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FRC welcomes ‘Fire Story’ novelist for book-in-common workshops and community presentation

Visiting novelist Brian Fies, left, taught FRC students about the process of writing and illustrating graphic novels Sept. 18-19 as part of the college’s book-in-common project. Fies engaged with freshman Annabelle Herzig with input on her comic, drawn during one of the author’s interactive lectures. Photo by Angelina Wilson

Feather River College students gathered eagerly Sept. 18-19 for interactive lectures with Brian Fies, award-winning graphic novelist of “A Fire Story,” which chronicles his direct experience with the Tubbs Fire that devastated Santa Rosa in 2017.

Fies’ novel has been selected as FRC’s book-in-common this year.

While there is nothing humorous or comical about Fies’ novel, the students came to learn about the process of writing and how to work with graphic art to create comics. They were even able to create and draw a small story based on a personal life experience.

“Writing a comic was my favorite part,” said freshman Annabell Herzig, an outdoor recreation leadership major, adding that she’d never thought of a graphic novel as something you could address serious topics with and that she had “gained some respect for it.”

Herzig attended the lecture with her English 101 class, taught by Joan Parkin, who brought Fies’ novel to the book-in-common committee meeting over the summer when they were selecting this year’s choice. Parkin’s class was joined at the lecture by a creative writing class taught by Christopher Connell.

The purpose of the book-in-common-is to “develop a common experience that expands beyond the boundaries of a classroom,” said Connell, who brought the author to Quincy and is chair of the English department at FRC.

“We hope that he [the author] can provide insights that you don’t get from only reading.”

Fies wrote the book after losing his home in the fire that started Oct. 8, 2017 and destroyed more than 5,600 structures. Twenty-two people lost their lives in the disaster.

When it happened, the Tubbs Fire broke the record as the worst fire in California and a year later the Butte County Camp Fire broke the record again.

Sympathizing with the hundreds of people who lost their homes in the most recent fire, Fies said it’s too soon for that record to be broken.

“A Fire Story” is the voice of a survivor of a terrible fire and many people who lived through one have said they feel it is their story.

The book gives a voice to survivors and shows the rest of the community what it was like, though no one can ever truly understand the tragedy unless they have experienced it themselves.

FRC President Kevin Trutna said the book-in-common is chosen to encourage interdisciplinary discussion between subjects on a theme that is interesting and thought provoking for students.

“A Fire Story” was a top choice because it was so relevant to those who live in Plumas County.

Parkin told the students they could ask almost anyone in Chester, Greenville, Portola or Quincy about the Camp Fire and they know someone who was affected. When the committee found this book, she explained, they decided on it quickly because the topic was so fresh. Usually, picking a book for all FRC students to study takes an extended amount of time.

The college invited author Fies to conduct several interactive lectures with numerous classes across various subjects. He spoke to several English classes, including English 101, the creative writing class, an environmental studies seminar and an art class. The author also gave a presentation for the community Sept. 19 at the Town Hall Theatre in downtown Quincy.

“It was life changing,” said Joe Willis, one of the English teachers at FRC who attended all five lectures on campus as well as the Town Hall lecture.

During his evening talk, Fies focused on his experience of living through the fire and rebuilding his home afterward.

“The subtext of this book is what it is like to live in a climate-changed world,” said Fies, explaining that while his story is about dealing with losing his home and the trauma of the event, it also highlights elements we need to be aware of now that we live in a world where there is growing fire danger.

The lecture downtown was followed by a Q&A session where people from the community asked Fies how he rebuilt his life after the fire and talked about some of the difficulties people are experiencing living in this new environment.

FRC is using the book-in-common this semester as a focus for the topic of fire. Fies’ visit was the first in a series of events planned around the topic of fire to be hosted by FRC.

The college will offer events such as a bonfire in October on campus where they’ll have short readings from the book, discuss the loss from the recent fires, but also address the regenerative properties fire can have on the environment and its positive influence on humans through history.

Other events include a movie screening at the Town Hall Theatre and a presentation by environmental studies instructor Darla DeRuiter.

The events will focus on the impact of fire on the environment and be open to students, faculty and the community in general. Everyone is welcome to attend and dates will be announced.

  The whole community is encouraged to read the book. You can buy it at the Barn Owl Books in downtown Quincy. A representative from the bookstore was also at the theatre to sell copies to the listeners, which they could have signed by the author.

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