It’s been over a month since Nothing Left to Burn hit stores and I’m still unable to articulate my joy, shock, relief, and the general high surrounding it all.
Can I just say it was lovely and I’m honored by the support?
Can I just post a stream of pretty photos from that whirlwind launch week?
Can I just admit that I didn’t know I talked THAT much with my hands until I saw post-even videos and photographs?
Can I just say thank you thank you thank you?
So here are some moments from the week, in no particular order — the morning of release day at the beloved Browsers Bookshop here in Olympia (where I stopped en route to the airport to have my first in-store stock signing), my event at Vroman’s with Farrah Penn, the fashion show at Willow Manor, my LA/OC Barnes & Noble visits, and my incredible launch party that was hosted by the fabulous Lido Village Books in Newport Beach, CA. Thank you to every family member, friend, bookseller who has made this experience such a journey. I was warned of post-launch depression but, really, I’m still riding this wave and incredibly thankful and hoping I get to do it all over again (hoping as in working!).
Nothing Left to Burn releases tomorrow and I’m the calmest I’ve ever been — that’s what it feels like, at least.
This book has been a part of my life since I was thirteen. I’m now twenty-six. This book has been a weight, a passion, a desperation for over half of my life. Nothing Left to Burn is my first book but that’s also not at all true. Nothing Left to Burn is technically my fourth. But Audrey, this is her third story, and Audrey’s story has always been one entangled with my own. We grew together. And it’s hard to recall a time where I wasn’t revising or rewriting or drafting. I sent my first query letter when I was fifteen and did rounds every year. There was always agent interest. Full and partial requests. An agent who told me she was going to “take me there” and implied an offer of rep only to disappear. Close calls. A reason to grip and move forward. Not that it was necessary — this story haunted me, Audrey, a weight, a gnat in my head. An obsession. A love. And now I’m done. Set free. Her story is no longer mine but for readers to love, to hate, to consider, to do with however they please.
I thought the negative reviews would burn–that the very idea of negative reviews would cause panic. They don’t. I’m proud of this novel. My freshman novel that is infused with my teenage dramatics, my preference for some cheesiness, my rambling lines. I’m so absurdly proud and relieved.
My debut release tomorrow. Tuesday, March 13th. And on Wednesday, I’ll be at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA. The first time I visited Vroman’s I’d just turned fifteen. September 2006. It was my first book event at a bookstore, my second book event ever. Stephenie Meyer. Outrageously special. Vroman’s has always been special to me and somehow, luck, magic, the right timing, Vroman’s is where I’m having my first signing (thank you, Farrah!). On Thursday, I visit the school I dropped out from at sixteen for an interview on their Titian TV channel. On Friday, I’ll be signing books in a boutique store during their fashion show–Willow Manor, a store I always loved to visit with my mom as a child, and then as a teen. They had coffee and apple cider on tap. Lovely trinkets and blinged out clothing. Willow Manor is nostalgia, childhood, my hometown at its core. And on Saturday, Saturday is the official launch party for Nothing Left to Burn in the most beautiful bookstore on Balboa Island (which isn’t actually an island), a location that plays such a great role in Audrey’s story.
This is real.
I thought I’d be a mess. Stressed. Shaking. Especially considering this week follows Daylight Saving and since I can remember I’ve been struck with week-long insomnia this week every year of my life. But I’m sleeping. When my editor told me my release date was March 13th, I was terrified. The one week of the year I’m conscious of. The worst week of the year. Mania and no sleep and shaking. Perhaps it’s because I’m finally, finally, on the right medications for bipolar. Perhaps it’s that and because, well, this week is being transformed: the week my lifelong, childhood dream came true.
Little first-grader Heather, rushing into the principle’s office to share the “book” I’d written over the weekend. A stapled bundle of hot pink construction paper with doodles and a few words. Frayed edges. Fifth grade, punching the tetherball at recess, imagining the first cover of my book. Why do I remember that moment so acutely? Eighth grade, out of school, sick, writing fanfiction, and then, without realizing it, starting my own story. Teen me, rejection after rejection, revision after revision. I did it. I did it. With the help of so many people–my acknowledgments are perhaps double the normal length–I did it.
This is a beautiful thing. And, after this week, I move on. I continue to work on my next projects. I harness my teenage grit. I remember I did it. I write, just like I’ve always planned to do since my first memory. I rush into the fold with the thickest skin.
I did it. How am I so calm?
The happiest book birthday to me, truly.
It was inevitable that I’d procure a map for Nothing Left to Burn.
I have always been obsessed with maps, flipping back to a fantasy novel’s map at every mention of a location, running my finger along mountains and valleys and seas. Scrutinizing the possibilities. Adoring the art and peculiarities of a map that (often) matched the story’s tone. The setting’s tone. If I’m reading a contemporary novel and a location is mentioned, even something as meager as a highway number, I turn to the internet to see it for myself. I can spend hours adore tracking locations and routes on google maps. For fun, I’ve routed every place I’ve called home, an epic memory road trip: Orange County to the Bay Area to Colorado Springs to Cascade back to Orange County up to Humboldt County and then another jump back to Colorado and then north, so north, to Interior Alaska back south to Southern California only to leap up to Pacific Northwest. (This epic, whiplash road trip would clock in somewhere around 200 hours, FYI.)
All of this is to say that I REALLY like maps in books and I really, really love to feel a strong sense of place when reading.
Even in the early versions of Nothing Left to Burn, the one I drafted at thirteen, Orange County was present: the Montage in Laguna Beach, the Spectrum in Irvine, Tesoro High School and Las Flores Middle School, Coto De Caza, Dove Canyon, beyond. In 2005, I wrote extensively of Southern California’s September heat, the Santa Ana winds, the June Gloom. This wasn’t a conscious decision–or, if it was, I don’t remember it–but it’s all there in that earnest first go of a novel.
But it wasn’t until I trashed that original version and wrote an entirely new story for Audrey–one that thrusts her into a day’s journey around Orange County–that the setting in NLTB came to the surface loud and clear (I hope!), wildfires and all. From her home that sits of wildland and Coto de Caza, to the Starbucks on Antonio Parkway just outside the gates, back into Coto De Caza to her best friend’s house, again to her own… up to the hospital in Orange, down to Newport, over to Foothill, and more. The 241 to the 133 to the I-5, she rambles. And her summer: the 405 to the 55 to Balboa Island, the dip into the canyon roads in Trabuco Canyon, offroading to the Holy Jim trailhead, etc.
In writing a new story for her, I passed on my obsession with place, with naming locations, to Audrey.
(As you can see, I’m clearly an amazing map drawer and this is… very directionally accurate (lol).)
It was during my first go at revising this new single-day version that I started sketching haphazard maps and google mapping Audrey’s day relentlessly. I did this in part for fun, to appease my obsession, as well as track her movement. But I also mapped out her day to ensure the time she spends at each location and on the road is realistic (this was a HEADACHE and I FAILED and my editor, copy editors, and proofreaders are SAINTS). So, perhaps it was during this revision that I became fixated on having an official map for Nothing Left to Burn. Maps in contemporary novels are not a thing, so I knew that any map I had designed wouldn’t be in the book but I still had to have one created. It wasn’t an option. I’ve always been rather self-indulgent. And so I went about having a map designed, all the well knowing that perhaps I’d be the only one who would care about said map. That this map would be my last gift to Audrey.
Catherine Scully is the brilliant designer I brought to the task. And, oh, is she a patient designer. We started with one approach (an accurate topographic-y style) and then another approach and then another. I likely the most frustrating client ever. I’m nitpicky but also easy to confuse and, even more, I’m confusing when articulating my visions. I also went into the collaboration with a REALLY unrealistic concept. I wanted the impossible: a map that was accurate, highways and scale and all. And I wanted this detailed map complete to encompass nearly ALL of Orange County: from the most southern end to the north side. AND I wanted this monster map to have detailed locations for readers to recognize (houses, the pirate ship that I swear exists in Coto, the fire station, and the Balboa Ferris wheel)…
Obviously, I was quite silly.
But as I let go of my obsession with accuracy, as Catherine and I moved forward with our collaboration and I continued to gasp at her talent, this distance-compacted interpretive version of Orange County felt more and more right and true to the story. As we moved closer to the final product, I was reminded of my initial desire to have a map created: for it to be Audrey’s interpretation of the setting in retrospect of her long day and whimsical summer, that–if she were as incredibly talented as Cat–she could have drawn it. I wanted a dreamy map with the ever so slight-blink-and-you-miss-it darkness.
And though it took some time and A LOT of back and forth (because of me), Catherine managed to capture exactly that: the map of my dreams, or, rather, Audrey’s dreams.
From the locations marked, to the detailed mountains, to the surreal colors that so wonderfully match the cover, the focus on Coto, and of course the fire. This map is perfect in that what is significant to Audrey is represented. It so accurately shows how she cloudly recalls her summer with Brooks, and, by the end of the novel, how she compartmentalizes her day’s journey.
And so, at long last, I present to you Nothing Left to Burn’s map!
(Click here for a closer look!)
I’m obsessed. IN LOVE. My poster-sized version can’t come soon enough. I hope you love it too, especially if you’ve already read Nothing Left to Burn and if you’ll be reading Nothing Left to Burn soon.
And if you do love this map, or like it enough to want your own version in print and you’ve pre-ordered NLTB, head over to my pre-order thank you page to have a GORGEOUS print of this map sent your way (among other gifts!).
*whispers*: the Orange County Institue of Ballet doesn’t exist. It’s the one and only made up location–it had to happen.
And for those asking, why Heather, why the HELL is a STARBUCKS showcased on this map? BECAUSE YOU’LL FIND OUT. Because it’s an inside joke. Because, okay, five (!) (very short! really compelling! fantastic!) chapters are set in that Starbucks. In earlier versions of the book, those chapters were… not good and 100% introspection. It became a joke among friends. Get Audrey out of the Starbucks. And, of course, I did, I do, but I also brought in some others, and some drama, to the Starbucks. (I’m not some mega Starbucks fan, there are simply no other coffee shops or cafes for Audrey to go in a reasonable proximity!)
Last week I received word from my editor: on my end, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is complete.
Finished. Done. Complete. In the fall of 2005, I committed to writing a novel about a girl named Audrey. And now, in the fall of 2017, I have finally (FINALLY) finished the task and that story (albeit a very different version of it) is being sent to the printers and will be bound in hardback. What the hell. What the hell. A passion and task that has been in my life FOR LITERALLY HALF OF MY LIFE. What! What does my life look like without a draft of this book waiting on my desktop? What does it look like without the periodic reshuffling of index cards, the swapping an hour for an hour within the plot? What does it look like–a year where I don’t break my heart trying to understand Brooks as a character, all the while trying to reconcile my own teen romance?
What will I do with all of the new space in my mind?
(Continue to attempt to develop and write the three books blinking on my desktop).
And how do I feel having completed the book that has, in some capacity, been haunting me for over a decade?
While finishing my second round of proofreading, I finally let myself acknowledge the weight of this book. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that NLTB hurts. Reading it hurts. Writing it hurt. Revising it hurt. Working on that beast was akin to an intensive therapy session x 10. Perhaps it was self-preservation that I didn’t put a name to the particular ache that developed whenever I turned to work on it.
This book has done me good. This book has seen through my life, acting as a place to periodically return to and shed my skin. This book is a reminder of my life and growing up. Of being a teen. Of learning what it means to be honest. Understanding the weight of identities and how easy it is to take on a story that isn’t your own. I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being kissed for the first time and, later, the first strike of heartbreak.
I think of living up north in Humboldt County. I was nineteen and I hadn’t opened the manuscript in over half a year. A new document. It was raining in Humboldt but it was burning in Orange County. And, in the span of one hour, I wrote a new first chapter for NLTB: the morning after Audrey loses her virginity, waking to an evacuation. That first chapter has only been minorly tweaked since then, line edits, a paragraph cut and added. I felt something big after fast drafting that new chapter but I never could have guessed it’d stick as well as it did. I never would have imagined that new first chapter would inspire me to center the timeline around a wildfire and trash my original plot, along with what I was trying to say, along with Audrey’s boyfriend who was named Kevin and then named Luke, who then *became* Brooks–someone entirely new.
I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being curled up on my bedroom floor at fifteen, my first rejection beside me–a written letter, the last hardcopy rejection I’d receive. I think of those tender months after treatment, opening the document for the first time in nearly a year, terrified and thrilled. I think of being fourteen, a Friday night, at my family’s desktop with a Diet Coke, realizing that I preferred writing to social gatherings. I think of being thirteen in the bed when I still had that pink comforter. Thirteen, midday, in bed, half asleep, books stacked around me, the TV on in the background–Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–thirteen and typing furiously instead of completing my school work.
Thirteen and falling in love with writing for the first time.
This book, so small and quiet as it is, as grown alongside me.
It’s a gift that I didn’t realize the weight of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN until my final read. But perhaps that’s how it is, how it always will be: I won’t understand the pain of each book until I’m letting it go. And that’s the thing, I am finally ready to let Audrey and Brooks go. Finished. Done. I feel complete. It’s a strange thing. A year ago at this time I was diving back in for a significant revision, wondering how the hell I’d possibly be comfortable calling it done within the year.
Surprise. I’m more than satisfied and it’s bonkers surreal.
So how do I feel? I don’t feel much–I’m still processing, surely–but I know I feel grateful. Calm. Relieved. I feel utterly lucky that I have the opportunity to share this story, and to have a clear-cut line that calls it done. (I’m also a tad terrified that it will take me another decade to produce a second book but that’s both unfair, already proven inaccurate, and a post for another day.)
I’m free. Is that a bad way to feel? I don’t think so. I’m free. NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is no longer mine. It belongs to the reader. It belongs to the reader who finds herself in Audrey, in Brooks, in Grace. Or it belongs to the reader who doesn’t click with the story but maybe, maybe, gained something from it regardless–even if it’s a declaration of not being a fan of me and a slight fear of fire. I can say what I think NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is about but, in the end, now, it’s not for me to interpret.
I am so beyond happy, exhausted, relieved.
But, all of that said, cheers to fourteen-year-old me who finished the first draft of that first version, and–I think–would love how the story grew.
I’ve loved the development of this book (and, more than that, my development as a writer) an awful lot, growing pains and heart aches and all.
Summer happened. Too quick. Or maybe mercifully so, considering I want for fall and winter all year long, considering how hard the 80 degree August days hit me. But summer happened and I’m not entirely sure how to compartmentalize it. This was my first summer that was not defined by a move, a significant change. I didn’t graduate from college. I didn’t transfer colleges or drop out of graduate school. I didn’t move from Alaska to California via car and then to Washington five weeks later. I didn’t hop cities within California or Colorado. I stayed still.
This was, in fact, my first summer that wasn’t defined by a move or a change of a similar magnitude since 2007. That makes my head ache. Ten years. My first summer where the summer was just… being… doing the life thing… since 2007, since I was fifteen and sixteen?
And 2007. That summer was defined by two lengthy Colorado visits, the afternoon storms while I was there, a on and off again boyfriend I adored, Eclipse Prom (though this is memory playing tricks on me because that Twilight event was in the spring, wasn’t it?), a stray cat that followed me home and stayed in room until she ran away, cutting my hair to my shoulders because I’d dyed it black only to strip it down too many times and it was so damaged and all the hair had to go to start fresh and god. God. Did that haircut really do a number on my self-esteem. The summer of 2007 was defined by the loss of my childhood golden retriever and, in the late August days, the arrival of the black lab that would go on to change my world.
This summer, 2017, it started with moving that black lab from California to Washington (ha–so I guess a move held a huge play). This summer, 2017, I imagine that in ten years, another decade, 2027, I’ll remember this summer as something strangely sweet. Every dream of the previous year true: living side by side with my dog, the daily hikes, how she gallops into the creeks and into Puget Sound every time we hit the beach, how she walks through the forest like a queen, never strays from my side when another creature comes near. Before Bellatrix moved in, I’d often go days without leaving my apartment, unwilling to go to the mailbox unless it was the pitch of night. Since June, I’m outside in my rain boots and shorts within minutes of waking, and I’m outside again, and then again, and then again for a longer time. I’m not so afraid of the sun these days. I’m not so afraid of being seen because doing so, taking my dog out, it gives her the greatest joy, so I find myself putting on her leash more than she even needs–because it’s a mood boost for the two of us. So, it’s been a dream of a summer. A summer with my dog.
But this summer wasn’t only Bellatrix and me. It was long nights at my desk working on proposals, working on freelance projects, working on what I can’t even recall. Days of sitting still, sitting so still in my darkened apartment, sitting still yet dizzy, too hot. No AC. I’m a joke: I finally broke and bought a giant fan yesterday, September 8th. I turned 26 this summer, in August and, in a single day, I was dropped from my father’s health insurance and into Medicaid: an event I’ve been dreading since before the ACA, before the age was pushed by several years. I’ve been on a waitlist to see my new psychiatrist since the spring and I have another month to go but I still have hope, even though my monthly prescriptions cost some hundred dollars without coupons. It was a summer of hope, of learning to hope, to shut the fuck up with the panic and act instead. Or take a break. I’m still so bad at taking breaks–only took three in July and August combined (not counting writing retreats, which do feel like work, are work in some regard), and that is not a source of pride but a wake-up call. TAKE DAYS OFF FROM WORK. WEEKENDS ARE FOR HEALING. I’m learning to be kinder to me. That’s what this summer has been. That’s what I’ve tried to let it be.
It was also a summer of a writing retreat in British Columbia with new friends, of a write-in with two of my best friends, of static heat and wildfires up the coast. Sparkling water and near-frozen bananas and reading sixteen books. It was a summer. Months that bleed back in my mind to spring. Where did one end and the other begin? If I blogged regularly, weekly, bi-weekly, the season wouldn’t even be worth noting. It was a summer like any other: stagnant, endless sun, relentless heat, decent enough, all things considered. I even ate some watermelon last week.
But that’s not entirely true–decent enough–because, this summer, I not only had my dog with me, always, but I also held NOTHING LEFT TO BURN for the first time. Something I’ve been working toward since I can remember: me, ten, fifth grade, on the tetherball court, me, punching that ball in the terrible way I did, punching that tetherball and imagining what my first book would look like, imagining holding a book with my name on it. Me, six, in the principle’s office in some fluffy dress, passing over a bundle of construction paper and proclaiming my dream to write. My entire life. I’ve worked for this always and will continue to do so. It sounds so silly, trite, almost pathetic. But it’s not. It’s my truth and I think it’s sort of lovely.
This summer, I held my first novel–still unfinished but so close, tangible, real. And though I wouldn’t have been able to recognize what it’s become, it’s the story I held so dear back in 2007, that summer, the second summer after having completed my first book–there was a lot of writing in bed that summer. It feels like I should say I wouldn’t have believed it–that if you’d told me at fifteen and sixteen that I’d be holding my book, prepping for its publication–it feels like I should say I would not have believed this to be the truth. But that’s a lie. Looking back at teen-me–god this will be cheesy–but looking back, I’m proud of that girl. That girl had no doubt. I had no doubt that I’d make my dream, my goal, a reality. It was just a matter of when. Of continuing to work, not giving up, holding on with my teeth. I remember saying that maybe it would happen soon but maybe it’d happen when I was ninety. And I say this now to me and others about book two, book three, book four. There are no guarantees but damn will I always be writing.
Even still, despite what perhaps some might call teenage arrogance, that moment in early August was a fantasy: holding my book for the first time. A shock. I couldn’t breathe. I still feel strange, fluttery, terrified when I spot a copy on my bookshelf or when I learn someone read it and loved it. I am so lucky. I am so, so lucky. A summer with my black lab and a summer of a lifelong dream coming true, the bliss of living with the dog who is great love of my life, and the bittersweet relief of the reality that nothing is permanent, especially not the heat
It rained for the first time in three months last weekend and it felt like coming home because, let’s be real, summer has never felt like mine.