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?
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 www.kurtkamm.com