by C.J. Darlington
Shawn Grady Interview
love great stories. The best resonate with the presence of the Lord."
-- Shawn Grady
Shawn Grady has served for more than a decade as a firefighter and paramedic in Reno, NV, where he lives with his wife and three children. Named the "Most Promising Writer" at the 2008 Mt. Hermon Writers Conference, he is the author of Through the Fire. Visit his website at shawngradybooks.com.
I hear you’ve had the desire to write ever since you were a kid. Would you say it was a dream? What was it that made you decide to get serious about writing as an adult?
Seeing my work in print is definitely the fulfillment of a dream. Once I had some life experience under my belt I began to write with a novel focus in mind. But it wasn’t until after a serious injury at the fire department due to a long fall that kept me on light duty for seven months in 2004 that I began pursuing writing with a career focus. I wanted to have an additional career that I was passionate about if for some reason I ever became permanently unable to work as a fireman. By God’s grace I was able to return to the line of duty fully healed and with the additional blessing of a focus for writing professionally.
I’m intrigued to learn you originally set out to obtain a degree in Theology but then switched to Fire Science and learning how to be a paramedic. Was there an epiphany moment for you that caused you to change your majors like that?
I knew going into college that I wanted to serve God and to serve man. At the time I felt the best way to do that was by becoming a pastor. As my freshman year progressed, I became increasingly interested in medicine and in the hands-on nature of emergency work. The career of firefighter/paramedic proved the perfect fit. I knew that I could continue to preach Jesus in my lifestyle in the ambulance and around the firehouse and like Francis of Assisi, use words when necessary. Who knew I’d still end up using words in a big way, like around 70,000 of them at time.
Being a firefighter and a paramedic … do those two professions usually go together, or are they two separate jobs you hold?
I’ve held the position of paramedic for private companies, paramedic/firefighter for a more rural fire department, and presently as firefighter with the city. I keep my paramedic certificate current with continuing education and have the option to pick up paramedic work part time.
In your job you really meet people in their most dire moments, and I can only imagine the opportunities you’ve had to speak into people’s lives. Is there a story or two that sticks out in your mind that can only be described as Divine?
On rare occasions God grants us victory over the natural forces of physics and death. My first week on the line as a firefighter in Reno I saw two firefighters emerge from a single-wide trailer that was well involved in fire with two unconscious children in their arms. The children weren’t breathing and I was able to help a little with their resuscitation. After transport to the ER and later treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, both children survived with only minor short-term memory loss of the event. That call worked its way in slightly different form onto the pages of Through the Fire.
And along the same lines, what has been your most memorable (or frightening) experience as either a firefighter or paramedic?
Delivering a baby on the living room floor of a house. It’s messy but wonderful. The blessing of new life.
I hear that your first novel to be published, Through the Fire, was actually the second novel you wrote. Any chance that first book will see the light of day or are you glad it’s stuck in a drawer? :)
Funny you’d ask. The first five to six chapters of Tomorrow We Die are from the first novel I wrote, and so it’s very rewarding to see those characters I originally created in my first novel find life in print, all bound and paginated. As for the rest of that first novel, I like it, but it will likely stay in the drawer ;)
How long did you have the story idea for Tomorrow We Die before you started writing, and how much did you know about the plot and characters before you began?
I was very familiar with them, having created the main characters of Jonathan and Naomi years before while working on the ambulance and the medical helicopter. The plot though took a lot of new crafting and dialogues with my wife to hone and fashion how the external drive of the story integrated with the internal journeys of the characters.
Your novels often feature real places and street names, but there are also plenty of fictional ones as well. How do you decide what to fictionalize and what to keep real?
If the story has a business catch on fire like in Through the Fire, or if the dynamics of a medical or trauma call might reflect poorly on an establishment, then I try to create fictitious names in those cases. I endeavor to make it all feel very real, to keep the names attributed to places and establishments very plausible.
It’s amazing to hear that besides your firefighting and writing gigs you’re also a dad and husband! How do you balance these various aspects of your life without completely burning out?
It is a lot of work and is tiring. We’re averaging 75 hour work weeks right now. But my wife and I endeavor to schedule our time well so that we can protect our time with the Lord, together and as a family. We make a habit of having an overnight date once a month and do lots of trips and outdoor activities as a whole family.
With Tomorrow We Die, did you have an idea of the spiritual message you hoped to share with readers or was it something that came about as you wrote?
Death, redemption, and resurrection are such rich and long-standing literary themes that I really had a lot to work with in Tomorrow We Die. The novel is book-ended by two sets of verses by Paul the Apostle.
The first, 1 Corinthians 15:32b says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’.”
The last, 1 Corinthinas 15:20-22 says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
What are some things about firefighting that you wish the average Joe or Jane knew?
The profession of firefighting has evolved dramatically in the last half century. Most firefighters are highly trained in a broad spectrum of emergency disciplines beyond just fighting fire---everything from paramedicine to high angle rope rescue, building collapse and trench rescue, complex hazardous materials incident mitigation, confined space rescue, swift water rescue, and automobile extrication. In the fire department I work at we have doctors, pilots, lawyers---people from a wide variety of former professions who chose this line of work because they love it.
Do you ever find it challenging to write about something you know so well? Or do you actually find it easier?
It helps by dramatically reducing the amount of time I need to spend researching. For my next novel, Falls Like Lightning, I’ve had to put more time into research and interviewing to better understand the smokejumpers’ profession. Once on the ground they’re wildland firefighters, but it’s the myriad of details that lead up to that and the nuances of their particular culture that I’ve had to glean from those who have actually worked as smokejumpers.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
Many, many things still churning in the bubbling magma of my subconscious.
Who are some authors you enjoy reading now, and why do you enjoy them?
Leif Enger, Tosca Lee. Voice is what sells me on a book. I can usually tell on the first page if I’m going to like a book and I’ll buy or check out a novel that I know very little about if the voice is superb. Both Leif Enger and Tosca Lee have that quality, and Tosca stretches my vocabulary, too, so I like that.
You’re a guy who enjoys listening to music when you write, often quite loud, I hear. Why is this? Does it help you concentrate?
Lol. My wife is perplexed by this as well. For me it creates atmosphere, a sense of emotion and feel that helps imbue the story world my imagination is in. I don’t always write with music, but I do often. It allows me to shut out whatever noise is around me and immerse myself in the creative process. I love it. Readers can actually click to listen to soundtracks of both Through the Fire and Tomorrow We Die for free, songs that I listened to as I was writing them, at shawngradybooks.com/novels .
Where is your favorite place to write?
I enjoy coffeehouses and our local library. Paris or Dublin would be cool, too.
What’s next for you?
Falls Like Lightning – Bethany House, Summer 2011
When hotshot smokejumper Silas Kent gets his own fire crew, he thinks he’s achieved what he always wanted. But amid the largest lightning caused fire complex the west has seen in over a century, his team is quickly forced into service. Before he’s ready they’re in a plane over the Desolation Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada.
Experienced firefighting pilot Elle Westmore has been called up to fly jumper crews into the heart of the forest infernos. As a single mother of a six year old who is suffering from increasing and unexplainable seizures, her situation has grown complicated.
It doesn’t take long for things to go very wrong, very quickly. A suspicious engine explosion forces Elle to make an emergency landing in a mountain lake. Silas is able to parachute to safety, but soon discovers his crew can’t be trusted. They’re hiding something, and now Silas is on a race to save himself and Elle—both from the conflagration encircling them…and from a more dangerous threat. His own team.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Thank you so much for having me here! I always get back to reader emails and love hearing from you. Feel free to contact me via shawngradybooks.com or at facebook.com/shawngradybooks .
Who is Shawn Grady?
First and foremost a lover of Jesus Messiah, a hopelessly in love husband, and a beaming father who is blessed by family and friends.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I can say the Greek alphabet in less than 5 seconds and I worked as a Chimney Sweep for three days.
not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Spending time (especially outdoors) with my wife and children!
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Typically yogurt and granola or eggs and toast, but today it was some sort of miniscule roll with egg and bacon and Gouda cheese at Starbucks.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Milk. Cheese. Condiments.
next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
If I’m writing it’s usually whatever house coffee is on tap, Pike’s Place, Gazebo or Verona— tall in a “for here” cup. If I’m on a trip with my family it’s usually a caramel macchiato.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Speak fluent Spanish and French. Visit Europe. Work as a garbage man for a day. I want to be the guy that gets to hang off the tailboard and operate the cruncher.
When was the last time you cried?
When was the last time I didn’t cry? I love great stories. The best resonate with the presence of the Lord. Singing heart felt worship with a fellowship of believers can just wreck me :)
currently in your CD player/iPod?
At present it’s The Strokes, Phoenix, and Arcade Fire.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.