There's no expiration date for a powerful story.
I visited Samuel Freedman’s book-writing seminar at the Columbia Journalism School this morning to talk about my first book*, The Fire Line, about a wildfire that killed nineteen members of the same crew, the Granite Mountain Hotshots. As I made my way from the subway to the classroom on this balmy, sunny day in New York City, it occurred to me that the firefighters died almost ten years ago, and that my book came out nearly six years ago, and that a powerful story is timeless.
The passage of time is a tricky thing. Looking back, the years I spent reporting, writing and riding the high of seeing The Fire Line hit bookstores feel like another lifetime for me because of all that has happened since. I traded my job at The New York Times for a job teaching journalism. I lost my husband and the grounding for the American identity we collectively forged for myself. I’ve rediscovered who I am, rising more resilient than ever as I’ve learned to extract strength from my vulnerabilities. I’ve continued to write, though without the constraints of an institution and the self-pressure of trying to fit in. Today, I know who I am, and I love who I am, and that’s enough.
I joined sixteen students around a big rectangular table at Freedman’s seminar. For ninety minutes, we talked about the process of reporting, absorbing and writing the complex story behind The Fire Line. Invariably, when I talk about craft to aspiring writers, the question of how to handle emotions comes up. How do I handle the trauma and profound sadness that underlines a story?
I allow myself to feel everything. I cry. I scream. I hug the people who have opened their hearts to me, grateful for their trust and also sorry for the pain they’re enduring. And I write. I write to capture the intensity of the moment and also to honor it.
My heart, bruised as it may be, is capable of immense love, empathy and compassion, and the words I write exist to register life so that it endures as the clock ticks, and the seconds and minutes and hours and days and years add up, and the end arrives. Even if too early. Even if too soon.
With love and purpose, always.
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A second book, my memoir, is in the works. ❤️
A dedication is set for the 10th anniversary June 30.
Fernanda, a monument to the Granite Mountain Hotshots is under construction on the grounds of the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza in Prescott, Arizona. Maybe you can attend the ceremony when it is completed.