What is it about firefighting that made me love my work?

I just read this post on Facebook today, and it brought tears to my eyes. 

I recently saw a post asking what being a wildland firefighter means to people. This to me is what it's about. The camaraderie you have with your crew. The nights spent out at a remote spike camp, sitting around a campfire after a long shift talking like you haven't been around each other 24/7 the whole summer. Jokingly complaining about how awful the line, food, coffee or hike in or out was, but looking back and being satisfied with the progress the crew has made. More and more I feel like firefighters are being told they're glamorous, adrenaline fueled heroes doing an extremely dangerous job, battling the forces of nature and more and more inexperienced firefighters are believing it and thinking that's what this job is about. It's sad and about as far from the truth as you can get. It's all about teamwork, camaraderie, and a few clear, calm decisions to solve evolving problems.
Kyle Miller

I couldn't have said this better. This is what I miss. This is what made my job special, and far more than just a job to me.  This time in my life was the only time I felt that way. There is no doubt I am quite lucky to have had those experiences.

Diagram of how a fire crew works

This has changed since I worked on a crew. We did not post a lookout, or set up a safety zone, both important safety features now in place.

Book review in the Green Valley News

I'm thrilled to have been reviewed in my local paper yesterday! 

Some can't visit the actual article, so here it is:

“Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love and Courage”
By Linda Strader
Bink Books
247 pages
Summering at the rustic Florida Ranger Station in our Santa Rita Mountains may sound ideal to some of us Southern Arizona desert dwellers, but surely not if we had to fight fires and clear heavy tree limbs up and down the steep slopes! But it was a dream come true for 20-year-old Linda Strader when in 1976 she began seven years of seasonal work with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Kudos to Strader for pursuing a career as a firefighter in the 1970s and early '80s, and persevering as one of the first women hired on a Forest Service fire crew. No easy task in a male-dominated profession. From the Santa Ritas to the Santa Catalinas, up to Flagstaff, then in Alaska and Colorado, Strader shares it all: the excitement, hard work and danger; the camaraderie and her love interests; and her tremendous personal successes and hard knocks on the job and in her personal relationships.
As a first-time author, Strader's writing is insightfully descriptive, from nature's wonders and brutality, to times when she survived only on sheer willpower, truly pushing herself physically to the brink, and the rewards she found working in the great Western outdoors. Strader cites support from several local writers and her friend, advisor and writing coach Joanne Burch. She put their advice to good use. This well-written memoir will have readers caught up in the adventurous twists and turns to very end.
Karen Walenga

How to accept critiques gracefully

There’s probably nothing scarier than asking for a beta read of your book. Most writers are very defensive of their writing, and I fully understand why. The amount of hard work it takes to write a story is nothing to make light of. It’s even harder when you are writing memoir, because now you are talking about some really personal stuff. I’m certainly guilty of diving into the defensive mode:
NO, I am NOT changing that! I like it this way.

But do you need to listen to suggestions, or ignore them? I’ve learned over the years I spent perfecting my story, that refusing to make edits may hinder or prevent a better book. In fact, that is one big reason why publishing traditionally worked for me. Had I been the one to make the decision alone, or based on a few reader comments, I would have published long before it was ready.

After my memoir was published, I started beta reading (reading final drafts for fellow writers, and offering advice on story flow, construction, and looking for typos, minor grammar issues, etc.) Many have been wonderful to work with, and even remained in contact with me. I have no problem with writers who choose to ignore my suggestions. That’s their prerogative. But what really upsets me, to the point that I am tempted to refuse to help, are the people who retaliate with nasty comments, or who say absolutely nothing. How hard is it to simply thank me for my time, even if you don’t agree with my feedback? 

Hey, I get it! It’s downright hard not to get defensive about your work-in-progress. After all, you slaved over it for hours, maybe into the wee hours of the morning, editing, perfecting…reworking it the next day, the day after that, for weeks, even months! The thought of handing over what you wrote for feedback is terrifying. Will they hate it? Will they think you can’t write your way out of a paper bag? However, there comes a point when you are going to have to let someone else see your work—unless you intend to be the only person that ever reads what you wrote. What fun is that?

My beta reading experiences have been varied. While many writers are open to comments and suggestions, inevitably one comes along that gets angry with me when I tell them they need to work on some serious issues. For example, a woman wrote about a traumatizing event in her life as though she was narrating a movie. When I explained (and offered examples) the idea of ‘show don’t tell’, she became defensive and told me that she ‘knew’ that, but wanted me to read all 75,000 words anyway. I had to pass. However, I kindly told her that if she reworked two chapters per my suggestions, I’d be happy to reread. 

Her response was loud and clear: Crickets.

This hurt. After all, I was just trying to help. I reached out and apologized. She ignored me. It took me a few days to convince myself I’d done nothing wrong. This upset me enough that I stopped accepting drafts for a while.

A few weeks later, though, I offered to beta read a mystery. Only two pages in, the dialog was so horrendous, I just couldn’t continue.
This is how it went, more or less:
“I never told you that,” Frank said.
“Yes you did,” Doris said.
“No, I did not,” Frank said.
“Well that’s what I remember,” Doris said.
“You have a bad memory,” Frank said.
“I do not,” Doris said.
I edited a page, giving him examples of how I learned to write effective dialog. His response?
A lengthy and irritated explanation about how a previous reader had told him they couldn’t tell who said what, therefore he’d fixed the problem by adding lots of “saids.” When I explained he overdid the ‘fix,’ he shot back: “Well, fine. Nobody else wants to read the whole thing. Why can’t you read it anyway?”

Again, I suggested he revise two chapters and resend so I could see if he was getting the hang of it. He refused, complaining that all he wanted was someone to read to the end.

Let me share some tips on how new writers can gracefully accept critiques, whether you choose to use the advice or not:
1.      Stay objective. It is unlikely that someone reading your work to provide feedback is out to make you feel incompetent. We do enough of that on our own.
2.      Resist the urge after reading the comments to have a fit and scream: “Never!” (Unless you are alone. Then you can scream all you want. Get it out of your system. Make the neighbors wonder.)
3.      Let the feedback sit for a day or two to calm down. Is the comment valid? Only you can be the judge. If it is valid, make the change. If your gut is screaming ‘No!’ then don’t.
4.      If feedback is simply “I love your story!”—That’s not particularly helpful. Even though it feels great, what you need to know is why they loved your story, something you can learn from and expand upon.
5.      It can be hard to separate criticism of your work from criticism of you as a person. You need to remember you are not your writing.

My experience has been that most fellow writers want you to succeed and want to help you. That’s why I am willing to share what I’ve learned with new writers. However, don’t be the defensive stubborn mule and chastise the reviewer for feedback you didn’t want to hear. Please keep in mind that beta readers have feelings, too.

Book signing event at Barnes & Noble, Tucson Arizona

What a nice time I had at the Barnes and Noble book signing event! The B & N store manager announced me twice over the 2 hours, which sent people over to my table. I met some wonderful people and sold 8 books, including two to a father who wanted his young daughters (who were quite polite and asked me interesting questions, I must add) to read my story. He also said he wanted them to be sure to share what they learned in school. They even shook my hand and told me what a pleasure it was to meet me. Wow.

Next, a young woman came to talk to me. She told me she was in training to become an EMT. After talking for a while, she picked up my book and read the back. "You were 20 when you started? I'm 20..."

She bought my book and said she needed to think about the possibility of trying out wildland firefighting. Excellent!

Finally, when I was ready to leave, the store manager expounded on how wonderful he thought my book was, and that he wanted me to sign 10 remaining copies to put on their shelf for autographed books. How exciting!