brothercyst: "As you fail, you sink back in the region of strange gases and red and blue darts where there is no oxygen and here you die in your lungs..."

Monday, April 24, 2006

"As you fail, you sink back in the region of strange gases and red and blue darts where there is no oxygen and here you die in your lungs..."

I made more polishes to Fires yesterday.

Some of my "polishes" are actually intended to rough things up a bit. The book is first-person, present tense, and it should feel sometimes like the narrator's voice is one step behind his gut.

That is, it shouldn't feel like the book's been deliberately polished.

I also added the dedication.

And I changed one of the epigraphs. Originally I had a quote from Heinrich's Boll's The Clown.

I changed that to a quote from Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire, a nonfiction book about the Mann Gulch fire, which killed twelve young firefighters (they were mostly teenagers, I recall). Maclean's book was not only enormously helpful when I was doing research for Fires, it is just an absolutely fucking great book.

The short introduction, called "Black Ghost," is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever. Like the rest of the book it is nonfiction, and in about ten pages, it contains two moments that I remember always.

Part of the introduction is about when Maclean himself was fifteen years old, fighting a massive forest fire that chased him up the side of a mountain and nearly killed him (when he was finally out of danger, he remembers, he had to put out the fires smoldering on his shoelaces). While he fled the fire - which was throwing spot fires in front of him, setting his escape route ablaze - he suddenly encountered another man, also fleeing, and what that man did says something very blunt about human beings.

The second stunning moment is years later, when Maclean and another man drive into the wasteland left behind by the Mann Gulch fire and they encounter a deer. I don't want to describe what makes this scene so memorable.

The story of Mann Gulch is incredible. One firefighter survived by setting a new fire in tall grass as the almost unimaginable main blaze got close to him and he realized he couldn't outrun it. Then he lay down in the ashes of the fire he'd made and let the inferno pass over him.

Just think about that for a second.

Others were burned so badly that before they died they were flooded with endorphins, and seemed cheerful ("I feel fine!" said one), eating oranges as their faces and bodies peeled. They were very thirsty, and then they died.

For my epigraph to Fires I chose a quote about one of the survivors of Mann Gulch, what happened to him and to his mind afterward.

There are so many quotes from Maclean's book, though, so many sentences that raise the hair. Maybe I will reprint a few of them when I am home and have the book in front of me.

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