Former Milwaukee firefighter Wayne Mutza has published more than two dozen books.
While his many previous works focus on firefighting equipment and on military history, in his new book, "The Flame Within," Mutza looks at his own life as a firefighter.
The paperback, subtitled, "Memoir of a Firefighter," is published by McFarland, a North Carolina publisher of academic and nonfiction titles. It makes a great companion to – and one with a personal feel than – Mutza’s 2005 illustrated, "Milwaukee Fire Department."
In addition to giving an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to run into, rather than out of, a burning building, "The Flame Within" will also interest fans of Milwaukee history, thanks to Mutza’s memories of famous blazes from the 1970s and ‘80s.
We asked Mutza about the book, about firefighting and, for aspiring authors, about how he has become such a prolific published writer.
OnMilwaukee.com: First, I'd like to talk about the book. What led you to write it?
Wayne Mutza: My compulsion to write the book was twofold: to raise public awareness of what firefighters and paramedics really do, and to give my kids and grandkids an idea about who I am. Setting an example has always been important and maybe I never gave up on doing that.
OMC: You've published a lot, but this one is quite different, isn't it? Can you talk a bit about that?
WM: Yes, I’ve been fortunate to have more than two dozen books published. But the success of history, military and hardware books, plus a score of articles, left in me a taste to do something more, something personal, more revealing. Taking that big step became a challenge, even a tease. I couldn’t pass on it. That’s how I’m wired.
OMC: Maybe for the aspiring authors out there, you can tell us about how you got your start as a published author?
WM: I’ve toyed with writing since I was young and it became one of many things I wanted to take to new heights. Being convinced that I wasn’t good at it made it even more challenging. Everything you hear about pursuing a dream is true. Be that dog with its toy; don’t let go!
When teaching a writing class, I’d begin by asking how many were writers. Maybe one or two would raise their hands. I’d say, "Bullshit! Everyone, raise your hands. C’mon get ‘em up there. There. You’re all writers." And then we’d do exercises to show them why I believed that.
OMC: How have you been able to get so many titles published?
WM: Getting titles published wasn’t easy, and it isn’t easy. My motivation came from displeasure with what I was reading. I thought, "I can do better than that." You don’t sell your book to a publisher. You sell yourself.
That was hard for me to do because I thought it self aggrandizing. But a couple of friends who had published books sold me on self promotion. Even though I started with aviation books of a technical nature, I made certain they were top shelf publications; profoundly researched, interesting and enjoyable to read. I strived to add things no one else had in similar works. Mine had to stand above the rest.
Getting so many titles published came, simply, from doing the best, which built credibility. That is key.
OMC: Let's talk a bit about firefighting in Milwaukee. How has the job changed over the years since you got started?
WM: Because I’ve been out of the game for some time, I’m not qualified to describe how firefighting has changed since I got into it. I do know that equipment has improved, and more emphasis is placed upon education. Age-old tradition remains and I’d like to think that the fortitude necessary to accomplish tasks in the face of adversity and danger is still the firefighter’s companion.
Some things don’t change; they must not change.
OMC: Do you think the public understands what firefighters do? I mean in real terms, because, of course, everyone knows they fight fires.
WM: The public can never completely understand what firefighters do; it has to be experienced firsthand. How do you explain the sudden self evaluation of risk-taking, becoming keenly aware of how quickly life can end – and how precious it is – and fear? It’s OK that the public doesn’t harbor a complete understanding of firefighting and rescue work; more importantly that they know help is nearby.
OMC: Since Sept. 11, the public has really been vocal about its appreciation and support of firefighters. But did we always think of firefighters as "heroes," as we do today?
WM: 9-11 created a heightened awareness of firefighters and what they do. The aftermath of the attack against America saw a new respect for rescue workers, it put the hero title in bolder print, but to the extent the word often gets overused. No, we didn’t think of them much as "heroes" before 9-11; they were the guys playing cards at the corner firehouse, the all-American guys in the Norman Rockwell painting washing the fire truck for the Fourth of July parade.
OMC: Do you have any other books currently in the works?
WM: I’m working on a history of American fireboats, and I’m toying with the idea of a novel. My writing style has changed over much time, and I’m more intrigued than ever about weaving reality with plot, setting and character development. I get excited about bringing together the many facets necessary to create a highly interesting story, much the same as a conductor brings together many sounds to create a masterful, pleasing piece.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.