Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

M.L. Buchman | Bringing the Heat

May 13, 2014

M.L. BuchmanPURE HEATI have to confess that starting a new series—even a spin-off one—is a harrowing event, at least for this author. The exploits of the Night Stalkers had become a comfort zone. I know these characters, I know their world as well as any outsider is likely to. New adventures and new romances arose, and will continue to do so as that series continues, but its more like slipping on a really broken-in pair of hiking boots and off we go on an adventure.

Suddenly I’m dressed in Nomex fireproof gear. It’s hot, sweaty, and no matter what I do, the itch of heat and ash get down into my cotton long johns that must be worn for protection even on the hottest days when fighting wildfire. In trading military attack helicopters for wildfire attack helicopters, I had to learn new technologies, new tactics, new definitions of what was safe.
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But perhaps the biggest thing I had to learn was what distinguished Wildland Heli-aviation Firefighters not only from my military Night Stalkers, but also from their city-based firefighting brethren. It wasn’t the danger. Despite the disastrous lose at Yarnell of the 19-man hotshot team, wildland firefighters are obsessed with safety.

No, I had to dig deeper. And I knew I couldn’t stop until I found it, because whatever drives wildland firefighters was going to be an integral element of the love story. I needed that element. Oddly enough, I didn’t even find it in the first draft. I didn’t find it, but I did write it. I just didn’t know that I had until one of my first readers pointed it out to me. Here’s the crucial scene. A scene that eventually led me to dedicate this book to my estranged and now passed on father. For it was he who taught me the love of the forest on our silent hikes among the mountains of New England.

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It was a lazy morning. After the fish fry, so casually that Steve barely noticed the transition, TJ, Chutes, and Akbar began quizzing the new members of MHA’s Goonies.

Steve was in good as soon as they found out he’d been the lead jumper out of Sacramento. Everyone knew California was a hard post for a smokie­—the entire southern half of the state was a tinderbox, and the northern half wasn’t all that much better. They also knew that you had to be crazy and passionate about the wildfire fight to work all the way up to leading the first stick.

Then it was Mark Henderson who came under scrutiny, as no one seemed to want to mess with Emily Beale. By some unspoken agreement, they focused on her husband.

Steve had sat through a hundred sessions like this one. On one side of the great divide, rookies who’d signed on for the romance of the wildfire fight. It looked good in the movies, but it was some of the hardest and most dangerous work on the planet. Across the divide, career wildfire fighters felt honor bound to weed out the chaff, sometimes before they even got their ears wet.

But Henderson understood.

He didn’t talk about fire, a common enough trap. He talked about watching the blooms come after the snow on his parents’ Montana ranch. He painted a picture of the waving grass and the tall horses his father and mother had loved almost as much as their only child. And he talked about his favorite trout stream and fighting the cutties to the net.

It soon became clear that his passion about fishing this morning wasn’t an affectation, but came from the core of the man.

Steve had kept it to himself, but he wondered at the contrast of the man who loved fishing almost as much as his wife and who flew Special Forces helicopters into the darkest combat.

It was connection to the land that made the wildfire fighter, not whether he carried a Pulaski or a smartphone and tablet. Steve would have to think about that one later.

Again, everyone’s attention drifted to Beale and her sleeping child and then drifted right on by.

Perhaps it was her mirrored shades and just the hint of a smile that even seasoned Goonies couldn’t get past.

“I remember this time…” TJ started the story as if nothing had happened. It was the clearest acknowledgment that Henderson had been accepted and that Beale had been declared okay as well.

Henderson didn’t react or gloat. All he did was lean in a little to refill his coffee mug and get ready for TJ’s story.


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