Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From Fighting Fire to Writing Books by Jimmy Gordon

(c) amagill
When folks ask how I got into writing I like to tell them I just fell into it, literally. It was winter, Christmas time really and we had just had a very heavy snow. My wife was not my wife yet. In fact, I'm not even sure if we were engaged. She is a Michigan girl living in Chicago; her family still resides on the lower peninsula in a suburb of Detroit. I was on shift with the fire department and unable to leave with her for the visit. I planned to take the train out.

I mentioned the heavy snow and the whole Christmas deal, a dangerous match that day. It was slippery and I was laden with an unusual amount of items, not just clothing but gifts as well. Being the young macho firefighter I thought I was, I skipped on a cart or anything else to ease the burden. I basically shoved it all into a duffle and tossed the thing over my shoulder.

Big mistake!

I needed to make a transfer from the local rail to regional rail at Ogilvie Station in downtown Chicago. My first step off the car was the near killer. My right leg slipped, I fell, and just prior to that missed step was the last time I was able to stand for the next eight months. The workers at the train station had to call an ambulance to get me to the hospital. I was set up for surgery the next day. I would be convalescing for quite some time.

A week or so after the procedure to patch the knee up, my then wife-to-be took my butt to the firehouse just to say hello. I hobbled in on my crutches. During the visit, my shift mates asked me how I planned to occupy myself during my time away. As if physical therapy wasn't enough? Though I had always been a very active or avid reader, the thought of writing something beyond a fire department run report had never entered my mind. In fact, in high school I was the kid in the back of the class avoiding the teacher’s gaze. I did my homework on the bus rides to and from school. My book reports and term papers were all completed in study hall. I cringed when I came across test answers in essay rather than in multiple choice. It took me ten years to get through junior college.

Regardless, for some unknown reason, "I might write a book" popped out. Then the laughing began along with the taunts, and for good reason. During that time my only need for writing was professional and even then it was penning run reports. I wrote in all capital letters. As for punctuation, I would occasionally throw a period in for good measure. I didn't even own a computer at the time.

But my future wife did, and we were living together. I saw the comments from my fellows as a challenge, one which I accepted. We returned home and we fired up the computer. My soon-to-be wife taught me how to use the word program and the rest is history. I typed out my first book, used lower case and upper case letters and even made a point to add proper punctuation.

But the story continues.

I returned to the firehouse with that first novel under my belt. I knew very little about the publishing world, nothing really. I used my new-found computer skills to search the Internet. My search was basic: How to publish your first book. Naturally, one of the paid services popped up at the top of the list. I clicked and ended up working with an outfit called 1stBooks Library. They are now called something else. My experience there is another story for another time.

I continued writing, but honestly, the whole deal was really just a hobby. My gig in the fire service was top dog. I was enthralled with the new relationship in my life. I wrote a bit here and there when I had a little extra time but that was about it, almost forgotten after that first book. Then, the next mishap where my health is concerned, a fresh injury.

This was a back injury I sustained while extracting the victim of heart attack from a very tricky location. Did I mention I was a paramedic as well as a firefighter? If not, well, now I have. Anyway, to this day I’m not exactly sure what happened or what I did wrong but suddenly my right leg collapsed. I was able to walk but barely. I was sent off to the fire department's medical doctor. After a detailed examination including an MRI the Doctor found a herniated disk in my lower back. I spent the next year in therapy, surgery and then more therapy.

During that time away I wrote two books. I started to educate myself about the in's and out's of the world of literature. I built new relationships, some friendly and some professional. I started submitting to agents and publishers hoping to skip on the paid publishing. If you recall I said earlier that was another story and not really a good one.

The day finally came when the therapy was over and I had healed up from the back surgery. I'm no medical doctor so I'm not sure how these ratings are set but I was informed that I was living along a border. I could give returning a shot or I could pension off and retire. And with the writing moving along I had considered that pension. But, the fire service was still number one in my mind. I was feeling good, strong and able. I chose to return to duty.

Three months later a semi truck rolled over into a gas station. I was working with a tool used for extrication and felt a series of pops in my back. Then that old sensation or lack of sensation in right leg returned. That was it, I was done. I no longer had a choice and had to leave the service behind. I had herniations on three disks and inflamed scar tissue left by the previous injury.

So, I continued to write and during the time I've been out of the fire service. I've managed to secure a couple contracts with independent publishers. I'm now writing paranormal stories for middle school aged children and adventure stories for adults. I’m on the board of directors for the Chicago Writer’s Association. I’m a mentor in a teen writer’s program, I’m a panelist for Clive Cussler’s Adventure Writer’s Competition and finally, I was an instrumental part of getting my home town’s annual book festival going.

And where does this leave us? If I can make my way through these turbulent times as a writer, then anyone can. An acquaintance of mine, a fellow named Joe Konrath sums it up the best, what do you call a writer who has never given up?


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