Firefighter embraces passion for writing books

first_imgThe Stephen King of Fire Station 18 in Granada Hills can trade the fantasy world of literature for his firefighter’s yellow turnout coat and oxygen mask in less than a minute. Plenty of people have two jobs – working one by day, the other by night – but not like John Hicks. As a veteran firefighter/paramedic, he never really stops working. As a children’s author, he never totally puts books out of his mind. Between his two careers, he must simultaneously be a fireman, writer, student, businessman, publisher, promoter, husband and father of three. The trim, polite man with the well-groomed mustache and firm handshake keeps himself just about as busy as humanly possible. And whenever he finds a nice quiet moment to settle down to write, his other job yanks him back in. Hicks got into the writing game on a lark. He hadn’t written since high school and the closest he came to the literary world was reading the occasional Tom Clancy novel, but he started scribbling out ideas longhand on yellow pads after a casual conversation with a neighbor a few years ago. He didn’t specifically set out to write for kids, but most of his stories seemed to resonate best with a younger audience. Remembering the Hardy Boys books he read as a child, he made the writing punchy and filled with cliffhangers, as hard-boiled protagonists dodge gunfire and fireballs. His wife, Nancy, an attractive and exceedingly patient woman, offers a weary smile when she considers the times he’s pulled himself out of bed in the middle of the night to pound out another chapter. “Coming from a guy who didn’t like school that much, it was a surprise,” she said, as Hicks shyly looked away. “He’s worked really hard on this. Really hard.” That work led to “Divided World,” which he describes as “`Star Wars’ meets ‘Snow White.”‘ It sat on the shelf awhile as he finished “My Buddypack,” which deals with a boy’s struggle to deal with his father’s death, government agents and a mysterious knapsack. He published both in 2003, following up with “The Ghost of Fire Company 18” last year. He’s now got two more on the way and a one-man publishing company to turn his ideas into reality. “I write any time,” he said, on a rare day off in his Valencia home. “If I wake up at 2 a.m., I’ll do it for half an hour. In the afternoon, after all my work’s done, I’ll do this instead of watching TV.” This plays out to extreme lengths. When Nancy goes shopping, he waits in the car, pounding away at his laptop, stealing 20 minutes here and there to write, edit and market his books. During family functions, when the conversation ebbs and the kids head off to watch a movie, on goes the computer. Writing has consumed his life, as he not only authors novels and a soon-to-be-published humor compendium for first responders, but also serves as Quiet Man Publishing’s sole employee. He’s also the financier for the company, named for his favorite John Wayne film, and sold his Suzuki DRZ-400 motorcycle to finance his latest novel. After five years and $15,000 worth of book sales, he’s finally making a modest profit for his long hours, watching his books sell nationally in Barnes & Noble, Borders and through his Web site, He attends book signings, reads at schools, writes letters to Oprah, hopes a studio will option his work, anything to make the venture pay for the swath it’s chewed through his free time. “I don’t know how he finds the time, between studying for the captain’s exam, being a paramedic and doing all the work here,” said Don Matthews, Station 18’s engineer. “I’ve got my copy of his book tucked away for when he’s famous. No one’s touching that baby.” And that’s the strange thing about Hicks – rather than slacking off on his primary career to pursue his literary dreams, he’s actually trying to get better. After a year-and-a-half of study, he passed the two-part test and made the list to be considered for captain, a position he hopes to attain later this year. The guys who man the 1999 Pierce fire engine at the Granada Hills station that serves as his second home give Hicks a hard time, giving him his good-natured Stephen King nickname and kidding him for his slavish devotion to work. If he’s not cleaning, training or exercising, they know exactly where to find him. “Whenever there’s any downtime, he’s always on the laptop,” said Jim Hoeft, a firefighter who pulls the Sunday night shift with Hicks. “He’s real good about making the time to work.” He recently finished the first responder’s book, co-authored with a sheriff’s deputy friend, hoping to put the book out in March. His fourth novel, “The Day Billy Lost His Weirdness,” should be available in the summer. This constant push for success has not been easy as Hicks weighs the delicate balance between family life and his demanding dual careers. Though he tries to maintain the confident demeanor of an entrepreneur, he privately admits fatigue. The long nights, the constant hustle, the ceaseless promotion, they wear on him just as much as the firefighting injuries. And yet he keeps searching for a way, figuring that somehow, eventually, he’ll find his reward. “I’m always guilt-ridden, trying to juggle work and my wife and kids,” he said. “It’s so hard, but hopefully, it’ll pay off. I’ll keep writing until people notice.” Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant “You have an idea, then the bell rings and 60 seconds later, you’re out the door,” he said. “You learn to hit ‘save’ real quick. With this job, you never know. It could be quiet all day, then the next thing I know, I’m on a strike team headed north.” The other guys at the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Granada Hills station fill their spare time lifting weights, watching TV or trying out new recipes. The 41-year-old Hicks takes his Dell laptop into a corner and steps into his imagination. His writer’s salon consists of a square desk, four beds, two brown leather easy chairs and a television. When the calls are light and his paramedic skills aren’t needed, he holes up and hammers out tales of kids, ghosts and the fire department that’s been his job since he was just 19 years old. It’s been a taxing one, too. In his 21 years of service, the past 15 of which he’s done double duty as a paramedic, he’s had triple hernia surgery, torn his right rotator cuff, broken his ankle and suffered second-degree burns on his knees and ears. Unless his writing career blows up overnight, he’ll have at least nine more years with the department before he can retire with a pension. last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *