Heather Hansen: Wildfire

Cover: Wildfire

Cover: Wildfire

Heather Hansen
Mountaineers Books, March 1, 2018, $24.95
ISBN-10: 1680510711; ISBN-13: 978-1680510713

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here. Publication of NASW members’ reports in Advance Copy does not indicate NASW’s endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments, and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

Hansen reports:

On the day I moved to Colorado in 2002 a wildfire ignited northwest of downtown Boulder. I watched across a lake while a helicopter dipped a huge bucket and then dumped it on the flaming hillside. I could see firefighters picking their way over the landscape, and I wondered who they were, and why they had chosen that work. I didn’t know it then but a new era was dawning: Across the West fires have become more destructive, deadly, costly, and complex to fight.

Heather Hansen

Heather Hansen

The topic of fire came up often while I was working on Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service. I wanted to know more, and focusing on Boulder made sense. It's a smart, progressive city, and the only one in the country with a dedicated wildfire division, yet we still suffer devastating blazes.

After putting together a formal pitch and negotiating a contract, I chose to work with the publisher of my parks book, Mountaineers Books, which has a small but extremely talented staff. Then I got to work reporting, spending most days at the fire station or out in the field. I even went through training and testing to become a certified wildland firefighter.

In most wildfire narratives, there’s usually a hero, a victim, and sometimes a villain — but the storytelling rarely goes deeper than that. To my knowledge, no reporter has spent nearly two years following one crew. I worked out, ate, and went on emergency calls, and planned burns with them. I learned what scares them, what makes them laugh, what motivates them, and what they’re proud of, and that helped me give readers a more complete picture of firefighters and fire.

Nearly everything in fire was new to me. In a week I would fill a reporter’s notebook — and spend the following weekend going through it, and transcribing recorded interviews. Sometimes I just highlighted quotes and marked them with post-its, which was messy and inefficient. If I had it to do over again, I would be more disciplined and organized in creating searchable files early on.

Contact info:

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NASW members: will your book be published soon? Take advantage of this opportunity for shameless self-promotion. Submit your report for Advance Copy.

Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you began working on your book, or had done differently.

See https://www.nasw.org/advance-copy-submission-guidelines.

Thinking of writing a book? If you are a NASW member, you may access a list of more than 150 books and online resources to help you craft your book proposal, find an agent and funding sources, negotiate your contract, learn about self-publishing, publicize and market your book, and more at https://www.nasw.org/article/write-book.

Send book info and questions about book publishing to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor, llamberg@nasw.org.

Mar. 7, 2018

Drexel University online