As an author, I was done with the world of heli-borne wildland firefighters.
At least that’s what I naively thought.
It had been such a joy to write Wild Fire, the fifth novel in the Firehawks series, and A Hotshot Christmas, the last of my Firehawks Hotshots short stories. It felt as if it had closed the cycle of discovery that had begun with Pure Heat, and Steve Mercer who couldn’t stay away from wildfires despite a horrific injury that ended his smokejumping career.
Those final two stories had somehow created a sense of completeness and closure that I found very satisfying as a reader and as a writer. My Delta Force and Henderson’s Ranch series beckoned me forward and I moved on.
Further, the flights and fires of Mount Hood Aviation had begun when Emily Beale and Mark Henderson retired from the military in the Night Stalkers series. It had seemed only appropriate for it to end when they retired from the Firehawks and handed off their legacy for a new crew to nurture.
It had been an amazing adventure. Five major novels of romantic suspense firefighters ranging from the Oregon wilderness to Australia, Honduras to North Korea, and finally Vietnam. The Firehawks smokejumper trilogy leapt into fires in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington. For five short stories the Firehawks Hotshots fought fires in and around the mountain resort town of Leavenworth, Washington and the fire Lookouts’ five stories told of love atop the high and lonely peaks of Idaho’s Bitterroot Wilderness.
Two years passed before I was forced by the characters to revisit this world.
And I do mean, forced!
It happens to a writer sometimes. I typically know what stories I want to write next. Many writers don’t, but I see my next tales to be told a ways ahead…usually.
Not the Oregon Firebirds.
I had equipped the Firehawks of Mount Hood Aviation with the very best gear. They were well financed and had access to people and equipment of unprecedented quality. Only now, five years after I began writing those stories are the technologies I made available to MHA coming into any regular form of usage.
Then one day, Jana stepped up and plunged into the imaginary chair close by my writing desk. Sometimes characters sit there and point out where I’ve gone astray (“Oh, I’d never say it that way.”) Others just shrug in an amused fashion and say, “Sure, whatever.”
That day I hadn’t really been paying attention. Instead I was thinking about another story…can’t even remember which one. Because once Jana Williams showed up, the rest of it was just gone.
My stories start from characters. And Jana sat there glaring at me, as if challenging me to try and get her story out of her. A wounded veteran, no longer able to fly, trying to find a new beginning.
Beginnings are hard and Jana’s was no exception. Broke and broken in so many ways. So many interesting ways.
She wasn’t just asking me the question, “What happens when a soldier isn’t a soldier anymore?” She was also asking the much deeper question of “What happens when a woman doesn’t think she’s a woman anymore?”
So, I sat down to try and answer her question, but she was slippery. She really didn’t want to face any of that crap. I mean in a major, former soldier, everything-is-five by five-so-leave-me-the-hell-alone sort of way.
First she had me tell the story of her brother.
That wasn’t sufficient avoidance.
So, she shoved the mechanic to the fore next—heck of a stunt to pull on her best friend.
Finally I was able to draw Jana’s story out of her. (This may all sound fanciful, but it is actually very close to the real process I went through with these characters—a process I typically can only recognize after the fact.) But once I finally figured out and captured her story, I was too deeply involved with her crew to not finish the rest. The summer assistant was just a summer assistant. Yet he too had a story. One which posed several unique challenges for me—that I’ll discuss when we get there—but I didn’t see him as ending the series.
No, that final story belonged to a pair of twins. Well, brothers in spirit if not in fact. They weren’t the summer help, they were part of the main crew and were begging for their own story to wrap up the series. They were down with doing that as it stoked their male egos very nicely.
Even that didn’t end the way I expected, for reasons I’ll discuss after the last story is told.
I have always been fascinated by the women who battle impossible odds. And Jana Williams was definitely one of those. I’m not quite sure why I like her so much, but I do.
I seem to have a fascination with strong women and the choices they’re driven to make: Emily Beale (The Night Stalkers, Firehawks, Henderson’s Ranch), Kate Stark (Dead Chef Thrillers), Ri (The Nara Reaction), and the fireball Delta Force operator Carla Anderson. Miranda Chase in my new thriller series is such a fascinating and complex character that I was forced to name an entire series after her.
What do all of these strong women have in common? Underdog? Perhaps. But my male underdogs don’t fascinate me as thoroughly. I strive to write balanced romances—because amazing women deserve equally amazing men—but as the author, it’s the women who drive the core of most of the stories for me.
Just like Jana Williams, the founder of the Oregon Firebirds.
They’d Most Certainly Be Flying
The Oregon Firebirds are the very best at one thing—saving homes. Finding their own poses problems.
Stacy Richardson flies beside the memory of her brother to honor his past and escape hers.
Curt Williams’ fears are entirely about the future of his brand new company.
He planned for every contingency, except for his sister hiring the captivating Stacy to fly for their Oregon Firebirds. Now a fire burns in more than the trees, it scorches him straight to the heart.