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Hail of Fire by Randy Fritz

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HAIL OF FIRE

by 

Randy Fritz

 

 

 

Hail of Fire: A Man and His Family Face Natural Disaster is an intimate account of the third worst wildfire in modern U.S. history, and the most destructive in the history of Texas. It is a memoir of what happened to Randy Fritz, an artist turned politician turned public policy leader, and his family during and after the Bastrop County Complex fire in September 2011. Combining a searing account of the fire as it grew to apocalyptic strength with universal themes of loss and grief, Fritz gives a first-person account of the emotional turmoil that comes with rebuilding one’s life after a calamitous event.

The wildfire itself was traumatic to those who witnessed it and suffered its immediate aftermath. But the most significant impact came in the months and years following, as families grieved, struggling to adapt to a new world and accept the destruction of an iconic forest of internationally acclaimed great natural beauty—the Lost Pines. Neighbors once close worried for each other, while others discovered new friendships that transcended the boundaries of race, class, and family lineage. Fritz struggled as his wife and daughter tried to make sense of their losses. He never imagined the impact this disaster would have on them individually and as a family, as well as the visceral toll he would pay in the journey to make sense of it all.

Hail of Fire is an unflinching story of how a man and his tight-knit family found grace after losing everything. Fritz’s hard-won insights provide inspiration to anyone on the search for what truly matters, particularly those who have undergone an unexpected and life-changing event and those who love and care for them.

 

 

HARDCOVER BOOK DETAILS

Price: $24.95

Pages: 256

Size: 6 x 9

Published: Jun 2015

ISBN: 9781595342591

 

EBOOK DETAILS

Price: $24.95

Published: Jun 2015

ISBN: 9781595342607

 

BUY LINKS:

 

 

Praise for HAIL OF FIRE

 

“If you’ve ever loved a tree—or a person—do yourself a favor: read this book, because at its core love in all its splendor and sadness is what it’s about.” — Jan Jarboe Russell, author of The Train To Crystal City

 

“The power of the book is in the recovery…. [Fritz] finds “mindfulness and acceptance” and the strength to make a fresh start in a place with haunted memories.”  Kirkus Reviews

“Randy Fritz has written a mesmerizing account of the Bastrop fire, the worst in Texas history and one of the worst ever nationally. The heart of Hail of Fire is how an everyday citizen survives the angst and awfulness of a natural disaster. Highly recommended!” — Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

 

“A roller coaster ride…. brutally honest, intimate and affecting.”  Austin American-Statesman

 

“In this painstakingly written story of ruin and renewal, Fritz eloquently reflects on how the events of the Bastrop fire of September 2011 and their aftermath transformed him, his family and the lives of their closest friends and neighbors.”  San Antonio Express-News

 

“As Fritz and his family deal with shock, instability, and the stress involved in trying to move forward, their perseverance and strength, and that of those around them, demonstrate that life definitely can rise from the ashes.” — Booklist

 

“Though the title of his memoir of the 2011 Bastrop wildfire might suggest that readers will be placed right in the middle of one of the worst conflagrations in Texas history, this Lost Pines resident is more interested in what followed: the displacement of his family after the loss of their house, and the fraught debate over whether to rebuild or walk away from their longtime home.”  Texas Monthly

 

“Every time a fire destroys a family’s home, the media shows up right away to cover the disaster and report what’s happened. But not very often does the media ever tell you what happens after the fire because most victims don’t have the emotional strength to speak out while the smoke is still in the air. This story is told through the eyes of Randy Fritz who experienced the third worst wildfire in modern U.S. history. He tells the story of grief, loss and how his family rebuilt their lives after the calamitous event.” — San Francisco Book Review

 

Fritz is at his best when he recounts the impact the fire had on his own psyche, with raw reflections on the difficult time he had coping and how his depression became difficult for his family. Foreword Reviews

 

 

 

 

My business was urgent. But I stopped at an overlook several hundred feet above the highway. I needed to know if I was about to drive into the fire’s maw.

 

The last time I was here—early afternoon the previous day—cars and pickups were parked at cockeyed angles. The conversations I joined or overheard over the wind’s moan were a mixture of resignation and threadbare hope. Nobody knew for sure what was happening on the ground, but there were a lot of theories.

 


I was certain some of my overlook companions were already wiped out, like my friends at the motel, or about to be. Others would be fine by the time it was all over. I couldn’t imagine how the lucky, including me, would fight back their guilt, or the unlucky their anger and bitterness.


 

From our vantage point, the fire took on two forms. The main one was a vast and heaving cloud of smoke towering many thousands of feet above us. It filled our entire western and southern visual horizon. While it was mainly white, there were dark streaks and blotches in it and lighter spots where the blue sky behind it was almost visible.

 

The other form was a yellow curtain of flame hanging and writhing over the ground. Within it, sharp bursts of light appeared and almost immediately vanished. Each one was like a tweet from the fire informing us that another home had been claimed and the secure future of another family forfeited.

 

While we were a small community of collective ignorance, there was one thing we knew: this fire was vastly more dangerous and destructive than the one two and a half years earlier that took three helicopters, two airplanes, and twenty-two fire departments to contain.

 

That one worried us. This one terrified us.

 

That one threatened dozens of families. This one was a predator of hundreds, if not thousands.

 

That one surrendered in a week. This one looked like it might never give up until its gluttony expired for lack of food.

 

Labor Day 2011 was the first day of a new era in Bastrop County, one in which its most prominent and beloved feature—the Lost Pines—would be ugly and desolate for many years. For those of us in middle age or beyond, our deaths would precede the rejuvenation of the forest into the bounty of life it was when we built our homes and started our families.

 

TRINITY UNIVERSITY PRESS LINKS

 

Review

Let me begin by saying that this man’s prose is beautiful. Once you get past the newspaper-like report of weather conditions leading up to the wildfire, the writing is so fluid and natural. As I got to know Fritz through the multiple flashbacks (sometimes confusing but provided great backstory), I felt a little jealous of the guy. Hippie potter builds his own home and garden with his own two hands, becomes a great pianist late in life, goes to college a little late as well and later becomes a judge, and goes on to occupy a few local government positions of importance. But he overcame a lot of obstacles to get where he was: artisans don’t often make a lot of money and early on one of his daughters develops a cognitive disability. And then of course, there’s the huge obstacle of the wildfire.

While I braced myself for a harrowing tale of this family of five (plus 3 dogs) running through flames and smoke to escape, it never came. While one daughter, grown and living on her own, almost meets calamity, we never hear about it. Fritz puts himself in danger (not obvious at first, but still quite serious you later learn) to try to save some items, and beats himself up on his choices through a big part of the book. There were some times that I found myself chanting, “First world problems,” in my head over and over.

I felt less guilty about not feeling so terrible about their situation since Fritz himself even acknowledges that their family was fortunate that they had good insurance and never went hungry or homeless. (Some might even say that their accommodations during the disaster were better than their original home.) What I do appreciate about this book is his candidness about seeking professional help for his guilt, depression, and anger from the experience, and the resources and tips he provides for people who are caught in or recovering from a natural disaster.

 

 

 

Randy Fritz is the former chief operating officer of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state’s public and mental health agency. He helped coordinate the state’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and led the team that implemented the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas. Fritz lives in Bastrop, Texas, with his wife, Holly, and their youngest daughter, Miranda.

 

 

 

 

 

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On Writing by Stephen King

I haven’t posted in a really long time so I’m just going to bring up a book that I’ve been meaning to review forever. So one of my many plans for the future is to write a novel. Or many novels if I can get published in the first place. And while I have some ideas spinning around in my head that might not ever hit the page, I wanted to read something that will help me when I eventually get there. I attended the Denver Publishing Institute back in 2005(?) and learned a lot, but not everything. While “On Writing” isn’t a manual, I appreciate that it’s an honest look into the process and journey of a great author. To be completely honest, I think I’ve only ever ready “Misery,” and that was because my cousin had a dusty, creased paperback on the shelf and I was curious. I think that I was pretty traumatized (from that one book and a few Mary Higgins Clark novels) to the point that I never read those kinds of books again. Sad, I know. But I enjoyed several of the movies, so I think it’s safe to assume the books are even better since they usually are.

The man has a great sense of humor and an even greater wife for being supportive of his endeavors. He goes by the ol’ “write at a set time each day and don’t stop until you hit x amount of pages/words.” Even a horrific accident can’t stop him from finishing something, although he wanted to many times. If you want to write something, pick this up (and Strunk and White, as King is eager to point out several times). If you are curious at all about the struggles that a writer goes through, read this. Or if you are just a Stephen King fan, this is a good one too. Just be warned, this isn’t a quick how-to of any kind. King just gives you a peek into the random string of thoughts that often gave birth to a bestselling novel and movie.

As soon as I have a few days to concentrate, I plan to complete the assignment below from the author. If you do it, tell him I sent you. It’s the least you can do since I typed the whole damn thing up.

Your job is to write five or six pages of unplotted narration concerning this fossil. Put another way, I want you to dig for the bones and see what they look like. I think you may be quite surprised and delighted with the results. Ready? Here we go.

Everyone is familiar with the basic details of the following story; with small variations, it seems to pop up in the Police Beat section of metropolitan daily papers every other week or so. A woman – call her Jane – marries a man who is bright, witty, and pulsing with sexual magnetism. We’ll call the guy Dick; it’s the world’s most Freudian name. Unfortunately, Dick has a dark side. He’s short-tempered, a control freak, perhaps even (you’ll find this out as he speaks and acts) a paranoid. Jane tries mightily to overlook Dick’s faults and make the marriage work (why she tries so hard is something you will also find out; she will come onstage and tell you). They have a child, and for awhile things seem better. Then, when the little girl is three or so, the abuse and the jealous tirades begin again. The abuse is verbal at first, then physical. Dick is convinced that Jane is sleeping with someone, perhaps someone from her job. Is it someone specific? I don’t know and don’t care. Eventually Dick may tell you who he suspects. If he does, we’ll both know, won’t we?

At last poor Jane can’t take it anymore. She divorces the schmuck and gets custody of their daughter, Little Nell. Dick begins to stalk her. Jane responds by getting a restraining order, a document about as useful as a parasol in a hurricane, as many abused women will tell you. Finally, after an incident which you will write in vivid and scary detail – a public beating, perhaps – Richard the Schmuck is arrested and jailed. All of this is back story. How you work it in – and how much of it you work in – is up to you. In any case, it’s not the situation. What follows is the situation.

One day shortly after Dick’s incarceration in the city jail, Jane picks up Little Nell at the daycare center and ferries her to a friend’s house for a birthday part. Jane then takes herself home, looking forward to two or three hours’ unaccustomed peace and quiet. Perhaps, she thinks, I’ll taka a nap. It’s a house she’s going to, even though she’s a young working woman – the situation sort of demands it. How she came by this house and why she has the afternoon off are things the story will tell you and which will look neatly plotted if you come up with good reasons (perhaps the house belongs to her parents; perhaps she’s house-sitting; perhaps another thing entirely).

Something pings at her, just below the level of consciousness, as she lets herself in, something that makes her uneasy. She can’t isolate it and tells herself it’s just nerves, a little fallout from her five years of hell with Mr. Congeniality. What else could it be? Dick is under lock and key, after all.

Before taking her nap, Jane decides to have a cup of herbal tea and watch the news. (Can you use that pot of boiling water on the stove later on? Perhaps, perhaps.) The lead item on Action News at Three is a shocker: that morning, three men escaped from the city jail, killing a guard in the process. Two of the three bad guys were recaptured almost at once, but the third is still at large. None of the prisoners are identified by name (not in this newscast, at least), but Jane, sitting in her empty house (which you will now have plausibly explained), knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of them was Dick. She knows because she has finally identified that ping of unease she felt in the foyer. It was the smell, faint and fading, of Vitalis hair-tonic. Dick’s hair-tonic. Jane sits in her chair, her muscles lax with fright, unable to get up. And as she hears Dick’s footfalls begin to descend the stairs, she thinks: Only Dick would make sure he had hair-tonic, even in jail. She must get up, must run, but she can’t move…

It’s a pretty good story, yes? I think so, but not exactly unique. As I’ve already pointed out, ESTRANGED HUBBY BEATS UP (OR MURDERS) EX WIFE makes the paper every other week, sad but true. What I want you to do in this exercise is change the sexes of the antagonist and protagonist before beginning to work out the situation in your narrative – make the ex-wife the stalker, in other words (perhaps it’s a mental institution she’s escaped instead of the city jail), the husband the victim. Narrate this without plotting – let the situation and that one unexpected inversion carry you along. I predict you will succeed swimmingly… if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave. Honesty in storytelling makes up for a great many stylistic faults, as the work of wooden-prose writers like Theodore Dreiser and Ayn Rand shows, but lying is the great unrepairable fault. Liars prosper, no question about it, but only in the grand sweep of things, never down in the jungles of actual composition, where you must take your objective one bloody word at a time. If you begin to lie about what you know and feel while you’re down there, everything falls down.

When you finish your exercise, drop me a line at www.stephenking.com and tell me how it worked for you. I can’t promise to vet every reply, but I can promise to read at least some of your adventures with great interest. I’m curious to know what kind of fossil you dig up, and how much of it you are able to retrieve from the ground intact.

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A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

Nadia and her brother Rabbit survive the BluStar epidemic when their Special Ops uncle injects them with an experimental vaccine. Unfortunately, their mother is not administered the vaccine in time, so they are forced to follow their uncle’s instructions on survival without any parental guidance. Using the skills that their soldier father taught them before he died in Afghanistan, the resourceful youngsters set off from their home in Washington in search of their doomsday prepped grandfather and his top secret abandoned mine in West Virginia. Along the way, they come across some of the 5% (in the entire world) that have survived the plague – grannies with shotguns who aren’t very welcoming, an intimidating homeless boy who is definitely more than meets the eye, and those guys who love living in anarchy during a disaster. In the midst of the chaos, they are offered a few chances to stay put and rebuild civilization with likeminded individuals. A chance to make a new family. Should they embrace the good that they find or press on toward the last of their family who might have not survived?

Kizer throws a few curveballs when it comes to whether the kids should trust an individual or group, but some of the people they encounter are straight out bad news, no doubt. It’s scary enough being a young person during a disaster, but the harsh reality of being a girl is addressed a few times. Because this book is geared toward pre-teens and teens, the author glosses over it a little. While she can be descriptive at times and the dialogue is believable, I wish that she hadn’t skipped some great opportunities for backstory. The book begins when the children’s mother passes away. Kizer mentions in passing the preparations that they’ve made while waiting for her to recover or die, but she writes almost nothing about the months of waiting and hiding in their homes while the outside world falls into chaos. I think she missed a big opportunity by doing this.

Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes love that a book I read is just the one book (I hate waiting for sequels to come out). But not when it feels like there could have been more. And while I know that it’s all the rage in YA right now, I think this book could have been split into at least 2 books, maybe 3. I think that the months of hiding could have easily been 1/3 or 1/2 of the first book. And the first book could have ended with their first encounter with a place to possible call home. The second book would have picked up there and shown them moving on. They have another chance to stay put, which is where the second book could have ended. Or, Kizer could have ended book 2 when they make it to the mine in West Virginia. And then I would have loved to hear more about what happens to them afterward. Boom! Book 3. But this was all we got.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It could make a pretty good movie but I don’t think it will be one.

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If We Survive by Andrew Klavan

Two girls, two boys, and a youth pastor travel to a small, impoverished village in Central America to rebuild a school. The school is little more than concrete walls with a few chairs inside. When asked how one of the walls was reduced to rubble, the locals answer Los Volcanoes. The Americans are perplexed since the village is far from any volcanoes but they don’t give it another thought. Just as they are about to go home, they are abducted by (you guessed it) Los Volcanoes, a faction of the rebel groups that are currently warring with the country’s government. Their hope lies with the ex-marine pilot who seems to not care about their dangerous predicament.

You’re probably going to hear me say this a lot on here, but I could really see this becoming a movie. And an awesome one at that. If Timothy Oliphant were younger, he’d be great as the ex-marine. I was imagining more bulk though. I suppose I would have to settle for someone like Liam Hemsworth. But honestly, he’s not rugged enough and I don’t think he can pull off the humongous chip on the shoulder that the character has. Okay, sorry. Enough with the casting wishlist. If you can’t tell already, I thought the ex-marine character was awesome. And I love movies. Moving on…

I thought all of the characters were believable. You’ve got the narrator, a 16 year old boy named Will who is scared but rises to the occasion. An annoying know-it-all of a teenage boy named Jim who sympathizes with the rebels hatred for America but stupidly believes that he can talk them into releasing the group. A prissy teenage girl (I forgot her name already… Nicki?)who does nothing but cries and screams for most of the book. And the college girl, Meredith, who is eerily Zen about everything and seems to have balls of steel. I don’t mean to ruin the book for you, but I hardly feel like mentioning the youth pastor, Ron, because he is weak and a disposable character. No need to talk about the ex-marine, Dunn, again because I will just go on and on. But basically, the man has layers. Like an onion.

Klavan sure knows how to write action. While I can’t regurgitate any awesome prose, I can tell you I can still see all the action sequences in my head. It might be because I’ve watched a lot of movies with machines guns, gore, and jungles. But honestly, I think it’s because his storytelling is descriptive yet concise. The man really knows his way around the subject material. I also found Will’s voice to be believable as well. There’s nothing worse than a grown author trying to pull off a teenage voice and failing miserably.

I don’t know if I’ll read more of this author but I would probably read this book again if it crossed my path.

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