. I knew next to nothing about the world or about human nature, but boy did I learn fast. The first call that really stuck with me was my first call involving a child fatality. I remember back at the station that day, I was sitting on the front bumper of the engine. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. One of the old timers, a firefighter with 30 years on the job who had seen and done just about everything came over to me. He slapped me on the back and offered me a cigarette. “Here kid,” he said. “This’ll calm you down.” I’d never so much as touched a cigarette before, but it did help steady my hands. Before long I was hooked. I carried a pack in the rubber strap on my helmet. (Note this was back in the day…….long before departments cared about things like cancer. We could still smoke in the fire station and even on the trucks. It’s changed a bit since then.)

About a week later, I was still having nightmares about that call. I found the old firefighter who had so generously offered me a smoke and said “Hey, is it normal that I’m having nightmares about that dead kid? I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.” He seized my arm and rather forcibly dragged me off to a corner where no one could hear us. “Listen to me, kid,” he said, “don’t say a word about that to anyone. Do you want them to label you a psych case and toss your ass out of here? It’s part of the job. So suck it up, Nancy. Either you can do the job or you can’t.” As I was young and impressionable, I did just that.

In the many years that followed, I had my share of bad calls, as anyone in the fire service does. Dead people. Burned people. Abused people. Neglected people. I’ve held people’s hands as they slipped off into eternity. I’ve lied and told people they were going to be just fine when I knew they had minutes to live. I’ve punched vending machines in emergency rooms when the doctor calls a time of death for a patient we’d done CPR on for twenty minutes en route to the hospital. I’ve looked at the families of a deceased victim and tried to come up with something, anything to say, but couldn’t and so I turned and walked away. I’ve been splattered with just about every type of bodily fluid. I’ve seen families lose everything and held their crying children whose worldly possessions had gone up in smoke. I’ve known the thrill of making a save, but also the lows of losing someone. I’ve attended funerals of fallen firefighters. On the job, I broke ribs, fingers, and my back. I’ve learned to accept the severe physical pain I’m in on a daily basis due to injuries.

But while I was still on the job, I never truly dealt with any of that. I just ran from one call to another, to another, to another. I never took the time to adequately decompress, because, as that old smoke eater had told me, you can either do the job or you can’t. It was like a jack in the box. Pressure kept everything inside, but within a month of me hanging up my helmet, the pressure was released and out popped jack.

It all started one night in October of 2013. I woke up in the middle of the night screaming and drenched in sweat from a nightmare. The nightmare was about a call back in 2001. One that I hadn’t even thought about for over a decade. That call was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a few weeks, I was having nightmares every single night about a myriad of calls I’d stacked up over my career. During the day, I’d go teach my classes at the college and most people assumed I was my usual self. But they didn’t see what was just below the surface. As soon as I got home, I’d lock myself in my room and turn up the music to try and force everything out of my head. I stopped talking to my wife. And when she tried to initiate a conversation, I’d answer in a dickish way. Honestly, I’m not sure why she didn’t leave me as I gave her ample opportunity and reason.

And then I had a flashback during class. That was one of the scariest (not to mention embarrassing) things that ever happened to me. Then it happened again. And again. Things continued to spiral out of control. Finally, my wife sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that getting help was no longer an option. I had to do it, or I wasn’t going to make it. I knew she was right, and so I sought out counseling. It took a long, long time to get to where I am now. Three visits a week for a few months, then twice a week, then twice a month, then once a month, and now, as needed. 15 years of trauma can’t vanish overnight. I think all told it was 18 months until I was somewhat “normal”, not that I even know what normal is anymore.

I still have my struggles. There are still days in which I’m followed around by the ghosts of victims I couldn’t save. There are still nights in which I can see them, gathered around my bed staring at me with accusing eyes.  I still get irritable or angry for no reason. I’m easily startled. I do not react well to sudden changes, especially if they involve things I’ve planned. There are days when the last thing I want to do is interact with anyone socially or at work. There are times when a person is looking at me and talking that I can see their lips moving but I cannot hear them because I’m focused behind them, where I see a scene from my FD days playing out all over again. People who don’t know me very well probably think I’m an asshole at times. But I’m that way for a reason. I didn’t choose to be like this. It isn’t about what’s wrong with me, it’s about all the things that happened to me.

All that said, I have far, far more good days than bad days. The true hero of my tale isn’t me. I’m no hero and I never was. I just did a job and got a paycheck. I like to think I was good at it and made a difference when I could, though I more often felt like that little Dutch boy trying to hold back a flood with his finger. No, Dear Reader, the hero of my tale is my wife. The long suffering redhead who has stood by me through it all. When I say she’s my savior, I mean that literally. Read the Author’s Note in my book for a better explanation of my feelings. They are things that I cannot express to her verbally, and so I dedicated my book to her and then wrote a paragraph about her in the Author’s Note. And on the nights when I’m having a nightmare, my other girl (cat), Anastasia, licks my face until I wake up.

My purpose in writing this is to simply say that if you are struggling, know that you are not alone. I thought I could handle it all by myself, but I was wrong and I could have easily ended up making a permanent decision from which there is no turning back because of it. It takes far more courage to admit you need help than it does to act like you can face it all yourself. I also tried to channel some of my emotions into writing, both my novel and a few other pieces. If you read my book, you’ll see hints of my own struggle in both Michael and Karl’s character. I found that to be very helpful to my own personal situation.

Remember this: You are only beaten when you admit it.

L.H.