Summers of Fire

SummersofFire-HiRes

In the 1970s, Linda Strader became one of the first women hired on a fire crew with the U.S. Forest Service. She discovers firefighting is challenging—but in a man’s world, there would be tougher battles to fight. We’re delighted to put her compelling new book– Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love, and Courage—in the spotlight and encourage the next generation of young women to never let anyone say “no” to whatever career paths they want to pursue.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: What attracted you to become a firefighter, a career that was traditionally reserved for men?

A: It certainly wasn’t because I’d dreamed of being a firefighter since I was a kid! No, it was nothing quite that profound.

My parents had moved my family from Syracuse, New York to Prescott, Arizona, while I was in my senior year. Small town Prescott didn’t have much to offer in the way of work for a seventeen-year-old. I did the fast food thing, answered the phone in a tiny office where the phone never rang, waited on tables in a luncheonette for two days…and hated every minute of it. I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what that would be. I loved the outdoors, and often explored the forest around my home. I loved playing guitar, painting, and even learned how to silversmith, but those interests weren’t going to get me out on my own. I reluctantly ended up looking for work in Tucson. There, an acquaintance found me a job with the U.S. Forest Service, working in the ranger station high in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson. True, it was an office job, but it was not ordinary one by any means. They hired me as a timekeeper for the Catalina Hot Shots, an elite firefighting crew. The crew introduced me to the exciting world of wildfire. After working two summers up there, I decided I hated office work, and applied for a firefighter position. I got it, and became one of the first women to work on a Forest Service fire crew in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.

Q: What are your recollections about the first day on the job?

A: When I met my supervisor, he squeezed my upper arm and inspected my hands for calluses…obviously checking to see if I could handle the hard work. I also noticed there were no other women, but didn’t think anything of it. After having such a hard time getting a job, I was determined to give this one my very best.

Q: Did you ever consider walking away and doing something else?

A: Yes, I did. Once when I found out the guys resented my presence on the crew, and again when I found myself blacklisted. However, I loved my job, and decided that the harder the guys made it for me, the more I wanted to keep that job.

Q: What was the most harrowing experience you can recall?

A: We were fighting a 50,000 acre fire in Northern California back in 1977, one of the worst fire seasons in recent history. Because of miscommunications,  two of my crewmates and I found ourselves nearly entrapped by a backfire operation, a firefighting technique where fire officials intentionally set a fire to stop the main fire. Additionally, while watching a 200 foot wall of flames, I remember questioning the effectiveness of the fire shelter strapped to my waist…a new piece of safety equipment just added to our gear that summer.

Q: Flash-forward to the present and you have written your first book. What prompted you to share your memories abut life as a female firefighter?

A: After suffering multiple losses over a short period of time, namely ending my 23-year marriage, losing my job, and then my mom dying, I found myself looking to my past because the future looked so bleak. I’d had some amazing adventures during my seven-year career, and thought to put them down on paper before they were forgotten. Over time, I added more, and eventually discovered I’d written what resembled a book.

Q: Many people believe that writing a memoir about tough times is cathartic. Was that true for you?

A: It was not. At first I left out the ‘tough stuff’, avoiding painful memories. However, early beta readers noticed I was leaving out people and events they believed to be important. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was torture to relive events that I did not want to, and every time I edited, I cried, got angry, and filled with resentment. I don’t care if I ever read those sections again, and in fact, I hope I never have to.

Q: Writing personal details about your life and then sending them out into the world for total strangers to read has to be a scary experience. Or was it?

A: Petrifying! I had no idea how people would react. Would they relate? Would they judge me? I feared the worst. However, as reviews came in, I discovered that people did relate to my story, and they did not judge me. They admired me for sharing. What a relief.

Q: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write? And why?

A: As I mentioned above, writing about painful memoirs was the hardest. They brought back anger and resentment over how my wonderful world fell apart.

Q: When did you first realize that the craft of writing was calling to you?

A: As soon as I started writing down memories of my adventures, I couldn’t stop. But because I’d never written a book before, it took many, many rewrites to turn those memories into an actual story, one that someone would want to read. Obsessed by this point, I refused to give up until I got it right.

Q: What have you learned about yourself and your outlook on life during the actual writing process?

A: That I’m stronger than I think I am. I’ve been asked what I would tell my twenty-year-old self if I could go back in time. Not one thing. Actually, it is she who has much to say to me. All of those losses I suffered through set me back, big time. I lost touch with who I am. While reading my personal journals to write my book, I realized that I’m still her…the strong-willed twenty-year-old who fought for what she wanted. That was quite a profound realization for me.

Q: What is a typical day of writing and editing like for you?

A: Because I run a small landscape design business, I write when I have time. For me, editing is best done in the early in the morning when I’m rested, and creative writing in the late afternoon with a glass of wine. Hey, it frees up the mind! Summer is very slow for me, so I do make the most progress during that time, both writing and editing.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher?

A: My goal at first was to find a literary agent. After two years, and over a hundred queries and multiple rejections, I decided to query small publishers. Ironically, I had agents reading my full manuscript at the same time three publishers made offers. It was a tough decision, because I still really wanted agent representation, but I was also tired of playing the game. I ended up accepting one of those three offers, a decision I don’t regret.

Q: Successfully marketing a finished work is often one of the biggest hurdles new writers face. Was your publisher helpful in this regard or were you largely on your own?

A: My publisher made sure my book was available in multiple outlets, all over the world. They entered me into appropriate competitions, resulting in me becoming a finalist in one of them. They provided me with a press release. But speaking engagements, book signings, reaching out to the news media—that fell on me. However, I knew this would happen, no matter how I published. Therefore, I’d done my homework ages ago. I started writing a blog over five years ago, and had been networking on social media for at least three years. I exchanged blog posts with other authors. I looked for, and found, author interview opportunities. Prior to my book’s release, I booked eight speaking engagements and signing events. After watching a free online podcast about how to market your book without paying a publicist, I landed a TV interview, and Parade Magazine published an excerpt. I’m always looking for more opportunities.

Q: Now that the book is out there, what feedback from readers surprised you the most?

A: That they think of me as brave. I have never thought of myself as brave. I do know that if I want something bad enough, nothing will stop me from achieving it. If that is considered bravery, I will concede that maybe I am.

Q: What message do you want to be most strongly convey to the next generation of young women who want to follow their dreams?

A: Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do! And never give up.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: When you love what you do, it’s not called ‘work.’

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a prequel to Summers of Fire. It’s a coming-of age memoir about the intricacies of love, physical attraction, deep friendship, and the longing for independence and a meaningful life.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My blog has more about me, as well as blog posts about strong women, women in Forest Service, and links to guest blog posts and my interviews. I also have a photo gallery of my firefighting years. https://summersoffirebook.blogspot.com/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and experiences!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Chat With Lorelei Kay

Lorelei Kay picture
After living 50 years as a devout Mormon, Lorelei Kay accepted a “calling” from her bishop which caused the doctrinal foundation of her world to crumble. That journey is captured in her new book, From Mormon to Mermaid – One Woman’s Voyage from Oppression to Freedom.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: With 50 years of your life invested in the Mormon Church, what prompted you to leave?

A: My transformation began when my bishop called me to teach Gospel Doctrine, the scripture class for adults. Like anything else any bishop had ever asked me to do, I put my whole heart and soul into it. I spent over ten hours a week in preparation for my class each Sunday. As I began to realize the depth of problems in Mormon doctrine, my spirituality changed from a placid sea into a raging torrent. Then, as I tell in my memoir, “All halibut broke loose.”

Q: Your book has an intriguing title. How did it come about?

A: While my father was a soldier stationed in Italy during World War II, he heard the enchanting story of the Lorelei—the German mermaid who perches on the River Rhine. After he returned home, still fascinated by the tale, he named his first-born daughter Lorelei. That’s me!

As a child, I felt embarrassed I had been named for a half-naked siren. It took a few years, but I came to appreciate and claim my mermaid heritage.

After I left the church, I found many people interested in the controversial and complicated doctrines that makes up Mormonism. One day I was sharing with a friend the Mormon belief that God is a polygamist, and he said, “You should write a book—and call it, From Mormonism to Mermaidism. Great idea!

I shortened his suggested title to From Mormon to Mermaid and began writing my memoir. I used an aquatic metaphor because of my name. I found using my sea-theme throughout gave me a net to hang my story on.

For example, some of my chapters titles are, “Hook, Line, and Thinker,” “The Undertow of Underwear,” “Kissing the Sails of Ships,” and “Prying Open the Oyster Shell.” The chapter on sex is called, “Wet.”

Q: Who is your target audience and what do you envision as the book’s takeaway value for them?

A: Women! Men! Inquiring minds! Mormons struggling with their faith! Mormons not struggling who want to understand why people leave! People who want to understand how Mormon doctrine influences the daily life of its members.

Many people hear, “Family first,” and have a lofty false impression about Mormon family life. The truth is, “Follow the Prophet” comes first, often at the expense of the family. And while the men are taught to work toward godhood, the women are kept bound to the shoreline by men who wield all the power.

I tell my story of my life as a Mormon woman to encourage people to break free from damaging doctrines and limiting belief systems—and claim their own authentic lives.

Q: There’s no question that penning a memoir is a cathartic experience. Catharsis, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to commercial success. What did you envision in this regard at the outset and has that objective been met?

A: Commercial success is a long voyage, and I’m still on that trail.

Q: To what personality traits do you attribute your passion and commitment to the craft of writing?

A: Loving my dad and following his example.

Q: Were there particular parts of your memoir that were challenging for you to write?

A: I didn’t want to write about my divorce—I didn’t want to rehash it or relive it. But after my first editor pointed out I couldn’t just sail along and then say, “we got a divorce,” I tackled it. This caused me to rewrite much of the memoir. In fact, I did a complete edit from my ex-husband’s point of view just to make sure I was being fair. But it’s richer. And because of that edit, I gained new insights.

Q: What constitutes a safety net for you … or do you have one?

A: The California Writers Club has been a terrific safety net. Friends there have provided critique, information, networking, and support. The club we have here in the High Desert is a tremendous asset.

Q: What prompted you to go the self-publishing route?

A: After ten years of hard work, I wanted a professional edit before sending my memoir out to the world. I went with Dog Ear publishing because I was impressed with the editing done there by Stephanie Seiifert-Stringham, Managing Editor. That worked very well for me because Dog Ear awarded it their “Literary Award of Excellence,” which they bequeath annually to just a few authors. Stephanie also wrote a wonderful blurb for my book cover.

Q: What did you learn from this DIY experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: That’s a whole other book . . .

Q: Appendix/footnotes are unusual for a memoir. What inspired you to include all the references?

A: When I shared my memoir with a good friend who had been an active Mormon, he said, “No one is going to believe the shocking doctrines you share about the Mormon Church—unless you give them proof.” He suggested footnotes, which I tried at one point. But it looked too scholarly, not friendly enough. So I moved them all to the back under the title of Appendix. That way, no one can say I misunderstood, or my family misinterpreted doctrine, or my bishop didn’t explain things correctly. I quote Mormon scripture and prophets. I give references. There can be no question about my claims about the doctrines espoused by the Mormon Church. I back up every claim I make.

Q: The book has accrued no shortage of reviews since its publication. Which reviews have personally been the most meaningful to you?

A: One of my strongest and most meaningful reviews on Amazon came from an active Mormon woman who loved my book. Many Mormon and ex-Mormon women have written me expressing gratitude for writing a book showing the demeaning and oppressive role of woman they experienced while members of  the Mormon Church. Many have shared with me that reading my story has given them the courage to make changes in their lives, and that’s been most gratifying.

Q: I understand you’ve won some awards, too. Tell us about them.

A: I was thrilled when Dog Ear Publishing awarded From Mormon to Mermaid an “Award of Literary Excellence” upon publication. Also, Shelf Unbound awarded it a “Best Indie book for 2016 Runner-up.” Hip hip hooray!

Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your decision to be a writer?

A: When I was in third grade, my father sat me down and helped me with my first poem. I was hooked.

I also saw my father’s dedication to writing his own book about the Book of Mormon and writing family history. Since he couldn’t find any room in our small home for writing, he carved out a place in the crawl space under the house, made a desk using an old door sitting on cinder blocks, and set his Royal manual typewriter on top. And he wrote.

I have inherited a glorious heritage of commitment to writing.

Q: What is your definition of happiness?

A: Living a life at peace with internal beliefs, and being able to explore new, fun adventures. For me, writing is always an adventure.

Q: What is your favorite quote that inspires you?

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is (sic) asking to do it, the men better let them.”    Sojourner truth, activist

I also get a big kick out of Gloria Steinem’s quote: “Women grow radical with age. One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.”  She just may be onto something.

Both of these quotes, along with many others, can be found in the book, Nasty Women’s Almanac – Feminine Voices Striving for a Brighter Day, which I published in 2016.

Q: If you could share a cab ride to the airport with any celebrity, who would it be and what would you talk about?

A: I would love to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Sojourner Truth. She was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery. She escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826 and went to court to recover her son. In 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. She has left us with a wealth of personal wisdom, and demonstrated how confidence in her abilities overcame huge adversities. What a shining example of overcoming obstacles!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m in the middle of writing a novel called Breath of the Dragon, which is based on a true story of a Mormon missionary. And madness.  I also continue my love of writing poetry, and I’m almost ready to publish a children’s book called Oh! The Places We’ve Been!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I’d like to leave you with is refrain included in From Mormon to Mermaid:

A symbol of transformation,

mermaids whisper from the sea:

“Live true to your inner heartstrings,

and your truth will set you free.”