On Monday, March 6, 2017, I had a book club meeting at 6:00 p.m.
I belong to a book club called Women Reading Women, in which we select books penned by female authors to discuss. For the month of March, I convinced my book club to read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, a memoir about her time training a goshawk after the death of her father. It’s a beautiful literary work, written with poetic prose and great subtlety. The author weaves themes of identity, ostracism, war, human nature, animal nature, artistic expression, and grief into paragraphs so exquisitely rendered the effect is quite breathtaking. I reread Chapter One as soon as I finished it.
As a literary memoir, it’s one of those books in which not much takes place on the outside, but entire galaxies burn and flare in each sentence. Not everyone enjoys prose like this. I really love it.
I had meant to read the entire book before my meeting on Monday night. But a number of events prevented that from happening. Late Sunday night, I found myself in the situation of needing to spend all day Monday reading the book in order to finish in time, but on Monday morning, my ebook formatter sent me my final, corrected e-files for Kinned to the Sea.
My fifth novel took me much longer to finish than I anticipated. Only one person in my final round of beta-readers read the final draft, and then there were some extra delays in completing the last round of copyedits and formatting. When the corrected files came in Monday morning, I immediately started uploading my new ebook to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. This took me all morning. Then I rewrote my book description for the sales page, and corrected that information on each platform, which took a large chunk of time from my afternoon.
I didn’t finish H Is for Hawk, but at least I could announce that my newest novel was ready to read. Even so, I felt exhausted and pretty much like a failure. My mood dropped so low that I actually went to the grocery store and bought some caramel ice cream, to give myself a sugar-high to counteract my sucky attitude. The ice cream worked its magic, and I pulled my sh*t together, Reader Fail and all.
I went to my book club meeting at 6:00, and discovered only one person read the entire book. Everyone else DNF’d (Did Not Finish), skimmed the memoir, or didn’t even start this book. Since I only read the first 100 pages, I had to clarify that my Reader Fail wasn’t due to not enjoying the book, but time constraints. I was the only one who loved this memoir, and I do plan to finish H Is for Hawk.
The conversation at book club mostly focused on politics, and we get pretty heated and curse a lot and I generally feel like an asshole but at least I brought cookies. (I also took pasta, but let’s not kid ourselves about the importance of sugar, and that Cookies Are King.) My book club chose The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, for our April read, and lucky me a friend of mine gave me that book back in August, so I have a copy already.
As soon as I left my book club meeting, people started calling me. My mom, my sister-in-law, my friend Blair — my phone rang and rang as I dropped off my friend Mary, and by the time I dug the thing out of my purse, and answered, I discovered the house my sister lives in was on fire, and was “burning to the ground.”
Laura lives in Silverton, Colorado, a one-hour drive north from Durango. The house that had caught fire is owned by our mother, and she lives in what we call “the main house,” which is located right next door. Followers of my blog may recall that “the main house” was mortgaged almost two decades ago, and is now under constant threat of foreclosure. The house my sister lives in used to be full of my mom’s old furniture and miscellaneous boxes of memorabilia up until last May, when I helped my siblings clean the house out to let Laura move in. She gave birth to her first child last May, and needed a place to live, so my family did a bunch of work so that Laura and her then-boyfriend could move into this unused house, along with their infant daughter.
In October, we installed a wood stove in the house because Laura’s then-boyfriend wanted to heat the house with a wood stove, Laura had agreed to this plan, and no one had $5,000.00 for a new propane furnace. The former boyfriend no longer lives there, and baby Serena is now ten months old.
On Monday night, Laura came home from a day out of town, and she started a fire to warm up the house. Her friend Emannuel was with her, as well as Serena. Soon after starting the fire, Laura noticed a strange smell in the house, like burned plastic. There was no smoke in the air, and nothing appeared to be wrong. Emannuel has no sense of smell, so he couldn’t verify that Laura smelled something funky.
Since everyone survived this fire, I asked Laura to type the rest of this story for me — so here is my sister, relating this story in her own words —
About fifteen minutes into watching our movie and watching Serena play, I caught a whiff of a strange smell — kind of like burning plastic. I was going to ask Eman if he smelled it, but realizing he had no sense of smell, I just started to look toward the fireplace to see if maybe one of Serena’s toys had magically gone over the brick barrier, when we both heard a funny ticking noise. Eman asked, “Can you hear that?”
“Yes,” I said as I finished getting to my feet. I took a step closer to the wood stove. As I looked up to the triple-wall piping that leads out of the house, I realized the wall around the pipe was bright orange and red — not the metal, but INSIDE THE WALL. So I said, “Eman, the wall is on fire. Grab the fire extinguisher from the front door, right there –” I pointed five feet away — “and hit the stove with it.”
“Get Serena out of the house,” Eman said to me. So I picked up Serena, grabbed my coat, pulled out my phone, dialed the dispatch number, and had dispatch on the phone by the time I opened the door to let Sooky [the dog], Serena and I out the front door.
As soon as we were on the front landing, Eman sprayed the wood stove with the extinguisher, then the wall where the pipe meets it, and when the spray hit the fire, the whole house immediately filled with smoke, which came pouring out the front door, hitting me in the back. So I took Serena in her car seat (which Eman had handed to me) over to my mom’s house, to let my mom know what had happened, and tell her that I had called the police.
While I did that, Eman went around the side of the house and sprayed the south-facing wall with the fire extinguisher, the wall where the wood stove pipe goes all the way up the side of the house. Then Eman went back inside to look for my cat, who had not made it out with the rest of us. This was also when the first police officer arrived, and handed Eman another extinguisher, which he took with him upstairs.
Eman went into the big bedroom above the living room (the living room is the room with the wood stove in it) — and inside this bedroom, he saw flames starting to come out of the wall behind a king-sized bed I keep for guests in that room.
Eman called for my cat, sprayed the wall with the fire, and then left the house.
Meanwhile, I had no idea Eman had seen fire in the wall, I still thought the wall was smoldering. I returned to my house, went inside, and walked up the stairs to my smaller bedroom, where I have mine and Serena’s clothes, which is the room next to the one that was now on fire. I didn’t see my cat. F*ck. So I thought, “Well sh*t, the house is full of smoke, I’m going to close this door so the the smoke doesn’t go in there, and open the window in the bathroom so the smoke has somewhere to go.”
Then I went back downstairs, still not realizing the second-floor south-facing wall of my house had become an inferno. I went to the other side of the house to the kitchen, opened the back door and called for the cat — still nothing. So I went back to the wood stove and cleaned up a path to get into the living room, moving Serena’s basket of toys and pillows and stuff that was on the floor so it wouldn’t get trampled on — and that’s when I heard Eman and the police officer screaming at me from the front yard, yelling, “Get the hell out of the house, Laura!”
So I did — and when I came around the corner of the room I had just vacated, I saw the side of the house had flames going all the way to the roof. A few minutes later, when my brother arrived, he told me he could see the orange glow of those flames from downtown, a few blocks away.
Watching the fire department spray water at both sides of my house, struggling to put out the fire for almost two hours, breaking the window into the bedroom to put out the flames in that king-size bed, which was a raging inferno by that point, broke my heart. The fire department really had to fight that fire — it did not die easily.
I am so grateful everyone is okay, and that I have amazing family and friends who make my world go ’round.
A big thank you to Laura for typing that up for me. My sister is an amazing woman. Emannuel is an amazing man. They kept everyone safe and took all the right steps to keep that house from burning down. And thank God the fire happened at 8:00 p.m. and not 3:00 a.m., while Laura and Serena lay upstairs asleep.
As soon as I learned my sister’s house was on fire, I went home, packed an overnight bag, and drove to Silverton. I stayed the night in my mom’s house with Laura, Serena, my mom, my bothers Johnny and Mitchell, Sooky (the dog) and all the many kitties who live there. We returned to Laura’s house around midnight and found Laura’s cat in her kitchen, who was scared but unharmed. Laura brought him to my mom’s house.
Laura’s house didn’t burn to the ground, but the fire destroyed the big upstairs bedroom, and the smoke damage upstairs was bad enough that my brother Lee said the house came close to erupting into a complete structure fire due to the heat from the flames in the bedroom wall. When Laura closed the door to the smaller bedroom, she effectively saved ALL her clothes and precious belongings from being destroyed by smoke damage (permanently stained black or brown). She had little in the large bedroom other than the king-size bed and a few pieces of furniture — everything Laura lost in this fire, she can replace.
The house has **major** water damage now, and some of the second-floor south wall is missing, burned away in the flames.
On Tuesday morning, I went back into the burned house with my sister, and we loaded up six large trash bags with clothing (soaked with icy water and reeking of smoke), which I brought home to Durango to wash. If you have ever been in a burned house, you’ll know that the smoke and the charred debris emits a strong chemical smell, which is the odor of burned drywall, melted plastic, and roasted metal. Depending upon the materials that have gone up in flames, the particular chemical mix changes from house to house, but the smoke has a heavy industrial odor. It’s loaded with a higher concentration of poisonous chemicals, stings the eyes more, and we all know most people who die in fires die from smoke inhalation. It’s deadly stuff.
Laura followed me back to Durango on Tuesday afternoon (yesterday afternoon), to stay with me for a while. She brought Serena with her, and our mom is watching Sooky (the dog) and Laura’s cat, since I don’t have pets at my house. I made us dinner last night, and bought Laura lots of self-care items and new baby soap, and she gave Serena a bath, took a hot shower, rolled around on the floor with the baby and ate ice cream, and we just spent time together, stumbling through shock and washing smoky-bag after smoky-bag of almost-ruined laundry.
I hope my mom’s homeowner’s insurance will cover the cost of the damages. We are in some major financial trouble if the insurance doesn’t come through. But it’s too soon to know what will happen with that.
In the meantime, here is a picture of my sister eating the eggs and bacon I cooked for breakfast this morning —
Serena ate a little eggs and bacon, too.
If not for the fire on Monday night, I’d have shared a blog post about Kinned to the Sea now being available as an ebook. I’m still in shock over everything, but I did check all three sales platforms this morning, and Kinned to the Sea is available on them all. Here is my webpage with all three links where you can find this book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
If you can afford to spend $2.99 for the ebook, I really appreciate your financial support. If you cannot afford the book, or you are someone who would normally receive the book for free in gratitude for beta-reading or being one of my critique partners, you can download the ebook for free on Smashwords.
Please leave a book review if you can. You do not have to purchase the book in order to leave a customer review on a sales page.
Thank you for reading. I thought March 6, 2017 would go down as the day I launched my fifth ebook, but that house fire changed all my plans. This Sunday, I’ll be lighting a candle of joy at church that no one was hurt, and that the only things my sister lost were pieces of furniture, some electronics, and small household items. We’ll pray the damage done to the house can be repaired soon. Sometimes life is too too scary.