Black Flies (Author Comment)

I received the following very enlightening comment from “pozzo” – Shannon Burke, the author of Black Flies.

I’ve seen the comments about the novel Black Flies and was holding my tongue, but…I wanted to say that the book was not meant to demean paramedics or the job they do. Just the opposite. I meant to aggrandize paramedics, but not with some cornball catch the baby from the burning building sort of thing, but by dramatizing the real struggles of a first year medic in a hostile environment. After Safelight, which was a sort of love story, I wanted to write a real paramedic novel, a novel where every scene took place on the ambulance, and specifically, a novel that a medic just starting out could read and say, ‘Wow, this is what I can expect in the next year. These are the pressures I’ll be put under. These are the choices that will present themselves. And these are the risks.’

So, I dramatized what I’d seen personally and I tried to mark the psychological stages in that critical first year—what the pitfalls are, and how the job really does spiral down to choices of good versus evil, but those choices come in such banal and offhand settings that unless you’re reminded of those moments you can almost miss them. That was the thing that haunted me as a medic. How small decisions had huge implications for the patient, and if you didn’t pay attention, didn’t follow up to see what impact your treatment had, you could go on blithely mistreating and even hurting patients without even knowing it. And, yeah, there’s boredom, and laziness, and burnout, and I wanted to show how these manifest themselves in the EMS world and how a lapse has real consequences. We all know this. We’ve all seen it. It’s part of the job.

Anyway, I wanted to write about the hurdles for a rookie medic, and to have him make some mistakes and start going down the wrong path, but in the end, good does conquer evil, the main character does the right thing and comes out on the other side of his struggles, and will go on trying to do the right thing longer because of his past crises. The endpoint, I hope, is a hard won battle for the rookie medic, and a new respect for medics in general and the struggles they go through to do their job. If this isn’t the impression the book gives, then…I failed in my goal. But that was my intent.

And, just as an aside, I know the NYC system has a reputation of being a hostile environment, and it’s hard for me to say if it’s worse than other places because I have nothing to compare it to, but I can say with all certainty that the burnt out medics I wrote about in the book are less burnt out and do less bad things than what the real bad guys I knew did in my first six months on the job. It’s possible I just stumbled into a dysfunctional situation, but I swear to you that what I wrote is an understatement rather than an exaggeration, and anyone who was working out of the old Station 18 back in the nineties can back me up on this. There was some wild shit going on and everybody knew it.

Thanks for the insight into your writing.

I would like to add, as someone who has written fiction, both EMS and non EMS (without the success of Burke), that Black Flies is a tremendous achievement. It is a “good” book — a page-turner with an ultimate moral message that brings light to a dark place.

I encourage you to buy it and if you do, after you have read it (it won’t bore you), please send your comments in. I would be interested to know what you all think about it.


Black Flies (4-13-08)

Comments and Followups 4-20-08)


  • Anonymous says:

    Peter I just got done reading Black Flies and I wanted to thank you for recommending the book on your website. Had it not been for your post I would have never found this book to enjoy. I truely enjoyed kicking back in the ambulance and reading the book. It was definitely a page turner and at times I got quite frustrated to have to go and do a call. As a first year Paramedic myself working in our wonderful “Inner city” environment I can truely appreciate the scenes this author described and relate it easily to things I have already seen in this city. I have already begun raving about this book to fellow coworkers and have noticed a few copies on the dash boards of a few of our trucks. Again thank you for the post, I truely appreciated this book!

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