Q&A with Mike Cyra

When author Mike Cyra finally got around to putting his EMS stories in print, he had a revolutionary idea: Why not make use of the latest technology and go straight to e-books? As a result, Emergency Laughter became available on March 15 2011, for Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and on Smashwords.

Cyra, who became an EMT right out of high school in 1980, worked a number of years as an EMT in Washington state and Hawaii, graduated from a surgical technology program and worked in a Level I trauma/burn center harvesting skin and bone from beating-heart cadavers, worked eight years as chief medical officer on a ship in Alaska's Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and then as an instructor of first aid/CPR and emergency maritime medicine. In 2009, surgeons removed a large benign tumor from his left femur, and he made the decision to concentrate on writing and publishing the stories he collected over his years in EMS. He is a volunteer for the Franklin (OH) County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program and for the Ohio Medical Reserve Corps.

Why did you write this book?

I come from a writing family, so it's in my blood. I'm also an educator and have probably taught 300 first aid/CPR classes and emergency medical courses, and I wanted to make people laugh, both inside the EMS community and laypeople. I'm a true believer in educating through humor. It's always been a huge coping mechanism for me, and I firmly believe it's a critical survival tool for people who work in EMS. It's also a great tool for breaking down barriers and opening channels of communication with patients, families and co-workers. It really does relieve stress and lower your blood pressure.

Are all of the stories true?

They're true and are mostly things that happened to me. I write the stories in third person, because some of them were stories from my partners, so I wasn't actually there, but they're great stories. I started writing Emergency Laughter back in 1990, when I was on the ship in the Bering Sea. I read one book by an EMT and thought it was horrendously boring, so I decided I needed to write down all of my experiences. Then I lugged them around for 10 years before putting them in book form.

Why did you decide on the e-format rather than publishing in printed form?

I started out doing query letters and going the traditional route, and I started getting my stories published in places like the Placebo Journal, Our USA, Parenting Humor and Humor Press just to build a platform and get my name out there. There's always been a stigma around self-publishing, like you aren't a “real” author, but with the explosion of the e-book world, it's a ripe time for self-published authors to get your work out there and maybe make a little money off of it.

So, you get paid when someone downloads your book?

Yes. I set the price at $2.99, because I'm an unknown author and it's a relatively short book. I get $1.94 from each copy sold. I market it by sending out press releases, and there are Kindle and Nook boards for people who have those devices, but you don't have to own one to get the book. Amazon has an app for almost every e-reading device. I don't own a Kindle or Nook, so I download the Kindle for PC app and read e-books that way.

The book has only been out since March. What response have you had?

I'm getting really good responses from students, nurses, even ER physicians. Right now, it's rated No. 1 on Kindle in the categories of Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Nursing. I originally put some of my stories on writing.com, which is a writers' website, and I also got super-good feedback from there.

Any advice for would-be publishers who might want to go the e-books route?

This is really the way to go. You have a lot more control than going through the gatekeepers of the regular publishing system. As a writer in general, this is what I learned from the "experts": Write a good book, have a good story, get a good book cover, and edit, edit, edit. And never, ever compromise patient confidentiality--that's No. 1.

What's next for Mike Cyra?

The title for my next book is Surgical Laughter, which is a collection of humorous stories from my time in surgery. After that, I have a working title of either Ambulance Days, Ambulance Nights, or Medical Emotions, because not all of them are funny, happy stories. I'm thinking of interspersing them happy, then sad, because that's the rollercoaster ride you take through an EMS shift.