Each of us has seemingly lived a life prior to the one we are living right now. All of us could have become someone or something else.
Not Rebecca Cotton though. Rebecca was born to become one thing: a fire fighter. In the story “A Devil Wind” from The Book Of Witness she describes a clarity of vision few of us are likely to feel in our lives. Even when faced with a tragedy, she remained steady.
Over the years, I have written countless versions of this particular short story. Each of those variations was told from a different point of view but something just didn’t work. What has remained consistent through this iteration was the idea of something moving into the forest fire when everything else should move away. That stayed in place. It was the unmovable part of the story.
Slowly, things in “A Devil Wind” unlocked. Foremost was transforming the point of view to a woman. Once I changed Robert to Rebecca the story took its proper shape. That’s what it took.
Her story was the one I wanted to tell.
In a previous life my sister was a fire fighter. Part of what helped me write this story was seeing the struggle she went through trying to achieve her dream. I don’t know if she experienced the same scrutiny as Rebecca would have in the 1950’s, but it was still an inspiration.
Gender prejudice is real. A man can simply work toward becoming a fire fighter. A woman must work to become a “female fire fighter” in a similar way that Barack Obama worked to become the first “black President”.
It’s a fine distinction maybe, but an important one nevertheless.