As Ranger Rusty raised the flag at the crack of dawn, he thought it was “just another day. Little did he know his day would turn into a 3-book odyssey, plus an abridged version on the way. Buy Books | Our hosts | Our venues | Our topics
Intro - Birth of a trilogy
It was only supposed to be a 30-minute campfire talk
By Robert V. Sobczak
The origin of the trilogy ...
Is as improbable as it is absurd.
In December 2014 Rudi was trying to get back in the groove of civilian life after returning from a nine month tour overseas in Kuwait while Bob was on the mend from a procedure to get his heart to beat right. But for one night everything was right, perfect in fact. Big Cypress National Preserve was celebrating its fortieth birthday at the Collier County Museum. As the festivities wound down, Bob found himself entering the ember glow and crackle of the campfire to take a brief respite when a lumbering Rudi stepped forth from the shadows.
“Can you help a fellow American down on his luck?” Rudi asked with a slightly brooding look on his face. The flicker, aroma and sound of the campfire also made him simultaneously relax as he approached.
Bob told Rudi to ditch the powerpoint
South Florida’s winter tourist season was just about to begin. Three weeks and it would be in full swing. The kickoff for Rudi was January 9th. That’s when he was scheduled to give an evening talk around a campfire at a remote campground ― halfway the distance between Miami and Naples ― in the epicenter of the swamp preserve.
“I love the idea behind the campfire program,” Rudi lamented as he settled in around the orb of light and reached for a slider sandwich that Bob offered from his paper plate. “The problem is, nowadays, the actual campfire … munch munch … is almost an afterthought. It’s the giant outdoor screen that gets all the audience’s attention. I just sit in back … munch munch … and let the Power Point do all the work … munch munch.”
“A POWER POINT at a campfire? Apocryphal!” Bob stammered in disbelief. He flicked a pebble toward the pulsing embers. “—That doesn’t seem right.”
Fast forward a week later to the edge of town where Bob greeted Rudi with a proposition he couldn’t turn down. “What do you say you forget about the Power Point?” Bob suggested. “We’ll partner up to do a campfire talk ‘on the campfire,’ just you, me … and my guitar. We'll make it a theatrical production -- part off-Broadway, part Vaudeville and part Shakespearian.”
Rudi nodded his head as the concept slowly soaked in before calling it a "capital idea."
Lots of people talk about it, and some even give it an honest start, but finishing? Now that’s pretty rare. Even rarer still is co-writing a book, and here’s the clincher: writing two more to make it a trilogy. Not saying it’s perfect, but what masterpiece is. Most importantly it’s done … with the exception of the abridged version. Stay tuned!
Let’s just say one thing led to another, led to another, led to another until we were too deep in to turn around. By we, I mean Rudi and me. The year was 2014. We were around a campfire celebrating the 40th birthday of Big Cypress National Preserve. Looking back, that was the original campfire, our original campfire, and from which everything that came after took root. First our campfire talks where we went “old school” and ditched the Power Point that Ranger Rudi would have otherwise used had I not suggested we collaborate, just him, me and my guitar and a script that kept the audience guessing at every turn. The occasion was the 100th birthday of America’s national parks, rapidly approaching in 2016. Twelve campfire talks later, we’d done our job — with the caveat we wanted to do more. And so the idea for a book was born.
Eight months into writing the novel, which we tentatively entitled The Legend of Campfire Charlie, I informed Rudi that we had too much material, and that the only solution was to turn it into a trilogy. Thus, what started as a half-hour campfire talk turned into a 6-year writing odyssey. Not that I didn’t enjoy the process, I did. In fact, it was a diversion that kept my mind spinning, and helped me refine and expand my writing process. The first book we published in 2016 in time for the 100th birthday, if also not to much fanfare. Not that I cared. There were still two more books to write. By 2020 the trilogy was done, with a twist: the books needed a home. And so the idea for the Campfire Park website was born. Rudi and I were less interested in hawking the books than continuing the conversation around the campfire, just like the “original campfire” where the entire project came to life.
Spoiler alert: The trilogy is great, and I recommend all three books. But an abridged version of all three books is on the way. At the end of the day, even if it takes decade, I’d like to think and always want to be remembered as a finisher — somebody who set out to on a great journey and got to the finishing point.
Oh, and about the roll out of the soon-to-be-released abridged book. It should be just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Big Cypress National Preserve in November 2024. Actually, the abridged version should be out before then.
Bob and Rudi collaborated on 12 campfire talks that led to writing the Centennial Campfire Trilogy: (1) The Legend of Campfire Charlie, (2) Last Stand at Boulder Ridge and (3) Final Campfire
Hindsight as we say is 20/20. The reason? We have the benefit of seeing how the future played out. We survived the past, so it must have been good, and so seeps in the “nostalgia effect.” But make no mistake, they were good times, too. At this campfire, Bob interviews Rudi about the ups and downs and many memories of his rangering days. Bob does his part by introducing a new “experimental s’mores” recipe that Rudi doesn’t seem to like much. It could have been intentional on Bob’s part knowing that if they were too good Rudi would have ate the entire stockpile.
Well, I think the same sort of applies to initial success.
Success too early in a process, or life, may feel good at the time, but can also be the kiss of death in the long run. Why? Success breads complacency in the same way failure inspires you to overcome.
My point is this:
Rudi and I co-wrote three books which, when we were done, inspired us to do a podcast. Both the books and the podcast were utter “initial” failures by traditional metrics. The silver lining was that I never lost faith. And it made me realize: Less about selling a product, the trilogy of books was the ultimate deep dive into exploring “big canvas” ideas that required 450,000 words of space and six years of time to properly spread out, metabolize and incubate in our minds. If you think writing a book, let alone a trilogy, is hard – try co-writing it with a Rudi! The mystery of the creative chemistry of our unlikely partnership became a reoccurring theme in the books. Our brief foray into a poorly-produced podcast (to discuss the books) was a dismal failure, too. Please listen to them and I think you’ll agree.
The second podcast
But all clouds have a silver linings:
The process, and those failures, was how the Nature Folk Movement (NFM) was born.
Thank God for failure – really it’s the only way we improve.
What is the Nature Folk Movement (NFM)? It's where we go about fixing nature (and our connection to it) one campfire talk at a time. If you think that's far-fetched, don't forget your talking to a guitar. Guitar (shown above) also is the host of the Firelight Radio podcast.