Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing mystery author Kurt Kamm.

Kurt is the author of multiple firefighting mystery novels that deal with a specific firefighting discipline -- Wildland fire/arson/hazardous materials/paramedics/search and rescue. 

Tell me about yourself. / When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I have always loved to read, but somehow I knew I couldn't make a living writing books. I graduated law school and worked in the financial world for four decades. I had a short career as a master’s bicycle racer and then retired. One day I woke up and had NOTHING TO DO. Shortly after that, my house in Malibu almost burned down and was only saved by some quick action by a Los Angeles County Fire Department crew and a water-dropping Blackhawk helicopter.
I knew then that I had to write a book about firefighters. That was 7 years ago, and I'm still at it. I've developed close contacts with CalFire, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and even the ATF, and have had some incredible experiences. I've also lived through several devastating local wildfires, attended classes at El Camino Fire Academy and trained in wildland firefighting, arson investigation and hazardous materials response. I even attended some paramedic classes, including a full human cadaver dissection.
These days I even feel like a firefighter—but an old one.

Is there a central theme to your books?

Each book deals with a specific firefighting discipline -- Wildland fire/arson/hazardous materials/paramedics/search and rescue.  Each story has an overall fire mystery involving the particular discipline and overlaid on that plot, each protagonist has his own separate mystery or crisis.

What books have inspired you the most in your life?

I'm old school. I love Hemmingway, F Scott, and Steinbeck. I think James Salter's writing is incredible. Clean, spare, but beautiful.

What’s a typical day in your writing routine like? 

I am usually up around 6:00 am. If I have some important ideas, I may start writing right away, otherwise, I will write for 2-4 hours later in the morning. By 11:00, I head out on my bike. Late in the afternoon I may reread what I have written earlier, or review a whole chapter. By 5:00 p.m. I am finito. On days when I go out with the fire department, I usually have to be at a particular station by 7:00 am, so I'm still up at the same time, but don't do any writing.

What is it that you do to relax?

I was a bicycle racer. I still go out and ride a couple of hours every day, climbing into the hills around Malibu. I get some of my best ideas while I am riding. It's strange, because the activity is exhausting, but it clears out my mind and allows me to focus. Sometimes I think of bits of dialog for a particular scene, sometimes I come up with some major plot ideas.

Do you use an outline or do you write organically?

Once I have a general idea of the overall mystery and my key characters' personal issues, I just start writing. I have heard about fiction writers who outline every chapter in exquisite detail. I tried that once and failed. I couldn't even get started. Then I realized I'm not really a writer, I'm just the scribe who records what my characters are doing. They usually ignore my advice and do whatever they damn please. Sometimes they get into awful situations and then I have to jump in and save them. They are never grateful when I save them, and sometimes I can't.

Have you ever had writer’s block and what did you do to push past it?

My plots are usually very complex and as I said, my characters often work themselves into corners. Since my stories are fact based, I have to figure out real solutions. When I get stuck, I have two solutions. One is to keep writing, maybe only a paragraph a day. After a week, I find I may have worked through the problem and figured out what is supposed to happen next. Other times, I have to stop and move on to another part of the book. Then it may take several weeks to figure out how to make something work. 

Is there a certain time of day when you are most creative?

I am most creative early in the day. By noon, the serious writing is over.

How many drafts do you usually write of a manuscript and what is your editing process like? 

I may rewrite each chapter as many as 10 times. Once I have a semi-finished draft, at about 60,000 words, my editor will give me what we call the 10,000-foot view with general comments. After rewrite, I will usually have about 80,000 words, and then she will send me a very detailed critique. All in all, after the chapter writing is done, and I have final comments from my editor, I will probably reread the entire book three times, making changes each time.

What do you think of the recent changes in the publishing world?

Things are happening so fast it's hard to keep up. Six years ago, my first book sold 10 paperbacks for each Kindle. Now it's reversed. Social media, digital content –people born this year could grow up without ever touching an old fashioned, hardbound book. Anything I would write here would be outdated by the time you publish your blog.

Out of all the books you’ve written do you have a favorite, and if so why?

I've thought about that. I've written four books, and they are like my children. Each is different, with its own strengths and weaknesses. I can't find it in my heart to play favorites. I love 'em all equally. 

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) mystery. It is based on a real event—the 1971 Sylmar Tunnel disaster in Los Angeles. The Metropolitan Water District was digging a long water tunnel. The miners, who were 5 miles in, struck a methane pocket and the explosion killed 17 men. My story is about a USAR firefighter who is the son of one of those miners. For research, I am currently riding with Los Angeles County Fire Department's famed Urban Search & Rescue Task Force 2/USA-2. These guys have been to Haiti, Japan, New Zealand, anywhere there's a major disaster.

Where can we buy your books?

Everything is on Amazon, or through my author/first responder website, which has some amazing fire pictures


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review of Hazardous Material - Written by Kurt Kamm

Literary Awards for Hazardous Material - Winner of the 2012 Hackney Literary Award for an unpublished novel - First Place, Novel of the 2013 Year, Public Safety Writers Association - The 2012 Dana Award – Finalist.

My Review

Bucky Dawson has a nose for trouble, literally.  After seeing a woman he thinks might have been his sister at a trailer suspected of being a meth lab just before it exploded Bucky Dawson sets off on a journey that threatens to end him and gnaws at the very threads of emotion that hold him together.  Battling an increasing addiction to Percocet Bucky, a Hazmat Officer, searches for clues to the past life of his sister Brandy and her involvement with a biker gang named the Vagos.

The story takes place in the Mojave Desert, a place Kurt Kamm seems very familiar with. As the plot twists Bucky heads into battle multiple times only to return to his home bruised and battered. With no one to talk to except a detective named Mike and his pet lizard named Zol Bucky sinks toward desperation with only his increasing dependence on Percocet to bolster him. On leave from his job and expecting to loose it Bucky pushes forward and suspects the Meth lab activities of the Vagos are some how tied to an egocentric Aerospace Engineer with a degree from MIT who makes drones for the USAF.

Kamm’s characterization is well thought out and the reader is quickly drawn into the challenges and torments his protagonist, Bucky Dawson, faces.  A villain named the Dwarf, who is the seven foot tall Sergeant at Arms of the Vagos gang, is a menacing challenge for Bucky’s clouded brain, and he and his brethren keep Bucky on his toes.

The book is well researched and Kamm has done his homework on biker gangs, methamphetamine, secret air force military bases, and drones.

The plotting is well thought out and the story reads quickly during its short 218 pages.

If you’re looking for a quick paced Thriller that will entertain and educate you Hazardous Material is the one.

Find the book here:

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Conventional Wisdom says Writers Should Write Everyday.

Do thinking, dreaming, and planning on writing 7 days a week count?

For those of us that have demanding daytime careers, families, and long commutes 2-3 days a week are sometimes the best we can do.

In the winter when the sun sets at 5:00 pm there’s plenty of time to write, edit, and read. In the spring and summer there’s a different story.  And in my world this is ok, or at least I try to tell myself its ok.

I try to write at least 5-10 hours a week every week of the year. In the summer this may be 2 hours Monday - Friday and 8 on the weekend, but I get my time in and I get my manuscripts written, and edited.  In essence I do what I can do when I can.  You’d think this would satisfy me, but it doesn’t.  I spend much of the work week telling myself that when I get home tonight I’ll go down in the basement and spend a couple of hours writing.

Despite all of these challenges I’ve written close to 1,000,000 words during the past 3 years.  This includes three separate Thrillers.  The first two were what I call learning novels and to this day they are resting quietly somewhere in the basement on a disc or a hard drive.  The third is growing and getting closer and closer to the day I pitch it to agents and begin the path toward getting published.

To all of you fellow writers out there - What’s your story? How often do you write? Do you have any secrets for getting your words down on paper?