Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with firefighting mystery novelist Kurt Kamm. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Kurt. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Kurt: I was a financial executive and masters bicycle racer. A few years ago, I retired, moved to Malibu and woke up one morning with nothing to do. Malibu is beautiful, but also a place of ferocious wildland fires. Three years ago, a campfire burning in a windstorm ignited a fire which destroyed over 100 homes and did $500 million damage.
Morgen: Wow. I often see reports on the TV from the US and Australia, fortunately living in a fairly wet country (although not as wet as most people would think; I’ve only been drenched walking to / from work half a dozen times in the last 18 months).
Kurt: One day, as I rode my bicycle past the Pepperdine University campus, I saw a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter land on the grass and disgorge several firefighters in full gear. I began to imagine what their lives would be like. LA County Fire has a fire helitack camp (Camp 8) in the hills not far from where I live. It is on top of a mountain (in a decommissioned 1970 Nike Missile base) and has fire crews, equipment and Blackhawk helicopters available to fight the fires in the area. I decided it would be fascinating to write a novel about a firefighter starting his career at Camp 8. I was introduced to some of the men at LA County Fire headquarters and I was soon on my way to becoming a firefighter mystery novelist. I was privileged to attend the 4-week training at Camp 8, and ultimately wrote ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK – A Wildland Firefighter’s Story. In the intervening years, I have attended arson investigation training with CalFire, which led to my award winning arson mystery, RED FLAG WARNING – A Serial Arson Mystery. Next, I was privileged to ride with the LA County Fire paramedics and attend some paramedic training classes, which resulted in CODE BLOOD. I am currently taking HazMat classes and am halfway through my new mystery novel, Hazardous Materials. In each novel, I have a firefighter in a specific fire discipline (Wildland, Arson, Paramedic, and HazMat) who has an internal problem, and who is involved in an external, fire related mystery.
Morgen: That’s taking research to an extreme, good on you. 🙂 I’ve got the name of my local C.I.D. Detective Inspector but that’s about it. What have you had published to-date?
Kurt: I first self-published ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK. RED FLAG WARNING – A Serial Arson Mystery was published by Aberdeen Bay, and I saw it on the shelves of a local Bristol Farms Supermarket. My third novel, CODE BLOOD, has just recently been published by MCM Publishing.
Morgen: Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Kurt: No, but firefighters across the country read my books. The most interesting location I know of is an arson investigator who was reading RED FLAG WARNING while waiting to deliver a prisoner to the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Morgen: I’d be very happy with that. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kurt: I have established myself around California as the firefighter mystery writer. Through sales and some Facebook PR, I have a modest profile nationwide among firefighters. For the launch of CODE BLOOD, I have hired a publicist and we are looking at much bigger exposure to a broader audience.
Morgen: There have been quite a few films featuring firefighters (Backdraft immediately springs to mind) and they such a good job, a great subject. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Kurt: RED FLAG WARNING won the following mystery fiction awards in 2010. Honestly, it was nice for my ego, but didn’t affect sales:
The Infinite Writer: First Place – Mystery 2010 http://mysite.verizon.net/resockeb/e-zine/id1054.html
The Written Art Awards: First Place – Mystery/Thriller 2010 http://rebeccasreads.com/WrittenArtAwards2010Winners.html
Royal Dragonfly: First Place – Mystery Category 2010 http://www.fivestarpublications.com/bookcontest/rd_book_contest.html
Public Safety Writer’s Association 2010: Honorable Mention – Published Novel http://www.policewriter.com/writingcomp2010.htm
Morgen: That’s a shame but good for your CV nonetheless. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Kurt: My books are all available as e-books. Today I sell 8 e-books for every paperback. That says something important about where the industry is going, and the implications are momentous.
Morgen: I think so, and so many authors (including myself) have tried the agent route (I’m sure more have done the 11 that I’ve tried) and decided to go that route alone (although hopefully with an editor, as I have). What are you working on at the moment?
Kurt: My fourth novel, HAZARDOUS MATERIALS, is about a HazMat firefighter. He gets involved with some meth druggies / bikers and with a secret aerospace project in the Mojave Desert near Edwards Air Force Base in CA.
Morgen: Oh I like the sound of that. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Kurt: I try to write every day. I average 5 days a week, from 2-5 hours. The time flies by. I can generate between 400-800 words at a sitting. After that, I find my writing and concentration starts to go downhill. I have been carried away a few times and spent 7-8 hours without realizing how much time had passed.
Morgen: Because you’ve been enjoying yourself so much. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? It doesn’t sounds as if you ever suffer from it…
Kurt: I get jammed up over the details and solutions to my mysteries. A three-hour bicycle ride in the Malibu mountains lets me free-associate and think clearly. I often come home with answers and new plot twists.
Morgen: That sounds lovely, although my equivalent would be less energetic (an hour or so round the old racecourse with my dog). A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Kurt: I’m inspired by the bravery of the average firefighter and the weird twists fate doles out to everyone in daily life.
Morgen: And some so weird that no-one would believe you if you wrote about them (two people on a course I went to recently lived in the same town as my mum – over 50 miles away – and they didn’t know each other… and there were only 6 of us!). 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kurt: I have an overall idea when I start. The characters take on their own lives and usually do what they want.
Morgen: Yours sound like mine, and I love it when they take the reins, I get as much of a surprise as readers do. 🙂
Kurt: I have read that some mystery writers go so far as to outline in detail every chapter before starting to write. I couldn’t do that if my life depended on it.
Morgen: Yes, some do but I couldn’t either. For me that would be like writing the book twice. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Kurt: I have an editor. She is a friend as well, and I couldn’t write my novels without her.
Morgen: I have exactly one of those. 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Kurt: As you can tell, it takes a lot of research in the various fire disciplines to be realistic. Especially since many firefighter-critics read my novels. I have had some letters from firefighters who have said, “I know you must be a firefighter, because no one else could know all of this…” Comments like that keep me going!
Morgen: That’s fantastic… and makes the hard work (which it clearly is, although you do sound as if you enjoy it) worthwhile. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Kurt: Apparently each day Ernest Hemmingway wrote a single page, using a pencil, revised it, rewrote it, then quit at noon to start drinking. Me, I’m a computer kind of guy. I can’t imagine writing by hand. And, I need silence, although I have the door to my office open, and I can hear the surf on the beach.
Morgen: Oh now, I’m jealous. I was alright with the bike riding but the beach… my nearest one is 3 hours away. 😦 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Kurt: I love sitting down to write. I also love creating weird and wonderful (and sometimes very bad) characters. I hate the book promotion, it’s so necessary, but so time consuming.
Morgen: That’s one question I almost don’t need to ask because most of the authors have said the same, and it’s true for me; never knowing what’s going to come out… although it does make me wonder why we’re so good at putting it off when we love it so much when we finally get round to it… clearing the decks perhaps. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kurt: Do it for the love of writing, and for your own self-satisfaction. Anything more is gravy.
Morgen: I love that. Absolutely, there has to be passion before the writing otherwise there won’t be any in it. You said you’re based in Malibu (one of my favourite drinks by the way), do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Kurt: I am, in California. The great thing about the U.S. is that anyone can create, promote and sell anything he / she writes. The worst thing about the U.S. is that anyone can create, promote and sell anything he / she writes.
Morgen: It’s the same all over really but I still maintain that customer feedback will lead the way, a writer can only have so many friends and family. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Kurt: I am on various writers’ sites, but I have 5,000 firefighter and other friends on Facebook and it is a wonderful way to network.
Morgen: Oh wow, that puts my (currently) 579 in the shade. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Kurt: My website has some breath-taking fire pictures and information about my books. I also offer free downloads of a chapter from each book on my website http://www.kurtkamm.com.
Morgen: Brilliant, thank you so much Kurt.
I then invited Kurt to include an extract of his writing and this is from CODE BLOOD – Colt, the new paramedic is assisting in trying to extricate a driver (Tyler) from a car which has gone off the road and down into a canyon:
Colt leaned in and again tried CPR. “Don’t die,” he whispered. Colt pumped Tyler’s chest. Nothing happened, the stimulants had no effect.
“Again?” Colt asked.
“Yeah,” Brian said, and administered another round of Atropine and Epi.
Colt began CPR again, but after a minute, Brian stopped him and shook his head. “He’s bled out. It won’t help. It’s over.”
Colt stepped back. He clenched his fists and looked up—as though he were looking for Tyler’s soul rising from his body. A tear ran from Colt’s eye. He shook his head, walked a few steps away and stood looking down into the canyon, his back to the others. He took a couple of deep breaths and swallowed the urge to scream. There was no Golden Hour. There was no miracle. No angels descended from heaven to save Tyler’s life. The look in Tyler’s eyes had sent Colt the goodbye message. Tyler was alive and then he was dead—that was it. Colt wondered if Tyler knew he was about to die. Was he thinking about his family? The damage to his car? His basketball team? Did Tyler see anything? Did he disappear into a tunnel of light? A circle of darkness?
Kurt Kamm has lived in Malibu CA for several years with his wife. He was previously a financial executive and semi-professional bicycle racer. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School, he has used his experience in several devastating local wildfires and access to CalFire and Los Angeles County Fire Department to write mystery novels about the lives of firefighters and paramedics. His first novel, One Foot in the Black – A Wildland Firefighter’s Story, was self-published in 2008. His second novel, Red Flag Warning – A Serial Arson Mystery, was published in May 2010 by Aberdeen Bay. Red Flag Warning has won several literary awards. His third novel, Code Blood, was published early November 2011. He maintains an author / first responder website and blog at http://www.kurtkamm.com and is currently attending HazMat classes at El Camino Fire Academy in connection with his fourth novel, Hazardous Material. Kurt returns, guest blogging for me on 4th December. 🙂
Update July 2012: Recently, Code Blood won two first place fiction prizes-
CODE BLOOD was awarded FIRST PLACE in the 2012 International Book Awards in the Fiction: Cross Genre category
NATIONAL INDIE EXCELLENCE BOOK AWARDS® WINNER OF THE 2012 AWARD – Faction (fiction based on fact)
Congratulations, Kurt! 🙂
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