Monday, April 2, 2012


Posted by Ruby Johnson
Please welcome Kurt Kamm to our blog. Kurt has written three  firefighter mysteries and received 3  mystery writers awards on one book alone. Please leave a comment or question for Kurt for a chance at winning three of his books.
by Kurt Kamm

In 2006, I took early retirement and enrolled in a "method writing class" taught by Jack Grapes, a well-known poet and writer in Los Angeles. In my class, there were approximately 40 students, only three of whom were men. The women's ages ranged from 20 to 75.

Jack's initial approach was to teach us to "write like we talk." To get us started, he asked everyone to write in a journal every day— in a straightforward fashion, trying to avoid any special literary style or technique. In class, each person had an opportunity to read a short segment of the week's effort, followed by a discussion.
I wrote what I thought were funny, edgy, creative pieces and expected a great reception. In the first session, a number of women of various ages stood to read pieces that could be grouped in the following categories:

 My husband doesn’t/didn't love me enough.

 I am lonely and feel neglected by my boyfriend.

 I miss my father and wish he had loved me more while he was alive.

 I was abused by my father/brother/husband and now I am trying to overcome the psychological damage.

These expressions of unhappiness and pain were heartrending (!!) and each reading brought sighs, cries, tears and murmurs of support from the audience. My own witty, clever and humorous effort fell on deaf ears. When I left the first class, I checked to make sure I hadn't strayed into a counseling session for troubled women.

In the second and third week, we progressed to the "deep voice" and Jack Grapes was an absolute master in leading us into the creative process. Still, the plaintive cries of lonely, sad, mistreated women echoed through the room and my own excellent work remained unappreciated.

Before attending the fourth week's class, I decided I had to do something different. Driving home to Malibu, I happened to watch a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter land on the Pepperdine campus and disgorge several firefighters in full gear. Inspired, I decided to "create" a memory from my childhood in Saginaw Michigan as the abused son of a firefighter. (Why Saginaw? Because I once spent a year working there, and I thought it was the coldest, most miserable and desolate place I had ever been.) In this fictional childhood, I did everything I could to earn my father's love and attention, but it didn't help. One morning before my graduation from high school, I told my father that I had secured a job as a seasonal firefighter in California:

"Dad," I blurted out, "I'm gonna be a firefighter, like you. In California."

"A firefighter?" His face didn't change. He stood there for a moment and stared at me with his red eyes. I wondered if he was going to hit me. "Sounds like I'm finally getting rid of you."

"Dad," I repeated. "I'm gonna be a firefighter."

"I heard you. When you go, take everything you need and make sure you never come back."

In class, I hadn't read more than a couple of sentences when I sensed a transformation in the room. All eyes were on me. By the time I finished, many tears had been shed and everyone rallied around my misfortune. People wanted to know if I had ever forgiven my father. Had we reconciled? How did I compensate for my sad childhood? How I was managing to raise my own children without repeating the cycle of abuse? And, of course, there were the usual questions about how I coped with the dangerous and stressful life of a firefighter.

I was exultant in the outpouring of empathy and concern. (The fact that I grew up in a very happy family in Denver seemed irrelevant.) The spell was broken when the nice woman next to me blurted out, "Hey, I thought you said you were a lawyer!"

In subsequent days and weeks, I thought about the class reaction and began to try to imagine what the life of this fictional young man from Saginaw would be like as a wildland firefighter in California. I began to add to his story. Eighteen months later, after hundreds of hours spent with firefighters, I completed my first firefighter novel, ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK, which included the words I had read in class. I have since published two firefighter mysteries, RED FLAG WARNING which won several mystery fiction awards, and CODE BLOOD. RED FLAG WARNING tells the story of NiteHeat, a serial arsonist trying to burn down Malibu. CODE BLOOD is about a rookie fire paramedic who gets involved with a stalker who collects body parts and rare blood. If you think any of this has something to do with my family, please don’t ask.
Kurt is offering the chance to win three of his books to one person who comments on today's and Friday's posts.  The winner will be announced on Friday.

About The Author
Kurt Kamm lives in Malibu with his wife and has survived several devastating local wildfires. The Canyon Fire in 2008, driven by 60 MPH winds, destroyed neighbors' homes and burned to his doorstep.

Kurt has attended fire training at CalFire and El Camino Fire Academy. He spends much of his time at the wildland firefighter camps, inmate camps and fire stations of Los Angeles County Fire Department. He has attended Arson Investigation and Hazardous Materials academies and has used his experience and access to CalFire and Los Angeles County firefighters to write novels involving the lives of firefighters and paramedics.

His first novel, ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK - A Wildland Firefighter’s Story, received Honorable Mention from the Public Safety
Writers Association. His second novel, RED FLAG WARNING - A Serial Arson Mystery, was published in May 2010 by Aberdeen Bay. RED FLAG WARNING won three first place mystery fiction awards in 2010 (Infinite Writer, Written Arts and Royal Dragonfly/Five Star Book Awards).

Kurt recently finished CODE BLOOD, the story of a fire paramedic searching for a woman's foot, stolen after it is severed in an automobile accident. He is beginning work on a fourth novel, entitled HAZARDOUS MATERIAL.
Visit Kurt's Author/Firefighter website to view some spectacular fire pictures and pages on aerial firefighting and smoke jumpers. Kurt also writes a blog called FIREFIGHTER'S WORDS.
Kurt was previously a businessman and semi-professional bicycle racer. He is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School.


Ruby Johnson said...

Welcome Kurt!
Your books are great. Firefighters have such a dangerous job and no one knows this better than Texans and Californians. Seeing the devastating effects is such an eye opener.

George said...

Thank you for coming on the GFWWG blog, and thank you for your career in firefighting. Unsung heroes--all of you.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Living where you do drives home the importance of firefighters, doesn't it? Same with us west of Fort Worth where we have grass fires in the summer. Continued success with your writing career.

SusieSheehey said...

Thanks so much, Kurt! Interesting read. Thanks for everything you do!

Jack Grapes said...

Great article Kurt, and an accurate, if somewhat compressed, description of our Method Writing class. What you didn't know, or haven't realized, is everything the women wrote that was so moving was all made up, just like you made up your character. What gives the story of your fictional firefighter such compelling power is not the cleverness of the plot, but the sense of authenticity of the character and the power of that character's backstory--whether you made it up or lived it is, of course, irrelevant. What counts, is that you create indelible scenes and a deeply moving voice. What you learned in my class, which your article demonstrates so well, was that clever plots are never as compelling as the deep voice and human conflict. Happy childhoods just don't make very interesting fiction. As William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize speech, what readers are drawn to is "the human heart in conflict with itself." Bravo on such wonderful success with your novels, and with your skill at creating a compelling character whose heart is always in conflict with itself. -- Jack Grapes, your Method Writing Teacher said...

A couple of years after Kurt’s Saginaw firefighter, Greg Kowalski, became the main character of One Foot in the Black, I met Kurt Kamm. At the time, we were both taking an editing class taught by Jack Grapes. On that first day in class, I remember reading Kurt’s work and thinking, Wow, this guy can write! In only four pages, pages that would later be slimmed down to the first chapter of Red Flag Warning, Kurt had conjured up an empty sanctuary with “red and deep orange stained glass windows, the pure colors of fire,” and introduced his reader to the serial arsonist, NiteHeat. As the novel progressed, NiteHeat was joined by a motley crew of characters, each one bearing what was to become the Kamm stamp of believability. Of course, during this time, I read Kurt’s first novel, and would work certain questions into our conversations, such as, “Did you ever play hockey? (Greg played hockey), or, “Did you grow up in Michigan?” (Greg grew up in Michigan), and so on. I was convinced that somewhere in Kurt’s background was a Greg Kowalski. Kurt would answer my questions, of course, but in a way that implied something remained unsaid. I suspected he had mastered the Jack Grapes method of keeping the distinction between story-truth and happening-truth mysterious. By the time Kurt finished his third novel, Code Blood, I had gotten to know him better. I doubted if he had ever been obsessed with finding a severed foot, like his main character, Colt. Nor did I think he had much in common with Markus, the Albino, who also had obsessions, and whose counter-culture lifestyle would lead to precarious negotiations with Russian thugs over the price of human body parts. Then, there was Ali, a female graduate student with the rare blood type known as Bombay Blood. So, what has Kurt learned since those first writing classes in 2006? He is still funny. He is edgy and creative. But what is there about his writing that contains the genius of Jack Grapes? Nothing less than the ability to tap into a source that gives life to his characters, in all their diversity, and re-create it on the pages of his novels—Denise Middlebrooks

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