I’m a firm believer in giving credit where it is due and in the writing of Twenty-Five at the Lip I definitely had a lot of inspiration that led to the writing of specific characters. There isn’t an author in history that hasn’t used those around them for inspiration and am certainly not an exception to this rule.
Twenty-Five at the Lip is a novel about EMS; the redheaded and often forgotten younger sibling of police and fire departments. We’re are often referred to as ambulance drivers (not to be confused with firetruck drivers or police car drivers) by the general public but this is a symptom of our lack of media attention and a belief that all EMS is run through a fire department. When I sat down to write this book I was bringing several years of experience with it, but I’m not only talking about running calls and treating the sick an injured. I’m talking about being brought into a culture that is unlike any you can truly understand unless you are in it yourself.
One of my biggest gripes about EMS and the practice of emergency medicine in the media is Hollwood’s depiction of it. Patient’s are often handled wrong and emergency scenes are always overly dramatized. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen actors portraying EMS providers on TV or in movies provide poor care, or act like utter buffoons on their emergency scenes. I take a lot of pride in Twenty-Five at the Lip because it’s a work of fiction written that’s written by an actual paramedic. Some of the best non-fiction EMS work can be attributed to Peter Canning who wrote Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine and Michael Morse who wrote Rescuing Providence. I wanted to contribute a fiction piece that didn’t pander to an image of EMS that makes us look like obnoxious thrill seeking adrenalin junkies who operate without consideration for themselves, the public, or their patients.
I became an EMT in 2003 and began volunteering on my home town’s volunteer ambulance corps. I had also been volunteering on the fire department, but in my town the fire and EMS services are separated and unaffiliated. When I joined the ambulance was just beginning to be dispatched by the fire department, and there was plenty of grumbling about it on the part of the ambulance corps. It was here that I met my first partner, “KY”. KY’s last name was Young and he was a former Navy Corpsman and a Gulf War vet and when I started running with him on Wednesday nights he taught me how much fun EMS could be and it was the first introduction to the culture that this society had. Fortunately for me it was a good introduction.
I got a job at a Boston based ambulance company and I soon found out that I didn’t fit in as well in EMS as I thought I did. I was the new guy so I anticipated that I was going to get some flack for that fact, but I also knew that if they gave you grief it was because they liked you. As it turned out, this process toward acceptance was much more difficult that I expected. I can recall being told by my EMT-Basic partner that I was a liability because I was new and that she didn’t like to work with new people. I was called dangerous and stupid, despite never causing an accident or harming a patient. They didn’t like the way I thought and I’ve often been told that I don’t have a normal thought process. A teacher once had the nerve to suggest that I had a learning disability and so I was assessed. When asked what a person does with bread I replied,”You make bread pudding,” a correct albeit unconventional answer. When I was asked what lives in the water, I said “The Loch Ness Monster,” because that’s the answer any dinosaur-obsessed five year old would give. My brain sometimes likes to use a different methodology to solve a problem and while I always came to the right answer, my thinking wasn’t normal to them and they saw that as wrong or even a threat. The absurdity about my being a liability was that this was a company that did inter-facility transports like dialysis appointments and doctor’s office visits, so the notion of my “liability” as a new person was somewhat overstated.
It wasn’t all bad though. I had a couple of very good partners who were a real pleasure to work with. My Thursday overnights into Friday days were the best part of my work week because I was able to work with Dave, an older and fatherly figure who was both hilarious and knowledgeable, and Jeremy who was also a volunteer firefighter. Jeremy was the kind of person who I found very easy to befriend and regardless of the call volume I always liked working with him because it wasn’t really like working.
If you’ve read Twenty-Five at the Lip you now know where Jeremy Young gets his name from. I named him after two of my favorite EMS partners because he represents a part of my past in EMS that was difficult and I wanted there to be a place of strength for him. He has Snuffy to stand up for him and a big part of me wishes that I had someone like her there for me when I needed her, but I had to learn to do that for myself. Most importantly I had to learn to find the worth in the work that I did and not cave when my “brothers and sisters in EMS” told me I was stupid, worthless, or dangerous.
Dave also had plenty of influence in Twenty-Five, and I see him in the text constantly. The character of Frank Macomber, the salty dog stereotype is a reflection of Dave as well as several other people. My friend John contributed to the mental image of Frank, and I found that suiting because he is a man of good principles as well as bing both loyal and courageous. Frank Macomber is named after my friend Morgan’s (Little Miss White Cloud) partner Frank as well as my great-uncle Roy Macomber who was the chief of the Freetown Fire Department. It’s the salty-dogs that show us the way to be. They teach us to remain calm when the world goes to shit, and they remember the old days that they always claim were better.
Richard Henry is an almost carbon copy of my Uncle George. George has been a volunteer firefighter in our home town most of his life and a deeply respected member of his department. His mannerisms and his candor when Valerie needs it are what makes his character and my uncle one of the most endearing characters you can find in literature or your life.
There was Jerry, an RN from a hospital I worked in in Pinellas County, Florida who is very much the inspiration for Marty, another salty dog in the Union ER. Jerry is the guy who has seen – quite literally – everything you can see in an emergency setting. He’s got that necessary take charge attitude and is a natural leader. He also has impeccable taste in food, cigars, and whiskey. Allen Waters is a reflection of my paramedic preceptor from Sunstar Paramedics. This was a man who put his family first and worked seven days a week to provide for them. In addition to being a preceptor he was an assistant supervisor at the company and was the sort of man that, as my grandfather would say, “You could go to if you had a problem.”
I can’t give an account of the characters in Twenty-Five without mentioning Valerie. She is named for a girl I worked with at a now disbanded department store called Building #19, and the mental image I have of her is very similar to that person. When I started writing Twenty-Five I had just come off of a pair of lousy breakups and was at a low point in my career. Like a lot of young men in that position I was reading a lot of Hemingway’s work and Valerie is something of a reflection of Catherine Barkley from A Farewell to Arms and Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises. Valerie has an angelic quality to Calvin that gives her that Barkley quality, but he finds that she is more like Brett Ashley as the story goes on. Valerie’s best qualities; her smart remarks, sense of humor, grin, and even her laugh are all contributions from my friend Morgan (Little Miss White Cloud) who I dedicated the book to.
There is no shortage of bad-guys in Twenty-Five at the Lip, but their inspirations aren’t worth mentioning here any farther and many of them aren’t worth dignifying. I could get into this writing element more, but this meme I came across today sums that up better that I can hope to elaborate on.
I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m proud of the paramedic I am because it was a difficult journey for me to get to where I am. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for the people who supported me and lit a fire under my ass when I needed it. I’ve very rarely fit the mold of what constitutes “the norm” and fortunately that’s something that is very encouraged. It’s never easy but it’s worth it.
Here is the link to the Amazon page where you can purchase Twenty-Five at the Lip