Katherine Center says she never wanted to write about fire fighters.
After 25 years with her volunteer firefighter husband, she says she knew too much.
“I knew how incredibly hot and sweaty and exhausting and filthy and truly down to the bone tiring that job is,” she said.
As a writer who crafts her characters in the first person Center says she needs to be able to “crawl into their skin and channel what it would be like to be that person and go through those things.”
Hot, sweaty fires? Nope.
“It was hard for me to imagine being a person who would want to put on 75 pounds worth of gear and not just deal with fires but with sticking people with needles and seeing skulls broken in half after car wrecks,” she said. “To me that is all kinds of scary and I couldn’t relate.”
And then her husband asked, what if the story isn’t about wanting to fight fires. What if being a fire fighter is something your character just happens to be really good at?
“The minute he said it, everything shifted for me and all the pieces fell into place. I get that. I have the thing I love to do, which is writing,” Center says. “I had no idea how hard it would be, if I had, I would have found another job. But at the same time, this was my thing. This is what I felt like I was best at in the world.”
Suddenly Center understood her main character, Cassie. And Cassie became one of the best fire fighters around caught in the depths of a self-imposed, loveless solitude meant to protect herself after suffering traumatizing loss.
“Suddenly as soon as I thought of Cassie’s job in that way, I totally get her. She totally loves to do this thing and the world was not sure it was going to let her do this thing,” Center says. “I’m totally there. It clicked into place for me. I knew who she was.”
And while the story rotates around Cassie’s daily role as a fire fighter, that’s not really what the story is about.
Things You Save in a Fire, Center’s seventh novel, is about forgiveness. It is about the dark overtaking the light and the light eventually and gloriously reclaiming its rightful place. It will, in a word, give you hope.
On her 16th birthday Cassie’s mother leaves her family for another man and Cassie is brutally assaulted at a high school party. The double trauma leaves her broken and determined not to allow another soul to injure her again.
Cassie heals. She is successful in her career. She is witty. She is funny. But she’s also completely closed herself off to the beautiful tenderness that gives our souls reason to exist. Her journey in helping her mother cope with her own illness opens doors that allow Cassie to continue her own healing process.
“She really is ok. She didn’t go down into the depths and never come back,” Center says. “But that essential component, that delicious and inspiring part of human life that she’s closed herself off from, I wanted to see that story about her being able to reclaim that and not let the monsters of the world ruin everything for her.
“For me think inspiring to see stories who heal from really terrible thing,” Center says. “It’s satisfying to see her find ways to forgive in all kinds of ways and reclaim those essential parts of herself that were stolen from her.”
There is a lot in the world that can bring you down. Pick up Things You Save in a Fire and let it remind you to lift up yourself, and those around you.
“Sometimes we get so focused on what’s wrong that we forget to even register what’s right,” Center says. “On a very personal level I always try to make sure to appreciate and savor and remember the good things that are also happening.
“Life is always both. You have always got tragedy and joy happening at same time,” she says.