SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Although the idea behind my new book is pretty straightforward, I thought some people might want details, so I put word out in the local media that I was open for interviews. They replied that they were closed. But my friend, Howie Dunnit, stepped in and volunteered to interview me. He’s not a journalist, but how bad could it be?
“So,” he asked, “About this book: Are you crazy?”
Did I mention he’s not a journalist?
“You write fiction, and alleged humor. What made you take on a non-fiction project?”
Well, someone said “If someone put a gun to your head and made you write this, would you?”, and I just assumed they had a gun.
“Very funny. What about this crazy title? Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With The Albion Fire Department. The title’s longer than the book.”
But it describes the thing perfectly. Besides, long subtitles are in, they’re cool. They’re still cool, right?
“Keep telling yourself that. So, you’ve got a book about history. Only it’s not about big, fun history stuff, like wars, or moonshine, or baseball. It’s about a little town in Indiana. What’s in it for me?”
Nothing’s in it for you. You haven’t read anything longer than a cereal box since I’ve known you, and you don’t usually finish those. But it covers firefighting, and small town life, and of course history, and some people like that stuff.
“Yeah, people who don’t have HBO.”
I do try to make it entertaining, and I threw in a little humor too, since that’s apparently what I’m known for –
“Don’t forget ‘alleged’ humor.”
Look, if along the way someone actually learns something – about firefighting, or about how things used to work – it’s not my fault, as long as they’re entertained. Personally, I found the process of research fascinating.
“Sounding a little defensive there, sport. Please tell me there are at least pictures?”
Yeah, lots of them. My original concept, way back when, was to begin each chapter with a photo – that would have amounted to only fifteen or so. But I think we were closing in on fifty illustrations by the time we finished.
“Got a centerfold? Miss Indiana Firefighter’s Wife, 1890?”
You do have your priorities. No, nothing like that. I spent a lot of time searching for old photos of Albion fire equipment, but there really weren’t a lot out there. Many that went in were pictures I took over thirty years, of fires, our antique equipment, and such. I did find some older stuff that shed light on early Albion, though. I had to winnow thousands of photos down to hundreds before we made our final picks.
“You’d have sold more with a centerfold.”
Get over it. An 1890 centerfold would have shown, what – the upper part of the lady’s neck, and her forehead?
“Don’t underestimate a sexy forehead, fella. Okay, so how do you organize this thing? I mean, you spent three decades collecting the stuff.”
Well, I basically start with the fire that destroyed Albion’s first courthouse, decades before the town had a fire department. I recount how the townspeople suffered without a fire department, how they formed one, its early years, and then how it developed and adopted new technology over the next century. I don’t cover too much after 1988 – I figured some future historian could deal with the second hundred years.
“So you started with the beginning … and went forward until you reached the end, huh? Original.”
Yeah, well, maybe if I had my own time machine I’d have jumped around from year to year.
“And taken pictures. Of 1890’s ladies.”
Sure, that’s how I’d spend my time traveling time. The point is, it’s pretty linear, and I can’t help that: I just tell what happened in order. That’s the way history operates.
“Unless you’re a doc. Doc Brown, Doctor Who ...”
I spent a lot of time trying to uncover details about the department’s early days, so that’s where a lot of the book lies. Buckets, hand drawn hose carts, hand operated pumps – it’s amazing to me how they did that, and with very little personal protection.
“Yeah, they shoulda worn a –“
You know what I mean!
“Okay, stop waving your pen at me. So, the proceeds for this book are going to the fire department?”
For the first couple of years. Once the sales drop off to almost nothing it might not be worth the paperwork, but until then the AFD will get all of it.
“You’re a moron.”
I knew you’d say that, but look: It will get my name out there. If people like this book, they might go back to buy my first novel and my short story collection, and they might line up to buy my next book. So it’s not as selfless as it might seem. Plus, the book couldn’t exactly have been written without the fire department, right?
“Yeah, maybe. So, what’s next? Another history book?”
Oh, heck no. I’m going back to writing fiction, for now. But I’ve been thinking … what about collecting my old humor columns into a book?
“Right, because there’s hardly any competition in the humor book market. But if you do it, you know who the proceeds should go to?”
“The victims who’ve had to live with your puns.”