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Hot Shots

My sympathy to the families and friends of the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters.   They were noble men.

How and Why in the World Did I Do This?

9/30/2012 7:55AM — Starbucks on 46th Street and Chandler — Phoenix, AZ

The idea for The Marshal came to me in 1994.  I was living in Los Angeles, trying to become a screenwriter.  I was a screenwriter, I was just trying to figure out how to get paid for my work, like half the other folks living in LA.  At any rate, I used to go to Kelly’s Coffee in Brentwood every morning for coffee, a muffin, and to read The Wall Street Journal and New York Times.  I came across an article that will be familiar to readers of The Marshal — 43rd and 8th.  The article questioned why this firm was receiving so much money for animal fetal tissue research when, the writer felt, we already knew everything we needed to know on the subject.  I constructed a basic premise for my new screenplay, titled I Solemnly Swear, sitting there at the outside table that morning, and I got to work researching and writing.  Some time later I had a finished screenplay, and alas, I was never able to sell I Solemnly Swear.  Life moved on.  A neighbor got me a job on The Nanny at TriStar Television, where I spent a season as a production assistant and a half of a season as a writers’ assistant.  It was only a half season as a writers’ assistant because I got fired by the show’s producer.  Romantic squabbles (not with the producer) really have a way of screwing up a good thing.  It’s a long story, perhaps better discussed under a different post.   The show’s controller gave me some advice on my way out the door — he said that at every closing something better usually comes along, or something like that.  So I kept my head up while settling into new living accommodations I’d found in Westwood, and I struck upon the idea that maybe it was time to listen to dear old mom.  She’d been whispering in my ear every chance she got that I should go back and finish my college degree.  My greatest experience on The Nanny was working with the writers in the writers’ room.  And the thing that most impressed me was that these men and women were all college graduates.  Around that table it was Yale, Harvard, Tufts, NYU, UCLA, etc.  I knew if I wanted to be a writer I had to get a degree.  So I enrolled in Santa Monica Community College and finished my AA degree.  Having that firmly in hand, I applied to UCLA and LMU.  I didn’t make the cut at UCLA, so it was on to LMU, where I excelled in creative writing and met my future wife.  Upon graduation I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  To be a writer you had to have something you could sell.  I didn’t.  I also didn’t want to go back into production.  I’d been substitute teaching in the Catholic school system for a semester, and as luck would have it, I was offered a position at Saint Mary’s Academy in Inglewood to teach economics, math, and world civics.  That worked for a newly-wed couple for about a semester, until I figured out that I would never be able to make it in LA on a private school teacher’s salary.  So I set out to find more lucrative employment, and I landed a job selling, of all things, electronics.  I didn’t know a transistor from a transformer, but I did have quite a lot of sales experience, and I had that magic ticket of admittance, a college degree.  This was April of 1998, about a month before the dot com boom began its crash.  The company that hired me had bet wrong — they thought the market was going to keep going and going.  But being the tenacious individual that I am, they kept me around and eventually gave me a promotion and transfer to Phoenix, AZ in September of 2001.  Now I’m in Phoenix, still writing, still submitting screenplays, and still dreaming the dream.  I got to a point where I felt it would be easier to break through as a novelist than a screenwriter, and I determined to turn I Solemnly Swear into a novel.  I remember telling myself that if I didn’t get started and stay busy at it, I would never become a writer.  So I started writing.  I wanted to develop my own style based on something taught to me by a professor at LMU.  He called it free indirect discourse.  It’s a style of writing that attempts to remove the narrator’s voice from the page by filtering the reader’s perception through the central character’s thoughts, thereby drawing the reader closer to the experience of the character on the page.  You’ll find examples of it in my writing.  My early drafts were heavy with it, and I hope I’ve found a happy medium.  My early drafts were heavy with a lot of immature writing.  After about 20 drafts of The Marshal — 43rd & 8th, reads and edits from friends, my “Editor-in-Chief”, and countless hours of writing and editing by yours truly, I feel I have something worthy to present to the world.  So what happened during that writing and editing process?  It’s now 2012, about a decade since first deciding to write The Great American Novel.  All I can tell you is it’s been countless days and nights writing at Paradise Bakery, Starbucks, random restaurants, and my kitchen table.  But mostly places outside the home.  My wife is a writer’s widow.  My kids just know that dad goes away at night.  I’ve also made several trips to NYC for research and to attend writing conferences.  I’m self publishing The Marshal — 43rd & 8th with Create Space, an Amazon company.  The process from first submitting a manuscript to them, to receiving my final physical proof, has taken ten months.  I’ve been through two physical proofs and several editing rounds with them.   When I started the publishing process, I wanted to get it out there really fast — I was anxious to get it done.  Luckily I had a couple of friend/family editors who read the manuscript again and gave me edits, mostly at that point on punctuation and grammar.  Then I completed three rounds of submissions on my own.  I kept finding little things that bugged me.  In the end, I don’t have the editors of a big publishing house to blame for typos or continuity errors.  All the blame and fame falls squarely at my feet.  Well, almost all the fame.  I’ve had some really good people help me along the way.  You’ll have to read the acknowledgements page on 43rd & 8th if you’re interested in whom I credit.  Thanks for reading my ramblings.  This is my first blog post, ever.  I was told there are supposed to be conversational and informal.  My next post will be a discussion on how I met up with the FDNY Bureau of Fire Investigation and how that experience changed John Kane and The Marshal.

My Relationship with the FDNY Bureau of Fire Investigation

After moving to Phoenix, I shared my screenplay I Solemnly Swear with a friend named Michael Diaz, who is a firefighter on the Phoenix Fire Department.  At that point the main character was an NYPD detective.  My friend Michael suggested that I make my character a fire marshal.  Michael then set me up with a fire marshal whom he knew here in Phoenix.  After a couple of meetings with the Phoenix fire marshal, he called a friend who was the chief fire marshal in Chicago, who also had contacts at FDNY.  A day later I was on the phone with Richard McCahey, the FDNY Assistant Chief Fire Marshal at the time.  Chief McCahey invited me out to New York.  This was in 2004.  It was the first year after 9/11 that they were having the annual FDNY Medal Ceremony.   Two weeks later I was in NYC.  The BFI rolled out the red carpet for me.  Chief McCahey invited me to the Medal Ceremony and to post-ceremony celebrations, he set up a ride-along with the marshal who has been a great supporter and my main contact at FDNY, Commander Randy Wilson.  At the time, Louis Garcia was the Chief Fire Marshal.  Chief Garcia took time to meet with me and gave me some good ideas.  The Marshal — 43rd & 8th is littered with truth and accuracy from everyone at the BFI.  Most realistic was the advice I got from Robert Byrnes, a Supervising Fire Marshal at the time, now the FDNY Chief Fire Marshal.  I was in the first meeting with Chief McCahey and Robert Byrnes and Randy Wilson, who were both Supervising Fire Marshals at the time.  At that time, my central character had a bit of an alcohol problem.  It fed into the drama I was creating on the page.  Byrnes was not thrilled about the idea of a boozer-marshal.  I’ll just say that.  Chief Byrnes is a serious man.  FDNY fire marshals are serious law enforcement professionals.  I determined to make a change on the spot.  During that trip I spent a lot of time with various marshals, I slept over at a fire house, spent time on the equipment — I learned who and what an FDNY Fire Marshal is, how they act, what they would do.  I went back the next year and spent more time time with them, and I always stayed in contact with Commander Wilson.  He has always been available for me to bounce ideas and clarify questions — but let’s remember, this is a work of fiction and I have taken certain liberties.  I owe a tremendous debt to the FDNY BFI.  This book would never have been without them.  Please see my page The Marshal Foundation and check out the link for The FDNY Foundation.  Give if you can.

Why Call it The Marshal?

I was in New York City for a writer’s conference, the Algonkian Pitch Conference to be exact.  I’d met another writer, call him Dr. N., and we hit it off.  I was on my way to meet him for some dinner one night, and as I walked out of the Hilton Times Square, the title hit me.  I’d been meditating on the title for a day.  I’ve told you the title was originally I Solemnly Swear, and there was an interim title that only a few in the world will every know, a title that never sat well with me, and did not sit well with my conference instructor, Charles Salzberg.  At any rate, as I walked out onto 42nd Street from the hotel lobby, it hit me — The Marshal.  I determined that I’d add a subtitle to each book in the series, based on where the action took place, hence 43rd & 8th, and Sakhalin — the subtitle of the next book in the series.  The interesting thing about it is that at the time the title hit me, my friend Dr. N. was talking to a band of Jehovah’s Witnesses in another part of Times Square — over on 48th Street by his hotel.  He’s not a JW, but he is a spiritual man.  When the JWs asked him if they could pray for him, he declined, but asked them to pray for me.  He knew I was going through a rough time.   Later, we pieced the timeline together, and they were praying at the very instant that the name The Marshal came to me.  Cosmic?  Spiritual?  Divine?  Coincidence?  I can’t really say.  But I’ll thank God and Dr. N. and the JWs, because I kind of like my title.