Much of Aaron Williams’s life has been defined by trees. His father was a logger, Williams himself was a forest firefighter for 10 seasons and, now, the words of his debut novel Chasing Smoke: A Wildfire Memoir are printed on their pages.
This year has been a big one for Williams. He was finishing his Master’s degree in creative non-fiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax when he got the call — Harbour Publishing wanted to print his memoir. A flurry of editing and a graduation date followed, then fire season started. Now, Williams is returning to his hometown of Prince Rupert on tour for his first book.
It’s intimidating, Williams said, to do a reading in front of people he knows. His family and some high school friends are planning to attend the event in Rupert.
“You feel extra pressure,” he said. “It is really important to me. I think people who grew up in towns or cities of that size feel a strong affinity to their hometown. I’m certainly one of those people.”
His book chronicles the 2014 fire season, which Williams thought would be his last. He’d been a firefighter for nine seasons, and the gig was getting old. Six months a year was a long time to spend away from his girlfriend in Halifax.
“Forest firefighting is one of those jobs that, for the most part, you just do for a bit in your twenties. It’s not a lifestyle that you want to have as you get older and settle down,” Williams said.
“I really loved the job and it was going to be really tough to leave. I think that one way of making it easier was if I catalogued it.”
It was at the suggestion of Don Sedgwick, who was then the executive director of the Master of Fine Arts program at King’s, that Williams began writing about his days on a firefighting crew.
“I met with him for coffee, because I was interested in the program. I was asking him some questions and he was pretty blunt. He said, ‘If you want to be a writer, you just have to write more. You have to write every single day.’ And so I really took that to heart. That was just before I went back for that  season, so it motivated me,” Williams said.
“I’ll always be grateful for that conversation we had. I think that was life-changing.”
This past summer, Williams read from Chasing Smoke at the Halifax library and thanked Sedwick, who was in the crowd.
Although Williams’s book details his last season of firefighting, he returned to battle wildfires for another season in 2017. He doesn’t rule out firefighting in the future.
“It was exciting, and something I knew how to do. It always feels good when you have real skills that you can offer the world.”
Williams will read from his debut book, Chasing Smoke: A Wildfire Memoir, and answer questions from the audience at the Prince Rupert Public Library on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m.
“We’re very happy to have a local author reading here at the library,” said chief librarian Joe Zelwietro. “It helps people understand that they can do what they love, have success both here and away. We hope it’ll be an inspiration for other younger writers as well.”